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Narcissism=Evil?

Uploaded 7/17/2020, approx. 20 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm a professor of psychology and the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and other books and e-books about personality disorders, philosophy, economics, physics, and other topics.

Today's video is about evil. Is narcissism evil, as so many people say? And if narcissism is evil, what does God have to say about this?

So, the video is divided, like everything Jewish, to two parts.

The first part deals with psychology.

What motivates people to be evil and to act evil? To be malevolent and malicious? Why do people torture? Why do they abuse? Why don't people intervene when they witness other people torturing and abusing, like in the case of George Floyd? Why innocent bystanders keep their distance, walk away, turn a blind eye? And, of course, why the perpetrators do what they do?

So, this is the first part of the video.

You don't have to watch the entire thing, you know. You can pick and choose. You can watch the first half and then ignore the second half. Watch the second half and ignore the first half. And, shockingly, you can ignore me completely and not watch anything which would narcissistically injure me and reduce me to tears. Something, believe me, you don't want to see.

So, the second half of the video will deal with theological and philosophical questions.

Why doesn't God prevent evil? What's the relationship, the intimate relationship, between God and evil? Is evil an instrument of God? etc.

All these age-old questions, I'm going to give them a new spin, which some of you may find interesting, others probably shocking and hopefully both.

So, without further ado, let's start.

There are several types of evil. I think there are three groups of evil behaviors. There's goal-oriented evil, pleasure-seeking evil, and indifferent or off-handed evil.

Goal-oriented evil, we all know about.

This is the kind of evil that is exercised and perpetrated by psychopaths. They want sex, they want power, they want money, they want access, they want contacts, they want something. And if they don't get what they want, or if there are any human obstacles on the way, they become malevolent, defined, malicious.

But this is goal-oriented. They don't derive pleasure from being evil. It's simply they have to be evil to obtain what they want.

And then there's the pleasure-seeking or sadistic evil. That's a kind of evil that is perpetrated in order to cause the perpetrator pleasure. The perpetrator enjoys inflicting pain on others.

And finally, there's the indifferent off-handed evil. And that's the evil typical of narcissists. That is the evil that is a byproduct of other activities, other choices and decisions, other behavior patterns.

The narcissist is just who he is. He is not about to change. He is proud of who he is. He thinks he's superior. He thinks he is the next stage in evolution. So he's just who he is. And he's rigid. His personality is rigid and immutable.

But in the process of being a narcissist, in the process of behaving as narcissists do, narcissists inflict a lot of pain and hurt on everyone around them, their ostensibly nearest and dearest, they're so-called intimate partners.

But this pain, this evil that they perpetrate is absolutely not intentional. It's not deliberate. And it doesn't cause the narcissist any pleasure. Or on the other hand, it doesn't cause the narcissist any remorse, any regret, shame or guilt.

The evil that narcissists perpetrate is just there. It happens to happen.

But before we go there, let's ask the question, why are we fascinated by evil? What attracts us to evil doers? Why do we watch horror movies, Joker? Why do we find evil and the people who commit evil irresistible as far as voyeurism? Why do we have to kind of pruriently observe as they do what they do?

The common explanation is that one is fascinated with evil and evil doers because through evil and evil doers, one vicariously expresses the repressed dark and evil parts of one's own personality.

In other words, we are all evil and we express this evil through other people.

Evil doers, according to this theory, represent the shadow Netherlands of ourselves. And so they constitute our antisocial alter egos.

Being drawn to wickedness is an act of rebellion against social structures and mores and the crippling bondage that is modern life. It is a mock synthesis of Dr. Jekyll with our own Mr. Hyde. It is a cathartic exorcism of our inner demons.

Yet even a cursory examination of this account reveals that it is flawed, it is wrong.

Far from being taken as familiar, though suppressed, element of our psyche, evil to us is mysterious. Though lately at least preponderant, villains are often labeled monsters, abnormal, even supernatural aberrations.

It took Hannah Arendt two thick set tomes to remind us that evil is banal and bureaucratic, not fiendish, demonic and omnipotent.

In our minds, evil and magic are somehow intertwined. Sinners seem to be in contact with some alternative reality where the laws of men are superseded.

Sadism, however deplorable, is also in a way admirable because it is the reserve of Nietzsche's Superman, an indicator of personal strength, resilience.

A heart of stone lasts much longer than its flesh and blood counterpart. In Russia there was Stalin, the men of steel.

Throughout human history, ferocity, mercilessness and lack of empathy were extolled as virtuous and enshrined in social institutions such as the army or the courts, or surgery in medicine.

The doctrine of social Darwinism and the advent of moral relativism and deconstruction, did away with ethical absolutism. The thick line that used to exist between right and wrong has become very thin lately, blurred and fuzzy and sometimes vanished altogether.

Nowadays, evil is merely another form of entertainment. A species of pornography, sanguineous art. Evil doers enliven in our gossip, color our drab routines and extract us and extricate us from dreary existence and its depressive correlates. Evil is fun, and evil often pays.

It is a little like collective catharsis or collective self-injury. Self-mutilators report that parting their flesh with razor blades makes them feel alive and reawakened, and in this synthetic universe of ours, this modern existence that we had created, evil and gore, permit us to get in touch with a real, with a raw, with a painful, in other words, with life itself.

The higher our desensitized threshold of arousal, the more profound the evil that fascinates us.

Like the stimuli addicts that we had become, we increase the dosage of evil. We consume added tales of gore and malevolence and sinfulness and immorality.

And so, in the role of spectators, of observers, we safely maintain our sense of moral supremacy, self-righteousness and sanctimoniousness, even as we wallow in the minutest details of the vilest crimes.

And so, what a narcissist would say?

A narcissist would say, I find it difficult to accept that I'm irredeemably evil, that I ecstatically almost orgasmically enjoy hurting people, that I actively seek to inflict pain on others. It runs so contrary to my long-cultivated and tenderly nurtured self-image, as a benefactor, a sensitive intellectual, a harmless hermit.

But in truth, my sadism meshes well and synergetically with two other behavior patterns, with my relentless pursuit of narcissistic supplyand with my self-destructive, self-defeating and therefore masochistic strength.

The process of torturing, humiliating, degrading and offending people provides proof of my omnipotence, nourishes my grandiose fantasies, buttresses my false self. The victims distress, they dismay, they consternation, they constitute narcissistic supply of the purest grade. It also alienates the victims, turns them into hostile witnesses or even enemies and stalkers.

And so, through the agency of my helpless and helpless victims, I bring upon my head recurrent torrents of wrath and punishment. And this animosity guarantees my own unraveling, my failure, outcomes which I avidly seek in order to placate my inner chastising and castigating voices and critic, what Freud called the sadistic superego.

Similarly, would say the narcissist, I'm a fiercely independent person. This is known in psychological jargon as counterdependent or reactance.

But my independence, says the narcissist, is a pathological variant of personal autonomy. I want to be free to frustrate myself by inflicting mental havoc on my human environment, including and especially on my so-called nearest and dearest.

And so, in this way I secure, I incur their inevitable ire.

Getting attached to or becoming dependent on someone in any way, emotionally, financially, hierarchically, politically, religiously or intellectually, getting dependent means surrendering my ability to indulge my all-consuming urges, to torment, to feel like God and to be ruined by the consequences of my own evil actions.

So this is the point of view of a sadistic narcissist.

And we will come to sadism a bit later in the video.

Remember there are three forms. Most narcissists are simply indifferent.

Some narcissists are sadists and some psychopathic narcissists are goal-oriented.

Okay, we understand narcissists. We understand psychopaths, they can do no better.

Or if they can do better, they don't care to do better. This is why they're psychopaths and narcissists.

But why do good people, churchgoers, pillars of the community, the salt of the earth, why do they ignore abuse and neglect even when it is on their doorstep and in their proverbial backyard, for instance in hospitals, orphanages, shelters, prisons and the like? Why do good people ignore abuse?

First of all, there's a lack of clear definition. Perhaps because the word abuse is so ill-defined, so open to culture-bound interpretation.

We should distinguish functional abuse from the sadistic variety.

Functional abuse is calculated to ensure outcomes or to punish transgressors. It is measured in personal, efficient and disinterested.

The sadistic variety of abuse fulfills the emotional needs of the perpetrator.

This distinction is often blurred. People feel uncertain and therefore reluctant to intervene.

They say the authorities know best. What's between a husband and wife no one can know. They lie to themselves.

Number two, avoiding the unpleasant. People, good people, tend to avert their eyes from certain institutions which deal with anomalies and pain, death and illness, hospitals, prisons, army, the unsavory courts, the unsavory aspects of life which no one likes to be reminded of, the underbelly of life. Like poor relatives, these institutions and events inside them are ignored, they're shunned.

And then there's the issue of common guilt. Even good people abuse other people habitually. Abuse is a predominant form of interaction between people.

Abusive conduct is so widespread that no one is exempt. Ours is a narcissistic and therefore by definition an abusive civilization. People who find themselves caught up in anomic states, for instance, soldiers in war, nurses in hospitals, managers in corporations, parents or spouses in disintegrating families or incarcerated inmates, these people tend to feel helpless and alienated. They experience a partial or total loss of control. They are rendered vulnerable, powerless and defenseless by events and circumstances beyond their influence.

Abuse amounts to exerting an absolute and all-pervasive domination of the victim's existence and the bridging of the victim's boundaries. It is a coping strategy employed by the abuser who wishes to reassert control over his life and so to reestablish his mastery and superiority.

By subjugating the victim, the abuser regains his self-confidence and regulates his sense of self-worth. And that's especially true with narcissistic abusers.

So abuse is a form of catharsis. Even perfectly normal and good people abuse, witness the events in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Even good people shallow their negative emotions, pent-up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred. They displace these emotions.

The victims of abuse become symbols of everything that's wrong in the abuser's life and the situation he finds himself caught in.

The act of abuse amounts to exorcism, misplaced and violent venting.

There's always a wish to conform and to belong. The ethics of peer pressure.

Many good people perpetrate heinous acts or refrain from criticizing or opposing evil out of a wish to conform, to belong.

Abusing others is their way of demonstrating obsequious obeisance to authority. Abusing their way of demonstrating loyalty, group affiliation, calling sheep, adherence to the same ethical code of conduct and common values. They bask in the praise that is heaped on them by their superiors, fellow workers, associates, teammates or collaborators.

We have this dynamic, neatly documented among the members of the SS who had executed millions of Jews. Many of them were middle-class accountants and lawyers and professors and totally normal people with families, with love of music and with pets.

It is this wish to conform and to belong, this peer pressure, this adherence to a moral code, an immoral code in this case, that drove them to become the monsters that they had momentarily become.

The need to belong is so strong that it overpowers ethical, moral or legal considerations.

These kind of people remain silent in the face of neglect, abuse and atrocities because they feel insecure. They derive their identity almost entirely from the group and this is a very prevalent issue nowadays with identity politics.

Abuse rarely occurs when it does not have the sanction and blessing of the authorities, whether local or national. A permissive environment is sine qua non.

The more abnormal the circumstances, the less normative the milieu, the further the sin of the crime is from public scrutiny, the more egregious abuse is likely to occur.

This acquiescence is especially true in totalitarian societies where the use of physical force to discipline or eliminate dissent is an acceptable practice like in China.

But unfortunately it is also rampant in democratic societies.

Okay, so these are the bystanders.

Now what about the abusers? Why do people abuse and commit torture?

Again we should distinguish functional torture from the sadistic variety.

The former is calculated to achieve some goal, for example, to extract information from the torture, to punish the torture. It is measured, impersonal, efficient and disinterested.

The latter, sadistic abuse, sadistic torture fulfills the emotional needs of a perpetrator.

And so people who find themselves caught up in anomic states, as I mentioned before, like soldiers or inmates, they tend to feel helpless, alienated. They experience a partial or total loss of control. They have been rendered vulnerable, naked, powerless and defenseless by events and circumstances beyond their influence.

Torture amounts to exerting an absolute and all pervasive domination of the victim's existence. It is a coping strategy, employed by torturers and abusers who wish to reassert control over their lives and thus re-establish their mastery and superiority, as when narcissism comes in.

By subjugating the victims, the tortured, abusers regain their self-confidence and regulate their sense of self-worth.

Other tormentors channel the negative emotions. I don't know, pent-up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred, all this emotional negativity and they displace these negative emotions. The victim becomes a symbol of everything that's wrong in the abuser's life and the situation he finds himself caught in.

The act of torture, the act of abuse amounts to misplace and violence, venting.

Many perpetrate heinous acts, as I said, in a wish to conform. Torturing others is their way of demonstrating this belonging.

Many offenders derive pleasure and satisfaction from sadistic acts of humiliation. To these kind of people, inflicting pain is fun. They lack empathy and so the victim's agonized reactions are merely cause for much hilarity.

Moreover, sadism is rooted in deviant sexuality. The torture inflicted by sadists is bound to involve some form of perverted sex or perverted arousal.

Extreme forms of torture, extreme forms of abuse like rape or sexual rape, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pedophilia, fetishism and other paraphilias are involved usually in situations of abuse.

Many victims will tell you that their spouses push them into aberrant sex.

Arousal is always involved, sexual, whether it's translated into sex or not, because unlimited power coupled with excruciating pain is very arousing to certain people. These are the intoxicating ingredients of the sadistic variety of abuse and torture.

And so, you see, evil, torture, abuse, they are not as clear-cut as they are made out to be.

Let's try to study each category, goal-oriented abuse.

In his best-selling People of the Line, Scott Peck claimed that narcissists are evil.

But are narcissists evil? And if they are evil, are they goal-oriented? Do they use evil as an instrument to obtain gratification or any other narcissistic supply or any other goal?

There's a big problem with the concept of evil in this age of moral relativism. It's slippery, it's ambiguous.

If we go to the Oxford Companion of Philosophy, it defines evil as the suffering which results from morally wrong human choices. The word choice is critical. God gave humanity the choice between right and wrong, so say believers.

And so, it's a choice to qualify as an evil person, an evil moral agent, or evil immoral agent. You must meet some criteria, some requirements.

First of all, that this evil-doer can and does consciously choose between the morally right and the morally wrong, and constantly, and consistently, prefers the morally wrong.

And second thing is that he acts on his choice, regardless of the consequences to himself and to others.

And so, it seems clear that evil must be premeditated.

Francis Hutchison and Joseph Butler argued that evil is a by-product of the pursuit of one's interest or cause at the expense of other people's interests or causes.

But this ignores the critical element of conscious choice among equally efficacious alternatives.

Moreover, people often pursue evil even when it jeopardizes the well-being and obstructs their interests. Sadomasochists relished this orgy of mutually assured destruction.

So, again, it's not completely true. Again, the element of choice, the element of self-interest are in doubt. Humans are much more complicated than simple rules.

Narcissists, for example, narcissists satisfy the above-mentioned two conditions only partly.

The evil that narcissists perpetrate is utilitarian. Their evil only when being malevolent secures a certain outcome. And in this sense, most narcissists are very similar to psychopaths.

Sometimes narcissists consciously choose the morally wrong, but not invariably so.

Narcissists act on their choice, even if it inflicts misery and pain on others. That's a part of the by-product.

So, narcissists are goal-oriented. They seek supply, but they don't seek to hurt people. They don't seek to inflict pain. Yet, if it does hurt people, this pursuit, if it inflicts pain, they're not averse to pain and hurt.

They exude evil, they inflict evil and malevolence on other people, the same way a virus does.

Narcissists never opt for evil. And especially, they never opt for evil if they are to bear the consequences. They act maliciously, either because it's expedient to do so, or because it happens.

Not because it is in their nature. The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. That part is true.

In the pursuit of his interests and causes, the narcissist sometimes chooses to act wickedly. He doesn't have empathy. So, he is rarely remorseful, because if he is entitled, exploiting other people is second nature.

The narcissist does abuse others, but he does it absent-mindedly, off-handedly, as a matter of fact.

The narcissist objectifies people. He treats them as expendable commodities to be discarded after use.

And, admittedly, that in itself is evil. And yet, it is mechanical, thoughtless, heartless face of narcissistic abuse. It's not passionate. It's not emotional. It's robotic.

And this is exactly this automatism. This is what renders the narcissist so alien, so frightful, so repellent.

An argument can even be made, and I'm not making it, by the way, but it can be made, that narcissists and psychopaths are like a force of nature. I mentioned viruses. Tornadoes. They inflict havoc on their environment, but they cannot really help it.

Healthy people are compelled by the process of socialization to make moral choices.

Narcissists and psychopaths are compelled by their nature and by their upbringing, by nurture, to not make these choices. And this is who they are. This is their identity, their essence, their quiddity.

I am not making this argument because I do believe that narcissists and psychopaths can make choices, can modify their behavior, can abstain. They just don't care. They choose not to.

And this is the indifferent form or variant of evil.

We are often shocked less by the actions of narcissists than by the way narcissists act.

In the absence of a vocabulary rich enough to capture the subtle hues and gradations of the spectrum of narcissistic depravity, we default to habitual adjectives such as good and evil.

And this is intellectual laziness. And it does this pernicious phenomenon, its victims, little justice.

Histrionics and psychopaths experience their needs and wishes as uncontrollable urges, as cravings akin to, I don't know, extreme hunger, extreme thirst. It is a torture to them to deny these insatiable inner drives.

Yet they still can, if they care enough, if they're frightened enough.

So in prison, psychopaths will behave. Outside prison, they will misbehave. Same psychopath.

And so evil, in this case, is a personality trait. It's who the psychopath and narcissist is.

And it is in this sense that it is offhanded. It is kind of an emanation. It's an exudation. It's the equivalent in the body of perspiring, sweating. It's like sweat. It's an excretion.

Narcissists and psychopaths excrete evil. The same way other people excrete empathy.

They're perfectly able to control their impulses and delay gratification.

Histrionics and psychopaths choose not to do so for two reasons.

First of all, pathological narcissism is a diagnostic, clinical damage of all cluster B personality disorders.

And so histrionics and psychopaths place a higher value and weight on their needs compared to the needs of others. They come first. Only they come.

Second reason is that they lack empathy. They don't really grasp the hurt and pain that they are causing. Even when they do grasp it, they don't care. And even when they do care, which is rare, they believe that they have a right to just to gratify their desires and fulfill their wishes, no matter the cost to others.

Histrionics may feel guilty. Borderlines may feel guilty and egodystonic. They may feel bad about themselves, about their actions and feel ashamed, but it doesn't prevent them from misbehaving.

So when a histrionic or a borderline feels the need for male attention and admiration, she will seek it. Without dedicating a single thought to the pain and hurt she may be inflicting on her nearest and dearest, on her male targets.

The psychopath wishes to secure money or power or sex. He will go for it to any ruthless length and embark on any number of unconscionable and callous acts until he feels sated and gratified.

Histrionics and psychopaths are not even in the classical sense, in the ethical sense, the philosophical sense.

The pain, damage, harm and hurt they invariably cause are rarely premeditated. They are like self-absorbed children or natural disasters replete with enormous collateral damage.

And so this is the picture as far as evil and personality disorders.

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