Prepare to be disappointed in yourself.
September 21, 2019 5:53 PM   Subscribe

The moral and emotional failure of the jerk is obvious. The intellectual failure is obvious, too: no one is as right about everything as the jerk thinks he is. He would learn by listening. And one of the things he might learn is the true scope of his jerkitude – a fact about which, as I will explain shortly, the all-out jerk is inevitably ignorant. Which brings me to the other great benefit of a theory of jerks: it might help you figure out if you yourself are one. (Eric Schwitzgebel, Aeon)
With Vazire’s model of self-knowledge in mind, I conjecture a correlation of approximately zero between how one would rate oneself in relative jerkitude and one’s actual true jerkitude. The term is morally loaded, and rationalisation is so tempting and easy! Why did you just treat that cashier so harshly? Well, she deserved it – and anyway, I’ve been having a rough day. Why did you just cut into that line of cars at the last minute, not waiting your turn to exit? Well, that’s just good tactical driving – and anyway, I’m in a hurry! Why did you seem to relish failing that student for submitting her essay an hour late? Well, the rules were clearly stated; it’s only fair to the students who worked hard to submit their essays on time – and that was a grimace not a smile.
Eric Schwitzgebel previously.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (46 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is an interesting piece. But I thought he didn’t adequately address the downsides of being too much of a sweetheart. Being vulnerable is hard and sometimes dangerous. Some level of jerkitude is simple self preservation. (For example, New Yorkers are sometimes perceived as rude when they’re actually just ignoring people they don’t need to interact with. In a small town it would be inconceivable not to say hello to someone you pass on the street, while in a big city you’d wear yourself out trying to do that.)

I was also a little troubled by his trick of gendering the jerk as male (“obviously”!) and then deciding it was too on the nose to gender the sweetheart as female, so they conveniently both get to be male. That’s not the way it works, bro!

Still, as someone who struggles with my own jerkiness I found a lot to think about.
posted by rikschell at 7:17 PM on September 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


Prepare to be disappointed in yourself

story of my life
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:36 PM on September 21, 2019 [11 favorites]


I am in the middle of reading TFA but did want to point out the fun etymology trivia near the start.
The jerk-as-fool usage seems to have begun as a derisive reference to the unsophisticated people of a ‘jerkwater town’: that is, a town not rating a full-scale train station, requiring the boiler man to pull on a chain to water his engine.

posted by spamandkimchi at 7:51 PM on September 21, 2019 [20 favorites]


Emphases added.
Philosophers seem to have a special talent for this: we can concoct a moral rationalisation for anything, with enough work! (Such skill at rationalisation might explain why ethicist philosophers seem to behave no morally better, on average, than comparison groups of non-ethicists, as my collaborators and I have found in a series of empirical studies looking at a broad range of issues from library-book theft and courteous behaviour at professional conferences to rates of charitable donation and Nazi party membership in the 1930s.)
I will say that "jerk" seems to encompass and be utterly insufficient to explain Thomas Pogge (philosophy specialty: ethics, justice).
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:03 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


The jerk-as-fool usage seems to have begun as a derisive reference to the unsophisticated people of a ‘jerkwater town’: that is, a town not rating a full-scale train station, requiring the boiler man to pull on a chain to water his engine.

I was curious about this, too, but since this didn't really make any sense to me (why would the boiler man be "required" to water his engine only in small towns?), I looked it up further. If you believe this link, then the author got his etymology quite garbled:
In the early days of railroads, when the locomotives were steam-powered, the boiler’s supply of water needed to be refilled fairly often. Large towns and cities had water towers by the tracks, and topping off the tank was simply a matter of pulling under the spigot and hooking up. In smaller rural towns, however, such amenities were lacking, and a train crew in need of water faced the chore of fetching it by hand from a nearby stream. As one account explained in 1945, “… train crews, when the water got low, often had to stop by a creek, form a bucket brigade and jerk water from the stream to fill the tender tank.” “Jerk” in this context refers to the rough, sudden movement of lifting a bucket, often on a rope, from the creek.
But I find this more compelling:
Jerkwater town recalls the railroaders' terms for a town too small for a station, but having a water tower or tank for the thirsty old steam locomotives. It was a town so small and insignificant that trains stopped only for water. A job of the train's fireman was to swing out the watertower's large spigot-like pipe, position and lower it over the train's water tank on the tender, and "jerk" the chain to start the flow of water, hence, "jerkwater." A tanktown, often shortened to tank, is also from railroader's talk and also refers to the water stops in jerkwater towns out in the middle of nowhere.
So it seems to me that, in towns big and small, fireman were always "jerking" chains to refill their tenders with water. The thing about "jerkwater towns" is that the water tower was the only thing they had—they lacked a proper station. So I'd probably rewrite the clause in question to read something like "a town without a full-scale train station, whose only rail amenity was a water tower whose spigot could be 'jerked' open to refill steam locomotives."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:38 PM on September 21, 2019 [16 favorites]


I knew I was going to be disappointed in myself and I wasn't disappointed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:58 PM on September 21, 2019 [13 favorites]


If I’m such a jerk, would I be picking out a Thermos for you?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:13 PM on September 21, 2019 [16 favorites]


I'm probably being a jerk for pointing it out, but I like how this thread has quickly veered from the potentially contentious issue of personal jerkitude into a relatively benign etymological discussion of the derivation of "jerkwater".
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on September 21, 2019 [12 favorites]


Thanks for the jerkwater explanations! As a kid, I loved the movie, The Journey of Natty Gann which is set during the Depression. There's a scene involving the two main characters leaping onto a train via a nearby water tower. It leads to them using the spout to get closer to the train and accidentally setting off the flow of water. I never questioned it that much but I hadn't understood why that spout was there and would go over a train track. Now it all makes sense!
posted by acidnova at 9:41 PM on September 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


The stunt that Buster Keaton broke his back doing in 1924 used just such a "jerkwater" railroad tower.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:58 PM on September 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


If you can't spot the jerk in the room...
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:37 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


the thing i think this piece underplays is that being a decent person isn’t simply a matter of inclination, preference, or worldview, but is at its core a skill — decency is a collection of habits that take effort to attain and practice to maintain. it’s possible (in fact, likely) for someone who has the inclination toward decency (toward being a “sweetheart,” to use this philosopher’s somewhat awkward nomenclature) to in fact be totally unpleasant — a “jerk” — unless or until they acquire and deploy the skills needed to be genuinely decent.

i am often paralyzed by the feeling that i’m a jerk, which is by this metric a sign that i am not a jerk. but also: i can be crashingly rude, legitimately jerk-like, on a number of axes. for example: i am utter crap at remembering peoples’ names. names are important, and by misremembering or failing to remember someone’s name, one is showing disrespect — one is being a jerk. i was raised without really being taught the various social soothing/bonding games around thank-you cards and holiday cards and birthday observation and etc etc, and have had to very gradually learn those because a failure to deploy those in contexts where they’re expected can make one a jerk.

anyway. to my eye the focus on materiality rather than intent — and especially the focus on remorse for jerk behavior being the way to identify a non-jerk — is not just wrong but also a little dangerous. folks like louis ck (for example) are able to exploit that sort of definition to the hilt, by acting as if the public performance of shame for being a monster therefore absolves one from the damage one does to others, even if one continues to be a monster in precisely the same way.

a jerk isn’t someone who feels a certain way. a jerk move is an action that hurts others, regardless of how the perpetrator does or doesn’t feel. a jerk can continue being a jerk even if they feel bad about it. the version of virtue ethics proposed in this piece feels very out of step with moral philosophy on the whole; one doesn’t have to be a thoroughgoing consequentialist to acknowledge that the disney-movie ethics proposed here seems dangerously naïve. to my eye, it reduces to “if you mean well, you’re a hero. if you do bad — if you’re a villain — it’s because you mean to do bad.”
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:18 PM on September 21, 2019 [49 favorites]


*correction: the piece identifies a villain less as someone who means to do bad and more as someone who doesn’t care about being decent. this nevertheless badly overplays the importance of intent and badly underplays the importance of skill.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:28 PM on September 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


names are important, and by misremembering or failing to remember someone’s name, one is showing disrespect — one is being a jerk

If remembering names is difficult but you try (I have to write them down and still forget sometimes), that's not jerkiness. Thinking it's not worth the effort to remember the names of people who can't be useful to you, now that is mega-jerky.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:28 PM on September 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


the thing i think this piece underplays is that being a decent person isn’t simply a matter of inclination, preference, or worldview, but is at its core a skill — decency is a collection of habits that take effort to attain and practice to maintain. it’s possible (in fact, likely) for someone who has the inclination toward decency (toward being a “sweetheart,” to use this philosopher’s somewhat awkward nomenclature) to in fact be totally unpleasant — a “jerk” — unless or until they acquire and deploy the skills needed to be genuinely decent.

This.
I remember my dad explaining that he was a jerk until he met my stepmother, and for some reason she decided to train him instead of dump him. Well, she was the ultimate sweetheart, to be honest.

But thanks for this post. The article explains something I often struggle with, and I feel I can handle it better now.
Sometimes I'm a jerk. Because of the nature of some of my work, I will often be the only person with the facts in a room, or one of two. And I will appear as a jerk when I shoot people's ideas down. I understand that better now, after reading the article. I'll work on it, and advice will be taken. (It's not that people aren't given the facts, it's that they aren't willing or able to study them).
Sometimes there will be a genuine first class jerk in that room, in theory it could be an Ethics professor who sees me as a lowly moral subordinate, and the question on hand about budget or webdesign, or a combination of the two, just to give you a mental image to work with. When I am the only person to tell the Ethics professor that there is no money in the budget for his proposal, he will inevitably make it into a personal issue. I just saw a group mail yesterday saying basically "mumimor is so so darned stubborn, she doesn't get what I am saying". (There were many more words). It doesn't make a difference that the facts are with me, that'll just be me, magically molding the facts to suit my unknown evil purpose.
When this is a recurring theme at work, it wears you out in many ways, not least that the jerks get together and talk about my stubbornness and demon fact-molding abilities.

I don't know who the author is thinking about when he says some jerks are good leaders, but the first who came to my mind are Sanders and Corbyn (and the former Danish PMs Anders Fogh and Lars Løkke, who are on the other side of the political spectrum). Now because of my experiences, I don't think they are/were good leaders, but many obviously do. Again, the article helps me make sense of my feelings and others'.
posted by mumimor at 1:00 AM on September 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


A jerk is a tug, a tug is a boat, a boat goes in water, water is part of nature, nature is beautiful, thanks for the compliment.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:52 AM on September 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


Because of the nature of some of my work, I will often be the only person with the facts in a room, or one of two. And I will appear as a jerk when I shoot people's ideas down.

Dr House?
posted by Literaryhero at 5:20 AM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mumimor:

You just spent a long time explaining, near as I can tell, why you’re the only one who knows the truth and you’re surrounded by idiots.
posted by argybarg at 6:01 AM on September 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I know, argybarg, I know.
posted by mumimor at 6:33 AM on September 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


Why did you just treat that cashier so harshly? Well, she deserved it – and anyway, I’ve been having a rough day. Why did you just cut into that line of cars at the last minute, not waiting your turn to exit? Well, that’s just good tactical driving – and anyway, I’m in a hurry! Why did you seem to relish failing that student for submitting her essay an hour late? Well, the rules were clearly stated; it’s only fair to the students who worked hard to submit their essays on time – and that was a grimace not a smile.

This is a weird trio. The first two cases can be argued to be always wrong: cashiers should be treated (at worst) neutrally, and one should wait one’s turn when merging into traffic. The third seems to require relishing applying the rules of the course to the late student to make it into jerkiness. I’d argue that allowing a late submission, in the absence of some compelling reason, is a form of jerkiness, since it arbitrarily privileges one student among the others.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:42 AM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I’d argue that allowing a late submission, in the absence of some compelling reason, is a form of jerkiness, since it arbitrarily privileges one student among the others.
I agree completely, but I think the point in the article was about enjoying it. Though, even that could be fair in some cases. When I was a young adjunct, a student threatened me with violence when I wouldn't let him hand in his work a day after the others. When my boss stepped in to handle it, I was a bit smug. I'll admit that.
posted by mumimor at 6:58 AM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I agree completely, but I think the point in the article was about enjoying it.

It didn’t seem like enjoyment was a factor in the first two, however. Being rude to a cashier is wrong, whether you enjoy it or not. Does this mean that, say, a doctor is a jerk if she enjoys amputating a gangrenous leg, and not a jerk if she does it regretfully?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:10 AM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The problem with the essay, from my perspective, is considering the "sweetheart" as an opposite to the jerk, when "sweetheartness" is often just another tool used to gain what one wants through a more deceptive practice of feigned concern instead of honest interaction. This is particularly telling in the way corporate or business sales so often uses social convention to lower resistance to sales technique by pitting the individuals self interest against their use of social niceties.

The practice, for example, of immediately gaining a person's name and repeatedly using it throughout the transaction is designed to make it more difficult to turn down offers for it being a "more personal" encounter than the customer may well intend. It isn't about thinking of the perspective of others but using convention to reach a desired end.

The self styled "sweetheart" can place those they meet in the position of either acceding to the demands of the "sweetheart" in how they choose to interact by forcing more intimate social contact than the situation requires or otherwise leave those they interact with the pressure of appearing like a "jerk" should that imposed intimacy be rejected in the desire to leave things in a more impersonal context.

Opposing artificial intimacy and other abuses of social convention can indeed be seen as being a jerk, but in some instances that is fine if the "jerkdom" is only in the refusal of imposed demand rather than the assertion of privilege or status. Any sense of superiority or entitlement in interaction is the main issue, not so much the social conventions themselves. There are many reasons some individuals may have for not being able to follow or not wanting to follow some conventions which doesn't make them jerks any more than the demand that all follow an expected protocol makes one a sweetheart. Like all things circumstances vary and context matters and judging from an outside static point of view is itself an example of a wrong headed sense of entitlement and quite possibly jerkdom.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:11 AM on September 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


Now compare and contrast being a jerk with being a wanker.

bonus points for somehow working the term "jerkwad" in, and exploring the etymology thereof.
posted by some loser at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think the point about the sweetheart is that they are sincere and this intimacy isn't fake - he does mention the jerk can be nice to people with power and influence.

I work with a lot of jerks. But I also work with one person who is in the terms of this article a total sweetheart. He genuinely seems to like everyone and see the best in them including students who are quite difficult and colleagues who are openly quite nasty to them. And they have two large grants over the past 2 years so they could totally have turned to the dark side but didn't. It's nice and refreshing I have to say.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:05 AM on September 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think the point about the sweetheart is that they are sincere and this intimacy isn't fake

The problem though is that's both difficult to tell from the outside and that it might indeed be sincerely meant but still leverage social convention to bad ends. The arguments made about the left being more polite, forgiving, or just responding in less aggressive ways to arguments or people from the right that support hateful ideology might be coming from a place of sincerity in their ignorance and think that being "polite" about it all is good expected behavior, there are obviously reasons to vehemently disagree on that assessment. As "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays" season approaches, the question of who exactly is determining what it sincere and/or reasonable is as important as anything else. One person's jerk is another's pal. "Sweethearts" can reinforce hegemony when it might be better challenged for the sake of social convention.

None of that is to say I haven't known some people who are remarkably adept at navigating the complications of these waters, just that the essay doesn't go far enough in acknowledging the fundamental difficulties in framing the issue.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:26 AM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


gusottertrout, I think you have a really good point there, and that is a weakness in the theory.

There are jobs where you are hired to be a jerk. I have a friend who does "turnaround" for a living and she is not a jerk in her personal life, but she has not gained many friends professionally. She does, however, make a big effort to make sure that everyone can get on in life in an optimal way, wether they be cooperations or people. And she works hard to understand what the issues are, and manage accordingly. On a personal level she'll help with recommendations, make better insurances, provide education, even help with negotiations when people get new jobs, so they get better wages and conditions there.
Other people in her type of job relish the destruction they impose on people's lives. Another former friend was hired to change a big institution I was working in. I recommended her. But then I realized that she didn't put in the work to understand the task at hand, and didn't care about the people whose lives she disrupted. And she proudly sees herself as a "tough" manager.

I think my personal problem is that I've been hired or elected to do that sort of job without knowing or understanding it until I was in the thick of it. I'll have to work on that.
posted by mumimor at 9:59 AM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Why are we so eager to critique this article? Why is it so common on MeFi for people to go at any posted article with their sharpest Critique Knives out?

I think it’s collective jerkish behavior.
posted by argybarg at 10:32 AM on September 22, 2019


honestly tho model presented in the article is not good and probably shouldn't be adopted. i am comfortable saying that talking about ways to make things better, and about why they need to be made better, is not jerkish.

[my proposal for making things better is to talk about decency as a matter of craft rather than a matter of inclination, and i will stand by that.]
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


I feel like the basic instinct here, with some exceptions, is to declare victory over everything that gets posted. It’s a collective superiority complex that I find very unattractive.
posted by argybarg at 10:48 AM on September 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


From earlier in the thread, argybarg: You just spent a long time explaining, near as I can tell, why you’re the only one who knows the truth and you’re surrounded by idiots.
posted by ambrosen at 10:53 AM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


What do you want?
posted by argybarg at 10:55 AM on September 22, 2019


I really like Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon’s description of this as a skill, or set of skills. One of my close relations is a jerk, I’m sad to say; and although I definitely do not feel I am surrounded by idiots in general, I worry a lot when I think about the fact that my moral education was directed by someone whose social behavior isn’t great, because I suspect it means I am lacking some of these skills. It makes me feel really ill prepared for parenting (and today was already one of those days on the parenting front).
posted by eirias at 11:01 AM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


There is some truth that MetaFilter is way too quick to savagely criticize many things that are posted. Even kittens get denounced! However, bland positivity is not a very interesting approach to dealing with material either, and many arguments need critiques and struggle in order to be fully understood. Some articles or just wildly mistaken or otherwise poorly conceived.

Also, this should probably be discussed on MetaTalk.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:21 AM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


a. Am I a jerk?
b. Am I acting like a jerk?
c. Do I seem like a jerk to you?

All of those are different. In the case of c., there might be broader cultural differences at play. In general (please, please forgive my cultural essentializing here*), Koreans and many Korean immigrants to North America are not big on chatty customer service with a smile — unless you are in the super fancy-schmancy department stores and fine dining places. The waiter who dishes out plates of banchan like they are chunks of lava or the store owner who puts your change on the counter without a word, they very might well be a. and b. but they could just be c.

RNTP describes that avoiding b and c are skills that you can practice. Yes! Co-sign!

I too am fairly bad at remembering names and faces. Not to the extent of being face-blind, but definitely to an embarrassing extent. A new haircut on a student made me not recognize her just three months later. (I hang my head in shame and oh how I envy those who can say that they never forget a face, even if they can’t remember names). I feel like in that scenario I am not a., but I am b. And c. Without excusing myself, I have started to tell new acquaintances that this is a problem that I am working on. I usually immediately forget their name within 60 seconds, ask them again, mention that this is something I am working on, and then stare intently at their face while saying their name three times and explain that being this awkwardly obvious about it helps me remember. I hope that then removes me from b. and c.

There are things that seem a little fuzzy to me. Like how to respond to a friend’s grief. I have historically been the type to get all “what should I do??” and then do or say nothing. I’m definitely c. But I’m not sure if I am b.

* Obv Koreans are not monolithic. But this is a statement I make from both observation and reading some actual research back when I was a Korean Studies grad student.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


it’s about time people appreciated my surname
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2019 [16 favorites]


The fact that I said hurtful things to 2 different people on 3 separate occasions was one of the clues that my ADHD meds had stopped working. Al-Anon has helped me be less of a jerk. There's this joke in 12-step programs that members of the fellowships often feel like we are "the piece of shit that the world revolves around" and, naturally, jerky behavior can be one of the results of such thinking.

The flight attendant is not a potentially interesting person with her own cares and struggles but instead the most available face of a corporation that stupidly insists you shut your phone.

OMG this. So much. With traveling and driving and whatever the hell else is going on. I have stopped being in cars with a few friends who genuinely seem to believe that stop signs are legally required stops for other drivers but only suggestions for them as they are powerfully awesome and skilled drivers.

I briefly dated someone I realized was a jerk during an overnight trip to Las Vegas. Over the course of the trip this guy:

1. Did not listen to his sisters in the backseat of his parents' car when they warned him he was about to hit a pillar in the parking area. After he backed into the pillar, they asked him what to tell their parents. Don't mention it, he told them, "they probably won't even notice" the scrape and small dent. Yeah, right.

2. Did not turn off his phone when requested on the flight back to the Bay Area. I leaned over and asked, "Are you going to put your phone in flight mode?" He shot me a knowing look and explained that it was unnecessary to turn it off, the regulation was both meaningless and unnecessary. So then I whispered, "Assholes don't put their phones in flight mode" and he did finally. (I immediately apologized because it is, in fact, a jerk move to call someone an asshole. But I was a little stressed out because...)

3. Just before we got on the flight this guy had a huge argument with a TSA employee over something: shoes, belt buckle, whatever. My date made it clear that he knew more than the TSA employee about regulation X. Maybe he did, but my date was not wearing a gun. Eventually said date did what he was supposed to although with the greatest of reluctance and palpable grumpiness. Then he complained about it the entire way to our gate.

4. After we got back, on the same day, this guy got into a fight with a counter person at Chipotle because he was charged extra for guacamole on his burrito. (To be fair, he is an extremely tall person and could not see the sign that mentioned the extra charge because it was at his belly button height. But that did not justify his attitude, manner, or insistence on speaking to a manager.) Then when we sat down to eat, he put a winning expression on his face and said, "Let's just ignore that silly fight. They obviously need to learn to communicate better."

5. My birthday was two days after our trip. I made it clear beforehand that I was busy with work deadlines and also celebrating my birthday with one of my sisters. I could not see him on my birthday. But he showed up anyway, unannounced, with a lovely delicious brownie with a candle on it and cute little chocolates around the candle. Because "it's your birthday, and it is just wrong that I don't get to see you today."

WTF? I met him outside my apartment, thanked him profusely, and then sent him home. I was furious although I did not show it. I had been appalled at how he treated people he wasn't fucking and planned to dump him for that. But now I was newly furious and also creeped out by someone who disguised his control fetish as a sweet gesture. It was clear that–at all times– he considered himself uniquely special and important. Thus, his feelings and opinions mattered more than anyone else's.

So I have been a jerk; I strive not to be a jerk; I apologize when I recognize my bad behavior; these days I strive to be open to people letting me know if I am being/have been a jerk. That guy? That guy is practically a professional jerk. TL;DR: Thank you, OP, for allowing me to get this off my chest.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:30 PM on September 22, 2019 [18 favorites]


Furthermore, mercy is near the heart of practical, lived morality. Virtually everything that everyone does falls short of perfection: one’s turn of phrase is less than perfect, one arrives a bit late, one’s clothes are tacky, one’s gesture irritable, one’s choice somewhat selfish, one’s coffee less than frugal, one’s melody trite. Practical mercy involves letting these imperfections pass forgiven or, better yet, entirely unnoticed. In contrast, the jerk appreciates neither others’ difficulties in attaining all the perfections that he attributes to himself, nor the possibility that some portion of what he regards as flawed is in fact blameless. Hard moralising principle therefore comes naturally to him. (Sympathetic mercy is natural to the sweetheart.) And on the rare occasions when the jerk is merciful, his indulgence is usually ill-tuned: the flaws he forgives are exactly the one he recognises in himself or has ulterior reasons to let slide.

I find this compelling.
posted by Ptrin at 5:57 PM on September 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm surprised we got this far without a, "He hates these cans!" reference.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:37 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


This gave me a lot to think about. The idea of inviting critique from friends is scary but I can't see another way to get a reliable outside perspective on my behavior ..
posted by bunderful at 7:50 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


a. Am I a jerk?
b. Am I acting like a jerk?
c. Do I seem like a jerk to you?

All of those are different.


I think that spamandkimchi makes an important point. I remember when I had been going to Al-Anon long enough to start setting some important boundaries with people I loved. If you have been rolling over and saying yes for a long time to inappropriate things, some folks will think you are being a jerk when you first start to say no. That doesn’t make you a jerk but that’s how it will feel to some.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:13 PM on September 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: a collective superiority complex that I find very unattractive.
posted by non canadian guy at 10:23 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


The problem with the essay, from my perspective, is considering the "sweetheart" as an opposite to the jerk, when "sweetheartness" is often just another tool used to gain what one wants through a more deceptive practice of feigned concern instead of honest interaction. This is particularly telling in the way corporate or business sales so often uses social convention to lower resistance to sales technique by pitting the individuals self interest against their use of social niceties.

To say nothing of the well-documented phenomenon of Nice Guys™ in the dating world.
posted by non canadian guy at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


It does read a bit like a conflation of agreeableness with honesty/humility. There are disagreeable people who are rigorously honest and don’t believe they are entitled to control and manipulate others. These are people who can be difficult to be around but won’t Milgram you in response to social pressure.

At the same time, I’m kind of glad someone is going to bat for agreeableness a little bit in this day and age. It’s exhausting to be around people who only see the worst in others, even if those flaws are often accurately perceived. A society that placed zero value on agreeableness would be an extremely unpleasant place for humans to live.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:30 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


FWIW my problem with decency as craft in total isolation from inclination is that 1. someone’s mastery of a particular skill can change a lot over a pretty short time scale, while my understanding of a person’s character is that it is more enduring and less subject to rapid change, and 2. the particular skills of decency may be more culture-bound than the inclination towards decency that arguably leads people to want to practice those skills.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:45 PM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


This seems to be the discussion on emotional labour from a weirdly masculine perspective.

Also, given the sheer backlash thrown at minorities for not being "sweethearts" enough to non-marginalised people (including "how dare you criticise XYZ") i'm wary of this framing.
posted by divabat at 8:26 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


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