Thanks for the quality response. Firstly, can I suggest we use the term "pragmatist" rather than "relativist"? i think it more accurately captures what you oppose, and doesn't suffer from the paradoxes that relativism does. It's really hard to say exactly what relativism is, because it immediately will oppose that, if it's true relativism :-)
I'm going address your points in no particular order, but I'd like to point something out before I do. You and I have very different basic assumptions and perspectives. Very often, what that means is that you and I can both say true things, and then proceed to disagree anyway. I'm going to concentrate on my opinion of what "harm" is, which is what I originally said (that absolutists are the ones who do the harm). You then changed the vocabulary to "liberty", as in who has caused the loss of liberty. You did this, I think, because you value liberty above all else - specifically individual liberty - so it immediately strikes you as the most harmful when it is compromised. I value liberty, but neither as greatly as you do, nor in the same sense of the word. And, I take a pragmatic view of it's meaning.
Second, speech. Do you think it is absolutists who banned the Nazis AND the Communists in Germany? Of course not; there is no such thing as an absolute centrist. These are pragmatists, and pragmatists are relativists.
Some people think that certain types of speech can cause harm. State-sponsored religion, for example. Falsely inciting panic. Libel, slander. Perjury. There are many examples. Speech is limited with the same theory that fist-swinging is limited. Your free to do so until you smack my nose - at which point you've just violated my "right" to an unbroken nose. We can argue about where the boundaries are, how much harm is too much, and how much must be accepted, but those are pragmatic arguments.
Alternatively, absolutists are the ones responsible for truly harmful limitations of free-speech, as in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, the Catholic church, China, etc. Would your absoutist stance on this particular issue be a horror on this scale? Probably not, but neither is the pragmatist approach. The harm it's causing is that people are wanting to say stupid things because they are told they can't. It's a phase and we'll grow out of it. That's the beauty of pragmatism - a bad decision is never final.
First, many of the people against guns are so with an absolutist attitude - that guns are morally wrong and should be banned altogether. On the other side are those who demand guns not be regulated at all. Both sides are ridiculous. Should I be allowed to own a division of tanks? How about nuclear weapons? Biological weapons? Chemical? Do you, trhurler, draw a line somewhere, or not? Should the government not have a monopoly on the use of force, or should we all have rights to do so?
Again, these are pragmatic questions, and the pragmatist attempt to achieve a balance between the two extremes is causing less harm then either of the two extremes would. Liberty is all well and good, but being free to drive a tank into downtown NY is probably not doing much for the liberty of others there. You probably draw the line a lot "further back" than most democratic politicians, but so be it. You can still own your guns, and no one of import is even suggesting they be taken away.
Third, free association ... Do you know why these permits are generally required?
I'm afraid I didn't quite follow this one - you never explained what these permits are. As for the police being given mandates that extend beyond those granted by existing laws, that usually occurs as the result of some other problem (like drug prohibition, the bogey-man of "national security", or other such delusional activities). We should talk about the problem that's the cause, I think.
Fifth, social issues ... sodomy ... laws prohibiting the use of various illegal substances ... law to force people to rate
content and "protect children,"
Religious Right. Drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, abortion - these are causes of the religious absolutists. You are blaming the legislatures for being weak, and indeed, many are, but we voted for them. And these issues are driven by an absolutist attitude that certain activities are morally wrong and should be outlawed, even though there is no violation of another's rights, body, or mind. A pragmatic attitude would never prohibit marijuana, nor pornography as a whole, nor alcohol, and not abortion. Neither would it allow these things entirely unrestricted. The pragmatists are caught between the absolutist attitudes, and thank god they are generally in power, and not either of the extremes, else things would get worse. Actually, with drugs and abortion, things are pretty bad from that point of view - the extremists are in power. But that's only supporting my position.
It's a problem, but you're aiming at the wrong cause. Business is the the culprit - they seek to gain by knowing more about you than you would want them to. Should we or should we not have privacy laws? Wouldn't they represent a pragmatic approach to the problem? A lot of what the government does is protect citizens from those who are more powerful. Sometimes the protection is onerous, but the alternative of a completely hands-off government would be more detrimental. Again, the pragmatists are hardly causing a whole lotta harm here. An absolutist would.
Sixth, business. Antitrust ... government left to itself tends to grow
I put these two thoughts together because it seems you need a reality check. Every power structure left to itself tends to grow. Monopolies do tend to form, and they do tend to cause harm. We need checks on all power structures. The government has checks built-in and due to members being elected. Sometimes these checks are less than adequate, but at least we don't have a dictatorship, which is, after all, what a good absolutist would want?
Isn't democracy the ultimate in pragmatism? It suggests it's more important to be malleable and tolerable, at the risk of not being exactly right, than it is to be fixed and "right", at the risk of causing wholesale suffering. Do you support the idea of increasing the democratic forces in the US (as in direct democracy, removing the electoral college,etc), or do you fear the rule of the masses?
Well, here we are again - property. Going into a whole debate on this subject would comprise an entire essay in itself (and not one that ends in 1000 words or less), so I'll take a pass here. Go read my book ;-) (no, I don't really have a book). Anyway, the absolutist stance that all property should be privately owned leaves me with questionable access to anything beyond my front yard. It leaves me at the mercy of those who own all the land. Strikes me as bad. Again, thank god for some pragmatism. No, it's not perfect, but neither is it disastrous.
When I said harm, I was thinking of Nazi Germany (an absolute dictatorship that went very awry), the Vietnam war (capitalist absolutists gone out-of-control), American slavery (European ethnocentricity at its best), the Inquisition, Witch burning, McCarthyism, the inability of Jews and Arabs to get along, etc. A little perspective is needed, I think. If your listed items are the worst injustices we have to face, I'll take it. I'll work to improve, I'll fight to improve it (the pragmatist doesn't rule out any potential solution, even war). But the move to an absolute "principle" is the first move of intellectual weariness in the face of overwhelming complexity, and it is the precursor to withdrawal from the fray.
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
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