Relativism : taking a piss on morality part 1
This entry is part of the War on Relativism.
Recently, I had a frustrating discussion with David Eller, a respected and otherwise intelligent scientist who wrote many books about atheism, who believes firmly in cultural relativism. I know many atheists hold to such an irrational, anti-scientific and repugnant belief.
The first problem with cultural relativism is that there is no such thing as "culture", as people commonly use the concept. Culture in reality is a generalization on patterns of behaviour and thought that exist within loosely-defined groups. Following this definition, cultural relativism therefore means absolutely nothing, since the individeual creates his part of the culture.
What the relativists really mean is a monolithic block of behaviour and belief which can be attributed to a specific "country" or race, such as "the Greek culture" or "the black culture", that we can use to make moral judgments on the individual. That is to say, it is a collectivist construct which does not apply to any specific person's behaviour.
Only this premise can explain the tribalist cries for "protecting our culture" and "following the culture". If culture was composed of individual action, then any action performed by the individual would be "cultural", and "protecting the culture" would be considered an oxymoron. But obviously relativists think they are saying something meaningful when they utter this nonsense.
This monolithic view of culture is an exploitative construct promoted by religion and the state in order to justify their monopolizing morality. If one assumes that morality is the product of individual reasoning, then on what grounds can the Church and the State justify their imposition of a singular value system ? At best it can only be seen as personal belief gone awry.
A fatal problem with cultural relativism is that "culture", of either kind, is not a rational standard. While people's actions are automatically self-interested, they are not necessarily rationally so. People do extremely irrational things - given that the majority of the population of the world is religious and indoctrinated from birth, what do you expect ? Given this, how can "culture" indicate anything factual ?
Of course, the relativists don't want to talk about facts. They are not talking about rational knowledge, they are taking a piss on it (hence the title). They completely follow religious and political premises in stating that morality is completely arbitrary and subject to "might makes right". This, of course, is hypocrite since few people follow this idea in any other area of life, as I will discuss in future entries.
Another fatal problem is that cultural relativism is eliminated nicely by the Moral Razor, which is to say, the principle of universality. This principle states that a moral principle can only be valid if it applies universally - to all people, at all times, in all places - otherwise it implies moral contradictions, as people have the same needs everywhere. To give an obvious political example, if it is moral for policemen to wield guns because they need to defend themselves from criminals, then it must be also moral for other people to do the same, since they have the same need.
Go to part 2.