Amidst the hype and hoopla surrounding the inevitable advent of self-driving cars, one affected constituency has been all too easy to overlook: assholes.
The same folks who routinely and casually cut you off, who pass you on the shoulder, and who tailgate so closely they might as well be in your trunk, now face the unthinkable prospect of no longer being able to brazenly terrorize their fellow drivers.
Already, a nationwide petition has circulated demanding the right to continue to pilot their own vehicles, which has garnered the signatures of several thousand assholes.
At the same time, many other assholes have taken to social media, spreading the message that if self-driving cars become the norm, they will no longer have a reason to live.
To find out more about this fraught issue, I spoke by phone with Dr. Judith Snorr, therapist to some of the biggest assholes in Los Angeles. Our conversation below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Me: Every day, all of us who commute by car, or simply have the misfortune of needing to drive to the bank, are confronted with assholes on the road. Can you shed some light on where all these assholes come from?
Dr. Snorr: That’s a great question. This debate about assholes has been going on since the beginning of time, a kind of nature versus nurture issue. Are they just born that way? I’m sorry to say that even now, we’re not entirely sure.
What’s more interesting to me is recent research that seems to point to the role that brain chemistry plays in prompting behaviors we might objectively label as asshole-ish. So now we’re beginning to understand assholes more in terms of pleasure and addiction.
Me: What does that mean? Does that mean that assholes are addicted to being assholes?
Dr. Snorr: Well, kind of. It’s important to understand that your typical asshole is not like you or me. By and large, they’re unable to derive any pleasure from things like food, sex, or the company of other human beings. The only way they really experience pleasure is by flagrantly violating the norms of polite society.
Me: It sure does seem that way.
Dr. Snorr: Right, so here’s what we think we know: each time an asshole behaves like a total and complete schmuck, it stimulates pleasure centers in their brains, releasing serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. The assholes then chase that high, much like drug addicts do.
Me: And that’s why we see more and more anti-social behavior?
Dr. Snorr: We think so. Let me give you an illustration. I have a patient, let’s call her Samantha. The first time Samantha deliberately and recklessly blew past a stopped school bus—sending a number of terrified children scurrying for their lives—she experienced an intense high. And that high lasted quite a few days. Then, weeks later, when she pulled the same stunt, the high was less intense. Now, every afternoon like clockwork she gets in her Land Rover HSE and follows school buses around just so she can pass them when their red lights start flashing. Sadly, the thrill she feels is incrementally diminished each time this happens.
Me: So, I guess the question is, what will she do when self-driving cars mean she can no longer drive at all?
Dr. Snorr: Right. You can only imagine what happens when we discuss the topic. She goes into a full-blown freak out, thrashing around, wailing like a paid mourner. It’s awful to behold.
Me: That does sound awful.
Dr. Snorr: I can tell you that for assholes like Samantha, the introduction of self-driving cars is going to be more devastating than the loss of a child or spouse.
Me: So what kinds of things are you suggesting to your patients?
Dr. Snorr: Right now, I’m telling them to get creative. Of course, driving a car aggressively is the easiest way to be an asshole. But if you think about it, there are all kinds of other opportunities that don’t involve driving. For example, you could talk loudly during a movie. Or, you could go into a department store, bring any random item of clothing to the register, and then insist you found it on the 20% off rack. After an hour of arguing, when they finally agree to give you 20% off, tell them you didn’t even want the stupid capri sweatpants in the first place, and storm out.
Me: It seems like those kinds of things all take some planning—not as easy as just holding up a long line of traffic to make an illegal left turn.
Dr. Snorr: Sure, but here’s the other thing. Even if assholes do eventually find themselves confined to the back seats of self-driving cars, nothing says they can’t engage in vulgar, obscene, or otherwise disgusting activities there, in full view of everyone else on the road.
Me: In the meantime, do you believe this petition to allow assholes to continue driving will gain traction, or actually lead to legislation?
Dr. Snorr: I don’t know. It's possible. Given the sheer number of assholes who hold elected office, nothing would surprise me.