For those who are not well-versed in the language of sociology, ethnocentrism refers to the tendency to judge other cultures by the standards of one’s own culture. Since this is a natural human tendency, the task of fostering anti-ethnocentrism is difficult, to say the least. But it is also self-defeating.
Technically speaking, sociologists form a sub-culture with their own set of values, beliefs, and practices. And they are the only sub-culture that is known to promote the value of anti-ethnocentrism. Therefore, when sociologists tell people of other cultures (non-sociologists) that it is bad to judge people of other cultures by the values of their own culture, they are doing just that: judging people of other cultures by the values of their own culture. In fact, the value they impose on others (anti-ethnocentrism) cannot be imposed without engaging in ethnocentrism. It is intellectual Onanism. It produces no fruit.
While anti-ethnocentrism fails the test of internal consistency, its greatest weakness is external. That is to say, it fails when applied to real-world problems – problems outside the realm of theory and abstract sociological jargon. Who can read about the Rape of Nanking or the Nazi Holocaust and remain convinced that we should somehow refrain from judging that which is self-evidently wrong?
Today’s college student is just as intellectually capable as yesterday’s college student. But he (and increasingly she) often suffers from moral atrophy. We need to combat this atrophy by exercising the natural moral reflex. It might not require a whole major in Ethnocentric Studies dedicated to teaching the upside of judging cultures like Nazi Germany. But we should at least consider a course called Introduction to Ethnocentrism. It should be a required course within the Department of Sociology so that no one actually graduates before fully appreciating the necessity of judging other cultures.
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