Why does Goodness look like Narcissism to you? The Bad Art Friend and Veganism
If you’ve been on twitter the last few days you might be aware of the “Bad Art Friend” story.
I will summarize to the best of my ability, but you can find links to everything i talk about from this twitter account and this blog, which lays out what happened in chronological order complete with court documents, unlike the original article. Both parties in this story begin as aspiring writers and attend the same writer’s classes/group.
Person A planned to donate a kidney to an unspecified donor many years ago. They created a private facebook group and invited some friends. At the top of the page was a pinned post saying this group was created for private support and to please feel free to leave if you didn’t want to be there or felt squeamish.
Person B was in this group. Their interacting on facebook seemed friendly toward Person A outside the private group, yet B did not interact with a single one of the posts in the private kidney group. Since facebook gives these stats under each post in private group (typically shows up as “seen by x”), Person A reached out via email and asked if they wanted to leave the kidney group, as they were under no obligation to be there and didn’t want to make person B feel weird in any way.
However, person B continued to stay in this group, not interacting with the posts. Furthermore, person B was actually a coworkers to person A (some documents suggest in a supervisory capacity but the story around the workplace is still muddled) and started to act differently to Person A in real life. Person B invited Person A to a work event and didn’t make eye contact the whole time. They spoke in person at other events, yet, strangely, person B never mentioned the biggest thing going on in Person A’s life — that they were altruistically giving a piece of their body to a total stranger.
It gets worse. Person A had to gall to do what the national kidney foundation tells people to do and publicly incite other people to donate. This INFURIATED person B, to the point where they were screenshotting posts marked for this group only and sharing them with their other writer friends.
Person B took their dislike even further, directly taking Person’s A words from a donor letter and putting them in a short story where it casts a kidney donor as completely unlikable and unflattering, and giving away their kidney for cruel controlling purposes. The short story appears to have very little research about kidney donation in it — an alcoholic is given a kidney the next day, without requiring them to go through screening or quitting alchohol. The process is depicted as easy without months-years of dialysis, and it depicts the donor as having easy access to the life of the donateee.
Eventually, Person A learns that Person B has written a story on kidney donation, which they find exciting and a little strange because hey, i donated a kidney and i thought we were friends, why didn’t you tell me? Person A, still under the impression Person B is just being kinda frosty but still friendly, offers to read it. Person B says no, haha it’s still under edits, and quickly messages their friend group saying they are feeling weird about it, but the rest of the friend group quickly jumps into reassure person B. The gist of the messages is that Person A sucks so it’s fine to say whatever you want about them, regardless of what their material acts are (altruistically donating a kidney at great cost and peril to themselves, but being a little too outspoken about it).
The saga continues. Person B finishes their story and submits it for publish. Person B texts their friends verbatim — ““I think I’m DONE with the kidney story but I feel nervous about sending it out b/c it literally has sentences that I verbatim grabbed from [person A]’s letter on FB.” In fact, in the very first draft of the story the main character even shared the same name as Person A to the degree that people in Person’s B writing group could immediately recognize Person A. The version with Person’s A letter with sentences lifted is published to audible. Person B goes on to win an award based entirely on this short story.
Later, Person A would find out what had happened, they would go on to alert the publishers. Person B is forced to rewrite the letter to be from their own voice. This later version is more widely published, yet is still close enough that some publishers decided to simply remove Person B’s work from their anthologies/events rather than get embroiled in legal battle over someone who couldn’t write a full short story themselves.
As a writer, i find the plagiarism combined with the lack of research appalling. Person B clearly just wanted to write a story about someone they didn’t like being a bad guy. I have never “just copied a few sentences” from other people’s work unsourced, nor will i ever. Furthermore, it would have been trivially easy to simply change the donation to a different type and still keep the heart of the story. Writers have literally one job and it is to write. If you cannot do that, you should not call yourself a writer. I was under the impression that all writers were taught not to steal other people’s words, but apparently i was mistaken. Perhaps that explains why so many books i read are barely middling quality. Regardless, most of the discourse about this story is couched in calling one of the two main players mentally ill or narcissist.
I will briefly remind you that calling someone you don’t know narcissistic or mentally ill is an ableist assumption to make, and if someone is suffering from mental illness, the last thing they need is to be stigmatized for it. Diagnosis should be left the professionals, and we should support people around us as best can while also maintaining our boundaries. It does not matter if either of these people is mentally ill to me, because i am not in their personal lives and cannot offer them support. However, as a mentally ill person myself, i will not stand for stigmatization. You don’t need to be mentally ill to act selfishly or hurt others through your actions, and of course doesn’t mean you are more likely to commit harmful acts.
Now, the plagiarism story continues. The court case is still in progress. New details keep coming out and people are still picking sides. This is considerably easier now that we have access to court documents — which bizarrely — person B entered into the court after refusing to settle out of court with Person A. Yes, you read that correctly. The lazy plagiarist is actually the one who brought the kidney giver to court after Person A sought a low-cost arbitration.
Yet, it seems as if most of the author world is firmly on the plagiarist’s side. The crime of person A? Being altruistic and outspoken about it.
Slate published an article (screenshot above) that fact checks the selfish narrative right out of the gate.
In fact, Person A did exactly what was asked of them by medical professionals. With thousands a year dying because they need a kidney, you really can’t crow enough about participating in organ donation. It’s so bad that people are actually thinking of giving out medals to donors because their organs are far, far more important than harmlessly inflating someone’s ego. At the end of the day, this person directly saved one other person’s life and inspired others as well. For all i care, they can get a tattoo that says “I saved a strangers life, please praise me!” and it would still be a waste of my time to criticize them.
And where do i shoehorn veganism into this?
How about right here.
Before i begin, i’ll reveal some flavoring in this story that i think colored people’s perceptions of their material actions considerably. Firstly, A and B are both women, which in my opinion correlates directly with the amount of abelism and name calling they received. The person who originally wrote the original piece that left a lot out was an unrelated male journalist, who appears to have pitched Person B directly. Person B is also Asian American (some have argued they are white passing but i’d rather avoid getting out the calipers), and Person A is white. Additionally, Person B appears to have more wealthy class connections than Person A, and clearly has more writer/group connections including that of a well-respected published author friend who said such gems as “Fuck [Person A] and their one kidney”. Person A was also a victim of childhood abuse, which they mentioned motivated inspiring their donation to a stranger.
With those new angles do you see it in another light? I sure don’t, except the public’s reaction. It still looks exactly like a spite-filled case of plagiarism toward someone simply because they’re acting “too altruistic” to me. Person B assumes it must be out of some form of white saviorism… despite the kindey donation being blind and then eventually going to an elderly white jewish man. In fact, if Person B were to do a little bit of research they’d find that usually kidney donations do not cross racial lines due to compatibility issues. If Person A was looking to perform saviorism towards non-whites they picked possibly the less effective way to do it and one of the most harmful ways they can do it to their own body. Getting a black lives matter tattoo and taking a selfie at a protest would have been much less work for someone who is only invested in looking like a white savior. Really there is no end to tactics i’ve seen people use to uplift their own ego in this way but it always has the same pattern:
Uplifting of the self while paternalizing others. In activist spaces the first thing we tell people is that you have to actually listen to the people who need your help. You can’t just go up to homeless people and assume they want X thing. You need to talk to them and listen and set their own pace on receiving so they can maintain their dignity. This may seem immaterial to you but i assure you it is not. We have to be helping others in the way they want to be helped, in the way they have asked. To do so otherwise is to drift into saviourism for your own ego.
In fact, Person A did exactly what was asked of them. They gave a kidney and inspired others to donate others. The people they helped were not treated as token to be used, they were treated with respect. In fact, the only person who shows no concern with the people who need help here is Person B and their cadre, who actively makes people’s lives harder by implying that giving away organs is selfish and narcissistic. Thousands die every year from lack of viable kidneys. And now more will, because Person B reinforced a stigma of narcissism around publicizing organ donations.
So let’s get into the science of all this.
“Our meat-eating participants expected vegetarians to draw a stark distinction between the morality of vegetarians and meat eaters, anticipating vegetarians to judge themselves as much more moral …. they expected that vegetarians would see this gap as being almost 10 times larger”
Essentially — meat eaters judged themselves as a bit more more moral than average people, but a little bit less moral than vegetarians, but they expected vegetarians to see themselves a way more moral. They feel that that that eating meat is a little bit less moral than not eating meat, but that vegetarians see it as a LOT more moral.
“our meat-eating sample also exhibited anticipated moral reproach, reporting that they thought vegetarians would look down on the morality of meat eaters generally, and their own specifically. Furthermore, the more participants expected vegetarians to exhibit such moral superiority, the more negative were the associations they generated. The personal nature of the threat was evident in some comments that respondents spontaneously added at the end of the questionnaire”
The more people think they are looked down upon them for something, the more reactionary they get toward that group that they’re perceiving as judging them. Hey, wait a second. This is starting to sound like the moral injury review i looked up.
“the moral injury profile included guilt, shame, anger, anhedonia, and social alienation.”
Guilt, anger and (self-inflicted) social alienation checked off so far. As a reminder moral injuries arise from being aware of events “that involve either perpetrating or witnessing actions that violate one’s core beliefs.” If an animal eater has a core belief that they are a good person that does not harm innocent others, this is shattered immediately upon showing them a video of day old chicks being killed by the million by macerator.
“As one would expect, within each group, the participants who were most critical of vegetarians were also most supportive of meat eating”
Anecdotally any animals rights activist would have said the same, so it’s nice to see this confirmed in published science. Does this tie into animal eating predicting a more far-right political stance? I’d guess so, but we can only speculate on the correlation of fascism and hating vegetarians for now.
“We interpret these results as a knee-jerk defensive reaction to the threat of being morally judged and found wanting. … our nonvegetarian participants readily volunteered that vegetarians would look down on them. Anticipated moral reproach is aversive and participants reacted to it by putting down the presumed source.”
Hey, this reminds me of my other article on manipulation tactics that carnists use against vegans that includes “Dismissing, ridiculing, or marginalizing”
There sure does seem to be a lot of similar patterns coming up between people feeling guilty about moral failings and reactionary defensiveness afterwards!
“our studies show that such resentment can arise not only after performing morally dubious behavior but also when considering familiar and socially normative actions”
So the more moral person doesn’t even have to be present to encourage these insecure feelings.
Let’s move onto a second paper, this one published in a french journal of psychology. I read this translated, so my apologies if the translation is inaccurate.
“Independently of how moral others make individuals feel about their own morality, they can be resented if they are perceived as judgmental and conceited.”
So if you feel like others are passing judgement on your morals, you feel more resentful. (This is what the previous study also found) Yet also, people resent others if they are perceived as judgmental and conceited regardless of their moral stature.
“Note that in this third explanation, it is not even necessary for individuals to acknowledge the morality of the moral other’s choice. We submit that people resent being reproached by others even when they don’t agree that the domain of judgment is of moral relevance “
So it turns out none of this is actually about morals at all, more about insecurity over perceived as not having morals, even if you disagree about what acts are seen as moral.
I’ll summarize this next part ahead of time since it’s a bit.. sciencey to read. People respond to their insecurity in three ways. Denying the morality of the act (i would call this gaslighting), Trivializing (literally a manipulation tactic covered in a previous article), and finally resentment (i would summarize this as alienation & defensiveness).
Here’s how it’s stated in the text:
“ Alicke (2000) describes how most social comparison theories assume that people deal defensively with unfavorable upward comparison by distorting their meaning, derogating the target, or avoiding them. In the moral domain, this triad will take the form of suspicion (denying moral meaning), trivialization (derogating the target on the potency dimension) or resentment (avoiding association with the threatening other).”
“One first approach is to deny the virtue altogether, and to give little moral credit for the behavior. Research suggests that a typical reaction might be suspicion and skepticism as to the actor’s real intentions”
And here it is. This is exactly what Person B did in those leaked messages. They began by denying that giving a kidney away to a stranger is even moral or worth of praise. They start being suspicious of person A and their motives. I have seen people even suggest that Person A did not even give away their kidney.
As for veganism, let’s quote my article on manipulation tactics i’ve seen from non-vegans real quick:
“Understating the usefulness of veganism, despite peer reviewed science stating that reducing animal products alone would produce a 28% reduction in all global greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors and actually remove 8.1 billion tons of CO2 every single year”
That sure does sound like denying the virtue altogether to me. In fact i didn’t even touch on the ethics of killing animals, just the scientific evidence of the waste their massacring. Denying that this waste is causing untold damage to the earth is just that — denial. This doesn’t even touch on methane, dead zones or how every scientific organization is calling for westerners to eat less meat for the good of the earth. Carnists don’t just practice selfish denial in the face of angry animal lovers, they do this in the face of international health organizations as well.
“When the virtuous nature of the behavior is too self-evident and cannot be easily brushed off, and the direct route is therefore blocked, a second approach is to remove the threat indirectly by putting down moral others on other traits implying a lack of competence, trivializing their moral gesture, patronizing would-be saints as well-intentioned but naïve fools, weak, unintelligent, with poor common sense and little awareness of the realities of the real world. With this infantilizing and emasculating move, potential threats are rendered into deluded idealists. “
Would calling someone selfish for donating a vital organ count? I think it would! I also have seen many carnists use similar tactics:
“Criticizing vegans for not ever being good enough, despite the accepted definition of veganism literally being “as far as practicable and possible”. For example, you may be a devout vegan but own a refurbished cell phone, and this is used to attack and demean your moral ideology as not being totally cruelty free”
Let’s also add in:
“ Dismissing, ridiculing, or marginalizing, such as how animal rights activists are the acceptable joke target and are socially ostracized to the point that many vegans feel the need to say they’re “not like other vegans”. Even vegan theory and established terms like “carnism” are derided”
Finally, let’s move onto resentment.
“When the behavior is clearly moral and it is hard to call into question the fortitude of the moral other (as in cases of moral rebellion where others take a principled stance against a problematic situation), the previous two routes to self-protection are unavailable. One last resort may be to distance oneself from the threatening other, and to profess little desire to affiliate with him or her”
In the kidney story, Person B started acting strangely toward Person A after they began to plan for their act of altruism. Perhaps we are missing the very beginning of the story, but what we do see that from the texts released is that Person B does actively socially distance themselves after perceived moral flagging of Person A. They seem to be friendly around other topics, yet Person B begins being distant when kidney donations come up, then begins demonizing Person A to their friends, then finally going so far as to steal her work and cast her as a villain in a short story. It ends with these two distanced from one another after many attempts of Person A to directly find out what was going on with Person B, in which Person B lied multiple times and gaslight Person A about something going on.
That feels like what the author of this paper is describing as resentful to me. it also feels like Othering. Once a person starts being perceived as being morally superior, they are degraded into the Other so that the defensive in-group does not have their immoral norms challenged. This seems to be a defense mechanism for the morally insecure.
Since the other study showed that vegetarians do not have to be present to generate these insecure feelings and that “Furthermore, the more participants expected vegetarians to exhibit such moral superiority, the more negative were the associations they generated.” This defense mechanism shows that vegans, organ donors, anyone who is perceived as more moral doesn’t even have to even actually do anything except exist theoretically to cause such intense reactions.
One last pull from my manipulator tactics article:
“Distancing from the vegan, even if you used to be friends. Refusing to engage with them whenever they discuss veganism or hear them out”
Unfortunately i have seen this happen in my own life and from every one of my vegan friends to some degree. It’s painful for anyone to be socially isolated for making a positive ethical choice, but it’s even more painful when people are gaslighting you about it while also demeaning your ethical choices behind your back. Which is what happened to our well-meaning kidney donor, simply for saving human’s lives and trying to save more.
“When faced with a moral other, participants admired him as long as the moral other did not make them look bad, or had the opportunity to look down upon their morality. But as soon as moral others could cast doubt on their own morality, participants denied moral credit, put down others on competence-related dimensions, or simply expressed disliking of the comparison other.”
Sounds familiar. It also sounds familiar to the moral injuries i’ve written about before. Clearly, perceiving yourself as acting less ethical than others triggers strong reactions in people and i would posit it comes from a place of deep insecurity.
So to answer the question posed by the title — “Why does Goodness look like Narcissism to you?” It looks like that because you’re insecure in your immorality. Maybe you should do something about that, like going vegan. And at least sign up to be an organ donor on death, c’mon.