Skip to comments.Better or Worse (Ranking Cultures)
Posted on 02/15/2002 8:56:31 AM PST by My Identity
I've been catching lots of e-flack for a New York Post column I wrote earlier this month about a Nigerian woman condemned to death for the crime of adultery. The sentence was to be carried out, in accordance with the strict Islamic sharia, by stoning her to death. What stuck in many readers' craws was my assertion that the case of Sufiyatu Huseini served to highlight the cultural superiority of the Judeo-Christian West to the Islamic East.
It's a testament to the subordination of common sense to multicultural mush that even as mundane an opinion as that one would provoke such outrage. So Judeo-Christian culture is better than Islamic culture . . . yeah, and Keith Richards isn't much of a morning person. I mean, where's the news?
But of course it's the very notion that cultures can be ranked as better or worse that folks on the political Left resist and, always, in the name of progressiveness, sophistication, tolerance. Yet their own activist ideals rest, without exception, on the premise that such judgments are possible; after all, people who set out to "raise consciousness" or "change the world" are animated by the belief that cultures can be made better. And if there is better, there must logically be worse.
Suppose I'd written that the United States, after the abolition of slavery, was culturally superior to the United States prior to that time. I suspect few readers would've bristled. Likewise, if I'd said that the civil-rights movement of the early 1960's had improved American culture by ending legal segregation, who would've batted an eye?
Judgments about our own past seem unobjectionable at least in part because there's no one left to object. There are no Confederate colonels, for example, to spit tobacco at our feet and tell us how America's going to pot with all them darkies running loose. Who among us would take such an argument seriously? We have no problem recognizing the historical markers that lift us above the narrow bigotries of the past, no queasiness about celebrating the great moral strides we've taken, the forward dynamics of our collective evolution. Across time, we feel free to look down our noses. But across oceans, we feel compelled to reserve judgment. Yet the justification for one is the justification for the other. There must exist, in either case, a hierarchy of lasting values against which all cultures can be measured. And once you accept that cultural hierarchies exist, the only thing that remains is figuring out which values should be embraced and which rejected.
Thomas Jefferson held it as a self-evident truth self-evident in the sense that it needn't be proven since it's indisputable that all men are created equal and endowed by God with unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson's intellectual heirs came, in time, to recognize that "men" must mean "human beings." The idea that all human beings are created equal is, quite simply, the magnetic north of our world's cultural compass though it was, in fact, initially a Judeo-Christian value whose earliest intimations are found in the Ten Commandments, the first moral code to make no distinctions among social ranks. (The thou in "Thou shalt not commit adultery," for instance, applied to all Israelites.)
Indeed, it is the self-evident equality of human beings to which Palestinians now implicitly appeal when demanding a homeland, to which Saddam Hussein now implicitly appeals when insisting that weapons inspectors compromise Iraq's national sovereignty, to which radical Muslim clerics now implicitly appeal when proclaiming their followers' right to self-determination.
If you accept as self-evident that all human beings are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights, then it follows that a culture in which such rights are respected is superior to one in which they aren't. Conversely, it's not difficult to conclude that a culture which systematically oppresses half of its population by denying women education, employment, and personal agency is self-evidently worse than a culture that recognizes women as autonomous human beings with a full panoply of rights.
The case of Sufiyatu Huseini is, to be sure, only one example, but it's a telling one not simply for the barbarity of her punishment but because she was sentenced by a court which suppressed evidence that she might have been raped and allowed the man she'd accused of fathering her illegitimate child to retract confessions he'd made in the presence of two policemen.
The Judeo-Christian West is not culturally superior to the Islamic East because Sufiyatu Huseini awaits a violent death. The fact that she awaits a violent death is a symptom, not a cause.
Hmm...lest Mr. Goldblatt get too self-congratulatory over the superiority of one culture over another he might consider that occasionally it's the supposed superiority of one stereotype over another, and that's not quite the same thing.
gasp. an unfair capital trial! next time we should show our superiority by sending them some texas public defendants to help out.
no. i'm in effect saying we should help them out.
"I-hate-my-own-culture" paradigm, knock yourself out. Rent a copy of Woodstock, and do it right.
woodstock in the 60's or 90's is not part of my culture. as proof that cultures can be better/worse, i'll look down on woodstock for you. but the 60's one sounds like it was better than the 90's ones -- if i had to choose.
So the Islamic world is superior to us? Is that what you're saying?
To me that is self-evident. You imply that
culture should be imposed (protected) by
government. Do you not see the danger
in using government for the continuance
of your definition of culture?
Of course you don't.
know what is best for everybody and will
use the power of the state to make sure
their mores prevail.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.