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A very common reaction to relativist claims is to discredit them as fancy musings without any real use or value. It is like saying that “Well, maybe so and so are not valid universally, but, who cares?” — implying that any abstractions are bound to be only valid into the distant realm of theory. This same bias paints “theory” as something distant and without substance. It says anyone involved with lots of ideas is bound to be a day-dreamer.

Contrary to popular belief, abstractions and theories are actually more practical than life without them, and “theoreticians” are the kind of people that are usually more focused on the matters at hand.

Your typical “practitioner” {theory-hating} person is most of the times wasting her time with the details and minutia of whatever task she has been put to, and she will never take a step back to see what she’s doing. She might be very involved, but she is not really addressing the “real issues”. She is just acting.

Now a theory is also a form of action. Another gal who instead of “just doing something” stops to theorize about it, a gal who tries to judge the circumstance relating it to other patterns and possible cultural values, in short someone who relativizes things, this other gal will probably tend to interfere in the points where it makes a difference.

Not only that, relativists will usually try to express themselves in terms of the experiences the other person has lived, instead of in terms of universal values (that turn out to not be universal) or dogmas (which turn out to not be shared) or judgements (which cannot be communicated). Relativistic people will tend to negotiate instead of laying rules.

So that, in a debate, the person who is asking “But what does «Capitalism» mean?” or “So what is your definition for «Aesthetics»?” or even “But in what theoretical framework do you inscribe your arguments?” — this guy is the one who is trying to bring matters to terms we common people can live and experience and feel.

All too often, relativistic discourses are confused with useless abstractions because they question things that the other person takes for granted. They are said to be overanalysing things, when in fact they are just questioning dogma.

In other words: relativizing is not making something simple complicated, it is just showing the biases that had been applied to the thing. Many, many times it amounts to actually making things very simple. And at least it shows us what we have to do to negotiate.

While it is true that, generally, the relativist does not have “certainties”, that he is never completely sure of anything as every knowledge can be recontextualized or questioned, to take from this that the relativist can’t do things is just confusion.

A certainty does not make you more powerful. It doesn’t even make you less hesitant.

To put it bluntly, it just makes you blind. When you are certain, in effect you act without paying attention to what’s happening around you. Being less certain, you are on a constant process of adaptation to the circumstance.

To abandon the need for certainties is not to become uncertain — except, that is, in the very literal sense. To abandon certainties is to treat every moment as an experiment.

Like animals don’t have categories in their minds as “truth” or “falseness”, they just act and react, dealing with whatever happens to them — and usually with much more competence than we give them credit for — in the same way we can act not knowing truth and in fact not caring a single bit about the possibility (or not) of truth.

In fact, when you abandon certainty you become more practical. The reason is quite simple: a certainty does not help you when it is right and shoots you when it is wrong.

For example, if you “know that plants need lots of water” nothing different will happen about your roses, but when your cacti begin dying you will not know what to do. Now if instead of “being sure” about the relationship between plants and water you just experiment — observing that usually plants do get better with more water — you will probably get a better garden.

Scepticism is actually a much better relationship with knowledge than certainty. Certainty is just knowledge with arthritis: it has no flexibility. Almost all big advancements in science and art and politics and whatever comes from the courage to think in ways that were impossible or forbidden or just simply plainly stupid.

Not having certainties makes you more productive. It helps you to focus on matters at hand instead of in big nebulous non-existent alien concepts. Not having certainties make you more practical.

[NOTE: As a last resort in their boring argumentation, materialists try to say that the effectiveness of ideas is their truth content. It just proves that they do not want to listen — which is just natural, since they do know truth, right? They do not need to gain wisdom from others, as us relativists like to do. But anyway, the hole in this argument is that effectiveness does not say anything about the future of an idea, only about it’s past. Whatever way you find to measure this so-called effectiveness, it doesn’t say anything about the knowledge itself but it makes it more difficult for you do adapt to new circumstances. Obviously, knowledge helps people in their lives, it makes them more powerful. But it is not a power game — as in who’s got more “truth”. It is a complexity game — as in who’s got better recipes. And recipe books just keep getting fatter and fatter — you are getting farther away from your old way of cooking, you are not getting closer and closer to the perfect dish. In fact, the perfect dish is Chokookies with Amendocren, it has been tried, approved and then we moved on.]


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  1. […] by people who do not know much about art (or design, for that matter, for those people tend to be doers that refuse to think at all costs). This “is not art” thinguie, though, was at a certain point in time a very common […]

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