Monday, February 28, 2005

This far and no further

America, though not founded on the ideals of multiculturalism as such, is a nation that from its inception has prized intellectual freedom and the individual's liberty for self-expression. Even though the founding fathers of this nation probably did not intend for "God" to be written out of the hearts of its members, they believed in secularism, a "separation of church and state," which would allow citizens to live according to their beliefs without the same persecution and interference from the government that Puritans faced in Anglican England.

Today, the continual promotion of multiculturalism is heralded as a "liberal" ideal -- the notion that we as a society have progressed to a point where we can appreciate things and find spiritual and intellectual truths in places that our founders would never even have conceived of. However, within our ever-growing and ever-learning of tolerance and understanding lie the incipient seeds of moral decrepitude. It is the unfortunate reality that the furthest extension of the liberal ideal is a relativism which dooms its follower to an eternity of moral purgatory where having values is a sin and nervous hand-wringing is the most emphatic response one can produce in response to moral excess.

Are liberals in the U.S. values whores to political correctness? Certainly most of them are not. But there is generally speaking a cultural tension in our nation between "liberals" who want to understand and accept and "conservatives" who want to guard and preserve. And the central question that we must all address is: how far is too far? When have we crossed the line from tolerance to utter nihilism? How do we avoid trying so hard to believe in everything that we find ourselves believing in nothing at all?

Just as France's attempts to write public religious life out of its society through such acts as the banning of headscarves is a perversion of the secularist ideal (secularism is about allowing different religious faiths to coexist peacefully, not about driving the faithful behind closed doors), so too is pantolerationism a perversion of the pluralist ideal. Indeed, no one is arguing that men should be allowed to rape women with impunity, or that the concept of "crime" is archaic and fascist.

So then the questions remain: whither morality? Whither "values"? How do we reconcile our desire to learn from others with the responsibility to draw a line in the sands of cultural ethos? The first step is to understand that accepting relativism need not be an imperative to perpetually equivocate. What we so often forget is that every moral line -- yes, every single moral line that has ever been drawn or ever will be drawn -- is arbitrary. Nothing more, and nothing less. Recognizing the arbitrary nature of our morality should not be distressing and ennervating, as it is to many. It should be liberating. We are now free to decide what we like and what we don't, and equally free to evaluate and reevaluate our positions without holding to some bizarre and ultimately meaningless standard of philosophical consistency. Once we realize the decision-making power we have we are, in short, able to take a stand.

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