Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Moral Relativist as Enemy of the Oppressed

This is wrong, right?
I'm grading logic exams and listening to Bruce Cockburn. 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

Correct. Where evil reigns lines become clearer. Moral relativists appear, if they do at all, as incarnations of the very evil they say is "right for you but wrong for me." 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 of 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 today? Teaching philosophical logic in a relativistic world where the relativism is the air we breathe, thus going unnoticed by the average university student. 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 recently 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. 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 relativism.

This week I'm going to try again. I will use statements like "This is true," and "This is false." One brave student will say, "That's just what you happen to think," as others nod silently and Stepford-wife-like in agreement. Others are 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.

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