On Moral Restraint

I think it would be beneficial for every individual to, at some point in their life, experience the edge of a cliff.

Wilderness is not necessary. Domestic cliffs would suffice – human carved buildings of steel and glass and concrete would suffice. Afterall, the material out of which our challenges are composed, in the end, is irrelevant.

More relevant then, would be the height of such a cliff you encounter. Where do you stand? Are you perched upon the bottom, solid ground beneath your feet – complacent in your comfort and safety, secure in yourself but always looking to climb – desperately, desperately? Or do you flicker upon the edge like a ghost, hovering on the periphery – fearful of nothing more and nothing less than yourself?

Consider the spatial significance of such a cliff. Perhaps you have been racing through the streets, your lungs burning and your hands frozen, rearing up in surprised horror as you encounter it. Or perhaps, you are one of those who have seen this cliff coming for a period of time, perhaps months, or even years. For you, the cliff signifies an ending, its significance only to mark the limitations and constraints of a land that you have known and an end you have reached. And now it forces you to choose.

You are no hermit and life is no marketplace, but though life is lived alone, there are those who are not in accord with your decisions, and in extension therefore, your actions. You must accept that they will do as they can to destroy your will. You must accept the majority’s outrage because morality is no longer a spectrum upon which you are judged. The new morality is one where you do as you want because you can, and you do what you are compelled to because the justification is your own.

After every choice made, it is only natural to look back and doubt. If the decision you finally made desecrated lives and punished unjustly and invoked terror in the world, you ask yourself whose bidding it was, really, that you carried out. You do not think yourself capable of such cruelty and abomination and malice, but there is always something there that lurks.

Every individual’s life is a series of decisions, and for the casual observer we are always so keen to point and exclaim: “You see here? This was the choice that defined this man’s life, and if only he had the vision to realize the significance of a single moment, such tragedy could have been averted.”

I would disagree that knowledge would have made a difference. Humans beings are not creatures of reason, afterall. They are put there by chance, and they spend their miserable lives milling about murdering each other in their sleep, allowing their ignorance to spread like malevolent fire. Their standards are based on shoddy sand, their ethical systems built on transient things. One man murders and is hailed as the medium of justice, while another man murders and delivers not justice, but has it delivered to him. There is no sense, and there is no consistency, and there is no intrinsic, axiomatic sense of right and wrong.

An individual who stands on a cliff and commits error then, can he be faulted?  For what is temptation but a primitive urge to make something of oneself in a chaotic, insignificant world that does not care for laymen?

I stand on a cliff.


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