Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.


Part 1 | Part 2

The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy

Part 2: Why your level of moral judgment
does not predict your morality

Joseph Dillard

One of a number of delusions we use to maintain our self-image as trustworthy and honorable, the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy, predicts that you are highly likely to overestimate your developmental level, in part because you have inflated your level of moral development. This is because the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment implies a correlation between moral intention and ethical action that doesn't exist.

Lawrence Kohlberg and Ken Wilber
Lawrence Kohlberg and Ken Wilber

The belief that those with higher levels of moral judgment are more ethical is a convenient, pervasive delusion, called the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy. It is associated with the misconception, perpetrated by Lawrence Kohlberg and Ken Wilber, that one's level of moral judgment predicts moral behavior.[1, 2] If you are an integralist like me, you may be making the mistake I did for years; you may use the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of the development of moral judgment to determine your own level of moral development. That's a huge error, and I will explain why.

The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy is named after Lawrence Kohlberg because he developed a respected and well-known scale of moral judgment,[3] while Wilber both endorsed and expanded Kohlberg's scale by adding a higher, post-post conventional level of even more highly evolved and rarified moral judgment. What is commonly understood to be a scale of moral development is actually a scale of moral judgment, as Kohlberg rightly calls it.[4] Piaget, whose work on the development of cognition was a major impetus behind Kohlberg's scale, argued that morality itself, not just moral judgment, developed through consecutive stages.[5] Kohlberg wondered if moral judgment unfolded in a way similar to Piaget's stages.

Kohlberg concluded that moral judgment did follow cognition, and that these stages were also, like Piaget's stages, irreversible. That is, once one has reached a higher level of moral judgment, it includes lower stages and never regresses. Therefore, any regression in moral judgment is to be understood as occurring within the context of the highest attained level of moral judgment. If you demonstrate post-conventional moral judgment and lie, steal, have addictions or abuse others, those behaviors are to be understood within the context of your post-conventional level of moral judgment.[6] Wilber echoes this position in his belief that any regression in morality by someone who has attained a higher level of development is “shadow” rather than full-blown regression. This assumption has major implications for how we view ourselves as moral actors, implications that are misleading and elitist.

This issue is significant not only for judgment but for behavior for integralists, because Wilber has made moral judgment a developmental line and aligned his thinking with that of Kohlberg. Their combined model has an impact on how those who learn AQAL (All quadrants, all lines, levels, states, and types) think about morality.[7] The distinction between determinations of moral judgment and moral action is not semantic, but has profound implications for our own assessment of our level of development. It also determines how we assess the level of moral development of family, friends, peers, co-workers, religious leaders, politicians, as well as personal and national antagonists.

The Kohlberg-Wilber line of moral judgment is essentially a sub-line of the cognitive developmental line, because judgment is a cognitive skill. Once we understand that the Kohlberg-Wilber measure of moral judgment is a sub-line of the cognitive line, we can appreciate that Kohlberg and Wilber are not providing an assessment of morality at all, as normally understood, but merely of cognition as moral judgment, masquerading as morality. We can then recognize that morality is only, in a minimal way tied to the level of development of the cognitive line, via moral judgment or intent, and is much more closely related to objective societal standards.

Morality does not arise apart from issues of collective or social accountability. It is precisely because relationships require agreed-upon standards of conduct that morality exists at all. Subsequently, morality primarily exists due to and for the benefit of the lower right social and interpersonal quadrant of holons. This is the position taken both by secular law and spiritual dharma, but most importantly, in our moment-to-moment calculations of costs and benefits. “What price will I likely pay if I call in sick to work?” “How mad is my spouse likely to be if I forget our anniversary?” “If I cheat on my taxes, how likely am I to get caught?”

Morality is not something we personally control; it is something the global community determines about us. Our morality is, in the eyes of society, only perhaps twenty percent a reflection of our intent or “consciousness.” From the perspective of society, which creates and maintains moral standards, morality is perhaps eighty percent a reflection of our behavior. Criminal courts consider the intent of defendants, as in premeditated manslaughter, within the broader context of whether a crime was indeed committed by the defendant. Without the crime, there is no issue of intent, which then becomes irrelevant. This is opposite of the way that morality is approached by the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy. It views morality as perhaps eighty percent a reflection of our consciousness and perhaps only twenty percent a matter of behavioral accountability. Therefore, while neither perspective is a black and white disownership of the other polarity, there is a strong bias toward one perspective or the other. This might be called the consciousness/justice disjunction of AQAL and indeed, of progressivism in general.

How I came to recognize the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy

I want to share with you how and why I embraced an elevationist concept of my own self-worth, tell you why I think it is mistaken, and provide you with some reasons why I think it matters. In about 1985 I discovered the writings of Ken Wilber and, due to my background in philosophy, psychology, and comparative religion, immediately recognized it as the brilliant form of cognitive multi-perspectivalism that it is. AQAL also had the additional advantage of including and explaining the transpersonal. I have had so much respect for Wilber's thought that “integral” is part of the title of my own work, Integral Deep Listening (IDL) and a key concept within it. Therefore, my criticisms of Wilber and AQAL need to be understood within a context of fundamental respect and appreciation for the huge and lasting positive impact of Wilber's contributions to my life and to general human knowledge.

One of the concepts I assimilated from AQAL was that morality was a core developmental line and that it developed along the lines noted above, as elucidated by Kohlberg following Piaget and expanded by Wilber. I concluded that because my level of moral judgment was post-conventional and perhaps even at times post-post conventional, and because I had a cognitive grasp of AQAL, meaning a vision-logic world view, that both my self line and my overall development were at vision-logic and “2nd Tier.” Sharing that assumption now is both embarrassing and humorous, because it now seems so shallow, narcissistic, grandiose, and transparent to me. Rather than stabilized in my development at vision-logic or 2nd Tier, as I supposed, I consider myself to be solidly mid-prepersonal in my overall development, including my level of moral development. I am in no position to preach to anyone about morality, except perhaps to my dog, and only then on those days when he is not preaching to me, which is rare.

My Guru (Sharing
My Transitional Object)

This is because my behavior is largely determined by my emotional preferences and I largely use my reason to justify and rationalize them. This is further validated by my rather limited circle of empathy, as reflected by relative thoughtlessness about the needs of others outside my peer groups or circles of identification. Multi-perspectival cognition, associated with having a grasp of AQAL, is not the same as morality, nor is it equivalent or one's overall level of development.

For decades, I accepted a vastly over-rated assessment of my moral judgment and overall development. I only came to recognize this as I asked myself why integral was not having a more transformational impact on the world. Why wasn't it being accepted in mainstream academia? Why weren't the actions of people who read and endorsed AQAL, like Bill Clinton, reflective of its values and conceptual breadth? Where was the impact of integral on issues of social justice? Why not?

Such concerns led me to look critically at why there seemed to be a disconnect between expansions in world view, into the realms of cognitive multi-perspectivalism, by integralists and other societal thought leaders, yet little or no movement, or even regression, in the realms of justice and empathy, issues associated with the lower right quadrant of society.[9] Even Wilber acknowledged this in his 2017 treatise on Trump.[10] All of this led me to critically re-evaluate the assumptions within AQAL on which I based my determination of my level of moral development, and therefore, my overall level of development.[11] To be clear, I am not contending that Wilber drew the same conclusions that I did, that morality is a core line and that overall development is dependent upon it—I may have misinterpreted him—nor am I claiming that you, or that anyone who reads Wilber has or will reach similar conclusions to mine.

Does morality have a future?

Research shows that morality is universal and exists to further social cooperation. The following seven principles appear to be universal across cultures: love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others' property.[12] Sad to say, for most of us most of the time, morality does not seem to have much practical effect on our actions. Neither does it appear to have much impact on the actions of politicians, spiritual gurus, corporations, or nations. Perhaps this is why Wilber hardly mentions morality, empathy, or altruism in The Religion of Tomorrow. Religion used to be all about morality. It appears that it has gone out of style. Has morality indeed lost its relevance? There is a great deal written about post-modernism, post-liberalism, and post-metaphysics. Could it be that we also live in a post-moral society?

Perhaps. Morality is either discussed at a safe distance, as in the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment, or saved for attacking opponents, castigating ourselves, or for validating our self-worth and indirectly, for praising those with whom we identify. Morality has traditionally been an effective tool to bludgeon both adults and children with shame and guilt while instilling in them parental voices so that as “conscience” they can shame and guilt themselves, thereby saving elders, teachers, and authorities a great deal of time and effort in enforcing compliance. Even relativistic ethics, typically thought to be opposed to absolutist norms, are essentially deontological, in that they function as “advisories,” meaning that if you follow them you will meet with social acceptance and perhaps praise, but if you do not you may be scapegoated or otherwise cast into societal hellfire.[13] Such ethical advisories include the Ten Commandments, the food and behavioral restrictions of Leviticus and the Talmud, the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” and its precious metallic variants, including the Silver Rule, “Don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself,” and the Platinum Rule, “Do to others what they would have you do to them.”[14]

However, with the rise of atheism and a largely secular global humanistic society, much of the ability of morality to intimidate us into obedience has evaporated. As Susan B. Anthony said, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." I would hate to have to make the case that morality has kept religious authorities in any tradition from molesting children; what appears to have changed behavioral norms is not moral judgment, expanded consciousness, AQAL, religion, or spirituality, but society getting serious about addressing misbehavior by imposing not simply higher group standards of conduct, but effective laws. Steven Pinker makes a very strong case for this conclusion.[15]

More people are realizing that conscience, as the interior voice of morality, is in fact comprised largely of internalized parental voices. We listen to our conscience at our own peril, as it is an unreliable guide to objective standards of behavior. The “oughts” and “shoulds” of morality have largely been replaced by a realization that we are constantly making rational cost-benefit analyses in which the definition of what is “moral” changes based on our role expectations, needs, and the needs of those who most influence our happiness and security. We then justify our behavior in some way, typically wrapping it in some form of morality if we can. Examples abound: Holy war (“God told me to kill them;”) secular war (to bring democracy and freedom;) inquisition: (to free souls;) cheating on taxes: (“Everybody does it,” so it must be moral: 'the government is stealing what I've earned;')” cheating workers and customers: “If I don't do it my competition will” ('Therefore I owe it to my board and stockholders to stay competitive').

Such utilitarian and consequentialist rational calculations of benefit, and not morality, drive most behavior. Perhaps it has always been that way for humans, just as it clearly is for animals, but this has been hidden or obscured by appeals to values that in fact seem to have little historical impact on behavior.[16] As a result of this realization, more philosophers and ethicists, such as Joshua Goldstein, Thomas Nagel, Peter Railton, Derek Parfit, Peter Singer, David Brink, and Richard Boyd are moral realists, not relativists or absolutists, in that they recognize that moral statements can be objectively true or false.[17] It may be that morality is not a developmental line at all, much less a core line. However, that does not mean that social accountability does not exist or will cease to exist, but only that it seems to be increasingly framed as something other than a moral issue. Let us take a couple of recent examples to see if we can clarify the relationship between morality as upper left judgment and morality as lower right social accountability.

Why and how is morality central to AQAL and Integral?

In the following chart, taken from Wilber's Integral Psychology, you can see where Wilber has added his post-post conventional stage of moral judgment to Kohlberg's and correlated them with both Piaget and prepersonal, personal, and into transpersonal stages of development.

Look at Wilber's chart of Kohlberg's scale of moral development. It implies a correlation between moral judgment and moral action. It would disingenuous to claim that the “correlative basic structures” are all interior quadrant as these structures include “matter.” Nor can one claim that these structures are not interactive or, beginning somewhere in sensorimotor, interpersonal. Therefore, the more highly developed the moral judgment, the more moral, ethical, and empathetic action is predicted to be.[18] If you are at post-conventional in your moral judgment, you are at vision-logic. Congratulations! You have evolved beyond all the selfish and emotional messiness of the personal and prepersonal stages! If you score at post-post conventional in your moral judgment, congratulations! You not only are post-post formal in your cognition, but your self sense has transcended the multi-perspectival and is identified with experiences of oneness with nature, energy, and life itself, or with the all-encompassing compassion of divinity! Congratulations!

For Wilber's Integral AQAL, morality is a developmental line. Whether or not it is a core line necessary for tetra-mesh is unclear; whether or not it is part of the “self-system,” a series of lines differentiated from the cognitive and various auxiliary lines, is unclear. Whether it is a component of the line of “spiritual excellence” is also unclear. Wilber takes different positions on these issues at different stages of his writing, so there is a lot of wiggle room, and to call him out on one or another position is likely to be a straw man fallacy, attacking him for a position he no longer holds. Therefore, it is enough for our purposes here to point out that there is a lot of ill-defined grey area within Integral AQAL about the nature and status of the moral line, but to nevertheless conclude that the moral line is important not only for Wilber and Integral AQAL but for most of us. Whether we want them to or not, issues of morality are not going to go away as long as we maintain relationships with others. This is because others are constantly evaluating our trustworthiness, which is an assessment as to whether we are telling the truth, lying, or are misrepresenting ourselves or some issue. We are always going to demand consensual moral norms called laws to regulate the behavior of others in order to maximize our own security and freedom.

If morality, that is, our trustworthiness, is central to our sense of self-worth, as well as our ability to make and maintain relationships, then our assessment of our morality reflects on our cognitive and personal levels of development. They in turn reflect on our level of moral development. If, on the other hand, morality is not connected, then our level of cognitive development and sense of who we are, are independent from our level of moral development. Which way is it? Is our level of morality tied to the level of development of our cognitive and self-system lines? This is what I had assumed, for the following reasons, which I explained above, but which bear repeating: Because I identify with my thoughts, I thought I was my level of cognitive development. Because I understood AQAL, which is a form of cognitive multi-perspectivalism, and adopted a vision-logic or 2nd Tier world view, I thought that therefore my over-all level of development, or my identity was vision-logic or 2nd Tier, including my level of moral development. Because I had a number of mystical experiences as well as non-dual access from time to time in meditation, I assumed all of this correlated. And it did; until I started grappling with the undeniable reality that morality is not measured primarily by interior awareness, but by interpersonal relationships.

The Kohlberg-Wilber assessment of moral judgment tended to validate my earlier conclusions regarding correlation, as most people who understand AQAL are likely to score at post-conventional or even post-post conventional in their level of moral judgment. Therefore, the self-system, cognitive, and moral lines all tend to reinforce and validate one another. This appears to be the assumption behind Wilber's association of the immorality of politicians, like the Clintons or Obama, and that of Gurus, such as Andrew Cohen or Adi Da, at late personal, 2nd Tier, and beyond, with “shadow,” or the dark side of this or that developmental level. Immoral acts by the Clintons are “shadow” of late personal development or above and immoral acts of spiritual gurus are “shadow” of this or that level of transpersonal development. As noted in Part 1, Wilber refers to enlightened masters who have been accused of abuse as “rude boys.” This framing is resonant with “shadow,” both terms implying non-empathy with victims of abuse. The violation was an immature, adolescent slip, not a malicious, conscious act by a responsible adult. Everybody makes mistakes; if we want others to pardon ours, then perhaps we should not be so judgmental about those of others.

The problem with trivialization of abuse is that there is no “truth and reconciliation,” to borrow the term used to describe the successful South African model of dealing with abusers. Forgiveness without behavioral change is simply rescuing within the Drama Triangle—something we do for ourselves, perhaps out of our sense of empathy, without requiring or getting any reciprocity from the abuser. Rescuing is foolish because it keeps both parties stuck in the revolving roles of victim, persecutor, and rescuer.

The cognitive lines of the Clintons and many gurus, such as those mentioned, are obviously highly developed. Because these people identify with their cognitive lines, their sense of self is at least that highly developed, if not higher, which may be the case if they have transcended identification with their sense of self. Because we easily conclude that both the Kohlberg-Wilber scale and our sense of self-worth is probably equivalent to our cognitive line, our interior assessment of our level of moral development is likely to be as high, if not higher, regardless of what we do or how others view our level of morality.

For there to be a negative or “shadow” morality of any level, let us say, 2nd Tier, implies that our moral line has therefore evolved along with the self line (or self-system lines) and does not lag behind it. Otherwise, how could we have a “shadow” morality at any level of development? Therefore, in Integral AQAL, if we think we are 2nd Tier, then we are likely to assume our morality is as well; otherwise it would be impossible to have a “shadow” of 2nd Tier.

Why is this important? It appears that Wilber has to draw this conclusion, because the alternative is to view the immorality of those with advanced cognitive, self-system, or auxiliary lines, including those reporting genuine nature, deity, formless, and non-dual mystical experiences, as a demonstration of a much lower level of moral development than they profess, or we want to believe they possess, due to our identification with them and their intentions. Since morality is so fundamental to our expectations of what it means to be a “spiritual” person, the further implication is that if you and I are shown to have a low level of moral development, the inescapable conclusion is that our overall development must not be so advanced after all. Therefore, integralists may have difficulty considering the possibility that misbehavior by spiritual elites is actually an indication of a much lower level of development, rather than an indication of “shadow” of a higher stage.

Let's imagine that I am a Buddhist monk that beats and molests young apprentice monks. What is my self-assessment of my level of morality likely to be? Student Tibetan Buddhist monks are trained in sophisticated Buddhist metaphysics and logic, including the practice of reversing roles so as to defend and challenge both sides of some question, such as “Consider a house; it is not a form of security, because it is produced. True or false?” Consequently, if I, as a Buddhist monk, am thinking in terms of formal logical syllogisms, it is reasonable to presume that my cognitive line would be at least formal operational. Based on what I know about Buddhist meditation and the practice of observation of the self-sense in addition to thoughts, feelings, and sensations, I would predict that my self-sense would be at least as highly developed as my cognitive line. My world view would be congruent with prevailing socio-cultural norms of the time period and the sangha in which I live. A reasonable conclusion would be that despite how you and I might evaluate my abuse of student monks, it probably would not lower my estimation of my level of moral development. After all, if progressives like Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama can rationalize and compartmentalize their moral lapses so as to maintain a high perception of their own self-worth, why shouldn't a Buddhist monk, or you or me?

For another example, imagine that I am a Japanese Zen monk in 1943, with a strong non-dual practice. I take up weapons to fight for the Emperor. What is my level of morality? If it is determined by my meditation practice, then my killing is explained as the “shadow” of non-dual realization. If it is determined by those I kill, it probably does not quite reach that extraordinary level of enlightened practice. If you are my target, you may not be so grateful that I have liberated you from your earthly bondage. You might even consider your death no different in consequence than if you were killed by a robber instead of an enlightened sage. The only real difference, in your eyes, would be that I hold a much higher level of responsibility and accountability for your death, due to the fact that I profess to be acting out of a place of infinite wisdom and compassion. Do we typically hold such people more accountable? No. Generally, we hold famous, powerful, and popular people less accountable; we give them a pass, by virtue of their role, position, and our desire to identify with an image of success or enlightenment, not one of immorality.

How does the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment come to make assumptions that commonly result in a massive over-estimation of our level of moral development? Tetra-mesh refers to the necessity of all four quadrants of the human holon to balance in order for transformation from one stage to a higher one to be maintained. Wilber's developmental model applies well to tetra-mesh on the moral line for both interior quadrants, since they involve intentions and values which can be personally determined, say by conscience. However, AQAL does not apply well to the exterior quadrants of the moral line required for tetra-mesh. For exterior quadrant tetra-mesh to occur, not only what we do, but objective social consensus in the lower right, or interpersonal quadrant, have to be congruent with intentions and values of the interior quadrants. This makes tetra-mesh beyond mid-prepersonal much more difficult and unusual than AQAL assumes. For example, getting you to agree that my killing of you is in fact the “shadow” of my non-dual, enlightened Japanese Zen monk status might run into some difficulties. You might not be grateful and actually prefer to be alive rather than dead. Indeed, you might see my action as early pre-conventional and my killing of you as an indication that my level of moral development, and hence my overall development, as no higher than that of a mugger. If that is the case, how does tetra-mesh occur? How exactly does our moral development advance independent of the opinions of those affected by our actions? And if our overall level of development is indeed contingent on our level of moral development, how does it advance if our morality is deemed pre-conventional by those it affects?

These issues imply, as explained in Part 1 of this essay, that our level of cognitive development reflects the sophistication with which we can explain, rationalize, and excuse our immorality and justify our elitist conclusions regarding the relative immorality of those not sharing an integral, multi-perspectival world view. To believe that a multi-perspectival perspective is more moral is a performative contradiction, because it holds that, “my perspective (multi-perspectivalism; understanding integral AQAL) is the right, true, or superior perspective.” The belief that any perspective, even a multi-perspectival one, is superior to any other perspective appears to be not only elitist and exceptionalist, but a logical fallacy that is self-contradictory. That is because it is no longer multi-perspectival. Instead, we are asserting that one perspective, multi-perspectivalism, is superior to all other perspectives!

Kohlberg's work has far greater significance and impact if it is presumed to predict actual moral behavior, as most who come across it assume that it does, just as I did. For AQAL, the implication is that those who learn AQAL and develop self-system lines are also assumed to have evolved on the moral line, because they possess post-conventional or post-post conventional moral judgment. The further implication is that the higher you develop your cognitive and self-system lines the more moral you are. Where is the evidence to support these implications? Is your morality based on your self-assessment of your level of moral judgment or is it based on the assessment of your trustworthiness and altruism by objective others? The answer is “both.” While the former criteria may matter the most to you, the latter is the standard that is most important to those who are affected by what you do and don't do. If morality is considered to be a core determinant of our level of development, then a lack of moral behavior indicates an inability to tetra-mesh beyond our manifested level of morality, rather than our level of moral judgment. The implications are important. If moral development is considered a core line, then our over-all development is determined at least as much by others' determination of our morality, if not much more, as it is by our cognitive and self development. If this is the case, then we can have quite high cognitive and self-system development but still have low over-all development.

Two different standards of measurement

Whether we mean to lie, steal, or abuse is much less important to others than whether we in fact do so or not. We measure our morality by our intentions while others measure it by those actions that they care about or which concern them. Darius Shah: “It's not who you are on the inside but what you do that defines you.” This is the core distinction between interior assessments of morality, such as the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment, and the exterior collective assessment of the global commons. Even after we have reached this understanding, we continue to determine our own morality by our judgment of our intentions, as the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment does, because that supports our self-image. This is our defense against reality, because our intentions are not falsifiable by the opinions of others. Aesop, in his Fables, long ago observed, “The injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scales.”�We use two different yardsticks to determine morality. Our self-appraisal of our morality and that of those in our in-groups with whom we identify is not the same as our appraisal of those who are not. We determine our own morality by our intentions, values, and beliefs while we determine the morality of others by what they do. The yardstick we use for ourselves serves the purpose of protecting our sense of self as someone who is good, well-intentioned, and ethical. The yardstick we use with others is also protective; it tells us how trustworthy the other person is likely to be. Am I likely to help or hurt you?

Determining our morality based on the judgment of others, regarding what we actually do, is much less likely to validate our self-image and is therefore both more threatening to our sense of self and inconvenient to our ability to rationalize our immorality. For example, citizens of the United States have a much higher moral opinion of themselves than does the global community.[19] Which of these two standards are US citizens more likely to believe applies to themselves? Which of these two standards are more likely to reflect a broad consensus determination of our level of morality?

If ethical behavior and trustworthiness are determined by the court of public opinion rather than by ourselves, then moral tetramesh, or graduation from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional to post-post conventional is much harder to attain than Kohlberg and Wilber have led us to believe. While we are performing cost-benefit analyses, judging ourselves by our moral intent, and rationalizing away both our immoral acts and our non-empathetic neglect of the rights of others, others are asking, “Can I trust him?” This trust is rarely global, but in the context of our routine social interactions. If you are a bartender, do you make a good drink and make correct change? If you are an accountant, how good are you at lowering my taxes? If you are a lawyer, how trustworthy are you to win my case, whether or not I am lying or have stolen? However, as representatives of our collectives, whether they be political parties, national affiliation, or spiritual organizations like integral, the level of morality or immorality of those collectives do reflect upon us in the eyes of the global commons, and rightly so. This becomes clear when we reverse the question by asking, “What type of assumptions are we likely to make about the trustworthiness of a Scientologist? A Jehovah's Witness? A Wahhabist? A communist? A Trump voter? None of that is fair, but we do form opinions of trustworthiness of others based not only on affiliations but first impressions, just as others do about us. We know that our estimations of others will change as we get to know these people as individuals. It remains true that the global commons assesses our trustworthiness and moral standing by our affiliations.

We typically ignore our own immoral choices. We ignore suffering where we lack empathy. In those cases, we do nothing to address the suffering of others. The commonplace ignoring, avoiding, or excusing of United States sponsored terrorism is a blatant example, as is the widespread support of Israeli apartheid by progressives and liberals.[20] At the time of this writing, we are busy avoiding thinking too much about the US and EU mediated famine in Yemen, a war crime. We ignore the plight of minorities in prison for victimless crimes, widespread and growing poverty, wage theft, or the off-shoring of income to keep it from taxation.[21] We justify, excuse, or ignore state violence when carried out by our nation, but deplore it when carried out by other states. This is why objective standards of morality, generally called “laws” are required. Without such relatively impartial criteria, different subjective definitions of morality lead to cycles of violence, as Steven Pinker has thoroughly documented in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Consider the case of Mormon Rob Porter, once Donald Trump's personal White House assistant.[22] Here is a guy that General Kelly, Trump's Chief of Staff and Porter's superior, called, “a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him.”[23] That was before Porter was forced to resign after pictures of the bruised face of his first wife appeared on line along with her claims, and those of his second wife, that he physically abused them. It also appeared that Kelly knew of these allegations months before, according to an FBI vetting report, but asked staff to lie for him.[24] Do such events, assuming they occurred, reflect Porter and Kelly's level of development of their moral judgment? No and yes. These events probably have little effect on their own interior evaluation of their intent or moral judgment. They do not predict how Kelly and Porter will score on the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment. After all, our ability to rationalize, compartmentalize, and change the subject in order to reduce cognitive dissonance is truly impressive.[25]

However, to the extent that how other people gauge our level of development, and to the extent that real life impacts, such as job loss, reputation, and status how affect us, then yes; people draw conclusions about our level of moral judgment and morality overall, and these may well not agree with our own. To the extent that moral development involves determinations of lower right collectives, we can conclude that yes, such events reflect Porter and Kelly's levels of moral development. How might Porter's x-wives rate Phis level of moral development? What would they likely say Kelly's assessment of Porter's character indicates regarding Kelly's level of moral development? How do we resolve the conflict between our self-appraisals of our level of moral development, the level of moral judgment determined by the Kohlberg-Wilber scale, and the assessment of those who are the victims of acts any acts we commit or indirectly support that are widely considered to be immoral, including, lying, stealing, or otherwise abusive? Would Porter's x-wives view his physical abuse as “shadow” of a high level of development? If someone hit you, how would you view their level of moral development? Would such a conceptual abstraction matter to you or to a court of law? How much cognitive dissonance is required before we recognize that the professions of intent and judgment offered as criteria by Kohlberg and Wilber simply lack credibility in the global commons? How much irrationality, emotionally-driven pseudo-logic is required before we are compelled to question our overall level of development and that of those with whom we identify?

The not so ethical or empathetic “evolutionaries”

“Evolutionaries,” particularly the one hundred luminaries that signed Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook's endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, probably regard themselves as possessing a multi-perspectival world view and a post-conventional or post-post conventional level of moral judgment, and therefore assume their overall development is late personal or 2nd Tier.[26] Why not? Who would question such assumptions for signers like Tibetan Buddhist scholar and practitioner Robert Thurman?[27, 28], It can also be assumed by their endorsement that most, if not all, “evolutionaries” viewed Hillary Clinton as late personal in her development, based on her record of endorsements of egalitarianism and pluralism. Certainly, this is the level that Wilber's AQAL would most likely view as her developmental “center of gravity.”

The “evolutionaries'” endorsement of Clinton is a fascinating example of both confirmation and in-group cognitive biases, in which we distort our image of someone based on what facts about them we choose to emphasize and which we choose to ignore. How did these egalitarian, pluralistic, multi-perspectival Hillary supporters manage to rationalize her authorization of drone assassinations as Secretary of State? How did they rationalize her cackling on public television, in what was clearly a pre-arranged and calculated presentation, about her brutal assassination not only of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, but the delivery of the most prosperous country in Africa into a state of anarchic terrorism? How did they rationalize away her treatment of Bernie Sanders? What did they tell themselves to manage to ignore her defense, early in her career, of a rapist that she knew was guilty? What did they tell themselves that allowed them to endorse an immoral and corrupt candidate and still maintain their self-image as “evolutionaries,” “integralists,” or thought leaders of one sort or another?

Some of these people would probably tell us that they didn't have all the facts that came out after the election. But most, if not all of this information, and indeed, a great deal more, was available before they signed their petition. Is a plea of ignorance either reasonable or realistic? A more realistic analysis would be that Clinton's statements of moral intent aligned with those of the signers much more closely than did both the statements of intent and the behavior of Donald Trump. While they judged Trump primarily on his behavior and secondarily on his stated intent, the signers may have judged Clinton primarily on her stated intent and secondarily on the morality of her behavior. This is also likely because her stated intentions more closely aligned with intentions that the signers identified with. A vote for Clinton was a vote for values that defined them. To endorse Trump, on the other hand, was to support values that some signers probably considered immoral and dangerous. The result was the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy: they concluded that because intention predicts behavior, that Clinton was the more moral candidate. Because their moral intentions aligned much more closely with Clinton's than with Trump's, to call out Clinton for the failings of her moral behavior would be to damage their own self-image as highly evolved moral individuals. Just how grievous do the immoral actions of those with whom we identify have to be before we can no longer excuse them? Are there any acts that the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy will not let us justify?

This is not an exercise in trivial abstraction. It addresses who lives and who dies. These are endorsements by opinion leaders on the transpersonal left, the type of people integralists are expected to look up to. That's why they were asked to sign; to lend their credibility to the Clinton Juggernaut. These “evolutionaries,” and with them, many integralists who supported Clinton, thereby endorsed government-sponsored US terrorism and Israeli apartheid, racism, colonialism, and theocracy. This was done not only by “evolutionaries” and integralists, but by PEP (Progressive Except Palestine) liberals, especially Jews, but also by multitudes of Zionist Christians and mainstream liberals. Of course, many Trump supporters did the same.[29]

Did these people, leaders in integral, “cultural creative,” “new age,” and progressive communities, have an option? Of course. They could have not signed the petition. They could have chosen to not endorse either candidate. By doing so, they not only demonstrated the wide chasm between moral judgment and moral behavior, but the problematic nature of the Kohlberg-Wilber scale itself. When a person who scores at post-conventional or post-post conventional on that scale lies, cheats, steals or otherwise participates in endorsement of corrupt candidates, how realistic is it to dismiss as the “shadow” side of some evolved level of morality? How is that so different than the rationale of those millions who endorsed Mussolini, Franco, or Hitler or those who today endorse Ben Salman, Netanyahu, and Trump?

Because I am a fan of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I will use him as a further example. Do you think it is realistic to say that his level of moral judgment was quite high, post-conventional or post-post conventional, based on his noble reforms in the '30's and his support of the United Nations? I did. Was his internment of US citizens of Japanese and German descent in camps during the war, in contravention of the Constitution, therefore the “shadow” of his high level of moral development? For years, that would have been my conclusion. However, what would be your conclusion if you were one of those German or Japanese Americans? Would you say that Roosevelt's level of moral judgment was quite high in his decision to turn away shiploads of Jews escaping from the Nazi holocaust? What if you had been one of those Jews or it was a family member of yours that was turned away? Isn't an assessment of Roosevelt as highly moral with “shadow” lapses a way to excuse and rationalize immoral behaviors and thereby discount or minimize the damage done to innocent victims? Are such lapses trivial when people die? Are they trivial when they happen to you or me? What level of morality is demonstrated by non-empathy toward the victims of abuse?

How we evaluate such events as Roosevelt's actions toward minorities is largely determined by whether we ourselves were interred or turned away, on the one hand, or whether we and those we call our own were affected by such events. Since most of us were neither involved or had a family member that was, it is relatively easy for us to conclude, “In balance, FDR was high in his moral judgment.” Such conclusions reflect our ability to limit the extension of our circle of empathetic engagement while evaluating morality on the basis of intent, not real-life consequences for those affected by our actions or inaction. We are saying, “sometimes good people have to do bad things.” How is this not a rationalization? How does this explanation not excuse anyone of anything? It is a statement of the narrowness of our sense of self, that it has not yet evolved enough to empathize with victims outside those groups with which we identify. Too many people identified with Rob Porter's wife, so he got fired; too few people identify with the victims of FDR's abuses, so he remains held in high estimation. The point then, is not whether Trump, Porter, Kelly, FDR, or the signers of the Clinton endorsement have a high level of moral judgment or not, but the basis of our own determinations of same. What evidence would have been necessary for the esteemed “evolutionaries” to not endorse Hillary Clinton? What evidence is required for Trump supporters to disavow him? For such people, identifications appear to be quite personal, so that an assault on the character of their candidate is experienced as an assault on their character. At the same time, the abuses of Clinton stay out of the circle of empathy or identification of supporters, meaning Clinton's immoral actions do not threaten supporters' sense of self, particularly if there is little identification with the victims of her abuse.

If Hillary Clinton orders the overthrow of the Libyan government and laughs about the murdering of its head of state and then orders arms sent from Libya to terrorists in Syria in order to overthrow that government, what level of moral judgment is she expressing? If she answered the questions of the Heinz dilemma, one of Kohlberg's tests for level of moral judgment, discussed below, she might well respond with a post-conventional level of moral judgment. Perhaps her actions are carried out within her late personal level of development as a statement of her Stage 4 “Law and Order” to Stage 5 “Prior Rights/Social Contract” level of moral judgment. However, Clinton herself would probably rate her moral judgment at post-conventional Stage 5 “Universal Ethical,” and it might well be that she would pass peer reviewed evaluation that would confirm her moral development to be at Stage 5. As with our Obama example, when we compare these conclusions with the determinations of Clinton's level of morality by those who have lost family members in Libya or to terrorists she armed, how do we reconcile the disparity?

The Kohlberg-Wilber stages of the development of moral judgment imply that moral judgment is necessary for the expression of altruistic, other-encompassing ethical decision making. Is it? Is moral judgment a necessary but not sufficient determinant of moral action? Apparently not. Everyone is moral between outbreaks of immorality; everyone is empathetic when they aren't busy being non-empathetic. Everyone is “moral” within the context of whatever in-group validated social role they are in the process of playing out at the moment. We see generosity and altruism in animals. Does anyone think animals evolve a hierarchy of moral judgment? We see acts of altruism in babies that are difficult to connect to expectations of reward and punishment. Does this mean that babies function at conventional levels of morality?

Scoring your own level of moral judgment

You might wonder how you determine just what your level of moral judgment is. Kohlberg devised criteria so you can score yourself. These involve the assessment of your reasoning regarding the solving of moral dilemmas, or hypothetical situations in which you must make difficult moral decisions. There is no one right answer; what is important is the universality of the considerations taken into account. What reasoning do you use to defend your position when faced with the following moral dilemma?

“Mr. Heinz's wife is dying. There is one drug that will save her life but it is very expensive. The druggist will not lower the price so that Mr. Heinz can buy it to save his wife's life. What should he do? More importantly, why?” If you want to test yourself before reading further, write down your answer. Then compare it to the answers provided by Kohlberg and Wilber below.

At level one, preconventional morality, Stage 1, “Might Makes Right,” through Punishment and Obedience, while Stage 2 is Instrumental Exchange, "The Egotist,” or naive hedonism. If your moral judgment is preconventional, your answer to Heinz's dilemma might be, “It's wrong to steal the drug to save your wife because you might get caught.” The reasoning is based on the consequences of your actions. Your primary concern is avoiding punishment. On the other side of the argument, the reason for stealing the drug would be to avoid punishment by your wife and the law, assuming an investigation came after your wife's death. The inquiry may blame you for not coming up with a way to get the money to save your wife's life.

At level two, conventional morality, we have Stage 3: “Good Boy/Good Girl,” Interpersonal Conformity and approval of others, and Stage 4: Law and Order or Societal Conformity, “The Good Citizen.” You take into account the laws and norms of society. Kohlberg also added a Stage 4.5 here, “The Cynic.” Your answer at conventional morality is likely to be something like, “It's wrong for Mr. Heinz to steal the drug because it's against the law. You want society to approve of your actions, so you don't steal the drug. If you take the reverse position you think, “It is right for me to steal the drug because I mean well by trying to help my dying wife. I will pay the druggist when I am able or accept the consequences for breaking the law, or both.” In this case, you still respect the law but place a higher loyalty on your loved ones. You want to be a good person and still conform to the law.

At level three, post-conventional morality Stages of post-conventional morality, we have Stage 5, Prior Rights and Social Contract, “The Philosopher/King,” and Stage 6, Universal Ethical Principles, “The Prophet/Messiah.” At this stage you reason, “It's not wrong for Mr. Heinz to steal the drug because human life must be preserved and human life is worth more than personal property.” For you, laws are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the situation. They are important to keep society running smoothly, but they can be too rigid to apply in all cases. Saving lives is more important to you than money, as an abstract symbol of power.

At level four, post-post conventional morality, postulated by Wilber but not by Kohlberg, Universal Spiritual, you apply his Prime directive: The health of each level is vital to the health of the whole spectrum or spiral. You choose to act in such a way that the greatest good is accomplished for the greatest number across the greatest depth and span possible. Therefore, whether or not you steal the drug to save your wife is determined by asking, “What is the greatest good for the greatest depth and broadest span?”

Which level of moral judgment do you think best fits your answer? My guess is that you probably chose an answer that reflects a post-conventional level of moral reasoning, meaning that your level of moral reasoning is comparable to vision-logic or early transpersonal level of cognitive and personal development. If you were familiar with Wilber's Prime Directive, you may even have responded with a post-post level of moral judgment, which indicates that your level of moral judgment is even higher. Congratulations! Me too! Since Wilber has not, to the best of my knowledge, modified these criteria other than adding those of post-post conventional, it is safe that he would agree with Kohlberg that your score will accurately determine your level of moral development.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, it's abstract. In fact, we normally tailor our cost-benefit analysis of what to do on multiple considerations, not just moral ones, and these shift depending on our social role. If we are attempting to sell product, ethics are unlikely to be our primary concern. Other factors, like keeping our job and making money are likely to be much more important. If we want to please our spouse, our major concern will be giving them what they want, not doing what is most moral on some abstract scale. In addition, whatever level of morality we act from in the eyes of others may not correlate at all with our moral judgment, or then intent behind our actions. If you ask my X, you will learn that I lie, cheat, and steal and that my level of moral development is somewhere between that of Lord Voldemort and Severus Snape. Whether or not I think she is correct, it is troubling that the world does not always validate my opinion of myself as one of the exceptional moral elect. For the most part, I manage to successfully ignore the opinion of my X wife, but because she does, after all, represent a part of myself, it means that I am ignoring a part of myself, putting myself in conflict with myself.

Imagine for a moment that you are a past President of the United States and also a professor of constitutional law. You have some confidence that your moral judgment is at least post conventional, but if you are honest, you will tell us that you are certain your moral judgment is post-post conventional. The problem is that on Tuesday mornings you sign off on a list of targeted assassinations of unknown, untried, unconvicted, “enemy combatants” based on the assurances of highly reputable and trustworthy sources in your intelligence services. You know these orders are in violation of international law and you also know that people who happen to be in the company of these targeted individuals, including women and children, are going to get killed. So, if you were to think about it, (which you won't), the problem becomes, “How do I reconcile the fact that in the court of international public opinion and in an international court like the Hague, I would surely be convicted of crimes against humanity, even with my post-post conventional moral status? How do I reconcile the fact that in the morning I am signing off on illegal murders and in the evening going upstairs and eating, laughing, and playing with my kids?”[31]

It may indeed be the case, that Obama is at post-conventional or higher, but is this Obama's level of moral development? Are moral judgment and moral development the same? Are we going to swallow the assertions that drone assassinations, in violation of international law and Obama's vigorous prosecution of whistleblowers, in an attempt to avoid governmental accountability and to suppress constitutionally guaranteed rights, is only “shadow” of a late personal or higher level of moral development?

What you, I or Obama will do, is run a cost-benefit analysis. We ask, “What are the benefits of me drone assassinating these unknowns and what are the possible costs?” We are likely to conclude, as Obama did, that the expectations of our role as President mean there are major benefits to appearing tough on terrorism while the possible downside, getting hauled into court or actually having to pay a personal price for murder, is very small. This is the way most of us make most of our decisions, moral and otherwise, most of the time. Whether it should or not, morality rarely crosses our mind.

What is “progressive” about this behavior? What is 2nd tier about this? Indeed, what is not prepersonal about it? How is it different in its reasoning from that of a solidly mid-prepersonal sociopath? How different is it from, “It's wrong to steal the drug to save your wife because you might get caught.” Wilber has a convenient answer for us: even when we order illegal murders, if our level of moral judgment is developed, we really are at a post, or even post-post conventional level of development, but we are witnessing the corrupted or dark side of our high level of development. This explanation is necessary, because otherwise there is no correlation between claims of advanced development and our level of moral development. This is a conclusion that Wilber, AQAL, and most integralists want to avoid, because most claims of spirituality tacitly assume trustworthiness. If you have no way of predicting someone's level of moral development, how are you to determine how trustworthy they are in their claims of spiritual transcendence, enlightenment, and transpersonal leadership?

There would then be no way to correlate morality with any level of development for Integral. If there is no correlation between morality and spirituality, either morality doesn't matter, or behavior, rather than judgment, does determine our overall level of development, at least to a much greater extent than AQAL assumes. The further implication is that the entire developmental model breaks down in the face of immoral action. This is not a trivial issue, because it threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the entire AQAL determination of the level of our individual development.

Other approaches, recognizing these limitations, have postulated that moral behavior is the result of both moral judgment and an individual's moral identity.[32, 33] The partiality of such research, important as it is, is that it does not take into account that morality is largely determined by social contexts and the judgments of others, particularly those on the receiving end of our moral decisions.[34] These public evaluations and conclusions about the morality of our behavior are largely independent of the development of our moral judgment.

Questionable assumptions about moral development

It is also only an assumption that levels of moral judgment are irreversible, like cognition, in that each stage includes and transcends the previous ones. This is the implication of associating immoral behavior to the “shadow” of a level rather than seeing it as a statement of an authentic lower stage of moral development, if not moral judgment. It is an attempt to apply the irreversibility of cognitive unfoldment, which Piaget documented and which can be seen in Kohlberg's stages, to morality in general. This leads us to conclude that what is necessary for the generation of responsible ethical action, moral judgment, is sufficient for it, when clearly, it is neither necessary nor sufficient.

We can ask this question of aggressors throughout history, from Romans through Christians through European and Western democracies: “Is there then, any correlation at all between our level of moral judgment and the morality of our behavior?” Does aggression indicate “shadow” morality of those at late personal or above in their development, or rather a much more primitive level of moral development? The reason we can maintain the illusion of morality as “shadow” of a higher level of development is because we do not consult the recipients of our abuse or neglect. Why not? The answer is obvious: we do not want to hear feedback that conflicts with our self-image as a morally upstanding person.

It seems more likely that morality is dependent on our role, our context, and the trade offs of benefits and costs that we calculate in our heads. Because it is more beneficial to say we are moral than not, or that we follow a moral code, we say we do so, not because we are more moral or because we do follow a moral code. That depends on changing circumstances. Remembering the example of Obama, above, we are moral when it is to our advantage and not moral when it is not. However, our definition of self is determined by the breadth of our circle of empathy. Children often empathize with animals and love them more than adults do. Does this mean these children are more morally evolved than those adults? It is more likely to signify that in that particular set of circumstances that child's circle of empathy is indeed broader than that of some adults. Perhaps then, we need to be talking and thinking in terms of our degree of empathy rather than morality. It doesn't get us very far to say that Obama kills civilians with drones, Hillary overthrows governments, or Trump grabs pussy because they are immoral; it makes more sense to say that each does what they do because of a cost-benefit analysis in a particular set of circumstances or socio-cultural role, and that their behavior reflects the extent (or non-extent) of their circle of empathy.

How then, are integralists to make sense of AQAL? I would recommend beginning with the assumption that anyone can act in ways that are collectively determined to be immoral, regardless of their level of development, and that therefore, the level of their cognitive, self-system, or auxiliary line development is no predictor of moral behavior whatsoever. While moral judgment may indeed be irreversible, in that as it, like other forms of cognition, transcends and includes earlier levels, that does not mean that moral judgment will not normally be over-ruled by other concerns in day-to-day, role-to-role, cost benefit analysis. For example, Tibetan monk Chögyam Trungpa could be both of high moral judgment, an alcoholic and womanizer at the same time. Other Buddhists monks can be arrested for smoking chrystal meth and be excellent teachers of dharma and regular meditators. However, there are reasons why such behavior is against the tenets of Buddhism.

One conclusion is that we are foolish to park our skepticism about anyone with power and to also attempt to compensate for our natural tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to those who we respect, admire, or are dependent upon in one way or the other. A good rule of thumb is that the greater the power, admiration, or respect, the more important it become that we not project our expectations of moral rectitude onto them.

Another important conclusion is to remember that people are judging us constantly by what we do and don't do, not by what we intend. Also, it is wise to assume that if you are acting unethically, that the entire world knows about it. This may not be so far from the truth, now that Google and Facebook have drawn up detailed profiles of your preferences based on your online history of where you have been, who you have talked to, what you have bought, and what you have written. All of this should serve to deflate our delusions of higher moral development and to let our competencies exist on their own rather than propped up by some subjective measurement of moral status.

Cognitive and self development are independent of moral development and that moral development can be very high in some contexts and abysmally low in others. For example, to conflate assessments of Ken Wilber's level of moral development with the congruence and usefulness of AQAL is to commit an ad hominem fallacy. We are judging the reasonableness and usefulness of an idea by its source, which is a prepersonal, not a personal, rational criteria. That is not only not fair, but irrational. If that is the case for Wilber, then it is true for you and me.

However, at the same time, it is perfectly legitimate for the court of public opinion to cast judgment on Wilber's character as an individual—as long as we separate that from discussions of AQAL and instead focus on his behavior. Some people have done so and end up considering him untrustworthy in his assessment of gurus or in his treatment of some women, while other people do not care. In either case, this is an entirely separate issue from the soundness of AQAL.

There does seem to be a growing trend toward making one's private life a relatively irrelevant personal concern, because it is none of our business unless we have been victimized in some way or we have been asked to intervene. However, it is naïve to assume that others will view your personal life as irrelevant to their assessment of how trustworthy you are. Unless we have been personally abused, it is wise to remember that morality is largely a matter of projecting our own personal standards of good and bad, right and wrong onto others, and your family, friends, employees, employer, customers,—everybody—is constantly making such projections onto you. This is the case of public outcry over Rob Porter. His x-wives may have had legitimate grievances, but what do those have to do with his functioning in the role of Assistant to the President? Such moral generalizations seem to be unhelpful, irrelevant, and generally none of our business. In another example, does anyone know that the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings was not consensual? Can we say with any certainty that because she was Jefferson's slave that the relationship was forced? If we conclude that by definition, because of the coercive context of a master-slave relationship, that it was ipso facto forced, are we not projecting our own definitions of morality onto a situation about which we do not have the relevant information, i.e., Sally Hemming's opinion as to whether she was forced or not? Even if it was a forced relationship, how does that have any bearing on Jefferson's contributions to government and human rights?

The problem is not so much with those who posture as having transcended consensual standards of morality and then present themselves as blameless when they are called out by victims of their acts, based on systems like the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy that allow them to rationalize their behavior. Marc Gafni provides a florid example from within the integral community. It is much more about our desire to be seen as moral and then our need to project that desire as an ego ideal onto those with whom we associate, such as Ken Wilber or Marc Gafni. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves from people we view as predators, just as it is our choice whether or not to buy products from manufacturers who we believe violate principles of fair trade. But because predators play on a natural human desire to trust those they respect or admire, we require laws. In politics, that means term limits, as it has been shown that voters re-elect incumbents some 90% of the time, regardless.[36]

Moral elitism damages the credibility of AQAL because it generates a duality of sheep and goats, elect and ignorant, that creates a false moral hierarchy. Exceptionalist elitism and entitlement are inherently immoral for at least two reasons. First, they give empathetic priority to those with whom we identify, in this case, to fellow integralists. While this is normal, it is one thing to accept same and another to posture as if we don't make such distinctions, when in fact we do. Such moral posturing is to be expected; it is a fixture of built-in cognitive biases that humanity is nowhere near outgrowing. Wilber makes the plea in Trump that integralists “should” extend compassion to unwashed, prepersonal, tribalistic “Nazis,” when we don't and are unlikely to do so. Secondly, exceptionalism assumes that our moral lapses are not as serious as similar moral lapses by those others who abuse us, causing us to discount important feedback that we require in order to serve the interests of the greatest breadth at the greatest depth—Wilber's Prime Directive.

Testing the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy

We can test the hypothesis that integralists tend to highly over-rate their level of moral development by asking members of an integral workshop, seminar, or on-line blog what level of overall development they believe they have attained and to then ask them what they think their level of development of their moral line is. Do they think it is the same as their level of development of moral judgment? What do you think the results will be? Or, we could simply give them the Kohlberg definitions of pre-conventional, conventional, post-conventional (and Wilber's addition of post-post conventional) that we pictured above in this essay, and let them make their own self-assessment. We would predict that most integralists will conclude that they are at least late personal, if not higher, in their level of development, in the absence of any objective evidence of same, and hypothesize that this is because they conflate their level of moral judgment with their level of objective moral behavior. Or, we could simply ask them, “Do you think the level of development of your moral judgment or moral intent fairly represents the level of development of your moral line?” What do you predict the answer is likely to be?

A rational alternative

One realistic and authentic response, in the presence of evidence of our own addictions, and our “bending” the truth according to the needs of our audience, in the context of this or that socio-cultural role, and in the presence of our acquiescence to participation in collective lying, stealing, and abuse carried out in our name and with our implied consent, at work and in national policy, is to view these actions not on the basis of our intent and not from the perspectives of those familial, religious, socio-political or national groups with which we identify. We also need to be wary of viewing our behavior and that of our in-groups as the “shadow” of some higher level of development, but instead as they are viewed by a combination of global and intrasocial consensus. Intrasocial consensus is explained below. If other people see us as untrustworthy or immoral in this or that role, then to them, we are, regardless of how we view our own level of development. Such an approach to morality gives the recipients of our actions and the social consensus in the lower right quadrant the ability and right to determine our morality, just as social norms and laws already do. This switch from defining morality in terms of social consequences instead of interior consciousness brings it in line with the socio-cultural realities in which we are embedded. A good example of this shift already exists in the massive social revolution within India in 1950, away from the caste system, based on Hindu conceptions of morality as springing from past life karma, to the outlawing of discrimination, in a clear shift from interior quadrant determinations of morality to external ones: “Did or did not my actions respect or violate the rights of someone else?”[37] Those who are not members of Integral or other groups with which we normally affiliate, are likely use more objective standards of trustworthiness than in-group members will. We can also ask our worst enemy for their assessment and bump their appraisal up a level. This is a main reason why we typically do not subject ourselves to purely objective appraisals of our actions and lives: we don't want to hear what we know we will probably hear.

Five stages of morality

For the reasons given above I consider the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of moral judgment to create a false moral hierarchy when it is assumed to describe behavior in addition to moral judgment. What are the alternatives?

A genuine moral hierarchy is based on consensual, external collective, social consensus, and consensual, internal collective, intrasocial consensus. Intention still has a part to play as does individual behavior itself, meaning that all four quadrants play important roles in the generation of any level of moral balance necessary for tetra-mesh.

Integral Deep Listening (IDL) proposes five stages of morality, as viewed by others in the social and intrasocial domains:

  • Level 0: You have no moral intentions; your actions are amoral.
  • Level 1: Your intentions are your morality
  • Level 2: Associates in your affiliation groups determine your morality
  • Level 3: Those who do not share your world view (the global commons) determine your morality
  • Level 4: Triangulation determines your morality

In the assessment of your morality, it does not work to say, “I can see how I sometimes act out of Level 5 morality; therefore, I must be at Level 5.” Instead, the assessment is, “I can see how I sometimes act out of Level 0 morality; therefore, I must be at Level 0.” Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt where morality is concerned is a maneuver designed to reassure yourself that you really aren't that bad. The point is not to either feel bad or to avoid feeling bad, but to outgrow the need to be someone you're not: a phony, plastic, superficial facade. For myself, while I do use triangulation, I have no illusions that my morality as a whole transcends mid-prepersonal.

Level 0 morality:

Animals and young children are amoral because they have no self-sense through which to show themselves accountable to collectives. Killing by tigers or dogs is not a moral or cruel act; it is amoral. Camels and baboons can't get embarrassed, ashamed, or feel guilt, because there is no separate sense of “I” to view from the perspective of responsibility or that of another “I.” In contrast to children, adults are amoral either by choice or ignorance, not because they lack a self-sense. Clearly, child and adult amorality spring from two completely different spaces but are both amoral.[38] When they act immorally, adults either refuse to place their actions in a moral context or have no idea of the harm their actions do to others. They may not want to know; they may be ignorant; they may need others with whom they do not identify with in order to strengthen their in-group identifications and sense of self.

Amorality by adults can be horrible and pernicious, but it is extremely common. It might be termed “chosen non-empathy” as opposed to the non-empathy due to both the inability to take the role of others and the ignorance of young children. When scientists do invasive experiments on living animals or humans they are demonstrating Level 0 morality and chosen non-empathy. When drone operators, jet bombers, and presidents routinely execute killing directives they are operating from Level 0 morality. When soldiers rescue others under fire or rescue workers act to save people from fires and accidents and are considered by society to be highly moral heroes, these people often respond with an amoral Level 0 response: “I was just doing my job.” What looks like empathy may be ritualistic role performance.

Non-empathy is Level 0 morality and is probably more common than simple amorality among adults. If I have no sense of empathetic connection with an animal, plant, the Earth, or another human being, it is much easier for me to abuse or kill it. Notice that what is amoral from the perspective of the perpetrator may not be amoral from the perspective of the victim. While animal and baby victims of amoral actions cannot consider perpetrators to be immoral, everyone else can and generally does. Law recognizes this principle when it says, “Ignorance does not excuse culpability for violations of law.” Non-empathy becomes less tenable the higher on the developmental ladder we claim to have climbed. Want to claim you are post-conventional in your morality? You are declaring you are both more responsible and accountable than almost everyone else. Are you? Are you willing to be held to a higher standard of accountability?

Any definition of development that does not include some definition of an increase in empathy is partial and not a statement of core development. For instance, we can develop in cognitive, self, and auxiliary lines without increasing in empathy. This is why the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy can justify Level 0 amorality in terms of the “shadow” of say, vision-logic. It can point to a high development of intent to justify the total absence of empathy or the presence of non-empathy. How moral is such a justification?

Level 1: My intentions are my morality

Children transitioning to Level 1 develop both a self-sense and the ability to make moral judgments, a la Kohlberg-Wilber. For adults to transition to Level 1 is different. Your intentions and judgment define your morality. If this sounds like the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy, that is because it is. Kohlberg, Wilber and those who accept the Kohlberg-Wilber model use Level 1 intentions, or the ability to make moral judgments, to determine their morality, but are quite sure that they are responding to exterior collective LR assessments of their morality. They are hearing others in the context of their own intentions and interpreting them as such. They are using interior standards of morality instead of interpersonal, collective standards. For example, let's say Kohlberg-Wilber assesses Obama's level of moral judgment at post-conventional. Consequently, his behavior is to be explained in a post-conventional context. Any moral failings by Obama now must be the “shadow” of post-conventional, since he has been defined as having stabilized at that level of moral development. This is a Level 1 projection onto objective events. Whatever Obama does, regardless of how moral or immoral, is framed in terms of a post-conventional level of moral judgment. How realistic is that?

How likely is such a determination of Obama's level of moral development to reflect the judgment of the global commons? According to the Kohlberg-Wilber model, those at late personal or higher, such as Arjuna killing his cousins in the Bhagavad Gita, or gurus who have sex with or abuse their students, must be exercising a high level of moral judgment, since cognitive development transcends and includes. Such individuals must therefore be following “higher law,” “dharma,” and fulfilling their karma, but in a warped, “shadow” way. This is because Level 1 intention determines objective morality, generating a projection of an interior quadrant world view onto moral events. I can now neglect, abuse, or kill you without guilt or responsibility because my world view makes it moral. This is not a self-serving and immoral perspective from Level 0, or 1; it is only when you look at these actions from higher levels of moral development that you might first be astonished and then appalled.

People at Level 1 think, “I am post-conventional or post-post conventional in my morality because that's my level of moral judgment. Therefore, you just don't understand how purely moral my stealing your property is.” How is this not the world view of colonialists from the English to the Israelis? “I am doing you a favor by burning you at the stake because I am saving your soul.” How is this not the world view of good Christian prelates of the 15th century? Level 1 involves the projection of our own personal cultural scripting of right and wrong, good and bad, onto others instead of listening to their assessments of our morality. Arjuna believes he is helping his cousins fulfill their karma by killing them rather than simply asking them, “Am I fulfilling your karma by killing you?” “Are you fulfilling your dharma by letting me kill you?” Self-serving world views, used to justify our morality or lack of it at Level 1, immediately collapse as soon as we hold ourselves accountable to those who are abused by our actions.

Bush II, Bill Clinton, Obama, and Hillary Clinton act at Level 1 when they justify bombing and droning countries that have not attacked the United States by appealing to democracy, human rights, and a war on terrorism. They are projecting post-conventional moral judgment onto their immoral actions in order to give them legitimacy. This is how they can say they are waging war on terrorism while actually arming and defending terrorists, a blatant lie. The world view which they project upon others is not only moral in their intent, but Bush II and Obama may actually believe that it is moral in the eyes of the greater good for those countries they bomb. If so, this is an example of being accountable to one's projections rather than to those who must experience the consequences of our choices. It is an example of the consequences of the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy.

At Level 1, I think I am hearing you and am being morally accountable to you when I am interpreting everything you say about my behavior in terms of my scripting. If you tell me I broke the law, I may hear you telling me I am a bad person and feel guilty and/or ashamed. This may not be your intent at all; you may simply be stating a fact. On the other hand, I may hear you unjustly attacking me and use that as justification to attack you in response. In either case, I think I am being accountable to external standards of morality, that is, your judgments, when I am only being accountable to my own scripting at Level 1.

My intention at Level 1 is not to simply be accountable to my own moral judgment or intent, but to social standards, and this is what makes this level different from Level 0. I largely fail because I do not interpret social standards objectively; instead, I think I am making objective assessments but am instead interpreting what you say in terms of my own perceptual cognitive distortions, my own world view. I don't stop to check it out; I don't ask questions for clarifications; I just assume that your idea of morality is that of my parents when I was four or my teachers when I was six, the requirements of my particular social roles, or what Kohlberg and Wilber tell me my level of moral judgment is.

We can also reverse the question. How is the Kohlberg-Wilber assessment of moral judgment not Level 1 morality? “How am I not being accountable to my projections?” To say otherwise, we either are stating that we are expressing Level 0 morality, making no claims whatsoever to exterior truth in the LR quadrant, and thereby giving up any claim to represent a model of morality that can tetra-mesh. Or, we are stating that we are expressing Level 2 morality or higher, that is, that we are accountable to one degree or another to external and objective assessments of morality. However, we know that those who are at higher levels and manifest immorality as “shadow” largely resist accountability to those who suffer the consequences of their actions. Why should they hold themselves accountable if they believe they are more evolved morally and that the victimized simply are at a lower level of development and so cannot understand how what seems like abuse is actually infinite compassion? Marc Gafni has issued no apologies or made statements of the acceptance of responsibility for immoral actions. Adi Da remained unfazed by widely reported accounts of false imprisonment, brain-washing, assault, sexual abuse, and involuntary servitude. Andrew Cohen remained remarkably unchanged even after he finally took some responsibility for the immorality of his actions. When morality is approached from the LR quadrant, that is, the global commons, people who believe that they are acting according to standards that transcend the need for moral accountability are likely to be seen as in fact operating on Level 1.

Moral judgment is easily and commonly over-ruled by socio-cultural factors, such as the requirements of one's social roles and the creation of groupthink, the goal of both government propaganda and advertising. An example is Ron Jones' famous "Third Wave" experiment in which he easily taught hundreds of high school students to take up characteristics associated with Nazism. Among other things, Jones created a salute involving a cupped hand reaching across the chest toward the opposite shoulder resembling a Hitler salute, and ordered class members to salute each other even outside the class. They all complied with this command. Are those behaviors “shadow” within some higher level of moral judgment or are they indicative that these students in fact are at a far lower level of moral development?

In Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction, Wilber recognizes a legitimation crisis, but he does not discuss it in terms of a reduction of level of morality on the part of elites. Instead, elites remain evolved; they are merely giving in to their “shadow.” Or, perhaps these elites do regress on their moral line, but somehow, magically, their over-all level of development stays unchanged. This is elevationism bordering on levitation worthy of Harry Potter. Wilber does not question the underlying assumptions of the AQAL world view, such as the possibility that immoral actions by people functioning at higher levels might indicate that their actual degree of overall development is in fact much lower than AQAL says it is. High cognitive, self, and auxiliary line development, may not equal high overall development if key moral and empathetic lines are deficient. The conclusion could be drawn that integralists and affiliated “evolutionaries” and “cultural creatives” are not, as adults, ready to transition to Level 2 morality, even if they think, “My intentions are my morality.” Very few of us meet standards of morality that allow us to pass to level 2.

Higher levels of morality and the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy

For those at Level 0 or 1 in their level of moral development, Level 2 functions primarily as a convenient rationalization for what is actually Level 1 morality. If I can point to family members, peers, fellow employees, and members of my political party or religious affiliation as holding the same views of morality that I do I can feel validated by groupthink. “All the people around me tell me that there really is a hell, so my belief that there is an eternal pit of torment for sinners must be a true and moral position.” “All my competitors are lying and cheating; therefore, it must be OK to lie and cheat.” “All my fellow integralists dismiss their moral failings as the “shadow” of their 2nd Tier status, so I will too.” In this case, in-group norms both determine morality, as it does with the groupthink of Levels 0-1, and provide me with excuses for my immorality.

But Level 2 morality is not only about rationalizing Level 1 morality. It is also concerned with controlling the excesses of Level 0 and Level 1 morality by creating boundaries, structures, and limits. “Laws tell me what I can do and not do, so I must be at level 2 morality.” “I follow the instructions of my boss, so I must be at Level 2 morality.” Level 2 morality can involve religious moral precepts, professional ethical codes, state and national law, or international law. A great deal of evidence shows that throughout history the imposition of Level 3 collective codes of conduct have played a huge role in reducing violence, providing safety and security, and generating “moral” action. When you obey such externally imposed codes of conduct you are operating at Level 2 morality in a healthy way as far as others are concerned, whether you are doing it for moral reasons or in a purely mindless, unconscious manner, as most of us do most of the time.

We typically live out our lives functioning morally at Level 1 and either rationalizing it or structuring it through compliance with Level 2 morality. At its worst, we become mindless exponents of Level 2 groupthink. That is, we become True Believers in Hillary, AQAL, our nation, Buddhism, democracy, humanism, or the particular flavor of ideology that has taken control of mass mind at our particular historical moment. We typically feel like free agents, but we are empowered by our enmeshment in this or that collective—a work group, a cause, or system of belief. This is very dangerous stuff because not only is it mindless; we have no idea it is mindless. Like adolescents expressing their individuality by getting tattoos and piercings just like their peers, we are sure we are acting as autonomous moral agents. Far, far from it. Because we live in an echo chamber we have no way of recognizing just how morally deluded we are.

Level 3 morality states, “Those who do not share my world view (those in the global commons who are not members of my in-groups) determine my morality.” This is the highest level of morality at which non-empathy toward the victims of abuse exists. Objective social criteria, especially when supplied by out-groups, is ignored by lower levels, except when it endorses their own actions. For example, Israel embraces Level 3 moral determinations when they affirm the holocaust, call out anti-Semitism, or proclaim Arabs are terrorists. However, it ignores Level 3 morality when it calls out Israeli apartheid, endorses the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, or accuses Israel of war crimes. The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy requires that Level 3 exist only to the extent that it validates one's own ethical intent and moral judgment.[40]

Level 3 morality means respecting those who live under laws and ethical codes that differ from your own. You don't have to agree with them; in fact, you can vigorously disagree with them. However, you continue to extend to these people the same human rights that you demand for yourself. When the ACLU defends child rapers, flag burners, and others we find morally repugnant they are operating from a Level 3 morality. Notice that to do so has no necessary correlation with any level of Kohlberg-Wilber moral judgment.

To this day, some followers of Western groupthink believe they can enlighten their way out of global warming, world poverty and discrimination, and into the singularity, trans humanism, and integral utopia by simply raising their consciousness, clarifying their intent, and purifying their thoughts. If only as few as ten percent of us will see the light and embrace cognitive multi-perspectivalism, we will lift the world out of Plato's Cave. Humanity will leave the dark, nether regions of the prepersonal and personal and rise into 2nd Tier wonderfulness. All we have to do is use our reason to learn integral AQAL and follow an integral life practice. Then our enlightened minds and purified lives will create a moral land of milk and honey with a chicken in every pot. Or something like that.

However, we now have clear evidence that this simply is not true. Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prisoner Experiment[41] and Milgram's shock experiments conclusively demonstrate that any and all of us can easily have our moral reasoning overwhelmed by factors in the social and cultural quadrants. We now know the “best and the brightest” of the US engaged in torture not only at Abu Graibe in Iraq, but in “dark sites” around the world. There is evidence that this is still the case in Yemen and Somalia, among other places. These blatant contradictions to the predominant Western humanistic narrative demonstrate that social context and degree of identification (empathy), are far better predictors of our moral behavior than is our level of moral judgment. It also implies that we will continue to be susceptible to corruption even if we collectively reach Wilber's 2nd tier tipping point. Moral judgment is neither necessary or sufficient to attain and maintain any level at all in the spectrum. The judgment of the global commons in the social sphere is a better determinant of level of moral development than interior quadrant determinants.

When you authentically act on level four you do what you can to align your actions with the consensus of the global commons. This occurs when nations comply with international law, when mayors implement “best standards” derived from trial and error in cities all over the world, or when we change our world view based on new data. Obviously, we can do this, and we do do this, but not nearly enough. Notice that to do so has nothing to do with your level of moral judgment or whether or not you understand AQAL, are a “progressive,” are an alcoholic, or beat your dog. We want to create realities in which all of these things either go together, creating a picture of immorality, or don't, creating a description of morality for us to immolate. But part of moving into a mid-personal level of reasoning is not only the toleration of ambiguity, but the appreciation of it, even in the realm of morality.

Level 4 morality states, “Triangulation determines my morality.” Neither the “common sense” of our intentions, including our conscience and intuition, or the consensus of our peers, the two traditional piers by which we determine our morality are sufficient to reach reliable moral conclusions. This is because of the subjectivity of our own judgment and the sociocultural conditioning of even out-group consensus. When we add a third source of objectivity we are creating another type of “checks and balances” to improve our decision-making and moral judgment. This third source is in the interior collective quadrant of culture and solicits the perspectives of interviewed subjective sources of objectivity.

The “intrasocial” is what IDL calls the realm of interaction among members of “interior” collectives, ourselves, and our socio-cultural context. It is accessed through a two-step process of first laying aside our assumptions, interpretations and world views in a phenomenological reduction, and then immersing ourselves, in an act of deep empathy, in the perspective of a character or object from a dream or nightmare, or that is the personification of a life issue, such as the bottomless pit of our depression or a fear that takes the form of a tiger. These forms are then interviewed, using the Integral Deep Listening (IDL) interviewing protocols, recommendations regarding the issues at hand are received, and these recommendations are then operationally defined and tested in our daily lives as a form of a dream yoga or integral life practice. These perspectives provide world views and preferences of relative autonomy and objectivity, thereby providing checks and balances on both social authorities and our own decisions and opinions. For example, if we are attempting to decide if an action is moral or not, we can consult ourselves, which is to say, our interior quadrant moral judgment and our intent. In addition, we can consult the court of public opinion, both those who know us and those who have no relationship with us whatsoever, as external sources of objectivity. Finally, we can ask the bottomless pit or tiger their opinions, which acts as a check on the objectivity and perspectives of others and ourselves. This approach to problem solving is called “triangulation” and is an important aspect of any experiential multi-perspectivalism, such as IDL.

These are typically either dream characters or the personifications of some life issue. For instance, if you have a knife-like pain in your back, you interview the knife. Paradoxical and even absurd on its surface, this practice is effective because it provides perspectives that are relatively independent and autonomous in relation to both your preferences and moral judgment as well as those of your socio-cultural matrix. While superficially this practice resembles Wilber's 3-2-1 Shadow Work, it differs from it in significant ways.[42] These interviewed perspectives provide recommendations that are falsifiable; they can be tested and their trustworthiness validated. If you consult enough of them you will observe a confluence around certain priorities that transcend and include your own. The result is that when such perspectives are consulted, in addition to your common sense and the global commons, the result is not only improved decision-making, but behavior that takes into account both exterior and interior sources of objectivity.

If interviewed emerging potentials, such as dream characters or the personifications of important life issues, view us as untrustworthy or immoral, then we are, from their perspective, regardless of how we view our own level of development. To refuse to consult inter-objective and intrasocial sources of objectivity in the LR and LL quadrants not only keeps us in a state of delusion, but elitist, isolated from the respect and trustworthiness of the global commons and out of touch with our own life compass.[43]

Since the Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy provides validation through interior quadrant intentions that are generated by and are in the service of the self, it has no interest or use in consulting intrasocial perspectives that are likely to disagree with or make untenable psychologically geocentric intentions. Therefore, it will ignore, discount, or otherwise disparage the intrasocial as an objective source of moral feedback, just as it tends to discount the legitimacy of feedback from those who are not in our in-groups. We can therefore see that the Kohlberg-Wilber approach to morality relies primarily on the first, personal aspect of triangulation and only on the second aspect, consultation of others, when it involves in-groups. It does not deal with out-group assessments of morality, nor does it consult subjective sources of objectivity. Intuition does not fall into this category and neither do mystical experiences, unless interviewing, using phenomenological and empathetic processes occur.

Recognizing and fixing the damage of our transpersonal elitism

Why is compliance with collective, social, objective norms such a difficult concept for intelligent people to grasp? This is a fascinating issue in and of itself. There are many possible explanations, and the most likely is that we do grasp this concept, but choose to ignore, rationalize, discount, or otherwise avoid dealing with it. We can see this in the US attitude toward international law. It is not that the US does not understand international law or the principle of compliance to consensual norms. Instead, the issue is that it perceives itself as “exceptional,” and therefore not subject to the norms it expects others to follow. Sometimes this is cloaked in American individualism, seen at its rabid worst in Ayn Rand libertarianism. Something similar occurs when we believe we have achieved exceptional moral status. We accept principles of collective norms in general, but do not accept that they apply to ourselves. If there is no way to enforce those norms, as has been the case with the US regarding international law, then functionally, this is correct. The US is exceptional and manages to avoid accountability.

Something similar happens in the integral and spiritual marketplace. Gurus, answering to a “higher law” based on their access to transpersonal consciousness, claim exceptionalism to consensus governance, just as the US does. If integralists understand the principle of reciprocity, the question becomes, “What motivates integralists and other progressive elites to ignore assessments of their morality by the global commons?” When we integralists say that we respect international human rights but support politicians that do not and when we do not extend our circle of empathy to include the rights of those not in our in-groups, how are we different from dictators, populists, and oligarchs we deplore?

There are many factors and therefore many possible answers, but some are so glaringly obvious that they must be the first to be ruled out. The most likely reason for this avoidance is utilitarian and consequentialist: we do a cost-benefit analysis in our head and determine that it is to our greater interest to do A rather than B. Typically, morality has little to do with our decision-making other than to possibly ask ourselves, “Who will know?” “What is the likelihood I will be found out?” “If I am found out, how likely are what consequences?” Such calculations are typically narcissistically self-centered: they are all about our security, reputation, status, and ability to “win.” If they take into account others, it is most likely to reflect what the consequences for us will be from their knowledge of our actions.

The second most likely factor explaining an absence of reciprocity is the positive or negative impact of our actions on those with whom we most closely identify—family, friends, work peers. Consideration for the public in general rarely crosses our mind because our circle of empathy does not normally extend that far. When we ask the question, “What are the consequences of my choices for myself?” the influence or impact from people living in Somalia is negligible. We rarely take into account the interests of future generations for similar reasons: their preferences have no impact on our quality of life. To the extent that our decision-making is psychologically geocentric, as it is most of the time, our broader, long-term interests are invisible to us.

The way these factors apply to integral AQAL is as follows: If we evaluate our morality based on LR norms of the out-group global commons (and the feedback of interviewed emerging potentials) we lose the correlation between our assumed level of cognitive development (vision-logic or beyond, because we understand multi-perspectivalism). our high level of self development (because we equate our identity with our world view, which is vision-logic or beyond), and our moral development, (because it is no longer internally determined). If the global commons or a consensus of our interviewed emerging potentials indicate our level of moral development is mid-prepersonal instead of vision-logic, we become compelled to consider that both our moral development and our overall self-development may not be correlated with our conceptual grasp of integral at all, or with the number of mystical state openings we have had, or with the amount of years we have practiced meditation. This is an important move away from exceptionalism, elitism, and hubris.

Part of the problem is finding the right balance between empathy and collective interests. Law attempts to resolve this by making abuse impersonal, objective, and arbitrary, erring on the side of “one size fits all” injustice in an effort to create consistent rules that all are subject to, in order to generate order through the threat of real consequences for violations. Legitimate grievances exist on both sides. When Wilber calls Andrew Cohen and other professed gurus “rude boys” he opens himself to a charge of lack of empathy toward the victims of their alleged abuse. Similarly, when we discount the victimization of others, particularly those who are not in our in-groups, we open ourselves to charges of a lack of empathy and absence of any sort of evolved moral compass, such as integralists, progressives, and “exceptionalists,” claim to possess. On the other side of the coin, libertarians and social justice warriors fight to defend individual victims at the expense of collective principles of morality, codified in law. There are endless examples of individual abuse due to the application of law. A contemporary example which horrifies progressives is Trump's policy to allow the separation of children from their immigrant parents at the US border. In defending this policy, Steve Bannon has said, “(Trump) went to a zero-tolerance policy... It is a crime to come across illegally, and children get separated...That's the law, and he is enforcing the law.” The argument here is, “Is it fair to ignore the law in cases that don't suit you? Isn't the solution the enforcing of the law and then its repeal or change if found to be unfair or discriminatory? Don't people have recourse through the courts to change the law?”

An appeal to law sounds unrealistic and simplistic because not only do we know that there are many obstacles purposefully put in place to make changing law almost impossible, but a fight to change a law does nothing to right injustices to the case at hand. Change may only help future instances. However, the alternative is arbitrary enforcement, which is itself abusive.

In light of these various serious dilemmas that are not going to go away, what are we as integralists to do? We need to focus on two seemingly contradictory processes at the same time. On the one hand, we can widen our circle of empathy so that we embrace broader “out-groups” and take claims of abuse seriously, but not naively, investigating them to discover their validity, to the best of our ability. At the same time, we need to demand adherence to law, whether it is fair or not, because it represents consensus moral standards. Law is based on the principle that what benefits humanity as a whole, based on collective decision-making, in the final analysis must take precedence over the rights of individuals. Where collective decision-making, that is laws and norms, discriminate and abuse individuals, we need to advocate for their change so that the rights of individuals are safeguarded. This is the balance that the Bill of Rights was meant to achieve in the US Constitution. The Constitution sets out collective structures and processes while the Bill of Rights specifies rights and protections reserved to and for individuals. Morality involves respect for both of these eternally conflicting polarities. Non-violent solutions like the South African “truth and reconciliation” process have been historically proven to be more effective than violent means for settling disputes.[44]

There is no way that integralists can wall themselves off in interior quadrant realms of intent, consciousness, values, and ideology and ignore issues of justice, respect, and human rights, if they want to have relevance within and earn the respect of the global commons. The lower right, or social, interpersonal quadrant is for integralists typically the weakest of the four. That has to change, and that change has to begin by asking ourselves, “How do I defend both law and the rights of those not in my in-groups? What am I doing to access my own life compass so that I can represent priorities that are authentically mine but expand my sense of self?”

It takes the imposition of law to require us to consider the interests of others outside our circle of empathy, who have similar needs and equivalent rights but do not figure into our personal cost-benefit analyses. Without law, we experience with morality the same thing that we have experienced historically with human rights: disregard. Therefore, we cannot depend on “the evolution of human consciousness” to cause humanity to do the right thing. It never has and it never will, because people will do what they believe is in their best interest in a particular situation, and that will differ among mystics and transpersonally evolved people three thousand years in the future, just as it does today. Therefore, all of us require the compulsion of social norms in the LR quadrant if personal and collective tetramesh are to happen. Consequently, one of the most moral actions that integralists can take is to be loud and persistent advocates for transparency and accountability for ourselves and our in-groups. Because we claim greater knowledge and a broader perspective, we therefore carry greater responsibility for the welfare of the greatest number.


[1] Kohlberg himself was aware of this problem and attempted to address it. (See Kohlberg, L. (1984). The psychology of moral development: The nature and validity of moral stages. New York: Harper & Row.) Research has noted limitations of theories of moral development based on classic cognitive developmental theory and has called for alternative approaches (e.g., Haidt, J. (2001). “The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment.” Psychological Review, 108, 814-834; Reynolds, S. J. (2006b). “A neurocognitive model of the ethical decision- making process: Implications for study and practice.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 737-748.

[2] “There should, however, be a correlation between how someone scores on the scale and how they behave, and the general hypothesis is that moral behavior is more responsible, consistent and predictable from people at higher levels.” Section on Kohlberg's stages from "Theories of Development" by W.C. Crain (1985) Archived 2011-10-04 at the Wayback Machine.

[3] Kohlberg, Lawrence (1976). "Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach". In T. Lickona. Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Holt, NY: Rinehart and Winston.

[4] While I am referring to the Kohlberg-Wilber scale of conventional and post-conventional levels in terms of what it is, a scale of moral judgment, you will sometimes find it referred to by Wilber and in the literature in general as a scale of moral development. There is no doubt that Kohlberg was equating moral development with the development of moral judgment, as his work was modeled after that by Jean Piaget on the stages of development of cognition, and as Wilber rightly points out in his table.

[5] Kohlberg, Lawrence (1973). "The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgment". The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 70, No. 18. 70 (18): 630-646.

[6] Is addiction immoral? It is a case-by-case decision. The question to ask is, “Is this addiction detrimental to the needs of others?” Obviously, addictive nail-biting and masturbation are not. However, we get into grey areas tapering into red in addictions like avoidance, internet, sugar, opioids, cigarettes, alcohol, and some forms of sexual addiction. When these activities become addiction they either make us blind or oblivious to the needs of others or impair us to the place where we have little or no social function. To the extent that we understand morality as respect for a broadening, more inclusive circle of empathy for the needs of others, then such behaviors, when addictive, become problematic in a moral sense.

[7] “AQAL” is an acronym that summarizes the chief components of Ken Wilber's integral philosophy, a form of cognitive multi-perspectivalism that has been broadly adopted and elaborated by innovative thinkers in psychology, anthropology, sociology, law, business, physics, ecology, ethics, and just about every field you can imagine. For an overview of Integral, see the Wikipedia overview, which contains excellent and varied references.

[8] This is not to deny the presence or importance for morality in the other three quadrants of the human holon. As has been noted, moral judgment, largely in the upper left quadrant, involves perhaps 20% of our assessment of morality. Obviously, personal behavior, or upper right quadrant realities, as the basis for our collective judgments about morality, is essential. The values that we hold, some of which we determine to be “moral” and others “immoral,” is a lower left, culturally-determined issue. However, on a functional level, morality largely exists to determine who we can trust and to regulate social interactions. These are both lower right quadrant issues. Those who want to frame morality in deontological terms are essentially making an a priori argument that morality represents abstract, pre-existing values, like Plato's Forms, which is perhaps best seen as a social justification for and argument for compliance with, some set of morals as a post hoc argument, written back into morality after the fact, as a convenient intellectual justification. Of course, morality could exist a priori; we do not know. Because the proposition is not falsifiable, it rightly belongs to the realm of metaphysical speculation, in which Truth just “is” and demands that it not be held accountable to any standard. For an explanation of holons in Integral thought, see the above overview at Wikipedia and the excellent in-depth treatment of the concept in Wilber, K., (1995) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston: Shambala.

[9] These concerns are subjects of my various posts at IntegralWorld.Net, including Trickle Down Spirituality, Steven Pinker, Integral, and the Culture Wars, A Summary of 'Healing Integral,' Spiral Dynamic Colors, The Integral Cure of Pathology, The Challenge of Transhumanism, Problematic Assumptions About AQAL's Moral Line of Development, Integral and the Myth of Progress, The Shadow, Carl Jung, and Integral Deep Listening, Problematic Aspects of Wilber's 3-2-1 Shadow Work, Just How Moral are Integralists? Eric Weinstein's 4-Quadrant and the Kohlberg-Wilber Effect, How to Avoid Problems in “God” Language, Aperspectival Madness: Why and How AQAL Grossly Overestimates Your Level of Development, and of two books, Healing Integral, Parts 1 & 2.

[10] Wilber, K., Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction

[11] See Dillard, J., (2017) Healing Integral, Pts 1&2. Berlin: Integral Listening Press.

[12] Curry, O.S., Morality as Cooperation: A Problem-Centered Approach, in The Evolution of Morality, T.K. Shackelford and R.D. Hansen, Editors. 2016, Springer International Publishing. p. 27-51.

[13] Although apparently not so much actual hellfire anymore. The Pope, mindful of the pace at which Western churches are being turned into museums, libraries, and auto shops, and youth are no longer caring so much about the salvation of their souls, has apparently told an interviewer that there is no hell.

[14] You can clearly have a lot of fun with this. There is also the Bronze rule, “Do unto others as they do unto you;” The Iron Rule, “Do unto others before they do unto you;” The Leaden Rule, “Do unto others as others have done unto you;” and The Gilded Rule, “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” There is also the cynical variation on the Golden Rule, “Them that's got the gold make the rules.”

[15] Pinker, S., (2011), The Better Angels of Our Nature. New York: Viking. See also Dillard, J., Steven Pinker, Integral, and the Culture Wars. IntegralWorld.Net.

[16] This is a controversial statement and you may not agree. If so, I highly recommend that you read Pinker.

[17] Sayre-McCord, G. 1988. Essays on Moral Realism. Ithaca NY: New York University Press; Sayre-McCord, G. 2015 Moral Realism: In E.N. Zalta, ed., Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[18] See Wilber's extensive compendium of comparisons of level of moral judgment to various other developmental lines in his series of charts in the appendix of Wilber, K., Integral Psychology. Boston: Shambala, 2000.

[19] Mcbean How the world views America so differently from how America views itself.

[20] “God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America's Middle Eastern policy and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.”—John LeCarré, London Times, January 15, 2003

[21] “The employers practice their thievery by underpaying workers, sometimes by paying them less than the legal minimum wage. Or they fail to pay employees extra for overtime work, or even force them to work for nothing before or after their regular work shifts or at other times. Some employers make illegal deductions from employee wages. And some withhold the final paycheck due employees who quit.

Such employer cheating is rampant in restaurant, retail and construction businesses, where undocumented workers make up much of the workforce. The undocumented are so vulnerable, given their illegal status, that they're particularly easy pickings for unscrupulous bosses.

The full extent of employer cheating is not known. But one study shows that in New York City alone, workers are cheated out of more than $18 million a week.

Another study, covering more than 4,000 workers in Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as New York, found that more than one-fourth of the workers had been paid less than the minimum wage. That and other employer violations cut their paychecks, which averaged about $300 a week, by more than $50.” Wage Theft Is Rampant in America -- Is Your Boss Ripping You off?

U.S. employers are stealing millions of dollars from their own employees -- often right out in the open, unchallenged. "Wage Theft Is Rampant in America -- Is Your Boss Ripping You off?", December 28, 2010,

[22] Donald Trump's White House Secretary: Top Trump Aide Resigns Amid Allegations He Punched His Ex-Wives,

[23] Rucker, P. Kelly risks his reputation defending Porter. Washington Post. Feb 8, 2018.

[24] Rucker, P., Dawsey, J., Kelly offers account of Porter exit that some White House aides consider untrue. Feb 9, 2018.

[25] “In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person's performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.” Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press. Wikipedia

[26] Mook, R: Evolutionaries for Clinton Petition

[27] Here is a full list of signers:

[28] “Seventy-five percent of those polled said their friends, neighbors and co-workers are trustworthy, and an overwhelming majority -- 97 percent -- described themselves as trustworthy.” Zogby Interactive Poll, cited in Lichtman, J., What do you stand for?

[29] There is no doubt that liberals are well, more liberal than conservatives. Research by Jonathan Haidt and Nicholas Winter have validated that belief across several important categories:

1) War, peace, violence, empathy with the world: On key questions and statements in this category, liberals scored high, conservatives low: "I believe peace is extremely important"; "Understanding, appreciation, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature"; "One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal"; "How close do you feel to people all over the world?” On other key questions in this area, conservatives scored high, and liberals low: "War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict"; "There is nothing wrong in getting back at someone who has hurt you.”

2) Crime and punishment; moral elasticity; authority: …liberals scored high, conservatives low: "I believe that offenders should be provided with counseling to aid in their rehabilitation"; "What is ethical varies from one situation and society to another.” On other questions, conservatives scored high and liberals low: "People should not do things that are disgusting, even if no one is harmed"; "Respect for authority is something all children need to learn"; "I believe that 'an eye for an eye' is the correct philosophy behind punishing offenders"; "The 'old-fashioned ways' and 'old-fashioned values' still show the best way to live"; "It feels wrong when...a person commits a crime and goes unpunished.”

3) The poor, redistribution, fairness: Liberal high, conservative low: "It feels wrong when . . . an employee who needs their job, is fired"; "I think it's morally wrong that rich children inherit a lot of money while poor children inherit nothing"; "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

Conservative high, liberal low: "[I place a high value on] safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self"; "[It's desirable when] employees [who] contribute more to the success of the company receive a larger share"; "[I value] social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.”

4) Morals, hedonism, self-fulfillment, hierarchy: Liberals high, conservatives low: "I see myself as someone who . . . is original, comes up with new ideas"; "Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself"; "What is ethical varies from one situation and society to another."

Conservative high, liberal low: "If certain groups stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems;" "People should be loyal to their family members, even when they have done something wrong;" "Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs that traditional culture provide"; "[I favor] restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.” Edsall, T. B., Conservatives vs. Liberals: More Than Politics 02/ 8/2012 from The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics.

What is important about this research is that while intentions and moral judgment between liberals and conservatives is stark, that the actual behavior of liberals is determined by social roles and cultural expectations, just as is the behavior of conservatives. The result is that Democratic politicians support the same policies that Republicans do. We know this because when Democrats win all three branches of government, the supposed moment of liberation when they can finally fulfill their liberal vision, with few exceptions, very little of substance happens. We also see it in the Clinton and Obama Presidencies in the continuity of Executive branch policies from the Presidencies of Bush I and Bush II. This is powerful evidence that focusing on differences of intention is a diversion that actually allows the further corruption and deterioration of society by re-directing attention from actual behavior to issues of moral judgment. The conclusion is that Haidt and Winter throw a great deal of light on moral posturing but very little on why, when it gets down to what we actually do, morality doesn't seem to play a very big role at all.

[30] The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies Smithsonian.Com. This sounds like one of the lamest excuses of all time to me.

[31] Few would doubt that Obama had a highly-developed level of moral judgment, post-conventional if not post-post conventional. However, this did not keep him from subordinating his moral judgment as President to the preferences of the most powerful determinants of his choices, including Wall St., lobbyists, representatives of the one percent, and career bureaucrats within the deep state at the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and other “national security” organizations. Obama admitted as much when, in response to requests that he pursue a more egalitarian agenda, he said, “I can't hear you,” meaning that the voices for egalitarianism were being drowned out by powerful special interests, and that egalitarian and pluralistic voices would have to be “louder,” that is, more powerful, if they were going to influence his decision-making. This implies that his decisions as President were not made based on moral judgment but in reaction to the most powerful pressures in the room at the time. Our thesis here is that Obama is not at all unusual in this regard, but rather that these sorts of exterior, social pressures typically determine the morality of our decisions much more than our intent or moral judgment.

[32] E.g. Reynolds, S., Ceranic, S., The effects of moral judgment and moral identity on moral behavior: an empirical examination of the moral individual. Jnl. Applied Psychology, 2007, vol. 92, No. 6. 1610-1624.

[33] “Kohlberg recognized this lack of a relationship between his moral stages and moral behavior. In an attempt to understand this, he proposed two sub-stages within each stage, to explain individual differences within each stage. He then proposed a model of the relationship between moral judgments and moral action. According to Kohlberg, an individual first interprets the situation using their moral reasoning, which is influenced by their moral stage and sub-stage. After interpretation, individuals make a deontic choice and a judgment of responsibility, which are both influenced by the stage and sub-stage of the individual. If the individual does decide on a moral action and their obligation to do it, they still need the non-moral skills to carry out a moral behavior.”

[34] “Recognizing that the development of moral judgment itself was not sufficient to generate moral behavior, Kohlberg spent his later years in projects designed to build a strong moral identity. These included an advocacy of exposing children to models of moral conduct. Without proper guidance, a moral identity can conceivably push individuals toward socially undesirable behaviors. Moral identity might thus be more motivational in nature than moral in nature.” Colby, A., & Damon, W. (1992). Some do care: Contemporary lives of moral commitment. New York: Free Press; and Oliner, S. P., & Oliner, P. M. (1988). The altruistic personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York: Free Press.

[35] Finnis, A., Breaking Buddhist: Monks arrested for smoking crystal Meth in their sacred pagoda. Jun 17, 2018.

[36] Cillizza, C., People hate Congress. But most incumbents get re-elected. What gives? Washington Post, May 9, 2013. It is difficult to find a better example of how cognitive bias defeats rational decision making, or a better case for the imposition of law, in this case term limits, rather than deferring to arguments for “individual liberty.”

[37] It is indeed the case that these laws have had little impact on cultural framings. Hindus still widely assume that one's birth caste is a reflection of their karma from past lives, and that the amount of “merit” that they accumulate through moral and immoral acts in this life will determine their future life. What has changed is that job discrimination based on caste will get employers fined or put in jail. The new attitude toward discrimination does not say, “don't believe in karma or reincarnation.” What it does say is, "If you use your beliefs to discriminate against someone in hiring or employment, you may be fined or put in jail.”

[38] “Further evidence that this is a developmental model of morality rather than a model of morality as it expresses in adults within society is based on (Kohlberg's) research being focused on children and their role modeling of parents and other authority figures.”

[39] The problem with associating moral development with the movement from "a self-centered, to an other-centered, to a world-centered, to a Kosmos centered view" is that these are all world views. World views are aspects of the cognitive line as well as values in the interior individual “cultural” quadrant. When we identify with the cognitive line, or with some sub-line of cognitive-cultural such as world view, we assume our moral development is equivalent. Is this a realistic assumption? AQAL makes this assumption when it assumes our level of development of our moral judgment predicts LR objectively determined morality. It doesn't.

[40] Chapman: “Most Western adults reach Kegan's stage 3—the ethics of empathy—during adolescence. However, one needs to be at stage 4—the ethics of systems—to fully meet the demands of modern society.”

Here both Kegan and Chapman are speaking about the development of moral judgment or interior quadrant criteria, not moral development as determined by four quadrant standards. In terms of the moral system presented here, this is Level 1 and 2 morality. David Chapman-Kegan: "Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence"

[41] Dilley, B., Is it in anyone to abuse a captive? BBC News, May 5, 2004

[42] Dillard, J., Integral Shadow 3-2-1 Process.

[43] The types of intersubjective feedback referred to here are intrasocial rather than social. “Intrasocial” refers to the preferences and perspectives of interviewed dream characters and the personifications of life issues, together referred to as “emerging potentials.” This is a psychospiritual dream yoga, or discipline of lucidity, called Integral Deep Listening, (IDL), developed by the author beginning in 1980. The consultation of exterior (LR) and interior (LL) sources of objectivity, when combined with our common sense, creates an approach to problem-solving called triangulation that is discussed here and in Dillard, J., Waking Up. Berlin: Deep Listening Press, 2012.

[44] Chenoweth, E., (2016) Why is non-violent resistance on the rise? Diplomatic Courier. 06/28/2016.

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