August 29, 2004

Being an ass.

A very close friend of mine has a fellow graduate student who is, plainly, a bitch. She cuts people down whenever she gets the chance, usually in front of professors. She openly says, "Oh, I wish I were you," outloud to people. She calls people lazy and passes judgment on who goes to which meetings. She's just entirely unpleasant, disagreeable and bad-mannered. Two minutes spent with this young lady shows, as my friend correctly points out, that such nastiness comes from this person's insecurity. There is another person with whom I was in a graduate program once who was equally unpleasant. He was the kind of person who would say the most obvious things in a seminar with the air of making the most immediate connection between Heraclitus and Taoism out to be the most profound thing ever uttered in a class on ancient Greek epistemology. He would loudly retrieve stinking food from a greasy bag in a class that was not so long that one needed to take one's meals in the middle of a seminar. He could not have a regular conversation, even with the unfortunate suckers who were his friends. He was, in short, an ass, an arrogant ass. So, as the new graduate students arrive in my department,* I asked my office-mates what characteristic/world-view makes a person more of an ass: insecurity or arrogance. I think that insecurity does, because it introduces a level of pettiness/nastiness/meanness to the mix. Arrogant people might cut one down in class because they feel that such a person is ignorant and ought to study more. The insecure person, in my experience, is out for blood. The lurid desire to make another person "less" is, in my estimation, far worse than exposing another person as already being "less." An arrogant person might mutter to a person in front of a seminar, "Perhaps, my friend, you fail to understand the importance of Scheler's notion on suffering because you need to go back and re-read his Formalism." It seems so much more cruel to say, "See, you don't know your Scheler, either." I can't quite say why I feel that insecurity is more likely to make one behave as an ass. Sure, I can be arrogant sometimes, and perhaps I thereby sympathize with arrogant asses. (I would never cut down a colleague in private, let alone in a room full of people, however.) Maybe it is a case of, "Oh, well, he's an ass, all right. But at least he knows what he's talking about." Who knows? Asking which is worse is not asking a very pragmatik question, is it? *[Most of whom are perfectly nice folks, really. I haven't actually met a new ass yet this year:)]


Siona said...

I used to be an incredibly insecure human being. Insecurity, though, can manifest itself in different ways: I'm sure you know insecure types who go out of their way in the opposite direction, who are irritatingly eager-to-please and desperate to be liked.

It's a little late for me to write anything structured here, so I'll just keep rambling. First of all, no one is "less" than anyone else, so the insecure person (your conception of her), in trying to cut someone down and force them to be "less," is behaving just as wrong-headedly as the arrogant person who just assumes, prima facie, the "less-ness" of his companions. They're both flat-out wrong. And I think that the fact that they so misunderstand the world/relationships points to the same fundamental problem. I do not believe the arrogant person truly believes that he is that much better than everyone else, and more so than I believe that the insecure person really feels she has accomplished anything with her biting nastiness. Both of them, at some level, suffer from an emptiness, and feel the need to adopt these behaviors or strategies in order to cope with whatever it is in them that's given them such a false picture of the world.

I'm not sure that I'm making sense. Perhaps what I mean to say is that, at heart, there is no real difference between the two, and that some arrogant people can come across as greater asses than their insecure peers, and vice versa. It has far more to do with each individual's /level/ of inner illness than it does the manifestation of this deficiency.

At any rate, I don't think it matters that much. Both types of people are incredibly lonely, and this, not their behavior, is what's important.

Pragmatik said...

True, very true:)

Sal said...

yeah, there's none so vicious as those who perceive themselves as weak.