Relativism is the ethical theory that one culture cannot judge any other culture because there is no way to place value judgements on others given the subjectivity of morals.
On the surface, that seems legitimate: What if Western civilization — with its far proximity from the state of nature — is wrong about everything and lack of nature (or what have you) is precisely what makes us so immoral? Maybe we should not judge other cultures?
Wrong, unless you want to stop telling me why Sweden’s culture is so superior to America’s problematic one between sips of that nasty micro-brew IPA. Now, obviously, nobody thinks that they’re the bad guy, but I think we could probably agree on a few no-nos (rape, genocide, Nazis, you name it!), so maybe let’s try to put our thinking caps on and try really hard to do the right thing? Even if Heaven and Hell aren’t real, it still makes sense to be a good person. If they are real places, then you should try to go to Heaven; if they’re not, then maybe don’t be so selfish and try to leave a place better than how you found it.
Another problem with relativism is that some relativist theories posit that there is no truth; but I say hogwash.
Either this desk I write from is real – or not – and of that there is no doubt, but either way, there is a truth value to that statement, whether it be positive or negative. So, what I mean to say is stop debating the existence of reality, and live in it! I mean, even if this is all fake and your mind is writing this article for you to read, why not give life the ol’ college try? Why do people content themselves with giving up, while making their Sims lead magnanimous lives? Even if nothing is true and everything is predetermined – or whatever – that means you technically can’t fail at life if you’re pretty much just doing what you think you’re supposed to anyways. So even if you’re not free, live like you are anyways. Maybe the geek behind the screen will make you a rockstar with five houses – with three wives and a dog in each – that keep burning down for some reason.
Liberty, in somewhat stark contrast, can be an ethical, economic, or political theory that says one should be allowed to do what they will.
Give people enough freedom so they have to make moral decisions on their own. The benefits are that ethical decisions made by entities and individuals will be authentic ones, that liberty encourages participation, and that it works. A classically liberal economy, a.k.a. laissez-faire, is a strong one. Basic economics will tell you that letting the market drive the price equilibrium of private goods will see the least amount of dead-weight loss (or economic failure, to be literal) and both the buyer and seller will arrive at the approximate mean of the sum of their individual interests. Who knows, at times both parties in any given transaction may actually leave willing to pay more and charge less respectively. Like when I buy street tacos, for example, but make sure to go to the carts closest to bus stops. Liberty on the political level will see a happier populace and flourishing society where social norms and non-governmental agencies drive culture, and not legislation. In such a society change will come from the people, and not the government — which if you think about it, is true democracy.
Therefore, go forth and live an awesome life. Liberty should be empowering, rather than scary and oppressive. With liberty you are in control of what you do; your decisions have an impact so you should make intelligent ones. One warning, however: A side effect of liberty is if you give up, you will be marginalized. That’s not to say we shouldn’t help the sick and old — providing help for Nana will, and should, be your responsibility, so you might want to do something about that. Maybe try something innovative and/or economical, even? You can, and you must. How else are you to take the moral high-ground when justifying freedom?
* Jesse Campbell is a former marine with one combat tour in Afghanistan, a father and husband, and a currently in his junior year of his political science degree. He likes anything outdoors and dogs, lots and lots of dogs.
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