Re: SOC: cultural relativism

From: Lee Daniel Crocker (
Date: Mon Jul 24 2000 - 21:29:15 MDT

>> I am certainly not one of those moral/cultural relativists who
>> thinks all traditions are equal...
> What cultural relativism espouses is not the "equality" of all
> traditions. It's proponents seek to point out (I don't want you
> to agree, but represent it accurately--ie as what it really is)
> that western culture sees itself as the pinacle of civilization,
> asking all others to join us, come "up to our level". And that
> this is not how all cultures view us.

I certainly can't disagree that eurocentrism is silly, and that's
pretty much the point I was in fact making--that there is a lot to
be learned from other cultures (you did actuall read the rest of
what I said, right?). In particular, I rather like certain parts
of Jewish tradition such as the respect for industry and education,
and certain parts of Southern culture such as strong individualism
combined with social interaction. My initial caveat was there so
that I wouldn't be associated with those who actually /do/ believe
in total cultural and moral relativism; such people are indeed
common, and are very up front about their actual beliefs. The
very words "...what's right and wrong in his/her culture..." pop
up frequently in texts and speeches.

I am glad that you see the more mainstream multiculturalism as
rejecting that point of view, but the point of view /does/ exist
exactly as I have described it, and is /very/ common. There
really are respected American academics today who will look you
in the eye and say with a straight face that, for example, the
subjugation of women in Muslim countries is acceptable for that
culture, or that child labor is acceptable in China and India.

> While we seek to bring a thrid world culture up to the standards
> of our "superior" one, many ignore the wishes of the people being
> converted. This is reminiscent of missionaries, who believed that
> anyone non-christian was a barbarian, and needed "saving". They
> destroyed the cultures and traditions of anyone who was not like them.

Agreed, Christian missionaries did a lot of harm, and there are many
aspects of old cultures that were regrettably lost. But there are
also aspects of old cultures that /deserved/ to be obliterated, like
slavery, ritual violence, castes. There are also, of course, those
unsavory aspects in Western/Christian culture that we tried to impose
on them: sexism, racism, militarism. It would have been much better
for both us and them if we had interacted and learned from each other
the best aspects of each culture--where "best" is judged by as close
to objective standards as reason allows for such things.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC

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