Sunday, May 15, 2005
Much have being said about Joseph Ratzinger's opinions against relativism. For the new Pope, this view epitomizes the cultural confusion of our times, in which a bubblegum pop is placed in the same hierarchic position as a Bach's fugue. Ratzinger prefers the secure harbor of an Aristotle’s universal or an absolute entity that imposes itself through a "winner-take-all" method. I've been scratching my head over this issue for a long time and I'd like to make some points. I don't think, for example, that the relativist position should lead to the idea that anything goes morally, like prejudge the Aztecs because they sacrificed children. The Brazilian historian Boris Fausto had quoted last week, in a local paper, the differences between relativism and pluralism made by Isaiah Berlin. With due respect, I think the two categories are intertwined, because both grant as valid people’s cultural differences. For all matters, it is easier figure out this peculiar concoction in the anthropologic field, specifically in the brawl between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere over the death of Captain Cook. For the first, Cook was confounded with a Hawaiian war god, and this clearly reflects an autochthon rationality; for the second, he was condemned to death for have took as hostage the native chief of a tribe, and this reflects a practical rationality. The anti-relativists argue that the so-called "Western" rationality, expressed at least partially by science and technology, is not locked up in itself, differently of, say, Zande witchcraft. This is the typical argument that makes me believe more enthusiastically that different cultures have different rationalities.