Follow TV Tropes


Culture Justifies Anything

Go To

"This raises the question — why is the authentic culture... that of the masters and not of the slaves?"

Cultural relativism can be depicted in many ways, making it come across as a good, neutral or bad thing. When a character argues that Culture Justifies Anything, the relativism is at its lowest and nastiest, and sometimes also at its most hilarious.

This nastiest form of cultural relativism is to honor people's "right" to be murdered, raped, and subjected to any kind of horror against their will. A "right" they get burdened with for belonging to a certain culture... or even simply because their abuser belongs to a certain culture, regardless of whether they have any connection to it themselves.

This trope is about someone directly or indirectly using "culture" as a way of trying to get themselves or someone else off the hook for truly heinous acts or structures — either justifying the crime with a reference to culture, or insisting that the case should not be properly investigated out of respect for the culture. Frequently, this is also a characteristic of the Straw Nihilist. Their logic being: "Morality is nothing more than a fanciful lie our culture made up. So on what authority do we have to judge those who don't follow our 'morality' nonsense?"

Note that the claim that "Culture Justifies Anything" is usually done by a character, not by the narrator. The character being portrayed as wrong is still a straight example, not a subversion. For this trope to come into effect, it must be clear that the setting or at least the author treat the act thus defended as morally questionable at best. Otherwise it's merely Your Normal Is Our Taboo. If the setting in general agrees with the objectionable act, this trope does not have to be used, since the act is simply considered normal and doesn't have to be defended by reference to culture. If the trope is used anyway, its purpose might be to highlight the Deliberate Values Dissonance. Keep in mind that culture has never been static or unchanging, not in any part of the world nor in any point of history, and when confronted by someone using culture as their justification, one must not make the assumption that these spokesmen and their practices represent that culture as a whole.

Sister Trope to "Not Illegal" Justification, which is more about laws than culture. For good, neutral and neutralish forms of cultural relativism, see instead Good Versus Good, Both Sides Have a Point, and Blue-and-Orange Morality. Compare Agree to Disagree, Appeal to Inherent Nature, Appeal to Tradition, My Country, Right or Wrong, and Against My Religion, where someone uses religion to avoid taking a certain action. Nobody Ever Complained Before is when this has apparently never caused a major disagreement that the culture remembers.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, the council of the City located in the Synchro dimension use this trope to explain why they refuse to help the Lancers. According to them, Reiji is making unreasonable requests because he fails to understand how things work in a competitive system.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The country of Xing has its numerous heirs (one from each of its many clans) compete against one another for the throne. Four Xingese characters are in Amestris to try and find a Philosopher's Stone, and clan rivalries eventually surface. Alphonse attempting to stop a fight between Mei Ling and Lanfan is met with a demand to stop "interfering in the affairs of our country." When Dr. Knox, whose house they're staying at due to Lanfan losing an arm, tries the same thing, the same excuse is instead met with Talk to the Fist and a bellow of "I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE AFFAIRS OF YOUR COUNTRY, DUMBASS!"

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman: In Aquaman (2011), this is how many in Atlantis view the surface world's transgressions and intrusions into their domain, the fact that Aquaman is surfaceborn and their roundabout belief in prophecies provides yet another excuse for their isolationist, bordering genocidal views.
  • Excalibur has this as a minor - but significant - plot point in the Trial of Captain Britain arc, with every version of Captain Britain being expected to uphold their society's morals - which in turn explains why Nazi versions have equal standing. This makes sense both from a practicality point of view, rather than trying to draw up a multiversal code of ethics and make people conform, and the point of view of Merlyn, who was only interested in protecting the Nexus of Realities.
  • Fables: When the Arabian Fables join Fabletown, they are told they will have to free their slaves. The Arabian Fables object, claiming that slave ownership is part of their culture. King Cole then says that Fabletown will honor their custom of owning slaves, if they agree to honor Fabletown's custom of executing slaveholders. The Arabian Fables agree to free their slaves.
  • The Inhumans: The Inhumans ran into this problem in the post-Secret Wars (2015) period. The X-Men were being killed off by their mutagen cloud and any attempt to do anything about said cloud was seen as a massive affront to the Inhumans and an act that gets one compared to Hitler. Needless to say, very few Inhumans are popular with readers and their books struggle to stay afloat outside of Kamala Khan and Moon Girl, who do not live with the main Inhumans that cause these issues, and everyone was cheering for the X-Men during Inhumans vs. X-Men.
  • Top 10: After the alien porn star M'Rrgla Qualz is arrested for beheading several prostitutes to eat their pineal glands, her lawyer tries to use this as a defense, alleging that this is part of her species' life-cycle and citing some alien laws. Captain Traynor remains unconvinced and says that, alien laws notwithstanding, eating people's brains is still a crime by Neopolis' laws. That said, she's been on Earth for at least 20 years, so she'd know that it was already illegal.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Three Kings: Hunt the wizards use the preservation of their pureblood culture to excuse the ongoing genocide against the mages.
  • In Last Rights, Lieutenant Junior Grade K'lak, son of Rokar, a Klingon in the USS Bajor's security department, calls bullshit on this trope.
    RALH. Tuvok: [answering Capt. Kanril Eleya's rant about the Kobali wanting to turn her dead crewmen into more Kobali] I do not disagree on any particular point, Captain. But Kobali culture does consider it a great honor to be specifically selected rather than merely scavenged.
    LTJG. K'lak: Yes, and my species' dominant culture considers it honorable to attack unarmed passenger liners from cloak.
  • In The Keening Blade, the Architect's explanation of the need for Broodmothers is more of an Appeal to Inherent Nature, but Loghain refers to this trope when skewering his offer of an alliance.
    Loghain: Of course, you'll have to continue to steal and rape women on a regular basis to keep up your numbers, but we should understand and respect the ancient traditions of your kind.
  • In Divided and Entwined, the pureblood wizards (led by the Death Eaters) manage to manipulate the Wizengamot into passing a series of harsh new laws to "put the Mudbloods in their place". The result is a society that closely resembles what Germany right before the Wannsee Conference must have looked like through Jewish eyes. The purebloods are shocked, horrified, and absolutely outraged when the Muggleborn form a resistance movement to strike back at their oppressors. One pureblood witch honestly cannot comprehend why the "Mudbloods" would even want to strike back, since "reminding the Mudbloods that they are barely better than the beasts they were born to is a traditional part of wizarding society."
  • Justified for Harry in Scion of Sorcery, as he refuses to conform his magical skills and practices to that of Hogwarts curriculum (like using a wand instead of just his will) or conform to Hogwarts' arbitrary rules and traditions. This would technically be an aversion to the trope in the case of Hogwarts, as Harry has zero respect for Magical Britain's "Dark Age" way of going about everything.
  • In A Dragon's Flight King Aegon VI Targaryen justifies his romantic love for his half-sister Visenya Targaryen a.k.a. female Jon Snow by pointing out that he is a Targaryen and a Valyrian.
  • The same occurs in the the fanfic Lost Girl: Aegon has been reared as according to Targaryen traditions but Joanna Targaryen has not, yet she comes to accept her attraction to her half-brother fairly easily given their Valyrian blood. Her only objections are the waste of political capital in losing two royal matches for their Reclamation.
  • In a side story for The One to Make It Stay, Lila defends her casually flirting with Marinette's boyfriend Luka by claiming that Italians regularly greet new people by stroking a finger down their chest while giving them bedroom eyes. Luka clearly doesn't buy her excuse, reminding her that she's not in Italy; she's in Paris, and most people who are already in a committed relationship wouldn't take too kindly to that kind of "cultural misunderstanding".
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, the Guild of Assassins School is extremely sensitive to the cultural needs of its students. A Klatchistani student is allowed to grow a full beard, despite being only sixteen, and he wears a culturally approved turban in School black. A Zulu student argued the case for her to be excused the silly hat forced on Assassin schoolgirls and for her to wear a full headdress of ostrich feathers (dyed black). Pupils from weapons cultures, where not wearing a weapon would be shameful, are — reluctantly — allowed their cultural weaponry. Provided they promise not to actually use it on anybody.

  • In A Brother's Price, the idea of doing things differently than they are done (for example, having one husband per woman), is brought up, and the main characters discuss it, but come to the conclusion that it is impossible to change such fundamental things about their culture. Likely used to lampshade the Deliberate Values Dissonance. However, the trope is averted by the heroic female characters, who think that men's Gender Rarity Value (which is the reason why the culture evolved the way it did) does not justify using them for breeding like cattle.
  • Discworld
    • In Guards! Guards!, the watchmen use this as an excuse not to try to break up the brawls that regularly erupt in dwarf bars, believing this behavior to be their "ethnic folkways". The truth is, dwarfs go wild in Ankh-Morpork specifically because they're away from the harsh discipline and austerity of dwarf mines. The rookie, himself ethnically a dwarf, if not biologically, is able to get them to stop by reminding them of their poor old white-bearded mothers back home. Another truth is that since the Night Watch consists of three guys, none of whom are in tremendous physical shape, they're also afraid of being mobbed and killed by brawling dwarfs and do as little as possible to get involved so as to minimise the loss of (their) life.
    • Later, in Thud! when Vimes is Commander of a much more effective Watch, he responds to a reminder that axes are culturally important to dwarfs is "I myself have a strong cultural bias against having my kneecaps hacked off."
    • In yet another novel, Carrot reminds Sam to be respectful of others' "ethnic folkways," with Vimes silently thinking that there are cultures whose ethnic folkways involve gutting other people like clams and that this does not command any respect from Sam.
    • A downplayed example in Thief of Time, where a minor character reflects that there's a lot about modern multi-ethnic Ankh-Morpork he isn't sure he likes, but it's cultural and you can't complain about that, so he doesn't. We're never told what it is he isn't sure about, though.
  • In Dragon Bones, two men try to play the "it is our culture to own slaves" card to get Ward to help them retrieve the slave that escape to his land. They acknowledge that he doesn't want to own slaves, but what has this to do with them? He tells them that his culture dictates that there are no slaves in Hurog, thus, the woman they're after is not a slave anymore, and they can go home now. His refusal leads to a chain of events that causes him to flee his own castle. Later, he is seen meticulously observing the cultural custom of a neighbouring country to call women "Firstname" instead of "Lady Husbandsfirstname", showing that he does respect other people's cultures if they don't clash with his own. Hilariously enough, the lady to whom he shows that kind of respect is the wife of one of the men who wanted to catch the escaped slave.
  • In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery", the lottery is constantly defended with such statements as "It's tradition." A particularly horrific example in that the characters use this defense not on outsiders but on themselves — even they can't explain why they go through this brutal ritual every year, except for a vague assertion that it's connected to a good harvest, but it's so ingrained in their culture that they carry it out regardless.
  • In Alastair Reynolds The Prefect, this is taken to an extreme in the "Glitter Band", an anarchist collection of space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, where the only guaranteed right is the right to vote. The individual habitats are free to vote and institute whatever laws they like, and thus have specialized into extremes, with some attempting to become utopias, while others became "voluntary tyrannies".
  • Sideshow by Sheri S. Tepper takes place on a planet with a whole bunch of tiny states, each of which tends to have some abhorrent custom like baby-sacrificing. The protagonists start out working for the Enforcers, whose job it is to maintain the cultural diversity of the planet.
  • The Twilight Saga:
    • It's implied at several points that because it's considered normal for vampires to drain humans of blood (as opposed to drinking animal blood, which only has the drawback of being slightly less tasty than human blood), they shouldn't be thought badly of for doing so. In some supplementary materials, it's hinted that Stephenie Meyer agrees with this.
      Meyer: Other Twilight vampires see humans as beef or poultry, it's true. And it's a hard viewpoint to resist — after all, vampires are physically and mentally superior to the nth degree. Their life spans measure in centuries and millenniums. Human lives are so short — sort of like fruit flies that only live a day in comparison. Humans die so easily, too, in their sleep, from tripping, from a tiny heart glitch, from a virus, from getting bumped a little too hard by a car. It's sort of hard for an average vampire to take them seriously. They're going to die soon anyway, right? (I know it might be difficult to step away from a human perspective and see it through their eyes. The question is, is it really wrong for them to see the world that way? Vampires are at the very pinnacle of the food chain. Should they feel bad about that? Or are they simply following the dictates of nature?)
    • There are also the male werewolves, who tend to "imprint" on female humans ... some of whom are toddlers, or even babies. The ensuing Wife Husbandry is portrayed as cute. As the werewolves all belong to a specific Native American tribe, the unfortunate implications include some racism. Even worse, it is considered the werewolves' right to rape the women they imprinted on. One of the pack attacked a woman for rejecting him, and then started a relationship with her that began when he visited her in the hospital.
  • Codex Alera has a lot of culture clash between the human Roman-based Alerans, the "savage" cannibalistic Marat, the Canim and the vaguely Yeti-like Icemen. For example, Alera freely practises slavery and is a hotbed of political intrigue, betrayal and backstabbing, while the Marat have no word for lying, are free from many of the more idiotic taboos, and are disgusted by the concept of slavery, yet have almost constant ritualized, fatal, wars between the tribes and eat their enemies alive. Needless to say, the cultural differences don't do anything to improve the Forever War in which Alera is involved with its various neighbours.
  • Fen in The Osmerian Conflict is of a race that is constantly seeking the best scientific outcome and self-preservation. As a result, in situations that are difficult to make a decision about based on emotions, she frequently will point out that a statistical advantage is better, and emotions are things that hinder or obstruct proper decision-making. Fen takes this to the point where she willingly sacrifices people for the cause; when Sarah calls her out on it, Fen replies that is simply how things are done in her world and no-one is worse off because of it.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The setting has many cultures described in detail, and one theme is how strong and resilient these cultures are even when they involve awful practices. Forcibly intervening to stop them can easily backfire, especially when the victims are Conditioned to Accept Horror, said horror is Inherent in the System, and that destabilizing said system will leave its people even worse off than they were when they were under it. The Ironborn in particular don't get along with the rest of Westeros because their culture not only justifies raiding everyone else, it attaches divine mandate to it.
  • In Unique, Clauss hates this trope with a passion. In his frequently voiced opinion, traditional werebeast culture consists of behaving like the worst kind of human dressed up with a veneer of wolf/lion/etc. behavior. He also points out by implication that at least in the modern age of plenty, one need sacrifice almost nothing of actual wolf behavior to be a perfectly law-abiding citizen.
  • Used in The Ear, the Eye and the Arm when the main characters visit Resthaven, an idyllic City in a Bottle that preserves the traditional lifestyle — which happens to include the practice of killing the younger member of every set of twins. One villager argues that the visitors can't pick out the bits of their culture that they find objectionable and leave the parts they enjoy, so they promptly leave with the baby that would have died.
  • In The Dark Elf Trilogy and its subsequent sequels, this seems to be the case with the drow lifestyle. Hideous, horrific, bloody acts such as genocide and kin-slaying and worse are justified by many dark elves as it was simply "their way" of doing things, of course most drow are also very For the Evulz. The only real rule seems to be not to get caught breaking any others. Drizzt even muses briefly in one chapter on the fact that the culture overrides common sense in this respect, and how it's being so self-destructive to his people.
  • Frequently discussed but usually averted in, funnily enough, The Culture series. The Culture's Special Circumstances division, which employs many of the protagonists of the series, is explicitly dedicated to trying to ensure, by whatever means necessary, that other civilisations adopt beliefs and behaviours that the Culture considers the correct ones. The fact that this is also not a morally impeccable thing to do is often highlighted, but at the end of the day it's presented as more or less the correct approach — no matter how questionable the Culture's interference can be at times, it's hard to feel that the likes of the Empire of Azad should be left undisturbed to brutalise its own populace.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ishboo from the TV sketch comedy All That was a foreign exchange student from a country that was never named. Everyone would go out of their way to follow his customs to make him feel welcome. However, his country's traditions were bizarre, such as yelling "walla walla woo!" and diving to the ground after someone sneezes. By the end, Ishboo would give an Aside Glance to the audience after making everyone perform the most bizarre custom yet, implying that he was just messing with them for his own amusement.
  • Babylon 5: In "Believers" an alien child needs a surgical procedure that his parents believe will detach his soul, Dr. Franklin wants to perform it anyways but Commander Sinclair has to deal with the diplomatic ramifications. While Franklin and Sinclair are debating, the parents go to the other major races' ambassadors for support without success; the only one who respects their culture is Delenn, who would not want to impose her beliefs on the humans any more than on the parents. In the end Sinclair forbids the surgery but Franklin does it anyways, and then the parents kill what they believe is an Empty Shell.
  • Brimstone defies this. Before the rise of Christianity and Islam, all souls were judged in the afterlife by the deities they followed in life. After Christianity and Islam rose to dominance, they are all judged by the standards of the Abrahamic god. Interestingly, and unexpectedly, the series does not take sides. While it is portrayed as a bad thing that a lot of people are sent to eternal torment for failing to adhere to the tenets of a religion they did not follow and may not even have heard of, it is also portrayed as bad that countless people throughout history were able to commit atrocities (burning children alive, eating people and forcing women into prostitution at the low end of the scale) in the name of their respective deities and get away scot-free, because the only beings that could judge them were the same beings that ordered the atrocities in the first place.
  • Goodness Gracious Me:
    • A sketch features an Indian woman rushing into a women's shelter crying that her husband attacked her with a knife — and the (white) woman running the shelter feels she has to make sure that the guy's after her with a kitchen knife because he's a psycho, and not with a ceremonial knife as part of something ethnic, in which case it wouldn't be her place to interfere.
    • Another sketch was a parody of The Sooty Show in which Soo, now Sooty's widow, explained that she didn't feel she should be burned on his funeral pyre along with him (sati) because this custom is barbaric, despite being a cultural tradition. She ends up being stoned for adultery instead.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste of Armageddon" featured the Enterprise crew running into a civilization of two planets that were locked in an eternal war. To limit the devastation and preserve their culture, both civilizations agreed to stop shooting real weapons and use giant, inter-linked computers to simulate shooting at each other. When the computers record "hits", it also listed who was "killed" by the "attack". Those "casualties" are then rounded up and sent to actual death chambers. The war rages, people die, but no actual damage to either world. At the episode's climax, the planet's top leader tries to trick the entire crew of the Enterprise into beaming off the ship because the computer recorded a "hit" on her. At the end of the episode, Kirk severs the radio link between the two planets, which brings a threat of a war with real weapons and real destruction coming down on both worlds. Kirk leaves the planet saying that this could be the consequence, or they could negotiate a much needed peace. Kirk additionally uses in-universe Fridge Logic to justify his decision: a real attack wouldn't have killed any more people than one of their ongoing simulated ones, but the real one would have destroyed most of the infrastructure which would have been needed to continue fighting. One way or another, he was stopping their war.
    • This is a thorny issue that frequently crops up throughout the entire Star Trek universe, mainly because none of the writers ever precisely defined the Prime Directive and its tenets. In the broadest sense, it states that no society has the right to judge another society's values or interfere with their natural course. The room for interpretation is large enough to accommodate several small planets: Depending on the Writer, what constitutes "interference" varies greatly, as does which societies the Prime Directive applies to (sometimes it's just pre-warp civilizations, other times it extends to warp-capable civilizations that aren't Federation member states). The concept has been frequently deconstructed in TNG and DS9, with characters often accusing the Federation of avoiding responsibility for the problems of the larger universe by refusing to even try to affect them.
    • The Federation gets this quite often on the reverse side too, depending on the episode. It's not uncommon for a crew member to be arrested and face punishment for a crime they committed while visiting (often through ignorance). The cultures of these people seem to invariably justify inflicting these punishments on people who are not citizens of their society, forcing our heroes to find some way around it.
    • This especially comes up a lot with Worf, who's both a Klingon warrior and a Starfleet officer (and implied to possess some sort of dual citizenship). Of particular note is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Ethics", in which Worf becomes paralyzed and agrees to undertake a potentially-life-threatening procedure to restore use of his legs. The reason is that Klingon society demands a person commit ritual suicide upon becoming crippled, which Worf fully intends to do if he can't regain full functionality. The crew, understandably, responds to this with a sort of collective horror as suicide is unheard of in the Federation, with the ever-diplomatic Picard being the only person willing to play devil's advocate and reluctantly respect Worf's wishes in the matter. Riker eventually shames him into trying an experimental surgery instead by pointing out that, according to the ritual, it's supposed to be Worf's blood relative who helps him carry it out — the only one available being Worf's very young son Alexander. Dr. Crusher is also guilty of it in this episode. Since her culture disapproves of suicide (and she considers the experimental surgery too risky to be an option), she's prepared to lock Worf in sickbay under constant guard for as long as it takes to get him to forswear his suicide plan. She doesn't seem to think keeping him imprisoned for possibly the rest of his life is a violation of his rights.
    • Worf gets it again in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sons of Mogh". His new CO, Captain Sisko, chews him a new asshole when he attempts to assist his Death Seeker brother in committing ritual suicide (he's stopped by Jadzia mid-ritual).
  • The Practice:
    • An episode featured a couple taken to court because their son died and they could have saved him if they called for medical help but wouldn't because of their religion. The main characters did try to convince a jury to accept religion as an excuse to let the child die. Is there anyone surprised they lost that case?
    • "Victim's Rights" has a Romanian Roma mother defend arranged marriages for twelve or thirteen year old girls (which she herself underwent) on the basis that it's their tradition, and that some American customs offend her too.
  • The same scenario was used in L.A. Law with an effective twist. One parent was absolutely convinced that their religious position was right; the other expressed doubts, both before and after the child's death. At trial, the believing parent was acquitted, while the doubting parent was found guilty. Perhaps surprisingly, this has actually been codified into law in some American states, which allow exemptions for death by child neglect if this was due to religious beliefs (such as those of Christian Scientists) which forbid using medicine rather than divine healing. Some have now been repealed after high-profile deaths due to this, and there is a push for the rest to go too.
  • The title character of the So Random! sketch "Olaf, fake foreign exchange student" uses this trope to get away with his excessive pranking.
  • First-season Doctor Who serial The Aztecs fell into this. Barbara, a 1960s history teacher, is mistaken for the reincarnation of an Aztec priest, and uses the clout this gives her to attempt to end human sacrifice. The Doctor is furious with her for doing this, as human sacrifice is their culture and changing it is imperialistic of her, to which Barbara holds that pointless murder is objectively wrong. Meanwhile, Ian has been taken to become a warrior and is being forced to fight someone to the death, which he understandably is not enthusiastic about — but he eventually accepts that it is part of the culture and kills a person. The eventual resolution is that Barbara's attempts to change the culture fail, driving them out of the time period and forcing the separation of the Doctor from his fiancée, and the Doctor seems to hold to this trope — but admits to her that he's strangely proud that Barbara did successfully change the mind of one of the Aztec priests about the morality of human sacrifice.
  • Black Claw in Grimm is a group of Wesen united behind their claim that what they consider to be important Wessen traditions are being oppressed by humans, even though said traditions generally consist of brutally dominating, killing (and sometimes eating) humans — and also other, weaker Wesen.
  • In the Law & Order season 8 episode "Ritual", a female Egyptian migrant makes it clear that she fully intends to force her granddaughter to undergo female genital mutilation, as it is a cultural practice where she comes from, even though her son-in-law murdered her brother for his role in trying to arrange the clitoridectomy. The episode is very much not on the woman's side, and when she angrily denounces the prosecutor by trying to bait her into explicitly stating that American culture is "better", the prosecutor instead undercuts her stating that it's not a matter of being better, it's a matter of her committing what she knew to be a local crime. The mother of the girl who was to receive a clitoridectomy is also legally prohibited from unsupervised contact with her daughter until she proves that she will be willing to defy her mother if she attempts to push her into allowing the clitoridectomy.
    • In the episode "Heaven", 53 people are killed in a fire at a social club for undocumented immigrants. The culprit is a hired arsonist who believed the fire was just supposed to be a "warning" to them to keep quiet; not realizing it was a planned mass murder. He knew that some people would die, but didn't really care since crimes like this are common in his home country. The District Attorneys aren't impressed.
  • During an episode of The Book of Boba Fett, Din Djarin is forced to travel by public transport (due to his Cool Starship having recently been destroyed), and is told all passengers are required to turn over any weapons before departure, and will get them back on arrival. Din tries to argue that, as a Mandalorian, weapons are a part of his religion and therefore he shouldn’t be made to give them up. He’s overruled however, and has to hand them over, much to his annoyance.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In the third edition Ravenloft sourcebook, "Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead", the author takes a moment to profess a personal dislike for the corrupt theocracy of the land of G'henna, who demand their followers sacrifice the bulk of what little food their harsh land produces as offerings to their god Zhakata, though she carefully follows this by saying that she will not critique their culture, on the basis that it is their culture. Readers are less inclined to be civil than she is, as they know that the G'hennans are suffering for no reason: their god is the product of their archpriest/high king, an inbred lunatic so deranged that his own family threw him out for being nuts.
  • Eberron:
    • The goblins of what is now Darguun have been practicing slavery (mostly on each other, but certainly on humans as well) for thousands of years. Now that Darguun is a Thronehold signatory nation, which forbids slavery, Llesh Haruuc has been fighting to abolish the practice, but there is serious pushback from the clans who refuse to change.
    • The various monstrous races of Droaam have many cultural practices that basically everyone else finds abhorrent, from the merely disturbing like using trolls as infinite meat factories to the outright horrible like demon-worshiping cults that kidnap people for sacrifice. All of these things have been standard practice for centuries, and the three hags in charge of the new nation (stories of whom have been used to scare children for as long as anyone can remember) are doing absolutely nothing to stop any of it.
    • Played with in regards to Valenar, the elven nation. They constantly raid all surrounding nations for no reason whatsoever, justifying it as a necessary part of their culture and religion; they revere the spirits of their ancestors and seek to emulate them. Since their ancestors fought a guerrilla war, they have to fight as well. The quirk is that they are well aware that this is making everyone hate them. That's what they want. The only way to really emulate their ancestors is to fight a war where they have the homefield advantage, so they're goading everyone into attacking them.

    Video Games 
  • Crops up all over the place in Dragon Age.
    • Elves are treated liked crap all over Thedas because, well, they're second-class citizens. It's okay to treat elves like second-class citizens because they're elves! The player has the option of treating elves as actual people (or playing as one in the first game, changing the relevant dialogue options accordingly), but this doesn't really have a great effect on the game world.
    • The Dalish elves try to invoke this as well ("magic is a valued part of our lost heritage"), but it only works within their own culture since most non-Dalish tend to reject and vilify them. Even most city elves tend to find them haughty and arrogant at best, heathen and savage at worst (since most city elves have been converted to the Andrastian human religion).
    • Most mages are treated with outright terror and hostility outside Tevinter, because of how powerful and susceptible to Demonic Possession mages are. In Southern Thedas, this has led The Chantry to form the Circle and Templar systems, legally compelling all mages to live in Circle towers under strict Templar supervision all their lives, or get killed by the same. This has, naturally, bred a lot of abuse within the system, and allowed many a sadistic or corrupt Templar to abuse, neglect, effectively lobotomizenote , and in extreme cases kill their charges with little provocation or recourse. Most characters will defend the Circle and Templar systems as an unfortunate but necessary cultural practice, and/or claim the Circles and Templars are actually protecting common citizens from mages and vice-versa, since living in Circles protects mages from the common citizens that would lynch them out of fear. Few characters question the Chantry encouraging common citizens' fear of mages, just to present themselves as necessary protectors by imprisoning mages. This eventually explodes at the end of Dragon Age II where a Knight Commander declaring a Rite of Annullment (where every mage in a circle is killed) for the actions of one is taken as cause for the mages of the city to rebel in fear for their lives. This starts a war between mages and templars across Thedas, and depending on the player's actions in Dragon Age: Inquisition can lead to the system being changed, flipped, or kept in place.
    • The Qunari's catch-all excuse for every questionable practice of their society. Taking children from their parents at birth and raise them communally to blindly follow the Qun? It's just part of Qunari culture. Cut out the tongues of mages, put 'em in shackles their whole lives, and kill them if they leave the sight of their handlers even once? It's a Demand of the Qun — who are you, as an outsider, to question the Qun?
    • Orzammar dwarves treat their "casteless" as worse than dirt, forbid them from finding work or housing legally, and then punish them for resorting to crime just to survive. Duncan and the Player Character can call them out on this in the first game, but Orzammar's elites wouldn't expect a know-nothing surfacer (or casteless) like you to understand the ancient, honorable traditions that keep Orzammar strong. However, it's not seen that way by everyone, even several dwarves; Surfacer dwarves (those who were never born in Orzammar) often mock Orzammar dwarves for wanting to live a highly restrictive life underground constantly threatened with extinction. Two major characters, Varric Tethras and Prince Bhelen Aeducan, both think the traditions are stupid. If Bhelen is elected King in Dragon Age: Origins, he does away with the caste system entirely and in the ending narration it's proven to be a good thing for Orzammar as a whole.
    • Tevinter excuses their practice of keeping slaves with this, even though most slaves they buy and kidnap come from cultures without slavery.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The Batarians practice a very brutal form of slavery, which they justify because they view it as an inextricable part of their culture. Since slavery is condemned by nearly all Council races and is illegal in Citadel space, the Batarians claim that the Council aligned races are prejudiced against them. However, this argument completely falls apart when you consider that the Batarians regularly raid the colonies of other species for slaves. As a result of these tensions, the Council races have developed a distrustful attitude towards batarians, and batarians in turn retain simmering hostility and aggression towards the Council races. The tension between the Batarians and Humanity in particular has exploded due to a territorial dispute between the two. note  Said territorial dispute ended up erupting into a Proxy War between the Batarian Hegemony and the Human Systems Alliance. A conflict that is mainly characterized by various criminal groups controlled by the Batarian government with Plausible Deniability being sent to conduct frequent raids on human colony worlds in order to acquire slaves. For most of the trilogy, the Citadel Council is the only thing keeping the conflict between these two powers from escalating into a full-scale war.
    • Played for laughs in an incidental conversation on the Citadel in the second game. A turian attempts to bring a knife on a shuttle, but the (human) receptionist forces him to go through security. When the turian claims it's a ceremonial item of his people (and turians being the Proud Warrior Race Guys they are, it probably is), the receptionist points out that it's still a fifteen-centimeter serrated blade.
      Turian: You humans are all racist!
  • In Star Trek Online, this is one of the massive problems in- and out-of-universe concerning the Kobali, an alien race first seen in Star Trek: Voyager. They reproduce by using a virus to reanimate the dead of other sentient races and rewrite their DNA to change them into Kobali. However, no-one has a choice in the matter — and any who seek to return to their former lives are just persuaded (or "persuaded") to rejoin the Kobali. An entire subplot involving now-Captain Harry Kim involves him learning that the Kobali are using dead Vaadwaur to replenish their numbers, though the Vaadwaur want their dead back. Even more, they have the space-frozen body of the original Harry Kimnote  locked away, and they turn him into a Kobali. By the end of that storyline, Harry sounds like he needs a freakin' drink.
  • Patroklos, of Soulcalibur V, believes that his self-appointed title of "holy warrior" (in an era when such "warriors" were commonplace) makes it okay for him to kill anybody he suspects (read: assumes) of being malfested. Notably, no-one else in the game agrees, and several heroic characters try to stop him from claiming more victims — even though murder is technically legal in their culture, that doesn't mean it's encouragednote . Patroklos himself eventually realizes when one of his loved ones shows herself to be malfested that his beliefs weren't based on "holiness" or "righteousness" so much as arrogance and hypocrisy. He's way less gung-ho about "holy" murder when someone he cares about could become a victim of it.
  • This trope, in a somewhat roundabout way, motivates the Big Bad of Pillars of Eternity. The Big Bad's culture, the Engwithans, created the Fantasy Pantheon of gods that the people of the world worship and the Big Bad spearheaded the missionary efforts to bring these gods — and thus Engwithan cultural mores that went into these gods — to the rest of the world. Several hundred years later the Big Bad — who is immortal — has caused innumerable atrocities to keep the peoples' faith in the Engwithan gods alive. While the Big Bad never explicitly says the word "culture", in light of this information and his opinion on the "native" gods his pantheon replaced it is hard not to see his ultimate motivation as this.
  • Fate/Grand Order has this in the form of the Yaga from the first Cosmos in the Lostbelt arc, where due to the environment (a permanent ice age that caused humanity to have to turn into human/wolf hybrids to survive), strength is valued above all and anyone who isn't seen as strong is killed or left to die. Most Yaga believe that this is the best way to go about life, and several get quite angry when the other non-Yaga characters (the protagonist, their Servants, and the members of Chaldea) criticize the futility of it. The only Yaga who starts to disagree is the Yaga that falls in with the party, Patxi, who slowly realizes over the course of the story that the Yaga way of life is horrible, especially when his ailing, elderly mother is killed to punish him and when he sees that other Yaga are perfectly willing to sell out their fellows to the Oprichniki to either save their own skins or try and gain a temporary edge.
  • Star Control Origins: the Phamysht react this way whenever someone questions their cannibalistic practices, claiming that other races are just too closed-minded to appreciate eating people alive, and they claim that getting eaten alive is a great honor among their own people. Considering they regularly abduct unwilling people from other cultures to eat them, and are confirmed to have eaten at least one entire civilization to extinction, nobody sees them as anything other than bloodthirsty psychos.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Belkar Bitterleaf defends his right to a cultural heritage of murder and evading the detect evil spell by claiming that halflings in his village carry lead sheets (which block detecting spells) to prove their manliness. Made funnier by the fact that the context makes it quite obvious that he made up this "cultural heritage" on the spot.
      Miko: Could you put it down for just a—
    • Later echoed as an Ironic Echo Brick Joke, with Paladins hiding from an evil Theurge using Belkar's old lead sheet to evade the detect good spell in the same way as Belkar used it to evade detect evil, and whispering the same phrase as Belkar used to shout.
  • Homestuck:
    • Played with several times, most notably in the conversations between John and Vriska. Vriska confesses that she's killed numerous people in her time, and that she's murdered one of her closest friends as well. John tries to be understanding to her explanation, but is still unnerved by the stories she tells. Finally Vriska gives up trying to rationalize her actions and insists that he can't understand, saying, "I know our races are completely different. And I really h8 the idea of you thinking worse of me 8ecause of this."
    • This exchange is something of a zig-zagged trope, since despite Vriska defending her morality with "cultural differences", other trolls seem to find her actions reprehensible too — not because of the killing, per se, but because of her Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Part of Troll society is making strong alliances that can help you get ahead, and Vriska is constantly betraying those alliances. John ends up hating Vriska after seeing her interacting with other Trolls shows him that Vriska is a dangerous and unpleasant person even by the standards of Troll society.
    • Played for laughs when Caliborn claims that, to his hate-driven species, insults are the equivalent of compliments, and therefore Jane should not be offended when he calls her a fat ugly bitch.

    Web Original 
  • The Boomerang Bigot-style blog Stuff White People Like parodied this in its "Vegan/Vegetarianism" post, encouraging non-white friends of white vegetarians to use cultural relativism to guilt-trip them and win favors in return. "When the meal is over, tell them that your mom is very embarrassed, and that in your culture rejecting food is the equivalent of spitting on someone's grave."

    Web Videos 
  • Derrick Comedy's "Foreigner" (apparently from some unspecified African country) wants to rape your daughter. Uh, is that right? Maybe he should rephrase that; he's still figuring out some of the finer points of the English language.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • Discussed and defied: Zoidberg challenges Fry to a form of Decapodian ritual combat, which by the rules of his society must end in one of their deaths. Fry wins the fight, but refuses to kill Zoidberg.
      Fry: My fellow fish-monsters, far be it from me to question your stupid civilization or its dumb customs, but is squeezing each other's brains out with a giant nutcracker really going to solve anything?
    • Further subverted because the practice is only 18 years old, and the king himself refers to it as one of "our crazy traditions" which he is sworn to uphold.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Pre Vizsla and the Death Watch justify their murderous, warmongering ways by claiming that to do otherwise would be to dishonor their Mandalorian heritage. Uniquely deconstructed in that, initially, they're a fringe group, as most of their own society had actively ended those traditions due to deciding they no longer suited the galaxy they lived in. It takes a brilliant and long-running scheme involving political manipulation and strategically applied terrorism to discredit their peoples' Actual Pacifist ruler to the point the other Mandalorians are willing to take them back. And even then, instead of making Mandalore a conquering force like in the past, it just makes it an easier prey for outside forces to conquer instead; at first by Maul's Shadow Collective and second by the Galactic Empire.
  • Reaches an especially absurd point on King of the Hill, where Bobby is attempting to learn more about Native American culture. It turns out that John Redcorn's tribe practiced cannibalism centuries ago, leading him to attempt to serve a fake head to guests at Thanksgiving in their memory (much to John Redcorn's embarrassment and horror). In an argument with Hank, Bobby refuses to admit that cannibalism is wrong, since it's part of John Redcorn's culture.
  • The Boondocks episode "The Itis" has Granddad using this as a justification for his soul food restaurant, when Huey takes objection to the idea by claiming that the food is unhealthy to the point of destroying the local neighborhood. One of the staff interjects by providing more meaningful context, explaining that many soul food dishes were created by slaves using essentially whatever ingredients they could scrounge up (mostly leftover garbage parts of animals fried in fat), and suggests that while it may be a legitimate part of history, it isn't a pleasant one, and it shouldn't make up the majority of a person's meals.
  • On Teen Titans, when Beast Boy asks why some aliens are trying to blow up the Earth, the only explanation given is "It is our way."

Alternative Title(s): Culture Justifies Everything