The raging race debate forces me to think about how we become culpable.

I came across an obscene argument the other day. Perhaps you have seen something similar?

It went like this: the Japanese are reaping what they have sown; the earthquake, the tsunamis, the nuclear threat and the unseasonal blizzards in the north are a karmic balancing for the killing of whales and the popularity of whale meat amongst the Japanese citizenry.

Think about this.

But first control for the sentimentalised ranking of some mammals over others in the general lovability stakes.

So consider countries that kill and eat stinky old cows (instead of noble and graceful whales) in the mass-produced beef industry.

Would anyone suggest that tragedies involving suffering and death of the citizens in countries that eat a lot of McDonald’s hamburgers (we could have spun this differently and made it KFC’s horrifyingly produced raw material) are somehow the just desserts of those people who form part of the relevant consumer demographic?

The idea is outrageous and its reasoning as deeply flawed as it is repulsive.

There are extraordinary and moving photographs of stoic Japanese citizens being rescued or tested for radiation as they are being evacuated from near Fukushima. Here’s one – and I hesitate to do this – and not only because it is not my property. The main reason is I do not want to be too manipulative:


I could have used this one, but I thought it might be pushing the bounds of good taste:

I do not want to go further down this path.

Only those whose lives revolve around sinister religious fairytales could believe any version of the idea that what has happened in Japan is some form of divine retribution.

I am more interested in the underlying fallacy that is much more common and certainly prevalent in our political discourse: collective guilt and the appropriateness of collective punishment – or at least collective responsibility.

Are whites the culpable beneficiaries of Apartheid? Do their children inherit this culpability and therefore the responsibility for redress? Are blacks (and, to a lesser degree) Coloureds and Indians victims of Apartheid? Are their children the inheritors of this disadvantage?

These issues are deeply unresolved in our political life – and, I believe, they are deeply unresolved in our law and in our minds.

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