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Assholes: A Theory (Anglais) Broché – 22 avril 2014

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Broché, 22 avril 2014
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[ 1 ] a theory

¶In the summer of 2010, Stanley McChrystal, U.S. army general and Afghan war commander, reportedly trashed the U.S. civilian military leadership, in effect forcing President Barack Obama to ask him to resign. The display of disrespect was striking, but more telling were the details about McChrystal’s handling of smaller matters. According to one story, McChrystal was once apprised by his chief of staff that he was obliged to attend a dinner in Paris with NATO allies—­if not to shore up flagging support for the war, then simply because, as the chief of staff put it, “the dinner comes with the position, sir.” McChrystal held up his middle finger, retorting, “Does this come with the position?”

For brazen disregard, General McChrystal pales in comparison to another general, Douglas MacArthur. During the Korean War, MacArthur was a law unto himself, in matters both big and small. He quarreled defiantly in public with President Truman, agitating for nuclear war. In their eventual confrontation at Wake Island, MacArthur went so far as to arrive first and then order the president’s approaching plane into a holding pattern. MacArthur’s commander in chief would thus arrive on the landing strip appearing to be MacArthur’s supplicant.

In explaining why he subsequently relieved MacArthur of his command, Truman said, “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals.” Truman was arguably pulling his punches. He could easily have called MacArthur an asshole.

That would not be an exotic charge: assholes abound in history and public life. Aside from runaway generals, we might think of such contemporary figures as former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, or Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We might think of the self-­important developer-­entertainer Donald Trump, the harsh pop music critic Simon Cowell, or the narcissist actor Mel Gibson. Assholes are found daily on cable news, where hosts repeatedly interrupt their guests, and also on talk radio, where airtime is given to commentators who thrive on falsehood and invective. Even as this demonstrably degrades the public debate so vital for a healthy democratic society, overheated commentators get rich and famous, while clearly having a really great time.

All of this poses a larger philosophical question: What is it for someone to be an asshole? The answer is not obvious, despite the fact that we are often personally stuck dealing with people for whom there is no better name. Assholes can be found not simply in history and high public office but almost anywhere—­at work; in our chosen club; sport; school; religious group; circle of friends; and even, for the truly unlucky, in the home or immediate family. Try as we might to avoid them, we often simply have to manage encounters that come, for most of us, with great difficulty and personal strain. The asshole is not just another annoying person but a deeply bothersome person—­bothersome enough to trigger feelings of powerlessness, fear, or rage. To make matters worse, we may be unable to understand why exactly someone should be so disturbing. We may feel certain only that “asshole” is a suitably unsavory name for this particular person.

While most of us could use advice in asshole management, we cannot get far without an answer to our initial question: What is it for someone to be an asshole? If nothing else, a good answer—­a good theory of the asshole—­would be intellectually interesting. It would give us the concepts to finally think or say why some people disturb us so. That, in turn, would ideally open a window into deeper aspects of morality and social life. We would see what assholes reveal about the human social condition and why assholes are everywhere, in every society. Ideally, a good theory would be practically useful. Understanding the asshole we are stuck with might help us think constructively about how best to handle him. We might get a better sense of when the asshole is best resisted and when he is best ignored—­a better sense of what is, and what is not, worth fighting for.

According to our theory, which we will present shortly, the asshole exposes a deep feature of morality that philosophers have sought to understand from the time of Jean-­Jacques Rousseau to this day. The asshole refuses to listen to our legitimate complaints, and so he poses a challenge to the idea that we are each to be recognized as moral equals. This explains why the asshole is so bothersome, by revealing the great importance we attach to recognition in unexpected areas of our lives. In later chapters, we will suggest that a clearer understanding of this helps with asshole management. The key is to understand why we are easily tempted to fight on the asshole’s terms: we are fighting for moral recognition in his eyes. We will also explore larger, more basic questions about human social life. Why are assholes mainly men? Can assholes be properly blamed? Why do some societies produce more assholes than others? Are certain styles of capitalism especially prone to asshole production and thus social decline? And, finally, can we ultimately make peace not only with the given asshole but also with a human social condition in which assholes flourish?

what is it to be an asshole?

Our theory is simply this: a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people. (Because assholes are by and large men, we use the masculine pronoun “he” advisedly. We will suggest that women can be assholes as well. For the time being, think of Ann Coulter. We consider the question of gender in detail in chapter 4.) Our theory thus has three main parts. In interpersonal or cooperative relations, the asshole:

(1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically;

(2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and

(3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.

So, for example, the asshole is the person who habitually cuts in line. Or who frequently interrupts in a conversation. Or who weaves in and out of lanes in traffic. Or who persistently emphasizes another person’s faults. Or who is extremely sensitive to perceived slights while being oblivious to his crassness with others. An insensitive person—­a mere “jerk”—­might allow himself to so enjoy “special advantages” in such interpersonal relations. What distinguishes the asshole is the way he acts, the reasons that motivate him to act in an abusive and arrogant way. The asshole acts out of a firm sense that he is special, that the normal rules of conduct do not apply to him. He may not deliberately exploit interpersonal relations but simply remain willfully oblivious to normal expectations. Because the asshole sets himself apart from others, he feels entirely comfortable flouting accepted social conventions, almost as a way of life. Most important, he lives this way more or less out in the open. He stands unmoved when people indignantly glare or complain. He is “immunized” against anyone who speaks up, being quite confident that he has little need to respond to questions about whether the advantages he allows himself are acceptable and fair. Indeed, he will often himself feel indignant when questions about his conduct are raised. That, from his point of view, may show that he is not getting the respect he deserves.

Although our theory is a definition of the term “asshole,” we should emphasize that it is not necessarily a dictionary definition. It is not necessarily a claim about how the word “asshole” is commonly used in some linguistic group (e.g., speakers of English). The word is often used loosely and variously, and we aren’t suggesting that every competent speaker of English would agree with our proposal about what the word means. We aren’t even saying that a majority of speakers would agree, in a way that might be confirmed or undermined by opinion polls or psychological experiments. Instead, our approach is the one Socrates explains to Polus in Plato’s Gorgias, when he explains why the dispute between them does not depend on opinion polls (what they call “the company”). Polus asks, “But do you not think, Socrates, that you have been sufficiently refuted, when you say that which no human being will allow? Ask the company.” Socrates replies:

you must not ask me to count the suffrages of the company [. . . .] I shall produce one witness only of the truth of my words, and he is the person with whom I am arguing; his suffrage I know how to take; but with the many I have nothing to do, and do not even address myself to them. May I ask then whether you will answer in turn and have your words put to the proof?

Our definition, in other words, is a constructive proposal. It tries to articulate what we ordinarily mean when we speak of “assholes” but ultimately stands or falls on whether it captures the importance assholes have for us—­where the “us” is, in the first instance, you and me. I am proposing the definition in light of importance that assholes have for us. You decide whether you agree.

Revue de presse

“Convincing and often quite funny. . . . James neatly unpacks the basic features of the most loathsome individual. . . . [He] makes a rigorous case for why we should take the problem of the asshole seriously.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“James’s keen intelligence overwhelms you, and you realize that Assholes is helpful, stimulating, and very timely.”
—Nick Hornby, The Believer
“Enjoyable. . . . Light-hearted yet thought-provoking. . . . Importantly, [James makes] us confront a crucial question, which, I believe, we ask ourselves all too infrequently: How much of an asshole am I?”
—Alex Balk, Slate

“James neatly does what philosophers must do: he defines his terms, organizes and codifies, declares his own loyalties; he locates himself on the spectrum of assholery and suggest origins both psychological and sociological. The result is a delightful combination of the demotic and the technical.”
Harper’s Magazine

“James’s volume is equal parts philosophical meditation and historical survey, but its true value lies in his attempt to precisely define the term.”
New York Magazine

“The times are right for a follow-up [to Frankfurt’s On Bullshit]. . . . James’s volume is in roughly equal parts a philosophical meditation, a pop historical survey and a practical guide to negotiate the treacherous rectal waters in which we swim; but, its true value lies in his attempt to define the term precisely. . . . In Assholes, he is doing more than poking fun at all the people we like to despise.”
The Innovation Journal

“Intriguing. . . . To put meat on the bones of his theory, James names names.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Aaron James provides us with a delightful philosophical romp through the world of assholes. I was especially tickled by his analysis of different types: smug assholes, royal assholes, the presidential asshole, corporate assholes, the reckless assholes, to name a few.”
—Robert I. Sutton, Stanford professor and author of the New York Times bestsellers The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss

“[James’s] witty and accessible study of the personal and social problems the asshole creates draws on his lucid and brilliant accounts of the best in contemporary moral and political philosophy. James’s analysis of asshole capitalism is a tour de force of philosophically astute political analysis and criticism. This is a book that should appeal equally to the general reader and the philosophical specialist.”
—Marshall Cohen, founding editor of Philosophy and Public Affairs and university professor emeritus, University of Southern California

“A serious and sometimes whimsical treatment of a common epithet.”
Publishers Weekly

“James’ research is both thorough and imaginative; his impressive source list ranges from obscure philosophy books to popular websites to Rudyard Kipling to Kanye West, hip-hop’s greatest asshole. The author’s enthusiasm for the subject makes it possible to get through the book quickly. . . . There are moments of great insight and outright hilarity.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Convincing. . . . It is in his chapter ‘Asshole Capitalism’ where James hits his stride.”
Maclean’s (Toronto)

“Persuasive. . . . The thrust of James’s thesis is timely. . . . Energetically argued and provoking.”
Literary Review (UK)

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L'idée est globalement attractive, la démonstration et la définition sont solidement construites, mais il y a des longueurs dans l'exposition. On espèrerait plus de propositions pratiques pour démonter les stratégies de ces personnes
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C'est une façon très pertinente et originale d'approcher me sujet des "assholes" ! On nous offre une certaine explications sans nous forcer à y adhérer, et on peut nous même se retrouver dans ce livre, c'est-à-dire sur le "pourquoi le assholes nous embête autant".
Très contente de mon achat. Par contre un très bon niveau d'anglais est nécessaire, ou garder un dico près de vous ;p
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Utile et même indispensable,si l'on veut survivre dignement dans l'univers Assholes.
Il ne faut pas se résigner mais si l'on est prévenu que la lutte sera dure.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d62154c) étoiles sur 5 171 commentaires
205 internautes sur 223 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9d68aea0) étoiles sur 5 Naming names: a philosopher's view of [censored] 30 octobre 2012
Par TChris - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
[Apparently the robotic censors that patrol the reviews will not allow a review to post that actually uses the title of this book. This review will therefore use A-holes to represent the book's title, and a-hole to refer to the singular form of that word.]

Aaron James took a break from the philosopher's customary search for the meaning of life to ponder a more burning question: What does it mean to be an a-hole? I have the sense that James wrote A-holes so he could share his complaints about surfers who behave like a-holes, particularly Brazilians. Whatever his motivation, and despite his earnest attempt to subject a-holes to scholarly thought, much of A-holes is enjoyable simply because the topic is so appealing. Everyone, after all, has an opinion about a-holes.

A-holes consistently cut in line, interrupt, and engage in name-calling. They do not play well with others (in James' language, they are not fully cooperative members of society). Many (perhaps most) people occasionally behave like an a-hole without becoming an a-hole. As a theory of the a-hole, James posits that an a-hole is a person who enjoys "special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people." Although I think "a-hole" is pretty much self-defining, in the sense of "I know one when I see one," I like James' definition. I think it's a definition rather than a theory, but I'm probably just quibbling about semantics (which is pretty much the philosopher's job description, making it a battle I can't win). Whether it is a theory or a definition, after he finishes parsing it, James politely suggests that it is up to the reader to decide whether to agree with it. James is plainly no a-hole.

James tells us that a-holes are morally repugnant but not truly evil. If you're interested in standard philosophical discussions of moral behavior and moral responsibility with references to the likes of Aristotle, Kant, and Buber, you'll find them here. Those of us who needed strong coffee to make it through our philosophy classes are probably hoping for something more fun than a rehash of Martin Buber in a book titled A-holes. We're looking for the author to name names. Happily, James does so (although not without some preliminary hand-wringing about whether calling out a-holes is something only an a-hole would do). From Simon Cowell to Mel Gibson, from Donald Trump to Steve Jobs, from Ann Coulter to Bill O'Reilly, James finds a-holes in every walk of life. James even suggests that book reviewers can be a-holes (oh my!) although he does so in the context of academia.

Consistent with his definitional/taxonomic approach, James classifies a-holes by type, including the boorish a-hole (Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore), the smug a-hole (Richard Dawkins, Larry Summers), the a-hole boss (Naomi Campbell), the presidential a-hole (Hugo Chavez), the reckless a-hole (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld), the self-aggrandizing a-hole (Ralph Nader), the cable news a-hole (Neil Cavuto, Keith Olbermann), and the delusional a-hole (Kanye West, Wall Street bankers). James covers the spectrum from liberals to conservatives in his search for a-holes and applies his test with, I think, a nonpartisan outlook. Of course, some readers will be displeased that he has called a political favorite an a-hole, but again, James rather politely invites disagreement and urges readers to apply the test as they see fit.

James' approach to categorization lends itself to party games. You can make up categories James overlooked, like the sports a-hole (George Steinbrenner, Michael Vick), or you can add names to the categories he's invented. Don't worry, there are plenty more a-holes identified in the book -- the names I've cherry-picked are illustrative only -- as well as some categories I haven't mentioned, but you'll easily think of more. The book is short and the world is filled with a-holes.

Returning to the realm of philosophy, James considers whether a-holes are morally responsible for being a-holes, which leads to a discussion of whether a-holes have free will. James' conclusion is at odds with the answer you would get from a neuroscientist like Bruce Hood, but whether you blame a-holes or accept that they can't help being who they are, you're still stuck with them. James reasons that a-holes are generally male because they are shaped by the culture of gender, although I think he puts too fine a point on it when he draws subtle distinctions between a-holes and beetches (another word I altered to avoid the censor, but you know what I mean). I also think he's a bit naive when he argues that, for cultural reasons, American men are more likely to be a-holes than Japanese men, a proposition with which many Southeast Asians (not to mention the surviving residents of Nanking) would disagree.

James includes a chapter on how to manage a-holes (short version: you really can't, but you can try to make yourself feel good) and a chapter that suggests how capitalist societies (which encourage the sense of entitlement on which a-holes thrive) can deteriorate when the a-hole ethic takes root (short version: greed isn't good, Gordon Gecko notwithstanding). The concluding chapter tells us how to find a peaceful life in a world full of a-holes (short version: reconcile yourself to the things you cannot change while hoping for a better world). These chapters give James a chance to apply the thoughts of Plato and St. Augustine and the Stoics and Rousseau and even Jesus to the topic of a-holes. Heavy thinkers will probably enjoy those discussions. Lightweight thinkers, like me, will enjoy the name naming while looking forward to the party games the book inspires.
87 internautes sur 96 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9d6cb978) étoiles sur 5 Breezy but insightful 27 novembre 2012
Par GRiM - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
First, this book is really funny. It's quite a page turner for a philosophy text, even a mass market philosophy text. Of course, the frequent repetition of the word a-hole appeals to those of us with a low sense of humor.

Dr. James begins by attempting a definition of the a-hole. He then, amusingly, names a variety of people he considers a-holes in public life. While Dr. James is a self-described liberal, he's pretty even-handed in apportioning a-holiness to the left and right. (He reserves particular distaste for Fox News, which he regards as the "gold standard" of a-holiness; desipte being a conservative myself, I find it very hard to disagree with him). He goes on to offer classifications of various types of a-holes.

The later chapters are more philosophical. He inquires, for example, why a-holes tend to be male, and why they tend to be produced more frequently in some cultures rather than others. For example, he considers Italy, Israel, Brazil and the US to be particularly prone to a-hole generation, while regarding Japan as almost incapable of producing a-holes. I'm not sure I agree with him here - I think the interactional style of Israelis (with whom I work pretty extensively) tends to lead others to believe they're a-holes when they're not. And I suspect (although I have little direct experience to validate this hypothesis) that Japanese interactional styles lead Americans to conclude that Japanese are never a-holes when in fact some of them probably are - we likely just don't understand when a Japanese a-hole is being an a-hole to us.

The question of whether a-holes are begotten or made is further explored - Dr. James concludes that there is some genetic predisposition to a-holiness but that society plays a critical role in forming a-holes. He also comments on a-holes in positions of power. Discussed but left insufficiently explored, in my view, is whether a-holes naturally ascend to those positions, or whether the positions turn individuals into a-holes. This distinction becomes important for the political turn the book takes in the chapter "a-hole capitalism."

Dr. James' thesis is that an a-hole is characterized by feeling entitled to special advantages. In discussing a-hole capitalism, Dr. James turns his sights on those who could be viewed as directly or indirectly exploiting others; those who feel entitled to an ever-greater share of the pie. While not ever quite explicitly saying so, he clearly has the rich in mind, although I don't think he means to imply that being rich necessarily makes one an a-hole. And as I look around myself, I can clearly see that sense of entitlement among some of the powerful.

But interestingly enough, I think Dr. James' focus on entitlement strikes at the heart of the current political division in the United States. The left views conservatives as a-holes because conservatives feel entitled to the rewards they have earned through market mechanisms, even if those mechanisms have given them rewards that are disproportionate to any common sense justification. The right views progressives as a-holes because progressives feel entitled to lay claim to things that they have not themselves earned in the market. So in fact, each side views the other as a-holes because each feels the other is laying an unfair, "special" claim to entitlement.

Does this suggest a solution? No, not really. These competing views of entitlements are subject to quite a lot of analysis in academia, in the press, and around water coolers. But perhaps a good starting point for discussion would be with the injunction, "Don't be an a-hole."

All in all, I found Dr. James' book both amusing and thought-provoking, which is all I could hope for. He brings together some of what I've recently read of Stiglitz on inequality and Tomasi on free market fairness in a way that is arguably more coherent, and certainly funnier, than either of them.
36 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9d4dcb34) étoiles sur 5 Important common ground 16 février 2013
Par Cam - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
The first part of this book describes what an a-hole is and how one differs from a psychopath or an abrasive personality. I applaud the author's decision to use a colloquial term we all grasp intuitively for the pathology.

The second part of the book discusses dealing with a-holes, one-on-one and in a group dynamic. That there are no simple formulas for this serves as testament to the basic intractability of the a-hole.

The book makes a case that a-holes operate to the ultimate detriment of society. Hopefully the term a-hole (in its technical sense) becomes part of our common lexicon, for it appears that only as a social group can we counter a-holes.

As I write this review I see the spectrum of opinion is flat over the "hate it" to "love it" range. Reading the opinion of SOME of those who didn't like the book, I was struck by the vehemence of their dislike. The language employed by these pundits would seem to qualify them as a-holes. I wonder whether an a-hole would typically perceive the book as a personal attack and would perforce respond with unwarranted hostility?
26 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9d4dc39c) étoiles sur 5 Probably better as an article than a book 8 avril 2014
Par Lisa Fahey - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This book was recommended to me by a coworker. I thought it was an interesting idea, but there was not enough substance to the book after introducing the initial idea. The theory portion was interesting because it seemed to explain pretty well the mindset of some of the utterly frustrating people you run into and why they might not change/conform to more generally accepted behavior. After that though, the arguments seemed scattered - almost a flow of consciousness and not engaging. Not only that, but the number of times they used the "A" word was so excessive to the point of being gratuitous - made you wonder if this book was for real or intended to be a joke.
18 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9d4dcd08) étoiles sur 5 One of the Ten Most Important Books That I Have Read 13 février 2013
Par John B. Levine MD - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
An important study of moral philosophy as applied to borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and corporate culture. Useful as a field guide; a coded signifier for the eponymous ones; and as a self help book to warn oneself not to fight the subjects on their own terms. The perfect complement to Bakewell's recent biography of Montaigne. I particularly appreciate James's observation that there are better things to do with one's life than to struggle with these vexatious people all of the time. Wish I had read this book earlier in my career.
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