30 June 2008

Cultural relativism of values

It's deplorable, the reluctance to acknowledge the objective value of an idea simply because the idea originated in a culture other than one's own. I have in mind the Chinese government's claims that principles such as freedom of thought and speech, individual rights and various expressions of liberty (especially with regard to information access, the press and journalistic integrity) are irrelevant to the Chinese people simply on the grounds of their alien, Western origins. By implying that such values are 'culture specific' and 'relative' to a particular society or milieu, the Chinese leaders seek to undermine the very natural, objective, human inclinations of the Chinese people towards liberty and the sovereignty of the individual in matters pertaining to his own life and happiness, bearing the 'do no harm to others' qualification.

This 'culturalist' attitude is narrow-minded and betrays the vanity of those demonstrating it. Imagine if, upon their discovery, a non-Chinese were to refute the value of paper or the magnetic compass simply because such things were born of the ingenuity of the Chinese (therefore alien to the non-Chinese) mind. To take such a culturalist stance shows a blinkered view of ideas that contribute to the good and add to the marvelous storehouse of human knowledge and experience.

The value and social relevance of any idea should be deduced from its utility and consequences, independently of its culture of origin. All ideas spring from a human mind, and should be accounted good or bad based on the idea's effect on the human condition.


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