On Cultural Relativism
[P. J.] [RU] [FR]

On Cultural Relativism

Different cultures show up a lot of similarities in things and occurrences. On these grounds, many serious researchers are tempted to the attempts of "reconstructing" their common predecessor, or, at least, of ascribing all that to presumably intense intercultural relations. In this way, one can easily "discover" the incredibly fantastic routes of primitive tribe migrations, or their common acquaintance with the visitors from the outer space.

However, logically, similarity does not mean identity. Apparently the same can implement quite different functions in the culturally separated social groups. Thus, if we find a kind of a little bell in the remnants of an ancient civilization, there is no straightforward way to guess about its destination. On the other hand, we can get tons of evidence revealing an almost exact reproduction of some of our current wonts in remote ages, but it is not enough to believe that those far-away people regarded such acts in any similar manner. Of course, in the same natural conditions, the modes of action are mainly determined by the objective requirements, which get materialized in the means of production. Still, even here, there is a wide range of options. For instance, we

can safely conjecture that a manual press served for compressing or tightening something; but what could it be? It could be used to mould clay, to print books, or maybe just for ironing. One has to account for many supplementary circumstances to assert anything definite; still, nobody will vouch that life is not more intricate and surprising than all we could fancy.

Things grow even more complicated when it comes to reflection. The same words can express quite different, and even opposite things. Our concepts grow from our way of life, and even within the same epoch, in the same nation, the uniformity of the worldview is rather problematic.

The situation is aggravated by that the content of cultural realities tends to historically change. An electron now and a billion years ago, it's all the same. On the contrary, any artefact will gradually turn from an exotic windfall into a social utility, and then into an antique bagatelle, a museum exhibit or a collection article. The development of any spiritual product proceeds in a similar direction. What formerly was progressive, will grow reactionary; the moral is to become wicked; the necessary ends up in a sheer extravagance. Judging about anything by the norms of decline, we are bound to slip in slough of illusions.

The social status of most things follows the changes in the social structure. Thus, the meal of the poor fishermen, a soup from the remainders of catch that cannot be sold, is now served in the fashionable restaurants as the acme of refinement and a symbol of Provence. French cookies (biscuits) were invented to supply the travelers (especially sea-folk) with a relatively long-lived food; today, they are yet another way of savory self-indulgence. The same hold for many other delicatessen.

The economic and social institutions transform in exactly the same way. The franchise, the right to vote, that formerly was regarded as a privilege, something to continually and insistently struggle for, has long since degraded into a mere formality; the electoral democracy is nothing but a silly game, and more and more people are inclined to ignore any elections as a sheer waste of time. Hence the anxious attention of politicians to the participation rates; some countries even shift to obligatory voting.

No better with the informal culture. For example, people used to attend to all kinds of hangout ever since the most ancient times. Many public places were accommodated to this traditional habit. One went to a marketplace, to a pub, to the theater, or to the baths, not only to satisfy some practical need, but also to exchange a couple of words (or punches), to maintain or establish an acquaintance, to join a congenial company. From the brothel to a high society salon or a White House reception, they sought for personal contact first of all. And now? We plunge in a multitude just to stay all alone. For nowhere it feels as lonely as in the middle of an indifferent crowd. Nowadays, one cannot hide from the public life even in a private WC. Everything is saturated with the persistent duty of involvement in the universal swarm. And then a banal club party gives one a chance (provided you don't mix in the affairs of yet another petty mafia) to break the current of the purposeful activity, to take a human being away from their human nature. The society does not let people be worth of themselves; well, there is a perfect way to get rid of any worthiness, to get beyond care and conscience.

[Assorted Notes] [Unism]