Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Excellent point in editorial cartoon

with 6 comments

Via The Modesty Experiment:

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 2.59.18 PM

What’s interesting to me is that each has the same thought balloon, and that could also be true: “Oh, how I envy her liberation!”, the latter happening more frequently in those capable of intelligent empathy: figuring out the forces and conventions that shape each of us and thus trying to understand how the other arrived at where s/he is.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

6 Responses

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  1. Isn’t the ultimate question how much freedom one has to make a choice? I would suggest that the bikini-clad lady has a choice as to the extent of her modesty. True, she may be “brainwashed” by cultural influences, but nevertheless, could choose any level of skin exposure she wanted. From my friends in the Arab/Muslim world, I would not think the lady on the right has the same level of choice – brainwashing aside.


    6 July 2013 at 8:12 pm

  2. Many years ago, working on a course in cross-cultural psychiatry, I interviewed many local practicing psychologists and psychiatrists on the question of the boundaries and imitations to cultural accommodation. One psychologist gave me a great line when she said, “We must be respectful of other cultures but not kowtow to them when they violate core principles of our own culture”. She went on to give me two very good measures of this boundaries:

    1. Does the culture’s beliefs allow every person to fully explore their potential in any direction they wish to take?
    2. Does the culture use repressive methods and violence to control members who don’t want to abide by its cultural restrictions?


    6 July 2013 at 8:18 pm

  3. Actually, the pressure in each society on women who wear the dress of the other society is intense: the community desire (men and women and institutions) seems to be to have women dress in conformity with the social norm and that desire is often expressed with some intensity, including threats and violence. That kind of cultural police action happens, for example, to women in the US and several European countries who wear even an hijab, much less a burka. Women in these countries are less free than to think to simply adopt the other culture’s norms. The enforcement mechanism are not so well covered here as the enforcement mechanisms in the other culture, but in general we always find our neighbor’s faults larger (and more interesting) than our own.

    Look around: people are less free in practice than you think. You’re dealing (I believe) more abstractly than in the day-to-reality of life for most women who shop, take public transport, order food in restaurants, try to get a taxi, participate in meetings, and so on. Think about that context.

    Certainly my experience in US culture—small-town culture in particular—has shown me that, in the US, the answer to the two questions is, “No.” The “no” is said louder to some (women, minorities, the poor). There’s a strong feeling that is clearly in evidence to those who read the news that people must be kept out (immigrants in general), kept in their place (the poor, workers, minorities) and not be getting any fancy ideas.

    The notion that people in (for example) the US are free of social/cultural restraints on fully exploring their potential in any direction they choose to take is, not to put too fine a point on it, insane. Anyone who cannot see all the controls and restrictions and enforcement mechanisms in the US must be trying very hard not to see—a person in denial of some sort or another.

    Things are not, in practice, so open and welcoming as you seem to believe.


    6 July 2013 at 8:51 pm

  4. My wife reminds me of all the body-image programming to which women in Western culture are subjected, and how to dress to hide flaws and how being extremely thin is important (with models air-brushed into impossible shapes) and how a woman’s place is in the home, and so on and on. And you don’t see any of this??


    6 July 2013 at 9:37 pm

  5. Of course I see it and have seen its evolution over my say, 40 years of adulthood. Here’s a fundamental difference: We have made progress in the West. It isn’t nearly as it was in the days of Mad Men. Of course, the freedom to explore one’s potential isn’t wide open in America, (neither for men nor women) and I don’t think I ever said that it was. Everything is on an evolving continuum. I don’t think such evolution has happened in the Arab/Muslim world. If anything, it is more repressive than ever as it feels the strain of rebellion. To compare freedom (such as it is in America) with that in places like the Arab world, India, Pakistan, etc., is ludicrous to say the least.

    Could we be doing a better job in America? Of course. And in some ways we are going backwards with respect to freedom. One of our friends’ daughters is a flight attendant around 23 years old. She was doing the Paris-Dubai route. Got in to her Dubai hotel a little late one evening and said hello to a young local man at the entrance. Next morning, she was arrested and thrown in jail. Deported for trying to corrupt a local male (she’s drop-dead gorgeous and blonde). He got it into his head that she wanted to seduce him….by saying hello in passing.

    We may be nuts, but they’re fu*^ing nuts, as George Carlin would say!!!!!!

    I get the notion that we are all delusional about our personal freedom and that it’s important to understand each other’s cultures. But man, there are some pernicious cultures out there and no amount of mental contortion and Sophism will make them less so.


    7 July 2013 at 5:00 am

  6. I think what confused me was the guidelines you offered:

    She went on to give me two very good measures of this boundaries:

    1. Does the culture’s beliefs allow every person to fully explore their potential in any direction they wish to take?
    2. Does the culture use repressive methods and violence to control members who don’t want to abide by its cultural restrictions?

    I believe that all cultures fail point 1—every culture has its taboo areas—and so for every culture the answer to 1 is “No.” And I believe that the answer to 2 for every culture is “Yes.” That is, I don’t understand her thinking at all. I look around at US culture and see on every hand people who are held back because they fall outside cultural norms, particularly local cultural norms, and local is where we all live. And I see plenty of examples of 2 in the US, and indeed the current police culture in the US often uses violence against those outside of (rather narrow) cultural norms.

    While we have changed from the 60s—the Civil Rights Act was a major step forward—it’s also clearly evident that much of the country has not changed. Did you note how quickly southern states moved to disenfranchise African-American voters as soon as the US Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights act? Do you read the news on how Muslim-Americans are the victims of violence and attacks (from citizens and from the government)?

    I don’t recall doing any comparisons of the US and the Arab world. The point of the cartoon, I think, is that members of any culture tend to feel that they are “freely” embracing their lifestyle, and those in another culture who have a very different lifestyle must be forced into it. The idea that Arab women could like wearing a burka seems impossible to women in a different culture, but generally speaking, each culture embraces its values (and enforces those values) and most people go along and live their lives happily, more or less, within the cultural boundaries.

    I can trot our a score examples of the US being fucking nuts. Here’s one: the US is beside itself because Venezuela has offered asylum to Snowden, but the US offered asylum and protection to Luis Carriles Posada even though he is an admitted terrorist who blew up a Venezuelan plane, killing 73. We protected him, and then we’re angry that Snowden (who killed no one and indeed helped the US public by revealing what’s going on) might be given asylum by Venezuela? That is indeed fucking nuts.

    I resent being accused of Sophism. Perhaps we should end the discussion. There are indeed pernicious cultures out there, and the US has one of them. That’s what I was discussing.

    Final note: When criticized, it’s a weak defense to point to someone else and say, “Well, he’s worse.” There are indeed many things I think Arab culture should change—for example, allow women to drive cars, for starters—but my posts were mostly about the defects in American culture, and those are not transmuted into virtues because other cultures are worse in this or that regard. And I don’t live in those cultures; I live in this one.


    7 July 2013 at 4:37 pm

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