Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I have this theory …

I'd love to own the rights ....
… that most people, including those with post-graduate degrees (especially those in certain liberal-arts disciplines whose names end in “Studies”) have only the faintest notion of what morality means and what morals are.

I don’t say that most people are evil or bad or ethically-challenged. Rather, they have this vague, transient notion that morals have only to do with sexual and reproductive decisions.

Candidly, this is the only way I can explain the existence of otherwise intelligent people who can say, when the subject is (say) homosexuality, “Morality is relative, and we should respect all moral choices equally,” then in the next breath demand laws against hate crimes and requiring sensitivity training … without seeing any inconsistency.

Of course, it could be garden-variety hypocrisy, of the kind inherent in the statement “Catholics are all bigots”. However, when I once told a pair of college students that all laws are morality-based, a truism as obvious to me as “All water is wet”, they looked at me as if I’d claimed we were hanging by our hair from the sky, and exclaimed in unison, “No, they aren’t!”

I’m sure they’d have agreed with me if I’d said that all laws are based on ideas of right and wrong behavior. But for some reason, using the word morality triggered the opposite reaction. I believe more people would agree there are some acts that are objectively right and wrong as long as we didn’t use the word “morality” to describe that sense of objective right and wrong.

I believe the trigger that set my two young college companions to horror was the association of morality with the “Thou shalt not’s” of the Decalogue. But all law says to us, “Thou shalt not,” except where it says, “Thou must.” Even the freedoms of the Constitution require the engagement of prohibition, albeit prohibition against the government itself: “Thou shalt not forcibly quarter soldiers in citizens’ homes.” Not a single former executive now sitting in durance vile would have been tried and convicted of embezzlement or larceny had we not agreed in principle, “Thou shalt not steal.” If today we don’t encode all the Decalogue into law (freedom of religion), or we do include in law things never envisioned in the days of Moses (“Thou shalt not double-park;” “Keep thou holy the income-tax filing deadline”), the law still encodes morality.

So why do I bother you with this statement of the obvious? Because it isn’t obvious anymore. As George Orwell put it, We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” What was once common sense is no longer common, and what is common is mostly nonsense.

Which, I guess, is another way of saying that people are stupid. *sigh*