and I’m having trouble with my computer. So I won’t be exactly long winded for a change ;-).
There are many reasons for people to pursue a particular lifestyle or live in a particular culture. Some do it by choice [disregarding for practical reasons that any discussion about “choice” will sooner or later approach the “free will” dilemma], others less so – if for genetic or societal or whichever reasons. And in many instances there is no clear-cut criterion for a moral ranking of any of these lifestyles or cultures – they are incommensurable.
I have been confronted with this thought twice tonight. For the first time while I have been reading a recommendable essay by the University of Chicago’s Richard A. Shweder. It is called “Moral Maps, ‘First World’ Conceits and the New Evangelists” and deals with some problems relating to the seemingly eternal moral rivalry of “cultural relativism” and “moral universalism”.
Richard A. Shweder is an anthropologist, but as he states himself in the essay, that doesn’t actually say a lot about a person’s belief system (anymore). I very much enjoyed reading this essay although I do not agree with his final conclusion that the world’s cultures will not converge economically if cultural conversion to western values should indeed be a condition for this to happen. But read and decide for yourself.
And then – the second time – I found a practical example of the new evangelism/moral universalism Mr Shweder was alluding to – even within the geographical “west” – an article on MSNBC news about a new mission Southern Baptists (apparently a larger American evangelical denomination) have assigned themselves to –
“The Southern Baptist Convention announced a new initiative Tuesday to convince gays that they can become heterosexual if they accept Jesus Christ as their savior and reject their ‘sinful, destructive lifestyle.'”
I might disagree with Mr Shweder with respect to the question of cultures choosing less productive economic models over more productive ones in order to preserve socialised identities in the very long run (in my opinion, the real question here is, how exactly does de- and re-institutionalisation of cultural elements and their importance for individual identities work in reality – a question to which the Iraki “adventure” will probably add some observations) but I doubt the Southern Baptists will be particularly successful on their latest mission…
OK, now that was a bit longer than I thought it would be.