Our world is the house of diversity. Alternatively, we can call variety the driving force that makes our world so lively. You cannot even find two snowflakes that look alike. Not every flower from the same tree looks identical.
Not every peach from the same branch tastes the same. Just as everything around us is different in its unique way, how can you find commonness in the being that dominates the world? Human beings are like snowflakes.
Each of them is different in their way. Yet, we like to categorize them in terms of nationality, religion, or ethnicity. We like to seek similarities. When someone is similar to us in some manners, they are one of us.
When someone is not, we categorize them into another group. Over time in history, this categorization has led human beings to talk about self and others, about superior and inferior, about civilized and savage.
But is there anything called savage or civilized? Or should we change the lenses and see differently? Today, we are pondering the topic of making debates online – There are no savage or civilized people; there are only different cultures.
What World Thinks
When the topic was raised on one online platform, 26% out of 196 respondents agreed with the statement. 31% of the respondents from New York agree with the statement.
40% of the respondents from Michigan agreed with the statement. 32% of respondents with black racial background agree with the statement. In comparison, 24% of respondents with white racial backgrounds agree with it.
While the portal above shows us how a majority of the American respondents agree with the statement, another portal shows us something different. 61% of votes cast by 52 people were on the disagree button.
These are just chunks of the larger debate that is taken place online regarding this topic. Some people strongly agree with the idea, while others are firmly opposing it. So, what is our take on it?
What Do ‘Savage’ and ‘Civilized’ Mean?
Let us find the linguistic etymology of the main words of the statement – savage and civilized. What do we understand by savage? When does someone or something become savage?
Who decides what sort of act is savage? Similarly, what is the meaning of civilized? Who decides what a civilized act is and what is barbaric?
According to Oxford Dictionaries, savage is a synonym of ‘brutal.’ When someone deals with someone or something with cruelty or violence, the act is savage. Whereas civilized stands for “well organized socially with a very developed culture and way of life.”
So, when we call any practice savage or brutal, it means that the practice is alien to our notion of ‘developed culture.’ If so, then how do we measure the brutal reality of the industrial revolution?
The 2nd industrial revolution marking the beginning of mass production, is one of the means to give us the ‘civilized way of life. But, it was achieved by constant exploitation of the working class.
Who Are The ‘Civilized’ Ones?
According to Walter Benjamin, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” When you read about the great Roman civilization, you cannot help but acknowledge the barbaric acts that brought them that civilization.
Extremism can exist in the most civilized societies. Think about Germany before the world wars. It was the epitome of civilization with a rich culture and heritage.
But when the same nation showed us one of the most barbaric examples of ethnic cleansing by performing the Jewish holocaust, we consider it a bloodstain on the chuddar of civilization.
In today’s world, where we are setting foot to the farthest corner to know the unknown, can we still stand on the ground of self-righteousness and call every ‘others’ savage? Understanding other’s beliefs, customs, and ethics is part of cultural relativism.
If we agree that no one’s culture is superior or inferior, then we can dwell with respect in this world. Think about the 19th-century colonization of the Indian subcontinent or Africa.
The so-called idea of ‘civilization’ came along with the exploitation of indigenous people. The colonizers looked down upon the colonized people.
They believed in the supremacy of themselves and justified their rule by the name of ‘civilization.’ The British colonizers are known for introducing railway service in India.
But this development was at the cost of 200 years of violence, money looting, trafficking of properties, and exploitation of the large Indian population.
Culture and ethics are subjective topics. Ethnocentrism is omnipresent in human beings. Unless one can truly understand the history, lifestyle, custom, and inherit the belief system of a particular society – no one can get the essence of another culture.
Without resetting their socio-cultural reality, every unfamiliar topic of another culture can get the ‘savage’ title. In this notion, some people agree with the statement.
Cultural relativism cannot exist without moral relativism. If we see civilization from the lenses of human development, we may agree that some basic code of conduct is common among many cultures.
Those code-of-conducts together form the basics of human rights as we know them today. Thirty articles of UDHR are formed based on the moral relativism of nations.
No one should be subjected to cultural prejudice. Then, what if someone is subjected to moral violation by their culture? How do we evaluate if it is harmless culture or not?
Custom or Malpractice?
Take a look at Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), for instance. It is performed in many countries in Africa and Asia. The act of deliberate cutting or changing female genitals is known as FGM. This act is considered a violation of women’s human rights.
Without any strong religious or scientific explanation, this act has been carried by many cultures. Many societies can condemn traditional practices like this as these sorts of practices are perpetual to dominate one particular gender.
Positioning any human to a lesser degree should not be accepted. Customs that threaten the life of any individual is also unacceptable. If we looked back in 1829, we could see the abolishment of Satidah Pratham in India.
This custom of burning down the widow with the late husband was abolished in colonized India. In many cultures across Asia, ‘honor killing’ is seen as maintaining purity in the culture.
So, if everything is “only different cultures,” then how do we point out the fault at these customs and challenge to change it?
How do we condemn cultures that legalize acid throwing in the name of belief and custom? How do we stop extremists from banning women’s education?
Our Take On The Subject
In reality, there are No Savage or Civilized People; there are Only Different Cultures. Especially for human beings, the grey world seems larger than black and white.
Many factors shape our thinking. No one is a-political. Everyone functions in accordance with years of social learning and accumulated assumptions and beliefs.
But we have reached the level of discussion where we must choose a side on this debate. We do not call any culture savage or civilized. We better put it on the scale of human rights.
We look closer at the topic and observe. Is someone’s right to maintain culture is violating someone else’s right to liberty and life? We ask ourselves this question.
We then ask, is it the culture that performs violence? Or is it the people hiding behind sheets of customs and beliefs?
How does one ‘savage’ custom violate the liberty of people? Whom does the practice serve in reality? The culture or the people?
Let us go back to the beautiful continent of Africa one last time. Remember FGM. This custom is performed to sustain female purity. The belief is that genital mutilation reduces the sexual desire of women.
This belief leads over 400 million girls to go under blades every year. They are more likely to suffer from infections and maternal complications.
Moral relativism does not let us support this custom. But we are none too gross about the spitting custom of the Maasai people of Kenya. They do not need to act according to the self-righteous civilized world. Maintaining a custom that does not violate other’s rights is nothing abnormal is only a different culture.