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The Absolutists

Some of us view everything as an absolute. If they don't know a person absolutely they claim they do not know that person at all – as someone who worked for President Reagan said of him.  An absolutist might miss that a person can be rational in some areas of thought and irrational in other areas. An absolutist might divide people into those who are evil and those who are not, failing to recognize the ease with which otherwise good people can fall into evil deeds. An absolutist might sound like a Zoroastrian and reduce an issue to what he calls a war between good and evil or between light and darkness, what some call manichaeism.

In 2007 an absolutist saw Bill Clinton as totally without morals because of his womanizing more than a decade previously. When William Kristol's conservative Weekly Standard editorialized in favor of the Clinton administration's military response in Kosovo, it was an absolutist who cancelled his subscription to the magazine. 

Absolutism is usually an over-simplification and based on specious certitudes. In ancient times, a Macedonian named Pyrrhon, the founder of skepticism, claimed that because humanity could not be absolutely certain about anything that humanity, therefore, knew nothing. But still he rambled on as if he knew something.

Absolutists have difficulty accepting interplay between chaos or random occurence and laws of nature. Like Albert Einstein (who wasn't the world's greatest philosopher) they are unable to muster enthusiasm for the principle of uncertainty. (Einstein responded to Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty with a statement about God not playing dice. The principle of uncertainty in quantum mechanics, by the way, is about perception, about uncertainty in measurement, not about connections beyond our ability to measure.)

Some absolutists have difficulty believing in an economy that mixes private enterprise and government participation in economic activity – called by some a mixed economy. They label a mixed economy as an absolute: socialism.

Mothers can be absolutist about their child, seeing the human side of their child and refusing to see psychopathologies that got him into trouble with society. For her, her little boy is a good boy through and through and forever.

An absolutist might have difficulty making choices between alternatives each of which has pluses and minuses.

There are absolutists who complain about relativists, saying such things as "we no longer teach absolutes or right and wrong values." They accuse academics of teaching relativism without bothering to read what academic ethicists are proclaiming. What bothers the absolutists is that these ethicists do not believe what they believe.

Absolutists might not see their beliefs as interpretation. They may accuse those they disagree with as interpreting while they see themselves as having a direct connection to reality that bypasses the process of association and differentiation.

In conversations, absolutists are rigid and tight in their responses to people who point out contradictions in their point of view. These are people with whom one does not have a dialogue. One merely lets them explain.

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.