Cultural Ethics

Hello readers.

I have been thinking a lot about the Turkey question. My partner and I had a lively discussion on the ethics of challenging cultural practice. I will open the debate with an extreme example and we will look at it from a couple of different angles to seek an opinion on the matter. Let us imagine that there is a primitive civilization living in underground caves on Mars. We establish communication with them and begin flying space tourists there to meet these odd creatures. We will assume that they are intelligent and have an ability to communicate/translate. Suppose that as we investigate their cultural traditions and practices, that we find they regularly molest their children. Should we A). Respect their traditional practices and go on? Or, B). Attempt to alter their behavior based on our own cultural ethics? My practical point is based on two examples from the Mid-East. One, is an experience I had in Kuwait where three Muslim women stepped out of line at an ice cream shop when two G.I.s and myself approached the counter. We politely told them “no, you were here first.” The denied our request and sat at a table to the side. The male server said that we were men and should go first. I believe he made a comment that they were women and had no job to do and they could wait- or something to that effect. We disagreed and restated our request. One of my co-workers insisted that he serve them first or we would leave. I don’t remember exactly how it went. Later, I asked myself if we should have just went with their local practice and not caused a situation in a host country. But, at the same time, I would feel like I was not living up to my human potential by participating in a system that treated women as second class individuals. My other example is in the collection of writings in Tourists and Tourism regarding men in Turkey’s “city of love” participating in flagrant cocksmanship with female tourists. It is not legal for the local women to frequent the clubs because of religious and cultural reasons. However, the men find it perfectly ok to romance the females visiting their country. Does that make it allowable? Does cultural practice, here being men have more freedoms than women, trump individual rights? This could be applied in places such as Bangkok as well. I watched the movie Camera, Camera with classmate Austin last week, and they touched on the sex trade in Laos. It was mostly rich Western travelers creating a market for underage sex workers. The country is dirt poor. Many women participate in this behavior hoping to become a lover of the traveler and be rescued from their situation. Should we tell them to forgo prostitution and just starve to death? Or should we shut up and support them? The question of human rights goes much farther than tourism. Economies deal with trade-offs all of the time for survival but I will not get into child-labor laws and the like at this time. I still have not created a full opinion on global rights and would love to hear your opinions on the matter. Thanks for your time!


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