Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

I have received several very good comments on my recent meditations on how to be powerful, fearsome, empowering, and loved. I plan to address several of them in distinct posts. I figured I would start with one that can be given a relatively brief reply. For background, in my previous post I reiterated my general position that the highest good for humans is to develop our powers. Developing our powers is intrinsically good for us, in its own right. (Here is my basic definition of power, btw.)

So John Morales queries:

So, what if one’s power is not something admirable, such as the power to annoy people?

Should that, too, be pursued?

We should, all things equal, pursue greater powers over lesser ones. Our greatest powers involve being intrinsically effective at things which are hard to do. Our greatest powers also typically integrate numerous component powers into complex and impressive combinations which amplify individual powers’ intensities and overall effectivenesses. Finally, and of greatest ultimate value, our greatest powers are those with the largest and longest lasting constructive effect of creating goodness in the world through their exercise.

But sometimes we pursue lesser powers over greater ones and thereby develop less internal power within ourselves and generate less overall goodness in the world than we could have. Worse even, we sometimes exercise our powers in ways that result in net negatives of goodness in the world. We also unfortunately sometimes exercise our powers in ways that hurt other powers of our own and that, worst of all, actively damage both our total overall intrinsic power and our total external effectiveness at creating good in the world.

Even when we exercise our powers in such ultimately counter-productive ways, the powers themselves are still nonetheless good insofar as they are powers. Powers are always intrinsically good; at least minimally on account of their being powers. But on a total net accounting, sometimes a power’s exercise is inadvisable (sometimes to the point of being incredibly awful and regrettable). This is because it results in a net loss of our own overall possible intrinsic power or a net loss of overall possible good in the world.

So how do we apply these basic categories to the power to annoy? Some net good can occasionally come from it. Comedies sometimes come up with amusing (often farfetched, but vaguely plausible) scenarios in which a character’s ability to annoy is used to the good guys’ advantage. Other comedy even deliberately annoys the audience into laughs. And a great performance artist like Andy Kaufman was able to make legendary, thought provoking, and concept expanding commentaries on the nature of art by trolling the crap out of America (sometimes even in rather obnoxious and legitimately offensive ways).

In recent years Sacha Baron Cohen, Stephen Colbert, and numerous Daily Show correspondents have frequently demonstrated an admirably steely willingness and ability to annoy with a straight face people whom they interview in order to get laughs and to reveal interesting truths. Some people’s abilities to annoy others can also serve valuable political purposes when they are used to annoy the right people into using the powers at their disposal to do the right things. Even on an interpersonal level, friends quite often enjoy annoying each other in the form of teasing. This can be a great thing, so long as it is a mutually enjoyed way to play and to both build and express rapport and trust.

Despite these, and possibly other, approvable ways to be annoying, it seems obvious to me that in the majority of contexts, being annoying is harmful and counter-productive. Teasing, for example, is not such a great thing when it expresses, constitutes, or exacerbates an unhealthy, alienating, and/or disempowering pattern of repressive dominance, passive aggression, and/or mutual hostility. At their worst, annoying people can be dangerous harassers. At their most incompetent and pathetic, unintentionally annoying people spread discomfort and misery to those with whom they try to be friends. Because of this they often wind up relatively lonely, alienated, and/or generally socially ineffective. Usually being annoying in ways that effectively serve no higher ends will lead to a net negative effect in the world and so is inadvisable. And quite often a great power to annoy is only present precisely because much more constructive and impressive (and therefore desirable) social powers are absent. So most cases of effective, powerful annoyance are symptoms of overall weakness in the annoyer.

For more on how to rank powers and how to understand the relative goodness and badness of any specific power, read my more extensive treatment of the subject The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Your Thoughts?

The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”

Immoralism?

Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Why Misogynistic Language Matters

Sex and “Spirituality”

Can Utilitarians Properly Esteem The Intrinsic Value of Truth?

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    …what?!?!

    I’m new here, and I just don’t get any of what you’re saying except that some part of me would really like for you to stop.

    • John Morales

      I guess you’re supposedly being satirical, there.

      Very droll.

      Me, I am still working through it, and I haven’t checked out the supplement, but I think I follow the gist and it certainly seems cogent enough.

    • Enkidum

      It’s difficult because you have to think. Don’t worry, with practise it’s easier.

  • Stevarious

    Honestly I don’t think there’s any ‘power’ that cannot be leveraged to good effect. Or at least, not any power possessed by humans.
    I can’t think of any anyway.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Exactly.

    • John Morales

      Power and wisdom are interesting musings, and I sincerely thank you for your answer, Dan.

      I shan’t comment further in this thread.

      (It’s not about me)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      No problem, John. Thank you for your provocations as usual.

  • Enkidum

    I like the broad thrust of this. But if I read you correctly, I have at least one disagreement.

    You write about greater and lesser goods. On what scale? Is there a single absolute metric, or even rough heuristic, that can reliably differentiate “good” goods from not-so-good goods?

    The way I usually think about it, there are a vast number of not-necessarily-overlapping metrics, and a given action may be good according to several of them but not according to several others.

    That isn’t to say that there is no way of judging an action with any objectivity, just that sometimes there isn’t a sensible answer to the question of “which action is better?”.

    I got the feeling reading the OP that you would not feel as comfortable as I do with that claim.

    • Enkidum

      Actually it looks like that’s what the link in the last sentence is about. I should read that first.


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