Better than a brontosaurus theory

Aaron James has a theory of assholes. That sounds like a useful thing to have. I don’t really have one. I have a lot of fragments of theories, but I don’t think they add up to one theory; more like a box of scattered needles.

There’s an excerpt in Salon.

Assholes largely share a thick sense of moral entitlement…[T]he asshole in more recent modern life often requires little or no pretext of larger cause for the special privileges he feels entitled to enjoy. He will usually have some sort of rationalization ready at hand — he is not the psychopath who rejects moral concepts altogether — but the rationalizations are becoming ever thinner, ever more difficult to identify. This newer, purer style of asshole often just presumes he should enjoy special privileges in social life as a matter of course and so requires little by way of reason for taking them as the opportunity arises.

A Fox News guy called Neil Cavuto is a classic asshole. He asks a guest questions and then won’t let him answer.

This is at the very least an asshole move. One often can permissibly shift attention in a conversation, but here it is at best unclearly justified. Interrupting Blackwell several times and then accusing him of not answering his question does not count as even half-cooperative discourse, not even by the low standards of American politics. Even that would not have been so bad if Cavuto had meant to initiate something like a meta- conversation between the two speakers…Cavuto betrays no hint of metacooperation. He simply feels entitled not to wait his conversational turn. He does not have to actually listen to an opposing perspective, even from the person he is talking to. Cavuto could perhaps argue that the host must exert heavy control over the terms of debate, because polite terms will not do. Or maybe he feels justified in his bullying as long as he is scoring points in a kind of televised game show, with influence, profit, and fun as his justly deserved reward. Either rationale could constitute a sense of entitlement — something like the right to rule, or at least to shut the opposition out, while taking the moral high ground.

Does that sound familiar? Yes.

It is not just Fox News commentators but Fox News itself that has the appropriate, in-your-face, I’m-entitled-to-do-this, especially-because-you-dislike-it vibe.

And that sounds familiar squared – that sounds as familiar as the inside of your eyelids. If you dislike it, I will do it; thus spake the toddler.

Roger Ailes: another classic asshole.

If we ask why Ailes fought so long and so hard for all this, however, the answer is not simply the ample rewards. His victory lap comment also suggests fundamental contempt. It suggests contempt not just for his competitors but for a society of people who have always counted on news with a lot of information shaped by a good-faith attempt at impartial presentation. Our fundamental need in a democratic society, for each of us to make up our own mind, now goes unmet by the whole media environment. It reflects not the minds of equals deliberating together about what together to do but the tenor and voice of a single asshole’s mind.

There’s a lot of that going around – the single asshole’s mind poisoning a whole sector.


  1. says

    What would a brontosaurus theory be? a theory on how the name brontosaurus keeps on going? Or a theory that there really was a brontosaurus and paleontologists are covering it up? The title just has the amateur paleontologist in me guessing….

  2. says

    It’s the ancient John Cleese routine from Monty P. “I have a theory, and it is mine.” Etc. The bront is very small at one end, then very big, then small at other end.

  3. says

    The bronto I understand had a body the size of a fairly big house, a head the size of a car and a brain the size of that modest engine part called a carburettor.

    But like all living animals, it was no doubt an optimal forager, obedient to the rule that overall, the biochemical cost of seeking and consuming food should not exceed the biochemical gain from that activity. In other words, there has to be a material and energy profit from that major life activity of food seeking and processing.

    I think that the concept of optimal foraging subsumes much of political and economic theory, including Marx’s labour theory of value.

    People deemed to be arseholes tend in my experience to expect too much gain for too little effort. By entitlement, if you will.

  4. Bjarte Foshaug says

    A while ago another person commenting on Skepchick made the astute observation that Assholes are the most abundant stuff in the universe and proposed the interesting theory that they are what dark matter is really made of. I pointed out that, according to our best current understanding, dark energy is the most abundant stuff in the universe, and that this would also explain its repulsive nature. If I were the rest of the universe, I would also keep accelerating forever to get as far away from these people as possible.

  5. Aliasalpha says

    If dark matter is composed of arseholes, surely dark energy would have to be the other most abundant force in the universe, stupidity.

  6. sawells says

    @6: I’m still going with the Lovecraftian theory that we call it “Dark energy” because “Elder Gods” wouldn’t sound right in the journals. Similarly, the real problem with global warming is that if we melt any more of Antarctica we might free the Shoggoths that ate the Great Old Ones.

  7. F says

    Hm. A sense or habit of entitlement (privilege) and self-aggrandizement really do seem to define the phenomenon of “asshole”. Interesting.

  8. bmiller says

    sawells: dark energy is JESUS. All the emphasis on the evils of the Theory of Evolution is silly. The real evil is the Gravity. and Geocentrism. LOL

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