The Irrelevance of Culture


On any given day, a quick perusal of a newspaper like the Daily Mail or the Daily Express will offer a fairly high chance of seeing the words ‘political correctness gone mad’ written in large print.

Normally I would cringe at the use of this phrase, as it has all too often fallen into the rhetoric of uniformed bigots and the masses of armchair pundits.

They complain about how they were passed over for a job in favour of a disabled lesbian Muslim immigrant who can’t speak English but was employed because she ticks more of the necessary and absurd boxes that government quotas force companies to fulfil.

I tend to dismiss stories such as these as mere playground drivel.  The kind of thing you might read about in a right-leaning paper or from a friend of a friend, but not the sort of thing you experience first hand.

Even so, although I still don’t give much credence to the examples these supposed victims of political correctness cite, I have started to give some more consideration to the relationship to the principles we supposedly stand for in the West.

Many of you will find this irksome, and understandably so.  I beg you not to label me as a socially conservative ignoramus who sees Richard Littlejohn as the George Orwell of his time.

I think this growing hostility towards the sensitivities of others began when a flatmate and I had a fairly heated argument on whether or not you can deem one culture to be better than another.

Although I am fairly embarrassed to admit that this is how we spent our Saturday night, this argument, for me, drew some fairly blunt conclusions on the respect and neutrality we should have towards cultural practices across the globe, our own included.

It started with a fairly flippant and ill-founded comment on my behalf (one that I did not entirely mean before you judge me too quickly); that the neo-liberal cultures of the Western world were probably the best out there.

I imagine that many of you reading this will at this point gasp in disbelief at my arrogance and bigotry, but please hear me out.

If you have read any of my other articles you would know I would be the first to criticise the greed-driven aspect of Western liberalism, and the impact it has on our culture.  As my flatmate rightly pointed out, I’m sure there are many societies out there that want this aspect of the Western world kept well clear of their own.

The point I was inadequately trying to make was that culture, that hallowed term that covers all manner of regional differences we dare not pass judgement on, should not be exempt from the same moral standards we impose on other aspects of our existence.

In the Central African Republic, around half the total number of prison inmates is made up of people found guilty of witchcraft.  Local healers will accuse random members of the family and friends of practicing black magic, whereby they will often be arrested and thrown in jail.

How are we to see this behaviour?  Do we excuse it simply because it is part of central African animist culture to believe in witches?

Surely the use of reason and science in the exercise of law is something we should encourage across the globe, and not just reserve it for those who are lucky enough to be born into a society that no longer lets superstition govern justice.

After the disaster that was Iraq, it seemed as though Western liberals began to doubt the value of their beliefs.

Although Iraq is open to much speculation with regard to the true motives, liberals began to ask whether we indeed had the right to assist others in enshrining the Enlightenment principles in law and custom.

Falling under the banner of ‘culture’ cannot be suitable justification for a practice that involves the abuse of human rights and abandoning of reason.

Although ‘political correctness gone mad’ is a phrase that brings with it connotations of racism, bigotry and ignorance, the liberty upon which it is founded is nothing to be ashamed of.

Unfortunately this conclusion brings with it some fairly serious connotations.  Any recognition of a universal moral code immediately incurs obligations to uphold it.

Despite the backlash against humanitarian intervention we saw throughout the West after Iraq, it is time liberals recognised the duties that come with their own doctrine.


  1. How are we to see this behaviour? Do we excuse it simply because it is part of central African animist culture to believe in witches?

    First off, who is “we”? And who exactly is asking “us” to excuse anything? Witchcraft beliefs across Africa are immensely complex and varied and are interconnected with generational issues, new forms of education and their conflict with older, less empirical ‘knowledge’, perception of the Other and many other aspects besides. “Law” and “reason” are not infallible, unchanging categories that exist prior to or outside the concept of culture. They are completely informed by and connected to whatever culture(s) they have arisen from.


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