Monday, August 25, 2014

The Problem with Relativists

Hello, future audience. This whole not having internet thing has been interesting. Kind of a mixed-blessing type deal, but I'm kind of over it now. I do feel kind of cool right now thinking about the fact that the things I'm writing right this second are going to be read by future Taryn and a handful of other future people. It makes me think of Stephen King talking about how writing is basically telepathy across time in On Writing. (Which is a fantastic read. I highly recommend it.)

Anyway! The topic at hand, in case you weren't aware is Relativism and why I hate it. More specifically, it's relativists and why I hate talking to them. About relativism, anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a really interesting conversation with a few people at a friend's house, because I hang out with the kind of people where we were all sitting at my friend's kitchen table (Michael, if you ever read this, I mean you), all having just made shots and drinks and whatnot, and his roommate sat down and started a discussion about the difference between ethics and morality. We spent a decent while on that, defining each and discussing our individual conceptions of both, but then we necessarily turned to the idea of objective/subjective morality, which is what we spent the majority of the night talking about.

I gave our lone relativist kudos for facing both me and Michael undaunted, since we both have some similar views on the cosmos and its objectivity, and I get very loud and animated when I argue.

Anyway, the whole thing ended with me demanding to know why he was even arguing with me if all of our perceptions were equally valid.

This is my issue with relativism, boys and girls: If everyone is right, then you can not, by the very nature of your argument, argue with me about anything. In a subjective universe, my perception dictates my entire reality and it is all just as true as yours is.

If you espouse that, then you can't even try to defend that, because every argument will go, “You're wrong because blah blah blah.”

“That's your reality, and that's what's true for you.”

No defense. Not even disagreement. Because you can't disagree with anyone about anything because it all becomes a matter of individual opinion.

For some things that's a totally sensible way of doing things. Like, when I say that icecream is probably the best thing in the world, and you say you're lactose intolerant, that's totally valid. I'll laugh at you and eat all of the icecream, but that is actually a thing that does depend on the individual, because it's a matter of preference that doesn't depend on an objective standard.

Let me be clear here. I believe in an objective reality that we necessarily experience subjectively by virtue of having individual perspectives. Morality and ethics are slippery things, but mostly they depend on having or not having an objective standard to refer to. I also don't take issue with people disagreeing with me. I had no problem with this guy being a relativist, apart from the fact that I think relativism is stupid and obviously flawed beyond use. Presumably he had reasons for arriving at the conclusions he did, just like me and everyone else.

My problem was that debating with a relativist is like having a cage match with a pacifist. It's a contradiction to the entire philosophy and a waste of everyone's time.

That said, I think humans might benefit from lending more validity to subjective experience. We seem to think that everyone who perceives differently from us is always wrong or threatening or inhuman. Empathy goes a long way in that respect.

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