There is too much giving in and folding up these days, too much softness and namby-pamby. What has been cultivated oh for many years is meekness as if all forms of power, even the power to live superabundantly, were corrupt. The great act crackling with tension is stifled summarily by the resentful complaint, and ‘every complaint,’ writes Nietzsche, ‘contains revenge’ in its heart.
Too much! Too much! We are overwhelmed! Stop! Do not push us to our limits!
Claiming that vulnerability is a moral virtue makes the mistake of putting vulnerability on the wrong side of the ledger. An existential term, it is made to pose as an ethical concept. Jonathan Lear helps us see why this is the case.
For in Radical Hope Lear advances the metaphysical thesis that human beings are finite erotic creatures. We are creatures of finitude in the sense that we are limited in a whole range of cognitive, affective, and volitional capacities: there are unsurpassable limits to our knowledge, to our emotional states, and to our wills. We can only know so much, feel so much, and do so much and no more, and there is no getting ultimately beyond this (call it) existential state of being human.
I have heard the maxim–‘Be vulnerable’–and the laudatory remarks–‘So and so was very vulnerable.’–in creative leadership and entrepreneurial circles too many times to count. Vulnerability is meant to be a moral virtue. How can this be?
We must return to the more familiar connotations of vulnerability. Saying that a baby is vulnerable means that he is susceptible to injury or illness. Vulnerability implies a creature’s proximity to the state of death. Notice that it is the ‘state of death,’ for vulnerability is not, in its most literal sense, an attitude, an outlook, or anything else toward death.
It is not a logical leap to say that entities (systems, states, etc.) can be vulnerable if by this we mean ‘susceptible to external threats, breakdown, collapse, etc.’ Nor is it a logical leap to say that John is fragile or vulnerable just in case John’s mental life is also not robust or resilient: if, that is, John is easily susceptible to falling into the sorts of mental states (melancholy, despair, etc.) when he takes a whole range of events to be devastating or damaging to his flourishing in some strong way or another.
Hence, vulnerability is a ‘location,’ a closeness to the state of death. Being vulnerable may thereby (and often does) evoke fear. These are the senses in which vulnerability as a moral-emotional concept is clear to us. How is it possible (unless by mistake) to think of virtue as a moral virtue? Is it?
Your insistence begets your interlocutor’s (my) resistance, acquiescence, or consternation. You believe that P must be the right way of proceeding or Q is the right picture of the world and that we should act based on P or Q. And I react to your forceful, impactful words either by fighting against them (resistance), by giving in too easily yet against my will (acquiescence), or by displaying my alarmed confusion (consternation).
It is possible, of course, that you are right about what you say, but insistence itself is always in the wrong.
A first go at a definition of insistence:
- Insistence is the firmly held conviction that the relevant agents would be best off were they to act based on
- (i) the belief that P is the right (or best) way to do things or
- (ii) the belief that Q is the right (best, most accurate, most coherent, etc.) view of the world.