tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
[CW: Brief discussion of rape]

Alice: "You stepped on my foot! Ow!"

Bob: "It hurts my feelings when you say I hurt you by stepping on your foot. I'm a good person, and you're attacking me."

I hope we all agree that in this interaction, Bob is wrong. He's treating Alice as if she said that he stepped on her foot for the sole purpose of hurting him -- as if all her actions revolve around him, erasing her desire and need to protect herself.

But what about this interaction?

Carol: "Hey, guys, does anybody know the phone number for CVS?"

Eve: "Not all of us in the group you're addressing are guys. It would help if you used gender-neutral language."

Carol: "Stop attacking me! I'm not some kind of sexist asshole, and anyway, 'guys' is gender-neutral."

In this interaction, as in the first one, Carol is being narcissistic. She is treating Eve as if all of Eve's actions center around Carol: as if anything that Eve does that has the effect of hurting Carol must be done with the sole purpose of hurting Carol. Carol can't conceive that Eve might be asking Carol to use gender-neutral language because Eve doesn't like being misgendered (or because Eve doesn't mind, but knows other people in the group who aren't guys don't like it). She can't conceive that something might hurt her feelings, but not be done in order to hurt her feelings. So Carol changes the subject from Eve's feelings of hurt (or desire to protect others) at the misgendering use of "guys" to her own feelings of narcissistic injury over having her behavior corrected.

Now how about this example?

Faith: "I think you should know that Oscar is a rapist."

Grace: "I hate call-out culture so much. You're just trying to ruin Oscar's reputation. It's so mean of you to try to exile him from the community."

Grace's response reflects a similar misconception (perhaps accidental, perhaps deliberate): she hears Faith's damaging statement about Oscar, and she assumes that Faith only said it in order to harm Oscar. Perhaps Faith wishes Oscar no harm, but also wants to protect her friends from being raped. To keep her friends safe, it's necessary for her to say something that reflects poorly on Oscar. Grace assumes that because Faith says something negative about her friend Oscar that she's only doing it to hurt Oscar. Again, it's apparently inconceivable to her that Faith might value Oscar's well-being, but not enough to put her friends in danger by keeping quiet about Oscar's behavior of raping people.

When someone says you did something hurtful and you change the subject to how you're actually a good person, how your interlocutor doesn't really know you, and how you feel attacked, you're behaving like a narcissist. And you're committing a logical error: the assumption that nobody would act in a way that's disadvantageous to you unless they did it in order to hurt you. (This is also true when the person you're defending is a friend rather than yourself -- in that case you're still defending yourself, since you're attempting to protect yourself from the pain of having to admit someone you like and trust did something wrong.)

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Tim Chevalier

May 2017

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