Can a person be a genocide?

August 7, 2008

I can’t help but comment on this very strange usage (from a comment at Dispatches):

So, were [sic] having a discussion about the applicability of a book written by middle-eastern [sic] goat herders (who were also genocides), added to by bipolar preachers and opportunists, edited and translated by politicians, and interpreted by more politicians, scam-artists and cult leaders.

Yeah, I can [sic] were [sic] all going to learn something valuable and useful from this. (emphasis mine)

I was very puzzled by this usage, since genocide is so very rarely used to describe people – it is almost solely used to describe events or even extended campaigns (like the Holocaust, which is the backdrop for the word’s coining by Raphael Lemkin, a Pole, in 1944). What is still stranger is that this usage is meant to describe the perpetrators of genocide as opposed to the victims.

I am somewhat comforted in observing that this usage is not widely recognized; the OED only mentions it in the context of a thing or event.

One appropriate Google hit came up in the first few tries:

  • Besides, would anybody blame the US troops of genocide for bringing this disease to Europe, then why are there people saying Spanish conquistadores were genocides when it is proved that most of the indians who died after the Spanish arrival in the new world were because of illnesses that did not exist in America? (source)

Strangely, suicide – a word with a similar structure – does in fact have this sort of usage:

One who dies by his own hand; one who commits self-murder. Also, one who attempts or has a tendency to commit suicide.

1732 Lond. Mag. I. 252 The Suicide owns himself..unequal to the Troubles of Life.
1769 BLACKSTONE Comm. IV. xiv. 189 The suicide is guilty of a double offence: one spiritual, in invading the prerogative of the Almighty..: the other temporal, against the king.
1838 W. BELL Dict. Law Scot. 953 The wounds inflicted by a suicide upon himself are usually in the front, and in an oblique direction.
1861 F. NIGHTINGALE Nursing (ed. 2) 77 A fourth [patient], who is a depressed suicide, requires a little cheering.
1870 R. C. JEBB Sophocles’ Electra (ed. 2) 47/1 Suicides used to be interred with a stake through the body, ‘to lay the ghost’.

So I suppose it’s not unthinkable that the perpetrator of genocide might be called a genocide, but the usage is still rather odd.

Has anyone else noticed this usage? I find it curious and would like to see if it is more common than my search has indicated.


Putting ignorance in its place

June 25, 2008

You won’t see me link to Pharyngula often, but this response posted on P.Z. Myers’ blog is too good not to refer to, even given my often unfavorable opinion of his statements on religion: Lenski gives Conservapædia a lesson. Lenski here is Richard Lenski, one of the authors of a recent study showing a very interesting novel evolution in a population of E. coli, and he’s responding to the Wiki site Conservapedia, which is fairly well known for being a refuge for – how should I put this? – very right-wing, authoritarian sorts of individuals. (The fact that, in a thread there, Michael Behe – the posterchild for the Intelligent Design movement – was denigrated for adhering to common descent, evolution, and an old earth – as well as for not being a “Creation Scientist”! – should speak volumes.)

Most of it requires no comment – Lenski is clearly being very level-headed, given the sorts of criticism (if you can even call it that) that he is getting from the Cons. people – but the last two postscripts to the letter are worth noting:

P.P.P.S. You may be unable to understand, or unwilling to accept, that evolution occurs. And yet, life evolves! [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_pur_si_muove] From the content on your website, it is clear that you, like many others, view God as the Creator of the Universe. I respect that view. I find it baffling, however, that someone can worship God as the all-mighty Creator while, at the same time, denying even the possibility (not to mention the overwhelming evidence) that God’s Creation involved evolution. It is as though a person thinks that God must have the same limitations when it comes to creation as a person who is unable to understand, or even attempt to understand, the world in which we live. Isn’t that view insulting to God?

P.P.P.P.S. I noticed that you say that one of your favorite articles on your website is the one on “Deceit.” That article begins as follows: “Deceit is the deliberate distortion or denial of the truth with an intent to trick or fool another. Christianity and Judaism teach that deceit is wrong. For example, the Old Testament says, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.'” You really should think more carefully about what that commandment means before you go around bearing false witness against others.

Lessons that all well-meaning Christians should consider when bashing others’ points of view.


Ignorant assertions

May 29, 2008

I’m amazed sometimes at the things people say – not just because they can be particularly ignorant (although they sometimes are) but because it would take almost no effort for anyone to verify.

This is particularly obvious when it comes to etymology. I’ve pointed out other instances where individuals made assertions that were demonstrably false (to support arguments that were wrongheaded), but this one just got me:

God is not ‘innocent‘ — the word actually means ‘ignorant‘ — …

No, it most certainly does not – the root of innocent is Latin nocere, “to harm.” It is exceedingly apparent in the phrase (relevant to doctors in particular) Primum non nocere – “First, do no harm.”

Etymology is very seldom a good place to start an argument, but if you’re going to do it, at least get your facts straight.


Is ensuring someone’s salvation an intrinsic good?

May 24, 2008

In the comments of Ed Brayton’s blog, an argument was set forth regarding abortion and hell, which I will summarize as such:

  1. Most Christians believe that babies are not responsible for their salvation and so go to heaven if they die before a so-called ‘age of accountability.’ (Premise)
  2. Abortion kills unborn babies at a point where they are not morally culpable for their salvation. (Premise)
  3. Individuals going to heaven rather than hell is an intrinsic good. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, abortion results in an intrinsic good by ensuring the salvation of aborted babies. (from 1-3)

If it’s not completely apparent how tendentious and simplistic this is, let me spell it out.

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On slippery slope arguments

May 10, 2008

There are some arguments which I will likely never be persuaded to use. One such method of argumentation is the slippery slope (SS):

  1. If A occurs, then B will necessarily (or very probably) occur.
  2. If B occurs, then C will necessarily (or very probably) occur.
  3. [Repeat conditional premises as necessary]
  4. C is an undesirable event.
  5. In order to prevent C, it is necessary to prevent A.

SS arguments are very commonly fallacious, even though it is a matter of content and not form that makes them so. (A philosophy professor of mine pointed out, quite rightly, that they are simply extended forms of modus tollens and, less commonly, modus ponens.) This tendency toward fallacy is one of the main reasons I dislike them, and I believe that this tendency is due to the utter difficulty in thoroughly establishing the necessity of any given event.

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What not to do when clarifying an association

March 15, 2008

One big problem I notice frequently with people is that people want to take grammatical rules of word structure and universalize them. When we see an ending on a word, we know what that ending means from other words, and we attempt to apply the meaning to the word in question. This isn’t a bad idea, but it can backfire.

Case in point, from comments left on Ed Brayton’s blog:

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Are prima facie beliefs reasonable?

February 2, 2008

We live in a world that is not what it seems.

Before you think that I’ve gone off the deep end and started espousing wacky theories like Manichean-style dualism or the 9/11 Truth movement, let me be clearer about what I’m proposing: I think that we live in a world where purely prima facie beliefs – things we believe because they appear to be so “at face value” – are not inherently reasonable to hold.

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