Cultural relativism is the intellectual position that one’s views, traditions, principles, customs, taboos, and religion should be understood in one’s own society without reference to another (Marcelo. D. 1991). It is the belief in one’s own faith as it is, without regard for any religion. Cultural relativism is based on the assumption that all societies have autonomy. There are many different cultures in the world, which necessitates understanding them from their point of view. Cultures describe people’s actions and they reflect their history. The diversity of religions in the world makes it possible for relativism to thrive as they are ethnocentric. All culture standouts to defend its beliefs, norms, practices, and values. The idea behind my culture is the absolute belief that strengthen the adventure of cultural relativism.
The world is diversified in its composition. The environments in which the people live tend to define a culture that is distinct and different from others. Cultural relativism, therefore, is an axiom that has attracted debate in the field of anthropology and sociology. It is a concept that has seen scholars and philosophical thinkers contribute to it. The idea is a harmonizing one in that all cultures feel part of the world and freedom of cultures is guaranteed.
The concept of cultural relativism.
Cultural relativism is the notion that ethical systems which are different from one culture to another, are equally treated the same, and no system is considered more valuable than the other. This is based on the fact that there is no absolute measure of what is right or evil. Therefore, every judgment on what is good or evil is as a result of society (Melville.J 1992). In addition, all behaviors on ethics and morality are subject to the cultural perspective that exists. Relativism is the stand that each culture can define what is good and evil from a perspective understood by members of that particular religion.
The concept of cultural relativism overrides the logic that may be considered valid may not necessarily be true, and what may be viewed as a lie may not be a lie. It fails to accommodate tolerance of other ideas. The belief in that there is no ultimate measure of what is ethical and unethical finds cultural relativism in conflict with logic. In the old days, some cultures practiced cannibalism yet today human cannibalism is a vice in societies. Allowing relativism to define the standards of the community may harbor conflicting situations as anyone can justify the actions as they occur.
Cultures exist for the good of society. This brings in the debate of morality, ethics, and logic. In organizations there exist what is right and what is evil (Derek, 2014). The good is rewarded and bad punished. What is good may change to be evil as time goes by. For instance, cultures that practiced human cannibalism found themselves in conflict when logic, ethics, and morality arose. The value for a fellow human in society in recent years is a question of human right. No one can escape the sentence of having been found eaten a fellow human being. Morality and ethics uphold the dignity of man versus man. Cultures found culpable of this vice are punished by morality standards in society.
Relativism has made cultures to be so autonomous to the extent that morality is questioned. For instance, endocannibalism is the practice of eating the flesh of human beings especially after they die. This has been in history among the Callatiae, a tribe in India. It is believed that even some indigenous cultures of South American such Moyoruna practiced endocannibalism in the past. Another example is that of Wari people of western Brazil are believed to have practiced endocannibalism. They considered it as an act of compassion where the roasted remains of fellow Wari in a mortuary setting. Rejecting the practice would be offensive to the direct family members. This is only justifiable by the practicing culture. In this case, cultural relativism tends to defend even what is immoral in the lenses of logic and morality.
Endocannibalism is an evil practice based on morality as human beings are dignified in a manner that they deserve respect and moral accode (Reza.A, 2011). The belief in this method is a conflict to morality as human flesh is carried with the dignity it deserves. In contemporary cultures, endocannibalism is a human right concern. Not a single culture in today’s era can withstand the morality of eating human flesh. It is an abominable and uncouth behavior that can attract ethical and morality punishment since all human beings are superior beings.
Many cultures have transformed as years have done. What used to be regarded as the norm may have changed in the wake of civilization. Though there cannot lack cultures that have preserved their beliefs and values. For instance, in African cultures, some societies maintained the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. This is circumcision for female as practiced by some cultures. This practice has been fought by morality and logic to the extent that some cultures abandoned it. Some preserved it as a practice, and it defines its cultural components. This condition has been allowed by the fact that relativism acknowledges autonomy of cultures in their way of beliefs.
Indigenous cultures were more relative than modern lifestyles. In the old days, every culture depended on its own belief without any need to compare what is right or wrong. Every practice would be justified by members of the culture in practice, and outsiders could only emulate but not conflict. This was long before the wake of civilization. Ages after ages passed and more development within and outside the cultures emerged. The advent of morality and ethics saw the erosion of heinous cultures and ushering of standardized cultures.
Modern cultures are standardized and adhere more to ethics and morality than to relativism. It has been commissioned by the transformation of cultural relativism to moral relativism and finally to the wake of universal human rights. Universal human right recognizes human beings as respectable and dignified beings. Modern cultures are guided by universal declaration of human rights as pioneered by the western cultures. It doesn’t marry well with the Asian, Chinese and African cultures but it is a global requirement that all cultures of the world be based on ethics and morality.
The principle of cultural relativism was more evident during world war II. This was a time when cultural autonomy was high to the extent that one’s own culture would be infringed by others in the justification that their cultures allow it (George.E, 1992). This broke the tension between societies especially in the western cultures which seemed dominant and vibrant. The culmination of this bore wars where conflicting beliefs were staged in the fight for a better world and recognition. World war II engaged a remarkable number of societies where different opinions were held by various communities. Everyone viewed his/her society as the right one. The end of world war II called for a transformation from cultural relativism to moral relativism. There was the need to have moral values be made part of cultural value which would be perceived as a way of controlling conflicts in societies in future ages.
The world is a concentration of societies defined by a variety of cultures. These cultures tend to be unanimous depending on the region and environment in which they are practiced. A case in point is the western cultures and African cultures. Western cultures have been referred to the world as role model cultures in matters to do with civilization. On the contrary, African cultures have been regarded as the most preservative and conservative in their practices.
Western cultures are those cultures practiced by the societies living in the European and United States. These cultures are known to erode so quickly in a manner suggesting the spirit of civilization. In these cultures the belief in marriage and family is taken from a different perspective far from that of African cultures. In the case of marriage, other forms of unions have evolved in these cultures far from what is commonly known. For instance, polyandry; a marriage where one woman is married to more than one man is practiced that is a shocker to African cultures. Another tradition is a marriage of the same gender; it is an evident practice in western cultures especially in the wake of enlightenment period.
Cultures from the west are known to be liberal, and erosion of values is quick as new ideas emerge. The religions have always set standards over which the rest of the world can measure and define the way. They have been known to challenge events as they occur in societies (Williams, 2013). A case in point is the practice of Invitro fertilization which is a means of reproduction by way of the test tube. This is done in a culture medium where the female and male reproductive cells are fertilized in a test tube and monitored to under genetical processes of reproduction with an aim to reproduce a copy of similar kind. The practice has found its place in western cultures where traditional marriages have gone obsolete.
African cultures, on the contrary, are believed to practice traditional practices which to the view of western civilization are contravening human rights and obsolete of practice. Notable of the exercises is the famous Female Genital Mutilation which is the female circumcision. This was practiced in early cultures of the world but was wiped out due to medical complications that occur with it. Cultures in Africa are the only one seen to be rigid in eroding this method. Although there are laws in these cultures prohibiting the practice, it is done and practiced behind the doors in the belief that it ushers females into womanhood.
The practice is a contested one in the mainstream cultures of the world as it seen to contravene the human rights standards. It is believed especially from western cultures perspective to be out of practice as of today. In the mainstream culture, marriage is a practice of all societies with an ultimate aim of reproduction. In the African context, children are regarded as property as women are (Jefferson, 2016). Therefore, it is for this reason African culture is believed and reported to be porous in their practices. Polygamy is the primary cultural practice when it comes to marriage and family establishment in African cultures. It is a marriage between one man to more than one woman. It is an artistic practice that is believed and practiced majorly with the belief that more women and children define the richness of a man.
In conclusion, cultural relativism is an axiom that has been there and still exists in today’s ages. Cultures have defined what is best for them thereby forming the basis for which they are recognized. Nevertheless, there is erosion in some practices aided by assimilation with one another.
Gebhard. D, (2011). Beyond cultural relativism. California, United States revised edition.
Marcello. D, (1991). Cultural relativism and philosophy. Chicago, a preview edition.
Mervilee. J.H, (1972). Perspective in cultural prularism. California, United States; revised edition.
Reza. A, (2011). The abuse of cultural relativism. Indian publishers; revised edition.