Legally right but morally wrong

LATELY I've been intrigued by the question of what is legally right and what is morally wrong. Having been caught in numerous arguments with and by laymen and experts, I've come to the conclusion that both notions are complex; each is a quagmire of conventions and wordplay. You can argue till the cows come home and your point is still not driven home.

People are very much governed by their personal and socio-cultural world views and assumptions, professionals being further influenced by what is generally acceptable in their work circles. To deviate from the norm would invite disapproval and sometimes derision especially from your superiors. Those who dare to swim against the current create ripples and sometimes risk getting drowned by the waves. Most people tend to go with the flow.

Take the case of abortion. While many religions look upon it as a sin, in some countries where the people are adherents of a religion such as Roman Catholicism which originally forbade it, the lawmakers have succeeded in instituting abortion as the individual's right. In the oft-quoted example of a rape victim who is pregnant, it can be legally argued that the right to an abortion is lawful because the element of sexual abuse, which in itself is criminal transcends the immorality of terminating the life of the unborn foetus.

There are cases of women becoming pregnant as a result of being raped or an abusive relationship. In desperation some of them resort to abandoning their newborn babies in toilets and drains. Lest baby-dumping becomes a serious problem in Malaysia, argumentations for the legalisation of abortion in special cases should be allowed and may eventually give more power to the courts to determine the legality of what is considered morally wrong.

Legal argumentations seem to appease troubled citizens more than moral ones these days. In a world where secular, universal values are becoming more entrenched, morality concerns are expressed mainly by the orthodox and conservative among the adherents of many religions and faiths. For the more secular, especially among the young, the general view is that morality is the prerogative of the individual.

Homosexuality,which is considered a sin in most religions and is a crime under the laws on bestiality and abnormal sex in some penal codes, has become an acceptable expression of the individual's right to express his or her sexual orientation.

More and more morality is being touted as a subjective and personal matter. The individual reserves the right to determine what's moral and immoral subject to civil laws. The legality or illegality of the deed is all-important.

A stark outcome of this modern thinking is that in day-to-day living and dealings, morality issues are not given their rightful place and spaces in societal development. In the bid to build up a blooming economy and achieve great financial successes, the national development schemes and their relative discourses veer into money talk.

Do we blame the people then for getting into immorality skirmishes such as bribery and corruption, cheating, misappropriation of public funds or criminal breach of trust when they are led to think they are exercising ingenuity and innovation in their undertakings?

When the nation's political and community leaders are not prepared to take a stand on morality to outrightly condemn such deeds, the people will continue to think they are the country's norms. When there is perceived ambivalence in the attitudes of the nation's role models and spokespersons on the question of immorality, the message that the rakyat get is that it's acceptable and so it's business as usual.

I'm amazed that even among people of great integrity, private investments that bring good returns for the business are considered above board and legal even if the rakyat's money is being held in trust for a national project. In other words, they think it's all right to use public money to procure a temporary investment for the good of the company even if it has nothing to do with the terms of the loan agreement.

In this case it is no longer a question of private morality as the whole nation's image is at stake. The burning issue is that of public morality. In plotting a national identity index to identify attributes of the Malaysian national identity, are the people prepared to say YES to dishonesty,bribery or breach of trust when it brings in quick money?

Are Malaysians happy to be seen as a people who are ambivalent in their stand on morality, approving of immoral acts which are argued to be legally right by the attorney general and his fraternity?

Yes, I am referring to the cows and condos controversy. It is no longer a question of private rationality and reason. The issue is one of the public and national conscience.

The writer keenly follows developments in politics, culture and education. Comments: