One of my interests as a person who puts characters in conflict with one another is VALUES. Not the "family" kind - at least, not necessarily.

But I can take two characters, one of whom values money and fame, and another who values authenticity and integrity, and I can set them at each other's throats. Or I can make them fall in love, even better.

This one will be a tragedy, but in the end, neither is wrong, both are right - although the audience will no doubt take sides. From her point of view, he was a stubborn, prideful fool to turn down money and fame. From his point of view, she was a shallow show-off who didn't understand the importance of art.

In case you don't recognize it, I'm recounting a bit of Willa Cather's "Coming, Aphrodite!" -- the best short story ever written... yes it is, Robert Frost backs me up on this one, so neener neener: go read it! :-)

But values extend beyond fictional characters. What if you have two cultures, one which values freedom, equality, individuality, and the other which values loyalty, obedience, self-sacrifice?

What if you have one culture that says life is a beautiful gift to be enjoyed and admired and cherished, and another that says we live in a hell on earth, best to separate ourselves from its machinations the best we can and wait for God to save us?

Good, earnest, progressive, open-minded thought has held, for at least as long as I've understood the word "anthropology" (and probably longer) that ours is not to judge, ours is to accept. We tolerate all, even that which we would find intolerable. We accept others' ways, even when they are not the ways we would have for our own.

This is a nice, open-minded approach. But it has limits. And I believe those limits are becoming more important in the 21st Century. I think it's about time we started learning how to be "less tolerant" in a liberal way. I think it's time to find the line between "different" and "abominable."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was on Bill Maher's show a week ago and he asked her pointedly whether or not Western Civilization were not just "different" from others, but "superior to" - she agreed readily and absolutely. (If you follow the link on her name you'll see this is what the reviewer doesn't like about her book, INFIDEL - that she's too positive about Western culture, especially its most liberal enclaves, like The Netherlands.)

By the way, if you've never read about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you should. She's amazing: she was born in Somalia, had her clitoris removed as a child, was at one point in her life "proud" to shroud herself from head to toe to prove just HOW Muslim she was - and today she is Dutch politician, film-maker, and activist for women's rights - especially against the barbarism that is female genital mutilation.

You can see where I'm going with this: if a culture's values make it mutilate its daughters' bodies, subject them to innumerable indignities, have them killed by their own families if they are raped, lest the family's "honor" be ruined, then is that culture not BAD? Is it not worthy of being replaced?

I'm not suggesting anything more than what America The West does by default: export McDonald's (halal), Blue Jeans (modest), and Lionel Richie (your guess is as good as mine), and slowly Americanize Amsterdam-ize the world.

Yes, American Western culture is rife with banalities, but aren't banalities simply superior to brutalities?

Should it not be the conscious mission of every modern person to help people living in the stone age to stop living in the stone age?

We're talking about human (women's especially) rights.

Or am I just the audience member picking sides?

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