My theory of the jerk is out in Aeon.
Picture the world through the eyes of the jerk. The line of people in the post office is a mass of unimportant fools; it’s a felt injustice that you must wait while they bumble with their requests. The flight attendant is not a potentially interesting person with her own cares and struggles but instead the most available face of a corporation that stupidly insists you shut your phone. Custodians and secretaries are lazy complainers who rightly get the scut work. The person who disagrees with you at the staff meeting is a dunce* to be shot down. Entering a subway is an exercise in nudging past the dumb schmoes.
We need a theory of jerks. We need such a theory because, first, it can help us achieve a calm, clinical understanding when confronting such a creature in the wild. Imagine the nature-documentary voice-over: ‘Here we see the jerk in his natural environment. Notice how he subtly adjusts his dominance display to the Italian restaurant situation…’ And second – well, I don’t want to say what the second reason is quite yet.
* Instead of "dunce" the original piece uses "idiot". In light of Shelley Tremain's remarks to me about the history of that word, I'm wondering whether I should have avoided it. In my mind, it is exactly the sort of word the jerk is prone to use, and how he is prone to think of people, so there's a conflict here between my desire to capture the worldview of the jerk with phenomenological accuracy and my newly heightened sensitivity to the historical associations of that particular word.
[illustration by Paul Blow]