Relativism and Rights

Thu, 5 May 1994 17:13:27 CDT

Well, Ray, it seems to me you skirted my question; but I can see why you
would rather keep talking about actions under stress than about the
quality of accounts--the latter being the main scientific issue as I see
it. But okay, I think anyone who tries to intervene to prevent one
human being from beating another one is likely to be doing a very good
thing. Note, however, that trying to prevent a single episode of
beating is different from attempting to modify a custom; and attempting
to modify a custom is yet different from a moral judgment against the
custom; and feelings of revulsion, which can be aroused by single
episodes or by customs, are yet another thing. The commendability of
one human trying to protect another human in no way lessens the
desirability of trying to suspend a judgmental attitude, and to suppress
feelings of revulsion, *while one is trying to describe or explain a
custom*. Protecting a Yanomamo from a beating, or saving humankind or
the planet, is something we do, as anthropologists, in our "spare time"
(figuratively speaking); for then we are acting as we hope any human
being would act. There is simply nothing peculiarly anthropological
about it. --Bob Graber