Monetizing Suffering: Victimhood Capitalism (Atlantico Interview)

Uploaded 11/3/2022, approx. 24 minute read

Well, Professor Vaknin, thank you a lot for agreeing for this interview. You are a pioneer on the topic of narcissism, and you explained on a recent interview that your interest for the topic came from your personal experience.

So my first question would be, would you say that on this topic of narcissism, it takes one to know one?

No, I wouldn't say that at all. It's no more relevant than, for example, an oncologist who has cancer. So yes, a properly qualified and trained diagnostician is capable of diagnosing the narcissist within one or two sessions. It does involve, however, personal interaction with the narcissist. So we don't have efficacious tests. We have the narcissistic personality inventory, the MMPI, several others, but they're not very efficient. And what is even worse, they rely on honest self-reporting by the narcissist, which I find very common.

So it takes a personal session, talking to the narcissist, structured interviews, a lot of work, a lot of effort to pierce through the defenses, but it's doable, can be done.

However, it is true that because I have narcissistic personality disorder, I am able to identify other narcissists much faster and without any of these diagnostic tools. It's like we signal each other.

I heard of a similar thing among gay people. It seems that people who suffer from social exclusion or are socially inapt or have problem with social cues, autistic people, gay people, narcissists, even psychopaths, they're able to identify themselves to each other very, very fast.

And how do you, would you say that your journey on this topic for yourself helped you on your knowledge and on thinking of a narcissism?

No, most of my work, most of my work is based on the largest database of narcissists in the world. It has 2,132. As of this morning, another one joined. These are people who've been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. They must present a certificate by the therapist or diagnostician. Then they're included.

And there's a follow-up, this follow-up every one year, every year. So right now we have well over 1.1 billion data points in the database, which makes it the biggest by far. So most of my work is based on this.

Some of it involves introspection. Introspection used to be a very respectable tool in early psychology. All the big names in psychology at the time introspected and described their outcomes, but it has fallen out of favor as psychology tries to become a science, as psychology tries to emulate physics. Emphasis is now put on statistics and scientific experimentation and you're not allowed to introspect. That's a bad way of doing psychology.

Psychology is of course a pseudoscience. It's a pseudoscience. It can never be a science, but it has pretensions to science and there's a lot of money involved.

So they exclude introspection. Introspection constitutes about 10% of my work.

90% is a database.

And the question of narcissism in the media, in the university field looks like it is more pregnant nowadays than it used to be. Do you think that the era is more prone to the surge of narcissistic personalities or that we just focus on them more?

Well, several trends are at play.

First of all, we are much more aware of narcissism and it doesn't have to be disordered narcissism. It doesn't have to be the sick pathological variant of narcissism. It could be just narcissistic style or narcissistic personality or traits or behaviors. We are more attuned. We're more sensitized to this. And so we identify it much more often.

The second thing is that there is a real rise in the prevalence and incidence of narcissism, pathological narcissism, among mainly young people, mainly people under the age of 25. According to some studies, for example, by Twenge and others, there's been a quintupling of narcissism among this age group.

And of course, the technology both reflects this and enhances it, empowers narcissism. Civilization and societies, they become more narcissistic.

So narcissism is a positive adaptation. It pays to be a narcissist. You rise to the top, you become president of the United States, for example. So it's a good idea to be a narcissist.

In July 2016, new scientists, which is a respectable science journal, came up with a cover story. Parents, teach your children to be narcissists.

So narcissism is a bad tone.

And the third factor, I think, is that narcissism is no longer a clinical entity, but it is an organizing principle. It helps us to make sense of the world.

So now we look at politics, show business, even geopolitics and so on.

And we say, okay, if we use the principle of narcissism, then we can make sense of what's happening. It's meaningful. What's happening is meaningful.

And people are addicted to meaning. They seek meaning throughout their lives. So now they have this narcissism thing and suddenly they can label politicians, they can predict behaviors. It's a useful tool.

So I think that's why it's becoming more in the limelight, more in the headlines.

And for the rising numbers, especially amongst the youth you said, you mentioned the role of technology. How much does that account for this rise? And what are the other factors that we might identify?

Technology is a feedback mechanism. In itself, it doesn't create narcissism. Narcissism is usually a pathology that is engendered or fostered in early childhood. So it doesn't create pathological narcissism, but it definitely tends to legitimize narcissistic displays, spectacles.

It was a Frenchman who coined the phrase, the society of the spectacle. So social media tend to encourage spectacles of narcissism. Social media rewards narcissistic behaviors such as posting selfies and bragging.

So there is a vicious cycle of social media and technology in general, empowering narcissists, legitimizing narcissism and narcissistic behaviors and traits, thereby creating what we call a positive reinforcement.

In other words, every time you behave narcissistically, you get a cookie, you get a like, you get a follower, so it gives you reason to behave even more narcissistically. It's a mechanism known as positive reinforcement.

But technology has a very small part to play in the tidal wave, the tsunami of narcissism that is sweeping over us. I think there are other social trends which are much more important.

For example, the disintegration of all our institutions without exception, the church, the family, the communities, and even the nation state is disintegrating in a variety of ways. So that's very powerful.

We are in a state known as anomie. Our societies are anomic, anomic. That means the norms of behavior have disappeared. So it's very disorienting.

And narcissism is a compensatory mechanism. By pretending to be God, you're actually saying, no one can hurt me. Nothing bad can ever happen to me because I'm God. I'm all powerful. I'm all knowing and so on. So it's a compensation for fear and panic and anxiety. It's an anxiety-reducing mechanism, and our world creates a lot of anxiety.

The second thing is that for the first time in human history, we have multiple fundamental profound transitions.

For example, take gender. Gender roles have been fixed for well over 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution started, an organization a little later. And this is the first time in human history that we are transitioning from gender roles to an agented society or society which is uniganted without gender roles.

That is very disorienting, of course. But had this been the only transition, it would have been in itself very cataclysmic and unsettling.

And we see the war between the genders. That's a reaction. People are so unsettled, they become reactionary or they become violent or they become aggressive. Men and women. Women are becoming a lot more narcissistic, a lot more psychopathic, according to studies. Sexual behaviors are influenced by subclinical psychopathy to a very large extent.

There's a total disintegration of sexual scripts and so on.

So had this been the only transition, it would have been bad in itself.

But we are faced with at least 20 or 30 transitions of a similar magnitude, all of them simultaneous.

Humans are not built to cope with this. They're simply not built to cope with this.

I'm talking climate change, geopolitical realignment, gender roles, family, I mean, everything.

So women are not built to cope with such an amount of change. And what they're doing is they become delusional. They become even almost psychotic. They withdraw from reality and they create a solipsistic bubble universe where they are godlike.

I call narcissism a private religion.

The reason primitive religions arose, the reason later more of theistic religions came to being, is that people were terrified. They were in a state of panic. They didn't know how to cope with nature. So they created gods.

And so the same is happening today. We don't know how to cope with our reality. So we render ourselves god, gods and godlike. We create private religion. Private religion is narcissism.

So it's a religious reaction, actually. It's a form of religious reaction. And so on and so forth.

There are many things happening. And all of them give good reason to develop narcissism.

So the confluence is irresistible. And I believe that narcissism will become the norm, actually. People who are not narcissistic will fall behind, will procreate less. They will have fewer children.

So natural selection will favor narcissists and psychopaths, even psychopaths, more than narcissists. We are heading that way. That's my firm belief.

And do you think or do you know that there are some groups that are especially more becoming narcissists and psychopaths? Are there some groups that are especially following that trend or is it a global movement?

No, it's a global thing.

It's on the individual level. It's on the collective level.

However, as the sociologist Campbell noted, we have transitioned from the age of dignity to the age of victimhood.

So the reason you pernicious poisonous confluence is between victimhood and narcissism. There are narcissists whose grandiosity is being a victim. They feel superior because they are victims. So they have a vested interest to remain victims. They have an interest to force you to victimize them. They have an interest to feel entitled and to have grievances and to become frustrated and aggressive and violent if they don't get what they want.

Because all of this is intended to support, to buttress their sense of superiority, moral superiority, for example.

So while in the past victimhood movements, for example, the civil rights movements in the United States, we're not narcissistic. We're actually goal-oriented, purpose-oriented.

Today most victimhood movements are about grandiosity. They don't have any meaningful agendas. They just want to be heard. They want to garner attention. They want to become celebrities and famous. They want to control. They want to have power. They're power-oriented, power-hungry. They are entitled and aggressive and frustrated, and in many cases, violent.

Actually, every single political and social movement nowadays had converted itself into a victimhood movement. Many ideologies which were not victimhood-oriented became victimhood oriented.

You can't find, today, anything, the far right, the far left, political parties, gender. I mean, you name it. You can't find race, skin color, education. I mean, you name it. Everything is converted into the currency of victimhood. Everyone is a victim. Everyone in his dog is a victim, and if they can't find an abuser, they invent one or they force you to become one.

That's an exceedingly dangerous phenomenon because narcissism is about a lack of empathy. It's about entitlement and exploitativeness. It's an externalizing disorder. It's a disorder that leverages aggression.

When you couple this with victimhood, this is morally justified narcissism. This is legitimized narcissism, and so you see psychopathy becoming the norm.

But not psychopathy in your face, defiant, reckless, contumacious, hateful psychopathy, like in the past. This is psychopathy masquerading as sainthood. I'm not a psychopath. I'm a saint, and if you don't recognize it, I'm going to kill you.

You know, this is the message. I'm a victim, so I'm a saint. I'm morally superior to you. I have a right because I have grievances. I'm entitled. You have obligation towards me, and if you refuse to fulfill them, I will bloody kill you.

That's a message.

How do this shift happen from what you describe as the civil rights movement and the dignified victims to these victim-mulicultural movements and the praise of narcissism, in fact?

There are two phenomena, I think, involved.

One is that these movements have been hijacked by narcissists and psychopaths. There are studies in British Columbia University and so on that demonstrated this.

So narcissists and psychopaths saw an opportunity to become public faces of these movements. They infiltrated these movements and took over, and today these movements are tools, instruments of these psychopaths and narcissists.

That's the first development, and the second development is demonetization of victim. The minute it was possible to convert victimhood to money, many interests entered the game. For example, businessmen, corporations, and these are by nature narcissistic and psychopathic. A typical business lacks empathy, is goal-oriented, and has to compete and even be a bit vicious and even to survive. So business is a psychopathic environment, by definition.

The minute you monetize victimhood, it invites psychopaths, narcissists, and psychopathic narcissistic institutions and structures to join the game.

And this is precisely what happened.

So the more successful victimhood movements had become, the more they got compromised by outsiders.

Would you say that the rule of the left, political left, is important in allowing that to happen?

In some countries, not in all of them, of course.

In other countries, it was the right. For example, in Spain, in Franco-Spain, I'm sorry, it was the right. But so now it's Brazil. Obama is hungry. Both left and right have discovered the power of victimhood and the ability to monetize victimhood one way or another. The whole European Union project is a victimhood project, because countries apply to the European Union and say, you know, I have pollution, I've been abused by my neighbors, I need to educate my people.

So it is an entitlement-based program. I'm entitled, give me money.

And of course, victimhood had been discovered long before. The Nazi movement was a victimhood movement. Hitler's message was the German people had been victimized in Versailles by the Allies, and we should reclaim our dignity. We are victims, and we are entitled because we are victims.

And we are entitled to layman's home, we are entitled to living space, because they have confined us in a tiny territory, having taken away half of Germany.

Similar messages you had in Serbia, similar message you had in Hungary. So victimhood is not new, nothing new about victimhood.

But when victimhood in the past used to be dignified on the level of the individual and politicized on the level of the collective. So you had political victimhood, like Nazism, like communism. Communism was a victimhood movement.

The proletariat is abused by the business owners and the big feudal landowners. Yes, it's a victimhood movement.

So on the collective level, victimhood was politicized. On the individual level, victimhood was dignified, for example, in the civil rights movement. While this happened in the past, today victimhood is a business. It's simply a business. It's an offshoot of capitalism.

And because capitalism is ubiquitous and all pervasive, right or left, doesn't matter. It became big business.

That's as simple as this. Of course, the left is taking a right on victimhood, the work movements and other such bullshit, politically correct nonsense and so on. Of course, they're taking a right on it.

But you know what? The far right is doing the same. The alt right is doing the same. Alex Jones made two hundred million dollars of victimhood. And he's not exactly left wing.

Yeah. So it's all over the place. It's the monetization of suffering. The monetization of suffering was not suffering.

You invent suffering because it pays, as simple as it is.

Capitalism. If you want the root cause, it's the malignancy of capitalism. It's not capitalism as an ideology or capitalism as a form of allocating resources. It's very efficient form. It's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ideology of capitalism that became cancerous. The ideology that says you can measure everything with money and everything should be geared towards economic growth. This is not capitalism. This is an ideology superimposed on capitalism.

Nothing in capitalism says that you have to grow economically all the time. When you say I have to grow economically on the time means I have to produce new consumers and to produce new consumers. I need to brainwash them into consuming needlessly.

So there is a whole cycle here of very evil, evil mind control techniques. And the response to this by helpless people is narcissism. People feel helpless. People feel hopeless because of the forces of ideological capitalism. So they're responding but pretending that they are gods. It's a compulsive, it's a cause. It's utterly delusional, sick as religion. It's a form of religion.

And how to what extent and how much dangerous do you think that the victim culture might be to our societies?

Well, deadly more or less.

Take for example the gender issue. There is a precipitous collapse in the production of new new children. Now we say we don't need children. We have eight billion people. That's nonsense. We don't have eight billion people. We have two billion people who are old and over the age of 65. That's what we have. We miss two, three hundred million children.

In order to support the pension schemes, forget other things. So we have a deficit in children. And this deficit is direct outcome of gender wars and the uni-gender approach, which is a direct outcome of a victimhood movement known as feminism.

So there is an example for you. So we don't have children. 31% of adults in industrialized countries are single for life. They don't have relationships. They have two cats and Netflix. That's what they have a life.

You know, it's bad.

Situation is seriously bad. Women and men are totally disoriented. They hate each other. They fight each other.

You have phenomena like MGTOW and insulin, red pillows, sick phenomena of sick people. It's bad.

And I'm giving you only one example of 20 or 30 such dislocations, such transformations, all of them without exception, based on victimhood.

Organizing yourself, creating identity politics around victimhood is destructive to you and to others. It's destructive to you because you can never feel self-respect and dignity because you're a victim. As a victim, you're passive. As a victim, you're helpless. As a victim, you're hopeless. It's detrimental to you, but it's also destructive to your environment because as a victim, you feel entitled. As a victim, you're frustrated. As a victim, inevitably you become aggressive. And as a victim, you hate other people and you just want to shut yourself up in your studio, watch movies, and forget the rest of the world.

So there's a total collapse in the social fabric.

And is there anything to be done against it? Can we stop it or I don't know?

Listen, one of the most disgusting and despicable human beings I know is called Donald Trump.

But I must tell you that even a clock that doesn't move is right twice a day. So I must tell you that sometimes I resonated with his messages. And one of the messages I resonated with is that we must get rid of victimhood speech. Of course, Trump has created a victimhood movement in the United States. The victimhood of the white suppressed male, working class male, that was his message. The whites are losing America. So it's a victimhood movement.

But on the other hand, he did espouse a message of we should stop being politically correct. We should confront the work movements. We should confront the left and we should get out of this. We should reclaim our strength.

Ironically, he coupled it with a victimhood message. But had it been decoupled, I would have fully supported it.

Yes, wherever we see victims and victimhood, we should fight them tooth and nail. There is no movement of reparations for slavery. Really? What the hell is this?

There's a movement. And similarly, the endless exploitation of the Holocaust by the Jews should be confronted. Similarly, gender grievances and complaints, patriarchy, the evil that men are and men did to women throughout millennia.

Listen, let me tell you something. Everyone has been victimized at one time or another. That you had been subject to abuse and suffering, that you had been victimized doesn't make you a victim. A victimhood is an identity. It's not the same as being victimized.

Everyone is victimized by the tax authorities. I don't know. Everyone is a victim to someone.

We must stop this. We must stop the conversion to identity politics. And when we see it happening, we must confront it everywhere and with everything at our disposal.

So even sensitive issues like the Holocaust should be confronted. Of course, the Holocaust happened and not the Holocaust denier, the Holocaust did happen. It was possibly the most horrible genocide in human history, probably.

That's not the issue. The issue is to monetize it is morally abhorrent and reprehensible. And to monetize it 70 years after the event is disgusting. Its business is nothing to do.

People have died already. So this should stop.

And same with many Black grievances. The Black community in the United States, rather than confront its own shortcomings, for example, the disintegration of the family structure, the irresponsible responsibility or the lack of responsibility of the typical Black male, the explosion of use of drugsand criminal behavior among the Black communities.

Instead of confronting these and admitting to these shortcomings and trying to tackle them, they put all the responsibility on wrongs that have been committed 150 years ago. No one denies that slavery was a catastrophically horrible event or process.

But there's a limit and we must place it now or we are lost.

How do you confront a victim, a victim attitude, if it is coupled with the narcissism that you described at the beginning? How do you confront those two, those two issues at the same time, because they are untwined?

One way to do that is to provide alternatives to grandiosity, other outlets to grandiosity. So for example, someone is someone's grandiosity is invested in their victimhood. Maybe you should redirect the grandiosity towards overcoming victimhood.

If you say I've been a victim of an abuser, I've been a victim abuser. It's horrible. I'm morally superior because my abuser was wrong morally. And I've been right more.

You could say, well, maybe you can overcome your victimhood. Maybe you're strong, maybe you're resilient. Maybe you have untapped resources and you can overcome your victimhood and your suffering and then teach others and so on.

This is a form of redirecting grandiosity.

Listen, it's hopeless to fight narcissism, exactly like climate change. All this nonsense about reversing climate change is total nonsense. It will not happen. Climate change is here. It's coming. It will be upon us. Better prepare for it rather than trying to reverse it.

Start working will never work. Same with narcissism. That tsunami is here, starts winning.

So rather than trying to reverse narcissism and so on, we should try to channel it. Narcissism is energy. It's a force. It's the need to support your grandiosity by eliciting narcissistic supply from other people.

So channel it. You can elicit supply by pretending to be a victim, or you can elicit supply by demonstrating to the world what a strong, resilient person you are and how you would overcome your victimhood.

Yes, I was born a slave, but now I'm a multimillionaire. There are two options. You can say I was born a slave. You owe me because you tortured me, and you separated my family, and you kidnapped me from Africa. Yes, I'm a slave. So now you owe me money.

That's one approach. And the other approach is I've been a slave. You have abused me and tortured me, and look where I am now. I'm a multimillionaire. I'm a successful author. I'm an intellectual. I don't know. These are the two options, and we need to redirect public discourse not towards compensating for victimhood, not to have a discourse of rights and obligations, but a discourse of overcoming.

By the way, this was the original message of the civil rights movement. You remember the song, We Shall Overcome? This was the original message. They didn't ask for money. They didn't ask for affirmative action. They didn't ask for any of these bullshit. They just asked to be treated equally and fairly, and they agreed to do the job themselves of reconstituting their lives and overcoming. Triumphing.

We should emphasize triumph rather than monetizing a compensation. But triumph is not a capitalistic discourse. That's a problem. Our language is contaminated by capitalism. We ask what's in it for me? How much is it worth? How much do I stand to get out of it? These are capitalistic narratives.

Instead, we should move away from capitalistic narratives and towards, I would say, psychological narratives of resilience, of strength, of transformation, and of overcoming. These have been the narratives for well over 10,000 years. In all the ancient religions, in mysticism, in philosophy, these were the narratives. No one talked about money. No one said if you achieve nirvana, you will get $1 million. No one said that. You achieved nirvana because you wanted to achieve nirvana. End of story. Not because you wanted to become Bill Gates.

But today, you have the likes of Tony Robbins and other profound thinkers whose message is, there's a giant inside you. If you awaken it, you'll be a multimillionaire, and you will have nice cars and the most beautiful girls. That is the epitome today in the quintessence of the horizon of young people. That's how they believe they will become fulfilled.

Perhaps that will be my last question, because we are running out of time, but even some politicians that denounce victimhood like Donald Trump also fall into victimhood strategy.

How is not that inextricable?

The problem is language.

Everything starts with language. Your consciousness is shaped by language. Reality is shaped by your consciousness. Everything starts with language.

Of course, if the narrative is a victimhood narrative, and the dictionary is a victimhood dictionary, you find it extremely difficult to communicate otherwise. Of course, if everyone agrees that markets are very important, and market efficiency is critical, and economic growth is the only measure of happiness, it's difficult to exit the narrative.

The space of language not only defines you, but also confines you.

We need another language, a new language.

Luckily, these languages, alternative languages, have existed for thousands of years. We just forgot about them.

In the 60s and 70s, we tried to go back. There was a brief period where we tried to go back to the east, you know, to India, to the Middle East.

And then in the 80s, there was a brief period that we tried to go back to monotheistic classical religions. But we failed, because in the 80s, we started the high-tech boom, and everyone became multi-billionaires and sold some money. Money became the new idol, the new god.

And since then, all the alternative narratives and languages have been suppressed. We need to rediscover them.

Nothing's wrong with capitalism. I wouldn't trade capitalism for any other system of allocating economic resources. It's the best by far.

But the ideology of capitalism is sick to the core, and is making all of us sick to the core. We need to get rid of it. We need to act as capitalistic agents in the marketplace without converting this into some kind of religion.

We need to understand that humans are much more important than any commodity or object.

We live in a death count. This is a death count, where objects are venerated and humans are sacrificed.

We need to move from a death count to a count of life. Luckily, we have hundreds of options to choose from, if we only make this decision.

Well, I think we can end on that, if that's okay with you. Thank you very much for your time. It was very fascinating to talk with you. Thank you a lot for your time.

Thank you for your excellent questions.

Thank you very much.

Take care of you. Bye-bye. You too. Bye.

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