The opening song of the Rolling Stones’ 1968 album Beggars Banquet kicks off with a screech and an insistent, hypnotic beat. “Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m a man of wealth and taste,” Mick Jagger sneers. A taste for violence, it turns out: “I rode a tank / Held a general’s rank / When the blitzkrieg raged / And the bodies stank.” The singer never reveals his name, but the song’s title does: ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.
Centuries of Sunday School indoctrination have taught us the devil is an evil being, god’s implacable enemy, scourge of humanity. In The Gospel of Mary Magdalene Christian theologian Jean-Yves Leloup notes that the original Greek meaning of diabolos is ‘divider’. In other words, the devil is not an external entity, perched on our left shoulder, belching his fetid breath down our necks, urging us to ‘do bad’. (I don’t know why I associate the devil with poor dental hygiene.) It is something divided—something cloven—within us.
Leloup calls this the ‘blamer’. In Patriarchy destroys our capacity to trust, I wrote how humanity’s core separation from both nature and human nurture arose due to the need to fight for food sources some 6,000 years ago. Out went trust. In came the blamer, who blames others for an alienated existence.
This blamer believes in the right to victimize others. That might is right.
The rise of patriarchy created a new dynamic that became embedded in the human psyche: victimizer and victim. Ever since, we have bought into the basic notion that we can victimize those weaker than us while those who are more powerful than us can victimize us in any way they can get away with: physically, emotionally, sexually, financially.
Generally thought of as the dominion of men over women, patriarchy is more accurately the dominion of the (masculine) victimizer over the (feminine) victim
The victimizer energy is indifferent to whom it victimizes. The commander of an Egyptian vessel wrote in the 15th century BC: “Sharuhen was besieged for three years. Then his majesty despoiled it. Thereupon I carried off spoil from there: two women and a hand (indicating a warrior killed). Then the Gold of Valour was given to me, and my spoil was given to me to be slaves.”
Both men and women can be victimizers. As well as victimizing women, men victimized other men violently, economically and at times sexually. Ruling class women victimized their servants and slaves, male and female alike, sometimes more cruelly than their men did. It was King Herod’s daughter Herodias who requested that John the Baptist’s head be served on a platter.
Every civilization since the rise of patriarchy has victimized to the greatest extent that it could: Assyria, Rome, the Muslim Caliphate, Genghis Khan, the empires of Spain, Russia, Britain and Japan. All our laws and civil institutions are attempts to contain and control victimization.
The urge to victimize clouds our collective madness. In The Politics of Experience R.D. Laing wrote that, “Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity.”
Since the world wars and the Cold War that followed, global victimization has principally shifted into economics. This can be seen in the current U.S.-China trade war and the E.U.’s—particularly Germany’s—hard-line stance on both Grexit and Brexit. The Germans who once commanded tanks now command banks. It’s the latest take on Deutschland über alles. I’m not picking on Germany. They just happen to be the poster-boys for the ‘blamer’ in sharp black uniforms: the Nazis had an unshakeable belief in their right to victimize.
The right to victimize manifests at the macro level in actual or financial wars. But it also manifests in society at a micro level within each of us. Leonard Cohen nails it in ‘Democracy’, “From the homicidal bitchin’ / That goes down in every kitchen / To determine who will serve and who will eat.” From relationship spats to turf wars at work to sexual relations, the victimizer/victim dynamic that we all unconsciously acquiesce to constantly interferes in ways little and large. I only write this because the victimizer in me reared his ugly head—and I saw him.
“Tell me baby, what’s my name?” Mick Jagger raps in the coda of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. “I tell you one time, you’re to blame.” The diabolos lives inside us and, until we consciously exorcise him, will continue to do so.