The Misplacement of Morality

by Aeiress Lumpkin

audio: read by the author

When listening to the abundance of discourse in today’s society, from political to societal, two things occurred to me. The first was that these arguments and differences in opinions are almost always a result of a difference in morality. When we feel strongly about something, we often possess a difficulty in acknowledging the legitimacy of the points of view of others. We create scenarios in our minds and misconstrue reality to delegitimize any opposing claims that may hold some weight, labeling our “opponents” as ignorant and misinformed, calling our political adversaries brainwashed or blind, when in reality they may see the truth just as clearly as the next person. They are just as brainwashed and blind as the rest of us. The difference is that they are judging the truth under a different light. The truth is judged under a different light and viewed at a different angle, so the things illuminated to them may be shadowed to us. The things highlighted in bright, brilliant colors to them may be completely invisible to us. The cataclysmic things to them, important and extremely dire, may never be seen by us, not because of a lack of knowledge, but simply a lack of perspective.

The second thing that occurred to me — and the one I view the most problematic — was that a large population of citizens tend to believe that morality is synonymous with legality. They tend to equate what is right and wrong with what is legal and illegal and base their moral decisions off of the law. While I believe that people cannot be called misinformed for having different moral views, they can be misinformed about the workings of the institutions which they use to uphold their views.

People are entitled, and should be encouraged, to have their own ideas of morality. That’s what makes people the diverse and complex creatures that we are. However, the idea that morality and legality are one in the same is tremendously dangerous and exemplifies a lack of knowledge for how the legal system works.

The current laws in our society reflect what is right and wrong. The reason for this is self- explanatory; the government wants to punish people for wrongdoings while allowing and encouraging them to do what is right. However, our laws are merely that: a reflection. Its morals are directly dependent on ours. They act upon the current moral standards of society and punish people for breaking them. They do not attempt to create or shape our moral standards; they are simply meant to enforce them, and as society’s public sentiment and values change, so do the laws. For example, in the Constitution of the United States, the three-fifths compromise, established in 1787, essentially states that black Americans count as three-fifths of a person. The courts and a large portion of the public viewed that as morally acceptable and necessary, so the laws were adapted to accommodate. The Separate but Equal Clause, a clause that sanctioned segregation in public institutions, was also deemed as just due to the views of the time. However, as society progressed, so did the laws. Now both the compromise and the clause are viewed as unconstitutional, but only as a result of a change in public sentiment.

Many believe that even if basing moral decisions on law demonstrates a misinformed and skewed way of looking at morality, it is often inconsequential. I am inclined to disagree with that. As stated before, the law is directly dependent on the morals of society. As a result, basing moral decisions solely on what is legal halts the progression of laws as well as society. If we are relying on our laws to decide our values, and the laws are relying on us to provide its moral compass, then we are locked in a stalemate, an endless cycle of delegating power while shirking responsibilities. It is not inconsequential; it can be cataclysmic. We will not evolve and society will not change for the better if we are all content with the laws, policies and regulations set forth allowing them to make our decisions for us. Our laws are not a safety blanket. They are not meant to be used as a means to avoid the hard thought-provoking questions, and to reduce them to such is an insult both to the laws — which so graciously uphold and enforce our beliefs — and to us. Our laws are not a safety blanket. They are stained glass, pieces of an ever-changing mosaic, law by law, piece by piece, contributing to the beautiful image, the reflection of our ideals that we see today. Much like art, the law has no meaning without the one we instill in it: it cannot exist without us.

It is due to this that we must challenge ourselves to think and decide for ourselves. We must determine what is important and not delegate that power onto something else. If we continue to buy into this false sense of security, we will be stagnant, and discourse will continue to occur. Unfair treatment will continue to foster. Everything wrong with society will grow, spreading over the nation, suffocating everything right within it. It will reach out its tendrils and wrap around the positive institutions and policies we’ve set forth, sucking out all the positive change we’ve worked for, while we remain complacent. sitting idly by, blindly following laws which have since become outdated. By doing nothing and questioning nothing, we will continue to regress until we either decide to make change or let doom consume us.

So yes, it is dangerous to discredit the moral views of others. As long as people with
adversarial views continue to be viewed as adversaries, society will continue to be plagued with unnecessary fighting and division. However, it is equally, perhaps even more so, dangerous to base our moral decisions solely upon the law. Legality and morality, although both necessary in dealing with right and wrong, are not synonymous and therefore should not be treated as such. Doing so will achieve nothing but an environment where unfair treatment, bigotry and political and social regression can foster.


I am a junior who enjoys reading and writing as well as playing soccer.

Do you write sporadically or regularly?

I tend to write very sporadically. I just write whenever I have an idea and feel compelled to express it. I find I write better that way, rather than trying to force a product out of a place of little motivation.

What is your ideal writing environment?

I prefer writing in a quiet environment that allows me to focus while I listen to music.

What message do you hope to convey to the reader through your piece?

I hope to convey that depending on external factors to govern your own beliefs isn’t a very effective or practical way to determine your values. Your own beliefs should come from your personal opinions and feelings, not the opinions set forth by others or large institutions.