Cultural Relativism

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sun, 8 May 1994 00:16:36 JST

In re Cliff Sloane's remark that we object to practices when they seem
to be "thrust upon" those who are powerless. First response, nicely
observed--I'd agree with that. Second response, what about less dramatic
situations where customs are "thrust upon" those who are powerless in
ways we might find objectionable, but the customs in question are
demonstrably beneficial. I have in mind an article seen a few months
back in Ethos describing Eskimo socialization. The result is people who
seem to have an extraordinary talent for coming up with innovative ways
to cope with a harsh natural environment using minimal resources. The
method is ferocious teasing and hazing of children who can't solve
problems for themselves, who are thus doubly helpless, in the face of
the task and also in the face of adult/peer disapproval.

The upshot of this is to add beneficial/not-beneficial to a list of
criteria that includes empowered/powerless in those affected. Posed
abstractly the moral question is whether we should judge as good actions
that have a beneficial result for powerless people who don't like what is
being thrust upon them, when the powerless people may or may not have
the capacityto judge the result....Hmmmm. Anybody else have thoughts
about this?

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)