In the spirit of the mega-sellingOn 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 everywheremdash;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 beacting 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.
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 Levy) 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. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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October 30, 2012
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