The Hapless Victim
The word ‘hapless’ suggests unfortunate, and so a ‘hapless victim’ is a person to whom some bad thing has happened, without his choosing or deserving it. But, with a bit of a twist, the word ‘hapless’ also suggests the lack of any hap-pening. The hapless victim could thus be a victim to whom nothing actually happened. It is politically dangerous, it seems, to suggest today that the self-appointed victim has not had anything bad happen to him. The victim has a morally self-validating subjectivity that is rarely questioned, and he is supposed to excite our sympathy. But the more we elaborate scientifically and technically the sources of risk – and the more we insist on the adoption of protections from the multitude of risks – the more, in effect, we are turning the status of actual or potential victimhood into a form of masochistic enjoyment.
But, just as we know that the relationship between pain and injury is not a simple, linear one, ‘what happens’ in a person’s life is not clearly, in a simple or direct way, related to the experience of trauma, the essence of being a victim.
The hapless victim must fantasize a sadistic subject who is supposed to know – one who has deliberately singled out the victim for special persecution and who knew in advance what would hurt the most. The hapless victim only becomes a victim retroactively, following the elaboration in fantasy of a sadistic subject. The fantasized sadistic perpetrator becomes a focus for putting the question ‘Why did this happen to me (and not to someone else)?’ There needs to be some Other to whose desire this question is being addressed. ‘This happened to me because it gave you enjoyment’. The bad thing that happened is thus the perverted outcome of a sadistic urge, intended personally for the victim, and the knowingly sadistic subject who initiated the traumatic event can thus be identified and blamed.
This takes us to the extreme hypothesis that ‘nothing happened to me’ could in itself become traumatic.
People who are involved in a ‘near miss’ in a tragic accident or disaster where some other persons have been harmed will often report a ‘bystander’ trauma of a kind that arises from the question ‘Why was I spared while another person was so seriously harmed?’ The fact that no harm happened to me (it happened to someone else instead) may result in a sense of disbelief, unworthiness and guilt that could persist and be considered a kind of trauma in its own right. One was sadistically singled out in being spared – or so this ‘victim’ may imagine.
But, taking the above hypothesis even further, could those who experience the greatest good fortune and privilege in life (those to whom nothing extraordinarily bad has happened) validly claim a new form of victimhood? Is there an intriguing contemporary form of victimhood which says that society’s ‘oppressed’ have come to victimize the victors? In other words, can the political Right – who represent the more privileged sectors of society – legitimately claim a kind of victimhood arising from the various social movements that have attacked their various powers and privileges?
Certainly, the desire to disempower or emasculate the Master that is evident in supposedly emancipatory social movements has some effect on the social balance of power. One of the catch-phrases of the Left used to be ‘Blame the System, not the Victim’. But, it seems now that those who have benefited most from ‘the [capitalist] System’ want to co-opt the figure of the Victim for their own purposes. Hence, men are now the victims of a feminist conspiracy to deny them access to their children, with the backing of recent laws; decent white folks are now the victims of affirmative action and ‘special privileges’ enjoyed by ethnic minority groups; the rights of criminals and prisoners are said to cause a neglect of the victims of crime. In short, the Right now sees itself as upholding the rights of a new subject-position of Victim, one which has been created by a Leftist conspiracy (often captured by the phrase ‘political correctness’). The Victor now identifies with the Victim, and seeks, supposedly, to foreclose any further strategic victories for the Left. Those to whom nothing really bad ever happened can now also enjoy the masochistic privileges of victimhood.