On Relativity

Not General Relativity or Special Relativity, mind you. Blag posts on either of those would be more interesting, but philosophical relativity will have to suffice.

This blog focuses on a particular claim about cultural relativity: the kind that states everything in the domain of human experience is relative. This blog isn’t really about cultural relativity, but only the universal aspect of that claim (the “everything is relative” aspect). The thing that captivates me about this that the claim is inherently self-defeating, and none of its proponents notice. It involves a little meta-thinking, one of my favorite pastimes (I’m a strange kid). There’s no real debate to be done; the holder of such claims does all the work for me. My goal is simply to point this out and make an appeal to logic.

My observation is simply this: claims about total relativity are always cast in absolute terms.

For example: “There is no moral absolute. All morality is derived from cultural and environment.” A very popular claim nowadays, and a tenet of multiculturalism (“That word sure sounds nice, right? Who would argue against something called multiculturalism? RACISTS, that’s who!”). That claim always brings along its natural conclusion: “It is wrong to push your morality on someone else.” After all, if all moralities are equal, it would be immoral to promote one over the other. And here’s the (not so obvious) contradiction: the claim of relative morality spawns a moral absolute. The claim’s proponents feel justified in expecting all right-thinking people, regardless of their culture or environment, to believe as they do. To not hold this belief would make you, in all circumstances (absolutely), morally reprehensible.

Here’s another: “All experiences of reality are relative to the person experiencing it.” That’s very insightful, isn’t it? The interesting part is how a believer of such a claim will argue with others about it. An argument is an appeal to the intellect to accept a new idea. It’s as if this person expects you to draw upon a reason like his own, make observations about reality that are self-evident, and draw conclusions using identical logic. Moreover, this person will think that if you fail to observe reality like they do, use the same logic, and draw the same conclusion, then you have failed. It would not be merely a different way to look at the world, but an inferior one. To disbelieve in the relativity of all human experiences would be wrong, in all situations, forever.

I find it very curious that so many intelligent people miss the great irony of making an absolute statement while championing total relativity. It is like championing world peace by killing all the violent people; by that logic, the champions are also the opponent. With this self-defeating logic, the truthfulness of a fact is used to prove it false. Absolute relativity (the very term is oxymoronic!) requires the end of reason and the destruction of one of the three foundational axioms of logic itself. If you want to believe that all things are relative apart from any absolutes, go right ahead. Enjoy your madness. But don’t try to convince anyone else you are right; you already forsook that capability.

The original discussion that precipitated this post, as it turns out, did not contain an argument for absolute relativity. So that person should not take this as criticism of what ip said, but of a related philosophy.