Culture and genocide: what relationship?

genocide-convention-1948-signatories-genocide-rwanda-tutsis-hutus-kagame-iraq-myanmar-burma-rohingya-pakistan-bangladesh-bosnia-yugoslavia-international-court-justice-icjby Dan Tippens

[This essay is a different take on thoughts about the concept of genocide by NYU philosopher Paul Boghossian. We have previously published Massimo Pigliucci’s analysis of the same topic in Scientia Salon on 15 October 2014, under the title The Philosophy of Genocide.]

Most of us think we understand what genocide means. Perhaps this is the case for the lay concept of genocide, but it might not be for the legal definition of it adopted by the United Nations. And I think this latter possibility is disconcerting.

The UN defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily harm;

(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.

At first glance, the UN definition appears to be very clear. We might then be tempted to believe that when determining which actions or events count as genocide, deploying this concept accurately would be pretty straightforward. However, closer examination runs us into several practical and philosophical problems as it may admit of too many vague terms, leading to ambiguities and moral puzzles such that we might think it best to just set the term aside and not employ it in legal or day-to-day judgments.

In fact, it has recently been argued that these problems run deeply through the UN definition of genocide. In his paper, “The concept of genocide”, Paul Boghossian of New York University has made the point very persuasively.

In this essay I will take a look at some of the problems that Boghossian points out with the UN definition of genocide. I will not discuss everything Boghossian addresses, but rather select a few issues that I find to be the most philosophically and practically worrisome. The goal is simply to try to offer a plausible framework for solving three major problems, sort of a prolegomenon to a full solution. As we will see, my view here is not entirely new, but I think it could use more attention, and hope to steer people in a direction that is worth pursuing further, if the concept of genocide is to be salvaged at all.

Boghossian’s three problems

Boghossian is quick to point out that there are significant issues with the condition that an agent must “intend to destroy in whole or in part” in order for genocide to have occurred. First, it seems that there have been almost no cases in which an agent or party has intended to destroy a group in whole [2]. Even Nazi Germany, one of the paradigmatic examples of a party that committed genocide, would permit the existence and survival of some Jews when these Jews brought Nazi Germany pragmatic benefits. Interestingly, Hitler personally spared a Jewish-Austrian named Eduard Bloch, even going so far as to issue him protection during World War II, since Bloch had formerly been Adolf Hitler’s family physician [3].

Since the Jewish Holocaust is considered one of the most obvious examples of genocide and yet it doesn’t satisfy the “in whole” condition, it seems that such condition excludes too many, even possibly all, cases that are commonly considered instances of genocide. To correct this problem, perhaps we should say that Nazi Germany satisfied the “in part” condition (they intended to destroy the Jewish group in part), and had thereby committed genocide.

But then Boghossian asks us to consider what would count as satisfying the “in part” criterion of the UN definition. While “in whole” excludes too many cases, “in part” seems to conversely include too many. Consider the instance of the Jewish revenge gangs that targeted Germans (presumably former Nazi officers) after World War II, resulting in the death of some 1,500 Germans [4]. The action of these gangs seem to satisfy the UN’s definition of genocide. They intended to destroy in whole or in part the national group of Germans simply because they were Germans. However, we probably still wouldn’t say that the Jewish revenge gangs committed genocide, most likely because too few members of the German population were killed. So, the “in part” condition needs to be either revised or done away with.

Boghossian proposes that we could try amending the condition to say “in whole or in substantial part.” Unfortunately this will not do: he points out that the idea of a “substantial part” is hopelessly vague. What counts as a substantial part of a group? A certain percentage of the members? Some number threshold, of, say, 3,000 individuals? Boghossian notes that the attacks on the World Trade Center might count as genocide since over 3,000 people were killed, but it is not clear if this was as a “substantial part” of Americans or not.

Here I think it is worth pausing to examine what is going on in Boghossian’s arguments. He is claiming that it is difficult to determine, i.e., it is vague, when a party or person intends to destroy a substantial part of a group of people. However, my suspicion is that this is a problem when it is the case that a substantial part of a group has actually been destroyed. The UN definition of genocide includes both a consequence and an intention condition. It is not enough for an agent to just intend to commit some crime; the agent must also actually commit the crime in order for the crime to have occurred.

The difference between the consequence and intention conditions can come apart philosophically. It is certainly not obvious that what it means to intend to destroy a group in substantial part is the same as what it means to actually destroy a group in substantial part. Let’s say I believe that a group is composed of 300 members. It turns out, unbeknownst to me, that the group is actually composed of 1,000,000 members. If I proceed to kill 200 members of this group, we can all agree that I have satisfied the conditions for intending to destroy a group in substantial part while failing to actually destroy a group in substantial part. This suggests that what it means for an agent to intend to destroy a group in substantial part has something to do with an agent’s belief system, while what it means to actually destroy a group in substantial part has to do with the way the world actually is, independent of what we believe.

I think it is important to keep in mind how the two issues interplay in the UN definition. Clearly we think that for an action to count as genocide it must meet at least two different necessary conditions: an intention condition and a consequence condition.

From now on, let’s assume that the vagueness problem that Boghossian raises for the concept of genocide is a problem with the consequence condition of the definition, and we shall see that the distinction between intention and consequence turns out to be very important.

The problem of figuring out when the consequence condition has been met, i.e., when a high enough percentage, or a high enough number, of people have been killed is what I call the vagueness and convention problem. This is the first practical and philosophical problem that Boghossian raises. We intuitively think that a certain threshold of people killed must met in order for genocide to have occurred. However, we don’t want it to be the case that the consequence condition’s threshold for satisfaction rests solely upon a convention, some arbitrary percentage that we agree on without any good reason other the pragmatic one of allowing us to use the concept of genocide in judgments and legal proceedings.

A similar kind of problem arises when we consider which groups are potential victims of genocide. The UN definition lists these groups explicitly: national, ethnical, racial, or religious. But why are these groups the only ones that can be potential victims of genocide? Boghossian suggests these groups may be chosen as potential victims of genocide because they all admit of indelible traits, traits that one cannot change from birth, and not traits that one has blamelessly acquired (a trait like, say, being wealthy). However, he then points out that it is not clear why, if indelibility is what matters, gender is not included while religion is. In other words, if indelibility is what makes groups potential targets of genocide, then the UN appears to have excluded some groups in the set of potential victims of genocide and included some groups that don’t meet the criteria of indelibility.

Additionally, why should we think that indelible traits determine which groups can be potential victims of genocide in the first place? Why should we think that you could only be a potential victim of genocide based on what traits you were born with, but not based on what traits you have blamelessly acquired over the course of your life? For example, why couldn’t the group constituted by people who have acquired the status of being “wealthy” be one capable of being subjected to genocide? It seems that holding the position that the indelibility criterion is what matters for determining which groups can be victims of genocide would require further argumentation, one that looks like a difficult road to travel.

So maybe we should sidestep the indelibility criterion’s problems and try something else. Perhaps the groups whose members identify themselves as part of that group are potential victims of genocide. This would allow for groups constituted by members who have shared indelible traits as well as groups constituted by members who have traits that people have blamelessly acquired to be potential victims of genocide.

But there is a problem with this too, one of inclusion. For there may be members of some groups, such as a group of people who attend a regular book club, who identify themselves as part of that book club group and would now fit the bill for being potential victims of genocide. Intuitively, the book club group doesn’t seem to be a potential victim of genocide.

This problem can be called the grouping and convention problem. We are inclined to believe that the set of groups that are potential victims of genocide shouldn’t be too inclusive or too exclusive, and we also don’t want it to be the case that the groups included in this set are decided merely by convention.

The last problem will not require an elaborate exposition. The badness problem is the problem of what makes genocide distinctively heinous. We tend to think that some actions have a greater moral magnitude than others. Lying is morally bad, but murder is far worse. What is it about an act of genocide, then, that makes it morally worse than mass murder? Why is it that targeting a people for the very reason of targeting a specific group has such great negative moral magnitude?

A sketch of a solution

I think that the badness problem and the grouping and convention problem are intimately related, so I’m going to tackle these first. It may be useful to think carefully about what it is that makes genocide a distinctive crime, a crime that is different from mass murder. Boghossian himself thinks that the concept of genocide was introduced precisely to point out such distinctiveness [5].

A good starting point might be to look at clear cases where we consider two crimes distinct and ask what makes them different. It is a crime to inhumanely kill domestic animals; it is also a crime to torture and kill humans. What makes these two crimes different? Maybe part of what makes them different is that the crime necessarily takes away properties from a human that we value that it is not necessarily taking away from a domestic animal. A human has emergent properties that arise from his functional composition, such as mental properties like beliefs, desires, and intentions [6]. When you torture and kill a human, you necessarily take away these properties, whereas when you kill a domestic animal, you do not. Similarly, I think that there are emergent properties of certain groups that you necessarily take away when you target those groups that you don’t necessarily take away when you randomly kill a large number of people [7].

The classic example of an emergent property in physics is liquidity. Individual H20 molecules do not have the property of liquidity, but hydrogen-bonded groups of H20 molecules do. What are, by analogy, the emergent properties of certain groups of individuals? The are the properties that constitute a culture. A people is different from a group insofar as a people is a group that has the emergent property of a given culture. They have a shared set of mental states that lead to shared habitual behaviors. Devout Christians attend church weekly to worship their conception of God, southern European ethnicities tend to value family and consequently routinely make time to eat together, etc.

What makes genocide a distinctive crime, then, is that you necessarily take away the emergent property of a culture, whereas you do not necessarily do this when you commit mass murder. It is possible for a particularly extreme case of mass murder to result in cultural destruction, but this is not necessary.

Even so, what makes genocide distinctively bad?

In order to tackle this, we need to talk a bit about paralysis and murder, as tangential as this may at first seem. I have frequently heard people say that they would prefer death to paralysis or loss of autonomy. This seems to be rooted in the fact that paralysis prevents an individual from performing his/her normal daily functions and satisfying certain goals and desires.

Now, we tend to think somebody cannot both paralyze and murder another person at the same time. We typically think of a person as paralyzed only when that person is alive and has a loss of motor function(s). Conversely, we don’t think of a person as paralyzed, in the ordinary sense, when that person is dead and consequently has a loss of motor functions.

What I’d like to suggest is that while an individual cannot be paralyzed and murdered at the same time, a group can, due to its emergent properties. When genocide is committed against a people, the members of this group are unable to do certain things that we value: engage in daily customs and practices, perform behaviors that reflect their shared value systems, uphold certain goals of their group, etc. In other words, they are culturally paralyzed. In the case of the Jews during World War II, the killing of a large number of that group prevented its members from being able to go to synagogue, uphold the Sabbath, or celebrate Jewish holidays. In this sense, the Jewish people were in a state of what we can call “cultural paralysis.” The word “paralysis” is particularly appealing to use in this context, as it denotes a condition that isn’t necessarily permanent. Paralyzed individuals can recover, and so — a fortiori — can cultures. The Jewish culture has at least partially recovered from its paralysis, for instance.

What makes genocide distinctively bad, then, is that it consists in the conjunction of two morally repugnant actions at once: mass murder is bad, but mass murder that results in cultural paralysis is worse.

Since mass murder can sometimes result in cultural paralysis even though it wasn’t intended, more must be said here. I do think that some cases of mass murder can be just as morally bad as genocide in the sense that they can both yield the same consequence of cultural paralysis. However, there is still a different sense in which genocide is “distinctively heinous.”

Judith Jarvis Thompson draws a distinction between assessing an action and assessing an agent. She argues that intentions are used for assessing the moral character of an agent, while consequences are used for assessing the moral status of an action [8]. While genocide and certain extreme cases of mass murder (those that result in cultural paralysis) carry the same action assessment, they carry a different agent assessment. In genocide, the consequences of the actions that lead to cultural paralysis are on a moral par with mass murder that leads to cultural paralysis, but the intentions of the agent is what makes genocide particularly heinous. The agent intended to commit the conjunction of both murder and cultural paralysis, while the mass murderer only intended the former. This means that the consequences of a genocidal agent’s actions are necessarily either morally worse than or equal to those of a mass murderer, but the moral character of a genocidal agent is always worse. In this sense, then, genocide can be said to be distinctively heinous and deserving of a worse punishment.

It is important to note that Boghossian discusses how some have tried to explain the badness of genocide in terms of a violation of group rights, but argues that this seems like a path best avoided. Accordingly, I have made no reference to a violation of group rights in my explanation. I have attempted to explain the badness of genocide solely in terms of the destruction of something we value, namely, a particular culture, linking it to the agent’s assessment of the action. Hopefully this will allow me to circumvent the complexities of tackling group rights issues, though of course it is possible that my idea of a culture being an emergent property opens up its own set of difficult problems.

This position about what makes genocide distinctive and distinctively heinous is certainly not radically novel. It has long been recognized that cultural destruction has an important role in what we think genocide is. Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term “genocide,” thought that what he called “cultural genocide” should be incorporated as a constituent part of the definition of genocide [9]. While what he meant by cultural genocide may be somewhat different from what I term cultural paralysis, the underlying theme is the same, and similar ideas have been expressed by David Nersessian [10]. If our intuitions are ever going to correspond with a definition of genocide, we have to include a type of cultural paralysis/destruction component into our definition.

Incorporating the idea of a culture in our concept of genocide helps to offer a solution to the grouping and convention problem too, since the groups of people that have the emergent property of a culture turn out to be the groups that are potential victims of genocide. On this account, we can say that religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, class status, intellectuals, etc. can all be potential victims of genocide, while groups such as faculty members at NYU and the book club cannot be because they don’t have sufficiently robust cultural emergent properties.

Granted, I have grossly oversimplified what a culture is, and consequently have likely oversimplified just how easy it may be to decide which groups can be potential victims of genocide. There may be another vagueness problem lurking here, concerned with when exactly a group has the property of a culture, but it still seems to me that this account doesn’t works better than the others that we discussed above. At the very least it looks like a more promising solution to the grouping problem, and one that should be explored further.

So, my provisional definition of genocide looks something like this:

Genocide has occurred when a group’s culture has been paralyzed or destroyed via the murder of members of that group with the very intention to cause such paralyze or destruction by violent means.

This definition focuses not on the number of members of a group killed, but on whether or not cultural paralysis/destruction has occurred. In this way we sidestep the practical issue posed by the vagueness and convention problem. However, as I hinted at above, we do run into another sort of vagueness problem, and not a trivial one at that: when does a group count as having a culture? What is a culture? Did the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, for instance, result in temporary cultural paralysis? Still, I think that if the concept of genocide is to be salvaged, this is the vagueness problem we will need to focus on.

Since our conditions for when genocide has occurred don’t revolve around quantity of people killed, but instead revolve around cultural paralysis, the number of people killed becomes a lens we can look through to see if a culture has been paralyzed. No doubt there are some clear cases where a certain number of people killed necessarily means that cultural paralysis or destruction has occurred, but when number-related evidence underdetermines whether or not genocide has occurred, we must look to other facts about cultures to come up with an answer, which seems promising.

I said at the beginning of this essay that I was only going to offer a prolegomenon to a solution. I have sketched an account of what we need to do in order to salvage the concept of genocide. I don’t think this account is detailed enough, nor is it likely to be right as presented, but I hope it is a step in the right direction. The first thing we need to do is include cultural paralysis/destruction in the definition of genocide, which would help explain our intuitions about the grouping and convention problem and the badness problem. The second thing to do is to solve the culture-related vagueness problem: when does a group count as having a culture, and what is a culture? This is a pretty deep problem, but I think it is time we revive discussion of it.

_____

Daniel Tippens received his Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy at New York University. He is now a research technician at New York University School of Medicine in the S. Arthur Localio Laboratory.

[1] Boghossian, P. (2010) The concept of genocide. Journal of Genocide Research.

[2] Ibid. 10.

[3] The Nizkor Project, interview with Dr. Eduard Bloch.

[4] Jewish Revenge Squads.

[5] Boghossian, op. cit., 7.

[6] I recognize that an account of the mind that claims the it is an emergent property of the brain is controversial, as is the account of the mental life of domestic animals that holds that they don’t have the same morally relevant emergent properties that humans do. I am not trying to take a stand on either one of these issues; I am merely employing them for illustrative purposes.

[7] I thank Massimo Pigliucci for helping me articulate this point during one of his dinner and philosophy meetups.

[8] Thomson, J.J. (1999) Physician-Assisted Suicide: Two Moral Arguments. Ethics 109: 497-518.

[9] Cultural genocide, Wiki entry.

[10] Nersessian, D. (2005) Rethinking Cultural Genocide Under International Law. Carnegie Council, 22 April.

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68 replies

  1. I personally don’t think that creating a working definition is a fruitless endeavor, and I think this can be made consistent with accepting the claim that we can never precisify our certain concepts into a strict set of necessary and sufficient conditions.

    In many legal definitions, we are trying to create a working definition to do at least two things:
    1- provide practical utility (the term can be relatively easily deployed based on”family resemblance”)
    2- capture (even if loosely) our intuitions about what the crime is (obviously if a definitions didn’t in any way at all fit our intuitions we would want to change it)

    In an ideal world, we could achieve (1) and (2) with a precise definition, but as many are pointing out, a precise definition with perfect necessary and sufficient conditions doesn’t seem to be possible. However, I do think that we can create better “fuzzy” definitions than others that will do better at achieving (1) and (2), I like to think that the account of genocide offered above is one such improvement (though the commenters’ objections have been strong and persuasive). Recall that in my article I say that even though my account may still admit of some vagueness, that isn’t to say many of us couldn’t agree that it works better than the previous account. If some felt the tug of this claim (and some of the earlier comments suggest that the tug was felt), then this is evidence that some fuzzy definitions might be better than other at upholding (1) and (2).

    Additionally as Neil pointed out, these attempts to make better fuzzy definitions can be considered in legal decision-making. For these reasons, I think that projects like Boghossian’s and the above article are not wastes of time.

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  2. Thanks, Labnut, excellent. A question: What would we call it if we wee able to kill everyone who is linked to or supports ISIS? A victory?

    JG

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  3. Hi Mario,

    In this regard, in what kind of God believed the Nazis? Not, obviously, in the Christian God. Therefore, to argue that “The Nazi religion is best regarded as an offshoot of Christianity” is misguided and contradictory.

    Perhaps they didn’t believe in your version of the Christian God but they did believe in their version of the Christian God, and, yes, their ideology was a mix of Christianity with nationalistic and racial ideologies, and can fairly be regarded as an offshoot of Christianity — the vast majority of the 8 million (peak) membership of the Nazi party were brought up as Christians and regarded themselves as Christians.

    Afterall, Third Reich Germany was a highly Christian nation. A 1939 census had 54% of Germans self-labelling as Protestant and 40% as Catholics. As another example, in personnel records of Auschwitz SS Staff, 43% self-described as Catholic, 37% as Protestant, and 20% as Deutsche Christen (the Nazified Protestant church).

    The Nazis did indeed persecute the relatively small number of Protestants and Catholics who opposed them politically. But most of the clergy in Germany then (both Catholic and Protestant) either supported the Nazis or kept their heads down. Only a small minority opposed the Nazis politically and were imprisoned or executed for it (though some of the names, such as Niemoller and Bonhoeffer, are well known).

    You are right on one point, the Nazis did persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses, owing to their refusal to join the army or swear allegiance to the Nazi state, but the JWs were only 0.05% of the population.

    And yes, the Nazis did want to Nazify and control the churches and printing presses and youth groups, etc, but strife between Nazi versions of religion and other versions of religion is not relevant to your original claim of trying to blame secularists.

    It is somewhat far fetched that a nation that was 94% Christian had widespread persecution of Christians. Claims that it did are largely a means of avoiding facing up to the fact that the 100,000 Germans who perpetrated the Holocaust (plus collaborators in other countries) were overwhelmingly Christians.

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  4. Wow! Can I once again express my personal annoyance with some of the comments that are hardly pertinent to this article. Impromptu history lessons and bizarre exchanges regarding the role Christianity played in Nazism and the Holocaust. Give it a rest! Italy was predominantly Catholic so let’s correlate this tidbit to Mussolini and Fascism? What about Japan? Shintoism anyone? The mindset in Japan was one of hysteria and its citizens were led to believe that their nation and culture were being threatened with genocide by the Allies. All sorts of rank variations on a No True Scotsman theme . . . and none of it having much to do with the UN definition of Genocide.

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  5. Hi Coel,

    “Afterall, Third Reich Germany was a highly Christian nation”.

    Well, Germany as many European nations became Christians after the third century of the common era and, conversely, Germany suffered an anti-Christian shock when the Nazis took the power.

    Hitler’s architect Albert Speer believed that Hitler had no real attachment to Catholicism. Historians such as Ian Kershaw, Joachim Fest and Alan Bullock agree that Hitler was anti-Christian – a view evidenced by sources such as the Goebbels Diaries, the memoirs of Speer, and the transcripts edited by Martin Bormann contained within Hitler’s Table Talk. Goebbels wrote in 1941 that Hitler “hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.” Many historians have come to the conclusion that Hitler’s long term aim was the eradication of Christianity in Germany.

    R. J. Evans wrote that Hitler repeatedly stated that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on science, which in the long run could not co-exist with religion. Alan Bullock wrote that even though Hitler frequently employed the language of “divine providence” in defense of his own myth, he ultimately shared with the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a materialist outlook, “based on the nineteenth century rationalists’ certainty that the progress of science would destroy all myths and had already proved Christian doctrine to be an absurdity”.

    In office, the Hitler regime conducted the Kirchenkampf (lit. church struggle). While wary of open conflict with the churches, Hitler generally permitted or encouraged anti-church radicals such as Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann to conduct their persecutions of the churches. Bullock wrote that Hitler was a rationalist and materialist, who saw Christianity as a religion “fit for slaves”, and against the natural law of selection and survival of the fittest.

    Bullock also wrote that “once the war was over, [Hitler] promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches”. Phayer wrote that “By the latter part of the decade of the thirties church officials were well aware that the ultimate aim of Hitler and other Nazis was the total elimination of Catholicism and of the Christian religion. According to Shirer, “under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann and Himmler—backed by Hitler—the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists”. Gill wrote that the Nazi plan was to “de-Christianise Germany after the final victory”.

    In 1999 Julie Seltzer Mandel, while researching documents for the “Nuremberg Project”, discovered 150 bound volumes collected by Gen. William Donovan as part of his work on documenting Nazi war crimes. Donovan was a senior member of the U.S. prosecution team and had compiled large amounts of evidence that Nazis persecuted Christian churches.

    Considering such background, it is rather contradictory to think that the Nazis believed in the Christian God.

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  6. Aravis Tarkheena: “The more I think about this, the more I read and re-read the UN definition, … , the more I am convinced that this is an example of a bogus philosophical issue, engendered by a mistaken understanding … of natural language. …”

    Amen!

    Dan Tippens: “A human has emergent properties …, such as mental properties like beliefs, desires, and intentions. When you … kill a human, you necessarily take away these properties, whereas when you kill a … animal, you do not.”

    Perhaps, this is the view of many philosophers, but it is wrong, totally not proven. Yet, I will discuss only the ‘definition’ issue first.

    There is no right or wrong definition but good vs bad. A bad definition will often produce inconsistency. Your emphasizing of using ‘paralyzing culture’ as an important part of the genocide-definition is of course your choice, but it does not carry much value for a ‘working-definition’. There are two ways to make a good (not bad) definition.

    One, ‘precise and perfect definition’: it should encompass the entire scope (universe) it tries to define. That is, it works ‘perfectly’ in every ‘point’ in that universe, as goes around, comes around.

    Two, ‘bare-bone definition’: it does reach every ‘point’ of that universe but does not guarantee to be a perfect one. Yet, it can progress recursively to reach the perfection. Most of the ‘legal’ terms are defined in this fashion.

    Both types of definition can be constructed with a process, fitting some ‘anchors’, not all ‘points’. In this case, I will use four anchors.
    Case 1: Holocaust
    Case 2: Nanking massacre (killing 300,000)
    Case 3: Mass air bombing in German (killing a million)
    Case 4: Jewish revenge (of killing Germans)

    Then we must decide the ‘nature’ of these cases.
    Case 1: the result of an ‘ideology’, a planned ‘mission’.
    Case 2: the result of barbarian-salvage human nature, an impromptu evilness.
    Case 3: a tactic to stop an evil-mission.
    Case 4: a failed (not effective) ‘hate (not ideology)’-mission.

    The more cases are included as anchors, the more precise the definition will be. When I choose to define case 1 as genocide while exclude all three other cases, the definition can be easily written out, and it will be relatively precise and clear.

    UN definition on genocide does meet the ‘bare-bone’ requirement, exactly a ‘good’ definition should be. I just want to show the ‘way’ of making a ‘good’ definition, as this is a very important issue in all disciplines. When we define ‘consciousness’ with phenomenological ‘human’ attributes (PHAs) only, it is not a ‘bare-bone’ definition. If consciousness is a result of ‘evolution’, it must have a ‘base’, far removed from those PHAs. With a PHAs definition, there is no chance of any kind to know the evolution process for ‘consciousness’.

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  7. Hi Tienzengong,

    1- “Dan Tippens: “A human has emergent properties …, such as mental properties like beliefs, desires, and intentions. When you … kill a human, you necessarily take away these properties, whereas when you kill a … animal, you do not.”
    Perhaps, this is the view of many philosophers, but it is wrong, totally not proven.”

    I appreciate you reminding us of this, but please see my endnote in my paper clarifying that this view of the mind was used for illustrative purposes.

    2- “There are no right or wrong definitions but good vs. bad.”

    I, and others, agree. Please see my above comment on how some “fuzzy” definitions are better than others. See Neil’s comment as well.

    3- You claim that my definition will not be useful as a working definition but then didn’t state why this is the case, you only went on to illustrate two types of definitions, and show how we go about constructing a good definition. You then end by claiming that the UN definition does meet the “bare bones” requirement.

    I believe that Boghossian’s entire paper is an attempt to show that the current UN definition does not meet the “bare bones” requirement or the “precise” requirement that you lay out. So, I offer my account as a better alternative. I would like to hear why my account is not better than the UN definition, i.e, could you please explain why. Or, if you have the time, I would like to hear why Boghossian’s paper does not in fact show that the UN definition doesn’t meet a good “barebones” definition.

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  8. Daniel Tippens: “…, I would like to hear why Boghossian’s paper does not in fact show that the UN definition doesn’t meet a good “barebones” definition.”

    Good and fair request. Many commenters have answered this in some ways. I just want to add one example: the Court-ruling on the Rwanda case shows that the UN definition is working. I did not say that your addition is wrong, but it is not needed. Sometimes, additional context can cause more problem than helps. I will show this point in a much big issue below.

    Daniel Tippens: “I appreciate you reminding us of this, … was used for illustrative purposes.”

    It was a very bad judgment to use ‘that’ even only for illustrative purposes. When {desires, and intentions} are defined in terms of phenomenological ‘human’ attributes (PHAs), dog will be immediately excluded. Yet, can we define {desires, and intentions} in terms of ‘dog’ attributes? We definitely can.

    When we learn to use the ‘bare bone’ definition, we will not make the above mistake. Of course, this is not your problem but is a common issue. Let me take this opportunity to show the big picture. And how bare is bare?

    If a thing (anything) is a result of ‘evolution’, it must consists of three parts.
    One, a base; could be far removed from the observable attributes.
    Two, a process.
    Three, expressions: the top-most expression is the most important one. The human attributes are the top-most (evolution) expressions.

    Thus, defining ‘consciousness’ with PHAs is the ‘dead-end’ for the issue, no chance of any kind to reach its ‘base’. Well, talking gets us to nowhere. Let me show an example and the complexity of the issue. As they are all ‘processes’, I will define them as ‘functions’.

    D1, F (intelligence) = A + X + Y + Z + …
    A is a counting device (such as Turing computer)
    X is ‘intention’: without intention, no ‘action’, let alone an intelligent one.
    Y is ‘computability’: without this, all is in vain. A computable universe can be totally expressed by a ‘two-code’ system.
    Z is the ability to handle the un-computable universe. In fact, a ‘7-code’ system can do this.
    (…) is some additional factors.

    D2, G (consciousness) = B + …
    B is the ability of a ‘self’ to distinguish itself from all others. B is totally hinged on whether all others are uniquely tagged. While consciousness is non-X (non-intention), it is not too difficult to show that ‘uniquely tagging’ hinges on the Y and Z.

    That is, F (intelligence) and G (consciousness) are entangled. Without stripping out the entanglement, we will be in a bad mess. Furthermore, any non-barebones definition will not have any chance to reach the ‘base’. No, the bareboneness is not about the ‘fuzziness’. This is a huge issue, but I have used up all the allotment for this comment.

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  9. Dan Tippens wrote:

    I personally don’t think that creating a working definition is a fruitless endeavor.

    In many legal definitions, we are trying to create a working definition to do at least two things:

    1- provide practical utility (the term can be relatively easily deployed based on”family resemblance”)

    2- capture (even if loosely) our intuitions about what the crime is (obviously if a definitions didn’t in any way at all fit our intuitions we would want to change it)

    However, I do think that we can create better “fuzzy” definitions than others that will do better at achieving (1) and (2), I like to think that the account of genocide offered above is one such improvement

    ——————————————

    I’m afraid this entirely misses the point of the critique.

    The necessary “fuzziness” of the definitions is not the problem, but rather the ground, on which the problem sits: namely, the application of the word will *always* require an act of judgment and its *correctness* will always be a matter of whether that application “passes muster” with the speaking community.

    That is, the problem is that one cannot apply the word mechanically, by way of measuring an event in the world against a list of criteria. What this means, of course, is that the piling up of more criteria *does not help* and that’s all that your refinements do — pile up more criteria.

    The relevant grounds for a sound family-resemblance-based account of reference are twofold: (A) Do we have a substantial, widely agreed upon set of accepted instances? (B) Have we identified a solid — but not sprawling — set of relevant resemblance points?

    I would argue that in the case of the word ‘genocide’, we already have (A) and (B), to a more than satisfactory degree. We have a very strong, widely accepted set of paradigm cases — the Shoah, being the ultimate case — and we have a solid, coherent set of relevant resemblance points — racial, ethnic, and religious hatred; the intention to expel, ethnically cleanse, and exterminate; and the like.

    At this point, all that we accomplish by this sort of discussion is to muddy the waters — to pile up criteria that serve no purpose (for the reasons I’ve given here) and to expand the set of relevant resemblance points until they no longer cohere and thus, actually make reference *more* difficult, not less.

    Labnut has it exactly backwards. It is not the lack of discussions like these that has caused people to minimize the Holocaust. It is precisely *because of* discussions like these, in which definitional bean-counting causes us to lose the proverbial forest for the proverbial trees.

    So, I am afraid that I am completely unpersuaded that an exercise like yours is needed (and until I hear some specific replies to my very specific criticisms, I will likely remain that way) and am inclined to think that it actually does harm, insofar as it muddies what is actually a relatively clear concept. The way in which the world reacted to the images coming out of Bosnia and Kosovo are evidence of that.

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  10. Hi Aravis, thanks for the response. I think this will be my last response on the issue of fuzzy definitions but I wanted to reply to you since you objected to me directly.

    You say that I miss the point because:
    “The necessary “fuzziness” of the definitions is not the problem”

    But then you go on to say:
    “That is, the problem is that one cannot apply the word mechanically, by way of measuring an event in the world against a list of criteria.”

    This, though, sounds exactly like a problem of necessary fuzziness (I said fuzziness was when you couldn’t give a strict set of necessary and sufficient conditions, i.e a list of criteria, unless you mean something else by criteria). So it seems like you are trying to draw some distinction without a difference, but perhaps I am wrong.

    You also say,
    “So, I am afraid that I am completely unpersuaded that an exercise like yours is needed (and until I hear some specific replies to my very specific criticisms, I will likely remain that way) and am inclined to think that it actually does harm, insofar as it muddies what is actually a relatively clear concept. The way in which the world reacted to the images coming out of Bosnia and Kosovo are evidence of that.”

    I thought that Neil’s comment about how academic literature on genocide and refinements of genocide can inform legal decisions was a rather convincing reason to believe that projects like mine that attempt different angles of coming up with better “fuzzy” definitions of genocide are still worthwhile and certainly far from harmful. Perhaps not, but it would need arguing for (perhaps you think we could lead legal decisions down an endlessly confusing path? I could see this argument being made).Thanks again for the discussion.

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  11. Aravis, as much as I appreciated and agreed with your analysis of why this discussion has seemed frustrating to many of us, I think there are benefits in exploring the adequacy of the UN definition. This is more than an abstract philosophic discussion. For better or worse, it highlights the points that are likely to be debated by member nations in the UN and upon which drastic actions may well be taken. You may think this is a “relatively clear concept,” but I feel safe in assuring you that when the rubber hits the road those affected may find such assurances as rather banal, i.e., the viewpoint of Tibetans with regard to their treatment by the Chinese.

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  12. Daniel Tippens: “…, I would like to hear why Boghossian’s paper does not in fact show that the UN definition doesn’t meet a good “barebones” definition.”

    I do owe you an answer on this, as I wanted to explain the importance of the barebones-ness first in my last comment. Any high-level definition (far removed from its ‘base’) is always the dead-end for the issue. Yet, some additional could also be very troublesome. If we defined a dead-person with one additional requirement {whose eyes must be dead}, a few persons might not receive death certificates long after their death, as their eyes live in someone’s faces. Although this is an outraged analogy, it shows the point.

    By adding the {paralyzing culture} as part of the genocide definition, it could make the Holocaust no long a genocide, as it was a ‘failed’ attempt on that account.

    You were also talking about the ‘badness’ (morality) issue in your article. Yes, we can define ‘genocide’ totally from this direction. Unfortunately, morality thus far is a high-level definition, reaching only the dead-end.

    We have discussed many these dead-end issues {morality, free will, intention, etc.} before. Unless we can find their barebones definitions (Bdef), we are just doing the mumbo jumbo day in and day out.

    Def 1, free will: an innate intention, which arises ‘free’ from any external influence.

    Def 2, morality: goodness = ‘proper’ intention; evilness = ‘improper’ intention.

    I have showed before that {Bdef (intelligence) = counting device}, and {Bdef (consciousness) = uniquely tagging ‘all’}, and both of these are connected to the bottom of physics laws. Now, I have reduced {free will and morality} to {intention and properness}. Can both {intention and properness} be connected to the bottom of physics laws? The answers are definitely ‘Yes’; of course, not here.

    The key issue is the concept of Bdef which can be reached with two steps.

    One, it must encompass its ‘base’ and its ‘process’, not just the phenomenological attributes of the top most expression.

    Two, it must ‘strip’ down all the entanglements from any other concepts. In math, the definitions begin from its ‘base’ and then develop the entire system with an axiomatic ‘process’. All the later entanglements are expressed as ‘theorems’, not part of definitions. Thus, there is no ‘strip down’ issue in math. In this sense, mathematicians ‘cheat’ or just blessed.

    Today, the human-physics talks about atoms, quarks, etc. only. It is fine but is not honest. The human attributes (intelligence, consciousness, morality, spirituality, free will, intention, properness, etc.) are the top most ‘expression’ of the laws of physics. If we cannot show that the physics laws are the ‘base’ for those human attributes, that physics is not complete, not correct one.

    Daniel, you wrote a good article. But, I think it is wrong because it does not fit well with the ‘principles’ above.

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  13. (#5)
    It is not the lack of discussions like these that has caused people to minimize the Holocaust. It is precisely *because of* discussions like these
    That is patently false.

    You compound your error by extravagantly mis-characterising the discussion:
    tinkering with minutia at the edges
    playing silly analytic philosophical games with words
    definitional bean-counting

    Yes, you made a strong point when you introduced the concept of family resemblance definitions and I agree with it. But that does not remove the need for an ongoing conversation for all the reasons I have already given. And it does not justify the way you mis-characterise the discussion.

    To deal with the minimisation of the Holocaust. It has nothing to do with discussions like these. It has everything to do with a world-wide trend towards anti-Semitism. 1.09 billion people harbour anti-Semitic attitudes(http://global100.adl.org/) and I doubt they have read the discussion. See also http://bit.ly/1yLNkwh . There is a huge amount of evidence available for this trend.

    There are many reasons for this trend, including a deeply ambivalent attitude towards the Israelis.

    Part of the reason, in Western countries, at least, is the growth of atheist fundamentalism. Attacks on Israel have become a proxy for attacks on religion, especially on Christianity, because of its origins.

    Part of the reason is that the growth of atheism has diminished the respect for life, which was once seen as sacred. The clearest example of this was Sam Harris’ statement:
    Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion” Sam Harris – End of Faith, pg 53
    and Dawkins famously defended infanticide until the age of one(http://bit.ly/1yLXSLK). Abortion and euthanasia are further examples.

    Finally, here are four definitions of Genocide commonly used in the literature:
    1. “Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator.” (Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn)
    2. “Genocide in the generic sense is the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims.” (Israel W. Charny).
    3. “Genocide is sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim.” (Helen Fein)
    4. The “concept of Genocide applies only when there is an actualized intent, however successfully carried out, to physically destroy an entire group (as such a group is defined by the perpetrators).” (Steven T. Katz)

    See also the Genocide Watch 10 stage process – http://bit.ly/1BlZ527

    Does that look like definitional bean counting, like tinkering with minutiae at the edges?

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  14. Hi Mario,

    Many historians have come to the conclusion that Hitler’s long term aim was the eradication of Christianity in Germany.

    As per my previous comment, the sensible conclusion is that they’d have replaced what they saw as the “negative” Christianity, which they regarded as having been corrupted by Jewish influence, with the “Positive Christianity” promoted by the Nazified Deutsche Christen church, based on the idea that Jesus was an Aryan. Hence Goebells’s quotes about Hitler’s disparagement of the churches, but note that he also says thing like “The Fuhrer is deeply religious …”. See Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich for a full account.

    Ian Kershaw, Joachim Fest and Alan Bullock agree that … R. J. Evans wrote that … Alan Bullock wrote that … Phayer wrote that … According to Shirer … Gill wrote that …

    See a pattern here? You (and the wiki pages you’re quoting) quote lots of claims but are rather sparse on actual evidence.

    R. J. Evans wrote that Hitler repeatedly stated that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on science, which in the long run could not co-exist with religion.

    Well if Hitler “repeatedly stated” that then presumably you’ll have no problem actually quoting Hitler saying that. Yet you don’t. (Nor has anyone else, as far as I’m aware.)

    … Hitler was a rationalist and materialist, …

    Really? You have presented no quotes saying this. Actual quotes show the opposite, e.g.:

    Gunther Hecht (Rassenpolitischen Amt der NSDAP): “The common position of materialistic monism is philosophically rejected completely by the volkisch-biological view of National Socialism.”

    H.S.Chamberlain: “so-called scientific monism, materialism” [are] “shallow and therefore injurious systems” and as a result of such “errors” … “theists become in the twinkling of an eye atheists, a strikingly common thing in the case of Jews”. And “It is absolutely impossible ever to bring home to such a man [a Jewish Scholar] what we Teutons understand by Godhead, religion, morality. Here lies the hard insoluble kernel of the `Jewish problem”’.

    Hitler: “The struggle against the materialistic ideology and for the erection of a true people’s community serves as much the interests of the German nation as of our Christian faith.”

    (Cites in my post-lite and lengthier full post, which contain many more such quotes.)

    You are doing what many religious people have done, trying to paint the Nazi ideology as “secular”, “scientific”, “materialist”, et cetera, as a means of passing the buck (blaming whichever ideologies you don’t like). Merely quoting other people claiming this is not convincing (the creationists have long played that game in trying to blame it on Darwinism). The fact is that the Nazis were religious; maybe not your version of religion, but still religious. If you want an extensive collection of actual quotes see the link just given.

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  15. Also, @ Aravis

    Piling up criteria may seem like a bad thing but I dont think it is when we live in a changing society all this criteria may be used as material to chronicle societal change and thus create more accurate and timely changes/additions to international law.

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  16. Coel,
    While I am sympathetic to your cause (most Germans were self-identified as Christian at the time, regardless of what the Nazis were), I must jump in to defend Mario Roy on a point:

    “‘Ian Kershaw, Joachim Fest and Alan Bullock agree that … R. J. Evans wrote that … Alan Bullock wrote that … Phayer wrote that … According to Shirer … Gill wrote that …’
    See a pattern here? You (and the wiki pages you’re quoting) quote lots of claims but are rather sparse on actual evidence.”

    Mario is making an appeal to authority, and it happens to be appropriate; the authors he refers to are recognized experts; Fest wrote what may be the definitive biography of Hitler, and Shirer wrote what was long the definitive history of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” (And anyone aware of the differences of approach between Bullock and Fest will find their agreement on any issue of substance telling.)

    The religious beliefs of the Nazis themselves will remain a scholarly curiosity for some time. They were inheritors of a cultural transformation in Germany that began in the early-mid 19th Century, and saw the development of all kinds of weird religious and quasi-religious ideas and practices, some covertly or openly subversive of the established state-preferred religion (Lutheranism primarily, but Catholicism to the south). So its not surprising to find Catholics, neo-pagans, Reformation-minded Protestants, atheists, etc., all coming together to worship the real godhead of Nazism, Hitler.

    As for Hitler himself, having read the primary materials – Mein Kampf, speeches, the Table Talk, etc. – I still find it very difficult to bring his often contradictory statements into a single religious view. He certainly believed in some divinity he refers to as the “Almighty,” but he was antagonistic to established Christianity, believed that his anti-semitism and his historical vision were “scientific,” and was an admirer of Schopenhauer (although he didn’t quite get the implication of Schopenhauer’s pessimism, that unleashing the “Will” was actually not a good thing). The matter is complicated by the necessary distinction between what he believed, and what he wanted the German people to believe. It takes some study to get to what he himself actually believed, if anything.

    In short, this seems to be a historical discussion requiring much more time, space, and effort than can be given it here.

    Which brings me into agreement with Thomas Jones. This side-bar discussion was somewhat inappropriate here, and really off-topic concerning the OP. None of the historical claims on this particular issue in the comments have been convincing, because the issue doesn’t admit of brief declarations, however well-evidenced.

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  17. Tienzengong writes:
    It was a very bad judgment to use ‘that’ even only for illustrative purposes. When {desires, and intentions} are defined in terms of phenomenological ‘human’ attributes (PHAs), dog will be immediately excluded. Yet, can we define {desires, and intentions} in terms of ‘dog’ attributes? We definitely can.

    I dont think this address Dan’s point, it only points out an alleged flaw in the way he chose to approach the subject of genocide rather than depicting an inconsistency with his argument.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that your objections are made moot by the fact that scholarly literature can be a source of international law.

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  18. @Daniel Tippens:

    “This, though, sounds exactly like a problem of necessary fuzziness (I said fuzziness was when you couldn’t give a strict set of necessary and sufficient conditions, i.e a list of criteria, unless you mean something else by criteria). So it seems like you are trying to draw some distinction without a difference, but perhaps I am wrong.”

    It seems as though you believe there are better and worse forms of fuzziness and Aravis believes trying to improve the fuzziness just causes people to increasingly miss the point, focused on minute distinctions rather than the actual subject itself. I’ve indicated above that this is precisely what irks me about such a discussion. And if the term is indeed a family-resemblance issue in terms of definition, then how will this analysis benefit that in any way, unless one seeks (unwittingly or not) to undermine the family-resemblance idea itself? The only thing it does, in my view, is anesthetize and sanitize it by abstracting away the visceral human element.

    @labnut:

    Is there anything that one wouldn’t have called a genocide that we now do because we couldn’t recognize it other than by such analyses? Do I really need all the specifics spelled out for me to come to that conclusion? And if not, what’s the point?

    @Thomas Jones:

    Given the above, what exactly will an enumeration of minutiae by Tibetans do to convince the Chinese to change their policies? That’s one of the consequences of such a mechanical approach- it is much easier to ignore/redefine/quibble over than monks setting themselves on fire, IMHO.

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