Friday, February 25, 2011

Diversity and Ethnic Cleansing

In his article “What’s Wrong with Ethnic Cleansing?” James Nickel defends a position that ethnic cleansing is possibly morally permissible. I would agree as long as such cleansing does not involve any type of coercion. If a government wants to economically incentivize certain people moving in or out of a country, it would be morally permissible to do so. Having beliefs about ethnic superiority isn’t bad in itself. It isn’t our jobs to police people’s thoughts and minds. However it becomes immoral once you start negatively affecting other people because of those beliefs. Economic incentives do not negatively affect the people moving, so it wouldn’t be morally reprehensible.

While in some, very limited situations it might be morally permissible to attempt to ethnically cleanse a nation, I don’t think it is ever beneficial. Nickel suggests that perhaps to prevent a civil war between hostile ethnic groups a government would want to relocate the people of one ethnic group. He says, “The third goal, which is to avoid further ethnic conflict or war by creating a more ethnically homogenous state, may be plausible in some circumstances. Ethnic tensions in Lebanon, Belgium, Canada, and Sri Lanka illustrate that it is often hard for two or more large ethnic groups to coexist amicably in a single country” (Nickel 471). Cleansing may solve the immediate conflict, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem. First of all, if there are two warring ethnic groups, how does the government decide which one stays and which one goes? Presumably the government is controlled by one of the two ethnic groups so it would most likely want to kick out the other. Most likely the responsibility for the ethnic conflict is not entirely on one group or the other, so you couldn’t just ‘get rid’ of the problem. Relocating the minority population might be less costly, but would it be fair? Each ethnic group probably has traditional ties to the land that go back generations, if not much longer. Separating hostile ethnic groups may stop the violence for the time being, but it doesn’t get at the heart of the problem.

Instead of simply getting rid of people you disagree with, it is often much more profitable to have them around. While it may be difficult for ethnically diverse populations to get along with one another, it is beneficial for everyone involved if they can learn to live together. The plurality of ideas in such states would help the entire nation grow. Homogeny within a population isn’t a good goal to have. We may not like it, but we can get a lot out of living in close proximity to people who are different from us.


  1. Ben, I think this article is incredibly interesting and I think you bring up a good topic for discussion. At first, when I saw the title I was a little taken aback, but when I read on further through the article, it was quite interesting in presenting some key ideas. I think you covered what Nickel said and yet, I’m glad you disagree. Why would it be fair for one group to remove another group when both groups have ties to the land that have been there for years? I cannot see the relocating of one group being the answer. Like you said, it might be a temporary fix, but how long do you think the temporary would last before the group that left either independently or forcibly would realize they want to return where their traditions potentially originated from? The idea of people being able to live together and learn from one another does sound rather optimistic though. I would hope that it would be a possibility, but in reality I question if this too would be achievable…

  2. I think everyone who started this article was intrigued at first, believing you were about to argue for a very tough point. I was going to admire your bravery (or lack of fear in the face of being an asshole), but you went the proper route.

    While Nickel makes some surface level points that do support his argument, I thought he didn't pay enough attention to negative externalities that result from it. A big one being the negative thought undercurrents that would be brought to the surface.

    We look at the recent cleansing of Arizona of illegal immigrants and the hatred and racial negativity that stopped lurking to jump into the streets. And in this case, whether you supported it or not, there was a slightly legitimate foundation (they were illegal, after all). I can't imagine what sort of physical manifestations of hatred would manifest in less legit scenarios.

    I like you better with short hair.

  3. I'm assuming the short hair comment was directed at me and not Liz, and I will respectfully disagree. Also, I would disagree about the 'legitimate foundation' that you say Arizona has to profile people of Hispanic ethnicity. While it is true that an overwhelming majority of the illegal immigrants are of Hispanic descent, not every Mexican-looking person in Arizona is an illegal. It is unfair to pull someone over just because other people who look like like them are breaking the law. I agree that Arizona has a responsibility to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, I just don't think racially profiling people is the way to do it

  4. It seems to me that a major division in our country today is the increasing tension between Christians and non-Christin everyone else. Our country is founded on freedom of religion but it seems to me that a large portion of the population fails to understand this. Tension mounts as secular individuals are perceived by "the saved" as heathens when the authority of the former comes into question. In a progressive nation, these sorts of unquestionable traditions create a heavy divide. What should be done? Action to push for more secular government is viewed by some Christians as a direct assault against everything that is good, yet inaction only perpetuates the divide. I'm afraid to say that the Christian apocalypse may become very real as soon as they feel they are being persecuted.


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