Wednesday, September 21, 2005


The Stain of Moral Relativism

One of the battle cries of the right, notably the so-called "Christian right" has been "moral relativism." Supposedly they live in a world of moral absolutes. Most of the not-particularly-religious people I know are actually absolutists, and snobs about it, at that. If I were to ask why they don't take money from the Salvation Army kettle when Santa is looking the other way, they would tell me "Because it would be wrong." When pressed as to why, they would say, "Because! That's why!" No mention of God, religion, a formal ethical system, or even a logical rationale. Just, "Because!" A number of today's stories show just how adept the human mind is in rationalizing the doing of wrong. Entry number one, from the Catholic Church A Mexican bishop has admitted that the local Catholic church receives donations from drug traffickers, but claimed these are "purified" through good works. Entry number two, from those great Christians in the Bush Administration President Bush's multi-billion dollar reconstruction plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are being used as "a vast laboratory" for conservative social polic[i]es, administration critics claim. The White House strategy involves the suspension of a series of regulations guaranteeing the going local wage and affirmative action for minorities, while offering tax incentives for businesses in the affected region. Education aid for displaced children will include $500m (£276m) in vouchers for private schools, while a senior Republican has also proposed a new law permitting a wide-ranging waiver of environmental regulations. Entry number three, from a typical Republican calling in to Ed Schultz (sorry, no link): This fellow argued that using New Orleans to experiment with storm-shattered people is justified, because they were all "on the government tit" anyway (unlike, say, Halliburton) and the punk neoliberalism of the Bushites was the only way to help them become free. Entry number four, from Japan, where the Post Office is more than a place to mail letters, and the (neo)Liberal Party is trying to privatize it: Dealing with the post office can involve a lot of paperwork, and the people on the counters aren't as polite as bank staff, but they do a lot for the community. My elderly mother goes on cheap day trips organised by her local post office, which also arranges cookery classes and other events. If you are busy, post office workers will even come to your workplace to collect your money and deposit it in your account. What will happen to services like that when private firms take over? Entry number five, from Basra, where the Brits decide to instruct their charges on the fine points of due process by using tanks to recover a couple of commandos from the local hoosegow, as Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters illustrate the dedication of Islam to charitable works in a rather unusual way: Earlier this year a group of students on a picnic in Basra park were attacked. Others speak of kidnapping even killings, although his supporters shun the suicide bombings and beheadings favoured by Sunni extremists Entry number six from Paris where, like Florida, being the child of a high official can make charges go away (Noelle; Jebbie's status is pending as far as I know): A police report on a street scuffle involving Arthur de Villepin, son of France's aristocratic prime minister Dominique, was mysteriously removed from the station's files the day after the incident, French media said yesterday. Entry number seven from our gallant ally, the Dominican Republic: On market day in Dajabón, a bustling Dominican town on the Haitian border, you can pick up many bargains if you know where to look. You can haggle the price of a live chicken down to 40 pesos (72p); wrestle 10lb of macaroni from 60 to 50 pesos; and, with some discreet inquiries, buy a Haitian child for the equivalent of £54.22. And entry number eight is Pat Robertson. The man, the life, the perfect expression of hypocrisy. Understand, it's not just that people are doing wrong. That's expected. They're people. It's their facility for inventing reasons to explain why the wrong they're doing is actually right. That is moral relativism and it is a genuine problem. Are the only people who can, indignantly, say "Just because!" benighted heathens?
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