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Is there a word to describe this type of thinking?

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Capitalist Chris

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I've always associated this type of thinking as moral relativism or cultural relativism, but at least looking at these terms they don't seem to quite fit (though related).

So you have someone that is a cultural relativist. They don't view any culture as particularly right or wrong, better or worse, than any other. But when they look at different cultures, they see obvious differences. Some cultures do better than others. Some result in higher standards of living and others are poorer. This also applies to countries. Some countries are wealthier and some are poorer.

And this is where the fun happens. There is a balancing act. Since no culture is better than any other, I assume they expect similar outcomes. Since there are obvious differences between cultures, there is some sort of injustice. The culture doing good is brought down and the culture doing bad is often given the benefit of the doubt on its transgressions.

An example of this: In the Israel - Palestinian conflict, Israel is often described as committing genocide and the Palestinians are provoked into aggression. Israel is guilty of every evil and the Palestinians are misunderstood, victims that really aren't doing anything harmful.

Is there a term that describes this?

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I thought it's called multiculturalism. Although I don't think that most people really understand what that officially means.

Usually, when we think of culture, we think of everything but abstract ideas. We think of concrete customs, aesthetics, ethnicity and the like. The look and feel of it.

For example, if you think of Italian culture, you think of Pizza, you think of Pasta, you think of Opera Music, you think of predominantly European men and women with dark hair, you think of typical old Italian Roman-style houses with thick roofing tiles surrounded by Mediterranean cypresses, you think of Italian language, and on and on.

I think that's why most people are just completely flabbergasted and offended when you tell them that some cultures are superior to others. You can easily come across as a racist, because we usually think of and identify a culture on the perceptual level I described. So to most people, you appear to be saying, e.g., that British Eggs and Bacon should be considered something objectively "better" than Pizza. Or that English should be objectively "better" than Italian. Hence they just brush you off as stupid.

For the same reason, it is often said by most people that Americans have "no culture", "no cultural identity", just a hodgepodge of elements borrowed from "real cultures", and otherwise just "commercial stuff" from Coca Cola to Nike in a landscape dominated by public advertising and super malls.

Its mostly intellectuals who really identify a culture on the abstract philosophical level of individualism versus collectivism, science versus faith, capitalism versus socialism etc.

It took me a while, too, to get what certain people really mean, when they talk about the "culture" of a country.

So I think its most important to get the terms straight before starting a discussion with people about culture. You could otherwise easily be talking at cross-purposes with people. So you might misidentify their thinking, just as they might do yours.

Edited by DiscoveryJoy
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Thanks for the comments everyone.

Finding that magic word that encompasses all of what I'm looking for appears to be non-existent. Though I do agree multiculturalism is very close, but the problem with it is that most people already have a view of it. Normative moral relativism doesn't seem to catch the balancing act.

I agree with what you're saying DiscoveryJoy. You've hit exactly on what I'm trying to identify. I heard Evan Sayet talk about it in a speech titled "How Modern Liberals Think" or something along those lines. I don't agree with everything the guy says, but he's the first person I've really heard talk about it. 

It's just hard to have discussions when you see it happen because a whole new discussion needs to be had. I was hoping there was a word to explain it. Cultural relativism is an easy way of describing it, but this doesn't explain the balancing act.

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I didn't really get what you mean by the "balancing act" from the part where you introduced that term. Do you mean a view that culture itself just practically doesn't make any difference at all? Not the view that they lead to different results that should both be respected? But the view that they just are not an influencing factor, do not produce any difference in the existential result?

Why not call it a view of a general insignificance or impotence of culture?

Well, there is a legitimacy to that view, if you really define culture just in the "look-and-feel" sense I described. Wearing Lederhosen instead of Jeans truly makes no difference, it's just an aesthetic taste. Unless of course, you got people associating or expressing certain values with a certain aesthetics.

Edited by DiscoveryJoy
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  • 2 weeks later...

I guess what I'm getting at with balancing act is the way people compare two cultures (also applies to countries).

Take Israel and Palestine. Israel is a western democracy, a mixed economy, rule of law, rights, etc. Palestine is not any of these things. It's run by terrorists in the Strip. It executes people for being homosexuals. It's uncivilized.

The balancing act is the put down of Israel and the elevation of Palestine. Often you'll hear Israel described as Nazis. That Israel is practicing ethnic cleansing. That Israel has an apartheid state. And at the same time Palestinians are viewed as defending their land from invaders. Trying to get free from the clutches of Israeli occupation.

What is happening is that Israel is being put down, it's being said that Israel isn't so great. And Palestine isn't so bad. They're essentially balanced the two out. The ironic part is that Israel is labeled with what Palestinians are actually doing.

And you can see this balancing act happen in a variety of situations. US vs Iran, Rich Person vs Poor Person, Christian vs Muslim.

Here's a video with Evan Sayet. I don't agree with everything he says, but he brings up the point early on in the video (so you don't have to watch most of it). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaE98w1KZ-c

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