There’s been a lot said about “culture” on this blog lately. My complaints about the RWC opening ceremony sparked a fair amount of criticism. Most of it appeared to come from semi-literate simians with no doubt some degree of Maori blood in their veins, but strangely, most were reluctant to say just how “Maori” they were.
Vicious, intolerant, hateful, the justification for their incoherent rants was that their “culture” had been insulted. Not good enough. If a culture does not have some degree of civility and refinement to it, how can it be a culture due any pride? Should someone be as culturally proud of mastering the craft of shrinking heads (for example), as they would be of playing Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 on a Stradivarius?
Too often some twisted perception of “culture” is used to justify some pretty barbaric behaviour. I came across an old article I had stored in 2007. About the conduct of Aborigines in Alice Springs. It provides as good an example as you could wish for of the concept or culture being used to excuse utterly monstrous actions-
It seemed to me that Aboriginal men were using the defence of cultural traditions to get away with rape and murder. But it’s not only that. The statistics on Aboriginal domestic violence and sexual abuse are so much worse than in the general population, as has been highlighted in the 40 reports produced on the issue since 1999.
The Alice Springs hospital provides a clear example: about 800 Aboriginal women were treated for domestic assault last year, up from 351 in 1999. The rate of domestic assault in indigenous communities is eight to 10 times that of non-indigenous communities and the sexual abuse of girls is so widespread that one-third of 13-year-old girls in the NT are infected with chlamydia and gonorrhoea. In fact, the situation has become a calamity.
The whole article is still up, and you can read it here. If you’ve got a strong enough stomach. That such an appalling situation can apparently be forgiven on the grounds of “culture” seems like a terrible failure of responsibility somewhere in our society.
Merely because some common practices are labelled as “cultural” does not mean we should automatically prostrate ourselves in their presence, and shield them from rational criticism.
If some people regard the haka (for example) as an offensive and threatening barbaric ritual that breeds violence and savagery in our society, they should be free to say so, and those views, given the state of violent crime in NZ society, should be due a rational response rather than knee jerk and infantile reactions we so frequently observe.