is there a word for this?

I am usually the Vocabulary King, but I can’t find a word for something.

What do you call a system of belief in which people are judged by their race or class or other group membership rather than their actions, i.e.., the same thing done by a member of one group is good and by another is bad.

Examples: A white man beating a black man is appropriate because he’s punishing a lower caste member; a black man beating a white man is committing a crime. Or: a black person who commits a street crime is legitimized as a revolutionary acting out “class rage” but a white person who does the same thing is a criminal. Or: American soldiers who blow up someone’s house to teach them a lesson are heroes, but Islamic guerillas who do the same thing are terrorists.

The opposite being a system of morality in which an action is judged independently of the group membership of the actor: you get a ticket for going 100 mph no matter who you are; anyone who beats a child is arrested for assault; any person who becomes an apostate from the religion is put to death, etc.

Is there a word for that difference, or a word for either system?

25 thoughts on “is there a word for this?

  1. From a sociology-of-deviance perspective you’re looking at relativist and absolutist definitions of deviance, but I think you might be trying to find something more specific than that.
    “Definitions” is important there, though — someone inside the religion that puts apostates to death might consider the fine-grainedness of “apostate” to be relativist even though it looks absolutist from outside.

    1. My sociological dictionary has gone wandering, but these from a set of online course notes seem accurate if awkwardly phrased:

      Absolutist view of deviance: a perspective that sees deviance as intrinsic to particular acts or attributes. This view presumes that certain behaviors and qualities are inherently good, right, and proper whereas others are clearly bad, immoral, or inappropriate.
      Relativist view of deviance: emphasizes that deviance is “in the eyes of the beholder”; that is, the definition of an act or attribute as normal or deviant depends on the perspective of the group we use to evaluate it. Thus, deviance is not a quality intrinsic to an act or attribute. Rather, it is a judgement that some people make when responding to the behavior or characteristics of others. Labeling theory is grounded in a relativist view of deviance.

      Those don’t exactly correspond to your examples (particularly the white/black example) but I suspect they might correspond to what you’re after even though the examples might not fit.

    1. Re: class-o-cratic
      There are parts of every society where the second, group-agnostic system is used though. So even in a very prejudicial society with a lot of stratified casts and communal hatred there are bits that are blind to it. I’m just looking for a good way to define the difference.

      Our “authoritarian” allies only use “interrogation methods” on “terrorist suspects”. I like “pie”.

      1. Right, but it’s not considered hypocrisy when the entire society buys into it. Hypocrisy is what we call it when someone behaves that way without being permitted to do so by the rest of us.

    1. close
      Hypocrisy is what you call it when someone does that on their own instead of following the local social conventions, so we’re pretty close! 🙂
      I wish there was a simple single word for that type of situation, though, where the powers that be or society as a whole permits a kind of institutional hypocrisy that’s widely accepted, particularly as applied to privileged or hated groups.

      1. Re: close
        I’ve always called that “moral relativism,” although a quick drive through Wikipedia makes me think that “ethical subjectivism” might be closer to the point.
        But perhaps I’m confused. Are you looking for a word that means “there is no universal morality” or one that means “I’m sad to be surrounded by people who do not believe in a universal morality?”

      2. Re: close
        Neither! I meant a word or words that differentiate a moral system in which principles are applied universally and one in which different social groups are held to different standards a priori.

      3. Re: close
        Hypocrisy is what you call it when someone does that on their own instead of following the local social conventions….
        I know; I just wanted an excuse to use that all-too-popular speling malapropism. 8^)

  2. i know there are words for these two different things.. cause i remember learning about it in a class but not thinking it was important enough to write down cause it was common sense. haha.
    i think it’s like if a society is actions or status oriented or something along those lines.

  3. My attempts
    My attempts:

    ingroup entitlement
    noncommensurability (noncommensurism?)

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