So today I want to discuss what can we do about the spread of narcissism?
We as collectives, we as individuals, is there anything we can do to reverse this process or contain it or ameliorate it or mitigate it to something?
The rise of narcissism is inexorable. It is a trend comparable to climate change and to the shift in gender roles.
I don't believe there's going back now. There is no going back now.
If I'm right, this calls for major adaptations on multiple levels, individual, institutional and collective, as I've said.
And I would like to point out to three of them in broad brushstrokes.
I propose to my patient Vincent van Gogh.
Number one, to harness the considerable energy of narcissism and channel it in socially acceptable ways, sublimated. Very similar to climate change, trying to reverse climate change is hopeless.
Instead, we should invest everything we have in adapting to the inevitable inexorable outcomes of climate change.
It's the same with narcissism. Narcissism is here to stay. It's going to grow. It's a pandemic. It's a viral infection. Everyone is going to be affected. Everyone is going to become more and more and more narcissistic because narcissism is a positive adaptation. It allows us to survive better in a world which is impersonal, atomized and demands a modicum of selfishness and even psychopathy.
So rather than actors, don't shorten and attack the windmills, why don't we simply channel narcissism? Why don't we divert this enormous energy and use it in ways which are beneficial to everyone, socially acceptable ways.
This process is known as sublimation.
Consider, for example, pro-social narcissists, communal narcissists. They work, they are altruistic, they are givers, they are charitable. Most creative people display pronoun signs of narcissism. So exactly as Hans Eisel had suggested, creativity is somehow linked to psychopathology, psychoticism, narcissism.
We shouldn't get rid of the bath with the bath water, with the baby, with the bathroom and the whole apartment and building. We should be much more discriminating in where healthy, high-functioning, socially beneficial narcissism stops and the malignant variety stops.
Pro-social and communal narcissism could spell a workable compromise in a future that is ineluctably narcissistic.
Number two, we should put in place checks, balances and institutions to prevent the more destructive, insidious and pernicious outcomes and aspects of narcissism.
We should acknowledge and accept narcissism is a threat to every individual and on a species level. And we should rebuild everything, reconstruct everything to accommodate narcissism or to contain it as the case may be.
We should be clear-eyed about this. We should realize all the dangers. We should teach our children to acknowledge, recognize and accept the inevitable.
We should prepare.
Indeed, my third point is that we should prepare the general populace to accept narcissism as a part of the landscape and the zeitgeist.
And this latter goal is best accomplished via technologies that will provide outlets to conforming positively healthy narcissism.
And at the same time, these technologies should isolate and penalize users from an increasingly more narcissistic environment.
In other words, users who are malignant, overt, in your face, defiant, reckless, should be isolated and penalized. Technologies in general should act as a buffer between their users and the rising tide and tsunami of narcissism because inevitably until we adapt and regulate narcissism, there will be many victims and many sacrifices required.
So technologies should isolate users from an increasingly more narcissistic reality as much as possible.
Social media in the metaverse is harbingers of these twin tasks.
Our examples, atomization and self-sufficiency, as well as the disintegration of social institutions, are mere symptoms of this tectonic shift in what it means to be human, actually, and what reality means.
We are transitioning to a land of fantasy and simulation and we are utterly unprepared. Even more profoundly, pathological narcissism is a form of religion.
And so while I did say a minute ago that social media in the metaverse exemplify the tasks of protecting users from a harsh reality and yet allowing them to express their narcissism.
And if I said a minute ago that atomization and self-sufficiency and the disintegration of social institutions are symptoms of a tectonic shift, I think this tectonic shift is not merely in how we organize our societies and how we redefine our cultures, and of course ourselves.
I think this tectonic shift is from a set of monotheistic hierarchical centered religions to a new distributed network religion, narcissism.
Pathological narcissism develops as a set of complex psychological defenses against childhood abuse and trauma in all its forms, including not only classical maltreatment but also idolizing the child, smothering, parentifying or instrumentalizing the child.
These are all forms of abuse, and then there are defenses against this abuse, and these defenses coalesce and become pathological narcissism in adulthood.
Whenever the child is not allowed to separate from the parental figures, when the child is not permitted to form boundaries and to individually become an individual, a disorder of some kind ensues, secondary pathological narcissism being among the most prevalent.
In the narcissistic pathology, the child forms a paracosm, a virtual reality, a fantastic universe, and the paracosm is ruled over by an imaginary friend who is everything the child is not.
This imaginary friend is all-knowing, omniscient, all-powerful, omnipotent, perfect, brilliant and only present. In short, this imaginary friend is a godhead or a divinity.
The child worships the newfound ally and makes a human sacrifice to this monarch, to this unforgiving god. The child offers to this divinity, to this deity, his true self.
In other words, there's a new god, it's a private religion, and there's a human sacrifice involved, the child himself.
The child strikes a freustian deal, he is endowed with a grandiose albeit fragile self-image and a fantastic self-reception.
But in return for this, in return for the ability to subsist and persevere in a fantasy of self-grandeur, in return for this, the child ceases to exist.
The narcissist outsources his ego-boundary functions to the false self.
The narcissist regulates his internal environment, for example, his sense of self-worth, via constant feedback from a multitude of interchangeable sources of narcissistic supply.
The narcissist is a veritable hive mind.
Narcissism, therefore, is a celebration, the elevation, the glorification of a superior absence, a howling emptiness, the old devouring void of a black hole with a galaxy of internal objects, interjects swirling around it.
Narcissism is a private religion which resembles very much primitive faiths and religions. It is a fantasy defense writ large and gone, having metamorphosized into a delusion.
Reality testing is severely impaired in narcissism and the narcissist mistakes in the representations of people with external objects that give rise to them.
In other words, he confuses people with how he sees people. He confuses people with the internal object in his mind that represents these people, the internal objects, the avatars.
As a growing number of people become increasingly more narcissistic and as our civilization rewards narcissism and veers towards it, the allure of the narcissism religion is growing exponentially.
It is beginning to be widely and counterfactually glamorized, even in academe, as a positive adaptation.
Counterfactually, because narcissism, ineluctably and invariably, devolves into self-defeat and self-destruction.
Narcissism is the first distributed or networked faith. Every believer and every practitioner, in other words, the narcissist, is a worshiper.
But every believer and every practitioner is also the god that he worships, as a godlike false self.
So the narcissist is both a god and a worshiper.
Every node in this network, every narcissist, is equipotent because all narcissists are omnipotent. So every node is equal to every other node in terms of its capacities, which are infinite, godlike. And every node is self-sustaining as it seeks to consume and to elicit narcissistic supply, attention, good, or bad.
And like every religion before it, narcissism is first becoming an organizing and hermeneutic explanatory principle.
Narcissism imbues existence with meaning and direction. Narcissism is both prescriptive, tells you what to do, and proscriptive tells you what not to do. Fueled by technologies like social media, narcissism is spreading with more alacrity than any previous historical faith.
Pathological narcissism is also missionary, exactly like other monotheistic religions.
The narcissist attempts to convert potential sources of narcissistic supply and intimate partners to participate in his shared fantasy, to worship his grandiose deity, the false self, and to adhere to his creed.
Everything I said above applies with equal rigor to narcissistic collectives.
This is where the danger lurks.
Narcissism is aggressive and it is intolerant. It is dysempathic. Dysempathic is exploitative. Narcissism is a death cult. It elevates objects above people.
In a society of the spectacle, everyone is rendered a commodity. Materialism and consumerism are manifestations of narcissism as is malignant or stentatious individualism.
Narcissism in collectives is indistinguishable from the individual sort. It is always adversarial and results in dismal self-defeat and self-destruction.
Left unbridled and unconstrained, ideologically elevated, narcissism can bring about a martyrdom in more than one way.