— On Assholes

Dealing with Lance, the Asshole Surfer


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”—flicked overboard by Lance bulling ahead—“they complain with some version of ‘Hey, man, what the f–k?’ ” And Lance, if any further pushed back at, explodes: “Don’t you dare f–king f–k with me!”

It’s funny to feel suspended, as if in a chopper, above Lance and the other surfers. I feel an undeniable dislike for Lance—but I feel sorry for him too, because his weird sense of superiority makes him so obviously dumb to how distasteful and deeply uncool his behavior is. After all, who’s going to want to hang out with him after hanging 10? Contemplating Lance also makes it harder for me to deny my own Lance-like tendencies: I sometimes think I’m the most fascinating person of the year and therefore should be entitled to yammer on about myself. I sometimes abuse those near (and dear) to me with kick-down dirty looks and snide remarks that make their shoulders slump. To realize that obnoxiousness is all around us, and that we are all vulnerable to feeding the echo chamber of royal a-holism, might seem like a downer, but it’s healthy medicine, I think.

When I ask James how he’s dealing with Lance types these days, he says that it’s easier, after giving them much thought, to find “choice words in the moment” and, occasionally, to break through. Often, though, he still comes away “fantasizing about saying it better or kicking the person’s ass—and I’m not prone to violence.”

But that kind of ruminating, he’s decided, is itself a good thing: “I tell myself, Okay, I know why I’m doing that. That’s just recognizing my right to better treatment and affirming my sense of self-worth. I can have those passing thoughts, then let them go. I can process it naturally. I don’t have to make it as bad as it can be.”

Read more: Defusing the A-Bomb – Using the A-Word in the Office – ELLE
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