It’s all just relative

Usually when a moral argument erupts on campus it doesn’t take long for someone to say that all morals are just relative in one way or another. University students are eager to embrace such an ideology, but it’s rare to find anyone who has really taken the theory into consideration.

Here at Portland State there’s a large amount of cultural diversity, so it’s easy to fall into the “different strokes for different folks” mentality. But this is a consequence of apathy, not liberating multiculturalism.

I have many issues with moral relativism, but more so with self-proclaimed relativists who don’t practice what they preach. And nowhere is this more common than here on campus.

I’m sure I could find countless people with whom I have non-negotiable differences, and we would get nowhere in a discussion about morality. That would make sense since I am an absolutist. I believe morality transcends the arbitrary confines of the mind and the sway of society. However, assuming I was talking to a relativist, any disagreement I have with them must be acknowledged as being an equally valid way of approaching a moral topic.

This is not something congruent with most moral relativists. They fail to recognize that based on their approach to morality, every opinion, idea and preconceived theory about what’s right and wrong is completely permissible. They are relativists if you object to their brand of morality but are suddenly stark absolutists if you object to theirs.

As an absolutist, it’s easy to toss out issues such as female circumcision, the Holocaust and atrocities done it the name of a preconceived “moral good” to show how granting validity to all moral theories is worrisome. Similarly, it’s easy for relativists to bring up cultural differences that easily contrast with basic western practices, giving some credibility to their relativist tendencies.

However relativism in practice reveals a more chilling implication than any atrocities done to women in the Middle East. It robs us of any high moral standard, aside from our own personal conscience and cultural norms. It deifies culture and the conscience. The mind is then responsible for the moral law which grants validity to all opinions, rationalizations and ideas no matter how wicked, wrong or disturbing they may seem.

This may appear like a glorified moral utopia for some, but those who are distressed by certain norms, such as the prominent “rape culture” in America, would have to remain silent. If culture is the determinant of moral rightness, then any departure from it ultimately makes you in the wrong.

Relativism of any sort creates an equivocation between values and opinions and opens the door for all possibilities. That would mean that the most socially tolerant progressive has just as much moral legitimacy as the racist homophobe.

It also robs us of the tool of comparison. Most people will look at what is happening in Russia with their treatment of LGBT activists and feel that they are committing a moral wrong. However, if all morals are relative to culture and personal conscience, how would it be fair to judge what they are doing on moral grounds? After all, it’s just their culture.

I myself am not seeking to change anyone’s moral opinions. There very well may be relativists out there who are aware of these implications and yet are genuinely not bothered by them. However, the majority of university students who feel multicultural and revolutionary because they write “all morals are relative” in their University Studies paper have probably never once considered what such a statement really entails.

If you disagree with someone’s moral theories while maintaining that he has no right to inflict his morals upon you because morals are all relative, then you have no right to call his morals into question. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that is characteristic of any relativistic moral theory.

It’s easy being a relativist if you don’t consider the implications. If you have and are still a relativist, my hat goes off to you, for you have quite the uphill battle.