Kertu Moppel: On assholes

Kertu Moppel.
Kertu Moppel. Source: Private collection

An asshole is someone who cuts in line, interrupts others, points out people's imperfections and is extremely sensitive toward perceived insults while being oblivious to how rude they themselves are to others. The main reason why assholes are so powerful is that they disarm non-assholes, Kertu Moppel writes.

Meet me in the middle
says the unjust man.

You take a step toward him
and he takes a step back.

Meet me in the middle
says the unjust man

(A. R. Moxon)

Professor of philosophy at the University of California Aaron James wrote a study titled "Assholes" in 2013 where he analyzed the phenomenon of "assholes." He tried to understand why some people cannot adhere to established moral norms, why they are so hard to call to order and described different categories of assholes based on their character.

James' book is based on his experiences as a surfer. He noticed that every beach in the world has a surfer asshole who always exhibits the same obnoxious behavior. In other words, violates every single silent agreement between surfers to get the best wave. Members of the community usually follow the principle of a queue where the person who has waited the longest gets to surf the best wave.

James says that his theory is simple:

"A person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people."

Put more simply, an asshole is someone who cuts in line, interrupts others, points out people's imperfections and is extremely sensible toward perceived insults while being oblivious to how rude they themselves are to others.

"Because an asshole believes he is better than others, it is no problem for him to ignore established social customs, it is almost like a lifestyle for him. What is more – he leads such a life at times more or less openly. He is not bothered by anyone else even when people stare at him indignantly or protest his behavior. He is immune to everyone offering criticism, being quite convinced he does not need to answer questions in terms of whether the freedom he takes for himself is acceptable for others and just toward them. In fact, he often feels indignant himself when his behavior is challenged."

The main reason why assholes are so powerful is that they disarm non-assholes.

For example, you and other decent people have been waiting in line to receive something for an hour. ("If most people would not agree to wait in line, queues would become simple scuffles.") You are close to your goal when someone walks in, stands in front of you and demands service.

You politely try to explain to them that this is your spot. They look at you scornfully and say: "Does it say somewhere that this is your spot?" No, it does not say that. But it doesn't have to. You have so much to say that you keep quiet instead.

It is not customary, it is alien and unfair. You do not know how to act. But you are drowning in injustice. Unexpectedly even to yourself, you raise your voice at them a moment later, while they do not listen. But the people at the back of the line and the cashier are listening. They do not know what the asshole said or did, only that you started yelling out of nowhere. You feel miserable the next day. "I'm not someone who raises their voice at others."

You are embarrassed but he is not because he feels no shame.

There is no sense in arguing with an asshole. We often make the mistake of expecting the other side to respect the same moral norms we do. But pointing to them means nothing to an asshole. An intelligent asshole will, of course, pretend to understand in that moment, while he will have taken two more shits half an hour later.

He places himself outside of agreed upon rules. He is untouchable there. If we want to affect him, we feel that we need to violate our own norms, which is very hard for a non-asshole to do. This is where the paradox is created. Do I need to do something I find amoral in order to restore morality?

We cannot hope to be strong enough moral magnets to pull the asshole back in by doing nothing. While we are waiting for him to return to the ring to play by the rules and listen to the referee, he will have left the arena and burned down half the building.

We have entered an era of assholes riling each other up. The media likes to run stories on them because it is intriguing. If a scientist appears on a debate show and is pit against someone who believes the Earth is flat, it is not a balancing of opinions but rather taking advantage of crazy people.

Who here has not found themselves in a conversation in recent years that at one point arrives at, "Yes, I'm a racist. What's wrong with that?" Everything. Absolutely everything is wrong with that.

Dealing with assholes is an intricate game, a complicated dance. However, doing nothing is the worst possible course of action. Keeping quiet and looking on. Normality cannot be restored by giving the asshole a cake. He will feel he has won and gotten a free cake. Why should he alter his behavior?

Assholes are not afraid to be loud. They are not embarrassed because they have nothing to lose, in turn because they care nothing for whether moral norms stand. They want there only to be norms that benefit them. They are brilliant at finding ways in which they've been hurt.

For example, if his rights are expanded to also apply to others, the asshole will yell that his rights are being violated.

What to do then? The worst thing is to be left alone with an asshole. Because the illusion is created that he might be right and it's just your word against his. That you are overreacting. For example, that being racist is just as okay as not being a racist. That is when we look around trying to find support. What if instead of support, we are urged to be careful and not to escalate matters?

Even when a considerable part of society feels that assholes' statements are invading their feelings of justice, assholes can draft legislation, organize referendums and decide which rights people have.

And the people whose job it is to keep assholes under control do not want to get in their way because everyone is too busy arguing whether assholes need the carrot or the stick. Or nothing at all. Or perhaps another cake. Or how they will look doing it.

Therefore, we have no other choice but to stand up for one another. The good news is that there are few pure assholes, they are simply vocal and brazen. Let us notice assholes and stand up for those about to get steamrolled by them.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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