Conservatives have been successfully attacking liberals for years with charges of "moral relativism." By this, they seem to mean that since we regard with skepticism those who claim direct access to a revealed "Truth," that we must regard all moral systems as equivalent.
This charge has been used with surprising effectiveness to undermine liberal causes and dismiss liberal values.
It is time to fight back.
Lately, conservatives have been engaging in a relativism of their own. Not so much moral relativism (though they do that too), but what I would like to call Intellectual Relativism.
Intellectual relativism is the view that there is no objective truth, that facts are malleable, and that expertise can be disregarded. Your opinions about the world are not a matter of scientific inquiry or reasoned debate, but simply a result of your partisan affiliation. Consider the following examples:(below the fold)
* When researchers argue that certain economics or social policies that happen to be favored by Dems are scientifically better than those favored by Republicans, it is not a reason for conservatives to reconsider the policies they favor. Rather, they take it as an indicator that professors are liberals. Note the flow of causality there: it's not that professors are liberal because they have discovered that liberal ideas are better; instead, they discover that liberal ideas are better because the are liberal. Sound right to you? It does if you are a conservative intellectual relativist.
* How about evolution? When biology professors passionately and angrily defend the evolutionary foundation of their discipline against religiously motivated attacks, it's not that they are convinced by the strength of the scientific evidence. No, they are arrogant, intellectual snobs blinded by their allegiance to evolutionist propaganda. To an intellectual relativist a distinguished professor of biology has no more authority to opine on the accuracy of evolution than a housewife who has read a couple of books.
* And bias in the media? It's here that they show their true colors. The New York Times reports:
The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias...[He] contracted last year with an outside consultant to keep track of the guests' political leanings on one program
It's not the accuracy of the factual content they are worried about; it's just the number of liberal versus conservative guests. You see, to an intellectual relativist a conservative viewpoint is just as a good as a liberal viewpoint regardless of the factual backing, the reasoning, the scientific support, or any other objective measure by which we evaluate the accuracy of a claim. It's not about discovering truth (which might align with the liberal view, after all); it's about getting equal time to indoctrinate, spin, and propagandize. That is what they mean by "unbiased."
* Do I even need to mention global warming? "Who should I believe: the world's foremost climate scientists, or oil company propaganda?" The intellectual relativist doesn't know. Those scientists might be liberals, you know.
Don't give in to intellectual relativism. Point it out whenever you see it. Never, ever let someone attack a valid argument by pointing out the political affiliation of the person making it. Ask them to tell you a flaw in the argument instead. Intellectual relativists aren't used to actually thinking about the arguments, it will shut them up in a hurry. Then, just walk away satisfied; you've made the world a more rational place.
P.S. Don't ever sink to their level. Learn the facts, know the arguments, change your mind when you are wrong.