The Shallowness of Relativism

There is something deeper that we all are searching for, unless, of course we are unconscious of depths. I think our race stares out at the oceans because these hold great distances, and because they hold mysterious depths. The same is true with outer space. True, these things do not hold strange sway over all humans. Some couldn’t care less. But when the fascination is there, that is the real fascination: something unaccountable, something beckoning, something inviting a discovery, suggesting at the same time both joy and danger, wonder and terror.

Beauty is that way. We find an object of beauty and are swayed by it. Beauty persuades; something truly beautiful has that authority when we recognize in it a real, unambiguous beauty. And that also why it is so disconcerting when we find another object with what seems a different kind of beauty. We have a conflict caused by the authority of each, from the demand of each. And we tend to resist persuasion by the second. We rebel because we find in ourselves an active loyalty to the first.

And so, I think, we end up choosing between beauties. But we do it with uneasiness. We defend too heartily the first, we scoff inaccurately the second until time, which had more than the conflict that we sometimes admit, time, that healer, introduces a calm which is really a sort of relativism. We shrug and enjoy; we think the problem was somehow in the authority of that beauty.

But the problem is not in beauty. The problem is that its original authority has now been wrongfully diminished. Beauty is several and is not conflicting. The Greeks who clearly saw the harmony of beauty were not wrong. Beauty is one. The contradictory summons come from facets of a multi-faceted whole which holds a unity we did not suspect. We did not suspect it in those first summons because we thought that what we saw must be all, so great and dazzling it was. But Beauty teaches us through the authoritative summons from another facet to look deeper and to desire more.

And relativism, which depends on an unexamined coexistence, on a contradiction unresolved, shields us from the summons we have received and which call us to penetrate beyond the original and seek something far greater. That is where imagination aids, taking up the suggestion, seeking ways, planning voyages of discovery. Imagination, that organ of penetration and insight is set aside by relativism. Lack of imagination is a form of unconsciousness. The world is shallower without it, and the world of the relativist uninteresting because it stops at a glass ceiling called the end of wonder.


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