The Fruits of Subjectivism

In recent months I’ve been puzzled by two nationwide phenomena.

First, the conviction expressed by many people – by those on the Left more far more than by those on the Right – that saving lives from COVID-19 deaths is so important that we should pretty much “lock down” the nation’s economic, academic, religious, and beer-drinking life to accomplish this end.

Now I personally am in favor of saving lives, especially since I belong to a vulnerable demographic.  That is, I’m an old guy with two or three “underlying conditions.”  But saving the lives of people who are old and diseased rarely means that such people will once again be up and about, playing tennis or running half-marathons or working on engineering projects.  No, it means to extend their lives by a year or two, or a month or two.

Now there’s nothing wrong with extending life by even a small amount.  I myself would like to have as many months as possible.  But are these few extra months worth putting tens of millions of people out of work, keeping tens of millions of kids away from classrooms, and preventing countless numbers of young people from having the kind of fun and adventure you can have only while young?

Long life is good, but it’s not the only good.  Work is good.  Paychecks are good.  Schooling is good.  Socializing is good.  Fun is good.  And so on.  But in recent months lots of Americans seem to have thought that the paramount good is long life.

Second, I’m puzzled by the widespread belief that racism is the most horrible of sins, the only really serious sin. Now racism is bad, but so are many other things.  In my opinion, for example, abortion is bad, and so is homosexual conduct, and so is beating up your girlfriend or wife, and so is cheating on your taxes, and so is abandoning your offspring, and so are many other things.

According to recent public opinion, however, all these other sins fade to near-insignificance when compared to the gigantic sin of racism.  People (mainly on the left) who have no objection whatever to mass abortion or to casual fornication or to homosexual sodomy, and have only the barest objection to fathers abandoning their offspring, are shocked out their minds that a statue of Robert E. Lee should be on public display anywhere in America.

If these people could save their lives by saying the N-word, they’d prefer to die – just as early Christians preferred martyrdom to burning a pinch of incense at the emperor’s altar.

All this seems very odd to me, an elderly Catholic man with a few underlying conditions.  What’s going on?


For many decades now leftists or progressives or liberals (whatever you want to call them) have been waging war against the idea that values, especially moral values, are objective.  They have been champions of the opposite idea, value-subjectivism, according to which all values are no more than subjective preferences.  If you prefer Mozart to rap music, that’s your opinion.  You’re entitled to it, this being a free country.  But it’s nothing more than your opinion; it is not a fact.  That water is wet – that’s a fact.  That Mozart is better than rap is not a fact: it’s merely your personal preference.

Likewise with abortion or homosexuality.  People more up-to-date than I have often explained to me, “When you (Mr. Elderly Catholic) say that abortion and homosexual sodomy are morally wrong, all you can possibly mean is, ‘I disapprove of abortion and homosexual sodomy.’  Fine.  You’re an old-fashioned guy, and like other old folks born before the invention of computers and Fentanyl, you don’t like those things.  But we do like them.  And we happen to outnumber you.  Soon you’ll be dead, and we’ll outnumber you even more.”

Now this up-to-date person could have said to me, “You’re entitled to your opinion.”  But he/she/it/ze didn’t.  For while I am still entitled to my opinion on Mozart, I am NOT entitled to my opinion on homosexuality and abortion.  No, debate on those issues is now closed in America.  All disapproval of homosexuality or abortion is now wicked.  It is without excuse.  America’s moral sages have spoken.

In a society in which all values are considered to be subjective, none objective, even some value-subjectivists have a sense of where this may eventually lead, and they tremble.  It may lead to moral anarchy; it may lead to a license to murder, rape, rob, loot, burn, etc.

“No,” they think to themselves, “there must be SOME values we can all agree on.”

And so they say that human life is an absolute good, and it must be protected against COVID-19 even if we must do enormous damage to our economy and our schools.  Of course, their credibility as defenders of life is undermined by their support for the killing of unborn babies.

And so they say that racism is an absolute evil and that every last trace of it must be eradicated from our hearts and minds, including our unconscious minds.  Yet these, our anti-racism police, remain hypocritically indifferent to two appalling facts: immense number of black kids grow up without fathers – a major factor limiting their prospects – and an immense number of black babies are aborted every year.

For a hundred years or so, elite liberal thinkers have been teaching that all values, including moral values, are merely subjective; but in recent decades these teachings have trickled down to the masses.  The elites usually wanted no more than a license for sexual freedom; they hoped things would stop there.  The masses, especially the lowest stratum of the masses, are more logical.  They use moral subjectivism as a license for disorder and criminality.

And so some of our elites begin to recoil in horror from what they have wrought.  Now they say things like, “Life is objectively good” and “Racism is objectively bad.”

That’s good.  But it may be too little, too late.


*Image: A Ride for Liberty – The Fugitive Slaves by Eastman Johnson, c.1862 [Brooklyn Museum]

David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and most recently Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church.