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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.