Tuesday, 13 February 2007

All values are relative, but some are more relative than others

I remember, when I was a first-year undergraduate, one of those intense after-dinner discussions where an earnest young lady fervently proclaimed: “Nothing is absolute! Everything is relative.” This [even if illogical] is probably true. But it didn’t occur to me then that it would ever be used by self-styled ‘intellectuals’ to maintain that “and therefore, nothing is better or worse than anything else”. This is obvious nonsense, if only because if something is relative it has to be relative to some standard of value.

Ancient and mentally out-dated I may be, but I would never have foreseen that anyone educated in the Western liberal tradition of free enquiry and open debate could seriously aver that closed thought systems of a totalitarian cast, whether religious, philosophical, or political, are entitled to equal respect and toleration – one-sided, of course – with democratic pluralism.

But such is the case nowadays. Incredibly, many of the trendy pundits of the Left are tumbling over themselves to assure us that Islam is deserving in Britain and other European countries of equal status for those who adhere to it with the values of our open secular society and the rule of law which have evolved over centuries of hard-fought struggle against tyranny. Are they seriously proposing that a primitive system of medieval law such as Shari’a, which by Western standards is in many respects cruel and even barbaric, should be given houseroom here?

If this is true of Islam, why not of Roman Catholicism, fascism, communism, and other mind-controlling doctrines? All of these, whether religious or political or both, seek to dominate and control not only their own willing followers, but everybody else. Whatever route they follow, their destination and ambition are always identical: their domination and others’ submission – ultimately obtained, if necessary, by violence.

There are indeed many and deep flaws in the practice of Western democracy in these grievous opening years of the 21st century. Remedying these is surely task enough for anyone who cares about the health and future of our society, without embarking upon quixotic championship of Trojan horses in our midst.

By all means let us be relativist – but not mindlessly relativist in the fashion of Gilbert’s “idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own”.


Richard W. Symonds said...

Let us not forget that "Capitalism" is also a "closed thought system of a totalitarian cast" - along with Communism, Fascism, Catholicism, Zionism "and other mind-controlling doctrines" - such as Islamic fundamentalism

"All of them...seek to dominate and control."

Know thy enemy...not easy with all these 'Isms' who seek control of our hearts and minds - and pockets.

anticant said...

Capitalism does provide choice of sorts, and unsatisfactory and currently out of democratic control though it is, I am unable to think of any other existing or previously tried economic system capable of coping with the global needs of production and distribution as well, let alone better. I don't agree that capitalism is inevitably "totalitarian"; given the political will and determination, it could be harnessed to the greater benefit of millions more people than it serves at present. The problem is not the system, but its corruption by greedy, over-rich and too powerful cliques and the failure of weak or unwilling governments to rein them in.

1loneranger said...

Oh, good stuff here. I will attempt to comment further tomorrow when I'm not falling asleep at the desk.

This debate of "accommodating" Muslims in the "traditionally" Christian "white" world is a hot topic here in Canada at the moment too. Not so much on topic in the ether in the States however.

I think the thought process down there is a bit more "screw 'em, let them deal with one set of rules penned by the old white dudes in Washington, or get out". This same idea was the common response to the African American Civil Rights movement players then and now. That intolerance has been swept under the rug in the States.....to fester until another day.

Old wine, new bottles eh?

All groups should have an audible say. But majority will rule, and attempt to accomodate.

The current talk of "accomodation" is just a cover for isolating yet another minority and make them out to be perpetrators of something new and evil in a fearful white world.

I'd like to hear more talk of what good things we have in common and work on developing those connections.
This will further tolerance. Leave the differences alone.
They don't need to be hashed out.

anticant said...

We all have our different 'takes' on this. Mine is that while I don't dislike Mulsims as human beings - I live amongst them and many are pleasant and hard-working - I cannot see how the theocratic mindset of Islam can mesh in with our Western values of tolerance, free speech, and an open society. it is a worrying and growing problem, with around 3 million Muslims in the UK already and many more in Europe.

Tolerance is more of an ideal than a reality, even in supposedly 'free' societies. As Susan Sontag pointed out, the one memorial museum you won't find in Washington is a Museum of Slavery.

Jose said...

I have to comment about fundamentalist Islam that I remember our old saying here that runs : throw the rock and hide the hand. That is let's never forget that the cage where the fundamentalists were shut was suddenly unlocked by an alien hand.

Years and years of colonialism have also much to do with the situation in the Middle East first and then in the world, and we must not forget that Israel is also exerting colonial pressure in Palestine. And colonialism in the form of exploitations of oil is still going today, well into the 21st century.

So the problem should not be, in my opinion, solely focussed on Islamic fundamentalism, there is a much wider scope to be taken into account.

anticant said...

Of course Islamic fundamentalism cannot be the sole focus of our conerns - but neither should the threat that it presents to our society be belittled or even denied, as is the fashion of so many on the Left because they are obsessed by their anti-Americanism.

The bellicose Bush administration may well be the greater immediate threat to world peace and security, but in the longer term Islam will be even more dangerous if there is no positive wish on the part of Muslims living in Europe to accommodate their beliefs to the values and practices of their host societies. At present, I see no signs of this - quite the opposite, in fact.

Tom Freeman said...

If you start from the assumption that any social or political system implemented by humans is going to have its flaws. So you want it to be possible for flaws to be spotted and changed.

The best way to do this is liberal democracy with division of powers.

One of the tragedies of Islam - or at least much of Sunni Islam - is that there's no central religious authority. You'd think that would give great scope for a culture of pluralistic Quranic interpretation, which could only be practical in a more liberal polity.

1loneranger said...

Oh contraire anticant,
Of course there are many a museum devoted to the History of the African American in D.C. itself and around the States in general. Their history in the States is one of slavery and overcomming its burdens. http://anacostia.si.edu/

I feel that any group wishing to immigrate or emmigrate ending up in a "western" land must be encouraged to practice their unique traditions and celebrate them. However, when it comes to rule of law, such as sharia law in a "western constitutional society",
the religious law must be left outside the borders. We all as members of the greater society have to follow the same rule of law. It is this that what we sacrifice moving to a new country.

We gain a lot and loose a lot as foreigners in a foreign land.
But that is the way it must be.

I must keep the faith and tradition of my "homeland" and now learn to adapt to a new set of laws regarding constitutionality.
It is obviously a bit easier for me as a white male having left the States and set up shop in Canada, but there are similarities.

Jose said...

If Islam had one almighty leader in these crcumstances, then I wouldn't dare to say what would happen. Stoking the fire of religion in a over-religious group of nations is a dangerous practice.

Tomorrow the macro-trial for the Muslims detained as suspect of the 11March attack in Madrid is due to start in the Spanish capital. It is the first trial for terrorism that takes place in the world. This is indeed an organised fight on terror, a legal fight that no self-respecting country should ever criticise.

I cannot understand how Britain, a country which was always celebrated for the respect of its citizens to the Laws (remember the Rule of Law), can permit those immigrants to jump the laws that an honest Briton wouldn't even dream of jump├Čng.

I agree that it is really imperative that the division of powers almost all constitutions order be implemented and strengthened, and that all people living permanently or temporarily in a country be explicitly demanded to obey the laws of that country.

Not doing so is a show of weakness by governments and justice, and both government and Justice must at all times be strong and determinant.

yellowduck said...

In response to your conclusion: let us be sceptical in the tradition of Socrates and remember that we are unlikely ever to attain one Truth.

It is the dogmatic mindset in any philosophy I find more worrying than the rose-tinted relativism that is currently in vogue.

1loneranger said...

Jose, I will have to keep up on that trial.. Would you mind making mention of it on your page over the next while? Thanks.

anticant said...

I hear on this morning's news that - far from being 'soft' on terror, as the right-wing hawks allege - Spain has increased its anti-terrorist security services sixfold since the Madrid bombings.

My English friend in Andalucia went to the local mass demonstration similar to those which took place all over Spain after the Madrid outrage, and said the silent crowd standing in the pouring rain was incredibly moving. He also confirmed my own perception that the reason why the former Conservative government had been voted out was not because of cowardly fear of further terrorist atrocities, but public anger at the government's attempt to spin the blame for the Madrid attacks onto the Basque separatist group ETA, and its support for the Bush-Blair attack on Iraq despite much public opposition.

What a pity the British didn't vote Blair out for ignoring the two million people who marched against the war! The arrogant manner in which he, and his supine back-benchers in Parliament, ignored such a huge expression of public opinion - for everyone who marched, there were probably five or six more who didn't - has done immense damage to our political life, and is largely responsible for the depressed apathy which still grips so many people.

anticant said...

There was an excellent article in this morning's "Guardian" analysing Spanish reactions to the Madrid bombings and the terror trial but when I went back to look for it just now in order to post the thread here, it had gone. Strange!

Jose, I think a large part of the answer to your question about the British government's attitude to Muslims here is that Labour is dependent on Muslim votes in several key constituencies. Not everyone agrees about this, but if you Google "UK Muslim vote" you will find a lot of interesting information and discussion.