Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Myth of Relativism and the Cult of Tolerance

From Larry Anderson. Read the whole thing and quote it on your blog. It's worth it.

But relativism is not a new idea. Ever since Protagoras declared, “Man is the measure of all things,” people have been attracted to relativism. Human beings are attracted to relativism -- not because it is true -- they are attracted to it because relativism is easy.

I mean two things by “easy” and I mean to discuss those two things later in this essay. I will introduce them here. First, relativism is easy on the intellect. A person’s entire understanding of the entire workings of the entire universe can be stated in eight words: The truth is that there is no truth. Here is a truth, if it is true, simple enough for any simpleton.

Next, relativism is easy on the conscience. If there is no truth out there then there are no values out there either; rather, the only values out there are the subjective ones that we create and put there. Thus, it is possible for us to agree to have this value as a shared value: if you let me make my values, I’ll let you make yours. The allowance by a society of the creation of conflicting values between one human being and another is, in our culture, called “tolerance.” As we will see, tolerance is one, but only one, possible moral outcome of relativism.


Here is the timetable so far: Human beings discovered numbers, the tools with which we make scientific predictions, over four thousand years ago. It took two thousand years before we could use those numbers to portray elementary geometric shapes like a triangle. It took two thousand more years before we could manipulate those same numbers to provide a useable, but still not totally accurate, description of gravity. Why, for heaven’s sake, would anyone think we should have a final answer to a monstrously difficult question like “What is justice?” when we don’t yet have a final reason for why our feet stick to the ground?

Relativism asserts its own universality as it proclaims the relativity of all other assertions. Every other sentence ever uttered or ever to be uttered is relative to some one circumstance or another … but not this one. That’s an awful lot to swallow and an amazing number of people have swallowed it.

A person may claim that relativism is true but he will never live his life as if it is true. In fact, he cannot live his life as if the truth is that there is no truth -- unless he wants to live a very short and very frustrating life. “You locked the keys in the car” is either true or false. If you want to go anywhere in your car you will figure out which one it is -- you will not argue that it is both or neither.

H/T: Stand Your Ground