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Cultural relativism Essay

Cultural relativism remains a controversial if not completely misunderstood concept in the world today. It is strange that people consider cultural relativism a problem because to do so would hint at the belief in cultural superiority or exceptionalism. It would seem that there is also a belief that variant from other cultures that are in opposition to a separate culture yield a threat.

Whether the threat is real is another matter because as long as one culture perceives a threat, then there will be a militant response to such threat conceived. These days, cultural relativism has a bad reputation in many quarters. It conjures images of a world where anything goes. According to this domino theory of norms, if people open themselves to the possibility that other cultures may have valid, if different, ways of life, the next thing you know, they’ll be “doing it in the streets. ” (Rosaldo)

Part of the reason for such distress at the notion of cultural relativism is the fact that there is an inherent belief held by many cultures that their system of beliefs, life, etc are the “right” way to live and that any type of culture that is different or perceptually opposite of the “right” way are “wrong” and need to be contained, altered or even saved from themselves. If there is no transcendent ethical standard, then often culture becomes the ethical norm for determining whether an action is right or wrong. This ethical system is known as cultural relativism.

{1} Cultural relativism is the view that all ethical truth is relative to a specific culture. Whatever a cultural group approves is considered right within that culture. Conversely, whatever a cultural group condemns is wrong. (Anderson) An example of cultural relativism gone horrible wrong can be viewed in the early clashes amidst Europeans and Native Americans during the “New World” era of the early colonization of North America. To the Native Americans, humans were considered in harmony with nature and lived among the natural world.

To the European mentality, there was the belief that the natural world needed to be tamed and cities needed to be built upon the land. To the Europeans, the Native earth centrist ideology was unacceptable and needed to be removed. This was the basis of most of the early clashes that ultimately lead to massacres and genocidal campaigns. What is bizarre about this type of thought process is that it assumes there is an invisible line between cultures and that the world is not an inclusive place of a multitude of cultures.

It seems to believe that culture exists only from one mindset or tradition and what is outside that tradition subscribes to chaos and disorder. First, the idea of separate but equal cultures no longer seems accurate. Cultures are not separate; they are not confined to their own individual museum cases. They exist side by side in the same space. Also, we’ve noticed that there are inequalities between cultures—relations of dominance and subordination. Take, for example, settler colonialism, the system we had in America.

Relationships formed in the colonial period and after created inequalities, which a committed anthropologist would have to critique. (Rosaldo) So, from this we can infer that the concept of cultural relativism is a flawed notion and concept because it is based on a flawed premise of exclusiveness and ethnocentricity. In other words, to believe that cultural relativism exists is ridiculous because to claim it exists would mean the subdivision of humanity as opposed to looking at humanity as members as the world as a whole which is the natural order, an order only changed by human intervention designed to suit specific needs.

Bibliography Anderson, Kirby. (2004) “Cultural Relativism. ” Retrieved 6 February 2007. http://www. inplainsite. org/html/cultural_relativism_. html Rosaldo, Renaldo. (2000) “Of Headhunters and Soldiers: Separating Cultural and Ethical Relativism” Retrieved 6 February 2007. http://www. scu. edu/ethics/publications/ iie/v11n1/relativism. html

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