In thought, amorality

Publius Syrus said, “He can best avoid a snare who knows how to set one.” Initially, this seems like common sense. To learn attack, study defense. To learn defense, study attack. To avoid impoverishment, study those who were impoverished by personal choice and by external circumstance. To avoid exploitation via someone else’s power, figure out how to accumulate and exercise your own. Self-evident, right? But I think there’s another dimension to this sentiment and it has to do with amorality.

Most will agree that perception and action are distinct. Yes, what you see informs what you do, but there’s some sort of impermeable barrier between the two. This is captured in the mindfulness axiom that “You are not your thoughts.”

Armoured with this, it’s possible to advise the following: Be as amoral in your perception as possible.

For example, if I am an entrepreneur and I’m figuring out ways to generate more revenue, it’s in my interest to consider the full spectrum of possible strategies available to me, even if some of that spectrum is inadvisable. If I am a marketer pushing a product, it’s better for me to know every possible means by which I can achieve my ends, even if some of those means are manipulative dark patterns.

This isn’t easy to do. Most of us raised in polite society have a mental block when it comes to consideration of the dark and dirty. The very thought of acting with transparent amorality repulses us, so we censor it even as a possibility. But by doing so we weaken our actions.

We need an awareness of the good and the bad of human nature. We need to study both the best and the worst of us. It makes us better humans. Similarly, when thinking we need to think the most noble thoughts and the most devious in order to become better thinkers.

Or, as Publius Syrus might put it: In thought, amorality; in action, honour.