Almost everyone is frightened by certain “forbidden” thoughts that pop into the mind spontaneously. They dream that they killed their own mother or brother and wake up in anguish. They do not accept the fact. They experience guilt, shame, and do not have the courage to talk about such dreams even with their closest friends. The same occurs when, while awake, they recognize that they do not like a son or would not miss their partner if he died; without mentioning extravagant sexual fantasies. The embarrassment caused by desires for sadomasochistic experiences, promiscuous sex or of a homosexual nature is enormous.
The truth is that few accept the existence of emotions that stroll through their minds without invitation. We would like to have control over our thoughts, but desires arise that do not conform to the moral order. Then we are forced to fight them off. We try to dominate or repress them. Following that route, the basement of the unconscious becomes a deposit of everything we feel, but wish to hide. If a person enjoys imagining himself good, his flaws will continue to exist. Aggressiveness and envy will manifest in a camouflaged manner, tricking the vigilance of reason. The ideas that we reject remain inside us. We lose control over them when we do not accept them, remaining at the mercy of the most primitive impulses.
There is not the slightest chance of exclusively harboring thoughts and desires that conform to our ethical values. We are simultaneously rational beings, capable of subtle and elaborate thoughts, and animals (up to a certain point, undomesticated ones). The mammal that lives within reacts brutally to aggression, even when the individual possesses convictions and ideas of tolerance and forgiveness. We have sexual desires that overflow the limits of love and of the rules established by society. We know that it is impossible to create a stable social order without rules for our sexual life. These rules separate acceptable partners from those that must be avoided or are forbidden. However it is clear that desires do not simply disappear because of external impediments. They might even grow.
What happens then? Our inner world loses serenity. We begin to experience permanent conflict between our desires and the feasibility of acting upon them. For instance, we desire certain objects that do not belong to us, but suppress the natural impulse to take possession of them, out of the need to respect the code of moral values created by personal reason. According to this code, to take possession of what belongs to others constitutes theft, a transgression subject to punishment. This knowledge does not stop us from coveting a certain object. We cannot, for instance, confiscate the imported car parked at the corner. But how we wish to own it! At that moment the temptation to steal might surface. Is it a crime to think like that?
I do not think so. I do not believe in “crimes of the mind” and, if they existed, it would do no good trying to make amends, for many ideas take us by surprise, making it impossible to undo something that has already taken place. We must not believe that only we, inferior creatures, have unacceptable thoughts. If they sprung into our minds it is because they belong to human beings in general. As far as fantasies and desires are concerned, nobody is different; they are either moral or immoral. It is a pity that people are not sincere and do not recognize that even the most abnegated men and women experience homicidal impulses, thirst for vengeance, or erotic dreams of all sorts.
We should profit from the emergence of these desires to get to know ourselves better. For example, envy tells us about the things we wish to possess. Then we have the following alternative: to attack whoever provoked the negative sentiment or to make an effort to also attain the coveted object. In that case, envy will help us to pinpoint our aspirations.
Do not conclude, however, that everything is allowed. When transferring thought into action, moral conscience imposes itself, for that is a totally different matter. I might dream of killing a brother, but it is obvious that I cannot really murder him. I may wish for whatever I desire sexually, but when putting it into practice I must respect my convictions and the convictions of my partner. Inner freedom is one of our greatest psychological acquisitions. We can and must know everything that goes on inside us. However, actions will always have to be limited by moral values that take the rights of others into account.
Translated by: Norma Blum