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Yes, I’m still alive, and it’s extremely annoying. Anyway, what I wanted to say today…

I’ve been somewhat surprised when I decided to actually look up the definition of a ‘crime against humanity’ the other day.

There’s a very common translation error when the concept is mentioned in Russian in recent years that threw me off, you see. It is frequently translated as "crimes against the species of humanity" when the actual definition is "crimes against the quality of humanity" — in Russian, these aren’t homophones, but two related but distinct words. This might not be instantly apparent to an English reader either, I suppose, but the actual definition in international law explicitly mentions offences so odious that they constitute an attack on ‘human dignity’ or ‘grave humiliation’. The other defining characteristic is that they are part of a consistent policy rather than sporadic spot activities.

In essence, what makes something a "crime against humanity" is not it’s scale, or even viciousness, and certainly not the loss of life, but that it is considered supremely shameful to do them deliberately and more than once in the eyes of a hypothetical very humane alien1 who has a perfectly objective viewpoint. There’s a strong similarity to the concept of a war crime, in that most2 war crimes are also crimes against humanity, but unlike those, a crime against humanity has no direct connection to war and can be committed in peacetime just as well.

It is worth noting that a ‘honor killing’ is also considered a crime against humanity — it certainly fits the criteria — but is commonly perpetrated for motives which are structurally identical to the motives under which a crime against humanity is prosecuted, i.e. out of perceived shame. Which raises some questions on who that hypothetical alien really is anyway — it’s not exactly a well-defined individual, and it’s not necessarily clear what it considers dignified and what it doesn’t.

The very concept is not particularly self-consistent. But I do wonder.

Could systematic mindfucking and distortion of reality by burying truth in layers upon layers of spin and noise be inhumane and shameful in the eyes of that alien?


  1. There would be a very obvious conflict of interest if that were a human.

  2. But not all.

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