I began this exchange in the midst of another thread, but as it was developing into its own discourse, I decided it should be moved to its own thread. If you'd like to see the comments that lead up to this reply by my friend Glen Rosenberg, they are here.

 

"John, you just want an argument. OKAY

Your hard core [moral relativism] excuses any and all acts of violence, depredation and all of the awful -isms. INTOLERABLE. You manage to arrive at the same place as a fundamentalist (absolute moral standards) in accepting the very worst of human behavior. Furthermore, liberals who have been persuaded by moral relativism are more apt to accept religious and cultural actions (muslims in Scandinavia) which are inferior to their own standards. ENABLERS.

 

Atheists do not require 100 % overlapping of moral standards to understand that some things are just plain wrong. (most of the faith-based morals-women are shit, slavery is cool, infidels ought to be murdered etc.) I have told Catholics that their failure to accept all of the teachings means that they are not catholics and that in a different age they would have been excommunicated or worse. Nevertheless your analogy does not stand. Break a law and you are still a citizen. You have not broken the covenant.

 

In matters of true cultural variations such as the boundaries of sex and friendship there are pockets of relative morals which are truly elastic and the judger can say that one is no better than another. Other aspects of sex and friendship are to be judged as wrong in any culture."

 

And here's my new reply:

I like an analysis more than an argument. My intention is not to be combative, but to find a common ground between all peoples. To reconcile differences, we must first become aware of them, and it is my position that morality is one of the differences between us all. I see a potential for great harm in any attempt to paint over this situation with the broad stroke of a universal or societal moral code.

 

People's individual tendencies will not be swayed by  a legal document or a divine decree, they will only be supressed. Things like guilt, shame, and threats of force or imprisonment can get us to change our behaviors, but not our motivators. Instead of adressing the underlying causes of our thoughts and actions, such supression will merely squeeze that motivation through alternative openings, the outcome of which may be unforseeable (look what happens when priests take a vow of celebacy - lot's of people suffer because the rule does not quell the urge, only the ability to express it honestly). Yet, we embrace those unknowns rather than face the real issue we know is there: that we all are individuals who are entitled to our own concept of right and wrong.

 

What's wrong to me is what harms me, and what's good to me is what helps me (along with any thing or other that I define as part of "me"). But if I try to project those values of right and wrong onto you, I may inadvertantly harm you by thinking that we are similar. One man's trash is another man's treasure; one man's pain, another's pleasure. There is not a single issue on which you could get everyone to agree. Not death, not rape, not torture...not anything.

 

Although a particular concept may seem starkly harmful or helpful to a great many of us, we cannot know that a person won't come along whose experience of it is opposite. Indeed history teaches us to expect exactly that. And what right does the majority have to impose their values on that minority? The argument ad populum is a text-book logical fallacy. 'Greatest good for the greatest number' is the embodiment of that fallacious thinking. Even a minority of one can be correct, but a shared moral code supresses the individual for the benefit of the collective.

 

I think we try so hard to find universal morality because we are weak and insecure as individuals. The affirmation of the collective is a seductive offer; one that makes us feel powerful, accepted and safe. I arrived at moral relativism because I was trying to find that security and power myself. I wanted sure footing by which to stake my claim to righteousness and never have to suffer the humiliation of being considered wrong, or the loss of backing down. I sought to force my will on others by basing my thoughts and actions on unquestionable absolutes. Such is the allure of moral absolutism; a danger more potentially catastrophic than any individual with abberant morals could ever be. I am glad now that I was never able to find that secure footing.

 

Relativism does allow me to justify any and all of my behaviors, but it leaves room for disagreement because it only justifies them to me - always allowing that others may differ. It does not condemn difference the way moral absolutism does. With relativism, we can agree to disagree, but with absolutism one of us is evil and must be supressed. And the only way to tell which of us is evil is by how many others stand on our side, or by who has the holier book, or by whose legal document is backed up by a more capable military - all very fickle systems of measurement, and all based on logical fallacies.

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Comment by John Camilli on January 3, 2012 at 8:34pm

I can agree with that. Here's hopin for scientific progress.

 

Not sure why I misspelled virtual as "vertual" down there. Those keys aren't even close to each other, so I have no excuse, lol.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 3, 2012 at 10:35am

I think science and reason will show the way.  

I agree that the human condition lends itself to suffering but it is greatly augmented because of ideology which reflects the flight of reason.

Comment by John Camilli on January 3, 2012 at 10:12am

Okay...but the alternative your proposing requires someone to actually come up with a core that cannot be misinterpretted or disagreed with. That would be ideal, but no one has ever been able to do it, and not for lack of trying. Buddhism (real buddhism, not its mystical offspring) isn't about religion or politics, to name a prominent example, but it still hasn't unified the world under a morally absolute core. How would we even go about doing something like you describe?

 

I don't think I can quite agree that politics and religion are the root of suffering. I the human lack of invulnerability and immortality is the source of that woe. We are actually coming up with ways to alleviate both maladies, but they will take some time yet (I'm refering to research in cellular senescence which seems to imply that humans could become immortal, and the development of vertual realities which would allow us to filter our experiences from each other to the degree that one of us can no longer harm the others.)

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 3, 2012 at 9:43am

I dont think you have understood my thinking here. You are supporting it. Yes, endless examples of religious and military ideology sold to the sheep in absolutist format. Supporting moral relativism enables it to flourish. Faith is the key to absolute morals because reason would require rejection.

Again individuals need to embrace a very limited core of moral absolutes springing not from its selfish leaders, instead from their rational self-interest. At this point you are prepared to tell me one man's rational self-interest is another woman's dreaded polar opposite. Once human's shed their thinking of the root cause of human suffering from without, political ideology and religion, we will be free to embrace a core of absolutes.

This leaves a wide panoply of noncore relative morality which lies outside of the core.

Comment by John Camilli on January 3, 2012 at 4:21am

If conquerors and bullies already do their thing, how is relativism the thing that's going to give them license to keep doing it? Absolutist positions have existed since before recorded history. It's a little late to say we're on the right track, and that relativism with throw us off. Many dictators and thugs can be heard spouting the doctrines of one or another morally "absolute" position: Khadafi was a muslim, Jong Il was the figurehead of his own religion, Stalin was a utilitarian atheist, and you know I could go on and until I ran out of characters listing people whose devotion to a particular moral system gave them license for supression. You may insist that their interpretation was flawed and that the doctrine itself is not predicated on such tyranny, but I would reply that all people are stuck with their own flawed interpretation of any doctrine to which they ascribe. Everyone's perspective is relative. Me saying there is no such thing as moral absolutism will not grant or take away anyone's self-granted license to do as they please. It only illegitemizes my labeling any of it "right" or "wrong."

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 1, 2012 at 11:50am

Biology can indeed give clues to defining harm. And retarded people are not out of the loop. Rocks and icicles are fair game. Use the rock to crush the icicle and see if anyone cares.

Conquerors and bullies do there thing now, indeed. You want to give them license to continue. I do not. I largely agree with your idea regarding laws and morals as convenient labels. It is no mistake that history offers up opposing sides in war demonizing and dehumanizing the enemy.

In my estimation only a modest core of universal morality derived of rational self-interest can help to cure the world's ills. And it is purely fantasy as long as religion and hero worship political ideology prevail.

Comment by John Camilli on January 1, 2012 at 8:14am

Then you have to froce everyone's body to react the same way to the same stimuli. I don't think rationality has anything to do with harm. By that definition, only sentient, intelligent creatures feel harm. Is there no harm in beating up the mentally retarded now?

 

Bro, the conquerors already do annihilate the pacifists, and the bullies already do take advantage of the passive. That's the world we live in, even while the majority of the world ascribes to absolutist principals (or claims to). We live in a 'might makes right' world. Laws and morals are just dressing that allows us to label our barbarism "civilized." To me, that's worse than just owning up to being a barbarian. We each seek our own self-interrest. We avoid what hurts us, and seek what pleases us, regardless of the law, or any book. People come up with all manner of excuses for breaking the "universal" codes they claim to ascribe to, but quite simply breaking them means we don't really ascribe to them. We say we do so that we have the authority of the majority of other people making the same claim behind us, but it's a pale facade.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on December 31, 2011 at 9:44am

That wont work either. We need objective definition of harm. Harm is defined by rational self-interest free of ideological considerations. And segregating the moral equivalents only facilitates trampling on others safety and well-being. The conquerors will annihilate the pacificsts. The bullies will take advantage of the passive. Relativism is barbaric.

Comment by John Camilli on December 31, 2011 at 3:33am

Harm would be defined by what individuals said was harming them. Actually, there are projects in the works that are devloping pain detection, which would make categorization of subjective harms quite simple. A database could be compiled and kept current based on everyone's current receptivity to pain and pleasure, rather than a blanket approach that tries to dictate pain and pleasure to people. If you think about it, that's what absolutism does; it says 'this harms you, therefore it is wrong, and this helps you, therefore it is right.' But it does this without consulting individuals, as if everyone feels pain and pleasure from the same things, and to the same degree. It's barbaric.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on December 30, 2011 at 9:56pm

John, look at your penultimate sentence. How do you even define harm when you operate from the perspective of relativism? Be explicit. Shit aint complicated. Join the core. The core, rational for sure, bereft of ideological spin is the moral way to win.

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