Friday, July 8, 2016

Cultural Diversity and Scientific Inquiry

A disturbing story challenges thinking about diversity.

When I read this story, I was appalled.What about you?
See link to the story below.

Why not evaluate cultures?

It has been fashionable of late to not merely study diverse cultures but to celebrate diversity and to encourage respect of people and their different ways of living. Differences are to be understood and respected—not evaluated. And certainly not condemned.

The scientific study of diversity sometimes slips into a moral stance like the following: "It’s wrong to condemn a culture as immoral or inferior because they do things differently."

Said another way, "all cultures are equally moral."

I have no problem with emphasizing the importance of respect for people of other cultures. I enjoy learning about the different ways people celebrate the stages of life in dance, music, art, and religion. There’s a beauty in so many colorful ways people from different cultures decorate their homes and bodies and prepare their feasts.

Like many others, I think it reprehensible when political and religious leaders show disrespect toward people from other cultures to the point that some extreme nationalists appear to think they have a right to threaten, harm, and even kill people who look like they are members of a different group.

Cultural Diversity and Perversity

I realize the difficulty inherent in establishing a universal standard by which to judge one culture as inferior to another. But this headline in The Independent surely indicates something is wrong.

“Isis burns 19 Yazidi women to death in Mosul for 'refusing to have sex with fighters:'

The women were reportedly burned to death in iron cages because they refused to have sex with Isis fighters”
 (Osborne, 2016, The Independent)
I suspect that many readers would react to the story with anger and disgust. It’s the kind of story that offers justification for attacking people who treat women in such a deplorable manner-- sex or death--according to the story.

My point is that cultures are not just different according to any codification scheme. Some aspects of some cultures violate widespread, if not universal, principles of morality. And with Haidt, in the tradition of Hume, I’d like to point to the powerful role of emotions in generating moral outrage—who really needs a “reason” or rule to understand some things are wrong?

Cultural Diversity and Academia

I understand the importance of describing diverse expressions of human behavior and the stress on a neutral moral stance when plumbing the depth of cultural differences. I also understand the importance of expanding the unthinking and often narrow-minded analysis culturally unaware students display when first confronted with people who are different in some personally important manner.

Nevertheless, to take the moral stance that cultural diversity entails cultural equality in all matters seems rather absurd.

Let us quibble over the basis for judging how people within cultures treat others. Let us engage in civil arguments about a reasonable basis for moral judgment.  But let us not pretend that all rules, customs, and acts within cultures are just and morally equivalent.

My commercial follows.

In my recent book, I examine cultural similarities and differences in Christian cultures.

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