“Why the World is the Way It Is: Cultural Relativism and It’s Descendents”
by Dr. Edward Younkins
Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and author of Capitalism and Commerce.
Relativism, the idea that truth is a historically conditioned notion that does not transcend cultural boundaries, has existed since the Greek era, some 2400 years ago. Relativism contends that all truth is relative except for the claim that “truth is relative.”
Cultural relativism wrongly claims that each culture has its own distinct but equally valid mode of perception, thought, and choice. Cultural relativism, the opposite of the idea that moral truth is universal and objective, contends there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong. There is only right and wrong as specified by the moral code of each society. Within a particular society, a standard of right and wrong can be inviolate. Cultural relativism maintains that man’s opinion within a given culture defines what is right and wrong.
Cultural relativism is the mistaken idea that there are no objective standards by which our society can be judged because each culture is entitled to its own beliefs and accepted practices. No one can object to any society’s intolerance that reflects its indigenous worldview. Because there is no objective moral truth that pertains to all people and for all times, one moral code is no better or no worse than any other (i.e., the moral equivalence doctrine). Thus, we should not impose our values on other societies. It follows that, according to cultural relativism, we cannot object to Hitler and Nazism, Mayan infant sacrifice, China’s massacre of students in Tiananmen Square, South Africa’s apartheid, genital mutilation (i.e., female circumcision) of young girls in Africa, and so on, because each of these practices is justified by the worldview within which it exists. Nor could we contend that one culture is superior to another culture. In addition, we would also be prevented from criticizing our own culture’s practices such as slavery. Further-more, within the perspective of cultural relativism, there would be no need for, or argument for, social progress. Toward what objective goal would we progress?
Multiculturalism, racism, postmodernism, deconstructionism, political correctness, and social engineering are among cultural relativism’s “intellectual” descendents. The remainder of the chapter addresses the philosophical underpinnings of these movements, analyzes each of them, and explains why Western culture is objectively superior to other cultures.
Philosophical Roots and Development of Cultural Relativism and Its Descendents
Relativism, the view that truth is different for each individual, social group, or historic period, had its beginnings during the ancient Greek period. However, it was David Hume (1711-1776) whose clear and rigorous formulation of this worldview made it an important idea in the Modern period. Hume argued for moral relativism because no one can know anything for certain. Consequently, a person is unable to pass judgment on alternative moral systems. Hume’s skepticism claims that neither reason nor the senses can supply reliable knowledge and that, consequently, man is a helpless being in an unintelligible universe.
Hume attempted to destroy the concept of causality in the objective world. He argued that because all of our knowledge comes from experience, we couldn’t have any knowledge of causality because we do not experience causality. According to Hume, what we refer to as causality is simply our habit of associating events because of experiencing them together, but this does not mean that the events have any necessary connection. Experiences of contiguity, priority, and constant conjunction do not imply a necessary connection between objects.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) agreed with Hume regarding the inability to see or prove causality in the objective (i.e., noumenal) world, but said that people will always experience the world in causal networks because causality is a feature of the subjective (i.e., phenomenal) world. Kant believed that men are cut off from the objective world and can never know the world in itself (i.e., as it is). However, the human mind has fundamental concepts, categories, or filters built into it through which man cognizes the world. Men structure the world that they experience so that it conforms to the human mind. Therefore, men never know things in themselves (i.e., as they really are) only as they appear given the method of man’s cognitive operations. Reality as perceived by man’s mind is distorted according to the nature of man’s conceptual faculty.
Man’s basic concepts (e.g., causality, time, space, entity, quality, quantity, etc.) do not stem from experience or reality but from an automatic system of concepts, categories, and filters in his consciousness which impose their own design on his perceptions of external reality and render him unable of perceiving it in any way other than the way in which he does perceive it.
Imagine that every human is born with red organic lenses in his eyes through which he sees the world. The world would appear red even though red is not a feature of the objective world in itself. Red is a feature of the subjective world. The functions of the mind’s filters are analogous to that of such lenses.
Kant said that we see the world in terms of entities because we have an entity category built into our minds. For that same reason, we experience the world in terms of a system of causal networks. We can’t know what is really out there in the objective world.
Kant’s epistemological dualism states that there is an object in itself and the same object as it appears to us (i.e., as filtered through our epistemological apparatus). Kant holds that the mind is concurrently both helpless and creatively powerful. It is helpless with respect to knowing the objective world but it is omnipotent regarding the social world (i.e., the world as created by the human mind). Reality becomes social because people create reality.
According to Kant, there is only one type of human mind that is universally the same (except for individual idiosyncrasies that occur because of our humanity and hence imperfection). Each person has the same categories and thus constructs the world in the same way. As members of the same species, we each have the same processing apparatus.
Kant contended that reality (as far as we can know it) depends on the cognitive functioning of the human mind in total. Society sets the norms of truth and falsity and right and wrong. This is the essence of Kant’s social primacy of consciousness theory in metaphysics. Man’s ideas are essentially a collective delusion from which no person has the power to escape. If a man sees things differently than the majority, then he must be mistaken due to some defect in his own information processing mechanism. Since and because of Kant, “objectivity” is generally thought to mean collective subjectivism. Truth, to the extent that it can be known in the phenomenal world, is to be determined by means of public polls.
Kant believed that man’s categories were unchangeable. Contrariwise, Hegel (1770-1831) argued that they evolve and change and that evolution is essential to understanding consciousness, history, and mankind. Marx (1818-1883) claimed that they changed differentially according to economic subgroups. This fragmentation or pluralization of Kant’s social subjectivism has ultimately developed to the point where today’s multiculturalists claim that groups create their own reality based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc.
Each multicultural subgroup has its own reality, its own logic, its own truth and falsity, and its own right and wrong. It is therefore impossible to discuss, argue, or judge any one group’s truth as better than any other. With no way to reason among the groups, the only alternatives are either isolationism or group warfare through which political power is used to slug out group differences.
Rousseau (1712-1778) held that reason had its opportunity but had failed, claiming that the act of reflection is contrary to nature. Rousseau asserts that man’s natural goodness has been depraved by the progress he has made and the knowledge he has acquired. He proceeded to attack the Age of Reason by emphasizing feeling, the opposite of reason, as the key to reality and the future. His thought thereby foreshadowed and gave impetus to the Romantic Movement.
Following Kant and Rousseau, the romanticists believed that reason is limited to the surface world of appearance, and that man’s true source of knowledge is feeling, intuition, passion, or faith. In their view, man is essentially an emotional being and therefore must seek the truth and act accordingly. The virtuous individual was a “man of feeling” who was sensitive to the plights of others and who spontaneously exhibited sympathy, pity, and benevolence to them.
Godwin (1756-1836) had a profound sense of egalitarianism. He believed that it was desirable and just for the output of society, to which all contribute, to be shared among all with some degree of equalization. He viewed the differences among individuals as being the product of different social circumstances, not in inherent differences in people’s abilities. Although he realized that some differences were the results of inheritance, he firmly believed that proper environmental structuring could overcome any inherent inequalities.
Nietzsche (1844-1900) contended that feeling and intuition are actually forms of reason and viewed the universe as a realm of colliding wills and violent conflict. He also held the view that a few superbeings (supermen or overmen) who were “beyond good and evil” had the right to rule the masses for their own higher purposes. These exceptional individuals, possessing the highest level of development of intellectual, physical, and emotional strength, would possess the courage to revalue all values and act with freedom to their internal Will to Power. As a result, the lowest levels of society would believe themselves to be exploited and oppressed and would experience a deep-rooted resentment. The result would be a negative psychic attitude, a will to the denial of life, and revenge in the form of translating the virtues of the superior into vices.
Kierkegaard (1813-1855) said that truth is subjectivity and that authentic existence is a matter of faith and commitment. In turn, Heidegger (1899-1976) maintained that (1) man is “thrown into the world”; (2) existence is unintelligible; (3) reason is invalid; (4) man is a creature in fear of the primary fact of his life—death; and (5) man is destined by his nature to “angst,” estrangement, and futility. Heidegger’s oftentimes-unintelligible writings can be described as the intellectual counterpart of modern art.
This brief review of philosophy has identified the roots of many of today’s prevalent concepts, including relativism, social subjectivism, collectivism, determinism, pluralism, economic egalitarianism, irrationalism, elitism, and the will to power, resentment, and historical victimization. These are the concepts that underlie, in varying proportions, the various intellectual descendents of cultural relativism.
The main idea of multiculturalism is the equal value of all cultures (i.e., cultural relativism). However, multiculturalism does not mean cultures as normally understood but rather as biologically defined (i.e., ethnically, racially, or sexually defined) groups. Multiculturalism, a politicized form of cultural relativism, rejects the idea that there are general truths, norms, or rules with respect to both knowledge and morals. Gone are the Enlightenment beliefs in objectivity, reason and evidence, and principles of freedom and justice that apply equally to all individuals. Unlike cultural relativism, multiculturalism excludes one worldview from the realm of equally valid worldviews—the Eurocentric Western perspective based on the contributions of dead white males. Multiculturalists dismiss the significance of Western civilization by claiming that Western traditions of elitism, racism, and sexism are the cause of most of our current problems. They accept a Romantic view of human nature as beneficent and benign until it was corrupted by flawed Western ideology and culture.
Multiculturalism implies that race, ethnicity, and sex (or sexual preference) have an inescapable effect on the way people think and/or the values they hold or are capable of holding. There are many closed systems of perception, thought, and feeling each affiliated with some biologically defined group. Rational dialogue among individuals from different groups is precluded because each group has its own “truth” and standards for its attainment. The multiculturalist maintains that each person is simply a representative of a particular biologically defined perspective who must agree with his own group’s worldview (unless he wants to be ostracized) and thus be unable to rationally discuss and meaningfully evaluate and critique ideas with representatives of other groups. Multiculturalism thus destroys an individual’s confidence in his own mind—this occurs when a person allows his group to tell him what to believe.
At one time, truth was viewed as transcendent, fixed, and unchanging. Epistemological egalitarianism has accompanied the loss of transcendence. Each group of persons now is thought to have an equal right to make truth claims. Think of the absurdity in which unreflected upon opinions are weighted equally with well-thought-out opinions in today’s numerous opinion polls that tend to be tabulated according to biologically defined categories. Truth is now thought to be a constructed cultural product that is immanent in each individual culture or subgroup. For the multiculturalist, truth only exists by consensus within each biologically defined group.
Multiculturalism is anti-individualistic in the sense that it expects each person to agree with the perceptions, thoughts, and judgments of his group in order for his own perceptions, thoughts, and judgments to be legitimate. The multiculturalist believes that a person’s thoughts are either the collectively constructed thoughts of his racial, ethnic, or sexual group or are the thoughts foisted upon him by the dominant white male worldview. A ruling premise of multiculturalism is that ethnic origin carries with it irrevocable attributes—if a person has a certain name and physical features, then he must have a particular perspective on life and the world. Multiculturalists assign each rational and autonomous individual into a group based on the group’s specific, absolute, and nondebatable dissemblances from other groups.
Multiculturalism attempts to replace individual rights with collectivism by assuming that a man’s identity and value are derived solely from biology, and that what is important is not what a person does as an individual, but rather what some members of his biological group currently do or did years ago. It follows that collective guilt replaces individual responsibility—a person must assume the responsibility for acts committed by his ancestors and pay for these acts ad infinitum.
The victim mentality is both a cause and effect of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism promotes a culture of victims who have a perpetual claim on society and the government. The result is the division of society into political interest groups with conflicting demands that cannot all be met.
Educational proposals from multiculturalists attempt to inculcate in students the idea that Western classical liberal order is, in fact, the most oppressive order of all times. As a result, people are taught to view themselves as victims. This perspective is based on the relativistic assumption that because all cultures are inherently equal, differences in wealth, power, and accomplishments between cultures are, for the most part, due to oppression. Thus, in order to establish cultural equality, multiculturalists emphasizing non-Western virtues and Western oppression dismiss the illiberal traditions of other cultures and attack the ideas of a common culture based on an intellectual, moral, and artistic legacy derived from the Greeks and the Bible.
There would be no harm in multiculturalism if the term simply meant that we should acknowledge and teach truths about many cultures. It is admirable to teach students both the noblest aspects of various cultures and of their failings. Unfortunately, multiculturalism’s pluralism and relativism has engendered a reluctance to acknowledge anything positive about Western culture while concurrently maintaining a nonreflective and approving position toward non-Western and minority ideas. Students are taught that no “properly educated” person would be willing to pass judgment on another culture. If a student should deny the equality of all cultures he would be told he was guilty of “ethnocentrism.”
Multicultural educational policies are based on the mistaken notion that cultures consist of mostly benign characteristics. In actual fact, there are both laudable and condemnable aspects of all cultures. Once it is recognized that different cultures exhibit varying degrees of good and evil, it becomes appropriate to inquire which culture exhibits the best characteristics on an overall basis. Some cultures are better than others: reason is better than force; a free society is superior to slavery; and productivity is better than stagnation.
Multiculturalists argue that education can build the self-esteem of minority students by presenting non-Western cultures in a favorable light in order to compensate for historical and curricular injustices, thereby restoring cultural parity between ethnic groups. Replacing education with therapy, the multiculturalist attempts to enhance self-esteem by teaching the students of oppressed cultures to be proud of their particular ancestry or race. This will only work if there are laudable truths that can be taught about a student’s ethnic heritage. When education is turned into therapy, the likely result is to teach history not to ascertain truth but to empower (i.e., enhance the self-esteem) of various factions. The result is the introduction of distortions, half-truths, fabrications, and myths into the curriculum in order to make students from certain groups feel good. In addition, multiculturalists denounce the emphasis in American schools on American history and culture and western civilization. Some even portray western civilization and Americans as evil and ideas such as reason and objective truth as Eurocentric (and patriarchal for the feminist) biases with the purpose of exploiting oppressed cultures.
Academic standards of excellence are of no use to the multiculturalist because they are simply means through which the dominant culture oppresses minority cultures. Not only are objective tests denounced as racist, multiculturalists demand that students be graded only within their cultural or racial group and/or that tests be redesigned so that minority students perform on the average as well as those in the dominant cultural group.
Students are instructed that there are no objective merits or failings of theories, arguments, policies, works of art, and literature, etc. Instead, they are only valorizations of power that require deconstruction in order to reveal their true nature as devices of repression. It is Marxism that has provided multiculturalism with its rationale and concepts (e.g., oppression, imperialism, inequality, revolutionary change) that are used to devalue and destroy American culture.
The goal of the multiculturalist is to change the United States from a culturally assimilated society to an unassimilated multicultural society with a wide range of cultures and subcultures accorded equal status. Multiculturalism promotes quotas rather than competition, allocating resources rather than earning them, and a cabinet that looks like America instead of one that has an adequate background to do the required job. Multiculturalists fail to see that the diversity methods they use to find and create diversity will, in fact, divide the country. The result will be a widespread, societal tendency toward hatred, revenge, or belief in the innate superiority of one’s group and a feeling of solidarity and self-righteousness.
Racism, a type of multiculturalism, is the erroneous idea that a person’s race determines his identity. It is the belief that one’s values, beliefs, and character are determined by one’s ancestry rather than by the judgments of one’s mind. In the name of diversity and multiculturalism many Americans are taught to base their sense of self in their racial or ethnic identity. In fact, “critical race theory” contends that there is no reality independent of a person’s ethnicity, no universal rules of logic, and no objective facts. Accordingly, each person is destined to interpret events according to the sentiments of his racial group. Such an attack on reason creates a herd mentality by which people thoughtlessly follow those who proclaim themselves to be the leaders.
Racial preference is the common ingredient of the diversity movement (i.e., diversity awareness, training, hiring, admissions, accommodations, etc.). Proponents do not realize that racism cannot be cured with more racism. When people are taught to think in racial terms instead of according to individual merit and character, and groups are identified as having special status (e.g., affirmative action programs), the logical result is likely to be warranted resentment and indignation.
Obviously, the rational and proper approach is to evaluate candidates based on individual merit. This simply means appraising candidates based on their possession of relevant knowledge and skills, their willingness to exert the requisite effort, and their possession of a good moral character.
The diversity movement states that its purpose is to eradicate racism and produce tolerance of differences. This is a pretense. A person cannot teach that identity is determined by race and then expect people to view each other as individuals. The idea of deriving one’s identity from one’s race is depraved. People have competent minds, efficacious intellects, and free wills that enable them to be judged as individuals.
A person cannot inherit moral virtue or moral vice. Think of the absurdity of recent proposals for apologies and compensation on behalf of America and the U.S. government to Afro-Americans whose ancestors suffered as slaves. This proposal assumes that whites today, who have never owned slaves, are almost universally against racism, and who bear no individual responsibility for slavery, somehow hold a “collective responsibility” solely by being members of the same race as the slave owners of the Old South. A person who is a member of a certain race cannot legitimately be blamed for the deeds of other members of that race unless people are simply interchangeable cogs within a racial collective. Compensation for slavery means randomly chastising today’s whites by taxing them and denying them jobs, promotions, and admissions to schools through welfare and affirmative action programs, in order to reward chance blacks. Individuals should be judged based on their own actions. They should be rewarded on their own merits and should not be compelled to apologize or pay for acts committed by others, simply because those others are of the same race.
Individualism is the only acceptable alternative to racism. It is essential to recognize that each person is a sovereign entity with the power of independent judgment and choice.
Multiculturalism leads to politically correct language. Such language must be consistent with multiculturalist principles. This means that language should: (1) not favor one group over another; (2) not infringe on any group’s right to sovereignty; (3) not interfere with the peaceful relationship of any minority group with those from other groups; (4) not hinder society (i.e., the state) in its attempts to protect cultural groups (i.e., social, economic, and ethnic minorities) whose views are declared to be equally valid and who have the “right” to equal opportunity, integrity, and point of view; and (5) not promote stereotypes of any kind.
The obsession of the morally superior, sensitive, and conspicuously compassionate elite with the subjective feelings of people is part of today’s prevailing therapeutic vision of man. This infatuation with sensitivity has spread throughout the media and academia, leading to the creation of feel-good euphemisms which part with accuracy and unambiguity in the interest of feeling and sympathy. Unfortunately, these “linguistic smile buttons” simply camouflage reality rather than change it.
Advocates of political correctness attempt to homogenize our language and thought not only to enhance the self-esteem of minorities, women, and beneficiaries of the welfare state but also to preserve the moral image of the welfare state itself. One approach to reaching this goal is to eliminate disparaging, discriminatory, or offensive words and phrases and the substitutions of harmless vocabulary at the expense of economy, clarity, and logic. Another approach is to deconstruct a word or phrase into its component parts, treat the component parts as wholes, and focus on secondary meanings of the component parts. For example, the term mankind is said to be exclusive, misleading, and biased when it is employed to refer to both men and women.
The politically correct fail to understand that language is the result of an evolved social process that results in a systemic order achieved without the use of a deliberate overall plan. Language simply arises out of accidents, experiences, and historical borrowings and corruptions of other languages. No one intended to exclude women when generic terms like he or mankind were used. With respect to human beings, the male gender was used to denote the species. On the other hand, both countries and ships are referred to as she. Using he or she or him or her simply clutters the language and conveys no further information. However, such use does imply that those who use the masculine terms hold hostile or exclusionary thoughts toward women! This leads people to believe that every use of generic male terms is evidence of male antagonism toward women when, in fact, such usage merely avoids awkward phrases and cluttered language.
Political correctness supplies a language through which it is easy to be a victim and always someone or something that can be blamed. Think of terms like culturally deprived, developmentally challenged, etc. Political correctness involves a lot of people attempting to explain the reasons for their lack of great success. These victim-type explanations or excuses generally include the idea that a person is having a rough time because of his particular race or gender. Essentially, political correctness is a way to rationalize who you are and why you are not better than what or who you are.
Victims are taught that their failures and suffering are invariably the result of some unfair and rectifiable condition that social engineers could remedy if the insensitive would simply let them. This reinforces the erroneous views that human life is perfectible and that all suffering is a deviation that can be corrected. People are led to believe that the world should be a place where they never suffer disappointment or failure. Of course, the tragic truth is that people can fail and that individuals are unequal in talents and achievements.
On some campuses seeking higher standards of human accomplishments is no longer valued as highly as politically correct thinking. Academic freedom through free speech is accompanied by high social costs on campuses, where truth is viewed as nothing more than different perspectives being offered by different groups in order to promote their own interests. Education-imposed biases restrict students’ thinking when curricula are developed to be nonsexist, peace centered, antibiased, and politically correct.
Political correctness (and multiculturalism) threatens free speech in both the academic sphere and the nonacademic workplace and ultimately the very foundation of American society. The government has, in essence, eliminated most free speech protection in the workplace. Free speech, which is an economic good to academics through which they make their living, has fared somewhat better in the educational world.
Broadly conceived, political correctness includes a number of initiatives such as: altering vocabularies in order not to offend particular groups, affirmative action in admissions and hiring, multicultural education, and broadening the scope of classical texts to include those written by minority authors and women. Then there are the workshops in which people are taught by “experts” how to be attuned to others’ feelings and how to avoid being found guilty of “sexual harassment,” “racial insensitivity,” and so on.
Deconstruction denotes a political practice of trying to devalue and dismantle the logic by which a specific system of thought preserves its integrity. Deconstructionists claim that words are inadequate for defining reality. They argue that language, particularly in written form, intercedes between the reader and the ideas.
According to deconstructionists, everything is simply perspectival appearance and there is not a fixed way of discerning linguistic meaning. It follows that when critics analyze a work of literature, they do not analyze what the writer originally meant but rather what the reader interprets from the work.
Deconstructionists, as critics of text and language, try to understand how the media and vocabulary used to represent ideas fail to mean the same thing to all people. As the idea of author has lost its significance, there is no longer a need to determine what the meaning was in its original context. Instead, the reader’s context becomes paramount.
After the idea of objective and attainable truth has been discredited as myth, there is no longer confidence in truth that is obtainable through reason. Deconstructionists argue that reason is simply an attempt at “metanarrative” (i.e., an attempt to control societal values). Literature and language become means of promoting ideology as each group represents its own worldview. They become means for enforcing a specific ideology on others for the purpose of exploitation.
According to postmodernism, reality is socially constructed and pluralism is a fact of life. Postmodernists exhibit disbelief in metanarratives in a myriad of areas such as literary criticism, political theory, music, architecture, etc. They display disdain for the modern ideas of rationality, linear progress, and one right way to do things. Postmodernists find fault with systems of thought that try to explain the world, its social and natural laws, its true morality, the path of history, and the nature of the human person, in universal terms that apply equally to all people in all times and places.
Postmodernism tends to revolve around the following themes: (1) the attainment of universal truth is impossible; (2) no ideas or truths are transcendent; (3) all ideas are culturally or socially constructed; (4) historical facts are unimportant and irrelevant; and (5) ideas are true only if they benefit the oppressed. Postmodernists generally use Marxist rationale and concepts (e.g., oppression, inequality, revolution, and imperialism) to attack and discredit American culture.
Postmodernism brings metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, and ethics to an end because these types of study assume a fixed, universal reality. Postmodernism denies the basis for knowing anything except itself. Consequently, postmodernists proclaim a universal tolerance of all ideas. Ironically, the result is a philosophy that accepts only local truths (rather than universal truths), thereby dividing people according to race, gender, locality, etc. The result of this division is an intolerance that is exhibited in racism, sexism, nationalism, etc. When various peoples’ truths are different depending upon the differences between them, then the differences between them cannot be overlooked—they are too important.
Postmodernism encompasses the idea that people tell stories in order to explain the world. None of these stories is reality but are simply representations of reality based on incomplete and often inaccurate information. There are a variety of socially constructed realities, belief systems, and stories that attempt to explain the world. People construct stories that seem to fit the information at their disposal. This is analogous to Thomas Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shifts in science. When experiments yield evidence that does not fit the reigning paradigm, then eventually a new paradigm that better explains the evidence at hand is adopted.
Postmodernism can be evidenced in the following instances. Some scientists believe that there is no one self; rather the self is a changing socially constructed reality. Other scientists now contend that one of the brain’s functions is to tell stories (even with only few facts and frequently without the use of logic) in an effort to make sense of the world. Literary criticism is thought by many to find meaning in the reader’s experience—the reader creates the book’s reality. In turn, literary deconstructionists debate the idea of representing anything with words. Postmodernists tend to view the world as theater in which we are all competing spin-meisters. For example, political leaders try to get their story told by the media and believed by the people. In law, many scholars dismiss the idea of permanent legal principles. In psychology, a method for treating people involves the creation of a new life story for them (i.e., putting a different spin on their circumstances).
Postmodernists are unified in their repudiation of universal truths. They then depart from their commonality to join various factions in order to participate in the debate. The deconstructionists were discussed earlier in this chapter. Constructionists, realizing that we can’t universally know objective reality, contend that we can construct or define it in any manner we choose. Then there are the pragmatists who contend that the lack of universal truths is sufficient reason to retreat to one’s own local community—people should stay with the beliefs and concepts that they are capable of knowing, those natural to their own cultural group.
Postmodernists are constantly redefining themselves and are searching for new meaning. As problem finders and problem solvers, they tend to reduce life (and especially political and social issues) to problems and solutions. They also like to engage in zero-base thinking, dismissing the systemically evolved knowledge of the ages.
The Philosophy of Social Engineering: A Recent Descendent of Cultural Relativism
The philosophy of social engineering, as reflected in contemporary civil rights policies and agendas, is primarily based on five concepts: collectivism, determinism, economic egalitarianism, elitism, and historical victimization. Multiculturalism, a merger of collectivism and determinism, asserts that no person can avoid the forces imposed by race, ethnicity, gender, etc. Fortunately, according to the proponents of social engineering, there exists an elite able to remedy historical victimization. Undergirding the philosophy of social engineering is the idea that all individuals should be economically equal. When equality does not exist, it must be due to exploitation and discriminatory exclusion. Consequently, the elite needs to act through the legal and educational systems in order to establish the economic equality that would have existed in the absence of exploitation and domination.
The elite includes individuals and groups who far exceed the general population in intellect, morality, and dedication to the “common good.” Their general superiority enables them to use their articulated rationality to function as surrogate decision makers in governmental economic and social planning. Their special wisdom, knowledge, virtue, compassion, commitment, and intentions qualify them to guide the actions of the many either through articulation or force. Because the elite tend to assume that human nature is infinitely malleable, they attempt to mold the nature of the people according to their superior judgments and advanced views.
Unfortunately for its advocates, the philosophy of social engineering is irrational and inconsistent. Collectivism represents nothing that exists in reality. Only individuals, with countless differences and experiences, can think and act. Although persons can share biological characteristics, they will differ in numerous other ways that are necessary to their identities as individual persons. If determinism is valid, then elitism is infeasible because elites would be affected by causal factors just like everyone else. To propose that they would be exempt from such control would contradict the idea of determinism. In addition, economic egalitarianism is inconsistent with determinism. If determinism is true, then the nonegalitarian status of today’s world is simply unavoidable. It is purely the consequence of historical determinants whose effects could not be different from what they are. Egalitarianism is also denied by the notion of elitism that acknowledges the existence of a caste of individuals who are more intelligent and possesses superior moral understanding. Finally, the idea of victimization loses its plausibility if both collectivism and determinism have been dismissed as irrational.
In his Tyranny of Reason, Yuval Levin explains that the social scientific outlook holds that society and man can be understood through scientific study and that truth in the social world is essentially no different than truth found by science in nature. This failure to recognize that human beings are fundamentally different from the physical objects examined by science and the inappropriate application of scientific reasoning by arrogant social engineers and technocrats can have devastating consequences, including the limitation of man’s freedom in thought and action and the devaluation of a man’s search for meaning in his life.
Confused students of politics and society have attempted to apply the same rules and standards to both the natural world and the social world and have searched for a precise rational formula behind the social behavior of men. So-called experts fail to realize that scientific thinking seeks meaning in causes existing in the past, whereas human beings make decisions based on purposes reaching toward the future. Because the world of science is a world of causes, not of purposes, it cannot answer the “why” question. The human world cannot be adequately described in terms of causes without purposes and means without ends.
Approaching the human world from the perspective of scientific certainty constrains man’s freedom, robs people of a sense of control, and encourages people to hand over their fates to social engineers who believe in the inevitable progress of mankind and in their own superior ability to discover, comprehend, and predict the proper arrangement of society and the underlying truths of the human world. Of course, the knowledge needed by these social architects and constructivists is unattainable––the best we can achieve is partial knowledge of the human world.
Determinism arises naturally from the social scientific outlook. The belief in determinism leads people to think that they have no active role to play in controlling their own futures. Utopian social scientists tend to have contempt for deliberative politics and participatory democracy and to prefer the neutral scientific manager, central planning, social engineering, and government control of the economy.
Western Culture Is Objectively Superior
Today, many intellectuals claim that Western culture is not any better (some say it is worse) than other cultures. In addition, they argue that there are no objective standards that can be used to evaluate the moral merit or demerit of various cultures.
In reality, the superiority of Western culture can be objectively demonstrated when cultures are appraised based on the only befitting standard for judging a society or culture—the extent to which its core values are life affirming or antilife. Prolife culture recognizes and honors man’s nature as a rational being who needs to discern and produce the circumstances that his survival and flourishing require. Such a culture would promote reason, man’s natural rights, productivity, science, and technology. Western culture, the prime example of this type of culture, exhibits levels of freedom, opportunity, health, wealth, productivity, innovation, satisfaction, comfort, and life expectancy unprecedented in history.
Western civilization represents man at his best. It embodies the values that make life as a man possible—freedom, reason, individualism, and man’s natural rights; capitalism, self-reliance, and self-responsibility based on free will and achievement; the need for limited, republican representative government and the rule of law; language, art, and literature depicting man as efficacious in the world; and science and technology, the rules of logic, and the idea of causality in a universe governed by natural laws intelligible to man. These values, the values of Western civilization, are values for all men cutting across ethnicity, geography, and gender.