The traditional concept of desire:
In the classical conception of desire as a lack to fill in order to get pleasure, ethics has the role to evaluate the desire, to controle it, to let it be or not, depending on the ethical values, on morality and of course, on desire itself, if it fits the required ethical and moral criteria or not. This classical dualism can be found in Plato’s definition of Éros (half human, half god, the desire seen as in double nature: lack and abundance ) and the importance of guiding the latter in a way to become the urge of Contemplating the Ideals, instead of just being a pure concupiscence, constantly searching for physical pleasures. Therefore, ethics can only be understood and conceived in philosophy, as the Contemplation of the Ideal Good.
In a different yet similar form, the psychoanalysis theory argues that the personality and its behaviour is the result of the interaction of three structures: the Id, the Superego and the Ego. In fact, Freud took over this dualistic conception of desire/ethics mentioned above and presented it as an unconscious dilemma between the Superego ( our socialised and civilised internal control, understood as morals ans ethics) and the id (the biological aggressive and pleasure seeking). Here again, ethics fights against desires and repress them in case of an eventual social disagreement on them.
In between all this, desires and needs are not to be thought of as solely natural. They are also linked to culture:
Society creates desires that become needs after a while. Take the example of the phone: before Graham Bell, the phone or any communication tool was a mere fantasy. Now it is almost a vital need. A smart phone is a vital need too, along with the tremendous effort of advertising it as the way to modernity, independance and success. Media’s role is to sell us a prefabricated dream, a prefabricated opinion with the twisted idea of us actually feeling modern and independent just by possessing the phone or any tool of an advertising propaganda. What was fundamentally a natural need (I.e communication that shaped up consciousness as Nietzsche pointed out) is now a cultural need, after being just a foolish desire of the ones who could afford it at its start. Mass communication is possible, an idea that scared Habermas!
The contemporary concept of ethics:
On a parallel ground, society, inventor of needs and desires, invents all along its ethics. Considering again the example of he phone, being ethical is to reply to a phone call or to a message, per se the phone is a prolongation of the hand. So being fast, being effective, being workoholic, being sociaholic, being connected, being exposed, marketing oneself etc… are all conform to nowadays ethics, which deleted the frontier between the public and the private; a phenomenon warned on by the Ancient Greeks. Therefore, an anarchist, a romantic, a real-book reader, an introvert, a money hater etc. are perceived as schizophrenics, anachronistic, dangerous.
Can we say that the 21st century brought Plato’s intelligible world down to the raw sensible world? Can we say to Freud that finally the Id and the Superego are in peace and our peronality’s development is an old theory? Can we say that freedom is to have it all and easily? Can we say that our imagination is at rest because we don’t fantasise anymore and we don’t need it? The intelligence of our contemporary world is in its capacity to overcome the desire/ethics dualism in general and replacing it by a monism of desire=ethics. This is totalitarism at its best!