Friday, February 11, 2011

Cultural relativism and us.

So I have been thinking, and although I did my best to argue my side on Tuesday, saying that there are universal rights and wrongs, I must admit that I am not so convinced myself. This is not to say that I do not believe in rights and wrongs, or that FGM is wrong, I do, however I am unsure as to what authority I have to pass judgement like that. Heres where I am coming from:

So the other day I was reading CNN online, and I stumbled upon this article addressing Julian Assange.
In this article the Swedish take the stance that they would not, if given the chance extradite Assange to America as they do not support Human rights violations. This really threw me off, seeing as I think I can speak for most Americans in saying that we generally think of our country as the sort that stands up for Human rights, not the sort that violates them, at least not with enough regularity to warrant such a harsh stance. After thinking about this though, I have come to realize that this is not the case. Assange's lawyers brought up a good point in saying that they were afraid for his safety if he were given over to America.

It seems that when we are talking about 'un-warranted' human rights violations, Americans are on board with saying "NO thats not right... EVER!" but I feel like then after we take this stance, we mumble under our breath "unless you really piss me off... then all bets are off." This is not a stance that is defendable in my opinion, yet I think that most people agree on some base primitive level that there are people out in the world who they would like to see have their human rights violated. Thus, I really don't know if anyone is in a position to judge what constitutes a human rights violation ABSOLUTELY, rather their may be some subjectivity involved.



  1. Interesting Colin. I want to focus my comment on your conclusion though. You believe that there are people in the world who some people would like to see their human rights violated. Do you really think this is true? I have a hard time believing that because in our own human nature how can we wish a violation of human rights upon another human being? I agree and think that individuals can have strong feelings of dislike or hatred towards a human being for reasons that could be numerous, but I can’t seem to grasp the idea of wanting someone to have their rights violated. However, I can understand how you think that defining a human rights violation could be subjective. I do not think that it could be subject based on an individuals want to violate another human beings rights though. I believe it could be subject based on other reasons. I’m not sure if I’m making sense in my argument, but please let me know if I am making myself sound unclear.

  2. Colin, it's definitely okay to admit that and I couldn't agree more. The question isn't right or wrong, it is context. 24 hour news networks sensationalize and capitalize on the slightest of human misery and label us with a global guilt. This comment will probably be taken out of context though...

  3. Colin, I completely agree with your statement that one cannot judge what constitutes a human rights violation absolutely, but that it is rather subjective. That is exactly what makes it so hard to talk about, for myself. I feel that there is so much subjectivity involved, in relation to different cultures and classes of people, it becomes hard (for me at least) to articulate exactly what a definite concrete human rights violation is in many situations. Things become muddled when jumping from culture to culture, and I do not think that we could necessarily ever come to a staunch conclusion on the issue. That is not to say, of course, that we should not try, but it is such a tricky subject. I think both sides of cultural relativism can easily (and in many ways strongly) argued, and until we as a collective worldly culture can come to some sort of agreement.


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