My project is an ethical one, but it is also entirely amoral. The difference between morals and ethics is nothing new, but of course, this might strike some as odd as the terms are used synonymously by many. But I have come to see them as radically different in a number of ways.

Morality is a set of rules and behaviours, of shoulds and should nots. Universally agreed upon or largely consensus based dogmatic lines in the sand that the one is willing to die for, or at least, work oneself up into a self righteous indignation when these lines are crossed.

An ethic, as I have said before, is ontological. It is alive, spontaneous and responsive. There can be no predetermined form or set of forms that describe an ethical person like there is for a morally upstanding person.

apocalypse now

The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

The difference I make may not seem very important but the above quote by Solzhenitsyn illlustrates to me why I make it. With morals, one is tasked to destroy a piece of the heart. One shuns, oppresses, represses etc. aspects of the self that do not fit into one’s idea of what a moral person should be because they are deemed “bad.”

Because ethics is about your being, one’s ethic is can only be a result of integrating all aspects of the self, including the baser, instinctual aspects of ourselves such as aggression, fear and appetite. As such, an ethical person lives wholeheartedly.

The main and not insignificant advantage of morality is that it is a simpler, safer and more direct route toward being a decent human being. It is also more economical in terms of cognitive resources in that good is good, bad is bad, end of story. Organizing things into discrete categories (in this case, good or evil) generally increases efficiency.

However, maintaining a moral system is highly taxing on psychic and physiological resources as it may require a perpetual repression/negation of aspects of the self. The more instinctual/primal those aspects are, the greater the taxation. So in this regard, morality is highly inefficient because energy is constantly siphoned off to maintain repressive structures, instead of being spent toward productive means. As such, the moral person is also susceptible to moral failure because if anything tampers with repressive structures (e.g., alcohol, peer pressure, etc.), the moral person has no other recourse. The moral system then, must not only waste energy maintaining repressive structures, but also in avoiding temptation.

A moral system is also rigid and does not deal well with genuine ambiguity. Ambiguous things and situations that cannot be easily categorized into good or evil pose a inherent challenge to this system of classification. More sophisticated moral persons may be able to reason through ambiguity, but all moral persons must to some degree, shun and even actively destroy not only anything categorized as evil or that could potentially compromise their repression, but anything that does not fit into a good-evil binary: ideas, stories, objects and sometimes, in fact often, other people. The deeply moral person is perpetually waging war with the world and with him or herself. You will know moral persons not by their value systems, but by their righteous, militant need for the destruction of others.

With ethics, there is no set image or narrative of what a “good” person is. You are in fact, plunged into total amorality, and must forge from that, some kind of ethical comportment. Because of this, it is potentially damaging process. One might become lost in that amoral void and instead of integrating aspects of the self, one may be consumed by them, identify completely with them, etc. So the ethical person walks a very fine line, especially when integrating aspects of self that are deemed repugnant, abject, vile. To look at yourself in the mirror everyday and not be able to say “I am basically a good person” but rather to relinquish one’s preconceptions of what a “good person” is and to be confronted with all aspects of your self is to court disaster.

As such, the person walking the ethical path is significantly weakened when the system is in the process of integrating new, powerful elements of self. The living cycle of ethical renewal and growth entails periods of an anarchic breakdown of the self. It is disorienting and dangerous. The ethical person may be far more susceptible to ethical failure at these points whereas the moral person, who is ensconced in the safety of their rules and regulations, does not face such a threat.

But the main benefit to the ethical route is that if an ethical seeker succeeds in his or her endeavors, this person becomes incorruptible. Integration is a temporary state of disruption and the resultant change is a permanent strengthening of ethical comportment. Because someone is ethical, there is no way forward save the ethical one. The ethical person does not have to wage war with evil; there is no line that divides the heart. With ethics, energy is not expended to maintain the status quo, but rather, it is invested to bring more operational parts on board, resulting in a more robust and flexible system. (Of course, some people never successfully integrate and this is the risk one accepts to be ethical.)

The other benefit aside from being incorruptible is that integrating the all aspects of self, especially the instinctual/primal aspects, give onto a person real power. It is a form of true redemption. And you may have to suffer for it, for no great power comes without a cost. In this way, the moral person is unethical, for they abdicate their responsibility to power and they will not risk suffering for it.

Now I am not going to say one should reject the moral path. Sometimes, a little moralizing will protect those you love. And to be frank, I am not sure that everyone has the capacity to walk the ethical path. I am not sure I have that capacity and do not know how far I can push it without damaging myself or those I care for. But my project is an ethical project because I believe that ethical comportment is the only true power and freedom that may be attained, and knowing this shall reveal all other forms of power and freedom to be illusory.