VIEWPOINT: Social, moral issues must be addressed head-onYou may recall the nine-headed Hydra, a mythological water monster that, according to legend, ravaged the ancient Greek countryside. When Hercules attempted to slay the beast, two heads grew back for every one that he lopped off.
By: Tom St. Martin, Woodbury Bulletin
You may recall the nine-headed Hydra, a mythological water monster that, according to legend, ravaged the ancient Greek countryside. When Hercules attempted to slay the beast, two heads grew back for every one that he lopped off.
Tragically, we have our own version of a Hydra that, I think, threatens to ravage our land today. It’s called ethical or moral relativism. It’s sometimes hard to detect but you know that it’s in the vicinity when some partisan hack tells us that legislators and others on the so-called political “right” shouldn’t legislate their “personal version of morality.” You know it’s lurking around when some reflexive relativist tells us that we should avoid “divisive” issues such as abortion, marriage, guns and the like and focus instead on really important issues such as taxation and balancing the state budget.
Such assertions arise from several widely accepted but dangerous assumptions, one of which is the assumption that the so-called “social issues” are unimportant and trivial, causes championed by a few out-of-touch “extremists.” But closer to the heart of the matter, there is another assumption, one which holds that morality is subjective, personal, a matter of individual choice, temperament or whim. And an assumption which fosters the pernicious notion that moral absolutists should be denied a voice in the public square.
But is it not obvious that the relativists – like their allegedly “extremist” opponents – are zealously trying to “impose” their own moral views on all of us? For example, don’t the vaunted leftist “fair” tax policies entail imposing a moral view (namely a vision of justice) on society as a whole?
And is it not obvious that a relativistic understanding of morality, when critically scrutinized, turns out to be contradictory, hopelessly illogical, a kind of universal solvent that dissolves everyone’s moral claims? To contend that morality is fundamentally personal/ subjective is to seriously weaken any and all moral claims, including the moral claims of those who condemn rightist “extremists.” Moral subjectivism frustrates rational moral discourse, leaving public controversies to be resolved (if they can be resolved) by resort to raw power. Machiavellianism rules!
Ironically, though, who – when push comes to shove – can live life as a convinced, consistent moral relativist? All of us, including moral relativists, assert certain absolute rights, pre-eminently the right to be treated “justly.” Such claims are, of course, seen as having universal, objective validity, something more than a “right” to be arbitrarily bestowed or withheld by the majority, the most powerful or the most clever. Obviously, we have reasonable disagreements as to what, in any given situation, is moral or just: but we all, it seems, ultimately and dogmatically cling to the notion that many ethical claims are objectively, intrinsically, definitively and discernibly true or false, right or wrong.
That having been said, I recognize that much of today’s chatter about “imposing personal morality” is often just a cynical propaganda ploy (a cheap shot?) used to discredit and defeat one’s opponents. Or simply a failure to grasp the true significance, the depth and the far reaching implications of the so-called social issues, abortion and marriage especially.
Yet, to repeat, we cannot avoid the sorry fact that today’s American society is filled with people who, at some level and to some degree, are convinced moral relativists. They are folks who really think that moral and ethical claims are no more than personal opinions about right and wrong. Or, at worst, they think that ethical and moral claims are but expressions of our “feelings” of the moment, thus embracing the so-called “boo, hurrah” theory of ethics.
Undeniably, then, ethical relativism has been absorbed into popular thought to such an extent that it has become largely impervious to rational challenge. Like the Hydra’s heads, it thrives and multiplies. Still, the Greek myth does hold out some hope. One of the Hydra’s heads was immortal. And when Hercules was able to find and sever the immortal head, the monster was defeated, destroyed.
So does moral relativism have an immortal head that can somehow be successfully, definitively attacked? One would hope so. Hope, after all, springs eternal.
St. Martin is a Woodbury resident