Assholes Cover Image
Buy now


In a World of Assholes - an Essay, 1998, by John York

I don’t think many people would be inclined to disagree with me if I claimed the world to be full of assholes. I’m not talking about the physiological mechanism for passing bodily waste. Nor am I referring to those embarrassing moments we all have once in a while when we have our head up our ass and do something stupid enough to annoy others.

Based on my personal observations, backed by numerous examples of empirical evidence found in the news each and every day, I would argue that approximately half the world’s population are bona fide assholes. I think most of the people around the world would agree with that estimate. 

If you're not an asshole yourself, at least normally, you already know that about half the people you run into are.  Incredibly, the people who are actual, full time, bone fide, genetically-born assholes don’t know, or won’t admit, that they're assholes, and, ironically, they typically think everybody else is an asshole.  So, one way or the other, we are essentially surrounded by assholes.

So, how can you tell which people are the real assholes?  Well, let’s be clear: it’s not just the archetype assholes, the people who register a 10 on the asshole meter.  It’s not just the people who swindle you out of your money or sell you products that turn out to be crap, or the habitual liars, or the cheats, or corrupt officials.  A total asshole, like the person who takes up two parking spaces in a crowded parking lot, the guy who cuts in front of your wife as you open a door for her at a restaurant, the person who won’t turn their phone off in a theater, the guy at the Post Office drive-up mailbox who decides to put the stamps on his letters there at the box, the person who tailgates you and lays on the horn, then flips you off because you had the audacity to slow down and change lanes (using your turn signal) 100 feet in front of them, the person who makes fun of your clothes, the boss who belittles you in front of others — these are the genetically predisposed assholes. The trait is embedded in their DNA.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure most of you can easily fill encyclopedic volumes of your own experiences with everyday assholes, the people who blatantly ignore social norms and good manners.  They are the takers, the bullies, the dishonest, the self-centered, and selfish people who make life less peaceful and harmonious than it should be.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to get through a day without running into an asshole. They know how to find you on the phone, in email and texts, and on Facebook. Hell, you might even live with one!

Despite popular belief, assholes are not confined to any one group.  Nay, nay.  You can be a government worker or work in the private sector and be an asshole.  You can be a cop, a fireman, a priest, a teacher, a plumber, a mechanic, an office worker or anything else, and be an asshole.  You can be young or old, male or female, any religion, any race, any nationality, any political persuasion, and be an asshole. 

Oh sure, it may seem like there are more political assholes than those in other groups, but those people will point out that’s only because the assholes in the press unfairly characterize them that way.  And sure, those of us from the United States know that it’s mostly people from other countries (pick one) who are the assholes, but, of course, the people in those countries are thinking the same about us Americans.  The point is, if you are alive and living on this planet, you are surrounded by assholes.

For the most part, those of us who are not assholes tolerate all these people who are.  Of course, we get upset and angry, but we usually just suck it up and shake it off.  We might complain to our friends or family, which is natural because an encounter with an asshole often upsets our entire day, and we need to vent about it. 

As unbelievable as it may seem, there is a way to fight asshole-ism.  It’s true, but not easy.  In order to effectively combat asshole-ism, you must learn the ways of an asshole and actually become one yourself.  I know, this sounds contradictory, even radical, but we’re dealing with a radical situation here.  It’s a little like martial arts.  You must learn about the essence of the asshole-ism and use that force to your advantage.

You see, when you are confronted by an asshole, you must be an asshole in order to combat and deflect the evil they inflict.  Think of this as being a little like “The Force” versus “The Dark Side” from Star Wars — there are significant dangers involved.  You must learn the ways of an asshole and use their powers of asshole-ism against them, BUT, you must not actually let yourself become a full-fledged asshole.

The best way to describe this is to relate one of my own personal experiences.  Back in 1992, after a difficult day at the office fending off assholes, I stood on my back porch in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a large glass of Jack Daniels.  I was going through my usual process of fuming, reliving the events, and saying to myself, “I should have ripped that asshole’s head off and shit down his neck…” (this is a colorful metaphor I learned during my military service, one that was often directed toward me by assholes who happened to be my superiors).   While, this type of post-asshole therapy usually works, on this particular day it did not. 

As the evening dragged on, I experienced an epiphany.  What would happen if I behaved the same way as an asshole did when confronted by an asshole?  Could I even bring myself to act like one?  As the Jack Daniels coursed through my veins, my resolve strengthened. 

The very next day I got my first opportunity to put my theory to the test.  Terry Bluckworth was the CEO of the company where I worked at that time.  He loved to read books on self-improvement and new management techniques.  It became an inside joke throughout the company that the management style of our management team would change about every 6 to 8 weeks to reflect the methods of the latest book Bluckworth had been studying. 

Mr. Bluckworth was a very assertive man by nature, and he loved to bully his management staff.  It had come to my attention through the back channels of management that he'd been reading a book which encouraged managers to keep subordinates “off balance”.  One of the recommended techniques involved standing physically close to the other person when issuing directions, essentially invading their personal space.  This ostensibly  put them off balance allowing you could assert a particular fiat more effectively.

Mr. Bluckworth called me to his office that afternoon. my job at that time was Director of Product Management. As I entered the room, he got up from behind his desk and walked up to me, standing approximately 6 inches from my face.  He began criticizing one of my projects, asserting that he thought I could manage it more efficiently and accelerate the projected completion date.  I found his body language extremely annoying and a blatant act of asshole-ism.  I steeled myself and retaliated.

I put my finger on his chest and said in my most affected asshole-ish voice, “Larry, if you don’t get out of my face, I’m going to kick your ass, right now, right here in this room.”  He immediately stepped back with alarm with an embarrassed look on his face.  He told me about the book, and that he was trying it out.  I told him that the technique pissed me off and made him look like an asshole. 

We were on much better terms after that.  Really. The fact that, at that time in my life, I was a six foot two, 220-pound bodybuilder may have contributed some additional emphasis behind the threat to kick his ass, but the point is — I put some “asshole” on him, and he changed his behavior — at least toward me.  I felt like Spiderman must have felt when he first discovered that he had spidey powers!

Now, of course, you have to use some common sense when applying this counter-asshole stuff.  I mean there are professional assholes out there – pathological monsters who will kill you or inflict serious bodily harm if you try to out asshole them.  You should only use this “good asshole” technique on the run-of-the-mill assholes.  Don’t try to out asshole somebody who is exhibiting road rage, for example.  You’re likely to get run off the road and/or shot.

So, I say go out there and give it a try.  The next time you go to the express lane at the grocery store, and there’s somebody just ahead of you with a cart half full of groceries and they have their checkbook in their hand, even though the sign clearly says, “15 items or less, no checks”, you say to them, “Hey asshole!  Can’t you read?  This is an express lane.”  Then, yell at the checker, “Why the hell did you let this moron use this lane?  Now all your customers with small orders have to stand here and wait for this asshole.”

Sure, you’re going to feel like an asshole, and everybody in the store is probably going to think you're an asshole, but the real asshole is going to get a piece of your mind right there, in front of God and everybody.  They’ll either feel like a jerk, and everybody else will be secretly agreeing with you, or they will meet you outside and kick the shit out of you.  But you’ll be able to go home, head held high, and tell all your friends and family, “I was an asshole today, and I really told some other asshole off.” Oh yeah, it will feel good to have taken a stand. You may suffer a few bruises from time to time, but that’s just part of the deal. Pour yourself a glass of Jack Daniels and feel proud that you have become a warrior for the good of mankind.

Footnote: This anti-asshole method only works if you’re not already a full-fledged asshole. If you are a bone fide asshole, acting like an asshole – you’re just an asshole.

Asshole Coin pictured above

If you'd like to have your very own asshole coin like the one pictured in this article, you can obtain one at this website.

You never know when you'll run into someone who deserves to be awarded this token of your disdain.

Ascent of the A-Word

There is a very interesting and readable book about the assholism, titled Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First 60 Years, by Geoffrey Nunberg. This book is a much more serious consideration of the word and the behavior than my article. You can find it on Amazon Books at