Last week in “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we examined the difficulties inherent in using power (physical, numerical, governmental, etc.) to subject the morality of one cohesive society to the opposing morality of another cohesive society. This week, we will continue our discussion with a look at the difficulty of using “value” to determine which society’s morality ought to be subject to the views of another. Indeed, if power fails the test when it comes to providing a foundation for the subjection of certain societal groups to one another, value is all that the societal relativist has left. And value is not easy to determine when one holds to a relativist view.
Each individual culture has its own way of determining what does or doesn’t have value. Is a society with a stable economy, but which is constantly at war to be more desired than a society in which the economy waivers, but peace prevails? Is a people group who promotes communal sharing, but condemns freedom of speech to be preferred over a society in which the poor go unaided, but a man may speak his mind without fear of reprisal? To make such determinations, a moral view must be taken… but which?
At its very best, the moral relativist must now face the tricky reality that he becomes a hypocrite if believing that morality truly is relative to and ought to be determined by the majority of the population within an individual society, he continues to try to force other societies to bend to the moral views of his own. Yet this is his only choice, for he must determine the value of other societies based upon the prevailing morality of his own… or risk being immoral, himself.
This Imperialist view in which one society is arbitrarily deemed “more valuable” than others has, throughout history, led to both the enslavement and, on occasion, annihilation of other “less valuable” cultures. It has forced millions to sit quietly by as their heritage has been stripped from them and their people dominated or destroyed. It has led to broken homes and broken lives. And in order to hold it, the societal relativist must make the decision that one thing, at least, is not relative: that his society is more valuable than all others.
Next week, we will begin to address one final argument against the view of the societal relativist: that the apparent moral view of the majority may not be the actual moral view of the majority. In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts on this week’s topic below!