Civilization Ntopia: To Hell in a Narcissistic Handbasket

Uploaded 12/26/2014, approx. 6 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Cold Therapy.

As long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.

A wise man he was. Four centuries earlier, Matthew or Matteo Ouchi, a Jesuit father, wrote this about the Chinese.

Because of their ignorance of the size of the earth and the exaggerated opinion they have of themselves, the Chinese are of the opinion that only China's motivations is deserving of admiration.

Relative to the grandeur of empire, public administration, and reputation of learning, they look upon all other people, not only as barbarous, but as unreasoning animals.

To the Chinese, there is no other place on earth that can boast of a king, a dynasty, or of culture.

The more their pride is inflated by this ignorance, the more humiliated the Chinese become when the truth is revealed.

Four centuries later, our civilization is all Chinese. It is based on a Carolinian mentality for every man for himself.

What's in it for me? Out with the very old, in with the untried new.

Malignant individualism run amok and gun awry, infecting and contaminating every act and behavior. Even charitable giving has been transformed into narcissistic altruism, tax deductible, of course.

As their societies and their resistance implode and crumble, and as their skills are rendered obsolete, people suffer anomic traumas, deep pain, terror-filled disorientation in equal measures.

People feel utterly alienated and atomized, and they react with hurt aversion, avoidance, and reclusion.

We are all schizoids nowadays. Technology enables it. There's empathy, emotional sustenance, that communal support, solidarity, loyalty, and a sense of belonging all become relics of a fast-receiving past.

The mass victims of anomic trauma put a primitive stock gap, a last resort narcissistic defenses. These, in turn, only exacerbate the very traumatic conditions, social dislocations, and experiences that necessitated their deployment in the first place.

So it is a vicious cycle.

Moreover, the anonymity, which is the inevitable outcome of life in anthill prisons and in cities with millions of denizens, today these are the abodes of three quarters of humanity in the wake of relentless urbanization.

So the anonymity of these three quarters of humanity is excruciating.

In an effort to reassert the self-identity and to remind other people of their existence as something more than a statistic, people resort to ever escalating attention-grabbing and seeking behaviors coupled with aggressive boundary setting.

So the grab as you can and then the consequences to yourself and others mentality spreads across generations and among peers.

There is no refuge. Lower. Collectives, large collectives like nations, the church, small collectives like families, workplaces, corporations, neighborhoods. Collectives are rendered dysfunctional by rapid fire changes and commensurate enabling technology.

Our very ability to self-organize, self-assemble, and act in unison is in jeopardy as is our future as a species.

From the dawn of history to the late 1950s, the collective was the organizing principle of human affairs.

The pursuit of happiness was channeled via collectives and even dissidents and rebels formed collectives to express their grievances.

But this old system brought humanity to the verge of extinction. Disenchanted with mass ideologies, people switched to the opposite pole, militant individualism.

And this became the new battle crime, an organizing principle of increasingly more narcissistic collectives and individuals alike.

In their book, Personality Disorders in Modern Life, Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was the preserve of the royal and the wealthy, and that it seems to have gained prominence only in the late 20th century.

Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Individuals in less advantaged nations are too busy trying to survive to be arrogant or grandiose.

Millon and Davis, like Clash before them, Christopher Lash, attribute pathological narcissism to a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States.

They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with star power or respect.

In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is God's gift to the world, they say. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is God's gift to the collective.

Millon quotes Warren and Capone's The Rise of the Narcissistic Personality in America, Japan and Denmark.

It says, individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard in individualistic societies are rather self-contained and independent.

In collectivist cultures, narcissistic configurations of the we, self, denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honor of the family, groups and others in hierarchical relationships.

I beg to differ. Having lived in the past 20 years in 12 countries on four coordinates, from the impoverished to the affluent, with individualistic and collectivist societies, I am in the position to know that Millon and Davis are wrong.

Theirs is indeed the quintessentially provincial American point of view, which lacks an intimate knowledge of other parts of the world.

Pathological narcissism is a ubiquitous phenomenon because every human being, regardless of the nature of his society and culture, develops healthy narcissism early in life.

Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse and trauma. And abuse and trauma, alas, are universal human behaviors and occurrences.

When we say abuse, we need any refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual. Smothering, daunting and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating or incest.

With 7 billion humans on the planet, the need to assert oneself, the need to be noticed, to be recognized as unique, is ever more pressing.

No one likes to feel like a cog in a machine, an atom in an organism, or a speck of dust among billions.

Consumerism and mass communication that lead to global culture and societal homogeneity foster the same narcissistic reactions and provoke the same narcissistic defenses in whole collectives as they do in individual.

They are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai Desert, day laborers in Eastern Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. I have lived in all these places.

Malignant narcissism is all pervasive and independent of culture and society. It is true, though, that the way pathological narcissism manifests in his experience is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures.

In some cultures, narcissism is encouraged, the United States. In others, it is suppressed, Japan. In some societies, it is channeled against minorities, the countries of abundance. In others, it is tainted with paranoia, Israel. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, China, in individualistic societies, and it is an individual's trait.

Yet, can families, organizations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations, corporations, be safely described as narcissistic or pathologically self-absorbed? Wouldn't such generalizations be a trifle racist and more than a trifle wrong, narcissistic profiling?

The answer is, it depends.

Human collectives, states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, operations, groups, hands, human collectives acquire a life and a character all their own.

The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecretary of numerous its enemies, the more intensive, the physical and emotional experiences of the individual that is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history, the more rigorous, might, and assertion of a common pathology be.

Such a more pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining, though often implicit or underlying mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable, a pattern of conduct, blended with distorted cognition and stunted emotions, and it is often vehemently denied by the collective and by its members.

So here we are, beginning of a new century, more narcissistic than ever, more psychopathic by the day, on the way to Antopia, to hell in a narcissistic handbasket. Happy New Year.

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