Article Published; Grossman, D., "Islamic Zealots, Corporate Predators, and the Attack on Democracy: A Moral Perspective On Our Current State of Affairs." Tuebor: A Publication of the Michigan State Police Training Division, Winter, 2003.
"Islamic Zealots, Corporate Predators, and the Attack on Democracy: A Moral Perspective On Our Current State of Affairs "
By Dave Grossman
The past year (2002) has seen America's values attacked on two fronts: By freedom hating Islamic zealots, and by freedom abusing corporate predators. In light of these two extremes, many Americans are confused, and feel like we are fighting a two front war. What's the cause of this? Can American philosophy survive?
First, we must understand that this moral calamity is not new. Our problems are the problems of human moral development, as illustrated by the research of Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987). A professor at Harvard University, Kohlberg tracked "moral reasoning" in response to hypothetical moral dilemmas. He was not concerned with WHAT people did, but focused attention on WHY they chose a course of action. He established 6 levels of motivation, from lowest to highest:
(External motivations which will cause action to disappear as soon as the threat or the reward goes away.)
1. Motivation by Fear of Punishment - obedience orientation
2. Motivation by Greed/Personal Reward - looking out for #1
Conventional Morality (External motivations which MIGHT remain under certain circumstances.)
3. Motivation by Shame/Saving Face - willing conformity to parents/peers/culture, but as prostitutes selling themselves at a convention know, many people check their morals at the city limits, if they think that nobody will find out!
4. Motivation by Internalization of the Law - obey rules for the law's sake, because you were taught to obey the Ten Commandments, but you don't understand why and if legitimate authority changes the law (i.e., it's OK to kill Jews) then you go along with it.
Post-Conventional Morality (The only true internalized motivations based on abstract concepts. Someone in level 5/6 will generally not change their behavior unless you convince them, intellectually, rationally, of the necessity to do so.)
5. Motivation by Social/Moral Contract - this "pulls up" (sometimes not near enough, but nonetheless discernibly) the general moral level of the population. Example, the United States Constitution, which establishes our fundamental baseline of principles that are used to guide our nation by creating in interactive, amendable contract that establishes laws to serve the majority while protecting basic rights.
6. Motivation by Universal Ethical Principles - the Golden Rule, New Testament, or the Declaration of Independence (or, perhaps, the Preamble to the Constitution), implies a perfect equivalence of duties and rights, but also self-sacrificing love beyond expecting anything in return. This level of morality is the ideal, but is sometimes too abstract for routine day-to-day operations.
The amazing thing in the research is that in totalitarian nations where, L-4, blind, rigid adherence to the law (as set forth by the rulers) is the objective, almost everyone functions at L-1 and lives in fear, with a handful in L-2, greed, and anything above that is (almost) non-existent.
But in democracies (if you will permit me to use the term broadly, since in the US we are technically in a republic or a representative democracy), in democracies the average individual exists in level 2/3/4, motivated by greed, shame and law, while there is a smattering of those powerful moral individuals who truly have internalized their moral values (mostly deeply religious individuals) and serve to pull the rest of us up. (Think, for example, of the priest in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," whose generosity transformed Jean Valjean.)
We have nearly defeated the most significant totalitarian (L-1) threat with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and today the majority of the world's population elects their national leaders. But there is still a MAJOR threat from terrorists (remnants of L-1 control by "fear," and fostered by the remaining non-democratic, totalitarian governments). But the NEXT challenge before us is to overcome (L-2) greed motivation, such as the media whose "drug dealer morality" says: "People buy our violence and sex, so we have the right to sell it!" And all those corporate predators who undermine our capitalist economy by looting company profits and pensions for their own selfish benefit.
If we were to win the war against corporate greed (L-2), how would a victory manifest itself? I would submit that we should see increased corporate focus on community, citizenship, charity, overall spirituality, and demands for more accountability at all levels, acting just like a government.
(In fact, some companies are already forming their own L-5 "constitutions" to establish moral laws and baselines. Whole Foods Market, for example, which besides having environmentally friendly policies, has capped their top salary to being no more than ten times what the average employee makes, and they give a mandatory 5% of gross profit to charity. With this legal foundation, they then try to inspire L-6 behavior from their employees.)
What Kohlberg demonstrates is that, just because (almost) everyone falls short of actually operating at the moral level of the Constitution (L-5) and religious "grace" (L-6), does not mean that we should give up on these. We NEED these as our inspiration and scales for justice! Now, since Sept 11, we are back to fighting L-1 fear mongers. Still, we have to fight the battle on our corporate front against L-2 greed mongers. And the way to do that is to hold people to HIGH moral standards, as found in religion, and the Constitution.
So, does all this make sense? Can we perceive that the war on totalitarian zealots and selfish corporate raiders is actually a war on ourselves? But are good things happening as a result of these wars? Are we moving society to the next level? And, most importantly, are you doing anything to help?