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How can you prohibit or restrict anyone's cultural norms or say they're better or worse than our culture?

Is there an objective barometer by which this can be achieved?

asked Nov 17 '10 at 20:15

Michael's gravatar image


edited Nov 20 '10 at 04:51

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦

Certainly, cultures are not all equal and there is an objective way to measure them—just as people are not all equal, and there are objective standards of morality.

You judge a culture by its ideas, values, and accomplishments. Are its ideas true? Do its values lead to people living healthy, happy, prosperous lives? Does the culture make progress in science, industry, the arts?

For instance: Does a culture value individualism? Or is the individual generally considered subordinate to the family, the state, or the race? Does the culture value reason? Or is superstition rampant? Does it value achievement? Or does it "cut down the tall poppies"? How religious is it, overall? How idealistic? How cynical?

Of course, there are individual variations within any culture. But there are also dominant trends, which are what is at issue in judging a culture as a whole.

Much more available from the Ayn Rand Institute's website on multiculturalism.

answered Nov 20 '10 at 04:59

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦

I like your answer to the question better than mine. However, it does not address the comment that the question added, "How can you prohibit or restrict anyone's cultural norms..." Whatever the value or lack thereof of a culture, prohibiting or banning it is an act of force that is not allowable in a free society. I may see no value to be found from worshiping a supernormal being, however, that does not allow for me to prohibit such silliness.

(Nov 22 '10 at 12:58) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

Thanks, I missed that part of the question. I agree that no one has the right to prohibit anyone else from living by whatever ideas or values they hold. The only restrictions are the normal ones on criminal activity (for instance, no marrying underage girls, no honor killings, no human sacrifice; parents are required to give proper medical care to their children).

For what it's worth, this applies to any values—whether a person got them from some tradition, or came up with them on their own. The fact that values are cultural makes no difference to the law.

(Nov 23 '10 at 03:31) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

As posed, the question is easily answered by denying prohibiting or restricting cultural norms. In a free society, persons are allowed unrestricted cultural norms with exception of those that advocate force or violence. Once force and/or violence are used or advocated, one is no longer dealing with cultural differences but with unacceptable actions. This applies whether it is the government or individuals who use such unacceptable means.

The barometer used is not a subjective assessment of the value, goodness, or lack of goodness of the other culture. The barometer used is that of unacceptable means being used to achieve ends. Ends, however admirable, cannot justify use of means that are not acceptable.

A somewhat different take on this issue relates to the use of legalistic "force" to restrict cultures. Specifically, we have seen increasing use of lawsuits and related actions to restrict Islamic society in the US. The most egregious of this has been the ongoing suits and threats of using property under public domain legislation in order to prevent construction of mosques in various sites including near to the Twin Tower site.

answered Nov 19 '10 at 08:33

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

I answered this question in a recent edition of my Rationally Selfish Webcast. An audio recording of my response is available here on my blog NoodleFood, starting at 41:26. My basic view is that the proper standard for all moral judgments -- whether of individuals or cultures -- is human life and happiness.

answered Dec 31 '10 at 21:33

Diana%20Hsieh's gravatar image

Diana Hsieh ♦

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Asked: Nov 17 '10 at 20:15

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Last updated: Dec 31 '10 at 21:33