PETZOLD BOOK BLOG

Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM


Recent Entries
< PreviousBrowse the ArchivesNext >
Subscribe to the RSS Feed

What is “Moral Relativism”?

July 21, 2011
Roscoe, N.Y.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is certainly one of America's more spiritually advanced politicians. He recently set up a web site asking people to help solve America's problems using the only solution with proven, guaranteed effectiveness: prayer.

Governor Perry's video message included the following statement:

After hearing this, some people may have asked "I've heard about this 'moral relativism' thing before, but what exactly is it?"

Moral relativism is the recognition that people don't always agree about moral questions — which behaviors are morally right and which behaviors are morally wrong.

For example, consider two adult men having consensual sex with each other. Many Christians, including Governor Perry, believe such activities to be morally wrong. In fact, as recently as 2003, Texas law imposed penalties on men who engaged in such acts. That law (as well as similar laws in the states of Alabama, Idaho, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia) was struck down by the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision.

Although some people think that gay sex is wrong; others do not. These others think that sex performs just as vital a function in a gay relationship as in a non-gay relationship, and to prohibit it would be immoral.

This difference in viewpoint is called "moral relativism."

New York recently passed a law instituting marriage equality. Some people think it's immoral to let two adults of the same sex get married. Others think the immoral thing is to prevent two consenting adults from marrying each other. That's more moral relativism.

But here is where it gets confusing, because Governor Perry alludes to "people adrift in a sea of moral relativism" as if this is something undesirable, and not just an acknowledgement that we happen to live in a society where we disagree on moral issues.

It's actually quite simple: Being as spiritually advanced as he is, Governor Perry has special knowledge of the one true set of moral strictures, and hence he has the prerogative to use the term "moral relativism" as a synonym for "nihilism." The rest of us, living in ignorance, are not so fortunate.

Let's look at another example that might clarify this issue: If we were having this discussion 150 years ago, it wouldn't be about gay marriage, but it might very well be about slavery. Back then, Governor Perry's state of Texas was home to almost 200,000 slaves. The state of Texas wished to keep these individuals enslaved, so the state seceded from the union on February 1, 1861, and became part of the Confederacy in March.

Back in those days, some people thought slavery was immoral, while many others did not. This difference was largely geographic in nature: People who had been raised in a culture that allowed slavery often grew up believing the institution to be natural and moral. Indeed, many religious leaders in the American South justified slavery as well, retelling the story of the Curse of Ham, and emphasizing that the practice of slavery was never condemned in the Old Testament. In their view, people who opposed slavery were atheists.

The morality of slavery was a particularly devastating case of moral relativism, and one that involved the loss of half a million American lives trying to sort it out. But it also gave liberty to four million American slaves.

Was freeing four million slaves worth the cost of half a million lives? You might answer this question in different ways, and that's an example of moral relativism.

It would be hard to find someone trying to justify slavery these days. Concepts of morality change over time. Something that was acceptable in the past but is considered immoral now is also an example of moral relativism.

War is another area where people have moral disagreements. Some people and some religions (such as the Quakers) think that war is always morally wrong. Others, not so much. Some people are advocates of classical Just War criteria. Others prefer to pretend to be advocates of Just War theory without actually giving it much thought. Some people think war is morally acceptable only as a form of self-defense. Others will choose to invade countries without direct provocation. It's all moral relativism.

Some Christians read the Sermon on the Mount as one of the most pacifistic doctrines ever. Others think it's allegory. (Oddly enough, people who read the Sermon on the Mount as allegory are often the same people who believe the Book of Genesis to be literal!) More moral relativism.

Or consider the issue of torture. As historian Lynn Hunt discusses in the second chapter of her book Inventing Human Rights: A History, moral opposition to torture began during the Enlightenment, and by the 20th century this attitude had been codified into international law. But even as recently as the past decade, some people found it within their moral boundaries to actually order prisoners to be tortured!

Some people think torture is always wrong. Others think it's OK to torture people who aren't American citizens. Some people think it was proper for the U.S. to execute Japanese soldiers who authorized waterboarding of American prisoners of war during World War II. Some of those same people oppose executing Americans who authorized waterboarding of Islamic prisoners.

Some people argue that torture "works." Others argue that torture "doesn't work." And still others think that all this talk about whether torture "works" or "doesn't work" is beside the point because torture is always wrong.

That's moral relativism.

I mentioned executions. Capital punishment is another moral issue where there's often disagreement. Some states have capital punishment, while others do not. New York State hasn't had an execution since 1963, whereas Governor Perry's state of Texas currently executes about 25 men and women a year.

It used to be that capital punishment in the United States was employed for a variety of offenses, including burglary, sodomy, arson, rape, and slave revolts. By the 1960s, however, capital punishment was limited to murder. That change is an example of moral relativism.

Some people think that children and mentally retarded adults can be executed without causing any ripples in the moral universe. Others do not. Moral relativism again.

Even people in favor of capital punishment usually don't want innocent people to be executed. So when questions arose about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas in 2004, some people thought that case should be investigated, and any flaws in the system that allowed the execution of an innocent man should be corrected. But other people believed that Governor Perry was right to replace three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission to avoid a finding that might be embarrassing and cause the people of Texas undue distress and hamper future executions in Texas.

That's moral relativism.

Capital punishment also gets morally tricky when considering the means of execution. What's a good way to kill someone that doesn't involve a lot of messy cleaning up afterwards? Over the past couple hundred years, a variety of techniques have been used in the United States, including hanging, firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, and lethal injection. A slave was burned at the stake in South Carolina in 1825, but that practice was historically reserved for heretics and witches.

Whether one believes that capital punishment should cause pain or not is also an example of moral relativism.

What about crucifixion? Is crucifixion an acceptable form of capital punishment?

Here's where I suspect many Christians who otherwise support capital punishment would draw the line. Whereas ancient Romans believed that capital punishment by crucifixion was moral, many modern-day Christians would prefer methods of death somewhat less visually disturbing.

That's moral relativism yet again.


Comments:

You can't really take anything Perry says at face value. When he says moral relativism, he doesn't really mean anything nearly as intellectual as your argument might imply. This is just "coded language" for statements that he can't make in public. What he is actually doing is pandering to white voters who, while being the majority of people who turn out to vote, are now the minority in Texas. It speaks to the actual fear that people are feeling in rural areas. They fear that the country they think existed when they were children, and that they were promised, is being destroyed. And I HOPE YOU BELIEVE THIS...Having a black man as President is a symptom of this slow death that they think is happening. I have had people tell me this. (It's one of those things where you just stare like you're trying to read small print...)

Texas is one of the few states that actually teaches school children state history in addition to national history. Teachers taught us about the rugged individuals that settled Tejas, and that they prized freedom more than anything. They have an extreme distrust of authority.

That just wasn't true.

There is a place called Sugarland outside Houston where Tom "Small Government" Delay pumped millions of dollars of federal tax money into the construction and operation of prisons. Not schools. Not hospitals. Prisons. Private prisons. Public prisons. Prisons are just these fantastic beehives of economic activity. The people there love them. Video-conferencing visitation booths. New paint with pastel colors everywhere. Constant construction...roads, buildings, electrical systems, concrete sidewalks...there's a little something for everyone. Bailiff's, deputies, gaurds, bail bondsmen, repo-men.

The posts you've written lately about cultural experiences and knowledge actually being a liberating force really brought this in to focus for me. I don't think anything could illustrate more accurately how conformist, small minded, authoritarian, and regressive civil society has become there.

So, to summarize...War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. Rick Perry loves you. He always has.

Josh, Thu, 21 Jul 2011 17:09:14 -0400

Thank you. I appreciate it. — Charles

Very well put, Charles, but I again would argue about definitions.

"Moral relativism is the recognition that people don't always agree about moral questions — which behaviors are morally right and which behaviors are morally wrong."

I think we should ask first what exactly Gov. Perry meant by "moral relativism". If he indeed defines it as you do then your sarcasm makes total sense (frankly, I think he does not define it at all - as a politician he probably just say code words for his electorate).

But moral relativism as a view that moral is essentially relative (not as "sometime" people disagree on different customs) - that definition sets a basis to justify anything (Dostoevsky in "Crime and Punishment" explores this topic very carefully) and can be indeed mentioned as a negative view. For example, based on that view we cannot consider Hitler as evil, just a guy whose moral we do not quite understand at the time.

Of course, if we agree that universal moral exists, life would not be better tomorrow. The question what is the universal moral and even how to find it still is mostly unanswered. But at least it gives us a common ground that we can find it - and, who knows, may be some day "moral science" will raise from it, same as idea of universal laws of nature brought us natural science.

— Oleg, Thu, 21 Jul 2011 18:35:21 -0400

> I think we should ask first what exactly Gov. Perry meant by "moral relativism"

Let's try this: When Governor Perry uses that term, who is he (and his audience) more likely to visualize?

A. A high-school kid who's read some Dostoevsky and Nietsche without quite digesting it fully and says something stupid like "There's real no real difference between Gandhi and Hitler."

Or:

B. A high-school kid who discovers that he's gay, and realizes that he shouldn't be ashamed, he shouldn't commit suicide, he shouldn't try to pray away the gay, because he is what he is, and he should accept that, and be happy with that, even if his parents are going to totally flip out.

Here's a hint: Governor Perry is not a deep thinker. — Charles

High school kid, huh? Very mature... But funny:)

Anyway, where we are in agreement is that I do not consider him being a deep thinker either.

— Oleg, Thu, 21 Jul 2011 19:43:32 -0400

I was trying to figure out a logical puzzle the other day. Here it is, slightly paraphrased using your phrases above, for compatibility of topic.

Let's assume that

1) some people are born gay;

2) once they discover that, they should not try to pray away the gay, but accept that and be happy with that;

Let's also assume that

3) people can only be born gay before they discover it, and the way they were born cannot change;

Let's also assume that

4) there exists at least one person who was _not_ born gay; let's call one such person A.

Let's suppose that for any reason, at some point in his life, person A (erroneously) thinks that he discovered that he was born gay. (By definition, he was not.)

Let's suppose that some person B says to person A that in his opinion, person A is not gay and should pray it away.

Has person B thus committed an immoral action?

— Mike, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 00:15:15 -0400

The major flaw here is the assumption that human sexual response is binary, and hence can be represented by two mutually-exclusive entities true and false — gay and not-gay. As most people know intuitively, and as Alfred Kinsey attempted to quantify, there is a continuum between these two poles, and most people are somewhere between them. The degree to which an individual is romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same sex could change over time, or could be profoundly influenced by who the individual happens to meet. (Hence, the "bromance" and "girl crush.")

To "pray away the gay" is an attempt to pray away our basic humanity. — Charles

I'm sorry, I just couldn't pass this up: is Gov. Perry asking the entire state of Texas and/or the United States to... fast? I think this is more an attack on the fast food industry than any sort of call to prayer.

Charles Feduke, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 03:09:24 -0400

I thought it was a way to avoid opening the concession stands at Reliant Stadium. — Charles

The next step will be to argue if podophilia is moral. The problem with gay people is that some of them just sexual deviants hiding behind "moral relativism".

— Alex, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 08:03:16 -0400

I am ashamed that people like you read my blog. Educate yourself and learn to spell, OK? — Charles

So much for "the recognition that people don't always agree about moral questions". (and it was a typo)

— Alex, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 08:38:10 -0400

Your additional errors include viewing pedophilia as strictly a gay phenomenon, and implying that it's legitimate for pedophiliacs to use a defense of "moral relativism" to justify what they do.

Our society has an extremely wide consensus that children are not capable of making decisions for themselves. Many of our laws are devoted to protecting children. We do not allow them to live by themselves without adult supervision. We force them to attend school. We force them to get their shots. We force their parents to care for them or to legally give them up to the care of someone else. And so forth.

Along with this, we as a society are acutely aware that we cannot trust children to make their own judgments concerning sex. We know that children can be easily persuaded, and children can make decisions that are contrary to their own short-term or long-term interests. This is why there is a legal age of consent, and why an adult having sex with a child below that age can be prosecuted for rape.

This age of consent varies in different jurisdictions, but in North America generally ranges from 14 to 18. That variation in age is an example of moral relativism — perhaps a manifestation of moral relativism that seems more arbitrary than most. In some cultures kids can get married at an extremely early age. That too is a manifestation of moral relativism.

However, in many countries of the Western world, the extremely wide consensus of the immorality of having sex with children is embedded in our laws and very much embedded in our attitudes, and it is not very likely to change.

Regardless, there will probably always be some adults who attempt to have sex with children. Does it matter whether they try to defend themselves saying "God told me to do it" or "I was horny" or "Moral relativism, dude"? Certainly it might matter in how they are treated, but that's about it.

Like I said, moral relativism is a recognition of reality — that people have different ideas about what's right and what's wrong. It is not a synonym for nihilism, and it does not justify an attitude that "anything goes." It does not negate the responsibility of society of enforce certain standards of behavior that have become a consensus of belief.

And what exactly are you proposing? Do you want to deny the reality of moral relativism simply so some people can't use it as a defense for the wrongs that they do? — Charles

>From the second century (probably under influence of Gnosticism) the church ultimately over-reacts to sexuality. In other words sex has to be "procreational " not "recreational." If you personally (because the Bible has nothing on this subject) believe in this, then the following is against your beliefs: sex before and outside of marriage, pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, condoms, etc.

— Alex, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 09:26:56 -0400

That's fine. I do not believe that it is proper for a society to force people to have sex outside of marriage, to experience or produce pornography, or to engage in prostitution. I do not believe that it is proper for a society to force people to have sex with people of their own (or different) gender, to have sex with children, to have sex with relatives, or to use any type of birth control. People should be free to put their religious beliefs into practive. — Charles

Amen. Lets leave the decision to do what is right to human endeavour and promise a reward for those who make the effort, and punishment for those who are negligent. - Kurt Rudolph.

— Alex, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 09:53:36 -0400

I would greatly appreciate it if you could share your position on polygamy.

— Alex, Fri, 22 Jul 2011 10:01:11 -0400

Polygamy exists in the U.S. as a social institution if not a legal institution, and for the most part, nobody much cares. If a group of people want to live together in a polygamous relationship, that's fine. In recent years, people practicing polygamy have mostly gotten into trouble when age-of-consent laws are violated and statutory rape is occurring, or when the cult-like state of polygamous relationships results in abuse.

I don't have strong feelings about whether or not polygamy should have a formal legal recognition as marriage. It gets messy legally if (for example) one person goes into a coma, and then medical decisions need to be made not by one spouse but by four spouses who probably have different ideas about what to do. Polygamous marriage is different from gay marriage in that people are not "born polygamous," but there's an extra issue of religious freedom. I wouldn't mind that we as a society have a public discussion about it. — Charles

Charles, I must be reading you wrong bc I almost always agree with you. Are you saying you're not ok with the existence of porn or prostitution. Or are you saying your not cool with people being forced into prostitution or forced to make porn? As long as it's done by consenting adults I can't see why either should be outlawed and from what I know of your views I would think you'd be of the same or similar views. We don't have to like prostitution to think its ok for consenting adults to engage in it right?

Bill, Sat, 23 Jul 2011 00:34:47 -0400

The latter. People who have a problem with porn really should not be forced into creating porn or consuming porn. They should probably just avoid it entirely. Similarly, people who have a problem with gay marriage should probably not shouldn't marry someone of the same sex. — Charles

Just in time for this thread, Gov. Perry said yesterday (Friday): "Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business."

So, maybe, after all, he would be OK with your definition of moral relativism.

— Mike, Sat, 23 Jul 2011 05:10:35 -0400

I've also noticed that Mike Huckabee has recently been criticizing Rick Perry because in the previous Republican Presidential primaries, Perry supported Rudy Giuliani. Among the Evangelical Republican circle, Giuliani is widely regarded as a liberal, and it probably also doesn't help that he's Roman Catholic.

If I've misrepresented Governor Perry's views on gay rights, I apologize. But he was Governor at the time of the Lawrence v. Texas decision, and I don't think there's any evidence that he tried to get that crazy law repealed. The Wikipedia article on Rick Perry reads "Perry opposes all legal recognition of same sex marriages. He condemned the United States Supreme Court decision in Lawrence vs. Texas, which struck down a Texas same-sex anti-sodomy law and believed the law to be 'appropriate'."

Maybe Governor Perry's views are evolving. Stranger things have happened (although offhand I can't think of one). — Charles

.

The world of morals is large enough that it allows a combination of the absolute ('obvious') and the relative ('not so obvious' - open to influences other than logic). Obvious things include the fact that hunger or pain hurts, or for example that children at the very least would ideally be free of it. And there are things that are not so obvious to some people, such as that a man and a man should be allowed to do what a man and a woman can do.

However... what is 'obvious' can change according to your level of education and wisdom. A philosophy that promotes education and an open mind is likely to lead to adherents with a better feel for morality.

— Danyal, Sat, 23 Jul 2011 16:29:27 -0400

I'm agnostic, only to the extent that you can't know anything. But really:

"Although some people think that gay sex is wrong; others do not. These others think that sex performs just as vital a function in a gay relationship as in a non-gay relationship, and to prohibit it would be immoral."

Equating heterosexual sex with homosexual sex is silly. Yeah, to the person they might be, but to humanity, it's far more important that people have heterosexual sex. People can have homosexual sex all they want, and there is no reproduction. Russia and Europe would love to have more babies for this reason.

— Ug, Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:35:15 -0400

If the world were really starving for babies, then perhaps it's true that every sperm shot into the world that isn't speeding towards an egg is being wasted. But the world is really not starving for babies. In fact, some people argue that the world could use fewer babies being born. And if there truly is a baby shortage, it's not because everyone is suddenly going gay. It's because heterosexuals are choosing to use various forms of family planning to have fewer children.

Moreover, what exactly is your plan? Do you want to prohibit gay sex in hopes that gay people out of pure desperation will have unprotected heterosexual sex instead, and hence make babies?

Look, I'm a big fan of the categorical imperative. I think it has a significant role to play in evaluating moral behavior. But applying the categorial imperative to the legalization of gay sex does not mean asking "What would the world be like if all adults exclusively had gay sex?" Applying the categorial imperative means asking "What would the world be like if all adults were allowed to have the type of sex they feel most comfortable with?" And in that case the answer is: Not much different from the world we live in now, except we're not prosecuting people for consensual sodomy. — Charles

Don't put words in my mouth. I'm merely saying they aren't the same. In your world with too many babies, who knows, perhaps more homosexual sex is a good thing.

In my world in which Western Civilization is dying, I want more babies of Western Culture.

— Ug, Sat, 23 Jul 2011 23:23:15 -0400

Now I understand. The problem is not that there's not enough babies being born. The problem is that they're the wrong kind of baby. And gay people are to blame.

Got it. — Charles

Today, consensual homosexual acts between adults are illegal in about 70 out of the 195 countries of the world.

There should be a reason for that. I don't believe that legislators of those countries woke up in the morning and said "let's outlaw it just for fun".

— Alex, Sun, 24 Jul 2011 08:47:14 -0400

I suspect existing laws prohibiting gay sex are based on traditional religious prohibitions. These religious prohibitions are very old, of course, and probably arose as survival mechanisms. Without the benefits of modern medicine, infant mortality rates are generally very high, and mortality rates of women giving birth are also high, so you really want to focus your society on the procreative aspects of sex rather than the recreative aspects.

Since you've been exploring these statistics, try testing the correlation between infant mortality rates and prohibitions of gay sex. — Charles

So you believe that people of those countries are so dumb that they "want to prohibit gay sex in hopes that gay people out of pure desperation will have unprotected heterosexual sex instead"?

— Alex, Sun, 24 Jul 2011 10:00:05 -0400

Obviously I can't determine motivations or rationales. But one of the advantages of a religious prohibition is that people don't have to think about it. The religious prohibition removes the responsibility for people to decide whether a law is serving a purpose or not, or whether it's counter-productive, or if it interfers with peoples' human rights.

When God says No, further discussion becomes unnecessary and even heretical. — Charles

"The problem is that they're the wrong kind of baby. And gay people are to blame." - Charles, the word twister

Did I say that? I signed my name "Ug," because it was obvious from the beginning this is where things would go, and there is no use reasoning.

Why don't you try this thought experiment. Would preventing heterosexual sex by everyone have the same effect as preventing homosexual sex? I suspect you will twist this into somehow my perception that homosexuals should not be allowed to have sex, instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that one would destroy a species, whereas the other would have no direct effect on the species survival.

— Ug, Sun, 24 Jul 2011 15:44:26 -0400

Thank you for the clarification. I had assumed you were using a pseudonym because you didn't want to take public responsibility for your views. If you truly think that I twist your words rather than extrapolate your statements — or that you're truly using reasoning that I'm too dense to comprehend — then I would think you'd be proud to sign your real name and demonstrate how skillful you are in public debate.

To answer your question, if you were truly successful in preventing heterosexual copulation, and you were also able to prevent test-tube babies, etc, you would cause the slow-motion death of the human race. Without new babies being born, the population would steadily age, and less work would get done. Additional problems would result from most of the adult population being in jail for violating the law. The decreasing amount of economic production would cause massive inflation and eventually famine.

If, however, you successfully prohibited heterosexuals only from using artificial birth control, you'd also have problems. An enormous population explosion would result, and it would be increasingly difficult to feed and care for the large number of babies that would continue to be born in every generation. You really don't want to combine high birth rates with low infant mortality rates.

If you restrict yourself to successfully prohibiting gay sex, you'd have to come up with some kind of punishment for those who break the law, in which case you, Ug, would be personally responsible for the deaths of Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing. Thanks a lot for that constructive contribution to civilization!

You still haven't made it clear what your intent is here. Why on earth would you want to prevent consenting adults from having sex with each other? It's cruel and it doesn't make any sense. — Charles

Well, let's see. "Why on earth would you want to prevent consenting adults from having sex with each other?"

Well, I don't! I have no revulsion to homosexuals. Not interested, but I don't take offense when hit on by gays. I understand, because I've hit on tons of women that are not interested. So let's go back to my original post:

"Equating heterosexual sex with homosexual sex is silly. Yeah, to the person they might be, but to humanity, it's far more important that people have heterosexual sex. People can have homosexual sex all they want, and there is no reproduction. Russia and Europe would love to have more babies for this reason"

You claim they are equivalent, I disagree. You can do without one, but not the other, from a biological perspective. This also has ramifications for the state, as I've tried to express. And in the bigger picture, Western Civ is dying. For some reason, perhaps because women work, Western Civilization with the exception of the US (and that mainly in the bible belt), has horrid reproduction numbers. That scares the cr*p out of me.

Imagine, for instance, how well received your posts would be in say, an Islamic society. You might be stoned to death, while I think you have an interesting perspective and obviously are very intelligent. I, for one, would never censor your words (part of my Western Civ ideals). I want to see those ideals carried forward, because I think they are really important for humanity.

Regarding Pseudonyms and such, I'm from CA. Recently some Mormons exercised their freedom of speech by supporting proposition 8. The information as to who supported this was released, and some people tried to tear down their livelihood. Why should I open myself up to that kind of antagonism? It's simply mob mentality trying to destroy the freedom of speech of individuals.

So much for the tolerance of the left to Moral Relativism. You are moral, so long as you agree with OUR morals.

— Ug, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 02:18:11 -0400

> Western Civ is dying. For some reason ... Western Civilization with the exception of the US ... has horrid reproduction numbers.

How can a "civilization" have "horrid reproduction numbers"? I think you're confusing Western Civilization with Western European ethnic groups, and that's probably not a good idea. Basically you're saying... well, I probably shouldn't put words in your mouth.

If you are truly serious about preserving Western Civilization, then the solution is obviously to celebrate Western Civilization. Look at my blog to see some examples. I've blogged about the novels of Samuel Richardson, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, George Meredith, and E.M. Forster. I've blogged about the music of Bach, Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and other composers.

As far as conserving Western Civilization, I'm pretty much one of the most conservative people I know! One of my favorite composers is Brahms. One of my favorite authors is Trollope. My favorite philosopher is David Hume. You don't get much more conservative than that!

But you know what your basic American Conservative calls me? That's right: elite. That's the type of world we're living in now: Conservatives — who are supposed to be safeguarding Western Civilization — now consider anybody who actually indulges in it to be hopelessly elite and "out of touch."

Look at all the American Conservatives in public office who reject basic scientific concepts such as evolution! It's truly frightening, because that kind of anti-science idiocy is the real threat fo Western Civilization.

Of course, one of the high points of Western Civilization is the philosophic movement we call the Enlightenment. The Enlightment tradition represents a rejection of religious authority, and a celebration of human reason and human rights. American's Founding Fathers were all children of the Englightenment, and it shows in the deistic tone of the Declaration of Independence, and the freedoms embedded in the Constitution.

The Englightenment is still ongoing — a work in progress. This is what Western Civilization is all about, and this is what we celebrate by ceasing to oppress gay people and by instituting marriage equality.

If you think Western Civilzation is dying, the solution is not to hide behind a pseudonym and oppress gay people because they aren't popping out babies with the same enthusiasm as right-thinking Christians. It's time to immerse yourself in everything that Western Civilization has given us: centuries of literature, music, and art; a tradition of freedom and liberty; and a wealth of science.

And whenever somebody blathers on about "evil-ution" or "the Islamic threat" or "the gay agenda," speak up! Let them know what's actually going on. Throw off the shackles of anonymity and celebrate Western Civilization! — Charles

"When God says No, further discussion becomes unnecessary and even heretical."

Religions (with the exception of some short lived sects) do not give their followers destructive, unusual, non-customary or impractical laws. Fasting, for example, may even have some positive impact on the health (or at least help to save some seeds until spring). Abstention from eating pork is a measure to safeguard health. Of all the domestic animals, pig is the most avaricious, eating anything including human excreta.

Of course, some of the reasons are lost in the mists of time.

What if homosexuality is a side effect of some genetic mutation that either advantageous(so we need to scare them into sharing their genetic material with the rest of the population) or disadvantageous (so we need to exile them)?

— Alex, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 10:01:58 -0400

> What if homosexuality ... [weird speculation]

"What if"? "What if"??? Are you kidding me????? You're going to oppress an entire class of human beings and restrict their freedoms because there might be some rationale behind ancient prohibitions?

Congratulations. My mind is truly boggled. — Charles

Be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom - heard that.

— Alex, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 11:52:50 -0400

Now I'm really lost. — Charles

My point was: Why all of a sudden in different parts of the world there was so much attention to prohibition of homosexuality? Ancient Egyptians and Greeks didn't make too much fuss about it. Maybe later civilizations recognized some kind of threat that we are ignoring?

— Alex, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 12:18:34 -0400

British Prime Minister David Cameron, Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy have all declared in recent months that multiculturalism has failed, in speeches that were otherwise careful to highlight the contribution of immigrants.

Maybe we are doing the same mistake with homosexuals?

— Alex, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 12:25:57 -0400

> Maybe we are doing the same mistake with homosexuals?

And the mistake is letting them live among us decent folk? — Charles

The better term would be 'common folk'.

— Alex, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 15:04:40 -0400

I wonder why this discussion shifted to prohibition of same-sex sex, and even cruel punishment of those involved in it? We are all still mourning the loss of Alan Turing and Peter Tchaikovsky, but right now, there is no such oppression in the US. On the contrary, homosexuality is on the peak of its largest rise in history. Moving from decriminalization of SSS to state-approved marriages of homosexual couples requires quite a leap of faith, but several states have already taken it, and DADT has also just been repealed.

SSS is not and is not going to be prohibited, but it does not enjoy everyone's whole-hearted approval either, because many people have found it objectionable on spiritual, moral, philosophical, logical, aesthetic, psychological, physiological and various other grounds. With all due skepticism, they might have a point. And if they might, the issue is not settled until there is clarity or consensus. That's normal, no need to panic.

— Mike, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 16:04:13 -0400

I suppose it shifted that way because people wanted to prove my implicit point: I wanted to illustrate how Christian conservatives (such as Rick Perry) think of morality solely in terms of sex. Christian conservatives will eagerly support war, capital punishment, and (150 years ago) slavery, but they will prohibit gay people from having consensual sex.

That's moral relativism. — Charles

Another example of moral relativism appears in the last few posts on this blog.

You imply that a libertarian study considers the ability to marry a 12-old a form of freedom.

You state that a study is incontrovertible when in fact it makes no such claim.

"However, we happily concede that different people value aspects of freedom differently. Hence, we provide the raw data and weightings on our website so interested readers may construct their own personal freedom rankings"

You might have missed this it was buried on the first page.

Finally you complain about the study giving to weight to alcohol, tabacco, and drugs, when those variables account for 12% of the ranking.

Some people (you, for instance) consider it a virtue to misrepresent someone argument, other people not so much.

— David, Mon, 25 Jul 2011 21:04:01 -0400

> you complain about the study giving to weight to alcohol, tabacco [sic], and drugs, when those variables account for 12% of the ranking

You're implying that 12% is low for these variables! But what is tobacco even doing in a study like this? Tobacco is an extremely addictive drug that is destructive to human health. People who continue to smoke do so only because withdrawal is excruciatingly unpleasant. (I've been there.) People are not free when they smoke; they are enslaved to a strong physical addiction. Freedom isn't measured by the availability and low cost of tobacco. That's totally backwards.

If this study truly wanted to measure freedom, it would measure the extent to which a state's population is free from tobacco, free from drug addiction, and free from alcoholism. It would measure the availability of rehabilitation facilities, and the existence of state laws mandating that health insurance pay for these facilities.

As anyone who's been severely ill knows, freedom does not result from being immobile in a hospital bed or suffering under debt caused by massive medical bills. If this study truly wanted to measure freedom, it would measure the extent to which a state encourages or participates in public health. It does not.

Unless you think that freedom is being able to run around naked in the woods, you'll probably agree that one of the major threats to freedom is ignorance. Does the study contain anything about literacy rates? No it does not. Does the study contain anything about the extent to which people read newspapers, magazines, and books? No it does not. Does the study contain anything about high-school graduation rates, or college-attendance rates, or the availability of higher eduction, or the availability of adult education? No it does not.

I have been searching for the backup data for the "Educational Freedom" item, and have not been able to find that information, but it apparently gives states higher points for not having compulsory education, for the ease that parents can send their kids to private schools, and the ease that parents can home-school their kids so the kids don't have to learn basic science such as evolution.

I supplied readers of this blog with links to the study and links to the page hosting the spreadsheet. I was aware that it's possible to fiddle around with the weights used for the rankings. But the study can't be fixed in this manner. By completely excluding some crucial measures of freedom, it is fundamentally FUBAR.

Yes, it is certainly true that I have been guilty of the grave immorality of hyperbole, and I feel very bad about that, but I have not misrepresented this study as being the result of people who have suffered brain damage from reading Atlas Shrugged. — Charles

>You're implying that 12% is low for these variables!

No, I am not, I am saying that the weight of the variable is not disproportionate relative to the other variables in the study. Personally I like the outcome of lower tobacco use, but I don't like the government involvement.

Having fewer people addicted to drugs, tobacco, and alcohol is certainly a good thing, but using the power of the state to obtain this is not. Prohibition, Maoist China, and the current drug war in the US are good examples of damage that the state can do when it tries to free humans from their vices.

I don't literacy rates are a good measure for freedom because they seem to be a proxy for recent immigrants. Book, newspaper, and magazine reading seem to be a subjective measure of freedom considering certain books can cause (perceived) brain damage.

I don't understand how having the additional choices of private schools and homeschooling results in less freedom. In many areas of the United States the public schools are terrible, being from New York, I am sure you are familiar with this dynamic. I am assuming your comment about evolution and homeschooling is more hyperbole, but if not I would interested in seeing a study showing how homeschooling is less effective than New York and it's 70% graduation rate.

Finally I contacted both of the authors of the study and neither feels particularly influenced by Ann Rand.

— David, Wed, 27 Jul 2011 04:22:49 -0400

> I am saying that the weight of the variable is not disproportionate relative to the other variables in the study.

You're saying that a figure of 12% can be proportionate or disprotionate depending on the other variables in the study? Maybe I just don't understand percentages, but I'm pretty sure that 12% is always the same proportion regardless of the other variables, and that proportion is always — if you do the calculation — twelve parts out of a hundred, as compared to the other variables that total to 88 parts out of a hundred.

I think what you're saying is that compared with the other crazy stuff in this study, 12% for tobacco, drug, and alcohol "freedoms" doesn't seem completely out of whack.

Look, I don't have a problem with somebody doing a study exactly like this one and calling it something like the "Personal Autonomy Index." But putting the "Freedom" label on this composite measurement is ridiculous.

Who has more freedom? Somebody who has a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit but only pays $4.00 per pack? Or somebody who lives in a state where cigarette taxes boost the price up to $8.00 but who successfully kicked a nicotine habit by attending a support group paid for by her insurance company because she lives in a state where that coverage is required?

In what insane, warped, perverted, twisted, bizarro, Ayn Randian universe does the freedom to buy cheap cigarettes outrank the freedom to go to a museum, or the freedom to go to a research library, or the freedom to go to the opera?

That's stretching the concept of moral relativism to the point where it becomes absurd. — Charles

What matter is it what my identity is. It's the ideas that count: correct? Anonymity is wonderful, because it allows the freedom to express ideas without fear of backlash. But even then, a lot of people, including you Charles, will warp words or ideas to suit your own vision of what someone is. As an example:

"If you think Western Civilzation is dying, the solution is not to hide behind a pseudonym and oppress gay people because they aren't popping out babies with the same enthusiasm as right-thinking Christians. "

I said or implied homosexuals should be oppressed? Really. You made a claim, I point out the claim is false, and somehow I have an agenda. The only agenda I have is that your basis for your claims rests on a bad assumption. I even provided it in a neutral way, such as too many babies is bad, not enough is bad. I'm not the one drawing conclusions from false assumptions: you are. I'm not the one speculating on your purposes, though you are doing that to me.

And I'm a Bach, Chopin, Debussy, and Tchaikovsky (yes that homosexual) fan. Some Brahms, but I don't know what that has to do with conservatism. You have to like the latest trashy "Classical" music to be liberal? Is that the rule?

— Ug, Sat, 30 Jul 2011 14:03:16 -0400

There is a considerable faction of the American right-wing that disagrees with the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision, and instead believes that consensual sex between gay people should be illegal. Prohibiting two adults from having consensual sex sure sounds like oprression to me.

There is even a larger contingent that is opposed to marriage equality. They believe that the government should have the power to prohibit marriage between two adults who really want to get married to each other. That also sounds like oppression to me.

You have made it very clear that you are opposed to marriage equality. The reasons why may be muddled, but otherwise you've been very clear. You want the government to have the power to prohibit two consenting adults from marrying each other.

That sounds like oppression to me, and it sounds like you're in favor of this oppression. — Charles

"Somebody who has a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit but only pays $4.00 per pack? Or somebody who lives in a state where cigarette taxes boost the price up to $8.00 but who successfully kicked a nicotine habit by attending a support group paid for by her insurance company because she lives in a state where that coverage is required?"

This is a pretty simplistic view of the Cigarette deal. In almost all cases, it's better to not be addicted to nicotine at an individual level. But let's say the ultimate good is to remove nicotine from the marketplace altogether? Now those states that have high cigarette taxation rely on those taxes for other purposes. In CA, for instance, a group who had earlier succeeded in getting an increase in cigarette taxes later opposed another measure that would increase cigarette sales taxes further. The reason they provided is the "good" causes they were supporting with the cigarette tax would suffer as people would smoke less, reducing the overall tax. I suppose the states are now addicted to cigarettes.

— Ug, Sat, 30 Jul 2011 15:40:00 -0400

I made this clear? "You have made it very clear that you are opposed to marriage equality." And how did I do this? Please show the quotation that supports this conclusion.

This whole discussion can be boiled down to this:

Charles: Apples are oranges.

Ug: Apples are not oranges, for example, oranges are orange, and apples are not.

Charles: Well, they both come from fruit trees so they are the same.

Ug: They are different for these reasons.

Charles: You don't want equality for oranges.

You want to twist this into some discussion about gay marriage. Sorry, not going there. You are too emotionally wrapped up in your ideological view to have a constructive discussion. You are willing to warp the real world to fit your ideological one, and that perspective is not open to facts, speculation, or exploration.

And I suspect, as with all strongly ideological people, you have little tolerance for debate or discussion with those who do not agree with what seem like truisms. They aren't: they are merely postulates you've adopted because you like them, perhaps even because it makes you feel morally or intellectually superior. Now that's a big leap, but I've seen the same in almost everyone that has such a big stake in an ideological perspective. Multi-culturalism? Moral Relativity? You don't hold these values. You want everyone to agree to your ideological view. And then come the inevitable hate words: racist, Nazi, homophobe.

You people who claim to be so tolerant need to take a good look in the mirror. You have the disease you claim you want to cure.

— Ug, Mon, 1 Aug 2011 02:27:52 -0400

> I made this clear? "You have made it very clear that you are opposed to marriage equality." And how did I do this? Please show the quotation that supports this conclusion.

    Regarding Pseudonyms and such, I'm from CA. Recently some Mormons exercised their freedom of speech by supporting proposition 8. The information as to who supported this was released, and some people tried to tear down their livelihood. Why should I open myself up to that kind of antagonism? It's simply mob mentality trying to destroy the freedom of speech of individuals. (Ug, July 25, 2011)

If I misinterpreted that statement, and you do not actually oppose marriage equality, I apologize. I really do wish you would make yourself much clearer. You still have the opportunity for clarification.

> And then come the inevitable hate words: racist, Nazi, homophobe.

Yes, those words now actually appear in my blog (but you'll note that I was not the person who put them there). — Charles

I don't see how I could have made my position clearer. The opening note regarding the attempts by gay activists to shut down Mormon's livelihood is regarding pseudonyms: "Regarding Pseudonyms and such." It's merely an example of how anonymity in this hyper-charged politically correct environment can allow one to express ideas without fear of retribution.

Yet, I see in your remarks above:

    If I misinterpreted that statement, *and* you do not actually oppose marriage equality, I apologize.

What does my position on "marriage equality" have to do with whether you should apologize or not? You don't know my position on it, I've not mentioned it, and even if our positions were to differ, you are arrogant enough to believe your position is the only correct one (or maybe you are expressing that your convictions are so strong you could never change your position, and an opposing one would automatically wash your hands of any culpability for mis-representing anothers position.)

In any of the events above, I reiterate you are so strong in your convictions there isn't much point in trying to have a rational discussion on "marriage equality."

— Ug, Mon, 1 Aug 2011 11:52:40 -0400

At this point I am completely baffled about what your positions are, and what you are trying to say (if anything). You have made yourself so unintelligible that that I am forced to agree with you that "there isn't much point in trying to have a rational discussion." — Charles

See how I signed my name "Ug" at the very beginning? That's because you are blinded by your ideology.

You are now trying to force some position out of me regarding gay marriage. Why does it matter? If you can't agree gay and heterosexual sex are different in fundamental ways, there is no point having any further discussion.

If you want to explore the topic, you have to remove your bias, or in the end you would simply view my position as some kind of archaic homophobic perspective.

— Ug, Mon, 1 Aug 2011 15:26:01 -0400

> If you can't agree gay and heterosexual sex are different in fundamental ways, there is no point having any further discussion.

Actually, the ball's in your court. I am not arguing that straight sex and gay sex aren't "different in fundamental ways." One type is obviously potentially procreative given all the right circumstances, and the other is not. I would be an idiot if I didn't grasp that simple concept.

But so what? You haven't even ventured to make a connection from that assumption to a justification for prohibiting gay sex, or prohibiting gay marriage. If you want to have laws prohibiting gay sex, or prohibiting gay marriage, you need to justify those laws, and you can't do it just by saying that the sex is "different in fundamental ways."

Are you going to prohibit marriage between straight people who are impotent, or infertile, or too old to have children, or simply choose not to have children? Are you going to prohibit all sex that isn't procreative? If not, then you really need to explain why a marriage between a man and a woman in their 80s should be allowed, but a marriage between two men in their 20s shouldn't.

Unless you can fill in the missing pieces, then your opposition to gay marriage isn't built from any type of reasoning. It's simply arbitrary, and you really haven't given sufficient thought to the issue. This was obvious to me from your earliest postings. As for me, I've been thinking about the issue of gay marriage for over 20 years, beginning with my reading of articles by Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic. I have also read such classics of the opposition such as James Dobson's Marriage under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle (Multnomah, 2004).

> If you want to explore the topic, you have to remove your bias

It is true that I have a bias. That bias is towards letting consenting adults do what they want without interference from the state. It is a bias in favor of human rights, and I'm damn proud of it. — Charles

OK, I will now outline some essential ideas.

1) Procreation is important to the state.

2) Marriage is an idea that has been around for a very long time, and it almost always takes the form of between a "man" and a "woman." It has popped up in all the major societies. No one understands all of the ramifications of marriage in this form.

3) "Fair" has nothing to do with what's best for an organism's survival, and, by extension, to a society's survival. Also, some things can't be fair. For instance, impotent people can't have children. Two women can't conceive with each other, nor can two men.

4) The state has an interest in procreation.

5) There are differences in outcomes between kids raised in Lesbian households and heterosexual households. This may be reflective of a healthier environment, or it may be reflective of an environment whose consequences are not understood. There is little in the way of understanding what influences or consequences there are of being raised in a male homosexual household.

6) I don't understand the reason to provide marriage type benefits to able bodied people.

7) I acknowledge the current state of affairs is not fair for some of the reasons you state above, such as "Why do old people get to get married when they can't have kids, or who never had kids."

8) I don't like the argument that somehow the state's official seal of approval on the joining of two people matters a wit about any of it, and being an Atheist, I don't care at all about the arguments of the religious folks. They can argue all they want, but to me separation of church and state is very important (heck, I wouldn't even say "under god" when I was an 8 year old kid during the pledge of allegiance, and feel then, as now, that it's divisive). The point is none of my arguments are religious.

9) I'm tired of the rainbow crowd telling me "Diversity is important!" Oh, except in its most intimate form, in the home. Then homogeneity is OK.

So what does this all mean. I think the appropriate perspective is to consider marriage is really about raising kids. Perhaps Hillary is right and "It takes a village," and we will learn from studying lesbian couples that the man is dispensable. Then we ought to adjust the way we think about raising kids. Or perhaps we will discover, as I suspect, that there are male and female qualities that are important to raising kids, that have evolved over the many millions of years of sexual reproduction that neither man nor woman has in the entirety of desirable qualities. Or maybe we will find none of this matters.

One recent study that comes to mind is a longitudinal study that looked at delinquent behavior of children whose father was not present at the dinner table. It turns out a specific configuration of dopamine receptors increased the risk of male children to become delinquent.

So that's what I think. I think nothing is ever fair, that regarding family structure the single female household is a disastrous train wreck, and that we need to step back before more "liberalization" of the family unit is taken. Until such time as it is better understood.

Meanwhile, I have no problem with gays being gay. Heck, I have three boys, and that puts them at risk for being gay. While I would like grandkids someday, their sexuality is completely their own business. And unlike a lot of people, I think sexual orientation is in the genes, at least some of it.

There you go. These are my views, but I put them low on my list of issues confronting the US (with the exception of single female households. The more I hear, the more of a train wreck it looks like).

— Ug, Mon, 1 Aug 2011 18:56:17 -0400

> regarding family structure the single female household is a disastrous train wreck

I guess that must be why I'm so screwed up! It was extremely irresponsible for my father to get himself killed in a plane crash when I was a kid, and hence cause the "train wreck" that was my family life — obviously making a mess out of me and my two siblings.

At any rate, I'm still baffled. I'm sure your arguments make sense to you, but to me they just seem like a lot of flailing around of disconnected notions. The gist of it all seems to be more of an opposition to single-parent households, or to gay parents adopting kids (or having their own through artificial insemination, etc), than to gay marriage.

Your point #1 says that "Procreation is important to the state" and this is so important that you repeat it in #4: "The state has an interest in procreation." However, you continue to avoid explaining how prohibiting gay marriage helps this goal. Are you really suggesting that forcing gay people into heterosexual marriages and having kids provides the type of loving, nurturing households you seem to find desirable?

And then you start bad-mouthing marriage itself! You mysteriously say "I don't understand the reason to provide marriage type benefits to able bodied people" (a statement that reveals not much knowledge of the legal benefits of marriage), and "I don't like the argument that somehow the state's official seal of approval on the joining of two people matters a wit about any of it," which implies that other people shouldn't need to get married because you don't think the legal imprimatur "matters a wit," even though in a legal sense, it obviously does.

Shouldn't the people who actually want to get married make the decision for themselves whether the states "official seal" "matters a wit" or not? If the legal aspect of marriage is truly so insignificant, then why all the continued opposition to gay marriage?

I'm still confused, but you obviously gave it your best shot, so I thank you. — Charles

I stumbled to this place via the omniscience of a search engine, and was interested and delighted to find that someone who I've been reading on Windows programming since the 1980s also runs a thoughtful blog today. Hello again, so to speak.

I think that your discussion of "moral relativism" might have been appropriate for an journal or encyclopedia article, but doesn't come close to what Perry means by the term. What he clearly means is much more simple: "You and I know what is right and what is wrong, and anyone who thinks differently is engaging in moral relativism, trying to pretend that something evil is actually acceptable."

Perry is thinking of things like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, taxation, and things like that. I suppose that this is an attractive concept to someone who believes that he or she has received The Truth from God Himself (or Herself). (Unfortunately, God has neglected to confirm these ideas unambiguously to the rest of us, and there are so many people who claim to have received completely conflicting revelations.)

I have to admit to a certain amount of this sort of idea myself, although I have a different agenda, derived by reasoning from humanistic principles rather than divine revelation--I include torture (and I thank you for making the distinction between the moral issue and the practical issue of whether it "works"), child abuse, aggressive war, and things like that. I suppose that this makes me a moral absolutist, just like Perry, only on different issues.

In a way, I believe that all of us are moral absolutists: most of us have some issues that we consider moral ones and have definite views, and others which we do not. It is those areas in which we have strong moral views and others do not that allow us to accuse them of "moral relativism." In the end, the charge reduces to "Not agreeing with me on issues on which I have strong views," which is ultimately pretty pointless.

— Howard, Sun, 14 Aug 2011 21:16:58 -0400


Recent Entries
< PreviousBrowse the ArchivesNext >
Subscribe to the RSS Feed

(c) Copyright Charles Petzold
www.charlespetzold.com