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
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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.









Americans see hyphens every day.  The most common use of the hyphen is in the art of orthology or correct spelling, especially when a word breaks at the end of a sentence. Hyphens can either separate or unify.  Hyphens can be used to divide or connect syllables, names or word elements; they can also be used to link jobs or function such as singer-dancers, actor-models, mendacious-politician (Oops, I’m sorry. That’s redundant).  But hyphens are especially needed for clarity. While one might be contained in the other, there is a difference between re-creation and recreation.  And as a parent, I surely would like to distinguish for my children the difference between a dirty-movie theater and a dirty movie-theater.  So, hyphens can help; but they can also hurt.  It all depends on how their used.

Take the term Irish-American or Black-American. To be clear at the outset, it really should be Afro-American, for the modifier is not color but source. Color, like height or weight, is not substantive. Imagine folks being referred to as short-Americans or sinister-Americans (those who write with their left hand).  I suppose, though, one could call herself/himself anything they wish.  But in common parlance and public exchange, things can get confusing. What if your mother were white, your father was from Kenya?  Would you be a white-Afro-American? Or an Afro-White –American?  We seek clarity.

If one is Irish-American it denotes that one has immigrated recently from Ireland and you still have a leg in both countries and cultures. For those who were born here of that particular pedigree, the term is often used to connote origins, not the present reality.  If “Irish-American” denotes a recent arrival, then all others are “Americans of Irish decent”.  After all, the common denominator for us all is “American,” not “Irish.”

Likewise for the Afro-American. A recent immigrant from Monrovia, Liberia, to Azusa, California, could be considered an Afro-American for a while. But with time, naturalization, and assimilation in the new culture, she/he would be known as an American, who happens to be from Africa.  Again, what we all have in common is in being an American.

How we use the language says a lot about us.  Maintaining a hyphenation maintains a duality.  If asked for your nationality ten years after moving into the USA and you said, “Irish American,” that would indicate to me that you’re not here yet.  You’re living in two worlds.  Don’t get me wrong. One’s origins, nationality and culture are fundamental. They are important and need to be nurtured.  I would be proud to be Irish.  But when you move to a different land, you necessarily need to absorb the principles and mores of that land; otherwise, you live a life divided upon itself.  What happens is your own culture fails to develop and your new allegiances cease to grow.  You’re kind of in a Twilight Zone.  I’ve often wondered about hyphenated-married names.  That burden is placed on the bride in the American parlance.  But what a gift to give? Does having a hyphenated name after marriage mean that you have a foot in each camp, one single and the other married? I wonder.  What does that same about commitment?

Who are we really?  We’re Americans who came from Africa. We’re Americans who came from Ireland.  We’re Americans who came from Colombia.  Rich with a cultural heritage and even language, we can be proud to be an American…. first.

But hyphens that hurt can also heal.  Usually the last thing they do to you is hyphenate your life. You know:  1925 2008.  That little hyphen (actually it’s more like a dash) captures time (in this case, about 83 years), history, experience, family, off-spring, roots and love.  All that can make up a person’s life is captured by that little hyphen-now-dash.  Between these two days lived this person. Between these two marks in time, we hyphenate eternity and honor a life.

So be careful out there in the military-industrial complex. Be careful not to fall prey to political-correctness and instead judge for yourself based on facts and truth.  Avoid cancer-causing substances and conditions.  Try to choose the most cost-effective means of living in these difficult times. Avoid separating yourself off from others. If you’re here legally, you’re an American first and foremost.  Welcome. Best wishes.  If not, sign up.

July 17, 2012

Guess Who?

The following are quotes from a variety of sources, mostly biographical in nature.

He was an extraordinary man.

The answer lies within his booming personality.

He was extroverted and charismatic using words to convince people to follow him.

He was quite intellectual in that he excelled in school and became a person of great power.

Many highly regarded California politicians, including Governor Jerry Brown, listened to him.

Because of his determination it appears that he was quite conscientious in his endeavors.

He preached the importance of radical egalitarianism.

He was the patriarch of a dysfunctional family.

His mother supported the family.

As an adult, He wanted to make the world a better place.

He was a charismatic man who demanded loyalty.

His vision was socialist in nature. He believed that American capitalism caused an unhealthy balance in the world, where the rich had too much money and the poor worked hard to receive too little.

He preached activism.

His work was praised in newspapers and by local politicians.

People trusted him and believed that he had a clear view of what needed to be changed in the United States.

From the outside he looked like an amazing success. Yet on the inside, his following was transforming into a cult centered around him.

He quickly became infatuated with power.

He had been deeply influenced by his perception of black religious leader.

He was seen by followers as a prophet and miracle worker.

Equally strong in him were the Marxist leanings underlying his social idealism.

Though a lengthy report was issued, the mass of materials, including the files of the various government investigations of him, have never been made public, and the truth of what actually occurred remains shrouded in mystery.

He was a voracious reader as a child and studied Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler, carefully noting each of their strengths and weaknesses.

He personally walked the neighborhood comforting African Americans.

He was careful not to portray himself as a communist in a foreign territory, and spoke of a communal lifestyle rather than of Castro or Marx.

“If you’re born in capitalist America, racist America, fascist America, then you’re born in sin. But if you’re born in socialism, you’re not born in sin.

Unlike most other figures deemed as cult leaders, he was able to gain public support and contact with prominent local and national United States politicians.

He forged media alliances with key columnists.

He grew up very much an exile of society, and had an understanding of the troubles minorities faced in not being accepted.

With such an understanding of how these people had suffered, the ordeals that they had been through and the pain within them, it is no surprise that he was so able to gain their trust and make them feel like he was really ready to help them.

He appeared to be a great person, and he convinced so many people that he was doing great things in the community.

He was a political animal – very ego-driven and very successful.

Such a moving statement allows us to empathise and understand why this man, who is seen as a villain today, was so widely respected and immortalised. He provided them with so much which ultimately led to unimaginable loyalty and trust to this man, such as a child honours that of a sporting hero.

The people were betrayed by the actions of their hero, their role model but they cannot be blamed for entrusting such faith in him, as he misled them to believe him to be a demigod, perfect in so many ways and what he said. What he told them to do was truly thought to be the right thing to do.

You could even say they were oblivious that it was their own hard work and determination which brought about the better lifestyles; they believed it was this organization.

He was a very desirable man to many women, and a role model to the men.

He was a man who understood the troubles of minorities and just generally of others, always ready to empathise with others. If you put your trust and faith in him, you were rewarded and looked after.

His intentions may have begun as good, yet one thing is for sure; one man should not have such power over anyone, especially not such a mass of people.

Of whom do we speak?

Jim Jones of Jonestown, Guyana


Sound familiar?

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!

April 29, 2012

How Far We Have Come — Or Not



“Facts are Stubborn Things” – John Adams

What follows is a verbatim copy of an 8th grade test from 1954.  It is a test on the US Constitution. The teacher’s name is  Mrs. Mildred Niemiec and the student’s name is Kenny Hignite.  Here’s a Photostat copy.  Kenny did well; he score a 98.5%.  Can your 8th grade student/child do this well?  Is this material even being taught in your child’s school? High School? College?

1.-20. List the cabinet positions and the people who hold these positions at the present time.

20.-29.  Give the names of the justices of the Supreme Court

30.-51.  Tell the Provisions of each of the amendments to the Constitution.

52.       What is the Bill of Rights? ____________________ ____________________

53.       Who is the President of the U.S.? ____________________ ____________________

54.       Who is the Vice Vice-President of the U.S.? ____________________ ____________________

55.       What is an unwritten law? ____________________ ____________________

57.       Two things necessary to any good government are? ____________________ ____________________

58.       The plan of government for the U.S. is the? ____________________

59.       A constitutional law is? ____________________

60.       An unconstitutional law is? ____________________

61.       A law is declared unconstitutional by the? ____________________

62.       The President chooses a cabinet in order to? ____________________

63.       The Constitution grants all lawmaking powers to? ____________________

64.-65. The two houses of Congress are? ____________________

66.       The Constitution established two houses of Congress because? ____________________

67.       The number of representatives from each state is determined by? ____________________

68.       The Speaker of the House is? ____________________

69.       The number of Senators from each state is? ____________________

70.       A Senator is elected for? ____________________

71.       The presiding officer of the Senate is? ____________________

72.       The Vice-President does not have a vote in the Senate unless? ____________________

73.       A president pro tempore is? ____________________

74.       The life of each Congress is? ____________________

75.       Congress convenes in regular session on ? ____________________

76.       The President may call Congress into a special session? ____________________

77.       The power to enforce the laws is given to ? ____________________

78.       The President’s term of office is? ____________________

79.       If a President dies, he is succeeded by? ____________________

80.       The President must be a _______________ citizen.

81.       How old must a President be? ____________________

82.       The oath of office is administered to the President by ? ____________________

83.       The President takes office on? ____________________

84.       the President can make treaties if ? ____________________

85.       The highest law of the land is ? ____________________

86.       The Supreme Court may annul laws ? ____________________

87.       A quorum in Congress is? ____________________

88.       A filibuster is? ____________________

89.       The number of Supreme Court justices is? ____________________

90.       A writ of habeas corpus is? ____________________

91.       A bill of attainder is? ____________________

92.       An ex post facto law is? ____________________

93.       A reprieve is? ____________________

94.       A pardon is? ____________________

95.       Who regulates inter-state commerce? ____________________

96.       What is naturalization? ____________________

97.       What is piracy? ____________________

98.       Does a dictator consider the welfare of the people? ____________________

99.       Can a government function without the power to raise money? ____________________

100.    Do wealth and power alone make a nation happy? ____________________

Extra Credit:   Write the Preamble to the Constitution

How did you do?  How are your kids doing? Isn’t it about time we demand academics and not training?  If your school can’t/won’t, find one that will.  Hurry!

July 5, 2011

Our Birthday! Reflections on the 4th of July

Happy Birthday America!  A good number of its citizens are enjoying this three-day weekend by enjoying picnics, parades, a day’s sail on a bay or lake, bar-b-ques with family and friends, and the once-popular neighborhood fireworks display.  I always remember the day after in our front yard: sooty black trails of snakes, charred wires—remnants of a sparkling night, and pungent cardboard—the remains of fountains, geysers, and Roman candles.

Americans sure know how to lay back, relax and have a good time.   But there seems to be something missing from this birthday celebration.   We need some kind of storytelling and ritual and recapture the meaning of the day.  We have all the festivities but none of the fundamentals.  Just what do we celebrate on this birthday?

We are bombarded with birthday images: soldiers marching, bands playing, beach walkers, bar-b-ques, fireworks displays, flags waving and people crying. These are all great symbols.  But why do some cry?  Where’s the story-telling? Where’s the history? Where’s the meat?

At most birthday parties one gathers family and friends for a celebration.  There are games in which one can laugh and learn.  There are decorations and hats to draw us together.  There are gifts.  There is cake.   But there is ritual—we make a wish and blow out the candles.  Or there’s a ritual “spanking” with a “pinch to grow an inch.”  There’s  story-telling.  The older members remind the younger ones about when Mary or Joey was born. Her dad was doing this and mom was doing that.  The world looked like this and here’s what life looked like in those days.  There’s a passing-on ritual.  This day’s important because Joey or Mary came into it.

Where’s our story-telling on the 4th of July?  Announcing the parade isn’t enough.  Blowing out candles isn’t enough.  How do the elders engage the youngsters in the meaning of the day?  Where are the questions?  What are the answers?

In a recent testing of the high school seniors of the state of Arizona, only 4% were able to achieve a passing grade (70%) on the Immigration and Naturalization test for citizenship; the test has a number of questions specific to American history and the 4th of July. Only four percent!  If these natural-born citizens were just coming to America they couldn’t legally get in.  And these are the government schools. Well, if it’s not being taught in the schools (and I think most parents presumed it  was), then we need some sort of national or family ritual to remind of us what the 4th of July is really all about.

The form of this ritual could be many.  But like any good lesson, it should have a beginning, middle and end.  And like any good lesson, it should have as many modalities as possible: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.   We currently have a lot of sights and smells with fireworks and the like (and bar-b-ques).  But what do we want our kids to know?  What’s the lesson?

There has to be music; there has to be a song or two.   There are many; they are legend.

There need to be symbols.  Why 13 red and white stripes on the flag? Why red? Why white? Why 50 stars? Were there always 50? Why the blue background?  Why do we honor the flag?  What does it symbolize?  There have to be questions and answers…specifics. Why tea?

Somewhere in this ritual of remembrance there should be a discussion about the lowly penny and the lowly dollar bill—each the smallest denomination in our coin or paper currency.  Yes, there’s a presidential sense of history on the penny with Lincoln’s portrait so prominently displayed. But it’s in the details of the small print on the back that I think we find America:  E pluribus unum.  From many—one.

At the heart of this celebration is the fact that, as a country, we are one.  The very heart of America is to celebrate that “oneness.”  Indeed, very nature of government should focus only on that fact: we are one.  If we dwell on why each of us is different, then we lose.  American is a country  where we choose to be one, not because of a religion or nationality, appearance or color, family history or entitlements. We are one because of an idea.  What separates us is easy to see; in fact, it’s too easy—it’s obvious.  Getting past the obvious takes work; it takes time and ritual.

We need to somehow examine the dollar bill, not because it’s money, but because of the myriad symbols it contains. We need to ask and answer: what does “novus ordo seclorum” mean?  What is this “new order of the  ages?”  Why is it new? Is it because of what’s written on the penny?

We need to note that “in God we trust.”  We.

The 4th of July is the celebration, the birthday really happened the day before; our Declaration of Independence was signed on July 3rd.  But what’s significant is that it had no meaning until it was read and absorbed by the people. We, the people. Not you and me… we.  The very birthday celebration is a party about us… about “we.”  Maybe that’s the heart of our ritual, maybe that’s at the heart of the Declaration.

We need a celebratory food in our ritual; maybe a cake will do.  The very ritual of eating symbolizes a choice not just to enjoy a baker’s delight but a willingness to share in this feast and to share in the fact of this country. We choose… we.   And when we finally blow out the candle/s on  our cake, we should make a wish and it should be aloud.  What is your wish for your country?  Not the politicians or pundits… what’s your wish?

I wish that people will come to know our country and its Constitution.  They are hinged in history and have historical roots and meaning.  That despite political attempts to sabotage, subvert or alter its meaning, the Constitution is the locus around which we grow and live.

We need a Birthday ritual that’s more than candle-blowing, parade-watching and hot dog eating.  We need to tell the story about an unique history and moment in time.  We need to tell the story about us… we.

P.S.  Just after World War II had ended in the Pacific, my parents were enjoying a 4th of July fireworks show in Pasadena, California.  My folks had to leave the show late in the evening.  They went to St. Luke’s hospital.  It was my birthday, too.

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