Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fine example of the idiocy of using "human rights" commissions to police thought

No doubt there is much in any discussion of cannibalism among the warring Maori tribes in pre-colonial New Zealand, or among many other tribes, that one can get wrong. But for a scholar to be hauled into bureaucratic hell simply because someone is offended at the mere recognition of what is now widely know among scholars - i.e. that cannibalism was once a common practise, not least in New Zealand - is absurd.
Racism claim over cannibal book - 27 Aug 2008 - Maori news - NZ Herald
The above-linked article notes:
Sent anonymously to Dr Moon, the complaint said This Horrid Practice "describes the whole of Maori society as violent and dangerous. This is a clearly racist view claiming a whole ethnic group has these traits".
Besides the obvious injustice of allowing accusers to go unknown to those who have to defend themselves, the complainant would have an academic point if Moon actually said that Maori society was only violent and dangerous: the whole point of human sacrifice, according to leading anthropological thinkers, Rene Girard and Eric Gans, was to defer social tensions, either to create a moment of peace through the act of sacrifice, or to sacrifice in the name of furthering a pre-existing sign of peace and the need it signified fairly to distribute the pieces of a victim at a sacrificial feast, thus acting to defer all the resentful tensions that had been previously focussed on the victim(s).

But to say, like this complainant, that it is wrong to suggest that a "whole ethnic group had these traits" is to show total disrespect for what a tribal culture actually is. In a tribal culture there are not free individual persons in the modern Western sense. There is no democracy where one is bound to consider more than one perspective and decide which one to vote for, independently of any necessary allegiance to clan or tribe. No, in the tribal world, everyone is bound to the collective myth and ritual sacrifice. It is compact. There is no opting out.

Moon's complainant, in misrepresenting the pre-colonial world, should be taken to the "human rights" commission and left to rot in bureaucratic limbo! And the bureaucrats should be left to rot in figuring out what to do with such a miscreant. This limbo should be permanent, almost tribal.

The article also notes:
Released in August, the book posits that consuming vanquished enemies' mana had little to do with the underlying reason for Maori cannibalism. Instead cannibalism, in pre-colonial times, was simply about "rage and humiliation".
I find this a dubious argument. As I understand it, the archeological evidence is that in their first few hundred years on the islands the Maori effectively hunted and exterminated much of the available big game animals. Human sacrifice, in New Zealand as elsewhere, went in hand with a turn towards a more sedentary, agrarian, militaristic, and hierarchical society. The resentment that such a centralized society creates, with tribal chiefs claiming more and more control over the collective ritual (by which production and warfare is organized, and the economic fruits of labour and warfare are distributed), encourages the development of awesome human sacrifice at the centre of society, as a way to mediate resentful tensions focussed on the centre. But to say it was simply about "rage and humiliation" towards/of the victim is to say there was no rational element to the practice, which would indeed be de-humanizing. The Maoris, even though bound to a fierce ritual code and mythic understanding, had some degree of rational thought about what they were doing. Even the most primitive human has a minimal degree of reason and conscious recognition of what he does. As noted, I would guess that the shortage of animal protein on the islands, and the need for more centralized military organization, had the arguably rational effect of encouraging and growing the practise of human sacrifice, as it did in pre-Columbian Mexico.

In any case, I remain firm in my belief that the human rights commissions are on the side of the cannibals and that what they are doing in feeding learned victims to the resentful masses is not ethically far removed from cannibalism. Indeed, since we no longer have the rational dietary need to eat our fellow humans for protein, nor the religious need, the humiliation and figurative dismemberment of writers, in an age when government people can and should know better, is arguably a much greater sin than anything the cannibals ever did.

Kiwis? hah! (HT: Blazing Cat Fur)

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