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Standards Are Relative

by Miki Saxon

I love it when readers call me (360.335.8054), even when the caller is irate, as happened yesterday.

“Sue” called because she was extremely upset that I agreed with Dan Erwin’s comment that he raised his kids using the concept of ‘covenants’ as opposed to ‘standards’, because covenants can be renegotiated whereas standards are set.

Sue said that no society could function without some kind of absolute rules, the kind that gave continuity, and that if they changed at everyone’s convenience there would be chaos.

My response was that I disagreed with the absolute rules, but agreed with the second part of her premise.

After talking for awhile, Sue ended the discussion by saying that I wouldn’t have the nerve to put my opinions here, because if I did I’d lose all my readers.

I said that I doubted that, since I’ve never made my attitudes a secret and that she should come back today (Friday) and see for herself.

Foremost, I’ve never believed that homo sapiens are capable of speaking in absolutes, such as always and never. There will be millions of changes, both societal and evolutionarily, between now and forever.

Life changes, society changes, attitude changes.

In absolute terms, murder has always been wrong, but people have been renegotiating the definition of murder for centuries—and they still are.

When one part of a society decides a standard needs to change, they often (usually?) fight a war with the opposing side that doesn’t want to change—think North vs. South.

The wars aren’t always formal, gun-toting fights. Slavery may have been abolished in the South, but integration is still an upward battle.

Obviously, changes aren’t done by individuals, but with the agreement of a significant segment of the society, otherwise, as Sue said, there would be chaos.

But even when a significant number move for the change chaos may result. It often erupts and can be clearly seen, for example, in the generational shifts so beloved by the media.

If I hadn’t seen so many standards change during my life I might be less on the side of Relativism, but, as I said at the start, humans just don’t seem capable of absolutes.

If any other readers are upset, have great arguments in support of absolutes, agree with me more or less or just want to explain why I’m nuts click here and share your thoughts.

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: slavin fpo on flickr ideal standard

8 Responses to “Standards Are Relative”
  1. Jaky AstikNo Gravatar Says:

    You are beetle nuts!

  2. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Jaky, that’s a compliment coming from someone who prefers copying to innovation because it’s faster:)

    But I’d love for you to tell us WHY I’m beetle nuts.

  3. Elliot RossNo Gravatar Says:

    Absolutely :-)

    1) cov·e·nant

    Etymology:Middle English, from Anglo-French, from present participle of covenir to be fitting, from Latin convenire
    Date:14th century

    “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement”

    2) stan·dard
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French estandard banner, standard, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English standan to stand and probably to Old High German hart hard
    Date: 12th century

    “something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example”


    So – a standard, can be a covenant, and a covenant could even be a standard.

    Well, the idea being that is there any weakness in defining a “covenant” vs. a “standard” ?

    I doubt it !

    Best Regards (and a good holiday weekend!)

  4. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Elliot, The first definitions for each at www.dictionary.com are

    Covenant: an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.

    Standard: something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.

    If you read Dan’s original comment you’ll see that he used covenant as a renegotiable agreement as opposed to one set in law.

    And even considering them interchangeable doesn’t change my view that they are relative to time and society.

    Have a safe, happy holiday!

  5. Elliot RossNo Gravatar Says:

    I do agree with you :-)

    My putting the definition in there was for “Sue” who felt that perhaps a covenant is a “weaker” agreement than going with a “standard.”

    Because they are definitely relative to time and society – in fact it can be relevant within different areas within a society (think of alcohol laws in the states)

    There is no absolute in the wonderfully irrational human mind (in spite of what any extremist wishes)

    On the flip side, **outside** of person to person relations – we can to try and set as close to ‘absolutes’ standards as we can when risk is involved. (don’t run red lights, drive on the right side of the road) –

  6. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Ahhh, my error:)

    Even the laws governing risk aren’t absolute, but dependent on the society that sets them. The English drive on the right side of the road and there are plenty of places where right-of-way is based on the chicken principle:)

    Life would be far more civilized if more people adhered to current absolutes, AKA, laws, instead of the what-I-can_get-away-with school of thought.

  7. Mary HallNo Gravatar Says:

    Not only are you absolutely (!) =P right that standards are relative, Miki but you have hit on one of the main reasons why kids are alienated from school in such huge numbers. If only we adults could learn to operate with covenants instead of arbitrary absolutes, we could reinstate “education” as a form of social leadership instead of social eugenics.

  8. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Mary, could you provide additional information on what you mean by “…we could reinstate “education” as a form of social leadership instead of social eugenics.”

    I’m not sure what you mean, although I am familiar with eugenics, a concept that makes me shudder.

    Thanks for opening up a new and interesting conversation. I hope you can find time to respond.

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