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Friday, January 4, 2013

A Reprise on Cultural Relativism

Following is a little piece I posted January 9, 2005, after a particularly brutal day working on tsunami relief. I think it's still relevant. Hope to write some new stuff this week-end.

Hope you enjoy it . . . . and don't find it too cynical and despairing.

"Regular readers of our little blog know that The Diplomad can get obsessed by certain topics. In the past, such obsessions have included John "XMAS in Cambodia" Kerry; the State Department personnel system; the many manifestations of anti-Americanism around the world; UNICEF; and the loopy enviro-indigenous movement. Of late, of course, The Diplomad has been obsessed with the genuinely grotesque horror of watching the UN in "action" as it reacts to the devastating quake and tsunami that hit large parts of southern Asia, December 26. This horrid Boxing Day event has prompted The Diplomad to engage in another obsession: reflecting on life and death in mean corners of the world.

The Diplomad has written previously on the Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life which, in essence, dictates that nature meant for us to be tiger lunch by the age of 40, give or take a year or so. For those of us in the First World and those in the Turd World with access, however, modern science, technology and the free enterprise system have pushed our ability to exist well-beyond our original design specifications. The history of modern man is one of fighting Mother Nature and her nefarious plans for us as individuals; we are not content with ensuring that the human species as a whole survive, we also insist on ensuring that human individuals survive. No other species does that; in fact, as we will discuss, much of non-Western mankind still doesn't either.

We have all heard how the quake-tsunami that has cost perhaps as many as 160,000 lives, thus far, has produced an unprecedented outpouring of global generosity. But has it, really? As we have tried to document, for example, the UN bureaucracy has not shown itself particularly concerned with saving lives, but more with preserving its status as a politically correct over-paid elite. But even more troubling than the antics of the increasingly incompetent, cynical and irrelevant UN has been the tepid or non-existent response to the disaster from the majority of mankind, including from citizens within the most affected countries.

In Western countries, we see not only governments pledging sizable sums of money, but private individuals, as well. I can't count, for example, the number of letters, emails, and calls we have received from private Americans wanting to help in anyway they can to save lives. All across America, Australia, and Europe private citizens have raised enormous sums for tsunami relief. Local branches of American companies have raised large amounts of money and donated expensive machinery and other supplies to the effort. At the Embassy, we have seen American staff voluntarily cancel leave plans (often at considerable financial cost); cut short vacations; and volunteer for duties such as manning phones in our 24 hr. opcenter; helping load and unload trucks and C-130s; or spending days working and sleeping under exceptionally grim conditions in the areas most affected. And, of course, Australian and American military personnel, at great monetary cost and personal risk, have led the way in the massive relief effort underway.

I see, however, no outpouring of support in most of the world's countries. The oil-rich Arabs? Where are they? But most frustrating and even angering is the lack of concern exhibited by average and elite members of the societies most directly affected. This was driven home in the course of an interminable meeting a few days ago discussing some silly resolution or another calling on the UN to appoint a "Special Representative for Tsunami Relief." A relatively senior Sri Lankan official leaned over and said to me, "Why do we want to bother with this? We all know you Americans will do everything." A nice compliment, I suppose, but on reflection a sad commentary not only about the rest of the world but presumably about Sri Lanka, itself. One would expect the affected countries to take the lead in relief efforts. None of the most seriously affected countries (Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives) is a dirt poor country; all have well-established governments and national identities.

In Jakarta, aside from flags at half-staff, we have seen no signs of mourning for the victims: while employees and dependents of the American embassy spent their holiday loading trucks and putting together medicine kits, the city's inhabitants went ahead with New Year's parties; nightclubs and shopping centers are full; and regular television programming continues. At least 120,000 of their fellow countrymen are dead, and Indonesians hardly talk about it, much less engage in massive charitable efforts. The exceptionally wealthy businessmen of the capital -- and the country boasts several billionaires -- haven't made large donations to the cause of Sumatran relief; a few scattered NGOs have done a bit, but there are no well-organized drives to raise funds and supplies. We have seen nothing akin to what happened in the USA following the 9/11 atrocity, or the hurricanes in Florida of this past year.

The Sri Lankan's words echo in my mind every day, ""Why do we want to bother with this? We all know you Americans will do everything." With the exception of a handful of Western countries, most of the world would appear inhabited by the sort of Eloi-type creatures depicted in that old sci-fi flick based on H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, passively watching as flood waters or Morlocks drag their fellows away.

Begging the pardon of the cultural relativists, but might we not be allowed to raise -- ever so gently, of course -- the possibility that these differing reactions to human suffering, show Western civilization as the best we have on the planet? Maybe, just maybe Western civilization is morally superior."


  1. "the possibility that these differing reactions to human suffering, show Western civilization as the best we have on the planet? Maybe, just maybe Western civilization is morally superior." This is forbidden territory here Diplomad, the Pharisees would cast you from the Temple for this.

  2. Well as long as western civilization was based firmly in Judeo-Christian ethics it was superior. We unfortunately live in a post Christian world so while not necessarily anytime soon I would look for this charitable spirit of Americans to disappear at some point in time. We are becoming a culture of death that does not appreciate life unless it fits some sort of political agenda. Who should be the most outraged for example about the atrocities of Islam toward women-one would think feminists but you would be wrong, they are very silent. Since abortion most affects the black community the most one would think those paragons of black virtue Sharpton and Jackson would be up in arms over the abortion rate in black communities but alas no-doesn't fit their narrative. Unfortunately unless the spiritual health of out country improves dramatically, the culture and political health of the country is going to decline dramatically.

    1. Yes, there appears to be a winnowing happening in the world at large - lovers of life versus lovers of death. Sides are being drawn up, the battle lines chosen. Interesting how the truly liberal left seems to identify so well with Islam on the most basic of levels. Liberals speak of 'rights' but when death knocks on the door he's escorted in: abortion, women's violence in Islam, economic slavery (welfare), division of multiculturalism versus unity of patriotism, etc.

    2. "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a hiding place or under a basket, but on a lamp stand, so that those who enter may see its light. (Luke 11:33)

      Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

  3. Seriously awesome. Thanks for reposting

  4. Dip: I certainly hope you are preparing a suitable verbal sendoff for Hugo Chavez, who will be assuming room temperature when the electricity next goes off in Havana.

  5. "..........The oil-rich Arabs? Where are they?" lol

    you know they are as racist as you can find and duplicitous. They would not help even if the victims were Arabs unless it was their immediate family, not sure if they would even help their own tribe.

    Too bad the westerners and the media refuse to see that racist side of the rest of the world.


  6. Lets not forget the non muslims in those areas who were refused permission to rebuild churches as a form of cultural cleansing.

  7. Diplomad wrote: "A relatively senior Sri Lankan official leaned over and said to me, "Why do we want to bother with this? We all know you Americans will do everything."

    Let's not forget that, the day after the tsunami, the UN's chief for humanitarian operations, Jan Egeland, called western donors "stingy."

  8. Thanks for the repost. I too was in town shortly after the carnage, and I did note in the back of my mind that nobody in JKT lifted a finger. The mall was still open!

    Strange thing about the Saudis (or Qatar, or any other wealthy Muslim nation), how little they seemed to care about a fellow Muslim nation in such need at the time.

    The Saudis are a breed unto their own.

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