D. St. C. and Victimology

Sat, 23 Apr 1994 00:34:13 -0400

>I think it strengthened my beleif that as visitors we have an obligation
>to learn the limits and expectations of the place we are in, to strive to
>abide by them, and to expect to be treated by those rules when we screw
>up. We are entitled to expect to be treated no differently - that is, we
>are entitled to expect the same rules to apply, not special rules for
>visitors [ either with positive or negative effect on us].

Agreed. I think one needs to know what things are improper in a particular
society, and abide by those rules. Something that may be OK to do in your
culture may not be OK in another, and you should know those rules as a
visitor, tourist, or anthropologist. Of course, vandalism and spraypainting
are considered inappropriate in both the U.S. and Singapore.
This does not mean that one cannot protest that the punishments for
a particular offense are inappropriate, even if this viewpoint is
ethnocentric because the standards of justice for your own culture are
different. I do not think you would disagree if Singapore offered the death
penalty for vandalism rather than caning.

>This does not preclude working against systems or rules we feel are
>unfair or otherwise political or morally troubling. what the limits to
>that are I have no idea.

Neither do I or many other people, hence this discussion.

>I make judgements about other regimes as
>critically as i make judgements about the regime I live under. I apply an
>obviously personal moral and political standard to these judgements. I
>try to determine the extent to which my moral or political distaste is so
>much ehtnocentric bafflegab [ see for example much, though not all, of
>the debate over female circumcision], i try to determine what the
>intention behind rules and acts i find troubling is, to determine the
>extent to which the basic moral standards i abide by may not have any
>merit given that the motivational ground of an action i dislike may not
>the the same as mine. I have no set list of expecations regarding the
>amorphuous creature called universal human rights [ although i appreciate
>and admire James Carriers list].

This is essentially how I see things too. I would say the "right not to be
tortured" should go somewhere near the top of any universal list, and this
is a significant one in the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948...

>Are there things - anythings - which I feel can be defined as absolutely
>and ineluctably 'wrong' under all circumstances? To be blunt, I feel I am
>to good an anthropologist to even attempt an answer to that question.
>There is too much I do not know. Are there things which I work against,
>in my own ways, no matter where I am. I am too good a person to not say
>yes. But it is always a troubling and open minded yes.

I draw the line at torture. Maybe this is just me.

>The other question, I think, is what did living with Samoans teach me
>that effects how i feel about what is about to happend to Michael Fay's
>unmentionable parts.
(Much about Menendez brothers, Lorena Bobbitt, etc. deleted.)

Your points about the U.S. Cult of Victimology are well-taken, doug. As
many cultural critics have noted in our PC-laden universe, you can't get
anywhere without being a victim of somebody. Hence Robert Hughes' labelling
of the U.S. as a "culture of complaint." I also think it is ridiculous for
victimizers to escape punishment by protesting their own victimization,
whether that be child abuse or Nintendo deprivation in prison.
Still, there is another U.S. Cult which simultaneously competes with
it, so we have to be careful. This Cult, called "Blame thy Victim," is also
still around. The homeless are homeless by choice, it's not the fault of
anybody else, and they choose to live that way... in my opinion, like most
cults, *both* of these cults have their deficiencies...

>In a kind of low grade way, defenders of leniency for Michael Fay are
>engaging in the same sort of sleight of hand. Don't punish him, he's not
>really responsible.

Wrong. No one is saying imprisonments or other punishments are not
appropriate. They are arguing that the punishment does not fit the crime.
If Fay was coerced into confessing, he *is* not responsible. If he
has attention-deficit disorder, I agree with you, this might affect his
classroom learning ability, but has no more bearing on his guilt or
innocence than watching TV, eating twinkies, or going to a horror movie
(all of which Miami lawyer Ellis Rubin has used as criminal defenses.)

(much about elderly crap-hurlers deleted.)

>So, after too many words, let's see where I am on Michael Fay's butt and
>other things cerebral. First, caning as practiced by the Singaporean
>courts is brutal and repugnant and we should be appalled by it.


>Calls by
>some Americans for similar punishments in Ohio and the rest should be
>resisted actively.


>Second, that Singapore has punishments like 650 dollar
>fines for chewing gum and caning for vandalism is no more a human rights
>issue than the constitutional provision in the US that only an American
>citizen can be president.

I disagree. Heavy fines for chewing gum are reprehensible, but I don't
think they transgress any right not to be fined. Now, caning *does*
transgress the right not to be tortured. The issue is not the heaviness of
punishment; cultures can determine sentences for criminals they consider
appropriate, and no legal scholar would deny them that. It is a bad thing
if Singapore imprisons people who piss on the streets for 20 years, but
that is not a human rights violation, unless they are deprived of due
process (or one considers the right to piss on the street part of natural
law). Now if Singapore *canes* people who piss on the streets, I think
there is a human rights issue.

>WE may be offended both morally and
>politically by the repressiveness of the Singapore system and work in
>whatever way we feel legitimate to change that system, but the human
>rights issue, at least in this case, is a dodge and not an argument. in a
>sense it is another way of evading responsibility, this time for ones
>beleifs. ' you see, its not that I;m ethnocentric, its just this this is
>a human rights issue." Don't run away or deny your ethnocentrism, admit
>it, argue its merits.

The concept of human rights is ethnocentric, mainly in that the idea of
rights versus obligations is a cultural choice peculiar to Kant and the
Western tradition... agreed... I still believe in them, I argue for my
ethnocentric beliefs in their appropriateness... while still trying to
maintain a degree of cultural relativism... it is a juggling act, agreed...

>Finally, what about Mikey's soon to be trembling glutius maximus.

D St. C., what is this thing you have about humankind's nether parts?

>In the
>absence of any argument of merit to the contrary - and I remain open to
>news that a] he actually didn't do it or b] he is in some way mentally
>challenged and incapable of making reasonable judgements about the
>consequences of his actions - he deserves the punishment the signapore
>judiciary determines, by its criteria, to be the punishment best suited
>to crime. He's stuck. It's their rules, their ball park.

Would you say the same thing about Nazi justice? Going to the gas chamber
is what the Nazis decided was the appropriate punishment for Jews,
homosexuals, Gypsies, and political opponents, as well as criminals. Hey,
the U.S. shouldn't have said anything, "it's their rules, their ball park."

>Hope this answers your question, Mike. It raises more for me.



Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, Guerilla Ontologist, Chaotician
Matrix Master Control Node #3, Gainesville, Fl.
"I slept with Faith & found a corpse in my arms upon awakening/ I drank and
danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning." --