Absolutely Relative

We assume parents are always right.  Society is geared towards the idea of parental infallibility.  “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do/would be ashamed of”, we’re told.  “Honour thy mother and thy father”, one of the Christian commandments reads.  It reinforces the ideas of authority and continuity.  The family is a module, a building block of society.

But what if your parents are wrong?  What if they are racist, for instance?  You love someone of another race, but your racist parents tell you it’s wrong or that they’re ashamed of you.  You’re mother would never get involved with someone of another race.  Do you follow the rule of honouring your parents and their example, or your conscience and heart?

Let’s subject the assumption to extreme scrutiny.  Hitler had children.  What if they had seen what a monster he was, and killed him?  Would they have been heroes for doing the world a favour, or patricidal maniacs?  If they’d had the opportunity to grow up, should they have honoured their father and followed in his footsteps?  We’re supposed to follow our parents’ examples, but not every parent sets a good example.

Moral absolutes simply don’t work.  As soon as you make a universal statement, it has to stand up in every instance – including the most extreme ones.  But there are always exceptions.  There are always special situations, extenuating circumstances to take into account.  Every case is unique.  The ethical landscape changes relative to these unique circumstances.

Surprisingly, people who claim to be moral absolutists are often some of the most strident supporters of moral relativism, when it suits them, without realizing it.  The god fearing bible thumpers who swear by the ten commandments are often the same people who defend their right to own a gun and use it to kill someone in self-defense.  The relevant commandment does not contain a clause regarding extenuating circumstances.  It is just assumed by those who think it should apply, relative to the situation.

Conservative thinkers don’t like to… think about such things.  That might encourage change, after all.

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3 Responses to “Absolutely Relative”

  1. leafless Says:

    Unfortunately, children are like sheep. They really need to a role model, regardless if such role model is good or bad. If they can’t trust their parents, they can’t trust anyone else. If life gives you lemons, you can only make lemonade. No matter how imperfect parents are, they are the best option among many bad options.

  2. paulmct Says:

    Thanks for reading. True, you can’t choose your parents, but you don’t have to remain loyal to them and their beliefs all your life. In that case, your upbringing may be something you endure, rather than enjoy or benefit from.

  3. Disillusionment « Bloggin’ Off Says:

    […] they’ve been taught by the people they should have been able to trust the most.  When the people you counted on to raise and teach you turn out to have been wrong, and to have given you a false vision of the world, it is natural […]

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