I ran across this post
the week before last, on the avoidance of responsibility enabled by self-deprecation. And immediately I thought of Richard Moran's analysis of weakness of will, and other failures to take the deliberative stance.
From the blog post:
"Call it the "I'm such an asshole" speech or call it strategic self-deprecation, the end goal is always the same: deflect women's anger.....
"These guys figure that if they say truly awful things about themselves, they'll force their partners to cease the search for legitimate discussion and turn to the more traditionally feminine role of soothing male anxiety."
(Aside: the author assumes this is particularly something men
do with women, and it may be, though I don't see why it has to be. The many commenters suggesting that appearance-based self-deprecation functions in the same way are wrong, however. Though feeling excessively miserable about one's appearance might deflect anger, it does not do so in the same way as claiming one's character is rotten does. Unlike the latter, the former does not attempt to make it look as if actively managing one's life is an impossibility
for the person exhibiting it. Thinking you look like crap is not a character flaw for which one is failing to take responsibility by treating it as an incontrovertible fact.)
Here's Fred Vincy & Mary Garth:Fred:
“I wouldn’t have hurt you so for the world, Mary,” he said at last. You can
never forgive me.Mary
: “What does it matter whether I forgave you? said Mary, passionately.
“Would that make it any better for my mother to lose the money she has
been earning by lessons for four years, that she might send Alfred to Mr.
Hanmer’s? Should you think all that pleasant enough if I forgave you?”Fred
: “Say what you like, Mary. I deserve it all.”Mary
: “I don’t want to say anything,” said Mary, more quietly; “my anger is of no
use” (Middlemarch, Ch. 25).
One might notice a slight difference: namely, that Fred seems to be encouraging Mary's anger rather than trying to defuse it. But the goal--to avoid actually figuring out what to do about the mess he's gotten himself into--is also present in the cases the blogger describes. Anger is superfluous, after all; it's goal is to get the person who's messed up to take a more active stance in dealing with what they've done. If it's not going to accomplish that, it's pointless, as wise Mary Garth can see.
And this is an instance of the broader problem Moran sees with adopting the 'empirical'--or 3rd personal--stance in situations in which a commitment, deliberation, or other effort of the will is called for. These things are active, not passive. They determine one's will; and insofar as they do so they must be seen as possibly subject to change. Even if one admits with Frankfurt that some features of one's will are unchangeable, as features of one's will they must be able to be affirmed as such, rather than simply self-defeatingly proclaimed. Saying "I'm terrible, awful, and rotten" is not the same as saying "I'm terrible, awful and rotten; and that's all I want to be." For all the wantonness that it indicates, in the latter, at least, the will is active.