autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

On relativism in the human discourse

Someone asked me elsewhere (in a forum) whether or not I found relativism a “bad thing”. This, my reply, I am placing here for my own remembrance and possible future research.

I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as “a bad thing” or even “a negative thing”, but when the topics or matters are such that greatly impact our ability to coexist peacefully with one another in an ever-more populous world, it seems a fairly unhelpful thing.

If we are to assert that pluralism is a necessary, foundational concept to human coexistence, then it follows that any discourse on matters that affect our collective ability to do so are, by both nature and implication, needful of an arena of in which agreed constructs and cultural structures based on simlarity, not differences, are the focal point.

This (as generally well demonstrated in the microcosm of forums) is all but impossible to achieve if/when all discourse focuses more on the idea of “a correct” or “right” or “proper” construct or structure as exclusionary in nature (e.g. relative). This is also impossible if every discussion, debate, or attempt at discourse asserts from the onset that determination of “correct”, “right”, or “proper”, defined other than collectively and by consensus is in any way ascendant to the idea of “mutually respectful” or “mutually permissable” or even “mutually tolerable” thus defined.

Naturally, there are more than a few who will jump in with both feet to announce that [group X] or [person Y] is doing JUST EXACTLY THIS! Over and beyond the reality that this particular argument’s finger points in all directions (as it is, itself, largely relative), it also serves as an example of the thing that creates the replication of the dynamic rather than resolving or reconciliing it. Ultimately, the differences have to stop mattering if we’re ever going to get to the place where we can find accord for our similiarities.

The reason most discussions (or debates) get obliterated before they truly get off the ground is that most people understand that “he/she who wins the argument of setting the relative perspective gets to set the path”. Ergo, the entire effort must be either highly specified to commonality (i.e., academic standard, established study, legal context, et al) or the discussion itself never really occurs because, literally (heh. pardon the pun), everyone is using their own, relative perspectives and agreement simply cannot happen.

If the discussion involves any member who rejects the classically (see above) framed perspectives in favor of the relative, then the discussion may as well not happen. Just as it would be impossible to agree the sky is blue if one’s person definition of “blue” is the color of apples and another’s is the color of oranges, etc, you cannot find agreement on any area of human interrelation when every mind addressing the matter asserts only its relative position has (or can have) merit.

When I say relative or relativism, I refer specifically to the philosophical definition that is:

Ultimately, all differences pale before the singular similarity of our humanity. I strongly suspect if all such discussions began with the affirmation of this construct as its foundation, things would progress more positively. By way of example, and regardless all the very obvious and extremely well-documented differences and even flaws, a certain group of people managed to come together once upon a time and write what I find (to this day) to be one the most profound statements penned by any group of humans:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Do I object to the words “their Creator”? Why should I? It doesn’t in any way detract from the underlying intent, motivation, or purpose.

Do I need to reject the entire thing because a concept or structure that I disagree with is present? No, I do not. That the people who wrote this think or believe differently in this area has no bearing whatever on the fact that we are absolutely agreed on the sentiment being expressed; the philosophical, ethical value of it.

Were this happening today, would I withhold my support until or unless “their Creator” was stricken? No, I could not imagine doing so; because it is one thing to place my beliefs as “more important” for myself and quite another to say that they are more important than the philosophy and ethic being expressed for all of humanity.

We cannot afford to allow relativism such a place anymore; the point here is that we may win or lose between one another on any given day, but such things do not matter in this arena, on this field. We, as a species, win or lose much more ultimately depending upon how well we embrace and learn that differences only matter in competitions, it is similarities or the effective acceptance and balancing of differences (context: respectful pluralism) that creates positive change and benefit for any group and thus, for all humanity.