The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Where does morality fit in for youth?

As I’ve written before, I’ve always liked to assume that young people today are fundamentally no different now than their counterparts 50, 100, or even 1000 years ago, so it always feels a little bit jarring when my generation in some way proves me wrong. A few days ago as I was glancing through the New York Times (as left-leaning English students like myself are opt to do), I came across an article by David Brooks exposing young people for the corrupt moral relativists that they really are. Well, perhaps that might be putting it in too inflammatory of terms, but the article itself was still enlightening.

Brooks cited a 2008 study by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith that asked about the moral lives of 230 young adults from across the country. Indeed, the most striking aspect of this study was not that the persons interviewed were encouraging lives of ephemeral pleasures and drunken shenanigans (in fact, this wasn’t the case at all); rather, these “young adults” didn’t seem too clear on what morality even consists of in the first place.

The New York Times offers this example: “When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at the parking spot.”

So what exactly are we to make of data like this? On one hand, it’s reassuring that today’s young folks haven’t outwardly rejected the concept of morality, but on the other, it’s quite disheartening that a lot of us don’t seem to know

what morality and ethics even entail.

We could certainly chalk this change up to a variety of factors. The more conservative among us might argue that this is a consequence of today’s youth focusing upon themselves more and not as rigidly subscribing to religious institutions or faith doctrines.

However, as an atheist myself, I’ve always rejected the claim that more spiritual folks can command a monopoly on virtue and ethics. It’s certainly possible for nonbelievers to live a “good” life, and even my most faithful compatriots agree with this sentiment. Moreover, the study doesn’t seem to offer the religious backgrounds of those interviewed, so it’s a bit unfair to make such a jump in logic so quickly.

Maybe it’s an educational problem. In that case, does that mean we should be forcing all of today’s youth to take philosophy classes so they can become more informed about why we have morals in the first place? Well, I wouldn’t object to it in my case since I’m a liberal arts major, but statistics have shown that today’s youth proportionately graduate from high school and college at a much higher rate than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

That this confusion about morality would coincide with a dramatically higher education rate only becomes all the more baffling in such a light.

There’s also the possibility that this study has its own inherent biases to overcome. After all, I don’t really recall a similar study being performed on members of our parents when they were our age. Is unaffected relativism just “a phase” that all of us go through growing up and something that we don’t overcome until we’ve bought into social institutions like marriage and steady careers that more overtly tell us what to not do? I guess that’s always a possibility too, but I find that just as unsatisfying as any other conclusion.

If this were true, our ability to reason would ostensibly not be bred by independent thought and contemplation but rather through familiar societal structures. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing though; some of us live under the assumption that unfettered freedom is an absolutely perfect goal to strive for, but without some kind of limits on freedom (like the boundaries that come with committed relationships or the time constraints that careers create for us) we’re just living freely for the sake of it, and not for much else.

I fear, however, that I’m bordering on the point of rambling. I guess my conclusion is that I really don’t know why our generation doesn’t seem to have as committed of principles as those who came before us, and I think this is a subject worth studying intently and in depth.

It’s easy to make the claim that this is just another example of our generation being woefully inadequate in comparison to the adults who raised us, and it’s just as easy for us to claim that this study only proves that adults have nothing better to do but mercilessly criticize us. The real answer probably lies somewhere in between the extremes; coincidentally, I’m sure Aristotle would have likely said something along those lines too.

Brandon Bub is a sophomore majoring in English and edits The Daily Campus opinion column. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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