Before we get around to bravely denouncing — with whatever degree of theatricality falls just short of laughable camp — those ‘sociopaths’ or ‘psychopaths’ who are effortless indifferent to intuitive qualms, perhaps we can agree that such anomalous psychological types are definitively incapable of moral terror. In this respect, they are human precursors of that which, from a strictly functional point of view, we want our military robotics control systems to be. They have no squeamishness to overcome. Stone cold killers no doubt exist, and even more certainly soon will. If moral terror is the topic, however, they fall entirely outside it.
A discussion of the roots of moral intuition far exceeds the reasonable ambition of a modest blog post. Those wanting to plug it more or less directly into God will do so. Even radical religious skeptics, however, are unable to deny the fact of very basic, deeply pre-reflective moral commitments as a human norm. The scientific literature alone is now huge. There is no serious controversy about the existence of a ‘sense or right and wrong’ (irrespective of its variability regarding specifics) as a fundamental component of human evolved psychology. This only needs to be said because of widespread childish delusions that ‘moral nihilism’ could be considered a default condition of the non-indoctrinated human individual. ‘Wolf-boy’ is still a moral animal.
If moral nihilism is possible at all, it is touched upon only at the limit of moral terror, which is to say as a horror that is — from the human perspective — absolute. In the Western religious tradition it is epitomized by God’s testing of Abraham (Genesis 22), which shallow souls are tempted to rush through. Abraham fully expected that it would be necessary to murder his own son, in compliance with a higher purpose (identified with God’s will). There is probably no example of moral terror that does not conform, abstractly, to this template. Anyone suggesting that the most extreme possibility of soul-shuddering horror is in some way external to Biblical Monotheism is a fool. The passage through moral terror is a commandment of God — and ‘through’ is a retrospective comfort alien to the original divine decree.
… but forget God (almost everyone has). Consider instead Thomas Malthus, or his most brilliant recent students. Can anybody read these texts without an immersion in moral terror? Our moral sensibilities are cancelled by the blood-mill of history — under the iron rule of a higher conservation law — making a horrible jest of even our most uncorrupted impulses towards the good. The philosophical virtue of the Scottish Enlightenment lay entirely in its meditation upon such perversion of purposes. It is from such heights that we have fallen into our presently-dominant — lazy, cowardly, and despicable — moralistic cant.
How can we advance in accordance with our most sacred moral intuitions? asks the progressive, who then requests:
“Assume the desirability of universal human equality …”
“No,” responds the Neoreactionary, whose question is rather: What are we assuming, that we could instead think about?