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Can Cultures be Wrong Debate

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Can Cultures be Wrong? Traveler Debate #1

This is a new experiment on Vagabond Journey.com: debates! There seems to be a lot of really articulate and interesting people who comment to this travelogue, and this is an attempt to explore our differing points of view through discussion . . . or debating.

Please read through the following debate question and post your ideas and opinions in the comments below.

Debate Question #1: Can culture be wrong?

Do you feel as if certain traditional and cultural practices can be called wrong? Do you feel that one culture should interfere with the actions of another because they feel their traditions are immoral? Do you feel that one culture has the right to extinguish the long-honed practices of another because they think it is wrong?

Do you believe in an objective, universal right and wrong?

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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Brookly, New York City- November 25, 2008
Travelogue — Travel Photos
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Or do you believe that all cultures and their traditional practices are relative? Do you think that certain practices only seem wrong or abusive because outsiders misunderstand them? Should all cultures be allowed to practice their traditions even if they hurt or kill themselves, animals, or the environment?

Is right and wrong relative to culture, society, or person?

What do you think? Can a culture be wrong?

Cultural Relativism– Wikipedia page on cultural relativism.

Opinions from previous comments to get this sebate started:

From CYM:
“Well, how about the cultural traditions of forced female genital mutilation, Chinese foot binding, the death penalty for adultery, the old Hindu practice of Sati (where if the husband dies first, the wife is burned alive with the remains of his body), or lynching of black people in the deep south for no other reason then being black, or human slavery, women/children sex slavery rings in Thailand, human ritual sacrifice . . .

Should those traditions be preserved too?”

“Do you honestly believe that cultural tradition is always inherently good, just because why? because a bad habit has become deeply ingrained over a long period of time where it has become accepted by people as just being the way things are?”

“The important question, that I believe is at the root of our conflict, is the question of whether or not you believe in an absolute truth, in a universal concept of right and wrong, and good and evil, versus a belief that all truth, and all concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, are relative?”

From some guy:
“It’s not okay to just say ‘yeah, that’s what some folks do’ and leave it at that. If everyone was an anthropologist with that kind of attitude, where would we be? We’d have a whole lot of factual drivel about traditions and cultures, but the world would be at a stalemate in terms of enlightenment.”

“People participate in their own oppression all the time. Chinese footbinding would be a good example. So would the women who shunned the women’s movement in favour of remaining ‘lesser than’. ”

From Diane:
“I finally decided after much thought that even though something has a long history and is part of the culture, it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

Examples like female genital mutilation, stoning for adultery, slavary, etc., just proves the point.”

From Bob:
“People tend to beleive their own morality superior to everyone elses. This may be a necessary evolutionary trait to strengthen their beliefs so as to help maintain their morals. And they will twist it to fit current necessities.”

“Just because the majority of people are against something, does not make it OK to ban it. Just as.. just because the majority of people are for something does not mean it is OK to do it. Pick a subject: Gays, boxing, eating meat, listening to ganster rap, football, horse racing, the study of science. There are/were people who felt all of these should be banned. At times, some were.”

“There are few absolutes in morality. Morality is a moving target, changing with time, location, culture, situations etc.

Just because something was moral, does not necessarily mean it is moral. Just because something is immoral does not mean that it might not be considered moral in the future.”

From Wade:
“It never ceases to amaze me how people in western countries think that they own a standard of morality that should be imposed upon the entire planet. This is ethnocentric.”

“. . . deeming the cultural practices of some cultures as being morally superior to others is incredulously 19th century. I must remember here how many cultures have been wiped off of the planet through the moral spring-cleaning of dominant societies.”

“My point was that one cultures view of wrong cannot be applied to the world. The Spanish missionaries in the new world thought that the religious practices of the indigenous people were immoral so they forced conversion. The Europeans truly felt as if it was their moral duty – their “white man’s burden” – to civilize the people of Africa and to prevent acts that they deemed barbaric.”

“My point was not that tradition should be preserved for tradition’s sake, but rather that the views of a dominant society should not be applied to the world as a whole.” \

What do you think? Comment below!

Related Posts:
the souls of animals
re: cockfighting part 3
re: cockfighting part 2
re: cockfighting
Cultural Relativism
Cockfight video censured
Of Men and Cocks
At the Cockfight

Links to previous travelogue entries:
Thanksgiving in Maine
Travel With Me
Donate Money to Africa

Can Cultures be Wrong? Traveler Debate #1

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Filed under: Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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