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Monday, September 19, 2005


Ben G.

These are the comments from Kaspit that I am responding to. He originally posted them here.

Ben, I have found it hard to read and link to some of your posts because your expressions of anger make it hard for people (e.g., me) to take in the information as information (i.e., as reliable data). So, you lose me early on in that post about that "genocidal policy" of the Red Cross. Though I didn't see comments on it, I assume that's what prompted this poston genocide.

1. It's difficult enough to convince (enough/many) Americans that the Red Cross is messing up. (Or, as in text above, that a police officer is messing up.)

2. It's certainly a difficult case to make that federal (or local) failures in disaster preparation and response have a racist aspect. In order to do this, (1) it's important to lay out exactly what is meant by racism. Because there are different types of racist conduct, e.g. institutionalized racism is quite different than a hate crime. In particular, different types of racism implicate different degrees of willful / deliberate intent and of ideology. (2) Then, I think people can hear/read the argument better if the evidence is presented in a fairly factual and NPOV (neutral point of view) manner. Without labelling the evidence by the conclusion lechatkhila (at the outset). (3) The evidence needs to show not just a pattern of discrimation, unless the conclusion is limited to something like institutionalized racism, but also intent. For that purpose, it's helpful to explain what grounds can support an argument about intent. E.g., the use of racist ideology, texts that arguably show intent, actions in the face of warnings etc.

3. Genocide requires INTENT to destroy a group. I think "in whole or in part" conveys something like a criminal's forethought that, e.g., "considering that we can't kill all the Jupiterians, I'll settle for killing 10,000 of them." Surely, "destroy...in part... a group" does not cover the intent to kill an individual, no matter how racist/ anti-Semitic/ homophobic etc. the intent. Otherwise, genocide would be collapsed to the meaning of violent racism/etc. As horrible as is anti-ABCism violence, genocide is a crime of a different scale. So, it seems patently incorrect to assert "Every time a cop kills a Black when he would not kill a white, that is genocide: killing MEMBERS of a group." (In other words, the statement presupposes something about all cops that is not shared, I think, by most readers. E.g., what if it's a black cop? On the other hand, the statement would be more plausible about a KKK member, because we may assume that lynchings were rooted in an intent and ideology to destroy a group.)

4. Where is there any evidence that the Red Cross has the intent to destroy a group? Absent better evidence, the "genocide" language is inflammatory and defamatory.

You can be sure that I love your blog and the information you are providing is terribly, terribly important. Plus, you are covering the story in a comprehensive way. But I'm reluctant to link to these posts because of characterizations that are too quick for the readers, and here too explosive and wrong (e.g. genocidal). Please reconsider.

Respectully, your admiring reader,



Ben, You’ve explicated your view helpfully here and I’m honored that you took the time to respond to my comment. I have a better sense now of where we disagree.

I am still surprised and concerned by your position on using “genocide” about the Red Cross. In your previous post, you accept a definition of genocide in terms of intent. But now you write: “As I said in my post, it is a genocidal policy. That is, the policy has genocidal effects.” But genocide is not judged by effects, it is not a consequentialist concept. When judging by effects, what might be shown would be systematic discrimination, i.e., institutionalized racism. If I’m not mistaken, the whole concept of institutionalized racism (or sexism, etc) is to identify and demonstrate discrimination without needing to demonstrate personal intent or motivation.

Racism is terrible and it kills. But not all racism or anti-Semitism etc, and certainly not institutionalized racism, can responsibly be labeled as genocide. As I said in disputing comparisons of the evacuation of Gaza settlers with the Holocaust, terms like genocide can unfortunately be used correctly in recent situations. People should be careful to avoid such language for polemical purposes. (Ben, I don’t see how the personal nature of your blog matters. You are somebody who believes deeply in personal responsibility, plus you are trying to educate your readers. If you write, “I’m so angry I want to scream ‘Genocide’!” well, that I can understand fully.)

I agree that gross negligence (or wanton misconduct) borders on malicious intent. Still, they remain different and the distinction is morally important (e.g., Jewish law and Kantian ethics). Intent is a large part of the difference. Plus, it’s not easy to show an equivalence between the negligent will, which indirectly causes harm, and the will of a person intending to harm. Are they willing the same harm? Moreover, under many moral theories, indirect harm is evaluated/judged quite differently than direct harm.

Furthermore, with New Orleans, indirect harm is distinct because the people in NOLA are not under the control and full responsibility of the Red Cross (or any single agency). So their negligence would not seem to be a sufficient explanation or cause of the harm experienced by NOLA residents. (Ok, I suspect you disagree on factual grounds.) Contrast this to the statutory situations in your link to gross negligence (e.g., "persons who voluntarily render cardiopulmonary resuscitation", "firefighters who provide first aid at the scene of emergencies").

Perhaps my own position was not clear about the American Red Cross. I think it would be quite politically important and practical to show that the Red Cross has been (grossly etc) negligent. At a minimum, it would help to educate Americans about the political nature of the Red Cross and its strong ties w/Republicans. (This responds to, above, “I think you're saying that it's not even that practical to try to convince Americans that the Red Cross is messing up.”)

Fondly and respectfully,


PS From your links FYI: “The court said that willful and wanton are distinct and logically inconsistent, so “willful and wanton” is to be read as “willful or wanton.” Willful, as Burnett said, requires intent to harm while wanton means the equivalent, reckless conduct without intent to harm but with indifference as to the result.” (emphasis added)

PSS Sorry about the long response. As in the past, I trust you to edit. ;)

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