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Oct 30, 2023

The Manichean Fallacy: When Victims Become Perpetrators

Recently, I spoke with a man ablaze with the passion for justice. Yet when the lens shifted from ethnicity to gender, the fire in his eyes turned icy. Confronted with his own contradictions, his response was a blaze of anger. How dare I to question him, a distinguished worrier for justice with a track record to prove it? Hefailed to realize that his righteous indignation was but another face of the oppression he fought against for all his life. 

The paradox of the oppressed turning oppressor is an ancient tale, whispered through the corridors of time yet deafening in its persistence. A mesh of identities envelops each of us, threads of race, gender, ability, and privilege woven together in complex patterns. No one stands solely as the oppressed or the oppressor; we are compositions of both.

Now, consider the outcome of suffering. You'd think pain would be the great equalizer, the universal language that teaches us empathy. Yet often, it callouses the heart, turns the oppressed blind to the oppressions they levy upon others. Engulfed in their own abyss, they forget that darkness exists inside of them too. Those who are anti-racist can be misogynistic, those who are feminist can be ableist, those who are pro-Palestinian can be anti-Semitic. They are not always, but often enough to make one sad.

Powerlessness in one arena can inflame the desire to dominate another, like a fire leaping from one dry field to another. It's as if being crushed underfoot awakens a desire to feel the soil give way beneath one's own heel.

Nestled within these complexities is a haunting illusion—the Manichean fallacy, a temptation as old as humankind. In a world cleaved into heroes and villains, we find comfort in being against something. It offers the seductive assurance that if we are fighting evil, then surely, we must be good. But life seldom deals in such absolutes; more often, it's a murky river where the waters of good and evil mix in unfathomable ways.

So, what are we to do in this labyrinth of complicity? First, we must recognize the multiplicity within us—the oppressed and the oppressor both reside in the same soul. It's an unsettling mirror to look into, but look we must. Only by embracing this tangled web of identity and power can we hope to untangle it.

Yes, old friend, you are the hero, and you are the villain. You helped many and you hurt some. If you cannot see it, I feel sorry for you, for one must become wiser, not more prideful with age. 

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