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  1. #1
    Senior Member Gunboat Diplomat's Avatar
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    Default Are All Cultures Equal?

    I often hear that we should respect other cultures, but I am not sure I understand what it means. Are all cultures equivalent? In what sense?

    Some years ago, a girls' school in Saudi Arabia burned down. 15 girls died, likely because the religious police prevented them from being rescued as they were not properly dressed. That was a culturally / religiously motivated action. There are other practices associated with this culture that I find questionable. Honour killings, throwing gays from towers, stoning for illegal sex, murder of apostates and unbelievers; we have all heard about these and other examples. Other cultures have practices that can be argued to be questionable*, but I can't think of anything equally devoid of humanity as the first example, that would be deemed acceptable in the contemporary Western cultures or East Asian cultures (or possibly even something like the New Guinea traditional cultures).

    I don't think that individuals are in any way responsible for the culture they were raised in. They are also quite capable of, and often do overcome their cultural programming. And even within cultures there is usually some wiggle room (e.g. I don't think it's likely that someone would get in a serious trouble for not stoning an adulterer). So I don't want to make it about people.

    But cultures themselves do differ in non-trivial ways. Is it wrong to judge them based on their values, memes and especially practices? Am I so blinded by my privileged Western position that I am unable to see some practices acceptable in the French, German or Japanese culture that are ethically as dubious as honour killings? Are there some other considerations that invalidate such comparisons?

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    sifting Hard's Avatar
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    ISFP complete Amargith's Avatar
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    Senior Member Magic Poriferan's Avatar
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    Operationalize.

    What would be your actual metric for determining the superiority or inferiority of a culture?

    and...

    How would you define a culture?

    Personally, I think if you provided a definition for both of these questions, the result would almost inevitably have to be that not all cultures are equal. It would seem stunningly improbable if they were. But without yet having narrowed the actual definition for those things down, what the end result would (how many cultures there even are, no less how they compare) would differ dramatically.
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  5. #5
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Poriferan View Post
    Operationalize. What would be your actual metric for determining the superiority or inferiority of a culture? and... How would you define a culture? Personally, I think if you provided a definition for both of these questions, the result would almost inevitably have to be that not all cultures are equal. It would seem stunningly improbable if they were. But without yet having narrowed the actual definition for those things down, what the end result would (how many cultures there even are, no less how they compare) would differ dramatically.
    Spoken. cultures are now the content of literate cullures. So spoken cultures have been relegated and respond with ressentiment.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Gunboat Diplomat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Poriferan View Post
    Operationalize.

    What would be your actual metric for determining the superiority or inferiority of a culture?

    and...

    How would you define a culture?

    Personally, I think if you provided a definition for both of these questions, the result would almost inevitably have to be that not all cultures are equal. It would seem stunningly improbable if they were. But without yet having narrowed the actual definition for those things down, what the end result would (how many cultures there even are, no less how they compare) would differ dramatically.
    I wanted to leave this open-ended, but I will try.

    I am primarily interested here how cultures promote well-being of all its members (and how they affect other cultures within multicultural societies). I know, it is a very fuzzy metric. One proxy could be to ask people where would they like to live if they had to move and were provided with steady income or equivalent job (and ideally experienced different cultures before).

    Different metric would be how creative cultures are (artistically, scientifically), but it's less important in this context. Also, I think that there would be a significant overlap.

    As for the definition, I meant culture mostly in the anthropological sense. Prevailing values, shared understanding of the world around, patterns of behaviour, social structure and rules, resulting government policies and economic system, myths and archetypes and so on.

  7. #7
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    Trump is president. Hard to awnser that one.

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    Theta Male Julius_Van_Der_Beak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcloudz View Post
    Trump is president. Hard to awnser that one.
    Agreed. I actually think all cultures kind of suck. Maybe not equally, but given that perspective, what does it matter? Individual people are cool, but cultures? Meh, they're the ones who
    come up with a lot of the stupid harmful illogical rules.
    This is not going to go the way you think....
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  9. #9
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Respect for people and their living habits is important within a wide range of behaviors, but certain moral lines should not ever be crossed. For example, any culture that tortures or kills animals for celebration is sick and that should be changed (this is most of humanity btw). Cruelty as tradition? no fucking way
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
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  10. #10
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gunboat Diplomat View Post
    I often hear that we should respect other cultures, but I am not sure I understand what it means. Are all cultures equivalent? In what sense?
    This is a loaded question, because of the ambigious/undefined terms. To try to sort it out: all cultures are certainly not identical. A common error is to assume equivalency = identity: witness the many discussions here on gender/racial/religious/etc "equality". In those instances, we usually mean equality of opportunity, or perhaps equality under the law. So on what basis are you comparing cultures? They are not equivalent in: level of technological sophistication, openness to outsiders, or valuation of individual liberty, for example. They are equivalent the function they serve for those who live within them, much as human languages, while quite diverse, all serve the same function of supporting communication.

    Then there is the notion of respect. Does respect require agreement, or at least appreciation? I cannot imagine a culture that doesn't contain at least something worth appreciating and agreeing with. Warriors are often taught to respect the enemy, at least a dangerous or skillful one. This contains an element of taking them seriously, seeing them for who they really are, so as better to defend against (or defeat) them. I cannot think of a culture that should not be taken seriously, or studied before we make judgments. You mention the inhumane actions of the Saudi religious police. Presumably you would like this aspect of the culture changed. Respect in this case means understanding why it is this way, and what are the concerns of those who might be resistant to change. Anyone hoping to change it will not get far if they forgo these steps.
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

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