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+4 votes
I'm asking this question as a sort of dumping ground for @101 pertaining to questions, debate and discussion regarding 'absolutes' and its derivatives: 'absolute truth,' ' 'moral absolutism/ absolute Good & Evil' 'The Truth,' etc. This can be a turn-to thread whenever 'absolutes' enter into other discussions as a point of controversy. That way, those disinterested in such discussions don't have to wade through it all.

Here are some examples:

and edited to add:

because the notion of 'evil,' particularly in some 'objective' sense, is so prevalent.
by (7.5k points)
edited by
to get this started more, perhaps link to the previous threads where the issue has been discussed?

i think it's interesting to try to corral wandering points on this site, but i'm not sure people know how to (or want to) organize their thoughts that way?
You may have a point about organizing thoughts in this way, but, it also seems that some folks drop out of the conversations when this topic arises, particularly in contexts of 'moral' questions.

I feel that longish posts are required to accurately present one's view on the topic of 'absolutes' since, in my experience, I've had to repeatedly explain why 'yes' or 'no' answers to the question aren't 'absolute.' In large part, this is why I answered cd88's queries in such an oblique manner.

Edited to add: Yes, I will provide some links to some discussions pertaining to absolutism. Also, I may add another comment (rather than answering my own question) in order to explain my tags as well as my reasons why I find 'absolute(s)' unfit for anarchist discussion.
Rather than answer my own question, I'd like to clarify where I'm coming from. Here goes:

1. I'll begin with the way theologians and philosophers have defined the word 'absolute' traditionally: That which is complete and perfect; that which exists by its own nature and is consequently independent of everything else; not mixed or adulterated (Thou shalt not commit adultery ;-) ); free from restriction or limitation/ not limited in any way; not comparative or relative. I see at least two contradiction here: the definitions themselves and the act of defining. These are relational, limiting, comparative activities as is that of 'knowing' such-and-such. An 'absolute' can neither be conceptualized nor an object nor can 'it' be a combination or even a 'solution of all opposites.'

2. Usage: as a qualifier, as in 'absolute truth,' 'absolute certainty,' and one of my favorite absurdities , 'absolute statement.' As a thing-in-itself: as in a 'moral absolute' (see #1). Thirdly, as a theophany: the 'mysterium tremendum.' All usages are self-contradictory with even the last a 'mystical' relationship. There have been many attempts to rescue this last sense of the word, but all of them fall short precisely because they express *experience* and *feeling.* Not that these feelings are too be short changed. I, for one, am fascinated with what many call a 'religious experience,' but I tend to think the way it's been co-opted as a *religious* experience has led falsely away from living and into a deep nihilism.

3. Nihilism: while most would define nihilism as a reaction/deep skepticism *against* metaphysics, morality, and moral-metaphysics, I see this more in a Nietzschean manner: The belief in 'absolutes,' given 1 and 2 above, can only be a belief in Nihil, in Nothingness. As such, 'absolutes' are antithetical to life in every way. 'Absolute(s) propose 'conditions' which bespeak of that which is totally un-life-like, un-worldly.This is an abbreviated account of my own take, but such is the context of this particular forum.

4. Power: 'absolutes' have always been used within the context of civilization(s) as an expropriation of our *wonder* toward the ends of the *awe*-ful. A deep primeval aspect of our relationship within, and *as* our world (which can and may be perceived and described only as relational), has always been turned against us, particularly when the high-priest became the Bawss (the oldest meaning of 'hierarchy') be HE, the Pharaoh, Lugal, what have ya. Awe, that is, fear, in a pyramid scheme of mummified abstractions/categorizations, came to dominate and does so still. This includes our own deep experiences of worldliness, which came to require a stamp of approval so as to not threaten the pyramid-scheme. As I've said before, the State isn't just a set of external power relations, but also a permitted *state* of consciousness.

Today, I can only see 'absolute' used to convey a sense of authority of one's own opinion, statements, viewpoint. This may be unwitting left-overs, or holdouts, of a long history of embedded hierarchy, including our current 'democratic' and 'secular' form of priesthood, piety and prayers. The question may be here, do we wish to continue confusing our convictions (opinions) with this underlying and often unconscious form of authority?

Edited for grammar and additional thoughts.

3 Answers

+4 votes
I don't think it can, and I think it does. (how you like that for absolutes?!)

I have things I am absolutely firm about, but when it gets down to brass tacks, my black and whites look like a whole lot of grey areas that blur from a distance.

What is tricky about this is that there are things I would not do, but those things are based on personal experiences and my own ethics (which is always changing and adjusting as my understanding of the world does). This makes me a seemingly shitty person to conspire with about anything, except that part of why I say this is I have far too many people far too close to me that were true to causes, true til death, or would never under any circumstances agree to do/say: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ who at some later point did so either under duress or because, you know, they just had a different worldview now.

When I say my ethics shift with experience, that isn't to say that I am a snitch-in-the-wings, or that I am apologizing for the choices people make, but that it is a bit less clear in the thick of things, and that those ethics aren't the be-all, end-all, rather they are the jumping off point for deciding on strategies and tactics.

Let's think about other places where absolutes come into play in anarchyland...

*voting: I don't, but I don't think choosing to do so would make my beliefs any less than paying taxes or otherwise supporting the state in other ways I already do, I just think that it is insulting to be given this as the one supposedly meaningful choice for participation, thus I don't.

*paying taxes: I do, it has far more concrete impacts on reinfiorcing the state than voting, but I do it, because options to not are limited (though not impossible, I have a friend who is a war tax resistor based on their particular take on anarchism and withdrawing support from the state), however I don't think choosing to compromise on these terms could be argued to make one not-an-anarchist.

*believing in god/a higher power: I am a bit hesitant here. I am godless, and have no spirit. So too for everyone else I know and interact with, because that shit ain't real. Many people I know argue this. They have a spirituality, or they have a (blech) "god". I can hardly say that makes folks who have that shit not-anarchists. Fuck, even my staunch denial could be seen as such by anarchists who see my hatred of spirituality woowoo of any kind as my being still too haunted by the spook of atheism.

A couple last thoughts (with extremely prejudicial privilege to revise after further thought or respond and maybe contradict myself, thus proving some of my point):

When I started to move away from ideas of prescriptive forms of anarchy, I used the term "ethics" to delineate what I saw as things that matter to me making choices, as opposed to "morals" which I saw (still see) as unchanging standards by which we either choose to live or don't.

I am unsure ethics is a good word to use, but it is what I chose here. It could/might be replaced if I come up with better words. What I mean when I am using it here is not something fixed for all time, or applicable to all people, but rather something related to Jason McQuinn's idea of "Critical Self-Theory". I mean it as not-dogmatic, not mired in purely theoretical conjecture.
by (22.1k points)
edited by
my "fill in the blank" line seems to have broken my answer... total victory!
+1 vote
Absolutely not!
by (560 points)
+1 vote
*upvotes 5 times in alternate dimension GUM machine*

Absolutes can speak to things people feel really strongly about, things that have no basis in reality but are based on personal feelings. For example: lot's of people believe in the psuedo-science (perhaps the BEST kind there is!) of psychology because they see some truth in it based on personal experiences. How many times have you heard someone say "OMG i am SO add!" without there being any real life basis for someone who can pay attention to everything at all times without getting bored. Insights on short attention spand don't have to be absolutes, but not paying attention to something meaningless and boring doesn't mean the person has a DISORDER. But seeing as the readers of psychology text books are fresh out of high school, looking for some sense to make of the world, they become convinced psychology has some sort of "objective truth", and the expert/specialist becomes GOD.

The problem, in my opinion, is the iron-clad belief in authority. Once people choose their religion, they feel like they have to make excuses and disclaimers for its spokes-people. Now, there are people who use religion as a tool, as a guide for regulating their life and expressing their opinions. This has never made any sense to me, I've always felt like if im to say im part of a relgion, i have to feel like it's more-correct than the other golden plate of religion. Even though i hated christianity deep within my bones, the alternative of "satanism" just seemed like the same thing: you join the group, you pay homage (in whatever form), and you defend the "true satanism". What people believe in that confuses me the most is liberal-catholicism, which means you can deviate from the official doctrine of the church a little bit, but in the end your praying the rosary (or the hail mary!) just like all the more dogmatic folks.

Since ingrate brought up the issue of absolutism and voting...

On anarchism and voting: voting does so little to effect the state, but arguably it can play a role in shifting the puppet occupying the seat. Are there good puppets and bad puppets? Perhaps...but neither politicians, cops, "our troops", school teachers, or beaurocrats deserve one microbe of my attention just because they serve the state, so i treat elections as such: they are plays, farses, absurd parodies of pleasant gold championships between rich people. "Politics" acknowledged as its own field is cannot be anything else BUT something removed from real life that doesn't truly exist