On the Importance of Being an Asshole

After deciding one day not to be such an asshole I found myself with a lot more time on my hands. I had spent all my life being told, “If you weren’t such an asshole things would be a lot better around here.” It was something I’d heard over and over again.

In the end, I was surprised how untrue that really was. In fact, it turned out to be the opposite altogether.

I wasn’t an asshole for less than a week and I could already see a difference. My wife, normally a very kind person willing to do anything for anyone, and to whom I was an indescribable asshole, began to be less accommodating and helpful to others.

She didn’t seem to care anymore and began to complain about having to always do stuff for other people and soon refused to help anyone with anything at all.

My son, an academic standout, was expelled for berating a teacher in class. And my daughter, who always cheerfully did what was asked of her, had become surly and argumentative. I had expected to hear, “Hey Dad, thanks for not being such an asshole,” but what I got was nothing.

No one was paying any attention to me at all. Not only were they not going out of their way to avoid me, they weren’t even acknowledging my presence. They ignored my kind words and when I tried to be supportive and understanding they turned their backs and walked off as if I wasn’t even there at all.

At work it was worse. I had always gone out of my way to be an asshole there. A fellow I worked with had lost his leg in some war or another. I liked to put my foot out and trip him when he walked by.

I always laughed when he hit the concrete floor with that unmistakable thud. When he sat at his machine, he detached his prosthesis because it hurt too much if he wore it all day.

I loved squeezing an industrial strength adhesive into the knee joint where it attached to what was left of his leg and then watch him try to straight-leg it out to the parking lot after quitting time.

When he drove off he had to stick his head out the side window because he couldn’t bend his leg. It was hilarious.

The other members of my crew were just as much fun. Finding their sore spots and then goading them right to the boiling point was my specialty.

The wife of the man who ran the drill press had undergone chemotherapy and was completely bald. I bought her one of those tight swimmer’s caps covered in suction cups, you can find them in any gag shop, and I told the guy now he could shove his old lady’s head right up against the tile in the shower so she wouldn’t fall down. That way he didn’t have to waste his time keeping an eye on her and enjoy his life more.

I laughed when he threw the cap down on the lunch table and huffed off.

My team was responsible for the highest throughput of any other group in the factory. Year after year we won all the awards. No one could figure out why we were so successful. They would take a crew member here and there and assign them to other groups trying to increase productivity factory wide.

It made no difference at all. Everyone had a turn except me (which, as it turned out was a big mistake). My group still garnered every award and bonus in the whole place no matter who was working with me.

But after I stopped being an asshole our productivity tanked. The natural cooperation thinned and then disappeared altogether. My work mates began to squabble and refused to help each other at all.

The man who operated the stamper, a huge machine that repeatedly slams a massive die into a thick block of metal punching out car bumpers, had gotten his shop bibs stuck in the workings and screamed out for help. All’s he got back was, “Ah, go fuck yourself.”

The entire shop closed for the day to clean up the mess.

And my life began to disintegrate. My daughter ran off and my son started beating up kids who got higher test scores than he did. He left school altogether. My wife quit her job and spent her days over at my neighbor’s house waiting on the front porch for him and his wife to get home from work so they could do whatever they did after locking the door and drawing the curtains. Then for reasons unknown I got fired.

All of this because I stopped being an asshole? It was the only thing I could think of that had changed.

Now I was alone, penniless and contemplating the unthinkable. In a few days the bank was going to take my home and I would be forced to pick through garbage and sleep under dirty bridges. I needed help fast.

I don’t know how and I can only guess at why.

But it happened while I was sitting alone in my kitchen, now dark and cluttered with dirty dishes and pots caked with whatever had been cooked in them months ago.

The only thing I can think of was that the God I didn’t believe in must be pretty damn smart. I suppose He would have to be since He doesn’t exist and still manages to be all-knowing. That’s the only way any of what happened next could make any sense.

Have you ever just said a name to yourself out of nowhere? Like Lucretia Borgia or Mad Man Markham? Well, that’s what happened. At first it sounded like, “burning mandibles”. That made no sense. The only mandible I knew was the one that got wedged in the works of the stamping machine after that guy got his head squished.

It was unclear what I was saying to myself. I tried to listen closer, forcing myself to pay attention to me. It wasn’t burning mandibles, it was Bernard Mandeville. Bernard Mandeville? Who the fuck was that? I had no idea but wanted to find out who he was and what he had to do with me. I was amazed when I did.

This man had somehow anticipated my dilemma and solved it way back in 1705. How the hell did he know I was going to stop being an asshole and make a mess of everything 300 years later? And why did I say his name to myself at just this time? Some things have no answers which is only fair because other things have no questions. But either way Bernard Mandeville supplied the solution when I needed it most.

At first I took Bernard for an apiologist because he talked a lot about bees misbehaving in the hive. Greedy, selfish and self-centered. But his real treatise soon became quite clear: Bad people make good things happen.

My recent experience would certainly prove him dead right. He was convinced a certain number of assholes in the world was crucial. Nothing good could ever come about without people like me. We bring out the best in those around us because they strive not to be like us. Without us they become us. Without us they have no reason to be better than us. We assholes keep them kind, caring, happy and productive.

That put me in an unflattering but indispensable light. I was important. I was the one bringing about all the goodness and happiness in the world. I should never have changed. Wanting to be a better person was a big mistake. I should never have let it happen. Wanting to feel better about myself made everyone else around me feel worse about themselves. Friends, family and co-workers all suffered for my selfishness. My attempt at goodness left behind nothing but broken lives and miserable people.

So, for everyone’s sake, if you’re an asshole please stay that way. Don’t ruin it for everyone else.


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