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Describing boors with a capital A
By KEITH SHARON



Editor's note: It's difficult to write a story about a book that has a title built on an expletive without using that expletive. So, if expletives make you uncomfortable, here's a suggestion: Every time you see the word a--hole in this story, you might want to take a cue from Aaron James' new book and mentally insert the name "Donald Trump" or "Rush Limbaugh," or go lower on his hierarchy of dubious descriptions and slip in "jerk" instead to make it a more palatable experience.

If you truly belong in Aaron James' new book, it's not a mistake when you step in front of someone in line.

You don't feel bad when you cut someone off on the freeway. You don't apologize for talking too loud on the cellphone. If you truly deserve for your expletive to be deleted, you get mad at the people who don't acknowledge and submit to you for being yourself.

You enjoy it.

If someone challenges you, and your answer is "Do you know who I am?" – there is a book you should read.

It's called "A--holes, a Theory" by James, a UC Irvine philosophy professor. It's 201 pages (Doubleday) of erudition about how a certain mindset is prevalent – even successful – in modern corporate and cultural America. In the end, his message to people for whom the word "jerk" isn't satisfactory begins, "I write hoping to persuade you to change your basic way of being."

James, 41, an unmarried, otherwise serious guy, teaches a UCI course called "Introduction to Moral Philosophy: Outlaws, Psychopaths and A--holes." Where were these courses when I was in college?

Outlaws and psychopaths may be fun, but it is his focus on the belligerent and rude among us that could make James famous.

The subject of his book, James explained over coffee near his home in Irvine, "is a person who systematically helps himself to advantages out of a sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people."

James' book, which is attracting attention from television and radio shows around the country, is a serious treatise on all things (expletive deleted). CBS News was in his classroom last week. He's been interviewed by National Public Radio for its show "Chattering Class."

James came up with his theory while surfing. He noticed that there was a certain personality type – boorish and unremorseful – who would cut off other surfers. It's MY wave, dude. Once surfers of this ilk were on his mind, he began seeing this entitled-surfer behavior everywhere.

Off the top of his head, James can rattle off his list of exemplars you would want to get in an argument with, a list that seemingly has no end. You may recognize a few of the names from popular culture:

Donald Trump. Simon Cowell. Mel Gibson. Newt Gingrich. Rush Limbaugh. Michael Moore. Bill O'Reilly. (James said, "O'Reilly has pulled back a bit. There is some sense he is trying to speak to the common man, but in the end, he is still an a--hole.")

There are people from history who belong on the list. John D. Rockefeller ("God gave me my money"). Gen. Douglas MacArthur ("There is no substitute for victory").

There are doctrines that belong on the list: Manifest Destiny – the belief that it was the right of the new Americans to expand across North America. Note: If Native Americans didn't first come up with a great expletive to describe the people who took what didn't belong to them, they should have.

There are fictional characters on the list: Gordon Gekko ("Greed, for lack of a better word, is good") from the "Wall Street" movie franchise.

There are musicians on the list: Kanye West ("I am God's vessel"). By the way, James said that Kanye, who famously jumped on stage to steal Taylor Swift's award-winning moment, is one of his favorites.

It was difficult, at first, for James to find women to put on the list. Usually, the people he names in his book are raised with the boys-will-be-boys attitude that allows rude behavior to flourish. Girls, he said, are corrected so often that they don't normally develop into people who gets books written about them by philosophy professors.

James is unsure about Ann Coulter, the provocative author who recently called President Barack Obama a "--tard" and then refused to admit her word choice was wrong. James can't seem to decide what to call a personality like Coulter. Women worthy of a description that begins with "B," he said, will argue about their b--chiness and thereby acknowledge the existence of a contrary point of view ... usually (expletive deleted) don't care.

"Everyone," James said, "has an inner a--hole. And everyone has (expletive deleted) moments."

For the record, James says that he, himself, does not fit the definition in his book, but he has become good at recognizing people who do.

"It's a thankless job to be the self-appointed a--hole policeman of the world," he said.

So where are all these belligerent and rude coming from? James points to two recent phenomena that could explain the upward trend: Reality television and social media.

In reality television, being unremorseful and uncompromising is often a winning strategy. People applaud behavior that in their daily lives they would shun. "What is entertaining is often just people acting like a--holes," James said.

Facebook and Twitter allow normal people to constantly speak their mind to the point of rudeness. The more rude, it seems, the more followers.

"These trends in social media allow people to feel like little celebrities," James said.

Here is one overriding question in his book: Can people in the belligerent class be redeemed? Or, is Rush Limbaugh doomed to be Rush Limbaugh forever?

Aaron James offered hope for rude people everywhere with his answer. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he said, anyone can become a good person.

"Some a--holes do grow out of it," he said. "Or, on their death bed, they reconsider. But change is not likely to happen."

Contact the writer: ksharon@ocregister.com






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