Given what is read in The Lottery, how would you respond to cultures that are different from ours that perform "strange" rituals?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I get the idea behind the fact that it is difficult to pass judgment on a culture that of which we are not a part.  This makes sense, to an extent.  It is difficult to fully immerse ourselves in all cultures so that what is practiced in one culture might make sense to that culture and be completely misunderstood in another culture.  The reader might see what is happening in the culture that Jackson depicts and reflect on how since they are not a part of that culture, passing judgments on it is very difficult to do.  I think that some balance between not commenting on cultural valence and then commenting too much is needed.  Instead of operating on a relativism or absolutism scale, perhaps pluralism can be embraced.  In this, one recognizes that other cultures have the right to exist and that their practices could be different from their own.  Lenn Goodman in his article, "Some Moral Minima" puts this nicely.  He argues that while one can respect other cultures and what they do, there are some basic absolutes that cannot be violated and one is able to speak on these ends when these ends are being violated because we can articulate that there are some elements that are "bad" and these have to be criticized.  Goodman suggests that the four tenets that must be critiqued and rejected when they are present are "genocide, terrorism, rape, and slavery." When these elements are present in cultural practice, I do think that we can crticize rituals as "wrong" and not strange.  What happens in Jackson's short story is not "strange" as much as it is wrong, for the entire community essentially enslaves the one person who pulls the black dot, targeting them in an action of group terrorism.  In this, one does not have to feel handcuffed, but rather can speak out.  To put this in a modern context, when we see footage of the Taliban government beheading women or when we see governments that support child trafficking or when we see communities that practice honor killings targeted at women, we do not have to say these are "strange" rituals.  Rather, we can speak to them being wrong.  I think that this is where we can say that what happens in Jackson's work is not "strange" as much as it is "wrong."  In this, cultures that practice acts that represent acts of genocide, terrorism, rape, and slavery, we can clearly identify those acts as wrong and not merely "strange."


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