Short Answer Week 2

The definition of genocide that is provided by the U.N. brings up numerous controversies and problems that have been addressed by politicians, anthropologists, and many others. The first issue I would like to bring up is that of the individual and the group. In this definition it talks about the group being harmed, however this is based off of the idea of human rights which is looking at the rights of the individual. In the Messer piece, she brings up the problems being faced in the UDHR that look at Collective versus Individual Rights, which states that the UDHR looks at people as their own single human being. The argument against this is that from western philosophers who see humans as social beings and ones who only survive through being a member of a group, and if they were not socialized through a group then they would not reach the status of being a human (Messer 1997). This is made clear by the explanation that collective groups are the ones that reinforce the idea of individual rights within a culture and that it takes a society to recognize it. These arguments back and forth are then found to be blurry when we look at the definition of genocide because it is only acknowledging the group and not the individual, where in some societies the individual is its own entity. Another thing I found to be an issue was that of the cultural relativism that is discussed mainly among anthropologists which is a term coined by Franz Boas stating that every culture has a viewpoint of their own on things such as beliefs, morals, and values. So the real question is: how can the UN make a definition for the term genocide if every culture has different understandings for things? As we learned in the lecture, the UN can make international laws but in all reality they do not have a lot of power because of how small they actually are. There are many nation-states around the world who each have their own set of laws that they create and follow and it is up to them to enforce them. In terms of cultural relativism then, we would all have to have the same logic when it comes to human rights if everyone were to follow the laws that the UN decides on. A final thing that I noted was that in this declaration of what genocide is coined as, it says nothing about what defense mechanisms can or should come into play. As we saw in the video in the “War Redefined,” when people feel threatened and not taken care of or heard, it is a natural reaction to defend themselves whether it be violent or not. In the case of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, these people did not feel secure with us in there and in reaction they put more trust in the defense which was the terrorists. Referencing back to what Thomas Hobbes says about our natural state being nasty and rude, one gives up their individual sovereignty to the government, or the law in other words, and expects to be protected. However, when they don’t feel protected is when problems will arise and violence will begin, so as to go back to a natural state.



Messer E. 1997. Pluralist Approaches to Human Rights. Journal of Anthropological Research 53(3): 293-317.

Hobbes, T., & Crooke, A. 1651. Leviathan, or, The matter, forme, and power of a common wealth, ecclesiasticall and civil. London: Printed for Andrew Crooke.

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