What Makes Us Rude?

We’re either genetically predisposed or we’re jerks.

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Rudeness is hilarious.” Zach Galifianakis

Scientists study all sorts of things. Some are obvious like cancer and the long-term effects of binge-watching Game of Thrones. Others make us wonder how they got grants in the first place.

One research study looked at rudeness and concluded that we’re all jerks. They didn’t actually say we’re all jerks, but statistically, according to their findings, we’re jerks and it’s definitely contagious.

In a study carried out at the University of Florida, researchers Trevor Foulk, Andrew Woolum and Amir Erez determined that rudeness is like a virus. It spreads because we handle rudeness the same way we handle the flu. We infect everyone within farting distance (they didn’t say that because they’re researchers, and you don’t get grants mentioning the word fart).

In Wyoming, you’re always in close proximity to cows (who are within farting distance of everything, including Montana).

If you’ve been to New York, for instance, you realize everyone is within farting distance, just as in Wyoming, you’re always in close proximity to cows (who are within farting distance of everything, including Montana).

Given our need to follow others, meaning watching other people be jerks, we become jerks. It’s not exactly “monkey see, monkey do.” We can think for ourselves, but when it comes to bad behaviour we spread it around like caviar on a Ritz cracker.

Say someone treats us shabbily, we respond by treating someone else shabbily. Even children do this. There was one study called the Bobo Doll Experiment where children were shown adults abusing a doll. The children ended up abusing the doll, sometimes with more fervor than the adults.

This is considered “learned behaviour,” but it might go deeper than that. It might be in our DNA to beat the crap out of doll, something passed down by our ancestors. Violence just takes rudeness to the next level.

From an inherited point of view, though, she was her father’s daughter. Henry VIII was one of the rudest bastards of all time.

Historically speaking, survival demanded a certain amount of rudeness. Queen Elizabeth I made a point of being obnoxious to some of her advisors (even Cecil) to establish her position as ruling monarch. Otherwise the patriarchs (meaning every man in Royal consul) would have walked all over her. From an inherited point of view, though, she was her father’s daughter. Henry VIII was one of the rudest bastards of all time.

Back in those days, protective mechanisms were very popular with royalty. Either you established your superiority through abusive words or you risked getting a pike in the back. Somehow that seeped into our DNA, with scientists believing these behaviors are triggered more than learned.

By triggered, it’s like a fear of blood. We can’t explain why the mere sight of it makes us woozy, but it could be ingrained in us from centuries of bloodshed. The shock of, say, losing a limb or an eye could still be in our subconscious.

From an anthropologic standpoint, it kinda lets us off the hook. Our ancestors made us what we are today, yet it still doesn’t explain the level of rudeness we see in our lives. According to a recent study, 91 percent of Americans admit we’re really rude. Not just rude but insufferably rude, what scientists call high-intensity behaviour. We’ve become Super Jerks.

Fox News is nothing but Super Jerks. There isn’t one evangelical preacher today who isn’t a Super Jerk.

Whether it’s the current administration, or Tucker Carlson or Ann Coulter, Super Jerks abound in every level of society today. Fox News is nothing but Super Jerks. There isn’t one evangelical preacher today who isn’t a Super Jerk.

How that plays down to the general public level is interesting. Can any news commentator (or president) trigger our high-intensity rude behaviors? Or has our DNA predisposed us to being Super Jerks?

Take the case of the mom who asked a little boy to leave the play ground so her daughter and friends could have a “girls only” play date. As she explained to advice columnist, Carolyn Hax of The Washington Post, “I asked her [boy’s mother] nicely if she would mind leaving because we had wanted it to be a girls-only time. She refused and seemed angry with me.”

This mom went on to say, “We live in a world where boys get everything and girls are left with the crumbs, and I would think this mom would realize that, but she seems to think her son is entitled to crash this girls-only time.”

“That kid is a human being,” Hax wrote, “ — not with privileged little man feelings, either, but with feelings period.”

Carolyn Hax diplomatically pointed out that little boys ain’t exactly full-fledged chauvinists. “That kid is a human being,” Hax wrote, “ — not with privileged little man feelings, either, but with feelings period.”

She also raised the obvious point that public playgrounds are, you know, public. If the mom wanted a “girls only” playtime, host it on private property.

“And if you’re going to accuse anyone of being ‘entitled,’” Hax continued, “then ask yourself who was claiming possession of public space for her own purposes.”

Well, that showed her, or it would have if the mother didn’t feel she was on safe ground with her feminism and motherhood. Based on her letter to Hax, she obviously felt justified. She even asked Hax if there might be a better way to shoo little boys away from playgrounds in the future.

Wow, I mean, farts really do travel — even in Washington. Did something in this mom’s ancestral history trigger this, or are we simply dealing with “new manners,” which essentially means no manners at all?

This could be a problem, especially in states where little boys get their first guns not long after breast feeding.

I’m sure most feminists wish this feminist would stop mentioning feminism in case someone starts checking out playgrounds to see if “shooing little boys away” happens all the time. This could be a problem, especially in states where little boys get their first guns not long after breast feeding.

Anyway, the scientists I mentioned earlier claim there are two types of behaviors: low-intensity and high-intensity. According to them, high-intensity refers to outright rudeness. As far as triggering goes, the mom might have come from a long line of “crumb eaters,” or she picked up the “rude virus” from any number of “girls time only” worshippers.

Fortunately, the triggers didn’t lead to any real violence outside of both women staring daggers, which happens every day at Starbucks. The little boy’s mom stuck to low-intensity behaviour, possibly the way her ancestors did when they were “crumb eaters.” She walked away mad, not realizing her son “crashed” a girls-only time. She thought she was just taking her kid to the park, a common mistake considering there aren’t any “girls-only” signs.

Was the girl’s mother a Super Jerk, or are we seeing what manners — or lack of them — have reached these days? And if it’s our natural inclination to be rude when we feel justified, are we bound to be rude all the time?

If we look at Tucker Carlson, he’s rude on a daily basis, particularly to anyone having the nerve to call themselves Democrats or card-carrying lesbians.

If you want a stark-raving right-wing Republican on your hands, deny them the monkey bars. Most of the GOP were probably denied the monkey bars as kids, and now we’re paying the price.

Were his ancestors “crumb eaters” or is he the product of the rudeness around him? More importantly, was he shooed out of playgrounds as a child? If you want a stark-raving right-wing Republican on your hands, deny them the monkey bars growing up. Most of the GOP were probably denied the monkey bars as kids, and now we’re paying the price.

Whether rudeness is viral or inherited, we’ve certainly got a lot of Super Jerks. Some are actively employed in jobs that allow jerkiness, although Carlson just lost 70 percent of his advertisers so it might not be allowed much longer.

No doubt the “girls-only” mom thinks this whole thing is overblown, just as Tucker Carlson thinks his comment about “white supremacy being overblown” is overblown. You can’t argue this thing out in the court of public opinion.

Rude people will always feel justified, mostly because they’ve got a lot of rude people on their side. Fox News still hasn’t fired Carlson, and God knows if playgrounds are any safer for little boys.

Either we do something about the “triggers” or we do something about Fox News.

Hopefully, they are, but you can’t be too sure these days. Rudeness is on the rise. Either we do something about the “triggers” or we do something about Fox News.

In either case, we’ve got to get our rudeness in check. Otherwise we’ll all end up being Super Jerks with bad memories of crumbs and monkey bars.

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (in paperback August 6th). Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.

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I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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