Franz Kafka

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Relativism and moral relativism in modern society. What does it mean today?

rel·a·tiv·ism: In Philosophy, in a nutshell, the term refers to a theory (especially in ethics or aesthetics) by which the concept of truth and moral values are not universal or absolute, but are relative to the persons or groups holding them, thus may greatly differ amongst the community of men and between group of individuals or different cultures. (1)  The concept of Moral relativism has been exposed, analyzed and debated for thousands of years, as far back as from ancient Greece and the Indian civilization for instance, in the fields of philosophy, science, and religion.

But today, what does it mean? Throughout history (as we know it), and until the most recent industrial revolutions, the role of an elite of intellectuals and philosophers was to understand society and its driving forces; precognition of changes and pointing to some meaningful direction was their job description, so to speak. Today, it's all nonsense arguably, and public opinion is fragmented or non existent. To quote Brazilian writer Graciliano Ramos' novel Angustia:
"Não há opinião pública: há pedaços de opinião, contraditórios...No júri metade dos juízes de fato lançaria na urna a bola branca, metade lançaria a bola preta. Qualquer ato que eu praticasse agitaria esses retalhos de opinião. Inútil esperar unanimidade. Um crime, uma ação boa, dá tudo no mesmo. Afinal já nem sabemos o que é bom e o que é ruim, tão embotados vivemos".
In plain English, I would translate it as:
"There's not such a thing as a public opinion. There are only contradictory bits and pieces of opinion. The Jury's would be split; half of the judges throwing in the white ball ballot box, and half the black. Whatever act I do, it would trigger the exact same fragments of opinion. It's useless expecting unanimity. A crime, a good deed, it's all the same. In the end, already we do not know anymore what is right and what is wrong, such is the obtuse nature of our life."
Even more so, in our post-industrial, post-sexual, post-religious, post-feminist, post-whatever and so called "liberated" society, what does relativism actually mean? What if, -far worse than obtuse- our existence is presently run and astutely ruled upon by technology, regimented by the strings pulled by multifaceted, absolutist puppeteers? Bio-technology, nano-technology, artificial intelligence technology, to name but a few. What if, today a regular Joe absorbs far more information in a week than an average man of the 16th century in his own life span? Our species' brain is the same, it hasn't grown since! Thus, what is the role of an intellectual, a philosopher, a vate,  a guide, in modern society? Is there a direction at all that we can be pointed to, or all is there is nonsense and chaos? Is the ever intrusive and laughable concept of political correctness the mere by-product of all of this?

Not long ago, I was struck reading that a UK Navy vessel captain had agreed to Satanic rites on his ship. Britain's Armed Forces have enlisted their first Satanist, after a naval technician serving on a frigate was granted permission to practice his beliefs while at sea."Defending the decision to allow a Satanist among the Royal Navy's ranks, a ministry spokesman said on Sunday it was an "equal opportunities employer" and did not discriminate against specific religious beliefs". (2)

Sources:
1 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language
2 Reuters

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