The no asshole rule

February 3, 2008

Visiting a book store this Christmas I was attracted by this title: “The no asshole rule” (Robert Sutton, 2007), since I see that assholes is a contemporary problem and the fact that the book had only 200 pages I bought it.

Sutton starts by defining what an asshole is, who is a person that, after interacting with you, make you feel somewhat humbled, and that attacks people with less power than him.

This definition is an input-output definition but later in the book specific asshole behaviors, with examples, are shown. In that sense one of the latest chapter explain the advantages of being asshole:

  • Showing anger or evilness can be effective for gaining power and to defeat opponents, moreover it make you seem more clever and competent
  • Mixing humbling and encouraging people can convince them you have more power

and some examples are given, Steve Jobs being the most famous one.

Of course a list is proposed to fight them, the assholes, I will cite a part of this:

  • Assholes hire other asshole (this is an example of homosocial reproduction)
  • Assholes should be considered as incompetents
  • Power can trasform a normal person in an asshole
  • If there is a hierarchy in your business make it appear as less than possible
  • If you are right fight, if you are wrong hear (constructive confrontation)

Last but not least it is time that YOU think if you are an asshole, for example, do you think that after all your team would do nothing without you? Do you consider your work associates as contenders? And my favorite one: do people stop having fun when you arrive? 🙂

I think that this quick resume can save you to buy the book that in general I found boring and too much crusading against assholes (of course it is written for a general audience), and many explainations are so obvious, it is sufficient to understand that assholes are the rational agent of the prisoner dilemma that by paying attention to their own interest make the whole community be a big losing guy.

On the other side I like to consider assholeness as a mental disease camouflaged inside social behavior. It is a disease because it causes mental fatigue and damages (to others), it is transmissable (as a reaction to it), it is curable (if you realize it). Moreover I think that is a specific part of our mind that get ill, the one that is needed for interact actively in our world, in that part we have a lot of social patterns that are effective for realizing our goals, and in practice everything that happens to us is seen by one or more of these patterns. It is hard to watch ourselves but I invite the reader to wonder why we are satisfied when we understand a behaviour, I think that it is because a drug is released in the brain to reinforce the pattern used in the understanding.

The problems come out when these patterns make us an asshole.

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