Ethical Relativism and Absolute Taboos - Part II

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

The statements "people who are Jews (i.e., with trait A) are (narcissists)", or "people who are Jews (i.e., with trait A) do this: they drinkrepparttar blood of innocent Christian children duringrepparttar 132498 Passover rites" - are vile racist and paranoid statements.

People are not created equal. Human diversity - a taboo topic - is a cause for celebration. It is important to study and ascertain what arerepparttar 132499 respective contributions of nature and nurture torepparttar 132500 way people - individuals and groups - grow, develop, and mature. Inrepparttar 132501 pursuit of this invaluable and essential knowledge, taboos are dangerously counter-productive.

V. Moral Relativism

Protagoras,repparttar 132502 Greek Sophist, wasrepparttar 132503 first to notice that ethical codes are culture-dependent and vary in different societies, economies, and geographies. The pragmatist believe that what is right is merely what society thinks is right at any given moment. Good and evil are not immutable. No moral principle - and taboos are moral principles - is universally and eternally true and valid. Morality applies within cultures but not across them.

But ethical or cultural relativism andrepparttar 132504 various schools of pragmatism ignorerepparttar 132505 fact that certain ethical percepts - probably grounded in human nature - do appear to be universal and ancient. Fairness, veracity, keeping promises, moral hierarchy - permeate allrepparttar 132506 cultures we have come to know. Nor can certain moral tenets be explained away as mere expressions of emotions or behavioral prescriptions - devoid of cognitive content, logic, and a relatedness to certain facts.

Still, it is easy to prove that most taboos are, indeed, relative. Incest, suicide, feticide, infanticide, parricide, ethnocide, genocide, genital mutilation, social castes, and adultery are normative in certain cultures - and strictly proscribed in others. Taboos are pragmatic moral principles. They derive their validity from their efficacy. They are observed because they work, because they yield solutions and provide results. They disappear or are transformed when no longer useful.

Incest is likely to be tolerated in a world with limited possibilities for procreation. Suicide is bound to be encouraged in a society suffering from extreme scarcity of resources and over-population. Ethnocentrism, racism and xenophobia will inevitably rear their ugly heads again in anomic circumstances. None of these taboos is unassailable.

None of them reflects some objective truth, independent of culture and circumstances. They are convenient conventions, workable principles, and regulatory mechanisms - nothing more. That scholars are frantically trying to convince us otherwise - or to exclude such a discussion altogether - is a sign ofrepparttar 132507 growing disintegration of our weakening society.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at

The Merits of Stereotypes

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

In a multi-annual study titled "Economic Insecurity, Prejudicial Stereotypes, and Public Opinion on Immigration Policy", published byrepparttar Political Science Quarterly,repparttar 132496 authors Peter Burns and James Gimpel substantiatedrepparttar 132497 hypothesis that "economic self-interest and symbolic prejudice have often been treated as rival explanations for attitudes on a wide variety of issues, but it is plausible that they are complementary on an issue such as immigration. This would berepparttar 132498 case if prejudice were caused, at least partly, by economic insecurity."

A long list of scholarly papers demonstrate how racism - especially amongrepparttar 132499 dispossessed, dislocated, and low-skilled - surges during times of economic hardship or social transition. Often there is a confluence of long-established racial and ethnic stereotypes with a growing sense of economic insecurity and social dislocation.

"Social Identity Theory" tells us that stereotypical prejudice is a form of compensatory narcissism. The acts of berating, demeaning, denigrating, and debasing others serve to enhancerepparttar 132500 perpetrators' self-esteem and regulate their labile sense of self-worth. It is vicarious "pride by proxy" - belonging to an "elite" group bestows superiority on all its members. Not surprisingly, education has some positive influence on racist attitudes and political ideology.

Having been entangled - sometimes unjustly - with bigotry and intolerance,repparttar 132501 merits of stereotypes have often been overlooked.

In an age of information overload, "nutshell" stereotypes encapsulate information compactly and efficiently and thus possess an undeniable survival value. Admittedly, many stereotypes are self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling prophecies. A young black man confronted by a white supremacist may well respond violently and an Hispanic, unable to find a job, may end up is a street gang.

But this recursiveness does not detract fromrepparttar 132502 usefulness of stereotypes as "reality tests" and serviceable prognosticators. Blacks do commit crimes over and above their proportion inrepparttar 132503 general population. Though stereotypical inrepparttar 132504 extreme, it is a useful fact to know and act upon. Hence racial profiling.

Stereotypes - like fables - are often constructed around middle class morality and are prescriptive. They splitrepparttar 132505 world intorepparttar 132506 irredeemably bad -repparttar 132507 other, blacks, Jews, Hispanics, women, gay - andrepparttar 132508 flawlessly good, we,repparttar 132509 purveyors ofrepparttar 132510 stereotype. While expressly unrealistic,repparttar 132511 stereotype teaches "what not to be" and "how not to behave". A by-product of this primitive rendition is segregation.

A large body of scholarship shows that proximity and familiarity actually polarize rather than ameliorate inter-ethnic and inter-racial tensions. Stereotypes minimize friction and violence by keeping minorities andrepparttar 132512 majority apart. Venting and vaunting substitute for vandalizing and worse. In time, as erstwhile minorities are gradually assimilated and new ones emerge, conflict is averted.

Moreover, though they frequently reflect underlying deleterious emotions - such as rage or envy - not all stereotypes are negative. Blacks are supposed to have superior musical and athletic skills. Jews are thought to be brainier in science and shrewder in business. Hispanics uphold family values and ethnic cohesion. Gays are sensitive and compassionate. And negative stereotypes are attached even to positive social roles - athletes are dumb and violent, soldiers inflexible and programmed.

Stereotypes are selective filters. Supporting data is hoarded and information torepparttar 132513 contrary is ignored. One way to shape stereotypes into effective coping strategies is to bombard their devotees with "exceptions", contexts, and alternative reasoning.

Blacks are good athletes because sports is one ofrepparttar 132514 few egalitarian career paths open to them. Jews, historically excluded from all professions, crowded into science and business and specialized. If gays are indeed more sensitive or caring thanrepparttar 132515 average perhaps it is because they have been repressed and persecuted for so long. Athletes are not prone to violence - violent athletes simply end up on TV more often. And soldiers have to act reflexively to survive in battle.

There is nothing wrong with stereotypes if they are embedded in reality and promoterepparttar 132516 understanding of social and historical processes. Western, multi-ethnic, pluralistic civilization celebrates diversity andrepparttar 132517 uniqueness and distinctiveness of its components. Stereotypes merely acknowledge this variety.

USA Today Magazine reported in January a survey of 800 adults, conducted last year by social psychology professors Amanda Diekman of Purdue University and Alice Eagly of Northwestern University. They found that far from being rigid and biased, stereotypes regardingrepparttar 132518 personality traits of men and women have changed dramatically to accurately reflect evolving gender roles.

Diekman noted that "women are perceived as having become much more assertive, independent, and competitive overrepparttar 132519 years... Our respondents - whether they were old enough to have witnessed it or not - recognizedrepparttar 132520 role change that occurred when women began working outsiderepparttar 132521 home in large numbers andrepparttar 132522 necessity of adopting characteristics that equip them to be breadwinners."

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at

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