I’m working on a new novel, “Conversations with a Traitor” (working title), and while doing some research up cropped the question of amoral versus immoral. The former is to be without morals and the latter to ignore morals you may have. In espionage we care about this only because immoral spies are more easily handled than amoral ones. That is, somewhere deep down, in an immoral spy there is a conscience that is being suppressed, generally through the very human process of rationalization and a handler can use that internal process to their benefit, maneuvering the spy to maintain as even a keel as a spy can keep while sailing through the deep and dark waters of espionage.
Amoral spies, on the other hand, have to be watched even more closely since the only loyalty they have is to themselves and if someone makes them a better offer their handler may suddenly be at a much greater risk. While most case officers would like to ascribe a solid motivation for their agents behavior in betraying their country, it must be accepted that some of the most effective spies are simply those who believe they have no loyalty whatsoever. In the medical sense we might classify the difference between these two behaviors as the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath the former being the immoral and the latter the amoral.
Now, while thinking about this subject my thoughts veered from espionage into politics, also a sea that is deep and dark, full of flotsam, jetsam, shoals and submerged rocks. An experienced counterspy will see many of the techniques used in espionage also in play in the political arena. Lying, certainly; disinformation, of course; planned operations to achieve specific objectives, most definitely; manipulation of emotional subjects, without question. The two disciplines are inextricably connected one flowing into the other as a tributary flows into a larger river.
Just as amoral spies are more dangerous to their handlers, amoral politicians are more dangerous to the public than those who are simply immoral. Separating the two, one from the other, is also just as difficult, for one rationalizes their actions while the other simply regards those actions as necessary to achieve and maintain a personal obsession with being in control. The difference is an amoral politician cares not if damage is done so long as they remain in power while deep down an immoral politician will carry the burden of damage done and eventually it may take its toll on their psyche and health.
In the past, it was the responsibility of the media to suss out and present for public elucidation the immorality or amorality of politicians. Currently, however, the media has become complicit in allowing both amoral and immoral players to remain unvetted, even going to the extent to protect and in some cases abet the immoral or amoral actions of these politicians. In the past if a reporter (note the term vice a commentator) went over to the dark side it was generally because of a personal weakness being exploited by one of the politician’s henchmen (which btw didn’t start out as a term for evildoers). These days, we are faced with the problem of sorting out media types who have become just as immoral or amoral as the politicians on who they supposedly report.
So, amoral or immoral, we need to seek the truth, knowing full-well that many of those who represent us and many of those who would seek to influence us fit squarely into one of these two categories. As a good counterspy would do, always question the motivation of the source of the information. Always ask why and why now? You’ll often be surprised by what you find.