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Assholes A Theory


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I wanted to like this book, since I certainly agree with it; and my wife read it ahead of me, laughing long and often. I found it a good deal less funny, but I appreciated what I thought was a pretense of serious philosophical discussion ironically applied to a relatively trivial subject. But it turned out not to be a pretense, nor was it ironic. It was a careful (far too careful for me) analysis of exactly what an asshole is, how he (almost always a he) came to be what he is, what he does to society, particularly if there are too many of him, and what to do about it. But the writing is repetitive and turgid, often with explanations less clear than the original statement @For if the proportion of assholes in the population becomes too large (i.e., the non-asshole to asshole ratio takes a dive)...@ The solutions are vague and general, with little actual practical advice, either for dealing with the asshole at work, or God help you, in your family. And certainly not for dealing with @asshole capitalism@ and helping to prevent healthy capitalism from being taken over by it. The last ten pages are a letter to an asshole in the style of Horaces Epistles (actually not in their style at all), and the quotes from Horace were very refreshing in their breezy and humorous irony. They are the only reason I gave the book as many as three stars.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
(Loaner from Dan)

Amusing, but goes on for a bit longer than it needs to. First half of the book is the best.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
“If justice goes, there is no longer any value in human beings’ living on the earth.”---Immanuel Kant

Assholes are everywhere. We work with them. We shop with them. We drive on the same roads with them. We have them in our own family. We even have one currently as our President of the United States. Assholes are a fact of life. They have always been with us, and they always will. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn the other cheek, back down, curl up, and take their shit.

University of California, Irvine philosophy professor, avid surfer, and non-asshole Aaron James’s book “Assholes: A Theory”, while couched in humor, describes a very serious societal problem: the proliferation of assholes.

Everyone could probably tell you who an asshole is, even if they couldn’t adequately define the term. It’s a distinction that we can all intuitively make: distinguishing between generally good people who occasionally do asshole-ish things from those who are consistently assholes for their entire lives.

Generally, the difference lies in how the person deals with their own asshole-ish behavior. The good person will usually feel guilt and shame regarding his or her behavior and eventually apologize for it. The asshole doesn’t even know or care that his or her behavior was wrong or hurtful, and even if they did, they certainly aren’t going to apologize for it.

As James explains, there is a strong sense of entitlement that an asshole has regarding his or her behavior. It is this trait that is the predominantly defining trait of the asshole: “The asshole... is wholly immunized against the complaints of others. Whether or not the complaint is ultimately reasonable, the person is not registered, from the asshole’s point of view, as worthy of consideration. The person who complains is not seen as a potential source of reasonable complaint but is simply walled out. If the person complaining is “standing up for herself”, in order to be recognized, it is as though she were physically present but morally nonexistent in the asshole’s view of the world. (p. 27)”

James emphasizes that assholes aren’t sociopaths. The distinction is important: sociopaths have no sense of right or wrong, nor do they have the ability to empathize with others. Assholes, on the other hand, know what is right and wrong but they often don’t give a shit. They also have the ability to empathize with others, but they more often than not view themselves as morally superior to everyone else, so if, by chance, their behavior inadvertently insults or injures someone, the asshole’s view is “tough shit”.

This is not to say that sociopaths can’t also be assholes. It’s just not necessarily a given. Even Ted Bundy, by all accounts, was considered a gentleman, when he wasn’t making lampshades out of the flesh of his neighbors.

So what can we do about assholes? Not much, really, since being an asshole isn’t a crime. James, however, suggests that simply calling out an asshole on their asshole-ish behavior can often be enough for self-satisfaction.

Take, for example, the asshole on the highway: the guy who cuts us off or refuses to let us pass or simply zips through traffic at reckless and dangerous speeds.

I have been known to scream obscenities at this asshole, knowing full well that he or she can’t hear me through closed car windows and several dozen feet of distance. I know, intellectually, it’s futile and pointless, but it still makes me feel a little better. Why is that?

James offers the explanation that hearing ourselves call someone out as an asshole can be cathartic: “When the asshole has failed to give us our due in traffic, we swear out loud, not to get him to listen but to reassure ourselves that others, real or imagined, would hear our case and agree. We in effect tell ourselves that if he won’t uphold our status as a moral equal, everyone else will. (p.127)”

Calling out assholes is an attempt at standing up and speaking out against oppression. The point of calling someone an “asshole” in a public setting is, according to James, “much like the point of nonviolent protest (p. 128)”.

Arguably, assholes can’t hurt you, other than perhaps one’s pride. The asshole who mutters racist or sexist epithets toward you or continues talking during the movie after you’ve politely told them to be quiet is probably too much of a coward to actually do anything about it if you did call them out on it. This is a huge part of what makes him or her an asshole.

The ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “People don’t have the power to hurt you. Even if someone shouts abuse at you or strikes you, if you are insulted, it is always your choice to view what is happening as insulting or not. If someone irritates you, it is only your own response that is irritating you. Therefore, when anyone seems to be provoking you, remember that it is only your judgment of the incident that provokes you. (p.131)”

This makes sense up to a point, but the disturbing truth is that, sometimes, assholes do have the power to hurt you. It may not be in a direct way. It may be subtle. It may be the Koch Bros. and their behind-the-scenes campaign to stop federally mandated safety regulations for their various industries that are there to protect people. It may be Donald Trump and his plan for undoing the policies to mitigate effects of global climate change. They may not be holding a gun to you and pulling the trigger, but their actions motivated by greed could have an indirect deadly effect on innocent people.

The only way to truly combat dangerous assholes is to support and maintain what James calls “asshole-dampening systems”. These are “social institutions, such as the family, religion, public education, or the rule of law---that keeps the asshole population from getting out of hand. For if the proportion of assholes in the population becomes too large (i.e., the non-asshole to asshole ratio takes a dive), cooperative people will become increasingly unable or unwilling or just too few in number to uphold the practices and institutions needed for a society to stave off decline. (p. 144)”

Sadly and terrifyingly, this may be happening now. As Trump becomes the Asshole President of the United States, along with his basket of deplorable assholes he has picked to be Cabinet members, we may gradually see an uptick of assholes. Certainly, asshole behavior is on the rise, as evident in a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that shows a marked increase in hate crimes just within the first week after the November election. (https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2...)

Is it that hard to believe that generally good people who have felt disenfranchised or scared to death by a fear-mongering media may feel that Trump’s pussy-grabbing, bullying, politically incorrect, fascist rhetoric and behavior over the past year is a green light to let loose on all the angry, knee-jerk, pent-up frustrations they have kept buried for years?

Assholes are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean everyone is an asshole. I have to have faith that there are more non-assholes than assholes out there, ready to stand up and fight (hopefully not literally) against bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, anti-pacifism, anti-intellectualism.

I have to believe that there are more people willing to stand up for things like freedom, peace, accountability, education.

Because, frankly, if you don’t stand up for stuff like that, then you’re an asshole.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
“If one is special on one’s birthday, the asshole’s birthday comes every day.”

As one might expect, James begins by defining the term asshole. What is an asshole? According to James, it is someone who has an “entrenched sense of entitlement.” This someone believes himself entitled to special privileges ALL of the time as opposed to the rest of us who only believe ourselves to be entitled to special privileges SOME of the time.

James works his way through this theory with quite a bit of philosophical jargon, but the point of this is pretty obvious: he is attempting to create a theory about the word asshole — one we are all already familiar with and have our own opinions about — so he had better do it pretty systematically or we will all rip him a new, well, asshole.

This book is not really for the everyday reader. It is written in an academic, albeit a humorous academic, style complete with footnotes and enough technical language in the first few pages to scare away all but the most tenacious of average readers. That said, I did enjoy the comical paintings of everyday asshole behavior. In particular, I enjoyed chapter two, which characterizes the various types of assholes and provides us with real, modern day examples of these people — Rush Limbaugh, Kanye West, and Anne Coulter to name a few. Unfortunately, for me, that is where my enjoyment ended. Chapter three was merely an extenuation of chapter two and accomplished nothing with its tedious explanation of the modern types of assholes (as opposed to the classic types of assholes outlined in chapter two). Why did those need to be separate chapters? Is there really a difference between a more classic type of asshole and a modern type of asshole? Don’t they exhibit the same kinds of destructive behaviors? To me, this seemed like an unnecessary distinction to make, and the characterizations in chapter three were neither as enlightening nor as humorous as the ones in chapter two.

I had to force myself to read chapter four: Gender, Nature, Blame. Can assholes be both men and women? Yup! Does nature or nurture have something to do with how people become assholes? Yes, but thank you for putting written words to the thought that our gendered (binary) culture is mostly to blame here. Can we blame assholes for being assholes? Is that really a question that needs to be asked? I guess if you are a philosopher, then the answer is yes. I, however, did not need a whole chapter to tell me these things.

Okay, chapter five, you have officially lost me. Here is the chapter we’ve been waiting for — Asshole Management. It’s supposed to be helpful, thoughtful, and solve all of our assholish problems. Sorry to say that this book does not provide us with a method for dealing with these incredibly arrogant humans. James’ advice? 1. “…don’t try to change the asshole, and cooperate only on your own terms.” 2. …”take a stand at the right time.” o_0 *goes back through the whole chapter* *shakes book upside down to see if additional pages fall out*

Now, in all fairness, this book did not promise to be a how-to, and it did not promise to solve the problem of the asshole. Maybe it was too much to expect James to come up with a practical asshole management theory. Maybe.

Now that we’ve seen how assholes affect us one-on-one and in group settings, we get to see how they impact the whole world in Asshole Capitalism. Let me tell you, the idea of an asshole capitalist nation, as opposed to just a capitalist nation, is truly bleak. If asshole capitalism takes over, all of us non-asshole folks (who James calls cooperative people) will simply quit making the effort to create a better world where we stand up to assholes. We’ll let them win! I sincerely hope this never happens. In James’ opinion the United States is dangerously close to asshole capitalism — on the precipice he says. A frightening thought.

The last chapter tells us all something we already know…again. Assholes are a fact of life. The idea here is that we should reconcile ourselves to a world full of assholes, while still trying to remain cooperative people. Meaning, we should be people who stand up — in the right way and at the right time (thanks so much chapter five) — to assholes. That can’t be the end of the book, can it? No, thank God, the book ends with a letter to an asshole. At the last instant, James pulls out some additional wit and some philosophical references that actually add to his argument, rather than seeming gratuitous. The letter is fairly amusing, is posed to some asshole out there who James is trying to get to “see the light”, and ends in all sincerity with James saying he wants to save the asshole’s life.

If you are someone who enjoys modern day philosophy, if names like Kant, Rousseau, and Hobbes actually mean something to you, and if you enjoy argument for argument’s sake, then you will likely find something to take away from this book. Academicians may enjoy the systematic way James defines, and forms a universe for, the asshole. They may also enjoy the book as a break from whatever research they are currently working on. I, however, find the book obvious, repetitive, and unnecessary. In the end, all James does is gather up some rigorous language to surround the word asshole. Did we need an entire book for that? As James says, “…for many of us as regards most assholes, the appropriate maxim is: ‘Don’t waste your time.”


مشاهده لینک اصلی
Obviously, given the current asshole proliferation, not enough people have read James discourse and dissection of assholery.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
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