Gallup has an interesting poll up asking people about moral issues. They’ve been asked if they consider certain things — fur coats, the death penalty, abortion — to be morally wrong or morally acceptable.
I found the idea fascinating and went down the list of issues. There are some drawbacks to this sort of poll, of course. The principle issue is that moral dilemmas are not always so black-and-white. By this, I don’t mean moral relativism (or, more accurately, amoralism). What I mean is that many issues are more complicated than “morally acceptable” or “morally wrong”. Sometimes, doing something morally wrong is necessary. War is morally wrong, but is sometimes necessary. And sometimes something that is morally wrong in one circumstance is morally acceptable in another.
It’s also an important point that, for most people, “morally wrong” is not the same as “should be illegal”. Many more people think abortion is wrong than think it should be illegal. Same with adultery, homosexuality, gambling and porn.
Anyway, I thought I’d list the moral issues and my thoughts. Hopefully, this will get a flame war started.
- Doctor-assisted suicide: While I’m somewhat torn on this one, I prefer to keep doctors out of the suicide business. So count this as morally wrong although I’m not sure it should be illegal.
- Abortion: While I’m pro-choice, I think abortion itself is wrong with the exception of life of the mother or severe abnormality.
- Having a baby outside of marriage: This is one of those depends things. Most of the time, I think it’s wrong. But if it’s a committed gay couple who can’t get married for technical reasons, I’m fine. If it’s a woman who got pregnant by a worthless man, I don’t think marriage is necessarily a good idea. Marriage is a good proxy for having a good child-rearing environment, but it’s still only a proxy. I’d focus on the latter rather than the former. I’d much rather have a single mother or a gay couple who invest the time and love needed to raise a child than a married couple who don’t give a shit. It’s neglect or walking away from responsibilities that’s morally wrong.
- Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur: I don’t have problem with this although I’m not a fur person. PETA members in the audience may throw paint at their computer screen if they prefer.
- Gay or lesbian relations: No problems. I actually think honest homosexuality is morally superior to the closet.
- Medical testing on animals: not only do I not have a problem with this, I think it’s highly moral. And my friends whose health depends on insulin developed from animal experiments or blood transfusion preserved by chemicals tested on animals would agree. Penn and Teller’s Bullshit episode on this is one of their best and really captures the passion we should all have on this issue.
- Pre-marital sex: no problems. Frankly, I think the 36% saying it’s wrong are engaged in wishful thinking.
- Cloning animals: I don’t have a problem with this being done in a research context. For commercial purpose, I think the technology is still too new and too poorly understood. I’m willing to reconsider that position as events warrant. And I do think their oughtta be a law.
- Stem cell research: again, torn. I don’t like restricting science but I don’t like creating a market for human embryos either. I kind of admired the way President Bush seemed to honestly struggle with the issue.
- Gambling: morally acceptable if it’s in reasonable amounts. I have no problem with an office Final Four pool. Someone blowing their kid’s college fund in Vegas is a different story. As far as legality goes, it be should be legal for anyone over 18. The federal ban on internet gambling was a terrible idea.
- Porn: no problems as long as it involves adults. Given the plunging rates of sexual violence during the rise of internet porn and the removal of stigmas against oral sex, I’d almost say this was morally right. I know at least one therapist who had some success in couples counseling by recommending married people watch porn together to stimulate their physical life.
- The death penalty: too complicated to get into now. My main problems with the death penalty are practical.
- Divorce: this depends on the situation. Most of the time, I don’t have an issue. I think its actually a good thing if there’s abuse involved. If there are kids involved, that changes the moral calculus considerably.
- Suicide: for someone suffering from a debilitating disease or condition, I could see this being acceptable. For anyone else, I think it’s immoral (and selfish). Self-sacrifice however, such as in war or a sinking ship, is highly moral. It may, in fact, be the highest morality.
- Cloning humans: for now, both immoral and illegal. I consider cloning technology to be too primitive for ethical use on humans. If we get to the stage where we can clone a lung to replace a cancerous one, then it becomes moral.
- Polygamy: I think it’s immoral but I’m a bit dubious on keeping it illegal.
- Adultery: mostly immoral. However, I don’t have a lot of problems with people who have open marriages or “an understanding” if that’s their thing. While I think monogamy is the moral standard, I tend to think we have a somewhat romanticized view of it.
For the general populace, the largest splits were on four issues: suicide, polygamy, adultery and cloning. I’m no sure what to read into that.
The other interesting thing about the poll was the cross-tabs. They’re not exactly unexpected, but interesting. Republicans, as you would expect, are far more morally opposed to abortion, euthanasia and illigitimacy than independents or democrats. But the age splits are also interesting — the young are far less opposed to premarital sex, porn or homosexuality than the elderly, but less accepting of animal testing and the death penalty. Whether that’s a youthful preference for fucking over killing or a seismic shift in societal attitudes, I don’t know.