On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

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On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by nearly_takuan on Fri Nov 14, 2014 5:47 pm

Today's column on Paging prompted an interesting discussion in the comments that yet did not address the LW's needs, so I'd like to bring it here.

Dr.Nerdlove wrote:Unless he got bit by a raging douchebag out on the moors, the odds are that this asshole-ry was always there, just waiting to surface.

I'm sorry that he feels lonely (actually, no I'm not…) and that he only has you. The fact that he's lonesome doesn't excuse him from being an asshole. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that his shitty behavior and attitude is why you're his only friend – you're the only person who'll put up with him.

nonA wrote:Gonna quibble on the "he was always an asshole" point. I've seen lots of guys who sour and turn in on themselves when they don't make an effort to regularly interact with the world*. This guy sounds more turned in on himself than dyed-in-the-wool asshole.

*(Which, given the whole "maintenance and presentation are more important than your genes" is another data point when you consider the guys who insist that the only thing that matters is being hot.)

All I can add for now is that I'll personally testify to carrying some sourness myself (despite having made many efforts to interact with the world) and that's one of the reasons I chose my name. I think we have the choice to not be assholes regardless—plenty of similar situations involve a choice between being selfish and unkind or being selfless but passively unhappy, and different people just choose different paths—but does the difficulty of those kinds of choices make the wrong one more forgivable in some way?

Are assholes born, or made? Hypothetically, if there were some group interested in curing assholes of their asshole-ry, would they do better with a compassionate "sympathy for the devil" or "Rousseau was right" approach or a more pragmatic forced-rehab sort of thing?
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by kleenestar on Fri Nov 14, 2014 6:06 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:
I think we have the choice to not be assholes regardless—plenty of similar situations involve a choice between being selfish and unkind or being selfless but passively unhappy, and different people just choose different paths—but does the difficulty of those kinds of choices make the wrong one more forgivable in some way?

No, I don't think it makes the wrong choice more forgivable - but I do think it makes the right choice more honorable. That's a subtle distinction but to me an important one. I don't really care if you're being a shitty person because you are in pain yourself; you still have to make your wrongs right, if you can, and ask forgiveness for the shitty things you've done. But if you are in pain and you nonetheless choose to be kind, loving, generous, etc. then I can recognize how hard your challenge was to overcome, and make sure that I give you extra respect for the difficulty of what you managed to do - particularly knowing that not everyone would be willing or able to do the same.

nearly_takuan wrote:
Are assholes born, or made? Hypothetically, if there were some group interested in curing assholes of their asshole-ry, would they do better with a compassionate "sympathy for the devil" or "Rousseau was right" approach or a more pragmatic forced-rehab sort of thing?

In my experience, assholes take sympathy (unless very skilfully expressed) as permission to continue behaving badly. If you try to be understanding about why they're acting the way they are, what they hear is "Aha, this person will let me get away with this behavior as long as I push the following buttons." That said, sympathy can be very effective if you use it as part of the kleenestar method! My method has four parts:

- Lay down clear behavioral expectations, and enforce them unambiguously.
- Show the person a better vision of who they could be; give them a better self to aspire to.
- Listen sympathetically to feelings or history talk, but shut down excuses talk immediately - no negotiating, no explanations.
- Only devote as much time to the asshole as you feel would improve your own life and social circumstances; don't let them set the agenda.

I find this is effective at mitigating the impact of assholes that one can only mitigate, and reforming assholes who are capable of reform. Fortunately, the first group also tends to self-select themselves out of my social circles pretty quickly by being incapable of sticking to the behavioral expectations or getting irritated when I won't give them time on their terms rather than mine!
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by Suika on Fri Nov 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Many assholes do certain things because they are means to success, or rather, they are on the other side of the spectrum from people like you and me. "If I don't do it like this, then I won't be able to do it at all". Or something like that.
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by gravau on Fri Nov 14, 2014 6:26 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:Today's column on Paging prompted an interesting discussion in the comments that yet did not address the LW's needs, so I'd like to bring it here.

Dr.Nerdlove wrote:Unless he got bit by a raging douchebag out on the moors, the odds are that this asshole-ry was always there, just waiting to surface.

I'm sorry that he feels lonely (actually, no I'm not…) and that he only has you. The fact that he's lonesome doesn't excuse him from being an asshole. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that his shitty behavior and attitude is why you're his only friend – you're the only person who'll put up with him.

nonA wrote:Gonna quibble on the "he was always an asshole" point. I've seen lots of guys who sour and turn in on themselves when they don't make an effort to regularly interact with the world*. This guy sounds more turned in on himself than dyed-in-the-wool asshole.

*(Which, given the whole "maintenance and presentation are more important than your genes" is another data point when you consider the guys who insist that the only thing that matters is being hot.)

All I can add for now is that I'll personally testify to carrying some sourness myself (despite having made many efforts to interact with the world) and that's one of the reasons I chose my name. I think we have the choice to not be assholes regardless—plenty of similar situations involve a choice between being selfish and unkind or being selfless but passively unhappy, and different people just choose different paths—but does the difficulty of those kinds of choices make the wrong one more forgivable in some way?

No, you will be judged for your actions, They are what counts. Explaining why you're an asshole does not make you less of an asshole, just as explaining why leaves are green (there's a good reason, look it up) does not make them any less or more green.

nearly_takuan wrote:Are assholes born, or made? Hypothetically, if there were some group interested in curing assholes of their asshole-ry, would they do better with a compassionate "sympathy for the devil" or "Rousseau was right" approach or a more pragmatic forced-rehab sort of thing?

I do not feel qualified to weigh in on nature vs nurture, but I think people can become assholes for very different reason, so there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

I also think that it's not as easy as asshole vs non-asshole. People who always are assholes to everybody are rare, just as people who never are assholes to anybody. So it's more like sliding along a continuum. The dangerous thing is when you start of as a low-self-esteem kind of person, then "becoming an asshole" at first also projects self-esteem and will lead to positive reception. It's the self-esteem part, not the asshole part, however, that people are reacting to.

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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by reboot on Fri Nov 14, 2014 6:37 pm

Personally, I do not think there are conditions that will make or prevent someone from being an asshole and agree that everyone is an asshole on occasion. There are also occasions when being an asshole is OK, and even to the greater good. What tips someone into being a chronic (rather than acute) asshole is persistent bad behavior to one or more people over time in a variety of settings.

Then there is the whole added layer of asshole being in the eyes of the beholder. In some cases one group will think you are an asshole but another thinks you are great because you helped them or protected them.
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by nearly_takuan on Sat Nov 15, 2014 1:22 am

I like your formulation for how to deal with other people being assholes and your reasoning behind that, kleenestar.

Hmm, I think what I mean when I think about the nature vs nurture question, though, has more to do with attitudes than actions. Sure, almost everyone's occasionally rude or inconsiderate, but I think there is a certain kind of person who just constantly has an outlook of "get what I think I want no matter the cost to others" and approaches most situations accordingly. Sometimes this is restricted to an ongoing interaction with specific persons, or a particular type of interaction (only at work, or only when attempting a "pick up"), but basically it comes down to being a behavioral pattern that seems to be motivated by a certain kind of worldview.

I've realized that there are weird hypocritical contradictions in the way I think about it, though. It takes fairly extreme circumstances for me to not view a person who has deliberately stolen something as a thief, but a person who does a selfish and inconsiderate thing just to try to feel better is...somehow not necessarily an asshole. And then I end up having more sympathy for assholes than for thieves. Just because of the particular demons I've still got?

I like Suika's way of putting it, too. "If I don't do it like this, then I won't be able to do it at all." That's a thought that's run through my mind before, and will again (sometimes "like this" entails being an asshole to myself more than anything, but not always). The difference is that most of the time I just decide to not do it at all.
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by reboot on Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:57 am

nearly_takuan wrote:....

I've realized that there are weird hypocritical contradictions in the way I think about it, though. It takes fairly extreme circumstances for me to not view a person who has deliberately stolen something as a thief, but a person who does a selfish and inconsiderate thing just to try to feel better is...somehow not necessarily an asshole. And then I end up having more sympathy for assholes than for thieves. Just because of the particular demons I've still got?
....

It is funny, I am the opposite. I have more sympathy for a thief than an asshole and the flavor of asshole who does it because they are just trying to feel better is the type of asshole I have no sympathy for. I tend to be more sympathetic to assholes who are behaving as such for an external cause or for an agenda that is bigger than them and their needs. My guess is it is because that is the flavor of asshole that I tend to be, so I empathize a bit.
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by Enail on Sat Nov 15, 2014 1:37 pm

I think 'asshole' is a more flexible and matter-of-opinion category, and everyone can be  selfish/stuck in their own perspective/not aware of others/caught up in their emotions enough that sometimes they land up being an asshole.  So I think most people are sympathetic to certain flavours/degrees of asshole.

OTOH, thief has a pretty clear and specific definition, people almost always know when they are stealing, and there are only a few, fairly clear, kinds of mitigating reason that people might find sympathetic : they really needed it and didn't have another way to get it, they felt like the first was true even if it wasn't totally (or the observer doesn't think it was), it was compulsive behavior or acting out, socio-political situation makes it a more viable/appealing option than non-stealing options.
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Re: On the Origin of Feces - Where Do Assholes Come From?

Post by nearly_takuan on Sat Nov 15, 2014 4:59 pm

Yeah, the flexibility of the term makes it difficult to nail down what we might be talking about when we ask about external factors or nature vs nurture.

Like, I wouldn't think to apply the term "asshole" to someone who just acts rude or inconsiderate when it's directly in the service of an altruistic cause. Depending on the actual behavior we're talking about, I might think they are falling to see a separate picture, and in a more cynical mood might privately accuse them of willful ignorance and self-deception, but "asshole" would not be a noun I would reach for to describe that sort of person.
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