1. Victims are bad political actors.
To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.
This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.
He is lauded because what he did was so rare.
2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.
There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.
I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.
The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.
Politics offers the possibility of power.
A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.
Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.
Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.
3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.
One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.
Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.
If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.
You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.
If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.
If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.
n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.
*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.