Saturday, January 20, 2007

Social Death

A while back I made mention of Claudia Card's conception of social death as central to our understanding of genocide. By way of reminder:
Specific to genocide is the harm inflicted on its victims' social vitality. It is not just that one's group membership is the occasion for harms that are definable independently of one's identity as a member of the group. When a group with its own cultural identity is destroyed, its survivors lose their cultural heritage and may even lose their intergenerational connections. To use Orlando Patterson's terminology, in that event, they may become "socially dead" and their descendants "natally alienated," no longer able to pass along and build upon traditions, cultural developments (including languages) and projects of earlier generations (1982, 5-9). The harm of social death is not necessarily less extreme than that of physical death. Social death can even aggravate physical death by making it indecent, removing all respectful and caring ritual, social connections, and social contexts that are capable of making dying bearable and even of making one's death meaningful. In my view, the special evil in genocide lies in its infliction not just of physical death (when it does that) but of social death, producing a consequent meaninglessness of one's life and even of its termination.
An article that may illuminate the genocidal nature of the Israeli government's treatment of native Palistinians is Loss of a Native Land, which focuses on the recollections and perspective of a 99 year old Palestinian who was displaced (along with initially 700,000 fellow natives) by the Israelis.

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