[NB: Did you guys know I wrote a book?]
Ever met someone who was a moral saint? Someone who is ALWAYS doing the right thing?
Maybe it’s because they just deep in their hearts want to be a good person, or maybe it’s because they’re convinced they should always do the right thing whether or not they want to. Either way, it’s uncomfortable, right? You’re like “hey do you read books” and they’re all “Unfortunately no I’m much too busy running the orphanage” and you’re like “Oh well you must love children” and they’re like “No, not really, but I think it’s the right thing to do” and then you’re like “WOW do ever get to have fun at all?” and they’re all “I like to cook…” and you’re like “Oh thank G-” but then they’re like “…on the weekends, for the orphans.” and you finish your drink as fast as possible and then you’re like “WOW okay well, oh look my drink is empty, it was lovely meeting you.” Sometimes you just want to hang out with people you like and be shitty about nominalists, and moral saints are all “Haha! Yes, I suppose. Anyway, did you see the sports thing?” and you know they changed the subject because they don’t like being shitty but you ALSO know they’re genuinely, truly not judging you, they’d just rather not say anything negative about another person behind that person’s back, but they strive to understand and accept your reasons for doing so, and somehow that makes it so much worse.
It’s like their goodness is so overwhelming it crowds out anything else that might be interesting. I’m not saying everyone has to read books and play an instrument and chug light beer on the weekends and most Thursday nights until the blessed darkness comes and I’ve drowned my self-hatred for a couple hours, I’m just saying that a life that doesn’t include ANY of that shit seems weirdly empty. Moral saints are never graceful or witty and it’s not because being graceful or witty is immoral, it’s because it’s nonmoral, and moral saints don’t have time for that shit. they’re not always boring people, but everything they do has to be in the service of morality. If they’re into cooking, it’s so they can cook for the soup kitchen. If they’re into chess, it’s so they can teach the kids at the orphanage. If they’re into architecture, it’s because they spend summers building homes in disaster areas in the South Pacific and OH MY GOD READ A BOOK JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT TO FOR ONCE IN YOUR FUCKING LIFE.
Moral sainthood conflicts with our ordinary ideas about what sort of person it’s worth being. We tend to think that it’s better to be physically fit or a good cook or able to shotgun a beer in under 2 seconds, like we’re better, more well-rounded people for having some of those skills than not, even though they’re totally nonmoral skills. If you want to be a moral saint then at best those sorts of skills or traits are like happy accidents and you’re not allowed to cultivate that shit, which is a good reason to NOT be a moral saint.
And maybe you’re like “Oh but ordinary ideas about morality are bullshit, that’s why we use systems like utilitarianism or Kantianism like adults.” One I don’t like your attitude and two I don’t think those systems really get you out of problems. Like, sure. Maybe utilitarians think there would be more happiness generally if people had interesting hobbies and personalities, and maybe Kantians want to say that we can’t rationally will that everyone be a boring asshole, but still: those systems reach into every corner of your life, bro.
So maybe on the societal level hobbies are important for utilitarians, but on the level of the individual utilitarian, especially in non-utilitarian societies, bros FOR SURE gotta be saints. There’s just too much to care about. No matter how much you enjoy museums, there are always people to feed and care for. Again, utilitarian saints don’t have to be totally boring, but a good utilitarian is never going to do a thing “just because.” There’s always going to be this extra “because… it’s for the greatest overall happiness.” And it’s like “yo dawg that’s one thought too many, pump the brakes.”
Kantianism doesn’t get you off the hook either, I don’t think. In fact, that motherfucker LITERALLY wants you to have a rule for everything. Nothing is more boring than following rules all the time, I feel more boring just thinking about it. You could have hobbies and interests and shit but you still have to pay a toll to the morality man, who’s all “Hey why are you into logic puzzles” you have to be like “it’s cool, it’s so that I can be better at being reasonable and I can univerally will that everyone be more reasonable” and then he’s all “why are you really into first century Japanese erotica then” and you are shit the fuck out of luck, bud, unless you can make the case that everyone should be into that. I’m all ears for that case, but good luck.
Now maybe some of you motherfuckers who are all about Aristotelean virtue ethics are all “YEAH HERE COMES THE RAIN, TAKE THAT JOHNNY STU AND MANNY KANT” but I’m not so hot on your solution, either. Isn’t the Aristotelean solution just to make “be interesting” a thing we have to do morally? That just DOES NOT seem like the point of morality. My whole point is that we WANT there to be nonmoral reasons for doing things, and making “be interesting” a moral imperative doesn’t seem fair to all those really boring motherfuckers that are out there doing their best with the comb-overs they have. You keep doing you, Glenn. Glenn may be boring as shit, just really NO social skills of any kind to speak of at all whatsoever, and also he reads shitty paperback novels all the time? And why does he like the movie Stripes so much? Glenn is a weird dude and all but that shouldn’t make him a bad person.
I don’t think there’s ANY way to come up with a moral theory that doesn’t have SOME of these problems. You could put a ceiling on it, and be like “ONLY BE THIS GOOD” but that’s stupid and arbitrary, or you could be like “well, morality isn’t the point of morality anyway” but isn’t it? Like, when people do the morally right thing, I still want to be able to be like “Hell yeah Sarah good work” instead of being all smug like “yeah but did you learn anything?” Fuck that. It makes morality way too calculating, like “sure it’s moral but it is the OTHER thing too?”
So any good moral theory is going to create this problem where it’s possible to be weirdly, creepily good, but I’m not saying the entire idea of morality is bullshit.
OBVIOUSLY some shit is morally right or wrong. I’m also not saying that moral saints are bad people or even that they’re not admirable at all, but fuck you if you can’t see that there’s more to the good life than being morally good.
Maybe Mother Teresa is a boss-ass bitch for the level of sacrifice she was willing to make, but it better be okay to be like “yeah, you know what? I think I’ll just live in a place that I like and have a good job and give away some of my income, if that’s cool with everyone else. Thaaaaanks.” I’m not an asshole for wanting that.
All this means that morality isn’t the only top-level value; it’s not the one thing that we have to judge everything else in our lives by. There’s way more that goes into being an awesome human being. Being morally good is just one important component to the Badass Lifestyle. And if we as philosophers want to continue to work out what it means to live the good life, we sure as shit better start making room for other values.