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Cultural Relativity Debate

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Cultural Relativity Debate Results

“It’s a useless and difficult thing to point your finger at someone else and tell them they are wrong in doing something. They will, more than likely, turn it around and note the flaws within you and your culture. . . . Morality is a culturally created bias.”
-Amanda

“No, some things are simply wrong regardless of their cultural context. Murder, rape, slavery would be obvious examples. Cultures that condone such practices are corrupted. Doesn’t matter how colorful or “authentic” they may be. Moral relativism quickly leads to nihilism.”
– g

I previously put up a debate question called Can Culture be Wrong? On a previous travelogue entry. I wanted to test the waters of cultural relativity, I wanted to get some ammo to further question myself in a dialogue that sometimes swooshes around inside my head without solution.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Brooklyn, New York City- December 19, 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos — Travel Guide
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I have realized that I learned a lot from this debate. The comments that readers contributed really made me think, they really made me question my position to the point that my original question became irrelevant. In point, it matters little if culture can be wrong, for, in a very base sense, nearly all cultures seem to meet the conditions of being fundamentally wrong.

As Baron said, “From the planets point of view, all cultures are wrong/bad because more harm/damage is done to everything (animals, environment, people) than is necessary for human survival. I’ll even say the current people/culture dynamic does more harm than is necessary for prosperity. From the planet’s perspective, all cultures are wrong, it’s just a matter of degree.”

I thought about this point for a long time, and I realized that there is a good degree of wisdom to be found in it. By definition, cultures are artificial, they are created by humans to perpetuate a certain community’s existence over all other human communities and all other species. Culture can perhaps be a euphemism for destruction, as most cultures find definition in altering their behaviors, their bodies, and their environment from its natural state. To change and alter the physical world is perhaps an attempt to dominate it. To change and alter – to decorate – the human body is perhaps an attempt to dominated it. The urge to make war (I do not know of a single culture that does not practice warfare) is a more obvious attempt at domination. To domesticate animals and plants and to alter the landscape is to dominate everything in sight. Morality is the domination of instinctual feeling. Culture is domination, culture is destruction. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. It is normal.

It is my feeling that culture is nothing more than artificial sets of patterns that practitioners intuitively – perhaps thoughtlessly – impose upon themselves and their offspring. When it come down to it, it is my impression that culture is just the routine patterns of a mob taught and repeated generation after generation.

I put the idea of culture up on a pedestal only because I find it interesting to do so.

In terms of my own feelings of my place in the world, I find myself being a proponent of an extremely laissez faire, hands off type of cultural relativism. I seldom feel comfortable judging what is right or wrong beyond the simple basics. Or, better put, I only know what I think is right or wrong for myself. I do not really care how other people think or what they do to themselves. If it does not affect me, I do not know why I should bother myself with imposing any sense of judgment. If someone chooses to “participate in their own oppression” as one commenter wrote, I cannot figure out why I should try to change this. I will not think of people as being lesser than me.

It is my impression that every person on this planet has the ability to make up their own minds, to decide what is right for themselves, and to live their own lives. I am not some special denizen of truth or light, it is not my responsibility to think that my ways will lead the masses out of their archaic and self-repressive ways. I am just as foolish as anyone else.

My only wish is for more people to see themselves as fools.

Thus speaking, I can no longer put up an ideological opposition to other people who do feel as if it is their position to impact the planet. Oftentimes, they are acting out of the well-springs of their own cultures. People from powerful cultures tend to be raised with the notion that they have the right to influence and impact other cultures. This is normal. This is keeping with the onward role of history, the onward role of civilizations. Cultures change. Sometimes cultures change themselves, sometimes they are change by the influence of other cultures.

As Andy the Hobotraveler wrote, “I am 100 percent sure that people will try to change another culture. The idea of right or wrong is irrelevant. It is going to happen, if one culture has the ability to change the other culture, they then inherently have the right to change it. This is culture, cultures change, it is the inherent part of what culture are and will be come, they will change. Might is right, this is the bottom line of survival of the fittest. The strong will survive, and if one culture decides another is wrong, they will use might or power and control to change it and bring it into their view of normal. I will change a culture, because I can.”

This is where I walk. This debate really made me think over and reconsider how I see the world. This debate made me accept a few points of view that I have not previously considered and to mesh them with my own. Like everything else in the world, opinion – which is perhaps the simple manifestation of experience mixed with data – is ever pliable, ephemeral, and always changing.

This is one of the benefits of a blog: I can write half thought out ideas, throw out some thoughts at random, and then read what other people think, and thus have my point of reference shifted. Like opinions and everything else in the world, blogs are ephemeral and always changing, the travelogue is a place to air out the dirty laundry and to test the winds of ideas, notions, and impressions.

Thank you, readers, for participating in the debate.

The next traveler debate question should be posted this Sunday.

Related Pages:
Can Culture be Wrong debate #1
Vagabond Journey Debates
Cultural Relativism
Cockfight video censured
Are some cultural practices ‘wrong’?
Cockfighting Revisited

Links to previous travelogue entries:
Woolly Mammoth Skeleton
Photography Lesson in New York City
Time to Leave New York City

Cultural Relativity Debate Results
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Filed under: Anthropology, Culture and Society

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 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap