Perhaps controversially, James also questions the belief that assholes are always men. Received opinion has it that a female who betrays asshole qualities is, by simple linguistic convention, referred to as a ‘bitch’. Not so – he cites as an example the rabid right-wing ‘commentator’, the spittle-flecked horror Ann Coulter. The difference? ‘The bitch betrays you behind your back. The asshole fails to recognize [your justifiable complaints] to your face.’ The thrust of James’s thesis is timely. We live under what he terms asshole capitalism: a proposition with which few would argue. The entitlement, the deafness, the ruinous depradations of the group we refer to, in shorthand, as ‘the bankers’ are all too visible; the annulment of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood is only one tiny cough of disapproval, and I bet Goodwin, in his inner asshole, feels affronted and hard done by. It’s not new, and it’s not confined to the powerful. James was moved to draw up his theory by the sight of asshole surfers who screw things up for everyone else because they feel entitled to. And the Romans had no shortage of assholes, as anyone who has read Juvenal, Martial, Petronius or Horace will know.
more from Michael Bywater at Literary Review here.