Whose Culture?

And here we have an exhilarating opinion piece. Exhilarating I suppose because the things it says are both so obvious and so non-trendy. (Though there’s some danger in that line of thought – or perhaps I just mean some discomfort. The woods are all too full of people who are all to willing to make you a present of their bravely unfashionable opinions. You know the kind of thing. Defiant racism and sexism, defiant urges to trample on people, defiant calls to get rid of the minimum wage. Go away.) But that being said, the fact remains that this is great stuff, and should be said more often and more loudly, especially to people who don’t know it yet:

The problem is that the cultural relativists exaggerate the supposed consensus prevalent in a culture…What is usually defined as the culture of a people is in reality the interpretation and discourse put forth by the ruling class and its allied intellectual elite. For example, the interests of the Brahmin priests and Thakurs cannot reasonably be the same as that of the lower orders of Hindu society. Similarly the Islamic message cannot be identical for the decadent class of landlords and the landless tenants and rural proletariat, but since official religion is always defined by the rich and powerful the voices of the oppressed classes and sections of society within a culture are seldom heard and rarely allowed to assert an alternative interpretation.

Just so. All that guff about Eurocentrism and respecting the Other and what a bad idea the Enlightenment was really just plays into the hands of the rich powerful male Other, not the society as a whole.

Thus if this observation be granted that cultural relativism is a poor and unconvincing basis for objecting to modern human rights, we need to establish on what basis can a non-Western culture retain its historical identity while simultaneously incorporating and internalising modern human rights within its modern identity? Undoubtedly outmoded religious practices will have to be discarded and the core universal ideas of each culture retained.

How promising that does sound.

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