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Assholes: A Theoryby Aaron James
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Like Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit, this is a serious and sometimes whimsical treatment of a common epithet. UC-Irvine philosopher James (Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for the Global Economy) defines an 'asshole' as someone who 'allows himself to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.' He provides a typology and names names, including the 'smug asshole' (Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy) and the 'self-aggrandizing asshole' (John Edwards). A chapter entitled 'Gender, Nature, Blame' includes an overly long disquisition on whether the asshole is responsible for being who he is and whether he has free will (the short answers are: largely no and yes). James is disappointing on 'asshole management'; his basic advice is to selectively fight the asshole to maintain your public status, but don't think you can change him. Unfortunately, he becomes derailed in a chapter on 'asshole capitalism,' characterized by 'expansive entitlement' of the financial elite, in which he provides a host of unsupported hypotheses and speculations on why American and other forms of capitalism may be reaching a point of irreversible 'degradation.' His work raises the question of whether the subject of assholes is worthy of book-length treatment — probably not." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
So Bad Theyand#39;re Great profiles the most accomplished assholes from the last 100 years, marveling at how they turned bad behavior into a virtue. After all, Kanye West is certainly a brilliant musician and performer, but his antics at the Grammys (and elsewhere) are what turned him into a national obsession. Often, by simple instinct, people as varied as Walt Disney, Ernest Hemingway, Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, and Justin Bieber have been able to profit from their own worst instincts. So how do they do it? This is the question at the center of each of these 50 hilarious, loving profiles.
Don't take this personally*, but assholes seem to be everywhere lately, and we need a rigorous theory to account for and deal with them. In the spirit of the mega-selling On Bullshit, philosopher Aaron James has done just that, providing us all** (in Aristotelian terms) with some much-needed catharsis.
*Unless you happen to be Donald Trump or Kanye West or Dick Cheney, in which case you may take it personally.
**Unless you are a real asshole yourself.
About the Author
AARON JAMES holds a PhD from Harvard and is associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy, and was awarded the Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, spending the 2009–10 academic year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He’s an avid surfer (the experience of which has directly inspired this book) . . . and he’s not an asshole.
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