Sunday, March 27, 2016
The End Of Moral Relativism–Is Absolutism Returning?
The writers David Brooks and Jonathan Merritt have commented recently on the death of moral relativism which is being replaced by a shaming culture. Campus activists now see the world in black and white, good and bad and do not hesitate to censure and condemn those who do not agree with their convictions. Free speech – if not supporting of progressive principles of inclusiveness, diversity, and the rights of the marginalized – is only the tool for heretical expression and must be stifled in the name of higher order values which are not relative but absolute. All discussion concerning abortion, homosexuality, sexual behavior, wealth distribution, education, and ethnic identity has been clotured. There is no need to consider opposing views let alone tolerate them. There is no such thing as a morally pluralistic world.
While the censorious environment of college campuses does indeed reflect a growing intolerance, it is less about moral relativism than personal identity and status. Political correctness has provided a justifiable cover for anti-democratic actions of supposedly moral zeal but no more than expressions of belonging. Shouting down illiberality, carrying out vigilante justice, and persecuting the innocent in the name of righteousness are acceptable when campuses must be purged of racist, homophobic, and sexist attitudes and behavior.
This is not the end of moral relativism. It is just a peculiar expression of it. The same protesters who shut down campuses and force the resignation of university administrators in the name of doctrinal purity still reserve their judgment on female circumcision, a barbaric practice which dehumanizes and de-sexes women, because of a belief in cultural relativity. Who are we to judge Africans for traditions which have existed for centuries and which reflect indigenous values?
The protestors insist in the rightness and cultural legitimacy of Palestinians whose violence, terror, and murder of Israelis is justified because of a Third World solidarity. The poor, marginalized, dispossessed, and downtrodden of the Arab world have more rights than the world’s victors, wealthy, and powerful. They are the blacks of the Middle East who deserve unmitigated and unqualified support in their struggle. It is right not to condemn them for their economic backwardness and stubborn refusal to assume responsibility for their own development, advance the prospects of women, and join the ranks of the mature democrats. It is wrong to judge them by American standards of liberal, tolerant social attitudes, private enterprise, and judicial wisdom.
By all rights campus protesters should be as censorious of the Muslim world as they are of American bigots and retrograde racists. Are these societies not guilty of the same sexism, homophobia, and ethnic hate as Americans? No. They refuse to lay a hand on them because there is a universal quality that only the oppressed share. To be poor, struggling, and incarcerated by the privileged is noble and absolutely admirable.
In other words cultural relativism and selective censoriousness are part of the same progressive package. The struggle of the Arab poor trumps their retrograde beliefs about women and homosexuals. Criticism of these beliefs would undermine the solidarity of their struggle. At the same time these critics have no problem unleashing a cannonade against conservative, poor, Southern fundamentalists who hold similar views.
Of course you can’t have it both ways. Either there are universal standards of behavior which must always be criticized or condemned; or all values are relative. Progressives in America are caught between the two. They tolerate the same unconscionable behavior in some groups while not others, suggesting a moral and cultural relativism. Yet their own creed, doctrine, and liturgy are based on the conviction of their absolute right.
If one believes in the right of religious expression then all such expression should be protected whether it counters progressive values or not. French Muslim separatism and defiance of the secular state should take precedence over statist ideas of inclusiveness. Why do progressives lionize European Muslims for their insistence on cultural identity while attacking American religious fundamentalists for theirs?
While it is true that moral and cultural absolutists are in the ascendancy, many Americans are still unsure of their anchors. If they were truly confident of their values, then they would be on a crusading jihad just as seriously as ISIS. Either poverty and oppression as expressions of a common grief of humanity and they must be eliminated regardless of culture and relative values; or that racism, sexism, and homophobia are the real curses of the world and that they must be eliminated wherever they are found.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and Boko Haram have no such doubts and have only one goal in mind – the establishment of a Muslim caliphate in the Middle East – and that no Western moral compunction will deter them. They are absolute in their beliefs, and undeterred from their goals.
America’s foreign policy is still hindered by a type of moral exceptionalism which is based in cultural relativism. The present administration simply cannot bring itself to identify religion as the fundamental if not principal motivation for terrorism. President Obama and European leaders who follow his example are still fearful of offending other cultures; when in fact we should be condemnatory in the extreme. Moreover we should be unafraid to announce the rightness of our Judeo-Christian beliefs in law, justice, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and respect. Our Holy War would not be like that of the Crusades when the objective was to indeed spread Christianity (and its political hegemony); but to simply to galvanize our resolve to defeat the enemy by bringing the power of cultural righteousness to bear.
Either we believe that the forces of Christian enlightenment must prevail over the darker forces of medieval tribalism or not. If we do, then the roots of Islamic extremism must be torn up and burned. Molenbeek must be sequestered, raided in house-to-house searches, civil rights suspended, mosques invaded, imams arrested, madrassas closed down, and martial law applied. Concerns about upsetting ‘another culture’ must give way to a clarity of strategic objectives based on moral absolutism. Immigrants to Western Europe cannot be given a free pass but scrutinized with all the power of the state. Military arsenals should be unleashed on all terrorist targets regardless of collateral damage.
So moral relativism infects international politics and policy while moral absolutism reigns in academia. The United States must give up its concerns about cultural inclusivity in the fight against Islamic terrorism, and those set upon by progressive zealots in the Unites States must mobilize and fight back. There is plenty of space between right and wrong on all social issues in public discourse for lines to be hardened.
As Brooks and Merritt rightly observe, the world is headed towards moral absolutism, separatism, and cultural enclaves. We need to recognize the legitimacy of the end of the nation-state and of liberal democracy, and mobilize our effort as a political and cultural and religious one.
We need to condemn political correctness and the stifling of free speech and encourage those groups who oppose the received wisdom of the Left. We must encourage absolute beliefs among those who have been unrelentingly attacked for them.
There is no longer room for a soft, malleable, tolerance. We have evolved into a contentious world society, and those who ignore that fact and insist in inclusivity do so at their own peril.