Opinion | Some cultural values are better than others

With the world becoming more and more connected, it is essential to ask ourselves, how are we going to live in peace despite all our profound differences. Answering this question is even harder especially in the current cultural environment of relativism where all moral and cultural ideas on morals are given equal standing. The left side of politics thinks that Western school of thought on things like Women’s right, human rights and LGBT rights are the same as values found in African and Arabic countries.  We are now bombarded continuously on the news with the need for tolerance,  while at the same time demonising other groups of people who have different views on the prevailing norms.

This has left me Wondering, what do people mean when they say let’s be tolerant of each other?

Tolerance in the context of culture can be described as the ability to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviours that one dislikes or disagree with. – according to google dictionary

There are a couple of flaws in this definition, which I will explain.

Firstly, Tolerance only works when the underlying value structure that binds everyone together still exists. One thing that I have noticed is that no matter how progressively liberal a country or culture is. Some behaviours will always be deemed unacceptable. For example, almost no one in western societies supports paedophilia or infanticide. And laws are put in place to prevent paedophilia from happening and anyone who molests or kills a child is locked for a long time. From this example, I  can safely say there are some behaviours that “some societies” will not tolerate.

Attention here should be placed on “some cultures” this is because there are some cultures whose practices are morally reprehensible. For example, child marriages in some parts of Africa are acceptable. For instance, In Zambia under traditional customary laws, the age for maturity is not adequately defined, and girls can be married off depending on the parents of the girl. “Maturity” in traditional Zambian laws is usually as soon as a girl or boy goes through the right of passage, which is at the onset of puberty. Contrast that to western countries where anyone under the age of eighteen is considered a minor and any sexual activity with them is illegal and carries with it a substantial sentence. The conflict that arises when these two worlds collide does not come from the idea that they are different. The dispute comes because both these cultures think they view of reality is moral and normal.

Another example is polygamy, polygamy is normal in some African and  Arabic countries, in western countries, however, marriage, up until recently, used to be defined as a union between a man and women, with the exclusion of others. Although, there is no set number of de-facto relationship and people can have polygamous relationships. Under Australian Law, they are not considered as legal marriages. Defining who a partner is in this instance affects how the government supports families and how each household is taxed. Also, how many people in the house who are eligible to receive social security, and if they are, what amount of money they are  entitled to.

This importance of this definition was even more evident after a series of reports in media that raised the issue of social welfare for Muslim families in multiple relationships. While there is no data to show that these families are defrauding the welfare system, it has not stopped Australians from the outrage for what they see as political correctness and pandering that has gone too far. The question they ask is if polygamy is illegal, how come some cultures are getting away with having more than one wife and having the government pay for the lifestyle.

For any culture to survive, there has to common core values that bind everyone in that society together. While multiculturalism is good in that it exposes us to different ways of living, it also should not come at the expense of society’s own values. I am of the view that people migrate to different countries to experience something new and embed themselves in other cultures. Otherwise, what is the point of relocating to other countries if you are just going to live and talk to your kind? If some behaviours no matter how morally liberal culture is, can be deemed as not acceptable, what does tolerance mean then?

Logically the way I see it, tolerance only works only when it comes to speech and ideas, I believe behaviours and how people interact must be regulated, not speech or ideas. In as long as speech is not defamatory or inciting violence, we should not put restrictions on it. Society can’t legislate how people think and which speech they use, realistically you can only legislate how people act to one another in public life.

All opinions and ideas should be heard, debated and criticised, even the extreme ones. As someone said all revolutions begin as extreme speech, for example, the civil rights and women rights movement were at one time considered as extreme. The power that would have wanted to shut the movement down. Because they were out of the bounds of normal prevailing thought, but after the ideas of classical feminism where debated, people soon realised that they were not that bad after all.

More than anything, what worries me is the imposition of thought on people and the self-censorship happening in public life. In Canada, if you have a different view on marriage, reproductive rights and gender other than the prevailing norms, it is hard for you to have a career in politics. For example, Canada now has pro-abortion criteria to be eligible for student summer job grants.


Finally, society cannot tolerate everything; Western civilisations have survived this long because they have always had universal core values that have bound everyone together despite the differences. These values have been the rule of law,  personal responsibility and Human rights.

Written by Paul Mukube