preclude us from saying that the Chinese government's policiesof oppression are wrong. We couldnot even say that a societythat respects' free speech isbetterthan Chinese society, forthat would alsoimply a universal standard of comparison. Thefailure to condemnthesepractices does not seemenlightened;on the contrary, political oppression seems wrong wherever itoccurs. Nevertheless, if weaccept Cultural Relativism, we haveto regard such social practices as immune from criticism.2.We could no longer criticize the code of our own society.Cultural Relativism suggests a simple test fordetermining what is right and what is wrong: All we need to do is ask whether the action is in line withthe code of the society in question. Suppose a resident of India wonders whether her country's castesystem—a system of rigid social hierarchy—is morally correct. All she has to do is ask whether thissystem conforms to her society's moral code. If it does, there is nothing to worry about, at least from amoral point of view.This implication of Cultural Relativism is disturbing because few of us think that our society's code isperfect—we can think of ways in which it might be improved. Moreover, we can think of ways in whichwe might learn from other cultures. Yet Cultural Relativism stops us from criticizing our own society'scode, and it bars us from seeing ways in which other cultures might be better. After all, if right and wrongare relative to culture, this must be true for our culture, just as it is for other cultures.3.The idea of moral progress is called into doubt.We think that at least some social changes are for thebetter. Throughout most of Western history, the place of women in society was narrowly defined. Womencould not own property; they could not vote or hold political office; and they were under the almostabsolute control of their husbands or fathers. Recently, much of this has changed, and most people thinkof it as progress. But if Cultural Relativism is correct, can we legitimately view this as progress? Progressmeans replacing the old ways with new and improved ways. But by what standard do we judge the newways as better? If the old ways conformed to the standards oftheirtime, then Cultural Relativism wouldnot judge them byourstandards. Sexist 19th-century society was a different society from the one we have
now. To say that we have made progress implies that present-day society is better—just the sort oftranscultural judgment that Cultural Relativism forbids. Our ideas about socialreformwill also have to bereconsidered. Reformers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., have sought to change their societies for thebetter. But according to Cultural Relativism, there is only one way to improve a society: to make it bettermatch its own ideals. After all, the society's ideals are the standard by which reform is assessed. No one,however, may challenge the ideals themselves, for they are by definition correct.