I’m afraid that this post will almost necessarily be long-winded, rambling, and maybe even incoherent to some. It was difficult to write and I may one day come back to it, but for now, here’s what you get:
This is the first of what I intend to be three posts regarding my rejection of what I term “modern liberal ideals” – which I was basically born into and indoctrinated with from the public education system. To me, modern liberalism is an essentially hollow philosophy, but one which is readily accepted – unquestioningly – by a disturbingly high number of people despite being little more than thinly veiled hedonism and “feel-good” mentalities. I see it comprised of, essentially, three constituent doctrines: feminism, political correctness, and moral relativism. It is my intention to deal fully with each subject in turn, but this post will focus on moral relativism. It is the element of liberalism which I held onto the longest – sometimes without even realizing it – and probably forms the basis for the other two ideas. Being almost a purely abstract idea, however, it requires less research and evidence to refute, and thus why I will be writing on it first.
Moral relativism has a lot of appeal in the modern world, which is extremely complicated and admittedly hard to understand. It requires a lot of mental energy to consider the values, morals and ethics advocated by competing societies or cultures, and attempt to arrive at a sound and reasonable conclusion as to why a person should prefer one over the other. And especially in our youth, when we are given (and encouraged) to pursue whatever is our fancy, it is easier to digest the platitudes that relativism offers than to take a more considered stance.
Why do women in the Middle East wear veils and why should that concern us? It shouldn’t concern us, relativism answers, and furthermore, it doesn’t matter! The way Arab peoples want to run their societies is their business, and ultimately, they are no better or worse than us. Relativism might even offer some more theorizing as to why this may be the case; Arab culture evolved differently due to different starting conditions, such as a different environment and different socializing tendencies. Ultimately, “good” and “evil” are constructs of the mind that do not exist in nature, says relativism, so judging other societies by such metrics is hypocritical and short-sighted at best, and the cause of war and genocide at worst.
Fair enough, one might say. That seems to make good sense and it seems an answer that would apply in every case of differing culture and belief systems that one encounters in the modern world.
The fatal flaw of moral relativity is its tolerance of all behavior, however. A person who is trying to lead a “good” life will inevitably run into problems with relativism. If you follow the tenants of relativism to its logical conclusion, no way of life is better than any other way of life. One is, in effect, permitted to do anything. When one is permitted to do anything, how does one begin to answer the question “what should I do?” After all, we may be permitted to do anything, but that does not mean we will have the opportunity to try out everything. Many choices we make in life open doors but simultaneously close off many others. If the ultimate goal of life is to be as happy as we can be (which is an ancient idea I tend to agree with – but that’s for another discussion, perhaps), how can we be sure under a relativist understanding of the world that the path we have chosen for ourselves will guarantee us maximal happiness over the long run compared to other choices we could have made?
Additionally, the idea that every behavior is of equal value should ring out as patently false for almost any person. I do not think any sane person would tell you that an adult who chooses to rape and murder one’s way through life is of equal morality to one who chooses to neither rape nor murder. Yet relativism would logically demand that we regard the two as equal. Morals, after all, are just a human construct, and they have no bearing on physical reality, and therefore neither person is “right” or “wrong” in their behavior.
In this sense, relativism seems to be a hedonistic philosophy that could be used to justify whatever placates one’s temporary indulgences. It is the philosophy that undermines feminism, for instance, when feminists shout that women should be able to do whatever they want to do without any sort of personal accountability, simply because it is what the woman wants. (That it is ironically applied in a non-relative and narrow manner is another matter entirely.) The only real justification one needs for one’s actions in a relativist moral world is that the actor wanted to perform the action; that’s it.
Indeed, relativism seems to be a very slippery idea that can seemingly be used to justify any sort of action. Long after I’d rejected feminism and political correctness, I still held on to relativism, not quite aware of its poisonous effects on my thinking. Here is an example from a letter I wrote
, justifying in part my decision to enlist (a very complicated and multi-faceted decision, as you might imagine):
[I] no longer [have] an active, seething hatred, but something different. A kind of acknowledgment that humanity is flawed, over-arrogant…The kind of attitude that leads to relativism, the idea that my life is worth no more than any other life is worth no more than any other life. That extends to everything – your viewpoint is no less convincing than my viewpoint than any other viewpoint. There is justification for anything in this world. And right and wrong are moral judgments, and morals are a strictly human construct – there is no physical law that correlates to “good” and “evil” in the universe, or to “right” and “wrong.” “Right” is what an organism must do to survive, and “wrong” are actions that doom that organism to death. And with these kinds of attitudes, I can join the military with no qualms. Send me to Iraq, give me a gun, tell me to shoot whoever, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.
Relativism also seems to inform mainstream ideas regarding equality. Equality, from a rational and objective analysis, is a patently absurd idea that will always be impossible to achieve. Angry Harry goes to lengths to explain this under the context of male-female relationships here
, but really the analysis applies to any measure of “equality.” However, relativism teaches us platitudes like “all men are born equal” or “that’s just your opinion” or any number of other thought-terminating-cliches that sound authoritative and considered. A favorite appeal of the relativist for legislating equality is by mistakenly referring to the phrase “all men are created equal” as appearing in the Constitution
when it in fact appears only in the Declaration of Independence
, which is not a legal document by any means. (The Constitution never ceases to impress me.) The word “equal” (to include “equally” – “equality” does not appear) appears six times in the text of the Constitution, each time referring to divisions of votes and power of the various agencies of government; never to the abilities or even rights of citizens or non-citizens, nor human beings. The next time it shows up is in the 14th Amendment, where it applies to equal protection under the law. This is a dangerous use of the word, considering again it is logically impossible to have equal enforcement/protection of the law – we can certainly strive for “more fair” or “more nearly equal,” but we will never attain legitimately equal. In any case, it says nothing of humans being equal. The final time it appears is in the 23rd Amendment where it again is rightfully used as a mere mathematical term. Equality only makes sense as a mathematical concept, not a political ideology.
A statement like 2 multiplied by 2 is equal to 4 is easily understood and demonstrated. Statements like men are equal to women or all men are equal or all women are equal, aside from being literally false, only ignore useful distinctions, raise questions and create confusion. Fairness is a much more reasonable ideology to advocate, so long as it is understood that perfect fairness is the ideal we strive for even if we may never attain it.
Of course, relativism isn’t actually adhered to, even if its platitudes are often cited. Instead what we have is an engine that creates many doublespeak ideas like “equality” and thought-terminating-cliches like “you’re just saying that because you’re a racist” or “you’re just saying that because you’re a misogynist,” which congeal into ideas like political correctness and feminism, ultimately destroying rational thought and considered debate.
The sobering fact we must own up to is that the world is not fair nor will it ever be. No amount of social engineering is going to change the fact that human attributes, such as physical prowess and intelligence quotient, are distributed unequally. This does not endorse a ‘might makes right’ notion of morality, however, where intelligent people are justified in manipulating less intelligent people merely by virtue of their superior intelligence (or whatever other permutation of “might makes right” you might conceive). What people have forgotten is that morality is the ultimate equalizer. Morality does not depend on any sort of measurable capacity – you are not more or less moral for being more or less intelligent, more or less strong, and so on. Generally, morality is concerned with the responsible use and application of one’s talents and abilities – regardless of how numerous and masterful those aforementioned gifts may be. You cannot legislate morality just as much as you cannot legislate equality, but you can certainly create a society that rewards good morality and punishes bad morality to foster moral growth and encourage, overall, increased moral behavior.
It is impossible to be “more moral” in a relativist system, however. Trying to discourage people from a “might makes right” disposition in a relativist system is hypocritical, even. Logically, you must tolerate all views as morally equal. And this is not conducive to a healthy or vigorous society. Shouldn’t we strive for the best instead of tolerating everything, to include the worst?
Moral relativism is intoxicating because while adhering to it you can never be wrong. It is ludicrous because while adhering to it you can never be right.
I just read this
, and it is good.