Summary: 29th Gentle Thinkers Debate (Culture based laws)

Should there be one law for all, or should there be multiple laws/parallel legal systems to accommodate different cultures, traditions, and belief systems in the one country?

Note: This summary is interpreted from notes taken during the debate and may contain errors. Changes have been made so that it flows logically when read and does not accurately illustrate the flow of conversation. It is not a definitive text and should be used a means of sharing and developing ideas. If you wish to correct, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

[23/05/2014 – Suggestions from members of the group have been made to the summary to improve its content.]

More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.

  • Contemporary indigenous cultures may have their own laws which are different from and parallel to the laws of the dominant legal system. E.g. Native Americans and Indigenous Australians.

  • There is a difference between traditional indigenous laws and new indigenous laws brought in by foreign overlords.

  • Creating separate laws for indigenous communities is a means of facilitating assimilation of such groups into the dominant legal system.

  • We may be motivated to make such exceptions (e.g. establish separate laws) by “postcolonial” guilt (sympathy, fair play) and because of pragmatic reasons (land rights, behavioural and societal measures).

  • We may make these exceptions to account for and correct the behaviour of these cultural groups.

  • Anti-drinking laws in Aboriginal territories are knee-jerk reactions by politicians who feel they need to do something but can’t think of better solutions. Whether these laws are an effective measure is a debatable issue.

  • Some indigenous groups may push for separate laws and land rights for financial reasons.

  • People may be hiding their (true) reasons for having their own laws.

  • Native Title [Website] may also be something to consider if we want to respect traditions.

  • For some group members, Native Title should be a temporary measure to solve problems until better solutions are developed.

  • Other group members thought that indigenous cultural group should have the option as it was integral to their cultural identity.

  • Another member noted that people aren’t connected with the land to the same degree as humans were when we had to depend on it for our livelihoods. This may affect how we view the relationship other cultures have with it.

  • The group was split on the verbal and written recognition of traditional landowners. Some saw it as acknowledgement of these cultural groups whereas others perceived it as tokenism.

  • The gentrification of suburbs does illustrate the majority’s thoughts on land rights. E.g. Indigenous Australians pushed back into outer suburbs and being unable to own property.

  • When working with particular cultural groups, you many need to understand and respect their laws. In other instances you may need to obey these laws to get by. E.g. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

  • You may need to be aware that the laws you know may not apply at all in certain areas

  • Hunting and fishing rights in particular areas.

  • You enter these at your own risk if these areas are forbidden to outsiders.

  • Negotiation would play a key part in these discussions and the decisions made.

  • Some people have considered creating their own communities or “vote with their feet” where they move to another country or community. Some of these people may be economic or political migrants.

  • Many newcomers may face the “if you don’t like it, then leave” attitude especially if they make no attempts to assimilate and remain separated from the community.

  • Having separate laws can enforce these groups to be different and isolated. However this doesn’t mean that there will be (increased) instances of violence or terrorist cells developing within these groups.

–  The UK Sharia courts are voluntary and a woman may be compelled to get her divorce case processed in a normal law court due to increase her likelihood of getting a favourable outcome.

  • If a group feels strongly about it, they will do everything to remain separate from the greater community. Most people don’t as they want to be part of the mainstream.

  • What would happen if communities did decide to separate into smaller groups? Or if countries split up into smaller ones? This may (or may not) be a good solution for some groups past, present or in the future.

  • Some communities and countries may feel oppressed by their current governing body and wish to seek independence for various reasons. Recognition of independence is difficult to achieve and multiple attempts may need to be made. (As illustrated by these videos [Hong Kong & Macau] and [How Many Countries Are There?])

  • Current examples include the republics of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk and upcoming referendums involving Scotland and Catalonia.

  • As one member noted, bigger countries do have a higher tendency to be more successful than smaller ones. A noteworthy counter to this may be some of Scandinavian countries who remain successful despite being geographically small.

  • We may also see territorial disputes between large and small countries like China and Vietnam.

  • Communities may want to look into becoming sovereign states. A sovereign state has to be self sustainable to be considered for sovereignty.

  • A sovereign state would have to be reassimilated if it didn’t fall into anarchy and if a nearby power chooses to take it.

  • If we do see smaller communities rising in power, an increase in economical refugees and free-market governments, humanity may need to look into global government systems.

  • The United Nations is currently the closest organisation we have to a global government. Its influence is debatable given the complications of global politics.

  • The city of Brussels as the administrative centre of Europe may also be seen as a global government (of sorts).

  • The disparity of resources may influence whether a global government forms.

  • A global government may only occur once we expand to multiple planets, and then we will be wondering why we have separate planetary governments and why can’t we have a unified solar system government? Until we expand to multiple stars, and then we’ll be wondering why we don’t have a unified galactic government. And on and on.

  • All the while, separate countries with their separate interests persist. It will just be a hierarchy of unification and division.

  • The selective mechanism that determines whether a country, culture, or system of laws survives or spreads is its economic and military strength, not the actual quality or moral rightness of its laws/culture.

  • Socially and legally we appear to have sliding scales of intolerance and tolerance.

  • Legal systems should be impartial and are constantly evolving to accommodate the needs of societies. Ideally the law should be consistent and treat everyone equally.

  • In Australia, we still haven’t separated the (Christian) church and the law. If we want freedom of religion, where every religion is equally represented then we must separate the two.

  • Everyone’s legal system is different and as outsiders we may feel differently than those within these systems.

  • A legal system that is demonstrates it is capable of change may have the right to be the authority in an ethical debate.

  • Consensus of laws should be followed by communities and ideally involve movements towards (positive) changes in society.

  • The group agreed that there should be a universal legal system but we should be able to make allowances. These allowances shouldn’t be hypocritical however allowing them does indicate that we will have to enforce a limit.

  • The questions suggests that we may be discussing if we should let cultural group to enforce their beliefs on the unwilling or allow them to mistreat members of their communities.

  • Most of us feel passionately against this and that if we encounter a wrong, we should exercise our right to change it.

  • At times we come across scenarios where resolutions are harder to develop.

  • One member cited an example from a school she worked at, where Muslim parents refused to allow their female children to participate in swimming lessons due to the “indecent” nature of the contemporary swimsuit.

  • A way to resolve this would be for the school to offer an alternative physical activity, allow the children to wear Islamic swimsuits or state that the school will only accept students if they participate in all activities.

  • Another example is parents who refuse to have their children immunised which is a dangerous choice for the health of the child and community.

  • In Australia, parents who immunise their child are eligible for Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement [Website]. Schools can assist by refusing to accept students who aren’t immunised.

  • However parents are able to conscious object to vaccinations by filing in paperwork that must be signed by a medical practioner. [Website]

  • Some of us are concerned that assimilation of a cultural group will be detrimental to them.

  • We may be receptive towards preserving only the positive aspects of a culture while trying to force the odious ones out. We may only enforce our rules when universal human rights have been breached.

  • We may want to preserve languages and cultures for scientific purposes, for the same reason that we want to preserve species and specimens for the sake of amassing data to ensure human knowledge can advance in the future.

  • But, preserving some cultural practises may be analogous to preserving certain dangerous parasites and fatal diseases. Yes, it will preserve diversity of specimens, but at the risk of human wellbeing.

  • Birth control and ecology can be seen as an attack on a traditional culture that doesn’t have rules for either of these areas.

  • We also have to consider other costs of humanity’s progress. E.g. population explosion, ecological survival and animal extinction rates.

Interesting questions posed by the group

Would people move to places that benefit them and what would happen to them?

Do we accept things by local law or universal law?

What’s the difference between what happens in one country under its law and what happens in another?

What is the best way to improve laws and societal systems? Is it to split into multiple independent sub-countries, or is it to make the ruling system more malleable to improve itself?

What makes particular groups want to be separate or individual? Identity? Monoculture? Fear? Xenophobia?

What would happen if we let a community make its own rules and operate with them?

What happens if a minority has a deplorable custom that is against the universal standard?

How do you deal with situations where the opinions of minorities are infringing on the rights of others or causing them to be disadvantaged?

Should our objective be to assimilate other cultures or should it be to go with that we think is right?

What is the ideal size of a country? Is there a reason not to have millions of tiny countries? Countries do vary in size dramatically. But is there an upper limit on humans that prevents them from cooperating in the form of a global government E.g. population size, or land size?

Does assimilation kill a culture due to removal of the traditional cultural norms or by exposure to the dominant cultures?

How do legal systems evolve?

What are the escape methods for the indoctrinated?

Would you choose the survival of a species or economical longevity?

How do we balance the advancement of humanity with the ecological survival of the planet?

Where do we draw the line at for exceptions to the rules?

Additional Content

Seasteading Institute [Official Website]

The Principality of Sealand [Official Website]

Pluralism [Wikipedia] [Website]

Economic and political refugees

Scottish independence [Official Website]

The situation in Russia and the Ukraine [Guardian article] [YouTube Video] [Wikipedia article]

The United Nations, its declaration of human rights, its influence, its politics, studies of indigenous groups

History of South Africa

The European Union [Official Website] [YouTube Video]

Rolf Harris, child sex laws, age of consent and sexual trauma

Free market governments

Ecological survival

Population explosion

China’s one child policy

Nationalism of China and Japan


Positive discrimination

Chaplaincy program from the National 2014 budget [The Age article]

The decimation of Smallpox [New Scientist article] [Wall Street Journal article]


More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.

2 thoughts on “Summary: 29th Gentle Thinkers Debate (Culture based laws)

  1. Excellent report! I think we said that banning alcohol was to reduce the dreadful abuse in some aboriginal communities (not knee-jerk). There was discussion that some laws be temporary, pending better ways of resolving issues.
    Also, there was unanimous rejection of relaxing criminal laws such as age of consent, assault & mutilation.
    Also, we do not need to RESPECT abusive Saudi laws: we have to OBEY them when in Saudi.

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