What does it mean to be morally superior? I think people usually mean that they hold good moral beliefs – for leftists, it could be supporting gay marriage, universal healthcare, the wrongness of islamophobia, and so on. Now if these were truly moral, then that would mean the leftist possess certain moral beliefs that Trump supporter do not.
Okay. Let’s suppose this is true. How does it make the leftist more moral? Holding certain moral beliefs doesn’t necessarily make one a more moral person, because it doesn’t guarantee the practice of moral actions based on those beliefs. A Trump supporter could hold certain truly good moral beliefs that the leftist doesn’t – for example, the leftist could be a terrible friend and the Trump supporter could possess the belief that one ought to be kind to her friends and acts according to that belief.
Now, let’s not only suppose that the leftist holds certain moral beliefs that Trump supporters do not, but also that the leftist holds more good beliefs and practices ethical actions more often than Trump supporters. That would surely make one a more ethical person, but how does that make one morally superior? It would make one a good person, because the leftist would practice moral actions more often. But, how does being a good person or performing good actions more frequently put someone in a different status or rank?
There is a moral theory that fits this kind of reasoning and it’s called the theory of Desert –one deserves more well-being if he or she is a virtuous person. This mode of thought isn’t very counter-intuitive, since we already judge others based on their virtue. For instance, if one could save Hitler or Gandhi, the answer is pretty clear. Gandhi is more virtuous; thus, he deserves more well-being. So, it isn’t controversial or strange for people to use this reasoning to condemn Trump supporters.
What bothers me is that many leftists are moral relativists – or at least they claim to be so. If one were truly a moral relativist, how can one rank a person’s virtue? How can you say that the culture of Trump supporters is inferior to that of left-wing millennial’s? If one truly believes that Trump supporters are morally inferior, then one has to subscribe to a kind of ethical framework that allows such a system of ranking. Moral relativism cannot say which culture is morally superior to another. If one truly wishes to hold onto the belief that Trump supporters are morally inferior, then one must be prepared to abandon moral relativism. This would mean opening up for discussion whether Islamic culture or Asian culture is morally inferior to Western culture. This would mean opening up for discussion the objectivity of ethics, and many things millennials hate.
I’m not a moral relativist, yet I detest discussions like, “Is Western culture superior to Islamic culture or Asian culture?” I think this kind of discussion very often carves up space for racism and bigotry. Nevertheless, I cannot see how being a moral relativist makes it any better. It just makes one avoid the discussion and hold onto an incoherent ethical framework. Gandhi is clearly more virtuous than Hitler, and I have to be able to ask the same of cultures.
I tried to appease my conscience by gazing at these cultures from an impersonal standpoint. Then, I saw that all cultures have had their periods of fortune – they all had their Golden Ages when the arts, the sciences, and philosophy proliferated. Some cultures are not able to live up to their potential due to misfortune, imperialism, and other complications. The impersonal gaze allows me to see that affluent cultures – the West – commit such horrible crimes that gay marriage and women’s suffrage appear as meager improvements. The impersonal gaze shows me how difficult it is to say which is better than the other as a whole. How can you quantify goods and atrocities?
I am glad that I cannot deem Islamic or Asian culture as inferior, but I did not get to this conclusion merrilly. By giving up moral relativism, I had to reason with the assumption that it is possible for a culture to be morally inferior. Ethics is hard, and critical thinking is unsettling. However, if one wishes to include truths or logical coherence in their ethical or epistemological frameworks, then one must bite the bullet. As Immanuel Kant once said, one must be afflicted by the restlessness of reason.