Or, why I don’t care about ethnocentrism.
When pronouncing judgement on the practices of another country, it isn’t uncommon to be accused of “ethnocentrism”. I believe this term is worse than useless: it is a package deal attempt to surpress debate and cripple judgement.
The real problem with this word is that it starts with “ethno”, as in “ethnicity”. Ethnicity is a muddy concept that I tend to avoid, but is generally understood to mean some sort of social grouping based on tradition.
- an ethnic quality or affiliation resulting from racial or cultural ties; “ethnicity has a strong influence on community status relations”
The problem with the concept “ethnicity” is that it packages together the ideas of culture and race. As such, it tends to leave out the crucial distinction that culture is something chosen by individuals, and race is not. This is a pretty important distinction to make, because when we don’t make it we are able to label those who judge other cultures as racist.
“Ethnocentric” certainly implies this: it implies that a particular judgement is simply the product of your ethnicity, a different ethnicity might reach a totally different judgement. To be unwilling to tolerate such differences in “ethnicity” is to be intolerant of other people, it is to be racist.
This is egalitarian nonsense that I have several objections to:
- It is, ironically, racist. Not racist in the “judging another culture” way, but in the “black people are stupid” way. The implication is: “Who are Group X to hold these ideas? They have their own X ideas, we couldn’t possibly attempt to persuade them of our Y ideas, that would be denying them the right to carry on doing X things”.
- Ideas are wrong or right. Judaism is worthless nonsense (there is no god) that drives people to mutilate their children’s penises. Islam is a justification and motivation for intolerable barbarism. Christianity is an irrational book of fairy tales supported by psychologically crippling institutions that cover up the sexual assault of children. Nazism and communism are disgusting dispensations of the individual which lead to a bloodbath.
Other ways of life aren’t just “different” – they are either better, or worse, for human beings. To suggest that other people ought to live in inhuman conditions (such as Shari’ah law or Maoism) in order to preserve some tradition is not being humane: it is to suggest that humans are not individual actors, but pieces in a cultural museum for us to gawk at. Humanity is not a zoo – individuals must be respected, to hell with tradition!
- Groups can’t choose ideas. Somebody doesn’t think and act a certain way because they belong to a certain group, they do it because they choose to. Either one chooses to critically evaluate and select his philosophy (which may well involve rejecting the culture he was born into) – or he chooses to passively absorb the ideas around him. Either way, he has made a decision for himself.
- It is profoundly arrogant. “One cannot judge other cultures” means: “One cannot judge other ideas”. This amounts to saying “No cultural sentiment can be called true or false, except this very proposition which is always true”.
This is accepted because “ethnicity” is a package deal. It encompasses race (which is no basis for judging other human beings, since they do not choose it and it has no external or internal relevance) and culture (which is the primary basis for justing others, since it is volitional and has massive external and internal relevance.)
We should judge other cultures critically, and we should not judge other races. I am proudly “culture-centric”: the western way of life is better. I am also emphatically anti-racist: race has zero bearing on the merits, virtues or vices of an individual. These views are not incompatible, they are direct corollaries of one another that follow from one observation: individuals matter.