A man called Geoffrey Nunberg has been working on a Unified Theory of Assholes. We’re talking the vulgar epithet used to describe a certain type of individual, of course.
After all, assholes have been around for ages—even if the word’s figurative use is modern. (It was soldier slang during World War II.) But something has changed. Consider Donald Trump, an unquestioned asshole in the eyes of James and Nunberg. The attention our culture pays to self-absorbed buffoons is for James evidence that assholery is on the rise. “Our narcissistic age thus might help explain why assholes seem to be everywhere of late.” Nunberg takes it a step further, noting that every era has its emblematic scoundrel: Once it was the cad, later it was the phony, today it is the asshole.
Nunberg identifies their defining characteristic, on top of the obvious self-centered amorality, to be an inflated sense of entitlement. He comes to the conclusion that not only are they increasing, but they’re taking over the world, using their influence in business and politics to corrode the institutions society needs in order to function.
“Society becomes awash with people who are defensively unwilling to accept the burdens of cooperative life, out of a righteous sense that they deserve ever more.”
The result: Living standards rise for only a few; political power is concentrated in the hands of a minority, whose members change the rules to protect their own interests; and “liberty,” “opportunity,” and “prosperity” devolve into platitudes.
As an aside, it’s remarkable how many “self-made entrepreneurs” who insist on pulling the rug from beneath everyone else and delare that people must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps turn out to have been beneficiaries of large inheritances. One wonders just how far many of them would have got had it not been for Daddy’s money. I can imagine some of them not lasting long in jobs that involves saying “Do you want fries with that” before their sense of entitlement gets them fired…