In the spirit of the mega-selling On Bullshit, philosopher Aaron James presents a theory of the asshole that is both intellectually provocative and existentially necessary.
What does it mean for someone to be an asshole? The answer is not obvious, despite the fact that we are often personally stuck dealing with people for whom there is no better name. Try as we might to avoid them, assholes are found everywhere - at work, at home, on the road, and in the public sphere. Encountering one causes great difficulty and personal strain, especially because we often cannot understand why exactly someone should be acting like that.
Asshole management begins with asshole understanding. Much as Machiavelli illuminated political strategy for princes, this book finally gives us the concepts to think or say why assholes disturb us so, and explains why such people seem part of the human social condition, especially in an age of raging narcissism and unbridled capitalism. These concepts are also practically useful, as understanding the asshole we are stuck with helps us think constructively about how to handle problems he (and they are mostly all men) presents. We get a better sense of when the asshole is best resisted, and when he is best ignored - a better sense of what is, and what is not, worth fighting for.
©2012 Aaron James (P)2012 Random House Audio
"Aaron James explores a very rude term that many now find unavoidable in the description of an alarming human type. His witty and accessible study of the personal and social problems the asshole creates draws on his lucid and brilliant accounts of the best in contemporary moral and political philosophy. James's analysis of asshole capitalism is a tour de force of philosophically astute political analysis and criticism. This is a book that should appeal equally to the general reader and the philosophical specialist." (Marshall Cohen, University Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California)
…but this was not it.
I'm a fan of non-fiction work that looks into various aspects of human nature; this book did look at "assholes" in an in-depth and intelligent way. However, what with the title, I expected more humor. The first two chapters had me chuckling, but the remainder of the book left me a bit confused. I'm left grasping at how James' term "asshole" differs significantly with other (more mainstream) "labeling" of anti-social behavior, such as "sociopath," "narcissist" or "psychopath." I found the book to be a not-very-organized meandering into the issues of personal responsibility versus entitlement. On its face, it's not a terrible book, but the topic seems more cerebrally dealt with (in a short book) with Baron-Cohen's "Science of Evil," and more humorously treated in most of Jon Ronson's offerings. IMO, this book is a great easy-listen for a person who is interested in the subject and needs a lightweight companion on a daily commute.
Arthur Morey does a fine job of narrating this book; he does a great job here as he did in Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature" and will not disappoint his fans here with his smooth and easy cadence.
Final comment: if you are a person who does not like to hear the word "asshole" (and other epithets) repeated and repeated, go elsewhere.
I did not think a word such as Asshole could be weaved into such a detailed and interesting piece.
1. I really liked the advice on how to deal with Assholes
2. Asshole Capitalism
3. That Asshole, as a group within society, actually do exist - it's like discovering "bigfoot"
4. Yeah, I have never seen or heard the word "Asshole" mentioned so many times in my entire life...that was compelling
The book went on in parts, but was balanced in others by some new insights. I was particularly intrigued by the whole idea of the psychology of asshole-ism. The entire book had me mentally re-visiting quite a few people from my past and in someways recasting there actions in the light of this newly acquired information. I now take much comfort in the fact that I was not just being overly sensitive...I was just really dealing with typical Assholes.
Like I said, if you're looking for a Dave Berry type of topical comedy, then you might still love this book; but not because you found what you were looking for. This is a real work of contemporary moral philosophy that's heavy in anthropological and psychological emphasis.
Because, this is a solid work of scholarship for the masses, it avoids all partisanship, and therefore prizes reason over social or political extremes. He defines the various types of assholes in a taxonomy, like a biologists categorizing sub-species. Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh are both assholes, not because of James' politics, but because they are classified as such before any names are named.
Prof. James isn't kidding when he writes that this is a Theory. He's doing what philosophers are best at, setting up theories for social scientists, historians, and others to use to explain data, and to test an explanation for various phenomena. In fact, it would be great if more anthropologists stopped playing amateur philosopher themselves, and just go about testing theories like James' Theory of Assholes.
Because, this work comes from a true scholar, it seems really avoids a lot of the pop social science books being written these days by journalists, and non-specialists who don't often do well in evaluating the data they present. For example, James does a great job differentiating assholes from psychopaths, which is sorely needed; because of the recent books claiming that psychopaths are all around us -especially in business. I take issue with James' assessment that Assholes are worse than what he calls "Bitches." In most situations involving unequal power, I'd much rather deal with an asshole than a psychopath or a bitch. The difference is that the latter won't let you see it coming before you get stabbed in the back, whereas the asshole lays out his assholeness for all to see and deal with openly.
He openly states that the pursuit of the social and cultural causes of asshole production be tested by sociologists and anthropologists, and give more definitive numerical data. He opens up the discussion to how a society can destroy itself, like Easter Island, and I'd like to offer an anthropological way to explain and test James' theory. James' eludes that assholeness is a social role, and even functional; if mostly in a dysfunctional way for society writ large. I would propose that assholeness as James' presents it could be tested and explained through the theory of Cultural Materialism; i.e., assholes are assholes because they can be, and because such a role is in fact functional in the short-term for the fitness of individuals and their offspring. With changes in material reality the multivariate drivers of asshole production will either increase or decrease, not because we collectively choose either, as James tells us; but, because the infrastructure leads the superstructure as sure as we will choose to eat if we haven't eaten in a week before we'll read a book, if we also haven't read in that same week.
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