We are awash in relativism, or post-relevance, as I like to call it, the bastard grandchild of post-modern Euro-crit. You know what I’m talking about: It’s all real; whatever; any possibility is as good as the next. Or my favorite: All opinions have an equal right to be heard. First, corporations are people, now opinions. Oy!
The psychological anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn once published a study of the Dineh (Navajo) people, in which he concluded that their society was fundamentally neurotic. You can imagine the response. Cultural relativism was a cornerstone of anthropology long before our current obsessions. Kluckhohn’s response was that if the values of all cultures are equally valid, then his judgment of the Dineh society within the context of psychological anthropology was perfectly sound as well.
Therein lies the problem: at its root, cultural relativism is paradoxical. One can probably be a truly disinterested observer with regard to, say, arthropod taxonomy, although even there, tempers have been know to flare. But where human values are concerned, especially where they directly conflict, such a thing is a cherished fiction. Because, of course, the vast majority of human cultures clearly and unequivocally believe that their values are superior to all others. To find an example, one need look no further than the culture of anthropology itself, which presumes to be a metaculture, floating nonjudgmentally above the fray, all the while explaining how people haven’t a clue about the true meaning of their institutions. Is it just heuristic convenience that anthropologists rarely study their cultural peers?
As bad as the situation is in academe, the slopewash in pop culture is worse. All that is necessary for a proposition, no matter how absurd, to be taken seriously is for someone to utter it. That this ultra-refusal to take a stand coexists with the swift condemnations typical of social media is no real surprise. It is a paradox within a paradox. After all, indignation is just another point of view, on equal footing with apathy, tolerance, and intolerance. With relativism, absolutism is fine.