As it seems to by symmetry week here at CV, I thought I’d touch upon something related to one of the many events that happened during a recent vortex of unbloggability (i.e., when everything that I wanted to write about would only be publishable on a pseudonymous blog).
Astronomer Fritz Zwicky frequently employed the term “spherical bastard” to describe a group of rival astronomers, since in Zwicky’s view, they were bastards any way you looked at them. While Zwicky had no patience for this group, I would argue that fully-symmetric bastards are the easiest of assholes to deal with. No one is surprised when a known, calibrated asshole acts up. We all just adjust the gain on our emotional response and carry on. I’ve been quite fond of many assholes through the years, and when I look back, the one trait they shared was that while they may have been ornery, they were at least predictable.
In contrast, I cannot abide asymmetric assholes. These are the people who stroke those who are of use to them, and claw those they deem inferior. They ignore you before you win a fancy fellowship, but suddenly talk to you when you do. They flatter established faculty, but don’t hesitate to sabotage the same professor’s students.
Let me warn you, o asymmetric asshole — people talk to each other. That person you’re actively trying to sabotage? They have mentors. Who are sometimes the people whose behinds you’re trying to kiss.
You may think you’re getting away with it. But trust me. You’re not. Or at least not for long.