apolliana: (Default)
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.
apolliana: (Default)
When I tell people the topic of my dissertation, I frequently get responses such as, "Oh, I have no idea what my mental states are!" And I have to say, I'm baffled.

Usually, but not always, these people are extraverts. This leads me to suspect that perhaps this results from unstable or profuse identifications (in the Harry Frankfurt sense, wherein one 'identifies' oneself and one's standing volitions with those of others). Flakiness arises from the instability of such profuse or changing identifications, perhaps.

Then the questions as to what one ought to {do, love, want} will seem more relevant than they will seem to someone with fewer identifications yielding competing information about those things.

Of course, a person can have conflicting desires without being influenced by chaotic identifications. It's understandable to have desires pulling in two different directions. But sometimes there seems genuinely to be no fact of the matter; as when choosing ice cream: outside of a couple of broad parameters, there seems to be no preexisting preference there. In the no-fact-of-the-matter cases, what seems to be called for is not introspection, but some sort of commitment; or, if commitment sounds too detached, creation. I am hesitant to recommend this; but people do sometimes get stuck in an endless introspection loop, so that one begins to suspect that isn't the answer; whatever it is the person is looking for is not to be found antecedently existing. What's required is, rather, a leap.

This is to affirm the appeal of Moran's recommendations (from Authority and Estrangement to cases in which the introspection process (to the extent that naming one's desires is a process) fails to produce results of any kind. My overwhelming inclination is to say to these people, "You're looking in the wrong place." Though I do rather wonder why the process failed.

For the least self-estranging results, it would be best for the executive decision to be made in accord with one's identifications; though if conflict between those exists, another endless loop might be triggered. Additionally, if, in the case of no antecedent preference, in which a decision must be made based upon one's identifications, a subject might have a strong motivation to avoid any identifications. This would lead back to the endless unproductive introspection loop as well.
apolliana: (Default)
"We're so vulnerable to being hurt that we're given the capacity to distort, as a gift" (End of Radiolab on Deception, about self-deception.)

"Fools and young people talk about everything being possible for a human being. But that is a great mistake. Everything is possible spiritually speaking, but in the finite world there is much that is not possible" (Fear & Trembling, 72-3).


I don't think ego-identifying commitments are ever really comprehensible to anyone else, except through analogy. There's a modern bias to present the self as infinitely malleable and adaptable--we don't want to think there are limits, for anyone. Having a hard time? Just change yourself! Change what you love! It's a lovely source of optimism, and sometimes it's true. But not always. It's not just an inability to see some new path that prevents change in longstanding depression. Any failure to see another path looks pathological to someone else. But there are parameters; and "it is a contradiction to forget the whole of one's life's content and still be the same." Why are we vulnerable to being hurt? Because we are committed to things. Perhaps we don't even want to admit that other people have these kinds of vulnerabilities, let alone ourselves; the immutabilities of others make us sigh. What is open to change for one person is not for another, so others' immutabilities never strike us as convincingly immutable. (Compare the truism about foreign policy: "America can never quite remember what others can never forget.") Self-deception is perhaps most necessary in relation to these unchangeable features of ourselves, since we have no other way out of them.

The Knight of Faith (princess variation) both believes that he won't get the princess, because he's not an idiot, and that he will. He takes two perspectives simultaneously: one that is responsive to the facts, and one that is independent of them. The latter he's learned from being a Knight of Infinite Resignation., wherein it is discovered that the love can continue in the absence of its object. Infinite resignation is resilient, insulated, but still defiant, as the Knight does not give up his wish. I'm not sure whether the simultaneous adoption of two perspectives ought to count as self-deception. My inclination is that it shouldn't; it's a careful balance between two views of things, of both of which the Knight is aware. "Self-deception" is biased towards the correctness of one of those viewpoints.

To Be Continued....




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