Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
In the last letter of mine, I talked about relativism. I gave it an overall negative connotation, but relativism needn’t be negative. Depending on certain perspectives, relativism can even turn out to be a medicine against prejudice. I hope now to shed more light on my ideas.
Consider the picture of the Tower Bridge I took in London some months ago. Despite my skills in handling cameras are those of a three years old dealing with a bazooka, I wanted to capture an interesting angle of the architecture, like most mainstream tourists pretend to do. The result is as meagre as expected, but luckily cameras are less dangerous than bazookas.
You might be asking: what on earth has this to do with “relativism”? Well, at first I didn’t notice it, because the tower was stealing the scene. But have a look down, at the couple who casually got photographed. They are women, non-white, without any man to accompany them. Look at their clothes. Nothing uncommon, would you say? Right! It is “normal”, something which was unthinkable – to say the least – less than a century ago and still is nowadays in some parts of this planet. This unsophisticated “normality” was acquired thanks to feminist fights and the strong belief in non-negotiable principles.
London is a very good example to talk about the two sides of relativism. On the one hand, a melting pot of cultures and subcultures in never ending evolution, where the mantra of diversity jeopardises any attempt of unitary definition. On the other hand, a city forged by great philosophical intuitions, and by battles for what is right, currently culminating in the election of a Muslim mayor. This is no blind praise for a city having one of the darkest histories ever and being the symbol of capitalism and savage globalisation. In this context, it just offers a good example.
There is cultural relativism, consisting in the value of dynamic cultures, and there is relativism of opinions on moral, scientific and other theoretical principles. The former is healthy, the latter is not. You may object that I put it too easily, that universal theoretical principles are chimeras, if we are to face the variety of mankind. You would have a point, but I still think that the possibility of intercultural understanding must be based on common grounds, however constrained by our human limits. As far as I can see, relativism on those grounds makes diversity unintelligible, therefore spreading ignorance, legitimating hate speech and building walls.