Cultural Relativism

Update & Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Theodore Dalrymple: ‘On Sentimentality And Compassion

”The fiction that all people are equally deserving is a sentimental one. People congratulate themselves on their generosity and largeness of spirit for not making distinctions between the deserving and undeserving, for such distinctions imply a scale of values and all scales of values are in effect mere prejudice, usually of the well-placed in society. They – the distinctions – are a manifestation of complacency and imply a lack of sympathetic or empathetic understanding of a suffering person’s situation. Therefore it is best, intellectually and ethically, to abandon the distinctions altogether.’

And this is to say nothing of the competition and self-identifying that goes on once ‘who is the most compassionate?’ becomes the norm. We are all still creatures subject to vanity, pride and false pride, desirous of praise and respect. This can create a stultifying, tribal in-group/out-group atmosphere where no one is really aware of the moral judgments they’re already making/simply ignoring.

More Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’


Working towards a theme: Politics tends to follow culture, but much culture seeps out of our institutions. And when our institutions charged with teaching what’s important to young people lose sight of certain kinds of judgment, ideology can seep in.

Roger Scruton focused on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence when it comes to teaching the humanities, rather than the ‘-isms‘ which have taken root:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?’

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”

As Scruton has pointed out, people want to be a part of something, to have meaning and purpose and common lights. Certain ideologies often lead to darkness, as can abandoning your own moral judgment in favor of the compassion and sentiment of the moment.

What I ‘feel’ in the modern and postmodern transcendent quest for Self so often trumps what others feel and whether or not what one ‘feels’ is, in fact, true.

Humanities departments across the fruited plain can display this most openly, having lost a lot of whatever intellectual rigor and pedagogy they once had.  Unsurprisingly, many ideologues adept at colonizing low and mid-level administrative and bureaucratic functions have filled-in.

Of course, one’s own experiences, emotions, and ideas do matter.  In fact, they matter a lot.  Many young people, precisely at the moment of questioning the duties they might have to family, loved ones, friends and fellow citizens most deeply, can become plugged in to ideologies of radical change and ultimately some variant of Marxist revolution.  Here, individual duties, responsibilities and freedoms become secondary to a collectivist and authoritarian/totalitarian political project, which still leads to political dysfunction, utopian thinking, and much human misery.

Keep reading and thinking, indeed

‘Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades.
For ever and forever when I move.’

Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way?  Can we know Nature’s Laws?

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason? Or:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..

Roger Sandall-R.I.P.

My belated condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Roger Sandall, who passed away on August 11th, 2012.  He was an Australian thinker and critic of cultural relativism, romantic-primitivism and the Noble Savage.  He was a keen observer of the ways in which certain strains of Western thought interact with the non-Western, and often, tribal worlds.

While not as strong as in Australia, we’ve seen the rise of multicultural apologetics in the U.S. regarding the native population: “Well, we robbed this land from the Indians, anyways.”  Sandall highlights the problems and hubris of such sentiment, and what can become the “Disneyfication” of the natives and the historical record.

His home page where his essays can be found.

Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues

R.I.P

Related On This Site: Romantic primitivism: Roger Sandall: Marveling At The Aborigines, But Not Really Helping?Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’…Roger Sandall: ‘Plato Vs. Grand Theft Auto…

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Full interview here.

I just wanted to focus on an interesting problem:

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Full interview here.

I just wanted to focus on an interesting problem:

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People  

On the other side: Martha Nusbaum defines the problem in a manner similar to Blackburn…will her vision of Classical Learning suffice?:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ …Is Amartya Sen on a Nussbaumian type of platform, or have I read him wrong?:  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis

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