| Jon Cracraft |
A major problem in the world is the dilemma of moral authoritarianism vs. moral relativism, or religious fundamentalism vs. religious relativism, or ethnocentrism vs cultural relativism, or what is it OK to be tolerant of and what is it not OK to be tolerant of and why, or when does it become OK to judge the behavior of different groups of people?
Was Andrew Jackson morally better than Adolf Hitler? Was Thomas Jefferson morally better than Joseph Stalin? How could anyone claim to make such moral judgements?
And yet, how can we refuse to make such moral judgements?
We should not tolerate sex trafficking or sweat shop labor or hate crimes or murder or robbery.
But should we tolerate vandalism? Should we tolerate public nudity? Should we tolerate political corruption? Should we tolerate sexist jokes? If we are going to allow ourselves to judge others, how do we know where to stop?
Is there an objective way to answer such questions? Is there a moral compass inside of us that tells us where to draw the line?
This is the dilemma of moral authoritarianism vs. moral relativism.
If there is a moral compass inside of us, it seems it is easily masked or broken by our own cultural bias.
How do we see our own bias? How do we remove it?
I don’t know.
But I’ve been thinking about these questions in the context of another question I’ve had about orphans and heroes and why so many heroes are orphans in folklore from around the world.
Perhaps people around the world tell stories about orphan heroes because they believe that orphans are more likely to accept heroic quests – because they have nothing holding them back, nothing to give up, nothing to lose. They also have no culture of their own – parents are universally recognized as the primary transmitters of culture to their children. Without cultural indoctrination from their parents, orphan heroes have no cultural bias – hence they have nothing to obscure or break their moral compass which is, in part, what helps them to succeed on their heroic quests.
So if we want to learn to see our cultural bias and to remove it, perhaps we can learn from the heroic orphans of folklore. Perhaps that which prevents us from seeing our own bias is the comfort of the home and our families and our fear of losing these things. Perhaps this is also what prevents us from taking leaps of faith, from embarking upon heroic quests and from following our dreams.
Maybe. Or maybe not. :)