Relativism Simplified

I used to utterly despise moral relativism (and to a certain extent, I still do). However, time and experience has blunted my fury on the subject. At a certain level, a relativistic (this has nothing to do with Einstein) viewpoint is useful and worth considering, if only briefly. Let me explain.

I recently watched a movie called Ip Man 2. It was a martial arts movie set in, and filmed (I believe) in China or Hong Kong. The hero of the movie was a martial arts master named Ip Man. In the end, he has a match with a Western Boxer who was white and from England, and basically the epitome of an arrogant jerk. Indeed, the way the westerners were portrayed in the film might warrant charges of racist bias against Caucasians perpetuated by the Chinese producers. I’ve noticed that kind of trend in a number of Chinese films. Anyway, I don’t want to get sidetracked. The thing to remember is that it was a Chinese movie and it portrayed the white antagonist as almost a caricature of an arrogant jerk.

Compare this to Rocky IV  (an old movie) where Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) fights Ivan Draggo (Dolf Lungren). Rocky is, of course, portrayed as the noble hero. Ivan Draggo is portrayed as almost a caricature of the “Russian bad guy.” Same phenomenon as in Ip Man 2, except in this case, we (the U.S.) are the ones guilty. So, if you look at this relativistically, both countries portray their foreign adversaries similarly … as evil bad guys, basically. So, on first blush, it appears that evil, at least, is relative; it depends on the perception of the sufferer, or perhaps, better yet, the perceptual position of the sufferer.

But that’s only on first blush. As a whole, it is a lackluster moral theory. If I punch you in the nose, that might feel good for me, but painful for you. How does such an analysis help? What’s missing is an analysis of the itty-bitty details … the facts, if you will. Relativism is only really helpful at a purely emotional level.

Another example. I read somewhere that the Japanese still think the United States was the aggressor in WWII. Basically, in a war between country A and country B, country A will likely regard country B as evil, and vice versa. But as I said, then there are the details. Take Isis, for example. They seem to be willing to plumb depths of evil we balk at: crucifixion, drowning, burning alive men, women, and even children. In such a situation, Relativism only tells us that Isis hates us, and we hate them. Not particularly profound.

So, what is to be done with this insight?

Emotions don’t occur in a vacuum. They are based on information … facts if you will. The true relativist will permit different facts to influence different sides in a conflict. In such a situation, the relativist will say the facts used by country A are true for it, and the facts of country B are true for it. There is no objective truth in the situation. Although it is true that both sides will behave as if that is the case, that does not mean that that is really the case. Some of the facts on either side may be wrong. Others may be shared by both sides. Others may be partially true. What is important, is that “truth” determines the value of the facts and is a separate concept. What is relativized is the information or knowledge of the facts, not the truth of them. The truth stands alone, objectively. Either country A invaded country B three days before or it didn’t. While country A and country B have the right to claim their own knowledge of a conflict, they don’t have the right to claim their own truth of it.



I have a brother who is very passionate about politics. One of the relationships he often brings up in political debate is the relationship between the individual and society. Personally, I studied analytical philosophy in college. I studied the relationship between the individual and properties (think Plato’s bifurcation), not the relationship between the individual and society.

Anyway, my brother is always arguing that individuals do not exist on their own. They are connected to other individuals; that is, they have a relationship with society. According to my brother, Capitalism suffers from an extreme form of individualism without acknowledging a connection to society, and is, therefore, flawed. On the other hand, Communism is flawed in the other direction by placing too much emphasis on society (i.e. the collective) over the individual. According to my brother, the reality of the situation is something more of a hybrid. People are sometimes drawn toward the collective, and sometimes drawn to be by themselves. According to him, this is the root of the problem with the American way of life.

I’m not sure if the American way of life is any more problematic than it has always been. Capitalism has, I believe, produced more goods for more people, and lifted more people out of poverty than any other system ever tried. But it is not perfect. Indeed, the human condition is probably imperfectable. Regardless, I want to go down on record that I tentatively agree with my brother’s notion of a hybrid-like relationship between the individual and society. To that end, I wish to point out a few examples of things that connect me to others in ways I can’t control. Basically, there are items and practices that are imposed on me because the rest of society accepts them without a second thought.

Health insurance. Once upon a time, when life was much more rugged and doctors made house calls, there was no such thing as health insurance (at least, I don’t think so). Yet, people lived and prospered and thought nothing of it. Now, if you fail to get health insurance you are considered irresponsible. Why? Because everyone else is getting health insurance; they are paying into the health insurance system, and if you skimp, they pay for your care. So, you really are sort-of connected in this regard. Similar arguments can be made for car insurance, home insurance, etc…. My point is not that insurance is a bad idea (in fact, it is a good idea and, currently, I am fully insured), but rather, that the existence of insurance implies a connection between the individual and society such that the individual is compelled to follow the preferences of society.

Smart phones. These really aren’t a luxury; they are becoming a necessary part of our lives and our economy, so much so, that the person who does not own a smart phone will suffer significant disadvantages in our current economy.

My favorite type of cereal no longer exists. In high school, I adored a cereal called “Crispy Wheats and Raisins.” I haven’t had it in years, because, I think, “they” stopped producing it. Basically, the invisible hand of the market determined that my favorite cereal is not profitable enough so it was removed from the marketplace. In other words, the cereal preferences of the majority of other Americans aligned against my own. The collective evaluation of my favorite cereal resulted in that cereal’s disappearance; so, we are kind of connected.

Those are three examples. I’m sure there are more.

I’m not sure I had a central point to this post; it was more of an intellectual exercise analyzing the connection of the individual to society.

Book Review: The American Miracle by Michael Medved (3 ½ *’s)

This book, The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic by Michael Medved, is an interesting read. Basically, as the subtitle states, it tries to look back on the history of the Republic of the United States and tries to discern the hand of God working for our (the U.S.’s) benefit. Like I said, an interesting read.

Do I buy the premise that, like Israel before it, the United States is a nation chosen by God? Those familiar with my blog can probably predict some of my answer, but I’m not as definitive as such people might think. Perhaps it is a sign of progress on my part, but I am confused. I think it is equally possible that the United States was chosen by Satan masquerading as God. Of course, I’m probably the only person on the planet who believes that. And to be honest, I am willing to consider any of the three basic options: God, Satan, or nothing. However, for lack of space, I will limit my discussion here to the author’s assumption: that it was God.

Were there coincidences that were kind of “spooky” in American history? Yes. Just as an example, two of the Founders died on the same day on the fifty year anniversary of the founding: which, of course, defines the jubilee year, from the Bible. There are other coincidences discussed, like the consecutive misfiring of two guns meant to assassinate one of our presidents before he became president. And there were others. Mr. Medved does a much better job of describing the incidents, so I won’t dwell on them—especially since I finished the book over a week ago and have forgotten some of the critical details.

I’m not a history buff, so this book wasn’t a ‘comfortable’ read for me. But the writing was clear and concise, and relatively easy to follow. It was just of a genre outside my normal literary appetite.

Ultimately, I would recommend the book for anyone interested in trying to descry the Divine in history. From that perspective, it was a very interesting read. Having completed the book, I’m not sure I believe its premise (that whole ‘chosen nation’ thing seems a bit iffy to me), but, like I said, I’m never sure what to attribute to God, and what to attribute to Satan masquerading as God. But those are my issues.

Anyway, I’ll give the book three and a half stars out of five.

Muslims In America

I don’t quite know how to introduce this topic. It is somewhat delicate. Are all Muslims terrorists? Obviously not. But it is my impression that most terrorists are Muslim. There seems to be a sickness in the Islamic Faith that needs to be treated. As an outsider, I can’t remedy it. All I can do is jump up and down, rant and rave, and point at it. It is the Muslims who must fix and reform their Faith. And it is indeed in need of reform.

To those that say the terrorists have nothing to do with real Islam, I think you might be being deliberately naive. I seem to recall that one of the heads of ISIS (I think he is now dead) had a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from one of the most prestigious Islamic Universities in the world. That speaks volumes to those willing to listen. Likewise, most of the terrorists claim to be Muslims and they point to the Koran to justify many of their atrocities. Does the Old Testament have “questionable” passages? Yes, but neither Christians nor Jews are currently killing witches nor are they stoning adulterers. Islamic extremists, on the other hand, are currently waging jihad against the “Great Satan” in significant numbers.

What do we do about it?

Currently, there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. I don’t have a problem with any Muslim provided he/she renounces Sharia Law, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and, of course, suicide bombing. Sharia Law is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. The other acts listed are barbaric and should be universally condemned—and they usually are. Furthermore, such practices should not be protected by the 1st amendment, no matter what the relativists say. If they are protected, we need a serious discussion about that and perhaps even a constitutional amendment to change that. I mean, if we have spell out that killing in the name of religion is not protected by our laws, where are we?

Politics in a Nuclear Age

We all dread confrontations between nuclear powers, and rightly so: Several countries on this planet have within their arsenals the capacity to destroy the entire planet themselves, or, at the very least, trigger a confrontation that leads to its destruction. This is no laughing matter.

North Korea is a nuclear power. And it is also a rogue nation bent on causing problems on the global scene. There is no doubt that the U.S. arsenal is far superior and numerous, but North Korea still has nukes. They also have a stunningly vast arsenal of conventional weapons. As a result, between Seoul and Tokyo, they are effectively holding 60 million people hostage.

I recently had a conversation with one of my brothers. He was a little hawkish on the matter—not because he’s a bloodthirsty barbarian, but because he has a number of very practical, well-reasoned points. Basically, if we do nothing, nothing will change. North Korea will continue to increase its armaments, including its nukes, so that dealing with them in the future will be even more difficult and dangerous. High-end estimates of their arsenal currently put it at sixty warheads. How many will that be in ten years? 100? 200? 600? Those are increasingly frightening numbers. And don’t forget, the populations of Seoul and Tokyo aren’t likely to pull up stakes and just wander away in the intervening years. They’ll still be under an increasingly deadly threat of annihilation. And if that’s not enough, consider other nuclear-powers-in-the-making, like Iran. They’ll be watching how we deal with North Korea. If we can do something effectively, we might disabuse Iran of the notion that its nuclear program is worth pursuing. Finally, there is the population of North Korea itself. Don’t we have some humanitarian concern to free them from a dictator?

To be honest, I don’t know how to resolve the issue. Maybe our military can do something, but … I’m just not comfortable with that idea. So much could go wrong.

The problem is: science. Or knowledge. Or technology. Whatever you want to call it, it is spreading across this planet and growing in leaps and bounds. Sooner or later, if we don’t figure something out, every country on this planet will have the means to develop nuclear weapons. And that’s not a situation likely to promote the health of this planet. We need some method of dealing with rogue nations or even other nation with whom we have severe moral disagreements, whatever they may be.

The carrot? Or the stick? The carrot? Or the stick?

In my view, nuclear weapons are just too treacherous to mess with. They eliminate the stick. So, we are left with a carrot. What can we use?

I had a notion the other day that maybe we should do something like the United Nations, but instead of every nation on the planet, only allow democracies to join. Under this umbrella, formalize a joint agreement to pursue the development of Space. Currently, most nations have their own space programs, each one at its own level of progress. If we join forces with other serious powers based on democratic principles we can develop a carrot designed to wean rogue nations like North Korea away from their more sinister ways. If all the democracies of the globe are sharing technology, research, and what-have-you amongst themselves, but not with bad actors, we will quickly outdistance such bad actors in technological development and thereby create an incentive for the reform of such nations. Because nuking them, just isn’t a good option.

Anyway, that was my thought, and I thought I’d share.

The Statue Controversy

The country probably isn’t looking for the input from a crazy man, but here’s my two cents anyway on the Statue Controversy.

Trump was right. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are now coming under fire because the two men owned slaves. Yes, many of our Founders owned slaves. But it’s worth pointing out that these same Founders gave us the documents and the philosophical groundwork that led to the eventual freeing of said slaves. History consists of a series of steps taken by mankind, a gradual evolution of thought and moral theory. We can agree that slavery belongs on the trash-heap of history; yet, at the same time, we should recognize the historical context in which the Founders lived. At the time, slavery was accepted throughout most of the world. You can’t expect radical change overnight. As I said, moral evolution takes place only in small individual steps.

Sure, men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but that is not the reason we remember them. No, we remember them for the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and the founding of this nation. All men (and women) are sinners. Clearly, they had faults. I think it is worth remembering that. Maybe we should take a step back, take a breath, and just agree we will honor people for their achievements and not their failures. We cannot demand perfection from our heroes. If we do, we will quickly find their ranks emptied.

Consider Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great Civil Rights Hero. But he also committed adultery. Are we going to tear down his statue, and cease celebrating his holiday because his failures are offensive to many of the Christian Faith, as well as (I think) Jews and Muslims? What about Feminists? What is their view of MLK Jr? Granted, adultery is not as serious a sin as slavery, but do we want to “honor” an adulterer? I say yes, because he achieved great things.

Do yourself a favor and ignore the failings of long dead men and women. Remember them for their achievements and contributions not for their faults. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a world without heroes. How dreary a place that would be.


Donald Trump was not my first choice for President of the United States. But he was elected. Now that he holds the office, the bias of the media against him is very clear, so much so, I feel inclined to point something out.

According to my phone, the current GDP of the U.S. is about 19.4 trillion dollars while the current national debt is about 20 trillion dollars. In other words, the debt exceeds the GDP by over one-half trillion dollars. That’s roughly the GDP of Argentina or Taiwan (the excess of our debt, that is). I barely understand the economics of the problem (my training was in philosophy and math, not economics); all I know is that it is immense and I would have no idea how to deal with it, if I were POTUS (thankfully, I am not).

Donald Trump is a business man. A very successful business man who has earned over a billion dollars. That is a staggering accomplishment. So much so, he might actually have the skills to fix our debt situation. If he can’t, or if he doesn’t, I honestly don’t think we’ll get another chance. Now that the debt exceeds the GDP, the problem will get worse and worse at an increasing rate. Indeed, the mathematics of interest rates is usually exponential in nature. Everyone should be familiar with such from high school. An exponential curve is one that increases faster and faster the farther along it goes (My math is rusty; it might be geometric in nature; regardless, it’s still bad).

Anyway, the point is that it will reach a point where the debt will be increasing faster than the GDP is growing. At that point, it becomes impossible to pay off the debt and collapse is inevitable. I don’t want to live through an economic collapse and neither should you nor members of the media.

So, with that in mind, I think a more conciliatory tone toward POTUS should be used; or, if not conciliatory, perhaps less paranoid. So, media, put your ink-stained sabers away for the moment and give the president a break. I don’t think he is as crazy as you make him out to be, if for no other reason than that we did not have a nuclear war with North Korea.