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Monday, 6 March 2006
Moral tourism

Harry's Place alerted me to this article by David Thompson, in which he argues that "cultural equivalence is neither compassionate nor fair. It's merely pretentious moral tourism for middle-class lefties. Like the Guardian's Madeleine Bunting." The whole article is worth reading, but here are the last two paragraphs, as a taster:

A 'cosmopolitan' moral worldview is obviously appealing, at least superficially -- provided conflicting values never actually meet. Relativism must seem quite plausible if one is a well-heeled moral tourist and can flit from one culture to another, nodding appreciatively at the local colour and whistling about diversity, while committing to none of the values in question. But what happens when incompatible views bump into each other on the same piece of turf, and over something rather important, like the education of women or freedom of speech?

And what, I wonder, would Professor Appiah or Madeleine Bunting make of the following real situation? In a crowded shopping centre, a man sees an apparently unaccompanied woman shrouded in a niqab stumble and fall down. He extends a hand to help the fallen woman and asks if she's alright. This enquiry is met with a look of horror and the man is angrily waved away by the woman's husband, who promptly berates his fallen wife for reasons that aren't clear. Does this reaction -- which we're supposed to respect -- foster basic civility and encourage strangers to help? If we memorise the various conflicting religious and moral codes of each minority, will we learn to hesitate before offering to assist an injured woman? Will we have to first search out the husband and ask for his permission? Or, more likely, will we learn to ignore her altogether? And will this make us better people?

This concrete example, with echos of the tale of the Good Samaritan, makes the point very vividly.

Talking of the parable of the Good Samaritan, an old friend of mine, whose knowledge of the Bible is even shakier than my own, once conflated three parables, referring to "The Return of the Lost Samaritan". Irrelevant, but priceless.

Posted on 03/06/2006 6:30 AM by Mary Jackson
6 Mar 2006
Send an emailRebecca Bynum
My, my, my, it was ever so satisfying to see Madeleine Bunting eviscerated so well. We must give the Madeleine Bunting Demented Loon Award to some one really special this year. What about that woman in Canada currently churning out the "polygamy is swell" reports?

6 Mar 2006
Esmerelda Weatherwax
From the article "How would moral relativism fare when faced with jihadist demagogues or practitioners of voodoo who beat small children to exorcise bad spirits?" I am less worried about how the moral relativist fared in this example than the children. Victoria Climbie because police and social workers were effectively "scared" of making a value judgment about a different culture. Child B was rescued in time FGM should now be regarded as child abuse, not culture, but as this story from the BBC reports there have been no prosecutions yet.