15 January 2006

Moral Reasoning

In her work The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout discusses research into the understanding of moral reasoning. She raises some relevant points for a comprehension of the control structure that keeps a pathocracy in place. She cites the research of Lawrence Kohlberg, from Harvard University's Center for Moral Education and contrasts his work too that of Carol Gilligan in In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. The two researchers identified two modes of moral reasoning, Kohlberg's known as the Ethics of Rules elaborated from studies done with males, and Gilligan's Ethics of Care elaborated from a study of females. Stout concludes her discussion stating that both forms operate in both sexes, so we will not touch on the gender aspect, preferring to see how either can be subverted in a pathocratic society to reinforce pathocratic rule. Kohlberg based his research on the story known as Heinz's dilemma, which poses a moral problem to be answered about a man, Heinz, his sick wife, and whether it would be correct for Heinz to steal the drug that would save his wife's life after having exhausted all possibilities of raising the money and the refusal of the pharmacist who had developed the drug to give it to him. Does Heinz honour the morality of "Thou shalt not steal", or do other factors based upon questions of conscience come into the decision. Kohlberg interviewed a group of boys, ages six to sixteen, from the United States, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey, and the Yucantán. He identified three stages in the development of moral reasoning:
1. Premoral (ages 7 to 10) In this stage, the child defers to rules and adult authority based upon expections of punishment and reward. 2. Conventional Level (beginning around 10) The rules remain, however, behaviour is guided by the opinions of others and the desire to conform. Obeying authority is a value in itself, without reference to punishment or reward or higher principle. 3. Postconventional morality (During adolescence) The individual formulates abstract moral principles and acts according to conscience, not for approval from others or society. Moral reasoning transcends the concrete rules of society, rules that the individual now understands are often in conflict with one another anyway. His reasoning is influenced by abstract and fluid concepts such as freedom, dignity, justice, and respect for life.
Kohlberg notes that less than 10% of his respondents attained this level. If one can generalize that at least 90 percent of the general population has developed no further than the level of conventional moral reasoning, where obeying authority is a value in itself, one begins to glimpse the powerful hold such an authority can maintain over a population. Once the values of a society have become pathologic, they become the standard to which people will seek to conform. Those whose moral reasoning depends upon the opinions of others look outside for their morality, rather than looking within, and will be moulded by what they see and hear around them. Even if one accepts that less than 90 percent of a population reason in this manner, it is likely to be an important percentage, if the daily news is any indication. Having a large percentage of a population stuck in conventional moral reasoning is an important break to change. On the other hand, should the contradictions of the pathocracy itself become evident, then it is also possible that public opinion could change, and perhaps quite rapidly. That is, if the authority itself breaks the rules, it could run into criticism from those who put a greater emphasis on the rules themselves, not the authority. However, five years of continual lying from the Bush administration shows how strong the role of authority is in many people. So if societal values become pathologic, then there is a profound inertia to keep it that way. The pathocracy must work in a different way to counter the Ethics of Care, a mode of moral reasoning that wonders what is the caring thing to do, rather than pondering the rules. Stout illustrates the difference this way:
"A woman's postconventional judgment regarding Heinz's dilemma would refer to the importance of his realtionship with his wife, and might assert as well that the druggist's claim was immoral because he was allowing someone to die when he could do something to prevent it. Gilligan was persuaded that postconventional reasoning in women focused on the value of doing no harm to self or others, which is more specific, and relational, and in many ways more demanding, than a principle, such as the general sanctity of life." [pp. 176-77.]
Since this mode of moral reasoning is based upon relationships and emotional attachment, pathocratic undermining must be accomplished differently than with the Ethics of Rules. How might this work? Three methods come to mind. The first, emphasize the care of self. We can certainly see in the United States over the last three decades an important focus on the body, health, and fitness. "Looking out for Number One!" Second, drugs that numb the emotions. From tranquillizers to antidepressants, the US is a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals designed to alter your brain chemistry. According to the American Heart Association, "Almost two-thirds of Americans currently use medicines: 49 percent use prescription drugs, and 30 percent use nonprescription medications." Furthermore, "32 million Americans are taking three or more medications daily." Add to this another 13 percent who can not afford to purchase their medications, and another 4% who use prescription drugs for which they have not received a prescription, we see a highly medicated society. In 2001, the three main SSRi drugs, Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, or their generic equilivents, accounted for $3 billion of sales in the US alone. Sales were growing by 25% per year. It is difficult to find statistics on the number of people taking these drugs. The important figures appear to be the sales figures! The NIMH estimates that 9.5% of Americans suffer from depression, although the supporting link has now disappeared from their site. A third way of undermining the notion of care is to redefine our notion of care itself. This can occur in the formulation of various paramoralisms that replace the true meaning of caring with one in keeping with the values of the consumer society, the "me" generation, an over-identification with the self, and the widespread playing of the role of victim. One expression of our concept of care is to help others when they are in trouble or are having difficulties. Unfortunately, unscrupulous characters can turn this to their own advantage by playing the victim in order to evoke pity, the better able to exploit and manipulate the caring person. All of us have no doubt come across the pity play. According to Stout, it is the predominate method of control used by the sociopath. As she puts it:
The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy. [p. 107]
More than admiration -- more even than fear -- pity from good people is carte blanche. [p. 108]
Learning to say "no" to these people means learning to distinguish between a sincere appeal for aid and a manipulative one, as well as learning how to defend ourselves from their attempts to manipulate us and drain our energy, funds, and very life. As long as we feel compelled to give to any who ask without thought of their intentions, without being able to see through their manipulations, we will remain fodder for the pathocracy. So the psychopath (the term we prefer to sociopath because there is evidence that social programming or rearing only accounts for part of the problem) uses our impulse to care as his means of control. That is subverting the Ethics of Care at its origin! The question of saying "no" also arises in parenting. In what is known as today's permissive society, we are perhaps seeing the consequences of giving in to the demands of our children. Children must learn boundaries, and come to accept that they are not the centre of the universe. Some parents may find it difficult to hold a child accountable for his or her actions, and, therefore, refrain from discipline. They may even rationalize that they are doing this out of care for the child, as if caring means never making the child do something disagreeable. It goes even further in some circles where antisocial children are excused because they are supposedly special or unique, as in the New Age belief in "Indigo Children". In this case, refusal to obey authority and various forms of antisocial behaviour are, in fact, rewarded. To sum up, we see the pathocracy is able to subvert the elements of moral reasoning in many ways, regardless of the mode, leaving society without a true moral compass. Only the developing of what Kohlberg called postconventional morality will provide such a compass, for it is conscience itself that distinguishes the society of normal people from the society of the psychopath, just as it is conscience that distinguishes the psychopath from normal individuals. Unfortunately, if the majority of society are stuck with a morality that is based upon societal approval and the obeying of authority regardless of the acts demanded, and recent years give us more than enough examples, we have a long, uphill climb.


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