Where blame lies

The raging race debate forces me to think about how we become culpable.

I came across an obscene argument the other day. Perhaps you have seen something similar?

It went like this: the Japanese are reaping what they have sown; the earthquake, the tsunamis, the nuclear threat and the unseasonal blizzards in the north are a karmic balancing for the killing of whales and the popularity of whale meat amongst the Japanese citizenry.

Think about this.

But first control for the sentimentalised ranking of some mammals over others in the general lovability stakes.

So consider countries that kill and eat stinky old cows (instead of noble and graceful whales) in the mass-produced beef industry.

Would anyone suggest that tragedies involving suffering and death of the citizens in countries that eat a lot of McDonald’s hamburgers (we could have spun this differently and made it KFC’s horrifyingly produced raw material) are somehow the just desserts of those people who form part of the relevant consumer demographic?

The idea is outrageous and its reasoning as deeply flawed as it is repulsive.

There are extraordinary and moving photographs of stoic Japanese citizens being rescued or tested for radiation as they are being evacuated from near Fukushima. Here’s one – and I hesitate to do this – and not only because it is not my property. The main reason is I do not want to be too manipulative:

I could have used this one, but I thought it might be pushing the bounds of good taste:

I do not want to go further down this path.

Only those whose lives revolve around sinister religious fairytales could believe any version of the idea that what has happened in Japan is some form of divine retribution.

I am more interested in the underlying fallacy that is much more common and certainly prevalent in our political discourse: collective guilt and the appropriateness of collective punishment – or at least collective responsibility.

Are whites the culpable beneficiaries of Apartheid? Do their children inherit this culpability and therefore the responsibility for redress? Are blacks (and, to a lesser degree) Coloureds and Indians victims of Apartheid? Are their children the inheritors of this disadvantage?

These issues are deeply unresolved in our political life – and, I believe, they are deeply unresolved in our law and in our minds.

2 thoughts on “Where blame lies

  1. You are right, Nic: in the absence of clear thinking and a commitment to bring about greater economic justice we are all being manipulated by the morally slothful who wallow in the troughs of victim-hood. It reminds me of the truly weird attempt launched by some obsequious-spined whites a few years back asking people to give money as a collective act of contrition and admission of guilt! I don’t know whether the estate of Bram Fischer contributed.
    I just returned from a visit to some white squatter camps in the north – Ruyterwacht in the Cape is another sad example: it would seem that nearly half a million whites have fallen through the cracks of the new Manyi-Mzansi. Are they also victims of Apartheid?

    1. Thanks Breyten – I dug around and found a link to a story about that campaign: http://www.mail-archive.com/recoznet2@green.net.au/msg00238.html
      At the time I was on a mailing list of people discussing or trying to organise the campaign and I – and most of the people I respected – were virulently opposed to the idea that this group of ex or (then) present ANC whites should lead any apology on behalf of whites in general. Of course that was not the dominant feeling:

      “It’s necessary for whites to acknowledge that we were all beneficiaries
      of apartheid and need to respond with real positive action,”
      campaign chairman Carl Niehaus said today. “There is a sense of
      disappointment among the black community that whites are not
      committed to the new South Africa.”

      and this from the proposed declaration:
      “We acknowledge that racist attitudes of
      white superiority and black inferiority continue to shape our lives,
      communities and institutions. We acknowledge that our failure to
      accept responsibility for apartheid has inhibited reconciliation and

      I would be hugely grateful if someone with a better memory of that time (December 2000) or with some resources from that period could link them here?

      Meanwhile, the issue is clearly unresolved … fyi I wrote two “parenting” columns about this matter a few years ago – they were pretty lightweight and gentle, but for those interested, just look at the comments sections and see the depth of unresolved anger these issues still manage to generate.

      The first is here: http://www.parent24.com/Featured/Most_Read/Were-you-on-the-Apartheid-team-Dad-20091021 and the second, a sort of response to the first, is here: http://www.parent24.com/School_7-12/development_behaviour/White-boys-in-SA-20091104

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