It’s what friends are for

Billy Beck, having returned from directing stage lighting operations for performances in Singapore and Jakarta, caught my entry on Culturism. He gets it, agrees with the essence, but pounces right down on an error, just like any good friend would.

It was just over four years ago when I came up with that term. At the time, I was enamored with the inflammatory potential of it. Still am. Nothing teaches like showing someone how ignorant and/or stupid they really are when they hold wrongly some position with "certainty."

Of course, what I’m talking about is how culturism is somewhat analogous to racism. Someone unable to make critical distinctions will immediately equate the two. They’d be wrong, and I’ll have a chance to point out how sloppy their thinking is.

Quite nice & tidy, eh?

Anyway, I never really got around to formulating the thing, and then when I read that column by Sowell and wanted to blog it, I thought it might be time to put some thought into what I mean by "culturism." But then, afterward, when I read over it a couple of times, I became increasingly dissatisfied–primarily because no individual should be prejudged, regardless of their culture. But I didn’t quite know how to work it out and I set it aside.

Billy nailed it though. The root error is in my enthusiasm to make it inflammatory rather than objective. It’s the word prejudice that’s the culprit. That’s the the error that leads to the derivative error of collective judgment of individuals as a result of their cultural heritage.

Prejudice is a perfectly fine word. It describes an act of pre-judgment, in advance of obtaining relevant facts. People who are unable to make critical distinctions, who allow themselves to be spoon-fed by "intellectuals" and media who are just as incapable of  genuine thought come away with the silly notion that prejudice is always improper (just life the term discrimination–same thing). Acts of prejudice are just fine, so long as such acts are limited to morally insignificant judgments. You’re prejudice against action films. Hey, knock yourself out.

So, to get back on track, once I get rid of the word prejudice (because judging cultures and individuals is not morally insignificant) in the definition, it all falls into place.

Culturism: 1. The judging of one or more cultures as morally superior to one or more other cultures; 2. The establishment of a hierarchy of moral standing from ideal to evil with respect to human cultures; 3. Holding that a culture does not determine moral standards, but rather that the good standing of a culture is determined by objective moral principles by which all cultures should be judged.

So there you have it. The next time anyone–from regurgitator on a barstool to professor emeritus–tells you that cultural diversity is an intrinsic value, you can shove it right down their throat with total and complete authority.


  1. Kyle Bennett on May 9, 2005 at 11:37

    "Acts of prejudice are just fine, so long as such acts are limited to morally insignificant judgments."

    So, in advance of obtaining "relevant" facts, you should fail to judge in precisely the area that judgement is most important – the morally significant?

    Any fact you have about a person is relevant, including their culture. Judgement is always required, but it is never final. It is always contingent upon future information, with a likelihood of change inversely proportional to the number and quality of known facts.

    If the only thing you know about a person is culture, then you still have to judge, but with the realization that this judgement is extremely likely to change once you know something individually about the person. Your individual knowledge of a person can be expanded by orders of magnitude simply by saying "Hello".

    Of course, you have to judge first whether "Hello" is the right thing to say. Maybe you're wearing a yarmulke and contemplating whether to say "Hello" two two members of the skinhead culture in a dark alley. You have no individual facts, yet the value of further information might not outweigh the risk. Without predjudice, how will you make this decision?

    Predjudice by your definition of prior to obtaining relevant facts would be wrong – in all cases, even movies – but I don't think your definition holds. Culture (or movie genre) is clearly relevant even though of little long-term individual value. Other information falls into the same category.

    Predjudice defined as judgement prior to obtaining individual-context facts sound better to me, (though not nearly as elegant from that barstool). Then, the error comes not from predjudice itself, but from maintaining that tentative judgement when facts specific to the individual contradict it.

  2. Richard Nikoley on May 9, 2005 at 11:52

    Regarding individuals, by pre-judge, I mean something more along the way of making final moral judgments about whether they are good or evil. Of course, minor judgments require less information.

    I don't think it's wrong to prejudge on matters of personal preference, such as with films or whatever. If something is morally insignificant, then prejudging is morally insignificant, and so long as such a person exercises good judgment in morally relevant matters, then I don't think this "lapse of disciplined reason" should be in any way counted against them.

    Moral insignificance is just that, and in fact, such categories of things gives otherwise disciplined and rational people an opportunity to let their hair down, so to speak.

  3. Richard Nikoley on May 9, 2005 at 12:59

    Well, it'll have to wait. Now I'm hungry for Wendy's. I'm off.

  4. Kyle Bennett on May 9, 2005 at 12:44

    "Regarding individuals, by pre-judge, I mean something more along the way of making final moral judgments… "

    But no judgement is ever final. There's no distinction there, no concept. I'm becoming convinced (after a drive to Wendy's and back after my last comment – I do my best thinking behind the wheel) that predjudice, or pre-judge, isn't a valid concept at all. There's no pre-judging, there's only judging, with a spectrum of confidence. I can't see any way to make a bright-line distinction, and I can see some harm in trying.

    I don't see a distinction between judging a movie and judging a person, other than the relative importance of getting it right. As in all things, its a value choice – a trade-off of the value of the judgement against the value of the time and effort used to acquire additional information. It's not a matter of a lapse of reason.

    Getting this judgement thing right is vitally important – I think the mistakes that have been made in that regard are fundamental to the problems we have now. I don't think we – me, you, or Billy – have it quite right yet.

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