Cultural Relativism

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Yesterday I had a conversation with a person who works in my office. He a contract worker with a PHD. We began our discussion by talking on the subject of Pashtunwali. Pashtunwali is an ancient and unwritten code of conduct for followed by the Pashtun ethnic line, whom live mostly in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban is comprised of mostly Pashtun people.

To simplify Pashtunwali, it is essentially Machismo on steroids. However a man feels he’s been slighted, and however egregious the offence, he must find a way to regain his honor. This means that if someone kills a person in his close family and that person is convicted, or perhaps found not guilty in a court of law, the man must seek revenge. Which means killing the offender.

I made the statement to several liberal people (there are lots of them doing work here in Afghanistan), that if we wish to make things work here in Afghanistan, we must resist the urge to “work within the Afghan system”. That is: Tribalism and Pashtunwali will not enable a culture to have legitimate democracy and a sound economic policy. Everything is connected and the input enables the output.

This PHDer was very offended. “Who are we to tell another culture what they should believe?” he said.

“Well, they don’t have to live the way we tell them to, but if they want something close to American results, they’ll have to do things the American way.”

He became all the more offended. See, he’s a counselor. he told me that he never tells his clients what to do, he only tells them that they have the option to do something other than what they are doing. I say he’s doing people very little good.

Consider: An 18 year old boy graduates high school and decides he wants to be an engineer. “Well,” his father says, “you need to go to engineering school.”

Son: “I’m tired of school, I’m not going anymore, but I’ll be an engineer.”

We know that he will probably never be an engineer if he doesn’t go to school and get some training. And yet, these liberals here, want to tell the people of Afghanistan to keep doing the same thing but to expect different results.

“But they don’t want the american way of life”, they say. To a point they are correct. But more precisely, they don’t want to go through the needed steps or give up the old habits they’ve grown accustomed to. They do want more money, for instance. Using CERP funds, a local commander can hand out hundreds of thousands of American bucks, and believe me, the Afghans clamor for it. They want to be able to fight better, too. They want to be able to fight as well as Americans do. They want a fully functioning medical system, even though some Afghan don’t want women to work; when the Taliban took over and removed women from the workforce, they destroyed %40 of the medical field and almost all grade school teachers.

But somehow, this educated man simply could not see that certain cultural habits are not congruent with certain cultural results. he values culture simply for being culture. I on the other hand always tell people that not all cultures have equal value. And not all actions are good or valuable simply because its part of someone’s culture. Afterall, sacrifice thousands of people in a single day to the sun god was part of the Aztec culture.

I believe that most cultures want what America has, they just have no idea how to get there. We got lucky, here in America, because our Founding Fathers had a clue. We sprouted from the minds of enlightened men, and did not have to grow from the muck of neolithic tribalism. A primitive man wants money, or whatever something of tradeable value is called in his society. But he would just as soon stick a stone axe in the forehead of his enemy tribe to steal a few shiny trinkets. If he really had knowledge, hed know that one can become educated and learn how to manipulate the corporate state to make millions. And he didn’t have to slaughter anyone, despite what a cynical lib might say about the business world.

After my discussion with the man, I realized that it is relativism that most repulses me about liberalism. They try to sell us that nothing is of any more value than something else. That nothing is good and nothing is bad. but here’s the kicker: Almost nobody lives that way. It usually only amounts to telling other people that they should live that way. People know when something bad happens to them. As an example of the absolute sophistry involved in liberal thinking, a lib guy a work with told me that in the past, his wife had cheated on him repeatedly while he was deployed to war zones. He told me how he almost went crazy and how it hurt him like he’s never been hurt. But then his liberal relativism raised it’s low IQ head. He said that maybe he shouldn’t feel hurt because he has to expect that it will happen (the cheating) and that we’re only animals bound by fictional cultural values.

“Really?” I said. “But you are hurt and it did do terrible things to you.” So pernicious is relativism, that it destroys our ability to see what we know, deep down, to be true. I told him that if he expects it of people, he’s likely to encourage that behaviour in subtle ways. He should expect more of people, and be less of a victim. In some ways he was just trying to stop caring so that the truth didn’t hurt as much.

Science does not begin until we can measure. Thus, relativism, which destroys the ability to gauge value, is a destroyer of worlds.

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4 thoughts on “Cultural Relativism

    Lou said:
    November 10, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Wow, you really pushed my button with this topic, but I will try not to rant on your blog. You are right on here and you said it quite eloquently. I ran into this same “you can’t tell someone else how to live” while teaching in public school. It made me question why we even had teachers. Since I taught down on the Tex/Mex border, there were lots of cultural differences that I found appalling – I could give lots of examples here, but won’t. Although, I did have a student whose father committed a revenge killing and then headed south of the border. I also taught in Northern NM where the Indian culture – reservation system – keeps Indians from progressing like other parts of America. Yet, if you tried to change things, you would be considered some sort of bigot. But my biggest rant is in Christianity. I’m amazed at how many Christians have the “don’t tell me how to live” or the “just as I am” or the “unconditional love” view of Christianity. They don’t want to hear the “turn and repent” part or the “admonish each other in love” or the “if you keep My commandments…” etc. There, I may have stepped on toes, but change and progression is important. You said it much better than I.

    Amos Volante said:
    November 10, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Under liberal relativism the writing of this sentence is just as much of an accomplishment as this entire Blog.

    Or murdering all bloggers, or curing cancer.

    Everything becomes a lifestyle choice. Therefore: I choose to disagree with the view of your peer!

    That’s my lifestyle, yo. And I’ve got a bunch of kids, so my ideas will forge on. How many kids does Dr. Lib have?

    magus71 responded:
    November 11, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    “How many kids does Dr. Lib have?”
    Zero

    @Lou: I almost used the example of school sthat no longer want to give a number or letter grade. The kid has no way to measure his work’s value. Hence pasting tin cans to a wall is as much art as Monet’s or Van Gogh’s masterpieces.

    Amos Volante said:
    November 13, 2010 at 4:54 am

    Not surprised at Dr. PhD’s inability to procreate. Typical for the breed. Lots of ideas, to be replaced by the ideas of someone else’s children in a single generation. Truly, men like that are the annual flowers while we are the perennials.

    Yes, knowing how to fling paint like a monkey flings feces is not as good as knowing how to paint a likeness of a beautiful human being.

    Imagine that we would misguide our youth by telling them when they’re failing?!

    Going back to what I’ve said in the past:

    The only thing a liberal feels is wrong is the act of saying that something is wrong.

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