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Rune Engelbreth Larsen
Relativism and Humanism

Man is not more or less human - man is human, plain and simple.

The world itself is also human, for by its very nature, human knowledge and experience embraces nothing, which has not been experienced, perceived or uttered by a human being.

But man is multiform and diverse, characterised as each person is by individual dispositions, ideas, preferences, wishes and desires. Neither is the world any less multiform and diverse for the same reason, because every experience and every language is also defined by diverse individual traits, and there is no other world for the individual than that which manifests itself through experience and language.

No Absolute, defined as an extra-individual, unequivocal objective truth can exist within a world comprised of each individual's diverse experiences, even if they are heralded as an absolute Divination, Reality or Truth - because the world itself is not absolute, but relative to each individual being.

Though not only can nothing absolute exist within the world, neither can it, within the limits of human understanding, exist outside the world. If such a thing exists outside the world then it is without the possibility of ever being able to manifest itself or be experienced as absolute, since none of that which is experienced, felt or expressed by different people is absolute, due to the fact that no two people ever experience, feel or express anything in absolute harmony, only in relative accordance.

Thus man is eternally denied the possibility of ever experiencing, let alone exerting influence upon anything whatsoever absolute - still defined as an extra-individual, unequivocal objective truth - and likewise, any and all hypothetical absolutes are eternally denied the possibility of ever experiencing, let alone exerting influence upon man.

Everything that the world is, is what man experiences, feels and speaks, and all of what different people experience, feel and speak, is and will remain astatic, enigmatic and divergent. As myriad as the possibilities are for humans to experience, to feel and to express themselves, they are every bit as numerous for the world and humanity. We cannot escape relativism.

Consequently, nothing is more absolute than the realisation that nothing is absolute. A less paradoxical conclusion can hardly be reached through relativism when we conceptualise the consequences of human diversity within a single language, which as a common medium of communication must necessarily aspire to an extra-individual function, which traverses these differences.

Of course all of this does not mean that humanity in all its diversity cannot determine or agree upon sufficient common factors to enable for example: science, philosophy and religion to express and exchange relevant and compatible knowledge for large or small communities. But it does mean that "truth" and "objectivity" are viewed from a more pragmatic perspective, and it means that when independent observers establish or ascertain variant, possibly mutually incompatible facts, it by no means necessarily follows that they haven't all observed correctly.

Tolerance and humanism is, if not the most logical, then a natural consequence of this. Humanism and relativism support, substantiate and compliment each other like two sides of the same coin, like the heart and the mind, instinct and intellect, with their source, centre of gravity and destination in that selfsame realisation of human diversity.

The more we acknowledge and accept the inherent uniqueness of each individual, the less alien we become to each other, for it is precisely this uniqueness which constitutes the essence of that humanity which we ourselves are also a part of. Not that disputes, quarrels and conflict become a thing of the past, but that we see fellow humans instead of strangers, not just when we encounter friends, but every time we cross paths with another human being, whether they be loved-ones or strangers, friend or foe. And that these differences in themselves never become a source of enmity, because the worst cruelties and atrocities have always been perpetrated against those shunned by society, fellow humans, whose only crime is to be part of a minority, whose manner of speech, appearance, feelings and thoughts are different than those of the Leader, the System or the Ruling Majority.

Neither is a dictatorship of the ruling majority any less of a dictatorship than an absolute dictatorship, regardless of whether its rise to power was achieved through violence or through the ballot box. Neither can any ruler, any system nor any majority that does not, first and foremost, cherish and protect diversity and thereby minorities, claim to be the individual's protector, as each and every individual is, in one or more cases, a member of one or more minorities. The individual itself is in the final end, the smallest though most significant minority.

Every time our right to be different is infringed upon, a minority is violated and every time a minority is violated, we are all violated - and all the while the Powers that be advance a little further down the road to dictatorship, if only the first few steps.

Where is it that man is violated? Man is violated there where people are forced to do things other than share the fruits of society and respect the integrity of their fellow humans. Man is violated when a single individual's freedom of action, a freedom of action enjoyed by the rest of society, is restricted against their will and where it does not infringe on the freedom of action of any other individual.

Man is violated in Denmark. It's here we live, it's here we begin.

When man is violated, humanism must defend it. When tolerance and understanding are on the defensive, humanism must be offensive. When freedom of diversity is forced into retreat, than humanism must strike again. And if words are not enough, then there must be action.

Humanism begins with the word.

Published in Faklen (The Torch), 1999
Translated by Anthony Kiely