Lee van Laer 2016
Today, I'll be presenting my monograph on the question of objective conscience at the all and everything conference in Salem, Massachusetts.
I wrote the monograph last year, and it turned out to be an unwieldy thing, nearly 11,000 words long — objectively impossible to boil down into a 20 minute presentation. I have settled for something that captures the spirit and essence of the subject, but does not express the academic detail in the paper.
While contemplating the subject, I realized that what we think of as conscience in English is thought of as consciousness in most Latin languages. That is to say, what is objective is an awareness, not a morality. It's important to distinguish between the two.
Awareness has the potential to be moral — in fact, morality is inherent to awareness — but morality need not be aware. That is to say, morality can function on a mechanical level. This is the downfall of radicalism and fundamentalism: both of these attitudes create a mechanical morality that relentlessly expresses itself regardless of circumstance. Western readers in general may recognize the disastrous process of Islamic terrorism as representative of this; American readers may think of anti-abortion constituencies, with their insistence that even a raped child should be forced to give birth to the baby. In both cases, the morality is a morality with a logic to it, but it is an unaware morality that imposes itself upon society without any conscious understanding of the consequences. I believe we can agree that any morality that destroys others merely in order to impose itself is a very questionable enterprise.
Readers should remember that the reason Gurdjieff stressed consciousness over every other quality in man is because that awareness alone allows a real morality to emerge. That is to say, any enforced morality that is written in Scripture, but not lived within conscious practice, will inevitably turn into a hateful thing that oppresses those who attempt to employ it. This has been seen so many times in history it hardly bears mentioning.
One of the concerns that occurs to me today is the question of consciousness versus morality within my own inner being. There's no doubt that I have been raised with a wide range of moralities; they apply to all kinds of behavior. Financial, sexual, intellectual, religious, and so on. Like all other human beings, in one way or another, I've agreed to sign on to these moralities; but I don't always live up to their mechanical operation, that is, no matter how many rules I am given to follow, I inevitably break some of them. Everyone around me does the same.
So, I see that our inward moralities are unconscious, not conscious.
What has interested me for many years in relationship to the pursuit of awareness of a higher energy from within being is the absolute and incontrovertible fact that an awareness of this kind brings with it an unwritten, unspoken, and undefined morality that is nonetheless precisely and comprehensively compassionate. It's only with the presence of this energy that there is anything truly compassionate in me; and when it is not present, I clearly see the operation of the morality machine, along with all of its contradictions.
It becomes quite interesting to watch the machine in operation, because it routinely makes emphatic proclamations on situations and people that are not compassionate and that are not moral. Once one knows the difference, one is attuned to seeing it more readily in ordinary operation of awareness. The morality machine makes these proclamations with the absolute assurance that they are right. It may even be correct; but it is mindlessly correct.
That in itself raises the question of whether it is possible to be mindfully incorrect; and if so, whether or not that is better.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.