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J Michael Kearney

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The Simple Doctrine of Non-Transference
by J Michael Kearney   

Last edited: Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

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Suffering dies with the sufferer, there is no inherited victim's mantle any more than there is any way to inherit the guilt of those who've committed crimes before us. We are each responsible for ourselves. What could be more simple than that?

Lately I’ve heard phrases like “third generation holocaust survivor” and “fifth generation ex-slave” bandied about.

What’s wrong with such phrases?

Well, other than the fact that they’re obviously illogical and inane, they’re also dangerous.

If the grandson of someone who lived through Auschwitz is a “third generation holocaust survivor,” than I must be a “second generation World War II veteran,” a “fifth generation Civil War veteran” and “sixth generation survivor of the Irish Potato Famine.”

Only I’m NOT, and neither are any of those who claim inheritance to other sufferings of past generations.

Suffering, like criminal guilt, dies along with those who suffered the abuses and committed the crimes. The lessons of the holocaust, for instance, are not lessons about Germans and Jews; they’re lessons about the dangers of “victimization.”

People who embrace “victim’s status” are capable of the most horrible inhumanities. It’s true about post-Versailles Germany and it’s just as true for those who embrace an “inherited victim’s status” today.

All “hate” is rationalized” as retaliation. Every act of aggression stems from some perceived victimization on the part of the aggressor. None of us inherit the mantle of suffering that our parents and grandparents went through, and claiming some bogus second or third generation victim’s status doesn’t ennoble us, it merely carries forth the bitterness and resentments of the past into the present.

The Irish and British have harbored deep hatreds for each other for hundreds of years, but why should I carry that in my heart? No one British has ever hurt me personally and besides, the lessons of the English/Irish conflict is not about the Irish or the British, but about victims and if I try to carry my grandfather’s grudges as my own than I’m a fool.

We live in a vastly different world now and I’ve never had a negative encounter with anyone from England. My grandfather’s grievances may well have been legitimate in his day, and under his circumstances, but for me to claim the mantle of “victim’s status” for the things that he went through is not only dishonest, but dangerous as well.

They’re dangerous in that they rationalize a mindless hatred. If my ancestors had reason to hate they were their own, for me to take up their mantle in an altogether different era is mindless at best, and maliciously opportunistic at worst.

Such seems to be the current argument for American Reparations for African slavery. Proponents talk of the reparations America gave to the Japanese interned during WW II and which Germany gave to the Jewish concentration camp survivors, but those reparations went to the LIVING SURVIVORS, not their descendants.

Look, if I harm or cause loss to a living person, that living person can sue for restitution (reparations) in Civil Court, but I cannot go back and sue for something stolen from my grandfather, nor seek to prosecute the thief’s grandchildren. Compensating the living for things they never suffered through seems obscene.

Reparation’s proponents claim, "Blacks are still discriminated against in the present." Well, every one of us is effected by the events of the past - from the burden the Irish carried of composing over 80% of the Union's Civil War Army, to broken homes and child abuse, but the past is not actionable.

Blacks also one of the only groups ever to benefit from state sanctioned discrimination - race based preferences are not just economically damaging (companies often have to hire more employees that they otherwise would to make up for less qualified people hired under preferences) but it's a segregation of standards plain and simple. A recent NYC Police Dept entrance exam had three passing grades 70 for whites & Asians, 65 for Hispanics and 60 for blacks. Now that’s "back of the bus segregation to all those poor white and Asian folks denied jobs simply because their groups, on average scored too high on an exam.

Many of the arguments in favor of reparations for slavery remind me of a discussion I had awhile ago with a friend of mine, a very anti-British Irish-Catholic activist who, with a straight face, claimed that England should pay reparations to all those nations it colonized, for “the crime of Colonial aggression."

My retort was, "The English owe nothing! Hell, it’s easier to argue that they brought civilization to the places they conquered. That’s right, they did these folks a favor, by bringing’em into the modern world. Sure, what they did may have temporarily hurt some of those conquered peoples, but in the long run, they all benefited by their trade associations with Britain."

Sure, I was being a little mean with him, but he’s an annoying guy and I stand by the point that it’s not appropriate for the descendants of the victor’s of the past to apologize and make whole the descendants of yesterday’s vanquished.

Look, if Africa had developed the gun first, they might have been the colonizing power, but things worked out differently. The results were not all good for the so-called "winners" and not all bad for the so-called "victims."

The doctrine of non-transference is very simple, the sins of the past cannot be inherited – we don’t use DNA to solve hundred year old crimes and punish the grandchildren of those who escaped justice back then. So, neither is the victim’s status that our ancestors suffered under bequeathed to us.

There aren’t any second generation WW II veterans, third generation holocaust survivors nor fifth generation ex-slaves...There just aren’t.

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Reviewed by m j hollingshead
good article!
Reviewed by Patricia Kilbourn
I agree 100%.
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