Present circumstances force me to interact with many folks who think little but say much about the human condition. Spending so much time in Gomorrah—I mean Washington, D.C.—entails such suffering. One of these folks endlessly harps about cultural conditioning. For her, everything is relative—everything is conventional. By everything, I mean statements made by other people. Her sensitivities to the Leftist Zeitgeist must be exempted from this conscientious intellectual modesty.
I readily grant that culture “conditions” human endeavors. An individual’s peculiar personal experience colors his understanding and interaction with the world. Similarly, a collective human group’s shared experience of life—culture—determines how members of that group approach and interpret the phenomena of existence. Nonetheless, human beings, as individuals and in communities, have certain natures and encounter the same world. Each particular man or group of men has limited experience, and this limitation both emphasizes certain knowledge and values and precludes others. Being a human being means living with such limitations; all human experience with the world is a sort of tunnel vision. However, it is the same world that is being experienced, and men, though quite diverse, have to deal with the same joys and pains of imperfect human nature.
When I explain these arguments to the aforementioned person, she blindly holds that everything is relative because she has traveled around the world and now realizes that everyone does everything differently. I suppose that she has not picked up on some universal patterns. When I attempt to convey recent findings in the human sciences, such as universal human preferences in a variety of areas, she dismisses them. Even number crunching has no effect.
Her most obviously egregious errors involve human sexuality. She holds that the differences in men and women are all culturally based. Studies about the differences in brain function in men and women hold no water for her. She is, in fact, a militant tabula rasist.
I have given up trying to reason with this person; she is invincibly ignorant. It occurs to me, though, that extreme cultural relativists incur the wrath of the retortion argument. The man who claims that there is no truth undoes his own statement because he affirms a truth—namely, that there is no truth. Reductionists who hold that human opinions have no truth value but are merely successful memes that give their holders a reproductive advantage likewise destroy their own credibility as speakers. If they are correct, they cannot be correct—their position has no truth value but merely gives them a Darwinian edge. (Moreover, fertility rates over the past century disprove the thesis, as well. Reductionists have less children, though one could object that they still pass on their ideological genes in educating the offspring of the breeders. Eventually, however, such an arrangement would not sustain itself.) Similarly, cultural relativists argue that everything is mere convention. If so, their insistence on cultural relativism would apply to them, as well. They should dismiss their own relativism with the same cavalier attitude with which they treat all other statements about mankind.
It strikes me as fantastic that people do not realize the glaring inconsistency in their fundamental ideas. The contradiction in these cases is not obscure or hidden in removed logical consequences. Rather, the contradiction cries out from their initial stance. Yet, they have no ears to hear.