Most people are harmless but amoral: they don’t go out of their way to violate anyone’s rights, but their innocence isn’t particularly praiseworthy. This is because the masses are also unenlightened, meaning that they don’t think about morality or even realize that a real choice is possible between right and wrong. They lack the power needed to carry out that choice because they lack a higher self. Their behaviour is governed more by their emotions, hormones, and trained reflexes than by rational self-control or by an existential or religious leap of faith, the latter being the means of controlling our more animalistic side. The masses passively adopt their culture’s mores and so they’re domesticated, or “civilized,” to use the euphemism. They’re punished for their misbehavior and so they’re constrained mainly by fear. Had they an opportunity to benefit themselves at someone else’s expense, without fear of reprisal, they’d just as soon act out of greed or lust or even contempt for their victim’s weakness, as they would out of worry under normal circumstances.
Strictly speaking, the masses are thus more animalistic than personal. Personhood (or “spirituality,” if you prefer a clichéd term) is quite rare—even among so-called human beings. The essence of personhood is self-control and that requires self-knowledge which in turn is the product of introversion, of a process of rigorous self-exploration ending in the philosophical realization that we’re ultimately just artists creating ourselves and our environments merely for the sake of doing so, with no sane hope for a deeper purpose. We create because we’re natural beings and nature is the undead god, the mindless, inhumane maker of all things. If we’re reflective, we create ourselves: we add a personal level to our primitive impulses and beta training. We thus gain the dreadful power of existential choice: we must choose what to be and what to create; we must take a neo-Kierkegaardian leap of faith in some artistic vision, in some aesthetic ideal to guide our productive efforts. With autonomy comes angst, because the freest self is alone in the wilderness of undead forces, a speck of a tragically heroic mind amidst the wasteland and the zombie horde.
The human person gains some limited means of self-control precisely by acquiring self-knowledge: she familiarizes herself with her temperaments and forms a conceptual system of classifying them which allows her to manage the more robotic aspects of her inner world. Of course, she lacks metaphysical freedom, which is the performance of the miracle of opposing a natural chain of causes and effects, but her intensive self-awareness nevertheless makes her relatively autonomous. She can screen her impulses because she’s scrutinized them and she knows where to find them. But that freedom is more of a curse than a blessing. Her self-knowledge hurls her out of the world and into the cauldron of existential awareness: her higher self is alienated from everything else because self-control requires personal detachment. We can control our lower selves only if we’ve thought hard enough to create a higher, independent mind that can sometimes act on its own—especially when it confronts our existential predicament and makes a heroic choice to creatively overcome it. Even when a person, properly speaking, fails to control herself, by applying her authentic ideals in her conduct, she can honestly feel guilty on that account, whereas the guilt of most so-called people is programmed and groundless since they have little if any capacity for self-control in the first place.
If fear explains why the masses actually simulate morally right behaviour, why should we be moral? Should we act in some ways rather than others or is morality just a delusion? Those who have liberated themselves from natural and social powers face a foundational choice of what to do, but is one way of being human truly better than another? Is the difference between right and wrong real? Let’s look at some conventional answers to these questions.
God and Morality
The oldest answer is that God commands some ways of living and prohibits others. This theistic basis of morality must be divided into the polytheistic and monotheistic varieties. True polytheism, which excludes Hinduism, treats the gods as just very powerful persons who in turn are identified with what we now know are just natural processes. Thus, ancient Roman morality, for example, reduced to the fallacies of appealing to authority or to popularity. The idea was that we should behave as commanded by our favourite god, because we’ve devoted ourselves to that deity. But what justifies devotion to that god rather than to some other, or to one culture rather than a foreign one? And how do we know our one god is wise, especially if the gods’ abilities are supposed to surpass our understanding? Typically, the ancients followed their local, traditional gods because they were awed by their power, which was just the power of impersonal natural processes. But attributing those powers to divine goodness rather than to evil would have been arbitrary. Perhaps the wisest course for a superhuman being would have been to play with the lower creatures, namely with us, in which case polytheism provides little support for morality: following the commandment or the example of a despicable being would be likewise wrong. Polytheists thus face an acute form of what skeptical philosophers call the problem of the multiplicity of religions.
As for the monotheistic foundations, which arose from the transformative process of monolatrism and which began with worship of Ahura Mazda, Aten (Akhenaten), Brahman/Atman, and Yahweh, these founder on the fact that the price of conceiving of God as universal or as fit for all cultures is that the deity is thereby depersonalized, as God becomes the ground of all beings. God’s commandments, then, are equivalent to laws of nature and so the theist loses the distinction between what should (but needn’t) be done and what must in the end be done. In Hinduism as in Zoroastrianism and Christianity, God’s will is regarded as inexorable even though at present human sin is permitted as a means of achieving some divine end: whether by way of reincarnation or judgment at the end of history, human choices play out in the eventual fulfillment of God’s plan, as humans are purified and allowed to take their place at God’s side or to realize their identity with God, or whatever. Tribal particularities end up characterizing God so as God becomes transcultural, he must be objectified and mystified. For example, Jews are forbidden to visually represent God, because theirs is a portable deity, fit for worship by outcasts and wanderers; Yahweh can’t be depicted as having any one form since that would suggest that God should be worshipped only under circumstances that are relevant to that form. A God who could be worshipped anywhere, by a homeless, interstitial people, mustn’t be identified with any culture, even if that God is thought to favour the Jews, and so the God of Judaism isn’t just “the Lord,” but something as abstract as “the Almighty.”
Take the divine prohibition of murder. If God were somehow the perfect being, presumably murder would indeed be wrong if God were to deem it such. But the exoteric theist then faces the classic problem of mysticism, which is the fact that esoterically speaking, the perfect being couldn’t be limited to deeming or commanding, let alone writing anything. The perfect being couldn’t literally be just a person, and as the monotheist’s God shades off into ultimate reality, what are metaphorically regarded as God’s messages are better understood as cosmic regularities, as the ways things ultimately are. Nothing is beyond God’s power, not even human freewill, and so the monotheist’s God can’t merely recommend some course of action—as though anyone has a choice whether to follow ultimate reality! Sinners may think they evade God’s grasp, whereas in the end times each will be awarded his or her due, according to this kind of religion, and none shall escape God’s wrath.
Reason and Morality
So exoteric religions provide no valid justification of morality, contrary to the usual blather. How about reason? Can we think our way to a basis for favouring one type of person over another? After what Nietzsche called the death of God, which was due largely to the rise of modern science, modernists took up the cause of finding an independent foundation of liberal values. Reason seemed the logical choice, since reason was discovered to be powerful enough to undo the Roman Catholic Church’s hold on the Western world and to uncover the natural truth of all things. Indeed, wasn’t Reason responsible for the technological progress of modern societies which applied scientific findings, and wasn’t morality implicit in that progress? Reason rearranges the social world for the better, by providing the techniques that make for an improved way of life, and so the right thing to do is surely to follow reason in all affairs. Thus, rationalists in this broad sense, from Bentham to Marx, proclaim that the choice of how to live is a technical one requiring merely the best instrument to ensure that we most efficiently get what we want. Morality is construed as the technique of achieving happiness, the fulfillment of our desires. Thus, utilitarians say we can use reason to calculate how to maximize happiness, by measuring the effects of our actions on others. For their part, Marxists said we can study history scientifically to discover the dynamic processes that work themselves out as class conflicts that render the victory of the working class majority inevitable. Kant one-upped these rationalists in his worship of reason, since he maintained that merely contemplating the human form of reason itself discloses how we ought to behave; for example, he thought the Golden Rule could be derived from the assumption that we’re autonomous, “self-legislating” beings who use reason to give structure to our experiences.
These modern moralities all founder, in turn, on the naturalistic fallacy. Even if reason could help us efficiently satisfy our desires, those desires would be mere natural facts. Are desires all equally good or perhaps morally neutral? Can’t evil people be just as instrumentally rational as saints? If anything, rational detachment lends itself to abusing people rather than to caring for them. The more we objectify each other, regarding others in statistical terms, the more cynical we become and the less emotional drive we have to help strangers. Indeed, the modern industrial revolutions were infamous for their abuses of women and children who worked as slaves in factories to enrich a handful of monopolists. All very efficient, in the ancient mold of the psychopathic ruler’s megamachine, but hardly a basis for morality. The predator’s exploitation of the herd by way of consolidating a dominance hierarchy for the genes’ benefit may be a form of life that typifies the animal kingdom, but the prevalence of that pattern doesn’t make it morally praiseworthy. Just because a way of life is predominant doesn’t make it better than some alternative. To presume otherwise is to commit the naturalistic fallacy of mistaking a fact for a value.
The consistency of instrumental rationality with evil is contrary to Kohlberg’s famous theory of the stages of moral development, according to which the highest stage is the one at which we settle moral issues using abstract reasoning and universal ethical principles. Kohlberg’s point was that the highest morality requires a move beyond egoism, to empathy: we can use reason to gain an objective perspective on how to act, one not tied to any particular set of interests and thus one not biased in anyone’s favour. However, even if this Kantian approach to morality were thus capable of showing us the most logical course of conduct, this course mustn’t be confused with the best one. Logic reveals only implications, which are necessary or probable connections between statements that in turn correspond to facts. Just because an autonomous person can control herself equally as well as you can yourself doesn’t mean you ought to treat her as you would treat yourself. At most, reason demonstrates your similarity with respect to your autonomy, but similar things as opposed to identical ones are necessarily different, so perhaps your differences would warrant a double standard. And reason couldn't easily demonstrate the irrelevance of those differences having to do with culture, history, gender, class, and so forth, without presupposing reason’s supreme importance. Even if reason demonstrated two people’s fundamental identity, as in Hindu mysticism, implying that everyone should be treated in the same way, this wouldn’t entail morality since perhaps the best course would be for the one ultimate Self, Atman, to abuse itself, in which case evil would be more logical than compassion.
What of the ancient naturalism of Aristotle, according to which morality is about following our natural function so that we can flourish? This naturalistic ethics works with misplaced teleology. The idea is that living things aren’t just aimless mechanisms, since we have “final causes,” or objective purposes, and if we succeed in those terms we’ll be happy and we’ll have done what we ought to have done. But contrary to Aristotle, there are no such purposes in nature because, once again, nature is undead. True, there are ends in the world, in that natural processes will come to a final point in time, but it will never have been their inherent purpose to have reached that point. Natural processes are indeed aimless, contrary to our personifications of natural forces. In so far as we’re embodied animals, we’re creations doomed to be destroyed like everything else. If anything, nature is like an artist who refuses to sell out: she creates art just for art’s sake, with no separate end in view—not even that of beholding her masterpieces; as soon as she finishes one work, she’s off to produce another. That’s how natural forces and materials operate, give or take the personification.
There are plenty of end points, because the indifferent, impartial cosmos destroys everything it creates, but there are no so-called final causes, no inherently intended states such that reaching them can be considered objectively or naturally ideal. Living bodies are machines except that the final stage of their algorithmic developments has never been envisioned or welcomed by anyone—except perhaps by the organisms themselves. We’re just like physical objects except that the continuity of our whole forms depends on intricate relationships between our parts, so that we can speak roughly of how our parts have “jobs” to do if they’re to sustain our whole bodies. We have, then, only simulated functions, just as natural selection only simulates the process of intelligent design and just as the meek masses only simulate morality, because they lack the self-control for their behaviour to merit a moral evaluation. So once again, the Aristotelian naturalist faces the naturalistic fallacy. Perhaps doing what we do best will naturally make us happy and successful, but that fact doesn’t entail the goodness of that terminal point. Causality doesn’t require teleology, after all, so there are no objective purposes; instead, there are the undead god’s infernal simulation of creative vitality and the guarantee of decay, both of which are utterly pointless from the genuine naturalistic perspective.
Art and Morality
None of that bodes well for morality. Strictly speaking, talk of morality is now archaic since it rests on obsolete theism or deism. Morality is rather a human creation. We create social laws in our efforts to improve on nature. We are the only gods there have ever been (short of intelligent extraterrestrial creatures), in that we alone are mindful of our works. With language and culture and our curious self-exploration, we create ourselves along with our worlds within the world and we conceive of ideals in our visions of how the world could and should be. The justifications of this kind of morality are subjective, although morality is also part of an objective process. As I said, the exoteric ideals of being selfless and happy through domestication and consumption of material “goods” are based on noble lies that reinforce the dominance hierarchy, by rationalizing the evils committed by the alpha males who are our predatory and psychopathic rulers. So much is a matter merely of genetics and sociology.
But there’s a deeper moral question, the esoteric one faced by the awakened souls who tend to be social outsiders, disenchanted with much conventional wisdom. The awakened few know that, metaphysically speaking, there are only undead, fundamentally chaotic creations and destructions. Conventional morality which alludes to God’s will or to rational progress sustains one creation: the naturally selected mammalian dominance hierarchy with the Pharaoh-like kleptocrats sitting atop the megamachine of enslaved beta labourers. The esoteric moral question, then, is just whether there’s some more appealing social arrangement, from the aesthetic point of view. Can we create something more inspiring in purely artistic terms? In so far as morality sustains the most natural and thus clichéd social structures, morality's part of an undead and thus horrific process of simulated dynamism leading to nowhere and to oblivion. Conventional, materialistic or theistic morality goes with the undead flow of mindless forces and elements, such as with the genes and proteins that build our animalistic reflexes and biases. By contrast, tragically heroic moralists will be opposed to that monstrosity since they’ll aim to be original. The highest morality is thus satanic in that our loftiest goal should be to undo the natural world and to recreate it to fulfill our artistic potential.
The demonization of that Gnostic, Promethean figure, the so-called devil Satan, is so much propaganda on behalf of the monstrous natural order. The fictional character Satan combines the chaos and insanity of countercultural Dionysus with the progressive humanism of Prometheus. Satan’s mission is to undo the established order, supposedly because of his jealousy of God’s power. Of course, there’s no such God, so satanic jealousy would be absurd. Instead, there’s the undead god of the natural order which carries the seed of its undoing, as it creates sentient beings who, far from being jealous are just appalled by their creator’s monstrosity and are artistically inspired to recreate the world to suit some alternative vision. Thus the chaos and the fear of the unknown represented by Dionysus; by his wine, which psychedelically challenges our personas and our conventional wisdom; and by the hysteria of his followers (maenads, witches, etc) whose frenzies signify the energy needed to replace the established order with an original artwork. And thus the tragic heroism of Prometheus, whom Zeus tortured for setting humanity on the path of technoscientific progress and whom the Christian God will smite for his tempting of us to depart from the divine plan—which is just the “plan” of naturally undead decay. Indeed, the aesthetic project of building an inspiring alternative to the natural order is a tragic one since nature will surely win in the end, destroying all our works so that we might as well never have labored on them. But the tragic hero who nevertheless symbolizes our highest calling has been relentlessly demonized by Christians, who absurdly associate Satan with nature (with carnality, predation, etc.) even though their triune God is nothing but the undead god which is self-creating nature. And it’s Satan, the rebel against the established order, who represents the potential for transcendence through progressive artificiality. There is no other escape from the horror of undead processes than by immersing ourselves in our unnatural worlds which are so many ephemeral works of art.
The satanic challenge to natural reality is also esoterically the moral path. Morality is about doing what should be done even if it’s not what regularly happens. There are natural facts and then there are moral standards which call for emergent ways of being and which are thus virtually supernatural. The moral task is to create the world which nature itself can’t create without becoming artificial. Our job as highly self-conscious creatures is, first, to understand that the established natural order is a monstrosity which ought to be undone on purely aesthetic grounds, because nature’s tendency to destroy everything it creates is grotesque and clichéd; and second, to conceive of a supernatural—that is, an artificial—alternative and to put that vision into practice. Thus, if dominance hierarchies, oligarchies, and megamachines are the norms, the moral task must be the aesthetic one of being more original, of avoiding those clichés and finding an alternative way to live that emboldens us with its freshness and with the audacity of its counterfactual vision. If we tend to be animalistic in so far as we’re undead machines, our higher calling is to cobble together a nobler self to gain some self-control and deeper awareness so that we can renounce primitive activities and partake of a less monstrous way of life.