In the August 13th edition of The National Review (subscription required) Ralph Peters has a thoughtful essay on ethnic cleansing and genocide. These are difficult subjects to think about, given the bloodshed and cruelty we bear witness to on a daily basis. However, Mr. Peters does us a big favor by differentiating the two terms. The most important step toward understanding something is to have an adequate definition of what it is you seek to clarify, and thus, perhaps, act upon:
Ethnic cleansing is evil. It can never be condoned. Yet our repugnance at the act leaves us with a dilemma: What are we supposed to do in cases where ethnic cleansing may be impossible to prevent — cases in which well-intentioned efforts to interrupt ethnic cleansing actually make a conflict deadlier?
One problem we face is a muddle in terminology, employing “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” interchangeably; in fact, there is a profound difference between these two human habits. Genocide is the attempt to exterminate a minority. Ethnic cleansing seeks to expel a minority. At its less serious end, ethnic cleansing may aim only at the separation of populations deemed incompatible by at least one side, with psychological, legalistic, or financial machinations brought to bear to achieve the desired end. At the other extreme, ethnic cleansing can involve deadly violence and widespread abuse. In the worst cases, ethnic-cleansing efforts may harden into genocide.
While Mr. Peters declares that aiding and abetting ethnic cleansing can never be an official policy of the United States, he nonetheless asks that we examine our ineffective “all-or-nothing” approach to conflict:
Until we make an honest attempt to understand the age-old human impulse to rid a troubled society of those who are different in ethnicity or religion, we will continue to fail in our efforts to pacify and repair war-ravaged territories. If our conflicts over the past decade and a half offer any lesson, it’s that the rest of the world refuses to conform to our idealized notions of how human beings are designed to behave. We never stop insisting that the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, the tribes of Somalia, the ethnic groups of Afghanistan, and, most painfully, the religious and ethnic factions of Iraq learn to live in harmony. Those we hope to convince ignore us.
We cannot even control the conflicts in our own country, though we bandage them over with politically correct speak-and-think so we won’t have to face the irreducible strangeness of the Other. Despite almost sixty years of attempts at full integration of the races in our schools and housing, people continue to prefer to live in enclaves. The demand for “diversity” is not only wrong-headed, it is as though those who should know better stick their fingers in their ears and hum loudly so they can’t hear any point of view which conflicts with the Gospel According to Perfect Equality of Outcome. Even though it’s a doomed project, they continue to throw money down the rabbit hole of diversity-on-demand. They are passionate in their refusal to listen, and live in an Alice in Wonderland universe where what they believe is what is true. Period. There is no room for dissent.
This kind of thinking is similar to other nations’ conflicts, though it differs greatly in degree from the more overtly barbaric repetitions of pogroms, ethnic wars, and conflicts over sovereignty. Currently, in the US dissenters are only silenced, or refused seat and voice in a supposed “dialogue.” In places like the Balkans, what we do currently would be a huge improvement. However, our country is ineradicably founded on the decimation of the native populations we encountered on our relentless move across the continent, not to mention the grave harm done by institutionalizing slavery. These differences were too great to be resolved peacefully. On the other hand, the timeless bellicose interactions among the various tribes before any Europeans arrived give the lie to mythical stories which have grown up around the “history” of the peaceful natives, or the paradise of Africa before the white man came.
Just as we whine “why can’t we all just get along?” with no visible effect on the cultural wars here, we cannot insist that other countries somehow squelch their differences. The Soviet Union managed for a few generations to sit on the aspirations and hatreds of the countries they invaded, but in the end those old fires re-ignited with a rebound as soon as enough oxygen allowed for the conflagration. Peters says:
Once ignited, some human infernos must burn themselves out; and you had best position any fire-breaks correctly. To date, our reactions to situations in which ethnic cleansing cannot be arrested have been inept; in Iraq, for example, well-intentioned attempts to stymie neighborhood ethnic-cleansing efforts may have led to the targets’ being murdered as opposed to merely forcibly removed. We struggle to keep families in their homes; in response, the families are massacred in those homes. We pretend that embedded hatreds are transient misunderstandings, but we’re not the victims who pay the price for our fantasies.
As uncomfortable as it may be to face the facts, ethnic cleansing has been a deeply ingrained response of human collectives since the dawn of history, and it’s preferable to uncompromising genocide. [emphasis added]
One reason we fail to understand old group enmities is the focus of our Western tradition on the individual. If you follow the development of psychology from Freud to the present, you will find that the attempt to understand groups in any systematic fashion didn’t really develop until a generation ago — and that the “groups” studied were largely confined to examining the dynamics of the nuclear family. Wilfrid Bion’s work, which grew out of his experience with groups of officers in a WWII hospital, is considered an original and basic beginning in understanding the types of group formation and why groups can quickly become psychotic mobs. For the most part, though, current wisdom utterly fails to grasp the fact that mobs are not merely an assembly of unruly individuals. Mobs are qualitatively different.
– – – – – – – – –
Peters questions our historical behavior and our intellectual ignorance:
Why do human collectives feel compelled to expel neighbors with whom they may have lived in relative peace for generations, or even centuries? It’s a difficult question. The Western model of studying the individual and then extrapolating our findings to the society prevents us from understanding mass behavior, which is far more complex (and murky) than the sum of individual actions. In much of the world — not least, in the Middle East — a more incisive approach is to examine the mass first, then extrapolate to the individual. We’re astonished when foreign actors we know as affable individuals are swept up in mob behavior, but the mob may be their natural element and the reasonable character we encountered on a personal level a fragile aberration: Even in our own society, the mass remains more powerful than the man.
Tribal genocides [have] erupted throughout history when competition for scarce resources intensified; genocide is fundamentally Darwinian, as one group seeks to annihilate another for its own safety or other perceived benefits. Above the tribal level, though, full-scale genocides have been relatively rare; the more common practice, even in the case of the ever-cited Mongols, was selective mass-murder to instill fear — the slaughter of a city’s population to persuade other cities not to resist.
Peters cites historical differences between ethnic cleansing and genocide. He sums up with two examples from French and Spanish history and follows on with the systematic expulsion of ethnic Germans in northeastern Europe — after eight centuries:
Which atrocity was worse, the French massacre of Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, or Louis XIV’s expulsion of them in the 17th (a process that harmed the French economy, while benefiting German-speaking states)? The Spanish expulsions of the Jews and then the Moors were a vast human tragedy that ravaged Iberian civilization — but weren’t those forced exiles preferable to Hitler’s attempt to exterminate European Jewry? Even at the extremes of man-wrought evil, there are gradations of cruelty.
The historical evidence is troubling, since it suggests that ethnic cleansing can lead to peace. For example, the German presence amid Slavic populations in northeastern Europe lasted for eight oppressive centuries before all ethnic Germans were expelled in the wake of the Nazi collapse; after almost a millennium of torment, the region now enjoys an unprecedented level of peace and social justice. Certainly, other factors influenced this new calm — but the subtraction of Baltic, Ukrainian, Pomeranian, Silesian, and Sudeten Germans from the social and political equations appears to have been decisive.
When it comes closer to home, there is the process of “gentrification” of older, poorer neighborhoods, which Peters calls “a soft form of ethnic cleansing by checkbook and mortgage” and the self-segregation of those who prefer the familiarity and security of the collective identity of the barrio or the self-selection of gated communities. And, as he notes, despite our unprecedented tolerance for the Other, we have had our share of race riots and class warfare (e.g., the union mobs of the last century).
We cannot wish away our deep, unconscious and primitive forms of protective behavior. Endless verses of Kumbayah won’t resolve an essential mystery of being human: we prefer our own kind and when that preference is threatened human beings revert to the deepest, earliest level of understanding: protect the group.
And so Mr. Peters leads us to the present:
…[I]n Iraq, ethnic-cleansing efforts have been savage. They still fall short of genocide: Confessional murders to date have aimed at intimidation and expulsion, at punishment and advantage, not at annihilation [note: Mr. Peters does not mention the methodical erasure of the Jewish and Christian communities in Iraq. Bu that is another story. We might as well label it genocide]. What if the best hope for social peace is the establishment of exclusive Shiite or Sunni (or Kurdish) neighborhoods — or towns and cities and provinces? We aren’t alarmed by the existence of various ethnic quarters in Singapore or, for that matter, Brooklyn, and we accept that Saudi Arabia would not welcome an influx of Christian settlers to Riyadh. What if the last chance for Iraq to survive as a unified state is for its citizens to live in religiously or ethnically separate communities? What if efforts to prevent ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, for example, not only are doomed to fail, but exacerbate the ultimate intensity of the violence? Would we really prefer that a family die in its home, rather than be driven from it? Our principles are noble, but it’s shabby to expect Iraqis to die for them.
Some years ago, when the only computer the Baron had was a Micron with 128MB of memory, he acquired a program called “The Ethnic Simulator”, which allowed him to see what would happen to an area’s population with given parameters assigned to ethnicities. How would different groups “clump” together? Back then, of course, the program would take all night to run. It was fun to get up in the morning and see what population movements had taken place during the “years” he set the night before.
It is essential that we understand some of the hardwiring in human behavior, and the Ethnic Simulator program offers a graphically simple way to see what happens when you put various groups together. A working philosophy based on “why can’t we just all get along?” leads inevitably to the scenarios Mr. Peters describes.
Here is the Baron’s explanation:
One piece of evidence for the ongoing racism of the dominant white culture is persistent residential segregation. Despite numerous federal laws; despite decades of busing, set-asides, minority preferences, and civil-rights lawsuits, residential segregation by race remains, and in some locations has intensified.
The only acceptable explanation, the only one which may be discussed in polite company, is, of course, racism among whites. What else could it be?
An alternative explanation is simply that people generally prefer to live among those who are most like themselves. At its extreme, this tendency is racism: “We hate those damned [insert racial epithet here]; they’re no better than animals!” But milder versions of the same behavior are probably instinctual, and are well-understood by most people at an intuitive level. We are most comfortable among those who speak the same language that we do, who look similar to us, who have customs we can understand, and with whom we share context about many everyday matters, so that communication is easier.
Natural Intelligence has developed an application called the “Ethnic Simulator” that models the residential behavior of people in the hypothetical ethnically diverse city of Metropolis. Go here to read the details about the Ethnic Simulator and download a freeware copy of the application.
The premise of the Ethnic Simulator is that ethnically distinct groups have a modest preference to live among their own kind. In Metropolis there are five ethnic groups — Blues (the majority), Greens, Reds, Grays, and Yellows. The application allows the user to set the percentage of preference of each group for its own kind. The default is 50% — that is, each ethnic group would prefer that at least half of its neighbors to be of the same group.
For the Blues, who are in the majority, meeting that requirement is easy — they don’t even have to think about it. But the Yellows, who are the smallest minority, have to scramble to find other Yellows as neighbors.
When you run the Ethnic Simulator, it begins with a uniformly mixed population. But the preferences of the groups cause clumping to occur very quickly — within about ten years. Within fifty years distinct ethnic neighborhoods have emerged, and if you let the simulation run for centuries, large sections of Metropolis have become “ghettos” for one group or another.
Interestingly enough, if you set the preferences for the larger groups to zero (that is, they are indifferent to the ethnic origin of their neighbors), and give only the Yellows a preference (and a modest one at that), you will find Yellows clumping in their enclaves fairly quickly. The preference of the Yellows would be entirely understandable — they are a tiny minority and want to stick together for solidarity’s sake — but it produces a result that the conventional wisdom would identify as “racism”.
You can see why this result is not fit for polite discussion. If residential segregation of ethnic groups is not due to the racism of the oppressive majority group (i.e., whites), then the very pillars of multiculturalism are shaken. Talking about this would definitely be classified as “hate speech”.
But the Ethnic Simulator does not prove that racism is not the explanation, just that there is another equally plausible explanation. After all, the premise is not unreasonable. Take the issue of interracial marriage — why does it lag so far behind the percentage of the races involved in the general population? If race were not considered, one would expect 12% of white people to marry blacks, and 88% of blacks to marry whites. Does racism explain this? Or do people simply have an inborn preference for those most like themselves?
As Mr. Peters says:
There is nothing welcome about ethnic or religious cleansing. But if we do not recognize its insistent reemergence in human affairs, and the fact that — in contrast to full-scale genocide — it remains the lesser evil, we will continue to act ineffectually as the innocent suffer.