Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Can we impose our values to other cultures?

History is full of examples of civilizations trying to impose their values to other cultures. While it is often justified by "good values", what are those values criteria? In reality in most cases the goal is economic domination.

Allow me to share with you on that subject an extract from a book published by my father Fernand Bezy in 1974 on "Morality of Family Planning Policies in Developing Countries".

"If the problem of relations between people and natural resources belongs to economics, can we rely on economists to define those values? After all is this not simply a matter of optimization? Far from it. A pure product of Western civilization, economic science does not challenge its specific aims. There is no universal economic science: the one whose authorship is attributed to Adam Smith is based on data presented as based on human nature, while they are purely contingent and related to industrial societies’ culture. That is the case for example of the assumption of the homo economicus: the individual is assumed to be determined by his greatest material interest. That such a philosophy of life characterizes the West is all too true. But we can not say the same of Bantu, Muslim, Hindu civilizations.

In every society, the different structures (religious, social, economic) are more or less integrated, of course, but on different planes: they are hierarchical. And culture is nothing other than the identification of that hierarchy in the social mentality: it is a value system that imposes standards of behavior. And from one civilization to another, we observe fundamental differences in the order of importance of the structures which are the very expression of their specificity. In modern societies, it is the techno-economic structure that is predominant; in traditional societies, it is the religious structure, or the social and prestige structure.
Therefore the economic optimum is not the maximum possible use of production factors, but their use that best fit for the operation of each society in its specificity. This means that the rationality of intentional economic behavior of members of a given society is always aligned with the basic unintentional rationality of the hierarchical system of structures that characterizes that society. Therefore there is no rationality by itself, nor is there a final form, a model of economic rationality.

Nothing is less objective than the notion of well-being: each civilization has its own. In the West, growth in production has often been regarded, at least implicitly, as the growth of welfare or even happiness, so much so that recently it seemed to be the necessary and sufficient condition for human progress in all social systems. The West has been claiming to impose this design on the universe: to colonize was to bring back the world's diversity to unity of which two or three Western countries were then the models and the recipients. And everywhere there was an elite that swayed towards the West, which seemed the ideal model of all civilization and real culture.
But even here in the West, the dogma of economic growth is questioned. We begin to become aware, even if we are still confused, of the harm of growth and its fatal results: destruction of nature, abuse of the concentration of economic power, frustration due to growing inequalities, etc... Then a council of wise people advocated zero growth, under penalty of apocalyptic disasters, and the American economist JK Galbraith reassures us: "Fear not, St. Peter will not ask you how you have contributed to the growth of
national output!”. Finally some calming words!

This is the end of Eurocentrism: each culture has its own system of values and there is none that can boast of being superior. The comparisons are pretty useless, everyone being only able to appreciate each other's culture through its own, which removes any objectivity in the comparison. Suffice it to acknowledge that while economic growth will increase the control of man over his environment, and even increases its freedom, it is subject to a purpose that goes beyond economics and may vary from one society to another."

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