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The Role of Cultural Relativism in Shaping Government Policies




In the complex tapestry of human societies, cultural relativism plays a pivotal role in shaping government policies. This idea contends that no one cultural viewpoint is inherently superior to another because it is based on the understanding that cultural context has a significant impact on beliefs, values, and practises. This essay explores how cultural relativism impacts government policies.


Cultural relativism, as a philosophical doctrine, suggests that the values, norms, and practices of a culture must be understood within its own context. This perspective is vital in governance, as it fosters policies that respect the diversity of cultural practices and beliefs. The notion aligns with the principles of justice and fairness, advocating for a legal system that acknowledges diverse cultural backgrounds while upholding individual rights.


Australia, known for its cultural diversity, offers a compelling case study. The Northern Territory, in particular, stands out with its significant indigenous population, whose customs and traditions differ markedly from those of the predominantly Western culture of urban Australia.


In the Northern Territory, the recognition of indigenous land rights reflects cultural relativism in policy-making. The Land Rights Act, a pioneering legal framework, acknowledges the traditional connection of Aboriginal peoples to their land. This move towards legal pluralism respects the cultural practices of indigenous communities in land management, contrasting with the individualistic land ownership model prevalent in Western societies.


Healthcare in the Northern Territory demonstrates an integration of cultural relativism. Recognising the unique health challenges and beliefs of indigenous communities, the government has implemented policies that incorporate traditional healing practices alongside Western medicine. This approach respects cultural beliefs while striving to provide equitable healthcare access. While these policies were arbitrarily ignored during the COVID reponse, subsequent court proceedings against the NTG regarding the identification of Aboriginal vulnerability and precedents by the health department of previous cultural acknowledgement created a stark difference between respect shown prior.


The educational policies in the Northern Territory also exhibit cultural sensitivity. Bilingual education programs, for instance, cater to indigenous students, allowing them to learn in both their native languages and English. This policy underscores the importance of cultural identity in educational achievement and social integration.


Despite its merits, the application of cultural relativism in policy-making is not without challenges. Critics argue that excessive cultural accommodation leads to moral relativism, where potentially harmful practices are tolerated under the guise of cultural respect. Examples of this in the NT are profound. My first direct experience was observing a nine year old pregnant girl brought into Darwin for medical care. While obviously a case of juvenile abuse, it was justified as a traditional marriage. Other examples including traditional physical mutilation and the involuntary removal of teeth etc. Balancing universal human rights with cultural practices remains a contentious issue.


A taxpayer-funded industry, alarmingly, has emerged, dedicated to shielding abusive and exploitative practices under the guise of cultural justifications. Discredited revisionist anthropologists, tainted by apparent corruption and shunned on the global stage, have disturbingly glorified practices such as sexual slavery, trafficking, and violent retribution, erroneously labelling them as intrinsic forms of cultural justice. It is critical to recognise that not all ideas hold equal merit, especially when some propagate primitive and regressive notions that endorse suffering, mutilation, and enslavement. Such detrimental ideas demand opposition and eradication, not endorsement or propagation.


Cultural relativism, as a guiding principle in government policy, demands a delicate balance between respecting cultural diversity and upholding universal principles of justice and human rights. The Australian experience, particularly in the Northern Territory, exemplifies the challenges and obvious failures of incorporating cultural relativism into policy-making. Principles that put the welfare of all people first, regardless of their cultural background, should also respect cultural traditions that are consistent with these principles. As societies continue to evolve, the role of cultural relativism in shaping government policies will undoubtedly remain a dynamic and critical area of public discourse. From the author.


The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.


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