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American Morality and the Strauss-Kahn Affair

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A specified form of death penalty occurs in the following cases:-gibbeting (on the spot where crime was committed) for burglary, later also for encroaching on the king's highway, for getting a slave-brand obliterated, for procuring husband's death; burning for incest with own mother, for vestal entering or opening tavern, for theft at fire (on the spot); drowning for adultery, rape of betrothed maiden, bigamy, bad conduct as wife, seduction of daughter-in-law. The Code of Hammurabi (1795-1750 BC)

The stand that World Socialist Web Site took on the Strauss-Kahn affair in an article titled "The serious questions raised by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair" has increased my respect for the online news center. The main point in the article is that "As of yet, no one has heard Mr. Strauss-Kahn's side of the story." That's the point. No one knows what the alleged victim went through and no one knows what Strauss-Kahn has to say for himself. The stage is occupied by everyone else except the "victim" and the "victimizer" -- I put these two words in quotes because they need to be clarified depending on what emerges from the inquiry.

The irony of the American system of life -- because it is a "system" where you're conditioned to be "free" and not a "way" of life where you get to reflect upon the meaning of freedom - is that ultimately there are no human beings in it. There are just empty slots that each one fills on a daily basis. These slots are prepared for the common people who just sit and go through the charade prepared by the government, the media and the corporations as if that were life. Somewhere at some point Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for whom I've no particular admiration happened to fall into one of those slots meant for the most unexciting sort you could possibly imagine. An entire system that is dormant and practically dead -- "soulless" as Marx says - suddenly is filled with a new zest. The media, the courts, the lawyers, and the bored public -- everyone is awake for a change -- they've something to talk about. Interestingly these are the moments when they're awake.

They're not awake when their country is busy looting the non-western world; they're not awake when the poor and the working classes are humiliated and left to die without dignity; they're not awake when the country is fighting wars against innocent civilians, destroying social landscapes, poisoning the environment through excessive use of fire power; nobody wants to speak on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have lost their lives and livelihoods for the kind of a system supported by the American government and industry across the third world; no one wants to know about victims of corporate plunder -- all this is less interesting than the Strauss-Kahn affair: the fall of a man from a position of power like Oedipus the king through a tragic flaw. This is the kind of mythology that the Bible Belt reverends in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas desperately need to brainwash their unimaginative audiences.   

Suddenly the media and the justice system want to show that they're "human" and not responsible for millions of crimes committed on a daily basis against the powerless. They wish to show that a poor black woman from West Africa will be treated in a just manner even if it meant sending a rich white guy to prison. No. That's not what is happening. The black woman from West Africa was already in a position where she was abused on a daily basis working at Sofitel Hotel that takes $3000 a night from its clients and pays the woman peanuts for the soul-killing work she does. The abuse by a racist and sexist system is well in place. The woman is already a victim of a classist and patriarchal society. No one could have apprehended this simple fact better than an IMF chief. Through conscienceless loans given to the worst possible criminals in the third world with the poor having to bear the burden of repayment the World Bank and the IMF have contributed to immense suffering and abuse of the poor in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The terrible poverty of Guinea is what sent the woman to end up as an "alien" working for Sofitel Hotel, New York. The IMF as an institution is the real criminal that we should be dealing with. That's not what we're talking about though.

Something is seriously wrong with the US as a society in how it judges a human being. The protestant streak in western morality shows each time there is the possibility of a high ground waiting somewhere to be occupied. The whole system is like a tiger on the prowl waiting for something like the Strauss-Kahn incident to happen for it to prove that it exists and it is not an illusion. It's a ruthlessly exploitative system that wants to declare its innocence. Its guilt however is beyond doubt. The proof of the latter is the vacuous American leadership which can only be the result of a vacuous social order.

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The Code of Hammurabi which says adulterers should be drowned if actually implemented would fill the seas of the world with dead married men. Most of the laws of the Old Testament come from the Code of Hammurabi and are primitive by modern standards. American primitivism which combines Old Testament religion with imperial politics is not very different from what we see in parts of the third world where fundamentalism and fundamentalists prevail. The so-called American way of life is a product of a primitive thinking and this aspect shows in their fanatical obsession with the moral high ground as in the Strauss-Kahn affair. There is no reason on earth to treat the man as if he is already a criminal. There is no reason to treat a criminal either as if he is not a human being.

No matter how great the crime, punishments are meant to make people useful to the society they've wronged and not to isolate and turn them into living dead with meaningless sentences spanning decades. If at all it is proved that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is guilty I think the woman should have a chance to express what kind of compensation she deserves and the kind of punishment adequate to the wrong done to her.

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently working as an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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She was doing honest work. Nothing soul killing ab... by Rob Kall on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 7:44:42 AM
sure rob. i agree. any work is honest for that mat... by Prakash Kona on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 10:59:04 AM