A message about Cultural Relativity…

This week, I read the best article I have been assigned to read in my 4 years of University. Confessions of A Former Cultural Relativist by Henry Bagish. You can find it online here, it is a little long but believe me when I say it is 100% worth your time!

You might think that this was assigned to me in my Anthropology class, but it was actually for my Moral Education class. It forced me to rethink they way I view others, and opened my eyes to some harsh realities. If you read it, keep in mind that it is a little dated. We also need to be critical of the author for a few things. First of all, he uses extreme examples to make his point, but also he is looking at things from a western (and Christian) viewpoint. He claims to be standing up for what is right, but one might argue that he is only standing up for what is considered right in our western world.  What do you think of the examples he uses to make his point? Do you agree with his conclusion? At first, I did, he won me over by appealing to my compassion and moral being, but upon further reflection I believe the author has presented an ethnocentric view point. I would love to hear your thoughts!

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4 thoughts on “A message about Cultural Relativity…

  1. I just wanted to note a few things about this article. First, I realize the author used some pretty extreme examples to make his point, but the fact is that we are human beings, and human beings do tend to take things to extremes. He was not arguing that we should hate every cultural practice we don’t like, after all – only that we cannot always accept without question every cultural practice in the world.

    The values he was advocating were ethnocentric, I think, in the sense that North American culture places a great deal of value on individual people and their rights and freedoms. He argued that every person should be aware of what they valued and stand up for it. I find that I agree with him on that. We might say that, well, other cultures don’t necessarily value individuals, and that’s just how they are – but that is one of those cultural practices that I personally find unacceptable. If individuals are not valued, then human life is not valued. We start to see people as things instead of people, and that is when you get situations like genocide and oppression.

    When people are willing to treat one another as valued individuals, respect and tolerance are excellent guiding principles. When they’re not willing to do that, sometimes somebody has to do something about it.

  2. I have been toiling over this article and the concept of cultural relativism for weeks, Allie! I came to the conclusion that we must approach every situation as cultural relativists, but now I continue to question my morality in doing so. If something brings out such a raw emotional response within me, do I, and SHOULD I continue to look at the issue through a cultural relativist’s lens? I struggle with this.

    Great post, by the way! 🙂

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