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 A Cultural Relativist Examines the Salem Witch Trials

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In a sweeping order this Halloween, Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift signed legislation exhonerating five women executed as witches during the famous Salem witch trials of 1692. Though her intentions are perhaps noble, Swift's actions are little more than yet another example of the moral imperialism that so dominates the American cultural and political landscape today.
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A unique cultural expression
The Salem witch trials were a unique cultural expression, all the more forceful for incorporating motifs of execution. Though cultural capital may be generated by numerous methods, capital punishment offers a particularly striking opportunity for a society to come together and declare its fundamental values.

By acquitting the Salem witches, we're demeaning colonial Salem's cultural expressions. Worse, we're not simply declaring that the executions would be unjust when measured under contemporary social and legal circumstances; we're making a truly dangerous assertion about the universality of human morality. We may pride ourselves on our contemporary enlightened culture, but we must never lose sight of the fact that ours is just one of an infinitude of cultural arrangements, all equally valid.

Morality is nothing more than a product of culture; a statement of the values we hold dear. But if there is one lesson history stands for, it is that different cultures have different moralities and countless wars have been waged in a futile attempt to resolve these differences. These are wars of intolerance; they seek to extinguish "inferior" or "barbaric" cultures and fail to acknowledge the respect that each of us deserves.

Who are we to say what is "good" and what is "bad"? All we may do is measure others' decisions against our own arbitrary collection of social norms.

Who are we to lay blame?
The notion of "universal human rights" is a farce. It's a bald attempt by the politically powerful to foist their own hypocritical narcissisms on the less privileged. It refuses to listen to individuals' stories; it simply shoehorns all societies and moral philosophies into a framework they need not embrace.

If we're ever to start demanding tolerance of others, we ourselves must first be tolerant. There is already too much hate in the world for us to contribute our petty moral indignations.

Ever since John Stuart Mill and the enlightenment era, we have recognized that the only way human civilization can thrive is with a free and open marketplace of ideas. No better than government censorship is the sort of censorship we impose on ourselves and others through misplaced social criticism. How are we ever to determine whether there are advantages to hanging heretical women if we never try or allow others to try? Since we cannot determine our own truths in an experiential vaccuum, we cannot foreclose opporunities for cultural expression simply because we find them morally repugnant from our own cultural frame of reference.

It is ethnocentric xenophobia. Cultural differentiation does not imply inferiority of those groups who are ethnically distinct from oneีs own.

A society's hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow

A cultural-relativism take on the Salem Witch Trials, as from the point of view of cultural-relativist Taliban apologists. While hanging and crushing people on accusations of witchcraft wouldn't be appropriate in modern America, it was entirely justified and proper within the cultural milieu of colonial Massachusetts. The victims' posthumous acquittal a few decades ago is grossly inappropriate, as it demeans and fails to appreciate the true beauty of colonial culture.

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