Another I-was-halfway-done-already win. I found Assholes: A Theory on a new-in-non-fiction table at a bookstore. (Interestingly, it was the first book which I priced in an e-version while standing in the store holding the hardback, and decided to buy the soft copy in the name of $12 savings.) The author is a professor of philosophy at the University of California – Irvine, and was inspired to write the book as a way to manage his frustration with the profusion of asshole surfers. Reading this made me more circumspect about assholes (less crazed over people who double-park or take too many items into the express lane) and less likely to become an asshole (more aware when I drive the wrong way in my building’s garage alleys, just because I don’t feel like going the long way).

The gist: Assholes are people who systematically take advantage of privileges society doesn’t award anyone all the time (e.g., cutting in line, interrupting) because they believe they are, in fact, more important and deserving than everyone else; as a result, they don’t acknowledge or respond to criticism. We get irrationally angry about their relatively small insults because we’re reacting to the fact that they don’t acknowledge our worth. Though relatively short, it’s not a trivial philosophical read – James devotes a lot of energy to carefully laying out precepts, and most of the footnotes reference well-known philosophers’ texts and views. The first chapters read faster than the last, and feature an entertaining taxonomy of assholes, with examples. 

My favorite parts:

“If someone irritates you, it is only your own response that is irritating you. Therefore, when anyone seems to be provoking you, remember that it is only your judgment of the incident that provokes you.”

“There is a way of accepting life while finding much morally unacceptable about it.”

“The abiding question of cooperative faith is what we can do together when each acts from our best common sense of what decency and justice require. But we will not effectively answer that question if we each happily give up on what happens to be beyond our personal powers.”

“We can see moral reasoning as a kind of self-transcendence. It flows beyond your own experience, bringing you out of your own perspective into the lives of others and to another side of reality.”

What I did with my copy: Another Kindle edition – I told at least five friends about it, and may give it as a white elephant or other gift.