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October 27, 2009

Subtle Ethnocentrism

Excellent example of paper 1 by Jillian Garrison Fall 2009.

If the "norm" in this society included wearing socks on your hands instead of mittens, carrying weights around to keep your balance, and raising your hand when you didn't have a question, that is the way we would live our lives, without questioning it. As individuals, conforming to society simply means fitting in with the social environment in which you have grown accustom. Thus, "norms" of the society become daily life that most individuals do not question as irregular. Ethnocentric values of our culture allow us to view ourselves as superior to all others. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Ethnocentrism means "Belief in the superiority of one's own ethnic group." From the culturally-based assumption that the world was created for man, to the personal belief that our culture is better, ethnocentrism appears in everyday life. In small ways, such as giving children unconditional praise and confidence, self-superiority is encouraged. Even the right to one's private property often promotes the mentality of, 'I deserve to have this, even though I did nothing to earn it', thus supporting cultural superiority.

In the book Ishmael, the main character and gorilla discuss how the world came to be. Eventually, they discover the concept that people in the student's culture assume the world was created specifically for man, and no other; "when man finally appeared, creation came to an end, because its objective had been reached. There was nothing left to create" (Ishmael, 57). Such an assumption places the status of man higher than any other living thing on earth. We give ourselves superiority merely based word of mouth, which then leads to common belief. Many things we do and say display this sense of superiority, the way children are spoken to, for example.

Encouraging phrases such as, "be yourself", "you can do anything you put your mind to", and "be confident" provide children with the desire to be proud of themselves in everything they do. Not that this concept is a bad thing, however it encourages taking pride in oneself for small accomplishments. This unconditional praise at a young age may cause children to think, "I do everything well, even though I don't always try." Cultural terminology can act as daily examples of cultural superiority. Though some work extremely hard for praise and benefit, we occasionally receive praise for doing hardly any work at all. This pushes the mentality that our society is superior. This also effects individual perception on a large-scale, which is referred to as ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentricity can also be encouraged through the concept of public property. In the United States for example, borrowing a pencil from someone without asking is often viewed as a personal offence. Similarly, taking a bite out of a stranger's sandwich gets you a dirty glare, maybe even a punch in the face. These offenses against ones private property are known as norm violations. Social Norms are "expectations (or rules of behavior) that develop out of a group's values" (Essentials of Sociology, 45). Personal belongings provide individuals with a sense of power and control over their possession and how others respond to it. You see this in young children who shout, "mine..Mine! MINE!!" when their space or possession is being violated. This cultural belief of having a divine right to our private property allows us to view ourselves superior over those who do not have a right to our property. This social value and norm supports ethnocentrism in our society as well as the belief that we are superior.

Similarly, the article Nacirema, reveals the common culturally-based belief that other societies are below us. Reading this article for the first time, I thought the society being described was barbaric, with torturing devices and strange beliefs. Then I was told it is about America, and the content all began to make sense. Americans are not use to hearing our country described as underdeveloped and 'barbaric', but instead as advanced and superior to other nations. As everyday language and cultural values suggest our society as higher than others, we come to act superior to them.

Towards the end of chapter two in the book Ishmael, the main character explains his uncertainty, "you have the feeling you've been lied to...and you'd like to know what it is" (Ishmael, 45). The "story" of life and culture is dissected and questioned in this book. Similar to their "story", our daily values and conversation suggest us to be the superior society. The way children are socialized and reared with values and norms about praise and private property give way to a self-superior mentality. However, the truth is simple. We are not superior. Though our culture consists of offering unconditional praise and undeserved property, America has earned no right to superiority over all of mankind.

"Ethnocentrism", (pg.612). American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 4th edition.
Henslin, James. Essentials of Sociology. Allen and Bacon. Boston, Massachusetts, 2008.
Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. Bantum and Turner. The United States of America, 1992.

Stay Objective

Excellent example of paper 1 by Katie Mayer Fall 2009.

Stay objective: that should be the number one rule in sociology. In practicing any kind of sociological study, it is essential to view a culture from an impartial point of view. How can sociologists hope to understand how any society or group functions if they judge them by their own cultural standards? They cannot. However, maintaining objectivity is easier said than done, and it is easy to make ethnocentric judgments without realizing it.

According to James Henslin's The Essentials of Sociology, ethnocentrism is "a tendency to use our group's ways of doing things as a yardstick for judging others" (37). This tendency is ingrained in us since birth, as we are taught that our group's ways of doing things are the best ways. We internalize our culture's norms to such an extent that we see all other cultures through our own cultural lens and judge them by our own standards. Oftentimes we don't even realize we hold biases until we interact with other cultures.

Daniel Quinn also illustrates this idea in the novel, Ishmael. Ishmael teaches his students that every culture has a "story." This "story" is everything we've ever been taught about how the world has come to be how it is. As Ishmael says, "this explanation covers everything, including the deterioration of the ozone layer, the pollution of the oceans, the destruction of the rain forests, and even human extinction - and it satisfies them." (Quinn 44) This is another way of describing how a culture ingrains in us certain ideas and norms that we don't even realize are there.

This very human inclination is seen all over the world. For example, the Western feminist reaction to Muslim women holds an ethnocentric conflict. Many feminists see Muslim customs like veiling, burqas, and segregated weddings as oppressive and strive to "free" these women from their "struggles." While laws that allow husbands to rape or otherwise harm their wives are clearly a violation of international human rights laws, these customs fall into a cultural gray area. A particularly large debate has surrounded the burqa - Westerners view this practice as a symbol of Muslim women's' oppression by men, solidify their position as second-class citizens, and strip them of an identity. Many feminists and other Westerners hope to help Muslim women escape this custom. However, Muslim women don't always see it that way, nor do they want to be "freed." This particular group of Westerners is judging these Muslim women's customs using their own cultural "yardsticks." In reality, it is impossible for anyone outside of the Muslim world to really know what it means to wear a burqa. While these Western feminists are merely trying to help Muslim women become "free," they are basing this "freedom" off of Western standards, which is not fair. This cultural divide causes Muslim men and women to feel negatively about Westerners and vice versa (Guardian).

Sociologists must not fall into this ethnocentric trap. It is necessary for them to keep their natural tendency toward ethnocentricity in check when studying other cultures; otherwise it is impossible to truly understand them. This objectivity is called "cultural relativism." It should be the goal of sociologists to see a culture for it's many different parts, and to avoid making judgments based on personal opinion.

Practicing cultural relativism can be very difficult. Our culture is so much a part of who we are that it's hard to look beyond what we consider "right" and "wrong" and see another culture for what it is. For example, I believe that animal sacrifice in ceremony is wrong, because in my culture it is not acceptable to torture or kill animals unless they are used for nourishment. But some Hindu and Islam groups, as well as other groups, still practice animal sacrifice today. To me, the practice is cruel. To these groups, animal sacrifice is seen as an important and necessary ceremony. If I were a sociologist studying animal sacrifice, I would need to practice cultural relativism to truly understand what the ritual means, who participates in it, and the nature of the act. This would require putting away my anger, withholding my own opinions while recognizing other viewpoints about these rituals, and witnessing these rituals without protest. I would still be able to believe that it is wrong, but it would be unfair to judge these cultures based on my own values. There is a very fine line to walk, and the reason it is so difficult is because our cultures rest so deeply within each of us (Henslin 39).

Why is practicing cultural relativism necessary? For one, it is impossible to understand others or ourselves without noticing how culture affects us. We are not born with values or opinions or personal style - we get those things through culture, without even realizing it. Like Ishmael says, the "story" in any culture is omnipresent (Quinn 44), and most of the time we don't even realize we're being told it. Thus, sociologists are faced with a difficult task. They must first find out how our culture has ingrained itself in us, and then manipulate that knowledge to move outside of our culture as much as possible and maintain objectivity when studying other cultures. Everyone sees the world in different lights, and if we are to understand one another, it is necessary to let go of the way we see things and see it another way. Biases cloud understanding, willingness to learn, and can give the public false ideas about other cultures (as shown in my earlier example about Muslim women and the West).

Ethnocentrism can be a barrier for understanding one another and for working together towards a common future. Sociologists must strive to step outside of what they know, because understanding a culture on it's own terms is the only fair way to study it.

Works Cited

Guardian Staff. 2009. "Can Western Feminism Save Muslim Women?" Guardian.uk.co.

Henslin, James M. 2009. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. Pearson: New York.

Quinn, Daniel. 1992. Ishmael. Bantam: New York.

What do you think of the idea that we "are captives of a civilization system that more or less compels us to go on destroying the world in order to live?"

Excellent example of paper 1 by Catie Draney Fall 2009

The awareness for our global deterioration has become known around the planet. Deforestation, smog and global warming are concerns of everyone today. Everywhere we look there is the "green movement". Reusable bags, recycled plastic, biodegradable clothes and environmentally safe soaps are consuming our markets. People are riding their bikes to work and changing their engines to biodiesel to help preserve the planet. But even though being green is so in right now, only a small percentage of people are acting on it. Organic and green products are more expensive and not everyone has the ability to ride their bikes to work. It is so much easier to live the way we do without regard to the planet. Why did it take so long for us to notice our harsh habits? And how did this destructive cycle begin? These questions bring up answers we don't want to know about ourselves. The system of our society holds us captive in this destructive cycle because of our sense of entitlement brought on by our culture.

In the novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, the main character and his teacher are talking about creation myths, and in every cultures' creation myth, the natives of the land believe that the place they live was created for them. On pg. 59 of Ishmael the "creation myth" of planet earth from the human perspective is explained, "They made the universe so that our galaxy could be in it. They made the galaxy so that our solar system could be in it. They made our solar system so that our planet could be in it. And they made out planet so that we could be in it. The whole thing was made so that man would have a hunk of dirt to stand on." Having the perspective that the entire universe was built for mankind to live in leaves us to believe that we don't owe anything to our planet, it only is here for our use. This sense of entitlement is common for every culture and creation myth, it is a type of ethnocentrism. Mankind continues to use and use the planet's resources without questioning how it will affect the future. Eventually we as a society have come to the mindset that the world can't live without us and not the other way around. We have gained so much confidence in manipulating the land and learning how to use all aspects of life (including the sky) that we don't think of it as living off of the land at all but rather as living off of our own technology. Civilization is captive to its own system of destruction. Even with all of this "going green" only a few individuals really have made the massive effort it takes to break out of this cycle and live in a way that isn't destructive.

Westernized cultures are especially ethnocentric and since we have grown up with this lazy lifestyle of depending on our destructive system we can't bring ourselves to understand why any other society wouldn't live the way we live. With our food brought in from around the globe and our trash taken away for us we are kept in the dark of how our lifestyle is destructive. Even if we wanted understand this system it would be almost impossible to research and get truthful facts because the corporations that run this society don't want us to know our destructive ways. They like us nice and naïve and lazy. And in that way it is not only us that keeps us captive to our way of life, maybe if we practiced cultural relativism more we might question the way we live more. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of outlets to understanding another culture that are as informative as traveling. Cultural relativism and less ethnocentrism would help us to understand our system of life and with that understanding we would no longer be victims of the system and might change our ways. If we were to know our own social norms we might have a better chance to break away from them but it is very common that a lot of people aren't even aware of their own social norms but just accept them as the way of life without question. Everybody should be educated about the social norms of their society to have a better chance of breaking out of the system we are captive to. And the educated should choose to challenge any harmful norms without fear of negative sanctions. Maybe sometimes it is our fear of negative sanctions that holds us captive to our own system.

Westernized culture has become completely materialistic. From clothes, cars, jobs, houses and beyond, our world is filled with material things rather than values and tradition. The materialistic culture is the culture that is never going to escape the system that continues to destroy where we live. Having a culture revolve around material things means a never ending cycle of disregard for the world and its destruction.

This brings us to the Takers and Leavers, or rather, the primitive and civilized these terms are from the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The leavers are societies with a type of culture that live with the land instead of manipulating it. Of course it would be impossible now to revert back into our "Leaver" ways now that we are so deep into our "Taker" ways. It would demand so much more than a revolution to change society now, we are so deeply rooted in our destructive habits that this cycle couldn't end without some sort of apocalyptic start over. Maybe this all came with the invention of language. Primitive societies became civilized with the invention of language and that started this entire cycle. Like the Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis, language determines our consciousness and perceptive. We could never unlearn language. Every modern society is its language and with that so is our understanding of the meaning of life and what is important to us. Language is the first thing we learn growing up along with walking so really it is engrained in us since birth the type of things we are going to want out of life, like material things, that it feels like instinct to us. So, in a way, our destructive behavior seems instinctual to us.

We are compelled to continue this cycle because there is no way out. Even if we wanted a way out, which not enough of us truly really do, we could never pull it off because of how deeply engrained our culture is. Westernized culture is global and affects everyone even if they do not share the same culture. It is business and environmental and social. Our language and mindset are centered around the way we live, or the other way around, but they are irrevocably intertwined. We lack the means to change our ways as well as a desire to. There are outside forces but mostly our internal forces like our sense of entitlement that keeps us from even caring whether we can stop destroying the world that was "built only for our existence." We are captives to ourselves in this sense and in that we will always be captives to the destructive way we continue to live.

Ishmael. Daniel Quinn.

October 1, 2009

Urgent Need in the Philippines

From Claire OIiveros and Christian Aniciete

On Saturday September 26th, Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) struck the Philippines with the heaviest rainfall recorded, followed by the worst flooding, in 40 years. As of this writing, there are at least 246 people dead or missing and 435,000 victims who are homeless, injured or have lost all of their belongings. There are still as least 1 million people without electricity. Scenes are eerily similar to "Hurricane Katrina" and the devastation of Typhoon Ondoy has only just begun.

On an ordinary day, balsa in Filipino means "boat" or "raft." But post-Ondoy, BALSA (Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan, or "People's Cooperation for the People") is calling upon all overseas Filipinos and friends to make a difference and save lives. Financial donations for the victims of the Big Flood are desperately needed.

The severity of this disaster requires the cooperation of all our kababayan and friends in order to provide for the needs of all the victims. Established 12 years ago by BAYAN Philippines, BALSA is a grassroots initiative coordinating everyday people to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. The clean-up and relief efforts that are necessary to recover from this disaster will be an arduous undertaking, but we must act quickly. Another typhoon is expected to hit the Philippines by week's end.

The Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP) and PSU Kaibigan are making this appeal for donations to support BALSA relief efforts. The current administration of the Philippine government is woefully unprepared and ill-equipped to help the hundreds of thousands of our compatriots and friends in desperate need of assistance. Government officials admitted they only had 13 rubber boats. Public monies earmarked for emergencies (800 million pesos / 17 million USD) have been squandered on non-emergency situations.

BALSA is coordinating efforts to distribute food, medicine, clothing and other basic necessities to help the people through this crisis. All relief efforts coordinated by BALSA will be directed towards the communities most devastated by Typhoon Ondoy. Due to the urgency, we are encouraging supporters to donate money before other materials are collected. Community members in Los Angeles County have set a goal of $10,000 for BALSA relief operations by the end of October.

Online donations via paypal can be made at http://www.bayanusa.org.

Money, clothes, blankets, non-perishable food, medicine, toiletries and other basic necessities can be dropped off at designated BALSA locations in Portland, Oregon.

Drop-Off Locations: Portland Community College Sylvania Multicultural Center, 12000 SW 49th Ave, CC 202, Portland, OR 97219 and Portland State University Kaibigan Filipino American Student Association Office, 1825 SW Broadway, M103, Portland, OR 97201. Contact Claire
Oliveros at 503.977.4112 or Christian Aniciete at 503.725.2964.

More drop-off locations will be announced in the coming days.

If you would like to get more involved in the BALSA efforts with PCHRP or PSU Kaibigan, please contact Claire Oliveros or Christian Aniciete.

Thank you for all of your help!

Claire OIiveros and Christian Aniciete
Volunteers of BALSA

Organization Notes CHRP is Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines. PCHRP is the Portland Oregon branch of the organization. BAYAN is a coalition of people in the United States who support the democratic movement in the Philippines.