The paradox of “assholism”

This is Professor Geoffrey Nunberg’s crude neologism, not ours. Dr Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley, delves into “the moral logic of assholism” in his 2012 book Ascent of the a-word: assholism, the first sixty years. (We spent the better part of yesterday afternoon reading Dr. Nunberg’s quirky tome.) In the words of Dr Nunberg, this moral logic justifies rudeness on one’s part when someone else is rude in turn: “Put simply, you have a right to treat assholes as assholes because the assholes have it coming.” But as the Professor explains in his a-word book, this moral logic poses a paradox or puzzle, for calling someone an “a-hole” is itself an a-hole move, is it not? By way of example, if we were to call the Todd Gurley snitch an “a-hole” (no doubt a deserving epithet in this particular case), we would then be acting like a-holes ourselves. This paradox of contradiction is aptly captured by the familiar expression “two wrongs don’t make a right.” (In Spanish, we would say: “Lo cortés no quita lo valiente.”) Is this really true? Is there a solution to this paradox? (Note: This blog post was revised on 11 October 2014.)

A is for ______.

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