Re: Cultural Relativism

Mon, 9 May 1994 10:27:38 PST

>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?
Not to be naive, but it seems to me that that is what child-rearing is generally
all about. "This
hurts me more than it hurts you." "It's for your own good." Of course adults
have to make
decisions for children. Dentists are also thrust upon those who are powerless if
they are
children. I don't see how that can be used to condemn a practice in any culture.

Karen Eva Carr
History Department
Portland State University
Portland Oregon 97203
(503) 725-5472