Should values be drawn from culture or reason?
Nitin Pai in the Q&A session of his Manthan talk remarked that we should draw aspects like “vausdhaiva kutumbakam” from our culture to provide legitimacy to modern expression of these values. [He also remarked that values are like iPhone. If we like it, we use them, even if they originated in the other part of the world. I agree with this but my argument is regarding specific comment on culture.]
I am uncomfortable with this idea of rooting legitimacy for values in culture.
Culture is an amorphous term composing of both progressive and regressive elements. It was useful to moderate human behaviour in olden days when the ideas of enlightenment weren’t prevalent, and in pre-nation state era.
In today’s age, once you consider culture as a source to derive values, it might support the arguments for a particular value that one is trying to promote. But, in a larger sense, this approach ends up legitimising the “culture as a source” from which the values can be derived from.
Once the culture is legitimised a source to derive values, people can now pick and choose from culture. Those are then applied mindlessly because culture, not reason, is the legitimising factor. The danger is that it paves way for people to choose regressive elements of the culture.
Religion is the classic example for this. Once one decides religion as a source for drawing moral values, people will end up drawing regressive elements from it (along with other useful values) and try to enforce them in the name of religion. Regressive aspects don’t necessarily mean violence or curbing individual rights. It also includes beliefs that affect human reasoning by making them believe in unscientific theories espoused by religion.
I understand that people derive values from numerous sources and that we cannot completely ignore the influence of society, in which culture plays a part. But, we should try to minimise drawing values from culture and religion as much as possible.
Values should be purely derived based on human reasoning. For instance, we shouldn’t need a culture or religious text to tell us that it is not okay to kill others. Similarly, the values of liberty, equality, human rights, can and should be derived from human reasoning. After all, the Indian Constitution was made based on this form of reasoning (where it resorted to religion as the basis, like in the case of cow, we are facing the consequences now). There’s no reason why we shouldn’t try to do this in our everyday life too! Banking on religion and culture is too much of a price to pay for. Simply, not worth the value.