If that is not who you are, then who are you?


A story has emerged of a drunken Uber passenger in Texas berating the driver using insults and profanity. There is audio of the exchange taken after the driver stopped the car and called the police after she refused to leave. What struck me while listening is how calm and patient the driver is.

The woman turns out to be an assistant district attorney in Texas and she has been fired. At a tearful news conference later, she apologizes for her behavior but then makes a statement that one hears increasingly often when such a mea culpa is offered: “That is not who I am.”

What exactly do people mean by that? If they mean that they are not always acting like that, then that is obvious because if they were, they would be in a permanent and drunken abusive state. They seem to be suggesting that such behavior is entirely foreign to their personality. But that cannot be true since they just behaved that way. It is our behavior in extreme or unusual or unexpected situations (and being drunk is one example) that reveal flaws in our character. What those times show may be regrettable but it is part of us, ‘who we are’, and we have to learn to deal with those flaws rather than denying that they exist.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    I suppose there’s an implied qualifier in such statements: “That’s not what I’m like most of the time.

  2. John Morales says

    DonDueed, Mano did write “If they mean that they are not always acting like that, then that is obvious because if they were, they would be in a permanent and drunken abusive state. They seem to be suggesting that such behavior is entirely foreign to their personality.”

    For mine, it’s the mask slipping and revealing what’s under it (in vino veritas).

    (And we all wear masks)

  3. Sophy says

    I’m going to argue against this notion that we only show what we truly are while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It implies an either/or notion of people. If 99% of the time someone is decent but 1% of the time rude why suggest that they are instead ACTUALLY AND REALLY 100 % rude with a thin veneer of decent. You have a much greater chance of a pleasant interaction with them than an unpleasant one.
    Underlying that is an assumption that people cannot genuinely wish to be nice to other people. Instead It becomes a game of trying to catch others with their masks down.

  4. John Morales says

    Sophy (apposite ‘nym!):

    I’m going to argue against this notion that we only show what we truly are while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

    That notion may arguably exist, but the latin quotation certainly does not say that nor is it the sense in which it was employed.

    Perhaps if I rephrased it thus: We all put on personas for our varying roles in life, but when disinhibited for whatever reason, our true selves are less capable of sustaining that.
    Reveals occur.

    It implies an either/or notion of people.

    Nope. You imagine it does, probably because you inserted that “only” into your conceit, though it’s not present in the actual source.

    If 99% of the time someone is decent but 1% of the time rude why suggest that they are instead ACTUALLY AND REALLY 100 % rude with a thin veneer of decent. You have a much greater chance of a pleasant interaction with them than an unpleasant one.

    Sure. Let me just change one thing: If 99% of the time someone won’t kill you but 1% of the time they will kill you why suggest that they are instead ACTUALLY AND REALLY 100 % kilers with a thin veneer of non-killers. You have a much greater chance of a not being killed by them than being killed by them.

    (This is precisely your very argument, except I replaced killing with rudeness. But then, we’re only being philosophical, right? 😉 )

    Underlying that is an assumption that people cannot genuinely wish to be nice to other people.

    Quite the assertion. Care to essay some sort of justification for it?

    Instead It becomes a game of trying to catch others with their masks down.

    Your adeptness at rhetoric is thus indicated; you have just endorsed my actual claim!

    (Heh)

  5. says

    I’m coming around to the idea that humans have very few social behaviors that are instinctive. Left in a “state of nature” we would be nasty, brutish, tyrants – we school kids to pretend to be decent members of civilization otherwise they would grow up to be trumpian nihilists, selfish greedmonsters, or killers. Sometimes people regress to their untrained state, or are put in power and encouraged to peel back society’s carefully patched-on veneer.

  6. StonedRanger says

    “That’s not who I am” means “oh fuck, I lost control and got caught at it.” There, fixed it for ya.

  7. springa73 says

    I’m not sure if there is really just one “true” person plus a series of masks, or whether most people have multiple facets to their personalities that show under different circumstances. In either case, though, how a person acts while drunk or under pressure is at least part of who they really are. If someone becomes cruel and abusive even under unusual circumstances, it’s a serious problem with their personality that they need to confront.

  8. says

    StonedRanger:

    “That’s not who I am” means “oh fuck, I lost control and got caught at it.” There, fixed it for ya.

    Yep. Thanks for the fix.

  9. deepak shetty says

    @John Morales

    his is precisely your very argument, except I replaced killing with rudeness.

    Its easy to make an analogy support your position – but if drunkeness reveals ones true self , then consent obtained while someone is drunk , should count as consent , no ? After all your true self gave it!
    We are ultimately our brains , so if something external impairs the brain (whether it is a disease like Alzheimers, or drugs or drink) cannot be considered ones true self , in my opinion.

  10. John Morales says

    deepak, I was noting how it was a bad argument, no more than that.

    We are ultimately our brains , so if something external impairs the brain (whether it is a disease like Alzheimers, or drugs or drink) cannot be considered ones true self , in my opinion.

    My opinion differs; I think it is one’s true self at that moment in time, just not one’s normal self.

    I also think your justification does not work; if we “are ultimately our brains”* and the brain is impaired, then an impaired brain is what truly we are, not what we are not.

    * We’re not only our brain — we are our bodies, which include our brain. Consider, for example, oxytocin which is produced by the pituitary gland.

  11. efogoto says

    This reminds me of soccer player Elizabeth Lambert who was suspended for two games for dirty play, including yanking an opponent to the ground by her ponytail, then said “This is in no way indicative of my character”. Say what? Yes it is.

  12. deepak shetty says

    I think it is one’s true self at that moment in time, just not one’s normal self.

    So any contracts you get into , while lets say drunk , should stand ? If not , why not ? if they should , when can we meet for a night on the town 🙂 ?
    On oxytocin , I thought the jury as still out on which causes what but I take your point.

  13. John Morales says

    deepak,

    So any contracts you get into , while lets say drunk , should stand ?

    Yep.

    if they should , when can we meet for a night on the town 🙂 ?

    You seriously imagine I would sign a detrimental (to me) contract while drunk?

    I know which of us would be the naive one if were you to do so, but let’s suppose I did.
    Would not that be the a true me?

    (A stupid one, but no less true for that)

    On oxytocin , I thought the jury as still out on which causes what but I take your point.

    Thanks.

  14. KG says

    We all put on personas for our varying roles in life, but when disinhibited for whatever reason, our true selves are less capable of sustaining that. – John Morales@4

    It’s not clear what you mean by “our true selves”. Your later comments suggest that you think anything you do at any time and in any state is a product of your “true self”, but that does not comport with the quote above, and furthermore, would make the notion of a “true self” otiose.

    You didn’t answer the question about consent (e.g. to sex) when drunk. It’s a natural extension of what you say that such consent is valid. Is that your position?

    And with regard to contracts, you (yes, even you, John Morales) may one day be cognitively incapacitated by illness – rather than as a result of voluntary actions such as getting drunk. But I take it you consider that you would have no valid complaint if under those circumstances, you are persuaded to sign away everything you possess.

  15. KG says

    I’m coming around to the idea that humans have very few social behaviors that are instinctive. Left in a “state of nature” we would be nasty, brutish, tyrants – Marcus Ranum@7

    *sigh*

    You might try actually learning something about those human sciences of which you are so contemptuous. A human being “left in a state of nature” from infancy will die, so no such being could grow up to be either nasty or nice. If not “left in a state of nature”, human beings are inevitably socialised in one way or another, but socialisation draws on innate potentialities – and for most, if not all* human beings, these include potentialities for empathy, cooperation and altruism, as well as for spite, selfishness and greed. Very young children will attempt to help or comfort others, as will many non-human social mammals, and there is extensive theoretical work on how “nice” potentialities can arise and persist.

    *Psychopaths may be exceptions.

  16. flex says

    The idea that when a person acts differently under the influence of alcohol they are revealing their true selves strikes me as a relic of dualism. The idea that there is a mind, unrelated to the functions of the brain, which controls the actions of the body.

    We know that different drugs, including alcohol, can change the personality of people. Some more than others. Drugs can reduce inhibitions, or bring on paranoia. My wife had a reaction to an anti-depressant which gave her agoraphobia. So the idea that someone who is drink may act differently then when they are sober isn’t all that far-fetched.

    I’d actually go a little further than that, and suggest that someone’s personality is also strongly influenced by environmental factors, especially of other people around them. People display different personalities when they are in different settings.

    These changes in personality are clearly noticed, and often described (as in the above) comments as wearing masks. But again, the idea of wearing a mask suggests that there is someone behind the mask. My contention is that while there are times where we present a different personality than we are feeling, there are also times when we are presenting who we are at that moment.

    To offer a couple examples, I represent our company to our customer’s engineering manager. There are plenty of times when I’m displaying a neutral expression and a non-committal tone when I’m being berated for something our customer caused. I’d like to defend our position and point out that the problems they see are caused by their actions, not ours. Some of my predecessors have not been so restrained and I’m working to mend that relationship. I’m wearing a mask to avoid damaging an already fragile relationship.

    Contrariwise; at work I’m known as a very detail-oriented professional, while at home I’m often a lazy slob. Both of these are me, but the situation I’m in changes not only the actions I engage in, but also the person who I am. There is no mask, it’s how I’m feeling at the time.

    Who you are is fluid, not fixed and not permanent. This is the basis of our belief that criminals can be rehabilitated. If someone’s personality can change over time so that they learn that theft is wrong, why can’t their personalities fluctuate in even shorter periods? I know that to some people this idea is scary. The idea that who you are right now may be different than who you were yesterday or tomorrow. But consider that who you are today is probably quite different than who you were 20 or 30 years ago. Our own memories are not reliable enough to judge, but I can easily see that those people who started blogs in their 20’s will have very different beliefs and personalities in their 50’s and may disavow what they wrote as youths. Knowing that people change means that I do not consider someone as being hypocritical when something they say today contradicts something they said 20 years ago. (Now is something they say today contradicts something they said yesterday, a reason should be provided as to why they changed their mind otherwise hypocrisy is indicated.)

    I really do believe this explains a lot of the “hold my beer” moments. When we were growing up the phrase was, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Alcohol may, or may not, be involved in some of the stupid things we do on occasion in our lives. But the circumstances which lead up to a really stupid idea being tried generally are external environmental ones, not an internal failure of the brain (or mind).

    So where does this leave us for the OP?

    If there is no mind/body duality, and the being which exists is responsible for the actions of all the permutations of their personality (which is what I believe), then it is the responsibility of the individual to recognize that under some conditions who they are is reprehensible. The traits of bigotry, paranoia, excessive aggressiveness, hate, fear, etc., can emerge and that is exactly who you are at that time. There is no mask being removed, it’s not a factor of how much in control you are usually. A person who is usually friendly, kind, and patient can become a raging asshole while drunk and they are not normally a raging asshole with a great deal of control. Their personalities actually change. The conditions which cause their personality to change could be triggered by alcohol, other drugs, or even the people surrounding them. This can happen to any of us, depending on the conditions. It’s a scary thought, we are not as much in control of ourselves as we would like to be.

    But, we are still responsible for our actions. Regardless of what personality we are exhibiting. By the time we are adults we should have learned a lot of the things which might adjust our personality into something we generally find abhorrent. We should also have learned to avoid them. We should be somewhat forgiving of an occasionally lapse, but a habitual one should require correction. The correction can be as simple as a discussion with the person, or in extreme cases incarceration.

    Without additional knowledge, I don’t judge the woman in the OP too harshly. I believe her when she says “this is not who I am.” If this was the first time this occurred, I wouldn’t think she deserves to lose her job. If this is habitual, and has happened before and she hasn’t learned to avoid the conditions which cause this to occur (or if she actually seeks out those conditions), then terminating her employment may have been the correct action.

  17. deepak shetty says

    @John Morales

    You seriously imagine I would sign a detrimental (to me) contract while drunk?

    I may be mistaken but if I remember correctly , you are a teetotaler 🙂 ?

    Would not that be the a true me?
    (A stupid one, but no less true for that)

    No it would not – The courts agree with me. Try signing your will when inebriated.

    You are using the word true literally , in the sense any action done by you is being done by the real you which is correct only in a trivial sense. if I hypnotize you is that the true you?If I drug you in some way , is that the true you ? – yes but only trivially

  18. John Morales says

    KG @18:

    It’s not clear what you mean by “our true selves”. Your later comments suggest that you think anything you do at any time and in any state is a product of your “true self”, but that does not comport with the quote above, and furthermore, would make the notion of a “true self” otiose.

    Yes, the notion of one’s “true self” is vague. But I thought I made it pretty clear what I consider it to be for the purposes of this discussion: how one acts when disinhibited for whatever reason. And obviously people change over time, so who I am now is not who I was a few decades ago — I am much more compassionate, for example.

    You didn’t answer the question about consent (e.g. to sex) when drunk. It’s a natural extension of what you say that such consent is valid. Is that your position?

    Depends. Give me a specific scenario, and I will give you a specific answer.
    But I would probably say yes in most non-extreme scenarios.

    And with regard to contracts, you (yes, even you, John Morales) may one day be cognitively incapacitated by illness – rather than as a result of voluntary actions such as getting drunk. But I take it you consider that you would have no valid complaint if under those circumstances, you are persuaded to sign away everything you possess.

    I can only reiterate: in that case, my cognitively incapacitated self would be my true self, no?
    Yes, scamming of elderly people is a thing, for example — and unfortunately there are many occasions when the law can’t do much about it after the fact.

    (Note this is now about when consent is meaningful, not about who we are. Different topic.)

    deepak @21, hah. Nah, I’m a bit of a pisspot, actually. Had plenty of practice at drunkenness, often when commenting here. You can infer that the more typoes, the more bibulous I’ve been.

    No it would not – The courts agree with me. Try signing your will when inebriated.

    Your justification for a philosophical concept is what courts think it is?
    Also, I have signed a will, which involved meeting with a lawyer, discussing it, then going back for the actual signing once the paperwork was prepared. No breath tests were involved during the process.

    You are using the word true literally , in the sense any action done by you is being done by the real you which is correct only in a trivial sense. if I hypnotize you is that the true you?If I drug you in some way , is that the true you ? – yes but only trivially

    Oh, I should not take things literally? It’s only a metaphor or something?

    If you were to hypnotise me (good luck with that!) or drug me (good stuff only, please!) then you’d see what I am like under those influences — but you wouldn’t be changing my “true self”.

    (Some people are angry drunks, some are maudlin, and I am philosophical and detached)

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