Thursday, March 02, 2006

Moral Relativism: The Handmaid of the Market

Many a conservative's stock portfolio has been fattened, and soccer mom's all-terrain vehicle financed, through supporting clients like Calvin Klein. And would anyone really be surprised if the tobacco company that was flattering feminism through its Virginia Slims campaign was simultaneously contributing to the reelection coffers of Jesse Helms? The ethos of commerce--with its scientific methods pressed to monetary ends, with its strict rationalism placed in the service of a narrow materialism--has neither the language nor the appetite for such scrupulous discriminations. Rather, its democracy of pro fit wants to decree that all money is good money while its standard of service wants to insist that the customer is always right.

When practiced in moderation, these commercial ideals of toleration and solicitude are indeed necessary for a civil, democratic marketplace. But when the market expands to enclose the whole of society so that even the most intimate of activities becomes economically defined, when the primary shapers of allowable behavior are the imperatives of the bottom line, then toleration gives way to decadent license, civil solicitude to venal solicitation, as everything becomes "good" and anything "right" So enclosed, we can rationalize the most offensive of behaviors. Access to the morgue photos of a murdered child, JonBenet, becomes yet one more entrepreneurial opportunity, their purchase and publication justified under the banners of "freedom of expression" and the public's "right to know."

How has such moral relativism come to define our social sphere? The answer is both so pervasive and near that it is hard for us to see: Relativism is the standard operating procedure of scientific capitalism, the working premise of commercial life. To say so is merely to restate the premises of capitalism's cultural contradictions, and show again how the Producing Self has become complicit with, and dependent on, the depredations of the Consuming Self.
-David Bosworth, The spirit of capitalism, 2000, Public Interest, Winter 2000

A sharp undergraduate can spot this mechanism in his first reading of John Stuart Mill. Bosworth takes this insight to a whole new level.

via Caleb Stegall at the CrunchyCon Blog

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