As a matter of fact, social groups have a lot that their members share in common and in this sense, the traits of a social group are interlinked with their identity. Arguably, Ford (2005) states that social groups own certain cultural traits (60). In this context, he puts it that such social groups have certain practices that correlate with their group identity and should in fact be given or rather should receive rights protection. In this case, ones identity is viewed as a manifestation of the underlying cultural practices that are held by the particular social group of belonging (60). They are in particular self-directed in the perception of the individual members of the specific cultural group. In relation to this point, culture is refers to the set shared attitudes, goals, practices and values that describes an institution or a group.
As such, a social group is characterized by certain attitudes, values, goals and certain practices of which they vary from one social group to another. In this context, social groups have their own cultural practices that bind them together or rather of which they place greater value on them. In this connection, it has earlier on been highlighted that social groups have practices that differ from the other social groups in one way or another. It is therefore within this point that there has been a conflict of interest in relation to what extent social groups have a right to their own cultural practices. It is inevitable to have differences in cultural practices when presented with several social groups.
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Interestingly enough, culture values and practice are so diverse such that defining the right to one’s own cultural practice becomes a big problem. So to speak, what may be termed right in one culture may be viewed as bad or detestable by another culture. In this case, redefinition of the rights should be taken into consideration. In line with this point, a right to ones own cultural practices is limited to some point owing to some reasons as it will be stipulated in this case.
In fact, one’s right to cultural practices becomes limited when it violates human rights. This is to suggest that a social group may have a cultural practice that is more of harm to human right to live. In such a circumstance, this cultural practice may be disallowed. This is to bring out the point that cultural practices should obey a certain moral standard of which failure may limit their application as well as operation especially in the current world whereby there is globalization and multiculturalism. Seidman and Alexander (2001) asserts that while a social group should be allowed to carry out its cultural practices, certain external protections should be made in order to reject those internal restrictions within the culture limiting the right of an individual to question and revise the traditional authorities and practices. If a group is given all the freedom without some restrictions to carry out its cultural practices, it may suppress basic individual rights (218).
According to Seidman and Alexander (2001), some ethnic groups may demand to take their children out of school before the legally prescribed age so as to minimize the possibility of the child to leave the community or in order to continue the traditional practices (218). Such practices involve forced marriages and clitoridectomy of which they violate the existing laws in regard to informed consent (218). Following such a situation, law need to be applied or rather legal action should be applied as this custom violates ones individual rights and does more of harm than benefit.
The extent to which a social group can practice its culture is also limited by the existing human rights and constitutional principles. For instance, there are some of the groups around the world whereby men assault wives and when taken under law they defend themselves on the basis of their customs allowing this practice. From a legal point of view or rather the human right laws, this is wrong and punishable. Following this point, a social group’s right to such own cultural practices may be limited.
From a broader point of view, the extent to which a social group is allowed to practice its own cultural practices is limited by the human rights and constitutional principles. Along with this, normative ethics also limits this freedom in a way. When the word normative ethics is mentioned in any context, it brings out the meaning that one’s conduct must take into account moral issues (Banks 7). This is to mean that one ought to act morally making use of reason to decide the proper way of conduct. In situations whereby one is not sure of what to do, ethics provides a certain set of standards to help in making a morally right decision when faced by such a situation.
In accordance to Banks (2004), there are two arguments in relation to normative ethics interlinked with the extent to which a social group has a right to its own cultural practices (7). From this point of view, there is the ethical absolutism and on the other hand ethical relativism. In this context, there is a conflict of interests that comes out in this case. It is actually as a result of relativists stating that standards of conduct vary from society to society while absolutes hold that one set of ethical standards applies across all societies(7). In consistent with these arguments it is important to bring out the difficulties involved in judging the practices of a group to which you do not belong. Debatably, social groups differ greatly in their practices and thus judging the practices of a group becomes a great challenge. Basing the argument on some of the practices like the Cousin Marriage conundrum and the circumcision of boys and girls, the perception is different for different societies. This is to suggest that there are those societies whose practices allows for cousin marriage conundrum while others refute it altogether. In such a circumstance, if you do not belong to that society, you may see the practice as evil while the members accept it. This is where the point of view of a relativist takes hold as it states that each and every society has its own practices and ought to be judged using its set standards of conduct. Judging the practice here becomes a difficult task and to some extent impossible.
In a similar manner, reflecting on the circumcision of boys and girls, Ember and Ember (2003) pointed out to the value that Maasai’s put on circumcision of boys and girls as a cultural practice. It is actually a practice that initiates boys to maturity and girls as well. It is believed that unless the clitoris has been removed a girl cannot give birth and if she does the children would be deformed (610). In order to become an adult man on the other hand, Maasai boys are circumcised. Contrary to what Maasai’s do, the Jews are different; this is given to the reason that they circumcise their boys only while their women are not. This is a clear example of the fact that different societies have different cultural practices. The aspect of what is right or wrong in this framework should be judged on the basis of the set moral standards of the particular culture so long as they do not violate the international law of human rights.
Among others, United Nations establishment and the declaration of human rights back in 1948 put cultural diversity on the grounds of human rights of each individual (Cowan, Dembour and Wilson 9). In this sense, culture diversity was placed in a point where it had to do its practices while respecting the individual human right. In the long run however, cultural diversity has received a renewed attention as minorities claim the right to their own cultural practices. This is to suggest that the universalism approach to cultural diversity is being slowly replaced by cultural relativism which puts claim that each society should be judged on the basis of the moral standards set by the society in particular (Banks 8).
Needless to say, it is quiet a difficult thing to do by judging the practices of a culture that one does not belong. Unquestionably, one may find the difficult in that he or she may be not familiar with the set moral standards of the particular culture and therefore the only option which remains in such a case is the use of relativists approach to cultural diversity. At the same time, what one’s culture deems right may be wrong to the other culture of which one does not belong. Taking the case for Jewish culture and the Maasai culture as earlier on highlighted, it would be easier said than done for a Jew to judge the practice by Maasai to circumcise both boys and girls. On the other, a Maasai cannot judge a Jew using the Maasai set standards of conduct in regard to what is wrong and right in relation to circumcision of boys and girls.
Interestingly enough, this point brings the issue of judging one’s culture of which one does not belong to be a source of a conflict of interests. Therefore, in order to avoid such a conflict, each and every society should have its cultural practices judged on the basis of the set code of conduct by the particular society and also from its point of view. Nonetheless, the allowance should be up to a certain extent regulated by the principles of human rights and constitution along with the normative ethics being given its role (Cowan, Dembour and Wilson 153). In essence, this would at least bring the issues of cultural diversity and judging of the diverse practices to a compromise even though not absolute. This is an indication that the extent to which a social group has a right to its own practices is limited.
More to this point, the limitation is made possible by the international law of human rights and the principles of constitution (Cowan, Dembour and Wilson 36). In the same line of thought, ethics limits some practices and more specifically when the informed consent is brought into the milieu. Accordingly, judging the practices of another social group of which one does not belong is difficult. The difficult is brought about by the differences that arise in attitudes, values and goals along with the set moral standards held by the particular social group.
Given to these differences, it becomes hard to judge the morality of a practice of a culture one is not familiar with using the moral standards of a culture he or she is familiar with. This is due to the fact that what one culture deems right may be completely wrong to another with the reverse being true. Furthermore, before judging a culture that one does not belong to, precaution should be taken to ensure that conflicts of interests are not present by employing the informed consent, human rights international law and ethic’s role in decision making.
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