Smarter people than me have attempted to define just what is meant when you call someone an asshole. To me it’s not just single-minded self-centeredness and lack of consideration, it’s the pride that’s taken in it, the expectation, nay, demand that you be celebrated for your unswerving pursuit of whatever it is you want to be doing that day, that you and you alone embody perfect alignment of what you want and some Higher Purpose.
It’s not like assholes are anything new, of course, but it’s now, more than in centuries past, that they’re not just ascendant, but increasingly impossible to unseat, with new and more powerful tools to consolidate power or escape consequences. Everybody and everything has a constituency, and as long as you’re making them happy and they’re buttressing whatever you’re doing, no condemnation or punishment really deters you, it’s just the next talking point in the shouting match. It just proves you right and incites some idiot to do whatever the next awful thing they can justify to themselves is.
This is the sort of world where nobody is surprised by awfulness anymore, not really, not long enough to outlast the first day or so of tweets and wall-to-wall news coverage. Before long, some asshole who went and shot 23 kids has given the assholes who want to have guns all the time and everywhere momentum, not a death blow, because the assholes who want that shouted about it louder and better than the assholes like me who want to take everyone’s guns away.
The sort of world where assholes can go burn down a town of 2,000 people to make their point that their god is the best god because he considers barbarism preferable to girls learning math. And that nothing can be done about those assholes because that country exports too much oil, and that we sapped our will to do things like that ten years ago when we were assholes about going after someone who probably wasn’t the most important asshole out there.
It’s this destabilization, this feedback loop of assholery that’s most dispiriting about it. The evidence that the low road just fucking works better is sort of compelling. Spying on people with all means available and blowing them up with cheap killer robots is pretty darned great. Using the fuckload of money you already have to fix elections, then fix the laws so you can permanently be rich and permanently install like-minded assholes in government works really well.
And the engineer in me can’t argue with what works, with what the system clearly bears out. Money, guns, and ruthlessness win. They win every time and in so doing, they sow the seeds of domination. Money ensures that even after the trauma of the Great Recession, it’s but a handful of years before the reins are loosed on the people that caused it, because they have the money to buy permission to make gobs more instead of merely a lot more. The people with the guns and the willingness to point them at people get to seize a town in the name of their religion or whatever, because they’re enough of an asshole to be willing to express their disgruntlement in a way that makes it everyone else’s problem.
You could equally say that the problem is meekness. The meekness of liberals in general and Obama as an embodiment of it, to naively offer to hear both sides of the argument, to hang onto the expectation that the other side will argue in good faith and that both need consensus to declare victory. Assholes from the lunatics in Congress to the maniacs who shoot children (note that i do not make an equivalency between the expression of their assholery, only their common attitude towards anyone with a differing opinion, which is, in short, “fuck ’em”) walk all over us because we are not willing to buy enough congressmen to get universal pre-K, or coverage for pre-existing conditions, nor are we willing to shoot people for the right to have a boring day at a boring job in a small town and go to some church or mosque of our choosing. Our simple, reasonable needs are stakes that nobody’s willing to take prisoners over, figuratively or literally.
It’s no surprise, then, that people with unreasonable desires achieve them through unreasonable means, and then try to convince everybody it was otherwise after the fact.
So is that it? Sometimes it feels like it, like for every ebb and flow, the trend sure feels like they’re winning. That they have to win, and will evermore. Like global warming, sure there’s a cold winter or a 2008 here and there, but overall, things just keep getting hotter and you wake up one day to find committees on science populated entirely by people who are hostile to it.
Soon we’ll all be assholes.