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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

The Age of Cultural Relativism is Over

Cultures across the globe are different. We vary in what we eat, what we wear, and the amount of personal space we need to feel comfortable, among many other things. Our diversity is what makes Earth so breathtakingly unique and exciting.

The years ~1990-2015 witnessed a trend among mostly white, privileged people attempting to be well-meaning. They worked hard to apply cultural relativism to fundamentally moral things. People would say, “You have to understand it in a cultural context.” 

The lie of cultural relativism has been blown wide open by so many things, chief among them the dying gasps of empire and the climate crisis. What has become increasingly obvious to most of us is just how similar we are, and the realization has clarified that we all face the exact same problems. 

From Thailand to Zimbabwe to Louisiana to Venezuela, every flavor of humanity is both fundamentally similar and being crushed under the same boots. This fact has never been more evident than it is now, which is why, despite all the horrors of 2024, humanity's incredible strength and beauty have never been more obvious. 

Bad News First. 

Cultural relativism is how we get things like Israel justifying its egregious use of force by saying, “Force is the only language the Middle East understands.” Those Arabs just can’t comprehend anything other than genocide. Never mind that Israel’s neighbors have tried nonviolent forms of resistance and de-escalation many times before, and have always been rebuffed, ignored, or massacred. 

It’s how we get scholars advocating against black men marrying white women, or any other [x] race shouldn’t marry [x] race because of oppression. It’s a straight line from “black men shouldn’t marry white women” to the extremist Israelis who publicly advocate for laws against Jewish-Arab marriage. 

A history of oppression is not a justification for perpetrating it. I want to distinguish between oppression and violence, because this is not a pacifist argument. While violence is sometimes necessary, oppression never is. China justifies the bullying of its neighbors in part by leaning on its historical oppression at the hands of Japan. India justifies its oppression of Muslims by anchoring on the Mughal empire. Israel is one large arm of the US capitalist empire, extending its tentacles to strangle the entire Middle East.

It’ll never stop if we don’t stop it. One party has to forgive. Someone must overcome their anger. 

A year and a half ago, I went through a hardcore radical feminist phase brought on and encouraged by X’s algorithms. It was so easy. I was so angry, and anger at something is a much more comfortable emotion than passive anger - the kind you have to sit with. The kind that eventually reveals itself as hurt.

For example, it would be so easy to want the Supreme Court to be made up entirely of women. Maybe we’ll give men one spot in a hundred years, just like they did to us. 

It would be so easy to look at the rate at which women are eclipsing men and think, finally! Now we have proof of female superiority!

But are women better, or have women spent millennia being forced to match society’s higher standards? Now the male standard is being raised to match. (Some) adult men are now going through what every woman endures in childhood. It’s a very jarring experience. 

As much as part of me wants to wash my hands of it (and some days, a large part of me wants to do that,) if I’m honest with myself, I know our society will only thrive if we help men raise themselves to their new bar. If we share our knowledge and the tools required to close the gap between their performance and their new expectations. Obviously, they have to be aware of the problem first - but we might even need to help them identify it! If we explain it to them with empathy and they still don’t get it, well, then it’s on them. 

Morality is where cultural relativism ends and our shared humanity begins: deep down, we all know right vs. wrong. We know it’s wrong to tell people not to marry other people based on their race. We know Female Genital Mutilation is bad, that women should be able to leave the house without male approval, and that every child deserves to be in school.

While there are economic (capitalistic), logistical, and religious reasons for these practices, there are no valid cultural reasons for them. Just because they’re intractable problems doesn’t make them intrinsic. 

The Good News. 

The lack of cultural relativism also goes the other way. Evidence of our similarities is everywhere! Isn’t it interesting how so many of the world’s cultures have a seafood soup, for example? Or some combination of rice + marinated meat? Or dumplings (soup dumplings, pierogi, ravioli, samosas, this list could go on forever.) 

The same way we instinctively know when something is bad irrespective of culture, we also know when something is good. Someone accustomed to bland food might not enjoy Malaysian cuisine, but they also probably won’t appreciate Creole food. And I doubt they’d try to claim their bland food is the best in the world, because even they know it isn’t. 

Western nations might emphasize individual autonomy, but I don’t think there are many sane people in the West trying to uphold the Western lack of collectivism as a positive development.  Instead, we hear about Western alienation and the lack of social connections.

We’re not just part of the same tapestry of humanity; at the end of the day, we’re all threads. We’re way more similar than we know, or at least than we used to know. Now we do. We know the elements of a good life. It might have different colors and flavors, and it might be located in different places, but it has the same elements: education, financial security, good food, lots of community, music, and dance. 

Humanity is incredible. Even in the face of all the violence and natural disasters, people still find joy. We fight for it. We deserve way more credit for how far we’ve come, especially considering how many cards are stacked against us.


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