Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Title more intriguing than book itself

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IT would be nice to report that this slender effort is groundbreaking in some way, but in fact the title is considerably more intriguing than the book itself.

Webster's online dictionary offers this definition of the word asshole: "usually vulgar; a stupid, incompetent, or detestable person."

Aaron James is a Harvard PhD in philosophy who teaches at the University of California, Irvine. He proudly declares on the dust cover that he is "not an asshole."

He appears to be something of a champion of fairness in all facets of society, a value he says is frequently missing in those whose selfish sense of entitlement qualifies them as title characters.

Leaving aside that word, which apparently still carries some shock value, and undoubtedly helps to sell books, James describes a wide range of bad behaviours.

All of us have undoubtedly had to deal with such people, especially at work. A substantial section of the book comes under the heading "Asshole Management."

James tries to offer advice on how to recognize such people and deal with them in such a way that their potential for doing harm in minimized. His book is clearly inspired by the success that U.S. academic Harry Frankfurt had with his 2005 bestseller On Bullshit.

James says an asshole is someone who allows himself to enjoy special advantage because of an "entrenched" sense of entitlement. Such people appear to be oblivious to complaints about their behaviour because of that feeling of entitlement."

The word himself is significant here. The author says the progress of feminism has not advanced to the stage that women who behave badly are described as assholes.

He does suggest, however, that some notable females are pushing the boundaries in that direction, such as right-wing cable TV pundit Ann Coulter.

He suggests the word bitch might properly apply in her case, but he still doesn't offer a satisfactory explanation for the gender distinction.

James pay a lot of attention to the media in the book, and it's abundantly clear that folks like Coulter and Bill O'Reilly are not on his Christmas card list.

The book deals mostly with American examples. Regrettably, there is no mention of Winnipeg talent, or even Kevin O'Leary, the man Canadian CBC viewers love to hate on Dragon's Den.

James's ramblings about media assholes, and more serious examples like psychopaths, are padded by numerous references to philosophical all-stars such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and others. Such formidable academic support seems rather wasted.

Whatever term you attach to human beings who are obnoxious and difficult, the terminology does not make them any less so.

James might have served some higher purpose if he had instead offered an eloquent explanation of what use a philosopher like himself serves in 2012.

Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 J8


Updated on Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 4:09 PM CST: adds fact box

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