Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Reality Check: A "Cultural Genocide" isn't a Real Genocide.

Some folks in the Buddhist blogosphere's recent harrumphing over a damned Groupon commercial is frankly over the top.

To even begin to equate what is going on in Tibet - even if you believe the worst of what's being written - with what went on in Cambodia or worse, in Nazi occupied Europe is pretty abominable.  And calling what's going on in Tibet a "cultural genocide" does a grave disservice to historical memory and the suffering of those who suffered under the real thing.  It does that by conflating and associating what's thought to be going on in Tibet  - some of which is undoubtedly true - with a real genocide.

Culture is a set of ideascustoms, skills, arts, etc. of a people or group, that are transferred, communicated, or passed along, as in or to succeeding generations.  It is inherently not life, and changed by succeeding generations.  Genocide is the systematic killing of a whole national or ethnic group. It's about killing people.  And that's just not what's going on in Tibet. Sorry folks, but that is the truth.

I had relatives killed by Nazis (at least one known relatively close relative and who knows how many of an extended family) - though I'm not of Jewish descent and they weren't either.  But I would not say their killing was part of a genocide either, even though my ancestral group was considered untermenschen by Nazis.

No, genocide was waged against Jews and gypsies and Armenians and Cambodians.

Wanna know what? The rape of Nanjing might arguably not be a genocide either, but it sure looks a hell of a lot like one to me. It was,  however, certainly a set of war crimes of horrific proportions.   There simply is no comparison to Tibet folks. 

Don't like it? Consider this: Racist relatives in my family used to refer to marriage between different "races" as "genocide," and they meant it pretty much exactly the same wayExcept for the fact that intermarriage involved sex; which, I guess for the overt racists, made intermarriage worse somehow.

I would say ditto for "cultural rape," though  that the latter term is often far more prevalently used as a metaphor.  But maybe that's because of an over-arching ignorance of the prevalence of real rape in our culture as well, and the suffering associated with that.  So I think it'd be better not to use such terms.

The purpose of these terms is to trigger an emotional response that incites divisive behavior. It is the very antithesis of right speech.  And the fact that the Dalai Lama himself does it and his supporters repeat those words in America makes it no less the antithesis of right speech. 

So, can we please find another term of art for what is going on in Tibet if it's not an actual genocide?  Because I would hardly call the casual bandying about of the term anything like right speech.


Scott Xian-Liao said...

You make a really good point. It's like the difference between rape and murder. China seems to be serially raping Tibet, infecting her with its culture STD and impregnating her with its bastard people. If China were to just murder Tibet, who then would China have left to rape?

Mumon said...

I get the irony in what you wrote there.

The fact is it's not just the colonized whose culture is irreversibly changed by contact with a more dominant culture (in terms of meme propagation - not gene propagation). Geez, America has changed more cultures than who knows what (including Tibet's and China's cultures) and it's not out of the realm of possibility that America's culture will soon be changed by its interactions with Chinese culture.

That's what happens to cultures.

Petteri Sulonen said...

I agree. I hate it when people misuse terms like "genocide" or "fascism" or "dictatorship" or "totalitarian."

"Repression" works for me re Tibet.

Mumon said...


I wouldn't object to the term repression or oppression at all, though I would note that two hands are clapping there it seems. One of them is certainly dominant by a substantial margin however.

Kyle Lovett said...

Nope, it's cultural rape pure and simple.