[ I’ve been criticized for attacking right-wing Republicans, fundamentalist Christians, astrology, medicinal quackery, and so on. This is dangerous nonsense. It means I can’t criticize Hitler, because after all, he was a product of his times. I can’t tell my friends who smoke or shoot up heroin to stop because they are killing themselves and ruining the lives of those who love them. I can’t criticize herbal supplements that have never been tested for efficacy or potential harms. Or be upset that Republicans and fundamentalist Christians want to dismantle the social safety net and replace it with corporate welfare and the Constitution with Biblical Law and end the separation of church and state. Or object to fundamentalists who want to take my right to control my own body and fate by denying me birth control and abortion.
The whole idea of being nicey-nice and not hurting anyone’s feelings has gotten us into a huge irrational mess. Relativism is the same thing as the darkness of superstition and ultimately leads to facism, demagogues, oppression of women, extremely unfair distribution of wealth — there are consequences to relativism. Because after all, you can’t fight against racists and fascists, you might hurt their feelings.
Relativism means that science is no more correct than astrology. Really? Science measures, tests, improves our understanding of how the universe works, it is a method that constantly modifies what we know, not a fixed religion where every word written 3,000 years ago is true. If the findings of science contradict what an astrologer or evangelical would prefer to believe, the answer is not to attack science, but to become scientifically literate. Which is of course, very unlikely, but Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic magazine and author of many books on morality and critical thinking, made the journey from fundamentalist beliefs to science, and has since then dedicated his life to trying to get others to see the light. Carl Sagan called science a “candle in the dark”. Relativism seeks to snuff the candle out.
How can understanding how the universe works not be better than the constant terror of a vengeful irrational God, or random stars chosen to depict Virgo by a few Greeks thousands of years ago that are capable of sending malice and changing the fates and personalities of 1 in 12 people?
If you still don’t think so, read my recent book reviews of the fabulous book “Fantasyland” which I broke down into 9 posts, with many more dangers of relativism.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]
Brittanica.com (shortened and paraphrased):
If ethical relativism is correct, it would mean that even the most outrageous practices, such as slavery and the physical abuse of women, are “right” if they are permitted by a society. Relativism therefore deprives us of any means of raising moral objections against horrendous social customs as long as those customs are approved by the societies in which they exist.
But shouldn’t we be tolerant of other cultures?
Critics reply that it depends on what sort of social differences are at issue. Tolerance may seem like a good policy where benign differences between cultures are concerned, but it does not seem so when, for example, a society engages in officially approved genocide, even within its own borders. It is a mistake to think that relativism implies that we should be tolerant, because tolerance is simply another value about which people or societies may disagree. Only an absolutist could say that tolerance is objectively good.
Moreover, we sometimes want to criticize our own society’s values, and ethical relativism deprives us of the means of doing so.
If ethical relativism is correct, we could not make sense of reforming or improving our own society’s morals, for there would be no standard against which our society’s existing practices could be judged deficient. Abandoning slavery, for example, would not be moral progress; it would only be replacing one set of standards with another.
Critics also point out that disagreement about ethics does not mean that there can be no objective truth. After all, people disagree even about scientific matters. Some people believe that disease is caused by evil spirits, while others believe it is caused by microbes, but we do not therefore conclude that disease has no “real” cause. The same might be true of ethics—disagreement might only mean that some people are more enlightened than others.