View image Mariane and Daniel Pearl (Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman) in "A Mighty Heart."
The term "moral relativism" (or "moral equivalence") has always fascinated me because of its slipperiness -- its moral relativism, if you will. The way the term is used in politics these days (by Israelis and Palestinians, conservatives and liberals, Christians and Muslims, and so on), it can mean one thing or its opposite, depending on who's using it and what they're trying to justify.
What it boils down to, in popular rhetorical discourse, is the moral equivalent of a five-year-old's finger-pointing: "But they started it!" and "What they did was worse!" This creates an inescapable and illogical ideological loop, wherein each new assault is justified by a previous one (or fear of a future one) that attempts to even the score but never, ever does, since it is always used to rationalize the next reprisal. It's always a matter of "self-defense" in the minds of the perpetrators.*
This ever-escalating tit-for-tat is, in fact, moral relativism at its most insidious, because it posits that there is no objective right or wrong. Something is considered moral or immoral depending on who does it and when, rather than on the nature of the act itself and its consequences -- whether unintended ones, or the intended kind that pave the road to hell.
Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, has an essay at The New Republic website ("Moral relativism and 'A Mighty Heart'") in which he recalls a conversation with a Pakistani friend who said "he loathed people like President Bush who insisted on dividing the world into 'us' and 'them.' My friend, of course, was taking an innocent stand against intolerance, and did not realize that, in so doing, he was in fact dividing the world into 'us' and 'them,' falling straight into the camp of people he loathed."
In other words, if there's one thing I can't tolerate, it's intolerance.
SANTA MONICA, Ca. - On the eve of the Academy Awards, the Independent Spirits Awards sometimes provide advance clues to Oscar winners. But Saturday's indiefest under the big tent on the beach at Santa Monica spread the awards so evenly that omens were hard to spot. "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crash," thought to be the Oscar front-runners, both won -- "Brokeback" for best picture, "Crash" for best first film by a director.