Commonly accepted ethical principles are absolutely necessary for civilized societies. Ethics promote desirable behaviors and condemn behaviors considered wrong. But ethical principles are not always interpreted the same way, nor unconditionally applicable in every circumstance. That reality is the source of so much of our social and political discord.
Take the divisively white hot issue of abortion. Is it ever ethical to terminate a pregnancy? If not, once impregnated, does a woman’s body become indentured to the state until she delivers? Is it murder to terminate a pregnancy? If so, always or, depending on circumstances, sometimes? Isn’t murder an absolute violation of one of western civilization’s primary ethics — you know, “thou shall not kill”?
Most sane societies accept that murder is wrong, yet the assassinations of people designated as terrorists are conducted with impunity and, apparently, with little ethical angst. The justification for these sanctioned homicides is the greater good — innocent lives will be saved. The fact that these attacks, especially by drones, sometimes kill innocent people, including children, is accepted as unfortunate collateral damage, regrettable but unavoidable. A little bad to gain much good — the relative ethics of scale.
Some people argue that there can be no morality without religion. Yet, in the name of religion many atrocities are committed by believers. Meanwhile, there are atheists whose ethical behavior is equal to that of the most devout church-goers.
Ethics, what is right and what is wrong, can sometimes be as slippery as eels.
Let’s go back to the abortion issue. Where there are not the conditions to raise children with fundamental ethical standards, and who consequently develop into vicious, conscienceless monsters, what greater good is served by their having been born? Would aborting these births surgically or with the morning-after pill be unethical? Any more unethical than taking out terrorists, even if it means killing some innocent people in the process?
Parts of Brazil are being plagued by gangs of feral children robbing and murdering people, including burning alive a woman whose purse had insufficient money for one pack of these vicious kids. Recently, in Brunswick, Ga., an infant in a stroller was shot in the face at point-blank range by two teenage boys, 17 and 14, enraged that the infant’s mother had nothing worth stealing. Similar atrocities committed by organized urban gangs of homicidal young men, whose ethics are either nonexistent or sociopathicly alien, have become common in both Mexico and the United States.
Ethics are not congenital; they are learned in early childhood, taught by responsible parents or caretakers who understand the importance of socialization that includes instilling broadly accepted, basic ethics. Children born only as the unwanted result of sex, especially into conditions of severe poverty and nonexistent, lawful opportunity, undermine civilization. If the impoverished populations of the United States, Brazil, Mexico or anywhere had ready access to birth control — including abortion, society would be better for it.
Not everyone needs to or should have children. There is no obligatory natural directive compelling humans to mindlessly procreate. And, certainly the planet is not suffering from a shortage of people. Quite the contrary, it is choking on the effluvia generated by excessive human population whose massive, mushrooming, cities spread across the planet like huge festering lesions oozing toxins into water, air and land.
Allowing even 15-year-old girls ready access to over-the-counter birth control, including the morning-after pill may assault the ethics of some folks, but the fact is that children born to unmarried mothers, especially adolescent mothers, and raised without a father have a significantly higher incidence of criminal behavior.
Until people are capable of and committed to properly raising and caring for children, they should not have them. Doing otherwise endangers and burdens all of society. People who have children without the means to support them and then require public financial assistance to raise those children are reprehensibly irresponsible. The ethics of such negligent breeders are questionable.
Nevertheless, once born, it is in society’s best interest that every child be properly socialized and afforded a chance to become an ethical, educated and self-sufficient adult. Yes, that can be a daunting and expensive proposition — another good reason to limit unwanted births as much as possible — but brutal gangs of amoral predators is a greater expense that no society can long endure.
The ethics of those who insist on severely limiting or eliminating abortion and birth control, yet are unwilling to fund programs to properly raise and educate the resulting children are curiously flawed and as slippery as eels.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.