The Fear of Ethnocentrism and the Death of Standards

To traditional Americans, judging the quality of a culture was a commonsense and everyday practice that acknowledged a common standard for all people… this common cultural standard was the opposite of bigotry.

To traditional Americans, judging the quality of a culture was a commonsense and everyday practice that acknowledged a common standard for all people. Though Americans have been persuaded by progressives to be ashamed of it, this common cultural standard was the opposite of bigotry. That some cultures and subcultures came closer to that standard than others was obvious to them.

In contrast, a devout progressive is unwilling to make judgements about cultures (except of course regarding the superiority of progressive society over traditional American society). Newthinkers unconsciously believe that it is arrogant to judge other cultures because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.

The unconscious logic supporting this belief goes like this, starting from the “Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble” branch of the newthink worldview tree:

• Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble.
• All cultures are equally virtuous because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.
• It is arrogant to judge other cultures because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.

 

As newthink takes over, people become increasingly unwilling to judge even the products of various foreign cultures or American subcultures. The idea of a hierarchy of cultural quality is anathema to devout newthinkers. Heavy metal music is as good as classical music which is as good as rap. Tattoos and piercings are as good as evening dress which is as good as sweats. Cultural standards are out the window because all cultures, hence all cultural products, are equal. Newthinkers believe that America is not exceptional; that it has in fact been an oppressive and exploitative force; that its cultural output is not in any way superior to that of any other cultures; and that its traditional culture should not perpetuate.

Bust of Herodotus. 2nd century AD. Roman copy ...

Bust of Herodotus. 2nd century AD. Roman copy after a Greek original. On display along the portico of the Stoa of Attalus, which houses the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, ethnocentrism is a habitual trait of humanity. Anthropologists point out that ethnocentrism causes every culture to believe that it is the pinnacle of humanity, sometimes to the point where others are viewed as less than human. Herodotus, the Greek historian, described the ethnocentrism of the ancient Persians like this:

Of nations, they honor most their nearest neighbors, whom they esteem next to themselves; those who live beyond these they honor in the second degree; and so with the remainder, the further they are removed, the less esteem in which they hold them. The reason is that they look upon themselves as very greatly superior in all respects to the rest of mankind, regarding others as approaching to excellence in proportion as they dwell nearer to them; whence it comes to pass that those who are the furthest off must be the most degraded of mankind.*

But ethnocentrism doesn’t require distance. As Yi-fu Tuan discusses in his book Topophilia, in northwestern New Mexico there are five distinct cultures whose ethnocentrism helps maintain their cultural integrity and distinctiveness in the face of modern media and continual intermingling. Each of these groups describe themselves as “people.” the Spanish-Mexicans call themselves la gente; the Zuni, “the cooked ones”; the Navaho, dineh; Mormons, the “chosen people”; the non-Mormon European-Americans refer to themselves as “real Americans” or the “white man.”** Similarly, in a nearby area, the Cherokees referred to themselves as ani-Yunwiya, meaning “real people.”***

Progressives, aware of ethnocentrism, assume that they suffer from the same degree of cultural chauvinism. Thus they are reluctant to criticize or oppose foreign cultures. They instead prefer to believe that all cultures are equally virtuous and that, besides, outsiders can’t truly understand the essence of other cultures. To avoid the taint of being perceived as cultural chauvinists, newthinkers make the leap from believing in the nobility of all human beings to believing in the nobility of all human cultures. The see-no-evil syndrome takes over: they focus on the good in other cultures and become blind to the bad. If one is looking for the good, one is always going to find it; if one is blind to the bad, one is never going to see it.

In reality, it’s arrogant not to judge other cultures because it displaces a universal standard of ethics on the grounds that we as inherently noble human beings can do better.

And so our current cultural self-consciousness has developed into diffidence and embarrassment at the idea of anything special about American culture. But all this is sophistry. In reality, it’s arrogant not to judge other cultures because it displaces a universal standard of ethics on the grounds that we as inherently noble human beings can do better. It is much more arrogant – and easier – to think that all cultures are equally virtuous, and let non-judgement reign.

*  William Steams Davis, Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, Volume 2: Greece and the East, (Allyn and Bacon, 1912), pp. 60-61.

** Yi-fu Tuan, Topophilia, (Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 31.

*** James Mooney, Historical Sketch of the Cherokee, (Aldine Transaction, 2005), p. 3.

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