Abuse of Cultural Relativism
Raised up in a Christian household, I considered same sex relationships as taboo. Furthermore, I was never accustomed to seeing same sex couples anywhere in public nor on television growing up in Korea–a relatively conservative nation at the time. Thus, the idea of opposite sex couples became the ideal model, and I was appalled and uncomfortable when I first witnessed a gay couple displaying public affection. But did I have the authority to determine if their relationship was natural? Cultural relativism tries to open up the narrow minded views of individuals by suggesting that individual human beliefs should be understood by others in terms of that individual’s culture. Although cultural relativism provides individuals an open-mindedness for different moral codes, accepting the idea wholeheartedly takes away freedom of choice and limits further progress.
From the five moral codes James Rachels states in “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism,” most people would agree on the first code: “Different societies have different moral codes.” Regardless of whether cultural relativism is true or whether they believe in those moral codes themselves, society as a whole can generally agree that the moral codes of Saudi Arabia greatly differ from that of America. For example, in Saudi Arabia, the practice Wahhabism forbids men from shaving, and women are forced into wearing a black abaya which cover all but their hands and eyes; both activities are a rarity in America. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia bans distractions such as music, dancing, and alcohol, which are arguably the top three social indulgences of Americans (Laipson). Clearly, the two cultures have different moral values that they adhere to.
The second code of cultural relativists takes the idea a step further and states that the moral code of a society regulates what actions are acceptable, at least within their society. While this can apply to certain practices such as the consumption of dogs, veganism, and even cannibalism, a line is drawn when this idea takes away freedom. Acceptable cannibalism does not mean murder, but a cultural practice: in some countries, dead ancestors are consumed by younger generations as a tradition. All three of these practices is a product of human choice. People choose to eat dogs, people choose to be vegan, and people choose to be eaten, but in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where strict practices of Wahhabism are forced upon citizens, the moral values were chosen for them. Additionally, many laws are strictly for women and often times they are incredibly oppressive. In addition to the requirement of wearing a black abaya, women have to obtain permission from their husband or their father to leave their household, women are not entitled to the same education as men, and until recently, women had no rights to vote (Laipson). According to cultural relativism, these actions are acceptable since they are the moral standards of the socie...