On Classifying Assholes

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

For years, I double-dipped the chip. At every party I went to.
But then again, I came from a family that routinely traded bites at every meal, and I was not the most conducive to picking up on social cues, and I have a constitution like a horse where I can eat a sandwich that’s been sitting on the counter for three days and have zero ill effects.
It was not until that Infamous Seinfeld Episode where George gets into a fight with his girlfriend’s brother that I realized, reluctantly, that I was in fact that asshole.
And my enlightenment did not come flaring on at once like a firework, either. I had discussions with friends. They told me it was rude, and I dismissed them going, “Nah, it couldn’t be. Seinfeld overreacts to things. It’s comedy!”  I watched people at parties, monitoring the dip bowl out of the corner of my eye, not believing that people would care about such a thing.
Slowly, I came around. And by the time Mythbusters disproved the double-dipping theory from a semi-scientific standpoint, I’d come to realize that even if it might not necessarily be harmful, it was the sort of thing that people fucking hated and maybe I shouldn’t do it.
That ignorance did not somehow erase my asshole nature over the years of double-dipping.  I was an asshole at parties, and no doubt grossed out lots of people, and possibly even gave a few sensitive people food poisoning, I dunno.  Don’t like to think about that much.
But that ignorance (and, ultimately, resistance) did not remove the fact that I was doing asshole things, and needed to stop.  I felt justified in what I was doing for a bit, in the fact that I felt people were oversensitive – but this stemmed from the fact that at the time, I frequently felt that I could argue people out of their feelings, where adding enough confrontation to an uncomfortable event would somehow make people come away thinking well of me.
…Which was another asshole thing I did.
Maybe double-dipping the chip isn’t such an awful thing, in the scheme of life. On the other hand, I balance that fussiness against the ease of me not double-dipping the chip.  If someone kicked up a fuss about, say, the disgusting nature of using forks to eat food, I’d look at a lifetime of eating spaghetti with chopsticks and go Nah, you be you.
But double-dipping the chip? I can get by snapping my larger potato chips in half. It’s a small price to pay to not be an asshole.
Now, you may think the point of this essay is a heartwarming sentiment where I tell you really, isn’t political correctness like double-dipping the chip?  And though I actually believe that, this essay’s about something else:
Classifying assholes.
There’s a lot of resistance in the community to classifying assholes, because there’s this sense if you do then you excuse asshole behavior.  But the truth is, I was a correctable asshole.  (At least when it came to double-dipping.)  I acted out of ignorance, and when I dismissed other people’s opinions on the matter it was because I came from such a different background that I couldn’t initially believe this was an actual concern a large number of people held.
Eventually, I came to realize that even if it didn’t bother me personally, it did distress lots of others.  So I changed my behavior.
Yet there are other assholes who won’t change their behavior, no matter how much evidence they gather that this is, in fact, A Thing.  They’ll in fact take some dim pride from the idea that they’re making A Stand against some insane fussiness – or they’re just selfish jerks who like the taste of the double-dip.
(Or – even worse – they’ll double-dip when they think no one’s looking.)
Anyway, the point is that people really fucking hate classifying assholes, because in some ways it’s a lot easier to believe that an asshole is a lifelong status – you’re born one, and once you’ve revealed yourself as one, you’ll remainan asshole until the day you die.  If someone did an asshole thing, fuck them, brand them, and expel them.
Yet some assholes can, in fact, change, and become not-assholes.
This argument frequently gets slurred into “Well, you want to excuse asshole behavior!  You want to keep assholes around!”  And no.  It’s entirely  legitimate to expel all sorts of assholes.  Regardless of my reasons for double-dipping the chip, it would have been a very wise decision to keep me out of your fancy dinner party to impress your boss.  And depending on the flagrancy of the circumstance, if you held a party for a bunch of immunodeficient people, it would be an equally wise move not to invite Ferrett The Double-Dipper, for their fear that I might now just double-dip in secret would kind of ruin the party for them.
Regardless of the move, sometimes you bar assholes, and sometimes you bar them for life.  This is rational behavior.  Far better to chuck one jerk out than to have twenty people cringing and waiting for the double-dip-hammer to fall.
Yet what happens is that people take that logic and go, “Well, we’re barring assholes because they’re going to be assholes forever.”  Which is not true.  You’re barring people because they have a history of distressing and/or hurting other people’s feelings, and perhaps they have changed, but you are no longer willing to put you and your friends at the risk of discovering that in fact they haven’t.
Which is a more nuanced position, but it’s also truer.  Sometimes, people learn from their mistakes. Even if they fight that initial wave of feedback.
But sometimes people don’t learn from their mistakes, and you only discover that after you’ve put other people in the line of asshole fire.  So you take the more protective approach, and that’s good.
This is all a fancy way of saying this: it is possible to both allow for the possibility of change, and to also be unwilling to take the risk of discovering whether this supposed reform is genuine.  I think you can say, “Maybe they’re different now,” and even not be surprised in the least when you hear this person has since gone to numerous parties and didn’t double-dip at all, and still go, “They have burned their bridges here.”
I think both extremes of that position are harmful.  I think branding someone a double-dipping demon for life actually suppresses the potential for change, as it’s kind of like criminals when they get out of lockup: if everyone treats you like you’re gonna steal their shit, then eventually you just give up trying to improve yourself.
Yet I’m also unwilling to tell people, “No, man, you should feel entirely comfortable letting my friend Dave The Former Drug-Addicted Kleptomaniac stay at your apartment next to your freshly-purchased big screen television!”  Even if Dave does nothing, it’s hard to sleep easy at night knowing that your television might be walking out the door. Every bump startles you wide awake.  Why would I want you to feel that way?
Yet maybe someone can sleep well at night, and I can allow them to take that chance. Maybe Dave has actually improved. Maybe he can start over again someplace else.
Dave’s gotta live with his sins, now, though, and there’s some places that won’t allow him back.  But that doesn’t mean he’s an asshole now, and it doesn’t mean the places that allow him in are necessarily harboring criminals.  It means you don’t know because you don’t want to find out, and good for you.  I can support both Dave’s potential improvement and your safety, and there’s no contradiction.
In conclusion: I really don’t double-dip the chip any more. But I wouldn’t blame you if I caught you watching me closely.  The best I can offer is apologies and a string of unbroken non-double-dipping for the last decade or so.
And that may be the first and last instance of an episode of Seinfeld actually teaching someone how to be a kinder person.

1 Comment

  1. EMoon
    Mar 20, 2016

    Makes good sense. Some of us learn faster, and some learn slower, and exposure to a new culture gives us new opportunities for assholery, intended or not. We’re not owed second/third/fortieth chances to prove we learned, nor do we owe everyone a second/third/fortieth chance for all assholery errors.
    But not recognizing that (some) people do learn (some things, sometimes) means going through life accumulating a long list of people we no longer admit as fully viable humans. Which isn’t good either. Demanding perfection of everyone else is a good way not to recognize one’s own errors.

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.