This week it was revealed that a New York Times editor has decided that the newspaper should not use the term “female genital mutilation” as “culturally loaded” and might insult “people who follow the rite.” It is the culmination of a trend across the country where students are being trained to spot and avoid any form of cultural bias, a push that can be highly beneficial or highly damaging in how one defines bias. At the risk of total social isolation, it may be time to speak in favor of cultural bias, at least when it comes to founding principles of human rights.
Health and Science editor Celia Dugger said that she gained an appreciation for “genital cutting” after a trip to Africa in the 1990s. She came to understand that people in the area did not view this as mutilation.
The West is rapidly embracing notions of cultural relativity – rejecting any statements that might be viewed as judging the culture or practices of others. There is a rejecting of any objective truth in judging other cultures. That rejection of objectivity reached its zenith this week with the New York Times. It cannot be said that forcing girls into clitoridectomy is grotesque and abusive. That would be culturally loaded and who is to say that it is really wrong. To be wrong, there must be some objective truth, which is rejected as a cultural artifact.
Truth is now viewed as a loaded and subjective notion. To suggest that there are inherent truths (as embodied in our Declaration of Independence and other founding documents) is merely an exercise of privilege and dominance. Indeed, Western culture is now generally condemned while other cultures are treated as inherently meaningful and valid.
The movement to understand and respect other cultures can sometimes mutate into a rejection of any notion of our own cultural truths and beliefs. We can no longer express revulsion at FGM – a facially harmful and barbaric form of abuse.
We have had too many abuses to mention from slavery to sexism to homophobia. We have confronted those abuses and continue to do so. However, if there is no objective truth and all values are equal, there is no baseline or foundation for measuring freedom. Indeed, freedom becomes just another quaint concept of the culturally invested.
Of course, when Martin Luther King said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” he was presuming that there was some objective truth. Indeed, he believed that there was some definable morality that was not culturally dependent. If all morals and practices are equal, there is no arc or evolutionary curve but only a series of isolated points of different cultures. To put it simply, I do not believe that cultural practices (like people) are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable Rights. Before we become cultural relativists, we should consider what we are giving up.