Judging cultures

Question of the Day August 14, 2011 – judging cultures and religions

Should all cultural or religious practices be respected on their own terms? Are we right to judge the moral standards of a different culture? If so, by what standards?

This is an interesting question.

Respect for other cultures certainly, and respect does not mean agreeing with or tolerating any particular aspect.

In terms of judgement – the term has a couple of distinctly different meanings.
Judgement in terms of assessing, is certainly to be encouraged.
Judgement in terms of some sort of declarative judgement in terms of right/wrong or good/bad is to be avoided if possible.

The standards of assessment that I use are:
Does it value individual life very highly?
Does it value individual liberty highly?
Does it tolerate diversity?
Does it value private property highly (as for many, property is part of their ability to assure their own lives)?

If the culture or religious practice fails on any of these key assessments, then I am unlikely to tolerate it.

[followed by]

Hi Jen, torch,Christine, Andrew, OM et al.

Morality for me is a stage dependent thing; and being entities that are largely habitual at many different levels, we tend to follow those habits established early in life – particularly in stressful situations.

In terms of the question posed by Jen about what “meta standards” we use to assess, that requires quite a bit of context.

In logic, when an entity without a distinction makes a distinction, then that distinction is most likely to be a simply binary; something like hot/cold, light/dark, wet/dry, high/low, right/wrong, good/bad, etc.

Very few things in reality are such simple binaries.

Most things in reality seem to be either instances of infinite classes of possibilities, or members of very large sets or collections of things.

It seems that we are each individuals that are complex multicellular organisms with a continuous cell line that goes back some 3 billions years. Each of our bodies has formed from a single cell that formed from the union of an egg and a sperm, then divided and differentiated from that beginning. Each egg and sperm came from a similar body, with a similar start in life, all the way back to the first single cell (with minor variations at different points along the paths).

Each of us begins with a brain that has very few fixed characteristics, and is basically an infinitely flexible action copying, perception storing and problem solving machine.

Each of us is born into a culture, including language and customs, that we copy and learn without question initially.

Each of us makes many distinctions during this learning process.
Many of those distinctions start as simple binaries.
Some of us hold on to some of those simple binary distinctions without question – particularly in areas like right/wrong, good/bad.

These ideas just come from the cultural context in which we happen to be born (which context seems to have evolved over millions of years).
These contexts can be very complex and very subtle in many ways, with many levels of meaning encoded within them.

All individuals need a cultural context to start from.
No individual could develop a complex language and technology themselves in anything like a normal lifespan. It seems probable that it took many thousands of generations of people to develop human language and custom to the point that we have it today.

At some point, most individuals get to the point where they are faced with a choice, of either continuing to work within the set of rules of their culture at some level; or to seriously question everything (no exceptions) and to go off on their own “path less travelled”.

With the aid of many who have gone before us, and who live around us, some of us have travelled beyond simple binary distinctions (like right and wrong, good and evil), and into infinite spectra of possibilities, probabilities and intersecting consequences of choices made.
In this process we learn to use all of the tools available to us to assess our own methods of gaining and assessing information – which includes our senses, our sensory enhancing tools, logic, reason, intuition, ….

We learn to cultivate and trust our intuitions, by immersing ourselves in various experiences and risking making choices “outside the box”.

In this world there is no security of certainty.
There is no knowledge of right and wrong.
All choices made are made in the full knowledge of the uncertainty and margins for error in all evaluations.
All choices are made in the full knowledge that sometimes there will be unintended consequences for which we must be responsible.
It is not a place for the faint of heart.

For me, any body of ideas that requires one to ignore the evidence of the senses is a threat to the survival of us all.
In that sense, for me, freedom of religion means the option to be free of religion – all of them.

For me religions serve as much use in the development of modern humanity as horses do in modern transport. Without doubt they were very useful in history, and they no longer serve any meaningful or useful role. Technology has moved on.

Certainly, the universe is vast and mysterious beyond the ability of any finite entity to imagine, and I expect that to always remain so, should I find a way to live for billions of years.

So, for me, morality is only useful in the very early stages of development, when all things are framed in contexts like right/wrong, good/evil, true/false. Once one has the beginnings of a conceptual grasp of contexts like infinity and probability, then one can, and must, move beyond morality (a set of rules for conduct); and into the realm of choice and consequence.

One must be willing to choose, and act, freely and repeatedly, for as long as one is able.

[followed by]

Hi christine

Rather than moralising, I think it is a definitional thing.

To me, a religion is something that has an element of fixedness about it – as in the Oxford definition “A particular system of faith and worship” that encourages people to ignore the evidence of their senses in favour of a particular “faith”.

To me, all such things seem to be contrary to the long term interests of individuals. There are many other things that are also contrary to their interests, like belief in particular political systems (patriotism) or monetary systems, etc; so often religion is the lesser of the “evils” present; and it remains an “evil” (“evil” defined as something counter to the long term interests of all and to be avoided if possible) in my world.

To me, any system that is open to revision by the evidence supplied by the senses is by definition science. By this definition, Buddhism is a scientific tradition.

By this definition, many who call themselves scientists, but are dogmatically attached to particular interpretations are in fact religious about those interpretations.

By this interpretation, the true scientist is certain of little or nothing, if pressed. All things are bordered by probability functions.
Operationally, everyone has to trust something sufficiently to act in the moment. The more terrifying the moment, the further back to our early beliefs our brain is likely to take us. This just seems to be how the brain is wired. This seems to be how meditation is actually so beneficial, in that it enables practitioners to avoid going into high stress mode, and enables them to maintain higher level contexts in situations that in most people would cause a reversion to a much earlier context.

So no, for me it is not usually a matter of moralising about religion (and that probably does happen from time to time – perfect I am not!!! ), it is more a matter of simply assessing the likely long term effects of the systemic incentives within the structures.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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2 Responses to Judging cultures

  1. holessence says:

    It’s my perspective that your standards of assessment are excellent!


  2. Thanks Laurie.
    Nice to know I have some alignment 😉


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