Possible to combat oppression without risking imperialism?


I can’t think of a better way to highlight moral relativism–the idea that right and wrong are individually or societally determined.

Within five seconds, the cartoon dismantled my ideas of the “oppressive Middle Eastern society” and replaced them with “the Middle Eastern society”.

It’s quite easy to view the world in terms of absolute rights and wrongs, independent of any individual or societal circumstances. Such a worldview is called moral objectivism.

For instance, I could say that, as an objective right, women should feel liberated to wear whatever they want, therefore any culture or religion that imposes dress restrictions on women is wrong (i.e. Muslim women and the hijab).

While well-intentioned, the obvious problem with this train of thought is that it leads to imperialist thought, or imposing our ideas upon other groups of people. The big, powerful, and “enlightened” western nations then go out to help the poor, “unenlightened” non-western nations.

Interestingly, one of largest contributors to moral objectivism is religion, where rights and wrongs are conveyed as absolute in the eyes of a higher power. It then follows that as religion wanes out of favor in western culture, so does moral objectivism.

But I do believe in one case of an absolute wrong, a moral objective. I believe that it is always wrong to withhold or censor information. No society perfectly upholds this moral imperative, and the U.S. has particularly been under heat about this (re: NSA scandal).

I actually wrote an article a couple of months ago that argued that the NSA’s impact on our daily lives is insignificant enough that I don’t really care about the infringement on our privacy.

However, irrespective of my opinions, I entirely support that we should have known about the NSA so that we could properly come to our own conclusions about it.

I firmly believe that the most important (and only) thing that should be spread cross-culturally is information. Notably, by “spread of information”, I do not mean forcing agreement, nor forcing adherence to any practices, nor condemnation of any differing ideologies. Just information.

Sharing our beliefs with other cultures and (more importantly) learning the beliefs of those those same cultures is the only way to combat oppression (yes, even within our own utopia) without risking imperialism.

Spreading anything more than information has traditionally caused more trouble than good (re: East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East).

But doing nothing is no better. It allows for gross, preventable atrocities (re: Rwandan Genocide). It also allows for oppressive regimes that exploit their people.

Take, for example, the Taliban in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, women were not allowed to be educated after the age of eight (before which only consisted of reading the Quran).

However, the key difference between Taliban oppression of women and the classic mistake that the cartoon illustrates is that the Taliban acted against the wills of its people (one particularly moving case is the story of Aesha Mohammadzai, who had her nose and ears cut off for alleged adultery).

The old “your freedom to swing your fist stops at the next person’s face” holds. No person or group should be able to determine the freedoms of any other educated and mature person or group.

It’s one thing for a mother to restrict her son’s freedom to dance in the middle of traffic. It’s another for a government to systematically deny access to education for half of its population.

Anyone with a full-range of information and full intellectual maturity (i.e. an educated adult) should be able to make any decision he so chooses–even if it’s one we disagree with.

But in the case of information being withheld or misreported, in the case of cultist and systematic brainwashing, in the case of dogmatism, we have a duty to intervene by offering any alternative knowledge, while keeping in mind that the actual decisions are not ours to make.


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