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lecture_8_2 - 21A.100 Prof Howe Anthropology and Moral...

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21A.100 Prof. Howe Anthropology and Moral Relativism Two stories: In 1960’s and 70’s a prominent Harvard psychologist named Jerome Bruner decided that it would be a good idea to expose young people to some of the concepts of social science, so he developed a curriculum called “Man: A Course Of Study” (MACOS). The curriculum concentrated on the Inuit. The course lasted 7 days and was designed for 9 th graders. The students watched videos with no narration. One was about 25 minutes of a man waiting with a spear near a hole in the ice. He is waiting for a seal to emerge from a breathing hole. There was a great deal of excitement about this course. In 1970 a minister in Lake City FL, his daughter was taking the class. He looked at the curriculum and was upset by it. He had a local radio show and condemned this curriculum for promoting gun control, pornography and hippie-dippy values. The protest grew from there into a huge backlash. Congress got involved and the curriculum was suppressed. The reason was that some of the films showed things that people were unhappy about. For example: There was a practice that some Inuit men might share a single wife. This was mentioned in the course without condemnation for the practice Another example: In times of famine, the old people might voluntarily get up and disappear into the night, for the sake of the group. 1910 the pres of Panama went to visit the Kuna in a boat. In the villages where he was welcomed, he was very upset about the way the Kuna women dressed. They pierce the noses of little girls with a piece of string. As they get older the put in bigger in bigger pieces of string until they can wear a piece of jewelry. There are also strings of beads wrapped around the legs in elaborate patterns and are left there permanently (they are only removed to alter of fix the pattern). This alters the muscles of the legs. The govt. of Panama decided it wanted to civilize the Indians. The first thing they went for outlaw was this beading practice. They claimed that they were liberating women who were deforming their flesh. What these stories highlight is the problem of cultural relativity, but particularly the moral issues that come up 1. The History of Studying Morality in Culture : A challenge of difference and the challenge it offers to ethnocentrism. a. This attitude was challenged starting in the 16 th century with the expansion of the West.
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b. Spanish Catholics thought other people were irrational simply because they weren’t Catholic. c. There were also some counter currents d. Most famous whistle blower: Bartolome de Las Casas i. A colonizer in the new world. ii. Guilt-stricken by the destruction of the population in the Caribbean, became a Dominican and huge advocate for the native population.
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