Musings on universality and intellectual integrity

UniversalityNoam Chomsky once defined Universality in terms of morality as “If it’s right for me, it’s right for you, if it’s wrong for you, it is wrong for me” in a 2007 interview. This is a fairly short and to the point definition for moral universality. The opposite of this is moral relativism in its many forms, which always makes morals a conditional case. Our laws are in theory based on universality, an act is illegal regardless of who performed it. One could argue that in practice it may work out differently, but the theory and system is designed to be as close to universal as possible. Moral relativism on the other hand, is the position that moral statements are right or wrong only based on a specific standpoint, for instance culture or historical period.

For instance, most of the western world today would consider slavery morally abhorrent, while most of the western world would have considered it perfectly permissible, and even benevolent in some cases if we travel back 300 years. If you view this as “slavery is always wrong” you are a universalist, if you view it as “slavery was ok back then, because of the times” you are a relativist.

Now, both cases tend to end up in the wrong to varying degrees. For instance, universalism may argue that killing someone is always wrong, whereas relativists would argue that each individual case of killing would have to be evaluated. For the most part, our justice system works around the inherent universalism by adding things like  “tiers of killing badness” such as first degree, second degree, third degree, manslaughter, self-defense and so on. However, this does not mean that the justice system is relativistic, it just means that it takes into account the circumstances of an action. You will be charged, and in a court of law a jury of your peers will determine your guilt.

Relativism on the other hand, have negative consequences as well, for instance it would be difficult to maintain a position that killing is bad, if it is conditional. For instance, killing is less bad if it was done by someone who spent their childhood years experiencing the Bosnian war and were exposed to what happened there. Or stealing is less bad if a rich white guy does it using accounting, than if a poor person does it using a gun.

Relativism is what allows us to treat people who have done terrible things but fill one or more check-boxes differently than people who fill different check-boxes. It is how we end up with the privilege hierarchy that I wrote a sarcastic post on a while back, where every action and word, has a consequence based on the sender. In essence, the punishment does not fit the crime, but who committed the crime.

The backbone of any society that functions is a social contract that regulates your rights and duties towards the other individuals within a state. There are contracts based on universality, which is what the western world largely operates with, and there are relativist contracts that are used within many other countries.

For instance France, Germany, the UK and the US, have laws that state in one form or another state that it is never OK to steal from anyone within the borders of that state. The social contract is based on all of the citizens being offered the exact same deal, accepting it and living accordingly. This social contract has created some of the most stable, modern and peaceful states in the world. We may argue that people who can afford better lawyers get a better deal or some group gets a better deal, but they do not vis-a-vis the state as long as the law states that they do not. In essence, this argument is like saying that people who can afford better cars, get a better deal on the autobahn because they can drive faster.

The social contract in some other countries on the other hand is highly relativistic, and it states that stealing generally not permitted, but it depends on who you are, what family, clan, group, or political party you belong to. In this case, it becomes quite Orwellian where all the animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. For instance, if you are a member of a ruling family, you can get away with murder, or if you happen to be the head of a major government corporation, you can treat that company’s money as your own.

Now you may ask, what is the difference in those two cases, both have people getting away with murder? My answer would be, that in the case of the relativist state, they are getting away with murder by design, while in the other state by accident. Of course, I could always argue that the former is better for socialists because it reduces volatility.

To some extent we are all relativistic, and this is very clear in politics, we will forgive and forget for our own candidate, but continue to harbor a grudge for the other candidate for months, sometimes years. We will put up with behavior from our blood relatives that we would not tolerate from friends and acquaintances. Relativism is needed when it comes to interpersonal relationships, otherwise you’ll end up living alone in the middle of the forest never associating with people.

Do we even act according to universality? Not as much as I’m sure a lot of us would think. At the core of universality is holding yourself and others accountable according to an objective standard. This is not a fun role, as I’m sure a lot of police officers can attest. The only place where it tends to be done on a large scale is the military, and that is only because if you don’t people are going to get killed. Even the Catholic church, supposedly the representatives of God on Earth, hid the widespread child abuse going on in their own churches by their own priests to protect an organization they are invested in.

The desire to protect that which we are invested in is a universal human desire. However, when we do not keep that which we are invested in, or ourselves accountable, it deteriorates and morphs into something else. Once we start slipping on accountability, then then the values that created what you love and enjoy the benefits of starts slowly crumbling. Like it or not, values are a complex system, and like all systems are balanced on a fine-tooth comb. In an example from history, it took 6 years from the 1933 election in Germany until Hitler attacked Poland, it took 3 years after that to start the Holocaust, in comparison the first Iphone was launched 9 years ago. So, it took Hitler as long to take Germany from a democratic, modern, industrialized state, to a totalitarian dictatorship hell-bent on mass extermination as it took Apple to go from Iphone 1 to Iphone SE. This is how quickly a grassroots movement can reverse a positive trend.

In embryo the current progressive movement has embodied relativism as a founding virtue, with every action being judged, not on the action itself, by the meaning or context of the action, nor by words spoken, but by who did or said it. It is perfectly acceptable to assault [1], incite to violence [2], rationalize the perversion of the free press [3], the perversion of the bedrock of the justice system [4] and conviction for thought-crime [5]. To never be intellectually [6] or morally [7] consistent.  The irony of the whole matter, is that the progressive movement are actually driving progression back into times prior to the values so called “reactionaries” are trying to maintain.

Throughout history we had and still have societies where assault is/was permitted as long as it it/was against certain people [8], incitement to violence was common [9], the free press was used as a ministry of truth [10], where courts were used to personal ends [11] and your thoughts were on trial [12]. Where scholarship was political [13] and morals conditional [14].

Through their actions they are actually advocating a case of legislating taste, where they want the old society where people did judge and were treated based on race, sex, sexual orientation and religion, they just have a different preference for prejudice. The difference is that they have a prerogative to push that preference into politics and make the public pass it, lest they be pilloried.

To end on the founding principle of any state that practices universality and one of the greatest things said in the history of mankind, even though it is frequently attributed to the wrong person:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”







[6] *note for this link, I’m liking Christina Hoff-Sommer’s debunking of feminist politicized scholarship., not as an example of it.*











3 comments on “Musings on universality and intellectual integrity

  1. […] (SJWs) for a while now, I’ve noticed certain patterns, mainly that there is a distinct lack of universality and logical consistency to the movement. To explain in brief, universality means that on an abstract level, the moral […]


  2. […] point in the quote above, is one of universality, the concept that we all share the same rights and also the same duties, and to unequally […]


  3. […] with it, the only reason a problem emerges here is that men are fundamentally unable to apply universality and logical consistency to each […]


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