Culture, ethnocentrism and cultural relativity are the three terms which form the basis of this essay. There is an effort to define each of these terms in as precise manner as possible. Moreover some discussion on human attitudes and characteristics precedes the final answer to the question : can we judge a cultural practice as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ? The answer is affirmative : Yes, all cultural practices cannot be considered equal and beyond reproach, judging them as ‘ right’ or ‘wrong’ is surely acceptable.
Definitions Culture is defined as, “ the totality of mental and physical reactions and activities that characterize the behavior of individuals composing of a social group collectively and individually in relation to their natural environment, to other groups, to members of the group itself, and of each individual to himself. ( Heuristic device) Ethnocentrism is defined as tendency to look at the world, primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture. It often entails the belief that one’s own race or ethnic
group is the most important and/or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups. ( Ethnocentrism). Cultural relativity is the principle that an individual’s beliefs and activities should be interpreted in terms of his own culture. ( Cultural relativism). It is important to note over here that the five civilizations of human history is the mother of all cultural practices. Each civilization devised a behavioral pattern which suited the local geographic, economic and political conditions. The roots of all ethnic
groups claiming to have their ‘own’ and ‘independent’ culture can be traced back to these five civilizations. They are essentially offshoots of the basic civilization. Discussion It has been proved beyond doubt that the major negative characteristics of human race are his greed and his ego. He always wants to dominate over his fellow humans and other living species. On the other hand, one of the best qualities of human beings is to make our globe a ‘worth living’ place. Those who devised the cultural practices were also
human beings and hence all cultures have something that can be called ‘good’ and something that can be called ‘bad’ or ‘not acceptable’. A few examples will prove this point. The Indus valley civilization, firmly advocates the theory of ‘ live and let live’. Hinduism, a faith originating in the Indian sub-continent advocates only vegetarian food. The argument is, ‘ why kill a fish, chicken or an animal when your stomach can be filled with vegetables and cereals, without making any compromise on the nutritive values?
’ So far so good. The same culture has a ‘caste’ system. The status of a human being is decided by the virtue of his birth. If he is born in a ‘higher’ caste, he has the world at his feet, and if he is born in a ‘lower’ caste family, then he is treated as an untouchable, who will never get any opportunity in life to improve his position. The European culture. While European intelligence has been instrumental in framing the highly developed technical world of today, full of comforts, the same Europeans have
sucked the blood of the third world population by establishing colonies, for centuries together. A very truthful fact, right from the civilization days to today, is that all human efforts in devising cultural practices have been concentrated at ‘local’ level only. No culture has a global approach. The Indus valley civilization is perhaps an exception to this. The practices are laid down for a particular group of people residing in that particular geographic area. In the entire history of human evolution, man has never lived like a
single species. Needless to say, ‘betterment of life’ and ‘peaceful co-existence’ were the aims of any cultural practices. Hence, evaluation of any culture should be done on a very basic question, ‘ does it allow others to exist peacefully? ’ The two systems of cultural perceptions, namely ethnocentrism and cultural relativism have very less significance. While ethnocentrism places one’s own culture as the ‘only best ‘ cultural relativism closes the doors for judgments about other cultures. Ethnocentrism
does not put Americans or Europeans as the best cultural groups and cultural relativism cannot ignore the fact that slavery system in America is a ‘wrong practice’. These perceptions are irrelevant because no culture is supreme or the best, and no culture is so complete in itself . Summary No theory can prevent judgment of the ‘wrong’ and the ‘ right’ of any cultural practice. Simply because no culture is flawless, when assessed on humanitarian and global grounds. Any practice which preserves the peaceful co-existence and helps in betterment
of life will always be applauded and any practice which promotes injustice, cruelty and domination over others, will always be turned down. If Americans think in an ethnocentric way that they are the indirect dominators of the world affairs, they are mistaken. It was Europe yesterday, America today and tomorrow may belong to some other culture. Similarly if Asians think that there is no need to pass judgment on any other culture because every culture is complete on its own, they are also wrong. They ought to pass a judgment and raise a voice against the ‘wrong’
colonization and slavery of Europeans and Americans respectively. No theory can stop passing judgments over any cultural practice. Judgments are necessary. They always help in improving upon the negative aspects of any culture. Works – cited page 1) ‘Heuristic device’ and ‘cultural relativism’, wikipedia the free encyclopedia, 12 – 02-07, Retrieved on 14-02-07. < http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/cultural_relativism > 2. ‘Ethnocentrism’, wikipedia the free encyclopedia, 10-02-07, Retrieved on 14-02-07, < http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/etnocentrism >