Thursday, September 14, 2006

Moral relativism spreads with economic development: The World Values Survey asked respondents if prostitution is justifiable. Answers ranged from 1 (never) to 10 (always). Here are the mean scores ranked from most to least accepting:

Switzerland 5.3
Spain 4.7
New Zealand 4.4
West Germany 4.3
Austria 4.1
Uruguay 3.8
East Germany 3.6
Canada 3.4
Argentina 3.4
Israel 3.4
Luxembourg 3.4
Great Britain 3.4
Slovenia 3.3
Philippines 3.2
Finland 3.2
Mexico 3.1
Chile 3.1
Greece 3.1
USA 3.1
Belarus 3.0
Iceland 2.8
Czech Republic 2.8
Dominican Republic 2.7
India 2.7
South Africa 2.6
Moldova 2.6
Ireland 2.5
Italy 2.4
Singapore 2.4
Lithuania 2.4

World 2.3

Russia 2.3
Colombia 2.3
Brazil 2.3
Romania 2.2
Japan 2.2
Korea 2.2
Venezuela 2.2
Northern Ireland 2.1
Peru 2.1
Ukraine 2.1
Kyrgyzstan 2.0
Croatia 2.0
Taiwan 2.0
Armenia 2.0
Uganda 1.8
El Salvador 1.8
Georgia 1.8
Serbia 1.8
Bosnia 1.7
Montenegro 1.7
Macedonia 1.6
Azerbaijan 1.6
Nigeria 1.6
Albania 1.4
Algeria 1.3
Saudi 1.3
Tanzania 1.2
Bangladesh 1.2
Iran 1.2
Vietnam 1.2
Egypt 1.1
Pakistan 1.1
China 1.1
Indonesia 1.1
Jordan 1.0

A clear pattern emerges here. Western countries lead the world in accepting prostitution. By contrast, Muslim countries uniformly condemn it. A difference in values couldn't be clearer. Other regions of the world fall somewhere in the middle. In less developed societies, especially the Muslim societies, people look to tradition to form their moral attitudes, while wealthy countries have moved toward a contract morality where any behavior, even renting a girl like you do a pay toilet, is okay if it is agreed to by both parties.


  1. The problem with studies like this is they fail to capture the Enlightenment version of "moral relativism" vs what might be thought of as the theocracy of moral relativism.

    For example, I just had a conversation with a liberal political science professor about the history of Protestantism -- describing the ideal of the Enlightenment as being expressed in various groups "doing their own thing" between mutually consenting adults. She virtually exploded when I said that -- declaring those sects to have been the most morally rigid groups in history. She didn't get it. Neither do most social or political scientists who conduct these surveys.

    I tried to explain to her that something I would kill and risk dying for is the freedom to have people like her in their own territories doing their own thing with others who agreed with them without them theocratically imposing their moral relativism on my people in our territory. In other words, there there is this paradox about "moral relativism" which is that it is intolerant of groups of people who want to exclude those who are not moral relativists.

    There is some deep problem with human institutions here that isn't adequately address in any of the canons.

  2. Erratum: I mistakenly wrote: "exclude those who are not moral relativists". It should read "exclude those who are moral relativists".

    The paradox is confusing enough without that error.

  3. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Actually, Muslims just have a special type of marriage that essentially acts as prostitution. You can even marry and divorce the same woman day after day after day.

  4. The irony is that becoming a prostitute for some justifiable reason (e.g., to keep your family from starving) is probably least likely in Switzerland of all countries on earth.

  5. Anonymous12:36 PM

    Steve, that reminds me of another oddity. Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and Norway's main cultural export seems to be corpse-painted black metal bands that also ocassionaly murder and burn churches to prove just how evil they are and how much they despise everything good. They have high suicide rates, although that might just be due to the lack of sunshine. These are the countries that are supposed to have the succesful model of prosperity and equality. Mexico has police and army units that have turned into hitmen in the service of drug lords that chop off heads and use them as warnings. All the Mexican music I've heard is extremely upbeat stuff. African Americans in the early 20th century invented blues music, which strikes me in a certain sense as less depressing than gangster rap they invented years after the success of the civil rights movement. Native africans, who likely have things worse than anyone else on earth, sing celebratory songs for everyone around to join in. Now who was the person that said "art reflects life"?

  6. Anonymous10:35 AM

    Perhaps all muslim countries "condemn" prostitution, but that doesn't mean they don't tolerate it(!). For example, in Pakistan they have a class of prostitutes who operate under the cover of astonishingly brief muslim marriages. They contract marriage, engage in marital relations, then terminate the marriage immediately in return for money.

    I read a good article about this in the WSJ a few years back (dead-tree version, sorry no link).


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