Morality Versus Desire

Too often in this world, people are judged by their desires. It’s easy to criticise something that you can’t relate to and makes very little sense to you, particularly if it appears to damage people’s lives. Heavy smokers, sadomasochists and drug addicts are just some of the people that fall into this broad category. The majority of people in the Western world struggle to comprehend why anyone would participate in recreational drug use or sadomasochism and so the people that do are stereotyped, just as all minorities, whether that’s sexual preference, religious belief, ethnicity or anything else for that matter.

The truth is, the assumptions that people make can be so wrong and generalisations are so often inaccurate. Smokers are not all unintelligent despite the fact that smoking reduces life expectancy. Drug addicts are not all thugs. What is perhaps more commonly ignored is that people’s morals are separate from their desires. For example, it is a man’s natural desire is to have sex with attractive women, greatly influenced by the hormone, testosterone. That doesn’t mean that every man acts on that desire. Most Christians believe that having sex with someone outside of marriage defies God’s intention for and so many of these Christians choose to abstain from sex until they marry in front of God. This isn’t because they don’t want to have sex, they have the same desires of any human being, but because they have made a moral decision not to, a decision to go against their natural instincts.

Let’s consider stealing for a moment. this is considered wrong in all circumstances by most cultures and it’s easy to see why. The theft will indefinitely have consequences for the recipient and even the thief, so it is only logical that these instances are kept to a minimum for a society to function in cooperation. However, when people believe they are in a dire financial situation, it can become more and more tempting to steal to try and put themselves in a better position. Does this temptation make them a bad person? No. Clearly not. Does that make stealing okay? No. Clearly not. Of course, should this temptation manifest itself into reality then the perpetrator faces legal consequences. But these consequences will undoubtedly take into account the circumstantial predisposition to theft – the person believed they needed the money and so the crime will incur a lighter sentence.

The same concept can be applied all crimes, regardless of the extremity. For instance, if someone murders another person when aggravated after just hearing that their close family had died in a traffic collision, they are going to get a shorter sentence than a man who kills someone because they start dating his ex-girlfriend. That tends to be how legal systems work, they take into account that our susceptibility to certain behaviours is dependent on circumstance.

As humans, we are similarly sympathetic to these circumstantial predispositions to those that are psychological. Attention Deficit Disorder sufferers are treated differently if their condition contributes towards a crime, as the act is less likely to be a true reflection of their morals so there is less to rehabilitate. However, there are some psychological positions that we find it much harder to be sympathetic towards, such as the abuse of sex.

If a masochist dies at the hands of a sadist during a horrific sex act, we instantly see the masochist as a victim of the sadist’s dominance; not of their own mind and their own desires. If a man is caught having sex with a farm animal we instantly think of the man as repulsive; not mentally ill. If we hear of a paedophile abusing a small child we think of them as scum of the Earth; not a person that urgently needs therapy. Because these desires have become so taboo in our culture, the myriad of people that have these feelings keep them to themselves for their whole life, for fear of persecution. I’m sure that having to keep such a big secret for such a long time and feeling like scum doesn’t do wonders for their self esteem. What we need to understand as an intelligent species is that desires are never crimes. It’s when we deliberate on those desires and keep them to ourselves that they become real, they become nasty and they become life-changing. Think; if one of your friends were to tell you they had sexual desires for animals or for children, how would you react? Possibly not well. These people need people to talk to or it can only get worse. Morality is separate from desire.

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