Pleasure without Conscience

Pleasure without Conscience

For as long as I have been old enough to notice, or perhaps, to care, the world seems consumed by pleasure-seekers.

The pursuit of pleasure without regard for conscience or moral obligation is an all too common, yet quite clearly, obvious, sin.  As I’ve explored the relevance of Gandhi’s seven sins for humanity in today’s society, it has struck me how almost all pleasures in the modern world can only be achieved with a sacrifice of some level of ethics.

Morality is a complex and subjective measure of judgement.  And the examples are varied; from the glaringly evident to the nuanced and subtle.

  • It’s the corrupt government official, the one we know all too well, that loots from the coffers of the third world country, to feed his luxurious lifestyle and indulgent habits.
  • It’s the highly strung businessperson who truly believes that an affair is justified and there are a multitude of reasons, from family dynamics to work-driven consequence which fuel these life choices.
  • It’s the institutionalised environments that incentivise success with all types of pleasure.
  • It’s the purchase of an excessive luxury, like a new vehicle, an overseas holiday or a night on the town, without a consideration or an act of philanthropy to a humanitarian cause.

It is often not sought intentionally, but rather out of boredom, lack of purpose or loneliness.  Pleasure serves to fill a void.  And this void almost always returns, deeper than before, seeking greater and more immediate gratification.

Quite frankly, pleasure without conscience, could be any decision made ‘because I deserve it’ instead of ‘because it will serve both my needs and a greater good’.

This is a difficult conversation.  Especially when we engage from a position of inherent privilege.

No matter how much we justify the pleasures we seek, it seems that, by Gandhi’s standards at least, it is immoral to consciously divorce pleasure from conscience.

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual mentor and author, taught us that;

Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within.     

It seems to me that, in general, pleasure has overridden joy as part of our emotional anatomy.

Perhaps, if we are trying to seek truly righteous pleasure, what we are really looking for is joy.

I wonder if one of the implications of the economic lockdown and the recent months of social isolation will force us to find new sources for pleasure.

Perhaps, what Gandhi is telling us, is that the more we seek happiness through external pleasures, the further away we find ourselves from connecting with the things that have the potential to bring us true joy.  And perhaps we now have an opportunity to see what these things could be with a little more clarity.

Nicola Brown is a Lead with Humanity Associate with a background communications for development organisations and small businesses.  She is passionate about finding the magic in everyday stories and articulating them in a meaningful and relevant way.


– Dr John Perisco’s Aging Capriciously blog

– Steven Covey, Principled Centered Leadership