Jerks 2: Taxonomy, Part B

Let's begin with the basics.  Rather than breaking down Jerks into categories of severity—rating them from one to ten—we can agree to divide them broadly into what I am calling Boors and Louts.  The boor is someone who does not know how to behave.  He constantly makes a fool of himself by using the wrong fork or insisting upon steak in a seafood restaurant.  He will pay embarrassing compliments to women he has just met and make himself the life of every party by telling anecdotes about his not very interesting life—anecdotes in which he inevitably plays the hero.  Most of his offenses, however, are the result of ignorance, not malice.  He honestly does not realize how tedious people find him. If he has a good heart and is willing to observe or take advice, he may even be cured of his (and our) affliction.

The Lout displays the same range of offensive behavior as the boor, but he is probably incorrigible. The Lout, in other words, is a boor who knows he is just fine the way he is and does not have to listen to anyone about anything.   On the same occasion, he can call a Queen by her first name and insult a cop or someone else's servants by offering them a bribe.  Foreigners, he knows, all understand English, especially if it is mixed in with a few pidgin phrases.  "No rikee rice?" he inevitably asks an Asian.  Every Mexican is named Pedro, and every French girl is ready to go to bed with him.  If he is rich, then he knows that everything and everyone can be bought, and if he is not rich, he thinks he has superior knowledge of the world that makes him master of every situation.  If the price of oil goes up, fault is the Bushes, the Saudis, or the Jews.  And, no, he cannot be only partly right.  Whatever little bit of "truth" he has discovered is the whole truth, a one-size fits all explanation of the universe that explains everything.

To put it more simply, the Boor is an unconscious, the Lout a conscious (at least partly conscious) Jerk.  The former must be endured and, if he is a friend or relation, patiently schooled without letting him know what a fool he has been.  It is not helpful to say things like, "Only a complete idiot would tell a grandmother she looks hot for her age."  Lead by example and occasionally explain how someone might misinterpret his well-meaning remarks.  Since Louts are incorrigible, there is little use in correcting them.  We don't want to teach them, as badger would say, "we want to learn 'em—learn 'em, learn 'em!"

Any classification of American Jerks into types will be somewhat artificial.  A glutton may be a braggart as well as the dissatisfied diner who dresses down the waiter and the entire chef in public.  The same sister-in-law who treats insists on planning your joint vacation to place she has never been and where you are an old hand may be the woman in your party who screams out inanities in the breakfast room of the quiet English hotel you managed to arrange.  Though the Jerk may display several faces to the world, he is not so much a Jekyl and Hyde personality as a Hyde A and Hyde B, but, while there are certainly underlying causes that link sloth, lust, and gluttony, on any one occasion what we see, generally, is one the ugly faces of Mr. Hyde.  Let us take a look at a few mug shots.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina