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For them 'gays in the military' is a necessity.
November 21, 2002 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Now, in response to yesterdays shocking data that Americans are an unworldly, culturally ignorant batch, we bring you a much needed ethnographic survey. Take time to learn about The Semen Warriors of New Guinea. Not since the Yanomamo, have anthropologists found a group so vital to our quest of understanding the limits and details of human nature.
posted by dgaicun (70 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or, for a more serious, well-rounded account.
posted by dgaicun at 7:16 AM on November 21, 2002


*sigh*

psuedo-anthropologist Jared Diamond has intermittently lived among this Melanesian tribe for over three decades. Of them he says:

My perspective on this controversy comes from 33 years of working with New Guineans in their own intact societies. From the very beginning of my work with New Guineans, they impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is.

Though he is quite fond of them, the Sambia, like the yanomamo, are among the least advanced hunter-gatherer tribes left on earth. Also like the Yanomamo their behavior is certainly evil by modern standards as well. Their systematic sexual abuse of 7 year old boys, and ritual homosexuality, are as interesting to anthropologists as their frequent genocidal relationship with their neighbors. The questions raised about human nature are fascinating. Are human beings predisposed to kill, held in check only by the mutually upheld agreement called modern society? Napoleon Chagnon, one of the most important scientist to work with the Yanomamo, has led the way in convincing the scientific and anthropological communities that this is so. Diamond, who lives has lived among-hunter-gatherers also notes the status-giving powers of murder among the smallest organized units of human society. Our behavior closely resembles the genocidal bonds formed among male chimps, who also raid neighboring tribes, for seemingly, no better reason than to kill, and inflict injury.
The sexual behavior of the Sambians also raises questions on the nature of human sexuality.
posted by dgaicun at 8:46 AM on November 21, 2002


* continues the attempted redeeming *

Actually, I disagree that this behavior can be considered ritual homosexuality. As I understand the cultural mind-set of the tribe (from your links and from a few others I googled to make sure this was real), they don't consider it to be homosexual at all, and in fact, once a male does reach sexual maturity (fully primed, so to speak) and has sex with a female (even once) the fellatio must stop. After maturity, they apparently have just as much a cultural bias (if that is the correct word) against "homosexuality" as any other tribe or group. That said, the extreme to which the tribes beliefs goes is astonishing and disturbing to western sensibilities.
posted by yhbc at 8:55 AM on November 21, 2002


Thank you yhbc!

Actually, I tend to agree with you. I am not sure exactly why people become homosexuals. No one is. But you are correct, if we define homosexuality as a pair-bonding attraction, the Sambians have a rate near 5%, close to the western rate, and perhaps a universal one.

This article uses The Sambians as evidence against the genetic theory of homosexuality, a theory which it looks to support.

btw, the link titled 'No one is', is really good. People should read it.
posted by dgaicun at 9:11 AM on November 21, 2002


The question I have is whether the boys are traumatized by the experience.

Or, in terms that are sure to be politically incorrect, whether children are harmed by sexual experiences, or by the attitudes toward sex put forward by the society they live in...
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2002


If by "traumatized" you mean "unable to function in their society", certainly not. They believe that what they are doing is not only okay, but necessary, to mature to adulthood and take their place in it. It's a cultural norm for them; just not for the rest of humanity. Does that make it wrong? That's the real question which is raised. I'd say not in this instance, because no one is "hurt", but again that depends on which perspective you look at it from. Now, if there were a tribe that honestly and sincerely believed that it was necessary for a youth to kill and drink the blood of an outsider in order to reach maturity, that would be wrong. This is much closer to the line.
posted by yhbc at 9:52 AM on November 21, 2002


Traumatized is a very clumsy word for what I was wanting to say. Alas, I'm a little groggy this morning and can not think of a less inciteful, more accurate way of stating the question. Ugh.

Y'all may begin flaying me alive now. Sorry.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:55 AM on November 21, 2002


It's a intruging link, the book Our Kind by Marvin Harris (apologies for the amazon link) has quite a bit on the concept of homosexuality as the forum of fostering mansculinity. I am highly interested in the subject matter myself: all the little culturally induced perceptions we all take for granted about gender roles, and a "man's place" and all that. As a side note, can this really be considered "abuse" since all participants are seeped in the concept that this is how men are made? I could take a major tangent and bring up the modern, western practice of male circumcision, but I'll leave that can of worms alone. My basic point is, they percieve their rituals not only as right, but as necessary. Through their cultural lens, this is the way the world works. The boys might be scared at first, but in a hunter-gather society, rituals that bind loyality relationships between individuals are vital for the functioning and success of the tribe as an interactive whole.

But I don't really understand the need for the gigantic, much less trademarked linking method. It would seem to detract quite a bit from the actual content of the link, and make a mockery of whatever point you're trying to make, dgaicun. You've sort of lost the moral high ground to be offended that your thread got derailed.

On preview, what y2karl said.
posted by nelleish at 9:56 AM on November 21, 2002


*blinkblink* erm, well ignore everything I said after the first paragraph break then, I seem to have missed the boat on that one! Refreshing trim, however
posted by nelleish at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2002


Jeffrey Eugenides published a short story about an anthropologist studying a tribe with similar customs - I think it was in the 2000 New Yorker Summer Fiction issue, but can't remember the name of it.

Hermaphrodites figured heavily into it.

It's an extremely interesting signifier of the importance of culture in regards to sexuality: whereas I come from a country that has only recently come to terms with men performing fellatio on each other (and has serious issues with boys performing it on men), the Sambia seem to have a very different approach.
posted by rocketman at 10:16 AM on November 21, 2002


The New Guinea thing is not that new if one has even a basic knowledge of the Ancient Greece civilization

I come from a country that has only recently come to terms with men performing fellatio on each other (and has serious issues with boys performing it on men)

well what country is that? it _should_ have "issues" about boy-man sex, right? In the modern world paedophilia _is_ a bad thing and also illegal in most civilized countries I can think of
posted by matteo at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2002


Heh, a Gettingit.com article on Metafilter.
posted by waxpancake at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2002


Their culture is dying out? Marvellous. As long as people have written about and studied them, I am glad that the Sambians are giving up their horrible practices and beliefs. They deserve better, and I wouldn't wish this culture on anyone.

This thread has had its essence sucked from it.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:37 AM on November 21, 2002


dgaicun, your quote from Jared Diamond is highly misleading - the controversy he is addressing in your quote is about whether different races are generally more/less intelligent than others, not the sexual practices of the Sambia. (For the curious, it's from the preface to Guns, Germs and Steel.) Also, I don't think (although I could be wrong), he is only addressing this particular tribe in the quote. I don't even find a mention of the Sambians in the index.
posted by icathing at 10:42 AM on November 21, 2002


icathing,

I probably should have taken out the first 'controversy' part (yes, unrelated), but I wanted to include the 33 year part of the sentence. The purpose of that quote was not about the child abuse, it was about the relative intelligence and humanity of the tribe by a sensitive witness. I didn't want people to dismiss the tribe as sub-human, but to understand that what applies to them as complete humans also applies to us equally. Without this belief, I'm not sure their actions can be evaluated as having any relevance to us. Afterall, we could think, 'they abuse child simply because they are savages- It is their essence, not ours'.
I'm am not sure if the tribe Diamond works with is the Sambian exactly, but it is definitely a very closely related Melanesian people and culture. Diamond has written of his tribe practicing the abusive behavior exactly as described in the linked articles.
posted by dgaicun at 11:16 AM on November 21, 2002


rocketman: Hermaphrodites figured heavily into it.

Somewhat pertinent: The 'Guevedoces' of the Dominican Republic. What, if anything, does it do to gender attitudes, when 2% of individuals effectively change sex at puberty? Very Ursula Le Guin.
posted by raygirvan at 11:49 AM on November 21, 2002


The question I have is whether the boys are traumatized by the experience.

It's a cultural norm for them; just not for the rest of humanity. Does that make it wrong?

This raises some uncomfortable questions which I'll get to shortly. One possible genetic possibility that I find interesting from this is that the Sambian rates of pair-bonded homosexuality are similar to ours. Despite years of homosexual abuse, the boys still generally prefer female company at rates similar to ours. The frequent oral/anal encounters doesn't make them any more or less likely to become homosexual.

Going back to the abuse and the environmental factor I am compelled to disagree that the abused children grow up to be psychologically healthy, but let's assume, for the sake of argument, that humans can be socialized to accept rape, and retain complete emotional health. Our entire moral framework is essentially cast into chaos. How can we evaluate what is good and what is bad? Our moral and cultural destiny isn't then one of constant improvement, but one of ever needless change (what could be more antithetical to the first culture to oppose slavery and government tyranny under the philosophy of 'natural rights') I think moral relativism is necessarily a 'no win' philosophy because we need somewhere to start from to have a coherent set of standards. We predicate our standards on the fact that people, as a matter of biological necessity, don't want to be killed (even those Jews who walked into the ovens without debate and participated in the killing of other Jews during the Holocaust, we assume that they were powerless to do anything but cooperate with a system far more powerful than the individual. I am assuming something similar with the Sambian abused/child abusers), people don't want to be stolen from, people don't want to be raped. Indeed, if people can be infinitely socialized why should we dissuade men from rape at all, why don't we just socialize women to accept and enjoy it? The reason is because we understand that women are absolutely incapable of biologically enjoying rape.
Going back to the Sambian, I think that, in reality, all of us here know that sexually exploiting a seven-year-old is wrong not relatively, but absolutely, even despite the fact that those who preserve the abusive tradition were yesterdays abused children (which is something similar to the 'cycles of child abuse' we witness here). I think, like the Holocaust example, that people can be trapped in extraordinary situations that they conform to through overwhelming societal pressures, but that they are disgusted with and warped by internally. Far from functional, I think that the abused boys, grow up angry and full of hatred towards children and women (kind of like the Taliban). I disbelieve that humans can altruistically rape, which sex with any seven year old automatically becomes.

posted by dgaicun at 11:53 AM on November 21, 2002


The controversy over Chagnon's depiction of the Yanomami is a good example of how difficult it can be to interpret another culture, particularly one that routinely breaks the taboos of one's own.

Much, much much more information here.
posted by ook at 12:46 PM on November 21, 2002


I think that, in reality, all of us here know that sexually exploiting a seven-year-old is wrong not relatively, but absolutely, even despite the fact that those who preserve the abusive tradition were yesterdays abused children (which is something similar to the 'cycles of child abuse' we witness here).

On the contrary. Though I do not think it sounds particularly healthy, fun, or enlightened from my point of view, I do not have any evidence whatsoever that institutionalized sexual encounters with prepubescents is an absolute wrong. Perhaps you believe on faith that it is an absolute, and not a relative wrong, but here you are unconsciously appealing either to the rather old yet undoubtedly evolutionary value system you grew up in, or you are taking on faith statements by more contemporary authorities in your society who have sought to demonstrate more or less scientifically or psychologically that sex with children warps (a vague term - really a euphemism for damages, or sometimes infects) them.
Now as we know, violence against children was for an extremely long time in western culture a well-established part of their education, and even today there is a sizable minority who advocate its practice within moderation. Why is this practice disappearing? Has some philosophical proof appeared which demonstrates that violence against children perpetrated by their parents or educators is an absolute evil? Certainly no such definitive proof has won favor, though there is much thought on the subject that is persuasive. Has statistical anthropology or subjective psychology demonstrated that such violence "warps" children? There is less concensus on this point, for though it is conceded that spanking children is likely to make the child grow up to be a spanker, correlations between other types of violence as an adult and being spanked are just as easily tied to socioeconomic indicators (i.e. why is he violent? was it the spanking or the violence around him in society or his low social status and economic deprivation?)

Now, the argument seems so clear-cut for you by contrast with sex and pre-pubescents: how can it not be horrible? Let me clearly state that I don't think it's something I would want my children to experience, any more than female genital mutilation, rape, etc. It is repulsive to me. But to want to wipe out the practice is, I think, rather arrogant. There are many things we cherish in our culture that could as easily be criticised by a culture with correspondingly greater potential power to exterminate our culture (be they aliens landing tomorrow, or an asian superpower 150 years from now). Perhaps our meat factories, our profiteering from and engineering of third world strife, our winking tolerance of prostitution. These are not absolutes, nor I would say is a sexual culture that seems completely bizarre and repugnant to us. We really have no scientific evidence that it is harming this society. Perhaps such will emerge, perhaps such will be definitively ruled out: and that, either way I think, is one of the important things to learn here.
posted by mitchel at 1:21 PM on November 21, 2002


Perhaps such will emerge, perhaps such will be definitively ruled out: and that, either way I think, is one of the important things to learn here.

There are already many people on this earth that find no problem in calling OUR culture so immoral and debased that they would be rewarded by God to try and destroy as much of our culture as possible. Anyone remember 9/11? I'm with mitchel on this one, I don't think I would want my children exposed to this sort of experience, however, I don't think that we should so quickly cast stones at a centuries old practice by a culture as "sick" or "perverted" or even "primitive" it is simply different and if you read the articles carefully you will note some prime examples of cultures we ourselves laud and hold as examples for ourselves, which had very similar practices (why is it that the Capitol looks so much like a Roman temple if we don't admire that bunch of pederasts?)
posted by Pollomacho at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2002


Their culture is dying out? Marvellous. As long as people have written about and studied them, I am glad that the Sambians are giving up their horrible practices and beliefs. They deserve better, and I wouldn't wish this culture on anyone.

I know! When I read that story I was like "dude, that's so gay!"

Hopefully pretty soon we can get rid of all cultures that don't make sense to us. I mean, not like kill them or anything, but definitely replace it with something that's familiar and reassuring to our arbitrary correct sense of value. Did you know that before we came around, most indians didn't even wear underwear? And they had two or even more wives!
posted by Hildago at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2002


the Sambia, like the yanomamo, are among the least advanced hunter-gatherer tribes left on earth.

Sambia and Yanomami are sedentary horticulturalists. You ignoramus!
posted by rschram at 1:53 PM on November 21, 2002


(more! sorry) Remember that to call sex with a minor "automatically rape" is simply a form of rhetoric. What is meant by this phrase is that those who do not have the mental capacity to enter our glorious world of transcendental sexuality are to be excluded from legitimacy, thus sex with a mentally handicapped person is necessarily a form of rape, as is sex between a 20 year old and a 17 year old. Obviously we know why such laws really exist. We don't want those without "informed consent" to have sex / we don't want the dependants of our society to have children (take your pick of those two statements, one idealist, one pragmatist). But we can easily imagine a modern, western state that decides to make the age of consent 12, as it was in much of the west in the 1800s. Certainly it would be understood that from time to time prepubescents would be married off, in such a situation. Are we still dealing with absolutes here? Of course not, any more than we are with such an issue as abortion, or even enforced schooling for minors (which a differently minded society might feel is rather fascistic, and might have their scientific studies to back up such feelings, who knows). We feel compelled, however, to say that eventually, everybody can see that such and such is wrong (viz. having sex with a 7 year old). Well, everybody but these several primitive cultures. D Gaicun, you remark:
I think, like the Holocaust example, that people can be trapped in extraordinary situations that they conform to through overwhelming societal pressures, but that they are disgusted with and warped by internally.

This is precisely my point, in fact: it seems extraordinary to you that German citizens were "trapped" into abetting the murderous intent of their masters, and you seek to explain it away by hinting that it such tensions as would result from this "trap" would warp, etc. We in fact have seen little such lingering damage in German society, not much certainly different from our own. But more importantly, the human tendency towards war and genocide, sexual exploitation of the younger and weaker, and the strange mental linkages fabricated between sex and war: these are tendencies which call into question all our notions of

Kissing a child on the lips is not part of our sexual view; it is, as one says, a platonic act. It's also of course rapidly disappearing. Today we can laugh at the way missionaries struggled to reform the sexual practices of natives they encountered, because their efforts seem to us to be so naive and silly: concern over number of wives, or sexual positions. But in the case of something a little more out there, we're still wanting to play missionary.
posted by mitchel at 1:53 PM on November 21, 2002


People. First off, while you may seek to defend this as a unique cultural practice, who are we to judge, we can judge it to one degree. The article clearly states that the natives engage in the practice because they believe it is necessary for young men to receive semen from older men in order to build up a reserve so they to can ejaculate one day. That's just dead wrong, we know it is scientifically. Secondly, yes, there are areas in which cultural shades of gray can be felt. Is 12 an age of consent? Or 18? Hard to say. But it is easy to say that I am far more willing to tolerate what I would see as a sexual abberation if it involved people who HAD PASSED THROUGH PUBERTY (ie, not seven year olds) and who CONSENTED to the act. Whatever moral relativistic arguments you all may make, there is a fundemental belief in this country that each individual should have a large degree of control over his/her destiny. It is absolutely impossible to say that a seven year old who is forced to participate in sexual intercourse with a much older individual is making an informed and consenting choice. Yes, of course we don't let our children make all decisions. We force them to wash, to go to school, etc. And yes, to some degree we are applying relative values here, but at the end of the day, there is a huge differance between forcing a child to wash and forcing a child who has not yet passed through puberty to sexually gratify their elders. And I think the second is wrong. And I willing to stick by that statement.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:10 PM on November 21, 2002


Well, I and others just disagree, pjgulliver. Like I said above though, it's a moving target where each of us draws the line; your example of requiring (I like that better than "forcing") children to wash is where we both agree that this is "okay" as a cultural norm. My example above, of a hypothetical tribe that requires children to kill someone and drink their blood is at the high end of the scale where we would both agree that the behavior is not okay as a cultural norm. Here, though, we are dealing with a culturally-specific sex behavior pattern that falls between the two extremes. Inserting the "informed and consenting choice" element into it doesn't really alter the situation: in either of the "extreme" cases, the children don't get a chance to make such a choice either - they just do it.
posted by yhbc at 2:18 PM on November 21, 2002


You don't think there's a point in at least letting puberty be a dividing line between allowing/requiring sexual activity of children?
posted by pjgulliver at 2:25 PM on November 21, 2002


Here (meaning the 99% of the world that's not an isolated New Guinea tribe), yes, absolutely. That's the way this tribe thinks, and it's become not only an accepted standard cultural norm but one which is actively enforced through punishment of any deviations from it. Those tribes just don't (or didn't - they are dying out) think that way - read the second link again. The point to the practice is not primarily sexual gratification, or even sexual activity per se. It's to prepare the boys for the "work" of eventual sexual activity - they don't think what they are being "required" to do is sexual in nature, and certainly not "wrong".
posted by yhbc at 2:31 PM on November 21, 2002


And, I'd love to continue the discussion, but I gotta go now and find me a cute young boy.

Joking! Joking!
posted by yhbc at 2:38 PM on November 21, 2002


And yes, to some degree we are applying relative values here, but at the end of the day, there is a huge differance between forcing a child to wash and forcing a child who has not yet passed through puberty to sexually gratify their elders.

Few anthropologists, and definitely not Herdt, would deny that this practice is traumatic to the initiates. He has written extensively on that matter. I have three thoughts to contribute.

First, the practice existed traditionally in the context of a war cult. So, the psychological effects of the arduous process of initiation (including but not limited to insemination) are really quite effective at making good warriors. To say that initiations are functional is simply to make a claim that humans are very adaptive and societies serve different ends. That is not a claim to moral relativism. Rather, there is a lack of symmetry in criticizing the initiation ritual without also criticizing the constant warfare. There is a reason to be informed about the context in which people act. In this case, the context of Sambia society allows one to see the flaw in the assumption that indigenous societies are happy little nature communes. Most of human history was not fun!

Second, there is a difference between making a moral claim and an appeal to human nature. You can dislike the Sambia on moral grounds, but that does not mean that the Sambia are doing something unnatural. They're just doing something which is offensive. That offensiveness may be empirically grounded, but it doesn't mean you can jump from that grounding to a claim that the Sambia go against nature. Consider warfare again: few pacifists claim that war is unnatural, even though there is ample evidence to suggest it is destructive.

Third, everyone has their own "cultural anthropology threshhold." It sounds from this thread that most people would accept that it is OK for societies to define for themselves the way in which a boy becomes a man through ritual. Lots of PNG southern Highlands groups have initiations which have all sorts of bloodletting, deprivations and tortures. But if some largely symbolic act which has erotic connotations in this society gets involved, then everyone flips out. Its not an initiation without a certain amount of trauma, so why does everyone pick on the Sambia, as opposed to someone else? That in itself is interesting because it suggests most strongly the workings of our own culture. We only see the human rights abuses we want to see. Again, that is not in itself an argument for relativism; its just one of the many ironies of these kinds of debates.
posted by rschram at 2:42 PM on November 21, 2002


The point to the practice is not primarily sexual gratification

Relativists should not have any illusions about this. The point of the inseminations is in part gratification.
posted by rschram at 2:44 PM on November 21, 2002


I would pick on any sort of arduous bonding ritual that I felt crossed a moral threshold. However, I think there is a world of differance between say, a young man being told to go to the woods and survive off the land for a week and the rape of children who haven't gone through puberty. Frankly, though I would detest it, I could stomach forced intercourse on either a boy or a girl who had gone through puberty. I think that forcing perpetual intercourse on the young who haven't yet gone through puberty is extremely destructive. Frankly, how can you on the one hand argue, ok, this society has made a choice to do this, it works for them, and at the same time support things like the abolition of slavery? (I'm trying really hard hear not to invoke Goodwin's law) How can you ever make a moral judgement?
posted by pjgulliver at 2:49 PM on November 21, 2002


I know for a fact that there are prepubscent children who engage in sex activities with similarly-aged children, who have not been sexually abused, who are not using coercion, and who seem to quite enjoy their activities.

Do you freak at that idea, pj? Is that activity wrong, just by nature of the physical acts, regardless the initiative and willing participation of the children?

As for the tribe, the practice will die out naturally as they become better informed of generally global social mores (and become better informed of basic human physiology!) It'd be a far more shameful act to go in there and force them to change than to allow that change to take place "naturally."

As for the loss of that tribe's culture, big whoop. I mean, yah, it's a shame that diversity is on the decline and we're all becoming rather beige, but that's very much a natural process. The more we communicate and interact, the more we become the same. Just gonna be that way.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:50 PM on November 21, 2002


No, consensual experimentation between children is vastly different then a seven year old boy being anally penetrated and forced to fellate an older relative.

I'm incredibly liberal sexually. I think age of consent should be lowered, I see no real problem in inceset between consenting adults (especially after new evidence has shown that it doesn't really screw potential offspring genetically) and I see no problem with allowing this tribes practices to die out naturally. I think that traditional societies end up FAR better adjusted when they change their mores at their own pace (accept in extreme case, like child sacrifice or something) than when it is imposed by outsiders.

However, I take issue with people who would not, in the privacy of this thread, condemn the forced sexual actions of a prepubescent as morally wrong. Or, maybe I don't take issue with it, but I'm intensely interested as to how someone who wouldn't make that judgement structures their own life morally.
posted by pjgulliver at 3:00 PM on November 21, 2002


I would pick on any sort of arduous bonding ritual that I felt crossed a moral threshold.

Well, that's my point. A moral threshhold is fine, but what empirical facts can you base that threshhold on? Is it your personal philosophy or something more? I think you could point to certain empirical realities which would substantiate a refusal of boy-insemination, but mostly people respond by saying that this is gross or gay or unique in the entire realm of human existence. That is not a criticism of your position. I simply want to point out that there is a fallacy at the heart of most moral-objectivists positions on cultural difference: Westerners have very specific hang-ups, and they're all related to sex.

Furthermore, cultural relativism is sorely misunderstood. The definition is that one's morals emanate from a specific framework which is shared among members of a community. Hence, moral claims that apply in one situation don't in another because the basic assumptions are not shared. The conclusion to draw from this is not that moral arguments are always invalid by definition. Rather, I would argue that when looking at another culture one should see it as an ordered and coherent world, and not assume that everything is anarchy because one aspect is morally repugnant. That would be a grave mistake, and I think leads people to structure their interactions with others in unethical ways. I think any discussion of the practices of the Sambia has to start from the premise that it makes sense to them. Then the interesting and worthwhile questions follow: Why? What is the history? What are the meanings? How is this practice related to others? What consequences does this have for people? How does this make a person who they are?

Ultimately, one should wonder how is this part of being human in a universal sense. You can dislike this but the real challenge is to understand what makes humans tick, taking into consideration the good and the bad.
posted by rschram at 3:23 PM on November 21, 2002


So if there are absolute moral thresholds, and this crosses it, why have they been doing it for hundreds of years? Is everyone in their culture evil, or just ignorant?
posted by Hildago at 4:44 PM on November 21, 2002


The conclusion to draw from this is not that moral arguments are always invalid by definition. Rather, I would argue that when looking at another culture one should see it as an ordered and coherent world, and not assume that everything is anarchy because one aspect is morally repugnant.

The problem critics have with this sort of talk is that is sounds very much like a dodge. Dodging the issue isn't a large problem with an isolated tribe; we are confident that scientific outlooks, and our "modern" morals, will trickle down to such tribes as they become assimilated into our borg culture. I am very sympathetic to pj's complaints that such practices as these should be taken a dim view of. After all, most of my female friends felt that the invasion of afghanistan was more justifiable as an attempt to liberate the women of that country from the taliban, than as a manhunt against a terrorist network (which, it is felt in some circles, should be combated through infiltration or otherwise less civilian-targeted offensives).

This is the crux of the matter: the powerful nations seek to impose their code of ethics - this is a goal of both the CIA and Amnesty International. PJ could very rightly say, what right has Amnesty to quibble with torture in Israel, China and the U.S. if I can't complain about the Sambia? Thus, my point is that though I wouldn't want someone I know to be subjected to Sambian initiation, I am not nearly so opposed to it as I am to patterns of physical torture in industrialized nations, or to f.g.m. in Africa, or the recent tribal justice scandal in Pakistan. Firstly, it is not clear to me that the initiation is obviously damaging to those on whom it is "perpetrated". PJ assumes it must be, but I simply am not convinced: sexuality seems to be not necessarily polluting, even when coercive and prepubescent - think of arranged marriages. It's a confusing issue and I don't think we are so wise and free in matters of sexuality as to cast stones. Secondly, the idea that as soon as we discover a society untouched by the modern world, we should seek to change it, is unbelievably repugnant to me.

So if there are absolute moral thresholds, and this crosses it, why have they been doing it for hundreds of years? Is everyone in their culture evil[?]

I assume you are speaking sarcastically... but that could be. The nonexistence of absolute moral thresholds has not been proven any more than nonexistence of a divine creator! And you seem to imply that if everyone is "evil" society will break down - hardly! Oppression is very successful.

I should think a good thought-experiment model for an absolute moral threshold would start with: extinction of the human race is evil. That would be a sort of ethical mirror to the cogito: The one who denies "I am" to all, we think should be denied.
posted by mitchel at 5:05 PM on November 21, 2002


As soon as we discover a society untouched by the modern world, we have changed it. As distasteful as it may be, one can not stop change.

I strongly suspect that within the Sambia society, the boys feel far from abused. They are not being traumatized by the acts. They are not emotionally harmed by the experience.

I'll bet that a Sambian man, told that we don't feed our boy-children healthy doses of manly spermatozoa, would be horrified -- why, we're abusing our children!

That it works in Sambian society does not indicate that our society could or should accept ritualistic child abuse as step in the right direction! Clearly, our society is making different decisions about its treatment of children.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:16 PM on November 21, 2002


Hildago -
I am not purely a product of the society I live in. Education has allowed me to examine the cultures of the world and decide on my on moral opinions.

I'm against going into a Sambia tribe and forcing them all to hold similar values to those that I hold, e.g. not ritualistically raping children. I'm just pleased that they seem to be choosing to do that by themselves.

I'm expressing happiness that they're coming round to my way of thinking! What a beautiful world we live in.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:27 PM on November 21, 2002


I feel I have to say more on this. You're objecting to my observational pleasure that a culture where kids are forced to suck dicks is dying out.

There are cultures where people kill other people and eat them. I'm glad they're dying out. Do you have a problem with that? I'm glad fewer people listen to Duran Duran than they did 15 years ago. Do you have a problem with that? I hope that people stop treating each other badly and live together in peace. That's me, there, relentlessly forcing my cultural pseudo-superiority on others. Do you have a problem with that?

And... relax.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:03 PM on November 21, 2002


You don't think there's a point in at least letting puberty be a dividing line between allowing/requiring sexual activity of children?

I think that's a very arbitrary line. Puberty determines the ability to inseminate and become pregnant. Sexual activity with others and with oneself often starts much earlier (there are some very telling sonograms out there). Historically, "ages of consent" have been determined largly on other factors than sexuality--when young people could usefully marry (in terms of the families', not their own benefit), for example. It's only recently that people have become so focused on sex related to age. This may partially be because we no longer have marriage to sanctify the act whenever it takes place.
posted by rushmc at 6:18 PM on November 21, 2002


Is Western Civilization Morally Superior to the Sambia?

It depends. First let's try and understand what morality is.

Morality is a biologically grounded adapted system for cooperation in social animals.
It is a mutually beneficial contract for behavior between individuals.
Are there absolute morals? Maybe. The answer depends on what we are asking? (And don't get lost in semantics with words like absolute!)

Maybe one is asking: 'Is morality simply rule-following or personal fidelity to what is understood as proper behavior?' By this definition am I morally superior to a Sambian man? I give a not-well-informed 'probably not', to this question. Much of the tribes abusive behavior is based on a superstitious world-view that the Sambians have no practical alternative for. One way to measure if Sambians are just as moral in this definitional sense would be to measure the frequency of guilt experienced among Sambians and Westerners and compare the results. If Sambians feel less guilt (which is possible), then by this definition of morality, Sambians are actually more confident in the goodness of their behavior than Westerners (i.e. more moral). Western society is morally superior if we base morality on an objective scale of individual rights and freedoms to act and choose (see below), but these are products of history and circumstance rather than any inherent betterness that may have allowed us to rise above others. When FFF and company argue for primitive cultures as moral equals this is what they are saying. Our culture is objectively more beneficial to the individual and protective of his freedom to act and choose. But this comes from increased (and hard-won) knowledge not increased morality. If morality is acting on what you understand to be right, all cultures are probably near equal.

Or, maybe one is asking: 'Are there social rules that guarantee in-group survival better than other ones'? At this level, it appears that we can make objective deductions about morality. First, there has to be some sort of contract to begin with, and it has to look something like this: all men (not to be read as no man.) may not kill whomever they want in the in-group; all men may not steal whatever they want from whomever they want in the in-group; all men may not have sex with whomever they please to in the in-group. Essentially, here we are saying that having no social contract will guarantee survival less effectively than actually having a social contract. Can this be disagreed with? Well, I guess it depends on how certain someone thinks humans have to be before we can make absolute claims. In an epistemological sense I think there are many things that we can make safe absolute claims concerning ('I think therefore I am', comes to mind.), and this is one of them. So an absolute knowledge claim about morality is made-morality is better than no morality.

Under this chosen definition of morality I will say that, yes, Western civilization is better equipped for physical survival then the Sambians, if not in every particular, objectively overall. If I have to simplify how we are morally superior I will say this: Man's survival increases exponentially through cooperation. Sambians have a very small in-group (or circle of altruism) of mainly just the adult males of the tribe, with the women and the children only peripherally included. This weak cooperation means less of a knowledge pool, less exploited potential (one of the reasons America is so successful is because we doubled our work-force with womens lib, putting us on a permanent war-time economy), and less shared human resources. Western civilization has continuously expanded its cooperative circle, and thus has more shared knowledge and resources. In this sense morality works on the macro-level, just as effectively as it did in the micro one it was adapted for. So if morality is defined as a cooperative social strategy that works towards survival, our society is objectively morally superior. We are better suited for survival, made possible by a superior cooperative social strategy (i.e. morality).
posted by dgaicun at 7:44 PM on November 21, 2002


I feel I have to say more on this. You're objecting to my observational pleasure that a culture where kids are forced to suck dicks is dying out.

Not quite right. You're not merely expressing pleasure that their culture is changing in ways that make you happy. You're making moral judgments on them and using your definition of what is "horrible" or not to take pleasure in the demise of a way of life and its replacement by another which you straight-facedly describe as "better" without any justification at all. I find that presumptuous and I object to it because it sounds a whole lot, to me, like the kind of thinking leads to crusades, ethnic cleansing and dead languages.

I also think it's very broad-minded of you to find pleasure in the death of a culture because you disagree with one particular element of it. I assume you know little or nothing about the culture except that one fact, right? My apologies if you've done exhaustive research on them and just happened not to mention anything.

Hey, so long as we've already got pictures of them for posterity, there's no need to indulge the barbarians anymore, right?

And of course I object to your mad rush to kill of this culture when there's apparently no objection to the practice by the people who are so brutally forced to participate in it. It continues on year after year, with the dick-suckers of one generation becomes the dick-suckees of another, and nobody seems to object enough to call for an end to it. Except, of course, people on the other side of the planet who develop their belief systems in a country with a suspicious history of homophobia, purritanical repression and cultural imperialism. Excuse me if I call the absolute moral necessity of offing yet another culture into question.

And... relax.

Hulk smash! Raaarrr!
posted by Hildago at 7:55 PM on November 21, 2002


your quote from Jared Diamond is highly misleading

Sambia and Yanomami are sedentary horticulturalists. You ignoramus!


At the risk of sounding even dumber, I would like to apologize for the many spelling, editing and factual errors in that second post. That post was a work in progress, and I had to post it prematurely (not even really getting to the main points about the molestation), so I could go defend myself on MetaTalk before my thread got yanked as a result of all the noisy protesting. I would have revised it. Please ignore it.
posted by dgaicun at 8:02 PM on November 21, 2002


dgaicun, first off, valiant effort to write a unified theory of morality in five paragraphs. I disagree with you at a lot of steps along the way, but I applaud the thought that went into it.

Morality is a biologically grounded adapted system for cooperation in social animals.

*blinks*

Really? Has this been proven? Cite, cite, cite! And if it has been, what is meant by "biologically grounded"? Merely the capacity for morality? If so, congratulations, we've gotten nowhere.

Our culture is objectively more beneficial to the individual and protective of his freedom to act and choose

Hmm, interesting. I don't know if you can say this, though. It would be safer to say that both societies are constrained from doing certain things, and allowed to do certain other things. There is a great deal of freedom in primitive societies, but because it is freedom to do things that we don't really care to do, we tend to ignore it. Your formulation seems to weigh some freedoms different than others. What I mean is, you and I have protected freedom of speech, and the Sambians probably don't. Freedom of speech is important to us, but a Sambian is probably perfectly happy with the things he can and cannot say. To him, being able to kill an animal and eat it whenever he wants to is a thousand times more important than being able to publish a newspaper, and freedom of hunting (let's call it) isn't something our society protects. To a Sambian, we may be less free than he is, and so, by your scheme, they would be "objectively" more moral than we are.

So if morality is defined as a cooperative social strategy that works towards survival, our society is objectively morally superior.

But you can't argue in absolutes with things like that. Cooperation is not linked to survival along a straight line.

And anyway, it's funny that you should hold up survival as a measurement of morality, when the Sambian culture has survived much longer than the American. What you really seem to mean by "survival" is some combination of success and power, and if you think success and power equates to morality, I'd like to sell you stock in some very moral energy trading and tobacco companies.
posted by Hildago at 8:21 PM on November 21, 2002


I should think a good thought-experiment model for an absolute moral threshold would start with: extinction of the human race is evil. That would be a sort of ethical mirror to the cogito: The one who denies "I am" to all, we think should be denied.

Thought experiment: some advanced alien race visits earth. They are better than us in every way, but they require our planet--which they would take better care and make better use of than us--and they cannot coexist with us on the planet (because we are poison to each other or something).

In this case, is human extinction still an absolute moral evil? If so, why are our lives more important in a moral sense than theirs? Is it only immoral to us, but moral to them? If this is true, in what sense is either brand of morality absolute? (15 minutes, please write legibly)
posted by Hildago at 9:13 PM on November 21, 2002


When FFF and company argue for primitive cultures as moral equals this is what they are saying.

Hmmm. I'm not sure that's what I'm saying. Or, rather, I'm not saying that they are our moral equals.

What I am saying is that viewed from within that culture, what they are doing is not morally objectionable to them.

Moral equals? No. Just different. And I'll continue to prefer mine, thanks, and trust that as they become more aware of the modern view of science and society, they'll change.

Just as I'll continue to hope that our society becomes more aware of modern views of science and changes its morals to become more sensible.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:33 PM on November 21, 2002


Hildago: Sucks to be human.

Is there a difference between morality, ethics, and practicality?

In your alienesque scenario, it's impractical for our bug-eyed overlords to let us live: our life is their death. Faced with that, morality doesn't much enter into the picture.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:42 PM on November 21, 2002


Hidalgo,

Morality is a biologically grounded adapted system for cooperation in social animals.

*blinks*

Really? Has this been proven? Cite, cite, cite! And if it has been, what is meant by "biologically grounded"? Merely the capacity for morality? If so, congratulations, we've gotten nowhere.


Biologically grounded means we are adapted for social (moral) functioning, which is beyond all doubt. It was not a cultural choice for wolves to hang out in packs and tigers to rome the jungle alone. These differences in behavior are internal adaptions. Similarly humans have evolved to work together with other humans, and there are many ways to infer this. First of all, we are the only primates with entire portions of our brain devoted to language ability. This wasn't so we could communicate with ourselves, but with other humans with language ability! Noam Chomsky first put forth the theory of a universal grammer (an innate language syntax), which has since been verified. Second, I will point to universal communicative facial expressions- humans exhibit the same facial emotions in every culture (smile=happy, furrowed eyebrows=angry, etc.). This was first noted by anthropologist Paul Ekman in the 60's. Both language and expression are evolutionary adaptions so humans can cooperate with one another. In addition to expression, humans exhibit innate emotions. The function of most of these emotions can only be understood in the context of social purposes. The emotional feeling of guilt, for instance, is an innate emotional expression of feelings of moral (social) failure. I think the best definition for morality is how well humans cooperate with one another (Hence Western moral superiority. Westerners cooperate with eachother more fairly (More equal treatment=Better cooperation=more moral). Therefore cooperation (i.e. morality) is a biological adaption.

As for your cultural relativism Hidalgo, it is quite unpersuasive, and I wouldn't have to follow you around for three days before I could start pointing out your opinions and actions which contradict it. Do we have to re-institute slavery for you to maybe admit that some moral (cooperative) systems are better than others? At the street level we weren't exactly failing or dying out in the West when we had slavery, but we were excluding a giant segment of valuable human mental resources (every brain adds fuel to our overall fitness), and we definitely paid for our chauvinism by leaving a giant destructive mess in its aftermath. The Sambia could easily die out because they don't have the diverse pool of information to help them face a wide variety of potential external threats. Because the West has a large cooperative knowledge pool, we have the shared human resources to face an amazing variety of potential threats. The Sambia, OTOH, like many of the indigenous Indian populations of America could easily die out completely from the sneeze of a single missionary.
posted by dgaicun at 10:01 PM on November 21, 2002


Faced with that, morality doesn't much enter into the picture.

Well it does if human extinction is an absolute moral evil, which is what I'm trying to show is absurd.
posted by Hildago at 10:02 PM on November 21, 2002


Fx3,

I'm not sure that's what I'm saying. . .What I am saying is that viewed from within that culture, what they are doing is not morally objectionable to them.

So. . .exactly what I said:

When FFF and company argue for primitive cultures as moral equals this is what they are saying. . .If morality is acting on what you understand to be right, all cultures are probably near equal.

Moral equals? No. Just different.

If morality is a functional behavior of social cooperation (which it is) then their's is objectively less functional than ours.
posted by dgaicun at 10:19 PM on November 21, 2002


Biologically grounded means we are adapted for social (moral) functioning, which is beyond all doubt.

Bonobos are equipped for social functioning too. Having the capacity for social activity does not indicate the capacity for moral decision-making (whatever that is). You say "social" and then put "moral" in parentheses, as if one were the same as the other. Later you say "cooperation" and then put "morality" in parentheses again. But you're just saying they're the same, you're not showing that they are.

As for your cultural relativism Hidalgo, it is quite unpersuasive, and I wouldn't have to follow you around for three days before I could start pointing out your opinions and actions which contradict it.

Perhaps that is why you do not deign to address my arguments directly, but instead just repeat yourself. No, I got it the first time, thanks, it's just not right.

Meh, I'm getting mad, and that's stupid. I apologize, and I'm just gonna respectfully let the thread die now.
posted by Hildago at 10:22 PM on November 21, 2002


The terms 'social', 'moral', and 'cooperative' are transmitting the same basic information. All are terms to describe humans functionally interacting in groups of two or more.

Bonobos are equipped for social functioning too. Having the capacity for social activity does not indicate the capacity for moral decision-making

So every bonobo in a troop can freely kill, steal from, and have sex with whomever it wants to? No. Bonobos conduct themselves by moral rules, because there is no alternative if they are to survive through cooperative interaction, which they were designed by nature to do. Bonobos, like humans, can decide how closely they want to follow those moral rules of engagement. There are 'good' bonobos and 'bad' bonobos, in every troop. Sometimes the 'bad' bonobos are punished by the troop.

I'm sorry, I made you mad, but I consider moral progress more than an illusion. I think in a genocidal and abusive culture relatively fewer people are happy. Mainly the large percentage that get murdered and abused. That's about the safest bet I could ever make.
posted by dgaicun at 10:54 PM on November 21, 2002


There are many things we cherish in our culture that could as easily be criticised by a culture with correspondingly greater potential power to exterminate our culture (be they aliens landing tomorrow, or an asian superpower 150 years from now). Perhaps our meat factories, our profiteering from and engineering of third world strife, our winking tolerance of prostitution.

But if aliens, say the Culture, arrived tomorrow and gave us vatgrown meat and prevented us from killing and abusing each other, that would be a good, positive, wonderful thing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:47 AM on November 22, 2002


Hildago -

Except, of course, people on the other side of the planet who develop their belief systems in a country with a suspicious history of homophobia, purritanical repression and cultural imperialism.

You're making moral judgments on them and using your definition of what is "suspicious" or not to take pleasure in the demise of a way of life and its replacement by another which you straight-facedly describe as "better" without any justification at all. I find that presumptuous and I object to it because it sounds a whole lot, to me, like the kind of thinking leads to crusades, ethnic cleansing and dead languages.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:28 AM on November 22, 2002


dgaicun: Morality is a biologically grounded adapted system for cooperation in social animals.
hidalgo: *blinks* Really? Has this been proven? Cite, cite, cite!

The Blank Slate by MIT’s Steven Pinker is one reference. MIT’s page has links to at least twenty reviews, not all of which are complimentary, partly because the book is polemical and attacks (one might even say debunks) several popular –isms, including moral relativism.
posted by win_k at 6:00 AM on November 22, 2002


Hildago, you really need to pay more attention to what people are arguing. I don't think anyone has said "When the Sambia commit these acts, they knowingly are doing evil." And no one has explicitly criticized the "homosexual" nature of the acts. Trying to argue against these points is like trying to derail the thread. What everyone is criticizing about the Sambian ritual practices is that it takes away freedom of action and freedom of sexuality (ie sexual activity) from young young children. And the entire ritual is based on a belief of the Sambia that is demonstrably not true. This is not arranged marriage. This is not Spartan soldiers being tent mates. This is men in their 20s and 30s raping seven year old boys (and its not the homosexual nature that frightens me, its the rape of the extremely young.)

Whatever you say about sexuality starting before puberty, I ask you this. If you truly believe that there is nothing repugnant about this practice, are you for repealing pedeophilia laws here in the states? Do you advocate the NAMBLA platform? Are you all for allowing incestious relationships between mature adults and their child relatives? And if not, why would you deny our culture a practice that works so well in for the Sambians? We have freedom of religion, right? Why can't I indulge in this activity myself?
posted by pjgulliver at 6:38 AM on November 22, 2002


What he said.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:06 AM on November 22, 2002


dgaicun: Ah, gotcha, right, agreed. Sorry I was thick.

"What everyone is criticizing about the Sambian ritual practices is that it takes away freedom of action and freedom of sexuality (ie sexual activity) from young young children." (er, everyone?)

Then can we criticize our culture for doing the same? We generally don't allow them to play doctor with each other out in the playground, even though many of them would have their pants down and mutally diddling if given the chance.

For that matter, if a Sambian boy were transplanted to our culture, would our culture not take away the freedom of action he'd want to be engaging in? The l'il buggers believe wholeheartedly, with the confidence of the Pope in God, that if they don't have a meal of manchowder that they'll end up sickly and effeminate. There's no way our culture would allow them to engage in their body-building exercises, though.

By the way, isn't rape forced on the recipient? If these boys are culturally brainwashed into believing that sucking semen is good for them, would they not be doing it willfully?

And, pj, you're constructing silly arguments. Not one person here has suggested that Sambian cultural practices would be anything but harmful in our own society. Quit resorting to childish namecalling, and get back to the point.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:57 AM on November 22, 2002


Hidalgo + F3, etc.,

Human happiness and human freedom are two different moral ideas. Many slaves of the antebellum south were actually very happy. Many loved their 'Massa's' like family. During the Enlightenment, though, many learned Humanist thinkers made a convincing case that 'happiness' wasn't enough; humans needed freedom too. Freedom was more important than happiness, they argued*, and thus planted the seed of Abolitionism. Totalitarians called democracy 'The freedom to starve'. Many freed slaves did starve after the war. Their stable way of life was disrupted. Ultimately, though, the end of slavery was more beneficial for society as a whole.

What is my point?

This is what we call moral progress. It is not defined by a procession of arbitrary, or equally effective tastes and fads, but in knowledge based improvements to the ethical structure of societies. Enhanced cooperative relationships.

The Sambia are not very free and not very happy. They are a slave culture. The Sambian way of life is inferior to ours.


*or rather that true happiness could only extend from freedom.
posted by dgaicun at 11:20 AM on November 22, 2002


dgaicun: You'd better have some actual backup for your trollish-sounding "Many slaves of the antebellum south were actually very happy." What you linked to is 1) the homepage of a large website, making it necessary to scour everything contained within (including listening to long audio narratives) if one is trusting enough to believe that there's something in there that supports what you say, and 2) a valuable but notoriously hard-to-interpret collection of recollections. Note the warning given on the site:
Modern readers will also note in some narratives the patronizing tone of the interviewers and the seeming deference of the subjects. While the racial language can be offensive to modern readers, it is important to remember that these narratives were conducted sixty years ago in the Jim Crow South; just as these former slaves had survived into the twentieth century, so had the ideology of white supremacy that underpinned the slave society of the American South.
The idea of the "happy slaves" has been pretty thoroughly debunked by historians in the last few decades and survives mainly in digging-in-the-heels unreconstructed-Southron "I ain't racist, I'm just proud to be white" defenders of Confederate flags on statehouses. I think we can understand that former slaves who had spent decades in a situation in which it could literally be worth their lives to complain about their treatment by whites might find it hard to be open about their true feelings about slavery. I think we can also be pretty sure, if we've done any reading about the conditions under which slaves lived, that there were about as many slaves who were happy to be slaves as there are women who are happy to be raped. I suggest you drop the analogy; you're having a hard enough time defending your original position.
posted by languagehat at 12:43 PM on November 22, 2002


'The idea of the "happy slaves" has been pretty thoroughly debunked by historians'

I have already agreed with that statement:

true happiness [can] only extend from freedom.

I think the idea of happy Sambians has been discredited too.

I suggest you settle down on the race issue, languagehat.
posted by dgaicun at 12:53 PM on November 22, 2002


PS: What is this original position that I am 'having a hard time defending' exactly?
posted by dgaicun at 12:58 PM on November 22, 2002


'The idea of the "happy slaves" has been pretty thoroughly debunked by historians'

Do you really need to hear from historians before you know that slaves were unhappy?

I don't.

languagehat, its painfully obvious that you have no idea what my post was trying to communicate. Fine, maybe its because I'm an unskilled writer, but usually It's a better idea to ask questions if you're unclear about the meaning of something than to over-react and start name-calling.
posted by dgaicun at 12:01 AM on November 23, 2002


Many slaves of the antebellum south were actually very happy. Many loved their 'Massa's' like family.
posted by dgaicun at 11:20 AM PST on November 22

Do you really need to hear from historians before you know that slaves were unhappy?
I don't.

posted by dgaicun at 12:01 AM PST on November 23

languagehat, its painfully obvious that you have no idea what my post was trying to communicate.

Guilty as charged.
posted by languagehat at 6:42 AM on November 23, 2002


Guilty as charged.

OK...so, is it normal for you to attack isolated sentences, uncontextually extracted from larger pieces of written thought that you admittedly don't understand, or do you reserve such behavior, for moments that might relate to your (should we call it) pet outrage? I'm beginning to suspect the latter.

Languagehat, I understand that slaves weren't happy. No human can live as a slave and be happy. My point above was not that "slaves were very happy", in the sense that makes sense to us (post-Enlightenment thinkers), but that they were "very happy" by the inferior standards of the pre-Enlightenment world, standards which I set out to attack as, not just different, but as objectively inferior.
For thousands of years, slavery was seen as a normal human institution[1], and was not questioned until Humanist thinkers subverted the notion that happiness could exist apart from freedom. To dissect my thoughts for you:

Human happiness and human freedom are two different moral ideas. [the former pre-Enlightenment, the latter, post] Many slaves of the antebellum south were actually very happy. Many loved their 'Massa's' like family. [oh, wait. . . there's more] During the Enlightenment, though [meaning: despite the sentence that languagehat loves], many learned Humanist thinkers made a convincing case that 'happiness' [note the skeptics quotations] wasn't enough; humans needed freedom too. Freedom was more important than happiness, they argued* [did you ignore this '*' completely?: *or rather that true happiness could only extend from freedom.]

So when I said that Enlightenment thinkers made a convincing case that happiness could only extend from freedom, did you think that I meant 'convincing' to other people who weren't me?

If you would like to begin a dialogue with me, then you should do so Lh, but you might not be too surprised to hear that I don't appreciate people making hit-n'-run insults & denunciations (trollish-sounding, 'you're having a hard enough time defending your original position', etc.).

[1]Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)
posted by dgaicun at 8:49 PM on November 23, 2002


You're making moral judgments on them and using your definition of what is "suspicious" or not to take pleasure in the demise of a way of life and its replacement by another which you straight-facedly describe as "better" without any justification at all. I find that presumptuous and I object to it because it sounds a whole lot, to me, like the kind of thinking leads to crusades, ethnic cleansing and dead languages.

(confused)

... But.. that's.. not what... I was... doing. You just... cut and pasted my own text to make me look like a hypocrit, when I'm not making any of the claims in that paragraph..

I'm not making moral judgments, I'm trying to argue that moral judgments are absurd. I'm not taking pleasure in the demise of any culture. I'm not calling any culture "better" than another, that's what I'm arguing against. And defending the practices of native tribes does not lead to crusades, ethnic cleansing and dead languages. That's stupid.

What are you trying to do? Are you just counting on the fact that no one is paying attention to what anyone else is saying? This is why this thread became ridiculous.
posted by Hildago at 6:33 PM on November 24, 2002


Hildago,

Yeah, I'm not quite sure what Pretty_Generic was trying to say. I can't find anywhere where you say The Occident or the Sambia are better. That any one is 'better' is precisely the opposite of what you were arguing. I feel that few people are considering what others are trying to say with any degree of proper scrutiny.
posted by dgaicun at 7:16 PM on November 24, 2002


Hildago,

I feel that few people are considering what others are trying to say with any degree of proper scrutiny.

On review, I appear to be one of those people. P_G was being satirical.

Except, of course, people on the other side of the planet who develop their belief systems in a country with a suspicious history of homophobia, purritanical repression and cultural imperialism

P_G was mocking you by pointing out the hypocrisy of this statement. By saying that homophobia, sexual repression, and imperialism are bad you are making a value judgement that cultures that practice such behavior are morally inferior to those that don't. I tend to agree. Of course, even a cursory study of the Sambia will show you that all of these behaviors are much more prevalent in their culture then they are in any Western culture*. So in a way you have already agreed with us that we are, in fact, a morally superior culture.

*The myth of the sexually liberated primitives was pretty much shattered with Derek Freeman's amazing response to Margaret Mead's shoddy anthropology. Rape, abuse, shame and taboo are all extremely prevalent in unadvanced societies such as the Sambia (please read my 'unhappy' link above). And if you wanna talk about 'imperialism' maybe you should look at how Sambians interact with their neighbors a little more seriously.
posted by dgaicun at 8:14 PM on November 24, 2002


I'm not making moral judgments, I'm trying to argue that moral judgments are absurd.

This is a bald-faced lie Hildago.

suspicious history of homophobia, purritanical repression and cultural imperialism

This was not a neutral assessment. It clearly implies our moral deficit. It clearly implies the moral inferiority of these behaviors. If moral judgements were absurd you would have no ability to name what is wrong with the actions of a person or of a society, or to rationally explain why. In other words you dismiss as unnecessary every moral reform that marks our entire national history. Bye Women's Suffrage, bye Civil rights movement, bye Emancipation Proclamation, bye Representative Government. It turns out all change is arbitrary, so why bother with reform. Either way it's all the same. No one way is better than another. La, la, la.
posted by dgaicun at 1:09 AM on November 25, 2002


That's right. Woo!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:09 AM on November 25, 2002


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