To many of his supporters, Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, is an asshole. But he’s also entertaining, even likable, bold and courageous, and certainly a winner. What is more, he’s potentially a force for good. Our political system is chock-full of assholes (is it not?), in which case we could do well to add an even bigger, stronger asshole in hopes of bringing order. As the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes might have put it, Trump, the alpha-asshole, has the potential to “over-awe” the others and restore orderly cooperation.
… continue reading hereRead More
“devi essere sempre più furbo degli altri per avere successo nella vita” (you have always to be more clever than any other if you want to be successful). The result in Italy, according to a helpful correspondent, herself Italian, is that assholes and jerks are everywhere .Read More
2013 was a banner year in assholery—in no small part because of the breathtaking spectacle of Senator Ted Cruz. But while it is never good when self-aggrandizing political entrepreneurs walk a country and the world to the edge of a needless economic disaster, 2013 also brought some remarkable good news. … Continue reading here.
Selected beauties from Kanye (see here, for the full compendium of 2013 foolishness).
“If I were to write my title like going through the airport and you have to put down what you do? I would literally write ‘creative genius’ except for two reasons: Sometimes it takes too long to write that and sometimes I spell the word ‘genius’ wrong. The irony.” November 18, Bret Easton Ellis Podcast
“It’s only led me to complete awesomeness at all times. It’s only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness. That’s all it is. “June 16, New York Times
“So the next day I went to the studio with Daft Punk, and I wrote ‘I Am a God,’Cause it’s like, yo! Nobody can tell me where I can and can’t go. Man, I’m the No. 1 living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison; I am Jimi Hendrix.” June 19, W MagazineRead More
Here is Louisa Kamps, writing for Elle magazine (here):
In his erudite and streetwise Assholes: A Theory (Doubleday), UC Irvine political philosophy prof Aaron James looks at the consequences of income inequality and reminds us how, for millennia now, philosophers have been grappling with the moral challenges of treating other humans decently. James, an avid surfer, became interested in the subject when he realized that a certain prototypical surfer—Lance, he calls him, rather nicely—can be found on every great swell around the world. Lance has “decided that he should have almost any wave he wants,” and when “people see him paddling for a wave, they should realize that he is the regular, that he’s the better…surfer, and that this wave is therefore his wave.” Even if somebody is already up on it, Lance takes “his” wave. As “other surfers are ‘burned’ in this way”—flickedRead More
Zach Dorfman offers a lovely discussion, sounding themes of dignity, in the LA Review of Books, here. Here’s the first bit:
YOU KNOW HIM, I PROMISE. He is difficult to avoid — especially, it seems, in our great urban centers. Curiously, the tonier the ZIP code, the more he seems to multiply like some droning, infuriating ungulate. He is the person who weaves through three lanes of traffic suddenly, without signaling. He is the person who sits near you at a movie theater and proceeds to take a phone call in the middle of the feature. He isRead More
Where the “sucker” is defined as one who fails to stand up to an asshole, on behalf of cooperative people (or him or herself), when this appropriate and necessary. The sucker is thus complicit in the asshole’s assholery, even if not necessarily an asshole him or herself.
It can be hard to tell when someone is a sucker so defined, because it can be hard to tell when standing up to an asshole is appropriate and necessary. Much of the time, we should just blow of an asshole and let the frustrations go, and it can be a tough call when it would be productive and right to take on the fight. Assholes succeed by exploiting this zone of uncertainty. Because cooperative people disagree about when and when not to resist the asshole, they often turn on one another, making the assholes work easier for him.
Alas, in Boehner’s case, the case seems relatively clear cut. With global financial catastrophe in the cards, with stakes that don’t get too much higher, it is fair to say that he’s well beyond the zone of uncertainty. Taking a stand for the public good is now necessary (and possible, since Boehner merely has to allow a vote on the House floor, which will settle the issue with a significant bi-partisan majority). So Boehner probably isn’t an asshole. But in this case, being a sucker may be as bad or worse.
For lack of support, Berlusconi has simply backed down in his plan to topple the Italian government (see Here). If it can happen in Italy, could it possibly happen in the US, in the gov. shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, before the suffering mounts and all hell breaks loose in global markets? Let us hope and pray…
This time not from the mouth of babes, but from God’s representative on Earth himself, Pope Francis, here:
“Heads of the church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers… The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”
The church is instead “a community” of people, priests and bishops who “are at the service of the people of God,” especially the poor, the old and the young “crushed” by unemployment. “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”
“Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity.”
Or, rather, there is a gathering consensus to the contrary, it would seem, as Cruz takes a valiant stand for self-aggrandizement, at the risk of global economic meltdown. A chorus of critics is emerging, even within the GOP (on the eve of a government shut down and possible failure to raise the debt ceiling). We shall see if DC politics has exhausted its resources for asshole management, after having largely let them run wild. Needless to say, it would be nice if the experiment weren’t so enormously consequential, for the country and for the world. Let us hope and pray…
Larry Summers withdraws, and will not be Fed chairman, despite the backing of the most powerful man in the world.Read More
I’m thinking Rodman is actually not a colossal ahole for praising and befriending Kim Jong-Un and publicly throwing the imprisoned American under the bus, all while cursing American officials, because, you see, he is in fact a patriotic CIA operative, who is merely gaining enough favor with the N. Koreans to nudge them to release the American over drinks. Or maybe not…
I mean Larry Summers, who reportedly cost Harvard’s endowment 2 billion dollars, because of his over-confidence. See here, for this:
Summers, unduly impressed with his own economic credentials, overruled two successive presidents of Harvard Management Corporation (the in-house fund management operation chock full of well qualified and paid money managers that invest the Harvard endowment). Not content to let the pros have all the fun, Summers insisted on gambling with the university’s operating funds, which are the monies that come in every year (tuition and board payments, government grants, the payments out of the endowment allotted to the annual budget). His risk-taking left the University with over $2 billion in losses and unwind costs and forced wide-spread budget cuts, even down to getting rid of hot breakfasts.
As the Boston Globe explained:
In the Summers years, from 2001 to 2006, nothing was on auto-pilot. He was the unquestioned commander, a dominating personality with the talent to move a balkanized institution like Harvard, but also a man unafflicted, former colleagues say, with self-doubt in matters of finance.
Ethical guidance through cautionary tales courtesy of the US Department of Defense. Possibly the only public government document that is (intentionally) a spoof of itself. The full document, for 2012, is here: Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure_2012. Here’s a sample, from a separate document entitled “2012 Updates” (In word doc, here: eef_complete_2012-1).
Encyclopedia of Ethical Failures: 2012 Updates
(From DoD IG)
MISUSE OF GOVERNMENT RESOURCES AND PERSONNEL
Pointing and Shooting for Personal Gain
An O-5 in communications decided that his day job wasn’t enough, so he started a side business photographing local sports events. While on duty, he asked a subordinate to create photo products for his personal business during official time. The officer also requested a press pass on behalf of the Defense Media Activity, which he then used to gain exclusive entry into sporting events to take pictures in his off-duty time. When he was finally caught for misusing the press pass, he received a letter of concern from command.
Hors D’oeuvres and Wine…On the Taxpayers’ Dime
A member of the Senior Executive Service authorized the use of appropriated funds for two optional, off-site “teambuilding” events: a wine tasting event and a hors d’oeuvres-tasting event. The SES member argued that these events were justified as “necessaryRead More
Where “justice” is making sure he gets his credit, like when he didn’t get credit for his shots from the high school basketball coach, and still isn’t getting his credit today for his music, despite all those Grammy’s. But it is also a fight for the children, to “clear a path so that people can dream properly.”
And about that whole Taylor Swift apology, in which he faltered as a human and caved to peer pressure. Despite the original act, his main drive has only led to “complete awesomeness at all times. … awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness.”
Moments of Zen from this interview in the NY Times, here.Read More
One of two Italian archetypes, according to Tim Parks (discussed here). The “furbo,” or clever person, bends the rules, in contrast with the “pignolo,” who is law-abiding stickler. At a train station, for instance:
“When a “furbo” cuts in line, “there is a slow, simmering resentment, as if the people who have behaved properly are grimly pleased to get confirmation that good citizenship is always futile, a kind ofRead More
Italian historian Carlo M. Cipolla writes a fun book, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, which contains this nice definition:
A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses. (p. 36).
Cipolla notes that, at first blush, it can be hard to see why anyone wouldRead More
Suppose you must choose to live in one of the following two societies, not knowing where in either one you’ll end up (the names are only suggestive; they aren’t definitions):
CAPITALISM: everyone is richer than they would be in any other kind of society. Yet there are also very large inequalities in wealth–Read More
[A lecture by yours truly, recently given to CSULB.]
Today I address two main questions, What is it for someone to be an asshole? and, Who cares? That is, why would a philosopher care, about the answer to what is surely among the least profound philosophical questions of all time? My bold answer is that a certain theory of the asshole is of some philosophical interest, and indeed surprisingly so, given that one could have easily assumed that asshole theory would be of absolutely no philosophical interest at all to anyone, philosophically speaking.
My main question is, What precisely is the difference between the asshole and the mere jerk, prick, dick, twit, wanker, prat, schmuck, cad, boor, bastard, ass, ass-clown or douchebag? Here is my proposal: the asshole is the guy (yes, assholes areRead More
(OK, not exactly easy. Anyway…)
STEP 1: Avoid him if you can (even at a significant cost)
That might mean not marrying someone you love; divorcing the guy; changing jobs; passing on a profitable business partnership.
For workplace managers—at least according to Stanford management professor Bob Sutton—it means never hire an asshole, fire them if some slipRead More
[Guest post by Dr. A. James Frisbee, Advanced Scholar at the Center for Advanced Studies, USA]
During a trip to South Africa last summer, a local and I were sitting in a Durban cafe having a fun conversation about who is and who is not of a certain morally foul personality type. (The usual name starts with the letter ‘a’—but I”ll call these people by the British name “wazzocks.”) Then my friend had the gall to ask whether I and my country, the United States of America, might too count as a wazzock.
He went on, but I definitely wasn’t persuaded by whatever it was he was saying in his admittedly cool South African accent. But I’ve being thinking a lot about the question in the meanwhile, and now, on behalf of my country, IRead More
Jim Maloy from Barrie, Ontario, was wondering about various types that do not quite “make the cut” as assholes, and sent me these great suggestions about how to distinguish the prick, dick, shit, and jerk. The suggestions seem promising at first blush. (So to speak, if you’re blushing. Who am I kidding? I’ve long stoppedRead More
[A lecture for students and the general public, recently delivered at Bloomsburg University, by yours truly.]
In the course of human affairs, after we have duly reflected on the great trends of our time, and we have spare time for personal self-examination, a question may present itself, to every thinking person, of his or her place in society, and his or her own virtues or vices of character. More to the point, at the present stage of history, in age of “greed is good” capitalism, of raging Facebook and reality TV narcissism, and of defensive unwillingness to entertain an opposing perspective—in short, with a rising cultural tide of assholery—it behooves each of us to contemplate the possibility that we ourselves are, or are prone to become, an asshole.
The question ranks among the least profound of philosophical questions of all time. And yet it is both necessary and an occasion for useful philosophy. How can we say whether we are or are not an asshole without knowing what an asshole is, without knowing what the term “asshole”Read More
Are they assholes? At first blush, it seems so. Rejecting the legitimacy of legal authority, especially federal legal authority, the apparently 100,000 person-strong movement is known for mouthing off to police officers, filing frivolous law-suits, engaging in “paper terrorism,” paying fines in photos of silver coins (instead of US currency, which they reject as illegitimate), and, in some cases, violently lashing out in ways that have caused several police officer deaths. (See here and here.)
All of this is clearly motivated by a moral belief, however implausible, in the illegitimacy of US legal authority (or at least most of it, beyond some common law rules). It *would* amount to blatant assholery if the movement’s followers thought they had an exceptional claim to be free fromRead More
It seems not, at least if Apple’s apology to China for its warranty policies (see here) was sincere. An asshole, or a company acting like an asshole, won’t usually apologize, instead of remaining entrenched in its sense of entitlement, finding all manner of rationalizations to bolster its confidence.
A skeptic might point out that the apology only came after increasingly vociferous criticism in the Chinese media. Apple was said to be “arrogant,” and this was endangeringRead More
Kanye West’s contemplated next album title, as reported by the BBC, here. A source associated with West says the title is “half-serious.” (So he’s only half-joking?)
Before we rush to judgment about the man who also recently said “I am Picasso,” let us note that, theoretically speaking, West might be planning to *merely mention the phrase* in his album title, rather than to *use it in his own voice, as applied to himself.* He might do that in order to explore themesRead More
After one of Cruz’s recent legislative performances, Diane Feinstein felt moved to tell CNN that Cruz was being “somewhat arrogant.” Gail Collins, in recounting the details, here, suggests that this is an understatement, because “there apparently is still an unwritten rule against calling someone “a stupendously irritating twit” on national TV.”
“Stupendously irritating twit” could itself be an understatement (which is perhaps explained by the Grey Lady’s timidity about potentially more appropriate language). Cruz might be better described as an ass, an ass-clown,Read More
Because it is my job, I report this, ahem, colorful way of calling someone an asshole, apparently in Texas style. (Thanks to a Texan friend of my associate.)
In a grave oversight, the taxonomy in my book wholly neglects this especially charming asshole type, as exemplified, most prominently, by the flashy, uber-controlling, and litigious Bikiram Choudhury, discussed mainly here, but also here.
The type bodes ill for the human social condition. Rare as they may be, even a few such instances show that any social context can produce an asshole or two. If yoga’s take-care-of-ourselves-in-loving-acceptance-and-grateful-harmony-with-each-other-and-the-cosmos culture can’t stop an asshole from rising, what culture will?
Excerpts from a book excerpt on the Wizard of Fox News, here:
…One day during the 2012 primary season, Newt Gingrich complained that Fox News’s support for Mitt Romney was responsible for Gingrich’s poor showing. Rick Santorum had made a similar claim when he dropped out of the race. Gingrich and Santorum had been Fox commentators before getting into the race, and Ailes found their complaints self-serving and disloyal. BrianRead More
During a recent concert in Paris, he offered:
“I am Picasso. I am Michelangelo. I am Basquiat. I am Walt Disney. I am Steve Jobs.”
(Link to the youtube video can be found in this article, here.)
In the book, I classify West as a Delusional Asshole, on the grounds that he’s not (so I say) talented in the way Picasso was. Is that right?Read More
If, that is, he usurped presidential prerogatives from W., as various stories suggest he did. We now have further evidence of this, on the day of 9/11, where it appears he gave orders to shoot down the hijacked airplane. One version is recounted here, by Maureen Dowd, in the NYTimes:
[Cheney] no longer feigns deference to W., whom he now disdains for favoring Condi over him in the second term, and for not pardoning “Cheney’s Cheney,” Scooter Libby.
On Berlusconi, and the delusional culture that is enabling his return to power. Excerpts from a NY Times opinion piece (here):
In the run-up to the elections that begin today, he has promised to abolish the stiff property tax that was introduced by the previous government and is largely responsible for bringing a little credibility back to the country’s finances (and that he voted for himself when it was introduced). … The announcement, despite coming from a man who has repeatedly failed to turn even the most promising political and economic circumstances into anything resembling the collective good, earned Mr. Berlusconi a considerable leap in the polls.
Here [in Italy] someone is found to have abused their position of public office — given jobs to relatives, accepted bribes, spent public money on personal pleasures — but doesRead More
Let us proceed in an intuitive way, without the aid of our theory. Let us ask whether freshman U.S. Senator Ted Cruz qualifies for the designation “asshole,” in light of–and while simply taking for granted–the claims made here in the NY Times. Accordingly, we simply go with our gut reaction as to whether or not the term applies:
Just six weeks since his arrival on Capitol Hill, he’s already known for his naysaying, his nit-picking and his itch to upbraid lawmakers who are vastly senior to him, who have sacrificed more than he has and who deserve a measure of respect, or at least an iota of courtesy. Courtesy isn’t Cruz’s métier. Grandstanding and browbeating are.
[A book review for Literary Review, by Michael Bywater.]
With Americans, it’s bottoms, bottoms, bottoms. ‘Get your ass out of the sling’; ‘Let’s get our asses into gear here, guys’; ‘Okay, dudes, let’s go kick ass’, and so on. They need a euphemism. If every time they mentioned asses a Goatse (pronounced ‘goat-see’ and if you don’t know what that is DO NOT GOOGLE IT because – really – you will be sorry) sprang to the American mind, they’d soon change their ways. Which would be a shame, particularly when it comes to the full, metaphorico-anatomically explicit version: not the ass but the asshole.
Before we continue, let’s clarify one thing: an arsehole is not an asshole. My edition of S J Perelman’s letters begins with a majestic declension of Yiddish insults, from the humble shlemiel to the malign and virulent paskudneh. Many of these – the klutz, the shmendrick, the shlemazl, the trombenik, just for starters – are subsets of the arsehole. But none of them are assholes. …. Continue reading here.Read More
The mechanical engineer Thomas Midgley (1889–1944) did some pretty unsavory deeds with the help of his scientific reputation. If his promotion of climate-changing CFCs was an honest mistake, the same cannot be said of his brazen advancement of “anti-knock” lead additives. Midgely arguably knew there was compelling evidence that auto workers were suffering dearly from exposure to the neurotoxins. Yet he offered misleading public demonstrations of their supposed safety anyway, knowingly exploiting the public’s trust in science for personal profit. … Continue reading here.Read More
A new GOP strategy–which includes a bill proposed in Virginia–apparently seeks to flip several swing states that went to Obama, by in effect giving greater weight to rural votes, presumably in order to counter-act the “demographic wave” that now threatens the GOP with perpetual minority status. See here. (Rural areas have far fewer voters but more electoral districts. The new approach would award state electoral college votes according to districts won, regardless of how many or how few people live in them, in effect diluting the more populous, more liberal urban vote.)
Now, this is brazen political assholery in a democratic society that works with a majority rule presumption IF the change has no basis other than partisan advantage. “We want to win next time” plainly won’t do. EvenRead More
I am pleased to report that there have been no conspicuous assholes in public life for much of this week (or at least the last few days, or parts of days, or parts of hours). Hence blogging about said assholes has been unnecessary, freeing up valuable time for reflection about non-assholes, and other non-asshole-related subjects of inquiry. Occasionally, the human social condition offers a much needed, if short, reprieve from its normal foulness, or at least from certain forms of foulness, as they are normally displayed to our senses. All of which leads me to want to the play the ukulele, and to now play this classic song, by Louis Armstrong, “What A Wonderful World.” Here. What a lovely song!
“…provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” — Robert Benchley
Philosopher John Perry explains, here, on the topic of “structured procrastination.” This issue isn’t directly about assholes. It is related to the future of capitalism, as I hope to explain in a future book, which is partly about the alternative to Asshole Capitalism (to put the connection vaguely, for the moment).Read More
Namely, that he hasn’t been paid the pension that is usually due to a former president in Liberia. (see here.) Apparently war crimes don’t change things. Not to mention that he’s wrong about Liberian law (according to one correspondent, the pension is due only to a former president who has “honourably retired to private life.”) But I guess it isn’t exactly news that he’s an asshole.Read More
Well, the apology bodes well — assholes are usually won’t apologize. But he sure went for lying and obstruction for a *long* time. The nice guy image was always a public facade (see here), and he didn’t seem especially worried about living a lie during all those years. If he’s not a proper asshole, because the apology now matters, he surely had a major asshole phase.Read More
Or are they just wrong?
That is, assholes could simply be in error about what they are entitled to, in a “clear-eyed” way, with no confusion or incoherence to speak of. Perhaps. But here’s why the asshole might be not only wrong but also confused.
Proper assholes seem happy to admit that they are assholes. As the onion.com headlineRead More
(A guest post by Dr. A. James Frisbee, an Advanced Scholar at the Center for Advanced Studies, California, U.S.A.)
As a real American, I believe that we should protect liberty at any cost. We should especially protect my liberty not to be taxed, even if others (e.g. poor people) must be deprived of social services. Ongoing poverty is a fact of life, but the slightest thought ofRead More
At least among professional philosophers, that is the almost universal feeling about the “philosopher” of the hour. Whether you agree or disagree with her views, there’s little in Rand that isn’t better developed in Plato (in the mouth of Callicles or Thrasymacus), in Nietzsche, or in libertarians such as Robert Nozick. The sanctimonious Rand is better if you’re young and looking for a religion, but not so good if you want a deep understanding of the issues.
I concede that this *could* just be a snob’s view of things. To suggest that it isn’t, here’s some evidence from my own behavioral dispositions.Read More
If you asked me what it means to call someone an “asshole,” a “honkey,” or a “pig” before the summer of 2008, I would have said “I have no idea.” I might have suggested that these are just terms of abuse, and that they *merely* vent or express disapproving feelings, in a way that renders statements such as “Joe is an asshole/honkey/pig” as *neither true nor false.* Having written a book about assholes, I now think that is completely wrong, not only about vice terms like “asshole,” but also about pejorative terms like “honkey” and slurs like “pig.”
What I’m now thinking is that we can divide much of foul language into three main basic categories, none of which admit of which admit of an “expressivist” rather than a “cognitivist” analysis. The three kinds are
Despite a deep pool of qualified candidates, the coveted Asshole of the Year Award applies to this fine example of a public figure who was driven into pseudo-science in order to maintain his entrenched (and perverse) moral outlook. (If you worry that there are better candidates for 2012, further explanation is to come.)Read More
That is how this piece puts the argument that Glenn Hubbard, Romney’s go-to economist, hasn’t been improperly influenced by hedge funds that have paid him in lavish sums: he truly believes in the policies (e.g., cuts to capital gains and income taxes) that he’s helped both Bush and Romney advance, even if, yes, it turns out that he’s also been well remunerated.
For this he was portrayed as personally corrupt in the award-winning documentary “Inside Job,” and he can easily be seen as a major cog in theRead More
A timely (longish) passage from Rousseau’s Second Discourse (sec. 27):
Here are all natural inequalities set in action, every man’s rank and fate set, not only as to the amount of their goods and the power to help or hurt, but also as to mind, beauty, strength or skill, as to merit or talents, and, since these are the only qualities that could attract consideration, one soon had to have to affectRead More
Two hallmarks of the asshole are (i) his capacity to rationalize a position to which he’s independently committed and (ii) his disposition to brazenly defend it in the face of what should be seen as legitimate counter-arguments. The rationalizations are often the source of his boldness: he’s so convinced by what he tells himself that he’s shameless about going public with what is plainly specious reasoning.
I have no idea what the NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre is like privately, but he beautifully displayed these traits in his press conference on school violenceRead More
The task of selecting a single person who is supremely deserving of the name “asshole” poses an extraordinary challenge. Among the vast sea of exemplars, we can hardly compare candidate assholes by any simple metric. We risk comparing apples to oranges. To carry out our unsavory task in good faith, we therefore compare assholes under three subheadings: Sports Assholes (the NBA, in particular); Hollywood Assholes; and Assholes of Worldly Consequence, in society or politics. … Continue reading here.Read More
Says Robert Heinlein, who adds “Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” So openly carrying arms is a proposal for asshole management, except also radically misguided, for all the reasons Thomas Hobbes so vividly explained in Leviathan. Even if civility doesn’t require an absolute sovereign, as Hobbes claimed, it surely requires great assurances against mortal threats, lest we all take the cautious course of preventive action–“‘Anticipation,” to use Hobbes’s word–and quickly descend into a war of all against all. There is no civility without peace. (For related discussion of Hobbes, see this post.)Read More
In the beginning was the word, used as a mere metaphor. A World War II soldier called his superior officer, Sargent Pug, “an asshole,” thereby inviting his fellow soldiers to imaginatively engage Pug in a certain unflattering light. He and his fellows were to not simply to liken Pug to a foul and hidden part of his own body, as though Pug had similar physical and aromatic features. They were also to see or experience Pug as an asshole, and to further interpret Pug and his actions fromRead More
As according to Immanuel Kant, who is closely following J.J. Rousseau, in a nice (albeit longish) passage:
The predisposition to humanity can be brought under the general title of self-love which is physical and yet compares… that is to say, we judge ourselves happy or unhappy only by making comparison with others. …
An interview with Almost Always Books, here.
Almost Always Books: Why did you want to publish a monograph on an obscenity, and how did you choose “asshole” as your focus?
Aaron James: I wasn’t interested in obscenities per se. It just occurred to me, one day while surfing, that “asshole” was the kind of concept that could be defined. So I got wondering what the definition would be and with considerable
Here I mean not only “honkey,” but any pejorative term directed toward a particular group of people (“honkey” and whites; “wop” and Italians; “kike” and Jews; “chink” and Chinese people; “limeys” and Irish people; “n—-r” and Afro-Americans). There’s interesting philosophical question here: What, in general, is the difference between calling someone an asshole and calling someone one of these racist names?Read More
Yes, it is entirely possible. Spain recently tried it, or started to try it, when Zapatero the socialist adopted republicanism in the style of Princeton philosopher Phillip Pettit. Zapatero fell from grace after the 2008 crisis, but mainly because *the left* rejected his market-friendly response. His republicanism apparently wasn’t socialistic enough. The fascinating story is told in this book.
On Pettit-style republicanism, see this previous post.Read More
Most modern conservatives care deeply about conserving the valuable things we’ve already got–things like the family, religious practices, familiar culture, the environment, the local marketplace, and so on.
And yet they also mainly embrace the market, the most powerful force in the history of the world in destroying what we’ve got already. (Why is that? Because marketsRead More
By letting an asshole get to you, explains Oliver Burkeman in today’s Guardian, here. This may be the best discussion yet of the ideas in my book (albeit without the political philosophy bits)!
What is a “wazzock”? John Cassidy, another Brit, explains in The New Yorker in light of Romney’s visit to England:
That is, is American in decline? And if so, is asshole proliferation the cause? The answer, I take it, is “probably so,” though how likely and how bad the trend is much depends on what you mean by “decline.”
America is certainly in relative decline, that is to say, in a less powerful or influential geo-political position than in previous eras. If nothing else, that’s dueRead More
[A guest post by Dr. A. James Frisbee, Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Advanced Studies, California, U.S.A.]
It has been said, more times than decency would allow, that I am an asshole.
Today I refute this thesis, as unsound and untrue. I refute it so soundly that only the weakest of irrational minds could indulge a moment’s temptation to find it otherRead More
A sympathetic understanding of “republican” thought requires us to raise taxes.
Here’s the sympathetic understanding: in society, our chief concern is and should be that everyone is assured against subjection to the arbitrary will of others. In being so assured, we can look at our fellow citizens in the eye, as equals.Read More
In moments of self-doubt, I’ve sometimes wondered whether he isn’t merely an ass-clown, and so unfairly classified as an asshole.
There’s a difference because you can be both obtuse–an “ass”– and prone to attention-seeking buffoonery–a “clown” and yet without all of this flowing from anRead More
The next generation being two recently ousted corporate assholes, Scott Forstall of Apple and Steve Sinofsky of Microsoft. Let us pause to appreciate a rare moment for justice: both got their comeuppance.
Both followed in Steve Job’s footsteps, styling themselves as indispensable visionaries who are entitled to set aside usual expectations ofRead More
In some cases, sure. David Brooks glowingly praises spaceman Elon Musk in order to make sure Americans don’t forget–as though Americans *could* forget–that encouraging grand visions and getting entrepreneurs to take big risks can return benefits to everyone.
Trouble is, a culture that inflates egos in hopes of nurturing a few “game changers” can run *out of control*, with grandiosity of asshole proportionsRead More
If only there were such steps, and a self-help book that laid the steps out. We could all read that book, follow those steps and, presto, assholes would all wind up somewhere else. (I’m not sure where. Some island? Or Newport Beach? Or maybe they’d de-materialize.)
So assuming there aren’t seven easy steps (or eight or eleven or…), we might find a little bit of help in considering how a seven-step self-help book might oversimplify. (If my comments also oversimplify, take that as proof of my main point.)Read More
We, as a society, are in trouble if Rousseau is right about this:
…the manner in which public affairs are conducted gives a sufficiently accurate indication of the moral character and the state of health of the body politic. The greater harmony that reignes in the public assemblies, the more, in other words, that public opinion approaches unanimity, theRead More
The title of an excerpt of my book (at salon.com, here) suggests that the good folks at Fox News are “idiots.” Perhaps the editors wanted to avoid using “asshole” in the title, but I’d say assholes and idiots are pretty different, even worlds apart.
There is indeed a general similarity between idiocy and assholery, at least when we are stuckRead More
Thomas Hobbes’s “Foole” says in his heart that there is no justice: he sees no reason to keep his coventants with others when breaking faith “conduces to his benefit.” Hobbes’s reply to the Foole is famously wanting, but he at least gives an argument: the Foole would be foolish to take his chances on risky benefits when his security and very life depends on keeping the trust of hisRead More
Probably not, though there is a case to be made.
Perhaps the plainest evidence yet is the infamous “47 percent” comment: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Making that comment *would* have been a major asshole move if it were made in public. He’d be publicly asking for the job of representing everyone and yet feeling somehow entitled to disregard almostRead More
These words make philosophical trouble for my definition of “asshole.” Here’s the problem–and why I’m sticking to my guns.
My definition (in Assholes, ch. 1) implies that clams about who is or is not an asshole can be *true or false*, quite aside from what sorts of people we *approve or disapprove of*. Thus you can correctly think someone isRead More
Many foul terms–especially the foulest of the foul–can at first seem to be little more than expressions of ugly attitudes. Terms such as “shit” and “fucking” can seem, at first blush, to be nothing more than a way of venting or spouting one’s unpleasant feelings, in an ejaculatory or cathartic burst conveyed though inherently emotive words.
That picture can seem so natural that it is interesting to see if we can think about foul language in a radically different way. We get help in this from David Kaplan, the eminent philosopher of language (UCLA), and his analysis of the meaning of “oops” and “ouch.” (In a great and famous unpublished paper,Read More
Romney repeated that familiar idea in the Oct. 3 debate, suggesting that Obama once said so as well. Here (in this previous post) is how assholes show this to be wrong, or at best “conventional wisdom” in the bad sense: an oft-repeated saying that is dubious or at best true in narrow circumstances. (Unless of course youRead More
A proper appreciation of the asshole surfer requires a nuanced sense of wave etiquette. We begin with the first rule of considerate surfing: whenever possible, get out of the way.
That is to say, the paddling surfer is to do everything in his or her power not to obstruct the surfer who is riding a wave. This rule is presupposed, for example, by the agitated surfer’s complaint, “Hey bud, get the fuck out ofRead More
As according to Immanuel Kant, who is closely following J.J. Rousseau, in a nice (albeit longish) passage:
The predisposition to humanity can be brought under the general title of self-love which is physical and yet compares… that is to say, we judge ourselves happy or unhappy only by making comparison with others. …
Capitalism induces morally questionable motives–of assholery, greed, or at least self-interest. Does that gravely imperil the larger good that capitalism aims for–things such as reducing poverty and want; enabling science, the arts, and leisure time; promoting freedom, and so on? Faust, in Goethe’s telling, bets his soul to Mephistopheles for greater earthly powers, in hopes of never being satisfied with earthly pleasures, but then does terrible things and barely escapes damnation (because he had nevertheless “striven greatly”). Are the moral risks we face in modern capitalist societies comparably grave?
Some possible answers (roughly stated):Read More
And the AJ Award goes to…(envelope please)…Kanye West! For his consistent performances, and this breath-taker:
I am God’s vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.
See here. (Notice Kanye’s implicit recognition of our fundamental inability to wholly escape our own personal perspectives. Grandiosity that beautifully, if reluctantly, acquiesces to the human condition. So he’s not God, but merely God’s vessel.)Read More
A stern verdict by Skidelsky&Skidelsky after a long and measured argument (from p. 181 of their book, here):
Our leaders can offer no more than a continuation of economic growth for ever and ever; and this despite the plentiful evidence that the capitalist system in our part of the world is entering its degenerative phase. The chief sign of this is the dominance of
I’m enjoying Skidelsky&Skidelsky’s defense of leisure (in contrast with both work and idleness) as the goal of advanced capitalism. (The book is here.) Yet I’m not sure *idleness* gets a fair shake. As George Carlin put it:
When does a kid ever get to sit in the yard with a stick anymore? You know? Just sit there with a fucking stick. Do today’s kids even know what a stick is? You sit in the yard with a fucking stick… and you dig a fucking hole. You know? And you look at the hole, and you look at the stick…
Why Hobbes and Rousseau justify tax hikes: If assholes are motivated largely by status comparisons, you can raise their taxes without discouraging work or investment. (You can be richer than your neighbor on the new, lower playing field.) But the point may hold for (most) everyone: if people are generally motivated by “vaine glory” (Hobbes) or by “amour propre” (Rousseau), then tax increases will reduce deficits without hurting overall productivity.
Has economic theory ever provided a shred of evidence (i.e., a study, not just a high-theory conjecture, based on questionable views about rationality) that status preferences are unreliable motivators, or less effective than preferences for absolute magnitudes? Nope. And there’s lots of social science to the contrary.
It is often argued that status competition will drive growth even among rich people who have ever-less to gain from working more (for the rich, as one elite put it, “money is just a way of keeping score”). The neglected point is that this also holds in reverse: status competition for relative rewards can equally drive growth when absolute rewards are reduced. Which may explain why the past three US tax hikes coincided with an increase in growth.
By the way, if you go with Hobbes’s dark view that people have a natural and insatiable desire for domination, then tax hikes can be very steep without curbing effort. Perhaps we can’t hike taxes quite as steeply if you go with Rousseau’s view that concerns for relative standing can be substantially assuaged when people are publicly recognized as equals. But the hikes can still be pretty steep, since we surely lack the necessary ethos of equality.Read More