My attention was recently drawn to a Twitter post providing a link to Pew Research Global Attitudes Project. The title was Global Views On Morality.

The "global" part consisted of only 40 of the world's 196 countries that were surveyed, about a fifth, or 20%. More than 40 000 people were surveyed across the major regions of the world. Three different ratings are supplied, Unacceptable, Acceptable, and Not A Moral Issue.

They surveyed 8 different issues that are usually discussed as part of morality. They are:

  • Extramarital affairs
  • Homosexuality
  • Abortion
  • Premarital sex
  • Gambling
  • Divorce
  • Alcohol use
  • Contraception use

There are many ways to use the data supplied in the survey. They are presented in animated interactive graphs, giving you a good impression of different attitudes in different regions. I say regions rather than countries, because as you would expect, views on morality are similar in regions.

So in the Middle East, the figures for Unacceptable are mostly above 90%, while in Europe and the Americas they trend lower, in some instances substantially lower. Most African countries score slightly less than the Middle East, with South Africa clearly a lot more tolerant in our attitudes than our continental neighbours.

washing machineI have been fascinated by what constitutes "normal for most of my life." After years of occasionally pondering the issue I am in total agreement with Whoopi Goldberg, that wonderfully talented actress, who said simply, "normal is a cycle on a washing machine."
I delved into the morality numbers to see if I could find some anomalies to illustrate the futility of defining normal. It was easy.

First I went and found the lowest Unacceptable figure for premarital sex. Not surprisingly, the lowest figures came from the European region, France and Germany tied at a miserly 6%.

Then I went and looked at the same two countries Unacceptable scores for the other moral issue relating to sex, Extramarital Affairs. Germany was more conservative than France; 60% to 47%.

The 47% scored by France in extramarital affairs is also the lowest score recorded of all the surveyed countries in this category.

Here's just one conundrum from my selected issues in those two countries. I'm quite sure that a lot of the premarital sex happens when one person is married - that could be construed as an extramarital affair.

Of course one could also deduce that the French are less faithful and loyal than all the countries. But whose standard of "normal" do we use to make that assumption? The South African score is not much higher than Germany’s at 65% Unacceptable for Extramarital Affairs, while the USA is a forbidding 84%.

Where we live and the way we are brought up determine what our normal is, for most of us, most of the time.

Go the link at the top of this post and play around yourself. One could start looking at relationships between alcohol use and divorce, and/or extramarital affairs. Beware, it can become addictive.

The washing machine cycle analogy for normal is true again.

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