Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Relativism and Nonjudgmentalism

David Brooks points to research which finds two - thirds of 18-23 year olds in the US find it hard to talk or think about moral issues at all (NYT). The default is extreme moral individualism.

“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

This is quite remarkable, given the US is still far more religious than other western countries, for one thing. Brooks argues it is less the fault of the young than of adult institutions who don't even give kids the vocabulary to think through moral issues.

It is probably the natural result of pushing "tolerance" as the prime moral virtue for two or three decades.

It might suit the left to have this situation when it comes to issues like gay marriage. But it also may undermine in time much of the rationale for things like progressive taxation, or indeed environmentalism, which require some framework of obligation.

It is also difficult to have much sense of purpose if you don't have much sense of right and wrong. Or perhaps it means you are capable of believing in anything.

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