As the world has gotten smaller, competing moral narratives have gotten louder and, it seems to me, more confusing. Is it abominable to buy an iPhone that may have been built by the hands of an underpaid 14-year-old in Shenzhen, China, or is the economic opportunity actually helping her family work toward a better life? Are microlenders savvy altruists, teaching people "how to fish," or are they greedy loan sharks preying on the poor? Are face-covering veils a source of relief and respect for Muslim women or a source of separation and subjugation?
Meanwhile, social media have made us more aware of tragedies at ever-greater speeds and among ever-widening circles. How does a teenager in Topeka, Kan., respond to the news that 68,000 people have just died in an earthquake in China? Our Facebook friends provide mini-morality plays 24 hours a day: If my classmate posts a status of "we are Troy Davis" – executed in Georgia in September despite a mass campaign about his innocence – does that mean I am Troy Davis, too? If #reasonstobeatmygirlfriend trends on Twitter, as it did just a couple of months ago, does that mean domestic violence has really been normalized? Should I care, or is this just a blip of mindless venting?
And yet, with ever more complicated ethical knots to untangle, it seems we've never had so few formal tools. For instance, fewer young Americans rely on Scripture as a way to understand what we are reading, watching, and experiencing on a daily basis. Instead, as columnist David Brooks posits, we are "social animals," constructing modern-day moral codes from a wide variety of source materials.