Okay, usually I’m all behind XKCD, but today’s installment is a bit of a head-scratcher.
The title seems especially ill-chosen. I mean, I know that Randall’s not a doctor of linguistics, but he’s usually pretty on the ball. Clearly he can’t mean the title as a normative statement, but he also has to understand that “how it works” will commonly parse as “how it should work”. The fact that there’s no comeuppance for the jerk doesn’t help here. Without further comment, it’s easy to read the comic as an endorsement of this attitude.
The other thing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that the guy on the left is not a clearly-defined character we all know to be unpleasant already. Yes, I know this is arguing semiotics, but there’s a reason Goofus and Gallant comics are so easily read: a generic character will be interpreted as a generic person. Their behavior is then also taken as generic. Putting the Hat Guy in there would go a long way towards making this not seem like an endorsement.
And then the details are off. The characters are looking at a calculus problem. I don’t know anyone — at least any instructor — in this day and age who thinks like this at the calculus level. As far as I know, the psychological damage is usually done by this point. The attitude comes in during grade-school, so an arithmetic problem (and younger characters at the board) would be more appropriate. That is, unless Randall is asserting that this attitude is endemic (remember generic character => generic person) among calculus instructors.
In that case I really have to disagree with him on the strongest possible terms. But again, there’s no further comment, and the whole thing just feels disappointing as a result.