Thursday, January 05, 2012

People Don't Understand What Relativism Is
Rick Santorum Edition

Quoth Santorum:

"It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning 'private' moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm."
That's him talking about Catholic Priests raping children, and the church covering it up, incidentally.

But what I'm going to write about is Santorum's not understanding relativism, and not understanding liberalism, and not understanding that the two have nothing to do with each other.

First, it does not even make much sense to speak of"sanction[ing] 'private' moral matters," though any sane person will, of course, think that there are matters that are private. What this idiot means, apparently, is that folks like you and me caused priests to rape children (and caused the Catholic church to cover it up) because we think that what consenting adults do in private is a private matter--that is, their business and no one else's. That's like thinking that those who think that it's ok to raise cotton and then hire people to freely come pick it for a fair wage caused slavery. It's bugshit crazy.

But the view that Santorum is railing against is not moral relativism. The view he is railing against is, apparently, civil libertarianism, the view that there is a large and inviolable private sphere, and that consensual sex falls inside it. Civil libertarianism is, here and now, primarily advocated by liberals. And it is, of course, liberals that Santorum wants to blame for the rapes in question.

However...and this is important:

liberalism and moral relativism have nothing to do with each other.

I cannot underline this boldly enough.

Here is what liberals typically think about these sexual matters:

It is objectively true that it is none of your goddamn business what I do with another consenting adult in the privacy of my own home...and it is none of my business what you do in yours.

Well, that's not precisely right, because it fails to put the emphasis on the objective permissibility of the acts in question. Rather, what liberals typically think is this: there is typically nothing wrong with consensual sex between consenting adults. Such sex is objectively morally permissible. For example, non-marital sex between consenting adults is--objectively speaking--typically morally permissible.* Sex between consenting adult men is typically morally permissible; similarly, sex between consenting adult women. Liberals do not think these matters are relative, say, to culture. Rather, they think that these are universal rights, and that people, e.g., in Iran have such rights even as we do. The government in Iran may not recognize these human rights...but that doesn't mean they aren't real. Rick f*cking Santorum may not recognize them, but that does not mean they are not objective. It means that he is a shithead in error. We are not saying that (in this case sexual) morality is relative--we are saying that there is nothing objectively wrong with consensual sex between consenting adults. We are saying that Santorum and the mullahs and their ilk are objectively wrong about these issues.

Now, I'm not going to go into why such folk are objectively wrong--I just want to point out that liberals do not defend a non-puritanical sexual morality on relativist grounds. They, rather, defend it on what they at least take to be purely objective grounds. That is: sex is fun, sex is awesome, sex that is predicated on sufficiently informed consent typically doesn't harm anyone, ergo, like anything else that meets the relevant criteria, it's permissible. Conservative fables about the harms of non-marital sex or same-sex sex are just that--fables. They invent harm where there is none, or pretend that atypical cases are typical, or whatever. Ok, so I guess I did just discuss why consensual sex is not typically wrong. So sue me.

The actual cultural moral relativist on the other hand, thinks that whatever the culture views as acceptable ipso facto becomes morally permissible. Now that's a crazy view. So non-marital sex is morally permissible here because we accept it, and it's impermissible in Tehran because most folks there don't (or so I hear). That is, the cultural moral relativist thinks that thinking that something is right magically makes it right. And that's nuts. That is not (orthodox, at least) liberalism. CMR entails that moral rights come and go with doxastic fashion. Those who call themselves relativists are typically really nihilists--they don't think that anything really is morally right or they think all there is is acceptance and rejection. Almost no one is really a moral relativist. It is a crazy view. At any rate, liberals, who typically think that there are inalienable rights that, though they might be violated, can never be destroyed, are not cultural moral relativists.

And, yet again, we see that Santorum has no freaking clue what he is talking about.

* Why "typically"? Because liberals need not--and usually do not--think that all private sex acts between consenting adults are morally permissible. Smith may consent to have sex with Jones, but not know that Jones is married, or has some STD. In that case, the consent is not sufficiently informed. Or Smith and Jones may consent to have sex with each other though Smith is married and cheating on his/her boyfriend/girlfriend. That's sh*t, too, and everybody thinks it's reprehensible. But we don't care about that stuff now, so I hand-wave it away with "typically," which is exactly what we ought to do here.


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