Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Moral Relativist as Enemy of the Oppressed

(This is wrong, right?)

As a (retired) professor of logic, much of the chatter on social media drives me crazy. But it gives me a feast, a harvest, of formal and informal logical fallacies. Including the absurdity of cultural moral relativism.

I'm listening to Bruce Cockburn. (My favorite lyricist ever?) There's a line in "Down Where the Death Squad Lives" that has never left me. He writes:

Sometimes I feel like there's a padlock on my soul
if you opened up my heart you'd find a big black hole
but when the feeling comes through it comes through strong
if you think there's no difference between right and wrong
just go down where the death squad lives


Where evil reigns, lines become clearer. Moral relativists appear, if they do at all, as voices of injustice as they say, "right for you, but wrong for me. Who are we to critique Isis beheaders?"

Hitler was from another culture. (I read Mein Kampf.) Who are we to tell him he was morally wrong? If cultural moral relativism is true, we can't. In this way the moral relativist is the enemy of the oppressed.


goons in blackface creeping in the road
farm family waiting for the night to explode
working the land in an age of terror
you come to see the moon as a bad news bearer
down where the death squad lives

they cut down people like they cut down trees
chop off its head so it will stay on its knees
the forest shrinks but the earth remains
slash and burn and it grows again
down where the death squad lives

Want to know something that's scary? Teaching philosophical logic in a relativistic world, where relativism is the air we breathe, while going unnoticed by most university students. 

Pause here. Logic is about "truth." Logic looks at statements, and uses words like "true," "false," probably true," "probably false." These words leave the logician's mouth, and horrify the student-relativists. 

I received a logic text to review - Critical Thinking Unleashed, by Elliot Cohen. The book is pretty much a standard logic text, except for the introduction, where Cohen's passion and sense of urgency falls from above like nuclear logic-bombs on our Facebook nation. Cohen writes, "Enculturation, or the socialization of children to cultural norms, is another factor in creating barriers to rational thinking." (4)

Uh-huh. That's it. The herd (Nietzsche), the crowd (Kierkegaard), mindlessly follows the culture. As Kierkegaard famously wrote: The crowd is untruth.

When I teach about the fallacious nature of ad hominem circumstantials, tu quoques, and various forms of the genetic fallacy, I have this sense that, for a number of the students, I might as well be speaking ancient Greek. It's not that these students are unintelligent. It's that they have been enculturated and baptized in the warm waters of moral relativism. As Allan Bloom recognized decades ago. (See here. And yes, I read the entire thing, if you know what I mean.)

In a logic class the professor uses uses statements like "This is true," and "This is false." After all, that is the philosophical point of the whole thing. Then, predictably, one cultural clone of a student will say, "That's just what you happen to think," as others nod silently, in Stepford-wife-like agreement. 

But there be be one, just one, freethinker in the class, who is engaged in a meta-activity that may result in a break from cultural bondage into freedom. They are interested in truth - does it even exist? Can one get at it?

Cohen writes, "conformity to slanted norms routinely replaces self-reflective thinking." 

I agree. 

Now note this. Cohen is ethics editor for Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. I'm a theist, Cohen is a secular humanist, yet we're both in agreement that we're living in a time when reason has been abandoned. I suspect we both feel a bit like Nietzsche's madman, except that everyone else seems to have left the land for the relativistic seas while we're standing on the philosophical shores waving, "Come back!" I presume Cohen and I want to reason and argue about our differences from the same logical foundation, as we reject the silly waters of il-logic.

Is there objective evil in the world? Only a subjective moral relativist would deny it. And in their denial, they oppress the victims of objective evil, while claiming an objective truth (which is: Moral values are subjective to cultures.), which leads to a self-contradiction.

Cockburn concludes:

I've got friends trying to batter the system down
fighting the past till the future comes round
it'll never be a perfect world till God declares it that way
but that don't mean there's nothing we can do or say
down where the death squad lives

the world can be better than it is today
you can say I'm a dreamer but that's okay
without the could-be and the might-have-been
all you've got left is your fragile skin
and that ain't worth much down where the death squad lives