I quote Confucius, Analects 13.3 (from this online version):
Zi Lu said: 'The ruler of Wei is anticipating your assistance in the administration of his state. What will be your top priority?'
Confucius said, 'There must be a correction of terminology.'
Zi Lu said, 'Are you serious? Why is this so important?'
Confucius said, 'You are really simple, aren't you? A noble man is cautious about jumping to conclusions about that which he does not know.
'If terminology is not corrected, then what is said cannot be followed. If what is said cannot be followed, then work cannot be accomplished. If work cannot be accomplished, then ritual and music cannot be developed. If ritual and music cannot be developed, then criminal punishments will not be appropriate. If criminal punishments are not appropriate, the people cannot make a move. Therefore, the noble man needs to have his terminology applicable to real language, and his speech must accord with his actions. The speech of the noble man cannot be indefinite.'
I am no political leader, in any sense. I fear the wrath that my words may elicit. It is not in my interest to alienate a section of our listenership. But I can no longer remain silent. With heavy heart, I call on each and every one of you who feels the truth of what I have to say here to obey Confucius's directive and call a spade a spade, or rather an asshole "that asshole."
My thought here is far from original. Among the many attempts to comedically take down that asshole during the campaign season, the one that most inspired me was this July 2015 clip from Jordan Klepper on The Daily Show where he identified that asshole as potentially "our first openly Asshole-American President":
While I have found it dismaying that I haven't been hearing this formulation continually as that asshole became a more serious candidate and then was actually elected, I see there's a book by Aaron James, Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump, that there are plenty of images (both photoshopped and not) supporting this image visually, the term seems to be gaining momentum among the commentariat, and even Republican congressmen have explicitly acknowledged that asshole's assholery.
Look, every casual conversation nowadays sooner or later wanders onto the topic of our president. And every time you use his name, it contributes to his power. Even if you're calling him out for his unfitness for his office, you are engaging in cultural and sonic pollution just by saying that asshole's name. Now, an obvious substitute is "He Who Must Not Be Named," but do we really want to imply that we fear that asshole? Contempt and dismissal is a much more appropriate attitude. Yes, we fear what his election says about our culture. We fear for our democracy. We fear that that asshole's actions could lead to nuclear war. And yes, I do slightly fear that anyone who speaks too loudly against that asshole could be subject to an angry tweet that could then bring death threats or worse. In theory, that asshole could sick an FBI detail on a critic, but really, there are just too many of us, so the odds of being the one who might be made an example of are very low.
So there's little need to fear that asshole himself. But wouldn't calling him "that asshole" in every appropriate circumstance (e.g., maybe not around children, though doing so might engender a good civics lesson, so I'll leave the circumstances up to you) further lower our political discourse? I reply: sorry, it's a bit too fucking late for that.
But maybe more importantly, isn't calling him "that asshole" sinking to his level? Interestingly, the fact that that asshole doesn't regularly in his tweets and speeches use terms like "asshole" points out the fact that there are (for the moment at least) actual limits on what that asshole will say. So in calling him "that asshole," I'm actually sinking below his level, or rather I'm using a discourse that he is in effect not allowed to use. Perhaps if enough people call him "that asshole" enough times, then he will be baited to open himself up publicly to using that vocabulary, and we'll be able to quote him and further demoralize his supporters until we can finally join together as a society—right wing and left—to reject this kind of discourse. Cognitive dissonance and the realities of the struggle for power may prevent many right-wingers from actually joining in the effort to eject him from office, but at least after he has become a lame duck in around three (or seven!) years, they will join us in proclaiming, "Never again!"
I don't want to overstate the political power of this small act of nomenclature. Reversal of names is a small act of petty revenge on a system out of our control. Mostly I'm recommending that you call him "that asshole" (without capitalization wherever possible--it's not supposed to be his wrestler name) and use the hashtag #thatasshole as a matter of liberating mental hygiene. Yes, of course we need to acknowledge that he's our president, but we need not glorify him by calling him "The President" or "Mr. President," and we needn't keep supporting his brand by using his name.
There are many alternative name choices, and other strong epithets that have with more or less accuracy been used to describe the man. "That asshole" is one that isn't cute, that his supporters won't be able to turn around and use as a term of praise à la "deplorables" or "nasty woman," and it tastes much the same in the mouth as the man himself. It skates the fine line between swear and not swear, and you'll get a little burst of naughty glee every time you use it not just as an exclamation ("He said that to the grieving widow? What an asshole!") but simply as the dude's name.
Remember: Hashtag #thatasshole. Help our language use become more accurate today!
10/31 addendum: This article has inspired a lot of discussion of the both fun/enlightening and tedious/stomach-churning varieties on our Facebook group. As a result of that, I've started writing some articles on the philosophical issues related to humor, neologisms, etc. Here's the first one.
Oh you’re so righteous and wise!!!
Do you think trump supporters don’t realize everyone hates him already? Only people who already completely agree with you will find this at all worth their time. Lacks sincerity and authenticity.
Read more history, good luck.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Note the keyword “satire.”
Oh I see, so when I tweet #thatasshole about the president it’s just a big joke now that’s funny! I get it now.
Nevermind. I take back what I said.
Theodore Brooks says
I wholeheartedly support Austin’s exultation to study history, it is always and forever applicable. There are just so many arseholes to compare with this particular manifestation of arsehole! I think you will find that this particular arsehole is a rare combination of arsehole and, as Tillerson also rightly identified with scientific precision, a fucking moron. Perhaps contrary to popular belief successful arseholes don’t have to be particularly smart, but this arsehole is truly in a class of his own.
Luke T says
It’s a problem that Trump apologists get oxygen and sustenance from every well-deserved rebuff the president receives. My humble two cents is that Trump’s kryptonite, finally, is possibly irrelevance. So maybe. potentially. hopefully. God willing — Congress, somewhere in a dark and small hour, finds its spine and ends our Imperial Presidency once and for all. They will never have a better excuse to do so, perhaps.
The 19th century is looking a whole lot more appealing right now, that’s for sure. Chester Arthur administration, anyone?
Be sure to remind all the people getting political hating #thatasshole that you don’t actually believe what you wrote. Satire, right? Must be nice to have it both ways and not be able to say what you mean, like Wes said in the Rorty (left, pt 2) podcast, this type of late night “satire” is just decisive. Done in bad faith. Why waste your time writing something you don’t actually want to own? Oh right, it’s only worth your time if the reader already agrees with you. Exactly like I said.
Mark Linsenmayer says
I wrote this because to me, it was funny. I published it because Wes and Dylan said it was funny.
However, there are several actual philosophical issues adjacent to this, which I’ve been documenting on and off today here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/partiallyexaminedlife/permalink/10155845477569660/?comment_id=10155846331124660&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R%22%7D&hc_location=ufi&pnref=story as part of the Facebook group discussion on the post.
So yes, #5 on irony is definitely one of these issues, and yes, I do want to have it both ways. There are plenty of political issues that I feel unambiguously about, but those are too boring for me to write about… I have nothing to add. This seemed fun for me, and I’ve had fun today (well, a pit-in-the-stomach fun, anyway) looking at people’s responses. My question for you would be #1 on the list of issues, which I’ll copy here:
“Are there any comedians you disagree with politically whose (specifically political) jokes you still find very funny? I’m of course not the one to judge whether my article was funny, but Wes Alwan liked it. Is it possible to absolutely disagree with the sentiment politically and still find it funny?”
I was a YUUUUUUGE fan on Colbert in his hay day about 7-8 years ago. I can’t imagine finding his incredible performance nearly as funny and powerful if I didn’t already feel the absurdities he highlighted were indeed absurd.
I think the fact that with a fairly honest (granted I didn’t read thoroughly or all of the text originally) reading of the text one could not detect the “satire,” is because we aren’t presuming the same things about #thatasshole. It’s not strikingly obvious to me that you don’t actually want people to adopt this trend upon reading the post (more obvious now.) And you have admitted you might actually indeed feel this way, you just don’t have to decide, if I interpreted you right.
I guess in this case I’m simply relying on you and what you MEAN sincerely if not exactly what you wrote.
I think it’s much funnier that I read it at face value and described it as lacking “sincerity and authenticity” when that’s exactly what you were purposefully doing.. That’s funny.
To answer your question, No. I now don’t find Colbert nearly as funny, and hardly at all on political matters. Sarah Silverstein and Louis C K are funny to me and they tear into trump. I think that says more about them than me, however. They sincerely despise the man politically/morally and their humor follows that from that, not the other way around.
“In place of my soul is my irony” or something along those lines, right? You get it.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Yes, though I don’t know that I find it as self-corrosive as you do. I don’t actually do “humor” as in “actually funny” so much as playful but obsessive conceptual spitballing. It’s a freeing, artistic-feeling way of being, but not a very marketable skill.
I found the Jordan Klepper thing hit home for me in ways that I can’t quite explain, and I’m fascinated by stuff like the “why won’t he call it Islamic terrorism” and other matters of trying to “tell it like it is” when “it” is so clearly just people’s opinions. I envy guys like Wes and Seth and Sam Harris (I’ve been listening to his podcast and have caught his hysteria about Trump; he talks to a lot of right wingers who denounce Trump as well) their steadfast convictions, while I interpret the philosophical imperative as constantly questioning yourself.
So issuing a “heartfelt plea” of most any sort is necessarily part play-acting for me (I have released whole albums that exemplify that theme), and I think it would be presumptuous of me to try to definitively state how big the “part” is. My suspicion is not that I’m especially self-ignorant, but that other people more readily make up things about themselves and so it’s THEIR firm conviction that must be in bad faith. Or maybe I am just especially weaselly. No idea, really. I’m perfectly firm about loving my family and being devoted to my goals and earthy stuff like that… just not about politics and other abstract stuff.
Thanks for continuing this exchange enough for things to get civil!
Harry Rogers says
Its just so sad that mature people such as present this podcast stoop to childish rants as they do. One would have thought that once one gets to a certain age that history and living life would teach them something but sadly this doesn’t appear to happen with a number of people that subject themselves to the the dogma od left or right.
Simple ideology of “this bad” , “that good”.
In my life I have learnt that nothing in politics or philosophy is so simple to be able to just “hate” or “like”, The complexity of human beings I admire so much from the intense feelings of youth regarding simplistic silly matters and the pseudo academics who structure debate and argument to suit their purpose and for many decades have indoctrinated their pupils with their left or right views.
I can only suggest its just a simple lack of security viz comedians who find personal solace in the abuse and discredit of others. I imagine them with very bitter bile that builds up in their system and they are not resolved until they disperse this vile openly. I can’t imagine any benefit from this as each day passes this bile begins to eat away at any semblance of civility in their makeup.
So be it…. as I don’t expect the bile delivered at President trump and Mrs Clinton to be diminished by my comments. As they of say at the football match:
There are 100,000 people in the grandstand telling the few players on the field how to play the game and pointing out all their errors which none in the grandstand will put one foot on the field!
Interesting. I guess we see humor/authenticity and their value differently.
Then again you mocked bob Dylan’s authenticity on a podcast and I had to rewind to make sure I heard you correctly so that makes sense I suppose.
No problem. thanks for the content
This one is on you Mark–ha, ha:
Stephen Williams says
I find it hard to understand how otherwise intelligent people who spend much of their lives trying to understand the world can at the same time descend into a form of madness. You really need to get over your TDS.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Jay R says
I just use “45” as plenty of others do. To me it’s a nice reminder that there have been plenty before and there will be plenty after.
Mark Linsenmayer says
A much less inflammatory suggestion with possibility for widespread acceptance. Yes! (But not as fun.)
Cari Barnes says
“45” as a nice reminder there will be plenty after, or just the soothing belief of a chicken?
“The mere fact that something has happened a certain number of times causes animals and men to expect that it will happen again. Thus our instincts certainly cause us to believe the sun will rise to- morrow, but we may be in no better a position than the chicken which unexpectedly has its neck wrung. We have therefore to distinguish the fact that past uniformities cause expectations as to the future, from the question whether there is any reasonable ground for giving weight to such expectations after the question of their validity has been raised.” -Bertrand Russell, On Induction.
Jennifer Tejada says
Bleh! Mark you respond to every criticism! I guess that’s a good quality but I certainly hope you don’t take it too seriously. My two cents is that Their comments are about THEIR stuff! I just hate to see you kind of taking it – “fair enough”?! No! It’s not fair enough. Criticise your lack of clarity about who your audience is, not going hard enough on exaggeration or hyperbole – (not the case here – but those seem like legitimate critiques) – but this seems to be “I don’t like what you said” kind of stuff. You guys DO have an audience and you know who we are and what we like and if you’re wise you will always remember that we love this stuff.
The original post was devisive. The comments were at least somewhat constructive. You seem to be a fan of the former.
Jennifer Tejada says
No. I’m just a super fan. You’re probably right about all of it. We all have our thing.
Mary Ricci says
Thank you for saying what I was thinking, Jennifer.
Except I think you’re probably right about all of it.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to join you in your thing.
Jennifer Tejada says
Chris Eyre says
In some parts of the UK, a “trump” is a name for a fart, an exudation of noisome vapour from the rear passage. So when we refer to “President Trump”, we may already be following your advice.
Luke T says
Is this slang, Chris, and do we possibly know when/what it dates to? Or maybe it’s just ephemera that we can enjoy for its current purchase?