Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg writes a gripping, thought-provoking and entertaining analysis of assholes and assholism in Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years.
In his book he shares the history of the word and its military origins, explains the word’s social function, and makes the distinction between assholes and other unsavory types of people.
Of particular interest is where he discusses civility, arguing that there aren’t more assholes today than in the past, but simply more places they rear their heads:
The areas where people see civility breaking down tend to be ones that are remote from the face-to-face interactions of everyday life, like politics, the media, and the Internet [emphasis added]….
This isn’t an age of assholes – or at least there are no more of them walking the earth than there used to be back when they went by other designations. But it’s fair to call it the age of assholism, one that has crated a host of new occasions for acting like assholes and new ways of performing assholism, particularly among strangers and in public life.