Home / Arts / Books / Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, The First Sixty Years (PublicAffairs), by Geoffrey Nunberg
Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012

Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, The First Sixty Years (PublicAffairs), by Geoffrey Nunberg

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 In Ascent of the A-Word, UC Berkeley’s Geoffrey Nunberg discerns a significant cultural shift. Post-World War II, “phony” was the epithet of choice, but sometime in the ’70s, “asshole” elbowed it aside. Nunberg insists that the move “reflected a sharp shift in moral focus.” Phoniness is a behavior with many sources, from insecurity to snobbery, and can manifest itself quietly; assholism stems from an amped-up ego that respects no boundaries. Assholes proliferate online, where they love to comment on things they know nothing about, and dominate our politics. And it’s getting worse, Nunberg worries, judging from the behavior of Tea Baggers at the GOP presidential debate—you know, the ones who shouted “Yeah!” to the idea that the uninsured should die.

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