“Pluralism marks the moment in history when despair and private obsession replace culture.” Leon Krier
The other day on Facebook (December 16, 2010), Nassem Nicholas Taleb catalyzed a revealing and depressing discussion (as I am confident was his intent – except for the depressing part), when he put forth the hypothesis that,
“(Just as the opposite of Fragility is not Robustness) The opposite of the OPPORTUNIST is not the UNBRIBABLE, but someone who makes sacrifices.”
I happened upon that discussion immediately after encountering a simultaneously running thread on another forum, where definitions of both Pluralism and Relativism written by philosopher Craig Hovey were posted. I gather that Hovey propounds a philosophical theory that secularism is related to relativism and is not an empirical reality. In his book, Nietzsche and Theology (Even not having read it, there’s a depressing discussion catalyst!), Hovey defines pluralism and relativism as follows:
“Pluralism: “It is an empirical reality in which different groups make rival claims within and outside of political discourse…It names a situation in which any resolutions that might otherwise have been accomplished through appeals to a uniting political vision are no longer possible. Truth has not exactly dropped out of consideration as a metaphysical notion, though different groups will have varying notions of it at the level of theory.”
“Relativism: “It is not an empirical reality but a philosophical doctrine that may follow from the reality of pluralism. In relativism truth has, in fact, dropped out. It cannot be said to have been refuted; only that it has failed to sustain sufficient interest politically and possibly otherwise…Particularly insofar as relativism is a philosophical doctrine, it is always in the position of overdetermining the political exercise of actual pluralistic communities.”
Well, there are other definitions, but those were the currency of discussion on those sites on that day. Various comments showed concurrence in the idea that, despite critical errors in regard to “truth” found in both pluralism and relativism, they both exist in our world and either impel or impact all people in one way or another. “Existence” does not equal “paradigm” or even “tolerable”, and also applies to realities such as tornados and viruses that would best be avoided or if possible eliminated altogether.
March of the Mutant Philosophies
Denying the existence of harmful things, philosophies, cultures or people neither “disinfects” them, “cures” them or makes them “go away”!
Both pluralism and relativism as philosophies, and more often now found as one combinative philosophy, seem to either want to include everyone regardless of beliefs, morals, ethics, goals, et.al., in a type of “can’t we all just get along” view (How sacrificial of us, say their proponents and adherents. Not!). Of course, somehow in each application of those philosophies, they are the wiser and smarter leaders that must in the end be in control and dominate that allegedly shared community life.
If you disagree, toleration is replaced by labeling non-conforming followers as opportunistic and soon followed by re-education or banishment. Always remember that, in the end, “their truth” is intellectually superior to “your truth”.
At their most seemingly innocuous, these approaches resemble a shade of grey in contrast to a color – their gray, of course, and you are told that it is after all the most beautiful grey of all the greys. You may be tolerated for a while in either a pluralistic or a relativistic community (or a stew composed of both) if you go along with their plan for it.
Eventually and inevitably, however, that tolerance proves to be more controlling, more judgmental and more destructive to the community than, often, the original differences that one thought were being bridged by that community.
Facing the juxtaposition of those two actually similar approaches,
Mirror images in distorted mirrors
in the comments and in real life (not in the intent of the discussion provokers), what is glossed over is the unsustainable dichotomy, tension between, incapability of occupying the same space, and inevitable result of the life or death contest between
Truth vs. Pluralism vs. Relativism
How sadly interesting are the degrees of opportunism versus sacrifice expressed, defined and implied in those discussions, fitting in that range of pluralism “versus”, or is really “inclusive of”, relativism – including the remarkably gymnastic philosophical and actual avoidance of the reality of Truth including that found in paradox to such an extent that heterodoxy becomes the proclaimed “hoped for” and allegedly peace-making norm for modern life.
The discussions do circle back through opportunism vs. sacrifice and how those philosophies are without fail co-opted for short-term personal gain or offensive weapons at the expense of other individuals and of community.
The Wreckage of Pluralism and Relativism
At an extremely crucial juncture in his life, Pontius Pilate opted with a shrug of his shoulders for what he thought was self-serving opportunistic relativism to offset the pluralism of “his” reality. He sacrificed Truth, and to justify himself (that doesn’t work, does it?), stated rhetorically,
“What is truth?”
At the end of the day, instead of facing THAT reality, his philosophy – that of the world and of those whom he attempted to placate in the heterodoxical pluralistic and relativistic community – compelled him to discard objective Truth and choose destruction.
“Situational ethics” rule such societies – our society – and situational ethics do not pass the litmus test of applied Truth. Hopefully some sets of individual, community and cultural “ethics” are an anathema to most sentient beings – Idi Amin had “ethics” based upon “his truth” along with many like him careening across the world today, and they were and are far worse than abominable.
Nothing is different today in our culture or others or in individual lives, “human nature” being what it is and is not. Confusing correlation and causality create and compound actions as corrosive to society as those that occur through misunderstanding of “opportunism”, “sacrifice”, “pluralism” and “relativism”. The result is an awful accumulation of wreckage in the ditches on either side of the road of Truth.
Sadly, mankind continues its obsession with collecting junk out of the ditches, only to claim shock when blind-sided by Truth as they stumble up from the ditch to adore their gains and find Truth inexorably hurtling down the road of life straight at them!
Their Opportunism Requires Your Sacrifice
Are these discussions a meaningless yelling at the wind? No, for there really are cultures of pluralism and relativism – separately and collectively, and we are living in the steaming, messy heterodoxical stew of one that continuously bubbles and spills over onto human society to obscure Truth throughout time. We have a duty to our time and our “community” even though we cannot change “human nature”. History validates that the “hot stove” theory does not really prove out, does it?
A better approach is to not stand silently by the road watching while the “What is Truth?” folks, the “All Truths are True” folks and the ”All Truth is Relative” folks tout their wares. If they drag you in with them, their first demand will be silent obeisance in exchange for their “tolerance”. The second demand will be slavish obedience to their self-proclaimed “greater wisdom”. The next action on behalf of their “greater wisdom” is opportunism exemplified, simply pushing you out onto the road in front of them as a sacrifice to Truth. Fall for that philosophy and culture and we will not be different from those of whom Winston Churchill once joylessly remarked, inclusive of all mankind as it blindly stumbles onto that road…
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”