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Moral Equivalence

Posted by Jew from Jersey
9 June 2004

In theory, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that one can take both sides of an argument and remain neutral. Yet, this turns out to be an impossibility along the lines of square circles, wooden metal, and democratic communism.

Neutrality is often politically a prudent position to take. It’s also a useful construct intellectually when gathering and interpreting new evidence. But as a final goal, the forced pursuit of the middle road only makes sense in a completely relativist universe. If some say the earth is round and others say it’s flat, it may be prudent to avoid taking sides in some situations. If you wish to find out for yourself, it may be useful to clear your mind of any assumptions while you are sailing around the world or looking at satellite photos. But is there any virtue in insisting that the earth is in fact round and flat at the same time?

In practice, pursuing a policy of forced neutrality not only leads to such incomprehensible conclusions, it leads to favoritism towards one side. In particular, it leads to favoritism towards the side that makes the least sense. This side is vulnerable to logic, and so is aided by neutral incomprehensibility. The cause of the side that makes more sense, being sensible, is damaged by incomprehensibility. Proponents of sensible causes will show impatience and even scorn towards neutralists, while proponents of senseless causes will sing their praises. The neutralist, like a King Solomon in reverse, takes the agreeability of the senseless as evidence for their reasonableness and takes the intransigence of the sensible as one-sidedness. With time, the neutralist develops an affinity with the senseless and an animosity towards the sensible. This is the fate of all neutralists, if they are consistent and persistent neutralists: from the pacifists who appeased Hitler to the feminists who begin by criticizing the individualism of western societies and end up defending the oppression of women in non-western societies.

Neutrality can not lead to such ridiculous and corrosive conclusions unless it first undertakes the blurring of definitions and distinctions. If we claim the earth is round and flat at the same time, we can not possibly be using the terms “round” and “flat” in the way they are usually understood to mean. It order to maintain such a position over time, it is necessary to avoid any definition that can be independently verified. It wasn’t merely for reasons of propriety or style that moral absolutists like Samuel Johnson and George Orwell insisted that words be used according to their standard definitions and bemoaned the proliferation of hackneyed phrases. They understood that such degradation of language strengthened moral neutralism, which is to say it made life easier for the evil and more difficult for the good.

Clearly defined meanings mean freedom because the power to verify truth is distributed between all those who agree on the definition. Agreeing on the definition doesn’t mean forfeiting one’s right to verify independently. Agreeing on the definition gives you this right by making your independent verifications meaningful to others. As long as you are bound to the definitions, your findings are as binding on others as the definitions themselves. Clear meanings mean every proposed truth is testable by all in the same way. No central authority, no matter how powerful, is a final arbiter.

Blurred meanings mean truth is not testable. You must take someone else’s word for it. Blurred meanings do not mean neutrality, they mean arbitrary power. If we can’t verify truth independently in a way that is meaningful to others, we are no longer bound to each other. We must seek truth from an external authority, who then wields power over us, which we lack the tools to question.

This is why trying to please everybody doesn’t lead to peace, it leads to evil. Agreeing to be “non-judgmental” does not lead to tolerance, it leads to evil. Assuming that truth is always necessarily between the two extremes does not lead to balance, it leads to evil.

It might be said that the ability to uphold definitions and to make distinctions is not only the safeguard of intelligence, but of morality. Perhaps the poet Ferdowsi put it best when he said: خرد نگهبان جان است “Intelligence is the guardian of the soul.”

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