So, this just happened. The self-promoting and galactically stupid Scottie Nell Hughes, neo-fascist Trump-booster extraordinaire, sincerely declared that “There are no such things as facts.” Looking at the full discussion – in addition to Hughes well-demonstrated inability to engage in any activity which might be mistaken for showing minimal signs of intelligence – it is clear that Hughes was genuinely characterizing her own viewpoint. How absolutely precious.
It is ironic – given how new-wave fascists lack the miniscule intelligence needed to appreciate irony – that they have for so many years decried liberals for their supposed “relativism.” It is clear enough, once you think about it, that these sorts of extremists have no clue what the word “relativism” might mean. But one way to break down the differences between conservative and liberal approaches to the world might be this: the conservative believes that there are fixed rules that one simply obeys, while the liberal believes that the world is a dynamic process which must be inquired into. Because liberals do not believe in such fixed rules, conservatives accuse them of believing in relativism. However, because conservatives do not believe in inquiry, they are the ones who actually practice relativism.
Statements such as, “there are no such things as facts,” are examples of relativism because the person making the statement is claiming that what qualifies as a “fact” is a subjective choice that is entirely relative to the person making that choice. Other examples would be statements like, “there is no ‘truth’,” “Morality is up to the individual,” “There is no ‘good or bad’, ‘right or wrong’.” These statements need to be understood in a very general, if not universal, sense. Thus, this morning, there was no ‘good or bad’, ‘right or wrong’ involved in my choice over whether I’d wear a blue shirt or a red shirt. Feeling like I was rather in the crosshairs this AM, I wore the red shirt. But this is an extremely “local” sense of ‘no good or bad,’ there is no “global” (or even “regional”) choice being made in this particular context. Relativism occurs when the claims being made are intended to have significant breadth of application (as in, well beyond my sartorial choices and Star Trek jokes.)
Various philosophers have variously argued that there are different kinds and degrees of relativism, but I find such arguments somewhat less than convincing. That said, I must also admit that my lack of conviction may be due to a kind of slippery slope fallacy. In any event, some would argue that there are manageable kinds of relativism, that do not fundamentally undermine the ultimate possibility of rational inquiry. My response is that, once you insist there is no bottom, no fundamentum, to facts, to truth, to morality, to good, then everything is swept away in a sheer tsunami of unreason. The person who commits the fallacy of the slippery slope denies that human judgment can be brought into play to stop the move down the slope once the first step is granted. The relativist denies that human judgment even exists – it is nothing more than whimsical subjective taste. And so while I would argue that the slippery slope is a fallacy, I would also argue that relativism is not a problem of the slippery slope fallacy, it is a problem of the outright rejection of the possibility (to say nothing of the actuality) of rational thought.
Which brings us back to, “There are no such things as facts.”
Donald Trump is a narcissistic sociopath. I do not toss those words around casually, and I certainly do not use them here for anything so trivial a rhetorical impact. I mean them exactly as stated. For Donald Trump, there are no facts, there is no “right or wrong.” There is only his ego, there is power, and the things he can do with that power to boost his ego. Donald Trump is relativism run riot.
Let me repeat what I said above: for conservatives, matters are settled and rules are given. For liberals, matters are fluid and must be settled by inquiry. If you are convinced that matters are settled, then the fluidity of reality is not even a problem. You simply dismiss contradictions with empty verbiage, and trample over whatever part of that reality that does not trample over you declaring yourself the personification of righteousness. As long as you are waving the right colored flag, then nothing you do can possibly be wrong. And you are a viciously unbridled relativist.
There are plenty of “lefties” and “progressives” who are every bit as savagely ideological as the above characterized conservatives. But I would argue they are the same people. The only distinction that either one of them can point to – and, indeed, the only true thing that either group will ever actually say – is that the people are waving a different colored flag from “us.” Insofar, such persons are certainly neither “liberal” nor “progressive.” Because such persons are not interested in inquiry, nor are they interested in progress. Rather, they want a “revolution” that will fix everything in a single stroke, and the world will be all puppies, kittens, and Santa Claus. And they (of course) will be all ego and power.
Any thinking person will already be thinking about the fact that Trump’s proxy said there are no facts. Any Trump-booster won’t be thinking about this at all, because thinking is just too hard. Trump himself will be staring lovingly into a mirror. And any Trump voter (including those who didn’t vote, or made a meaningless third-party vote) will be making up excuses about how Hillary was just as bad.
Because there are no such things as facts.