In his column published Jan. 18, Alex Epstein raises an interesting question-are some cultures objectively better than others? The answer on my part is a resounding no! In his book Against Method, Paul Feyerabend makes precisely this point. He says that all traditions (and cultures) acquire desirable or undesirable characteristics only when viewed from the perspective of another tradition or culture. Indeed, it can be argued that there are a few ideas universally repulsive to all cultures, whether they are "backward" or "forward," such as murder or mass genocide. But such ideas are few and far between.
Certainly "science and reason" or "rationality and individualism" are not such ideas. These are the yardsticks which Epstein uses to measure cultures. He and many others do not realize that the "scientific worldview" or "rationality" have been dominant features of only a few cultures in human history (e.g. the ancient Greeks and the modern industrial civilization) and have no objectively superior standing in themselves.
There are many so-called low-technology/savage/backward/tribal cultures in the world-and there is nothing wrong with them. In fact, they often ask to be left alone and do not force their way of life on the rest of the world. This has precisely been the occupation of the industrial culture for the past 300 years. The practice of making choices on behalf of other cultures, if anything, is the one objectively wrong quality of some cultures.
All judgments that Epstein-or for that matter anybody-makes will always be implicitly based on the assumption of superiority of the founding tenets of the industrial/Western way of life, including science and technology, rationality and individuality. The conclusion will be a foregone one: that all the non-scientific, low-technology cultures are "inferior." Human happiness, which should be the foremost pursuit of all cultures, is not contingent on any of these issues.
Department of Neurobiology