Monday, March 16, 2009

Serving Justice

Dear George,

I hate to do this, but I’ve got to run a little history by you. On Dec. 3, 1984, a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India released 42 tonnes of the highly toxic gas methyl isocynate gas into the atmosphere (emphasis mine).

To cut to the chase and to spare you the boring details, about 16,000 people died and a lot were injured. But that’s not the point.

The survivors sued in an American court. Carbide’s lawyers immediately moved to have the trial transferred to India because Indian courts don’t award punitive damages, and given the extent of Carbide’s negligence, such damages would have broken the company.

What is informative about this episode is the argument used by Carbide’s lawyers to justify moving the trial to India. It was more than just a legal argument; it was a wholesale justification of imperialism.

Sorry, but I’ve got to quote it at length.[1]

Indeed, the practical impossibility of American courts and juries, imbued with U.S. cultural values, living standards and expectations, to determine the damages for people living in slums or ‘hutment’ surrounding the UCIL [Union Carbide India, Limited] plant in Bhopal, India, by itself confirms that the Indian forum is overwhelmingly the most appropriate. Such abject poverty and the vastly different values, standards and expectations which accompany it are commonplace in India and the third world. They are incomprehensible to Americans in the United States.

Is that sweet, or is that sweet? The key phrase is “vastly different values”. It confirms what every world-class power has always known but never acknowledged: sanctimonious statements about the value of human life are bullshit. There is a hierarchy of human existence. Some lives are worth more than others, depending on whether they live in a suburban development or a slum.

We also see an example of the law at its finest! The beauty of the law is that it can sanitize anything. If you want to skirt justice, turn to the law. If you want to leech compassion and empathy from the human soul, turn to the law. If you wish to achieve a state of moral numbness, turn to the law. There are very few criminal activities that the law can’t justify, especially if private property is involved. After all, we are a country that yields to a fire truck faster than we yield to an ambulance.

Incidentally, the trial was transferred to India, Union Carbide was spared the punitive damages and American enterprise continued to prosper.

Your admirer,
Belacqua Jones

[1] Quoted in The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.

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