Jerks, 0.A

From the Introduction:

Russian-born Vitaly Borker is one of those immigrants who have enriched and diversified the culture of his adopted homeland.  After failing to complete his studies in law and law enforcement, thought he had found a new way of making money on the internet.  On his website DecorMyEyes.com, Borker marketed cheap knock-off sunglasses as the real thing and added insult to injury by providing the worst possible customer service.  As he anticipated, the tidal wave of negative comments boosted his site to Google's front page.  When he thanked disgruntled users on Get Satisfaction for making him a success, the website contacted him to see if they could work together to resolve issues.  Borker responded by sending them a photograph of a hand giving the middle finger.

When disgruntled customers complained directly to his company Decormyeyes, he responded by threatening to kill or rape them.  In one case, he told a customer's boss that his employee was a drug dealer.  Vitaly was eventually charged with one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats, and stalking.  

On some of the charges, Borker might have expected to get off on the grounds of insanity—he apparently thought he was a member of the Russian Mafia. Justice is occasionally done in a US court, and Borker was convicted but, even as he was entering prison, he was setting up a similar scheme for which he was later convicted.  A kindly judge, however, was open to plea-bargaining, and he was released.  If rumors are true, he did not waste any time before doing business at the old stand. 

Vitaly Borker was convicted on several counts of defrauding customers and making threats. Unfortunately, there is no legal charge for his most egregious crime,  that of being one of the biggest jerks of the 21st century.   We’ve all heard it said that immigrants make better Americans than people born from native stock.  Vitaly Borker, exemplary American, has proved them right.  Jerks are as omnipresent in the United States as fast food and products made (poorly) in China; they are as real as transgender athletes and reality TV, as American as Rap and WWF wrestling. 

Everyone in America is constantly complaining about Jerks:  the Jerk who cut them off in traffic, the Jerks at the office who never wash their lunch dishes and leave them for their junior colleagues or overworked secretaries, the Jerk father who lets his toddlers run around screaming in the nice restaurant where you have taken your girlfriend to propose, the Jerk that pushed his airline seat back so violently that it sent your coffee flying--he's the same Jerk who shouted for 15 minutes into his cellphone and then delayed the take-off because he would not turn it off when he was told to.  

Yes, everyone complains about Jerks, especially the Jerks themselves. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive study of this omnipresent phenomenon.  While there have been books on how to deal with Jerks at the office or with boyfriends who are Jerks, the beast has never been fully described.  If we cannot spot them and know their ways, Jerks will always have us at their mercy. 

Some Jerks—and these are the most pardonable type--simply do not know that a man is supposed to take his hat off in a bar or that it is rude to read the newspaper or check you email while you are having drinks with a friend or co-worker.  Others may dimly recall some good manners their mothers taught them, But, hey, when everyone else is doing it, you know, Howzat go?’ When in Rome, eat pizza and die?…”   Maybe not die, exactly, but I’ve had pizza in Rome that made me ready to kill the cook.

Men and women who are not Jerks sometimes feel they are under siege from alien life forms that have invaded our planet to suck the energy out of everyday life.  At the simplest level, the problem is a conflict between two cultures, the old culture that clings to what remains of civilized life, and the new post-civilized culture that insists the old rules of polite behavior were chains that enslaved men and women to the fictions of class, age, religion, gender, and culture.  Where is it written that young men should treat women with respect or listen attentively to the "wisdom" of old men?(Actually, it is written in lots of places, like the Bible or in the books we used to call classics that no one has to read in school.)

There may be some truth in this claim.  In the bad old days before the French Revolution, peasant boys could not expect to grow up to be generals or bishops, much less kings or cardinals, and terms like monsieur and madame were reserved for members of the upper classes.  But the Jerk's lack of respect for class and tradition is among the least of his sins:  Jerks are far more likely to insult the poor and weak than the rich and powerful and famous.  No, beneath the surface argument, that manners are useless except as a tool of repression, lies the simpler urge:  I do whatever I can get away with.

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

3 Responses

  1. Jacob Johnson says:

    I remember the old farmers in the diner wearing their ballcaps at the counter. This elicited many grumbles from the church ladies, but these people, otherwise, had good manners; please, thank you, yes sir, no sir, etc. My grandmother told me she once asked a friend why he wore the cap in the restaurant and in response he sheepishly lifted a it a bit, revealing a line of demarcation between dark red and snow white. This seemingly implied that being without the ballcap would present a freakish appearance. There, at least, seems to be some utility for this, but the man I saw a few weeks ago, smoking a cigarette outside of a bar wearing a backwards ballcap and using his hand to shield his brow from the evening sun as he looked at his phone, made me chuckle.

  2. Thomas Fleming says:

    100 years ago in most parts of the country farmers would dress up to go to town, and until recently they wore special clothes to church. Their customs were different from city folk, of course, but the rule was not “Do as you choose.” Some time in the 60’s college-educated grown-ups decided to pretend to be a cross between children and factory workers, and their children grew up dressing in contempt of decency and hygiene. Many times, I have been told by well-to-do businessmen that they have to wear a suit to work and like to be casual on weekends, hence their jeans and sweatshirt at church. I agree entirely that it is a mistake to confuse the two examples. A rural or small-town diner is not the same as a Chicago restaurant or a church.

    Speaking of Chicago restaurants, I once had the pleasure of having lunch with one of Chicago’s pioneering great restaurateurs–Jovan Trbojevic. When he died, I read in his obituary that he was very particular about behavior in his restaurants and did not permit table-hopping–a bad habit I was taught to avoid in Charleston restaurants. He went so far as to ban permanently more than one powerful politician for violating the rule.

  3. Sam Dickson says:

    I read this in shock:

    “Everyone in America is constantly complaining about Jerks: the Jerk who cut them off in traffic, the Jerks at the office who never wash their lunch dishes and leave them for their junior colleagues or overworked secretaries, the Jerk father who lets his toddlers run around screaming in the nice restaurant where you have taken your girlfriend to propose, the Jerk that pushed his airline seat back so violently that it sent your coffee flying–he’s the same Jerk who shouted for 15 minutes into his cellphone and then delayed the take-off because he would not turn it off when he was told to. ”

    This is frightening. Is Dr. Fleming an FBI agent or otherwise into Deep State surveillance?

    Clearly, if he has not pesronally conducted the surveillance, he has access to it because every one of the examples he adduces is taken straight from recent events in my life.