My lord, don't I have a lot of things to say about Moral Relativity. A veritable buttload of things. But I don't have time for them now. Not most of them anyway. Tax season is over, but the returns never end.
But I will give you this recent thought of mine: Nationalism is an obvious form of moral relativity. When you think about it, it's quite obvious. And the irony, of course, is that the most nationalistic people are often the ones who detest moral relativity the most. Or pretend to anyway.
But of course, the proclamations against moral relativity are really just devices they use so that they can insist that we all follow their moral beliefs, because they can't actually give rational reasons for why we should follow them. And I just find it amazing how often supposed moral absolutists like Rush Limbaugh and our new pope insist on denouncing supposed moral relativists; when their "absolute" morals are clearly at odds with one another. If morals are always absolute, then you'd think they'd have to attack each other too. But that's not really odd. After all, they're all really after the same thing: getting us to distrust our own moral judgment, so that we'll follow theirs. Our supposed moral absolutists aren't necessarily against differing morals, but against free-thinking. And we already knew that, didn't we.
But that's another post. This one's about nationalism.
Nationalism is clearly an example of moral relativity. As is any exclusivist thinking that tells you that the group you're in has a different set of rules than the rules applied to people outside of that group. They never put it that way, but surely these people do believe in separate rules for different groups. That's what bigotry's all about.
Real World Applications
Take 9/11, for example. We got attacked, and nobody attacks the good ole US of A. And what did that justify? Collateral Damage. Taking Muslim lives to replace the ones that the terrorists stole. Killing innocents in Afghanistan and Iraq. Physical and mental abuses in Guantanmo and Abu Ghraib. And attacking innocent Muslim-Americans within our very borders. And while they don't say it as often now, we all know what they were saying at the time. Any talk suggesting that it was wrong was greeted with talk about vengeance for the 3000 killed...even though approximately 99.99% of the people we did these things to had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.
And so, do these rules apply elsewhere? If nineteen Americans go to Saudi Arabia and kill one hundred or one thousand people, are Saudi's allowed to randomly attack us? Can they lock us up and abuse us? Of course not. Because we're Americans dammit. We're the ones that do that crap, not anyone else. We're the good guys.
So we're violating two levels of moral absolutism: we attack innocents when we know that attacking innocents is immoral; and we deny other groups the right to follow our own immoral example. Apparently, revenge is in the eye of the beholder.
Or what about this. During our recent war with Iraq, if Saddam had somehow managed to blow up the Pentagon or some other legitimate military target in America, would our nationalists have accepted that as fairplay? Would they have shrugged it off as the price of war? Of course not. We were at war, but they weren't allowed to attack us. Most of our nationalists would have screamed that we needed to nuke Iraq for such an affront to decency. Such a move by Saddam would have been denounced as terrorism, which clearly showed that our war with him was obviously necessary.
And of course, when our soldiers in Iraq kill an innocent Iraqi, we dub them terrorists if they try to exact revenge against our troops. Even the vengeance of an innocent child's life is wrong when it's an Iraqi child killed by an American. Yet these same people insist that we have the right to protect ourselves and avenge our dead, while denying that right to anyone else.
And surely, applying different standards to different people is the very essence of moral relativity. In fact, that's moral relativity at its worst. Moral relativity generally refers to excusing immoral behavior committed by another culture, because they didn't know any better. A product of their environment and whatnot. But moral absolutism surely must mean that the same morals apply to everyone, right? If moral absolutists expect others to follow their moral beliefs, shouldn't the absolutists be expected to follow their own? Of course.
And that's the weird thing. If we, the liberals, are truly moral relativists, then we must excuse the immoral double-standards of our ignorant countrymen. They're products of their environment and can't be held responsible for their ignorance and hatred. And if moral relativist means "do it if it feels good", as the Limbaughs of the world insist, then we have no right to complain about our double-standard nationalists.
But do we believe that? We do not. We do not excuse their moral relativity because we are not moral relativists. We are the moral absolutists. We must forgive immoral behavior, but we must fight to stop it. People may be a product of their environment, but that just means that we need to change the environment when possible. We can't change Jefferson into a abolitionist, but we must try to change Joe Sixpack into a moralist.
But more details on that will have to wait until another post. Like I said, I've got buttloads to write about moral relativity, and this is just the tip of the snowstorm. But I will eventually fully explain how this stuff works and you really might want to think about taking notes. I've got all the answers of the universe at my fingertips, but it's going to take me awhile to explain what they mean.