Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 1999
A national character crisis
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
"The responses paint a picture of a fundamentally liberal and tolerant society," says Macleans magazine's assistant managing editor, Bob Marshall, of the 15th annual Macleans/CBC Year-End Poll.
"Previous year-end polls have uncovered a bedrock of liberalism in Canadian attitudes towards social problems and governing in general," says Marshall. "Now we see how much that is true for issues of morality and acceptance of personal lifestyle choices."
Do those poll findings speak well of Canadian society? Marshall evidently thinks so. I disagree. They bespeak a nation beset by fraying moral fibre and a serious character crisis.
For example, 90 per cent of respondents affirmed that a person's private life - no matter how public the individual - should not be a matter of public concern.
This means nine of 10 Canadians regard personal integrity as unimportant and irrelevant. I find that chilling, believing as I do that character is not only important, but more important than any other issue, especially in public leaders.
While the poll didn't specifically reference the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, it was doubtless on the minds of many respondents.
Most North Americans seem doggedly determined to let Bill Clinton off the hook for cheating on his wife with an employee half his age and then lying about it under oath. The operative rubric is "Everyone lies about sex, so what's the big deal?"
Here's the big deal. Lying - about anything - is not okay. It evidences lack of character. If someone lies about one thing, how can you trust them to be truthful on other matters.
Most married people publicly vow faithfulness to their spouse. Betraying that promise, and the person they made it to, makes them a liar and dishonourable, no matter how commonplace such perfidy becomes.
To their credit, a strong majority affirm this analysis. Eighty-nine per cent of the poll participants agreed that it is unacceptable to have an extramarital affair, and 88 per cent said it is unacceptable to pay for sex.
So a residual sense of moral absolutes survives, but unfortunately, people have been gulled by secular humanist ideology into believing that it is even more wrong to demand high moral standards of anyone. Almost seven out of 10 Canadians profess willingness to accept behaviour in others that they might find unacceptable in themselves.
"Demanding that others adhere to your code of what's right or wrong or important or unimportant," says pollster Allan Gregg, "has become less forgivable than actually committing some acts that the public does not condone."
Canadians appear conditioned to be more offended by moralizers than sinners, with almost six out of 10 agreeing with that threadbare shibboleth of liberal-humanist permissiveness: "No one has the right to impose their morality and ways of doing things on others."
Okay, then what right do we have to declare that slavery is wrong and intolerable, or adults having sex with children or racist attitudes? The "morality imposition" bromide is soon exposed as the fatuous nonsense it is in the light of critical analysis.
Civilization can be adequately defined as a process of defining and enforcing what is or is not acceptable behaviour, not on the basis of anyone's private judgment, but on the basis of . . . of what?
An ethical humanist might answer, "I dunno: it just seems right somehow." Secular humanism provides no rational reason for the moral code it wishes society to operate under - for example, no slavery, child-molesting, no racism.
Or he might answer, "Because all men are brothers." Oh really? What objective basis is there to believe that?
On the evidence, the only brotherhood humanity shares is a biological one with no more ethical consequences than dog-eat-dog. The whole liberal-humanist moral construct is a sentimental fantasy.
As Dostoyevsky observed, "If there is no God, then everything is permitted," and that would have to include slavery and child-molesting and racism as well as adultery and lying.
The inconsistency of liberal humanism's position is evidenced in 63 per cent of poll subjects saying that a politician should not resign if he's discovered having an affair, but 85 per cent of respondents disapprove of lying under oath and 80 per cent consider it grounds for a politician's removal.
Obviously, their tolerance is selective.
Ultimately, it boils down to the notion that moral standards are subjective and mutable, viz. references to: "your code of what's right or wrong," or "their morality." To traditionalist conservatives, moral principles are objective, and references to relative morality express a faulty and nonsensical concept.
Unhappily, the Macleans/CBC poll reveals that it's a concept most Canadians buy into.
(Charles Moore is a Nova Scotia based freelance writer and editor.)
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