Oct. 10, 2016

by Gavin James Campbell

What is moral relativism?  It is a belief that what is a moral standard for one person will not always apply to another.  That what is right for one will not always be right for another.  As an observational principle, that is reasonable.  An anthropologist or a sociologist has to take that approach in order to carry out their studies.  As does also an economist.  But as an actual approach to ethics, it is not reasonable.  The counter to this approach is classically expressed by Jesus Christ when He says “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:2), and when He says “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Matthew 7:12).  Both of which have their precedent in the adjuration that one love their neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18).  Even in a secular context, it is understood that this is not a reasonable approach to morality or ethics.  There is understanding of the fallacy of special pleading, when one wants to claim a dispensation from normal standards of conduct without providing a good reason for it.  That there are still normal standards to be appealed to.  Or when we speak disparagingly of double standards.  That we understand that except for extenuating circumstances, the standards applied to one are to be applied to all.

                Let’s then be clear.  If race is real as according to the understanding that races are supposed to be discrete categories of sub-species of human beings; then, we are left with all-out moral relativism.  If we are saying because of real differences between populations that people should then be treated differently, we are effectively saying that morality does not hold for everyone.   That because of allegedly “real differences” between the so-called races, there is then a moral standard for members of one race and a different moral standard for another.  So often, if one wants to insist that ethical standards should be the same for people regardless of skin color, the counter-assertion is to attack the position as being too “egalitarian” or “politically correct”.

                So if a race realist want to insist that on average, one race is more prone to violence than other, and that therefore should be treated differently, this amounts to moral relativism.  The measure they would give to the allegedly less-violent race is not the measure they expect for the more-violent race.  They expect police, courts, and prisons to enforce a standard of conduct for the one race that is not the standard for the other race.  Likewise with claims that one race is supposed to be more prone to laziness or lack of intelligence.  The measure they give to the one is not the measure they expect for other to get.
                Also for the principle that what you wish others to do to you, is to be what you would do also.  A race realist insists that because members of one race are on average less intelligent than another.  But they quite clearly do not treat other members of another so-called ‘race’ the way they would have intelligent people treat them.  They could not suffer for someone of the same skin color who is smarter than they to mistreat them, but will expect to be allowed to mistreat someone of different skin color because of claims that they are on average less intelligent.  And again, likewise for claims about proneness to laziness or violence.  The race realist would pre-judge someone of a different skin color as being more prone violence or more prone to laziness, but will not allow themselves to be pre-judged in the same manner.  They will not do to others what would be done to them.  The classic concept of race cannot be reconciled with an understanding that moral standards apply to all.

                Now the race realist might perhaps try to insist that real differences between people entail that people be treated differently.  But that can only really be a blatant assertion of moral relativism.  That would be fine if they could be honest about that, and not try to present their views as being compatible with Christianity.  Seeing that Christianity does not have that understanding of morality and ethics.   The other problem is that taken to its logical conclusion, we are left with an impossible approach to making ethical decisions.  It should entail that even within a so-called “race”, it is permissible for someone of the same skin color to treat someone of lower intelligence according to a different set of standards for conduct.  That even within the so-called ‘race’, the differences are such that there is not a uniform standard of conduct that can be applied to the whole race.  Given the amount of differences from individual to another, it should entail that everyone have their own set of rules of conducts peculiar to themselves.  A nihilistic free for all, with everyone doing what is right in their own eyes.

                Some race realists might insist that they only want to separate.  That they should be allowed to separate themselves from a society or country which applies laws equally to all regardless of skin color.  That somehow their existence as whites is threatened.  But this is still moral relativism.  Seeing that they cannot be expected to consent for themselves to be displaced for another group to have their own homeland.  That they cannot be expected to consent to have their own families be forcibly separated in order to create racial ethno-states.  And in order to insist on the separation of so-called races into their own ethno states, some groups are going to be assigned to lands with more resources than others.  Again, some groups will have more than others, regardless of ability.  The race separatists would almost certainly not insist on a whites-only ethno state on Baffin Island or Ellesmere Island where there is not livable land and limited resources, while letting blacks have Africa with its abundance of resources.  Separation along races simply cannot be doing to others would you have them do to you.  This point is further strengthened if we consider the claims to the effect that Arabs are taking over Europe by means of migration and high birth rates.  These claims are made by white nationalists with a strong disapproval of such a thing happening to Europe.  But yet, they will want to be able to turn Washington State, Idaho, and Oregon into an all-white polity by means of migration and high birth rates.  It’s wrong for the Arabs, but right for the whites.  What they do not want done to themselves or to Europe by immigrants is what they intend to do to others in the Northwest of the continental United States.

                In reality, this is not tenable.  People do not consent to standards of conduct that are forcibly imposed on them but not applied to another group.  People with the privilege of being treated justly get disgusted that someone is being denied the same justice.  There may be a minority that thinks this is natural, and that they are shut out because they cannot enact their views on race.  In this case, it is reasonable that their views are shut out and persons who hold them are prevented from acting on them.  Seeing that putting such ideas into action has proven disastrous.  And they can repudiate their views anytime in order to participate with the dialogues of the rest of society.

                It might be possible to construe an understanding of race that does not come with this moral relativism.  One which attempts to categorize people according to physical attributes, and comes without a call that people be forcibly separated according to them.  Or an understanding of race as being only mere resemblances of physical appearances.  But so far, most attempts to reify race come with political and social agendas.  If we want to do ethics and morality, it is better to discard race as being without utility.  That race realists do not hold any sort of moral ground at all.