Against Relativism

Dear Editor,

A common charge leveled against my chosen field of study, anthropology, is that it adheres too strictly to the doctrine of cultural relativism. This doctrine holds that the actions of individuals should be judged according to whether or not those actions are considered acceptable in that culture. When taken to extremes, this doctrine can be used to justify any action. For example, slavery and female circumcision are considered acceptable in some modern cultures.

I do not adhere to this extreme relativistic view. In my mind there are some things that cannot be rationalized as being morally justified. The fact that people accept them as such doesn’t change that simple fact. For example, I find it hard to believe that anyone anywhere can justify punishing human beings for actions for which they are not responsible. Therefore, it disturbs me that our nation is attacking the citizens of Afghanistan for the actions of their authoritarian government.

This punishment goes far beyond the wayward bombs that cause “collateral damage”. Afghanistan is in the midst of an ongoing drought. Coupled with this drought is the fact that much of the productive farmland is taken up with minefields left from the war with the Soviets. Without international food aid tens of thousands of Afghanis will starve this winter. Since the US and British bombing campaign began no international aid has reached the interior of Afghanistan. Before the end of this month winter snows will make (what pass for) roads into the country’s mountains impassable. The US and British governments have thus far refused to suspend bombing for the period needed to truck food to these interior villages. If they do not reverse this decision within the next few days tens of thousands of people will die; high end estimates give the number at one million. This is simply wrong. These villagers have absolutely nothing to do with the September 11th attacks, nor do they have any say in the Taliban’s sheltering of Ossama Bin Laden and other terrorists.

By our administration’s own admission the Taliban’s ability to make war has been diminished due to our air attacks. This ability is not going to be regained within the window of opportunity that is left to get food aid to Afghani villagers. A short cessation of bombing would allow these villagers to live without harming our war effort.

The September 11th attacks were perpetrated by those who had no problem randomly taking innocent lives to further their cause. What they did was wrong. It would be just as wrong to take more innocent lives to further our cause. There isn’t a relative difference between one innocent life and another- there isn’t any difference at all.

Matthew T. BradleySenior anthropology major