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Jewish World Review Oct. 15, 2001 / 28 Tishrei, 5762

John Leo

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Radical cultural relativism leaves some blind to evil -- THE House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has issued an unusually disgraceful statement on the terrorist attacks. After urging believers to "wage reconciliation" (i.e., not war), the bishops said: "The affluence of nations such as our own stands in stark contrast to other parts of the world wracked by the crushing poverty which causes the death of 6,000 children in the course of a morning."

The number 6,000 and the reference to a single morning, of course, are meant to evoke September 11 in a spirit of moral equivalence. In plain English, the bishops seem to think Americans are in no position to complain about the Manhattan massacre since 6,000 poor children around the world can die in a single day. The good bishops are apparently willing to tolerate 6,000 murders because the West has failed to eliminate world poverty, and perhaps should be blamed for causing it. But the terrorist attack has nothing to do with hunger or disease. And the bishops' statement is a moral mess. How many murders can Episcopalians overlook because of the existence of crushing poverty? If 6,000, why not 60,000?

This is a minor example of what could become a major problem. A large number of our cultural and moral leaders are unable to say plainly that evil exists and must be confronted. Instead they babble about "cycles of violence" and how "an eye for an eye makes the world blind," as if the cop who stops the violent criminal is somehow guilty of a crime, too.

Part of this philosophy rises from the therapeutic culture: There is no evil, no right and wrong, only misunderstandings that can fade if we withhold judgment and reach out emotionally to others. Everything can be mediated and talked out.

No standards. More of it comes from the moral relativism at the heart of the multicultural philosophy that has dominated our schools for a generation. Multiculturalism goes way beyond tolerance and appreciation of other cultures and nations. It teaches that every culture (except America) is correct by its own measures and no one else can judge it. This sweeps away moral standards. For years, teachers have been warning us where this is headed. We are seeing large numbers of the young unable or unwilling to make the simplest distinctions between right and wrong. Even horrific acts–mass human sacrifice by the Aztecs and genocide by the Nazis–are declared to be unjudgable. "Of course I dislike the Nazis," one upstate New York student told his professor. "But who is to say they are morally wrong?" The same argument, or nonargument, can apply to the terrorists of September as well. Only a minority of students think this way, but multiculturalism, with its radical cultural relativism, is the dominant philosophy in our schools. Even now, some are calling for increased multicultural education as a response to terrorism. "Those people who said we don't need multiculturalism, that it's too touchy-feely, a pox on them," said a deputy chancellor in the New York City school system. "I think they've learned their lesson."

Multiculturalism in schools leaves a great many students dubious about American values and cynical about any sense of common purpose or solidarity. This is particularly so when the cultural left adds its mantra that America is "racist-sexist-homophobic." This hybrid philosophy–no judgment of other cultures but severe judgment of our own–is already beginning to color responses to the terrorist attacks. It peeks out from behind the "root causes" argument and the need to "understand" the terrorists and see their acts "in context." Often what the root-cause people really mean is that reckless, imperial America brought the attacks on itself. The philosophy also shines through many statements of concern about bias against Muslim Americans. Muslims must not be singled out for attack or scorn. But a good many official statements about September 11 made only brief reference to the horror of the attacks before launching long and lopsided attention to anti-Muslim bias. What is obvious about these confused and timid statements, as political science professor Steven Smith said of discussions at Yale, is "failure to see the attack on America as an act of clear and unmitigated evil."

Terrorism is the worst threat the nation has ever faced, and at the moment, Americans are solidly united to confront it. The multicultural-therapeutic left is small but concentrated in businesses that do most of the preaching to America–universities, mainline churches, the press, the entertainment industry. They will have to be pushed to move away from sloppy multiculturalism and all-purpose relativism. Let the pushing begin.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture. Send your comments by clicking here.


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