Why Young Americans Can’t Think Morally

If you could point to a few events that changed the course of history… one would be the change in parenting by The Greatest Generation, the parents of the baby-boomers, who wanted to spare their children all the hardships they had endured and a second would be Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky that through the impeachment hearings was detailed everywhere and changed the notion of what sex is and what is acceptable (or what famous, powerful and likeable people do and get away with)… changing the moral values of America’s youth forever.

Recently Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist wrote a piece based on the Brooks’ study of Americans between the ages of 18 and 23, excerpts of which were delineated in a summary run by the New York Times.  Praeger may be contacted through his website, dennisprager.com.

Why Young Americans Can’t Think Morally

Moral standards have been replaced by feelings.

Last week, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote a column on an academic study concerning the nearly complete lack of a moral vocabulary among most American young people. Here are excerpts from Brooks’s summary of the study of Americans aged 18 to 23. It was led by “the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith”:

● “Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.” 

● “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.”

“Moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner.”

● “The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste.”

● “As one put it, ‘I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.’”

● “Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.” (Emphases mine.)

Ever since I attended college I have been convinced that “studies” either confirm what common sense suggests or they are mistaken. I realized this when I was presented study after study showing that boys and girls were not inherently different from one another, and they acted differently only because of sexist upbringings.

This latest study cited by David Brooks confirms what conservatives have known for a generation: Moral standards have been replaced by feelings. Of course, those on the left only believe this when an “eminent sociologist” is cited by a writer at a major liberal newspaper.

What is disconcerting about Brooks’s piece is that nowhere in what is an important column does he mention the reason for this disturbing trend: namely, secularism.

The intellectual class and the Left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing. They are wrong. Secularism is good for government. But it is terrible for society (though still preferable to bad religion) and for the individual.

One key reason is what secularism does to moral standards. If moral standards are not rooted in God, they do not objectively exist. Good and evil are no more real than “yummy” and “yucky.” They are simply a matter of personal preference. One of the foremost liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, an atheist, acknowledged that for the secular liberal, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

With the death of Judeo-Christian God-based standards, people have simply substituted feelings for those standards. Millions of American young people have been raised by parents and schools with “How do you feel about it?” as the only guide to what they ought to do. The heart has replaced God and the Bible as a moral guide. And now, as Brooks points out, we see the results. A vast number of American young people do not even ask whether an action is right or wrong. The question would strike them as foreign. Why? Because the question suggests that there is a right and wrong outside of themselves. And just as there is no God higher than them, there is no morality higher than them, either.

Forty years ago, I began writing and lecturing about this problem. It was then that I began asking students if they would save their dog or a stranger first if both were drowning. The majority always voted against the stranger — because, they explained, they loved their dog and they didn’t love the stranger.

They followed their feelings.

Without God and Judeo-Christian religions, what else is there?

Dennis Praeger

Source: the National Review

Ideas like feelings over morals become part of the collective memory and standards of an era, a generation and then a country… The lack of morality today comes from several generations of parents who spoiled and indulged their children even embracing their feelings instead of teaching them and passing on the knowledge, respect and love for their history, religion and tradition. Then you add the guilt factor from the parents who weren’t around enough or involved enough, the high numbers of divorced families and the helicopter parents who hovered over their kids constantly but focused on mostly the wrong things.

The three things that could turn your society around are the return of God and the paddle to homes and schools and a shift from permissiveness to loving responsible parenting… as well as the abandonment of ideas like social justice and political correctness.

Here is part of an article written by Bill Ayers who along with his peers have affected the morality and minds of a generation that today is running our country… It is the mindset of the radical progressives who came into their own in the 1960’s which included a lack of morality, respect and knowledge for heritage, history, tradition and religion that has brought us to this point of moral decay.

This appears to be page 2 of a 3 page article

No Regrets

From our August 2001 issue: “Kill your parents!” urged sixties leftist Bill Ayers, whose father was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison here. In Ayers’s new memoir, Fugitive Days, he reconciles his militant past with his present identity: father of three, esteemed professor at UIC—and unabashed patron of the great bourgeois coffee chain, Starbucks

By Marcia Froelke Coburn – Chicago Magazine 

He grew up in Glen Ellyn, where the grass was literally always greener. His father, Thomas Ayers, was a long-time executive of Commonwealth Edison and served as chairman from 1973 to 1980. “Nice was crucially important,” Bill Ayers writes of his childhood, and it’s clear in his memoir that what Ayers has long been running from is not so much the law of the 1960s and 1970s but the upper-middle-class sensibility in which he was raised. He attended Lake Forest Academy, where he was the sole member of the Young Socialists of America; he hated every minute of school there. He liked what he found at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor: freewheeling thought, radicalism, and a passionate desire to stop the war in Vietnam, at almost any cost. Soon he dropped out, joined the Students for a Democratic Society, and became a full-time activist; arrests in demonstrations quickly followed, much to his family’s dismay.

One of the more amusing passages in Fugitive Days comes when Ayers recounts a generations-in-conflict conversation when his father counseled caution:

“Don’t close too many doors to the future,” he said. “Don’t take too many steps down a one-way street.”

“What are you doing to end the war?” I challenged.

“Edison isn’t political,” he said. “That’s not our business. . . . I’d be doubtful about a group calling itself Students for a Democratic Society—this is, after all, a democratic society.”

“Well, I’m doubtful about a group calling itself Commonwealth Edison,” I said. “There’s nothing common about wealth.”

He walked out of jail and into his first teaching job, at a daycare center in Ann Arbor. Soon he was the 21-year-old director of the place. It was there he met Diana Oughton, a beautiful and accomplished young woman. They fell in love and attended SDS conventions together. As the war dragged on and U.S. politics became more polarized, some of the war resisters—including Ayers, Oughton, and Dohrn—turned more militant. They started a group called the Weatherman, a name inspired by the Bob Dylan song lyric “You don’t need a weatherman / To know which way the wind blows.”

In 1969, they decided to “bring the war home” by staging a protest in Chicago during the trial of the “Chicago Eight” radicals accused of conspiring to cross state lines to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention here. (Their conviction was later overturned.) “The Days of Rage,” as the 1969 protest was called, brought several hundred members of the Weatherman—many of them attired for battle with helmets and weapons—to Lincoln Park. The tear-gassed marches, window smashing, and clashes with police lasted four days, during which 290 militants were arrested and 63 people were injured. Damage to windows, cars, and other property soared to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Around this time, Ayers summed up the Weatherman philosophy as “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents—that’s where it’s really at.”

“The rhetoric was excessive because the times were excessive,” says Ayers. “The war had escalated, so naturally the language escalated. No one thought I meant that literally.”

Between 1970 and 1974, the Weatherman took credit for 12 bombings, including one of the United States Capitol and another involving several police cars. The group always emphasized that their targets were property, not people. And, in fact, no one was injured—except, of course, some of the Weatherman’s own.

In 1970, a bomb that was apparently being built in a Greenwich Village townhouse, occupied by at least five members of the Weatherman, accidentally exploded—killing three of the group, including Ayers’s beloved Diana Oughton. In Fugitive Days, Ayers tries to imagine what happened. Maybe Diana tried to stop the others from their path? Maybe they all drank too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes?

Maybe Diana saw that this bomb, packed with nails and screws, would have exacted a heavy human toll if it had ever reached its destination—a New Jersey military base. Could she have, in a gesture of sacrifice, crossed the wires herself? “I’ll never know what happened,” he says. “That’s the price I have to pay.”

The deaths—and two federal indictments—sent Ayers and his remaining comrades underground. The fugitives eluded the FBI for ten years through a series of constantly changing identities and locations. In one of the most haunting scenes in Fugitive Days, Ayers wanders through remote Midwestern cemeteries, looking for the gravestones of babies who, like them, had been born between 1940 and 1950 but had died shortly thereafter. It was from those headstones that the fugitives would build their new identities. Overall, Ayers figures, he had at least 12 separate aliases while living in 15 different states. The one he used most often was “Joe.” Bernardine’s favorite was “Rose,” and to honor her, Ayers got the rose tattoo he now sports on his forearm.

In 1980, Ayers and Dohrn turned themselves in. (The first words Ayers’s father said to him were, “You need a haircut.”) By then they had had two children together, and the bombing conspiracy charge against the couple had been dismissed due to government misconduct.

Dohrn plea-bargained to charges of inciting to mob action and resisting police officers. She was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $1,500 fine. Ayers was not charged. Even then he showed a way with words: “Guilty as hell, free as a bird—America is a great country,” he said.

The next year, a Weatherman killed a Brink’s guard and two state troopers in a bungled armored truck robbery. Kathy Boudin, the daughter of an esteemed New York civil rights lawyer, was sentenced to 20 years to life for her role in the crime; Ayers and Dohrn adopted her infant son. Today Ayers says it was partly because of “[the boy’s] questions of who he is and what the background of his mother’s life was that [Ayers] started to write this memoir.”

Ask Marion~


Traditional Parenting Leads to Well-Adjusted Children

Generation Zero –  The Real Problem Is Our National Character

Life After 50 in the OC:  Is It Really the Times?… Or Did We Miss the Parenting Boat?

Anxious Parents

About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place". At age 62 I find myself fighting inoperable uterine Cancer and thanks to the man upstairs and the prayers from so many people including many of my readers from AskMarion and JustOneMorePet... I'm beating it. After losing our business because of the economy and factors related to the re-election of President Obama in 2012 followed by 16-mos of job hunting, my architect-trained husband is working as a trucker and has only been home approximately 5-days a month since I was diagnosed, which has made everything more difficult and often lonely... plus funds are tight. Our family medical deductible is 12K per year for two of us; thank you ObamaCare. But thanks to donations from so many of you, we are making ends meet as I go through treatment while taking care of my father-in-law who is suffering from late stage Alzheimer's and my mother-in-law who suffers from RA and onset dementia as well as hearing loss, for which there are no caretaker funds, as I continue the fight here online to inform and help restore our amazing country. And finally I need to thank a core group of family, friends, and readers... all at a distance, who check in with me regularly. Plus, I must thank my furkids who have not left my side through this fight. You can see them at JustOneMorePet.
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6 Responses to Why Young Americans Can’t Think Morally

  1. It’s funny that ethics and morality are things that should be talked about. Do we have to conjure up reasons to be good? Do we have to have an external barometer to guide us properly. Apparently.

    Moral reasoning is hard because as we move from being little kids with the so called obvious right and wrong answers we encounter Abstract Thought and difficult situations that are beyond our immediate knowledge of how to act. A great site that is actually about Moral Theory is:


    Select and download his paper of Morality of the Left and Right Mindsets, its very good.

    “The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.”

    Mark Twain


  2. LK says:

    The greater group is what else there is. Since the day when individuals first realized that a club upside someone’s head caused pain, and the greater group decided this was wrong, here lies the birth of voting upon notions of morality, as it is in today’s modern world. People who lack morality in terms of Judeo-Christian thought are not guilty of immorality. When their actions are deemed inappropriate by the voting majority of a group, regardless of religious belief, is when a state of immorality is defined and dealt with.

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