POLITICS!!! and Cultural Relativity

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Official Website of France … or something like it.

Political Parties in France: with candidates for 2012 election

Why am I posting about politics? I mean to some its not very intriguing HOWEVER the film The Artist has been mentioned on several of these links, why? Because believe it or not politics shapes a lot of what we call our native culture. How the government around us functions or controls us influences how we live and interact with each other. At least this is what I believe… that’s why politics are so exciting. Because there are so many people with so many different opinions about what is best for their native culture, country, etc.

The 2012 French presidential elections are going on, as are the US presidential elections. I received an update from my step-grandmother on some of the stuff going on in the political world in America and it made me realize that we only have two functional parties in America… although there are many other forms of political beliefs. For example: the rift in the Republican Party because of the creation/manifestation of a group of people who have dubbed themselves the Tea Party. Although I try to follow the news on the election here in France, it is very hard for me to comprehend. Even if I understood all the words, I’m not sure I would grasp the reason behind them. What underlying cultural foundation is being called into question or being discussed?

When I tried to explain some of the politics in America to my host family I was surprised at how hard it was. Not because I didn’t know the words, but because they didn’t understand the issue, why it was important, how it was positioned in the bigger picture (i.e. why certain issues are hot button topics and others aren’t), and why Americans weren’t concerned with some other issue.

This got me thinking: how much would I learn about the French if I understood their political system… I have no idea people! Because I can’t read or understand that much French. But, it’s something to keep in mind. Not just as I- and I’m assuming others- learn about other cultures, but also because as an exercise it forces you to reflect on your own political system. What you do, or don’t understand about it. Why certain topics are seemingly more important than others, etc. The name of my blog is Cultural Relativity not just because I blindly believe in this philosophy – take an anthropology course if you don’t understand- but because the philosophy creates more conflict in oneself rather than making intercultural experiences easier. The question becomes “Am I reacting negatively to this [X] because I, meaning me the person who embodies my native culture, dislikes it and its a matter of me not understanding this new culture OR am I reacting negatively to it because  …?”… where is the line drawn between one culture and another and can we even reconcile differences between these two cultures given that no matter what anyone thinks it-the thought- is inherently bias because everyone embodies their native culture. Meaning that no matter what one thinks you will be projecting your own culture first and foremost. …at least when it comes to politics?

If you live in another culture for long enough, then you will be able to understand the culture from within itself. And, is this what cultural relativity is? (According to most Anthropologists, yes) Is it not about reconciling differences, and more about understanding them? But then, once you understand them, how do you proceed? (For Anthropologists… what do you do with this research?) Do you work to advance the new culture you’ve acquired?…which would result in you projecting your newly embodied culture onto a situation, bringing us back to the question above…

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I just really like these questions, mostly because they are about what I want to be: an anthropologist. And honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to solve the questions, if I ever will, if I even can. What I do know, is that engaging in discussion about these questions is a good exercise because it forces you to think about what you think…. exactly.

…. isn’t studying abroad grand? You become a philosopher.🙂

 

UPDATE:

Because I’ve been struggling with how to explain our voting system in the US I decided to look into it. And, of course I wound up at BBC, reading the Glossary they’ve created for US Presidential Elections. The reason I’m posting about this issue on this blog is because going abroad makes you realize how much, or how little, you actually know about your own country. Luckily, from what I’ve read I was correct when I tried to explain the electoral college.

2 responses »

  1. There’s a structural answer for the two-party v multi-party systems. That in itself, of course, does not answer the culture questions that produce and/or result from that structure.

    What about the part of ‘French’ that isn’t strictly French? How do the elections there deal with things like the global/Euro economy? Or immigration? I’ve just been reading some Seyla Benhabib – she’s a political scientist addressing questions of ‘national’ identity while recognizing that our old system of sovereignty is actively breaking down amid globalization; she speaks of ‘porous borders’ while reconceiving the Kantian model of universal human rights (= hospitality, in her view) and a ‘democratic’ perpetual peace.

    Is there a French equivalent of John Stewart? In any case, you should probably youtube a few of the opening commentaries of the Daily Show. Try the past week. It’ll catch you up pretty fast.

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