14 September 2010

Revisiting Relativism

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
You're Not Helping - Iran's Crisis of Modernity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Watching the preceding segment from The Daily Show led me to think about our discussions dealing with relativism and essentialism.

The gist of The Daily Show's clip is that Iran's government has begun a nuclear weapons program, thus participating in the modern world, and yet also recently sentenced a woman to death by stoning, a barbaric practice that dates back to Ancient Greece where a group of people execute someone by throwing large stones at the accused until they die, after finding her guilty of adultery. As someone who attempts to look at things in a relativistic manner, it's important to determine how exactly to define where cultural boundaries lie.

When it comes to "different culture," it's difficult to get more different than Iran. Iran is located on the other side of the world and is ruled as a dictatorship with very little room for the people to have a voice. The last election in Iran was wildly fraudulent with plenty of evidence to suggest that many of those who spoke out against the government's actions during the election were silenced in some fashion, whether that meant jail or murder. Oftentimes, the overall attitude of the government is interpreted as misogynistic by other countries, thinking Iran backwards in its attitude towards women. As a relativist, am I supposed to just accept that those are just some of the differences between our culture and accept them? My own inherent cultural bias prevents that.

But I had an epiphany while watching the above clip with Jon Stewart. In the last twenty years, especially in the previous decade, our global culture has changed dramatically thanks to the Internet. Previously, the story of a woman sentenced to death would not have made air, let alone cause a righteous stir. In a past context, it's possible that such a story would be written off because of the far-away nature of Iran, both geographically and culturally. But couple that with the modern achievement of a nuclear arms program and Thomas Friedman's "flat-world" argument (summed up in such a way, probably too succinctly, that the world is now a level-playing field to the extent that local cultures risk losing their individuality), and Iran looks horribly out of touch.

If our world is moving to a global culture and that movement leads to a more accepting world of equal rights for all genders, creeds, religions, races and orientations, then it stands to reason that, from a relativistic standpoint, Iran is incorrect in how its unfair and disproportionate treatment of women. This is our time and our culture right now, so deeming Iran's misogynistic positions immoral doesn't feel like such a stretch. In the end, it's a terrific example of Iran wanting to have its cake and eat it, too.

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