A really interesting piece on the notion and consequence of race in America. The focus is on the perceived attractiveness of various races and genders. This article traces some of the historical origins and evolution of how we came to hold the beliefs that we do as a society. Attraction is largely an intuitive response cultivated by many different factors that work on our psyche over our lifetimes. Influences include our family background, friends, neighborhoods and schools as well as media influence and societal beliefs.
“If you think of Asian men or black women as less attractive than other races, it is because of you, not because of them, Sharma says. Since the day you were born, different influences on your mind – the bedtime stories your Mom read, the cartoons you saw as kid, the school you went to and the wallpaper on your computer – have come together to create a cohesive image of the world.”
When discussing the practices of other cultures, debates coalesce around two positions:
Moral Relativism: Rights are culturally dependent and there are no moral principles that should apply to all people. Societies should be able to do whatever they want and we shouldn’t judge them.
Moral Universalism: There are certain absolute moral truths (i.e. Human rights) and we should hold people accountable to those truths.
This debate has existed for a long time and in an increasingly global world, these arguments will not go away. Below are some interesting and in some cases, disturbing, examples of cultural practices that go from strange (ritually marrying a dog) to terrifying (burning witches and killing albino).
Is there a moral position from which to judge these if they are from radically different cultures from ours? If so, is there a reciprocal right others have to judge our practices? Can we act upon our judgments? What if acting on these judgments involved intervention in other cultures that don’t want it?
1. Girl marries stray dog to ward off evil spirit
2.Papua New Guinea Is Still Burning “Sorcerers” at the Stake
3. Tanzanian gangs hack off limbs of albinos for traditional rituals
“The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis has changed the way many people look at the relationship between language, thought and cultural perception of reality. It has influenced many scholars and opened up large areas of study. While many like Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf support the notion that language strongly influences thought and others argue that language does not influence thought, the evidence from research indicates that language does influence thought and perception of reality to a degree but language does not govern thought or reality.”
Here are a few sites that document words that exist in other languages but not in English.
What does it mean that these words don’t exist in English? Do these words tell us something about the cultures they come from? About us? Is it generally random chance that cultures invent words for some concepts but not for others? If a word can’t directly be translated, does it mean that the concept cannot truly be known to nonnative speakers of those languages?
“The team also found that some of these differences could change over time. They taught the Dutch speakers to think about pitch as thin or thick, and soon these participants, too, found that their memory of a tone was affected by being shown a bar that was too thick or too thin. They found that younger Cantonese speakers had fewer words for tastes and smells than older ones, a shift attributed to rapid socioeconomic development and Western-style schooling.”