Ah, Moral and Ethical Relativism, the modern hippy’s companion to political correctness. It seems so warm and fuzzy on the outside, everyone can be right because no one is! It appears to lack the judgemental nature of tradition ethical frameworks and means everyone can just get along, right? Wrong. For all of its soft and cuddly exterior, the heart of Moral Relativism is an intellectually bankrupt black hole better known as nihilism with a nice little cherry of logical fallacy on top. Its also one of the most judgemental and bigoted ideas to have gained popularity.

The problems with relativism begins with the premise. “Everything is relative”, they claim, “No one system is absolutely right, it all varies.” As can be easily seen, the premise itself is false. Heck, it isn’t just false, it is self-refuting. While a relativist will claim that every possible moral is relative, they fail to realize that in doing so they have declared an absolute. Under a system of moral relativism, any absolute ethical framework is declared wrong. Instead of allowing the freedom to choose any moral code, it removes all ability to choose any moral code. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are thrown out with the bath water. In declaring absolutes, they must all declared wrong by moral relativism, and in declaring them wrong, relativists themselves become followers of an absolute morality and thus must logically pitch their own framework of “ethics” out as well. Moral relativism is the moral and ethical equivalent of saying “This statement is false,” a recreation of the Epimenides paradox. In other words, the statement is fun to think about while musing about Godel, but utterly intellectually bankrupt when used to determine a system of morals.

It turns out, however, that moral relativism is even worse than a paradox, it equates to nihilism. Moral and ethical frameworks, by their very definition, are philosophically normative, that is they talk about how things ought to be. Moral relativism is quite the opposite of normative, it states nothing about how things ought to be, it just says it doesn’t matter what things ought to be, they can be anyway they like. Furthermore, moral and ethical frameworks must be devoid of law, custom, and personal preference. A moral and ethical framework doesn’t define things in terms of the law, or your own personal likes and dislikes. Moral relativism is all about defining morality based on culture and law. Much like nilihism, Moral and Ethical Relativism eschews the notion that morality exists. As a consequence it leads to what many other moral and ethical frameworks would call “immoral acts”, as such acts cannot, by definition, be immoral in a relative framework.

The combination of the paradoxical nature of moral relativism and its relationship with nihilism creates a very dangerous product. While on the outside moral relativism may look very open, accepting, and forgiving, the fatal flaw in this facade is the consequence of their beliefs. If all morals are relative, the only sin becomes hypocrisy. Thus those who come under fire are those who declare a certain morality, but fail to adhere to it. While this may initially seem like simply rooting out the worst sorts of people, in truth we are all hypocrites. Only those who follow no moral code can truly live up to the standards that they set. Most moral and ethical frameworks, however, have within them the capacity and requirement for forgiveness. They understand that people are flawed and will often fail to achieve the goals they set, and they allow for forgiveness if one honestly regrets the moral failures one commits. Moral Relativism, on the other hand, deals harshly with possible hypocrisy but gently with callous disregard for the lives and property of others, leading to a situation where individuals are better off professing no morals and leading lives full of moral and ethical transgression.

Hopefully, in a few years, we will see Moral Relativism go the way of other dangerous and vile ideas, like Utilitarianism and Objectivism, as people realize how intellectually bankrupt moral relativity really is. One can only hope this belief is shed before it causes permanent harm to our society, or poisons the philosophical well too deeply.

-Angry Midwesterner


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Now that the “comprehensive immigration reform bill” has gone down in flames (reminding us that “comprehensive” is Congressese for “will piss absolutely everyone off”), it seems a good time to take a moment to think about the deeper issues in immigration. After all, before we can undertake to our immigration problems, we should probably think about what kind of nation we want to be, and what kind of stance we should take towards those who want to come here.

The United States is like no other nation on earth. More than any other nation, even Australia and Canada our colonial brothers, we have transcended ethnicity and culture to become a truly pluralistic society. We are a nation whose culture and citizenry is woven from nearly every culture and race on the planet. That reality has profound meaning for the debate on immigration, and it demands that we treat it with the respect it deserves.

The first step in doing this is to recapture a real sense of why our nation really is not just “a nation of immigrants” but “the Mother of Exiles” in those immortal words honoring the most beloved symbol of American freedom and opportunity. We need to understand why immigrants are central to our identity as a nation, and why the freest possible immigration policy is vital to our future prosperity and even to our survival.

We Americans are not, and have never been, conquerers. We “do” Empire really badly (as we’re proving yet again in Iraq). But we are, and always have been, something far more subversive and dangerous to the tyrants of the world than mere conquerers: we are Dreamers who have managed to make their Dream a reality and who invite the rest of the world to join the Dream. We must recover that central truth and once again shine forth as the beacon which draws to our shores those willing to risk all to gain all.

Our policies of openness and freedom combined with our willingness to welcome those sharing our vision from around the world have led to incredible prosperity and innovation. America is not merely the richest nation the world has ever known, it is also the most innovative. With 4-5% of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for 40% of the world’s Nobel laureates, as good a measure as any for its dominance in science and technology. Even the Internet itself and virtually all the technologies that underlie it are the product of that amazing American engine of progress and prosperity.

And all of it is a consequence—philosophically and practically—of being the Mother of Exiles. Of being not just a nation that welcomes wealthy, talented immigrants, but one that welcomes “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” many of whom seem at first glance to deserve being called “wretched refuse.” Why is it vital to our identity and prosperity to welcome poor immigrants coming more for economic opportunity than to escape political or religious oppression? Because it is precisely these immigrants, these poor desperate people willing to leave everything they know for just the chance of a better life, who become the torch bearers of liberty.

As anyone knows who has spoken to one of these new Americans, they know the value and cost of liberty and freedom more than most. And they’re more willing than most to work hard to achieve the American Dream. They are the vital fuel of that great engine of prosperity. And many of them have risen from poverty to the ranks of the mighty. The wealthy, the successful, and the educated should all be welcome, but—in a great paradox—it is precisely those poor and humble who are the most vital to us, because it is only they who truly appreciate the beauty, rarity, and subversive power of the American Dream.

In the months to come, I’ll examine the best arguments for limiting immigration, and explain why immigration is central to our identity as Americans and vital to our national survival. We must move beyond mere “reform” of our immigration laws to a radical revision. Our laws must again reflect the principles of the New Colossus, returning us to our rightful place as the beacon of liberty and prosperity for the world. A beacon which shines not merely to be seen, but to draw those around the world who have the courage and desire to join us in building the land which is—in the timeless words of Abraham Lincoln—the last best hope of earth.

In the midst of the protests and promises surrounding the G8 last week, one plea went almost unnoticed. An African economist continued his campaign to plead with the West for a serious change to financial and food aid to Africa. Specifically, for it to be totally discontinued. In an interview with Der Spiegel, in which it was clear that the interviewer could sometimes not believe his ears, Kenyan economist James Shikwati argued passionately for an immediate stop to nearly all economic—and even nearly all humanitarian—aid to Africa.

Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems.

This message is nothing new for Mr. Shikwati, who has been making this seem argument for many years. And he’s not alone. Even Der Spiegel itself, hardly a reactionary bastion of globalism, has written about the terrible paradox: too much aid creates more need.

And anyone at all familiar with basic economics, or even basic history, should know that this is true. The great economic powerhouses of the West did not arise as a result of altruistic development assistance. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and the rest do not owe their prosperity to well-intentioned aid packages. Of course, some wits will point to the Marshall Plan and the Korean War era assistance to Japan. But as Mr. Shikwaki points out correctly:

In Germany’s case, only the destroyed infrastructure had to be repaired. Despite the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic, Germany was a highly- industrialized country before the war. The damages created by the tsunami in Thailand can also be fixed with a little money and some reconstruction aid. Africa, however, must take the first steps into modernity on its own.

Shikwati’s claim isn’t that aid can’t be helpful, let alone that it’s always harmful. His claim is that aid cannot assist in development. It can, and does, help in recovery, but that’s a very different circumstance. If a community, or a nation, already has a functioning economy and citizens capable and willing to rebuild, humanitarian and financial aid can be a great boon. But the aid can’t create that economy or those citizens. For all their faults, Germany and Japan were industrial powers before World War II. The aid helped rebuild ruined economies, not create new ones.

In fact, aid too early in the development process can retard or destroy development. In the case of Africa, massive food aid has destroyed numerous local agricultural economies. And well-intentioned clothing aid has clad numerous Africans in cast-off T-shirts instead of locally produced clothing. Whatever the benefits for the hungry or the naked, these things are death to local farmers and tailors. Send money to buy food or clothes from African sources would be better, but even that can create terrible dependencies—as recipients begin to plan their lives around recurring aid.

So does this mean that the altruistic Westerner can do nothing but stand by and watch poor Africa wallow in misery? No, though it does mean that that would be better, though harder, than sending billions in aid money which only destroys African economies and props up butchers and criminals. Without such aid, nature would take its course and there’d be at least some consequence to tyranny and brutal stupidity.

Fortunately, however, you don’t have to just stand by. You can help, though you have to think just a little outside the box. Instead of aid, why not support African industry and economic growth directly through microinvestment. Through various services, you can invest in a variety of organizations that issue microloans to African entrepreneurs and small businessmen. These work just like standard loans here, but they’re for what would be trivial amounts in the West—but can be the difference between a dying and thriving business in the Third World.

You can find more information about this growing area at the web site of Nobel Peace Prize winner Grameen Bank. And here’s a list of microloan provider sites, through which you can invest if you choose. Kiva.org is a new site, one that allows you to examine and choose to fund individual business plans.

And check out a relatively new twist on this, microequity: effectively venture capital for the Third World—buying equity in entrepreneurial ventures. One fund you can check out in this new area is the Village Enterprise Fund.

Will this all work? It’s not clear. But one could note that this is much closer to the pattern by which the West actually rose (though in that case the investment came from within—for the most part). While microinvestment may not be a panacea, at least its track record isn’t the unmitigated disaster of traditional “development aid.” And at least the funds it provides aren’t sent directly to the bank accounts of Africa’s despots and their corrupt flunkies.