Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)
Although it sounds more jargon-y than his other terms, his idea of "anti-anti-relativism", is very important, I think.
A scholar can hardly be better employed than in destroying a fear. The one I want to go after is cultural relativism. Not the thing itself, which I think merely there, like Transylvania, but the dread of it, which I think unfounded. It is unfounded because the moral and intellectual consequences that are commonly supposed to flow from relativism—subjectivism, nihilism, incoherence, Machiavellianism, ethical idiocy, esthetic blindness, and so on—do not in fact do so and the promised rewards of escaping its clutches, mostly having to do with pasteurized knowledge, are illusory.
To be more specific, I want not to defend relativism, which is a drained term anyway, yesterday's battle cry, but to attack anti-relativism, which seems to me broadly on the rise and to represent a streamlined version of an antique mistake. Whatever cultural relativism may be or originally have been (and there is not one of its critics in a hundred who has got that right), it serves these days largely as a specter to scare us away from certain ways of thinking and toward others. And, as the ways of thinking away from which we are being driven seem to me to be more cogent than those toward which we are being propelled, and to lie at the heart of the anthropological heritage, I would like to do something about this. Casting out demons is a praxis we should practice as well as study.
In this age when cultural relatavism has so much power, Geertz's message is crucial.
Oddly, I blogged about Geertz the very first day I blogged.
Other links: WP obit; Two minutes on YouTube; Jeff W; Savage Minds (includes audio and video); Prod & Ponder; Concurring Opinions; Post-PhD Blues; Rakesh Khurana.
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