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Introduction and personal problem

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10 replies to this topic

#1
phubbard

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Hello. I'm not a full blown Objectivist, but I do find considerable value in many of Ayn Rand's ideas. I'm currently facing an ethical dilemma ("ethical" in the ordinary, layperson sense of the word -- I'm not a philosopher and don't pretend to be). I've pretty much decided what my course of action is going to be, but I'd like to run this by you all and get your thoughts.

I'm 48 years old, and have an acquaintance whom I'll call Joe. We're not friends, but were high school classmates (he's also 48), and we do still have friends in common and so I occasionally have to deal with him.

Joe is slandering me. The actual effect of the slander, if believed, would be mild -- about all that would happen is it would lower some people's opinions of me, but those would mostly be people whose opinions I care little about anyway. It wouldn't result in monetary damage, job loss, et cetera, or anything remotely close to it.

If that was all there was to it, I'd simply respond by stating the truth to those concerned, directly and unambiguously, and not be concerned about the consequences. I certainly don't need any justfication, excuse, or explanation to correct lies being told about me.

But, Joe has some marked psychological problems. For the moment I won't go into detail, but Joe has a deep-seated conflict with its origins in his adolescence. This root cause has produced several effects (defense mechanisms, repressions, etc.), and has impacted his behavior in several general ways, including that he holds onto petty grudges left over from his teenage years -- literally for decades. One example out of many to illustrate that the problems and their consequences for his behavior are not trivial -- in his mid-thirties, Joe harassed our high school's online alumni bulletin board, under a pseudonym, with "toilet humor." "Turds," "floaters," "Ex-Lax" -- you name it, it was there. Several posts per day, and whenever anyone expressed annoyance (which of course happened frequently) he'd fire away even harder. This went on for well over a year, without any respite whatsoever.

How do I know about the causes of Joe's problems? First, I have a B.A., M.A., and work toward a Ph.D. in psychology. Second, I have known him for well over forty years and have observed a lot of his behavior in a wide variety of diverse contexts. Third, in drawing these inferences I've followed a deliberate approach and given him every "benefit of the doubt." And fourth, once I arrived at these conclusions, other behavioral traits of his which I had not considered "fell into place." In any case, I'm convinced beyond all reasonable doubt.

Now, here's the problem. Because of the nature of the slander, there's a good chance that any direct response to it will "hit" Joe directly at that core, root issue I spoke of earlier. If that happens, I can't predict what the consequences for Joe will be -- I can only say that anything from a single sleepless night to a full crisis requiring therapy is a realistic possibility in my estimation. If there was a way for me to stop the slander which didn't have that risk, I'd much prefer it, but I don't believe there is such a way.

On the other hand ...

Joe has stable employment. Joe pays his taxes. Et cetera. To the best of my knowledge and belief, Joe has never been involuntarily committed and has never been convicted of any crime other than routine traffic violations. By the standards of society at large, Joe is obviously competent to be held fully responsible for his own actions -- just like millions of other ordinary, good citizens in the USA who are carrying significant "baggage." It's true that Joe's baggage is more severe than most other people's, but that doesn't exonerate him from that responsibility. To put it another way -- viewed in that light, Joe is not "sick" but a plain old asshole, and I happen to have an unusual insight into why he's an asshole. And to be clear -- while I might feel a reluctance to risk disproportionate harm to him out of some abstract sense of "fair play," that's all -- I'm not under any obligation to Joe beyond what obligation I might have to a random stranger.

So, what to do? Let the slander "roll off my back," accept a small amount of damage, and move on? Or respond, and by doing do risk significant harm to Joe?

- Phil

#2
Reidy

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Talk to a lawyer who knows the field. An informal cease-and-desist letter ought to shut the guy up, and, if that fails, a restraining order. I'm confident that the matter won't go any further than that.

Since you bring the question up in an Objectivist forum, a pertinent Objectivist observation is that you'd be an altruist in the worst sense if you worried at this point about hurting him. He asked for it.

#3
bluecherry

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I'm kind of unsure how any effort to correct Joe's false claims would have to have some strong impact on him. Couldn't you just tell people in private and ask that they not mention it to Joe because you don't want to have this potentially turn into some big deal? If he did find out though, what is the worst that happens? You said he may need to go to therapy after the incident. It sounds like that would do him some good anyway since he seems to be plagued by lasting effects of something from his past and that is resulting in him damaging his social relations and wasting so much time on these grudges. It may hurt more in the short run to tackle the truth head on, but in the long run it turns out better.

#4
phubbard

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Since you bring the question up in an Objectivist forum, a pertinent Objectivist observation is that you'd be an altruist in the worst sense if you worried at this point about hurting him. He asked for it.

Naah, I don't care in general about hurting him, and agree 100% that he asked for it. The issue to me is that of a disproportionate response.

Here's an example to show what I'm getting at. Suppose a father, who owns firearms, is sitting in his home. His seven year old son is outside playing with some friends. Suddenly the father hears suspicious noises. He looks outside and sees that his boy and a playmate are rolling on the ground, punching each other. The father is certainly justified in using enough force to protect his son's safety, even if that means shoving the boys apart rather roughly. On the other hand, the father is not justified in shooting his son's playmate.

But saying something like "the father is justified in using whatever force necessary to protect his son" implicitly assumes that he has a wide range of options open to him. What if the father's only two choices are (1) do nothing; or (2) shoot the playmate? Is the father then justified in taking option 2? I certainly don't think so, but I'm unsure of what principle dictates what an appropriate versus inappropriate level of response is in that sort of situation.

For what it's worth, I'm already 95% of the way to deciding to just fire back, set the record straight, and if Joe gets hurt that's his own damned problem.

#5
phubbard

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I'm kind of unsure how any effort to correct Joe's false claims would have to have some strong impact on him. Couldn't you just tell people in private and ask that they not mention it to Joe because you don't want to have this potentially turn into some big deal? If he did find out though, what is the worst that happens? You said he may need to go to therapy after the incident. It sounds like that would do him some good anyway since he seems to be plagued by lasting effects of something from his past and that is resulting in him damaging his social relations and wasting so much time on these grudges. It may hurt more in the short run to tackle the truth head on, but in the long run it turns out better.


I had to leave out a lot of detail in my original post -- I tried a couple of drafts giving more detail about the situation, but they turned out absurdly long. Let me say that any attempt to keep things private almost certainly wouldn't succeed. Call it "small town politics."

As for the idea that his going to therapy would be a good thing in the long run, well, first of all a crisis of that magnitude is not certain, not even the most likely outcome, just a reasonable possibility. But even if such a crisis were certain, Joe's response to the crisis would be completely beyond my control; and even if it were within my control (i.e., I could literally force him into therapy "for his own good"), I wouldn't. Being reluctant to cause him disproportionate harm is one thing, but that doesn't mean I'm going to assume responsibility for his mental health.

#6
bluecherry

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I did not mean to imply you had to make him go. I was just noting that the worst case scenario didn't sound like it would be so bad, so if that is the worst, presumably none of the potential consequences are really that awful.

#7
Robin Craig

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I don't think the term "disproportionate response" is applicable. A disproportionate response is slugging someone who sneers at you. Stating the truth in response to slander is not disproportionate. Assuming your assessment of Joe is accurate, any disproportion comes from Joe. You are not responsible for another person's reactions.

#8
bluecherry

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Yeah, further thought upon that. The phrase about people living in glass houses comes to mind. Somebody who has such strong vulnerabilities of their own should know better than to initiate attacks on others. They're inviting getting their figurative house smashed. The only thing he could hope to count on to avoid that would be that you'd be too nice and concerned about him to do something even while he has shown no such concern for you. (Really, in this case it sounds like he shouldn't have even expected you not to find out if everything inevitably spreads all over that area like you've said.) That's just trying to count on further taking advantage of your good nature even while he is spreading what seems to be claims to the contrary about you. This isn't some kind of obscure idea that requires much consideration to come to, he should be able to know better perfectly well. Not everybody with various awful things in their background does stuff like this either so he isn't unable to make his own decisions and thus be accountable for his actions. It is his own fault, not yours, for bringing any large consequences upon himself that are inevitable results of his victim standing up for themself.

#9
musenji

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Hold on. What, exactly, would be your action taken, IF you took the action?

Would you say, "Joe, stop this silliness, it's caused by your X problem from adolescence." I mean, that's not the ONLY option, and skilled psychotherapists are ones who can get people to dig down towards their OWN issues, one step at a time.

To use a simile, it's like you're a weight trainer, and Joe is sitting on a benchpress bench. You feel like you either have to give him no weight to lift, or 300 pounds. No other option. .......Why not nudge him in the right direction, i.e. figuratively give him 20 pounds to lift? You don't have to make the explicit connection between his actions and his past. You can simply tell him his actions are inappropriate.

Or are you saying that ANY response will necessarily trigger a breakdown? I've never encountered such a thing. But then, I'm not a psychologist.

#10
Greebo

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Psychological problems or no, this "Joe" does not have any right to evade the consequences of falsifying reality, and you have no obligation to enable his doing so.

You can choose to spare his feelings if you wish, but what you've described rather puts me in mind of saying, "Well, this dog is biting me, but it's rabid, so I don't want to shoot it." Whether the dog is rabid or not has no bearing on the fact that the dog is biting your arm off.

That he has psychological issues isn't, in other words, relevant. He's causing you harm with his falsehoods, and whether he's under the belief that they're true cause he's crazy or if he's making them up deliberately to hurt you doesn't matter - you no obligation to "take it" in either case.

#11
Jackethan

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I tried a though experiment replacing the OP with a physician and Joe with a patient but it doesn't pan out. Mostly because your action would not directly or indirectly cause Joe's meltdown (if that's what you hypothesize would happen). If, in the worst case scenario, Joe flips it, it would be caused by the psychic trauma from the past, his own personal methods of dealing with it, and his failure to conquer these overreactions. Not to rationalize on a grand scale, but if his psyche is so fragile, what's to say something else won't set him off in the future? Obviously I don't mean, "Well if the vase is -going- to be broken, may as well break it now." I mean simply that if, in your opinion, he's liable to break because you told your friends he's a butthead and to ignore him, then it is highly likely something else that is equally indirect and silly will set him off in the future. So I guess the point there is, (based on the false lemming over cliff legend) that lemmings will jump over cliffs, you can't just poke one and then assume that now, if that lemming goes over, it's your fault because you poked it.
Ceterum censeo...


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