I'm a dick, and that allows me to be a good person. That is the subject of today's lecture. Let's say we like ladybugs, and you must choose between killing one ladybug and two ladybugs, and you choose to kill two. Are you a bad person? Yes. Given the choice, you should have killed one; you should have chosen the action that caused the least harm, prevented the most harm.
Let's say you can feed one hungry person or ten hungry people for the same cost and you choose to feed only one. Are you a bad person? Yes. You should have fed ten, you definitionally bad person!
Okay, now let's say you can cure 10 poor Africans' diseases or you can cure one American's disease and you choose the one American. Are you a bad person? “Well, now, hold on,” you might say. “I guess that depends on how you compare the worth of Africans' lives to the worth of Americans' lives.” Am I somewhat partial to my fellow Americans? Sure. If pressed, I might even value an American 2:1 compared to a Somali's life. But I don't value American's lives 10:1, 100:1, let alone 1000:1.
Yet, 1000 to 1 is basically how I see “nice people” making decisions when it relates to people into whose fellow-American eyes they can look versus impoverished people on the other side of the world they will, under no circumstance, ever encounter.
If you, a well-meaning philanthropist, put $10,000 toward a scholarship for an underprivileged American when you could have given that same 10 Gs to Malaria prevention efforts that would have prevented the death of many young children, are you a good person? I must say au contraire, you bad, bad guy.
The problem is that the conventional method of assessing how nice someone is, how little of a dick they are, is observing how they treat the people around them. Are they polite to the waiter? Kind to their parents? Giving in their communities? Supportive of the arts? Doing those things is what makes people conventionally nice and not at all a dick. But when you choose to do something nice at the expense of something far nicer, you are, by the definition you and I already negotiated, a quintessential bad person, dare I say an evil, depraved sociopath.