A------s: A Theory by Aaron James, Doubleday, 221 pages ($23.95). Let’s take a leaf from “CBS Sunday Morning” and call the title “The A Word” and explain, for those who might find it necessary, that it’s the epithet we mutter when the guy scoots into the grocery store parking space we’ve been waiting five minutes for – you know, the universally used description for Donald Trump. The dust flap lays it out with admirable forthrightness and simplicity: “In the spirit of the mega-selling ‘On Bull----,’ philosopher Aaron James presents a theory of the ‘A-word’ that is both intellectually provocative and existentially necessary.”
All right, we see your hand raised in the back of class ready to ask whether a philosophy professor with a theory of The A Word is himself a bit of an A-word himself. You should know, of course, that the very degree of your willingness to ask the question implies you’re one too.
James, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, says it’s necessary “to give us concepts to finally think or say why some people disturb us so … Understanding the A-word we are stuck with might help us think constructively about how best to handle them.”
James defines the A-word as one who 1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically 2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement and 3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complicity of other people. No. 3 is the key one there to understand “the person who habitually cuts in line. Or who frequently interrupts the conversation. … Or who is extremely sensitive to perceived slights while being impervious to his crassness with others. An insensitive person – a mere ‘jerk’ – might allow himself to enjoy special advantages in such interpersonal relations. What distinguishes the A-word is the way he acts, the reasons that motivate him to act in an abusive or arrogant way.” Some people ARE special, of course, but they’ve usually psyched out the behavior that should accompany privilege. Now we’re ready with James to tackle “A-word management” and “A-word capitalism” among other chapters. The idea here is that a heavyweight human problem needs heavyweight thinking.
– Jeff Simon