Tuesday, April 26, 2011


It is a commonplace that relativisms of whatever variety-- ethical, epistemological, cultural, what have you-- tend strongly toward radical incoherence and self-refutation. Indeed, if by relativism you really genuinely truly mean relativism-- and not just that life is subtle and nuanced and very, very difficult to untangle-- then I suspect you cannot possibly avoid being incoherent and self-refuting.

Nonetheless, relativism is popular, and it continues to gain ground among intelligentsia and grass roots alike. I suspect this has little or nothing to do with the merits of relativism, which are nil, and much to do with the convenience of a rhetorical posture which bids fair to disarm one's opponents unilaterally by intellectual fiat.

In other words, your truth is relative, for all truth is relative without exception; while my truth somehow mysteriously remains tacitly exempt from the corrosions of the universal solvent, at least as long as I'm on the side of the relativists! Relativism, like any system of patronage, is rife with corruption and graft; but for this very reason it can prove profitable to those who embrace it, and to their cronies.

What I find most revealing is that many who are relativists on cosmic questions are absolutists when it comes to political matters. Which makes no sense whatsoever: I mean, if truth is absolute as concerns the merits of the green team versus the blue team at the hippodrome, then truth can hardly be relative as concerns the sun and moon and the starry sky above. But a convenient and profitable incoherence is the first refuge of scoundrels, who've placed a hefty bet on the green team to win, even if it means fixing the race.

Me, I'll just settle for the ancient notion that truth is absolute, but life is subtle and nuanced and very, very difficult to untangle.

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