Sunday, August 28, 2011

A response to 'Moral Minima'

     Lenn Goodman argues that there are certain things that are simply wrong, for everyone, regardless of culture, but each example she provides for universal moral standards are couched in specific cultural values. I understand the danger of relativism. It seems to make the citizens of earth perpetual strangers with no common ground for conduct. How can we engage one another for any extended period of time if there are no boundaries, nothing impermissible? If every act is considered sacred and protected by the culture it sprang from, there would be chaos indeed. Here is the problem: If there are absolutes that transcend culture, who of us is equipped to stand outside of our own cultural context to identify them?(Week One Cultural Anthropology) Objectivity would be the suggested antidote to pluralism, tribalism, relativism, but objectivity is itself a cultural phenomenon, resplendent with its own attributes and flaws.
     It is not that I disagree with the things she listed as crimes. I agree. But I am American. I have no context but this environment, this education, these values and these fears. I recognize that my ken does span the globe, past present and future.
      The areas she touched on were: (1) genocide, politically induced famine, and germ warfare; (2) terrorism, hostage taking, and child warriors; (3) slavery, polygamy, and incest; and (4) rape and female genital cutting. ( page 88 Moral Minima)  Would I be correct in saying that these are all violations of purported western values? Did she deem a single ideology from one of the many cultures we have studied since the inception of anthropology, worthy of mention? Was there nothing worth adopting, such as a reverence for Earth?  The message is that the west is capable of speaking for the good of all mankind. I’m not buying it.
    In retrospect, would genocide have been the appropriate response to the ‘settlers’ of Turtle Island? Are 18 year old soldiers, who are not represented by a vote in this country, considered child warriors?  Capitalism requires a working class of people who have nothing but their own labor to sell for sustenance, does that constitute slavery? Are the breasts considered reproductive organs, and is their mutilation a crime? These examples make it clear that relativism is not a cleverly disguised excuse developed by genius villains to encourage extreme criminal or anti-social behavior. We live relativism every day or perhaps we, western culture, are meant to be the only exception to the rule. When in Rome do as the Romans do. When in Japan, do as the Romans do. When in Indonesia, do as the Romans do. When in Africa, do as the Romans do. This is where the masquerade of universalism leads. I reiterate because no value that the West has not sponsored is represented in these crimes against humanity. Creating a chemical, corporation, or technology that violates the well-being of the planet would be a crime if Any other culture’s core value system was represented.
     To have moral codes aka laws, one needs a moral authority, and moral enforcers. Who, pray tell might that be? If ‘I’ define morality and reserve the right to redefine morality by the authority of Academia or God Himself , ‘You’ will forever fall short. The use of the word universal is arrogant, aggressive and presumptive. Far worse than that it criminalizes entire cultures that came into existence organically, maintained their existence organically, prior to anthropological, religious, social, health, and economic intervention. We forget that while we market ourselves as progressive, civilized, and universal, our model has not proven effective for us. Pornography, pedophilia, incest, rape, slavery, and the degradation of women are a part of the very fabric of the west. Read our fiction, it will tell you what our history and text books will not. Our minds dwell in despair. Our bodies are ill with obesity and cancer. Our prisons are overrun. We have displaced our elderly yet, we would seek to study, nay define, the standard for human conduct. If humanity is to have this conversation let us take into account what is sacred amongst all the known cultures. Let us consider that we are not the mediators of such a forum but contributors along with the other citizens of Earth.
This is not yet edited for submission to class. All references are not included. If you would like references, comment and I will update the post. Thank You.



  1. MyLifeIsJustAQuote: tear me apart, when it's darkJune 27, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    Beautiful and interesting! That is what i call NEAT and UNDERSTANDABLE.