05 June 2015

The Myth of Cultural Relativity

Why is it that on every video about Egypt, or archaeology in general, there has to be someone who leaves a comment about racialism? "You don't think [insert minority here] was smart enough to create something on their own! You're racialist!"

The truth of the matter is, most people in the world were not smart enough to do things on their own. People from Eurasia, and Egypt, did invent a whole lot, and had achieved a whole lot, and everyone else in the world was pretty much stuck in the stone age until the 18th century when they were dragged kicking and screaming into modernity.

People in North America did not have wheels, few had any form of record keeping, and those who had a limited usage of metal used it for ornamental purposes, not for anything practical. However impressive the accomplishments of the Maya or the Peruvian peoples, those accomplishments were all equivalent to things Eurasians had done many thousands of years earlier. Megalithic cairns dating back over 10,000 years map out precise astronomical alignments. While Egyptian pyramids were made from enormous blocks of cut stone, Mesoamerican pyramids were mostly made of rubble, only faced with stone. There were people in the Americas who built tumuli (earthen mounds), even up to probably 1500, while Eurasians had advanced beyond this thousands of years earlier. Not all cultures are equivalent, not scientifically, not technologically, not philosophically, not artistically, and not morally.

I don't think there is anyone who would argue that all breeds of dog are equivalent. Some dogs run really fast, others are exceptional at hunting waterfowl, others are useful for military work. No one would argue that all dogs are equivalent. And yet, somehow, there are some people who manage to think that all humans are equivalent. Some humans are exceptional at metal work, and philosophy, and construction, and hydrology, and navigation, and agriculture, and science, and they almost all come from the same areas. And some humans are great at making mud huts, and they pretty much live everywhere else.

The mistake is to separate humans from the natural world and make equal that which is not. As groups of humans separated geographically breed, just like dogs, different traits are passed on. Some breeds of human accumulate more beneficial traits than others, just like dogs. Some dogs (created in modern times by sick humans) have severe physical deformities that are a terrible detriment to their health. Some dogs are so deformed they cannot even breed without human intervention. The same is true with humans. Certain groups of humans are really short, others have developed the ability to digest milk into adulthood, some can run for days without tiring, and some groups of humans are incredibly smart. But for some reason while it is perfectly fine to talk about how breeding affects dogs, people get up in arms when anyone talks about breeding in humans.

I'm not talking about intrinsic human-ness, I'm not saying other groups of people should be enslaved or exterminated, as people who feel instead of think have already assumed my argument is and have stopped reading. Stupid people are just as human as smart people, just as small deformed dogs are just as dog as reasonable-sized healthy dogs. It's just that stupid people are not as smart as smart people, and so one would find it a lot more difficult to believe that a group of stupid people would be able to create more advanced structures than a group of smart people. That's what the whole issue is. It is easier to believe that certain cultures with long histories of great achievements could create certain monuments with their technology than it is to believe another culture could do the same with much more primitive technology and no suitable record of achievements. It's logic, not feelings. Try using it.