Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass

MRAL asks:

There are a lot of people who consider you an egotistical jackass. In your opinion, is this accurate?


Some thoughts on this, in no specific order.

* I certainly have an ego, in the common usage of the term, and don’t believe I’ve ever tried to hide that aspect of my personality. I had an ego well before it was adequately warranted on the basis of my work, and now that I have a track record of work behind me that speaks for itself, it continues well apace. I’m good at what I do, I’m successful at what I do, and I don’t have much fake humility about either of those two facts.

So: Ego? You betcha. Egotistical? I think I am less egotistical than I was when I was younger, because I have a better understanding of myself and the context of my ego, but I would also cop to still having occasional moments where my self-regard outpaces a healthy understanding of my talents, ability and self. So yes, sure. From time to time I am egotistical. I think whether you see me as overbearingly so depends on what you think about a number of things, including whether you dislike obvious displays of ego and/or dislike me for other reasons as well. I don’t think it’s difficult to see me as egotistical.

* Likewise, I certainly have been a jackass, and am likely to be so again in the future, because none of us are our best selves every single moment of our lives, and from time to time I can be seen not being my best self out in public. Sorry about that. And again, if you are inclined to think less than charitably of me on a regular basis, then, quite obviously, my moments of public jackassery will stand out for you.

* Have I combined the two and been a public egotistical jackass? Oh, almost certainly. Am I an egotistical jackass all the goddamned time? I hope not, and try not to be, but it’s not really up to me to decide. You have to decide that one for yourself. In your own estimation (or in the estimation of others) the answer might be “Hells yeah, he is, all the time.”

* Which is fine.

* But doesn’t necessarily mean I should care, which, trust me, is a statement that I understand will only confirm my egotistical jackassery to those inclined to see me in that mode. Do understand, however, that I am freely allowed to assess other people, just as they are allowed to freely assess me. A large number of the people who think I am an egotistical jackass I assess to be in the “And I Give a Shit What You Think About This or Anything Else Exactly Why Now” category — which again, only confirms their opinion, since if I had any sense I would be passionately interested in their assessment. But I’m not! And probably won’t ever be! Which just makes them more annoyed still.

* But, I don’t know. If you’re annoyed that I don’t give a shit about your opinion of me, what does that make you?

* The above should be tempered with the realization that your life would be better if there were some people whose opinion you listen to, as regards your behavior and presentation, and that sometimes even someone you don’t know might accurately assess when you’re being an egotistical jackass in a specific instance. Closing yourself off from any opinion that is critical of you or your actions is indeed a very fine way of actually ending up being an egotistical jackass all the time. It helps to be self-aware enough to know that you are fallible, both in your actions and in your self-assessment, and it helps to have people you trust who feel comfortable enough with you to call you out when you show your ass (and it helps if your ego can get out of the way enough for you to listen).

* Obviously, I don’t think having an ego is a problem — a healthy self-assessment of skills and abilities is a good thing, in my book, and I don’t think you should have to minimize those skills or apologize for them just because someone somewhere might have issues with you for it, for whatever reason. The problem is them, not you. Likewise, I don’t think being appropriately rude or dismissive of someone else is a problem, either. It’s not usually what I would suggest leading with, when you meet people or interact with them, but sometimes, when all is said and done, there are some people for whom the best response to them or their antics is “You’re an asshole. Fuck right off,” or some appropriate variation. Sometimes, on the Internet, these folks let you know very quickly when they’re not worth your time. Sometimes it takes a little bit more work.

* Related to this, there are some people who really are egotistical jackasses all the time, at least in terms of how they deal with other people publicly, and think that’s a feature, not a bug. It’s okay to feel sorry for them and avoid them whenever possible. There are others who are making jackasses of themselves, whose egos preclude the possibility of them seeing such a thing, despite the worried intervention of friends. It’s okay to feel sorry for them, and to avoid them too. There are still others whose egotistical feelings have made them act like jackasses. Once again, okay to be sorry for them, and not to bother with them unless you have to. In the latter two circumstances, you can hope that one day soon they pull their heads out and recognize the errors of their ways. In the former case there’s not much to be done, unless you decide you have nothing better with the startlingly few moments of your lifespan than to engage with an unrepentant shitheel of a human being. In which case I wish you happiness in your entertainment choices.

* But overall, again, it’s worth remembering that none of us — and certainly not I — are always our best selves. We have our egotistical moments, our moments of jackassery, our moments of weakness, or neuroticism, or envy, or anger, or pettiness or what have you. They happen and you deal with them. Owning up to them, acknowledging them and trying to do better the next time is a good thing to try to do. If you can work on that, even if you have been an egotistical jackass (or whatever) at some point, then there’s hope that you won’t be that all the time. And that’s a good thing to move toward.

50 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass”

  1. Given the particular nature of this entry, I expect that some comments here may be of the sort where my personal nature or demeanor is reviewed. That’s fine, of course. Try not to be gratuitously nasty about it, is all I ask.

  2. Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. –George Orwell

    If you liked a book, don’t meet the author. — Raymond Chandler

    That said, I disagree with the original question. Scalzi is fine folks.

  3. I have run into this thing occasionally, and after variants on that, or “you’re not even making an argument here”, kept showing up even when it was obviously not true, I finally understood what’s happening.

    Imagine, if you will, a person who genuinely does not get how argumentation works. They simply don’t understand what makes some things seem persuasive and others seem not-persuasive. And imagine that you have some flaw which people consistently pick up on after talking to you for a bit, and which most people regard as a reason not to waste time talking to you.

    What do you experience? You experience that people say this thing, and then other people act like they won the argument.

    So you say that thing to people so other people will act like *you* won the argument.

    People who just sort of blather incoherently and never advance an argument accuse other people of not really advancing an argument. Egotistical jerks accuse other people of being egotistical jerks.

    This theory has good explanatory and predictive power, and I think you will find it useful.

  4. What Matthew said! Writers write, right? I’m sure if we all set our thoughts to paper as frequently, we’d all be more open to the dangers of perceived jackassery as well. I enjoy your daily musings, rants, and opinions, your blog posts, and your occasional puppy pics.

    Thank you as well, sir, for making it possible to add “jackassery” to my computer’s dictionary today.

  5. Seebs:

    Oh, I’m well aware that there are people out there who ascribe to me their own flaws. I’m also aware there are people out there who can’t argue their way out of a paper bag and think it’s appallingly rude when you insist they have to actually make an argument. I’m also aware there’s a substantial overlap for me for the folks in the first category, and the second.

  6. After reading Scalzi’s mentions on twitter, one would be quick to believe it was his Id this is missing.

  7. I’ve noticed one of the signs of jackassery is claiming that others are jackassers. I strive not to be a jackasser by examining my behavior when called one; sometimes I ergret my opinion.

  8. It’s your ego that brought me to this blog. I was actively seeking examples of writers who balanced social media with a writing career – retaining integrity without false humility and still staying connected to readers. It’s a tricky balance that few people manage well, but I direct other writers to this blog as a positive example of how it’s done. I’m not a genre reader, but purchased Lock In recently and look forward to reading it. Thanks.

  9. thomasmhewlett:

    In those cases I try to distinguish substantive from non-substantive praise. For non-substantive praise (” I love your work!”) it’s usually sufficient to simply say “thank you” and appreciate the compliment. For substantive praise I try to hear what’s being said and see if what I’m being praised for is something I intended or is something I was not aware was there in the work. So, yes, I do often try to be critical (in the non-disparaging sense) of praise.

  10. Typo. 3rd to last paragraph. Missing word. Think or feel maybe?
    “Likewise, I don’t [think or feel] being appropriately rude or dismissive of someone else is a problem, either.”

  11. “[…] a healthy self-assessment of skills and abilities is a good thing, in my book […]”

    And a slightly (slightly) inflated self-assessment of skills & abilities goes a long way toward accomplishing things out in the world. No shame there.

  12. David Croal:

    Fixed, thanks.


    Or, and probably slightly more healthy, a belief that you’ll have the ability to develop the skills/abilities as you go along. But, yeah.

  13. I suppose you are probably right about being egotistical occasionally, though it’s surely not one of your defining characteristics from where I stand.
    I have to disagree with your admission of jackassery. To me, the term “jackass” implies that pissing people off is one’s primary objective rather than an unintended byproduct. Also, responding to jackasses snarkily isn’t so much jackassery as it is doing them the courtesy of speaking their language.

  14. Dave Branson:

    “To me, the term ‘jackass’ implies that pissing people off is one’s primary objective rather than an unintended byproduct.”

    Well, you know. I do that, from time to time.

  15. Insufficient data for meaningful answer. I don’t know John, only his online personna.

    That said, all men are asses. Coming to accept that is one of the key factors in a successful mairriage.

  16. John, considering the amount of self-deprecating humor that you publish on this site, its my opinion that the issue is less that you are an egotistical jackass than your critics have “issues of inadequacy” (e.g., their nickname is “Micron”). The best advice I ever heard came from Eddie Murphy in his 80’s concert film, “Delirious.” he tells the story that his hero, Bill Cosby, calls him and chews him out for using filthy language in his act. Eddie is very upset by this and calls Richard Pryor. Pryor asks him, “Do you make a lot of money doing your jokes?,” and “Do people laugh at your jokes?”, to which Murphy answers yes to both. Pryor tells him, “Well tell Bill Cosby to have a Coke and a smile and shut the f**k up.” I consider that priceless advice for dealing with critics.

  17. Sure, there’s definitely that as well. Maybe instead of ‘inflated self-assessment’ I should say something like: healthy (& practical) self-confidence involves believing in as generous a self-assessment as can be plausibly supported by the facts. Conveniently, there are all sorts of benefits to extending this sort of not-entirely-realistic generosity as broadly as possible to folks you know or encounter.

  18. I would amend that to ‘wet paper bag’, but otherwise I’m in general agreement.

    Which is disheartening, in some ways; I hadn’t realised quite how far the basics of what actually constitutes an argument had disappeared from segments of the community. One of the many ironies of puppydum is that they constantly bewail what they perceive as ‘affirmative action’ without noticing that they appear to have a highly inflated sense of their own abilities…

  19. As white men in U.S./Western culture, I would make the assertion we are trained to be egotistical. TV, movies, pop culture, religion and more all tell us we’re number 1.

    Working to be less of a jerk is a goal we can all be on board with, to each other, our loved ones and fellow citizens. John has discussed his awareness of this more than once here, the “default level” analogy he provided using video games comes to mind. I can also report that John’s humor is self deprecating from seeing him on panels at conventions. The ability to make fun of oneself is a healthy trait, indicates this person has self-awareness.

    Most of us can be egotistical jerks, it takes self-awareness to recognize and correct those behaviors. I suspect being a parent of a teen might also aid you in this process, as teens are by default egotistical, it comes with the territory. (No disrespect intended to any teen reading this)

    There will come a time in most of our lives in which we are confronted with the idea that “it’s not about you”. Wisdom is recognizing the truth in the statement.

  20. In my experience, egotism is a self-defined property. My meaning is that one internalizes one’s perception of self and projects that. Sometimes when feeling like a failure, my Egotistical Projection Index is very weak 20 (it’s a 100 point scale); I may come across to others as undecided or insecure. Other times when I think I’m really smart and can do no wrong my EPI is high (80 or more) and I may seem cocky, arrogant, self-absorbed, and/or aloof. That’s why I’ll be spending this weekend inventing an EFI app that will update to an FB page, blog, or Twitter feed so everyone can see my precise EFI and boost me up or berate me accordingly.

  21. I’m . . . aware there are people out there who can’t argue their way out of a paper bag and think it’s appallingly rude when you insist they have to actually make an argument.

    It’s hard to define someone as an unmitigated egotist. As you say – we all have our good days and our bad days. That said, I would suggest that the thought expressed in the above quote is the thing I notice about you that sets you apart from others I read or interact with.

    There’s a difference between someone who isn’t making an argument, and someone who isn’t making the argument you want them to make. When the latter occurs, most reasonable people come to some version of “we will have to agree to disagree.” You tend to come to some version of “you are incompetent, you lack logic, and your thoughts are not welcomed in this discussion.” Hence the Mallet of Loving Correction(TM), your “free speech does not apply here” mantra, the occasional pre-emptive comment that says, “here’s what you may and may not discuss in these comments,” etc.

    I used to be an active commenter on Whatever, and while we disagreed frequently (usually about politics), I felt I was adding value in that I moved the conversation forward in interesting ways. Then there was a discussion about intellectual property (something to do with a Hollywood writers’ strike, if I recall), and you suggested that my opinion on the topic was worthless, my argument was invalid, and so forth. Attempts by me to explain my professional background in that area were unsuccessful, so I basically walked away, returning only occasionally on what I deemed to be “safe” topics (it remains to be seen whether this is one of those safe topics, or whether this entire post is a huge mistake).

    At that time, I certainly thought of you as an egotistical jackass. Looking back, I probably over-reacted. Still, the exchange is (well, can be?) instructive: I never minded you disagreeing with me. When you decided I didn’t know what I was talking about, and refused to entertain the possibility that I did know but my experience differed from yours, then I walked away…

  22. “Well, you know. I do that, from time to time.”

    Fair enough. You behave like a jackass, from time to time.

    I find myself unable to say, “You are a jackass,” even jokingly, because I don’t think I’ve seen it when you hadn’t been provoked by those who refuse to listen to any other kind of response, though.

    Maybe I’m just cutting you some slack because I’ve seen you use your platform to stick up for those who can use the help so many times.

  23. I suspect part of that criticism, John, comes from people who do not understand the difference between a public persona and who you really are. One of the things that I’ve always admired about you is that you are very aware that how you present yourself here is a persona, and you are not shy about making sure that persona represents what you want it to represent.

  24. You are occasionally amusingly egotistical, and not in a bad way at all! Whenever I worry about my ego, I go, “What would Scalzi do?” and that allows me to carry on. ;)

    (“What would Scalzi do” is also a good rule for how to deal with various blog things, like commenting trolls. If Scalzi would mallet, we take that as license to do likewise. It’s a helpful way to put a check on the patriarchy.)

  25. Whatever you think of yourself, so long as you are kind and considerate towards others, and indifferent towards those who malign you, we are not in a position to judge you. In fact, unless we are mind readers, so long as you are kind and considerate towards others, we can’t even determine if you are an egotistical jackass. Self-assurance is not egotism. I think someone is trying to call you a narcissist. But unless we can read your mind or have sat in a chair with you doing psychoanalysis, the best anyone can say is “I think he is a xxxxx even if he behaves otherwise.”

    Isn’t it Christ who said “by their fruits ye shall know them”?

  26. Brian

    I agree entirely with the first sentence in your third paragraph.

    Unfortunately, the remainder of your post suggests that when you can’t make an argument you revert to the default setting of claiming that Scalzi mallets people who disagree with him.

    He is, of course, perfectly entitled to mallet anyone he wants, but there are plenty of people who regularly read his blog who would like him to mallet more than he does; equally there are plenty of people who regularly read his blog who disagree with his politics -many of them Europeans like myself- and yet manage to put together arguments which are, in fact, arguments, rather than unsupported assertions, and remain unmalleted.

    ‘Because I say so’ is not hugely appealing to readers who have had to engage with the real world and discovered for themselves that self-appointed experts on the Internet don’t actually count. I’m Immensely grateful that Scalzi does moderate, because unmoderated places are not fun. We are all egotistical jackasses from time to time; the frequency of those times rocket sky high in the absence of someone who asks that we think…

  27. “It’s okay to feel sorry for them and avoid them whenever possible.”

    I claim it is also okay to not feel sorry for them, and still avoid them whenever possible.

    I also claim that it is not okay to go around bragging about how sorry you feel for them and implying that makes you a noble and wonderful person. You can feel sorry for them all you like. There is no need to tell anyone you do. Telling people that is bragging, and makes you a jackass.

  28. Asimov always called his egotism “cheerful self-appreciation”.

    I think Scalzi has an ego — it’s hard to be a writer without one, because you have to think “OF COURSE everyone NEEDS to read my brain output!” But he’s rarely jackassy about it, and has apologized for it.

    Plus, someone with his… hairstyle? gets a massive ego check in the mirror every day.

    I think his Twitter feed is all Id.

    @Dave B: I think “being a jackass” often involves punching down instead of punching up.

    @Granny Roberta: I knew a guy in a creative position who did have a big ego. I was discussing him with a co-worker who had at least 20 years’ more experience in that industry than he did. Her remark was “Oooh. He has such an ego. He’s always sure his way is right.” (pause) “The hell of it is, he’s so damn talented that his way almost always IS right. I hate that!” and then we both laughed. He was also loyal, smart, charming, athletic and handsome, so we allowed as how he deserved a bit of ego.

  29. Curiosity overcame me, and I found an exchange between Scalzi and Brian G. in the comments on a post about the writer’s strike. It consisted of four comments: two by Brian, two by Scalzi. Scalzi was pretty harsh toward Brian. Brian nowhere mentioned any professional background he might have had. In his second comment, Brian appeared to be taking the position of a member of the public, not someone who had any professional background in property rights or writing or Hollywood, and was presenting what purported to be the public’s view of the situation. If that’s the exchange Brian is referring to, I can understand why Scalzi’s scornful dismissal of his arguments would have stung. On the other hand, Brian’s comments contained no indication of any professional bona fides. He may remember it differently, but the comments are still there to be read.

  30. BW, et al.:

    I don’t think it’s necessary to go back and revisit the comments. I’m fine with letting Brian’s comment stand.

  31. It seems funny how, usually, people who think one is an egotistical jackass, are people one thinks are also egotistical jackasses.

  32. I could have worded this question better, obviously. What I meant was that you clearly have an ego, and this rubs some people the wrong way (I’m thinking specifically of the SP crowd and some statements Brad Torgersen has made, to general applause from the peanut gallery.) And you know, I wanted to ask how you navigate the line between a healthy self-regard and egotism (especially when you occupy the weird funhouse that is minor celebrity, in which some people worship you uncritically, and others harbor an equally uncritical pathological dislike for you.) Which is basically what you answered.

    Personally, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with having a giant ego as long as a) it’s at least mostly justified, and b) you have some self-awareness as to this aspect of yourself. Anyway, thanks for answering.

  33. Dang it. I went back to find the discussion with Brian and the main result: I was reminded that SEVEN YEARS AGO, Zeus was the new cat. I still think of Zeus as the new cat. Now I feel a hundred years old. (I also learned that Romney was the VP candidate for 2008. That was a relief: I had some very vivid nightmares about a person who could not possibly have existed in real life. Bikinis. Guns. Tina Fey as a Republican. No more late night mozzarella for me.)

  34. MRAL:

    Re: Torgersen, et al: As I’ve noted elsewhere, Torgersen and his pals are clearly invested in a fictional version of me that has little to do with the real world version of me at all, and it’s difficult for me to get worked up about it too much. It doesn’t present me with any harm, as no one outside their bubble is under the impression it has any relationship with reality. Torgersen has his own issues to work out, which frankly only tangentially involve me, and are not actually my problem. I hope he gets himself squared away.

  35. BW: Brian nowhere mentioned any professional background he might have had.

    Since Scalzi asserted writers should get a cut of gross money, when that isn’t how contracts have to work, it seems an odd thing to require other people to declare their bona fides before disagreeing.

  36. Let me just say that you, Mr. Scalzi are one of the most fun people to read on a daily basis. I love how you navigate the people that attack you. The ego thing is fine. We’re all like that from time to time.

    They say that you should never meet your heroes. I have met three in my life time that you can tell that were generally nice people (Sir Michael York, Leonard Nimoy, and some guy named John Scalzi) and one that was exactly a true egotistical jackass (William Shatner). Trust me you are not even close to the latter.

  37. Scalzi: Torgersen and his pals are clearly invested in a fictional version of me

    This line always makes me think of the several episodes of star trek where A find out that B has a holodeck program of A. Usually a bit squicky. Most of the episodes I’ve seen, it’s eventually shrugged off.

  38. Egotism reminds me of the quandary of if someone is crazy. If you are , how would you know? If you think you are, you are probably sane enough.
    I have met Harlan Ellison on several occasions. He is and self describes himself as A HUGE egotistical Jackass and he thinks that this is an enduring trait. It is not.
    I have met you at several Gen Cons over the years in Indy and you always have time to stop and talk and share your time.
    I would suspect that most people who judge someone egotistical and/or a jackass without meeting and spending a little time with someone is just looking in a mirror.

  39. I think somebody who obviously values and feels great affection for family, friends, fans, even pets, is probably not that ego-involved. My impression of an egotistical jackass is somebody who doesn’t give a rats ass about anybody else except as they pay attention to him. That’s not what we’ve got here.

    But I’m confused. How do you argue your way out of a paper bag, anyway?

  40. But I’m confused. How do you argue your way out of a paper bag, anyway?

    Generate so much hot air that the bag floats upwards and releases you?

  41. I’m of the opinion that everyone is prone to going into “Egotistical Jackass Mode” with the right provocation. Fate knows I’ve done so more than once.

    However, there are some people for whom Egotistical Jackass Mode is the default mode for breathing. I don’t find you to be one of those people John.

  42. Greg, I think they were pointing out the whole “bona fides” thing because the original poster said he listed them in the comments when he in fact did not. Not that he had to list them for his opinion to have any relevance.

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