Thursday, February 18, 2010

Definition of Genocide

What does 'genocide' mean? The legal definition (according to the jurist and legal scholar Raphael Lemkin) is

Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

and includes

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

There are several conceptual difficulties in this interesting and ethically and politically important concept. Thus philosophers (political, language, social, and ethical philosophers) should be interested in this topic but there doesn't seem to be much.

Take forcible sterilizations of a group or the forced transferring and adoptions of a group to another. What happens if these sterilizations are not at all effective? Then is this an incidence of "attempted genocide"?

What about political "genocide"? Was the systematic extermination of the Kulaks during Stalin reign or the mass persecution of "counter revolutionaries" during the Cultural Revolution genocide?

What about the deliberate and systematic "destruction" of a group through cultural assimilation? The group's identity is lost but the group continues to exist qua some other identity.

I think racism is a fundamental aspect of what makes genocide evil and thus political/cultural "genocide," unless the political/cultural affiliation of a victimized group is also inextricably conflated with an ethno-racial identity in the eyes of the perpetrators and that this group is targeted because of their affiliation with that group qua ethno-racial group, it is not real genocide. The hallmark genocide of the 20th century is the Holocaust. It is a prototype for genocide. Jews were killed not because of their religion but because of their ethno-racial classification in the eyes of the Nazis. You can change your religion but your ethno-racial classification is due to your "essence" and is passed down through "blood" from generation to generation. So the intent (mens rea) has to be of a racist nature as depicted within the viewpoint of the perpetrators of genocide. Race and racialist thinking has to be part of the intent in a true genocide.

Additionally, genocide must be "systematic". But what does this mean? What if a non political body such as the entertainment industry suddenly decided to conspire against a minority group and portray individuals within that group as evil which then influences individuals in society to form mobs and lynch members of that minority group on a massive scale? Is that systematic enough? Does the "deliberate and systematic" nature of committing genocide have to be originating within a governmental body? What about racist grassroots organizations composed of nothing but ordinary citizens that happen to gain power and influence? What about a society that's a participatory democracy that has a referendum about whether or not to genocide one of its minority groups and then decides to do so?

There's lots of gray and ambiguity here.

Friendship and moral luck

Think about how friendships are formed. They are highly contingent. If you had not gone to that party/class/mall-store, etc, etc at that specific time, you'd never have met that best friend. Friendships are very much serendipitous and dependent on the "accidents" of life. But many "falling outs" of friendships are also quite dependent on contingencies. They especially draw out this contingency in a very interesting way I think.

Most friendships of course breakup not because of bad blood or due to changes in personalities/values of one or more of the persons involved but because one friend will move away or get married or fall into a different social circle, etc. But I am interested in the falling out of friendships due to a fight and subsequent bad blood. It seems that people give excuses as to why they now do not wish to be friends with their former friend. They will say that their former friend is no longer the person they befriended or that they never had been that person but they mistakingly believed their former friends were and after the fight, it was revealed that there's not much to like about their former friends.

But it seems that many of these fights that result in these types of falling out are highly contingent and chance circumstances could have easily resulted in them not having the fight in the first place (e.g., they could have not had a particular discussion, not borrowed money at a certain time, not said a particular thing, in a particular mood or that it might not have been misunderstood because it was worded in some way, etc). If circumstances did not result in that fight, the friendship would have continued in its happy course, perhaps even indefinitely. However, once it happens, former friends seem to reappraise their former friend's qualities. Whereas before, they might have given reasons for liking their friends, they now see them as having negative qualities they did not "see" before.

The forming and reforming of friendships are also highly contingent (and thus the associated feelings of positive/negative evaluation). Do characters change that suddenly? Are we that easily deceived by our friends' qualities? No, likely not; it's our viewpoints that have changed and are so easily and contingently changed. The meaning of the relationship has changed itself.

Now since the fight that resulted in this falling out was sudden and contingent, it couldn't likely have been the person that changed that resulted in the different reappraisals. So people might say that "I was wrong about X. He's really a terrible person. Now I know better." Whereas just before the fight he would have had very good things to say about X. In other words, the person would have to say that he was wrong about his former feelings for X. But is he now right or is his former self right about X? The luck aspect of breaking friendships in the way I've described seem to render evaluation's of the positive/negative qualities of friends highly dependent on contingencies (luck). There's always some counter-factual that very well will reduce all friendships to a falling out of this sort in some possible world. Had your blond haired "Aryan" friend lived in Nazi Germany and you happened to have been a Jew, there's a real chance he could have been a Nazi and turned on you and persecuted you. Even knowing and contemplating this vividly could weaken the emotional bonds between you two. Little circumstances that result in "beef" and long-term bad blood usually get started by events far less dramatic but more mundane than this example.

So it seems that our appraisals of people such as our friends are highly contingent are perhaps not even subject to accuracy or truth evaluations as they seem to be. We just like many of the people we like and dislike many of the people we dislike not so much because they are, in reality, such and such but because of mere happenstance in a certain perspective that has evolved the way it has.