IN APRIL, Don Imus, host of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team, mostly comprised of black players, as "nappy-headed hos," sparking heated debate and denunciation. Although he later made a public apologies for his comments, civil rights leaders and women's groups still pressed the issue and sponsors withdrew their advertising from the show.
President of NBC News Steve Capus said there should not be any room for this sort of conversation and dialogue on the air, and that ending the show and dismissing Imus were the only decisions he could reach.
Even though Imus claimed that he was merely joking and apologized for his remarks, US society has clear racial and sexual discrimination boundaries that cannot be crossed.
By contrast, Taiwanese media pundits, politicians, government officials and high-level officials at the Ministry of Education have lately been using infuriating ethnically and sexually discriminatory language without any forthcoming apologies. Instead, they have been cheered on by their supporters. What kind of society has Taiwan become?
Racial, sexual and other kinds of discrimination are prevalent in all societies, posing a challenge to the battle for human rights.
All sorts of basic human rights were only attained at devastating cost. Even the US' establishment of a better situation for fundamental racial and sexual human rights only came after a long effort.
In the past, the Ku Klux Klan's persecution of blacks was often openly praised by white people. It was not until the 1970s that the civil rights movement gradually managed to establish the notion of racial equality in US society.
During this long journey, the focus was often not on the movement itself, but rather on the development of effective non-governmental supervisory and balancing forces.
Unless there is a substantial counterbalance to power, there will be an unimaginable amount of possibilities to abuse power. Certain individuals may be able to resist temptation, but it is impossible that all people will do so.
To prevent the abuse of power, the most important thing is to establish systemic supervision and counterbalances.
Without such counterbalancing forces, individual moral integrity alone cannot ensure basic human rights.
Any discourse will be able to win the support of some voters, but anyone making fundamental demands for justice in their pursuit of voter support will, in the end, be condemned by history.
Although Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) dictatorial rule, the 228 Incident, the White Terror, political embezzlement, officials pursuing personal interests and benefits are all documented facts, the more important point is that Taiwanese society hasn't managed to develop and establish supervisory and counterbalancing mechanisms, and that is why such issues continue to emerge.
Today, we have enjoyed a peaceful transfer of power and the government stresses that Taiwan is a nation based on human rights and diversity, but still there is no counterbalancing mechanism.
Corruption continues as before and human rights violations are still praised.
Many talk about transitional justice and bringing the perpetrators of the 228 Incident and the White Terror to justice, but they don't realize that their methods remain the same and their call for human rights remains a mere slogan.
I am a sociologist, and sociology does not believe that the individual will can determine everything: We instead look to the power of social structures.
People are influenced by the collective.
Which past perpetrator didn't think he or she was sticking to their values and doing their best for the country?
I am not trying to justify their deeds, but only want to say that had we been in the same situation, we might not have behaved much better than they did.
This is both a matter of structure and of historical destiny. When blaming those who came before, one could often do to show some sympathy.
As the language of politicians has become increasingly aggressive, I seem to see the shadows of those who came before.
A wise old man once said that the lesson we can learn from history is that we are not willing to accept the lessons of history.
Although human rights parks are being opened and the square in front of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall has been named Liberty Square, I'm afraid that we still have a long way to go before human rights will be guaranteed.
Jai Ben-ray is dean of social sciences at Nanhua University in Chiayi County.
Translated by Ted Yang
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