Cocky: Self-certainty made easy

Why does it take 6 million sperm to fertilize an egg?

Because none of them will stop to ask directions.

A remarkable number of derogatory terms analogize the male genitalia. I’ve wondered why, and I think I know at least a couple of the reasons. For one, we’re shy about our genitalia–so calling attention to them will shock and embarrass.

Another, I think, has to do with their role in life. Even the ancient Chinese ascribed to them the character of assertiveness. Yang, the male quality, the sword of decisiveness and judgment–as contrasted with yin, the female quality, receptivity, flexibility, the open embrace of whatever will be.

The psychologist Jean Piaget argued that human learning is a process of assimilation and accommodation–yang and yin respectively. Assimilation is bending the world to conform to you. Accommodation is bending yourself to conform to the world. (See Triads.)

A prick is someone who’s all yang, no yin; all assimilation, no accommodation. He’ll run right over you. His mind is on vacation; his mouth is working overtime. He’s cocky, a dickhead, a dick, lightning quick to declare what’s wrong with you, but from here to eternity won’t apply a comparable level of analysis to his own character. He (or she, for that matter, because it’s not a gender-exclusive trait) is infinitely better at dishing it out than at taking it in.

All male-genitalia-based epithets imply yang’s oblivious self-assertiveness. Most convey unchecked and unwarranted self-certainty–cockiness–but even the ones that convey haplessness (pud, putz, shmuck, dickwad) possess the yang quality. They’re all about the clueless failure to listen and learn.

As someone who has worked hard to avoid being a total prick and as a result is just an intermittent or partial one (and who isn’t?) I must say, it’s a hassle to try to balance yang and yin.

I try to be appropriate–yang when yang is called for and yin when yin is called for–but I guess wrong sometimes. I don’t like guessing wrong. It’s disappointing to look back at times when I’ve been self-certain when I should have been self-doubting; self-doubting when I should have been self-certain. It’s disappointing to know I’ll make such mistakes again.

It’s life. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I can see why some would abandon the campaign for balance and throw themselves headlong into dickheadedness.

If by temperament one is troubled by evidence of personal limitations, capable of sufficiently thorough self-deception, endowed with the requisite skills of dominance and subterfuge, and prone to identify too completely with the ubiquitous heroes of fiction who are always right; if one has either a decent chance of bullying others into submission for as long as necessary or sufficient short-sightedness to ignore the long term, then the temptation of a full embrace of prickishness would be enticing.

If further one can find a prick posse, a group of allies to bolster and fuel one’s prickishness, whether it be supplicants or like-minded prick allies, then the prick’s comfort zone must be absolutely irresistible. When pricks find such support groups, fundamentalism, extremism, fascism, totalitarianism, hate talk radio, megalomania, and the current administration are among the dreadful consequences.

We live in glass houses, warily aware that if we throw stones we may face some retaliatory window breaking.People tend therefore to throw stones ambivalently. Or perhaps in stealth, obliquely, so others don’t know where the attack came from.

But what if we lived in unbreakable houses? Well, we don’t, but what if we pretended convincingly that we did? What if whatever you said about me bounced off me and stuck to you? What if there were no tag backs? What if you had everyone’s number and no one had yours?

It would only have to last a lifetime. If people remembered you as a cussed old prick after you were gone, what would be the harm in that?

Really then, what would it take to grant oneself such puncture-proof immunity?

At core, one would need fantastic rhetorical power, the ability to spin any statement to one’s advantage. One would also need a mutated moral compass, a compass one considers unerring but whose due North is always toward self-preservation and aggrandizement: “The sole and sacrosanct moral imperative is that I’m right.”

With stone throwing perfected and an ambition to defend one’s custom-built moral imperative at any cost, it would be hard for anyone to engage in retaliatory window-breaking, and most wouldn’t even try. Rather they’ll try to get out of the way.

One would need an arsenal of quick debate-trumping moves–ways to pre-empt and stop assaults from those one frustrated. One would need to be quick on the draw with lines like:

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t raise your voice.
  • Don’t tell me what I feel.
  • You shouldn’t be intolerant.
  • You shouldn’t be judgmental.
  • It is unkind of you to try to put me down.
  • You’re obviously oversensitive.
  • Yeah, people like you are always trying to oppress people like me.
  • Don’t I have a right to speak my mind?
  • I was only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?
  • You misunderstood me.
  • Don’t make personal remarks.
  • That’s your opinion.
  • You don’t know that for certain.
  • How do you know what I meant?
  • Don’t boss me around.

The larger the arsenal of trump-phrases, the better, and remember, it needn’t be constrained by conformity to any real moral standard. For instance, one needn’t bother wondering if it’s hypocritical to scold people for raising their voice if one also raises one’s voice. The arsenal is only for protective purposes, to sustain and protect one’s unshakable unreceptivity. So long as in any moment one isn’t raising one’s voice, one can attack others for doing so.

Fire whatever weapon in the arsenal is closest to hand. It’s fine to be judgmental while calling others on raising their voices and in the next minute raise one’s voice while calling them on being judgmental. Nothing matters so long as one can call into doubt the other’s behavior while maintaining one’s own unquestionable unassailability.

Occasionally someone would try to get through. That’s when one would need the power of projection. Whatever they said about one’s arrogance one would have to turn against them by calling into question their character. The result would be their defeat and retreat, or at least a stand-off, because when two are accusing each other of arrogance, who’s to say who is right? Only the prick.

I love being a man and I’m glad yang comes relatively easily to me, but what would the world be like without its share of yin? And what’s it going to be like if the pricks continue to get their way as often as they do? All we need is a sufficiently large posse of pricks with nuclear weapons and we’re doomed.

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