Review: Assholes: A Theory -

Review: Assholes: A Theory


The truly optimistic among us believe that there is no such thing as an asshole. That is to say, the guy who cut you off in traffic or butted in front of you at Starbucks is probably possessed by some temporary affliction (lateness, cluelessness, hangover) that recedes as quickly as it came. In other words, he was acting like an asshole, and that same guy might well hold the door open for you or even save your life 10 minutes later. Aaron James is no such optimist. In fact, the author spends 214 quite convincing pages arguing that “assholeness” is less inattention than a permanent state of mind, and that assholes are more than numerous enough to be called out in book form.

They aren’t mere jerks, and they aren’t rapists or murderers. Rather, James writes, assholes populate the vast moral middle ground between the two. The true asshole, James writes, “is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.” He is narcissistic, self-absorbed, impolite, and permanently thoughtless to those around him—and it is almost always a him—nearly to the point of sociopathy. (A TV analogy: Steve Carell’s The Office character, Michael Scott, is just a jerk; his inspiration, Ricky Gervais’s David Brent from the original British Office, is an asshole.)

And while they may not stick a shiv in your back, they will gladly manipulate the banking system and bleed you to death that way. Indeed, it is in his chapter “Asshole Capitalism” where James hits his stride. Unlike Communism, which in practice engendered a small, elite group of assholes, James believes unbridled capitalism, stripped of those virtue-engendering values that assholes disdain, is an ideal system through which many assholes can band together to completely tilt the game in their favour. Does he make a case? Hint: his main target is the U.S. banking system, and the disaster it provoked in 2008. It almost writes itself.

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Review: Assholes: A Theory

  1. aaron james is retarded if he believes bush, cheney, rice, clinton, obama, et al; are simply misunderstood. or maybe hes an ass hole as well

  2. Reminds me of a guy I worked for who is now an MPP

  3. The theories currently exploding concerning the phenomenon called psychopathy will prove more valuable, I believe. The common misunderstanding and simplification of the spectrum disorder itself (that psychopathy = serial killer) and the common euphemisms ie, asshole skew our collective attention away from possibly the true source of our common ills. Functional psychopaths excel -and congregate for certain- in political spheres of all stripes with a motive the aggregate majority has no comprehension of. How does the process of corruption, ponerogenesis, assume and control power that results in evil?

  4. I would like to invite you to my sisters divorce. This man has tried to poison her 5 times…it is a standing joke “b*&ch won’t die.” The list goes on and on of his violations when it comes to money and getting more money.
    He is the icon of asshole along with Bush’s, Cheney, Rice, the list is massive. So yes dear there are assholes galore many different types. Pulsating, infected or otherwise.

  5. “Human beings…[due to brain size] live in societies 150 strong. Although many towns and cities are bigger than this, the number is in fact about right… Reciprocity only works if people recognize each other…In a society of individuals that you recognize and know well, you can pick and choose your partners… You can discriminate.”

    People are anonymous, and bad behavior is encouraged. The above quote comes from The Origins of Virtue, by Matt Ridley (pg. 69-70). Came to mind and seemed applicable in some way. The asshole goes pretty deep, it seems. Maybe we’ve just encouraged (or cultivated) whatever lurks in there to come up and start breathing our air.

  6. Anybody else suspect that Mitt Romney already has a dozen copies of the book? One or two for every family house???

  7. Little disappointed. When i first saw the tittle i thought, at last Aaron Wherry as put together a collection of BTCs essays under a nom de guerre…great tittle for it too!

  8. Unfortunately, some of them get hired in Customer Support at Bell and Rogers.

  9. Alas, they are alive and well!

  10. No, no one suspects this but you.

  11. It should have been named ” Liberals”