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Sunday, November 19, 2006


Collective Guilt And Punishment: Worse Than Racism

by poputonian

Let's try this one more time. Sharkbabe said:

Sadly the mass of Americans are no more moved by Iraqi deaths than they were by Vietnamese deaths.
How hard is it to imagine your own neighborhood in ruins, your husband and children dead, your job gone, basics of life gone (clean water, electricity), future gone - why does nobody seem to grasp this or care? I still don't get it. It's more than racism, it's something worse.

When I first read that, I tried to find a previous comment made by the brilliant aimai, but couldn't locate it. Now I have. Aimai was correcting me for calling Jose Chung a racist. Jose had rationalized the Haditha massacre in part because Iraqis were so barbaric as to distribute DVDs of themselves killing American soldiers. In his mind, otherwise innocent Iraqis therefore deserved to be massacred. He even stated that Iraqi children preferred the DVDs to cartoons. Jose said he couldn't see any logic in me calling him a racist. As aimai pointed out, he was right:

aimai: Got to side with the josebot on this one, poputonian--his haditha anecdote makes him a soulless, would be mass murderer ... but it doesnt *necessarily* make him a racist. In fact, I'd bet all lombard street to a china orange that jose would happilly see lots of people killed in revenge for lots of perceived and imaginary infractions on jose's world. And I'm sure that some would include members of jose's own ethnic group,whatever that is, and possibly even members of his own family. Jose's postings clearly point to both a massive and a fragile ego, a boundless and childish sense of rage, and an unlimited and utterly improbable sense of inflated self worth. But he's not necessarily a racist. As if that could possibly make it any worse, or any better.

Me: Maybe so, aimai. What I took from his comment was that he sees a group of barbaric people, and from it then concludes that other people who look and dress like them must be sublimated into a culture he knows and understands. In other words, to his small and feeble mind, all Iraqi people must be tamed. Isn't that racism?

aimai: poputonian, you know, no one despises the josebot and what it spits out more than I do, but it doesn't make it racist. Jose is concluding--or trying to argue in a pathetic fashion--that all iraqis should be subject to some kind of strict group punishment in which even small children and non-combatants must pay for the sins of their countrymen. But I think jose probably thinks that about a lot of groups if he thinks they are "not on his side." I don't doubt that in practice jose finds that, oddly, lots of non-white people are "really evil" and need punishing but he will always think it's because of something they 'really did' and not because he is over-categorizing due to a racist impulse which confuses individual with group. But I also think jose would cheerfully see lots of people of his own race killed, if it didn't cost him anything and he determined they were "on the wrong side." The idea of collective guilt and collective punishment is very old, and very retrograde. Its been abandoned by every civilized society. But jose still advocates for it, pathetically and by implication, with a sidewise wink and a kind of "omlettes must be made" attititude.

Here's the thing, pop, Jose ... lacks intelligence, and he certainly lacks empathy. All he has is a persistence of bad faith and a deep and abiding cowardice. It's not even worth trying to discern his motives--frankly, even a true racist whose every impulse came from race hatred could be a more admirable figure than Jose. Such a person could be loving (to some) noble (to some), courageous in conflict, honest and upright in argument (to some). They could even be peaceful, generous, and empathetic in all things except their chosen fixation (race). Jose can never be any of those things.

Here's Digby's original Haditha war crime post (from May), and the corresponding comment thread from which the above comments are extracted.