I am a very strong proponent of human rights and social justice, but I am at odds in my own mind as to what extent we in the U.S. or the community of nations (UN) have a right to insist on changes in other countries where such seeming injustices are a way of life.
This brings to mind the practice of nations hundreds of years ago of spreading Christianity to the new world in order to civilize the heathen natives. We ended up creating all kinds of subsequent problems many of them still in existence. Simply see what we have done to the native American Indians over the centuries. Even today American Indians have not come to terms with all the problems created by their becoming ‘civilized’. We are still trying to civilize the world and in most cases creating even more problems. Yet we have many injustices, human rights problems, and social justice issues in our very own country.
Does this mean that I feel it is right for men in other countries to throw acid on their wives or setting their wives on fire if their wife has done something to offend them or stone women to death for adultery? Absolutely not. But I likewise believe that we do not have a right to FORCE them to change. I feel that we have no right to impose our standards of morality upon other nations and people. To do so is not that much different than what early colonialist did to civilize the indigenous natives of the new world.
There are also less innocuous moral standards that we impose on other cultures such as banning polygamy. We cannot even make monogamy work here in America so what gives us the right to deny other cultures their cultural heritage? I believe that we in the West need to be cautious about imposing our flavor of Western human rights upon others. We need to clean up our own house before we can judge whether another house needs cleaning.
We in the Western world have historically destroyed many cultures and sub-cultures with our Christian and Western morality. Every culture has both good and bad in it. We are no acceptation. We have forced simple people into adopting our complicated and often convoluted ways of life. We have made hunters into farmers and nomads into city dwellers. We have converted indigenous natives who worshiped and respected their natural surroundings to become civilized and abandon their nature. We have forced indigenous people to totally loose their identity and purpose in life. This is far worst than anything they have done to violate our moral standards of human rights. What we have done in civilizing them is to destroy them as a people of dignity, culture, and heritage. We have robed them of their pride and identity as we have often robed ourselves.
We must stop perpetuating our outdated imperialistic tendencies to spread our form of morality, human rights, and government. We fail in all three categories so why force these failing values upon others? Perhaps if we as a nation and as a community of nations started to speak to others without prejudgement and prejudice we could do a better job of bringing the world closer together. We need to respect the diversity of nations and cultures and allow others the right to dignity and their heritage as we value our own. We need to allow others to feel good and be proud of themselves. Let us show other nations and cultures by example that our lives are better than theirs so they will want to follow our example. But first we must make our ways worthy of being followed.
However in countries in which we Westerners have tried to civilize and have created even more problems, which is much of the world, I believe that we need to try to undo some the mess we have created in these new and re-evolving cultures. The problem is that most of today’s underdeveloped nations once consisted of many different cultures, sub-cultures, and tribes which were brought together by force into one large colony or nation. This creates huge social problems once they gain their independence. Much care must be exercised so that our solutions don’t create even more problems. There may be no solutions to many social, cultural, and religious conflicts. This is the problem with meddling in cultures we don’t understand. We may make matters worst by implementing change without understanding the consequences. It is best to work with people who come from that culture when developing solutions and encourage them to take ownership for developing solutions. This will minimize unforeseen problems with such complex cultural issues we cannot even begin to understand.
Conflicts arise when we insist that our ways are better than others. But are our ways really that much better? Certain cultures permit men to beat their wives into a pulp. Is that any worst than we bombing innocent men, women, and children into bits and pieces as a result of the collateral damage of war in other lands? Are we really that much better than others whom we consider barbaric when what we do to them may be considered by them to transcend savagery?