Morals not immortal

Human society is constantly evolving. Each generation of people has a multitude of new social issues to deal with and new ways of looking at them. This is a trend that will continue until the end of existence (which might be next December, depending on who you ask). So it seems nonsensical when people try to preach a gospel resisting that change while relying on examples set by previous generations who dealt with different problems and had different viewpoints that were defined by that generation’s culture, right? Unfortunately, social conservatives do just that.

More often than not, we’ve come into conflict with conservatives because of their stances on social issues. We’re not experts on economic policy, so it is difficult for us to rail against politicians who subscribe to the trickle-down theory and across-the-board government deregulation, because one can make a valid argument for many conservative fiscal policies.

However, social issues are something anyone can comprehend.

Being socially conservative is an exercise in futility for a number of reasons, the first being that it seeks to crystalize something that is constantly evolving. The idea that people want to conserve something that is not concrete does not make a lot of sense. Economic issues change at a much slower rate than social ones do. You could look at something like “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith and still find principles and theories that are applicable today. This is not the case with social issues, because the reasons politicians give for being conservative on these issues are not valid ones.

One argument social conservatives give on issues such as gay marriage or abortion is that they are immoral, and America needs to have a strong moral compass, based on religious dictates. That sounds all well and good, but morality is a relative term. The definition of morality differs wildly depending on who is asked. Also, it has evolved over time, which is why it is a great annoyance when people defend their arguments by bringing up the Founding Fathers. For example, “The Founding Fathers would never support abortion.” That may be true, but it’s hard to abide by the moral judgments of men who owned slaves, only counted said slaves as three-fifths of a person and did not think women should be allowed to vote. Two hundred years ago, that wouldn’t have been an issue. But since society has learned that slavery and denying suffrage are horrible things, their definition of morality might not be the gold standard.

You cannot put someone’s moral leanings in a modern context if their time was completely different from ours. Someone like Rick Perry would be considered a crazed liberal in the 1800’s (Rick Santorum would probably fit right in though).

It’s the same thing with The Bible. Yes, The Bible says in the Old Testament that homosexuality is a unholy sin, but slavery is perfectly acceptable. In the Book of Exodus, it says very clearly that if someone owns a slave with a wife and children, and the slave is freed but the wife and children are not so the slave denies his freedom, then his master must “pierce his ear with an awl,” and the slave will be bound to him forever. That sounds pretty evil right? So it is extremely hypocritical that certain lawmakers pick and choose which parts of The Bible to enforce in our laws. If we can recognize that slavery is evil, why can’t we recognize that discriminating against gay people is wrong, since it says in Leviticus that they must be put to death? The Bible cannot be recognized as the final word on where to point our moral compass when it has passages supporting things society has deemed abhorrent. It would be ridiculous if Congress went through the Constitution and only enforced certain parts of it, right? Okay, that is a bad example, but it is still a valid point.

But the biggest issue with social conservatism is that society is constantly moving forward. It is pointless to say we must go back to a more moral, decent time when that time has well passed. Again, with the issue of gay rights, legislators cannot tell a society that has made great strides in becoming more accepting of gay people in recent years that gay people should not be allowed to marry or adopt a child. It is also a problem when lawmakers try to outlaw things that have been legal for a long time, like abortion. We can’t outlaw abortion after it has been federally legal for 38 years. Those who want abortions will find ways to get them. That is why Prohibition was such a massive failure. Legal consumption of alcohol had already become a huge part of society, so banning it outright did not work at all because it was ingrained in society’s roots.

With each passing generation, different social norms are created. Enforcing the social norms of a previous generation, a generation that the current one has already evolved from and corrected its mistakes, is futility defined. Human society is a propulsive locomotive, with each generation defining and separating itself from the previous one in terms of social issues. Conservation is counterproductive. To paraphrase the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” once you’ve changed things, there’s no going back.