Monday, April 14, 2008

Enlightenment ideals justify mass slaughter?

In an enlightening (so to speak) but disturbing column, Jonah Goldberg reveals the compromises in United Nations definitions of genocide that leave large groups without protection against murderous persecution:
The United Nations defines genocide as the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." Left out of this definition are "modern" political labels for people: the poor, religious people, the middle class, etc.
What difference does this make?
Under the more narrow official definition, it's genocide to try to wipe out Roma (formerly known as Gypsies), but it's not necessarily genocide to liquidate, say, people without permanent addresses. You can't slaughter "Catholics," but you can wipe out "religious people" and dodge the genocide charge.

Political scientist Gerard Alexander decries that type of absurdity as "Enlightenment bias." Reviewing Samantha Power's moving 2003 book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," Alexander observed that this bias leaves the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century - self-described Marxist-Leninists - somewhat off the hook.
Essentially, a social engineering mindset sees mass murder as "a second-tier crime if it's done in the name of social progress, modernization or other Enlightenment ideals."

Decades ago when I was at college, eager young social engineers explained to me that you can't make an omelette without breaking heads - or was it eggs or something? Anyway, their fellow human beings were just like rows of eggs in cartons, of that at least they were quite sure. They were, after all, Enlightened.

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