Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Fundamental Question of Rights

While respecting people's values is important, to what extent should specific cultural values that go against fundamental rights (in our view) be respected? This arises constantly in Planning (full of relativists - though I am not one), where people discuss the idea of protecting specific ethnic values on the basis of giving people equal rights to protect their culture. My question is, to what extent should we compromise? I am consistently frustrated by colleagues that suggest illegitimate cultural traditions should be respected (most famously, female circumcision). Furthermore, cultural groups that do not respect women have no right to continue so to do once they arrive in this country, in my mind. Nevertheless, we fail completely to reach their enclaves if we outwardly attempt to change them. This arises in planning as a conflict because we frequently have to conduct outreach to minority immigrant (and even some natural-born Americans of European descent) in order to give them representative input into the planning process. When this occurs, we end up with large numbers of men at a meeting, or even one or two people who claim to have the mandate to speak for the group (which I suppose they may). We are skeptical of claims of authority in this culture, and I believe rightly so. I believe that if we can break through the discriminatory, sexist, or racist cultural values of some groups, we could obtain an actually representative opinion of the community. We are prevented in doing so, however, because we have to "respect" them to get any input at all. I dislike the idea of having to co-opt bad cultural values through small inroads (such as through the public education system), but I know few other ways of succeeding. This is a question of Truth vs Tolerance. In the end, we are forced to be tolerant of intolerance and pretend not to recognize the universality of certain fundamental rights just to be able to spread Truth.


  1. oOoOooO...tricky stuff! here's another layer. what if the women or otherwise 'oppressed group', when they are given their hearing, agree with the discrimination? what is there are content in their situation?
    what should our advocacy be then?
    not like i know, but i'm curious of your thoughts...

  2. Me too (about PCMA). Very frequently women will support an oppressive system; however, we know that, when women are educated and offered an option, they choose equality. This is evident worldwide, including in places like Iran. My ultimate goal: educate people about opportunity and what should be rather than telling them they are explicitly wrong (except in a number of cases where the cultural tradition is harmful). Basically, prove my value right rather than focus on proving theirs wrong.

  3. By the way, you should start putting your Blog on Buzz as well so I can remember to read it when you post stuff.

  4. a whole different kind of 'good news' ;-)

    and will do, re: blog buzz.