February 23, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Reality and cultural sensitivity

Print More

To the Editor:

Re: “Colonialism Redux,” Opinion, Feb. 23

Despite the spatial limitations on his column, Judah Bellin’s “Colonialism Redux” in Monday’s Sun manages to makes countless errors and omissions. I will respond to a few of the glaring ones, as a word of caution to the armchair punditry of the columnist who bites off more than he can chew.

As a would-be critic of “the West,” Bellin should first recognize that there is no “West” to speak of. Germany is probably closer to Korea and Japan in its legal system than it is to the United Kingdom. As another example, the culture of the United States and Spain — both ostensibly “Western” countries — are only part of one overarching “Western” culture in a highly attenuated, analytically nearly-useless sense.

Bellin continues to bemoan the moralizing tendency “Westerners” of “viewing foreigners as helpless ‘others.’” This is true, but only for what it’s worth. That is, we may condemn a culture that views itself as superior and fundamentally apart from another for purely subjective reasons when that culture clothes itself in objective rhetoric on purely logical grounds — the subjective is not the objective, and to imply as much is wrong. However, inasmuch as Bellin seems to suggest that there is no such thing as an objective, factual standard by which to measure certain cultural aspects, he is simply dead wrong. Things fall because of gravity, regardless of whatever fanciful reasoning any culture — Western or otherwise — decides upon. Earthquakes happen as the result of movement along tectonic faults, regardless of what Haitian locals or Pat Robertson might say.

I am not a columnist or public thinker, so I give my layman’s advice without reservation: reality exists, and where it conflicts with cultural sensitivity, it must take precedence.

Francis Sohn grad