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Anthropology and social morals
April 20th, 2008 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: none ]

So, last year sometime, I read a story about a Brazilian tribe and the ritual infanticide they perform. I couldn’t really understand or process what I was reading. What was especially disturbing to me was this quote:

“We are fighting against doctors and anthropologists who say we must not interfere with the culture of the people.”

Are you kidding me? We’re not talking about shoving hooks into your back or lengthening your neck with brass coils. The only way I could describe it is ritual murder. It kind of put me off blogging for awhile because I really wanted to write about it but I didn’t really know anything about anthropology (and have barely scratched the surface since).

To try and rectify this, I bought Philip Carl Salzman‘s book, Understanding Culture. Most of what I read was interesting but inherently untestable as is the norm for Social Sciences. I got about halfway and I came across this definition of Relativist epistemology in the glossary:

“A position that what you believe is ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ is the result of your social position and cultural background and that for someone with a different social position and cultural background something different and perhaps conflicting will be ‘true’. Thus there is no absolute ‘truth’ and no definite ‘knowledge’ that is not culture bound.”

So the anthropologist line is, we are not equipped to understand it, so we must let it continue. Just stand by and let it happen. I can’t believe what a cop out that is. We’re not talking about free-thinking adults here. We’re talking about defenseless children. Had these children the informed option, I’m pretty sure they’d choose life over ritual death. Why is nothing being done to educate these tribes? Why are anthropologists so hellbent on preserving this bizarre belief system?

What’s more, these people are part of a constitution that claims to respect the, “…inviolability of the right to life…“. Why then are they allowed, to continue these practices and act as if they are a law unto themselves. It just blows my mind. Anyway, let’s pretend that there is no rule of law in Brazil shall we. It makes things way to easy.

I think ultimately it comes down to this. Either the tribes haven’t had the opportunity to be educated or they rejected it when it came along. If it’s the former, then the answer is obvious. It’s the latter that I can’t come to grips with. This tribe treats the children like animals, ready to be slaughtered. What harm would there be in giving them up to the authorities?

Furthermore, according to cultural relativism, I’m as bound to my culture as the tribes are. Therefore, were I in a position to help these children, would I not be compelled to help them?