Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Cultural Relativism

Here's an interesting term that I just came across in a weblog that was pointing out the weakness of the Democratic Party in the wake of this election. The context of that term appeared this way:
However, having a "D" next to your name in a huge swath of America is a liability. Simply put, the "brand" in those parts is perceived by many as standing for weakness on defense and cultural relativism.
From: http://www.bullmooseblog.com/2004/11/red-hot-for-red-senators.html
Of course, the perception of liberals being cultural relativists is strong. Not many people would doubt that. Many liberals spend endless hours writing about how each of us owns our individual reality, basically letting the idea of an objective reality be claimed almost exclusively by the conservatives in our country. It's an interesting trend in perception and it is probably THE main reason for the success of the Republican Party in recent years. The whole notion of Kerry flip-flopping was to convince Americans that Kerry's vision of what is right and wrong changes with the cultural tides.
One could present a strong argument to suggest that as long as this perception remains, the idea that liberals are cultural relativists while conservatives are absolutists in service to God, Republicans will retain and even gain more power in America. That perceptual divide is nothing less than huge and growing larger every year. It is fueled by the conservative media, Fox News and right-wing talk radio, but it is believed by nearly all in right-wing religion. It is virtually impossible to get fundamentalist evangelical Christians to vote liberal, yet more and more Americans are becoming evangelized.
But I see a fallacy in all of this. I see it differently.
I think the reason many liberals are turned off on absolutism is that they have personally experienced hypocrisy in absolutism. There is a lot of absolutist hypocrisy being pumped into American and world culture and it isn't a new thing either. Absolutist hypocrisy has been around for thousands of years. If you read the Bible, the only rants Jesus made were toward absolutist hypocrisy. Over and over in the Old Testament, prophets warned of the dire consequences of the hypocrisy of misguided absolutists. It is a direct result of this hypocrisy that many in our time refuse to even consider the notion of God being absolute.
Socrates used reason to challenge Greek absolutism. Jesus used love to shatter entrenched Jewish absolutism. Galileo used truth and science and mathematics to shatter Catholic absolutist notions.
Yet there is a common thread binding these people's works together. Each of them used truth and reality to shatter false notions of the absolute. The real enemy isn't change, it isn't shifting culture. The real enemy is false absolutes.
Bringing this into our time and American politics and religion, the question is this: Are the moral and cultural absolutes of the conservative "right" based on anything more than fallacy? Are they anything more than temporary cultural standards?
When the whole world changed on September 11, 2004, as claimed by President Bush during the buildup to the 2004 campaign, was that a sign of absolute cultural and moral values or was that change proof of a cultural shift?
When President Bush, who claims to have a special connection to God, sent Colin Powell to the United Nations with his portfolio of known facts, and then led America to war in Iraq based on claims of huge existing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons only to discover that the threat was only real in our imaginations of the future, was that a sign of absolutism or was that a cultural shift to a new vision of reality? Was it cultural relativity?
When conservative "pundits" declare the need to escalate the war in Iraq even to the extent of using weapons of mass destruction against the Iraqi people, is that cultural relativity?
When we passed the Patriot Act and put our own liberty at risk, was that cultural relativity?
When we suspended the ban on nuclear weapons testing and engaged ourselves in the process of creating a whole new genre of usable nuclear weapons and thus shattered the claim that nuclear weapons were a deterrent to war, was that cultural relativity?
When we declared that prisoners of the War on Terror were not to be accorded rights under the Geneva Conventions, was that cultural relativity?
When prison abuse and torture in Iraq elicits voices of support from the conservatives in America, is that cultural relativity?
When anti-war protesters across the country dare to speak out despite their fear of being punished by the conservatives in power, is that cultural relativity?
When electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail, programmed with software protected by intellectual property laws that make the machines completely unverifiable and designed and built by defense contractors, place the entire election process at risk, is this cultural relativity?
When American reaction to the looming threat of oil shortages is to bribe world leaders, topple leaders when they won't accept bribes, and even wage war to dominate the oil fields of the world, is that cultural relativity?
When the world's largest Communist country becomes one of the most favored trade nations because of the huge low-wage workforce, thus leading to low inflation in the United States and huge corporate profits despite the huge trade deficit and the destructive effect on American workers' incomes, is that cultural relativity?
I could easily go on, but I think my point is clear enough. There is nothing at all absolute about the conservative "Right." Their governing is as relative as any left-wing government. Their claim on absolutism and their criticism of Democratic Party cultural relativism are fallacies.
But so what? Liberals know this already. It's the conservatives in America who are in denial. It is the conservatives who hide behind the smokescreen of absolute moral values while their leaders impose true cultural relativism on this nation and the world. The question isn't how can liberals embrace moral values, the question is how are we going to stop these conservative leaders from changing our culture so much that we no longer have the liberty we cherish?


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