Sunday, September 24, 2006

Relativism..My Latest Rant

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul simply has nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus…and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s hard to be misunderstood when you never form an opinion or really assert anything.

I am sick and tired of relativism. Sure, self-righteous, know it alls (especially the religious ones) can be annoying, but I’m even more annoyed by people who refuse to stand for anything or condemn anything (to clarify: not condeming people but acts), constantly saying “well that might be right for him” or “so long as it feels like a good decision.” That’s crap. There are some things that are never OK. Sure it makes it easier to understand why someone felt tempted to cheat on her spouse when you know that he’s a bad husband, but it’s still wrong. And yes knowing your spouse cheated on you would certainly make you mad, but it doesn’t make it permissible to kill your wife (don’t even get me started on “manslaughter” which often results in very reduced jail sentence for men who kill their adultery committing spouse).

I read a book in college called Closing of the American Mind by Alan Bloom, and the book began “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Bloom explains that “Openness—and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings—is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger….The point is not to correct the mistakes [of the past, i.e. slavery, sexism, etc.] and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”

The reason I’ve been thinking about all of this is because lately I’ve been engaging in e-mail debates with a couple of my law school classmates, and one of the guys reminds me of Clinton and his responses to queries about having “sex” with Monica or any other politician attempting to give an answer that means nothing. Our discussions often become a series of pointed questions directed to him in order to try and ascertain what he really believes. But it seems he often lacks any opinion; he can see both perspectives and doesn’t believe that we should judge others’ belief systems, thus he often fails to assert any real belief. I fail to see how having an opinion is sitting in judgment of others but whatever. I hate this apathetic openness that results in members of my generation being unable to really even engage in a debate because they are so “open.” Despite my frustration, I’m very grateful that at least we’re having these discussion even if they’re thwarted by his extreme relativism (he won’t even concede that killing with the exception of self defense is always wrong). He often challenges me to examine issues that I wouldn't otherwise, and I believe too many people are so apathetic that they never think about and discuss current events, philosophy, religion, and whatnot. Sometimes I wonder if there was such a thing, if our collective American brain would be rotting as a result of misuse and lack of use.

Anyway, can you tell that I went to college with no career path or major in mind and thus came pretty close to experiencing a true liberal arts education? Just disregard this rant if it makes no sense.


Aaron said...

Please forgive me for finding a bit of humor in your rant on Relativism. I find it particularly humorous that someone who is self-described as "indecisive" would choose to rant on such a topic.

Not that I'm qualified to comment on such a topic. I know enough of it to understand that it makes my brain hurt. Such things should be left to conversations among drunks or stoners.

Are you really so concerned that this individual's only opinion is to not have one?

Anonymous said...

Maybe this will not be printed twice as I think I accidentally erased first time. May have been Omen. I must agree with Aaron this is some deep stuff. Mayhaps you are getting too philosophical. I could only guess what I would do if I ever caught my wife cheating on me but I suppose you have to be in those shoes to really know or else you are just speculating. Funny, but I was thinking yesterday about the Clinton/Lewinsky fiaco and how almost minor it seems now compared to what some other Politicians have done. Can you say Newt Gingrich? What a JERK and terrible example of a husband and father regardless of cirumstances. Remember wife in hospital with cancer when he told her he wanted divorce. I think it would be very interesting to you the criminal law in Texas re adultery if a man,(may have changed in last few years) catches his wife committing adultery. As you know from our sessions, I am a very opionated person in many respects. I think it is genetic as perhaps yours may be. I think perhaps we should schedule an evaluation and decice if we need to discuss relativity and RELATIVES. Just call my inflatable secretary and make and appointment. DR RJJ

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting topic that I could probably rant on myself for a while. As a Christian I don't think we are called to judge as you say. How can one judge someone else's sin when they themselves live in it?

I think where it gets confusing is that one person convicts the person and the other convicts the act. I like to think that when people say that "Whatever is right for them" it's not necessarily approving of the act but more showing compassion for the person. Where would we be if God were to judge us as our sins deserve?

It is ok to evaluate an act as right or wrong but it's also important to make the person aware that no matter what the act, they are still loved by God and forgiveness is available to them. At that point it's up to them the path in which the choose.

That was a very long thought compressed into a small comment. So it probably doesn't make any sense.

Ally said...

greenlineboy: I am definitely not advocating for the judgment of others, but like I wrote, "I fail to see how having an opinion [as to whether certain behavior is right or wrong]is sitting in judgment of others." For example, if I say that adultery is wrong, I'm only saying that the behavior is wrong. I think that is what you're saying in your second and third paragraphs. As for "whatever is right for them," I guess part of my frustration comes from when I seek counsel from Christians who share the world's mentality of doing whatever feels best rather than what is "right" (as set forth in the Bible). I guess they are only speaking in love (as they perceive it) and not truth. Relativism in the context of Christianity could be a few more posts though, so I'll leave that for another day. Oh, as for making sense, I totally understand. I wrote that post entirely too quickly and did a poor job of conveying what I mean. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and prompting me to clarify what I wrote, although I'm sure that I'm still not that clear.

Dr.RJJ: I'm with you on Newt Gingrich and haven't liked him since I was in 7th grade.

Aaron: In answer to your question, no it's not this one individual's failure to have an opinion on anything (or think anything can be defined as right/wrong or truth) so as not to offend anyone that bothers me. I just threw that in there so you would know what had caused me to think about all of this; my friend is an excellent person, and his relativism just happened to tie in with this blog. Relativism is something I've thought about for years, and my recent discussion with my friend have just resulted in my thinking about it a lot lately. Imagine the world if no one in our generation has any deeply held beliefs or opinions--whether as a result of fear of offending someone or "judging" someone or out of apathy.

On a side note, I'll bet the political correctness "movement," trend, or whatever you call it probably made it even more likely that my generation would stand for nothing.

kimberly said...

I think the challenge is to live in the tension of listening to others with an attitude of willingness to learn from and encounter the "other" - see Alina's blog - while also being faithful and spiritually grounded in your own beliefs. I don't want to assume that I know all the answers - but I also don't want to assume that there ARE no answers or that truth does not exist. I definitely believe that truth is real. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23 - if these things have never been disproven as good, there must be some objective truth to their goodness right? I'm thankful for that!
Great post!

Ally said...

Kimberly--I like that post by Alina, and it reminds me of my great Aunt who always asked people to tell her their "story." At her funeral it was so cool to hear people talk about her asking them that question, listening to them, and responding to their stories.

I think you nailed the challenge on the head--holding our own beliefs and recognizing that there is indeed truth (even if we don't know exactly what it is) yet seeking out others' thoughts and beliefs too. I love learning why people believe what they believe. That's why I like the Emerson quote so much--my opinions and beliefs are constantly informed by talking with others, reading, and my other experiences, but I can't let the fear that I'm wrong (and going to change my mind) or going to offend someone keep me from forming beliefs and opinions.

Anonymous said...

I'm no so set in my ways that I can't be influenced to see another view or even switch teams once in awhile. There are many things that I stand VERY firm on and you can't budge me, but they're more ethical issues, than anything. Anything else is up for grabs.

spam_price said...

What I find interesting about the relativism debate is the need and desire to be tolerant. This is a self-defeating point of view when held to an absolute that so many relativists wish to adhere. People who trumpet tolerance are tolerant of all points of view with the exception of the intolerant one, which means they cannot hold to this ideology consistently, and in turn become intolerant themselves.

There is an absolute standard of truth, there is an absolute source of knowledge and when points of view are expressed that oppose both the epistemological and ethical absolute standards they must be boldly refuted. As Emerson said, “Speak what you think now in hard words...”, but unlike Emerson’s quote here do so with a level of consistency that reveals what has been learned so as not to be misunderstood. The comparison of Pythagoras, Socrates and Jesus as to their being misunderstood is not valid. The source of the confusion in the previous two is the shroud of sin within their own hearts, while with Christ the source is found in the sin of our own hearts.

Of course that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong. ;-)

Aaron said...

As I mentioned in our brief conversation last night -- this topic has only served to pollute my mind. Such "deep thoughts" further overwhelm my already limited mental capacity when it comes to contemplating riduculous topics.

So yesterday I witnessed a manager at work say something to an employee that startled me. What the manager said was totally contradictory to something the same person had mentioned to me previously. It quickly became obvious that this individual either does not take a firm stance on any particular issue -- or they "play it up" for the person they're talking to.

Personally, I think the manager told the employee "whatever" because they wanted to gain some sense of false respect from the employee knowing said employee would agree with the statement. I see it all the time -- but that's not the point. The point was, I was discussing this with my carpool buddy and quickly found myself defining relativism to this guy. He already knew the cheese slid off my cracker a long time ago. Now he thinks I lost the cracker, too.

Thanks, thanks a lot. ;^)

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