More Grumblings on Niceties -or- My Life as a Recovering Nice Guy.

Last night I threw out a few claims about being nice, and I realize now in reflection that I missed the main crux of my frustrations (writing about feelings brings up feelings, who knew?). 

The bigger problem of niceties is that they are primarily motivated by a self-serving tit-for-tat economics. When one does nice things, one is often motivated by the hope (or rather, demand) that nice things will happen in return for them. This is the white misappropriation of Karma. If one is motivated solely “for the good Karma”, one is not truly intentionally doing good. This is a “I deserve good things for doing good things” mentality, and it is poisonous. Any time that one demands that one deserves something for previous nice acts, one is speaking from privilege. This privilege is that of what one is owed from a transaction.

But there is no calculus for being a good person. Stop plugging in variables and keeping up appearances. 

In their existence as a ‘karmic’ transaction, niceties have the structure of shallow play-acting. If one believes that one is doing the right thing just out of the motivation of good esteem (or as Kant puts it, ‘deserving of happiness’), then one is acting inauthentically. The motivation is something more along the lines of “I don’t actually feel that way, I just thought it would be a nice thing to do for you”. Being nice is a question of doing what looks good in front of others. It’s padding oneself with esteem from others so that one can feel better about oneself. Niceties fill the insecure void of feeling like a bad person. Niceties attempt to whitewash away the feeling of sin/guilt that a person accumulates in everyday life. 

The even more insidious and blunt and vile case study for this argumentation is the social phenomena of the “nice guy”. This has been widely written on by better thinkers than me, so I’m really just going to go for a quick description. A nice guy is the very prevalent figure of a man (yes, usually a man… it could presumably exist across gender lines, but the archetype is definitely a patriarchical one) who believes that the best way to prove sexual worth is to play nice with women. And here is where being nice turns into something vile. The transaction is mentally marked and noted by the nice guy. The nice guy tallies up all his favors that he’s done for the target (yes, target — this is still a form of objectivizing the other) in hopes that she’ll fall in love with him, or at least put out. Nice guys make for the most shallow of friends for women, since they hope beyond anything else for sex. Oftentimes, there’s a particular turning point in the friendship in which the nice guy reveals his tally: “I deserve sex with you, what about all the times I didn’t grope you when you were drunk?” — Yes, it gets that bad. There’s a broken and faulty logic that reduces women to simply a puzzle whose solution is gratuitous sex for being ‘such an awesome friend’. No.

This is not reductive to the male psyche alone; there are women out there who operate in this way, allowing for the transaction to dictate sexlife. But just because exceptions exist, does not morally clear nice guys from the abject awfulness of being nice guys.

The nice guy trope is also socially-accepted and reinforced, indoctrinating many to think that the way to a woman’s heart is by arbitrary tasks —- this is a videogame/sitcom/romcom mentality that my generation will always struggle with. 

And I do mean struggle:

I identify as a recovering nice guy. The language of addiction here is intentional. I grew up with horrid patriarchical views that I am trying so desperately to obliterate. But they return, again and again. My friends in middle school and high school reinforced this horrible mentality and it compounded over the years.

Thankfully in retrospect, despite my efforts, I never successfully niced my way into anyone’s pants in high school or middle school. There were some incidents, but never anything where I managed to bend consent. I say that this is a thankful thing because in retrospect, it would have been awful, and my more recent and better forays into feminism would have made me feel even more rotten and guilty than I already do. I can cop to being a failed nice guy. 

I did try the nice guy schtick a couple of times when I met the Iron Frau, but she shot that down fast. She’s the Iron Frau for a reason. No quarter given. Autonomy is her own whether I like it in the present moment or not.

But the nice guy mentality still haunts me. Good deeds are a trap. In doing them, I still feel that there are things that I deserve. If I take care of the Iron Frau when she is sick, or pick her up from work, I still have that nagging voice in my head that says “I will get sex out of this because I am so awesome.” No, if we have sex, it is unrelated to any good deeds that I have done; it is up to the Iron Frau and what she desires herself. Stop being an idiot, Cranky. The motivation instead should be out of love, out of kindness, out of doing the damned right thing whether or not the consequences are going to be sexy.

No one deserves sex. Anyone who demands some sort of compensation for doing the right thing is not rightfully doing the right thing. They are motivated by something selfish, petty, and inauthentic. 

Your niceties won’t redeem you.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: Iron Frau edited and approved her mentions in this post**

On Nice and Kind

I’ve intimated this before, but feel that this needs a better outlining here…

There is a vast, ethically-crucial divide between being nice and being kind. In my work and figuring, nice is morally deplorable and kindness is the only true moral position but is not incompatible with being mean (I shall explain the difference between mean/cruel some other time).

Being nice is the combination of doing what tradition tells you is the right thing to do as well as what you would want in the exact same situation. The Golden Rule or the Categorical Imperative are both formulations of niceties. This is pervasive. This is considered the right thing to do. One feels the necessity out of being nice to do for others what one would want in the same situation. Niceness is motivated by compassion, a sympathy in which one reappropriates the pain of others as one’s own. I see your pain, and I do what I would imagine I’d want if I had that.

From the outset, such a position seems to be such a perfect one for the position of ethics. However, the “Do unto Others” maxim misses the mark to often to truly be ethically sound. Niceties don’t focus on the other as other before me, just who I want the other to be. Being nice is projecting. I don’t really give the other person a chance to be his/her own person, but instead am contorting their pain or suffering into my own form and understanding. The cruelest things that have happened to me in recent memory were done with the nicest of intentions. Niceties hurt since they don’t take the other in direct consideration, but instead as a secondary consideration to one’s own navel-gazing.

Compassion does not work well.   It makes a bold claim about pain or the experience of others from the point of privilege. False allies are motivated by compassion and niceties. Compassion is a dominant voice over the voice of the marginalized. Advocating without paying attention to the advocated. Compassion is a patronizing control over the other person. “Oh, I didn’t think you could do it alone, so I stepped in…. Oh, you still can’t do it.”… and so on.

Instead, the aim should be kindness. This, by my formulation of it, is directly dependent upon an empathetic understanding of others that one wants to help. It is first necessary to understand the other as best as possible. Listen to the other give an account of his or her pain or suffering directly. Don’t reduce the other’s experience to your own selfish experience. Instead let others speak for themselves. Kindness then follows from what the other needs, not what you think [hope] they need.

Niceties dictate. Kindness listens. Kindness is harder than being nice, but worth the effort. It allows for a more open dialogue in understanding between people.


More on this some other time.

“The Cranky Method”

People say/tweet horrible things. Sometimes intentionally. But other times not which makes for a difficulty in calling people out on their horrible things.

A while back a few of my twinterlocutors (ick, that’s a horrible way of putting it–never again) determined that I had a “method” for conflict resolution/questioning tweets that seem a bit ideologically troublesome. I wasn’t necessarily aware that I had a method itself until I was called out on it. I’ve been thinking on it, and am trying to tease it out since it does seem to be a fairly successful mediation plan. @Sainsha calls this the “Dude, what are you even doing” method, but I maintain that I have never used the word dude unironically.

The point behind my ‘method’ is that it’s easy for someone to misspeak, so instead of directly rallying to arms against the person, it is better to understand the motivations behind the questionable material. After all, retractions can always and often happen.

The Method:

A questionable tweet arises from someone I normally respect (I generally leave many alone in their ideology whom I don’t respect, because of the inherent nausea that arises from dealing with the horridly stubborn — I follow plenty of people only for the ability to keep tabs on their awfulness as well). Either it’s a standalone tweet that suggests something dogmatically cruel, or it’s a snippy comment against someone else I otherwise respect. The latter situation is generally more precarious, since it has multiple egos that may be hurt.

I usually ask in my own @-reply a rather blunt question that aims more directly at ascertaining intent. If the tweet is a snippy attack on someone, it’s important to not readily go to fight for the victim of the attack. It can very well be that neither side is right. Many times, this has been the case. The idea is that the question should be jarring in pointing out the troublesome interpretation of the tweet. Additionally, defending any victim of the tweet or statement may be unwanted. In many cases, the victim can hold their own and doesn’t need any sort of patronizing defense. Asking a blunt question regarding intent instead makes for a more honest exchange. The possibly-malignant tweeter is forced to either recant, say nothing, admit to cruel intentions, or dig their grave deeper.

If the person recants, yay. End of method.

If the person says nothing, lame. End of method. –there’s nothing to do here without harassment.

If the person admits to cruel intentions, then it’s probably a good thing to disassociate from this person from then on out (I have yet to do well on this part, and often get into a heated and nauseating circumstance).

If the person digs their grave deeper –that is, defends ill-will and doesn’t understand anything wrong with it while demonstrating the absolute depth of its maliciousness–, be ready for a ridiculous experiment in rhetoric. Again, do not chivalrously defend any victim of the circumstance besides oneself. The method is not a question of choosing sides, but of revealing people’s biases for what they are.

This will get nauseating, or at least it has been for me. I’ve interacted with plenty of people this way only to discover that we have irreconcilable differences. These differences are often begat by some ideologically-entrenched principle/abject egoism of the other person. While it supposedly shouldn’t bother me that I’ve discovered something so morally bankrupt in someone I had grown to respect through such a strange medium, it does. I feel my arguments, often for days. I then either move toward a full-unfollow, or limit my ongoing interaction with the person to a minimal one: once bitten, twice shy.

I don’t know how effective a rhetorical/ethical method this is, but it’s mine and it seems to work for its purposes.

Feelings are real, pure logic is inhuman

so, for my first ‘real’ post, I’m going to throw down a few things that I’ve intimated in the past on twitter. I’m devoting this post to the problem of human emotions, or rather, the problems that arise when we try to tackle human emotions with logic. I’m more concerned here with a few trends that I have seen in recent philosophy workshop talks/debates between classmates/grumblings on twitter. These trends are troubling and perhaps dangerous. I also want to make a brief outline on how emotions should be considered, but it’ll be tentative at best.

I struggle with depression and anxiety. I have my entire life and it’s shaped who I am as a philosopher and curmudgeonly person. I’ve often claimed that I’m cranky because I care. This is true. My day-to-day existence is that of being agitated in some way or another. It’s a double-agitation; I am constantly both agitated to keep striving and working and thinking, and agitated to not, feeling inadequate or frustrated with the world. My mental/emotional health has been my entire life’s motivation. Of course, emotions are also the motivations for everyone, but there’s a large amount of emotion-denying both in common culture and in philosophy that leads to an unaware and unexamined motivational problem for many. There of course are those who think that this motivation problem should instead be suppressed or replaced with more ‘positive’ emotions, as if it were so easy. Emotions cannot be swapped out for one another. Any attempt to do so is rather hurtful and invasive.

There’s a problem with affect in philosophy, at least in the way that we discuss affect. We have a tendency to overwrought emotions as irrational and horrid experiences that deprive us of our capacity for logic -or- occasionally philosophers have some sort of hippy-dippy sense that passions are the be all and end all of human experience (or, the “Isn’t it great that we FEEL things?!” discourse). There’s a duality here, either trying to outright condemn emotions for their fleeting nature, or to try to save them from their cold destruction by logic. If both of these positions sound like strawmen, good. The issue seems to be a reduction of both logic and emotions to something simpler than they are, as if it’s some sort of on/off switch. Of course there are many who understand that logic and emotions are intertwined and cannot be fully parsed from one another, but they seem to be too few and far between in my experience.

Too often, when academics talk about affect, it seems to often be as if it’s something in a museum exhibit. We’ve catalogued it, defined its parameters, explained how it used to mean something back in the day to those who felt them and we pepper in our own moral rationalization regarding whether or not these were “valid” emotions. Affect is better for study when it has passed and no longer is an active threat. Many philosophers who work in affect seem instead to be working in some sort of navel-gazing prose poetry. I’ve met several colleagues who refer to ‘suffering’ with a sterile outsider’s perspective in their tone of voice where it’s hard to imagine they’ve ever suffered anything in their lives more than the occasional hangover. Something died in affect theory. We are no longer talking about feelings, but instead about something that I prefer to avoid the word “affect” since it has this sterile academic use. Instead, I’m just simply going to use the term “feelings” or the most brilliant term bestowed by the internet: “the feels”.

‘The feels’ understands the nature of emotions perfectly. They are always a multitude, all the time. It is impossible to pin down one singular emotion that rules over an action alone. Instead, there is often a motivational ambivalence between a few emotions that guide someone to make a decision. Logic in any truly pure form is detached from any human reality. Logic is logic. It has no practical application in our actions unless it is motivated by our emotional stance. The desire to follow logic or reason is still a desire and thereby is still emotive.

There’s also an issue that arises with an assumption that there is a dualism between rationality and irrationality. Instead, we should examine things as being split by rational, irrational, and non-rational. The rational conforms to pure logical forms. The irrational stands against anything and everything that is logical, often with a nihilistic contrarian polemic against logic. Meanwhile, the non-rational operates beyond or parallel to logic. This category just shouldn’t be compared to logic. Emotions are not by nature irrational, but non-rational. They operate without a logical framework, but do not actively defy logic. Emotions cannot be judged in terms of being logical or not until some sort of post hoc reflection. An immediate emotional reaction just is. Reaction is a brute fact outside of reason. It’s only the maintenance and reflection of emotion that can be evaluated in terms of rationality or irrationality, that is, after one has had time to think on the cause of the emotional reaction and its consequences in motivation.

That’s about all I have right now on this. Emotions are complicated and need a more complicated, rigorous approach in determining their use as motivation for ethical action. I’ve been trying to carve this out for a while, and hope that I can use this blog as a way to tease out this problem some more in the future.