So, let me start by defining some terms. I will provide each term with a connotative definition, which is what I feel the word means in the modern context. The denotative definition is the one most people assume the word still holds. Because of these assumed definitions, there can be massive problems in communicating ideas clearly. Just think if you were in the era when the word gay was coming to mean homosexual - every time you heard it, you assumed it meant happy, but the speaker was assuming you knew the new connotation. If the connotation was never expressly defined for you, you'd have a hard time figuring out what was going on.
Without further adieu, it's time to dig in and redefine some terms that have been massively abused as a result of political agendas:
- CONNOTATIVE: I mean the group of people who most commonly identify themselves as liberals. These people tend to be very intolerant of differing viewpoints. These are the types of people who militarize PETA and bomb research centers that use animal testing. These are the type of people who shout "tolerance!" on one hand but condemn pro-lifers on the other. These are the type of people who use political correctness as a shield to insulate themselves from open critique. These are the type of people who rely on "feminism" to sound legitimate, since most people misunderstand what feminism (currently) is. They have an absolutist world-view where their way is the only right way, but shield themselves from criticism by claiming they hold a relativist viewpoint that condemns no one and accepts everyone. They are slippery, confusing, and generally blind to their own inconsistencies and hypocrisies. (I know I was!)
- DENOTATIVE: Dictionary.com actually provides a reasonable definition. "Favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression." The problem with modern liberals is that it is pro-choice or bust. Animal rights or bust. Their way or the highway. Liberalism has lost the implicit tolerance that would be necessary to permit absolute freedom of action in regards to matters of personal belief or expression.
- CONNOTATIVE: This phrase is mostly doublespeak jargon or a thought-terminating cliché. It is used by liberals (see actual definition above) who, under assault for their absolutist views, trudge this term out to conjure up associations that exist due to the assumed definition below. In this capacity, the term functions as a red-herring, though I don't know if the younger generation of liberals (having been indoctrinated since birth) can really be accused of intentionally committing logical fallacies, since they mostly regurgitate what they've been taught.
- DENOTATIVE: An understanding of moral theory as being particular to either individuals or cultural groups but having no basis in physical reality. This contrasts sharply with absolute moral theories, whereby our moral rules have some kind of absolute basis in reality to give them further weight. For example, strict religious interpretation of the bible tends to lead towards an absolute moral view, whereby the Ten Commandments (and other scriptures) that describe certain moral rules are the literal word of God, and obeying these moral rules will get one into Heaven and disobeying them will land you in Hell. A more relativist mindset recognizes that morals exist only "in the brain," so to speak, and have no corresponding implications on physical reality (such as heaven or hell); such an understanding of moral systems leads to the conclusion that no one moral system is objectively any better or "more right" than another moral system.
- CONNOTATIVE: A nebulous and vague idea that makes everyone feel better about everyone else but has no basis in reality. This phrase borders also on being doublespeak jargon or a thought-terminating cliché like moral relativism. Examples are when one makes statements like "all men are born equal" or "men and women are equal." This serves only to ignore unpleasant differences like physical prowess or the different distribution of intelligence quotient among human beings. Ignoring these fundamental problems causes lots of misattribution when it comes to describing social disparity and injustices (it may even cause one to perceive injustice where none exists).
- DENOTATIVE: A mathematical phrase that describes two values of the same quantity. For example, 2 x 2 (two multiplied by two) is equal to 4. Equality is something that can be proved, demonstrated and double-checked. There is no mystery in establishing equality, and only those quantities which are known to be equal are asserted as such. Saying that 3 is equal to 4 is nonsense.
To recap, the CONNOTATIVE definitions are the ones I'm examining from here on out. I reject all three terms based upon their connotative definitions (ie, those that are more accurate at describing what the terms currently mean or how they are used). I will be referring to the connotative definitions when I use the above terms unless otherwise specified.
Describing Modern Liberalism Generally
Exposed for what it truly is, liberalism seems to be little more than thinly-veiled hedonism. The over-arching common theme in a lot of modern liberal agendas is to be able to have more freedom to do whatever it is we may "want." You want to do drugs? Legalize 'em! You want to have sex without consequences (ie, be less discriminating with your sexual partners)? Pro-choice! You want to go back on your vows and commitments? Divorce him (or, rarely, her)! You want to go back on your vows and commitments without any financial repercussion and "maintain a quality of life you've become accustomed to?" Alimony! And so on.
Understood this way, liberalism is just trying to philosophically justify the indulgences and whims of a child. A child rarely has a good reason for wanting something beyond his or her own immediate desire. Most people recognize that constantly indulging a child will (generally) result in a very maladjusted, problematic teenager (and usually, adult). When you refuse a child the candy he or she wants, the child will kick and scream and holler. You may provide good reasons as to why the child should not get the candy (he or she has already had enough sugar for the day; the candy does not provide any nutritional value; the chemical preservatives are harmful; you've already prepared a more healthy but still sweet alternative that is waiting at home; and so on) but these may not suffice in silencing the child. Furthermore, if you indulge the child because he or she kicks and screams, you merely teach him or her that hollering is a good way to get what is desired.
It seems to me that our nation has committed itself to a policy of legislation that amounts to little more than indulging the child that kick and scream the loudest - if only to shut out the cacophony of hooting and hollering for a little while. But indulging people for no good reason never satiates their desires (as you will learn with children), and they will always find something new to want. Furthermore, they'll continue to use the strategy that rewarded them the first time. It is only by taking a firm stand, demanding good reasons as to why such a desire should be fulfilled and not indulging until those demands are met, that you can properly teach people how to behave (and reason).
Liberalism has, however, managed to isolate itself from criticism by relying upon several powerful doublespeak terms and thought-terminating clichés. Feminism and political correctness contribute to this engine of irrationality, but this post is going to drill-down on the confusing terms of "equality" and "moral relativity." These elements of liberalism make it appealing, particularly to young people who don't know any better - it is much easier to cope with a world you believe is "fair," where "all people are born equal," where everyone should be "tolerant," and those that disagree with these ideas are "intolerant" (but uh-oh! I'm getting ahead of myself and naming thought-terminating clichés already).
Equality: The Well Intentioned Misnomer of Disastrous Proportions
It is easy to understand why the concept of equality caught on quickly and appeals to so many different people. It is notoriously hard for humans to admit defeat. We all buy into the propaganda that tells us we can be whatever we want to be, so long as we really put our hearts into it. Equality helps us buy into this world view - we're all born "equal," and furthermore, have "equal opportunity" to excel. This stands in contrast to a large body of literature and evidence that builds towards the conclusion that, in fact, we cannot. I'll take an example that doesn't even require hard proof (ie, a good study or article or something): Not everyone is of (denotative) equal intelligence.
We all know this is true. It doesn't need to be proven - just think about the people that you know. Surely some are more intelligent than others? It is recognized that intelligence in human beings is roughly distributed (like most other human attributes and parameters) along a bell curve - with most people being of average intelligence (after all, just think about what the word "average" really means!), some people being above or below average, and a few rare exceptions being "mentally handicapped" or out-and-out geniuses.
"But that doesn't mean people aren't equal," pipes up the liberal. "A person who is not very intelligent may be gifted in another area - such as having a high degree of social graces, or being physically gifted. In the end, our unique strengths and weaknesses balance out and everyone is equal." Or, at least, that's my highly condensed summary of the logic that most liberals would use to defend this notion of equality they cling to so dearly.
Even if we grant the liberal that, for every strength a person might have, there is a corresponding weakness (even though this may not necessarily be true - ever met someone who just seemed to be gifted at damn near everything? Physically attractive, strikingly intelligent, socially charming, a great athlete or otherwise in great shape, with a happy and healthy attitude? I've met one or two), how do we go about assigning values to each of these strengths and weaknesses to establish equality? An IQ of 120 adds 10 to your score, whereas being rated a 6/10 subtracts 3? Nevermind the difficulty in quantifying things like ugliness or figuring how detrimental it is to be ugly in life compared to being beautiful (without first establishing a common standard for success).
As Angry Harry alludes to, equality is a concept which is infinitely regressive. It is impossible to prove. At best, it ends up distracting us from useful distinctions and lines of inquiry. For example, if we really wanted to improve the physical capabilities of women, wouldn't it make sense to study precisely why it is women tend to only have half the upper body strength of men, or why the average woman has only 70 to 75 percent the aerobic capability of the average man? Once we understood why, we could next work on figuring out an agreeable solution to the problem. Instead, conventional wisdom has us completely ignore the problem by changing the standards by which men and women are evaluated, creating the illusion of equality.
Don't believe me? There are plenty of examples of the evaluative standards changing based solely upon gender out there (and I've linked to some in this post already), but I'll give you one that hits a little closer to home - the United States Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test. Read and weep, my reading audience - women receive 100 points for running 3 miles in 21 minutes, while men receive 100 points for running that same 3 miles in 18 minutes. How is this "equal?" (When women argue it is "equal" because it adjusts for the fact that women are on average less capable then men, they ironically admit that equality between the sexes does not exist.) The only event that is truly equal on the test are crunches - women are evaluated by a completely different metric for upper body strength than are men! (Men must perform dead hang pull-ups in a consecutive fashion; women must merely perform a flexed arm hang. Women who hang on the bar for 70 seconds without straightening their arms or dropping off score the same in upper body fitness as males who are able to perform 20 dead hang pull ups consecutively without getting off the bar.)
The Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test at least has men and women performing all the same events, but here the standards are adjusted even more blatantly. The chart in the link outlines the bare minimums for passing the test, broken down by gender and age; here's a link that has charts for the maximums too. (I'm too lazy to find a full chart, but if you're really interested, I'm sure you could find one.)
The problem here is that both fitness tests are absolutely crucial to determining who gets promoted and when - women are given quicker promotions for less work in a job field (military!) that desperately needs physically tough leaders. Yaaaaaay "equality!"
Lastly, equality can be used to generate thought-terminating clichés. When you bring up reasoned arguments as to why women should not be in the military, for example, equality justifies the thought-terminating cliché that labels you a misogynist. If one were to bring up reasoned perspectives about the differences between various ethnicities, equality trudges up another cliché - only a racist would pay attention to differences between ethnicities!
Equality is best understood denotatively, and we should discuss fairness instead of equality as it is currently understood. How is it fair that women get a leg up on men when it comes to promotions in the military? How about, it isn't? The requirements of a job do not change depending on what gender the job applicant happens to be; if you cannot meet the standard, then you cannot meet the standard! The demanding reality of physical combat won't care or notice if you are a man or a woman, but it will notice if you are unfit. (This is entirely separate from the issue of whether women should be in the military at all - I'll leave that pariah for another day.)
Moral Relativity: An Extended Analysis
You'll most often hear about "moral relativity" from a liberal when you try to demonstrate how decidedly closed-minded they have been. They'll drag out the phrase and silence all opposition by conjuring up its denotative meaning, even though it does not apply in any way, shape or form, to the liberal that trotted it out. In this way, the phrase is a thought-terminating cliché. Moral relativity is intoxicating because it is impervious to criticism - it is the ultimate "tolerate everyone" philosophy, and how can you really be critical of that? Most of what I said about the doublespeak nature of equality above applies also to liberal interpretations of moral relativity, and I don't think it's necessary to cover the same ground again.
So let's take a moment, instead, to look at the actual philosophical idea of moral relativity.
Moral relativity seems to make a lot of sense as a matter of public policy. It certainly seems like it is impossible to establish one system of morality as being "better" than another system - and it certainly seems to be the case that various moral systems arise as a combination of cultural and environmental factors (that is to say, various moral systems are unique to various cultures, and it seems more likely they result from a response to those cultures than from anything else). In light of these perspectives, it seems unfair or perhaps even foolish to persecute any specific system of morality, as a matter of public policy.
Moral relativity allows the individual (be it an individual person, an individual society within a larger society - such as a Christian society within a nation - and so on) to come to their own conclusions about morality without the State having to make that decision for them, so long as that individual learns to respect the morality of other individuals. So far, so good. Everyone has the freedom to choose whatever it is they would like so long as nobody else is being harmed.
Or so we think.
See, the problem here is that morality essentially describes what is good and bad behavior. In other words, a person's sense of morality (or lack of morality) is what is going to determine how they treat other people. Public conceptions of harm tend towards more obvious harms - such as physical assault. So long as people behave lawfully, then they are allowed to believe (and do!) whatever they would like to do.
Laws are an expression of a culture's morality, in a way. Somewhere along the way, people decided it was "wrong" to murder other people or take their belongings - if not for religious reasons, then probably for good and practical reasons, like because it would be impossible to have a healthy society without such rules. People recognized that desire was not sufficient cause to allow people to do as they pleased (so people who wanted to kill other people to satiate their bloodlust, for example, were not found to have good reason to be allowed to murder). However, "thou shalt not kill" was not found to be a universal maxim - soldiers need to kill, law enforcement agents may need to kill, and people need to be able to defend themselves. Therefore murder (which is basically "unjustified" killing) was prohibited and a precedent for requiring good reasons to do things was established.
There is no physical law (like the law of gravity) that dictates humans should not kill each other unless they are actively employed as a soldier. In fact, if you observe nature, there are plenty of examples of wanton slaughter in the animal kingdom. Moral relativity hinges upon the fact that morality does not exist like physical laws do. I reject the idea that, merely because morality has no discernible physical law governing its tenants, we have no reason to prefer one system of morality over another.
For MRAs, I think this concept can easily be demonstrated - the loosening of restrictions on natural sexual impulses (particularly women) has led to all kinds of unintended consequences for society, and society is mostly worse off for it. Even though morality may have no basis in physical laws, I believe it is possible to measure the impacts it has on a society. The evaporation of moral practices and ideas that led us to respect and cherish marriage and the family, for instance, seems to have had a disastrous impact on the quality of all of our lives.
Attempts to be more tolerant have tragically and somewhat ironically backfired. The law is rife with language about being non-discriminatory, and it is true that alimony laws apply the same way to men as they do to women. However, these "unbiased" laws fail to account for the natural differences that exist between people of different genders (for example) and lead to their unequal application. It might be argued that the law is not yet truly relative, since it offers up rewards to one party in divorce situations (when instead it could offer up no reward, for example, eliminating a possible incentive for divorce) - but I think it would be hard to argue contrary to the interpretation that these changes to our society were pursued earnestly with the idea of moral relativity (tolerance) in mind.
Moral relativity reminds me a lot of the idea of equality. It sounds great on paper to say that, objectively, no one moral system is any better than another and we should therefore tolerate all moral systems. However, it seems that in endorsing tolerance we are also endorsing chaos - if there is no authoritative guidance on what is right or wrong behavior, our society runs a grave risk. Whoever is the most eloquent and resonates with the most people will be able to have the most adherents, regardless of the merits of their moral system.
Moral systems have a tangible impact on society. Just look at what the lack of consensus on morality has done to our society. At least when we were on the same page, we were progressing towards something. The facts of the world are thus: the world will never be fair and it is probably impossible for every person to always be happy all the time.
Why, then, do we waste so much time trying to make the world fair and make everyone happy? Why not work on more tangible goals, like increasing literacy, decreasing poverty, decreasing hunger (note that "perfect" states in each of these categories are likely impossible - 100% literacy, 0% poverty, 0% hunger - but "better" states are almost always bound to be achievable) and so forth? Utopia is impossible. Improvement is not.
Obligatory Disclaimer to Preempt Criticism and Provide Possible Clarification
I am not saying that society should dictate to you whether or not you believe in God, for instance. But I am saying that society should dictate how you treat and relate to other human beings in a way that increases tangible results - healthy growth of things like GDP, birth rates, health care, life expectancy, and so on. I think this can only really be achieved through moral education from a young age -people must be taught to not think in such a narrow and selfish/egocentric way. They must be taught to respect other people, not just listen to lip service about how we should respect everyone. The list is endless and my energy is declining after several hours of writing. Hopefully you get the point.