The change is demonstrated by my experience when compared to Bloom's. In the 80s, they were at least willing to talk about the Nazis as evil and thereby contradict themselves. When I started teaching, I thought I could teach my students a lesson about the need for universal moral claim by using the same trick. The response was even more disappointing. The first time I used it against a student that had asserted cultural relativism and asked "if killing Jews is just part of Nazi culture, then does it mean it's OK?" I received the response "I don't know. I'll have to think about that." I was so angry I told her I couldn't believe her response. I never saw her again after that class, she immediately dropped. This last week I had a girl who claimed to be a Christian assert to me that each society needed to decided individually what was right and wrong, and that there was no basis beyond that for morality. "So," I said, "was it wrong for the Nazis to kill the Jews. I mean, it was their social convention, right?" She then told me that they were sincere in their belief that they were making the world a better place by killing Jews and therefore we should respect their decision. I couldn't believe it. Deeply depressing stuff.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
When Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind back in the 80s, he would play a gotcha game with his students. His students would get up and make a typical post-1960s speech about how we shouldn't interfere in other cultures and then talk about how all morality was all relative. Then he'd ask them about the burning of women in India or the Nazis and they would stammer something about tolerance or they would say "wow, that's really wrong" and thereby enter into a contradiction. On my facebook page a while back I gave a link to a David Brooks article that showed that based on several studies that American students not only have no sense of morality, but they can't even think in moral categories.