PenGun: Death Threats in the Blogosphere

Tom Barnett blogs of receiving death threats from PenGun, alias C.R. Carson.

Barnett did the right thing by writing of this. I have received death threats against myself and my family before, and I ended up contacting the FBI.

Pen Gun is doubtless a crazy loser who will disappear from our blogging circle now, but he will be back to intimidate others. Creating a record of his antics online makes his name publicly searchable, allowing his next victims to rapidly identify him and act accordingly.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Amoral Rationalization

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development are Balderdash,” by Dan tdaxp, tdaxp, 18 November 2006,

Taxonomies and Their Limits,” by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 19 November 2006,

Earlier I criticized Kohlberg for his reliance on analysis reason in an area where reason does not influence behavior. Specifically, I attacked his “Stages of Moral Development,” which are defined as follows:

First Level
First a focus on loss-aversion, and
Then a focus on income-maximization
Second Level
First a focus on conforming to norms, and
Then a focus on obeying the law
Third Level
First a focus on the Social Contract, and
Then a focus on Universal Principles

In particular, note how moral reasoning goes norm-centric, to law-centric, to contract-centric, to Idea-centric.

Mark of ZenPundit joined the conversation, first giving an excellent summary of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development:

For those unfamiliar with Kohlberg, his theory was based on an effort of decades collecting cross-cultural examples of moral reasoning, from which he constructed his six stages of moral develpment. The sixth stage is representing ( as I interpret Kohlberg) self-actualized moral exemplars like Mohandas Gandhi or the Dalai Lama ( or whomever) who articulate an appeal to “higher” or ” universal” moral truths that superceded their society’s – actually, all societies – conventional morality. This is what appears to be ticking off Dan, as one could just as easily argue for including Nietzsche’s Ubermensch in the sixth stage, as we could for the Mahatma.

I think Mark’s criticism of the Stages as a taxonomy are right on, but my distaste goes deeper. If anything, Kohlberg is measuring amoral or immoral rationalization ability. Kohlberg is measuring a social derivitive of linguistic intelligence. Kohlberg is measuring an ability to please.

Kohlberg talks about laws, but in the general way that people have who do not know them. Laws were created and could be erased at any time. They typically were created incompetently and the whole reason for the legal profession was that cleverness counted more than wisdom. One could find evidence in the Law for nearly anything. What counted was the fashions of the time for some words on some texts.

It’s clear that instead of a universal moral development, the change in answers Kohlberg observed are an interaction between a basic drive for fairness and rhetorical dexterity. The first is widespread among the most popular human phenotype of “wary cooperators” or “strong reciprocators.” Berk adequately covers a genetic predisposition to fairness on pages 476-477, so instead I will focus on the role of practice.

Practiced Excuses?

The more you do something the better you get at it. Children, naively, tell the truth and are classified at Stage 2. They see procedural justice as important and therefore answer in that way. But as years roll by they cleverer and lying to themselves and others. Soon, by age fifteen according to the chart above, a majority realize that they get better responses from adults if they justify obedience for obedience’s (that is, “social harmony’s”) sake. Of course, the half of students who are more likely to verbally interact with each other in a reasonable way, the half of the class that teachers actually like, already achieved this stage earlier.

The next stage – that of verbally emphasizing the important of laws – comes for half of the population in the latter half of the third decade of life. In other words, about ten years after most people begin to enjoy privileges associated with age. At about eighteen or so most people are experiencing positive age-discrimination from the laws. Unsurprisingly, it appears to take a decade of this preferential treatment to train people that “the law” is the correct answer. Again, though, this age is an average. The half of the people we are likely to talk to would have made this stage-transition earlier. After all, they had practice.

Along this line, no one should be surprised that social contract theory (which is taught to a small fraction of the population in introductory college courses) emerges in a small fraction of the population at the age when they would be taking introductory college courses. Likewise, this “fifth stage” begins to experience extinction a decade after people leave college – from disuse, one would presume.

Evidence for this is found in public opinion of Congress. As I previously mentioned, the great majority of people view Congress negatively because of procedural fairness issues, and not from the perspective of higher levels of moral development. But people have less practice giving “correct” answers about Congress than about everyday moral dilemma, so their reasons are more naive, more simplistic, and more true to what they really believe.

Kohlberg isn’t wrong because he wrote a taxonomy; Kohlberg is wrong because he didn’t operationalize his variables correctly. He’s not measuring “morality” or “moral development.” Kohlberg is measuring an interaction effect of linguistic and interpersonal intelligence.

Update: Curtis blast’s blogspirit’s unreliability and adds his own thoughts.