Cultures and Human Rights

To hear that all cultures are "morally equal" and that all deserve the same 'respect' is something that really nauseates me. Even more than being false, it is harmful. All cultures are not equal, because not all cultures treat human beings with the same respect and dignity without discrimination; not all cultures provide its individuals with universal fundamental human rights. A culture that violates human rights is inferior to a culture that protects human rights, and I am not going to offer my unconditional respect for any culture that does the former. Of course, the tricky part begins when people begin to claim that human rights are also culturally relevant. Something like: "Your culture has your own version of human rights, and my culture has my own version of human rights, so you can't judge my culture based on your version."

First of all, such a conception of human rights goes against the very idea of universal human rights, that there is a set of rights that ALL humans are entitled to irrespective of which society they are born into. To believe in culture-specific human rights is to negate the idea of universal human rights. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that to believe in culture-specific human rights is not to believe in human rights at all. It sounds absurd to believe that women have a right to property if they are born in country A but do not have the right if they are born in country B. Of course, women in countries A and B do have different rights in practice, but it is entirely another matter to believe that this is how it should be. A person in country A cannot possibly believe that to give women property-rights is as equally morally valid as not giving women property-rights. Either ALL women born anywhere in the world have property-rights or ALL women born anywhere in the world do not have property-rights. It cannot be both. The various human rights that every culture endorses, it endorses in a manner as if those human rights were universal. No culture advocates human rights while advocating that these rights only exist within that particular culture and have no applicability outside it. To say so would be to undermine the validity of those human rights.

Secondly, true, there are different conceptions of human rights that vary cross-culturally, but it doesn't mean that they are all on equal footing. Some conceptions of human rights are better than other conceptions. A human rights charter that doesn't discriminate against women at all is better than a human rights charter that only partially discriminates against women. And why is one charter better? Because it is more in accord with human respect and dignity. Because it discriminates less. So yes, I do believe that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations is far superior to any other declaration of human rights that exists as yet (though a better version might come up in the future), most notably, The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, which I believe is a joke.

All cultures that fall short of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, my respect for them falls short in equal measure.

There, I have said it in unequivocal terms. Political correctness be damned.


Butters said…
Good and much-need post. I agree 100%.

One way of putting it is that there either are moral truths or there aren't. If there are, then these truths cannot be relative any more than truths about the Earth being round etc. If there aren't, then one can't justify ANY morality, not even the one in any particular culture.

Next time anyone shows support for cultural relativism, make them realize the nihilistic consequences of their own position. Their intuitions will most likely win out and they'll concede that relativism is BS; and if they don't, then avoid them because they might be a psychopath :P.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
good work
F. said…
Human rights are should not be different across cultures. Question 2:which human rights? Right to live? Be free? Love? Love who and how? A man, a woman? A consenting adult? A consenting 14 year old? Why or why not?
So I agree with you, and I also don't disagree with you, but I need to figure out universal human rights before I judge cultures and declarations as absolutely superior. Relatively superior, yes, they are. By far, often. But I can't say anything beyond that.
Anonymous said…
I don't believe there are moral truths. To consider one culture as less than the equal of another because it doesn't value people in the way that the the second culture does is to judge the first society by the values of the second. That therefore isn't a universal judgement, or an expression of a moral truth, but a mere elevation of the values of the second society above those of the first. I recognise that such judgements happen, have happened, and will happen, but not that they express a moral truth. Making moral value judgements of this kind are evidence of cultural change. It also happens, for a variety of reasons, that some values become very widely accepted, almost to the point where they become universal - a process which is happening very rapidly in the modern world - but this again doesn't in my view mean that such values somehow become universal truths, just that a particular social and value structure (culture if you like) is beginning to predominate. I fail to see why people are so frightened of there being no moral truth. Society needs, and will always employ, a moral framework within which to work, but this is surely just expedience. History teaches us that morality alters all the time to fit social conditions. As soon as individuals or cultures try to fix morality in one place then it rapidly becomes a contentious obstacle to human change. And note I am not confusing 'change' with 'progress'. I am using the word 'change' in a narrow factual sense. 'Progress', in a moral sense, doesn't exist. 'Change' on the other hand defines the natural (and probably the unnatural) world.
Komal Ali said…
'unequivocal' terms.