Your last sentence seem to be central to the 'benefits' of being an asshole: it only works well in a closed system.
Originally Posted by Amargith
It doesn't work out of these closed systems because "nice people" (or whatever you want to call people who aren't assholes) eventually walk away if they have the opportunity, leaving the assholes to assert their supreme assholery over the other assholes who stick around.
The results Faris observed also only work in what he calls “compressed places,” worlds that are small enough for you to know the other actors and that lack formal hierarchies. These are places where people are stuck with each other—high schools, summer camps, retirement communities, book clubs...
There is a blog maintained by an Australian National University academic called The Thesis Whisperer, and in this blog there is a post that caught my attention because it relates more to experiences in the workplace than the classroom. "Academic assholes and the circle of niceness" touches on how academics can "get ahead" by being assholes to their peers because even though assholes are less likeable their negative remarks make them seem cleverer than others, and being cleverer than others is the cultural capital in which academics deal.
The Thesis Whisperer references a book, "The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't" by Stanford professor Robert Sutton, writing,
...asshole behaviour is contagious. He argues that it’s easy for asshole behaviour to become normalised in the workplace because, most of the time, the assholes are not called to account. So it’s possible that many academics are acting like assholes without even being aware of it.
How does it happen? The budding asshole has learned, perhaps subconsciously, that other people interrupt them less if they use stronger language. They get attention: more air time in panel discussions and at conferences. Other budding assholes will watch strong language being used and then imitate the behaviour. No one publicly objects to the language being used, even if the student is clearly upset, and nasty behaviour gets reinforced. As time goes on the culture progressively becomes more poisonous and gets transmitted to the students. Students who are upset by the behaviour of academic assholes are often counselled, often by their peers, that 'this is how things are done around here'. Those who refuse to accept the culture are made to feel abnormal because, in a literal sense, they are—if being normal is to be an asshole.
I found the same to be true of my previous workplace, where being an asshole was the way business was done. It was never, ever questioned because the biggest assholes were the ones running the show, and the subordinates who acted like assholes were clearly favoured. It was reinforced and self-perpetuating. But then it wasn't a closed system, so I quit. I quit almost three years ago and I deeply regret not having quit earlier. (It's kind of funny now, looking back. I have been reminded of just how smart it was to get the hell out of there after having bumped into a few of my former employers recently; one said hello and shook my hand (the one guy that I didn't mind working with), one said hello then walked away and didn't speak to me the rest of the night, and another ignored me entirely when I said hello as he passed by. It wasn't as though he didn't hear me or thought the 'hello' was for someone else: I called him by name and he acted as though I wasn't even there. What a douche. )
One of the premises of Sutton's book (which I haven't actually read in its entirety) is that from a cold, purely objective point of view a business full of assholes faces certain ruin unless the assholes are reformed, isolated or weeded out. The productivity of other employees begins to plummet and those who won't work with the assholes eventually quit, and clients take their business elsewhere (even as far as out of spite). It goes to show that in an "open system" being an asshole doesn't necessarily entail any tangible benefits in the long run.
Your question, "What is the merit of an individual actually measured in?", brings a smaller scale question to my mind: who gives a fuck about being prom king/queen?
Originally Posted by Misty
I guess Faris needed to stake out some sort of empirical measurement of social 'eliteness' but in the grand scheme of things his criteria are so petty and trivial it's comical. It seems very Americentric and I doubt that it would hold true outside of the United States. High school customs like 'prom' seem to carry much more importance in the US than they do elsewhere.