Reflections on moral and cultural relativism

KittenPaul Johnson, in his A History of Christianity, wrote that when Catholics were in power in Europe, the Protestants promoted and asked for tolerance, and when Protestants were in ascendance, then Catholics pleaded for tolerance. This dynamic is likely to appear in any power dynamic of that kind.

Moral subjectivism and cultural relativism were explicitly introduced to US elementary and high school students at least since the 1980s. Both concepts are nihilistic and destructive. Moral subjectivism asserts that morality is whatever anyone claims it is and that no one is right or wrong, per se. It is whatever you “feel.” This aligns with the distinctively American manner of speech where the speaker says “I feel that…” New Zealanders of my generation would instead say “I think that…” having not got so advanced in the therapeutic mindset at the time. If morality is whatever anyone says it is, then it is nothing. And, if cultures are immune from criticism the outside, then they are also worth ignoring, as Allan Bloom pointed out. Why learn about a culture if one is forbidden to evaluate it in any way?

It seems like moral and cultural relativism could thus be regarded as a kind of advance guard in a battle, designed to demoralize the enemy; a bland appeal to “tolerance” of any behavior, no matter how immoral. To every moral assertion the response could be “there’s no accounting for taste.” The implied nihilism cleared away any positive moral propositions – ones that actually were supposed to be significant. So, relativism was a kind of pleading for tolerance. Cultural relativism rendered out of bounds criticism of any other “culture,” such as Islamic cultures.

That was then. As a plea for tolerance, it suggests that common sense morality was still a significant factor, to a certain degree. Enough, at least, to warrant circumspection.

Relativism has now been replaced with a rigid Manichean division between the saved and the damned based on skin color. Far from subjectivism, there is absolutism and the scariest part of it is the epistemic hubris; the knowing with utter certainty the answers to all moral questions. Where for art thou, subjectivism?  The only thing the two positions have in common is being utterly intellectually bankrupt. They both involve irresolvable contradictions rendering rational discussion impossible.

7 thoughts on “Reflections on moral and cultural relativism

  1. @Richard – “a rigid Manichean division between the saved and the damned based on skin color”
    Rigid, but no deeper nor more permanent than the old communist deification of white, working class native-born men.
    Leftism’s nature is demonic; to oppose God, the Good and divine creation – therefore Leftism is is negative, oppositional, dishonest and expedient in all its assertions.

    • @bruce charlton – Quite right. One commonality is “oppressed vs oppressor.” Lately it has just been a game of who is going to be fitted into which class.

  2. The word demoralize today means discouraged, but originally meant something more like debauched. I think there is a causal connection. Relativism tells me all my goals are artificial, and it is a short step from artificial to bogus. It takes the wind out of your sails.

  3. I’ve also noticed that the word “tolerance”, which seemed to dominate mainstream discourse as recently as a decade ago (when it was used to demand that homosexuality not only be tolerated but enthusiastically approved) seems to have entirely disappeared. Now we have “long-overdue reckoning” and “accountability”. The difference from the Catholic-Protestant spats of yesteryear is that the Left was dominant this whole time. Even their demands for tolerance were aggressive acts of a stronger power, now retired because no longer necessary or useful.

  4. Tolerance is now a bullshit word. The Left has graduated from that word.

    The Leftist Gospel is now a Genocide Crusade Against the Right.

    Intolerance of the Right-to-Exist is Political-Cultural-Academic-Corporatist-Capitalism War intended to be biometrically (eventually) policed by the Globalist Nation-less Borderless Open Society Surveillance State.

    Herbert Marcuse – Repressive Tolerance

    “The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.”

    https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/publications/1960s/1965-repressive-tolerance-fulltext.html

    A weakness of the Right has been its Suicidal Liberal Freedom of Speech oriented tolerance of Left-Thought, whose goal is Year Zero Damnatio memoriae of Right-Thought. The Right is failing to conserve it’s so-called conservative values, if it had any worth conserving.

    Perhaps this was-is necessary, this challenging of values. Values put to the extreme existential test of survival of the fittest values.

    Perhaps a future-state synthesis will be reached in good-evil faith between the antagonists in order to dwell together in mutual REAL tolerance (THAT IS, the respectful unspoken dislike of the personal differences and preferences of others).

    If dwelling together in tolerant harmony cannot be achieved, then let us dwell separately to avoid war. Nation-states/territorial idea borders can be modified through this agon.

    Free people ought not be compelled by the state to like people and ideas that they don’t.

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