Jerks Can Be Found Wherever There Is Intelligent Life - And We Need to Stop Them
Astrobiology, the study of extra-terrestrial life seeks to discover the essential features common to life anywhere in the universe, and especially “intelligent life,” organisms anywhere that can communicate with language.
There’s “universal biology” the essentials of life, but also “universal linguistics” the essentials of language-competent organisms.
Here’s a proposition I’ll make from universal linguistics: Wherever there’s intelligent (language-competent) life, there would also be jerks, know-it-alls, buttheads or assholes.
While I’m not fussy about the distinctions between these terms, as a psycho-proctologist (probing the essential nature of asshole behavior) I work to be rigorous about identifying their essential nature – what exactly makes a butthead a butthead?
Most people agree that Stalin, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden were assholes. That’s useful. Stalin was left wing. Hitler was right wing. Osama Bin Laden was religious. Apparently, being a butthead is not exclusive to one worldview or another. It’s not a function of what you believe but how you strut it. A butthead’s beliefs are a costume, a rationalization for being a butthead. Any costume will do. So what makes a butthead a butthead?
Most people think a butthead is anyone we butt heads with. That can’t be the case. Since everyone butts heads with someone, it would mean we’re all buttheads.
Some people think we all are, but that can’t be the case either. Sure, everyone is buttheaded sometimes, but declaring that we all do it allows true buttheads to blend into the crowd taking refuge in “everybody does it.” There’s a distinction between buttheadedness and being an absolute butthead.
The original quote was “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” “Tends to” applies to buttheadedness too. It only tends to corrupt. Absolute buttheadedness is what needs to be identified, how people or creatures with language anywhere in the universe become absolute assholes.
There’s another butthead theory that has run its course by now, the belief that no one is a butthead and therefore that everyone should be treated with respect and receptivity. Not the case. Respect and receptivity will get you worse than nowhere with complete assholes. It will get you beat or worse dead, the innocent victim of unjustified crime.
And then there’s another theory. Just don’t deal with assholes. Walk away. Your parents might have recommended that with a school bully. Maybe it worked. It sometimes does but often doesn’t. There will be assholes you can’t ignore without serious injury. Stay away if you can, but don’t pretend you can stay away from them all.
A psycho-proctologist finds all of these solutions inadequate. We can’t define buttheads subjectively, or say everyone is, no one is, or that you can just ignore them all. We have to try to identify objective standards. We probably won’t succeed but it’s a worthy effort, a fruitful exercise in futility.
Why is it worthwhile to try to discover the essential nature of buttheadness? Because we value freedom. In our diverse cultures we can’t, shouldn’t and don’t want to tell people how they have to live, but we still have to put a leash on the total jerks. If we don’t, we are very unlikely to survive.
I’m guessing that many intelligent life forms elsewhere in the universe have come to ruin by being overrun by assholes. Intelligent organisms develop technology that can leverage their power. In the hands of assholes, nukes have likely ended life on many planets throughout the universe’s history. Or climate change, an inevitable result of technology in any late-evolving languaged organism. Absolute assholes can deny climate change until it’s too late.
Assholes are inevitable when you cross you cross predation with emotion and language. You’d get pinnacle predators who have accumulated through evolutionary trial and error in both biology and culture an ability to dominate all communications without regard for whether they are well adapted to their environment. That’s a telltale sign of absolute buttheadedness.
Here on earth, organisms have been adapting to their environment for 3.8 billion years. Only in the last few millennia have we humans evolved the capacity for language. Language frees us to come unhinged from reality in the short run, becoming legends in our own minds, giving ourselves over to hallucinating pep talks about how we’re on the right track when we’re not.
Buttheadedness is feigned invincibility, putting your own invincibility above reality and winning local short-term battles as a result, like any pinnacle predator. An absolute asshole’s confidence is like a magnet, orienting others into alignment until there are whole armies of asshole leaders and followers marching lockstep in their feigned invincibility.
Here’s my current list, always subject to revision, the traits of the absolute asshole not just here but anywhere in the universe where language is spoken.
Feigned invincibility: I win always. I’ve got the truth and nothing can stop me from imposing it. Not even reality.
Reality is my bitch: Since I’m the most realistic, I’ve earned the power to control reality. What I say is true is true. I can make it true through my absolute confidence.
Uber-umpmanship: In debate, I’m not only the final judge of all reality but of what’s admissible in debate. I’m the umpire in every debate I enter, and I’ll always rule in my favor. What you do is unfair. What I do is not only fair but righteous.
You can’t win: When you go high, I’ll pretend to go higher. When you go low, I’ll always go lower. Either way I beat you. I’m bottomless in defense of my pretend absolute high-mindedness.
Self-winding movement: If you’re with me, it proves I’m right. If you’re against me, it proves I’m right and a victim of your small-minded oppression. Any move you make proves I’m right.
Mightmakes right makes might: Me winning proves I’m pious. Never mind all of history’s victorious assholes. Might makes right. And right makes might too. Since I’m pious, crusading for true virtue, I never have to compromise. To do so would be to disrespect my absolute truths. I can cheat, lie, and BS my way to victories which, as I mentioned, prove I’m pious.
Pious nihilism: The truth is that nothing is true. That means I don’t have to fuss over what’s true. I can just follow my gut. The closest there is to truth is whoever bulldozes down the competition by any means necessary wins. And what does? Playing infallible pope. So I have it both ways. I’m the most pious and principled in this dog eat dog unprincipled world. I can fight as dirty as I want and yet claim to be the most righteous. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Spotting spots on you proves I’m spotless: So long as I can keep attention or your failings, I never ever have to consider the possibility that I’m wrong. They don’t even have to be real failings. So long as I can imagine that you have an ulterior motive, you lose. This is an infallibility contest to the death. If I find even one imaginary fault in you, it proves you’re wrong about everything always and therefore I’m right about everything always by default.
All the morals some of the time, no compromise: I’m the most moral because I’ve collected most no-compromise morals. Never mind that my morals conflict with each other and therefore have to be compromised and that I pull them out of my butt on an as-needed basis. I have an alternative way of dealing with that: Confident unconstrained hypocrisy.
Triple standards: Sometimes I pretend my morals are absolute. For example, no one should harass anyone ever, period. And sometimes I act like context matters, for example that harassing the evil is a virtue but harassing decent people is a vice. Either way I’ll shame you for harassing me since it should be obvious to any clear-thinking person that I’m more than decent. A single uncompromising standard or two standards but only I get to decide what goes – either way, I’m covered always. And if my triple-standard ever fails I’ve got another approach: Word mincing. For example, you harass me, but I never harass others, I just give voice to my passionate steadfast commitment to the absolute truth which I have and you don’t. Apples and oranges. Shame on you. Always.
Talkiswalkism: Take my word for it, I’m honest. I have integrity. Why must you take my word? Because like I said, I’m honest and I’ve got integrity and therefore I only report accurately on my positive traits. What I say about my behavior is always true. No really, I’ve double-checked with myself and my mutual admiration society dozens of times and every time I’m confirmed. What I say about me goes. And what I say about your fault goes too. Why? Again because I’m honest and have integrity, take my word for it.
It came in a flash, my path to absolute arrogance: I had an epiphany. I discovered the real truth in a time of need. It came with a bag of cheap tricks for defending it always, the same bag used by all assholes the world and the universe over. Now I’m armed to crusade against the reality and everyone else’s opinion. You can’t stop me now.
Protected against infection and defection always: Everything that threatens or challenges me is evil, a pathogen to which I have developed absolute resistance. And anyone tries to defect from my truth is the devil’s spawn. Dissenters and defectors are losers. At the same time I always keep an open mind. I see the big picture. How do I know? Because I say so and I have integrity!
Exhibitionism: I’m an ideological exhibitionist. It’s my idea of a good time, my recreational sport of choice. I sidle up to people as though for conversation. Then I flash open my trench coat and show off my firm hard absolute truths. I shock people in predictable ways. That excites me because it gives me a chance to show off my bag of cheap tricks for making it their problem not mine. Come talk to me. I’m eager to share.
Exceptionalexemptionism: I’m different from other people. I’m an exception to the rules of human nature. I don’t have the human condition. I’m therefore exempt from the rules of society. They don’t apply to me. Why? Because, at core I’ve found the universal asshole formula, that cheap bag of tricks that convinces me I’m invincible. I just close my eyes and ears and start flailing.
I think there should be K-12 training in the hard art of identifying and thwarting absolute buttheadedness in its generic form – not anti-this movement or that movement but all assholes with whatever worldview.
Not all leftists, rightists, religious or secular ideologues are absolute buttheads but some are and they will take this living world down with them if we don’t learn how to constrain them carefully.
We all need to grease our turrets. Stop focusing on the one tribe you happened to have identified as the breeder of buttheads but don’t try to be even-handed either. In different eras, there are groundswells of absolute buttheadedness in one tribe or another.
Swivel that turret. Look around you. Look at the people on your side too and look at yourself. Buttheadedness is contagious and it appears we’re going through an epidemic of it just now. There’s never been a better time to put on your psycho-proctology hat and focus on what turns any of us into an absolute butthead.
Life is and has always been an anxious affair for all sentient beings. We try to face reality but we do it while tumbling through a rough-lived experience. With language we find ways to toughen our skin against the roughness and some of us find that cheap bag of tricks by which we can insulate ourselves entirely. We then float our boat as though we’re smooth sailing, making the waters choppy for everyone else, even to the point at which life on our planet becomes untenable as it, no doubt has for intelligent life elsewhere in the history of the universe.
Finally, this psycho-proctologist thinks Marvel and sci-fi, in general, does an admirable job of exploring jerk universals. A thread running through a lot of it is this: Jerks use their extraordinary powers only to accumulate more power to themselves though often pretending it's for the greater good. Superheroes use their extraordinary powers for the common good.