Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

July 20, 2012

The Moral Dilemma and Obama

Filed under: American,Civics,Elections,Government,Language — by Robert @ 2:59 pm
Tags: , , , ,

One of the telling problems of politics is the disconnect between what a politician says and does from one moment to the next.  We hear a speech that inspires and enervates.  We then hear an off-the-cuff remark that bewilders and is contrary to the speech.  The dilemma for the citizen in 21st century America is getting to know a candidate and/or politician from the words and actions revealed.  Why they reach the conclusion they reach is as important as the conclusion itself because it reveals how the person thinks and what they value.  Why does Soetoro-Obama do this or say that?  What does he really mean?  What does he really value? Part of the problem is modern technology.

When a political leader speaks formally today, s/he often uses a teleprompter or, at least, prepared notes.  It’s very seldom that an informal give-and-take takes place.  Why?  In the formal setting the politician is working from a well-prepared script.  The problem is that this script was probably written by someone else. In the informal tête-à-tête the politician is naked before the world. These latter words reveal the real person behind the words.  You really don’t know what a person is thinking from a prepared speech. One measure of a politician’s strength would be to see how often s/he works from a script or speaks extemporaneously.  How often does this person speak directly to the people? How does Mr. Obama stack up when he working from a script versus when he’s not?  Notice a difference?  It’s obvious that the level of moral reasoning by the scriptwriter is radically different from that of Mr. Soetoro-Obama.

One such scale used to measure cognitive moral reasoning was authored by Piaget.  Piaget studied and wrote of many aspects of moral reasoning and judgment.  But all of his research narrowed down to a two-state theory.  Moral dilemmas are handled by under-10 and 11-year-olds far differently than those older. In other words, there are two stages of development: 10 & 11-years-old (and under) and all people older. Children 11 and under regard the laws and rules of order to be fixed and absolute.  These rules are handed down by God and/or adults and they cannot be altered.  The older group sees that rules are not necessarily sacred and/or absolute, but they are tools that human beings use to form social groups and get along.

The younger group measures rules by what might happen if; what would happen if I break that rule or follow that rule.  They see the world in terms of consequences.  The older folks tend to see the world of choices in terms of intentions.  For some of them, one’s intentions can trump the severity of breaking a rule/law. That’s why intentions are a major part of most capital crime investigations. What was their intention? Was there an intention to deceive?

A second author on moral choice was Lawrence Kohlberg.  Kohlberg took the extensive research of Piaget and analyzed it even further. In his famous doctoral research, he observed the responses (moral reasoning) of 72 boys from Chicago all dealing with the same dilemma.  From those interviews and subsequent research and writings, Kohlberg developed his Six Stages for Moral Reasoning.  “Moral” here doesn’t mean a bag of virtues.  It’s the intellectual value one places on why one chooses to do or not do a particular act.

Here’s a chart of those stages:

Pre-moral or Pre-Conventional Level

Stage 1: Love of Pleasure, Fear of Pain or Punishment-Avoidance   and Obedience

Decisions are made strictly on the   basis of self-interest.  Rules are   disobeyed as long as one doesn’t get caught.

Stage 2:    Egotistic-Reciprocity or The Exchange of Favors

Others may have needs, but   everything is subordinate to the satisfaction of my needs first and foremost.  

Conventional   Level

Stage 3: The “Good boy” or “Good Girl” stage

Chooses to do or not do things in   order to please others.  Very concerned   about maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Stage 4: Law and Order

I choose not to do this or choose   to do that because it’s the law of the land.

Post-Conventional or Principled Level

Stage 5:  The Social   Contract

Rules/Laws are part of social   agreements. While these laws should be followed by all, they can be changed   from time to time.

Stage 6: Universal Moral/Ethic Principle

There are transcendent principles   that are higher than or more encompassing than particular laws in time and   space.  There is a deep inner   conscience.

Subsequent stages are “better” than the previous.  “Better” here doesn’t mean “gooder” in the sense of a good/bad thing. It means more-encompassing, more intellectually honest.  A person who reasons as level 3 includes levels 2 and 1 into a higher order of reasoning.  Likewise, a person thinking at level 5, the Social Contract, necessarily includes the preceding levels 1-4.  Each stage of cognitive moral reasoning is a more encompassing level; the very “motion” of the chart itself goes from the narrowness or solitude of the “I” to the much broader idea of the “they”, the one to the many.

People don’t necessarily move to “higher” stages of moral growth simply because of age, nor can they skip a stage.  A famous 60-some-year old politician once said, “I don’t know how they can do this to me after all I did to them” the night he left office.  Clearly, that’s a level 2 kind of thinking.  But a person grows from one stage to another by intellectually dealing with moral dilemmas, that is, grappling with the moral content of an issue. If folks don’t engage moral dilemmas, they remain morally stagnant.  Most children outgrow level 2 by the time they are in second grade. This was once called the “age of reason.”  Most American adults reach level four thinking, acting at level three.  Some reach post-conventional thinking. Kohlberg noted that Socrates, Plato, Ghandi, Jesus, and some of the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., were all examples of level six thinking. They were all killed by level four type folks.  There is a price to pay for having an individual moral compass.

There are averages for the cognitive moral development of most folks, but there are exceptions.  Kohlberg found that “normal” folks usually think one level above where they tend to act. In other words, while folks might be talking about Law and Order, their actions demonstrate clearly that they’re really thinking of how they can please another. An interesting sidelight study was that Kohlberg found that criminals tend to act one level above their reasoning; that is they did a “law and order” kind of deed, but when questioned they noted their prison record and time off for good behavior. Criminal “types” think and act the opposite of law-abiding citizens.

Let’s give Mr. Soetoro-Obama a dilemma and see by his actions at what level he’s probably operating.  The dilemma is this:  He wants to run for a higher political office.  The office has a strict criteria for candidates: both of his parents must be natural born citizens at the time of his birth in order to qualify.  He knows he doesn’t qualify but he really wants this office. He’s been offered the possibility by several of the richest and most influential men in the world. If he reveals his birth certificate, he’s ineligible. Should he reveal this fact or not?

Mr. Soetoro-Obama decides to move ahead and keep that information from his constituents.  In fact he spends close to $11 million to hide that fact and avoid discovery.  He wants the job opportunity.

So the question is this: At what level of moral reasoning is this decision?

Stage 6: Universal Moral/Ethic Principle?      No.  In order to be transcendent, all actions and thoughts have to be transparent. It’s all out there for folks to see.  There’s nothing to hide.  The very act of hiding eliminates this level. His actions to secret information reveal the lack of moral reasoning at this level.

Stage 5:  The Social Contract?                       No.  An example of this Social Contract would be the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States; they reach for higher values, higher principles.  But the Constitution is the very document that outlines the expectation for this office.  If he chooses to hide the facts of his birth and upbringing, then he is not rising to this higher level of post-conventional thinking.  His actions are contrary to the expectations of this stage.

Stage 4: Law and Order?                                No.  The law of the land outlines the expectations for his office.  He submits a false document to suggest compliance with the law. He’s able to think about the expectations at this level, but his actions are not consistent with what society offers as was is legal and what is a sense of order. His choice to violate the law is not for some higher good.

Stage 3: “Good boy” or “Good Girl” stage?  No.  One might argue that he chose to do hide his eligibility in order to please his backers.  But is he very concerned about maintaining interpersonal relationships with the people this office serves?  No.  There is evidence that he’s at least toying with his level of moral development.  He did alter and amend the official histories of his predecessors in order to attempt admiration for his own supposed accomplishments to date.  He’s starting to think about this level but his actions aren’t there yet.

Stage 2:  Egotistic-Reciprocity or The Exchange of Favors Stage    Possibly. Others may have needs, but everything is subordinate to the satisfaction of my needs first and foremost.  His control of media events directs all attention to him; he continually takes credit for others’ work and achievement. He accepts awards where he has done nothing to earn them.  When others challenge the facts of his eligibility, he attacks the author with ad hominem remarks. Clearly he works at this level because of the many favors he grants to only those who have supported him.  

Stage 1: Love of Pleasure, Fear of Pain or Punishment-Avoidance and Obedience Stage?   For sure.  The very reason he spends so much money, time and energy on hiding his credentials is that he might get caught.  Then what?  Decisions are made strictly on the basis of self-interest.  And like Piaget’s early stage thinker, his decisions are based on consequences, not intentions. The egotistic love of pleasure in holding the position is more important than the honest revelation that he simply is not eligible for the same.

Kohlberg hoped that people would advance to the highest possible stage of moral thought. The best possible society would contain individuals who not only understand the need for social order (stage 4) but can entertain visions of universal principles, such as justice and liberty (stage 6). But neither of these can be obtained if, as an adult, one has the stagnated moral development at the level of a six-to-11-year-old.








Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: