Our outrage is real. We feel injustices in our very souls. As such, we must ask ourselves why that is and in so doing we are confronted with two options: 1) social constructs are pressuring us to feel a certain way or 2) there is a transcendent truth to which our sense of justice appeals.
With regard to the first option, these days we’re told that sex, gender, race, values, right and wrong, et al. are social constructs, relative to the individual. Within such a framework of seeing the world as merely social constructs lacking roots in natural laws, ultimately there can be no overriding moral imperative other than ‘all truth is relative’.
If each person is able to construct a personal reality, to define words in any which way, to determine personal right and wrong, then everything becomes meaningless. What is right for one is wrong for another. What one word means for someone can be entirely different to another. While the two individuals may get along for a while, who is to say that when one chooses to steal, rape, or oppress that it is wrong? As for appealing to the ‘do no harm’ principle, again, that is merely one form of truth if all truth is relative. Again, wrong and right are personal decisions, including issues of ‘harm’.
That even applies to racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. To one person, racism may be wrong, to another it is right. Same for sexism, classism, and homophobia. Again, if truth or morality is relative or a social construct then how can it be any other way?
In this moral framework the outrage we feel is real, but only real within the dominant social construct. The only way then to fight the injustices defined by the dominant social narrative is to maintain the power structures necessary to maintain the social construct that tells the public that certain things are right and others are wrong.
In other words, social constructs have little to do with what is ultimately right or wrong, just or unjust, but rather about the power to perpetuate themselves.
When you understand that, the emperor will have no clothes. If “truth is relative” there is no injustice to stand upon, there is only power to topple and power to attain. You just have to have the will to do it.
But what about option two: an appeal to transcendent truth?
If justice is transcendent and can be appealed to by any person as it is outside of our social constructs, then your outrage might have meaning. But what transcendent truth does your outrage draw from? And if there is transcendent truth, how else might it apply to our lives? Are we ready for that? Probably not.
When it comes to attacking racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc., generally the appeal is to equality, the idea that each person is equal and therefore deserving of dignity. But is equality of people a transcendent truth? Furthermore, what is dignity and where does it come from? Is it dependent upon a state of equality?
From a simple biological perspective we know that men and women are fundamentally different. While all are classified as human, none are equal in biology or abilities. When it comes to race, we are equally confronted with exterior and sometimes even interior differences (e.g., sickle cell anemia) though we are all human. Even within the same race and sex, individuals vary wildly in their talents and abilities. An objective look at the human experience reveals a natural state of inequality.
If dignity does not come from equality because we are inherently unequal, can we still have dignity? Perhaps. But as in the past that may require the idea that man is more than mere matter, that his very being transcends our temporal world. Alas, long ago we abandoned that notion.
The options for justified outrage are limited, either everything is a social construct or there is transcendent truth, with all of the implications that such transcendent truth may require. It’s doubtful that our society is ready to return to the idea and demands of transcendent truth. As such, everything will remain relative and the only thing that will matter is the will to power.
Devin is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Charlemagne Institute, which operates Intellectual Takeout, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and the Alcuin Internship. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College where he studied history and political science. Prior to co-founding Charlemagne Institute, he served as the Director of Development at the Center of the American Experiment, a state-based think tank in Minnesota.
Devin is a contributor to local and national newspapers, a frequent guest on a variety of talk shows, such as Minneapolis' KTLK and NPR's Talk of the Nation, and regularly shares culture and education insights presenting to civic groups, schools, and other organizations. In 2011, he was named a Young Leader by the American Swiss Foundation.
Devin and his wife have been married for eighteen years and have six children. When he's not working, Devin enjoys time with family while also relaxing through reading, horticulture, home projects, and skiing and snowboarding.