The Dangers of Relativism

The Dangers of Relativism

// published 15/1/15, added link on 16/11/2016

Relativism is creeping in. It might have done so for a long time and there might have been times where relativism was much more prevalent, much more pervasive than in today's society. But historical records about the role of relativism in a society are hard to come by and so I resort to contemporary observations.

I feel like I'm witnessing the rise of more and more pseudo-scientific, biased and untested theories about life, nutrition, religion, medicine, exercise, geopolitics, etc. We've come accustomed to phrases like "everybody's right in their own way", "there's truth in every religion" and so on.

The world is becoming more and more complex every day and we feel this in our everyday lives. In just 20 years technology has become ubiquitous. Not long ago any interaction with tech apart from watching television was considered something only a social outcast, a bonafide nerd, would do. Today any refusal to use the latest technical advancements in the form of smartphones would result in being a social outcast. But the increase in complexity doesn't stop there, the role of the church in modern societies is (by and large) further declining, leaving us without a general concept of life, leaving us seeking between the numerous alternative concepts. Our jobs have become more complex, due to the shift from a manual labour to a knowledge and information based economy. Physical labour is frowned upon (outside of the gym) and we spend most of our working hours cramped up in front of a computer screen or a whiteboard. Each year we need to learn a new interface for the software we are using at work and each month how a new app works. We divide our free time between working out and dabbling on social networks in search for likes and on a constant quest to redefine, refine, blur and sharpen and blur and sharpen our online identity.

Layer after layer is added through which we perceive the world and it becomes less and less straightforward to know which one in a current situation applies. Should we reply quirkily, as our online persona on reddit, should we appear philosophical like our recent facebook posts suggest or professional like our linkedin profile would do. Any chance of an original, true response gets lost and we find ourselves redefining and adapting ourselves in constant intervals - our original self becoming more and more blurred, with sharp and refined personas only appearing relative to the current situation.

This amount of complexity is scary. The increasing complexity of the world outside is reflected in ourselves and as such becomes more difficult to manage every day. People start quitting online platforms, seeking instead more direct and ephemeral ways of communication like snapchat, where a continuous and coherent management of an online persona is not required. We can be whoever we feel like to be at that moment. The continous curation of online personas has proven to be unsustainable and it's essentially a surrender to complexity.

But the problems with complexity don't stop at our own perception of self. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Political delibarations as a sum of all the intrapersonal connections and deliberations between political actors in conjunction with an ever more complex legal framework demand a mental effort for comprehension that's beyond most of us.

We are forced to a heavily reduced, abstract perception of reality in order to process any information at all and the syrens of populism become more tantilizing every day. We seek a simple explanation of reality, where everybody's right, nobody's offended and anyone's requests are fulfilled - an abundance of demands, whose intersection can only result in an empty set.

And that's not a fundation for progress in a modern society. Relativism needs to be evaded, people must be proven wrong and corrected, well reasoned opinions have to be fiercly defended and simplifications combatted. The only reaction to complexity is more investigation, closer, longer studies and more education on subject matters. Computers and the internet provide us with tools to carry out such knowledge seeking tasks faster and more precise than ever. Let's use them and truly live up to the name of a self-proclaimed "society in the information age".

16/11/2016 update

Oxford Dictionaries hast just declared the word "post-truth" as the international word of the year. See article on the Guardian here.

[Post-truth is] defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, [...]