‘I simply am not there.’ Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000) (Columbia Pictures).
Here’s some food for thought for you. Do you find that some people in your life posture to be good (e.g. by preaching about in-vogue current issues such as climate change) whilst simultaneously not being good people? That’s not to say that these issues are unimportant (far from it); rather, that these people are more concerned with their own social status, selfishly using topical issues to proselytise and exert influence.
Others suck their commentary right up; you may not. They may even remind you of Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho. Bear with me.
Here’s a quote from Patrick:
However, Patrick doesn’t fundamentally care about these issues: he’s using them as a crutch for his own social relevance.
The satire is ingenious. Real people, as well, are so good at playing the part. They deceive themselves into thinking that their words need to be heard; that we’re fortunate to share the same air and digital space as them. Unironically, we follow them even though they don’t care about the victims all that much.
With these thoughts I draw you to an ethical debate. To be considered moral does one need to feel passion (~Humeanism)? Or can one just spout out the right code vacuously like Patrick Bateman (~Kantianism)?
Patrick clearly was a horrendous person who lacked empathy: he wanted his ‘pain to be inflicted on others’. Yet in this speech and others his words are compelling.
Whereas Humeans quickly recognise this lack of emotion as a moral deficit, Kantians may permit it: Patrick was exclusively pursuing his own interests, yes, but he was also happy to be treated with the same fundamental disregard (see Bernard Williams on ‘ethical egoism’).
On trending issues our friends may wax indifferently, too (‘omg racism is bad’). But maybe that doesn’t matter to us so long as we care.
I usually side with the Humeans in demanding there to be passion in ethics whilst acknowledging the power of rationality as a faculty of reason in constructing moral beliefs. However, Humeanism may entail that everything I believe in means nothing to anyone or anything outside myself. I don’t want that to be true!
As an environmentalist, a vegan, a healthcare worker—a whatever—I do feel like my attitudes and my ideologies are enchained to some real-world ‘good’—that there are ultimate grounds for my beliefs and that I genuinely care about the planet, animals, people, etc., for good reasons. But I am also completely open to the idea that I’m just as selfish as the people I berate—as deluded—and that my self-concernedness has taken hold of my reasoning powers in alike fashion: that I only think I’m doing good things. Though I’d like to think I am a more-moral person than Patrick is.