The American Scholar: Let Us Now Praise Famous A******s
I dream of a world without assholes. We all do, don’t we? You’d have to be an asshole not to. But is it possible? Think in terms of occupations. Doctors are well-known for being assholes. Surgeons even more so. Wall Street masters-of-the-universe: total assholes. Rock stars have a reputation for being rather rectal; great artists and writers also score pretty high on the sphincter-scale. Professional athletes, too, once you get past the spin.
Yet do they have to be? A friend once told me about the husband of a friend of hers. He was in training as a Navy pilot, one of those guys who land planes on the decks of aircraft carriers. Famously brown and puckered, unbearably arrogant, as everybody knows from Top Gun. “Honey,” he used to brag to his wife, “I scored above again on today’s training exercise”—above being the highest possible score. “Sweetie,” she would shoot back, “of course you scored above—I’m sure you all do.” In other words, before they can get you to try to land an F-18 on the deck of a ship in high seas, they have to pump your ego so full of hot air that there’s no living with you anymore. Or get you to administer a potentially lethal drug, or cut someone open, or gamble half a billion dollars on the market. It’s not so much that people like that deserve their overweening arrogance—plenty of others are equally smart or skilled—it’s that they need it to do their jobs.