Book: A Slap in the Face (William B. Irvine)

July 17, 2015



Found this book in the library and decided to give it a go! Contrary to what it looks like, it's not a book teaching you how to insult people. Rather, it goes through the psychology of it, helps you to identify the types of insults people throw, and also suggests reasons why and what you can do it about it.

The book is a rather 'sociological essay' kind of book in my opinion- it gives examples, quotes, and references together with the writer's own observations etc. However, no worries, it's still very easy to read! I laughed at some of the witty insults too, especially those from Churchill.



Here are some things I learnt from the book:
  • "It is obvious that we insult someone when we intentionally cause him pain by something we say or do. But we also insult him when we cause him pain by something we refuse to say or do." - It's so easy to insult people and hurt their feelings even when you didn't mean it. Tough life, folks.
  • Insults are relative. Try telling an esteemed artist that his art is 'sick'. Haha.
  • Basic kind of insult: Person to person. A very straightforward, direct insult. Level: easy

    Ie: You 're a big poop.
  • Next level: Quasi-verbal insults. This can mean making a farting sound, sighing, smirking, booing, whistling, miming, giving the finger etc.
  • Practical jokes can be an insult too- to make people feel humiliated.
  • The Cold Shoulder: The silent treatment is a popular social weapon- "67% of Americans admitted to using it on a loved one and 75% said a loved one used it on them."
  • Self-insult, aka self-deprecating humour. When you do this, it is difficult for others to make fun of you. Tight defense right there.
  • Group insults. Insulting entire groups through stereotyping etc (ie. my school/group/race/job/whatever is better than yours)
  • Backbiting, aka talking behind people's backs. You do this when you feel socially threatened. The example in the book gives a scenario about A, B and C. A and B are good friends but then comes along C. A is not happy about this and backbites C when she hangs out with B.

    And it's up to B on how she responds. If she joins in the backbiting, A is relieved. If B is defensive, A will feel more threatened than ever. And A might lose the friendship between them.
  • Often teasing insults are used to test waters, to see if someone changed. Ie. John has a promotion. People feel uncertain if he's gonna lord it everyone or not.

    "Eh John, upz liao la, now sit in the office kiao ka liao."
    Possible responses:
    1."Ya la, whole day shake leg only, damn shiok! Aiyah still need to kiss boss backside la, nothing changed."
    2. "Haha, thanks I worked hard for it. It's easier than I thought to be promoted!"

    ^See the difference when you self-insult?  *This is a very skewed example, btw, haha.
  • Dogs can insult people too by showing preference to the house guest rather than the master. OOOO BURNNN!
    "I like your friend more than you."
  • Subtle Digs: Honestly this chapter is very depressing. So many ways to fail at a social event.
  • 10 000 ways to fail, and offend people

    Scene: Go to a party hosted by a friend.

    1. Never try the food she made
    2. Try and fail to say it's nice
    3.Try and say it's nice but never ask for recipe
    4. Leave the party but  thank her.
    5.Thank her but fail to invite her for some other thing

    Scene: Post a picture of you winning an award, graduating, whatever. Thanks friends and family in description with a list of names.
    1. Why you list me in the middle? (Not happy with the order)
    2. Why am I the last name?
    3. Why you never mention me?
    4. (...and to all the people I have left out, you know who you are) sensitive, offended person response: If I'm so important you won't leave me out lor. Hmph. (lol)

    (Even if people don't tell all this to your face, they're thinking it.)
    Minefields everywhere. I think mostly you just really can't please everyone.

  • Insult by Omission: failing to invite someone to an event. 
  • Insult by Implication: Getting advice from people then never follow through at all! ie. You didn't follow my advice (you didn't value my advice)
  • Secondhand Insult: A was invited to a party that B wasn't. She may or may not have known you were not invited, by :
    A: What are you wearing to the party? I can't wait!
    B: Huh? What party? I wasn't invited la...
    A: Huh? But I thought yall so good friends she sure invite you...
    B: ...
    And then days later in a group gathering say shit like "Oh the party was so awesome!" ( silent thoughts: too bad you were not there, pfft :P)
  • Backhanded compliments."Prof is a great teacher cause he doesn't make us learn stuff."
  • Burning by praising others: ie. Praise someone and not the other.
  • Sarcastic comments: "Wah, good job la! Now everything is spilled."
  • Ambush insults: Most commonly: "You're such a great person...not!", "You made it so far in life... considering you didn't even finish school wow." These kind of mixed insults occur often because someone feels vaguely threatened by the successes of others. They worry that if they give undiluted praise, their social standing goes down. It's a put down that means "You did well, but it doesn't mean that you are better than I am."
  • Joking relationships. Came across this in Sociology last time. Basically you're so familiar/comfortable with someone you have a 'joking relationship' with. Teasing is a form of interaction that brings people closer.

    Quote from the book: "Then, if you are lucky, the day finally arrives when the group confers an affectionate nickname on you or makes you the butt of a joke. The fact that the group abuses you means that they have embraced you as one of their own."
  • Insults as Entertainment. People pay to be insulted. It's a challenge of wits. Also, Yo Momma jokes- contestants keep going until you can't.
  • "Why are the most painful insults we experience likely to come from those with whom we have close personal relationships?"
    -The closer a relationship is, the more likely we are to value it. (If we didn't value it, whey did we invest the necessary effort in the first place?)

    -The more value in a relationship, the greater the sense of loss it would be, the more intense pain would be.
    Examples: Source of pain. Same words, different relationship.
    Doctor: You need to lose weight.
    You: Okay ;_;

    Lover: You need to lose weight.
    You: DAFUQQQQ?
  • People with high self-esteem are more okay with you insulting them- they have a happy bubble that protects them. He doesn't feel threatened by the successes of others.
  • High self esteem but fragile self-image aka narcissists. He thinks he is brilliant but he wants your approval too.

  • Programs of self promotion, in more subtle ways: ie. Tattoo 'loyalty' in a different language on your arm, and when people ask you about it, have a chance to tell your story.
  • Ok this one is epic. "Another recent trend is the use of Internet for self-promotion. People create web pages to tell the world who they are, what they stand for, and what they have accomplished. They might round out this promotional effort by sending out many times a day, messages telling what they are doing, eating, or buying. Those who do this, I should add, are unlikely to characterise their online activities as a form of self promotion. To their way of thinking, they are just keeping in touch with friends."

    HAHAHAHA LOL Guilty as charged? For people who use Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, FB, Blogs ... aka people like me... lol. Well, that is that. Haha *flips hair*.  (Also; BUT IT'S TRUE? WE'RE REALLY JUST KEEP IN TOUCH WITH EACH OTHER? HAHA? Lol.)
  • THE CURE. What you can do to deal with insults.
    Most people insult to get a rise out of you. Non response is good. Saying ''thanks" works even better- it baffles people. Going the "Lol you have not seen how lazy I am at HOME," aka the self-deprecating/self insult method also helps.
  • Saying "Whatever" can lead to more angst. You are dismissing the person's feelings/thoughts, your feels are irrelevant! The power of dismissal. People don't like being dismissed.
  • Ok, here comes the more philosophical part. I like this part. It's about Stoicism.
    "Most people are unhappy, the Stoics reasoned, because they have chosen the wrong values by which to live in. Esp when they value fame and fortune.

    Though people seek to attain both fame and affluence, they're mostly doing it for the social status. If frugal lifestyles were to be admired and enhances their social standing, they'll do it. It's frustrating to have the get rich lifestyle because it never ends. Insatiable appetite for money, fame, status. The goal is arbitrary, when is "rich enough"?  So the Stoics think you're giving yourself unnecessary stress. You'll live life feeling dissatisfied with what you have, regardless of what you do have.
  • One way to 'cure this' is to /ragequit and quit the system. If you don't give a shit about the social hierarchy game, you don't feel threatened or insulted by people. Not easy to do of course. Stoics recommend putting virtue first instead. Ie. good values: being courageous, magnanimous, self-disciplined etc etc etc. They also like tranquility (something I relate to Zen principles..?)
Alright, check this book out if you wanna! I kinda summarised it in a very informal way here, but do check it out if you want to read it in it's full glory. Gonna check out more about Stoicism soon, sounds interesting. Catchya later!

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