Archive for November 12th, 2011

November 12, 2011

Matters of fact and relativity

There is a continuing tension in the language of activism. The tension results from certain incompatibilities between the belief in equality and the belief in relativism (personal or cultural).

An example: I fully agree that Muslim women get to decide for themselves what they consider women’s liberation. The certainly don’t need asshole laws like veil bans in France on the pretense that this will somehow free them. Or give them a better chance at equality.

Taken to the extreme this becomes the sort of anything goes activism (or feminism, in the above case). While it need not go this far, it often seems to be taken this way. This is a problem. Not only because extreme relativism is incoherent but because it fails to address situations where there are clear wrongs and clear rights. (the incoherence is because of this: everything is relative if and only if everything is not relative. ‘Everything is relative’ is an absolute statement. If it is true, then there is at least one absolute, thus everything is not relative. If is it false, then there is at least one absolute. If there is one, there may be more).

Extreme relativism, as anything goes activism, seems (to me) to be indistinguishable from liberalism. One of the most compelling thing about conservatism is it’s emphasis on clearly distinguishable rights and wrongs. Progressive appear to have no clear boundary here, but this is only an illusion. The debates about how best to achieve liberty and equality make it seem that we activists have no clue what we want.

Part of the problem is that no progressive movement has been successful. We don’t actually *know* how to create a truly free and equitable society. Our opponents, however have already created an oppressive and unequal society. And their tools are clear to see: fear-mongering and hate. Not doing these things in our own movements is a good start but it only represents the start. Just as sowing the seeds of hate is only the beginning, not the result, of oppression.