A real standard is hard to take
This entry is part of the War on Relativism.
The fact that morality is very real and has definite laws, is a simple truth that is very hard to accept. People don't want to have to measure up to any standard, and they hate people who do. The virtuous, the successful, the visionaries, are always villified. People with great flaws, on the other hand, are seen as "human". Is a mass murderer who reads to children every Friday the best representative of humanity ?
As for any other simple and obvious truth, the objections against moral standards are all very silly.
On the one hand, you have the Christians who claim that you can only be moral if you follow their edicts, and that there is no non-religious reason to act in a certain way. Yet Christians get hungry just like everyone else, so they know very well that there are at least good reasons to eat ! Obviously we have material needs fulfilled in everything we do - helping other people we care about, to work, to enter in relationships with other people, to try to make a better life for ourselves. So this rhetoric is all very silly.
On the other hand, you have atheists who are so-called "relativists", who claim that morality is a personal or social construct. This is equally nonsense. As the maxim says, "fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong". If something is factually a vice, then the fact that it is encouraged in a culture (such as say, human sacrifice and tribes in the Andes) does not make its wrongness dissapear. To say otherwise is to believe in magic.
Both religious dogma and atheistic "relativism" are just two sides of the same coin : conformity and the comfort you get in conforming to a religion or culture. It is hedonistic and irresponsible in the highest. It leads to the subversion of individual values to any political or religious power that comes along.
The term "relativism" itself is wrongly used. For one thing, all knowledge is "relative" because it depends on our context of knowledge. But this is not what the "relativists" claim. Rather their claim is that knowledge is manufactured by the power plays in a given society or their expression in a given mind - that there is nothing objective in reality to be known. The correct term for such lunacy is : nihilism. Nihilism in psychology is the term given to the belief that the world, or one's own body, does not exist. Likewise moral nihilists reject the existence of natural laws, and only believe that people's opinions exist, detached from all facts.
The moral nihilist and the religious complement each other. Both reject the obvious facts of reality, the obvious existence of human needs, for their own brand of submission. Both are equally dangerous to the individual. It does not matter to your head whether it is getting kicked by the boot of a theocracy or getting cracked by agents of an evil "culture".
All rhetoric that aims to make you reject the laws of reality, is an attempt to control you. Of this you can be absolutely sure.
The simple truth on morality is that humans are subject to causality, just like any other existent. Natural laws apply to human beings just as they apply to tables, electrons, galaxies or geckos - the laws of biology, the laws of psychology, the laws of economy. Human actions can be judged on the basis of their consequences, as determined by our study of these laws. If you eat, your metabolism will be fueled. If you stop eating, you will die, even if the entire population of the Earth wishes it otherwise.
I have already explained in previous entries the justification of the virtue of non-coercion and the virtue of honesty. These are not revolutionary concepts : most sane atheists, who are not "relativists", could explain why we shouldn't hurt other people and why we should be honest. It only appears revolutionary to say such things because the Big Lie of authoritarian morality has always had a stranglehold on moral issues. People don't like to have to evaluate their own actions, and the possibility of being wrong.
I haven't looked at what is perhaps the most common "relativist" argument, the humanist evolutionary argument. In the humanist perspective, what is moral is determined by other animals in nature. Other species evolve by reproducing, so, they deduce, the purpose of man must be to reproduce.
This, of course, is just as anti-individualist and evil as any other "relativist" position. Human beings are volitional beings who can establish their own values. To treat human beings as gene carriers is not much more useful than killing yourself. It is our minds, our volition, our capacity for the sublime, that carries human beings to the noblest heights. Reproduction is only a very tiny part of that. One could equally "deduce" that, because other animals kill each other for territory and food in order to survive, we should be in a constant state of warfare with each other. Human beings are animals, yes, but without volition there would be no need for morality at all. You cannot talk about morality at all without using this as a starting point.
My main thrust here is that studying morality requires a commitment to reality. Most people do not make such a commitment, and yet talk about good and evil as if they knew perfectly what they were talking about. We do not accept such behaviour in any other fields except sports and politics (the two main areas where everyone believes himself an expert). But unlike sports and politics, morality is a serious business. Promoting the truth can help other people turn their lives around. Promoting falsehood can enslave minds. So if you don't know what you're talking about, please stop talking about morality.