How to Deal with Assholes

Readers, it’s not every day a man gets to live out his dreams, fulfill his destiny, and have a chance to do the one thing he was put on this earth to do. But I’m delighted to share with you that such a day has come for me, and that day is today. For today, 33 years of absolute incredulity at the mystery and manners governing the human race have come to fruition with the publication via Ethos Review of my short essay “How to Deal with Assholes.”

I think the following excerpt will make it clear enough the extent of the gift Ethos Review and your humble author have bestowed upon you this morning:

Back when I was a teaching assistant, an elder pedagogue gave me the idea of breaking the ice with my class on the first day by having students state an interesting fact about themselves. The exercise produced the usual array of answers: I have a twin; basketball is my favorite sport; if you look at my left foot under a microscope in the right kind of light it’s a couple millimeters bigger than my right; and so forth. There’s an inherent unfairness to the exercise, of course, insofar as I don’t ever recall actually sharing any interesting fact about myself as the teacher of the course. So, in the spirit of coming clean, and breaking the ice with Ethos readers worldwide, I’d like to take the occasion to share with you a fact about myself I’ve been withholding from the general public all these years: I’m reallylike, preternaturallybothered by assholes.

I would tell you I’ve spent more time than anyone else thinking about assholes, but I’m afraid that would not really be so. No, we must bestow that particular honor, I suspect, to philosopher Aaron James, whose book Assholes: A Theory, was published in 2012, and which I recently had occasion to interlibrary loan.  Nevertheless, I think I’d not be saying too much if I dared to say that I spend more time than your average person thinking about dealing with assholes. It’s just what I seem to like to do. In fact, I suspect that were you to boil down my conversations with my therapist to one central complaint, you’d do pretty well with, “But dude, there’s so many assholes! What am I supposed to do?”

This is actually a bit less ridiculous than it sounds. On James’s analysis, the asshole’s ability to make us question ourselves is actually central to their very enterprise. He writes that “[t]he asshole is deeply bothersome because we find it difficult to even understand what a good, constructive response would be, let alone to produce it on the spot.” This is particularly concerning because an informal longitudinal study of human life I’ve personally conducted over the past thirty-three years reveals assholish behavior everywhere. These results have been widely corroborated. In fact, one writer has noted, “[e]ncountering assholes is part of the human condition” itself. This renders assholes not merely an incidental problem, but a deep philosophical and psychological one: we can’t satisfactorily answer what philosopher Bernard Williams called Socrates’ question—“How should one live?”—without a meaningful understanding of how to deal with assholes.

I want you to know, reader, that the fact of my coming from such humble beginnings, that I managed to plow through the Buffalo snow and come out the other side to deliver you such an impeccable solution to an earth shattering problem astonishes even me. But alas – I walk among you, on two feet and Billy Reid loafers made in Italy, designed in the South, and cared for by Preston, like any other man. So don’t be intimidated – and read the rest of my essay , including its foolproof solution for reconciling ourselves to a world of assholes, via Ethos.

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Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel

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