A complete disregard of the greater good
In his new book "Assholes: A Theory," University of California, Irvin, professor Aaron James discusses the ubiquity of a certain personality type in modern life.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Assholes: A Theory'
by Aaron James
Doubleday, 221 pp., $23.95
I am the perfect person to review this book. In fact, I'm the one who should have written it. Sure, Aaron James has a doctorate from Harvard and is an associate professor of philosophy at University of California, Irvine.
But I grew up in New York City, the world capital of assholes. In terms of real-world experience, I have a double Ph.D., with a minor in BS. I get it. The folks at Doubleday, an otherwise reputable publishing company, decided to go with the Harvard guy. And to his credit, James does an admirable job defining the category:
A person "who systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of enlightenment that immunizes him against the complaints of other people."
They are everywhere. They cut into lines, because their time is more valuable than yours. They send and receive texts and emails in darkened theaters, because that is more important than your enjoyment. They buy Hummers in the midst of an oil crisis because they can. And they fire employees to meet earnings-per-share requirements for their bonuses.
But James' and my methodology on asshole theory diverge. He goes on to discuss the issue in academic terms — and by academic, I mean using $25 words when a single buck will do, extraneous references and extensive and intruding footnotes.
For example, he quotes Kant. And he follows that up with Jean-Jacque Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes references. All that does is obscure the valid points he makes.
In a letter to reviewers, Doubleday's head publicist points out that there is a section on presidential assholes, adding, "should be a fun one to publish heading into election season this fall, don't you think?" This wasn't fun; this was homework.
More's the pity, because the problem is becoming increasingly worse. After a while you almost become immune to the increased lack of civility — bad language, strange dress habits, loud radios — which is in and of itself a problem. If no one objects, bad behavior becomes the accepted norm.
But worse is the area James calls asshole capitalism. It is what created the economic bind we're in. A bank sold mortgage packages to investors at the same time it was betting the mortgages would fail. Federal prosecutors just sued another bank for selling the government $1 billion in faulty mortgages.
This isn't merely venality. This is a complete disregard of the greater good, the unwritten compact that we're all in this together. I could go on and on about the corporate assholes and their malfeasance, but you're probably already familiar with that.
So is author James. It just a shame he expressed it in so unwieldy a way.