Justice in India

An unelected all-male village council in India has ordered that 23-year-old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15-year-old sister are raped. The ‘sentence’ was handed down as punishment after their brother eloped with a married woman. They also ordered for the sisters to be paraded naked with blackened faces.
So what's going on here is a collective punishment of the family for the sins of one of its members -- very similar to the kind of tribal fighting we saw in Iraq. You can't punish the brother because he's gone, so you punish someone else in the family. The brother was more important in his society than his sisters, so you punish two of them to try to 'even out' the offense done to the other clan.

If you asked them about the justice of punishing these two girls, they would say they weren't punishing them at all. They are punishing the family. If you didn't punish the family through this judicial process, they'd add, the other clan -- which is larger and stronger than the offending clan -- would exact an extrajudicial revenge that would be harsher, and which would probably lead to a cycle of violence. This will put a stop to the blood feud that would otherwise result. It is, in their minds, the least bad solution to a violation of a marriage contract by a member of a junior clan.

We should obviously try to stop this, but we should also understand the forces at work. In stopping it, we are guaranteeing the cycle of violence that the court is trying to avoid. Maybe that's OK -- maybe we are willing for all of these people to die, rather than that they should carry on living as they do. If you don't come with a solution that the clans will accept, though, you're saving the girls at the expense of someone else. Maybe more someones. Maybe a lot more.


Cassandra said...

Or these people could simply grow the hell up.

This isn't justice at all, by any standard. It's state-sanctioned vengeance enacted against innocent 3rd parties in the hope or averting more criminal behavior before it happens.

That's pretty much the opposite of justice - it's appeasement of thugs and criminals, which historically hasn't worked out all that well.

Cassandra said...

One more thing: I don't buy that we're "guaranteeing" anything.

The people involved all have free will. They don't have to punish innocent 3rd parties, either by raping children or killing innocent family members (a criminal act with nothing of justice about it).

This isn't about holding the wrongdoer responsible for his actions, but about sick honor culture that puts egotism and hurt pride above all else.

Grim said...

They don't have to, but they think it's the right thing to do. It's what their consciences will direct them to do if we stop them from carrying out the court's ruling -- and, as is common to people directed by their consciences, they'll be tireless and feel righteous in doing it.

It's a harder problem than we make it to be. We've been talking about it a long time -- Kipling wrote about it -- but the issue really is convincing them to abandon a whole moral code in favor of ours. That's not easy, and it hasn't completely worked in hundreds of years of trying. It's less a matter of them "growing up" than of them abandoning everything their society has taught them during the process in which they actually grew up. Their whole lives and every institution to which they belong teach them that this is the right way. You can't just stop the discrete act and expect a good result. The whole system has to change, and changing it is not easy.

Grim said...

By the way, it's worth considering that the real issue at base isn't that they don't respect individual dignity instead of the family's pride. The real issue may be that they aren't Christians. It is Christianity that teaches above all that God loves, and forgives, the individual soul. There's no similar principle in Hinduism, nothing even remotely like it. Islam at least considers the individual soul as important, but in a context that states that women are subject to the authority of family.

We don't talk about conversion any more, but it may be what is really required to shift the assumptions that underlie this issue in India. It may not be 'growing up' that they need, but coming to Jesus.

Cassandra said...

... It's what their consciences will direct them to do

Conscience? Or pride?

Sorry, I can understand how things are, but any "moral code" that tells people it's OK to rape and humiliate one person to get back at another person is irretrievably corrupt and evil.

Period, end of story.

And I'm sorry, "individual dignity" is not what these young women will lose. And there's a difference between being subject to the authority of your own family and being raped by cretins and thugs because someone *else* gave offense.

I'm afraid I'm not prepared to be tolerant of this - I know pure evil when I see it, and dressing it up as something else doesn't wash off the stench.

Cassandra said...

And oh by the way, what kind of cowards would allow their women to be defiled to save their own hides?

Grim said...

... is irretrievably corrupt and evil.... I'm afraid I'm not prepared to be tolerant of this - I know pure evil when I see it, and dressing it up as something else doesn't wash off the stench.

That opinion, strictly speaking, is orthodox. It goes with the suggestion that what they really need is conversion.

...what kind of cowards would allow their women to be defiled to save their own hides?

I don't know that they'd agree that this frame was accurate. They're allowing their women to be defiled to make up for the defiling of someone else's women by one of their own, for whom they feel responsible. It's not that they're afraid for themselves, in other words, but that they feel obligated to make restitution. It's the eye-for-an-eye principle, as old as Hammurabi, at work in modern India.

E Hines said...

I'm down with killing barbarians. It doesn't matter whether they're nascent Iran or Daesh or they are Iran or Daesh, they're threats to civilization and have from that have no legitimacy.

We're in a war for survival, and it's time to stop being polite about it, it's time to put aside the Reset buttons of our childhood.

Eric Hines

douglas said...

"We don't talk about conversion any more, but it may be what is really required to shift the assumptions that underlie this issue in India. It may not be 'growing up' that they need, but coming to Jesus."

Yes, this is exactly it, but try persuading the intelligentsia secularists that it's our only real hope... They don't even understand Christianity, much less see it as the future.

By the way, when you put it this way, it seems imperative to at least be active in supporting missionary work, if not engaging in it personally. Ever seen the movie 'Machine Gun Preacher'? It's pretty interesting.

Elise said...

They're allowing their women to be defiled to make up for the defiling of someone else's women by one of their own, for whom they feel responsible.

That's awfully nice of them but I'd be a lot more sold on the idea that this is about "conscience" if the eloper's family was willing to offer up one of their men to be punished in whatever way the eloper would be if he hadn't fled. Let some guy stand in for the one who run away - that way you only need to offer up one clan member.

David Foster said...

There is a sort of parallel to Eugene Burdick's novel "Fail Safe," in which an American president orders an American city (NYC) to be destroyed in penance for the accidental destruction of Moscow by American bombers.

Grim said...

That is a parallel of a sort, isn't it?

Elise, I don't doubt you could do a better job of designing an ethical system. However, if the goal is to first understand this one, you still are thinking too much like a Westerner to see what is going on. The reason two people and not one are to be punished isn't to do with the stature of the offender, but the stature of the victim in comparison. There is a strict inequality in these societies. You can't be sure they'd be satisfied to punish someone of the offender's status if they felt the victim was a better man or woman: even were he there, they might prefer to kill his uncle. It's a very different approach, one that at first seems quite alien to our individualistic approach.

Texan99 said...

Yeah, as an explanation of why they're down with offering up a woman (or two) to be raped instead of themselves, I'm not sure this is convincing.

Elise said...

The reason two people and not one are to be punished isn't to do with the stature of the offender, but the stature of the victim in comparison.

Sorry to be nit-picky but in your original post you said that two sisters were to be punished because the brother was more important in his society than his sisters. That sounds to me like it's about the status of the offender.

It’s not that I don’t understand, Grim - it’s that I don’t approve. Yes, I disapprove of the whole basis of this system (castes, inequality by design, unelected government, treatment of women) but even if I accept that framework this situation smells to high heaven. The village council is not some impartial group of elders trying to hold the village together; instead it seems to be controlled by the offended clan. In other words, the “judge” is also the “plaintiff”. The girls’ family is not accepting this as appropriate and understandable; they have appealed to the government for relief. That seems to indicate something other than a desire to stop bloodshed is going on here - otherwise the girls’ clan would be eager to keep from being massacred.

Finally, any punishment that involves raping someone is highly suspect. Forcing a married woman from the offending clan to leave her husband and marry someone from the offended clan; forcing the sisters to marry members of the offended clan; even humiliating women from the offending clan by parading them naked - those are understandable punishments within the context of the existing system. Rape is not. Furthermore, I find it creepy in the extreme that the judges/offended clan are apparently certain they can find someone willing and able to carry out the punishment. And I wonder how many someones they are planning to find.

This whole thing stinks worse than week-old fish. Any system can become corrupt and it sounds to me like that’s just what’s happened here.

As for stopping it, we can bring pressure both as individuals via the Amnesty International petition and as a nation via government protests. Unfortunately, though, India is independent and we are no longer in the enviable position of General Sir Charles Napier:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

raven said...

Sounds to me that what those women need is a few grenades.

Grim said...

...nit-picky but in your original post you said...

Yeah, I shouldn't have said that. It could be that he was more important, or it could be that the woman was more important to her society than the girls are to theirs. The second is more likely, I think, since they're the ones being offered up to public shaming -- they're obviously not very important to their society -- and the court is responding, "No way they'll think that's fair, you guys stole a top-flight wife and you're offering up some poor relation's daughter. You have to give up two."

It's a weird calculus, but it does have an internal logic. I don't expect you to approve of it -- I'm fine with describing it as "pure evil," as Cass did. I just think it's worth understanding how the system works before we get involved with it. If you tried to pay off the one clan so it wouldn't rape the girls, you'd better be prepared for a lot more of these rulings because you'll have established that Westerners are willing to pay a cash bounty to prevent judicial rapes. If you just go stop the rape, it'll set off a blood feud that may lead to far more deaths and rapes.

What really needs to happen is conversion and a complete elimination of the underlying culture (not, please notice, the underlying people). But that's out of fashion and off the agenda. So we're left with a set of bad options, most of which produce greater harm in the long run, but one of which we have to choose because we can't stand by and we aren't willing to do what really needs to be done.

Texan99 said...

"Sounds to me that what those women need is a few grenades."

Good heavens, that wouldn't be at all conducive to restoring harmony in the community.

Grim said...

Very likely, they would only use them to commit suicide anyway. The differtial analysis of the situation isn't limited to the men in these cultures.

Grim said...

To flesh out my last comment, one of the things we've seen wherever we've encountered female suicide bombers is evidence that they were sexually abused -- often raped -- beforehand. It turns up in the Russian/Chechen fight, in Palestine, in Iraq, and elsewhere. The sense of having been shamed is so pervasive that the opportunity to cleanse themselves and prove themselves to be honorable after all seems to be motivating the choice to become a suicide bomber. They can stop being a rape victim, and become a martyr.

Now some question this because it's a highly convenient narrative for a Western power (like Israel, or even Russia): it really makes the 'oppressed Muslim population' look bad. Something so convenient for imperialist or Zionist propaganda must surely be questioned.

On the other hand, Andrea Dworkin looked into it and found the same thing. Whatever else she may be, she's not a famous apologist for Western colonialism.

Sometimes the best propaganda is the simple truth.

Texan99 said...

Being a female in that culture would be an adequate reason to commit suicide.

Grim said...

It's a difficult point of theology. We teach that despair is a mortal sin, and suicide its worst case. And, indeed, there is a reason to hope: there are other human beings in the same world who feel differently, and who have at least some power to change their situation. They might have hope in you, for example.

Yet nearly a quarter of Palestinian female suicide bombers had university degrees -- the very subset of women you'd think would have the best sense of the world beyond the small 'world' they inhabit. And, of course, though Amnesty International is interested in helping these two young women, they aren't at all interested in doing what would really need to be done to change their 'world.'

Texan99 said...

If we reduce the entire area to a smoking crater, we'll have preserved the women from the sin of despair, while contributing to the restoration of harmony in the world society. Win-win.

Grim said...

That might be true, but India is a nuclear power with a second-strike capability in the form of their nuclear-armed submarines. I thus have to confess to pragmatic as well as moral concerns.

I understand what you mean to say, though: something like, 'I hate these people (at least the men) and I wish they didn't exist.' But they do exist, and we are either going to intervene in these affairs or we are not. If we are not, then these girls are going to be raped. If we are going to intervene, we can do it blindly or wisely. If we do it blindly, we are probably saving two girls at the expense of many more who will be killed or raped in the blood feud. If we do it wisely, there are other risks.

There's a reason Kipling finally resorted to horrified poetry and terrifying short stories after his experiences in India. He believed in a duty to try to stop this too, and wasn't afraid to think that conversion was the way. On the other hand, repeated experience shows that Western involvement often makes the problems worse. Frustration and anger are understandable, but the problem doesn't change because we're frustrated and angry. In a hundred years, it doesn't change.

So you start, I think, by trying to understand the system and how to manipulate it without causing worse disasters. And then you revisit the question of whether or not conversion is the right way to change the system; and if it is, why we aren't trying to do it.

One reason is an intense literature on moral philosophy and ethics over the last decades that is opposed to colonialism. Oddly, or ironically, almost all Western academic feminism is aligned with anti-colonialism because they are both outgrowths of Marxist analysis: both see the world as divided between oppressors (men/Westerners) and oppressed (women/indigenous persons and cultures), and analyze social relationships as means by which the oppressors seek to control and exploit the oppressed. The alignment makes sense because they grew out of the same ground. But it should be obvious that nothing makes more sense for a sincere feminism than imperialism and colonialism. Nothing will ultimately do to fix this problem but to overturn the entire culture and its basic assumptions.

Texan99 said...

I have no confidence that there's a way for outsiders to intervene in such a system. The women who accept their degraded positions underneath these sadistic little cowards would have somehow to find it in themselves to fight back. If that creates some instability in their society, well--I'm not convinced that the danger of nuclear holocaust would be increased, but I'm also not interested in helping perpetrate a system of treating women this way because the men might lose all control of themselves, nuclear-wise, if they were forced to cut it the heck out.

Grim said...

I certainly understand. Were I a priest I might suggest that your thinking on this, which alternates between suicide and genocide as solutions, is in some danger also of taking counsel of despair. However, I'm not a priest but an ordinary man and a warrior, and I suspect the truth is that wrath and not despair is what is driving you. Anger is completely justified and appropriate. I'm only suggesting, based on having done some of this work in the field, that though it is appropriate and justified it is not enough.

Texan99 said...

I suspect most of what you've been saying on this subject is intended to be provocative. You can't be blind to the horror of the custom you describe, and you're not in the habit of using moral relativism to condone horrors--certainly not on grounds as weak the possibility that social harmony might be preserved, or that people who are robbed of the opportunity to persist in one crime might be spurred to perpetrate a worse one. Would you let such things be done to yourself on these grounds, or any others?

I go back to something one of the servicemen said on the French train: he figured he was going to die anyway, and it was best to go down fighting. A forlorn-hope attack may amount to suicide, but despair can just as easily take the form of knuckling under.

Grim said...

I suspect most of what you've been saying on this subject is intended to be provocative.

That's not true. Nothing I've said is meant to be provocative. That misunderstanding is probably coloring your reading. Indeed, far from trying to provoke your anger, I'm sympathetic too it. It's justified and appropriate.

I didn't write this to provoke anyone, but to discuss the problems of dealing with such a culture -- problems with which I have practical experience. I think it's a fascinating problem even as it is a disturbing one. It bears thinking about, especially if -- as I hope we do -- we do want not just to stop this discrete offense but to pursue a better life for these and other girls in this culture.

You can't be blind to the horror of the custom you describe, and you're not in the habit of using moral relativism to condone horrors...

Nor have I done so here. I've agreed that "pure evil" is a good description, and stated that it comes from an ethical system that is wicked just where it is un-Christian. I've suggested that we should pursue a remedy of trying to convert this people and its civilization. I wasn't kidding about that.

Would you let such things be done to yourself on these grounds, or any others?

Of course not. But I wasn't raised in this culture. I was raised in a culture that had developed a notion of justice that was built around individual guilt as a precondition for any kind of just punishment. Whatever similar elements there were in ancient European culture were worked out of the culture by theologians like Peter Abelard, whose thoughts on sin and the dignity of the individual soul made their way into the law on crime and the dignity of the individual body.

In other words, I think the root problem really is the religious structure underlying the culture. Perhaps Hinduism and Islam can be reformed to include similar ideas, if conversion is too far a bridge. But if suicide and genocide are not, why would conversion be too far?

Texan99 said...

If you mean to be taken seriously, then I'm at sea regarding your views on just war. The Napier approach makes more sense to me. Nevertheless, my hyberbolic response about glowing craters and suicide vests was not meant to be taken literally as an exhortation to right conduct. It was an exasperated response to the notion that the salient moral dilemma posed by this vile custom was either (1) the temptation of its victims to desperate self-destruction rather than a serene resignation or (2) insufficient cultural sensitivity to otherness. "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . . .?"

So if I had the nuclear football, I probably wouldn't use it on people who would say, "Hey, your guys stole one of my women; I have the right to rape a couple of yours in order to restore harmony--they won't mind, will they? And you're cool with it? OK, send 'em over, and better bind their hands first." Still, it's my fervent wish that this culture will self-destruct as soon as possible, leaving its proponents puzzled, isolated, and bereft of fresh victims.

The idea that the main obstacle to mutual understanding on this point is a controversy over individual vs. communal justice seems to me to miss the point. This isn't communal. It's one segment of the society using another segment as sacrificial game pieces to assuage their own uncontrollable loss of face and bloodthirsty resentment. If they were offering up members of their own category--theoretically to include themselves--for communal expiation and healing, I would have considerably more patience. Yes, I understand that this is another example of Western bias in my thinking: I insist that segmenting off portions of the population into a special subclass, to be immolated at the convenience of those in power, is flatly wrong. It is not merely another thread in the glorious human tapestry, or something that comes into benign focus if we expand our imaginations.

Grim said...

If you mean to be taken seriously, then I'm at sea regarding your views on just war.

I hold the traditional Catholic views on this subject. They complicate the idea of using war as a method, here, because they insist that war be defensive. The Crusades were supposed to be defenses against Islamic incursions, except where they weren't supposed to be wars (but rather executions of the police power by a sovereign over his own territory). So, in this case, the philosophy insists that the Indian government ought to be the one to stop this -- if they are inclined, and if they are capable -- and that we don't really have anything to say about it.

Well, conversion attempts are not war, so they're licensed: we can send missionaries. And if they are killed, as they sometimes are by Muslims in particular (who hold attempting to convert a Muslim to be a capital crime), then we'd have a defensive claim of the proper sort.

The idea that the main obstacle to mutual understanding on this point is a controversy over individual vs. communal justice seems to me to miss the point.

I don't think I'm making the argument that we are in pursuit of mutual understanding. I think I'm arguing that we ought to try to understand what they think they are doing before we intervene in it. It's Chesterton's wall principle: you should know what the wall is doing before you remove it. But he doesn't say, and neither do I, that you should never remove a wall. He says you should be sure you know why it's there, and then you can possibly remove it without causing a greater harm.

This is a wall I think justly ought to be removed, but I think Amnesty is making a serious mistake by thinking they can just stop this discrete incident and all will be well. If they just do that, there will be a blood feud. Cassandra's point -- that the sins of such a feud is on them, morally -- is right, but it doesn't change the fact that a lot more people (including a lot more women and girls) are likely to be killed or raped in the course of the feud. Understanding the system is important to understand the scale of what would be involved in removing the wall, and to make sure that we don't cause greater harm by our intervening.

...theoretically to include themselves--for communal expiation and healing, I would have considerably more patience. Yes, I understand that this is another example of Western bias...

I don't mean to suggest that you shouldn't have a Western bias, or that you shouldn't feel free to criticize the system. I think it's a wicked system too. I only mean to suggest you set aside your Western biases just long enough to understand how the system works. I'm not suggesting a multicultural acceptance of the system, just a dispassionate understanding of its mechanisms as a pre-condition to reform efforts.

Texan99 said...

My understanding is pretty dispassionate; it's my judgment that's harsh. It's blindingly obvious how the system works: one group imposes on a weaker group to pay a devastating price for its own overwhelming needs. It's not that uncommon a device when one group has huge power over another. It's also a distressingly common failing for the group in power to be incapable of grasping what's wrong with what they're doing--"But it yields such convenient results for our in-group! What could be wrong? Oh, those other 'people'? They don't feel things the way we do." Human history groans with the pattern. There's nothing new or puzzling about it.

What's more, this understanding of where such a system goes off the rails is central to reforming it. The perpetrators don't need an appreciation of Western standards of individual justice so much as they need to understand that women are human beings in their own right, not their toys. From that conviction, reforms will follow organically.

How one convinces a powerful in-group that its subjugated peoples are not rightfully its toys is, I admit, a tough problem. It's as often required war as conversion, as far as I can tell. It's a very, very hard point to grasp. Islam is among the worst religions for imposing obstacles to grasping the point; it positively revels in subjugation of all flavors. It also encourages its adherents to believe that their self-worth is tied up in their power to subjugate others, so any change in the status of women is viewed with humiliated panic.

Grim said...

That is also a Marxist analysis, if I may say so without provoking. You're also analyzing this problem (and indeed you say much of human history) in terms of power relationships between groups. You're even suggesting violence as the only solution, which is characteristic of Marxist analyses as well.

I might suggest that the real problem here is not one of classes or sexes being divided against each other, but a problem of weakness and poverty. The system that exists would permit the clan to pay its way out in money as a substitute for blood or shame. But it's poor, rural India -- they have no money. So they're stuck with blood and/or shame. They could make someone more powerful within the system pay the price, but they are too weak. They can't really even control their own members except for the physically smallest, weakest, and youngest -- and these are females from the poorest and smallest families in the clan. So they pay in that coin because it's the only one in which they can pay.

There's a subtle but important set of differences in this way of thinking about it. The first is that they aren't guilty of dividing up the world the way you think that they are, or even of thinking that what they're agreeing to do is OK. They realize that it's horrible, but are balancing it against a worse horror. They aren't thinking of the girls as 'others' who 'feel differently,' but will personally feel shame for allowing the girls to suffer this way. They are aware of how much suffering is being required just because none of them with any power to resist would permit it. And violence isn't likely the only solution: if they were not so poor, they would probably pay to avoid the shame that they will personally feel.

That's why I think Amnesty could easily buy them out of this problem, but not without creating a new problem (the need to constantly buy people out of rulings like this, which will increase in popularity because they become a source of profit). But there may be another set of solutions involved in increasing their wealth -- or, ironically, their power, as if they were more powerful they wouldn't have to settle on the very weakest among them as scapegoats.

But if the system itself is wicked (and it seems to be cowardly and perverse in its approach to justice), then perhaps that is inadequate. Stronger medicine is needed, but perhaps still not violence: perhaps missionaries would do more than violence would, and almost certainly it would do more for their souls. Their behavior is damnable, but as Christians we aren't supposed to hope for their damnation.

Texan99 said...

If it is peculiarly Marxist to acknowledge that severe imbalances in power explain vicious behavior in many people, then no doubt I am a Marxist. I am inclined to think that no sensible view of human relations excludes this dynamic. It is not by only means the only driver of disgusting behavior, but it's not a bad place to look when you see a particularly horrendous pattern that isn't quickly broken up by its victims. The power may be primarily economic, as a Marxist would have it, or it may be the simpler and older pattern of domination by the people who are physically bigger and stronger, or possessed of a more successful technology. It's not the power--or its special source--that's the problem, it's the failure to wield it responsibly. Everyone has power of some kind at some point; everyone has to learn to do the right thing with it. A bully is no better than a rich man if he uses his strength to do the wrong thing. The monetary angle is a distraction.

A far more Marxist way of looking at it is that it's all a matter of rich man vs. poor man. "Nothing the poor man does is morally reprehensible; he's a helpless dupe of the system!" But the poorest man can die defending his daughters rather than sell them to rapists to buy peace. A system that would force him to such an agonizing choice is corrupt and should be swept away (Chesterton's fence or no Chesterton's fence), but it's still a choice.

I have not advocated violence as the only solution to the systematic abuse of entrenched power, though we'd have to be blind not to see that sometimes it comes to that when all else fails. There can be worse things than violence. There can be, in fact, surrendering one's helpless subjects and dependents for immolation in order to avoid the need to resort to violence.

I am not persuaded by the idea that "this hurts us as much as it hurts you." "Oh, so you're going to be raped? Well, stop thinking about yourself for a moment and imagine how I feel about it: I'm painfully ashamed." No. The family's shame--though it is and should be shattering and lifelong--is not the emergency here.

I reject the idea that "Because we're poor, the only way we can buy our way out of an expensive jam (caused by a family member who will escape punishment) is by offering up a couple of 'our' women to be raped." Your wording, "They pay in that coin," expresses the problem eloquently. "They" fix "their" problem; the women are the "coin." How is it different at heart from prostituting one's daughters to deal with the hunger of the rest of the family, or for that matter cannibalizing them? Pitiful to be driven to such a measure, absolutely, but it doesn't change the wrongness. How about if they instead take responsibility for punishing the son or nephew who created the problem in the first place--knowing the hideous punishment that would land on his sisters? The outraged family won't accept his head on a platter? They're determined to rape a couple of innocent girls instead? This is how the community "heals"? And we really want it to preserve it on these terms? Compassion is a fine thing, but there's also such a thing as identifying so closely with the perpetrators of an atrocity (and their collaborators) that we forget their duty and our own.

On the "cowardly and perverse" part we are of course in full agreement.

Grim said...

If it is peculiarly Marxist to acknowledge that severe imbalances in power explain vicious behavior in many people, then no doubt I am a Marxist...

Only in the sense that feminism is usually Marxist -- it grew out of Marxism, and is an application of a mode of analysis Marx developed to a different problem set. Well, although Marx wouldn't admit that it was a different problem set:

The power may be primarily economic, as a Marxist would have it, or it may be the simpler and older pattern of domination...

Marx's actual position is that all of the older forms are also forms determined by economics. 'Bigger and stronger' was only important because of the material conditions associated with agricultural production and technology.

I think he goes wrong here, but I also am suspicious of the mode of inquiry. It tends to obscure by dividing people into classes who are taken to be right and wrong respectively of whether they are exploited or exploiter. The Christian mode of social analysis seems more complicated, but more accurate -- and more decent, as I suppose is to be expected.

I am not persuaded by the idea that "this hurts us as much as it hurts you."

No one suggested that. I suggested they would personally feel shame, but obviously not "as much" -- otherwise, they'd just go ahead and offer themselves up. They're clearly hurt less, and they know it. But they are also shamed, and would probably pay money to avoid the shame if they had it. That they can't afford to pay to avoid the shame is, indeed, another shame they have to bear.

How is it different at heart from prostituting one's daughters to deal with the hunger of the rest of the family, or for that matter cannibalizing them?

It's not. It's the kind of moral horror that comes up precisely because of being poor in a way we have trouble believing in, as Americans. This is one of the poorer parts of rural India, and when you're talking about being poor for rural India, you're talking about real poverty. One of them stole a neighbor's wife and ran off to the big city, and now they're facing a blood feud on top of that systemic misery. A court comes along and says, "Here's how you can avoid the blood feud -- you'll need to pay eye-for-an-eye." They make a deal we would never imagine making, partly because we have a different religious system and culture, but partly because we can't even imagine what it's like to be poor and weak in the way that they are.

On the "cowardly and perverse" part we are of course in full agreement.

Quite right.

Texan99 said...

Almost any problem can be redefined as something that wouldn't happen if we didn't have all this scandalous poverty. "I'd never have cut up my daughter for food (but not my son, obviously; I'm not a barbarian!) if I hadn't been really really poor and hungry." No doubt we'd all be angels if we didn't have this pesky need for food and shelter, right? But it's not as though the essential dilemma had just appeared in this generation. Show me a guy who sells his kidney because his family is hungry and I will have great sympathy. If the same guy cuts out and sells his daughter's kidney, not so much. The intolerable grip of hunger is equal in both cases, but it's decidedly not the point.

What do you do if a court says you have to deliver up your daughter to rapists? You fight. What do you do if you're really poor and you could have paid a fine to avert the sentence if only you could have afforded it? You fight. What if it seems really unfair that you'd never have faced this situation if you hadn't been poor? You fight. These are side issues. They don't change anything. It's really puzzling to keep bringing them up.

Grim said...

What do you do if a court says you have to deliver up your daughter to rapists? You fight. What do you do if you're really poor and you could have paid a fine to avert the sentence if only you could have afforded it? You fight. What if it seems really unfair that you'd never have faced this situation if you hadn't been poor? You fight. These are side issues. They don't change anything. It's really puzzling to keep bringing them up.

Why do you fight? It's an important point.

Half the answer -- the less important half -- is that fixing the poverty will really improve the lives of the people and reduce or eliminate the instances of these outrages. The other half has to do with why. Say your elder comes to you and says, "You know, we're going to need your daughter to make things right with the bigger, stronger clan. It's a huge favor, and I know the shame it will bring on your and her, but I'm up against the wall. It's a personal favor to me that I will repay to the fullest degree that I am able."

You and I would say that you refuse him, and kill him right there while he's handy. Then you wage war to your destruction on his house, which is stronger than your even though it's weaker than the one he's opposing. You do this to go to God with virtue in your heart, and beg his forgiveness for the violence because it was done in a righteous cause.

How do you do it without God? I think that's the real question. Hinduism doesn't give you a duty to do it -- it gives you a duty to submit to the inhumanities of your born station. Islam doesn't give you a duty to do it necessarily, although better schools of Islam might read it in. It gives you a duty for the father to command the daughter, and for the daughter to obey.

Texan99 said...

Suppose you had a deadly disease, which you could cure only by harvesting the healthy heart from one of your children. It's tragic and agonizing, but one thing it's not is a perplexing moral choice. Does it get more perplexing if you learn that your disease could also be cured if you had $500K for a traditional transplant, but sadly you're broke? That would mean you never had to face the choice at all, but it's hardly the point. Poverty is not a convincing scapegoat here, it's merely an occasion exposing a choice.

It wouldn't be at all surprise me to learn that someone believed that under Islam it was hunky dory to order his daughter to be raped, and her duty to obey him. That's why I call it a sick culture that can't self-destruct too soon to suit me. If Hinduism tells its followers to submit to their own misfortune and not pawn it off on their daughters, then good for Hinduism.

Grim said...

You're not wrong, but the reason it isn't a perplexing moral choice is because of a fundament you aren't for some reason ready to acknowledge. I'm not sure why not. You go to church. You sing in the choir, from what I understand.

Pure reason isn't going to lead us to these decisions. Why shouldn't I prefer my own life to that of some child's? The child is potentially good, or strong, or wise: I am not just potentially but actually. Why shouldn't I sacrifice the potential strength for the actual? Why wouldn't I trade wet firewood, which could only potentially warm me in winter, for dry firewood that actually could?

I don't disagree that they are wrong, and fundamentally wrong. The Hindu is as ready to sacrifice his daughters as the Muslim -- they likewise were born to submission. Perhaps, on this view, they even lack potential: they aren't even wet wood, but a thing that offers no chance of light or heat. That's just their lot in this life.

But why are they wrong? It isn't for rational reasons. It's for spiritual ones. You don't want to fight for religion, as you've often said: how horrible to kill for doctrine. But don't you see, that's just what matters here. Why not trade wet wood for dry? Because the wood is sacred.

Texan99 said...

I thought that part wasn't in dispute between us--perhaps the only part in that category.

So yes, obviously it's not a perplexing moral choice, and that's the reason. What confuses me is your argument that it somehow becomes perplexing because someone is poor.

Grim said...

Well, blessed are the poor. And why? What does a blessing consist in if it doesn't mean that they might thereby be evaluated differently? They are poor. They are weak. They are afraid. It is to them above all that our lord reaches out.

I may die any day. I ride motorcycles: I may die tomorrow. I don't read these things as long term commitments. God wants us to think of them right now, as they are, not as they might be someday. Their souls matter too, and if we are better placed than they are, it comes with a charge to do right by them. We are fortunate. They are not. The obligation falls on us, even though they are behaving in wicked ways. That is what I think and believe.

Cassandra said...

There's nothing particularly hard to understand about their system. It's primitive, and its flaws are obvious.

So understanding isn't the issue.

As for Amnesty, no one in their right mind thinks they'll stop all incidences of X by stopping one incidence of X. Just like no one in their right mind thinks that punishing the most powerless members of society for the acts of the strongest is any kind of deterrent for those who deem themselves above the law.

This is just Might Makes Right, writ large. A man does what he wants, and (as I believe Tex and/or Elise already pointed out) no one thinks to punish a man from his clan as an object lesson.

Nope, they will punish a woman and a child, who will be blamed and socially ostracized the rest of their lives for something they had no control over. What sluts -- letting themselves be raped!

If there were even a shred of twisted "justice" here, those women would be revered for sacrificing themselves to preserve the peace.

But that's not what will happen here. They will be despised. What am I saying? They are already despised.

Texan99 said...

You thought we were discussing what an attitude of mercy on our part might look like when we're forced to deal with people behaving in shocking and corrupt ways?

I misunderstood you. I thought you were trying to condone their behavior with a series of explanations: It's wrong, but it's not that terrible, it's really understandable when you consider that (1) they're poor, (2) they're operating under a quaint notion of non-individual justice, (3) they believe it's right by the light of their own consciences, (4) they're not yet Christians, (5) they've been oppressed by colonialism and subjected to our historical misunderstanding, (6) they're nobly motivated by the desire to make restitution, (7) they're not Westerners, (8) they're not individualistic, (9) they think of equity in terms of choosing sacrificial victims of the same stature while ignoring the stature of the wrongdoers, (10) they obey a weird calculus with an internal logic, (11) they're expressing a natural desire to restore social harmony in the community, (12) they may be operating under unknown motives that we condemn at our peril, in case changing them should make things worse, (13) their religion emphasizes submission, and (14) perhaps some other digressions and apologies I've missed in a long thread.

Cassandra's summary of the situation is far more to the point. You won't find me objecting to conversion, but Christians didn't invent the concept of trying to prefer right over wrong, they only preached a new way to leave sin behind once it was acknowledged. Plenty of non-Christian cultures understand effortlessly why the practice you described in the OP is contemptible. The same is true of cultures that are poor, weak, colonialized, interested in restitution and social harmony, and communally oriented, so these aren't the operative problem areas. Among cultures that could swallow this kind of thing, there are a few simple common factors: a belief that might makes right, a system primitive enough that men wield all the power worth noticing, and a belief that girls are pawns of a particularly low order, to be evaluated something like cattle in a cattle-raiding culture, in aid of helping the men get their pride and status back in order.

It's just not that complicated.

Grim said...

I thought you were trying to condone their behavior with a series of explanations...

No, not at all. The point of understanding the behavior isn't to condone it, but to intervene to stop this set of rapes without setting off a blood feud or a cycle of new court rulings aiming at rape. Under no circumstances do I condone the behavior. I want to stop the behavior -- indeed, I'd like to stop it permanently by changing the culture that produces it so that it no longer does.

Texan99 said...

In that case the first step will be to jettison all the nonsensical explanations of the root error, and just face what's wrong.

Ymar Sakar said...

Or you could have two male champions from both families fight it out under divine judgment to resolve things.

India used to have a caste system, along with Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism to balance out the justifications via reincarnation.

Jainism and Buddhism eventually lost out to the more war like Hindus, who also lost out to the even more warlike Islamic Jihadists.

But that's why India is culturally unbalanced. They tried replacing their historical balances of power using Western judicial executions and democracy. It doesn't work all that well, though, although the British did a half job on it.

Ymar Sakar said...

a belief that girls are pawns of a particularly low order, to be evaluated something like cattle in a cattle-raiding culture, in aid of helping the men get their pride and status back in order.

Historically, Islamic Jihad and the Mongol invaders had a concept like that. But the Buddhists and the Jainists didn't.

I wouldn't be surprised if this kind of behavior in India is still affected by cultural areas to the West and Southwest.

Texan99 said...

What this argument is reminding me of is the discussions about what common thread could possibly link the series of young men who shoot people while yelling "Allah Akbar." "Aw, dang it, another dead end."

Grim said...

..jettison all the nonsensical explanations of the root error...


That's classically Marxist too, you know. The view is that this analysis of problems in terms of an oppressive class relationship has to explain everything, because it's the only thing that's admissible in the system. Why do children come and sit on Santa Claus' lap at the mall near Christmas? Because capital has conspired to erect a structure in which oppressed labor is bombarded with advertisements that create false desires for unnecessary things in their children, and then hires workers too poorly skilled to compete at starvation wages to dress up like mythical entities in order to elicit the purchasing instructions for the parents, who then have to work even harder than usual to obtain the money to buy the goods produced by those capitalists to fulfill these false needs.

It proves to be the root cause of everything, class oppression. Everything that can't be explained according to it must be jettisoned as noise. The system is all embracing.

These systematic ways of thinking are very attractive to intelligent people with logical minds, but they invariably fail tragically when applied to the real world. I don't think I've said anything that was even close to nonsense, but you should beware of systems that make too much sense. The world isn't logical, and people who have tried to treat it as if it were have a fantastic record of creating tragedy by thinking systematically about political problems. Everything the Marxists ever tried to do failed because you can't think systematically about the world. Likewise, if we did as you suggest our intervention would touch off a blood feud and get many people killed. Tragedy follows systematic politics.

What this argument is reminding me of is the discussions about what common thread could possibly link the series of young men who shoot people while yelling "Allah Akbar." "Aw, dang it, another dead end."

Well, in fairness, I've had no problem saying that I think the religion is at fault here -- exacerbated by weakness, poverty and fear, but the root of the problem is religion. It's not as if I'm suggesting we just can't know what could have provoked this. I think we know, and I think we should stop it. But we need to think clearly about how complex this problem is. The offense is not complex: it's easy to say that it's wrong. But why their system is producing it, that's not as easy.

Grim said...

Or you could have two male champions from both families fight it out under divine judgment to resolve things.

That's clearly how civilized people would do it, yes.

Cassandra said...

I've always thought it unbelievably hubristic to assume fallible humans know God's will (as in, "if X wins the fight, that means God thinks X's version of events is the true one").

As a voluntary decision to tamp down violence, maybe I'd buy off on this - assuming of course that both parties freely volunteer. But I still think it's dumb.

As a state-ordered judicial remedy/form of conflict resolution, I think it's right up there with ordering women to be raped :p IOW, not civilized at all, and displaying all the same logical flaws.

FWIW, what does the Koran have to say about courts ordering innocent women to be raped? I'm not sure it's the religion itself, but rather the culture and mores of this society. But maybe I'm just naïve. I don't remember anything in the Bible prohibiting court-ordered rape either - it's one of those things that people tend to come up with on their own, and even less surprising coming from a country that is rapidly getting a bad rep for winking at horrifically savage gang rapes.

Grim said...

The Koran doesn't treat rape as such -- it is completely silent on the need to obtain consent for sex. It is perfectly permissible to have sex with your slaves and captives of war, which is the category I suppose that would be applied here (captives of war, I mean). The Koran doesn't say anything about obtaining their permission, nor for that matter your wife's.

Grim said...

I don't remember anything in the Bible prohibiting court-ordered rape either...

But you cited the principle yourself: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Grim said...

I suppose also Peter: "You must not do wrong things to those who do wrong things to you." That seems, as a principle, to override the 'eye for an eye' spirit found at times in the Old Testament. Justice does not mean doing a second wrong. That's something absent here, but Biblical.

Texan99 said...

The religion isn't helping on this particular issue, but it's still not the main point.

Cassandra said...

It is perfectly permissible to have sex with your slaves and captives of war, which is the category I suppose that would be applied here (captives of war, I mean).

I don't think that's right, though. Parties to a civil dispute aren't "at war". They are fellow members of a polity involved in a dispute. Different rules.

This ties into a comment I was going to make earlier, but I didn't want to oversimplify. This really sounds more like a tort than a crime, but I could well be wrong here. Western law admits that the same offense can have different remedies and different plaintiffs. Torts (civil offenses) have a lower burden of proof and are brought by one citizen against another. The traditional remedies are intended to compensate the "victim" in some way for some provable harm suffered. If you can't prove you were damaged by the act, you can't get relief from the court (often, monetary damages or more rarely, an injunction or court order to do/refrain from doing something). If you can prove damage, you are entitled to compensation or equitable relief, but the victim doesn't directly punish the offender (punitive damages are the obvious exception).

A criminal offense is brought by society ("the people", or government) and the remedy is intended to redress an offense against society at large. Penalties are more severe, and more punitive in nature than compensatory (though I think sometimes courts order restitution? maybe one of the smart lawyer types can correct my laypersonesque breezy generalities.

I can't easily think of an example where the law says the victim can enact vengeance on the offender. We don't, for instance, allow rape victims to castrate convicted rapists, nor relatives of murder victims to kill convicted murderers. There's a buffer of sorts between the parties intended to promote faith in the impartiality of the system and discourage vigilanteeism.

Grim said...

Here's some more on Islam and consent (or rather, its lack of concern with consent), emphasis added:

The Qur'an:
Qur'an (2:282) - Establishes that a woman's testimony is worth only half that of a man's in court (there is no "he said/she said" gridlock in Islam).

Qur'an (24:4) - "And those who accuse free women then do not bring four witnesses (to adultery), flog them..." Strictly speaking, this verse addresses adultery (revealed at the very time that Muhammad's favorite wife was being accused of adultery on the basis of only three witnesses coincidentally enough). However it is a part of the theological underpinning of the Sharia rule on rape, since if there are not four male witnesses, the rape "did not occur".

Qur'an (24:13) - "Why did they not bring four witnesses of it? But as they have not brought witnesses they are liars before Allah."

Qur'an (2:223) - "Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will..." There is no such thing as rape in marriage, as a man is permitted unrestricted sexual access to his wives.

Grim said...

Parties to a civil dispute aren't "at war". They are fellow members of a polity involved in a dispute. Different rules.

I'm not sure that's right as a point of the traditional law involved. In a sense it's right, of course: they're citizens of India, and in theory they should put all this before Indian civil courts. As a practical matter, though, they're warring clans in a part of India that is not successfully under the control of the distant central government.

In any case, in terms of the justification the court itself would use for its ruling, I don't think we've been given it. I am merely speculating about how it might be licensed, but I'm not an Islamic law jurist. In a better Islamic society, it might not be -- Medieval Islamic Spain, for example. ISIS, on the other hand, cites both Koranic authority and Islamic law scholars to claim very wide rights to have sex with their female prisoners.

Texan99 said...

I only wish these people would hurry up and reach the exalted level of "an eye for an eye." It's more like you borrowed your neighbor's lawn mower and broke it, so you let him come over and put out your little girl's eye. Presto, balance restored, but the eyes didn't exactly match. "Her eye for my crime."

Grim said...

I only wish these people would hurry up and reach the exalted level of "an eye for an eye."

Islam's version of the principle is at least formally not so bad:

5:45 And We ordained therein for them: Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal. But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him an expiation. And whosoever does not judge by that which Allah has revealed, such are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers . . .).

So, in theory, Allah smiles on those who forgo retribution. Of course, courts of law don't have the standing to forgo retaliating: only the victim could do that. One thus hears about the qisas principle being invoked to remove people's hands and eyes in courts in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Texan99 said...

Right, back to my view that Islam is not the primary issue. It's the use of the girls like cattle in cattle raids: you hurt my possession, I hurt yours, so we're even. Odd that they don't hurt the boys, instead? Almost as if the girls were fairer game. What could the attitude be behind that, I wonder? Well, their motivation is a mystery! Another dead end!

Grim said...

Well, they do: they kill the boys. But Islam is quite specific that women are for sex. Girls are used for sex as slaves, as war captives, or as wives. Boys who are ponied up are slaves you're not supposed to have sex with, or they are killed.

Of course, lots of Islamic cultures practice paedophilia anyway, but it's technically a capital offense under Islamic law.

Cassandra said...

Exactly. If you want to hurt a clan, you'd inflict more damage if you hurt their sons than their daughters. Plus there's that whole, "they aren't real people like us" thingy.

Grim said...

Er, if the "paedo" is a boy, I mean. Even prepubescent girls are OK, as long as they're big enough that intercourse will not injure them, and you have the correct property relationship with them (i.e., you own them outright as a slave/captive, or you marry them).

Texan99 said...

"They don't feel things the way we do."

But it's still a mystery what the key to their behavior is. Another dead end.

Grim said...

I suppose we'll just have to disagree about this one. We always do: I don't buy the claim that they don't see women as "real people." I think they see them as real people: just real people who are women, whom their religion has taught to think of and treat in a specific light. You want to argue that they see them as something like dogs or cattle. I don't think that is true: the whole point of the punishment isn't to shame or hurt the girls, but to shame and hurt the offending clan. The shame of being unable to protect their women from this is just what the judge intends to inflict, as an 'eye for an eye' punishment for the fact that their clan inflicted that sense of shame on the offended clan.

Texan99 said...

And no doubt the men really love them, and would do things differently if they just asked nicely, so it's not as much of a nightmare for women in that society as I imagine.

I mean, really. The whole point isn't to shame or hurt the girls? In what universe? The ruination of the only pitiful, sharply circumscribed role they're permitted to perform in that society at all is just some kind of unintended collateral damage? But that's consistent somehow with being capable of seeing them as real human beings. I am amazed.

Grim said...

I don't think the men would do things differently no matter how they pled. The men have decided to go along with sacrificing them to avoid the feud.

But the judges aren't inflicting this to shame or hurt these particular two girls. They're shaming the clan, to repay eye-for-eye the shame done to the other clan via the defiling of one of their women, according to their moral standards. These standards are wrong, the behavior is wrong, everything going on here is wrong, but all the same that's what's going on. They aren't trading them a cow, they're suffering a humiliation as a clan. It's just because these girls are human beings and fully members of their clan that their degradation is humiliating to the clan as a whole.

Texan99 said...

In future when you say some particular men are capable of viewing women as people, I'll have a more fleshed out picture of what you mean, which will aid in understanding.

Grim said...

I don't imagine that's true. As I was just saying on the 'why you should read' post, readers bring their own assumptions to what you write, and that can be an absolute bar to the business of 'inhabiting the author's world.' What people bring to what you write often transforms in their minds what you meant into something you never meant. Your assumptions are very far removed from mine, and I don't think we are communicating effectively here. I don't think there's any way to phrase what I am saying to you that will make it intelligible across that divide.

We just don't agree. We can't even talk sensibly about why we don't agree, because there's too much alteration of meaning in the mind of the other party to the discussion.


I still like you, even though I don't think you understand anything I say on this subject. Your reactions tell me that we aren't talking about the same things even though we use the same words. But that doesn't change that we do share common values. We are both interested in protecting these girls. We are both angry in part because, though we have invested a lot of passion in this discussion, the fact is that we are almost powerless to stop this and fix it. I don't know what can be done. Signing Amnesty's petition is a start, but it won't fix things in a corner of rural India. Part of the problem is that we, too, are weak and afraid. We can't really fix this, not even with nukes. It's a feature of our world that is hard to acknowledge. I don't really mind if you want to be mad at me, because you ought to be mad at someone, and I'm here.

Texan99 said...

Is it ever a good idea to try to explain to someone else why he's angry?

Grim said...

Hell if I know whether it's a good idea. :)

Grim said...

But maybe it is, even if you're wrong: it could be an exercise of the kind you sometimes say your husband hates, one of those "I hear you saying..." exercises. I hear you saying things that make me convinced that we aren't communicating. I want to convey that this is OK, because sometimes you can't because of differential assumptions; and that I agree that anger is appropriate here given the injustice, enough so that I'm not going to take offense if anger is your response toward me because of what you think I'm trying to say.

Whether I'm right or wrong about that isn't the point, so much as trying to communicate better. Between human beings.

Texan99 said...

If you're trying to do "I hear you saying" exercises to improve communication, and it comes out "I presume to know how you feel, and you only feel that way because . . ."--then you're doing it wrong. :-)

Grim said...

Yeah, well, I do a lot of things wrong, especially the first few times I do them. You should have seen me try to take apart and clean a carburetor for the first time. Or the second.

Cassandra said...

Grim, I don't know what's so hard to understand here. You say (on the one hand) that to them, "women are for sex" and their consent is not required. Women have no human rights that need be taken into account: they can be beaten or raped or really anything you could do to an animal. A man can do these things to his wife, and in many cases is encouraged to do so.

A woman's testimony in court is so worthless that no one pays any attention unless 4 men corroborate it. You know, kind of like if a mentally retarded person (IOW, someone lacking full human capacity) were to testify - who would take him seriously?

You keep explaining that of course women are viewed as human! We must have a very different definition of human. We're not talking about scientific classification here, but about how it is acceptable to treat other people, and what rights they have. A mentally retarded person wouldn't be viewed as fully human.

Slaves typically aren't viewed as human either. It's legal to do to them things one would be punished for doing to a free person. And slave owners typically don't view slaves as fully human in the sense that they view other slave owners as human beings with rights that can be violated.

I can see your argument: obviously women are members of homo sapiens. When they produce babies, the babies are homo sapiens too: the same as their fathers. It's just that girls are to be used for sex, just like cows are used to give milk (hmmm... we've heard some women can do that too). When they are ill used, the offense is not against them, but against their father, brothers, or husbands.

Legally, they are treated like chattel.

Texan99 said...

Not "human" human. Sometimes game markers can have very humanoid characteristics; that's half the thrill of playing with them.

Grim said...

I think the ancient view, which is continued in this part of India, is clearer in the Old Testament than the Koran. The Jews pass into slavery. They don't cease to be human in any sense. They're still people. They're the Chosen People. Nevertheless, they fall into slavery and suffer many humiliations.

Hinduism shares with Islam this idea that sometimes you are just born into a humiliating position, and you're meant by God to bear it and experience it. The Hindu faith doesn't deny that these are people, though: indeed, it thinks they are likewise shards of the ultimate deity, and the justification for their humiliation is that it's important to the drama in God's dream. Islam is somewhat simpler: it says to submit to what God has made, and if you're a woman, you have a particular role and you should devote yourself to it.

I don't say any of this to condone the view or defend it. I just feel a duty to represent it accurately, especially if we are to engage it in order to try to change it. It's a problem that sometimes rare people within these faiths are able to transcend -- Ibn Rushd, or Gandhi. But it's a natural outgrowth of these particular religious structures that most people who follow them come to view things in this way, just as it's a fact about their poverty that humiliations we outright reject for any human being are not uncommonly suffered. Why did the Jews fall into slavery? Well, in large part because of a famine in the land, which in those early conditions of poverty meant that the only way to survive was to go and beg from whoever had more at whatever price they insisted upon. What comes from nature in that way seems like it comes from God, as it is morally significant and as God is the author of nature. So God must approve, somehow, of the slavery since he sent the famine.

Texan99 said...

God is capable of perceiving the humanity of those whom He permits to suffer, and that means their tormentors are not guilty of dehumanizing them? May I suggest that the situations are not parallel?

Grim said...

You may, of course. As a matter of doctrine, though, I mean to say that the Hindu priest who participates in what you would describe as dehumanizing the Untouchables nevertheless sees them as fragments of the ultimate god -- just as he sees himself. It's not that he doesn't see them as human beings, I think, but that he sees a broader range of conditions as acceptable for human beings: and he thinks, in accepting this, that he has a divine warrant.

It's a very different view from ours, and I really do think it comes down to what the religion teaches rather than to a failure to see the others as human.

Cassandra said...

Jews weren't viewed as the Chosen People by the Egyptians. You're confusing in-group with out-group perspectives.

Every group sees themselves as human (and often superior to other groups). And they dehumanize the outgroup - examples include enemies in wartime, slaves captured in war, women, people of other races or nationalities.

Fairly standard stuff: "They're not like us, therefore a different set of rules applies".

Grim said...

I think it's true that they're applying different rules to different classes of humanity. I agree that there's an important in/out group distinction at work. I don't think that is properly conceptualized as "dehumanizing." That is the part that is a category error.

The Jews weren't viewed as the Chosen people by the Egyptians, but they were by themselves -- and they continued, even after Egypt, to allow Jews to be sold into slavery. There are rules in the Bible about the treatment of slaves, including female slaves. The rules are slightly different if they are Jews than if they are not, and slightly harsher. But even after Egypt, they didn't come to a view that a Jew was something like "a true human being" that could never be "dehumanized" by being sold into slavery.

Clearly, they thought their fellow Jews were human beings if anyone was. And they still bought and sold each other, taking slavery as not a dehumanizing experience but a misfortune that a human being might sometimes suffer.

What's the importance of this distinction? I keep insisting on it because I think describing them the way you do is inaccurate. I gather it sounds like I'm defending the view that slavery isn't dehumanizing, which is not what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to accurately understand and represent a view with which I disagree, as part of a process of changing that view. I don't think you can change their minds if you don't understand their minds. But understanding an alien viewpoint is quite difficult -- we have trouble understanding each other, and we're both Americans, and have talked all the time for years.

Texan99 said...

I suspect that the word "dehumanize," as Cassandra and I use it, has a meaning for Grim that's so different from ours that we could talk past each other forever. As Cassandra says, it boils down to, "They're not the same as us; different standards apply." And of course in some practical contexts other people are not the same as us and other standards do apply. We break down in understanding over what those contexts are.

The analogy to untouchables strikes me as apt: if you're not born an untouchable you can't imagine being one. If someone says, "Put yourself in the untouchable's shoes," you can answer, "By definition I can never be there. Exploring the ramifications of our common humanity has little meaning or interest. But the untouchable has human DNA and some peculiarly human usefulness or attraction, so it follows that I must be treating him as human. What more do you want?"

I find this troubling, because I believe objectifying people, and consigning them to camps from whose disadvantages we are inherently exempted, is one of the cardinal roots of evil and distress.

Grim said...

Perhaps the word is the problem. Let me try the 'I hear you saying' thing again.

The way I hear you using this word "dehumanizing" suggests to me that you mean to say that the people doing wrong -- and we all agree it is wrong -- are able to do that wrong because they view the wronged as not having a human experience of the world. They thus don't have to worry about hurting the wronged, because they don't believe in the hurt (at least, they don't believe in it being the same kind of hurt they would feel).

That's the view I'm trying to dispute, so if you mean something different by the word, then we're arguing at cross purposes. I don't mean to suggest this never happens, only that it isn't happening here: it's a very good example of the pro-slavery argument fielded in the 19th century, for example, which argued that black people were not really of the same race as white people, and their minds and experiences of the world were so different that slavery was actually good for them. It was beneficial to be directed by a better, fuller mind. That's what I think you're talking about, and if so I agree that it happened in that case.

The Jew who bought a fellow Jew who'd fallen on hard times, though, I don't think is an example of this. He probably does think his fellow Jew is a man just like he is, and is keenly aware of the humiliation the other is suffering. If he still buys and sells his fellow Jews, and for a long time they did, it's because he accepts that this kind of humiliation is within the acceptable ranges of human experience.

We tend to say, as Jews do today, that it's just not acceptable for a human being to be enslaved. I think partially this is because we are now vastly wealthier, and able to afford to just feed people who have fallen on hard times without making them work for us to justify it. But I don't think the ancient Jew was guilty of dehumanizing his fellow Jews in the sense I think you mean. His practice wasn't driven by that, nor intended for it, not justified by it.

Whereas the 19th century slaveholder was quite guilty of dehumanizing his slaves: he didn't conceive of them as human beings with human rights at all, and doubted they even had fully human minds.

Texan99 said...

When you say "it isn't happening here," are you referring to the situation in India, or to your story about Jewish slavery?

Grim said...

I've been talking about the Biblical example these last few comments, in the hope of making clear what I mean by suggesting that dehumanization is not necessary in cases of things like slavery. But at the moment, I'm just trying to see if I understand what you mean by dehumanizing. Have I described your use of the term correctly, or am I talking about something other than what you are talking about?

Texan99 said...

I asked because I would be far less inclined to describe the situation of intra-Jewish slavery as a phenomenon of dehumanization. I did not intend to suggest that dehumanization is necessary for slavery to exist, or that dehumanization cannot exist except where there is slavery. Not every act of evil can be attributed to dehumanization--it's just that dehumanization makes a barbarous domination more likely, more perilous, and more intractable. The reverse is also to some extent true: people engaged in a barbarous domination harden their hearts to their victims and begin to dehumanize them.

Slavery is never a good idea, but when it's practiced by one man on another whom he takes to be essentially his equal, though perhaps temporarily one-down in the great game of chance, it is likely to be less horrid; there is the natural brake of empathy on the passion of dominance. In that context, slavery might be anything from barbarous to relatively benign. It might be barbarous in the hands of a bad man as a master. It might be relatively benign in the hands of a master who treats his slaves as an empathetic man might treat employees who are not able, for whatever reason, to quit and find new jobs, and who resists the temptation to tighten the screws because he knows they can't escape him. The good master would keep his slaves' humanity clearly in mind, to their benefit and his own.

So to the extent you have been talking about the Jewish slavery situation, it is different from what I'm talking about. I am talking primarily about the Indian girl situation and by extension a number of problematic social customs arising when girls (and other despised groups such as untouchables) are dehumanized by people who consider themselves exempt from the despised class.

If you were add to the Jewish-slavery picture the idea that one Jewish master is aggrieved by another Jewish master's theft of a slave, and demands (and receives) the right to mutilate a couple of the thief's master's slaves in retaliation, it would be more like the dehumanization I am describing--especially if the slaves were members of a despised race who by definition could never aspire to Jewish status.

One way to distinguish between dehumanization and garden-variety one-up/one-down social interactions is this experiment: can you imagine the one-down victim's changing status one day and joining the dominant group? There have been systems of slavery in which freed slaves settled down quite happily in the dominant society. If assimilation of that sort is inconceivable (what?! a mere girl? a black man? an untouchable? over my dead body!), then dehumanization is likely to be doing very dangerous work.

Grim said...

That seems to link the concept of dehumanization to a question of social mobility. That's going to be a real problem for a religion like Hinduism, say, as even quite highly placed castes are still not free to join the highest caste.

Is this what you mean, though? I thought you were talking about literally not conceptualizing the other person as human, which is a pretty serious category error that would be hard to make. They don't have feelings, they don't have minds (or at least drastically reduced minds), they're objects rather than subjects.

In that sense of the word I don't see how the Indian girl situation can be a case of dehumanization, because the punishers have to think of the girls as having minds and feelings for this act to make any sense according to their own perverse sense of justice. The weaker clan must feel about their women the way we do, or they wouldn't feel the shame of the proposed action. The girls must be able to feel the shame of it too, or it won't be satisfying to the people who want the weaker clan punished. Only a human being can suffer the way they want to make someone suffer, so the person at whom the punishment is directed must be a human being. Nothing but a human being will do.

That's evil, but it's not dehumanizing in the sense I thought you were talking about. But perhaps I've just misunderstood what you meant by the word.

Texan99 said...

No, the social mobility aspect is only part of a healthy thought experiment. If you can't even conceive of social mobility that could possibly connect you and the despised class, then you're in great danger of beginning to dehumanize them. You needn't fall into the error, as a strictly logical manner, and it will be lovely if you don't, but the odds won't favor you if you don't happen to be a saint. If you are forced to imagine yourself as conceivably, potentially in the same boat, your natural empathy probably will preserve you from the worst abuses of dehumanization.

I doubt anyone literally conceptualizes another human as not human. It's an expression. As I mentioned, the thought usually is something more like, "Hey, I acknowledge she has DNA. Isn't that enough?" Or sometimes, "How could she be hot if she weren't human?" Or as you say, "How could she be painfully humiliated if she weren't human? See, I acknowledge she's human! What else could you expect?" Yes, the subevolved cretin understands that she is technically human. What he doesn't understand is that she's human in just the same way he is: not a prize, not a toy, not a tool, not coin, not a chattel. His brain tilts; all he can think is, "But she's DIFFERENT." Yes, she's different, and the great thing is to be able to grasp that there are differences that matter and differences that don't. Someone with black hair is different from me, a blonde. If we're not engaged in choosing a hair-dye approach, that difference is almost certainly irrelevant. She's human, which means she's different in that she's smaller and subject to pregnancy and so on. Nevertheless, she's human, so she should no more be tortured to atone for her brother's crime, for her father's financial convenience, than her male relatives should, or any human being should. They would understand this instinctively if they hadn't split her off into a special category from which they are by definition exempt, so that healthy empathy can't operate.

Honestly, if the only sense you give the word "dehumanizing" is that someone literally believes a person is inanimate or a member of another species, we'll never understand each other. I could use the term objectify, but even there you'd have to understand that it doesn't literally mean pretending someone is a toaster. It means minimizing her human dignity in comparison with your own. But again, if you believe it's possible that imposing the treatment that these Indian girls are receiving is somehow consistent with according them the same human dignity a man accords to himself, then the problem isn't in the terminology. It's just that when you say someone acknowledges his victim's humanity, you include in that description something like the Indian-girl treatment. So when you protest in future that someone is fully acknowledging another person's humanity, I will acknowledge that you are correct, in the sense you have stated you give to that term. There is nothing left to argue about, and I will no longer remonstrate with you.

I'm really not sure whether it's that I haven't found a term that rings a bell with you, or whether instead the underlying concept doesn't exist for you. I find the latter possibility so alarming that I belabor the point, but you have nearly convinced me.

Grim said...


It now sounds to me like you're using the word to mean "They are not treating her as a human being ought to be treated." If that's what you mean, I certainly agree. And I can see the logical connection between "They are not treating her as a human being ought to be treated" and "They are treating her as if she were something other than a human being."

I suppose the problem is the ambiguity in that latter phrasing. It's easy to read, or to express in flourish, as "They are treating her as something other than a human being" rather than "as if she were something other." The problem with that ambiguity, for me, is that there are cases in which people do go wrong by making the error of thinking that X is actually not human. The 19th century racist slavery is one example that I think we agree on: they believed, or chose to believe and worked very hard at believing, that they were dealing with a sort of subhuman animal. The abortion debate often takes on this quality: people elect to believe, and sometimes work very hard at believing, that the thing they are dealing with is not a human being at all, but something they are free to treat as tissue or whatever else.

So it may be that our many arguments on this point are coming out of this ambiguity. I think a category of literal dehumanizing exists, and I want to keep it separate from the category in which people are aware they are hurting a human being. There's a way in which the latter category is worse: insofar as you don't realize you're hurting a human being, what you do is not as bad as those who are fully aware they are doing so and elect to do it anyway.

So there's a moral difference between the categories, but there is also a practical difference: if the case is one of failure to understand, there's a chance it can be fixed by education (e.g., higher-quality sonograms have affected the abortion debate over the last few years). If it is a case of literally electing to treat human beings horribly, education probably isn't going to fix it: something more basic is going to have to change, because they already know what they're doing, and somehow it still seems fine to them. That is, I would say, a bigger problem.

If I have resisted you on this point, then, it isn't because I agree human beings should be treated badly. It is because I want to preserve what strikes me as an important kind of clarity about just what is going wrong. Some people make the error of believing they are treating things, not people. Others know they are dealing with people, and elect to hurt them anyway. Those seem to me like two different problems because they have both different causes and different solutions. That doesn't mean I don't see them as problems in need of solutions.

Texan99 said...

Certainly it involves treating a human being as he or she should not be treated, but we already have words for that extremely general category, such as "wrong."

I mean something more specific. Try this: one treats another human being with appropriate (non-dehumanizing) dignity when he considers more than what he can extract from him by force, even though the things he wants to extract have value specifically because his victim is human. This is particularly a problem when he views the other person as no more than an appropriate source of forcibly extracted resources precisely because he lacks the empathy to think of that as fully human in the way he thinks of himself as fully human.

Grim said...

It sounds as if we are approaching the thing, but I find the introduction of violence creates for me a conflict with the earlier thought experiment. I am inclined to support the use of force especially where I think of other men as being like myself: Iran's Qassem Suleimani, for example, is a man I think I understand very well. He is a member of a radical Shi'ite faith whereas I am a Catholic, and he is an Iranian whereas I am an American, but I think that merely accounts for why our similar natures lead to very different practical approaches. I wouldn't blame him for trying to kill me, nor would I feel more than a twinge of regret for his admirable qualities if I were in a position to kill him.

The people against whom I am likely to endorse violence are, in other words, the ones also most likely to satisfy the thought experiment. They are people who, under other circumstances, I would quite like and gladly admit to my circle.

That's not always true, of course. I can think of cases in which I would regretfully endorse violence to avoid tyranny, without much respect for the tyrants. But that seems appropriate, doesn't it? Of course I won't swap places with a would-be tyrant so that he can lord it over me. That's not a lack of human sympathy or empathy, but a recognition that he's a terrible person who would take petty but sadistic pleasure in lording over me. I have always had the feeling that you and I share a very common revulsion to being under the thumbs of such people. Maybe it's them you're talking about?

Texan99 said...

I can imagine you using violence against someone to prevent him from doing something you couldn't tolerate. I can't imagine you using violence to extract value from him. You might not analyze it as wrong in exactly the same terms that I do, but you'd know better.

"Force" doesn't have to be immediate violence, of course, just any power gradient that allows you to impose your will. It's true that enforcing a power gradient generally comes down to physical violence ultimately in some way--if not personally administered, then administered by society on your behalf. But it's not as simple as fisticuffs.

If we have the right attitude toward other human beings, we'll avoid imposing our will on them purely for our own convenience, with exceptions for emergencies like stopping crooks. It shouldn't be part of our normal human interaction, which should depend on respect and consent at least and love at best. So on one side of the spectrum, love, generosity, respect, and empathy. In the middle, minimal civility in dealing with strangers, including some mutual aid, especially in emergencies, and lots of consensual exchanges. On the far wrong end, hereditary slavery, cutting up people from the wrong side of town for parts, Auschwitz, purdah, and of course the delightful Indian system that started this discussion. I don't mean this as a universal map of all evil, only a spectrum of humanization vs. dehumanization. It's a rather prevalent avenue of evil and one of special concern to me, i part because I think it exploits a weakness in our empathy system, like a clever virus.

You're correct that a big part of the revulsion I feel for this problem is the prospect of being under the thumb of a sadist. We clearly resonate with each other on that score! See, communication isn't hopeless. There is common ground. Unfortunately, though, someone can get into trouble on this spectrum without becoming an outright sadist. I'm talking about red flags, habits of thought to avoid, moral hygiene.

Grim said...

I agree that we do seem to have discovered some common ground. We've probably also done a lot to hash out that we have been using the words in ways that were confusing to the discussion. I want to think about this some more before responding further. However, I want to thank you for not giving up on me, and for your expression of faith that I would not use my strength to exploit the weak. I appreciate your patience, the philosophy, and your kind words.

Texan99 said...

Oh, heavens, brother. I hope you know that wasn't even a close call in my estimation of your character. If I sometimes quarrel with your habits of logic because they don't quite fit mine, I've never doubted your conduct.

Thanks as well for bearing with me, particularly when I get frustrated and snippy. I was thinking about what you said about sadists, and realizing that while it's worse when it's a sadist, the truth is I go a little insane over the idea of being under even a Nice Guy's thumb, and contemplating it doesn't improve my temper or my patience.

I found something just now to add some color to what I was trying to say, from Kathleen Norris's Foreword to C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity":

“The ‘mere’ Christianity of C.S. Lewis . . . challenges us always to remember, as Lewis once stated, that ‘there are no ordinary people’ and that ‘it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.’ Once we tune ourselves to this reality, Lewis believes, we open ourselves to imaginatively transform our lives in such a way that evil diminishes and good prevails. It is what Christ asked of us in taking on our humanity, sanctifying our flesh, and asking us in turn to reveal God to one another.”

I think "exploit" was the concept I was struggling for.