A philosophy professor has dug into the nature of jerks—or “jerkitude”—in an essay at Aeon, and if you find yourself nodding along because you are positively surrounded by jerks every day, well, we’ve got some bad news for you: You’re probably a jerk. So goes the theory of Eric Schwitzgebel of the University of California, Riverside. Genuine jerks, he explains, typically have a tough time realizing they are jerks. If they try to assess themselves, they can rationalize all their jerky behavior as warranted against the idiots of the world. If they ask another person, and that person says yes, the opinion will be dismissed because that person is clearly one of those idiots. Therefore, the most reliable way to tell if you’re a jerk is to look around: “Are you surrounded by fools, by boring nonentities, by faceless masses and foes and suckers and, indeed, jerks?”
If the answer is yes, then it’s a safe bet you’re the jerk. This being an essay from an academic, it includes a precise definition of jerkdom: “The jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers.” Empathy is not a strong point, in contrast to the jerk’s polar opposite, the “sweetheart.” Another characteristic: Jerks unleash their jerkdom on those below them, not above—the secretary instead of the CEO. The good news is that Schwitzgebel thinks “diamond-grade” jerks are rare. “We’re all somewhere in the middle,” he writes. We can recognize the “jerk’s vision” because it is also our own vision. “But, thankfully, only sometimes.” Click for the full column.