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May 23, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

Moral Relativism is an Utter Copout

This is an answer to the question of conspicous consumption from Quora:

Moral relativism is a ruse. Human dignity, fairness, and justice are fundamentals of the human experience. There is even moderate agreement across cultures on these issues (ie Universal Rights of Man). We all sit mouth agape or shudder in horror when genuine atrocities occur.

Moral relativism is a cop out. Its a cop out sold to us by academia and corporations. An acceptance of relativism would make human life unlivable & makes human relationships and values (ie love) pretty meaningless. Its represents the decay of what it means to be connected and human.

Moral relativism is giving into the status quo. Without the language of rights and humanity and dignity–we don’t have any way to speak truth to power. Calling on the shared experiences of humans against the powers that be is an important act of resistance. (otherwise you have no moral vocabulary to speak about the government that seizes your property, freedom, or life within its clutches… have no way to speak to the company that takes away your pay check or your pension… have no way to engage the so-called boyfriend/girlfriend that cheats on you or has a double life of lies and deception)

Moral relativism is a simplistic ego-centric mind trick–based on the assumption that I define the universe and its meaning. Wrong. Its mutually co-determined at best. Don’t turn the clock back on the reforms for womens rights and the rights of minorities in relation to democracy and stopping slavery. Don’t turn the clock back on assistance for landmines and protections for women against physical violence.

Admittedly, not all expressions of ethics are equally valuable–but the manipulation of words in the past by the powers that be isn’t unique to ethics. Whether you look at Noam Chomsky, Michael Foucault, Banksy, Ghandi, MLK, or any social reformer which has pushed us toward political innovation or a better human experience (or more fully human experience) has used the toolbox of normative values to to call out injustice and to change the course of history. In fact, its that language which is the best check against its abuses and manipulations of power and priviledge (which result in war & slavery & abuse). In short, normative values are the building blocks of individual and social change.

On the implied and stated moral language in both Foucault & Banksy:
Admittedly in the case of Foucault and Banksy the ethical argument is implied not always stated outright–the viewer or reader inserts the ethical argument. For instance, Banksy’s picture of the kid from Vietnam between Mickey Mouse & Ronald McDonald or the pictures of the girl with the Love ballon or consumerist Jesus or the peace activist throwing the maltof flower arrangement. Banksy’s work is coursing with the lifeblood of the symbolic language of ethics & other
provocations to ethics and the need for social change. In the case of Foucault, his definitions of what it means to be human as well as his anti-control bent or his writings about control in Discipline and Punishment regarding is a normative framing.

Here is the specific dialog with regard to conspicuous consumption:

Money is a fiduciary obligation–in the same way holding office is a fiduciary obligation. Those are are given should give back.

The question about the Louis Vuitton bags:
1. is only framed in terms of what people a few people think or perceive (that rigs the game)
2. our inability to pin-point examples of conspicious consumption
3. our place in consumer culture makes it difficult to step outside and be semi-objective (which further suggests the framing is off kilter). In fact, Banksy makes this point in the picture of the African child with the LV bag

One Comment

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  1. Nathan Ketsdever / Aug 28 2011 10:22 am

    There are three metaphors/examples which help me thing about this issue:
    1. regionally flavored bar-bq is analogous to cultural norms. the regional flavor doesn’t change the fact that what you are eating, at its core in BBQ.
    2. looking through a kaliedescope doesn’t change whats on the other side.
    3. if people from another culture find another use for a lightbulb, it doesn’t change its core properties and functions. Or better, your perspective one one of the chemical elements doesn’t change that its Iron, Gold, or Silver.

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