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ANARCHISM AND ETHICAL DEVELOPMENT

sociology


ANARCHISM AND ETHICAL DEVELOPMENT


Lawrence Kohlberg created his Theory of Moral Development in the 1950s based on extensive research of boys between 10 and 16, in an effort to determine where morality (e.g., ethics) came from. The following is a cursory summary of his observations.



Kohlberg theorized that there are six stages of moral development, with Stage One being the lowest, most basic level of moral development, and Stage Six being the highest. He also developed the idea of cognitive dissonance, whereby people operating at differe 111g61b nt levels of moral development would find communication nearly impossible.

In other words, these people were operating from completely different paradigms -- speaking different moral languages, and would not be able to bridge that gap without considerable effort.

What does this have to do with anarchism? I think it has a great deal to do with it.

When you look at the stages of moral development, what becomes apparent is that the lower stages are more authoritarian, whereas the highest stage is the most libertarian. While much attention has been paid to Kohlberg's theories, I think that inner biases of researchers have led them to overlook that, for some operating at the highest stage of moral development (Stage Six), government can only be viewed as an evil -- an affront to their moral reasoning. The history of the 20th century backs this view.

Kohlberg later sought to apply his theories in alternative education, whereby methods of teaching could be used to develop moral reasoning. His theories, naturally, are controversial, as is anything that challenges antiquated notions of right and wrong.

PRE-CONVENTIONAL

Stage One: Fear of punishment or respect for authority; no higher reasoning.

People operating at this level of moral development obey laws and authority out of a fear of punishment. Most conservative theorists think we all operate at this very basic, childish level of moral development, and are only held in check by the power of the state. This is a falsehood, however. Only a small percentage of a population operates at this basic level. Fascists and fundamentalist Christians are most likely to be found at this stage.

Stage Two: Moral relativism, with a sense of equal exchange and fairness; rules should be followed only when they serve to advance your's or another's interests. Some individualism developed at this point.

This is a somewhat more common stage, which combines an awareness of the ideas of fairness and equality with opportunism -- that rules are to be obeyed when it is in your best interests to obey them. I suspect most capitalists operate on this level of moral development, as well as authoritarian socialists (Bolsheviks, Maoists, Trotskyites).

CONVENTIONAL

Stage Three: Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you") emphasized, valuation of trust, loyalty, respect, and gratitude -- heedful of expectations of others. They follow stereotypes of what is "good" around them. A sense of caring is developed at this stage.

Stage Four: Adhering to Kant's categorical imperative (e.g., "if everyone did this, would it produce the greatest good?"), avoiding actions that if undertaken would undermine the collective; recognizing a generalized moral system that defines roles and rules. They seek to fulfill agreed-upon duties.

I suspect that most people fall into these categories, with conservative moderates falling in Stage Three, and liberal moderates in Stage Four. Mainstream (not fundamentalist) Christians are likely operating at Stage Three on Kohlberg's scale, using God (and/or Jesus) as the stereotype of goodness, whereas the moderate liberal seeks a secular model in Stage Four in the idea of government.

POST-CONVENTIONAL (PRINCIPLED)

Stage Five: Holds that values are still relative, but upholds them on basis of notions of social contract which requires obedience to shared laws; sees utilitarianism as justification for good (e.g., that which brings greatest good to greatest number of people is good).

This is probably the basic democratic socialist position. They seek to bring about the best situation to the most number of people, while still allowing themselves moral latitude -- e.g., opportunism. They see the state as a necessary and logical component for social justice to be realized.

Stage Six: Sees development of personal commitment to universal moral principles such as justice, equal human rights, individual dignity; sees persons as ends unto themselves, and not means, and treats them as such.

This is where genuine anarchists find themselves. We oppose the state and capitalism because we see individuals reduced to the level of products and drones to be used and abused at the will of leaders; we hold justice and equality central to our beliefs. For a person at this level of moral development, anarchism is the only satisfying political theory. Everything else requires a compromise of one's internal values.

I believe that authoritarians operate at the lower (pre-conventional) stages of moral development. Their emphasis on violence as a means of dispute resolution, their emphasis on hierarchy and authority, and use of fear all fits with Stage One moral development.

While I believe that anarchists, to be anarchists, must operate from Stage Six of Kohlberg's theory of moral development, it doesn't mean that anarchists are "superbeings" or "perfect people". I think that anyone who puts the time into honestly evaluating society's institutions, as well as comes to see liberty, equality, and solidarity as realizable ideals is capable of this stage of moral development.

I think that government itself depends on people operating at the conventional or pre-conventional stages of moral development. By producing stunted individuals (facilitated by our inept education system), the state perpetuates itself -- ensures itself a future by crushing the individual.

But this doesn't mean we are fated to continue along in this fashion. Today, more than ever, with the prevalence of modern technology and advancement of human knowledge, people are ready for alternatives to the authoritarian nation-state and workplace.

TRENDS

Studies on moral reasoning have yielded interesting results. Here are some assorted results:

Moral attitudes tended to ebb as children get older. One survey showed that 65% of high schoolers would cheat to pass an important exam -- while only 53% of junior high and 21% of elementary school children said they would. The willingness to cheat increased the longer children were in school.

Athletes generally score lower than nonathletes with regard to moral reasoning and ethical awareness. As students progress through college, nonathletes' moral reasoning scores improved, while athletes' scores actually declined. Contrary to the popular notions of athletics producing ethical individuals, the opposite has been shown to be the case!

Ethical stances vary with different generations. 75% of college students today agree that "most people will cheat or lie when it is necessary to get what they want"; only 37% of adults over thirty agree with that.

In 1969, a survey showed that more than 80% of high-schoolers agreed that "honesty is the best policy", a figure which dropped to 60% in 1989.

One survey showed that college students from families with incomes over $150,000 were 50% more likely to cheat regularly than those students with parents earning less than $25,000. Affluence and honesty are apparently inversely proportional!

A survey conducted by Harvard researchers found that men and women have different ethical paradigms as well.

Men focused on an "ethic of justice", viewing morality as a question of rights, while women tended toward an "ethic of care", emphasizing responsibilities. Equality mattered most to men in the survery, whereas nonviolence mattered to the women in the survey.

Women tended to find moral value in networks and lateral relationships, whereas the men surveyed valued hierarchical relationships. Contrasted with Kohlberg's six stages, the Harvard researcher, Carol Gilligan, found that women considered "a moral person is one who helps others; goodness is service, meeting one's obligations and responsibilities to others, if possible without sacrificing oneself."

Again, anarchism proves to be the only political theory whereby people can hope to find the equality and nonviolence they say they value. All other ideologies throw equality out the window, and freely rely on violence (e.g., coercion) to bring the rest of society under their control.


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