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Cultural Superiority

Entry 1841, on 2017-03-09 at 21:15:45 (Rating 4, Comments)

Is it OK to say that some cultures are better than others? Or are they all the same? Many people would say that we should treat all cultures the same and give them all equal respect, but I can't agree. And even if I did, is that what we are doing?

If different cultures differ in their strengths and weaknesses then it should be OK to say that - at least from certain perspectives, if not overall - some are better than others. And if I think one culture is better then why shouldn't I be a strong proponent for that culture as long as I do it in a reasonable way?

And if we have to treat all cultures as if they are equal (even though clearly they aren't) how far should that extend? Should the culture of Nazi Germany (with apologies for invoking Godwin's Law) be treated as an equal to those which were less violent and authoritarian at the time? Most people - even those who say that all cultures should be treated equally - would say no.

I'm now going to make a case for Western culture being the best. I should probably explain what I mean by this term, especially since it might not match the official definition. I see it as beginning with the ancient Greeks; then onto the Romans; being spread across the world by the British, Spanish, and other empires; and now being maintained primarily by the US. So the dominant culture in countries would be part of it today: USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Spain, etc.

Along with the political path I outlined above there is a clear religious path as well, which of course is Christianity. That religion is becoming less important today in the modern countries it helped to create, but there is no doubt it was an important component in the past.

I fully recognise the faults in Western culture. It is too controlled by corporate capitalism, it tends to use superior military and economic influence to further its own agenda while harming others, and a lot of western art (music, movies, etc) has become trivialised.

But Western culture has a lot going for it too. Most of the great scientific, political, and philosophical achievements came from it. And yes, I fully recognise that Chinese, Islamic, Indian, and other cultures have also made contributions (early astronomy, algebra, etc) but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Some people might also say that Western culture has lost its connection with the natural world, that it has lost its spirituality, that it seeks to dominate rather than live with nature. There is a certain amount of truth in these claims, but nowhere near as much as the people making them think, because the truth is that all cultures are guilty of this to varying extents, and it is just the success and technical abilities of Western society which has allowed it to go further.

There are undoubtedly aspects of other societies which are superior to those of Western culture, and which aspects are considered important is partly subjective. So if someone wants to present the idea that another culture is better then that is fine, let's have a discussion about that. But don't pretend that the subject should be forbidden as a subject of debate.

In fact it's worse than that, because it is OK to make claims about "other" or "minority" or "indigenous" cultures being superior but the same can never be said about the dominant culture (which is usually Western). So the debate sort of happens but it's like there's only one team debating. The team supporting Western culture must remain silent except when it comes to agreeing with their opposition.

Maybe the whole idea of comparing cultures is a bad one. Because so much of the evaluation of value is subjective, maybe no meaningful conclusion can ever be reached. But I don't think so.

Recently a new group was set up at a New Zealand university which was formed to celebrate European culture. It had to shut down before it really got started because of threats of violence against its members, claims of racism and white supremacism, and just general condemnation based on the most superficial evidence.

At the same university are many other groups celebrating Maori, Chinese, and Pacific culture, and these are not just OK, they are strongly encouraged. But a European group is somehow different.

If that group had formed and started encouraging racist behaviour against non-Europeans I would say then close it down, just like I would demand that any other group should be shut down if it did the same thing. But it was like the idea cannot even be allowed to exist. That the celebration of the most dominant, progressive, scientifically and technologically advanced culture the world has ever seen just cannot be allowed.

When members of "other" cultures are distanced from their history and principles it usually results in bad societal outcomes. The same happens when members of the dominant culture are similarly repressed.

Look around the world today and it becomes obvious very quickly that people are getting really sick of the politically correct nonsense they are subjected to. They are sick of having to celebrate someone else's culture while having to be embarrassed about their own. They are sick of cultural debates based on what is considered politically appropriate rather than what is true. They are sick of being part of a culture which has delivered more good to the world than any other but not being able to celebrate that fact.

Like any group, they can only be pushed so far before they react.

The ironic thing is that the more the "PC brigade" try to push their agenda the more people will push back against it. They probably won't be allowed to do that publicly but the resentment is still there and manifests itself in many ways, such as when voting.

And the end result of that is unlikely to be truly beneficial to anyone. So let's just give everyone a fair deal to celebrate who they are, and forget about the meaningless labels like racist, Neonazi, and white supremacist. Because that's not what we have now (except in a few minority cases) but if we continue down this path, that's what we will get a lot more of.

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Comment 4 (4667) by OJB on 2017-03-12 at 23:35:25: (view earlier comments)

Richard, I broadly agree with your idea that nothing and no one automatically deserves respect. In fact I have written posts about this is in the past asking why I sometimes hear that a politician or senior manager or church leader or old person or teacher deserves respect without even knowing anything about the person. I totally disagree with this. No one gets my respect unless they earn it.

Another point though: the simple dichotomy of respect/disrespect is too simple. I apportion respect to varying degrees. I offer everyone a certain amount by default but that can increase or decrease based on how they act.

I'm not sure if respect can only be assigned to people, as you suggest. Just because the Earth doesn't understand whether we respect it or not doesn't mean we shouldn't give it respect. After all respect usually leads to action and the Earth can do with all the help it can get right now!

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Comment 5 (4668) by Richard on 2017-03-22 at 06:18:22:

Sorry for delay... Just to be clear, I never said 'no one automatically deserves respect'. Just the opposite. Every 'one' deserves respect, not necessarily their beliefs, a subtle but important distinction that I think you agree with... he he

Re your last paragraph... you mean like rivers? 'The earth needs help? How so exactly, & why?

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Comment 6 (4669) by OJB on 2017-03-24 at 13:08:25:

OK, I think we agree on that point: people deserve a certain level of respect but ideas have to earn it. I would also extend that to say that different people and ideas all deserve different levels of respect instead of just simple respect/disrespect.

I think it's very clear that the environment is being degraded significantly by pollution - especially from intensive agriculture and industry - and by greenhouse gases causing climate change. I don't think this silly nonsense about giving a river the rights of a person is the correct answer but I do think that positive environmental and social outcomes (and not just profit) should be a requirement for all companies and individuals.

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Comment 7 (4670) by richard on 2017-04-01 at 09:22:32:

I totally agree with you regarding positive environmental and social outcomes over profit and individuals. My point is simply that this is only out of respect for... people - not the 'earth' itself - which of course couldn't care less whether it's pristine or polluted.

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Comment 8 (4671) by OJB on 2017-04-01 at 15:22:52:

Yes, I think we are just arguing over semantics. Maybe I should say we must always consider the importance of the environment in the way it affects people as well as any inherent worth may have from a philosophical perspective. There, I didn't mention the word "respect" but still communicated what I meant... I think.

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