Monday, May 08, 2017


Elder summarized an interesting article that talked about how societal norms change not due to decisions made by the majority, but as an accommodation to an inflexible minority.

This phenomenon can be thought of in economic terms.  For example, the fact that most commercial beverages are kosher is not because that choice was forced or imposed upon the drink industry by the Orthodox.  Rather, the fact that those who don’t keep kosher wouldn’t care (or even notice) whether the beverages they drink are kosher or not means going 100% kosher gives a beverage manufacturer access to 100% of the market without the cost of creating and maintaining separate product lines.
This idea can also be thought about in light of evolutionary theory.  For instance, which religion is likely to have more staying power in terms of natural selection: one that is indifferent to (or even encourages) members to explore alternatives, or one that exacts a high price (up to and including death) on those who leave he faith?

There are some confounding variables which prevent this idea from morphing into a theory of inevitability.  For instance, a faith that is intolerant to apostates might apply that term to people within the faith who stray from orthodoxy, leading to the kind of population-reducing religious civil wars we’ve seen throughout history.  But the theory does demonstrate the power an intransigent and even irrational minority can have over a culture – for good or for ill.

I’d like to explore the ill side by looking at the concept of the BDShole – you know who I’m talking about – in light of a book I read a while back called Assholes: A Theory by philosopher Aaron James.  Behind the amusing title is an idea of a unique type of unpleasant person – the asshole – which is distinct from the jerk, the shmuck or other types associated with rude or unpleasant behavior.  For the asshole (quoting from James) uniquely combines the following characteristics:

1.       He allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systemically.
2.       He does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement.
3.       He is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.

As an aside, James prefers “he” in the belief that the majority of assholes are male (which he explores from a sociological perspective), although in the case of BDSholes I think it’s safe to say this is a gender-neutral term.

If you buy into James’ descriptive list, you can see why the asshole’s behavior is particularly infuriating.  For a jerk cutting into a line in front of you because he’s in a hurry is annoying.  But when an asshole does the same thing, he (or she) is informing everyone they cut in front of that they do not matter – a message all of us react to with anger and resentment.  This might explain why we might fight with or avoid the asshole, even if we forgive a rude friend for the same misbehaviors.

Looking at the BDSholes behavior in light of James’ three characteristics, consider a phenomenon discussed frequently on this site: the fact that BDS advocates (and anti-Israel activists generally) demand we take them seriously as human rights activists and insist we respond to their accusations (usually illustrated with bloody photographs) of Israeli “atrocities” in the name of human dignity and justice. 

But when confronted by the fact that the Palestinians and their Arab nation-state supporters are guilty of these same crimes a hundred fold, the BDSer becomes angry – even furious - ignoring any appeal to the same humane values they insist we use when considering their accusations.

This behavior makes sense, however, in light of James’ description of the asshole.  For the BDShole insists that title of human-rights champion as well as the vocabulary of justice and virtue belongs exclusively to them, and does so in a consistent (actually permanent) manner.  The BDShole does so out of a sense of entitlement that they, and they alone, are part of an all-seeing vanguard that understands the world in ways all others do not.  And this entitlement allows them to say and do whatever they like, whenever they want to, despite the harm their words and actions routinely cause others.

Why would the boycotters cause mayhem and misery on campus after campus, church after church, civic organization after civic organization for paltry real-world political gain?  Why would the coopt every campaign and organization genuinely dedicated to human rights, decimating those institutions’ ability to actually fight on behalf of the poor and weak, just to use them as weapons to harm their political foes?  What are they even thinking when they scream their heads off at the mere mention of the violence and misogyny and bigotry of those with whom they are allied?

It is because they systematically assign to themselves the privilege of defining both themselves and others out of a fantasy-driven sense of entitlement which immunizes them against any and all criticism.


In short, they are assholes.  And if the general tone on campus is any indication, other political groups have been taking notes about the power such assholiness has over others and are starting to act upon what they’ve written down.  




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