Cultural Relativism is irrelevant
Oppression and human rights abuses
should not be accepted under the
guise of cultural differences.
The notion that cruelty and oppression
should not be allowed under the
blanket of cultural and religious differences
is something that should go
To me, it sounds ludicrous to argue
that various forms of discrimination
and oppression are not only understandable
but morally justified when
social and cultural acceptability permit
Unfortunately, however, cultural
relativism – the belief that any action
is morally justifiable and should be
condoned by society, on the basis of
cultural differences – is a widely held
belief in Western society, particularly
within the realm of academia.
The sort of actions condoned by
cultural relativism may include honour
killings, female genital mutilation,
cannibalism, the mistreatment of
women, the punishment of rape victims
for being raped and discrimination
The difference between criticising
a culture or religion, compared to attributes
such as their race, gender or
sexual orientation, is that culture and
religion are things that people choose
They are belief systems based on
specific ideologies and principles, not
innate aspects that a person is born
with and cannot change.
Even if a person is indoctrinated
from birth, they ultimately have the
power to change their beliefs and
practices, especially in an open society
There is no ideological belief inherent
to being a particular race, gender
or sexual orientation, while being part
of a specific culture or religion ties
one to specific principles and belief
These belief systems, if contradictory
to basic human rights and freedoms,
should indeed be openly criticised,
rather than protected from criticism
under the hypocrisy of political
Morality and social acceptability
do not go hand in hand, and what is
morally unjust in one place is morally
unjust in another. There are plenty of
terrible practices that are socially acceptable
in various settings, and plenty
of harmless and beneficial lifestyles
and modes of self-expression considered
Even though I would choose to punish
someone with more leniency for
carrying out an inhumane practice
that they were brought up to believe
in, as opposed to a practice which no
one except themselves pressured them
into doing, it would not make the act
itself any less reprehensible.
A great deal of people claim to
stand up for tolerance and human
rights but also for cultural relativism.
These beliefs are incompatible.
You cannot stand up for tolerance
while still condoning and even promoting
the flourishing of violence and
oppression. People need to choose
whether they believe in human rights
or the supremacy of cultural norms.
Part of the reason why nations like
Canada are so desirable for people
from around the world to immigrate
to is that these nations respect human
rights and freedoms in a way that other
nations do not.
But if we are to tolerate injustice
under the guise of cultural norms and
practices, Canada will be no sanctuary
or safe haven; instead it will present
people with the exact same injustices
and problems that they have come
here to flee.
Various problematic practices
based in foreign cultures, such as familial
based honour killings, have
indeed taken place here. Tolerance
should mean preventing acts such as
honour killings, the stoning of homosexuals
and forcing women to wear
the burqa, rather than allowing such
oppression to flourish.
Many view the wearing of the
burqa in particular as a rights issue
and laws to prohibit the donning of
such clothing in places such as France
and Turkey are seen as restrictions of
While I would not disagree that
such laws are repressive, the burqa itself
can be used to oppress women.
While some women choose to wear
such clothing, many others are forced
to do so.
To be fair, Western culture is not
perfect either, and there is a lot we
could learn from other cultures about
things such as respecting the earth
and valuing people over products.
The irrational, morally bankrupt
belief system of cultural relativism is
incompatible with a belief in tolerance,
fairness, justice and equality.
It is very unfortunate that it is as accepted
and widespread as it is, both in
the realm of academia and elsewhere.
“Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human’s beliefs and activities should be understood
in terms of his or her own culture. This principle was established as [unquestionable] in anthropological research by Franz
Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century.”