Post-Modernism and Relativism

August 12, 2007


You all know Relativism first-hand because you certainly faced it and even practiced it. I can't blame anyone for it, not even myself, because some Relativism is expected today, however, it may go too far. Let's take an example.

The classic illustration of Relativism is the question of Good and Evil, and yes, I capitalised those words. In today's world, 5 times out of 6, you're perceived as an uneducated idiot if you say you believe there's a Good and an Evil. What you have to say in order to sound endowed with a functional brain is the following words: it depends. Well does it really?

Let's now take an extreme example: crushing a baby's head underfoot. Even the most educated and learned will - usually - say that it's "bad" or "evil". But then they will add: "But it depends. If by this act you save the world (suppose an extraordinary circumstance makes this possible and that without a doubt as to the positive outcome of said skull-crushing), then it's not so bad or evil." Good point smarty, but you will agree that this is not the same as merely crushing a baby's head underfoot. Of course "it depends" if you add something else to it. Now take this example and add nothing to it: can it ever be deemed anything else but bad and evil? No. There is no question about it, there is no relativity here.

Smarty person then moves on to say that "perhaps a serial-killer or some other psychopath would derive pleasure from that kind of act; therefore it would be considered good." But smarty person forgets what I said just above: add nothing to it. A deranged mind functions on other standards; I'm talking about normal average humans. Those rarely even consider the crushing underfoot of an infant's skull. Why? Because it is Evil.

I know many of you may have some itching allergic reaction to admitting how much we rely on those archaic notions - Good and Evil - and yet, if you are honest with yourself, and if you are introspective enough, you will realise that most of your actions are based on whether what you do is Good or Evil. Typically, people don't obey laws merely because they are afraid of the possible punishment of committing a crime, but because they believe that the crimes in questions are Evil in the first place. Most people who feel a law is unfair or unnecessary will simply not obey it. May anyone who smoked pot in a country where it was illegal raise his or her hand. There you go. We obey the law insofar as we agree with it, and the fear of punishment never kept anyone from committing any crime, simply because whatever major crimes happen, they are never committed out of mere cold rational reasoning. No one does anything Evil for Evil's sake; even the worst atrocities are done in the name of Good, albeit a perverted Good. Sadists will derive pleasure from inflicting pain, but the point is that they enjoy this, and it makes them happy, and being happy is a good thing, just in this case it is only so for the sadist. Happiness and pleasure are good things, and they can be caused by evil acts, but it doesn't make the acts any less evil.

Another key element in Relativism is the Truth question. Can things be right or wrong? The "it depends" here again counts a lot for Relativists. You may also be scorned with the following words: "Do you still believe in objective truth?" And that's when you just throw the question back at the questioner. And they say "there is no objective truth." And then you got them, but they won't notice, so you have to explain. If there is no objective truth, then on what basis do you make such a statement? If there is no objective truth, you cannot say anything that would be "true", much less would you be able to say that there is no truth. Consider the following:

A) People who believe the truth exists, and that they have it.
B) People who think the truth does not exist.
C) People who don't know whether A or B are right, but keep looking.

What B usually don't realise is that they too believe that truth exists. If you state that the truth does not exist, you shoot yourself in the foot, because you're stating what you think is a truth. Smarty person may now suggest that I am toying around with paradoxes, and that, therefore, my argument is invalid. For one, I am not toying around with anything; for two, I don't see how this being a paradox would make the argument any less valid; for three, you brought this paradox up, I merely made it explicit.

When Relativists claim that everything is relative, they are making a very non-relative statement. It's dogmatic if anything.

Post-Modernists share this Relativism as a value, and so do a large part of people. This ideology isn't perceived as one since it is so widely shared. In most instances, it will be perceived as mere common sense, the kind that doesn't require backup. Don't let yourself be defeated or silenced by that. Demand arguments.

It's one thing to feel that everything is relative and everything "depends" and that you can do one thing and another and it will be the same. It's quite another to leave it at that and not question the veracity of this idea. I think it's too easy.

Don't take it for granted that everything is meaningless, and if you do, then live up to your ideas. I've never seen a Relativist suddenly truly act on his or her ideas. The idea that all is relative works well in the abstract, but as soon as you demand it to be applied, then "Relativists" just won't do it.

One of the problems with Relativism is that a large amount of people resent the simplicity of some things, things that sound "stupid" and not intricate enough for their ego and intellect. The notions of Good and Evil as explained above are simple enough, indeed, "too" simple for some. Simple is not a bad thing, stupid, however, is. The idea that something isn't "complicated" enough for our egos and intellects is a very arrogant and dumb idea. Indeed, some things are very simple, and very wisely so: excrements smell bad, that means "don't eat that", and good food smells good, that means "yummy". Cheese is a hybrid, I'll grant you that, but only because I'm biased about cheese.

Relativists will often tell you that you're "anthropocentric" or "ethnocentric". What they mean is that you see things from the point of view of a human, and of a human in a particular cultural setting. Relativists will often wallow in the mud of fallacy because they think that being able to point out anthropocentrism and ethnocentrism actually rids them of being a human in a given cultural setting. It doesn't.

Thus you have people who make fun of other people, arguing that it is hilariously stupid to think that you can say "God" is generous, loving, hating, etc, when all those attributes are human things. Right enough, doing so anthropomorphises "God" and it should not be taken for granted that "God" fits those human standards. However, it should not be taken for granted either that "God" does not share those features. We don't know either way, and merely because one side of the issue seems too simple, it doesn't mean the other side is any the righter.

I heard a Relativist talk about aliens. He said: "You shouldn't be so sure that aliens would want our best interest; you should not think they are like us." Right enough again, we shouldn't assume too much about what we don't know, but that goes both ways, smarty person. Just as much as you shouldn't assume aliens would behave like we would, you shouldn't assume either that they wouldn't. Some things might be universal, and until you can prove that there can't be (which itself would be universal, and thus a self-defeating find), you should suspend your judgement.

Relativism is one of the main pillars of Post-Modernism, both artistically and culturally. It is one of the main reasons why trying to undermine any belief we may have has become a reflex nowadays. I'm not suggesting that it's a bad reflex, I'm only saying that you should know how to use doubt. Relativism itself doesn't survive doubt very long; there's a difference between questioning and blindly sticking to a view which proves to be a lot more unstable than commonly believed.

There are more alternatives to Relativism than Fundamentalism, and in fact, Relativism is a kind of Fundamentalism. Most of those Post-Modern isms pass themselves as open-minded and educated when in fact they are both narrow-minded in the extreme, and poorly tested by doubt. You need to use doubt and questioning heavily, but you must not stop using it as soon as it undid something. Post-Modernists, it seems, merely stopped there. I do not condone giving up, and much less do I condone enjoying the apparent meaninglessness and chaos thus discovered. We can do better.

©Nicolas