Culture clash and cultural sensitivity

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Abbot
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Culture clash and cultural sensitivity

Post by Abbot » Fri Mar 24, 2017 10:54 am

Cultural sensitivity is de rigueur at the moment, and probably should be (notwithstanding its being taken to ridiculous extremes, e.g. "cultural appropriation" -- whatever that means). I appreciate entirely the sentiment behind this policy: 1) you have your culture(s), i have mine, and so we will naturally disagree on how best to go about doing some things; 2) yet we (often) have to live side-by-side culturally different people(s); 3) therefore, a policy of respect for others' cultural differences will reduce friction between cultural groups, help mitigate in-group/out-group thinking, and make living together generally more pleasant and productive. This is just good sense.

But I'm far from the first to realize that, on occasion, a practice considered "cultural" by one group is considered morally abhorrent by another. Any one of us could adduce a long list of practices considered cultural by others but abhorrent by us, in which would (I expect) be included: infant circumcision; gender inequality; racism; heteronormativity; capital punishment; and may other practices. But let's not forget that other peoples' lists of morally abhorrent practices will include: sex positivity; atheism; profit-seeking; etc. Conflicts like these pose a real problem for those of us who are interested in promoting cultural sensitivity, and I am aware of no satisfactory solution to this problem. At present, best practice seems to be to try to ignore the fact that these conflicts even exist.

The problem becomes especially thorny when we identify "abhorrent practices" within a culture that has been historically marginalized or suppressed. Case in point, and the inspiration for this post: there is currently in Canada a very large, concerted and well-meaning movement to repair decades worth of damage done by 'white settler colonial culture' (a term I'm not entirely comfortable with, but that's beside the point) to the lives and cultures of indigenous groups. This movement includes an earnest effort on the part of the dominant culture ('settler culture') to promote the voices of indigenous peoples in the media and in the arts, and to raise awareness among all Canadians of the difficulties (esp. socio-economic) these peoples continue to experience as a direct result of their cultures being systematically damaged or destroyed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The groundswell of support this movement is enjoying truly is a wonderful turn of events, and long overdue.

Here's my dilemma: certain aspects of certain indigenous cultures are morally abhorrent to me. So what, you might say. After all, there are many cultural practices around the world that I consider morally abhorrent, but these don't (currently) trouble me enough to write a forum post about. And I don't (currently) go running around handwringing and worrying about what to do about them. Well, the difference here is a subtle but real one. As I say, Canadians on the whole have generally decided it's high time to help these peoples heal and redress the wrongs done to them and their ancestors. And indigenous groups (known as First Nations up here) are really taking advantage of this development. My twitter and news feeds now regularly include notices about legal/institutional barriers that still hurt First Nations communities, and suggestions about ways to fix them. They also include notices about rallies, or awareness-oriented events, or funds drives, or traditional celebrations happening locally -- replete with ceremonial dress, song, and ritual. This is all fantastic. But there are also calls for the public to support certain initiatives that are supposed to promote First Nations cultural practices that have long laid dormant, and are in danger of going extinct. Not infrequently these calls are for the public to endorse traditional practices of animal hunting, traditional forms of cooking animal bodies, and traditional methods of preparing clothing made from animal skin. Such practices are disgusting to me (as they will be, I expect, to all vegans). But how to respond to such calls? With silence? That certainly cannot be the correct response. Would any of us be expected to keep silent if my neighbour, as a part of her religious practice, was ritually slaughtering german shepherds? Or humans? How can I be silent about the killing, eating and wearing of non-human animals? My overwhelming inclination is to criticize these practices vociferously when I see them being promoted. Of course, you can see the problem here. To do so would be to invite a truly torrential and negative response from others who consider it far *far* less important to support non-human animals' right to life than to support the repairing and healing of First Nations' lifeways. And I do not want, or even be seen, to work against the repairing and healing of those lifeways, except insofar as those lifeways promote murder and butchery. I am at a loss: silence is not an option, but neither does speaking out seem to be. And I do not think that my fear of speaking out stems merely from my own timidity (indeed, I love a good fight). Rather, it comes from sincerely not wanting to be perceived as roadblocking what is in general a very good and healthy movement in my country. Worse, I do not want to appear to suggest that the dichotomy is between supporting historically marginalized culture groups, or supporting veganism -- if nothing else, I know how that dichotomy would play out in the current political climate up here.

Any help?

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DarlBundren
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Post by DarlBundren » Sat Mar 25, 2017 9:32 am

It should be important to have a dialogue that reaches across religious and traditional teachings. If we don't have such a concept, everything we do is get into moral debates in order to tell what our respective religion or culture has to say on the matter. We would not be engaged with each other in the arguments at all. That doesn't sound very democratic to me.

If we accept that there may be a notion of 'good' that is separated from what our respective gods and cultures approve of, then we can start thinking about possible ways to improve our society. We can also start seeing how many of the practices of the past that we now consider to be barbaric were, at the time, justified.
If our options were slavery or death, then slavery was the lesser of two evils. Does that mean that slavery is still OK?

It's true that there are many different cultures and they all have their own traditions. However, this should be seen as a descriptive claim, not a normative one. Things have changed, and if we can now avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering, then that's the right thing to do.

Also, it's important to realize that traditions, unfortunately, are not always good. Actually, they often aren't. Nowadays, most people agree that corrida is a silly, horrendous practice. In many European countries (especially in the South) we used to have the so called 'proof of blood test'. After your first wedding night, your blood-stained sheets were placed outside your house so that everyone could see that your wife was a virgin. And, as you know, not every woman bleeds the first time she has sex... Would that be a tradition worth reintroducing into our society?

Now, I am not saying that what your country is doing is wrong. Traditions can be a lot of fun and there are many people who are proud of their cultural heritage. That's great. But we should also be able to call into questions those aspects of the tradition that we can no longer approve of. Is it not possible to help them rediscover their culture in an eco-friendly, animal-friendly way?
Can we show how animals were hunted at the time without actually killing them? Would that go against the tradition?

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NonZeroSum
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Post by NonZeroSum » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:55 am

Abbot wrote:
Fri Mar 24, 2017 10:54 am
But there are also calls for the public to support certain initiatives that are supposed to promote First Nations cultural practices that have long laid dormant, and are in danger of going extinct. Not infrequently these calls are for the public to endorse traditional practices of animal hunting, traditional forms of cooking animal bodies, and traditional methods of preparing clothing made from animal skin. Such practices are disgusting to me (as they will be, I expect, to all vegans). But how to respond to such calls? With silence? That certainly cannot be the correct response. Would any of us be expected to keep silent if my neighbour, as a part of her religious practice, was ritually slaughtering german shepherds? Or humans? How can I be silent about the killing, eating and wearing of non-human animals? My overwhelming inclination is to criticize these practices vociferously when I see them being promoted. Of course, you can see the problem here. To do so would be to invite a truly torrential and negative response from others who consider it far *far* less important to support non-human animals' right to life than to support the repairing and healing of First Nations' lifeways. And I do not want, or even be seen, to work against the repairing and healing of those lifeways, except insofar as those lifeways promote murder and butchery. I am at a loss: silence is not an option, but neither does speaking out seem to be. And I do not think that my fear of speaking out stems merely from my own timidity (indeed, I love a good fight). Rather, it comes from sincerely not wanting to be perceived as roadblocking what is in general a very good and healthy movement in my country. Worse, I do not want to appear to suggest that the dichotomy is between supporting historically marginalized culture groups, or supporting veganism -- if nothing else, I know how that dichotomy would play out in the current political climate up here.

Any help?
What it sounds like you’re coming up against is single issue indigenous rights groups that promote food sovereignty, cultural preservation/autonomy at the expense of other ethical causes. Also a certain amount of dogmatic faith based justifications. That is certainly a tough one, I really enjoyed reading you exploring your thoughts on political realities in Canada and laying them out here in a clear open concise way.

The first problem you’re going to come up against is people attached to the survivalist aesthetic of their ancestors, like those taking a fundamentalist reading of the Bible or Quran, they just want to live as close to as possible the past that made those myths or legends make sense. You can try to make a consequentialist argument for the interests of a larger human population that can’t continue to live off animals and have nice pristine wild nature reserves because it will all be intensive grain farms to feed factory farmed animals, but they will likely just argue in return for human depopulation and man’s natural dominion over other animals. So, if they are operating on a faith based divine command philosophy, short of convincing them there is no god, your best route is to get them to think of their spiritual theology as an expansive one that is built on with each proceding generation. Margaret Robinson offers many great Mi'kmaq legends that you can point to like you could use the Bible on Christians. “The Adventures of Katoogwasees(Rand, 1893;2005, 200-211) tells of how Glooskap’s grandmother used magic to obtain unlimited amounts of beaver meat from a single bone, reflecting a wish for abundance disconnected from the need to hunt.” [1]

The second problem is those workshops and events selling you the ‘do it yourself’ culture, as being a radically democratic lifestyle, included in this ideology is the spectacular commodity-role of being an individualist capable of surviving by your own means. It’s hard to argue someone who holds this ideology out of snagging a few fish from the local stream for free. To counter this mindset you must be willing to make the argument for specialist knowledge through artisanship or academia. Those people who fill up all their leisure time with acquiring every basic skill available instead of becoming a specialist at just one or two, are usually attached to a leisure ideal.[2] Think how much better energy can be used in building up the inferstructure on the reserve to house knowledge centers and have a self sustaining community and culture than a few radical jades who are a jack of all trades.

So hopefully I’ve given you a few pointers that can steer you in the right direction.

Asking someone who is open to discussing why they wear animal products, do you have a personal connection to the animal as the hunters would have had of old?

Or I’d like to join your workshop but can I ask what feathers/animals you’ll be using? As the local aboriginal group I’m apart of have sworn off animal exploitation in line with our culture/faith in these modern times of abundance, I can suggest/bring along collected wild feathers or raw hides from culled deer from a nature reserve.

Or I’m really interested in the historicity of this use and keeping this specialist knowledge alive, I know ‘in France where I’m from’ they allow special primitive spear fishing permits for educational purposes, will this event be more about the theory and when it is appropriate practice/ limited to use for education?

In the end overlapping interests with the disadvantages of class are just going to be more appealing than animal ethics, I hope I’ve demonstrated some techniques for convincing people over to veganism from single issue indigenous rights, I think you have the option of being an ass, being pragmatic or being an apologetic.

Whales would fare a lot better and have a greater chance of life if there were strict quotas on how much a tribe could go out and harpoon as there are now in Canada and no commercial operators like they have in Japan with the massive ‘research’ vessels, than the other way round. That can sound like apologetics but it just means we should argue to evolve past both, but be pragmatic about where we invest our energy. Reducing Factory farming and commercially mass produced animal goods should be our main objective.

Oh yeah and you might enjoy this book by William M. Adams called 'Decolonizing Nature: Strategies for Conservation in a Postcolonial Era'. They're a fab geography professor at Cambridge whose papers analyze the data on effectiveness of different conservation projects whilst refuting the appeal to nature fallacy in ecology as some consistent equilibrium.

Oh one other thing, you'd be hard pressed to find another nation to which extremely unfortunate narratives of historical materialism were so apparent, being the geographically closest link in the Americas to Europe, so that those overpopulated Imperial powers could expand over the Atlantic and call it 'Manifest destiny'. Such events can make pro-intersectional alliances against the dominant conservative political order rather appealing, but that's a conversation for another thread ;)

___________

References:
1. Margaret Robinson - Indigenous veganism: Feminist Natives do eat tofu
- Video talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahD6uz1mYJA
- Transcript/ essay: http://www.margaretrobinson.com/Robinsonaar2010.pdf
2. Boredom / Happiness Studies: Adorno on the fetishism of suntanning & Schopenhauer
https://theeveningrednessinthewest.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/boredom-happiness-studies-adorno-on-the-fetishism-of-suntanning-schopenhauer/
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Margaret Robinson
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Post by Margaret Robinson » Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:09 am

I realize this is from last year, but I came across it recently and wanted to respond.

"Cultural appropriation" describes when privileged people steal elements of oppressed cultures for their own use. For example, think of how some Settlers use Indigenous hunting traditions as "proof" that it's okay for Settler to eat meat. That's cultural appropriation.

After presenting at an animal rights conference in 2013, I was invited to join a protest of the Indigenous deer hunt in what is now the Short Hills Provincial Park, but which was once part of the Haudenosaunee hunting territory recognized by treaty with the British in 1701. What was once a vast wilderness has been reduced, due to Settler development, into one of the most densely populated areas of Canada and the US. It includes the cities of Toronto, Hamilton, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

So Settlers get to keep their treaty rights to share the land but prevented the Haudenosaunee from exercising their treaty rights to subsistence hunting. The deer hunt in the Short Hills Park is a protest against colonialism and an exercise of treaty rights (which Settler courts have ruled we lose if we don't exercise), while the Settler protest against the hunt unites animal rights activists with those who view Indigenous rights as outmoded and Indigenous people as a threat to humans and animals alike. Not a good scenario, from an Indigenous perspective.

The deer hunt in Short Hills Provincial Park began in 2013, and has killed about 140 deer since then. That’s about 35 per year. But Service Ontario sells 190,000 deer hunting licenses every year. An active hunter kills an average of one deer per season. Let’s assume that half the hunters pay $50 for the license just drink beer in the woods. That would still be 95,000 deer killed per year. That’s nearly three thousand times the number of deer killed in Short Hills.

So why weren't activists protesting at any of the 587 outlets of Service Ontario that sell hunting licenses? The outlets are conveniently located, accessible by transit, and they do the most damage, but they’re a normalized part of the bureaucracy that makes up Settler Canada. I began to wonder if the Short Hills protest was really about deer. I wondered if the it might be an example of what Donna Baines terms the “flight to innocence,” which she defines as an effort to “elude the responsibility” for oppression “by hiding behind some facet of their identity that locates them close to, or within, subordinated groups." In this case, by identifying as protectors of the deer Settlers try to avoid blame for the devastation of the environment that reduced the deer to living in a Provincial Park in the first place instead of the enormous natural landscape the area was when the treaty was originally signed.

Indigenous hunting isn't a case of "people attached to the survivalist aesthetic of their ancestors" or akin to fundamentalism. It's about survival. Indigenous people are literally living without food or clean water. I personally lived without plumbing or running water until my teens. Some Indigenous people are scavenging for food from the garbage. Subsistence hunting is not even close to being in the same category as factory farming. Like the Short Hills case, the numbers aren't comparable. Only 4.6% of the Canadian population is Indigenous; 95.4% are Settler. Half of the Indigenous population live in a city. The majority of people on reserve rely on processed food that is killing them; they don't hunt. In most cases the government forced them to live in areas that can't support a hunting economy. Indigenous hunters are a tiny minority of a tiny minority. Focussing on trying to stop them is highly suspicious coming from the 95.4% whose elected government actively promotes the meat and dairy industry.

Please don't use my work to try to convert Indigenous people to veganism. Our nations have seen missionaries since the invasion began. Settlers don't have the moral authority to criticize Indigenous culture, or to engage us in dialogue on moral grounds. I like Settlers. My vegan partner is one. But as a group they are occupying our territory, ruining the environment to steal the natural resources, and are actively committing an ongoing genocide of my people, actively murdering us, forcibly sterilizing us--I could go on and on.

My suggestion would be to bond with Indigenous people over a commitment to protecting the environment and put all your energy into convincing other Settlers to end animal agriculture.

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Post by NonZeroSum » Thu Nov 29, 2018 9:00 pm

Margaret Robinson wrote:
Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:09 am
So, if they are operatng on a faith based divine command philosophy, short of convincing them there is no god, your best route is to get them to think of their spiritual theology as an expansive one that is built on with each proceding generation. Margaret Robinson offers many great Mi'kmaq legends that you can point to like you could use the Bible on Christians. “The Adventures of Katoogwasees(Rand, 1893;2005, 200-211) tells of how Glooskap’s grandmother used magic to obtain unlimited amounts of beaver meat from a single bone, reflecting a wish for abundance disconnected from the need to hunt.” [1]
Please don't use my work to try to convert Indigenous people to veganism. Our nations have seen missionaries since the invasion began. Settlers don't have the moral authority to criticize Indigenous culture, or to engage us in dialogue on moral grounds. I like Settlers. My vegan partner is one. But as a group they are occupying our territory, ruining the environment to steal the natural resources, and are actively committing an ongoing genocide of my people, actively murdering us, forcibly sterilizing us--I could go on and on.
Is that general advise or an absolute rule? I've never been anywhere in the Americas, but if I met a first nations person in the UK or I sailed to the east coast, hitched a ride with a first nations person and we stopped at a service station for coffee, would it be wrong of me to talk the benifits of veganism if the topic came up? Or 30 years down the line and we're best friends who've been all over the world together? I'm white so I get that may fall into the same category of felt offense you might suggest avoiding, but same questions for a black person born in Bengal or Manhattan?
Margaret Robinson wrote:
Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:09 am
Indigenous hunting isn't a case of "people attached to the survivalist aesthetic of their ancestors" or akin to fundamentalism. It's about survival.
I can well believe that’s a significant portion, it’s a terrible thing reading what you said about the stark contrast in access, I’d really love to collect as many testimonials to reference on the wiki to make this personal for people. Any more critiques of campaign approaches you’ve experienced would be invaluable. I’ve read of one trophy hunting forest blockade which let First Nations people’s through and stories of super hunters finding ways to skirt quotas so they could support their community.

The quote about people being attached to a survivalist aesthetic is simply the no.1 intuitive justification I feel I come up against in most every nonvegan, our relationship to animals and nostalgia for a mythical garden of eden that they need to be prepared to return to at a moments notice. I try to council the little history of vegetarianism I know about the Pythagoreans and ancient day Jains who through more complex societies were able to achieve closer to the vegan diet, had a lessened impact on wildlife, enjoyed the more peaceful relationship with animals and a trend we can be happy about following in today.
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Post by brimstoneSalad » Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:50 pm

Margaret Robinson wrote:
Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:09 am
Please don't use my work to try to convert Indigenous people to veganism. Our nations have seen missionaries since the invasion began. Settlers don't have the moral authority to criticize Indigenous culture, or to engage us in dialogue on moral grounds. I like Settlers. My vegan partner is one. But as a group they are occupying our territory, ruining the environment to steal the natural resources, and are actively committing an ongoing genocide of my people, actively murdering us, forcibly sterilizing us--I could go on and on.
@NonZeroSum You're probably a better person to address this, but I'll just give a brief account of my experiences.

This notion that certain people have different rights or moral status based on the accident of their genetics or where they were born (something they never asked for), or even don't belong where they were born because of their genetics, is inherently racist. It's along the same lines of white nationalism.

I'm sure you've heard it before, but no human beings evolved into humans in the Americas, every human inhabitant on the continents are "settlers" (which I understand as a racist slur, and doesn't actually mean people who have settled somewhere), the only question is how many generations. There's nothing magical granting any people greater right to any land than others. What colonists (the FIRST generation) did to the people who were already living there was without a doubt wrong, but we do not punish children and grandchildren for the sins of their ancestors. Connecting guilt to genetic lineage like that is textbook racism.

I really hope you'll reconsider these views, Margaret

Just because it's wrong doesn't mean I can't understand or sympathize. I can understand first nations people being racist, there's a lot of history there. Sort of how I can understand Chinese being kind of racist against Japanese on account of what happened in world war two. I get the multi-generational hate, it's human nature, but again it's also deeply wrong. It's something people need to move past (and I know that's easier said than done, I know it's hard to see the grandchildren of the people who murdered YOUR grandparents prosper from those ill gotten gains passed down through generations).

However, you have to understand what that racism produces. Nothing good comes out of it.
Just to give a sense of the feelings that generates (from personal experience):

When a First Nations person uses a slur against me like "Settler" and tells me I need to self-deport to Europe or somewhere on pain of some negative moral value to my existence (or worse, some kind of threat), I'm not encouraged to be an ally. Quite the opposite: if I were under the mistaken impression that all first nations people were like that (I know they aren't) I would even be more likely to turn a blind eye to genocide. The same way I wouldn't be too bothered by all the proud boys and white nationalists being round up and executed. Yes yes I know that's not the way you handle dissent and I wouldn't participate in it, but when you make this an us vs. them issue (my side being proud multiculturalism, and tolerance of pretty much everything except racism) and you make peaceful resolution look impossible, it starts to look like the only way out of the situation.

When you're vastly outnumbered, the last thing you want to do is create an us-vs-them situation where the majority is motivated either to eliminate you or turn a blind eye to that elimination when it's being done on their behalf. Not fair? No, not fair at all. But you have to be pragmatic.

And pragmatism is why I agree that we shouldn't be doing vegan activism for first nations people in general. Not because as you claimed we "don't have moral authority" (a racist claim, that's not how morality works at all), but because it just wouldn't be as effective. In many cases there's too large of a cultural divide there to communicate well on those issues, particularly for people who haven't assimilated into mainstream culture and live on reservations. Most would-be vegan activists just don't understand the unique issues and challenges first nations people face, and attempting to convert them to veganism (particularly given all of the potentially larger personal difficulties they deal with) just comes off as naive and unfair.

Racism aside, there's no reason that a very well educated activist couldn't be effective in reaching out to first nations people, but it's not clear that spending months studying to reach a few hundred people is as effective as spending those months just reaching out to the demographic you already know.

It's a sad fact that in the past few months I've seen more overt racism of this kind from first nations people against more recent arrivals than I've seen from Republicans in my lifetime, which is amazing to me. Even under Trump most Republicans aren't willing to say the quiet part loud, but so many First Nations people use it as a battle cry.
It's a problem when people feel like not only do they have a right to these racist sentiments, but they believe them appropriate and necessary, and even honorable.

We need to see these ideas for what they are. There is no rational argument for those sentiments, it's pure history and inherited blame. I'm unsure if this kind of behavior can be reasoned with.

But I'll leave that to NonZero.

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