Nobody Likes An Asshole (Except Maybe Other Assholes)

Adam-Troy Castro has a post up called “Writers: The Long-Term Benefits of Not Being An Ass,” which I encourage you to read, with the awareness that the advice has works equally as well when you substitute any other profession for “Writer” (or indeed, you can also substitute “human” and it works just as well).

Also, let me just second nearly all of what Adam-Troy is saying there. Folks, the fact is that people’s tolerance for working with complete assholes is pretty low. In the field of writing, in my experience, being an asshole is generally neither here nor there in terms of how an audience sees you (they’re focused on your output, not your personality), but it has a lot to do with how much slack those who have to work with you will cut you. And when no one wants to work with you, it makes it harder for your audience to find you.

And yes, if you sell millions of books, then you probably get to be as big of an asshole as you want to be and people still have to put up with you. But not many people sell that much. The list probably doesn’t include you (sorry. It doesn’t include me, either). It’s been interesting recently to watch writers who sell relatively little who have nevertheless decided being a complete asshole to other people in the industry was a winning move. They are either extraordinarily confident they will never be dropped by their current publisher (which is not a smart thing to assume when you sell relatively little), or they hope self-publishing will save them (also not smart).

(Or they’re simply convinced that it’s not them who’s an asshole, it’s everyone else. In the latter case, well, you can believe that, but if everyone else outside your tightly-sealed little group disagrees with you, then you still have a problem.)

Or, and this has been suggested to me before, there’s the theory that being a complete asshole is a marketing strategy to build an audience. My thought on this is, well, okay, but the sort of person who gets off on watching you be an asshole is probably an asshole themselves. And while I suppose that an asshole’s money spends just as well as anyone else’s, I’d still be uncomfortable actively cultivating that particular market. Again, generally your audience doesn’t care about your personality, but if you make being an asshole a selling point, to the particular market of assholes, then that’s the market you’ll be stuck with, you know? Then you’ll always have to be an asshole. And, you know. I can be an asshole just like anyone else. But I try to limit the total time I am one. It’s tiring. I can’t imagine having to do it all the time.

So, yes. Listen to Adam-Troy. Try to be a decent person, to the people you work with and even the people you don’t; Remember how you treat people on the way up is how they treat you on the way down; Maybe you can be an asshole if you sell millions, but you probably don’t and even if you do, you should still try not to be one. People remember. And people talk. And people choose who they want to do business with, and who they want to help.

68 Comments on “Nobody Likes An Asshole (Except Maybe Other Assholes)”

  1. I’ll take a moment to note that there are some people who think I’m an asshole all the time, and that this the pot calling the kettle black. My thought to that is that there’s a high correlation to the people who think I’m an asshole being obvious bigots in one way or another (or in several ways). That being the case, I’m perfectly fine being on their “asshole” list.

  2. My wife told me I was a contrarian a few years ago after meeting my brother and he disagreed with everything she said. She told me I had the same trait, gathered from our childhood growing up in the Bronx, with the hand we were dealt.

    My instinct has been negative. I know that. I’ve had to work very, very hard, not to give in to it. I’ve said and written things in the past I regret; but I truly believe putting positive out in the world is the way to go.

    I’ve been watching the name-calling, the battles, the lines being drawn in publishing and decided a while ago I wanted no more part in it. I write books. Readers are the ones who support my livelihood. I appreciate them very much. Being a dick to anyone doesn’t help anything. Authors often decry the support they get from their publishers, their agents, the bookstores, etc. but the reality is everyone I have met in the publishing business is in it because they love books.

  3. This reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw backstage at Universal Studios years ago:
    Be polite. The toes you step on today may be connected to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.

  4. Not being an asshole is something of a constant struggle for me, too. The rule “Don’t be a dick” is one that i try to remind myself of (and I have a daughter who will occasionally point this out to me as well when I’m being overly obstreperous with people on FB).

    I know someone–well, more than one, sadly, but one in particular–who’s a real asshole. He’s married to a good friend of mine and he’s pretty contrarian and INCREDIBLY condescending and lives for being right. I’ve discovered that I’m pretty much his only male friend (and I would not call myself a friend of his) and I’ve recently come to the conclusion that he’s going to die lonely and bitter. I would like to say that I’m sorry for him, but I can’t really be. But I *HAVE* held him up to my mental eyes whenever I get the feeling that I’m being an asshole and remind myself of the consequences.

    Generosity of spirit and trying to be a better person are important. They will last and you will have friends, love, and people who will support you when you need it. I can think of a number of authors whose work I admire but who I won’t have anything to do with in person for this very reason. It seems like a rather hollow existence, ultimately: if you’re just a jerk personally, you’re living on your fame with adoring(?) fans no matter how good your writing is.

    It’s not easy to not be an asshole, but it’s worth the time and therapy to help you get to a place where it’s not your go-to place.

  5. On people not realizing that they might be the problem, I like to quote Raylan Givens from “Justified”.

    “If you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

  6. If you can laugh and joke with different people in different places, especially when you are the “butt” of the humor, then you are NOT an asshole.

  7. Good at what you do, nice and on time. You must have two of the three to be employed in that area…. which seems to imply that nice people that get things done one time can do anything. :^)

  8. I suspect the “assholitry gains me an audience” crowd aren’t wrong. Look at Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, etc.

    OTOH, the sort of people who follow Limbaugh and Beck aren’t the sort of people who read. Reading may be a bit of inoculation against that kind of mindless nonsense.

    I suspect a writer who is willfully assholeish of a certain stripe could make a (very) modest, steady income in self-publishing. One thing about the raging, spittle-flecked foamers, they are fanatically loyal as long as their idol keeps dancing for them.

  9. Much as I hate to bring this up – Harlan Ellison and a lot of his friends (like ex-SFWA President Norman Spinrad), who seem to have made a career out of being assholes?

    Yes, I know they present themselves as Fearless Defenders of Quality and Honesty in SF, and Standing Up For The Rights of Writers Everywhere. And there are a lot of fans who buy into that – including, at an earlier point in my life, me.

    Which may be one of the points you’re missing, John – that it’s very likely assholes consider their assholic behavior Necessary Armor Against The Bigger Assholes They Have To Deal With. Spin that a little, and you get the self-righteousness that fuels the Sad/Rabid Puppies – in fact, I’m pretty sure Brad Torgersen and Theodore Beale are basically echoing the same things Harlan Ellison and Spinrad have said for decades.

  10. Writer A and Writer B are both good at what they do. They sell about the same and have done so consistently. Writer A is a total professional in all of his/her dealings with editor and publisher and publicist and art department and contracts, and managing editors, etc. Writer B, on the other hand, sees the publishing process as an adversarial endeavor and is, in the parlance of this discussion, a total asshole. Both have situations which lead to their having to be *quite* late on a manuscript delivery. Want to hazard a guess as to which one is going to be cut the most slack by the company?? (something that I dealt with in Real Life,more than once, in my Time as an Editor.)

  11. Agreed on that part about it being any profession. I insist that my team of engineers be courteous and respectful at all times. Invariably a team member will come up with, “Well, what if they are being an asshole?” My response is always the same: “I have never once experienced a situation in which, when there is one asshole in the room, the addition of a second asshole has helped the situation in any way.”

  12. DrDarke:

    It’s reasonably safe to say that Mssrs. Ellison and Spinrad are at least semi-retired at this point. Also, with regard to Mr. Ellison, my own experiences with him as SFWA president had him being nothing short of gracious and professional to me.

    That said, if Mr. Ellison had made a career out of being an asshole, he also had the stature in the field to get away with it, in a different time. This is now, and hardly anyone has the stature in the field he had then; certainly not the gentlemen you name.

    (Mr. Spinrad I cannot comment on; I don’t interact with him enough.)

  13. John: I don’t think you’re an asshole (at least, not except to people who may have sorely provoked you), but I do note that you’ve seemed to get a lot of mileage out of pretending to be one, at least to certain people, from time to time. (In particular, those books whose covers feature you with a big sledgehammer, or photoshopped to look like Satan.)

    This isn’t meant to be snarky or passive-aggressive, by the way. I’m genuinely curious what you’d say the difference is, and how, if one is going to use that schtick, one can be sure they are staying within “pretending” territory, and managing to be clever without inadvertently courting the failure mode thereof.

  14. You are aware of the book “The No Asshole Rule”, right? It is by a professor from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Bob Sutton. It is a very serious book about the impact of assholes on organizations. He goes into several aspects, like “asshole poisoning” and “total cost of assholes”.

    He first started researching this when someone told him about the “asshole tax”. Their clients could be assholes or late payers, but not both.

  15. Robotech_Master:

    It’s covered in the site disclaimer, although I think there’s a line between being snarky/strident/passionate, and being an asshole, and I try to stay on the right side of it. That said, sometimes I fail, and also, of course, reasonable people can have different places where they place the “asshole” line. Depending on where (generic) you place the line, I may be an asshole more than I think I am, based on where I place that line.

    In any event, sometimes I’m not clever, I’m just an asshole. I do try to minimize that.

  16. There’s a cottage industry in publishing works by professional assholes, but it’s mostly folks I see in a big pile at Costco with the word “America” in the title. I do my one asshole part by covering these books with a copy of a Stiig Larson book, usually “The Girl Who Was In a Big Pile At Costco.”

  17. John, I’m glad to hear you and Harlan Ellison were able to deal in a civil and professional manner.

    I guess the point I was trying to make was that for a lot of us, Ellison’s intransigence and unwillingness to bend seemed courageous next to the demands to give in and compromise your principles to the demands of an obviously lying and corrupt mainstream, which was how it looked in the Sixties and early Seventies when I was reading him avidly. It made him a hero to a lot of SF fans of the time – including, I suspect, Torgersen and Beale, who may not agree with his politics but sure liked how he didn’t back down, no matter what!

    Or maybe these days they’d find themselves agreeing more than not, given how Ellison hasn’t seemed to have moved from his Fifties Liberalism in any significant way….

  18. Once upon a time in the early 1990s, I worked in a large, independent bookstore that hosted upwards of 150 author events every year.

    Top guests included Jimmy Carter, Carl Sagan, Anne Rice, Ginger Rogers, and many more. Without exception, the people who were at the very top of their fields were kind, gracious, professional, and terrific to work with. (Sagan was every bit the geek that you would have hoped, and I heard “Your work changed my life” more that night standing next to the signing table than any other time ever.)

    The people who were difficult were the ones in the middle, the ones who thought they should be a big deal, but weren’t. Not every author in the middle ranks was difficult — far from it! — but that middle section is where the difficult ones came from.

  19. Slightly off-topic, but kind of in the “not being an asshole” vicinity: I’d like to thank OGH for making the website zoomable (in both landscape and portrait!) again. It really comes in handy.

  20. “…I think there’s a line between being snarky/strident/passionate, and being an asshole, and I try to stay on the right side of it. That said, sometimes I fail, and also, of course, reasonable people can have different places where they place the “asshole” line.”

    This pretty much sums up what I was thinking as I read your entry on the costs of what my old man used to refer to as “assholiness.: But one additional thought: who one is can have a huge impact on whether one’s strongly expressed words are regarded as biting but apt, snarky but clever, and most of all as appropriate.

    I learned early on that I could never get away with saying many of the things my male friends and family members get away with, because when you’re a passionate, outspoken, and (god forbid) snarky or sarcastic female who enjoys a good intellectual debate about the issues of the day, the word that most often gets tossed in your direction starts with a “b” and not an “a.” I know people can quibble over whether or not a “bitch” is just the feminine equivalent of an “asshole” and no better or worse an insult overall, but I think the bar for earning that moniker is lower for girls and women than the “asshole” bar is for men.

    It’s something I worry about every time I express an opinion, especially about gender or social justice related things, in writing forums and social media. Am I being an asshole/bitch, and even if I’m not, will I hurt my reputation and my cause by being perceived as such?

  21. I decided that next year I would try to go for 365 days without criticizing anybody or anything. I have reserved 29 February for justified eruptions of wrath at some asshole.

  22. John, how would you classify your constant lying to self-promote yourself, as has been throughly documented by Vox Day? (I expect you to delete/ban/not have this question go up, but I am genuinely interested if you think of it as Lying, being an asshole or just “necessary” in order to get along with the right people?)

  23. “Thoroughly documented by Vox Day” translates in the real world and to anyone with critical thinking skills as “he made up some stuff that he wanted to believe and then riffed on it.” John has an enviable life in many ways, but it does come with the tiresome burden of being the object-of-obsession of a malicious troll who seems to have an extraordinary amount of free time on his hands.

  24. Warriormonkinblue:

    “as has been throughly documented by Vox Day?”


    Run along now, Warriormonkinblue. I’m sure there’s paste to be eaten somewhere in your house.

    Laura Resnick:

    Mr. Beale is in the unenviable position of having been successful at only one thing in his life, which is being an asshole. So naturally he’s going to ride that particular pony until it drops.

  25. @warriormonkinblue Thank you for vigorously transforming a hitherto wholly abstract debate about the concept of being an “asshole” by providing, at no extra charge, a stern, strong, concrete example!

  26. Bill Blondeau, et al –

    That said, let’s go ahead and not make the thread about Mr. Beale, because it adds nothing of substance to the discussion. Table the topic, please.

  27. [Deleted because I did say this should be tabled – JS]

  28. Ah, crap! Sorry, Mr. Scalzi, should’ve refreshed before posting. My bad.

  29. But I try to limit the total time I am one. It’s tiring. I can’t imagine having to do it all the time.

    That’s probably because it doesn’t come naturally to you; you have to make an effort (unless you’re trying to be clever and fail).

    Now imagine someone who has to make as much effort to *not* be an asshole as you have to make *to* be one (on purpose)… that’s where both the supply and the demand come from, IMO.

    Or maybe that’s just me trying to be clever…

  30. I originally trained as an actress, and it was drummed into us over and over and over that you can get your first few jobs in the biz based on a good audition and being right for the part; but most of your jobs (or you LACK of jobs) will be due to how you behave at work in those early parts. Everyone in a production remembers who was good to work with and who wasn’t, and everyone is inclined to work again (and again, and again) with the people who were good to work with, and never again deal with someone who was difficult to work with. It’s extremely unusual that a role is so hard to fill that producers, directors, writers, etc. will be willing to give it to someone they know will be difficult to work with. Most roles can always be filled by someone who (a) they like working with or (b) they’ve never worked with before and are prepared to take a chance on.

    So if you give yourself a bad reputation, you’re making your whole professional life as an actor less fruitful (and probably much shorter) than it needs to be. Therefore, we were trained to show up on time (being late for any class or appointment in drama school was a BIG OFFENSE and treated as such), be well-prepared and ready to work when we arrived, be professional, cooperative, focused, engaged, proactive, problem-solving, level-headed. Anything less would make us less viable in the professional market, because those are the habits other people want to encounter in co-workers.

    I wish I could remember the name now (it’s gone right out of my head), but there’s a movie actor of relatively little talent or screen presence who had a fairly long and busy career, and when asked why in later years, he said frankly, “I always showed up on time, ready to work, knowing my lines, and was polite to everyone, and that kept me working for years.”

    Last year, I was talking with someone who’d worked backstage on a number of Broadway shows. She was telling me about one with Alec Baldwin, and two other actors, one a young Hollywood star and one a seasoned stage actor. The Hollywood star was rude and diffiult–and, despite being a star, was replaced after a week. Alec Baldwin, despite being known for a volatile personality, my friend said, is an experienced stage actor who is always extremely professional and civil when working in the theatre, and so he is well-liked and cast often on Broadway. So even an actor famous for having a difficult personality after he leaves work -can- behave well while at work–and it makes a difference.

  31. “…for a lot of us, [the] intransigence and unwillingness to bend seemed courageous next to the demands to give in and compromise your principles to the demands of an obviously lying and corrupt mainstream…”

    Not to make this about any one person, which is why I’ve elided over the name of the author in the original quote, but I’ve seen a lot of cases — and I characterize my own bout of online assholery as a clear case of this — where one can be an asshole, and by virtue of being an asshole to agreed-upon targets, will be acclaimed for “telling it like it is,” perhaps even “speaking truth to power,” and doing so in a “lively,” “provocative,” perhaps even “entertaining” or “no-holds-barred” fashion. But over time it transpires that one is being an asshole to a broad enough range of people that it’s more likely that one is probably just an asshole.

  32. I was just talking about this at work (retail pharmacy) with a patient. Why do people think they can be rude for any or no reason and then expect me to do all in my power to help them? What goes around, comes around and I guarantee that I remember who treats me well and who lies/makes problems/calls me names.

  33. There are amateur assholes who deserve everything that’s nailed to them, and there are professional assholes (Ann Coulter comes to mind) who make it their shtick and who welcome being lambasted.

  34. Speaking as someone with more than two decades in book publishing, 14 years of it with a Big 5 House:

    If you are an asshole, the professionals at the publisher will by and large continue to be professionals. They will do the job they are paid to do.

    When that comes to your book, they will do the minimum necessary to be able to say, “Hey, I fulfilled my job requirements.”

    If you are known as being no particular trouble, even if not particularly demonstrative, they will do a lot more. Neutral is not bad; people will do their jobs well in order to get a bigger raise or promotion.

    If you are known as a sweetheart who thanks everyone from your editor to the mailroom in your Acks, who sends chocolate or cookies or popcorn or home-baked brownies or whatever at Festivus (relative to your earnings at the company; bestsellers should be generous), then people will move heaven and earth to make your book awesome, promote it well, and indulge the requests you oh-so-politely make.

    Seriously. You can buy an entire publishing staff’s loyalty for a couple pounds of Godiva. We don’t get paid much.


    In my career I have personally seen three decent selling authors fail to have their next books bought simply because they were a PITA to work with.

    Someone upthread mentioned how it’s the folks in the middle who most often have entitlement issues. Not 100% true, but the skew is obvious enough that I once coined the phrase “midlist diva” to describe the folks who I was fairly certain were destroying their own careers by not knowing where they actually stood in the pecking order.

    I wonder if that attitude comes from the (misguided, or at least often misapplied) principle that if you act like you deserve something, then you will get that something. In my experience, that works for a little while, or in gathering ass-kissers and toadies, but other people with actual power will just want you to go away and quit wasting their time.

    At my current place of employ, whenever a book comes in from someone who has published three previous books, each with a different publisher, I know that author will be a nightmare. There’s a reason everyone only published one book from them, and it isn’t because the author left in a huff.

  35. There is another type of person who is perhaps more insidious than the straight-up asshole. This person seems to sort their professional contacts into two categories: people who are important and who therefore should be shown respect and graciousness, and people who aren’t important and who therefore get treated in an asshole-ish manner. From what I can see these people tend to get away with it for a lot longer.

  36. This actually complements my One Rule of Business (or Acquisition, if you prefer):

    Do not make it hard for people to give you money.

    As an author, this means first, the publisher’s staff that you’re directly working with, and second, the audience who’ve decided that they like you well enough to graciously share their lucre with you. Because they really, reealy don’t have to.

  37. The statement you made is a great example of why I happen to think you are an asshole. Your default (although not universal) position is that people who disagree with you do so because they are bad people, and have some sort of character defect.

    I’ll give you a good example: I find individuals posting a lot of family pics to their online properties manipulative and creepy. It’s one thing if it’s a purely social space, but in your case, this is a commercial outlet, a promotional tool, and a social space. For years and years regular readers have seen pictures of your family mixed in, almost daily, with promotional content for your various properties. It’s crass product placement. (As a side note, after commenting at Brad Torgersen’s site for years, I was banned for expressing this sentiment when he posted a picture of his family as a shield).

    Now, in the past, this type of comment has been dismissed or suppressed because your house, your rules, which is fine and fair. But nonetheless, your presumption tends to be that I have this opinion because any number of reasons: I’m jealous, I dislike seeing happy families, I have a broken family, I dislike women or treat them as second class citizens, or I’m a generic hater of some sort.

    There comes a point when people can just disagree. It doesn’t mean either side is an asshole. But defaulting to the assumption that I’m an asshole for the disagreement does in fact render you, in my view, an asshole.

    Your overall point is spot on. The world which a lot of literary types inhabit is traditionally adverse to assholes who don’t sell bajillions of books because life is short and wine is inexpensive. Assholes are suffered rarely and not for midlisters. If Dean Koontz wants to be an asshole, fine. Otherwise, keep it in check.

    I do think this is changing because of the influence of businesses which thrive on assholes. Amazon is a good example. It’s an asshole company, run by assholes, for assholes. That type of model is trickling down to the rest of the country.

  38. Jeez, Nate, serious? It IS his house, his rules; full stop. Enjoy what you can on the site and be gracious enough to quietly pass over sections that fail to capture your attention. As has been noted, oh so many times, you can disagree on a topic under discussion and if done politely and with a minimum level of intelligence, your comment will stand; maybe even spark some return comments. But holy hell, going after the host’s family?! You were booted by someone who is not unfamiliar with frothing commenters. So what’s the thought process behind trying it again with someone who’s famously proud of his family and has been posting family related topics on Whatever from its inception? What, maybe just this time, John will listen to reason?

    Whatever is so obviously a personal website that not having family photos would be odd.

  39. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    Every time I read this quote from Kurt Vonnegut, I can’t help but think how simple an advice is and how hard to follow it becomes. “Be kind”. It sounds basic; people prove him otherwise. Kindness requires a certain power we refuse to dig deeper in ourselves to find. It is easier to be an asshole. You may say it’s tiring, but it’s also so much easier

  40. John,

    No offense, I think you’re mixing up two separate things here. Politics and professional conduct.

    I’m as polite and grateful to my clients as I can possibly be – they’re paying me, after all. I try to deliver work on time and, woe betide something goes wrong, my bad and I apologise like heck. I’m also somewhat blunt and abrasive, but try to be kind in my personal life.

    I’m also political (political libertarian, economically left-wing) and often a contrarian. I’ve never met an establishment I didn’t want to afflict :) I write the type of loud pulp shorts that I’m certain the big professional SF magazines wouldn’t publish (so I haven’t tried), but which I’ve noticed the Sad Puppies seem to like. I’m also rubbish at writing at novel length right now, which meant pre-Puppy I felt pretty screwed as a fiction writer… All things considered.

    I’ve blogged, in some detail, what I (personally) didn’t like about some prize-nominated stories. I’m sure the authors might be pretty bothered and think I’m an asshat for being negative (it’s genuinely not personal), but I feel *someone* needs to explain how it’s possible to legitimately have different views on fiction. And that’s going to involve criticism – of work, not people.

    So I’ve got to question whether you’re really saying “don’t speak if you have opinions that powerful people may disagree with or you’ll never work in this town again”. Because, if you attack the establishment’s enemies, and you’re a decent person to work with, no one thinks you’re an ass. Oh, and people with politics (of whatever stripe) always sound like asses :(

    All this concerns me hugely because, ramped back a hundred years or so, there’d be a lot of people we can all agree should have voices who’d be told to shut up or else. A mature confident society should be able to tolerate asshats. Unless they’re also an asshat to work with.

    In short, politics should stay political. Never personal.

    I’d also question how fandom is supposed to work as a community, since so many reviewers are also authors. If you can’t separate work from people, the incentive will always be to write glowingly positive (and sometimes misleading) reviews. And that’s bad for readers, bad for the community, and bad for the author’s long-term career because they don’t know what worked and why… :(

  41. @Laura Resnick: You might be recalling classic advice from an uninspiring but apparently reliable film actor named Ronald W. Reagan:

    ‘1. Always be on time on the set.
    2. Know your lines.
    3. Hit your marks.’

    Anyway, he wasn’t too bad in ‘Kings Row’, though OTOH Jane Wyman’s reaction to the man had much to commend it.

  42. Ambivalent in Tokyo–

    It’s not like I am spamming every post. I just nod my head in disapproval. Sometimes John invites comments, and this seemed like a relevant time.

    I would also just say it’s not going after the family. I think JS’s family is great.

  43. Was it time or attention that OGH said in “Lock In” was a rich person’s most valuable commodity? In any case, it’s true for the non-rich as well in a lot of cases. As the only member of a forty-person office with a specific valuable skill, I’ve been on the other side of the equation, with more demands on my time than I can accommodate, and I think people have learned that acting like a spaceball towards me isn’t a good way to get their tasks bumped up on my priority list.

    (Aside: it took me a long time to find a good euphemism, because I don’t like to use profanity if I can possibly help it, and the best I could ultimately come up with was a reference to the cross-eyed gunner from Spaceballs. Or in excessive cases, his cousin the Major.)

    Anyway, I couldn’t tell you whether consistently acting like a spaceball is tiring, but I know for a fact that dealing with spaceballs can get exhausting. And when you’ve got a limited amount of energy, and a limited amount of time, that’s got to be rationed, you’re probably not going to allot the spaceball anything beyond what’s absolutely required, and save your effort for people who will actually be nice to you (which, at the risk of straining metaphors, can help recharge your energy a little).

    As for professional spaceballs, well, they run a real risk of becoming persona non grata outside their own echo chambers.

  44. Nate:

    “But defaulting to the assumption that I’m an asshole for the disagreement does in fact render you, in my view, an asshole.”

    Well, Nate, the problem here is that on this particular subject you are, in fact, a disagreeable asshole. You are incorrect that this is a default assumption. Rather, my considered opinion that you’re an asshole on this topic stems both from the assumptions of your argument (i.e., why personal photos are posted on sites like mine, as well as, at least in this case, the fundamental nature of the site itself), and the fact you do not appear to have the wit to understand this particular asshole opinion is best left unexpressed on other people’s sites.

    I certainly agree that if you are an asshole, it may appear that I am being an asshole when it comes to dealing with you. But, two things here. One, an inability to recognize and understand that you are being an asshole does not change the fact that you are one nor does it necessarily make the person dealing with your assholishness an asshole for doing so. Two, I’m utterly unconcerned when an asshole thinks I’m an asshole, particularly when they think I’m an asshole for policing their asshole comments on my site.

    It does appear you are unaware that you’re being an asshole about this, although perhaps the consistent negative reaction by others to your opinion and how you express it might have been a tip off (see: Mr. Torgersen’s reaction). So allow me to make it plain: You’re being an asshole on this topic, and your inability to see that you’re an asshole makes it worse. You should maybe stop being an asshole, and keep this particular asshole opinion to yourself, or at the very least off other people’s sites.

    If you cannot or will not, it will be utterly unsurprising that other people will continue to treat you like an asshole. And while I have no doubt that you will continue to think other people are the assholes in the situation, you’ll be wrong, as you are in this case.

    In short: Don’t be an asshole, Nate, and don’t be one here.

    Hope that helps.


    I think it’s entirely possible to hold opinions contrary to others and yet still treat those with whom one disagrees with (appropriate) respect, and to act professionally with and to them in one’s work and life. I also think there are people who are not very good at doing that.

  45. People like Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter have an audience that basically consists of assholes that adore them just so long as they keep being assholes to people their audience already hates.

    The problem with this approach is somewhat akin to leading a lynch mob from the front — as long as you’re leading them in the direction they want to go, you’ve got it made, but the moment you step out of line yourself you get chewed up by the monster you helped create.. And no one is going to feel a twinge of sympathy because you had it coming.

  46. Dealing with assholes is tiring, but can be done. I reach my limit when I happen upon a Complete Bastard. Further up (or down if you like) in the hierarchy is the Trolling Nihilist, the Sociopath and Mr Shits’n’giggles.

  47. @Nate: holding that opinion doesn’t make you an asshole. Expressing that opinion on your own space doesn’t make you an asshole. Going to the blog of a person you presumably don’t actually know and telling him that posting pictures of his family is manipulative and creepy…is kind of an asshole move, and not just because you happen to disagree about what people should share with the public. Some opinions don’t need to be expressed.

  48. I spent rather a long time working on Wall Street, which is an asshole-tropic environment. Nevertheless, I noticed that when times got tough and the layoffs came, the assholes were always the first out the door because no one would cover for them politically. And the world is rather small, and people move around and remember; I know several people who are more or less blacklisted at this point because they are so difficult to work for that no one will hire them.

    One thing I’ve noticed about the world in general is that the true top tier in any field are usually pretty nice, it’s the climbers who are often assholes. I wonder if there’s something about primate dominance in there? (And of course someone has already brought up the double standards re: women).

  49. I’m glad that my essay continues to prompt discussion elsewhere.

    One point, though: in any discussion of assholes, the name Harlan Ellison comes up, as it has here.

    I should have known it would.

    I want this known: as a friend of the man, I am very much aware that ASSHOLE is in the man’s Venn Diagram. As it is in mine, as it is in yours.

    All anecdotes aside: in his particular case, the ASSHOLE stories tend to get more coverage, in particular because they’re more colorful — and yes, this in large part his own fault, for writing about them with such verve.

    Because the premise that he’s NOTHING BUT AN ASSHOLE is embraced without question by so many, not just those who earned the opinion via personal negative experience but also those who only know the reputation, I therefore find myself in the position of noting that few people for whom that word qualifies as a complete descriptive would also enjoy loyalty from so many who would crawl across broken glass for him.

    I know of a couple of cases where Harlan changed someone’s life for the better with a sentence, a couple more where it may have taken him as much as a spoken paragraph.

    I have been the recipient of his outrageous acts of emotional (and offered, financial) generosity.

    I have experienced the warmth he has shown my wife and myself.

    Has he never earned the word ASSHOLE? Sure he has. I simply say in utter simplicity that it’s always been more complicated than that — and there is a difference between being volatile, a word I’ll accept for him, and being what I guess I can call an Asshole By Policy, which is what I was initially talking about.

  50. Wow. If you show up to shit on someone’s blog, how could you be nothing else than an asshole? It’s basic biology.

  51. To echo Adam-Troy’s comments: Harlan is a close friend. Do we disagree on some things? Yes, of course. Can he be an asshole? Yes, of course. So can I. Does Harlan do it with regularity…frankly, no.

    Anyone who knows him enough to be a friend of his knows he has his moments, primarily because he refuses to suffer fools. If Harlan’s been an asshole to you, you might want want to check the mirror before labeling him as such for all eternity. I’ve found, through long association with him, that it’s usually a response to something instead of the widely accepted “Harlan’s a jerk”. He isn’t, unless you deserve it.

    My two cents — an “informed opinion” as it were.

  52. Very interesting thread. Hey, @BarryF, your quote is one of the wisest things I’ve read recently, and I hope you don’t mind if I share it on Facebook (with a linky thing pointing back to this thread for context, of course).

    On a related note, I’m sure I’m not the only one that thought of this scene:

  53. My Wofe once commented, “If you meet more than one asshole a day, you’re probably the asshole.”

  54. Luis M Milan Leal: Thank you and feel free to quote away. I do try to live it. That said I know a handful that just don’t want to believe the maixm, insisting that two assholes are the solution to the problem. Empirical tests demonstrate otherwise. :P

  55. @ Nate: RE “The statement you made is a great example of why I happen to think you are an asshole.” And referring to some of John’s posted material as “manipulative,” “creepy,” and “crass.”

    I’m baffled that anyone would think writing this on someone else’s blog is not inexcusably rude behavior. Is there some burning reason you were incapable of posting in a civil, adult manner that you disagree with some of John’s posting decisions on his blog?

    Do you go into the living rooms of strangers or scant acquaintances and call them “assholes” who engage in “manipulative, creepy, and crass” behavior? If so, do you expect them to enjoy your company, value your opinion, or do anything other than ask you to leave immediately? Do you join people you barely know for dinner and open the discussion by commenting on what manipulative, crass, creepy assholes you think they are?

    What sort of reception did you EXPECT such rude behavior to get on someone else’s blog?

  56. It’s always the mid-rankers who are the assholes.

    I have, at various times in my life, been around the fringes of both competitive international figure skating, and television drama production. Invariably the “big names” were gracious and giving of their time, cooperative, worked hard, showed up on time, and were very polite to fans.

    But the ones who’d had a little bit of success? THOSE were the entitled assholes who’d sneer at wide-eyed little girls who wanted to give them a bouquet of flowers after their free skate. Or completely ignore their co-workers’ kids who were visiting Dad on the set.

    Same with authors. George RR Martin doesn’t have to give the time of day to anyone, yet is as cordial to fans now as when he was a nobody. And then some others… not so much, as we’ve seen the last couple of years.

    We can’t all be charming and witty and talented, but we can at least show up on time and be neutral. And sometimes the people who are all those things will at least let us touch their Olympic medal/Emmy/Hugo. (All of which are very heavy and very shiny; two of which are very pointy.)

  57. A guy called Wilson Mizner managed to put this article (and the one linked) with the greatest of brevity:

    “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down.”

  58. I was a massive jerk/dick/asshole when I was young (I had some reasons for this, but reasons don’t really matter). With “young” extending somewhere into my 30s. I’ve tried to change. I’ve stopped engaging in arguments just because I could, I’ve tried to listen to people a bit more, and not be quite as loud and confrontational.

    It’s a tough thing to do, to change behaviors that have been part of you for decades, but really, it’s the only *civilized* thing to do. “Don’t be a dick” is my first rule in RPGs, and I see no reason that this shouldn’t extend to the real world. If you wouldn’t even tolerate me in a game, why would you put up with me in real life?

    The people who seem to think “being a dick = publicity = money” I think of rather the way you do; maybe it’ll work, for a while, but jeez, what a way to live.

    I’ve found I’m generally happier when I’m NOT in confrontation mode.

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