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  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Default The Social Benefits of Being a Total A-hole

    The Social Benefits of Being a Total Asshole
    NICHOLAS HUNE-BROWN
    JANUARY 30, 2014
    Hazlitt

    ***

    In “Aggression, Exclusivity, and Status Attainment in Interpersonal Networks,” a study published in the journal Social Forces, sociologist Robert Faris argues that, contrary to popular opinion, acting like an asshole isn’t a problem in need of a solution—it’s a strategy that can help you clamber into the elite.

    Faris analyzed a study called “The Context of Adolescent Substance Use”that examined all public school students in grades 6-8 from three North Carolina counties, following them from the spring of 2002 until the fall of 2005. The study asked detailed questions about students’ friendships and ambitions. It also asked them to name classmates who had picked on them, or classmates they’d picked on, thus capturing a rough map of teenage aggression.

    In order to determine who the schools’ “elite” were, Faris scoured old yearbooks, plucking out kids who had been part of the “homecoming court,” prom royalty, or were a “notable”—voted girl with “prettiest eyes,” “biggest flirt,” “most likely to succeed,” etc. He then defined the next highest status category as “friend of the elite”—someone who the elite had mentioned as a friend. The students in the next tier, cruelly named the “hangers-on,” were those who had named a member of the elite as a friend but hadn’t received a friendship nomination back.

    In all, the elites represented 5% of the schools, their friends and hangers-on 14%, with the rest of the benighted 81% struggling to break into the top tier. While this social elite was exclusive, it wasn’t a closed system. Over the year, kids moved in and out of the top tier. Faris’s question was simple: what is the best strategy to rise through the ranks?

    The sociologist found that being connected to more students actually decreased the likelihood of becoming an elite. Kids who “bridge otherwise distant peers” were far more likely to enhance their social status, but simply having a bunch of friends who all had their own collection of friends was no way to become prom queen. “Elite status is maintained through selectivity, not connectivity, and by denying rather than accumulating relationships,” he writes.

    He also found that aggression was a useful tactic. Violence was still seen as antisocial and undesirable, but “reputational aggression”—the teasing, rumour-mongering, gossiping, ostracism, and other non-physical means through which high-school kids ruin one another’s teenage years—actually doubled the chances of a student becoming a friend of the elite, particularly if the aggressor attacked a high-status individual or someone who was close to them socially (your friends, of course, are your biggest adversaries). Victims of aggression, meanwhile, were half as likely as regular kids to join the elite or second tier. Being an asshole enhances your social status at the expense of your victim.

    There’s something vaguely discomfiting about reading any sociological study of friendship—the subtle intricacies of high school snubs and cruelties rendered in cold, clinical prose. Faris’ study also feels strangely primitive, in an ‘80s movie way, as if becoming friends with the homecoming queen is the ultimate aim of all high schoolers. It’s impossible not to feel like the researcher must be working through his own teenage issues, running multinomial logistic regression models when he could just be watching Mean Girls.

    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, and, one could argue, the highest strata of pop stardom.

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  2. #2
    Senior Member captain curmudgeon's Avatar
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    Interesting!
    Jarlaxle: fact checking this thread makes me want to go all INFP on my wrists

    "I'm in competition with myself and I'm losing."
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  3. #3
    Don't pet me. JAVO's Avatar
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    Bill Clinton was Leno's top 'Tonight' target

    Jay Leno's top target during his two-decade tenure as NBC's "Tonight" show host was Bill Clinton.

    The comic has cracked a total of 4,607 jokes at the expense of the former president.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/...arget-22364396

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    Senior Member zago's Avatar
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    Depressing.

    I have noticed a lot of the aggression dynamic at this forum and INTPc. Reputational aggression happens and is not discouraged.

    48 Laws of Power is true. Wish I had the willpower to implement it.

  5. #5
    The High Priestess Amargith's Avatar
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    Sounds like my old high school. And yeah, it was hell when you refused to play ball and were used as a scapegoat and victim. As an adult, I have had the fortune and the freedom to find groups where this kind of behaviour isn't encouraged, on the contrary. Thank god for being an adult and people growing out of that kind of behaviour. And for those that don't to congregate in specific environments which I can thankfully avoid.
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  6. #6
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    Brings up some larger-scale questions in my mind.

    What is the merit of an individual actually measured in? Objectively defineable, or not? Does it have anything to do with social status or not? Valid idea or not? All people equal, or not? How real is inner merit that isn't reflected in the objective (could be social, could be otherwise tangible) field? Very curious.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Hypatia's Avatar
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    I know you all, and will awhile uphold
    The unyoked humor of your idleness.
    Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
    Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
    To smother up his beauty from the world,
    That, when he please again to be himself,
    Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
    By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
    Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

    - Henry IV, Pt. 1

  8. #8
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Misty View Post
    Brings up some larger-scale questions in my mind.

    What is the merit of an individual actually measured in? Objectively defineable, or not? Does it have anything to do with social status or not? Valid idea or not? All people equal, or not? How real is inner merit that isn't reflected in the objective (could be social, could be otherwise tangible) field? Very curious.
    Yes, this is an interesting question.

    While most of us are outer directed, some of us are inner directed.

    So most of us are directed by social status, but for few of us, our inner world is as real as the outer world.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amargith View Post
    Sounds like my old high school. And yeah, it was hell when you refused to play ball and were used as a scapegoat and victim. As an adult, I have had the fortune and the freedom to find groups where this kind of behaviour isn't encouraged, on the contrary. Thank god for being an adult and people growing out of that kind of behaviour. And for those that don't to congregate in specific environments which I can thankfully avoid.
    Your last sentence seem to be central to the 'benefits' of being an asshole: it only works well in a closed system.

    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...
    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.

    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.


    Quote Originally Posted by Misty View Post
    Brings up some larger-scale questions in my mind.

    What is the merit of an individual actually measured in? Objectively defineable, or not? Does it have anything to do with social status or not? Valid idea or not? All people equal, or not? How real is inner merit that isn't reflected in the objective (could be social, could be otherwise tangible) field? Very curious.
    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?

    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.
    Last edited by 93JC; 02-05-2014 at 01:09 PM.

  10. #10
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    Being a total asshole isn't beneficial.

    The question is how much of an asshole to be, and whether that changes depending on who you are hanging out with.

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