The Good Society Volume 19, Number 1, 2010 E-ISSN: 1538-9731 Print ISSN: 1089-0017 DOI: 10. 1353/gso. 0. 0097 Some Moral Minima Lenn E. Goodman Some years ago I took part in an international meeting of philosophers. Around 180 thinkers attended. Many took the occasion to showcase their values. Socialism was still much bruited in those days, and several speakers scrapped their prepared remarks to sing its praises. I admired Hilary Putnam’s courageous confession when he branded the socialist ideal as “now universally discredited. For many still imagined that civil rights and human flourishing were adequately served only when a single-party state controls law and politics, the media and means of production, science, inquiry, and the arts, the councils of labor, sources of capital, vehicles of distribution, land and marketplace. Since ours was an intercultural as well as an international meeting, many spoke out for relativism, and its expected benefits in tolerance and cultural accommodation.
Bimal Matilal, whom I remembered as a handsome young scholar at Oxford’s Oriental Institute, now broken in health and pushed in a wheelchair by his wife, made a spirited effort to distinguish relativism from pluralism. Conceding that human norms must vary in their particulars from society to society and culture to culture, he scanned the traditions of India to help him sketch some norms worthy of universal support. 1 He named four: respect for life, deference to truth, abhorrence of theft, and rejection of adultery.
In each case, he sought to sculpt specific principles from the broad norms he drew from India’s rich array of religious and philosophical traditions. Although he used Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, and at one point cited the moral and spiritual authority of Gandhi, he worked hard not to rely on the prescriptions of anyone’s deity. But sectarianism is not the only risk in a project of this kind. American courts will overturn a statute for unconstitutional vagueness, and ethical principles, as well, can fail if framed too broadly to specify what Aristotle called “the doable good. 2 With the best intentions, global formulations can turn culture-bound. But, when couched too broadly, they turn vacuous, especially once duly hedged and qualified, and faced with pushback from interested parties. Matilal’s four rubrics are noble enough. Yet they do teeter on the edge of vacuity, begging for the specificity that only law or settled custom can impart—always at the risk of over—and falling prey to the relativist’s charge that now they fail of universality. Do the claims of truth, for instance, debar all lies?
And if lies are countenanced to spare a fugitive, can we debar other appeals to expedience—lying for political or personal ends, or pious fraud to aid others in this world or toward the next? Do we guard truth verbally but allow prevarication? Or does deference to truth die the death of a thousand qualifications, surviving only when unchallenged? Setting aside dramatic confrontations and dropping down the memory hole any thoughts of, say, Lysenko and his Stakhanovite methods, we still must ask: Does the love of truth exclude white lies and false compliments?
When does tact sink into fulsome cant? When does candor turn brutal, or honesty wax literal-minded? Can such questions even be asked outside an overarching ethos, and can an ethos subsist outside a culture or a community of language users? Is there an ethos without an ethnos? Matilal’s aim was consensus, which often carries blandness as its price—if not compromise of principle. Yet compromise is the stuff of politics. America might never have won its independence or framed its constitution if the slavery question had first to be settled on principle.
If politics is the art of the possible, virtuosity in that art must lie in seeing to it that the compromises that build consensus do not immolate principle—so heavily paper over principled divides that ambiguity itself becomes a point of law and a juridical tactic, leaving vital issues to fester or smolder out of sight. Not every compromise is praiseworthy or even tolerable. That is easy to see and say but harder to live by or die for in practice, in the clinches: There is no proper compromise with Nazis in full spate, or the Khmer Rouge.
What can link us morally to the Hutus at the door, or Mongol invaders, Inquisitor torturers, Red Guards, ethnic cleansers, Mujahidin, or Janjaweed? Here the human bonds demanding universal respect and sincerity can become otiose, even obscene. Facts like these, on the ground and in our faces, in this age of suicide bombers, raise the question forcefully: Even if it is true that every state and culture makes its compromises and has its modus vivendi, even if it is true that no norm can be made absolute unless some other is compromised and, as with grammar, and even logic, laxity here demands rigor there, and rigor here means a loosening [End Page 87] elsewhere), are there no overarching norms of life and practice, no deep grammar of the normative, beyond meta-rules that tell us, vacuously, that principles are principles—no norms delineating concretely, and uncompromisingly, wrong from right? Part of what Matilal was seeking was common consent. But unanimity, I fear, is no proper standard of moral universality. Consent is a helpful marker, but neither necessary nor sufficient to legitimacy.
For some whose interests are critically affected by our acts have no effectual say in our choices. These include the desperately poor, the comatose, the very young and very old, the linguistically or cognitively challenged, all those outside our deliberative community—not only the impoverished and disenfranchised, but the members of past and future generations, whose projects our acts may consummate or desecrate. And there are those who gladly agree to outrageous abuses of self and others, including those whose interests they should, by rights, most tightly clutch—out of eagerness for celebrity or wealth, or power, real or imagined. Morals do not rightly seek Nazi agreement, and penal laws are not rightly subject to criminal review. That’s too high a price to pay for unanimity. Making unanimity the test of normative universality is an ancient sophism, grown mossy and readily overlooked. It is also an instance of the naturalistic fallacy. The fact is, we humans and the societies we constitute can be wrong, unjust, vicious—hugely or trivially, tragically or self-deceivingly. Granted, any norm, to be effectual, must be embedded in the thick of life.
Still, many of the particularities constitutive in such thickness at the level of culture or character do not matter much morally. So, the cultural and personal differences that Sophists plead against efforts to meet their spurious standard do not discredit the quest for universal norms. Personal and cultural differences do set a tone; and that does matter. Customs and institutions are inseparable from the fabric of life where norms do their pragmatic work.
Still, if we hope to sift style from substance, and discredit the willful muddling of the two that makes the unfamiliar look exotic, then we are looking not just for family resemblances or a behavioral lowest common denominator, but for moral threads and themes that can anchor norms to recognizably objective values. Philippa Foot strikes close to home, I think, when she predicates normative universality on the needs of living beings. 4 My own approach, similar but somewhat broader, is to turn to the claims of beings at large. These, I think, are the first basis of deserts.
Deserts are expressions of what beings are. They rise to a moral plateau in the case of persons, where subjecthood and agency warrant the unique deserts that we enshrine as human rights, and that our institutions rightly seek to secure, enhance, and enlarge. My brief here is not comprehensive. I will not try to calendar every consideration human beings are due or all the ways in which varied interests deserve to be respected. I think that all human aspirations worthy of the name deserve respect and support, materially and morally/intellectually. But that is not my topic here.
What I want to do here is single out a few areas where I think human deserts are irrefragable—not because these deserts are never questioned or breached in practice, but because they never should be. My listing draws on the Jewish sources and historical experience for what they contribute to our common store of moral knowledge—not because the textual or traditional roots of these norms are so widely honored, nor because of the divine authority that monotheists find in these norms. There are too many violations of any norm to make any practice or linguistic usage comprehensively authoritative. And ideas of the divine are far too fluid and responsive to our norms to allow much criterial work to be offloaded in that direction. Why else, did Norsemen and Homeric Greeks have gods of war; and Vikings, a god of mischief? I would rather save the sanctity and absoluteness of norms to point toward the divine, and reveal just what sort of being we find worthy of worship. The areas I will touch on are these: (1) genocide, politically induced famine, and germ warfare; (2) terrorism, hostage taking, and child warriors; (3) slavery, polygamy, and incest; and (4) rape and female genital cutting.
Genocide, Famine and Germ Warfare All living beings make claims to life. That is the first basis of demands for deference to deserts. The human face, Levinas writes, as if to read the words encrypted in a glance, a stare, a hesitant smile, urges: “Do not kill me. ” It says much more than that, of course, once it is allowed to speak. It says, “Do not shame me, do not pass by without offering a hand of fellowship, building far more than what we build together, cementing friendship and allowing us to create a community. ” Murder is wrong because it destroys a human subject.
Warfare is not always wrong; it may be necessary to protect such subjects. Yet war is suspect: Its dynamic too readily escapes control through the illusion that weapons are only tools and war itself just another device, the natural extension of diplomacy. Escalating violence strips away moral barriers and blocks the view of faces. Helmets, arrow slits, night vision goggles, reveal, if not a face of fear or hatred, only a faceless enemy. Why is mass murder any different from a criminal’s slaying a marked victim? Why is genocide uglier than murder?
The answer lies in the intent, not just the scale of the crime. Clearly, more dreams are broken and more futures cut short when more lives are taken. But genocide targets individuals as members of a group, seeking to destroy a race, a culture, a linguistic or ethnic identity, even a class—as the Soviets did in the Ukraine, or Mao in China, or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The target is a way of life. [End Page 88] Genocide is the ultimate essentializing of the exotic. It defines a type and assigns it a character, projecting what is inwardly hated or feared onto this fetish.
Reflected in this invented mask it sees the image of the new man it hopes to create by the expulsion and destruction of the other, whose fantastic evil is blown up to cosmic scale with heaped up, extruded negativity, as larger warrant is sought for each new crime. Racial prejudice, or any invidiousness that ritualizes exclusion, marks a victim category, singles out a type—by sex or color, language, class, or educational attainment (as in the Cambodia of the killing fields or the China of Mao’s Cultural Revolution)—is wrong, unfair, before a drop of blood is shed for the shining ideal to be polished in its name.
And wrong again for more pragmatic reasons: for semiotic dehumanizing of those chosen as the next victims to be stuffed into hatred’s maw. Yet, for those who confuse power with violence, indiscriminate or discriminating violence is a source of power, a self-fueling juggernaut that gains momentum with the escalation of its demands. A power built on violence will, as history shows and logic explains, inevitably burn itself out. Hitler will run out of Jews, gypsies, decadents, and misfits.
Ever new types will be needed—just as Stalin transformed private paranoia into public policy, inventing “wreckers” of all sorts when sufficient enemies seemed lacking. Tyrannical revolutions do fling their fathers and children onto the pyre and self-immolate in the end, even without the foreign interference that febrile and invasive policies invite, and that crimes against humanity demand. The bonfire collapses of its own weight, but not before wreaking incalculable damage. Mao’s death toll was 70 million human souls.
He was ready, he bragged in 1958, to sacrifice 300 million, half of China’s population, “for the victory of world revolution. ” This, he said, had “happened quite a few times in Chinese history. It’s best if half the population is left, next best, one third. “6 Wholesale murder is wrong, then, not just for its scale but also for willfully negating individuality, typing its victims, and stirring hatred against the putative failings of the type. It is not universally condemned. It has defenders, active and vocal, passive and tacit.
So one must speak out and act against it. We, the world, are culpable today for failing to take speedy and decisive action against Hitler’s holocaust and the genocides of Cambodia, Rwanda, Serbia, and, today, Darfur. Along with genocide, comes political use of famine, which Stalin perpetrated against the Ukraine, covered up by the complicity of a New York Times reporter sympathetic to the march of Communism. 7 Loosing the vehicles of vindictive apocalypse is a form of genocide. Germ warfare shares that shame with famine.
The target is humanity at large—as it was when Saddam fired the oil wells in Kuwait on his defeat in the First Gulf War. The same confusion of violence with power was at work in his war against the Kurds and Shi ‘ ites of his own land. Paranoia needs an enemy. But the apparatus of a modern state allows the projection and targeting of a mythic enemy. Battle against that foe focuses energies and legitimates tyrannies, uniting peoples in a common struggle that makes every victory a triumph and every defeat a tragic call to further sacrifice and struggle.
Saddam saw that when he made Iran his enemy well before invading Kuwait or setting his gaze on the oil wealth and sacred cities of Arabia. Many an Arab and Muslim leader, from Nasser in Egypt to Bin Laden and the radical imams of Indonesia, has used the same tactic. American power and Israel’s very existence become goads and cankers, firing up followers and distracting large populations from the hard work of social and economic development, and the demands of spiritual growth and moral self-mastery. Terrorism, Hostages, and Child Warriors
In terrorism, too, mythic violence is inherent in the crime. To some participants and observers, the act is expressionistic theater, venting frustration when history seems to slip away or move in the wrong direction. Contemplating the horrors of war and revolution, Camus could entertain the idea that a rebel might win a kind of moral pass by risking self-immolation: The saboteur derailing a train is at least willing to ask of himself what he takes from others. But that thought was silenced by the intellectual dishonesty and moral contradiction of an ideal set up to kill or die for.
Terrorism, as Camus saw, grows out of nihilism, and its fruits are nihilistic: “Young disciples try,” he wrote, “with bombs and revolvers and their bravado marching to the gallows, to escape the contradiction and create the values they lack. “8 But the contradiction stains all acts of indiscriminate violence (even if, like genocide, its indiscriminateness is targeted to a type): Terrorists explode the values they claim to fight for. Their victims’ blood blurs and blots whatever ends were meant to justify the carnage.
Kaliaev’s twisted bow toward the Golden Rule, his willingness—insistence, in Camus’—on dying for his murder of the Tsar’s uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei, was a gesture made before the world had seen suicide bombing on any great scale—before the Tamil Tigers learned the full impact of blowing themselves up in the marketplace, before engineers and imams had made a cult and science of martyrdom, offering glory and God’s garden to desperate, disconsolate, or starry-eyed volunteers who hoped to erase their past and simplify their future by igniting busloads [End Page 89] of school children, or strafing wedding parties with ball bearings from an exploding backpack, or crashing jetliners into public buildings. It was before Serbs were paid twenty-five cents a pop for shooting passersby from the upper stories in Sarajevo, or Iraqi insurgents got twenty bucks for lobbing a grenade. To the professional, terrorism is a tool of policy, not a cry of despair. It cynically exploits the sanctity others give to human rights and manipulates a media appetite for sensation. It blackmails democracies, intimidates civil populations, reroutes tourists, and sends aid workers packing.
It co-opts journalists and academics, broadcasting a Stockholm syndrome mentality onto the public at large, by holding the world hostage to its enormities. Terrorism today is a manufactured claim to authority and authenticity, ethnic or regional autonomy, or the imposition of Shari ‘ a law and haqq penalties on diverse and diversely inclined populations. The technique is paradoxically effective, hobbling economies, altering elections, prying apart alliances among prospective victims, and winning recruits to the conviction that God sustains the violence—much as Marxists once won acolytes to the faith that theirs was the mandate of history. Terrorism even wins sympathy among its victims—recapturing the mood of the 1950s slogan: “Better Red than dead. ” Why is terrorism wrong?
It is worth spelling out, since Sophists shift the tactic from turpis to dubia causa —calling terrorists militants, guerillas, or simply gunmen, and cloaking their organizations in referential opacity with phrases like “classified as a terrorist group,” or “considered by x to be a terrorist group. ” Simultaneously, terrorism becomes honoris causa among its sponsors, the criminals feted, rewarded, beatified. Terrorism is willful targeting of non-combatants, aiming to intimidate and attract attention. It is a war crime, since war, if just at all, seeks only to block an enemy’s ability to make war. Terrorism, as a tactic, finds its military use in sapping the will to resist. Its intensity comes from its flagrancy. The more helpless the victims, the more lurid the light.
But, like any sensate act, terrorism seeks ever higher sensations, as public response is leathered over and callused against shock: The more devastating the damage, the more inhumane, the more avidly is it sought by the strategists, ideologues, and theologians of terror. As for media and academic apologists, they soft-pedal the moral issues, finding in terrorism a natural, even inevitable response to desperation. They obliquely endorse the terrorists’ agenda when they speak of the need to address “the root causes” of the crime. That line makes them complicit with those who seek to profit politically from the mayhem. Hostage taking and the abduction, training, and deployment of child warriors are parallel violations of human dignity.
They, too, make human beings means and not ends, objects not subjects. Hostages are chosen not for their military acts but for the impact of their seizure, perhaps torture, and brutal execution, the world made a spectator via the internet, cable, and broadcast media. Peter W. Singer estimates that there are some 300,000 child soldiers, voluntary, semi-voluntary, or coerced, under arms today. 9 Recruitment of children under 15 was named a war crime by the International Criminal Court, but no one has yet been convicted of it. Child soldiers are recruited as young as nine or ten. Often they are drugged or drunk, used as sex slaves or cannon fodder.
They are exploited to commit atrocities in irregular armies—notably, the Tamil Tigers, but in many other forces too—for their relative physical and moral helplessness, childish fearlessness, desperate poverty, alienation, anger, or isolation. They grow up educationally destitute and emotionally scarred by all that they remember doing and suffering, and all that they must force themselves to forget. Slavery, Polygamy, and Incest Slavery is the deepest exploitation, overriding subjecthood to make a person a tool for use. Kitsch and B-movies are exploitative, since they are manipulative. But they do not destroy our freedom. Murder is destructive. But slavery keeps its victim alive while stripping her of agency, assigning it to others who do not share her projects, hopes, or interests, but subordinate her capabilities to their wants.
I use the feminine gender here, although slaves today are of both sexes and all ages, since the bulk of human trafficking is in women and children. The U. S. State Department estimates that between 700,000 and four million persons are trafficked annually across international borders, including some 50,000 into the United States. 10 Men are trafficked most often for agricultural or construction labor; women and children, for prostitution, domestic servitude, or sweatshop labor. False promises of employment, imposed debt, sequestered identity documents, and fear of immigration authorities are frequent. So are violence and threats of violence, unsafe and unhealthy workplaces and living conditions—and, for women and children in brothels, the risk of AIDS and other STDs.
Human trafficking has grown since the 1990s. Most victims come from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Russia, and the Czech Republic. They are brought to Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America. But slavery in Africa and the Middle East often slips under the radar, whether or not it crosses international boundaries. In Mauritania, women and girls are forced into concubinage or agricultural slave labor by Arab overlords. Boys in the Sudan are kidnapped in the south and pressed into northern militias; girls are made domestics, farm workers, or forced brides. Human traffickers include small gangs, crime syndicates, and drug cartels.
Recruiters, abductors, transporters, safe houses, forgers, debt enforcers, brothel owners and sweatshop [End Page 90] operators, work the pipeline of human misery. Fraud, extortion, racketeering, money laundering, bribery, drug use, and gambling are associated crimes. But central here is the inhuman use of human beings. The victimizers find human cargo easier to ship than drugs, less severely punished, and more profitable. As one immigration official put it, “Drugs are sold only once. Humans can be sold multiple times. “11 Polygamy, too, exploits—not usually as heinously as slavery, but in a similar way. Again I use the gender-marked term, since women are the sufferers.
Defenders argue that polygamous marriages are freely entered, freely left, well-protected by law or custom. Would that this were so. The daily interactions that touch the welfare and happiness of any couple are far more dependent on custom than law in any society, but still more dependent on personal character and familial practice than on either law or custom. In polygamous societies women become acquisitions—displays of wealth or status, objects of enjoyment, means of reproduction, providers of childcare and domestic labor. As they age, they often become drudges, unless they can exploit their status to dominate younger wives and impose subordinate roles on the newcomers. Polygamy is inherently invidious.
The testimony of happy wives about their sisterly relations as co-wives, does not erase the structural constraints that press toward rivalries for the affection of husbands and the status of offspring. Nor does it eradicate the impact of polygamy on the status of other women far removed from the happy index case. Polygamy transforms the nature of marriage. That is evident in the apologetics and conditionals that so often speak of the need for fairness by a husband to his wives. The telling subtext is that it is the husband who makes the moral choices here, the wives who are the recipients of treatment, fair or unfair, invidious or even handed. 12 These grounds alone suffice to show that polygamy is bad for women, and as such bad for humanity.
Relativists will say that romantic love and companionate marriage are recent inventions, culture-bound and fraught with troubles of their own. Granted, the love of couples may seem new, if ancient texts are ignored, and if love and the other facets of familial relations are defined narrowly enough. But to say that an institution has a history or cultural setting does not imply that any alternative to it is equally humane. Temporary marriage and serial monogamy are not conducive to familial stability or the growth of emotionally stalwart children. But polygamous relationships diminish those dependent on them, by eliminating the exclusivity of intimacy and trust that can make monogamous relations strong and strengthening to those they shelter.
Polygamy diminishes husbands too, insofar as it depersonalizes their closest relationship. But it diminishes wives more sorely, not only by depersonalizing the sphere of intimacy and trust, but also by altering the general status of women, making wives less equal partners and sharers, and more like property to be used and cultivated. 13 Incest too breaches privacy. Its chief victims are daughters, although most cultures define it more broadly. But why speak of victims, when incest may be voluntary? The answer, I think, lies in seeing what it is that incest prohibitions seek to protect: the integrity of the family, surely-but why? Why are incest restrictions so universal, when no one, to the casual eye, is necessarily being harmed?
Utilitarians can have trouble seeing incest laws as anything but ornamental. I see them as foundational. Relativists, from the early Sophists on, love to flaunt the cultural differences in kinship laws, or even their imagined absence. But no society leaves sexual relations unregulated, and the plainest violations of incest prohibitions are ritualized displays of power and concentrations of charisma that feed on the frisson of the violation. Some biologists and anthropologists ascribe what they coyly or quaintly call the incest taboo to an instinctual, genetically embedded, aversion, rooted in the risks of heightened homozygosity. 14 But in moral terms the matter is more complex.
It is true that offspring of close kin lose some of the protection of a diploid genome: The backup copies of key genes too often tragically match defective alleles inherited from a common ancestor, and the incidence of genetic defects rises with the coefficient of inbreeding when kin marriages are frequent. But why raise the specter of inbreeding if some incestuous acts produce no offspring, or indeed cannot—the union of a grandson with a grandmother, say? There is evidence that children raised together, as in a children’s house on a kibbutz, tend to marry outside their artificial sibship. Yet incest, as case workers in every city and many a rural district know, is far from rare. 5 The moral issue reaches well beyond what any biological imperative against inbreeding would dictate. Heightened degrees of consanguinity, anthropologists observe, intensify incest rejection but do not fully account for it. Rather, the biological problem is underscored and given definition by social and moral concerns. 16 The moral issue, as I see it, is the need to protect emergent personhood in the matrix of the family. A growing youngster’s sense of subjecthood is deeply invested in an emergent sexual identity. Invasion of that space, troubling the waters in which a new face can see itself reflected and focus desires, hopes, and visions of adult life, is inherently violative—not inevitably but intrinsically destructive. End Page 91] So societies rightly protect the boundaries of privacy within the family. Just how they do so is indeed a cultural matter. But cultural norms are not arbitrary or irrational just because they are cultural. What incest violates may be somewhat less visible than, say, what assault violates. But incest is violative nonetheless, and no society seems to miss the point: For the task of any human community is not just to maximize the gratification of its members or even to minimize their pain, but, far more basically, to protect the delicate chrysalis of personhood. Rape and Clitoridectomy So why is rape wrong? It is not just a violation of another’s will. For statutory rape is as much a crime as violent rape.
A minor, presumptively, lacks the judgment needed for valid consent. Nor is injury the only issue. Not every rape involves physical harm. Rape is wrong because it stands at the extreme limit of a continuum of sexual acts, from the most committed to the least so, and the most alienating. Rape is exploitative, objectifying, and, yes, again violative. But what it violates is not just another’s body but that other’s personhood, invested, deeply in one’s sexuality. It used to be said, often enough, that rape is not a sexual crime but a power crime. That is sometimes true, if one consults the rapist’s motives. Often there is a desire to humiliate and abase. 7 But denying that rape is a sexual crime has another resonance that rings false, echoing from the myth that would have it (if it spoke out loud) that there is no bad sex. Unfortunately, there is bad sex, and rape is a paradigm case—an act of hate and not love. Rape perverts and blasphemes against the trust and intimacy that give sexuality its natural and transcendent meanings. Intimidation is of the essence, during the act, afterwards, and even antecedently, since rapists often count on fear and social pressures to forestall an accusation. 18 It is not true, after all, that no act has an inherent meaning. On the contrary, kissing has natural meanings. So does making love.
Rape perverts such meanings, and overlays a passionate or passionless violence on sexuality that violates the victim’s psyche even as her bodily integrity and self-image are violated and abused. Perhaps that helps explain why rape is used, even today, in warfare, especially ethnic and genocidal wars, where the object is not just to snatch land and goods, kill troops, or destroy materiel, but also to humiliate and demoralize. Rape is wrong. It is always wrong. No circumstance can make it right. 19 Rape is not, as some feminists pretend, coterminous with heterosexual relations. The rhetoric of that pretense aims to infect heterosexuality with the violence that normative and natural bonds of loving couples vigorously belie. What has this to do with cliterodectomy?
Only this: that ritual removal of the chief organ of a woman’s sexual gratification and orgasmic satisfaction robs her, in adulthood, of a vital source of satisfaction, self-esteem, and warm relations available to members of our species. Cultural norms that link the intact clitoris with promiscuity or sexual excess are invidious, rooted in a fear of women and insecurity about their fidelity—assumptions reflecting puritanical norms that confuse liberty with license. Confounding male circumcision with cliterodectomy, as if this too were mutilation, is another invidious confusion. For circumcision, whether hygienic20 or spiritually symbolic, does not at all hamper sexual satisfaction in either partner.
A closing word about truth. 21 I have not tried to spell out all human obligations to self or others, or list every form of wrongdoing. But I do see a thread linking the few minima I have laid out as candidates for universal concern. All the wrongs my proposed norms speak against drag with them some violation of the truth. Not that truth is somehow the arch-imperative from which all others rise, as if by deduction. But the linkage does suggest a way of looking at (or looking for) key moral norms. Genocide is a denial of our common humanity. It raises the horror of murder to a higher power by negating not only individual but shared aspirations.
Famine and germ warfare strike at the lowest common denominator of our biological being—as do efforts to sterilize those whom the victimizers hate, or rob them of their children. Gratuitous hatred is the motive, but denial of the life principle gives it direction. Again with terrorism, demoralization is the aim, as it is often the intent or the effect with rape. Both terrorism and rape are denials of what is affirmative in the human spirit. Both negate an inner truth that is somehow intolerable to the assailant. Hostage-taking is a form of blackmail that seeks to trade on a loss of spirit. It shares in this with human trafficking and enslavement: All three negate the freedom and claim to agency that sustain human subjecthood.
Polygamy, cliterodectomy, and incest deny and thwart the fulfillment of human sexual and marital relations: incest by gnawing at the psychic roots of a mature and confident sexual identity; genital mutilation, by excising the bodily focal point of erotic gratification; polygamy, by negating, ignoring, or diminishing the exclusivity that allows marital relations to become more than a mere economic arrangement, but to blossom as true unions between souls and between the bodies in which souls flourish. [End Page 92] Lenn E. Goodman Lenn E. Goodman is Professor of Philosophy and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Creation and Evolution; Islamic Humanism; In Defense of Truth: A Pluralistic Approach; Jewish & Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classic Age; Judaism, Human Rights and Human Values; God of Abraham; Avicenna, On Justice: An Essay in Jewish Philosophy; and his Gifford Lectures, Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself. Endnotes 1. See Bimal Matilal, “Pluralism, Relativism, and Interaction between Cultures,” in Eliot Deutsch, ed. Culture and Modernity:East-West Philosophic Perspectives (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991- papers from the 1989 East-West Philosophers’ Conference), 141-60. 2. Aristotle, Nicomachaean Ethics I 7, 1097a 23-25, Ross translates: “the good achievable by action”; Ostwald: “the good attainable by action. ” Joe Sachs, “the good that belongs to action. ” J. A. K. Thompson seems more apposite here; see his The Ethics of Aristotle (London: Allen Unwin, 1953; London: Penguin, 1955, etc. ), 36. 3. See L. E. Goodman, On Justice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 9-23. 4. Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). 5.
Norms, indeed, are rarely voiced, let alone enforced, unless some violation is already in sight. 6. Mao Tse Tung, quoted in Keith Windschuttle, “Mao and the Maoists,” The New Criterion, October, 2005, 6. 7. Walter Duranty, the Times Moscow correspondent knowingly concealed Stalin’s punitive famine in the Ukraine, using euphemisms and charges that “wreckers” and “spoilers” caused the “serious food shortage. ” He denied in print that there was “actual starvation” and famously remarked: “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. ” Privately in 1933, at a party in the British Embassy, he told Ann O’Hare McCormick that at least 10 million had died that year.
His reporting was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, citing his “scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity. ” Malcolm Muggeridge, who tried to report the truth about the famine was a victim of retaliation and for a time was blackballed and without work. See L. Y. Luciuk, Not Worthy: Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize and the New York Times (Kingston, Ontario: Kashtan Press, 2004). 8. Albert Camus, The Rebel, translated by Anthony Bower (New York: Knopf, 1956; Paris, 1951); cf. The Just, translated by J. O’Brien in Caligula and Three Other Plays (New York: Knopf, 1958; Paris, 1950). 9. See Peter W. Singer, Children at War (New York: Pantheon, 2005). 10. U. S.
Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, June 5, 2002. Francis T. Miko, “Trafficking in Women and Children: The U. S. and International Response,” Congressional Record Research Service Report 98-649C, May 10, 2000. See also James O. Finckenauer and Jennifer Schrook, “Human Trafficking: A Growing Criminal Market in the U. S. ,” International Center, National Institute of Justice; A. Richard, “International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime,” Center for the Study of Intelligence, November, 1999. 11. INS official interviewed at the Immigration and Naturalization Service Headquarters, Washington, D. C. December 20, 2002, quoted in Human Trafficking: International Criminal Trade in Modern Slavery, Regional Organized Crime Information Center, 2002. 12. The advocates of a social change often assume that its impact will be minimal, since few are expected to take part, and since they tend to take for granted the fruits of past improvements, even as they sap the roots that fed such possibilities. 13. Polygamy diminishes all those who take part, by diminishing the depth of their relationships. Beyond its invidious effects on women, it diminishes excluded men. Ibn al-Nafis (13th century) describes the prominence of homosexual relations in his own Islamic society as the natural outcome of the sequestering of women in polygamous marriages.
In an extreme version of such exclusion, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been charged with banishing boys as young as 11 or 12, on trivial pretexts (e. g. , attending movies), so as to reduce competition for multiple wives. See The Salt Lake Tribune, June 21, 2006, online. 14. W. Arens, The Original Sin: Incest and its Meaning (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) critiques Edward Westermarck’s aversion thesis and includes detailed ethological analyses of ritual royal incest. 15. Brent D. Shaw, “Explaining Incest: Brother-Sister Marriage in Graeco-Roman Egypt,” Man N. S. 27 (1992) 267-99, documents formalized marriages of acknowledged full brothers and sisters in Hellenistic Graeco-Roman Egypt.
Social and economic considerations—above all, a paramount desire to marry other Greeks of their own class, rather than Egyptians—were cited in the marriage contracts as overriding the well-known incest prohibition. Pharaonic precedents came to be cited to rationalize the practice. Shaw concludes: “Certain types of incest may well be seen as morally repellent, and might be ‘proved’ to be ‘biologically disadvantageous. ‘But the behavior is not part of an immutable ‘law of nature. ‘ In all its various degrees and varieties of manifestation, whether of indulgence or avoidance, it is still a part of human culture, and deserves, quite simply, to be explained . . . ” 293; cf. Seymour Parker, “Full Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt: Another Look,” Cultural Anthropology 11 (1996) 362-76. 16.
Debra Liebermann, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides, in “Does Morality have a Biological Basis: An Empirical Test of the Factors Governing Moral Sentiments Regarding Incest,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 270 (2003) 819-26. 17. The studies reviewed in Owen Jones, “Sex, Culture and the Biology, of Rape: Toward Explanation and Prevention” 87 California Law Review (1999) 827, suggest that most rapes in Western nations are committed by young, low-status males, leading to an inference by investigators that lack of sexual access, actual or self-perceived, is a key motivating factor. But in a substantial proportion of rapes, the perpetrators are older and far less lacking in resource and sexual opportunities. Here, rapes often involve aggression and a drive to humiliate r subordinate the victim. 18. Given the gravity of rape, Shari ‘ a law takes rape charges seriously, requiring four eye witnesses to the overt act. Failing to produce acceptable male witnesses, an accuser may face adultery or fornication charges, as Tiouli Touria of Limoges did when she was raped by three men in Dubai; London Telegraph, March 1, 2003, online. [End Page 93] 19. In June, 2002, a Muslim village court in Pakistan ordered Mukhtar Mai gang raped, as punishment for her 12-year old brother’s reportedly walking with a girl from an influential tribe. After her rape by four volunteers she was displayed naked to hundreds of village onlookers.
Pakistan Times, March 6, 2006. It is hard to think of a better argument for the need to separate what may be socially sanctioned from what must be deemed unacceptable. 20. Recent findings on the powerful effect of male circumcision in diminishing the impact of the human papilloma virus and other sexually transmitted sources of disease should put paid to the canard claiming that circumcision has no valid hygienic function. There is no comparable benefit to be gained from female genital cutting. 21. For a fuller treatment of moral and religious truth, see Goodman, In Defense of Truth: A Pluralistic Approach (Amherst, New York: Humanity, 2001), chapter 9. [End Page 94]