There's a new subreddit for nosy people like me who love nothing more than reading about other people’s problems. “Am I The Asshole?” is exactly as it sounds: people write about a disagreement going on in their lives and ask readers whether they’re being an asshole or not. People then comment underneath with validation, insults, advice – whatever they feel the situation calls for. It’s utterly fascinating, not just to see what people will write about (one post is titled “AITA for sending pics of my poops to friends” another, simply, “I Hate Poor People”) but also to watch how people respond to them.
This isn’t a new concept – Mumsnet’s “Am I Being Unreasonable?” forum is along similar lines – but I think the fact that this new forum is on Reddit is quite remarkable. See, I spend a lot of time on Reddit because it’s an excellent source of cute animal photos, but it's impossible to lazily click around on the site for any length of time without stumbling across its darker parts.
There’s the r/theredpill, full of men who think women only exist to provide sex to men. Even worse is r/redpillwomen, the home of women who agree with them. There are the political forums, the gaming forums, the super-conservative forums. Reddit is a playground for pick-up artists and meninists and furious political discourse; it’s home to untold numbers of incredibly angry men who have spent their entire lives feeling like their behaviour and opinions are absolutely right and correct, and that anyone who challenges them is a libtard or a social-justice warrior or any other ridiculous term they make up in order to dismiss those who challenge their beliefs. And now, in the middle of this sea of raging righteousness, is a little island inviting them to ask one question: am I the asshole?
It’s an important shift. There has been a lot of political and social change in the past few years, and a lot of the discussion around it has happened online. The nature of this discussion, and the fast-changing nature of it, means that we’ve had to come to a decision on what we think and feel about incredibly complex issues very quickly, then defend those opinions loudly and publicly. It’s been a nightmare, quite frankly, and not at all conducive to making real societal change.
By recognising that we, despite our best efforts, are sometimes assholes, we recognise the complexity of human beings
But then, last year, there was #MeToo, and as a result there were the stories of Cat Person and Aziz Ansari. Two stories where nothing illegal happened, but which left women feeling awful. Stories that made men realise that even if they weren’t necessarily breaking the law, they weren’t really helping the causes they purported to support. #MeToo forced them to confront the reality that their sexual behaviour is not OK – and, maybe, they’re following that with the realisation that if their sexual behaviour isn't OK, what if all this other behaviour they unquestioningly thought was OK wasn't?
Slowly, slowly, this realisation is encouraging change. Quentin Tarantino yesterday apologised for defending Roman Polanski, realising 15 years later that his comments were wrong. Matt Damon blundered into #MeToo with opinions that he felt needed to be heard, before realising that he should probably “close his mouth for a while". It’s incredibly rare for someone in the public eye to sincerely say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry and I want to do better.” And, now, all need to follow suit.
By recognising that we, despite our best efforts, are sometimes assholes, we recognise the complexity of human beings. We’ve spent the last few years seeing people and issues in black and white, good vs evil, right vs wrong, but, actually, the world is a million shades of every colour and things are more complicated than that. A funny, clever, self-identified feminist man can also have appalling sexual behaviour. A brave woman standing up for the rights of the sexually abused can also be transphobic. We can hold all the right-on opinions in the world, yet still behave in incredibly shitty ways. This doesn’t necessarily make us, or a celebrity, a bad person – it just makes you human. What makes them, and us, a bad person is the unwillingness to change that behaviour once it’s recognised.
So, yes, the Am I The Asshole? subreddit is making me feel quite hopeful. If Gamergaters and the meninists and the PUAs, and all the people who do truly horrible things because of an unshaken belief in their beliefs, can question their behaviour and seek to improve it, then everyone can. If we want to make a change in the world, the best way to start is by examining our own behaviour and seeing how we can improve – and we can only do that by asking ourselves two questions: am I the asshole? And, if so, what am I going to do about it?