Assholes: A Theory
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What does it mean for someone to be an asshole? The answer is not obvious, despite the fact that we are often stuck dealing with people for whom there is no better name. We try to avoid them, but assholes are everywhere—at work, at home, on the road, in the public sphere—and we struggle to comprehend why exactly someone should be acting like that.
Asshole management begins with asshole understanding. Finally giving us the concepts to discern why assholes disturb us so, philosopher Aaron James presents a provocative theory of the asshole to explain why such people exist, especially in an age of raging narcissism and unbridled capitalism. We get a better sense of when the asshole is best resisted and best ignored—a better sense of what is, and what is not, worth fighting for.
famously explained that the general threat of coercion by the sovereign gives each of us needed assurance that enough others will comply with the law. Even in some smaller-scale social relationships, cooperation can break down unless a threat of punishment is in the cards.24 Could some system of punishment then be the key to asshole control? Probably not. What is distinctive about the asshole, in contrast with the outlaw, is that he is most effective in the gray areas, where violations of a
fact deserve, then what can be done about them? Why grant them a hearing at all? Before I give you my own argument, you might find it of interest to remember the wise and chatty Horace, who shares your appreciation of superiority. He writes to Maecenas: The wise man’s second only to Jupiter: He is a king of kings in his own life, As the Stoics say; free, beautiful, most honored, And above all else he’s reasonable and sane, Unless, of course, he’s got a bad toothache.2 You style yourself
Finlay; Mark Fiocco; Al Franklin; Samuel Freeman; Julia Fremon; Brad Frohling; Nathan Fulton; Mike Granieri; Sean Greenberg; Phil Goodrich; Liz Harman; Nicole Hassoun; Matt Hayden; Jeffrey Helmreich, Pamela Hieronymi; Kristin Huerth; Nadeem Hussain; Linda Jack, Alex, Alin, Elizabeth, and Wendy James; Thijis Janssen; Mark Johnson; Melissa Johnson; A. J. Julius; Ken Keen; Erin Kelly; Bonnie Kent; Louise Kleszyk; Rahul Kumar; Doug Lavin; Brian Leiter; Alissa Maitino; Daniel McClure; Dan Oberto;
Over a fruitful lunchtime discussion, Carvalho thought up and proved (with simple, mainly illustrative math) a possible model that captures central features of the way asshole capitalism undoes itself. This appendix describes the model for the general reader while providing some background explanation of game theory. (It was written with the generous help of talented UC Irvine logic and philosophy of science graduate student Jennifer Herrera.) The theory of games studies how different agents
and simply hunt hare on your own from the start? The answer depends on what you think I will do, how sure you are in that belief, and what risks you are willing to take. Hunting stag is obviously the best option for both of us, and it is perfectly possible. Nevertheless, the best course might not be taken, simply because of our uncertainty about what the other will do. If you are like most people, you won’t pass up a modest but certain benefit for a better but uncertain possibility of gain, and