Does Morality Still Guide Human Behavior?
By J. Alexandra Tuttle, LCSW-C
Lawrence Kohlberg, a 20th century cognitive and developmental psychologist, wrote extensively about the 6 stages of moral development as the basis for ethical behavior. His theories, an extension of those developed by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, focused on the ability of people to respond more readily to moral dilemmas based on their ranking on a scale that identified their capacity to do so.
Why is this topic relevant right now?
In a recent Washington Times article by Victor Davis Hanson, he writes: “Why disregard of law is America’s greatest threat. Citizens may ask why they should obey the rules when illegals go scot-free?” Kohlberg would call this Stage 1 of moral development –“obedience and punishment orientation.” People do things in order to avoid punishment. In this case, there is no punishment! However, there is essentially a tacit reward for lawbreaking aided and abetted, in particular, by President Obama.
While each of us has his/her own moral compass, we often find ourselves snickering when we look at our “political leaders.” Many of them appear to be stuck in Stage 2 of their moral development called “operating in their own self interest.” While presidential candidate Hillary Clinton embodies this stage, we are quietly seduced by the hushed grandmotherly tones, dismissive of Republicans and “their conspiracy theories,” with regard to her actions. It appears that a disconnect between perceived reality and the truth is confusing to the public.
Dr. Kohlberg maintained that by adolescence and adulthood, most people reach Stage 3 in their moral development, which means that the majority of us abide by social norms because we want to be looked upon as good persons. Those who reach Stage 4 do things because they wish to obey the law and maintain order. Most mature adults believe that they are in Stage 4.
Those who operate in Stage 5 often look at doing things for the collective “greater good” – an operational strategy one hears Democrats crowing about. However, all too often, their impression of the “greater good” is not based on fact as much as it is geared toward a good soundbite.
Obamacare, for example, was supposed to be the panacea for those who were uninsured, and was therefore justified by this administration as a “human rights issue.” However, it has proved to be anything but affordable for people who liked their doctors and insurance but were “kicked off their plans.” Some people have even been forced out of full-time work because of Obamacare. If the consequences had been honestly reported by the Obama administration and the media beforehand, the “perceived morality” for the “collective greater good” would have been revealed as a scam.
As a side note, the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (ETMALA) mandates that anyone (legal or illegal) in this country will not be denied healthcare in an Emergency Room, and won’t be discharged until stabilized.
Kohlberg maintained that few people ever reach Stage 6 on the morality scale, a feat attained by heroes, such as those who defied orders and attempted to save the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and the others during that fateful night in Benghazi, or a person like Rob O’Neill, the Navy Seal who killed Bin Laden. Clearly, people like this have a moral compass that operates on a higher level of principle and conscience.
The overall question surrounding our discussion of morality is this:
As a society, are we becoming more accepting of our political leaders and those around us who operate in stage 1 or stage 2 of moral development, especially since it is “splashed out” all over the news media? Have these lower stages become the norm, and therefore acceptable?
If Kohlberg were alive today, perhaps he would have written about what I call Stage 0 –lawless and chaotic, those persons who operate with absolutely no moral underpinnings. This stage can easily give way to chaos and disorder. A recent example of this level of behavior occurred as a prelude to the Baltimore riots when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to give “space to those who wished to destroy.”