Anti-assholism memo

Modernity/coloniality, especially in its contemporary configuration, casts a powerful spell of hyper-individualism, hyper-consumerism and (self)destructive narcissism. Through formal education, social media and job incentive packages, both mainstream and counter- cultures encourage and reward toxic behaviors.  This includes seeing ourselves as separate from each other and from “nature”, and as “exceptional” in order to justify merit and moral authority so that we can expand our entitlements and autonomy without responsibility. 

We are unconsciously wired to reproduce behaviors that support the destruction of the web of relationships we are embedded in, including the planet that we are part of and depend upon. If our contemporary cultures cannot provide a pathway for collective sobriety and maturity or a compass for repairing damage and for building relationships based on respect, reciprocity, consent, trust and accountability, human extinction is indeed around the corner. 

Realizing we are ALL fucked up and that we have become assholes may be one (or the only) way to break this spell of modernity/coloniality, to seek re-habilitation and to do the painful decluttering and composting work that is needed to get ourselves out of the mess we have created.

In our collective inquiry about assholism, we are exploring both the symptoms and potential roots of the problem. These are some of the questions we have asked:

  1. What socially sanctioned conscious and unconscious compulsions could be preventing us from building relationships based on trust, reciprocity, consent, accountability and respect?
  2. How do we benefit personally from these compulsions? How are we socially rewarded when we reproduce these behaviours?

We are also trying different tentative experiments to interrupt unconscious patterns of behavior that can limit our capacity to build generative relationships.  One of the experiments that emerged from this inquiry was a list of anti-assholism reminders that could serve as a compass for what: a)we should never do; b)we should try to do less and less of; c)we should do only when we can do it genuinely; d) we should do regardless of whether it is genuine or not (e.g. be kind).

We are now testing it to see if, through practice and repetition, the list can help us rewire unconscious harmful patterns of behavior. You are invited to take part in this experiment too. 

The first invitation is for you to read the list and to observe how you respond to the suggestions and reminders in it. What do these immediate responses say about where you are at? Pay particular attention to your positive (or negative) self-regard and how it could be in itself an important sign of delusion (of thinking you are further ahead or elsewhere in the process than you actually are). 

It may be helpful to remember that, if you were indeed already doing the generative things, you would be hyper-self-reflexive (and aware of the relapses and difficulties of doing this work), which means that you would never be sure or certain that you will respond in generative ways when crises or conflicts arise. Like a recovering alcoholic, you would never take for granted that you are out of the woods. Similar to other addictions, our modern/colonial assholism may be a treatable disease, but it is prudent to assume that it is not curable.

 As you read this list of suggestions/reminders, try to think about the rationale for each item in the context of building relations rooted in trust, respect, reciprocity, consent, accountability…

 What you should never do

  1. Think you are not part of the problem 
  2. Be self-righteous
  3. Be right at all costs (the arbiter of truth, beauty, justice and/or morality)
  4. Be arrogant or vain
  5. Be snarky or scornful
  6. Be cruel or malicious
  7. Be patronizing or paternalistic (assuming you can “help” others)
  8. Diminish other people’s existence (belittle)
  9. Assume that you are more important
  10. Put people in “their place”
  11. Think you are off the hook
  12. Absolve yourself from responsibility
  13. Weaponize this list

 What you should do less and less and then not at all (if ever possible)

  1. Assume you are one of the good ones
  2. Offer direct unsolicited advice (“you should”): it does not work
  3. Be a smartass
  4. Share dark humor or sarcasm with people for whom it can be toxic
  5. Try to micromanage things
  6. Consume things for compensating for feeling empty, anxious or sad
  7. Assume others exist to serve you or instrumentalize relationships to feel better
  8. Invizibilize the (human and other-than-human) labour necessary for you to exist
  9. Take advantage of people for personal benefit
  10. Invest in the futurity / continuity of unsustainable systems
  11. Allow your traumas and insecurities to drive your decisions – in order to do that, guess what? You need to heal, compost, integrate teachings, and let go. Awareness of trauma alone does not cut it.
  12. Take up collective space seeking personal validation or take other people’s time for granted
  13. Use victimization as a currency for personal advancement 

What you should try to do more of genuinely, and more genuinely (not as a sacrifice)

  1. Listen to critical feedback, especially about your unconscious reproduction of systemic harmful behavior. Really listen.
  2. Be humble
  3. Disarm and be disarming: offer gentle, honest and self-implicating critique when reminding others of their accountabilities
  4. Be sensibly silly, be ok with looking ridiculous
  5. Admit that you have been wrong, are wrong and will be wrong.
  6. Forgive and apologise
  7. Consider that there are other people around who also feel and whose needs are as important as yours
  8. Prioritize other people’s needs over yours more often, and then forget it, don’t keep score on this
  9. Forgive and forget other people’s debts to you
  10. Remember and repay your own debts
  11. Welcome critique and self-critique, thank those who can offer them with grace
  12. Manifest unconditional regard (acceptance without endorsement)
  13. Notice what you are failing to learn from recurrent battles by observing your resistance patterns.

What you should try to do more and more (fake it until you make it)

  1. Be kind, generous, considerate and patient
  2. Be grateful, brave and smartly fearless
  3. Laugh at yourself
  4. Be open to being surprised
  5. Welcome joy, humour and laughter
  6. Cuddle – with your body, not your narratives
  7. Do what is needed rather than what you want to do
  8. Choose to do something that is difficult for you
  9. Hold the hand of pain if they come to visit (and they will)
  10. Be curious, observe yourself without investing in narratives of success or failure, be skeptical of your own opinions
  11. Expand our capacity to hold space for complexity, uncertainty, plurality, ambiguity and volatility; embrace the gifts of your failures
  12. Always be respectful and suspicious, say what you appreciate in other people without feeding insatiable desires for, validation, gratitude or being liked (in yourself or in others)
  13. Develop layered discernment as a lifelong and life-wide goal, especially when it is difficult and inconvenient for you. Choose your battles carefully, when you can. 

 Remember: We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. Be compassionate towards others and hyper-alert to your indulgences.

Exercise for friends/relatives or partners:

  1. Make a list of what would cause you to feel closer to [insert name of significant other human or non-human]?
  2. Make a list of what would cause [significant other] to feel genuinely closer to you?
  3. Make a list of what is difficult that you would need to do to move things in more generative directions in this relationship?
  4. Make a list of things that prevent you from doing that.
  5. Make a list of potential future implications and costs (for yourself and others) of you failing to move things differently?
  6. Where is your motivation grounded? Is it sustainable? Do you have enough sense of urgency and importance in relation to this issue to do the challenging and painful work of dis-investing in harmful behavior and the risky, difficult and uncertain work of getting rewired into building more generative relationships? Make a list of three things you need to remember when you become frustrated, exhausted and unmotivated with the challenges of this work.

4 Replies to “Anti-assholism memo”

  1. So interesting and touching the list I’ve just read. I think one of the first steps towards becoming ‘less asshole’ is to become more aware of our own personal limitations and illusions. I’ve been trying to practice mindfullness meditation for a while now, and one thing I’ve learned is that I need to be more skeptical of my opinions and certainties. By reading the list, I realized how much I need to work on to become a better person. Thank you for this memo.


  2. I witnessed this performance in 2019 and recognize the way it has impacted and stayed with me. I’m sharing a wondering about an assholism that is about sensing the threshold/sphincter that lets out what’s ready to be compost and is full of nerve endings rife with potential for both pain and pleasure as a tool for learning-with.

    Thank you for posting this!!


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