Cultural Relativism and Absolutism Western Culture Idealizes Essay

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¶ … Cultural relativism and absolutism

Western culture idealizes individual autonomy and choice above all things -- better to make a mistake in choosing a partner, it counsels, so long as it is your own mistake, than to have the choice made for you, for good or for ill. Even in high school, "Romeo and Juliet" is not read as a cautionary tale, but as a story of star-crossed lovers who are torn apart because their parents refused to allow them enough autonomy. Thus it is very difficult for Sam, or indeed anyone from Western culture to understand Jaza's obedience to her family's will, given that Western nations see innovation and challenging accepted values, if they conflict with individual personal desires, as part of necessary progress to a more 'civilized' way of life.

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However, it is just as easy to imagine someone from outside of our own culture looking askance and asking 'how can you eat pork,' 'how can you have the death penalty?' It is easy to judge a culture from the outside, to judge it on its own terms is more difficult. Jaza's culture prizes parental ties over personal autonomy, and social stability, even long-term happiness in marriage, over romantic love. Consistency with the past is not some Emersonian hobgoblin of little minds for Jaza; it is an important value, despite her momentary pain (Emerson 303). Furthermore, it must be added that Jaza has had exposure to other values and systems of thought in the West, but she is choosing to remain consistent to some degree with her family values. How much choice does she have? Perhaps no more or less than someone in America who goes into his or her family business under some pressure (perhaps the threat of withdrawing tuition for a college education)?

Essay on Cultural Relativism and Absolutism Western Culture Idealizes Assignment

Why is being deprived of choice in marriage so much worse than being deprived of the choice of what school or occupation a person enters, and how much choice do we have in terms of our class mobility in the United States, really? Yes, Jaza weeps but so does a child being sent away to camp, or college, or being kicked out of the family home at age twenty-five. To some individuals from cultures outside of our own, these acts might seem barbaric. Why judge Mongolian culture more harshly than Western culture? It is very easy to see the constructed nature of an 'alien' culture, and criticize it, rather than learn from it, but as pointed out in Ruth Benedict's essay "In Defense of Moral Relativism," what we take for granted in our society, even the division of the genders into what seem like essential categories, is not universally true to all societies (Benedict 207).

Culture is not moving in progress to 'more individualism,' thus making Jaza's culture 'more primitive' than our own, rather Jaza's culture and American, Western culture simply value autonomy and the feelings surrounding choice of a partner very differently. While William Irvine's critique of relativism might have some validity as it pertains to certain human rights, such as the right to life, in terms of more complex issues, such as marital choice, the understandable, but highly emotional and biased reaction of Sam to being rejected by Jaza does not reflect that Jaza's human rights are being violated, any more so than an American child being pressured to choose to major in Economics, for example, rather than English for his 'own good' to 'get a good job after graduating from college' for which he will thank his parents 'when he is older and knows better' (Irvine 42). In fact, this similar justification is used by… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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