Sunday, December 17, 2006

On cultural relativism

My last posting on multiculturalism and immigration was reposted in a few places, including this Suomi24 thread. I don't feel like going there to discuss it; anyone from there who is interested is welcome to comment here, in English or in Finnish.

A couple of people there criticized my way of measuring the relative quality of cultures by the number of people who want in or out as subjective, and reflective of my values, and said that there is no "really real" objective measure for the quality of a culture. Of course they are right: my way of measuring the quality of a culture rests of the assumption that the purpose of the culture is to make life good for its members; if one starts with the assumption that the purpose of a culture is, say, to get as many of its members to heaven as soon as possible, the measuring criteria would be different.

Of course this is my opinion, expressed from my point of view. And of course there can be radically different points of view, and they occasionally express different opinions, sometimes even with a rather loud "boom". However, since we have already established that the standards of quality of a culture and ways of measuring it are indeed a matter of opinion, I think I have a right to have my opinion on it, to express it, and to consider my own opinion to be the right one. Moreover, a society as a whole also has a right to have an opinion on this, and to express it, and to make legislation based on it if deemed necessary.

In addition, in this particular case, my opinion (that the purpose of a culture is to secure as good a life as possible for its members) seems to be rather overwhelmingly popular in this particular culture. There are some (mostly imported but sometimes also homegrown) religious fanatics who think that the purpose of a culture is to serve the deity of their choice as well as possible, and a lunatic human-extinction fringe who thinks that the purpose of a culture should be to die out as soon as possible and leave our beautiful Earth to birds and bees and whoever, but my exact point was that we should try to avoid importing more of the former; as to the latter, the very fact that they have totally failed to make themselves extinct makes me doubt their sincerity somewhat. In fact, the fact the the senior leadership of the "let's blow ourselves up for Allah" movement tends to live to a ripe old age without any personal hurry to meet Allah makes me doubt their sincerity, too.

Anyway: if you take a sufficiently distant view, then there is no objective good or bad, everything is subjective, etc., etc., but you don't have to take this view most of the time. I have an opinion on the purpose of culture, which I think most of the Western society shares. I am pointing out various things that follow from this opinion and the observable facts, and I am making policy suggestions based on them. Policies are made up by a particular society for its own purposes, and tend to reflect its values. Cultural relativism might have its place in philosophy or anthropology (I am not familiar with either of them well enough to be sure), but it sure does not make for good policy.

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