Hypocritical Expectations or None at All?

With each semester here at Duke, I notice that my classes start becoming more and more related to one another. I guess I’m finally starting to specialize in regards to my education, and my future plans in general. This connection was especially clear to me today in our class discussion.

We watched a short clip relating to social change, globalization, and online networking. While entertaining and thought provoking, I noticed a general assumption that had been made throughout: the idea that “west is best.”

We are discussing this concept in my global economy sociology class. Sociologists have been making this assumption for centuries, beginning with colonization, and continuing (at a lesser extent, perhaps) into the development decades and even into globalization. We look at other societies and their culture, declare them less-civilized and backwards, and try to impose our ways on them.

The clip today mentioned the theory that the online network would spread democracy by making people in other parts of the world want to be more like us, joking that they would “want more stuff.”

In sociology, I read these articles and naturally thought that it seems righteous to impose our western ways on other cultures. But after today in our discussion, I am now considering it from a feminist/human right’s perspective. While we should be open-minded when it comes to other cultures and their values, where do we draw the line? When certain cultures oppress women and minorities and deny them their basic human rights, it can’t possibly be okay to accept this as their “culture.”

Then I looked in the mirror. While we may be further along than many countries out there, we are in no way perfect. Maybe this is the problem. We become righteous and hypocritical when we impose these ideals on others, and operate in a system that does not complement them back home. How can we demand that others do how we do, yet expect more from them than we do of ourselves?

I now disagree with what my sociology professor has been preaching. Being a good global citizen does not mean accepting other societies and their traditions and values. Cultural norms that violate basic human rights cannot be dismissed for the sake of tradition. We should instead aim for a world where we can consistently hold people to a standard that respects basic human rights, regardless of their position in the world.

We can’t do this by instituting our current system in foreign countries. This would be setting another country up for failure. We can see that our current setup isn’t working by the societal problems that we can’t seem to fix within our system. So rather than hope that technology leads to other parts of the world adopting our western framework, we should take a look at ourselves and try to find an answer to this problem. Maybe that way, developing countries can learn from our mistakes, and hope for better outcomes.

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