What are the postives and negatives of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Ethnocentrism is the feeling that your own ethnic group is superior to all others.  It is generally seen as a negative thing today because it can lead to very bad things.  It can lead to systems like segregation and apartheid.  In the most extreme cases, it can lead to things like the Holocaust.  In its most benign forms, it leads to a lack of understanding and toleration.  It leads us to think that those who are not like us are not as good as we are.

Cultural relativism is the idea that we should judge each culture from its own point of view.  In other words, we should not apply one group’s values to another group.  The major benefit to this is that it helps to avoid the negatives associated with ethnocentrism.  It promotes understanding of other groups.  The problem is that it can lead, in a sense, to a complete lack of direction.  If we think that all cultures are morally equivalent, it is hard for us to be assertive about preserving what is good in our own culture and trying to keep out the bad aspects of other cultures.  Ethnocentrism could be good in that it allows us to do this.

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