Of Anthropological Perspectives: Kino’s Journey and the Importance of Cultural Relativism

Management: While my overall opinion of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, is quite positive, this essay is, by no means, meant to be a comprehensive review of the series, but rather, an articulation and analysis of what I feel are its most integral and interesting themes. Much of this essay draws reference to Franz Boaz’s work in anthropology. This is not, however, meant to be a total affirmation of everything he believes.

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“The world is not beautiful; therefore it is.”

It’s an iconic quote from Kino’s Journey, probably its most iconic, and rather fitting with the latter part of the show’s title: The Beautiful World. Just watching the show, though, following Kino and Hermes on their travels, it becomes evident that there are many things in this world that are not beautiful in the traditional sense. Miserable snowpacked drifts, windswept desert wastelands, ruined husks of cities. In addition, the countries she visits aren’t the most hospitable places ever, and many of the people she meets are not the most decent lot.

The cultures she observes aren’t literally representative of the real world. They’re, rather, more akin to the “what if” scenarios The Twilight Zone would make the setting of their episodes with. Kino’s Journey, however, isn’t mainly interested in exploring the world as it is interested in the human condition, us, one facet at a time, through these “what ifs.” Exploring our bad points and our good points, our best points as well as our worst elucidating whenever we face adversity.

It is because of this that Kino’s Journey regards vapid optimism with little beauty. Looking at the world within Kino’s Journey and the world without, suffering is not too hard to come by. But the show says its because of humanity’s seemingly permanent ties to pain and hardship, etched on landscapes and people’s faces, in the attempts of these cultures to deal with pain and hardship through belief and practice, that that the world is beautiful.

Beautiful despite suffering, in spite suffering, in defiance of suffering, or even because of suffering.

So it is crucial that, in order to see the beautiful underneath the ugly, that we, the audience, engage the show with an open and critical mind, the mind of an anthropologist, the mind of a traveler.

Avengers

Case in micro is Episode 6 of Kino’s Journey: Coliseum (Part 1). Kino ends up being captured and coerced by a country into fighting in a series of gladiatorial matches. No, that’s not quite accurate, because as Kino outright demonstrates and Hermes later clarifies through inquiry, she could have dispatched every single guard that approached her and be on her merry way. Surely, if she decided to shoot them all down, she’d be well within reason and right to do so if the alternative is a death match for sport. Never mind self-defense, this an indignity, an affront! How dare they! If I was her…

In the course of her “captivity,” she befriends one of the guards and gets to hear his story. Hell, he shows it to her upon request, his sewer-canal-adjacent-shack-of-a-living-space story, where, as a member of the country’s lower classes, he has to work in the coliseum to provide for his wife and children. If Kino had simply killed him and taken off, she’d have killed him for a situation he couldn’t really help. She would have made a wife a widow, and children fatherless.

Discarding Pride and Prejudice

Understanding and appreciating these characters’ humanities requires that you put aside your internal morals, that we don’t place any immediate value judgments on any one culture’s beliefs and practices, not until we get a holistic picture. In anthropological terms, we need to view the show through the lenses of cultural relativism.

Adopting a stance of cultural relativism doesn’t necessarily mean one’s own morality is automatically bunk. It’s okay to have hidden reservations about cultures based of one’s gut reactions, but those reservations must never cloud how we perceive cultures. To allow our reservations to cloud our critical faculties is the same as giving into pride and prejudice, at which point we shut off our minds and learn nothing. We fail as travelers.

A Mother’s Love

Case in macro is Episode 12 of Kino’s Journey: A Peaceful Land. Kino investigates the cause for how a country fraught with such a militaristic past could achieve peace with its previously militaristic neighbor. Turns out both conduct routine war games rather than actual wars, channeling their warlike tendencies through friendly competition. All well and good until it’s revealed that friendly competition doesn’t exclude descriptive modifiers such as deadly. The two countries hunt down a third, native, less powerful population, men, women, and children, like game. What kind of rationalization could make such a heinous act seem reasonable?

Apparently, that of a grieving widow and mother. The mastermind of this system her her husband and all her sons in the last war, and believing that her people could never overcome the cruel aspects of its nature, pushed for this type of peace instead, and luckily for her, a woman of similar circumstance had the same idea occur to her. There’s far less slaughter than before, and her war games only extend as far as culling the native, less powerful population. So there can be less widows, grieving parents, and orphans, there is this type of peace.

The Importance of Cultural Relativism

Watching Kino’s Journey as it is intended to be watched, we, the audience, are placed into the role of anthropologists. Like Kino, we are travelers, and at whatever country we visit with Kino and Hermes, it is our job as travelers to learn. To be travelers means to withhold from dismissing any one country and people as senselessly evil until acquiring a fuller view. It means tolerating what’s ugly or what appears to be ugly to allow ourselves the possibility of discovering anything beautiful, like sifting through gravel to find gold.

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One thought on “Of Anthropological Perspectives: Kino’s Journey and the Importance of Cultural Relativism

  1. Pingback: Sunday Without God: Empathy for the Undead | therefore it is

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