Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness -- and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of the various claims to truth and the various ways of life and kinds of human beings -- is the great insight of our times.Have you ever tried to explain why 2x2 makes 4 to someone who rejects the multiplication table? That's pretty much what our struggle is like in a society dominated by relativist thought.
But relativism is not a new idea. Ever since Protagoras declared, “Man is the measure of all things,” people have been attracted to relativism. Human beings are attracted to relativism -- not because it is true -- they are attracted to it because relativism is easy.
I mean two things by “easy” and I mean to discuss those two things later in this essay. I will introduce them here. First, relativism is easy on the intellect. A person’s entire understanding of the entire workings of the entire universe can be stated in eight words: The truth is that there is no truth. Here is a truth, if it is true, simple enough for any simpleton.
Next, relativism is easy on the conscience. If there is no truth out there then there are no values out there either; rather, the only values out there are the subjective ones that we create and put there. Thus, it is possible for us to agree to have this value as a shared value: if you let me make my values, I’ll let you make yours. The allowance by a society of the creation of conflicting values between one human being and another is, in our culture, called “tolerance.” As we will see, tolerance is one, but only one, possible moral outcome of relativism.
Not to mention that few of us envisioned a situation in which we'd have to explain the very basics on any social issue (from national defense and social justice to abortion and marriage) to someone who rejects self-evident facts, let alone - national traditions and moral values. No wonder we've seen little success in the last half-a-century. Turning the tide won't be possible without destroying the myth of relativism and restoring the absolute truth first.