Saturday, November 21, 2015

All Cultures and Cultural Ideas are not Equal

This is simply another bizarre and manifestly false idea that has infected the left from Postmodernism.

I can refute it in less than 500 words.

Take the culture of Nazi Germany or modern neo-Nazism:
The traits of Nazi German culture: racism, authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, hatred of Roma gypsies, extreme Social Darwinism, and German racial supremacism.
If you seriously think all cultures are equal in every respect, then it follows directly that you must believe that Nazi culture is absolutely equal to all other cultures today and in the past. This is insanity.

Let us take the ways in which cultures might be judged as equal:
(1) that the empirical propositions they hold are all equally true;

(2) that they are all equal morally or ethically;

(3) that they are all equal in terms of aesthetic judgements that one could make about cultures or cultural beliefs.
There is no way you could rationally hold all these ideas about Nazi culture. Even on (3) it would fail, because aesthetic judgements are subjective to a great degree and so cannot always be equal.

Secondly on (1), certain empirical propositions in Nazi culture are plainly false. E.g., Social Darwinism is based on a spurious appeal to nature fallacy and the notion of German racial supremacism is not supported by the empirical evidence (e.g., even identifying a German “race” in the sense imagined in Nazi mythology in a meaningful sense is not possible because so many Slavonic peoples have assimilated to German culture over the past 1,000 years).

On (2), if one thinks we can have an objective ethics, then all cultures cannot be equal, because they often have radically different moral and ethical ideas. But even if you think morality is subjective or a matter of emotion, it also follows that all cultures cannot be equal in moral terms because they also have radically different moral ideas judged very differently by different people.

The only way that one could defend the idea that all cultures are equal is to defend the idea that there is no objective truth at all, and so all ideas or propositions in every culture are equal only in the sense that they are all true only in a culturally relative sense in each culture. But truth relativism cannot be taken seriously, and leads to utter incoherence and intellectual bankruptcy (see here and here). That route leads to intellectual Bedlam and cannot be defended.

But even the absurd Postmodernist defending the notion that all cultures are equal on the grounds of truth relativism would be refuted by (3) above (aesthetic judgements that one could make about cultures or cultural beliefs). As we noted, aesthetic judgements are so obviously subjective to a great degree and they simply cannot always be equal.

To conclude, none of this means that crude 19th century racism is true or that ethnic prejudice does not exist. In no sense does it follow that people are justified in irrational or unjustifiable prejudice or bigotry.

The recognition that all cultures or cultural ideas are not equal is intelligent, obviously correct, and actually one that all decent and compassionate left-wing people should uphold, for the world is filled with bad or incorrect cultural ideas that need to be fought.


  1. A simpler refutation. If there is a change that could make our culture better, less hatred of homosexuality for exams, then that implies that our culture thus changed would be better than it unchanged.

    To deny cultures can be better is complete moral nihilism. Maybe moral nihilism is true but that is not the point. People who deny it still espouse cultural relativism, incoherently.

    I am curious LK. Can rothbardism be reformed? I say no because the impetus behind it is neither morality nor truth seeking. It is an aesthetic impulse tied to a certain self image. Rothbardism only care about how wielding their crystalline theory proves them masters of principle and logic (a delusion we agree.),
    You can guess my follow up.

  2. In America the influence of people like Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and increasingly popular YouTube personalities such as Kyle Kuliniski is causing American left-liberals to accept this. I actually think most left-liberals in the US agree with you and it's some of the leadership and outlets (such as Salon) that haven't caught on yet.

    However European leftists seem to be having a harder time agreeing with you on this, which is odd.

    1. Wow. You don't live inAmerica I take it.

    2. Yes I do... Everytime I see a Salon article trying to paint Maher as a bigot the liberal readers call out the article in the comments section. I've noticed that many liberals have changed their views on the subject in the past couple years, though there's no way to know how many are on which side of the fence. In January of this year a slight majority of Democrats said they were "very concerned" with Islamic extremism and the number has no doubt gone up since then (

      On the other hand 42% said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence and that number has no doubt gone up since January and that's actually very complicated question, particularly if you think it's more culture and poverty that encourages terrorism than the religion (though as it's emerged that ISIS is basically an Islamic doomsday group that's motivated primarily by a desire to prepare for the end times that's going to be a more difficult position to justify. Here's the Atlantic showing the pushback against cultural relativists from liberals

      I could not find studies on how many people are cultural relativists though (I still imagine it's a minority, cultural relativism is in its death throes on the academic level here in the states) so there's no way to know for sure these were just the closest answers I could find. I really think the cultural relativists are just a noisy minority even among just American liberals.

    3. Will Feret, i'm european and i think you're wrong. US people aren't closer to LK than europeans. I think the root cause of this pathology is soviet propaganda and it's exactly the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

    4. Anonymous@November 22, 2015 at 12:18 AM

      The Soviet Union is long gone and Soviet Communism was not the source of Postmodernism. In fact, the Soviets were actually quite socially conservative on a number of issues and not, for example, the cultural relativists or gay rights advocates that Postmodernists were and are.

      Postmodernism comes right out of frustrated and disillusioned French Marxism and Maoism and Marxist Structuralism. It has roots in Nietzsche's philosophy and other anti-Enlightenment irrationalism. There is also a link with the Frankfurt cultural Marxists, but I have often thought this is a bit overblown myself.

      Anyway, Postmodernism and all its tenets are the outgrowth of disillusioned Western Marxists, not Soviet Marxists, and PoMo has firm antecedents in anti-Enlightenment irrationalism.

    5. Will, I invite you to visit the campus of Yale, Missouri, or Amherst and proclaim that some cultures are better than others and that in particular ours is better than that of eighth century Arabia. Send me copies of all the letters of support you receive from left wing faculty and students.

    6. Let's say if I went campus to campus saying that and I got hundreds, if not thousands, of letters of hate mail. That doesn't change what I said about them being a very vocal minority because I wouldn't get as much mail from liberals who mildly or strongly agree with me (as they aren't as passionate it about it). A "minority" can still be thousands of people, even if we only account for the left, they just seem particularly loud about their beliefs.

    7. LK, they encouraged this nonsense abroad and discouraged it at home. In essence you admit this when you say "Postmodernism comes right out of frustrated and disillusioned French Marxism". Only a very small step is needed from there to come to my position. And you can do this yourself by answering this simple question: disillusioned and frustrated about what?

  3. I'd like you to do more posts on this subject. I've been finding them interesting when you discuss postmodernism because it fits so well with what I keep observing on YouTube and what has been happening with a certain part of the left on there, the ideas that they have adopted, and how if you were to come up to one of them and say this, that you could get painted and accused of being "right wing" when you clearly are not and you have demonstrated over the years that you've put a lot of work into debunking terrible arguments from that camp and those from the Austrian cultists.

    I'd like to learn more about this subject and do some of my own research eventually. Is there a specific place that I can get started?

    1. For debunking Foucault's philosophy:

      For postmodernism, just go through the numerous posts I have done on it this year.

  4. Part 1

    Cultural relativism is methodological in the social sciences, not epistemological-ontological, however It seems to me you are generally confused here. If someone denies there exists objective truth on a matter, they are not denying that different ideas are not identical, merely that their truth value is contingent on their being held by someone or spoken by someone, that the truth value of these statements is mind-dependent in an epistemological sense.

    So, let's take for example a moral subjectivist, they would not think that different ethical judgments are not different qualitatively. They would claim that whether any given judgment is true has to do with the framework of beliefs of the subject that thinks or speaks it. Not merely that different people hold different beliefs, but that holding these beliefs is their truth-condition. Another way to see it is that the holding of a belief is always subjective, however subjectivists additionally argue that the truth value of the belief is also subjective in that it is contingent on the fact that it is held at all, which is a mind-dependent fact in an epistemological sense. This isn't very far away from non-cognitivism. From a metaethical perspective the subjectivist is just saying that for him moral language describes (rather than expresses) dispositions. So as Hobbes would put it, when we say something is right or wrong, we are just stating our approval or disaproval of it.

    So on 3 you contradict yourself. If you believe that the truth of aesthetic judgments is subjective, then obviously we can't say that nazi culture is aesthetically displeasing in an impersonal sense compared to some other culture. We might say that my perception of nazi culture is that it is aesthetically displeasing, while a neonazi might disagree and find all the skulls and swastikas cool. The crucial part is that if as the subjectivist claims, the truth value of aesthetic statements is epistemologically mind-dependent, dependent on each person's frame of beliefs, then both my and the nazi's statements are true. This impairs our capacity to claim anything about the intersubjective aesthetic value of nazi fashion, there is no such thing at all. So from this perspective, the aesthetics of every culture are equal, in that whether they are pleasant or not is always a case of someone's subjective disposition. Saying that they are equally aesthetically worthy is obviously not the same as saying the judgments made about them are equivalent. In fact I'm not so sure that a committed relativist would use the term equally in a literal sense. In order to make a judgment about equality, you must presuppose that different things are at least commensurable in some way so that you can judge them against each other. Yet subjectivists have trouble maintaining a commensurability thesis without shifting to some form of intersubjectivism (this is the major serious critique of moral subjectivism, there seems to be trouble with holding that individual moral or aesthetic beliefs have different truth conditions, yet can be individuated as commonly moral or aesthetic beliefs). So relativism is kind of unstable in that it would either shift to skepticism or to objectivism. Either way a subjectivist would want to claim that different moral beliefs are all moral beliefs, yet their truth conditions are mind-dependent in an epistemological sense (so they are commensurable and communicable, but subjective). This basically opens another problem, that if moral beliefs are commensurable you have trouble maintaining that subjectivism is a metaethical theory and not a first-order theory, but if it is a first-order theory it cancels itself as subjective, which is crushing. Nonetheless it is what a subjectivist would want to claim. So at most he might say that different cultures are ethically or aesthetically 'equal' meaning that their moral and aesthetic worth is in each case similarly subjective, not in the sense that the judgments made about them are identical.

    1. "So from this perspective, the aesthetics of every culture are equal, in that whether they are pleasant or not is always a case of someone's subjective disposition. "

      And that reduces the notion of "all cultures are equal" to a silly and vapid sense of no real interest.

    2. Yes, absolutely. As I said, the committed subjectivist could only consistently call them "equal" metaphorically. I mean saying two things are equal, from the moral point of view, can only mean they are both permissible, or impermissible or obligatory or virtuous or good or right etc. That whatever it is, their moral merit is the same. But the subjectivist is saying they don't have any mind-independent moral merit at all. Perhaps he should be understood as just reasserting that your point of view that one culture is better than another is not intersubjectively valid or true.

    3. You should make your position clear if you want to continue any comments here:

      (1) do you support the view that there are no objective empirical truths?

    4. By the way, even if that morality/ethics is mind-dependent and not made true by something external to human minds (and I think this is true), it does not follow at all that morality can never be objective in any sense. If people agree that certain ends should be rationally sought, then one can rationally seek to obtain a defensible and objective consequentialist ethics about how best to achieve those ends

    5. Do you refuse to publish comments that don't explicitly take up a position? What happened to intellectual curiosity?

      Anyway, I believe that a posteriori judgments are objectively true or false depending on their correspondence to phenomena. I'm not so sure I would say this makes them objectively true, rather than intersubjectively valid, but I certainly wouldn't claim they are subjective.

    6. "Anyway, I believe that a posteriori judgments are objectively true or false depending on their correspondence to phenomena. I'm not so sure I would say this makes them objectively true, rather than intersubjectively valid,"

      That is incoherent. The waking sensory experiences of a non-mentally-ill human being are not under your control but clearly causally dependent on some extra-mental phenomenon.

      Therefore you cannot say truth is just "intersubjectively valid", for that would imply that, for example, if everyone in the world in the middle ages thought the moon is made of green cheese this would be valid, when clearly we have overwhelming evidence it is not so.

    7. I'm not sure what you're saying here. If I want to eat, surely I can reasonably associate means with ends and cook myself some food. But should I fail to cook myself food, though that's what I want to achieve, is this a moral faillure?

      I'm not sure that saying "should we agree on X end, we can associate the necessary means with that end" is sufficient as a normative ethics. Morality is all about "what are our ends? Or what should our ends be? Or how should they be balanced or prioritized". I mean, presumably a subjectivist could also say "well if we all agree on what to do, we can set about and do it". He just doesn't think there is any way to talk about what that should be.

      By the way I stressed we're talking about epistemological mind-dependency because that's particularly important. A classical utilitarian is a hedonist, and happiness, being a subjective mental state, is ontologically speaking mind-dependent. Yet whether someone is happy is epistemologically mind-independent. Meaning, being happy is a subjective mental state, yet whether you are characterised by that disposition is very much objective. Similarly with pain. Pain is not something mind-independent in an ontological sense since clearly it's something we feel, a subjectively lived experience, but whether someone is in pain is very much epistemologically mind-independent. It's his dispositon, but his disposition is a matter of fact.

      Kantian deontology is also mind-dependent in this reason (hence why it isn't a "robust" realism), but you presumably sense the surrealism in saying that a kantian constructivist is a subjectivist.

    8. You misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm not saying agreement constitutes truth, since that would just be a form of subjectivism.

      To say that something is intersubjectively valid, is to say that it is true for all subjects as such and regardless of their point of view on the matter. The reason I'm making this distinction is because I'm persuaded that it's meaningful to distinguish between phenomena and noumena. Since phenomena just are substances as filtered through the a priori categories of understanding and intuition we utilize to perceive and understand them, then phenomena are partially constructed by the subject of understanding. Since the categories of understanding must be common to all reasonable creatures as such (to anything that can know, because it is the kind of thing that can know) and substances exist outside the world of understanding (in the external world), phenomena can not be epistemologically mind-dependent.

      So I'm saying, the moon is perceived as it is perceived because of our power of understanding and its substance as it exists in the external world. Its substance must be objective and our power of understanding is common in all reasonable subjects. Hence the phenomenon "moon" is not subjective, hence the truth conditions of a statement about the phenomenon "moon" are not subjective.

      Intersubjectivism is a form of objectivism. Take Searle for example, his view is that social reality is constructed, yet in a way that is very much not subjective.

    9. "To say that something is intersubjectively valid, is to say that it is true for all subjects as such and regardless of their point of view on the matter."

      That is a bizarre illogical contradiction. To say that a human being has a view that x is true already necessarily implies that they have a point of view on the matter, for the former is clearly a subset of the latter, and so one cannot say that their "point of view on the matter" is regardless.

      It seems to me all this is another pointless discuss over terminology. If "intersubjectively valid" just boils down to the correspondence theory of truth, you agree with me, and we are arguing -- as many philosophical discussions often are -- over quipping, carping alternative ways to describe this theory verbally.

    10. Come on, I'm not saying people don't have a point of view on x matter, I'm saying that whether a statement is true is not conditional on their holding that point of view or not. Someone may believe that the moon is made of green cheese as you say, yet the moon will still be made of moonrocks regardless of their perspective on the matter.

      >It seems to me all this is another pointless discuss over terminology. If "intersubjectively valid" just boils down to the correspondence theory of truth, you agree with me

      I absolutely agree with you about the correspondence theory of truth, but my quip isn't a linguistic game. If a statement is true by virtue of its correspondence to facts about the world, the question is what is the epistemological and ontological status of those facts and properties of the world. Since I believe phenomena are coloured by us imposing the categories of reason on them, I must qualify why those properties being phenomena, truth remains mind-independent. It is because reason, rationality is intersubjective, not subjective but common to all reasonable creatures as such.

      This is, indeed, a form of obejctivism, widely construed, but I'm trying to be accurate because I sincerely don't believe we have any direct access to substances.

  5. Part 2

    The moral subjectivist is saying exactly the same thing. So it seems to me that you need to drop 2 and 3 altogether and focus on 1, since whether a judgment is or isn't made is an empirical fact and if someone wanted to argue that whether some view is held is subjective (rather than how holding it is connected to its truth value), they would presumably need to hold a more intricate view of general truth relativism. Their arguments -it seems to me- in making this kind of claim would need to focus on some variety of multiple worlds theory. The post-structuralists generally follow a kind of wittgensteinian variety of this, by claiming meaning to be inseparable from language, then arguing that the stability of concepts is irretrievable if meaning is structural (based on the relational position of a sign within a linguistic system), since linguistic systems are fluid, therefore the linguistic system someone uses (the narrative they accept insofar as they accept it) just is the meaning of the world for them, therefore we all live in different worlds in a sense, equally "valid", though our worlds may change if we are persuaded to genuinely adopt a different narrative. Of course, persuasion from this perspective is an ideological battlefield, since we can't presuppose the truth that is constructed after the fact that someone changes their minds, as a factor that goes into them changing their minds.

    It seems to me you have not managed to take a charitable position towards this kind of view, and this has impaired your capacity to engage with it. For example in a previous post you asked what a truth relativist would say about the holocaust. But the relativist could easilly say that the holocaust is wrong, and we should die fighting to stop it because in his world it could very well be very wrong (lest we forget, relativism is explicitly about a second-order issue, the subjectivity of the truth conditions of statements) and worth fighting against. The smart move here would be to try to show that truth relativism can not be maintained as a second order belief in which case it is self-refuting. However, postmodernists are generally underrated in that they anticipated this move and argued that existence is passive (which is something Quineans and other biological reductionists about reason also need to commit to), meaning that they don't really hold the view of truth relativism at all. Instead, all activity is reflexive. Derrida could be asked "do you believe truth to be relative" and he could take care to reply "I don't hold the belief that truth isn't relative and if I say otherwise, I couldn't tell you not to blame my vital spontaneity". I think this is actually a very interesting debate, where Kant beheads the opposition and puts its heads on stakes (in that Reason is irreducible, and therefore this form of radical skepticism about truth collapses along with the entire rest of the argument), but the point is, it's more nuanced than you are willing to let on.

    1. " But the relativist could easilly say that the holocaust is wrong, and we should die fighting to stop it because in his world it could very well be very wrong (lest we forget, relativism is explicitly about a second-order issue, the subjectivity of the truth conditions of statements) and worth fighting against."

      A view of extreme irrationality and incoherence. If you think as a Postmodernist that the Holocaust did not even happen as an objective truth, then you cannot oppose or counter a Holocaust denier.

      Instead you would declare with Foucault that all "truth is made by power" and then quickly descend into an Alex-Jones style conspiracy theory about who "made" the truth that the holocaust happened. That academics and intellectuals would hold such beliefs is a testimony to how intellectually bankrupt the left has become since the 1970s.

      Furthermore, a Nazi or communist could make such arguments about their belief systems and all people would have is a power struggle.

      Even on a utilitarian level without the cutting rational problems with Postmodernism, such beliefs are practically impossible for sane people to hold and act on in real life.

    2. >A view of extreme irrationality and incoherence. If you think as a Postmodernist that the Holocaust did not even happen as an objective truth, then you cannot oppose or counter a Holocaust denier.

      I'm not sure I would call it incoherent. I do think it's wrong, but not stupid. Also you seem to be inserting an appeal to consequences here. I mean, surely our primary interest is in whether the postmodernist is right or wrong about relativism, not in what that would mean for our rhetorical capacity. I don't know about you, I would suffer a certain malaise if I was persuaded that truth is relative.

      But let's take the position seriously. Since it's essentially a multiple worlds theory, he could provide reasons to the denier for which he should believe in the holocaust. This just comes with a caveat that he is not trying to show him the truth, but persuade him to shift his world to look more like his own world. For him the holocaust did happen. Hence relativism, yes? The holocaust happened is true for him because the truth conditions of the statement just are the fact that he adopts that narrative. Why? Because the narrative constitutes one of the competing linguistic systems, the signifiers (the terms) receive their meaning from their position in a linguistic system from their relation to other signs (good receives its meaning in contradistinction to bad, evil etc and from its relation to virtue, right etc). Change the linguistic system and you change their position, ergo their meaning. So to adopt a narrative just is to constitute what things mean (a soft version of this is probably right, but the poststructuralists accept a very hard version). If I persuade you, through argumentation or manipulation, to adopt a different narrative, from this perspective, I have made you constitute a different truth, to change your world. This is what it means for truth to be contingent on power relations. The ideological mechanism that produces a narrative, from this perspective, produces truth.

      >all people would have is a power struggle.

      Yes, but don't forget, he is making a metatheoretical statement. He's not saying "you should stop writing this blog and start punching people". He is saying that "your writing this blog just is a power struggle. You're trying to shift the narrative, struggling against cato or that produce the neoliberal narrative, but since your narrative is not any more true than theirs -that would obviously be inconsistent from within the truth relativist's perspective- in effect you are participating in an ideological struggle"

      >such beliefs are practically impossible for sane people to hold and act on in real life.

      Why do you think this? I'm sure a lot of people believe in a layperson version of something like this. They just tend to be horribly inefficient atwhat they set out to do. My perspective is that this happens for the following reason. They can't distinguish between reasonable arguments, rhetoric and other kinds of fragmented activism (since for them they are all just different ideological tools, naturally) and I maintain that rhetorics and spinning actually are very lackluster compared to what I view as reasonable and informed arguments. So they are like nihilist anarchists in this respect. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, nihilists are, due to their nihilism, woefully inadequate as social activists.

    3. "Since it's essentially a multiple worlds theory, he could provide reasons to the denier for which he should believe in the holocaust ... For him the holocaust did happen"

      That does not follow at all. Postmodernists, taking their philosophy seriously, would have to say there is no objective truth at all about this matter. There is no a priori reason for any Postmodernist buffoon to think in their own personal worldview/narrative that they choose to believe it happened.

    4. What's the difference between saying "truth is relative" and saying "there is no such thing as 'truth'"?

      For postmodernist X the holocaust happened. It must be so because he says that it did and his "world" is what the statement "the holocaust happened" is conditional on. This doesn't mean the holocaust happened for everyone. Again you should visualize their point of view as a multiple worlds theory. For a modal realist the holocaust happened in this world but not in another. In fact there is a world out there where Hitler had a hand to hand fight to the death with a loli version of FDR in the back of the auswitz center of cultural tolerance to stop the holocaust (and modal realism is an analytic theory!). It's just that for the postmodernist we're talking about linguistic systems as worlds, so you live in your world and I live in mine etc. Something may have happened in my world but not in yours and so forth and this depends on the narrative I accept (not the one I pretend to accept, but the one I do).

    5. And you just vindicated my charge that this is a view of extreme irrationality and incoherence.

      To say that a relative truth applies only to a "linguistic system" conceived as my personal world obliges that person, under the additional Postmodernist obsession that all cultures are equal, to tolerate and respect the diversity of the world and respect and tolerate the neo-Nazi who chooses to think it did not happen. ALREADY, any postmodernism choosing to persuade a neo-Nazi to believe his alternative personal world view as a better or more worthwhile worldview has tacitly admitted all cultures cannot be equal, for if they were he would never choose to persuade anyone else of his personal worldview in the first place.


    6. You are a clever fellow, but not half as clever as you think you are.

    7. >ALREADY, any postmodernist choosing to persuade a neo-Nazi to believe his alternative personal world view as a better or more worthwhile worldview has tacitly admitted all cultures cannot be equal

      He definitely doesn't believe that they have equal merit. The point is that he also believes this to be true only for him. It's like this. "I believe we shouldn't kill cats". A subjectivist may hold this view. Further he might believe we should persuade cat killers not to kill cats. The point isn't that he doesn't approve of this or that and disaprove of this or that, or that he doesn't strongly believe in things. The point is that he thinks that his beliefs are true only insofar as he accepts them and not for any epistemologically mind-independent reason. Subjectivism does not necessarilly entail any degree of tolerance. As you might be aware of, the identitarian left is fairly well known for being combative. Not for its tolerance.

      >You are a clever fellow, but not half as clever as you think you are.

      As I have gathered from the casual way you throw insults around in your interactions with people, you might be a bit of a jerk, so I'll be sure to take it you mean this as a compliment.

    8. "He definitely doesn't believe that they have equal merit. "

      And that entails that culturally relative ideas cannot be equal in a moral or aesthetic sense -- or whatever sense you mean by "merit".

      "Subjectivism does not necessarilly entail any degree of tolerance.

      Then it is obviously true that Postmodernists who engage in attacks and harsh rejectionist judgements of other people's cultural ideas cannot simultaneously hold the view that all cultures or cultural beliefs are exactly equal and therefore worthy of respect and tolerance. Once again, my point that this is a view of extreme irrationality and incoherence is proven.