December 18, 2005

Speaking of relativism

Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's foreign minister has said that his views on the Holocaust are "a matter for academic discussion and the West should be more tolerant of his views."

Now, I buy into a lot of post-structuralism's theories about the nature of truth and knowledge, and I believe they are for the most part a better way of thinking about enormously complex functions such as dialogue and belief-acquisition, but this idea that the Holocaust is a matter for academic debate or discussion and that we in the West should be open to listening to alternative views of the event is just plain bullshit.

A belief is merely a means of expressing, to oneself or to others, that one is prepared to take a course of action that will attempt to justify that belief, and to do so consistently.

If I say that I believe Heineken is a better beer than Sam Adams, I am really just saying that I plan to justify that statement in some way—through an argument, through buying you a beer to prove it, through physical force, or through ridiculing you until you agree with me or walk away, or at least until I feel that I have justified my belief. And I am prepared to do that at each instance where I feel I have a need to justify my belief.

Because beliefs are so intimately related to action, some beliefs are not acceptable and they are not to be tolerated. Some actions are unambiguously harmful to others, and the beliefs that are connected to them should not be given distinction as "alternative views" or "academic matters" or "open to interpretation."

Ahmadinejad clearly has an ideal course of action attached to his views of the Holocaust, which are, basically, that it is a lie used to allow Jews a(n unjustified) place in the Middle East. He has said that Israel should be removed to Alaska or Germany or, as he said earlier this year, should be wiped off the map entirely. He is actively acquiring nuclear capability. Ahmadinejad's beliefs about the Holocaust are not floating in some academic ether, unconnected to real and dangerous activities.

Beliefs are habits of thinking which are potential habits of action. Some actions should not be performed. It's just that simple.

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