Missed the boat

College is a place to question fundamental beliefs and acquire the discipline to reject them when necessary. I think that Mark Halverson-Wente missed the boat on this score.

Mr. Wente’s anti-relativism is premised on the Western notion that reason is the defining characteristic of human nature. Anthropologists, however, have identified very different definitions of what non-Westerners believed “human nature” was. Many cultures indigenous to North America differentiated themselves from animals as consumers of cooked food rather than raw food, not because they possessed reason! Unless Mr. Wente is willing to argue that indigenous cultures were less than human, his mimicry of Platonic “human nature” has no more claim to truth than the philosophical ramblings of Beavis and Butthead.

The existence of timeless, unchanging “human nature” in the midst of a dynamic world is a manifest contradiction. This contradiction becomes sad when anti-relativists such as Mr. Wente define “human nature” with an ethnocentric argument and then condemn those who question their logic. Mr. Wente’s ethnocentrism shows that a multiculturalism class would be beneficial.

I wonder if Mr. Wente ever considered why such novelties like the “good life” and “purpose, or end” were foisted on western society. Let me offer a possible answer. Western class society grows productive enough to meet the universally amoral need to eat and drink. Surplus food supplies enable idle philosophers to philosophize, a few magicians to invent God, and the creation of government to protect the interests of a few. In short, a few humans create morality through religion, government enforces that morality through law, and a few white male philosophers determine the “good life” in ivory towers. What an all-encompassing expression of “human nature”!

We relativists do not deprive people of their right to create moral standards or inquire into the “good life”. However, we resist being subjected to subjective moral standards rooted in an ethnocentric definition of humanity. We dismiss paranoid implications that we condone rape, pillage, and plunder as scare tactics unworthy of further comment. Until Mr. Wente defines “human nature” (which history shows is impossible), all moral standards are relative.

Jeffrey Houghtby