Assholes: A Theory (2019) Movie Script

A female colleague
posed the question recently.
Do you have to be an asshole to be
a great filmmaker, artist, architect, whatever.
It got me thinking.
Trusting to serendipity,
I stepped into
my favorite bookstore
where the muses often guide me.
After scanning the shelves,
destiny did reward me.
Ass-holes: A Theory.
I immediately took it
to the checkout counter.
Within days, I met
with the author Aaron James,
philosophy professor and
life-long Californian surfer.
I wanted to know
what inspired his book.
So while I was surfing here,
I saw a guy surfing
who was blatantly dropping in
on some of the other surfers,
violating the rules
of right-of-way,
and this person, when people
complain, would get really angry
and yell at them
as a way of getting waves.
Surfers are definitely used to
having paradise spoiled by crowds,
and the asshole spoils it in
a particularly pronounced way.
When I'm thinking
this guy is an asshole,
I'm, I'm not
just venting feelings,
I'm classifying him
as of a certain type
of moral personality.
When you use that word, you're,
you're thinking of a type,
and philosophers get interested
in this kind of thing.
But, then when I started thinking it
through the, about the asshole concept,
I thought, "Oh, well, can't you define
the term? Isn't that a definable term?"
At that point, I started thinking, "Okay,
this is, this really a general type,
you know, it's not, it's not
just a surfer asshole concept."
There seems to be
a lot more assholes this year
than any other year,
especially in the public eye.
I'm not sure
what's going on, but...
we're overwhelmed
this year anyways.
We're doing a film based
on the book, Assholes: A Theory
- and the author's saying, you know...
- Oh, it's just not a theory,
- it's a reality.
- It's a reality?
Oh, come on now,
it's out there. It's reality.
The asshole as I define it
is the guy who allows himself
special advantages
in cooperative life
out of an entrenched sense
of entitlement
that immunizes him against
the complaints of other people.
It's a great word to say,
"What an asshole."
He's the guy who cuts
in line at the post office,
taking a special advantage,
um, in cooperative life.
You know, people are waiting in line
and they'll allow someone in
for if they have an emergency or
if it's a pregnant woman, right?
But this guy does it, um,
takes a special advantage
for a different reason.
You know, uh,
out of a sense of entitlement.
"Asshole," you can
really lean into it, right?
"That guy is such an asshole."
And it could be
any sense of entitlement.
He thinks he's rich and his time
is more important
than other people,
or thinks
he's especially smart or, or,
or beautiful.
The euphony of the word, right?
It just feels good to say,
it sounds good to say.
And the upshot of his being entrenched
in that sense of entitlement
is that, he's... he won't listen
to others when they complain.
It was especially nice when
he added the word "entrenched."
An entrenched sense
of self entitlement,
that this is an abiding problem.
That it is
a sort of deeply, it's very,
it sort of goes down into the bones
almost of the person who has the problem.
It's generally somebody who says, "Let's
talk about my favorite thing, me,"
generally, right?
"Me, me, me, me."
The entitlement that,
"I'm more important than you.
What I do
is more important than you.
Your feelings don't count.
You don't count.
Your work doesn't count."
Assholes also like
to take all the credit.
There's a teaming
asshole ecosystem
and in it there are many different
species, many different varieties.
Uh, for example,
the boorish asshole,
the smug asshole,
the self-aggrandizing asshole.
Uh, there's drunk assholes,
arrogant assholes, smug assholes.
Um, narcissistic assholes.
Well, you got to kind of be
a narcissist to be an asshole anyways.
The sexist asshole,
the reckless asshole.
At work,
there's the asshole boss.
There's no shortage. Out of any
kind of person in the world,
there's more descriptive kinds for an
asshole to a normal person, really.
So, we're blessed, I guess,
with many kinds.
You are
a fucking asshole, Frank.
That I am, never denied it.
But at least
I'm an honest asshole.
I knew it,
I'm surrounded by assholes!
Sometimes in comedy,
um, behaving a bit like
an asshole can be funny,
we can laugh at that, because
it's not really serious.
Dad, what are you doing?
Well, I'm going
to call the police.
Assholes in Aaron's book
and in the movies yes,
but I needed to investigate
their impact in the real world.
So I hit the streets of LA.
- Where are you from?
- Mexico. I'm from Mexico.
And do you have
assholes in Mexico?
Yeah, of course, we do.
I believe that
all countries have assholes.
I mean, there's not one country
that you can say that
there are not
assholes at, at all.
Privileged behavior
is on the rise,
and people...
seem to think that it's okay
to say and do almost anything.
They treat folks
like they're invisible
and I think
that's so unfortunate.
Do you have to deal
with this behavior yourself?
- Like, have you come across it?
- I'm a big black guy.
Most people don't bother me,
you know what I mean?
If I look...
If I just look without smiling.
Well, I think
that starts at home.
It starts in the beginning.
Uh, uh, today's people think
it's okay that they
don't have to listen to nobody.
If they don't respect their parents,
they not going to respect anyone else.
That's the way I look at it.
I met psychotherapist,
Suji Gelerman
at home on a break
from her LA office.
I asked her if LA was a fertile
ground for assholery.
Where are the assholes?
Um, well, Hollywood has
a large percentage of assholes.
You're an asshole!
I'm an asshole?
She's the asshole.
She never called me once
after we broke up.
That's because
you're an asshole!
I think there's a higher
percentage of narcissists
feeling like assholes because
they just don't consider you.
And in the way that, um, Aaron
would be talking about that
you have a certain
kind of, uh, moral high ground
that you're better
than other people.
Narcissists don't even know
there are other people. Okay?
So if they don't know
there's other people,
how can they even
really process the fact
that they're being mean
to you or unforgiving,
or unkind, or negating.
You don't really exist.
Bitter self-righteous hag
who has no friends.
I guess in this society
being male and an asshole
makes you worthy of our time.
The tyranny of assholedom,
one of the places
that people don't talk that much
about it is body image for women.
The tyranny of what it's like to
be a young woman in our society,
an older woman,
an invisible old women
and how you're treated,
how you're treated
and people treat you
really poorly.
Or young girls who aren't
the perfect body type,
how that goes.
You know, how you're talked to,
how your bullied,
how you're bullied
by other kids,
that to me
is real asshole behavior.
Harvey Weinstein?
I think he's a perv.
I think he's a perv
and an asshole.
What kind of therapy
do you think
Weinstein's going
through right now?
The pretense that I read was, you know,
he's got sexual addiction problems.
That's the least of his problems
is sexual addiction.
I have worked
with people and the only reason
the abuser's changed
was they truly saw
how it was created in them,
what their behavior was
and how destructive it was
and wanting to change.
Part of the asshole being
entrenched in entitlement
is the idea that if they're a proper
asshole and not sort of borderline,
um, case, then, then that means that
I think it's extremely difficult
for them to see that
there's a different,
you know, maybe what
they're doing works for them,
their deeply invested
in it, uh, um, um,
they're really are convinced.
They really believe that they're,
you know, entitled
and special in, in these ways,
um, and
that's very tough to shake.
Being an asshole has a sort of
like an edginess to it, you know?
Like when people say, "Oh,
this person is an asshole,"
it gets people thinking, it's like,
"Oh, what's this person all about?
Why is this person
identified as an asshole?"
And it opens the door to let other
people get to know you, you know?
It really puts the attention
on you, you know?
Uh, I'm an attention whore.
I love seeking attention.
What wants to make me
want to be an asshole is just
seeing everybody else, seeing
what their getting in life,
and then seeing what I've gotten
in my life not being one...
it's a big difference. So...
I've definitely learned from
my mistakes in that category
and I've, um, you know,
altered that, so.
Yeah, I think that's why I, um,
I'm choosing to be an asshole.
I feel like anyone who legitimately
considers himself an asshole
isn't really an asshole.
Uh, I think it's like a person
who got hurt in high school
so they, you know...
"Now I'm a dick in traffic,"
or whatever.
Uh, I think real assholes
don't realize they're assholes.
Uh, an asshole is somebody
who ought to know better
uh, then to be
as arrogant as he is, uh,
and is in some sense repressing,
uh, the information he has.
In that sense, an asshole
is different from a prick
who can know perfectly well
what's he's doing.
The asshole tells himself
it's okay for one or another reason.
That's one reason
why for example,
a five-year-old
we might call a "little shit,"
but we wouldn't call a five-year-old
a "little asshole."
You can't be an asshole until
you're old enough to know better.
Maybe about fourteen you become
eligible for assholeism.
Can women be assholes?
Oh, anyone can be an asshole.
I guess in a way
my mother was an asshole
But I prefer
to be called a "dick,"
because it sounds cooler,
it's got more gusto.
It seems that among
the assholes they are,
they tend to all group, pile up
on the male side
of the, the gender divide.
Oh, yes, there's
no question it's mainly men.
Assholes were by definition men
but then I thought
of certain examples, um,
like Anne Coulter for example.
I'm sure there's others, but I
think it's 99% of them are men.
- Do you have any favorite assholes?
- Favorite assholes?
I am the number one most
impactful artist of our generation.
Kanye, Kanye West
is a pretty big one.
I am Shakespeare in the flesh,
Walt Disney, Nike, Google.
I really love the way
Kanye's outlook on the world.
He's very well spoken
and does what he wants
and doesn't care
what people say about him.
Assholes are almost
by definition unhappy.
There are people who say, uh,
"Oh, I'm an asshole
and I have no qualms about it
and I... this is how I get
ahead," and so on and so forth.
When you hear somebody say
unapologetically "I'm an asshole,"
he's almost never
an asshole, he's a dick.
- Well, I can be an asshole.
- No, Bruce, you can't.
- You're going to pick that up?
- Yeah, I'm sorry.
If you regret it later,
or you feel sorry, or you feel,
you know, then that's a sign that
you're not really entrenched in that.
Um, and now, but that's a different
thing than someone being an asshole
to you first
and then you trying to answer
and kind of now,
if you think, if you think, um,
that guy's an asshole
now I have permission
to just sort of let
my inner asshole out,
you know, then that's... that's
an asshole move, right?
The nice guy doesn't get
the girl and the asshole does.
That asshole
never keeps the girl,
it's always the nice guy
who keeps the girl,
but definitely for a one-night
stand or hooking up,
the asshole definitely gets it.
Our confidence is just,
it extrudes
more than the average person
because we're so confident in
our self and girls love that.
Me and my buddies have competitions
where we go downtown LA
and just see who can pick up
the most girl's numbers
and at the end of the night, I mean,
it's up to you if you want to text them,
but, I, I personally only text
about 75%, or 25% of those
because, I mean, I don't even
find most of them attractive.
You pompous,
stuck up, snot nosed, English,
giant, twerp, scumbag,
fuck face, dickhead, asshole!
How very interesting.
Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk,
found a particular breed,
when she joined,
the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police.
It was very much inducted
right from the start
to go along to get along
and it was a group thing,
everybody has to think the same.
We always support each other.
The law is sacrosanct.
Um, never lie.
You follow your...
The detachment commander,
whoever is your boss,
whoever is the senior officer
without question
and it's a systemic problem
of the going along to get along,
protect your own.
If you don't follow this,
then you'll be considered
"the other" and then
you are a target
for bullying and harassment.
So what do you call this
kind of behavior that ensued?
This is called asshole behavior,
and I know my Grandma would say
that nice girls don't say asshole,
but guess what, Grandma,
you didn't work for the RCMP
because there's
a lot of assholes
who are wearing the red surge, who are
pretending to be leaders,
when in fact
they are complete assholes.
Sherry's trouble started
when she refused to lie
in support of a fellow officer.
In a false statement, he claimed
his foot had slipped on the gas
when he rammed a citizen's car.
She knew he had been
drinking on the job.
The retaliation was quick.
I went to get my gun
out of my gun belt
and someone had gone in there
and I had a blue gym bag
and in the blue gym bag
were my personal things,
and, uh, there
was a dead prairie chicken
with blood dripping
all over my personal things.
When you know that there's
people in the organization
that are willing
to cross that line,
it's very scary.
I decided that, you know, just trying
to handle this in-house isn't working.
I have a leader who is a complete
asshole, totally ineffective
and would rather side with
the, the bullies, the assholes,
than stand up for what
is right, which was one woman...
and several male officers.
That was one of the pivotal
moments that I, I decided that
I have to say something
and make a formal complaint.
Yeah, it was life changing.
Sherry's sexual harassment
complaint enraged the RCMP.
And it completely
disrupted her life.
I thought if I work
one more day,
and I didn't know how it was going
to happen, but I just thought,
if I go into
that building one more time,
I just wouldn't... I would die.
With no one listening and aware
she might not be the only one,
Sherry went public
with her cause,
the first to do so.
After my book came out,
I was at having lunch
with another RCMP officer
and he said, "Well, you know,
Sherry, the RCMP hate you.
You know, your book didn't make
much of a scream in the press
and they were waiting
to see if anything happened,
and nothing did so now
they want to destroy you,
either ruin you financially
or drive you to suicide,"
and I took that
as a legitimate threat.
Would they have done something?
I didn't know, but at the time
I felt that it was
always a possibility.
They don't obey the law.
The two things I was told to do.
Never lie
and always follow the law.
After 20 years of no response
from government, media
or fellow officers,
the flood gates finally open.
A class action suit
with over 3,000 women signatures
is filed against the RCMP.
Two years later,
the Federal Government
appoints the first
female head of the force.
I think human beings,
while very kind,
many of them have a tendency,
uh, always to see how much
they can get in the world.
I mean, you see this
with toddlers who are like,
you have to teach a toddler to share
because toddlers don't want to share.
They, "It's me,
it's me, it's me,
it's the thing
that I want," and we train,
um, our young humans out
of this behavior as they age,
um, and then there's this,
another stage when people
are teenagers when
they become assholes again
and it's developmentally appropriate
just the way it was for toddlers,
where everyone wants what they
want and they want to have it
and they don't much care
for other people's feelings.
Teenagers themselves
are in a natural
state of change.
Adults are astonished
and bewildered
by the more outlandish
of today's teen fads.
Almost categorically
teenagers are assholes.
They're, they're discovering, uh,
assholeism as it, as it were.
And we try
to train them out of it.
Yeah, we do, we do try
to train them out of it
or to teach them to repress it,
um, more to the point and,
and some manage to do that
or manage
to repress those impulses.
Others never quite make it.
Most teenagers flirt
with kind of an asshole phase.
Um, they're not really an asshole in a
sense of a stable trait of character.
Some teenagers are going,
they're going to graduate to
being a proper asshole as it
were and others are going to...
It's just a passing phase and
they're going to grow out of it
and okay, you know,
the spell breaks,
you know, they... I don't know,
go to college and they're...
Have a sense
of sort of peer, um,
and equality and, um,
there's some
accountability there
and "Okay, maybe my parents
weren't so bad."
As Aaron says, some teenagers
get over their sense
of entitlement,
others graduate
into the workforce with it.
At Cornell,
an Ivy League University,
I met Jonathan Gilmore,
a student and ex-marine
with a keen sense
of empathy for others.
Did you run into any asshole
behavior in the military?
- Is that...
- Yeah, oh, yeah.
- Were you about to call me an asshole?
- Sir, no, sir!
I mean, day one, like, you get...
So boot camp's like,
you know, three months
of dealing with
the biggest assholes
you've ever met in your life.
I don't like the name Lawrence.
Only faggots and sailors
are called Lawrence.
I mean, these guys
are screaming at you,
calling you faggots,
calling you,
you know, every name
in the book that's derogatory,
um, and you know,
physically hurting you.
The Marine Corps
is a brotherhood, right?
It's like a lot of people
would say it's arguably, like,
the largest frat
in the United States.
Um, and so I figured,
"Okay, if I go to Cornell then
what would be, like,
the best decision?"
It would be
to join a fraternity.
I could have a brotherhood again
and I could, I could, uh,
connect with, with other people.
So I was just, like,
kind of mingling around
and figuring out which fraternity
I would vibe with the best,
and it was just like this,
uh, you know that, like, that
just, like, super over macho man
masculine kind of like,
"Ughhh," like,
you know, you got to poke your chest out
and, like, you got to talk like this,
and like, "What's up, bro?"
It was just this, like,
the film Animal House.
"When I'm, when I'm your older
brother, when I'm your big brother,
I'm going to belittle you, at
least for that first semester,
you're going to be my little
bitch," and that, and that to me
just, that seems
like huge asshole behavior
especially because they're,
like, 18, 19-year-old kids
and they get just
a little bit of power
and of course they're going
to run off with it, you know?
Women are objectified.
They're sexualized.
It's the focus
of the attention is,
is for all of the guys
in the fraternities
to, to get as much
sex as possible.
Women are never main characters.
They're always
pushed off to the side
and that's fraternity life now.
You can have one asshole,
but then you have people supporting them.
And I think those are almost, like...
That's like worse.
Like, you know it's there.
You know that guy's gonna do that kinda stuff.
and you guys won't do anything about it.
And it's just, like, boosting his ego once again,
and then that guy's gonna get out
and think that that's okay.
And he'll find friends.
He'll find plenty of people who are totally accepting
and willing to have discussions like that
They have, you know, lists
of the women they've slept with,
that they write on the wall
and things like that
and so, um,
I think a fraternity
is definitely a place
Where that
sort of behavior can be
spread and made worse
and maybe the thing
to do about it is for schools
not to be
affiliated with fraternities.
These kids are going to graduate
and their going to go
out in to the world, and they're going to
take what they learned from this fraternity
and they're going to, you know, put
it wherever they, wherever they have,
wherever they,
you know, work at.
I had a student and he was
very disrespectful, disruptive
and so I just stopped
calling on him.
So he came to my office hours,
which I knew he would do.
And he said, "I'm really upset
because you don't call on me."
So I said, "I don't call on
you because I don't appreciate
your interventions
in the classroom."
And he said,
"I think you're just put off
because I'm a very manly man."
So I said, "No, that's not it."
So I said, "What I'd like you
to do is when you have something
useful to say,
raise your hand and say it.
If you have something petty
and annoying to say, don't."
And you know, we sort... I sort
of went through it kind of,
and I had no hopes that
this would have any effect.
Starting the next day,
he became a model student.
He ended up getting
an A+ on the exam.
It was just amazing
and he came to my office
after the course was over
and he said, "I just want to...
I want to thank you because
no one had ever told me that
what I was doing was a problem."
I think many of us
figure what's the point.
Like, why bother,
but if we bother then
this person is likely to hear
it more than once, right?
If they... if they're abusive.
If someone tells them and someone
else might tell them too.
Maybe they start thinking,
you know, maybe,
you know,
"Maybe they've got a point."
He was well on his way
to being that CEO
who was abusive to everybody
and thought that anyone
who objected was just,
you know, didn't like his
manliness or whatever it was.
Cornell Law professors
like Sherry,
are concerned
about asshole behavior.
They monitor their students and
have adopted a "no asshole rule"
when hiring in their department.
I assume everybody
doesn't like assholes.
Today's conference
is on how the law
can play a role
in governing assholery,
from Washington to Wall Street.
The financial services
industry in my view,
and I don't think
I'm alone here, is
a quintessential
asshole industry.
Well, when you think
about that pervasiveness
of, uh, systematically
asshole type behavior
in a particular social venue.
Uh, for example, the financial
services industry, right?
Um, then the problem
of managing assholes
becomes a structural problem
in which law can
potentially have a lot of say.
So if we make certain types of
asshole behavior systemically,
uh, unprofitable for example,
irrational, something
that is not rewarding,
then that's... that behavior will
naturally kind of fall away
and overall the system
will become less prone
to being overtaken
by a bunch of assholes
that continue to pursue
their own private goals,
their own insatiable appetites
for private gain at the expense
of the rest of us,
the rest of the society.
You know, the people who were
on Wall Street in the 1920's,
just as those before 2008
were acting in individually
rational manners,
um, but that
individual rationality
kind of morphs into
a kind of assholery.
The only way to deal with a collective
action problem of this sort,
is through an exercise
of collective agency, right?
You need a collective agent. I think of this
as a sort of orchestra conductor, right?
Somebody who sort
of oversees and takes measures
that makes it no longer
individually rational
to do the asshole thing.
The Central Bank
is that collective agent.
Colleagues, Robert and Aaron
share a concern
about asshole capitalism.
After the 2008 financial crisis,
Robert was an organizer of
the Occupy Wall Street movement,
sleeping at night under a blanket
at headquarters in Zuccotti Park.
In the morning, he walked across
the street to his day job
at the New York Federal Reserve.
There was a consensus, a regulatory
consensus here in the States
in the lead up to the crisis, that you
can't really spot a bubble developing
when it's in the course
of developing and some people
were even saying there isn't
even such thing as a bubble.
They just can't exist, right?
Uh, that seems to me
was dead wrong.
Dead wrong that
they can't exist,
to say that they can't exist.
Of course they occur, right,
the next thing I thought
is you can actually spot them
when they're developing.
This is not a very
controversial position now,
but at the time, of course,
it was very much against
the consensus view.
Like all these recursive
collective actions problems,
they are sort of self-augmenting
there's a snowball like
character to them.
They make themselves worse,
so to speak,
until the credit runs out.
That's what was going on
in the lead up to 2008.
That was what was going on
in the lead up to 1929, as well.
It's nonsense I think to say you can't spot
that sort of thing happening in advance.
In the 1920's...
almost directly
brought us the calamity
that was the Second World War, the calamity
that was the Nazi rise to power in Germany.
The calamity that was the
Holocaust, uh, and the like.
Um, it, it's
a very tight direct link.
I actually think if there hadn't been
the bubble and bust in this country
in the '20's, I don't think
that the Nazi party
ever would have become
anything more than
a fringe party in Germany,
uh, in that, in that time.
There's certainly no reason to
think that it would have been
because... or would
have done, because it,
there was never any sign of
it's getting out of the fringes
until the crash and until the
German economy plummeted too,
because it was
so completely dependent
on the American economy,
uh, in the 1920's.
I don't know what it is,
but something about this place
- just makes me think of assholes.
- Yeah, I know what you mean.
There's a distinct,
uh, distinct air of it here.
Yeah, a very poignant
sort of pungency to it.
The most foul mouthed people
are the investment bankers.
And I'm, I'm sure that when you
go see things like Wolf,
what is it,
the Wolf of Wall Street,
you know, that language
is typical of the language
that they actually use
all the time.
Very vulgar. Very harsh. Very...
It was like
mainlining adrenaline.
Yeah, fuckface, look at where
the stocks at today, huh?
You motherfucker,
you can't get anyone.
- Pick up the cocksucking phone!
- Sorry.
I would describe
that a Hedge Fund as the,
as an asshole factory.
You know, just churning
them out in large numbers
because once you've got
a horrible group of people together,
then all they want to do is choose
other horrible people to join them.
You see what I mean? So
that when you get an asshole culture
they're in trouble because inevitably
they're going to flourish more
and people are going to become asses because
they think it's the right thing to do.
I think there are some people
who almost make the choice
and, and over a long period
of time become assholes
when they probably
didn't start out as them.
- We don't create shit. We don't build anything.
- No.
He thinks he's getting shit
rich. Which he is. On paper.
But you and me, the brokers,
we're taking home cold hard cash
via commission, motherfucker!
It is completely legitimate
and normal, um,
and not a sign of weakness
to really worry and care about
those amongst us who are less
fortunate and who need help.
And if you remove that kind of notion
from the collective consciousness,
then you would encourage people
to adopt this other extreme
where, "You know what, I'm only
going to care about myself,"
and frequently the rationalization
that comes with it
is that, well, that's because,
you know, I, um, I, um,
you know, I'm owed more than
anybody else or at the very least,
I don't care what other people get in
the bargain. It's their own problem.
We don't give two shits
about how technology works
because all we care about
is getting fucking rich.
It's one thing to have an asshole
running your company.
But what happens when you elect
an asshole to run your country?
I think that when you elect
an asshole to run your country,
what you get is
someone who frames everything
around their own needs,
around their own desires
and their maintenance in power.
Uh, you basically elected
someone who's there
to preserve themselves, to, uh, protect
themselves, to enrich themselves.
And thinks of the world
as being one that operates
according to the degree
to which you can enrich others
who will support your power, not
the public, but your supporters.
And by all of its instruments
that give rise to equality,
particularly the rule of law,
that might otherwise impinge
on that selfish person's,
uh, instincts, get undermined, bit by
bit, steadily, steadily, steadily.
And that's what happened
with Silvio Berlusconi,
in particularly his second
and third times in government.
Despite scandals
of widespread corruption,
use of underage prostitutes,
and a prison conviction
for tax fraud,
Silvio Berlusconi, media tycoon, football
team owner and former Prime Minister
has dominated the Italian imagination
for over 30 years.
Would Berlusconi be
a good example of an asshole?
Ah, yeah. Sure. Yes.
A very, a very, good example
and an exceptional one,
so, a real great,
uh, nice asshole
for, for, for many reasons.
Assholes are so often
admired by others
and they are leaders,
they are the funniest people
in your, in your class.
And, uh, I had... I remember
the funniest people in school
were the, the assholes.
Berlusconi burst
onto the public stage,
as the owner of the first private
network of TV stations throughout Italy.
Filmmaker and activist
Lorella Zanardo
considers Berlusconi's seductive
television and media empire
the source of his rise to power.
At the beginning
of the '80's, um,
Berlusconi's TV started
to, to, to broadcast,
Canale 5, Rete 4, Italia 1
and TV changed completely
because they started
to offer programs
where the, the focus was
on beautiful and very feminine,
uh, girls, nearly naked,
but never naked,
which is very Italian
and men, older,
much older than these girls,
telling the stupid stories,
laughing with the camera
always on part
of the bodies of these girls.
And these girls
were many, many girls
with the idea
was that with these girls,
you at home, had could,
have no problems in life
because it was fun,
they were so erotic, so nice,
so ready to, to
accept man with no problems.
Statistics say
that Italians, uh,
have two to three, uh,
TV sets in every house
in the Northern part and
in the Southern part they have
never a job, three to four
TV set in every apartment,
so these programs were entering
not every house, every room.
So, it was quite powerful and
that period we didn't have, uh,
or smart phone, internet,
so every room had this TV set
with Berlusconi entering
and telling the story, telling
all these wonderful world,
um, made of wonderful nice girls
ready to... to love Italian men.
Nine years ago we had the
horrible scandal of Berlusconi
and his dinner party
with girls and Ruby
and everybody was saying,
"Oh, it's horrible!"
Why it's horrible? It's exactly what
we watch every day since 30 years.
Like a Fellini dream, huh?
Italy's immensely
open to assholery. Uh,
there is a desire
for a protective figure.
There's a desire for what
the Italian's call a "Baroni,"
the person in charge, the person
who decides everything,
a Godfather, head of the family.
There's a desire for a figure
who will, you know, find your job,
keep you in a job, make things okay.
Make, make it
so that you don't have to worry.
And Berlusconi has very ably
presented himself as that
and I'm sure he actually feels the
emotions of the person in that role.
I think Berlusconi
was the original populist
at least in a European content.
He got to power
and built up his,
his support
by essentially promising
to feed the inner-selfishness of all
sorts of groups in Italian society,
showing his own entrepreneurial
business success, his wealth,
his girlfriends, his parties
and so forth as proof
of what you can achieve
if only you let
your selfishness fly free.
So he, he promised
all sorts of goodies
to, uh, to those people
who supported him
and under that cover,
having put himself in power,
managed to, uh, enrich himself.
We will remember
this horrible period of life
not for the bad people,
but people
who are considered good,
but they were...
So, Berlusconi's an asshole?
Yes. We too.
It's a country of assholes.
Nostalgia for the past
seems to be the script populist
leaders like Berlusconi follow.
Setting back the clock,
ignoring shifting social values,
selling asshole behavior
as the triumphant way forward.
But we don't all act like sheep.
For example: Vladimir Luxuria.
I remember when I was
at school, once, the teacher
asked me, uh,
"Do you like men
or do you like...
Or do you prefer women?"
And since I was sincere,
I said, "I like men."
And he said, "Come here,"
and I went next to him,
in front of
all the other students
and he had a stick
and he beat the stick on my hand
as a punishment
so that anyone could see.
Now it would be
considered illegal,
but, when I was a child
it was considered so normal,
so normal.
To be a man at least in the time
in which I was educated,
was to show that
you are not a woman,
to show that you are not a girl.
Don't be a girl.
Don't, don't be girlish,
in sport, in whatever.
Also, don't cry,
you're not a girl.
I was elected in
the Italian Parliament in 2006
until 2008.
I remember Berlusconi.
Berlusconi, he was
closing all his, uh,
uh, reunions, you know,
uh, in the squares,
saying this as the last words,
"Do you want that in Italy
people like Vladimir Luxuria would be
elected into Parliament?"
And all his fans were shouting
"No!" but I was elected.
Well into Berlusconi's regime,
the Economist magazine decided
to challenge
his outrageous governance.
Bill Emmott was
the chief editor at the time.
Yes, it was worth that attention
because of the potential
of the same behavior
moving into other countries, into France,
into Britain, into the United States,
into all over the Western world.
So it became
a kind of case study,
uh, in what could happen
in a new mediatic world
where assholedom
could be, could be amplified,
uh, and, um, sadly we have seen
it spread into other countries.
Had he come to
political maturity
at the time of Twitter,
of social media,
I think he would have used
Twitter and social media,
because again, as subsequent
characters have shown us,
it provides a way
to give a direct communication
to the people unfiltered
by the rest of the media.
The free flow of information
has always been the U.S. mantra.
It's given
American tech companies
an unregulated freedom to profit
from addictive software,
abuse of our privacy and corporate
monopolies with unprecedented power.
Silicon Valley is,
is really interesting.
It's, it's breeding a, a, so to
speak a new variety of asshole.
People who, um, believe that
in virtue of having accumulated
enormous amounts of money
or in virtue of being
on the cusp of accumulating
enormous amounts of money,
they're entitled
to ignore the ordinary
sanctions that attach
to behaving in, in certain ways.
We're all here because we are
optimistic about the future.
We have
real challenges to address,
but we have to keep
that sense of optimism too.
Zuckerberg is another,
you know, case in which
you know, "move fast
and break things,"
was a slogan for a while
and he explains it as,
well, he doesn't want his
creative people to be tied up
with, uh, perfectionism, you
know, they should be free to
sort of fail
and move on to other things.
If a consequence of Facebook,
"moving fast and breaking things,"
is that it breaks democracy
or democracy becomes a shell
and the historic march
of democracy is,
is ended and we have
a resurgence of authoritarianism
and sort of papered over
formality democracy.
That's not something
that can be undone.
It's clear now that we didn't
do enough to prevent
these tools
for being used for harm as well.
And that goes for fake news,
for foreign interference
in elections and hate speech
as well as developers
and data privacy.
Each apology seems
very sincere, right?
He really means it. I mean,
he knows how to apologize.
That's not something assholes
usually know how to do, right?
Uh, but, you know, it's the same
really good apology over and over again
without, you know, sort of
the action you would think
if the previous ones
really were sincere.
We didn't take a broad enough
view of our responsibility
and that was a big mistake and
it was my mistake and I'm sorry.
You know, if things
really do go for the worse,
as bad as they can go
now for the U.S.
and for other countries, um,
then Zuckerberg, what...
"Oops!" You know...
It's like "Oops," you know,
it's not...
It's not excusable, right? It's
not just an innocent mistake.
It's terribly great
that we have these people,
and that they make
these great discoveries,
but I think the great mistake
is to listen to them
when they start telling us
how we should live.
And let's be honest,
if you give a 24-year-old
ten million, 20 million, 50 million,
100 million dollars in funding
do you really expect them to
have good behavior all the time?
Do you not expect to change who and what
they are and how they approach things?
You've just given somebody who's
really done nothing in their life,
like, their entire life, they've done nothing,
now they have a hundred million dollars...
uh, that's just going
to enable bad behavior.
I think that the effect
of the platforms, uh,
Twitter, Facebook and other
social media platforms on us
is to, uh, basically
give vent to, uh,
the worst aspects of our nature.
Um, it gives us a platform
to be bigoted.
It gives us a platform
to be prejudice.
It gives us a platform
to sound off on people.
It gives us a platform
to abuse people.
Uh, The New Yorker had a cartoon
in the '90's you may remember.
It was two dogs at a computer
and it said, "On the Internet,
nobody knows you're a dog."
So, it is
so appropriate to today
and, and I do think that the,
the ability to launch an attack,
uh, an anonymous attack
against people
has, has kind of, like, really lowered
the expectations of behavior.
It's almost impossible
to stop terrible behavior online
because as soon as you
block a troll, right,
another one springs up and
as soon as you try to enact
a structural means
of blocking trolls,
where you say, like, some kinds
of speech are acceptable
and some are unacceptable, there
are whole mobs will rise up
yelling, "Free speech,
free speech, liberty!"
Now imagine if all you are doing
is talking to your Alt-right friends,
or your
white supremacist friends
and you're only sharing articles
and you're only sharing information
and you're only sharing
the things that you,
you believe in
and that inflame your passions
and you do this for days
and weeks and months at a time.
You're going to feel
very emboldened.
You know, you, you know, we talk
about the radicalization,
it was like, "How was
this person radicalized?"
I mean, it's not just Islam where
people get radicalized, right?
It's white supremacists
get radicalized.
It's you know, anti-abortion people
get... you know, become radicalized.
Radicalized? Yeah, radicalized.
You know, even Black Lives
Matter people get radicalized.
Um, they all do if they
stay in that echo-chamber.
Yeah, like I said, I have a lot of
followers and I kind of live my life
by if you don't have
anything to benefit me,
then I most likely
won't talk to you.
I have a lot of people
reach out to me
to either, like, be my friend or,
like, work with me and stuff.
And I always look at their following,
or just who they're surrounded with
and if I don't think
that they can benefit me,
I, 100 percent,
won't talk to you.
It's about eyeballs, right?
And if you keep people
engaged in your platform,
you're not going to do something
to stop them. If, I can,
I can... I am going to
make a very bold statement
backed up with
no facts whatsoever.
Facebook could eliminate
90% of their fake news tomorrow.
Uh, it would hit
their revenue in such a way
that it would send
their stock price crashing.
What do you do?
That's the dilemma.
The same thing with Twitter.
Same thing with Google.
I, I, I, I think those organizations have a
responsibility that they have abrogated.
Silicon Valley's
freedom to break things
without regard to its social
impact, may come to an end.
When Washington calls on CEOs like
Zuckerberg to face inquiries,
it's clear they are concerned.
Google's CEO on the other hand,
refused to attend
his government's inquiry,
sending lawyers instead.
The European Union took action
suing Google five billion dollars
for anti-trust violations.
It remains to be seen,
if U.S. regulators
will follow the European lead.
Why is it happening in Europe and,
and, and not in, in Washington?
Well, of course these
are American companies
and therefore,
uh, European regulators
are a bit more inclined
to push back against them,
but also they are not subject
to the same political donation influence
that, uh, the Washington
authorities are.
Google has become the biggest campaign
finance donor in congressional elections,
uh, in the latest,
uh, couple of cycles.
Facebook is also a big donor.
The European commission
is immune to such
direct financial influence.
Regulating this
corporate entitlement
with Silicon Valley or Wall
Street companies is a challenge.
Here at Baird, a multinational wealth
management and equity firm
with client investments
of 77 billion dollars,
their philosophy is carved
into the woodwork.
Trust, teamwork, respect
and a "no asshole rule."
Literally the day I got here I put
into place the "no asshole theory."
One: we're not going to hire
them, or tolerate anybody
who puts himself ahead
of the firm, or the clients.
And we're going to only do business
with people who are high integrity.
It was controversial.
Um, there was some conservatives
in the firm who...
uh, were like, "Oh, my gosh,
you can't say that out loud,"
and then there was others that
you can tell just loved it.
It is what it is and,
and we talk about it openly
and some people will temper it
to the "no jerk rule,"
but a lot of people have gotten use
to just saying "the no asshole rule."
When we interview people, we ask our
receptionist who meets them all,
what they thought of that person
as they were waiting for five minutes.
And we'll hear the stories of
"Wow, they were rude,
they were condescending."
And we have said no to people.
Yeah, I, look I can't tell you the number of
conversations I've I said, "You're right, Joe,
you're really special. You're so special,
you need to work someplace else."
And you mean that and when
you do, people cheer you,
because the greater good
And it's
a winning strategy for us.
The strategy is working so well,
they are number four on Fortune's
100 Best Companies to Work For,
and the top financial firm
on the list.
The, the firms that are in the
top 100 great places to work,
outperform their peers two
and half, to three, to one,
in terms of returns.
Here at Baird, two out of three
people are shareholders.
So, what, what we say
to people is "It's your firm.
Behave accordingly,
protect your firm."
It is a very powerful message.
You're an owner...
protect your franchise.
And you make people accountable.
What if you buy $50,000 shares
worth of it and it...
It's that long-term
orientation that is,
that's missing
from most of Wall Street.
It's, it's really pretty simple,
but it takes a lot of discipline
and a lot of focus,
because, you know, like, "Well,
just this one time," right,
and you're like, "No."
You can't do that,
and then because if you do
then people won't trust you.
After grasping the destructive
impact of asshole behavior,
and the courage
it takes to push back,
I asked Aaron if he felt
anything had changed
since he wrote his book.
The asshole explosion was
something I never would have...
guessed would ever happen, uh,
when I started thinking about,
I mean, I, I sort of
described it in abstract terms
but if, if you'd have told me that
our country was headed towards,
um, something like that,
I would have been shocked.
I mean, at the time I thought
we were on the precipice, right?
And then what happened was,
we just you know, went all in.
Um, and, you know,
and now it's really sort of
our fates, you know, unclear.
Are you worried?
Yeah, yeah, I'm worried,
yeah. I am worried.
I have Aaron to thank
for his warning
of the rising tide of assholery
and for a journey
that leaves me hopeful
about the resilience
of human decency.
You know, if you walk
and you see
somebody being
an asshole with someone,
with a woman, with a girl,
with a dog, with a gay,
with a transgender, with an old
people, with a foreigner, whoever...
and you decide just,
you pretend you haven't seen...
then you are
the same asshole like him.
If you decide to, to react...
then you are doing
something really big.
Like a little stone, you know,
in a pool of indifference.
Little rings
that go wider
and wider and wider
can reach longer distances.