Sunday, September 4, 2011

The dictatorship of relativism

Cardinal Ratzinger's famous phrase at the beginning of the conclave that would elect him Pope has made me think ever since I heard it. There are so many dimensions to the phrase that each time I look at it I come from a different perspective. However over time I realized that these perspectives are related.

The problem begins with the modern denial of objective truth. This is often phrased as "There is no such thing as objective truth, all truth is relative" Immediately we encounter a problem. It is not obvious at first, but this phrase is self contradictory.

If we assume that the phrase is true, then it is true regardless of one's opinion on the matter. This then means it is objective. But this means that there is such a thing as objective truth, in this case, the phrase "there is no such thing as objective truth, all truth is relative." Thus we have a contradiction. If the phrase is true, it refutes itself. If false, then there is such a thing as objective truth.

It is a testimony to our age that this self refuting phrase has such a titanic death grip on the modern mind. When I've pointed this out I've been accused of semantics to obfuscation. Sadly, such is the confusion of our modern age that it is almost impossible to fix a mind that has latched onto this faulty assumption. This is the first aspect of the dictatorship of relativism, the imprisonment of the mind.

But there is another aspect that this dictatorship manifests itself. The problem with holding on to something that is not true is that reality often intrudes on us. We need air to breathe. We need food to eat. We also die. Thus life contains daily reminders that there are truths that exist beyond our perception of truth.

Now this obvious aspect of truth and reality is unnoticed. Since we take such things as food and air for granted as a part of life we do not stop to consider how this point of reality infringes on ours belief that truth is relative. Thus the first rift opens, that between what we believe (no objective truth) and our implicit assumptions about life.

But herein lies a problem. We often experience aspects of life that do not conform to our tastes. Something a person wants to do is "wrong" according to some. Someone does something that is wrong yet I am powerless to do anything about it. Oftentimes it is a personal wrong done to me.

Now note at this point we encounter the second rift. One the one hand, the mind holds that there is no such thing as objective truth. On the other hand, I have a personal conviction that there is a moral wrong done to me or to others, such as when someone steals from me or such horror has a genocide occurred in some foreign country. Hence now there is a break even in the thoughts that I have. I believe in moral wrong yet also in a principle that undermines that truth.

But now a shift happens. The focus is no longer on the notion that "there is no objective truth". We begin to shift to "truth is relative". In other words, the truth shifts from nonexistent to real, but only in the sense that my perspective is what determines truth. In this way we reconcile the denial of truth with the personal moral revulsion to things I find morally repulsive. I also convince myself that there are measurements, such as overall happiness, that determine what is moral and what is not. Thus again these measurements are subjective, but they are reasonable, because I am reasonable.

But another problem arises. That problem is people. People disagree with me about morality. They have differing perspectives. What one person says is morally wrong another calls one's personal prerogative. And since all morality is relative, there is no way to reconcile right or wrong.

But there is one way to resolve the tie. I consider myself a reasonable person. My morality is reasonable and if people agreed with me they would be moral as well. This is because morality is subjective, and therefore only the most reasonable morality should be enforced. Obviously that which proposes objective morality is out of the question. But reasonable people either agree with me (because I am reasonable) or will come around.

But some remain obstinate. Especially those who insist on an objective morality. They are not reasonable people because if they were they would agree with me or at least hold my general views. Thus they are superstitious, morons, ignorant. They hold to ideas that are morally repugnant. They are bigoted, rooted in unreasonableness and prejudice. in short, they are evil.

These are a threat to true morality and what is reasonable. They must be punished and silenced for the good of all. If they persist in such foolish notions as objective morality they can keep it to themselves. But in no way should they be allowed to have any influence over others. Only views that can be measured in empirical metrics should be used.

And now we come to the full paradox of the dictatorship of relativism. Having the mind enslaved to the notion that objective morality doesn't exist I now have become the worst of moralists. Only my views and the views of those who agree with me can influence morality. Those who disagree with me cannot be allowed a voice. Truth is what I make of it. And those who do not conform must be silenced.

Thus both the mind and (if I have the power) those who disagree with me I will enslave to my will. It is a dictatorship of the worst kind. It is one only bounded by my will. All reality must conform to my will. The only truth is that which I enforce on the world.

No comments: