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Boring Morality

September 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today I downloaded a report from a New Zealand research company which summarised a survey of New Zealanders’ opinions on morality. Naturally I thought there would be some weird and wonderful, inconsistent, and outrageous opinions there that I could rant about in this blog but really, things were fairly much what I would have expected and there were no real surprises at all. In fact the whole thing was a bit boring.

The final graph in the report summarised the findings quite well by creating a “net strength of opinion index” calculated by subtracting negative opinions from positive (so that if everyone thought an issue was moral the score would be 100, if half thought it was moral and half immoral the score would be 0 and if everyone thought it was immoral the score would be -100).

So, of the questions that were asked, the highest morality rating was for divorce at 68%, followed by sex between an unmarried man and unmarried woman at 59%. Married men and women having an affair was considered highly immoral at -70% and polygamy even worse at -74%. So it seems that marriage is highly valued because infidelity is seen as very immoral (but sex outside of marriage isn’t) although in some ways marriage is not valued because divorce is considered very moral as well. That seems slightly contradictory.

On other issues, the most immoral was seen as cloning humans. The score for this was -81% and only 7% of people (just 4% of women) thought it was morally acceptable. I’m not really sure why this should be because it doesn’t really seem to be doing any harm to anyone but clearly its a big issue with many people because other prominent figures, such as the US president, have also indicated their total rejection of it. I suspect this is probably more due to ignorance and imaginary science fiction scenarios rather than real facts.

Maybe the more interesting issues were the ones which were more evenly divided. These included medical testing on animals at 12%, gambling at 10%, using clothing made of animal fur at 4% and the death penalty at -7%. Why wearing fur should be a problem in a population where the vast majority eat meat I cannot imagine, and maybe TV campaigns on problem gambling have given it a bad reputation even though almost everyone I know does gamble in various ways.

I was surprised that the death penalty got so much support, although it was still viewed overall negatively. I thought New Zealand was a more liberal society which would reject that sort of extreme state power. Maybe recent high profile crimes might have increased support for the idea but one recent case, where a person previously convicted of murder had the conviction reversed, should have served as a warning about the consequences of capital punishment.

So what about the classic moral issues? Homosexual relations scored 29% but was much more acceptable to younger people so opinions seem to be changing there. Abortion got a 21% rating showing that its still a problem to many people. And suicide scored -48% although, if it was doctor assisted it scored 18%. That’s a big difference but it does make sense because doctor assisted suicide would only apply to terminally ill patients instead of someone who was possibly just feeling depressed. Still, its hard to see why an action which only really affects the person involved should be seen so negatively.

So, as I said above, there’s really nothing too surprising here. Its really just the usual mix of conservative and liberal, reasonable and contradictory, well informed and ignorant, opinions we would expect from most people.

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