Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is moral relativism really all that the Left are about?

I often berate the moral and cognitive relativism that pervades our public culture today. So, in a recent essay, does Victor Davis Hanson. But in saying this I think he (and often I) is missing a point:
Is “ho”—the rapper slang for the slur “whore”—a bad word? Always, sometimes, or just when an obnoxious white male like Don Imus says it? But not when the equally obnoxious Snoop Dogg serially employs it?

Is the Iraq war, as we are often told, the “greatest mistake” in our nation’s history?

Because Israel and the United States have a bomb, is it then O.K. for theocratic Iran to have one too?

Americans increasingly cannot seem to answer questions like these adequately because they are blissfully uneducated. They have not acquired a broad knowledge of language, literature, philosophy, and history.

Sometime in the 1960s—perhaps due to frustration over the Vietnam War, perhaps as a manifestation of the cultural transformations of the age—the university jettisoned the classical approach [to education] and adopted the therapeutic.Instead, our youth for a generation have been fed a “Studies” curriculum. Fill in the blanks: Women’s Studies, Gay Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Chicano Studies, Film Studies, and so on. These courses aim to indoctrinate students about perceived pathologies in contemporary American culture—specifically, race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.

Such courses are by design deductive. The student is expected to arrive at the instructor’s own preconceived conclusions. The courses are also captives of the present—hostages of the contemporary media and popular culture from which they draw their information and earn their relevance.

The theme of all such therapeutic curricula is relativism. There are no eternal truths, only passing assertions that gain credence through power and authority. Once students understand how gender, race, and class distinctions are used to oppress others, they are then free to ignore absolute “truth,” since it is only a reflection of one’s own privilege.
But clearly, what Hanson is saying is that the Left do believe in one eternal truth: that truth is a reflection of power and authority, and conversely of those whom power victimizes (when, in fact, truth is really something that transcends self-interested calculation because truth is what belongs to an open-ended politics whose collective logic cannot be reduced to privileged interests, or to victimization, but only to shared needs and possibilities for keeping our politics and people alive, free and open - and this is what we need a disinterested academy to explain and explore).

In other words, when it comes to fingering the bad guys, to promoting their party line, the Left is anything but relativistic. Bush is evil and that's really all you need to know, just like Israel is bad. So, the flipside of the kind of shiftless thinking that Hanson describes, the product of an academic humanities culture that is now more devoted to networking than to amassing real knowledge (what now matters in building an academic career is who you know, not what you know), is the production of young people who are increasingly reliant on scapegoats and victims to describe the world in which they live. See www.beyondrobson.com for examples. And they hold to these scapegoats and victimary figures, not only in a spirit of relativism, but increasingly of religious certainty. That is why we apparently now have supposedly educated elites convincing themselves that the kind of antisemitic cartoons discussed in our previous post, are somehow cutting and daring, speaking to truths about power and privilege that no one previously dared emit.

The smarmy, faux-intellectual, endless irony of the academy pretends to be all so worldy wise (see, e.g., Simon Schama's presently-running, on PBS, tv progam on Art). Yet today's academy, despite (or because of) the origins and home of many of its performers, is structurally antisemitic and anti-American; the irony and relativism becomes, when fully played out, just obeisance to so much sacrificial violence.

10 comments:

dag said...

"[T]ruth is really something that transcends self-interested calculation because truth is what belongs to an open-ended politics whose collective logic cannot be reduced to privileged interests, or to victimization, but only to shared needs and possibilities for keeping our politics and people alive, free and open...."

Both flawless and beautiful; it's also well-within the means of many of the readers of Robson blog, but how many of them will crack the secret of the sense simply because it's too challenging to prejudice? I've sat many a night thinking over the things I find written at this blog, a blog I am a significant part of, one that many would think is from a unified source or coherent philosophical line of thinking, and I puzzle over the details of this or that concept, whether from you or from Charles, and I slowly unravel the sense and the ramifications and then weave in the strands of meaning that have fluttered before me ungrasped. I'm willing. Life is important to me, and important enough to spend my life wondering about it, thinking it through, examining it from various angles in all its available aspects. How repellent 'the one who knows'.

"[S]hared needs and possibilities ... alive, free and open...." I've told people for a year and a half that you are a radical thinker, 'Peers, and I suspect now, this time, that most of our current readers won't have a clue what you're on about. It's not rocket science or spelling good or anything beyond the scope of most intelligent people. But how many will move beyond the cliches of the time and sociability to attend to the ideas you put forth here?

For those who can and those who will try I invite you to our weekly meeting for further discussion. I'll announce that some time soon.

A Free Man said...

Truepeers

Everything has an end, I know a state or government of some sort will always be there, it is in our nature to feel the need to have one.

This present state is so huge, overbearing, tyranical and oppressive that I cant see how one can legally oppose it anymore!

I'm not a natural revolutionary, as revolutions tend to have terrible and unintended consequences. But I no longer can give this state any allegiance, it is my enemy. It actively goes against my interests on a daily basis, importing illegal immigrants, curtailing my liberties, watching me as I go about my business, banning me from doing what I want, taking more and more of my money, sponsering terrorists with that extorted money, etc...I could go on and on.

This government and most governments in the west are damaging our intersts, liberties and lives.

I did once beleive in working within to achieve change, but look at all those politicians! I'm sure many of them entered politics to make changes for the better, but end up as part of the monster they once wished to destroy.

Part of me despairs, another irrational part of me is still hopeful despite all the evidence that shold make me think differently.

I want this governemt gone, I want a government that will expell a great number of these 'diverse peoples' from our shores, the ones who we are told are British because the hold a British passport or were lucky enough to be born here. I want a government that pulls us out of Europe, that cuts taxes at least in half, that ends state provision of health, education and almost everything else. A government that bows its head to tradition, that respects the Christian culture of these Islands and the hereditary principle.

Not many people in these Islands want that, most are too stupid or lazy or ignorant to care about anything but their weekly benifits cheque or there daily dose of porn or celebrity inanity!

The reason things wont change soon, is that the people of these Islands have changed, urged on and led, by the socilaist, in to a moral void, the destruction of tradition, knowledge, wisdom and self restraint. The peoples of these Islands are being drowned in their iniquity.

They may have been strong armed by the socialists into giving in, they may have been mis-educated and been force fed the most vile propaganda, but they made the final decision about how they were going to live there lives.

Truth is, the government and socialists can only take so much of the blame for the dissolution of this nation and its society, the people are as guilty as the former, they may have resisted, but they gave in for an easy life.

People who don't fight for what is their's, don't deserve to keep it!

dag said...

Friend, I'm encouraged by your letter, seemingly as despairing as it is. Where you stand there are others all around you if only they'd let you know. Yes, many are befogged, like our current pest, Sean. But they are irrelevant to the nature of things. They are terrified conformists who cannot survive on their own thought and therefore run to ideologies and cookie-cutter cliches for safety while blaming the world for realities they must live with within their abilities, of which they have seemingly few. But the real salvation for all, for Sean and for others better than he but as befogged, is the need for the search for truth. Is it likely in this place rather than that? Oh, let's see:

Canadian pot use four times global rate
Highest In Western World
Juliet O'Neill, CanWest News Service
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Marijuana use in Canada is the highest in the industrialized world and more than four times the global rate, according to a report from the United Nations.

The UN study even suggests Canadians use marijuana at a rate double that of the Netherlands...."

Religiousity rather than religion; moralism rather than morals; legalisitic pettifogging rather than legality; and so on. Yes, unquestioned relativism rather than critical induction. But there are others, friend, not so stupid and not so determined to be forever stupider as is Sean, people who will sometime, given the chance, stand up and say no to the pot-smoking morons who shriek from lack of sense. Wait them out, friend. Our time comes.

Jessica said...

"But the real salvation for all, for Sean and for others better than he but as befogged, is the need for the search for truth. Is it likely in this place rather than that? Oh, let's see:

Canadian pot use four times global rate"

Ah yes, it must be pot. Pot is ruining the youth of today. That's it. If only they searched for our truth. The one and only the truth. The truth that is Jesus.

Sean Orr said...

"Fill in the blanks: Women’s Studies, Gay Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Chicano Studies, Film Studies"... Religious Studies.

ps. Was this comment deleted once already on purpose?

truepeers said...

no Sean, you put the previous comment in the previous post. Ultimately, if you want to know how serious a given "Studies" is, you have to, well, study it. You cannot draw some conclusion of equivalence just because two things share similar names. From study, I know there is a lot of nonsense in the universities. But for now, I'll only speak about religious studies, with which I have a modest familiarity. It has its share of flakes, to be sure (Dag, an atheist of all people, had to lecture a bunch of them from, where was it, Princeton? a while ago on basic questions of morality. They were too busy making gods of themselves...) But at its best, religious studies is one of the most important and fundamental means for understanding human beings. You do know, don't you Sean, that religious studies is mostly about anthropology; its speculations about God take up much less of its attention, for obvious reasons, and in any case we can never divorce our understandings of the human and the divine, since, historically, the understanding of the divine has been humanity's model model for understanding the human.

Why does religion and anthropology go together? Because you can't begin to understand human beings unless you realize how utterly dependent we all are on the transcendent domain of language and representation. You do know, don't you, that every word we are using is transcendent. Words have a material existence as collections of letters or sounds. But only when our minds associate those letters or sounds does the word "appear", "from nowhere" to make our human society possible. Words are not imprinted on our neurons; as I say, they only really "exist" in a transcendent domain. There's lots about humans that is both fundamental and kind of religious, if you think about it.

truepeers said...

"a free man" has an excellent blog. He was kind to return my visit earlier.

To him I say, you are of an age when it is easy and common to despair. I have come out of my youthful despair and now see there are so many reasons to hope, not forgetting that we have great mountains to climb. We really are opening now into a whole new historical era and are consequently suffering the Tony Blair-like control freaks within the order and era that is on its last legs.

The most basic reason for conservative hope is that our despair reflects the great monolith that the left-liberal state has become, a monolith that cannot grow much bigger. All things do indeed come to an end. And today, intellectually, the left has absolutely nothing to offer - which is why they pursue the hopelessly utopian European project well past the point where they are addressing a real need to facilitate trade, open markets, etc.

Everywhere we look, we see the left undermining serious thought and open debate because they can no longer participate in it and not reveal their glaring limits. They respond by becoming more totaltarian, yes, but that game cannot go on forever because the need for human self-knowledge is unerasable, since the need is founded in the human necessity of understanding his fellows in order to survive their potential violence. Human beings are always questioning and fighting, with whatever means they can, against oppressive structures. That's how we survive.

The European Union cannot continue in its ways and hope to remain very competitive for long in the present world. They have much wealth to run thorugh first, but in time reality will bite and freedom will be the only solution to the economic crisis.

I don't think young people need to go into politics as a job. Just remember that the COnservative party used to have millions of members in Britain because ordinary people had a big ownership stake in the party and the political system. For various reasons, the party leaders and backroom boys have taken the party over. I think the ordinary people need to take it back.

Lots of things look impossible until they aren't. Great movements always start with little events. That's the way history is. Change is unavoidable and those who have the will to lead it often achieve far more than they could have imagined when they were your age. Tony Blair, for example, surely could never have imagined in his youth the multiculti police state he has built. A desire for freedom runs deeper in your land than maybe you know. You should try to fight with any and all means, but only use violence as a last resort to defend your ancient constitution. That's what distinguishes us from the barbarians.

emily said...

If I'm reading you correctly you're saying that one of the ultimate failures of leftist philosophy is that it is a non-culturally relativist philosophy under the guise of cultural relativism. Your basic argument--that the left is ultimately not dynamically open to a flexible belief system--is a fair point. But in pointing out the negative aspect of the non-relativist leftist movement you imply that relativism within this political philosophy should be a defining element. This irks me for a number of reasons, but primarily because:
1. Cultural relativism has never been the reigning, defining aspect of the left and you do not make any attempt to argue past mere assumption in this case. The left, much like the right, will be based upon immovable truths. This is hardly a topic of debate so much as it is a political truth. Singling out the left for not having some kind of Jainism-influenced non-absolutism seems rather ridiculous to me. Especially if the subtext of your argument is a political comparison between the right and left.

In any case, I haven't the slightest idea what this has to do with Sean. But perhaps calling Dag a douche for trolling Beyond Robson the way he did would be far too much a universal truth for this conversation.

Emily

truepeers said...

Emily,

First, if anyone cares to see who started the trolling, they can check our archives. I imagine you can just google "Sean Orr" and "Covenant Zone".

Second, yes, I don't think the Left is entirely relativist. I don't think it's possible for anyone to be entirely that, just as it is impossible to be entirely a nihilist and still function. But it is possible to acquire enough of the disease to become a very sick person.

I do think today's Left (not to be confused with earlier varieties) is on the whole often immersed in cultural relativism, though ultimately it is totalitarian. THe Pope's "dictatorship of relativism" sums this up as well as anything.

you imply that relativism within this [totalitarian] political philosophy should be a defining element.

-should? I don't prescribe relativism; but yes, think it is pervasive in the left today, though I don't really believe in any "defining elements"; things are at bottom inherently paradoxical; so it is not playing fast and loose to use a term like "dictatorship of relativism".

This is a blog, not a treatise: we could go into deep discussion but you can't expect it in any little post. On a pragmatic level, responding to commonly held positions (e.g. Cultural relativism) and their common results (e.g. "multiculturalism" and the kind of state which must enforce it, all the while trying to avoid too much real study into the significance of cultural or historical differences), we don't need to address all the foundational paradoxes of our historical context; we can, under the restraints of time, attempt useful summaries and criticisms.

The left, much like the right, will be based upon immovable truths. This is hardly a topic of debate so much as it is a political truth

What's an immovable truth? I think truths are like onions that never stop growing layers. The only thing constant is what is original to the human, and whatever this is that unites us all, it is rather minimal compared to the diversity to which the common human origin has given rise. Some cultures have done more, some less, with our common origin. Generally, the bigger your onion, the more differentiated your consciousness, the better.

And how can a political truth be beyond debate? Surely political truths are the things that found debate and keep it alive, growing those onion layers, so that we don't descend into killing each other but rather spend out time deepening our understanding of the founding truth. It is true, however, that we can never entirely grasp the truth. We can only approach it, more or less.

Especially if the subtext of your argument is a political comparison between the right and left.

I don't quite grasp the point about Jainism. But I think you are wrong to imply a symmetry between right and left. The division of our politics into left and right terms is a product of the French Revolution and a creation of the left. The "right", as such, has always been a caricature of, or a simple reaction to, the left and so has always had trouble when it develops its conception of itself largely in this light. I prefer to think of myself as a conservative, which is not equivalent to what the left call the right. It may even combine elements of both but in any case requires its own genealogy and conceptualization.

najistani said...

SEEING THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

The truth will set you free. And the truth is out there - somewhere.

But how do Mr and Mrs Kaffir find the truth?

There is an immense amount of information on Islam on the internet, but none of it is systematically ordered. An attempt to put things together was made at http://bfbwwiii.blogspot.com/2006/10/silence-of-imams.html but this was not systematically indexed and is far from concise.

One possibilty for educating our fellow kaffirs would be to set up an online one-stop-shop for information on Islam - an ISLAMIC INDEX consisting of an alphabetically arranged single webpage of topics, cross referenced as synonyms where necessary. Each topic could be linked to a concise second level page which gives a brief introduction to the topic and links to offsite detailed information.

The site could be mirrored by counter-jihadist bloggers to guard against censorship or denial of service, and be kept up to date as a communal enterprise. Anyone coming to the top level home page in search of a particular topic would no doubt also find much else to interest them which they never imagined existed.

For example - a skeleton layout of topics:

A
Aisha
- Mohammed's child sex slave

Andalusia
- Moslem Spain - fact and fiction

Appeasement
- why it won't work with Muslims

Apostasy
- death penalty for leaving Islam

Ayatollah Khomeini
- sex with children
- sex with animals
- Salman Rushdie Satanic verses (cr.)

Ayesha (cr. Aisha)


B
Bahai
- persecution of

Barbary pirates
-white slave trade

Bin Laden
- 911

Buddhism
- persecution of
- Buddhas of Bamiyan


C
Christians
- modern Christian dhimmis
- persecution of

Clitoridectomy
- removal of clitoris and outer vagina


D
Deobandi
- Jihadist fanatics

Dhimmis and Dhimmitude
- subjugation of non-Muslims

Doctors
- as terrorists
- why the Hippocratic oath does not apply to treatment of Kaffirs


E
Extortion
-jizya


F
Fatwa


G
Girls
- genital mutilation of


H
Halal
- cruelty to animals

Hatred
- of Kaffir
- of women

Homosexuality
- penalty for

Honour killings



I
Imperialism
- Arab imperialism
- Western imperial guilt

Infants
- thighing of (cr. mufa khathat)

Islam
- bloody history


J
Jahiliyya
- worthlessness of non-Muslim cultures (cr Buddhas of Bamiyan)

Jews
- persecution of

Jihad
- a fundamental obligation


etc etc