Want to feel better about yourself? Confident that your moral compass is pointed in the right direction? May I introduce you to a very interesting corner of the internet: the ‘Am I The A**hole?’ community.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, here’s a quick intro. On discussion website Reddit, people take to a subreddit entitled Am I The A**hole? (AITA) in which they bring personal conundrums to a wider audience.
Mostly, these people want to relieve themselves of guilt after some wrongdoing. Other times, they fully believe themselves to be in the right.
There’s not a soap opera in the land that can touch it. Among the more recent questions asked on the site are: “AITA for taking my friend to court after she kicked me out of her bridal party for cutting my hair?”; “AITA for putting jalapenos on my pizza so my girlfriend won’t eat it?”; “AITA for breaking up with him because of his job?”; “AITA for getting engaged a week before my sister’s wedding and wanting to use the family event to discuss my own plans?”; “AITA for working 100 hours a week and complaining about helping my wife with our newborn baby?”
More recently, a man wondered if he was wrong to donate sperm to his asexual female friend, who is now pregnant with twins, and whether he should let his wife know.
It is ultimately up to the readers to pass judgment on who might be in the right, but if you’re asking the question, there’s a very good chance you already know the answer.
“This subreddit is here for the submitter to discover what everyone else thinks of the ethics or mores of a situation,” the site header warns.
“It is not here to draw people into an argument you want to have, or to defend your position. If people start saying you were the a**hole, do not take that as an invitation to debate them on the subject… accept the judgment and move on.” There are two verdicts, one of which the original poster must accept: You’re The A**hole (YTA) or Not The A**hole (NTA).
Yet, as we know all too well, folks on the internet love a spot of judgment and shaming. AITA is a modern-day equivalent of ye olde village stocks, where we can throw metaphorical tomatoes, as well as gorge on the tribulations of others.
Being able to make a public judgment call on a site that calls itself “a catharsis for the frustrated moral philosopher in all of us” — what’s not to like about that? With around 1.2 million subscribers poring over 800 new posts a day, you can be assured that things can get fairly heated.
Such is the site’s popularity that a podcast (aitapod.com) has surfaced.
The sanctimonious energy is high on AITA, which makes me think of an old saying: ‘Let he that is without sin cast the first stone’. Because if you’ve lived any significant amount of time on this planet, you have been, at one time or another, The A**hole.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been a truly terrible person, and I certainly don’t need a peanut gallery of anonymous arbiters telling me so. Recalling even a portion of the ways I’ve been a terrible person gives me the major ‘ick’. I’ve said horrible things about friends behind their backs. I’ve fallen out with them and revelled in the high drama. I’ve lied in job interviews. I’ve treated former partners badly. I’ve pulled the ladder up after myself professionally. I’ve passed on opportunities to do favours for people.
Or worse, I’ve done favours with the expectation of a pay-off down the line. I’ve written negative things about people in the national press, simply because an editor paid me to. I came of age as a writer in the Noughties, when showbiz journalism, with its ringed cellulite pieces in Heat magazine, was of a particularly cruel flavour. I’ve confused cruelty for a sharp wit.
I’ve been the kind of person who prided myself on being a firebrand truth teller, or stern giver of advice, with no time for social niceties. “You’re thinking it, but I’m saying it” was something I was overly fond of saying. But the thing is, social niceties exist for a damn good reason. What was all that about? Much of it was the simple idiocy of youth; of not knowing who I was yet. I gained ground by being the loudest, most shocking person in the room — something that’s almost impossible to do without coming off like an a**hole. I also realised that pretty much 99% of these actions came from a place of pain, or insecurity, or hurt.
And when you think about it, most awful human behaviour (the internet troll, the serial cheater, the bigot) has a similar origin story.
We’d all do well to remember how much of an a**hole we’ve been in the past before calling other people out on their nefarious ways.
I get it. Passing up an opportunity to be morally superior is hard, especially if, as is the case on the AITA subreddit, people are actively encouraging it. But it’s worth remembering that judging others doesn’t exactly cover you in glory, either.