html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Zero < tolerance << infinite.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Zero < tolerance << infinite.

One of the most frustrating things about the professor that picked on me was that he was insulated from all my complaints by the ‘Known Asshole’ defense. It was like magic! I would complain to the head of the department that he’d gone after me in class, and the department head would say “Oh that guy. He can be gruff.” Or I’d tell a woman prof about him and she’d say “Yeah. He was inexcusably rude to me in a meeting one time.” I tried a number of different venues, and the answer was always “Yeah. He’s a dick. Bummer that he was a dick to you too.”

It was amazingly frustrating, because I’d spend my appointments with people trying to explain that I’m sure he’s an asshole in general, but he was also gunning for me. I was positive there was an additional increment there, but people kept telling me not to take it personally, he is always rude. In retrospect, I wish I’d said “No fucking way. I don’t care what shit y’all take from him. I don’t care if he’s an asshole to each and every one of you every single day. Even if he is, it is unacceptable for him to treat me like this.” I wish I’d said that.

I’ve seen the Known Asshole defense come up a few places since then. There’s a guy who goes apeshit on our Ultimate fields. We all know he does. He’s done it for years. Most of the time, everyone shrugs; that’s just him and that’s how he does. We finally had to remember that stuff that would be unacceptable from other people is also unacceptable from assholes. Gradually, they do end up being excluded. I’ve been at draft nights where no captain wants to take the guy, despite his athleticism. Someone finally caves, but one day no captain will have him and the league director’ll have to tell him he can’t play in league. In the long run, karma does come for the assholes. In the short run, I vote for calling people on asshole behavior, even if that's how they always are. Especially if that's how they always are.


Blogger matt said...

Maybe I'm just getting older, but I swear it always seems like it takes longer for that karma to bite than it used to. Perhaps?

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pfft, it totally is a defense. You know why? Because they're fucking hilarious. Think of all the ridiculous stories these people create for you.

We have one of these at the gym. No one really likes him, everyone has a different story of how he was an asshole on some particular night. And, just in general, he's always yelling, and swearing, and being crude, and fighting with someone or acting tough, or hard. And we all have a really good time with it.


4:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Matt - I can imagine that the cycle is pretty quick for kids. But I think it still works as adults.

Justin - it is maybe OK, if it is contained by group dynamics. But even so, I wouldn't find it hilarious indefinitely.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exclusion is appropriate, but it's tough to exclude somebody you've granted tenure. And tough for students who face things like required classes, etc.

How much did you have to deal with the KA? Was it possible to avoid taking KA's classes, or was the program too small? Maybe that's a foolish question, since I had to deal with KA a few times, and I was pretty isolated from him. It was pretty easy for me to say no when he offered me a job. Definitely an A, though. Maybe I just fell into the same "yeah, you have to expect it" trap.

A "hopefully not that kind of A" 4

5:28 PM  
Blogger jens said...

Your phrasing made me laugh, even though the story behind it was probably much more infuriating than funny.

I've known a couple of assholes myself, each with some saving graces....but in the end, you were happier not having them around.

There *IS* a certain validity to the "Known Asshole" defense. It was invoked in "My Fair Lady" by a particularly charming asshole:

My manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering!
That's not true: he treats a flower girl as if she were a duchess.
Well, I treat a duchess as if she were a flower girl.
Oh, I see; the same to everybody.
Just so. You see the great secret, Eliza, is not a question of good
manners, or bad manners, or any particular sort of manner, but having the same manner for all human souls. The question is not whether I treat you rudely but whether you've ever heard me treat anyone else better.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I would have been content with him treating me the same way he treated everyone; like I said, I was upset about the increment.

But even more, it is not OK for people to be assholes, even all the time.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Hilary said...

Does anyone ever tell these assholes that they're assholes?

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a conversation I overheard, outside my window, as some students were walking to campus on a weekend.

" she called me an asshole. And I thought about it, and I think she's right. I think I'm an asshole."


"I think I'm an asshole. I'm an asshole"


That's paraphrased, and about all I heard, but the asshole in question seemed quite shocked at the revelation. Maybe enough to change.


6:38 PM  
Blogger Lora said...

While I agree that "it is not OK for people to be assholes, even all the time"-- there is also something to be said for the consistency, in that when they do or say something mean, it won't affect me much because 1) I am used to such behavior from them and 2) eventually, I come to expect nothing else from them.

Compared to the really nice guys who, out of nowhere, pull an asshole move. I'm shocked enough at that; when they pull the asshole move on *me*? That cuts pretty deep.

I'm not criticizing the really nice guys, though. I get that everyone has their moments (myself included). But nice-guy/asshole-behavior is so much harder to recover from than KA/asshole-behavior, even when you're open-minded about things.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hard to do when you value comity, though.

9:27 PM  
Blogger imogenesis said...

I am currently blessed by a KA manager at the cafe where I work - he's one of the major reasons I'm leaving. He's arrogant and a chauvanist, he doesn't listen to a word any of the female staff say. And I'm sure he thinks I have "attitude" because I sometimes answer back. In this case (unlike Justin's) it's not funny, it's just insulting. And he makes terrible coffee.

hilary - no one usually tells these assholes that they're assholes, because they don't listen! (Although my boss will be hearing about it when I leave!)

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always baffled by the acceptance of someone's known assholery, too. When I complain to someone who can influence the situation about someone's behavior and the response I get is, "Yeah, that's how he/she is," I usually ask, "So, why hasn't anyone DONE something about it?!?!?" I never get a suitable answer, though, and forget karma: the person gets away with it forever and ever, amen. Meantime I seem to get the hammer on my head from the same group of people for *mistakes*.

I have always wondered how a person can get away with such behavior long enough to have the luxury of being a KA. They don't have to worry about anything, obsess over their tone of voice and body language, or do the incredible mental acrobatics necessary to understand someone else's point of view; they just let it all hang out and then go merrily on with their lives. I have never, in any situation, been allowed to behave in that way and get away with it. Not that I want to be a KA, mind you. It's just horribly unfair that some people can indefinitely get away with willfully being mean, while others can't even sneeze without getting jumped on by everyone in the group. If it wasn't for that, I probably *would* believe in karma. But the persistence of the KA phenomenon has destroyed my belief in it.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

My theory is that assholes bed lots of women with low self-esteem when they are teen-agers and into their 20s. Being an asshole worked so well at getting them what they wanted at that age, that later on, when they aren't able to get promotions, lasting friendships, marriages that last more than 3 years, etc., they've never learned any other way to behave.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Pete said...

Another thing I don't get is why be a KA? It's ineffective and takes effort.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

You might find Bob Sutton's "The No Asshole Rules" interesting; either the original Harvard Business Review article or the more recent book. He talks about some of the empirical evidence about how assholes negatively impact organizations.

You can read a longish review/summary at Guy Kawasaki's blog:

Sutton has his own blog that has interesting posts about the topic:

9:59 AM  
Anonymous YK said...

I think 'Known Asshole' is a deterrent strategy, as well as an excuse. Part of the reason people won't stop a KA is that they *know* from experience that s/he will fight back, hard.

By the way, this is a sort of related story, about failed leadership in the Air Force that led to an accident:

2:03 PM  
Anonymous the Other Paul said...

An Onion article-- "Asshole Admits To Being Asshole in Supreme Asshole Move." It seems germane. Here:

11:42 AM  
Blogger bobvis said...

I've been wondering about this the last few days, and I think that there must be some sort of reason that asshole behavior actually benefits the asshole.

I think the asshole uses his assholery to actually attain and cement his position within the social structure. In particular, being an asshole to a stray interdisciplinary grad student is a great, cost-free way to feel and show dominance.

I think the asshole behavior works because he takes advantage of cultural norms not to explicitly call out someone who is being rude. The longer an asshole can get away with that kind of behavior, the better the returns are to that strategy. Sure, maybe it gets you kicked out of ultimate after 3 seasons, but you get the benefits from being an asshole the whole time you are there.

If more of us followed Megan's advice, I think we really would have fewer assholes. The strategy wouldn't be beneficial anymore. Of course, there may be some assholes who cannot be reformed, but I think it would change many.

8:06 PM  

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