Academic journal article Social Justice

Absolutely Sovereign Victims: Rethinking the Victim Movement

Academic journal article Social Justice

Absolutely Sovereign Victims: Rethinking the Victim Movement

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article attempts to rethink the emergence and subsequent development of what could be called the victim movement, or victim culture, which has crystallized in the latter half of the twentieth century. The author argues that a great variety of elements have, in the wake of World War D, come together to create a new form of life, one of whose manifestations is a pervasive victim culture. At the heart of this newly emerged form of life resides a radical desire for, or will to, absolute personal sovereignty, and a related radical desire for, or will to, absolute control. This form of life, and the desire and will that fuel it (however imaginary, or illusory this desire and this will) are neither homogenous nor monolithic.

Keywords: control society. World War II, consumer society, victimization, Belgium

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IN THIS CONTRIBUTION, AN ATTEMPT WILL BE MADE TO RETHINK THE EMERGENCE AND subsequent development of what could be called the victim movement, or indeed the victim culture that has crystallized during the latter half of the twentieth century. I hope to be able to argue that, in the wake of World War II, a wide variety of elements came together to create a new form of life, one of whose manifestations is a pervasive victim culture. At the heart of this newly emerged form of life resides a radical desire for, or will to, absolute personal sovereignty, along with a radical desire for or will to absolute control. This form of life and the desire and will that fuel it (however imaginary or illusory this desire and will may be) are neither homogenous nor monolithic. They are shot through with contradiction and sheer agony.

The historical process that saw the gradual crystallization of this form of life started during and immediately after World War II. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the process was completed. This essay begins with reflections on events that took place in a small European country around that time (i.e., 2000 and 2001) that seem to be unrelated to the emergence and development of a victim culture. Yet a connection exists between the events there and the ultimate crystallization, at about the same time, of a thoroughly pervasive victim culture throughout much of what used to be known as Western democracies. Both are manifestations of a new and agony-filled form of life that, by 2000, had been well over five decades in the making. The reader is asked to bear with me during the exploration of a scare about traffic safety in Belgium, before stepping back in time to World War II for an analysis of the origins of a new form of life: control society.

A Scare about Traffic Safety

Around the turn of the twenty-first century, much of the Belgian press became saturated, if not dominated, by reports replete with allegations of lamentably poor levels of traffic safety on Belgian roads. Statistics on deaths and injuries following traffic accidents are published annually, but in that fateful year (2001) something akin to a scare took hold of the press and everyday conversations. Very palpable for weeks on end, the scare prompted some academics and commentators to analyze the phenomenon (e.g., Lippens 2002). One element is worth reviewing here. Most press reports remained riveted by the topic of traffic safety and argued forcefully for the nationwide introduction and implementation of measures some considered to be draconian (e.g., mechanical and infrastructural speed-limitation initiatives, severe punishment for traffic offenses, and so on). Similarly, conversations around breakfast tables and water coolers largely duplicated such arguments. One local authority in a provincial market town decided to hold a local referendum on a very thorough local plan that was replete with measures such as pedestrians-only zones in the town center, prolific use of speed humps and ramps, one-direction traffic, zones with speed limits, etc. Many a local town planner or councilor, in the heat of the national debate about traffic safety, must have felt quite confident about the outcome of the referendum. …

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