Conor Friedersdorf is on a campaign against the Neg. The Neg is a pickup technique deployed by guys like this which involves subtly injecting insults into otherwise friendly conversations with women. Supposedly this works sometimes. Conor’s case against the Neg is here. Mickey Kaus and Bob Wright raise an interesting problem for Conor’s position here. They point out that playing hard to get (i.e. ignoring a woman you’re interested in) seems unobjectionable. So what’s the (morally relevant) difference between ignoring a woman and deploying the Neg? Both techniques can result in hurt feelings. Both techniques could be attempts to manipulate a woman’s not-quite-conscious attraction to rudeness in men. And both techniques seem deceptive: whether you’re playing hard to get or simply insulting her, you’re behaving as though you’re not interested in her when really you are.
The wrongness of the Neg probably depends on circumstances. Maybe people who go to bars to meet strangers understand they’re playing a game with special rules — a game in which deception, manipulation and hurt feelings are to be expected. When I imagine that kind of situation I don’t have strong anti-Neg intuitions, whereas when I imagine people in less artificial situations my anti-Neg intuitions are pretty vivid. Curiously, though, I have some difficulty imagining non-weird scenarios where playing hard to get seems wrong.
I wonder if there’s something like an act/omission distinction worth making here. When you ignore a woman, you aren’t quite doing anything to her. You’re just leaving her alone. If that winds up hurting her feelings, that’s unfortunate but maybe your hands are still morally clean. But when you deploy the Neg, you’ve approached her, struck up a conversation, and then begun saying hurtful things to her. In that case it looks like you’re the one to blame for any hurt feelings.
Kant’s Formula of the End in Itself: Some Recent Debates
By Lara Denis, Agnes Scott College (February 2007)