The Problem with A**holes—The Book, That Is

by / 2 Comments / 155 View / July 23, 2014

When one stumbles across a book with the word “Assholes” slapped across the cover in the Philosophy section of a bookstore, one would most likely be under the impression that this book would be an engaging but also intellectually stimulating read.  That’s definitely the impression I had when I was walking around Barnes and Noble a few days ago.  Considering how the term “asshole” is now so frequently used in society today–I’m also guilty of this–I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check out what author Aaron James, a Philosophy professor with a PhD from Harvard, would say about this subject.

While I am not very happy with the book overall (admittedly, I stopped a chapter early), I’ll still give it credit for having an interesting premise.  Throughout the book, author Aaron James attempts to define “assholes” through common traits that we perhaps tend to overlook, such as an asshole’s sense of self-entitlement that defines his or her (apparently usually his) personality.  He even goes as far as to distinguish myriad types of assholes, from “asshole bosses” to “corporate assholes,” each with their own sets of habits.

Although I would concur that some of these proposed traits can be found in most assholes I personally know, I do think that his argument is still fairly generalised, especially when the idea is to make “assholes” a concrete concept.  Sure, this is intriguing, but ultimately I don’t completely agree with this approach.  To me, calling others “assholes” can be somewhat personal, because it mostly pertains to how an individual feels about another person.   Despite his credentials as a Philosophy professor and self-proclaimed non-asshole–a questionable personal detail–is he really in the position to tell us how to think about these personal issues?  In fact, does anybody other than us have this power?  I think not.

I understand the premise that James is getting at, but he is honestly trying too hard to take a somewhat simple and quite personalised concept as naming someone an “asshole” into something perhaps academically important, in which case this idea becomes redundantly convoluted.  Do individuals really bother taking the time to stop and think about why the person they just called an asshole did certain things?  Other than the ones who we like to playfully call “assholes,” do we really think it’s necessary to categorise each and every so-called species of assholes for the strangers we will perhaps never see again?  I’m pretty sure the answers are no and no.  Calling somebody an “asshole” is meant to be something casual and simple (but not necessarily cool), if not completely rude and discreet.  What’s the point of making it harder than that?

Of course, the topic on assholes is both provocative and prevalent due to the prevalence of this vocabulary in our generation.  However, Aaron James makes a rather feeble–even redundant–attempt to perhaps introduce this term into academia.  It is a personal issue because, at the end of the day, we are the ones giving those we know that mental label of “asshole,” among various other colourful names.  Crucially, this is not meant to be an academically important issue in terms of linguistics and philosophy despite its intrigue.  The value in this term lies in how an individual chooses to use it, so it does not have to contain much universal value that should be followed.  It’s as simple as that.