Russell and Duenes

We’re Morally Better Than Our Forebears

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The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the death penalty must be applied according to the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” I offered in class that it is a rather arrogant presumption that we in the 21st century have evolved in our standards of decency so as to be morally mature beyond that of our forebears.

One piece of evidence proffered in favor of our moral advancement over the ancients is that we no longer cut off people’s hands as a punishment for stealing. So I ask myself: Do I want to live in a society that cuts off people’s hands? I’m not sure. But I wonder if the offeror of the evidence has ever asked himself what it means to live in society that legally allows children to be ripped apart limb-from-limb in their mother’s wombs, funded in no small part by our government, to the tune of 1.2 million dead each year.

It was further offered that women can now vote, with the implication that we simply must have superior standards of decency over those of the Founding generation. I love the reality of women voting as much as the next guy. But I wonder if our less advanced ancestors celebrated and honored their women by referring to them as “bitches and hos” in their popular music, by “hooking up” with them on a massive scale in their social relations, and by consuming vast quantities of woman-degrading pornography, all the while treating the female body like a kind of machine to be mined for parts and to be shut down so that men can have sex without consequences.

When one considers the utterly unique horrors that 20th century man committed against his fellow man, it seems we ought to engage in a bit less conceit about the “progress” of our own “maturing society.” I am making no statement in favor of the death penalty, only a statement that I don’t know how much better off we are, if any, by applying it according to our current moral lights.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 10, 2014 at 6:00 pm

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