Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"I try to be tolerant, but..."

Is a dangerous phrase, I know.

That said, I don't know what to do with traditions that I want to respect, but that treat women in ways I can't abide. (Actually, to me it feels like all traditions once treated women in ways I can't abide, some traditions are getting over it better than others. My culture is doing a better job of it than most.)

I am at a loss as to how to deal with it. I know an Arab guy whom I rarely see, luckily, who has a lot of ideas about women that I don't agree with. Whenever he lets loose with one of his little comments, I worry that to challenge him on it is sort of racist given his culture. But I can't help but think less of him. Maybe the assumption that his view comes from his background is itself racist.

My smart friend Pam was raised Baptist. When she came home from Sunday school and lectured her father that drinking alcohol was a sin, he would say “Believe everything but that.”

That’s what I want to say. “All cultures are equal, except when you get to the part about treating women as another species. Believe everything but that.”

Yet picking and choosing the cultural views that don’t clash too badly with my own doesn’t seem like a big improvement tolerance-wise.

This all comes to mind because of this article reminded me of one of his rants, although ironically it is by a Rabbi.

This is a serious reservation I have about teaching that all cultures are equally good. I want to believe that, but I look at how, for example, the Rabbi I've just linked to seems to think that mothers should hide breastfeeding from fathers as not to de-eroticize womens' breasts, and I know that in a lot of cultures these statements are perfectly reasonable.

It gave me pause to type "my culture is better at it than most" in the first paragraph, though I guess I tend to believe that other cultures do a better job on some things than my own culture does. But, perhaps for cultural reasons, those things are never things that are as important to me as some of the things like women's rights that I believe my own culture does a better job with. I don't want to believe that my culture's beliefs are superior to any other.

But what about when I do?

who is pretty sure she's missing something, but isn't sure what that thing is.


indrax said...

The use of reason has to trump the free search at some point, or it's all just pointless babble.

Anonymous said...

Why do you want to teach that "all cultures are equally good."?

Anonymous said...

I don't think tolerance means uncritical acceptance. Tolerance means making sure that criticism of other cultural viewpoints is based on understanding and reason.

Intolerance is just hating another culture or deeming it inferior because it is different. I don't see anything wrong however with criticizing practices and attitudes of other cultures if it is done intelligently and knowledgeably. We have to make value judgments.

PG said...

I think there are versions of every culture that are equally good (i.e. contribute just as well to human flourishing) depending on circumstances. For example, polygamy made sense in a situation where so many young men had died in war, and life was too primitive (based on upper body strength and other attributes inherent to men) for women alone to survive. So I have no time for the reactionary Christians who condemn Islam because Muhammad had multiple wives, including one who was an adolescent when they were married (Gandhi and his wife were married as children -- that doesn't mean they had sex, mind-in-the-gutter folks).

But I also have no time for Muslims who think that a family structure that made sense a thousand years ago still ought to be the way we live, and that anything that makes that structure seem stupid (women's education, independence, modern life generally) is a threat to be destroyed. I think traditions ought to fit to human beings, rather than cutting the people, Procrustes style, to fit the tradition.