The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

On Jerks


Measure Yourself

In an excerpt from his new book Measure Yourself Against the Earth, philosopher Mark Kingwell considers jerks:

[O]ne premise of the jerk theory is that any one of us might be a jerk at almost any time, given the right conditions—a bad day at work, cramped travelling conditions, too much humidity—there is more to the failures here than cases of what we might call Excessive Entitlement Disorder, or EED. Presumably, most of us do not suffer from this condition; such people are merely the bellwethers of the system, the perverse canaries in the coal mine of plutocratic society. Of course, we must allow here for the fact that such people’s behaviour does not strike them as unseemly.

When the asshole is comprehensively reified—or when EED is well advanced—there is little sense on his own part that there is anything wrong with the picture except that he’s still waiting for that damn martini. Did you send down the street for it, or what? Such blindness is part of the true asshole. The jerk, again by contrast, may come to perceive that his behaviour has been bad, that he has failed his fellow citizens in not treating them as peers. This may happen soon after the behaviour, especially when the immediate circumstances change (I get that cool drink, we get out of the small car, the air clears); or perhaps when, relating the event to a friend in search of validation, he instead receives a rebuke.

Regret may be rare and hard to come by, but the general sense that jerkiness is associated with perceived and maybe temporary superiority, rather than with entrenched entitlement, offers at least the chance of asking oneself: Hey, was I being a jerk?

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  1. As a book designer, avid reader and lover of good design generally, I absolutely HATE it when publishers/editors/authors insist on putting press blurbs on the front cover. That’s what the back cover os for. It ruins the design. Without exception.

  2. BTW. Loved this cover “Measure Yourself Against the Earth”. The page changed as I was posting.

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