Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. The Truth About Relativism, and the Neopuritans on Campus

 

shutterstock_238305598Just as the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, so is irrational activism an obnoxious and virulent sign of inner spiritual torment. Rational activism is sober, respectful, and seeks to convince; the irrational activism we’re seeing today is meant partly to intimidate and mostly to make the activists feel better about themselves. Today’s college students are among the most privileged people in human history, which is perhaps why they regularly command others to check their privilege. A century ago — when the finest colleges were the preserve of white gentile men — the most privileged Yale man had neither smart phone nor Google. He lacked million dollar sports facilities and the Internet. But he had something that today’s students lack: a confident faculty that had the discipline to impress thousands of years of civilization into their students’ souls, transforming them from children into adults.

Childhood should be a time of play, and we regularly make exceptions for children’s misbehavior that we wouldn’t tolerate in adults. That means that we don’t call the cops when a two year old has a temper tantrum in the grocery store or when ten year olds scuffle and wind up with bloody noses. But we do call the cops when twenty-year-olds behave thus. It’s only natural for children to want to stay in the Edenic state of freedom from responsibility. But it’s the job of their parents to see that children learn that only with responsibility comes any measure of freedom. And it is the job of the university to continue this civilizing process with a liberal education: making citizens fit for liberty. By infantilizing their students, the universities have failed in their duty.

It is fair to compare the protesting students to spoiled children because spoiled children are rarely so happy as those with loving but strict parents. By surrendering to the unreasoning whims of their loudest and least rational students, the colleges are flunking. Indeed, they’re like the uncle who gives visiting children nothing to eat but candy and then sends the children home to their unsuspecting parents. Only in this case, the country at large is the parents, and we know all too well what’s going on.

Or do we? There’s a human tendency to look at things that disgust us and link them to other things that disgust us, whether or not there actually is a connection. The antisemite who see Jews behind every bad thing in the world is a classic example of this. We on the right are in danger of falling into the sloppy thinking trap when we blame these campus fiascoes on moral relativism, a favorite bugaboo of conservatives from Paul Ryan to Pope Benedict. After all, if we believe in truth, it’s easy to say that people we don’t like therefore must not believe in truth. It’s easy to do this to people who think differently, but it’s wrong. Relativism does play a role, but perhaps not what we think.

Relativism, like horseradish, is important in small doses, but too much will ruin whatever you’re trying to make, whether a casserole or a civilization. A dash of relativism is required for tolerance and pluralism. It’s why Catholics and Protestants are no longer burning each other at the stake for heresy. For the Judeo-Christian West, tolerance requires some degree of relativism, an understanding that the truth we believe in varies from the truth others believe in, and that the possible errors of others and ourselves require talk and tolerance rather than excoriation and expulsion. Obviously, the person who overdoses on relativism and cannot see the difference between Socrates and suttee is a nihilist. (It’d be a wonder if such a person could get out of bed in the morning.) But what we’re seeing on college campuses right now is a sign not of an excess of relativism, but of a lack of it.

These furious students seem convinced that they have the truth, are in the right, and are going to remake the university in their own image. It isn’t enough that a Yale professor might be wrong about Halloween costumes; she must be ritually anathematized and expelled from Yale. The same people who demand safe spaces feel free to spit on lecture attendees. Mushy relativism isn’t driving these students. It might be more accurate to call these campus antics a misguided religious impulse. Just as the Puritans once sought to purify the church, today’s neopuritans want to purify their colleges with sit-ins and non-negotiable demands.

How should the schools have reacted? Simple. You don’t negotiate with people who make non-negotiable demands. Keep the classes going and expel those who disrupt them. The students were practically begging for an outside authority trump them, and the administration folded. These radicals will soon be asking for more, and the administrations will discover that appetites can grow with the feeding.

It would probably be futile to ask the careerists in college administrations to stand up in defense of civilization, but there might be a method of convincing them that standing up to the mob is the right thing to do. If administrators are quick to throw each other to the mob at the first sign of dissent, how could any other institution trust them to run it? Would you hire anyone who thew decent scholars into a mob run show trial? In other words, the college administrators need to start thinking of their careers: caving to the mob is a bad career move.

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  1. TG Thatcher
    TG

    Thank you.

    • #1
    • November 19, 2015, at 4:22 AM PST
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  2. I Walton Member

    Good article, but I think those who put relativism at the feet of this insanity have a valid point. There is no truth in their minds and if there is a sin that sin is to be judgmental and that includes pre judging. Mobs don’t deal in truth and whatever moves them is fleeting. They are a mob. A little relativism? Humility yes, recognition that most really important things can’t be known, and all reality has context, but to seek truth is what it is all about. These mobs don’t seek truth they assert, but it isn’t truth they assert, its whatever they’re feeling at the moment.

    • #2
    • November 19, 2015, at 4:46 AM PST
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  3. Mack The Mike Coolidge
    Mack The Mike Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mike Hubbard:Relativism, like horseradish, is important in small doses, but too much will ruin whatever you’re trying to make, whether a casserole or a civilization. A dash of relativism is required for tolerance and pluralism. It’s why Catholics and Protestants are no longer burning each other at the stake for heresy. For the Judeo-Christian West, tolerance requires some degree of relativism, an understanding that the truth we believe in varies from the truth others believe in,

    No so. Relativism is categorically wrong and is not required for tolerance. The classic defense of tolerance does not rely on Relativism. See J.S. Mill.

    • #3
    • November 19, 2015, at 5:23 AM PST
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  4. jetstream Inactive

    It’s time for us to, Don’t worry, Be happy, we should all get in touch with our inner Zen -go to the beach, do some skiing, go to Vegas. Let the kiddies get irritated with us because we don’t care what they do, which eventually means they will twist themselves into a recursive tornado. With each twist they redouble their efforts to attack themselves and increase their own misery index. Which means they are unhappy and we aren’t. When they get to the Monty Python Black Knight stage let them enjoy their new status -go out and buy a new ski boat.

    • #4
    • November 19, 2015, at 5:24 AM PST
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  5. Crabby Appleton Inactive

    “But it’s the job of their parents to see that children learn that only with responsibility comes any measure of freedom. And it is the job of the university to continue this civilizing process with a liberal education: making citizens fit for liberty. By infantilizing their students, the universities have failed in their duty.”

    Back in the ’80’s and throughout the 90’s the watchword in scientific educationism was “self-esteem”. The purpose of the education system was not teaching practical academic knowledge but fostering and developing the individual’s sure and certain knowledge of his own unique worth and importance. We have created a generation of Warty Bliggenses.

    • #5
    • November 19, 2015, at 5:34 AM PST
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  6. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Mike Hubbard: But what we’re seeing on college campuses right now is a sign not of an excess of relativism, but of a lack of it.

    I think this is spot-on. If the students were genuinely motivated by moral relativism, they wouldn’t be so outraged or calling for heads.

    • #6
    • November 19, 2015, at 5:46 AM PST
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  7. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The appropriate response to rediclous demand’s is laughter. If that doesn’t send the kids back to class, then try to talk some sense into them,if they are willing to have a two way conversation. Ifq that doesn’t work expulsion may be called for. We don’t see this approach today because folks in charge are afraid of the kids and unsure of the worthiness of their own authority.

    • #7
    • November 19, 2015, at 5:55 AM PST
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  8. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Mike,

    I don’t think the choices folks make are shaped by a trend in philosophy, or moral outlook, but are shaped by more superficial parts of human nature. These students are copying the behaviors of their friends, or those people they admire, or those people who seem to be successful. The activists are gaining attention for themselves, the activists appear to be the cool, committed kids. This behavior is more like getting a tattoo than a response to the post modern era. Also, for those students who feel their lives lack purpose or meaning, these activities are badges confirming meaning and worth to these student’s lives.

    • #8
    • November 19, 2015, at 6:07 AM PST
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  9. Spicy Food Hiccups Inactive

    Mike Hubbard: Relativism, like horseradish, is important in small doses, but too much will ruin whatever you’re trying to make, whether a casserole or a civilization. A dash of relativism is required for tolerance and pluralism.

    Relativism isn’t what’s stopping, in your example, Catholics and Protestants from behaving violently towards each other. It’s an acknowledgement of a transcendent third party, whether that’s Church doctrine or simply the rule of law. Both parties value respect for the human person, enabling them to disagree patiently.

    Moral relativism denies any transcendent third party – there can be no right or wrong outside of what I deem to be right or wrong. It removes the framework within which people can convince others by argument. Disagreements can only be decided via the destruction of one party. This isn’t a lack of moral relativism, it’s the consequence of it.

    • #9
    • November 19, 2015, at 6:12 AM PST
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  10. I Walton Member

    OkieSailor:The appropriate response to rediclous demand’s is laughter. If that doesn’t send the kids back to class, then try to talk some sense into them,if they are willing to have a two way conversation. Ifq that doesn’t work expulsion may be called for. We don’t see this approach today because folks in charge are afraid of the kids and unsure of the worthiness of their own authority.

    That is what I was told about political correctness way back when it was just beginning. Moreover, laughter doesn’t work because they are humorless and insulated, as part of a mob. One doesn’t reason with mobs. Rather each member must be singled out and made to pay a price. If we had adults running these institutions who weren’t part of the problem they could fix it quickly, but you are right, they are unsure of their own authority and whether they’d be backed up. We’ve seen that they’re not.

    • #10
    • November 19, 2015, at 6:12 AM PST
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  11. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In the main, I agree. But I don’t care for the characterization of relativism as a bugaboo, especially when you reference someone so careful and thoughtful as Pope Benedict.

    Relativism in his sense has a clear and true meaning, and the condemnation of it is in no way incompatible with a commitment to tolerance.

    The wrong of relativism is that it denies that there is any such thing as an absolute. None of its critics (at least no one respectable) thinks it means there are only absolutes.

    But you are right to point to the fact that these college students are behaving like absolutists.

    • #11
    • November 19, 2015, at 6:48 AM PST
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  12. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Mike Hubbard: But what we’re seeing on college campuses right now is a sign not of an excess of relativism, but of a lack of it.

    I think this is spot-on. If the students were genuinely motivated by moral relativism, they wouldn’t be so outraged or calling for heads.

    Perhaps they really are relativists and hypocrites to boot.

    • #12
    • November 19, 2015, at 7:02 AM PST
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  13. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Just as those who stand for nothing will fall for anything, those who relativize the Absolute will end by absolutizing the relative.

    • #13
    • November 19, 2015, at 7:03 AM PST
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  14. Martel Inactive

    Relativism is a farce, and we find very few actual relativists.

    Actual relativists tend to be those in transition from one belief system to another. For example, the college student who just gave up believing that the West is uniquely good before adopting his new belief that the West is uniquely evil.

    But to instigate this process we have ubiquitous relativistic rhetoric. The postmodernist professor convinces his students that all values are relative so as to empty their minds, then fills the vacuum with an exceptionally strict (and thus non-relativistic) hierarchy of anti-traditional values.

    I think a much better term to describe their beliefs is “subjectivism.” Truth isn’t relative, it’s absolute yet contingent entirely upon who believes and perceives what. Facts are absolute when they support the narrative, irrelevant or lies when they don’t. Value judgements are based entirely on Lenin’s “who/whom” dichotomy, thus allowing them to righteously condemn the “oppressive” nature of a mildly-worded email while supporting as righteous rebellion screaming into people’s faces until they cry, physical brutality, and stripping people of their livelihood.

    They claim to be relativists, they often talk like relativists, but they most decidedly are not relativists. They are every bit as dogmatic as the Puritans, only the Puritans believed they had a monopoly on Objective Truth, whereas these monsters believe in the primacy of the Absolute Subjective.

    • #14
    • November 19, 2015, at 7:46 AM PST
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  15. GrannyDude Member

    Mike Hubbard: The students were practically begging for an outside authority trump them, and the administration folded. These radicals will soon be asking for more, and the administrations will discover that appetites can grow with the feeding.

    I think this is a big part of it. Begging for limits is what children do. They push—as hard as necessary—to find the point at which the ultimately benevolent outside world refuses to budge. The snowflakes may have “legitimate grievances” —it probably is pretty obnoxious to be told “white girls only” at a party, if indeed that happened—but this is beside the point. “What will the grownups will let me get away with?” is also “what wisdom, authority and power are held by those who occupy the category I am about to enter into?”

    Since the answer, so far, appears to be “much less of all three than you have now, little Snowflake” is it any wonder these kids keep pushing?

    A dear friend of mine, single mother of five, had a daughter who, at fourteen, was miserable and misbehaving. She’d stomp into the house after school, greet no one, storm up to her room, slam the door and play her stereo so loudly that the house shook.

    My friend felt horribly guilty—after all, her daughter had legitimate grievances. She’d experienced not one but two divorces and several semi-divorces, she had one sibling but three half-siblings, life was unpredictable and chaotic and dammit, she was pissed.

    “This is what you do,” I said. “Tomorrow, while she’s at school, take her door off the hinges and store it in the basement. Turn off the electricity to her room. When she gets home, and throws a fit (which she will) tell her she can have her door and power back when she’s ready to behave like a civilized human being.”

    But…but…but… she has legitimate grievances!
    “Yes she does. And one of them is that her mother has been telling her that being a woman means everyone, including your own child, can and will abuse you. She is begging for a different message—literally screaming for it.”

    Naturally, my friend didn’t do as I suggested, and her daughter went on having terrible problems (and causing a few) for years, doing a lot of damage to herself and her relationships in the process.

    The most loving, caring thing the Yale administrators and the parents of the kids at Yale could do is to give their little darlings a hard (if mostly-metaphorical) smack upside the head.

    • #15
    • November 19, 2015, at 8:06 AM PST
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  16. Martel Inactive

    Kate Braestrup:

    Mike Hubbard: The students were practically begging for an outside authority trump them, and the administration folded. These radicals will soon be asking for more, and the administrations will discover that appetites can grow with the feeding.

    The most loving, caring thing the Yale administrators and the parents of the kids at Yale could do is to give their little darlings a hard (if mostly-metaphorical) smack upside the head.

    I’m starting to suspect a “‘mostly-metaphorical’ smack upside the head” won’t be sufficient.

    If I were in that Dartmouth library when those jackholes came in…

    • #16
    • November 19, 2015, at 8:11 AM PST
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  17. mezzrow Member
    mezzrow Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    katievs:Just as those who stand for nothing will fall for anything, those who relativize the Absolute will end by absolutizing the relative.

    (applause)

    • #17
    • November 19, 2015, at 8:44 AM PST
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  18. Dave of Barsham Member

    Kate Braestrup: The most loving, caring thing the Yale administrators and the parents of the kids at Yale could do is to give their little darlings a hard (if mostly-metaphorical) smack upside the head.

    Amen. I grew up in the South and you can guarantee if I acted like that on my parents dime there would be hell to pay. I’m not saying if these brats would have been spanked as kids we wouldn’t be having any of these problems (though I’ll bet it would have helped a few of them) but they could sure use the adult equivalent now. Tough love, it gets tougher the longer you wait.

    • #18
    • November 19, 2015, at 8:48 AM PST
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  19. Umbra Fractus Coolidge
    Umbra Fractus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    jetstream: It’s time for us to, Don’t worry, Be happy, we should all get in touch with our inner Zen -go to the beach, do some skiing, go to Vegas. Let the kiddies get irritated with us because we don’t care what they do, which eventually means they will twist themselves into a recursive tornado. With each twist they redouble their efforts to attack themselves and increase their own misery index. Which means they are unhappy and we aren’t. When they get to the Monty Python Black Knight stage let them enjoy their new status -go out and buy a new ski boat.

    I prefer Jonah Goldberg’s answer: Conservatives and libertarians should have tailgate parties at these protests, and yell, “See? We told you this would happen!” at the administrators.

    • #19
    • November 19, 2015, at 11:07 AM PST
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  20. Umbra Fractus Coolidge
    Umbra Fractus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Martel: Actual relativists tend to be those in transition from one belief system to another. For example, the college student who just gave up believing that the West is uniquely good before adopting his new belief that the West is uniquely evil.

    I think most people who claim to be relativists are really just hedonists who don’t want to admit it. I’ve heard few argument for “relativism” that amount to anything more than trying to make, “Don’t tell me what to do,” sound more profound.

    • #20
    • November 19, 2015, at 11:23 AM PST
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  21. Martel Inactive

    Umbra Fractus:

    Martel: Actual relativists tend to be those in transition from one belief system to another. For example, the college student who just gave up believing that the West is uniquely good before adopting his new belief that the West is uniquely evil.

    I think most people who claim to be relativists are really just hedonists who don’t want to admit it. I’ve heard few argument for “relativism” that amount to anything more than trying to make, “Don’t tell me what to do,” sound more profound.

    Yes, self-identifying as a relativist can also be a sign of intellectual laziness. Most of the idiots out there claiming they see no problem with any sort of sexual relationship believe traditional heterosexual marriage epitomizes oppression and should be stopped.

    • #21
    • November 19, 2015, at 12:12 PM PST
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