On Culture, Ethics, & Responsibility

Had an interesting conversation with friends over the weekend. While discussion topics were ranged and scattered, there was one point in particular that managed to draw out some tangents. We came onto the subject of cultural genocide of the Native populations of North America by European settlers. Look your conversations would get weird around two in the morning too if influenced by Scotch, cigars, and cheap pizza.

The central argument/discussion point revolved around whether or not the deaths and atrocities of Native populations were defensible considering the eventual outcome. After all, the technological and social advances made by civilizations and societies cannot fully be divorced from the negative things they did in order to acquire the resources needed for advancement.

Obviously, these points and arguments are completely theoretical since we cannot go back and alter history, but the talk veered into modern examples like the disenfranchisement of foreign populations to serve our luxuries, the massive use of fossil fuels and natural resources causing climate change, etc. etc. Most would state a singular position and argue from there, but few situations are ever so simplistically black and white.

Yes, big box corporations hire foreign populations at discounted rates, but if they were not present there would not really be an economy to speak of in those regions. Yes, we burn immense amounts of coal on a daily basis, but do you want to go without cheap and more affordable electricity to power your life? These are unfortunate conversations we are going to keep having and will have to come to some sort of consensus because there will probably be a series of tipping points upcoming soon.

There was one example that came to mind that was not brought up during this discussion. Our medical technology is advancing exponentially to the point that we may someday be able to cure several ailments. Currently, there is an entire culture and community that rose from the needs of d/D/Hoh individuals. They have their own language, history, and, basically, culture. Now, assuming we could figure out a way to completely cure deafness and hard of hearing (and not the Cochlear implant thing that mildly adds some hearing back maybe), are we morally/ethically obligated to do so? Even if it results in cultural genocide, essentially?

I don’t have an answer. I really don’t. Frankly, it has been in the back of my head for the last 48 hours and I still have no clue what the correct answer would be. Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject below in the comments.


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