pat bateman
‘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:

'Well, we have to end apartheid, for one, and slow down the nuclear arms race … stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women … '

Indeed, 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.

‘Whaddaya think?’

'[T]here is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent […] My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone […] But even after admitting this—and I have countless times, in just about every act I've committed—and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling. There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing.'