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**