Hoarding Lysol

What got me about the Vancouver pair who were buying all the Lysol wipes from Costco and selling them for inflated prices on Amazon, was not just that they were doing it.  It was the attitude–they were proud of it.

They had no idea that they were doing was morally reprehensible.  I have previously written about this issue regarding cutting in line at the border.  It’s the same garbage, different pile.  It has to do with moral development; some people get stalled out, morally speaking.

Moral Retardation

I did some research to figure out what was going on with cutting in border line ups.  According to a guy named Lawrence Kohlberg, there are six levels of morality.  If everything goes well, as you grow up, you will move up the ladder, hopefully, to the highest level, but for one reason or another, people can get stuck.

  1. The first level is called “Obedience and Punishment” where people will simply obey the rules because you could be punished if you don’t.
  2. The second stage is called “Individualism.”  At this stage, people make moral judgments based on self-interest.
  3. The next level of morality is based on “Interpersonal Relationships.” Here one is concerned with living up to social expectations and roles.
  4. Some face moral choices based on a perceived duty to “maintain social order.”  This fourth level begins to consider society as a whole in moral decisions but sees the rules and laws as coming from an authority.
  5. The fifth level is “Social Contract and Individual Rights.”  At this stage moral questions are less black and white because there is an understanding of differing moral values and opinions.  And rules and laws ought to be negotiated with others in society.
  6. The last level approaches moral judgments with ” Universal Principles” in mind.  These abstract principles are arrived at through moral reasoning.  Then they are internalized and followed even if they come into conflict with society’s rules and laws.

When our Vancouver pair was grabbing up all the Lysol, there was no rule against it, so they have achieved level one. Yay!

What about level two?  Their plan was clearly based on self-interest, 100% as far as I can tell, so I think we can congratulate our couple for clearly having advanced to stage two.

Everyone wishes, out of self-interest, that they had thousands of $20 items that people would be willing to pay $80 for.  I do that all the time, but these conditions are rare.   These occasions will pop up occasionally when there is a big change.  Like a global pandemic for instance.  We all see the opportunity, some people grab at it, others resist it.  At level three, our subjects would be considering what other people are thinking.  This appears to have no effect on their behaviour because there were a lot of people who were looking askance at their truck full of product.  But perhaps they have achieved this level; I don’t know if they would charge their parents $80 for the wipes.  But clearly they’d do it to their neighbours, so I am going to say they have not achieved level 3.

They certainlly haven’t gotten to level four, because there is a blatant disrespect for the “authority” of society.  If everyone behaved as they did, the effects of the pandemic would be far worse than they would be otherwise.  Because their behaviour can only work if there are a few who do it, it is, in principle, a behaviour that is immoral at the fourth level.

The last two levels actually allow for some flexibility in one’s approach to rules and laws, but neither would accept their behaviour under our current circumstances.

My diagnosis is that people who attempt to buy up all the necessary supplies from Costco in a pandemic (and those who sell candy at exorbitant rates on the elementary school playground) are stuck in the second stage of moral development.

And that’s probably fine if you are six years old.