Morning to you. Is narcissism a form, a kind of toxic masculinity? Is capitalism a form of narcissism? What's the connection between these three?
Masculinity, especially the toxic variant, narcissism and capitalism? Who better to ask than Sam Vaknin, a former visiting professor of psychology currently on the faculty of SIAS-CIAPS International Advanced Professional Studies and the one and only author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism, Revisited?
But first some breaking news. Always keep up on your science.
Have you heard of the Y chromosome? The Y chromosome is the chromosome that confers male characteristics. It's the male chromosome. It's the macho chromosome.
Well, finally we were able to sequence it fully. Now we have a list of everything that is in the Y male chromosome. And what did we discover? We discovered repetitive DNA and loads of junk.
Now this would come as not a surprise to all women, but it's a bit narcissistically injurious to the vast majority of men or wannabe men.
Okay, enough with the bad daddy jokes. Let's get to business.
Narcissism, toxic masculinity, capitalism. Before I proceed, I do not use gender fair language. I am androcentric. I was brought up on the literary traditions of the last few thousand years where the male pronoun was used to describe men, women, children and all other members of the human family.
So I'm going to say he and if it really bothers you, replace it in your mind with they or she or whatever else tells you on. Got it? Shoshanim.
Okay, start with the collapse of traditional gender roles. When I was growing up, which was a bit before the age of the dinosaurs, men were men and women were women. They were gender stereotypes which morphed into gender roles.
Gender stereotypes described the characteristics, the character, the temperament and the personalities of members of a specific gender. And there were only two men and women.
And so traditional gender roles have survived the first world war, survived the second world war, but they did not survive feminism and they died and imploded.
And instead of traditional gender roles, what we have today is what Barbara Risman calls gender vertical. Gender vertical is the disorientation of not knowing how to be men, what it means to be a woman, how to behave, what adjectives to attribute to oneself, how to self-describe, what is the identity of a woman or a man, let alone in between binary and others, transgenders and so on.
I mean, everything is in flux. This is exacerbated by the fluidity of sex itself. Sex is biological, gender is socio-cultural.
But even sex is fluid nowadays, what with gender transforming to surgeries and gender affirming care and you name it, everything is in flux.
And so this creates vertical dizziness. We are totally disoriented, dislocated, confused, anxious and many of us are fearful and rebellious.
So this gave rise to toxic masculinity. It is the caricature, performative, exaggerated masculinity.
But make no mistake about it, toxic masculinity is the only choice available nowadays to both men and women.
Both men and women engage in performative, ostentatious toxic masculinity. This is based on numerous hundreds of studies. I'll mention just two aggregators and contributors to the field, Chesney and Lisa Wade. Go look them up and read what they have to say.
Increasingly, men are toxic and women are masculinized. But as women masculinize or actually self-masculinize, as women describe themselves in male, traditional male terms, as women aspire to imitate and emulate traditional male stereotypes and roles and actually abscond with these roles, take over, hijack them, women actually also become toxic.
Toxic masculinity is the standard behavior among men and women today, even if it is latent, hidden, occult, not conspicuous, not ostentatious. It's the frame of mind of both sexes.
Toxic masculinity emphasizes ambition, dominance, core orientation, defiance, position and hierarchy.
You know the fake alpha male, the fake alpha male online, the dating coaches, the manosphere and so on and so forth. That's toxic masculinity. I say fake alpha male because the scientific definition of an alpha male, a true alpha male, usually in animal societies, the real definition of an alpha male is someone who is team-oriented, engages in teamwork, leadership, sharing, compassion and empathy.
In animal cultures and societies, it is not the biggest animal, it is not the strongest animal, which becomes the alpha. It is the leader, the animal which can put together coalitions and lead teams, an animal that shares, shows compassion and empathy towards laggards and weaklings.
This animal becomes the alpha male, but in an age of toxic masculinity, there is a caricature of an alpha male and this alpha male is actually a bully, a thug, a narcissist, a psychopath.
Women, regrettably, have adopted exactly this newly emergent stereotype and women and men together engage in toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity goes hand in hand with Darwinian jungle capitalism. It sits well, is affiliated with urbanization, consumerism and spectacle. These are all zero-sum games. They emphasize escapism within artificial counter realities.
Now, that was a mouthful. Allow me to elaborate.
Darwinian societies are societies which believe that ambition, competition, ruthlessness, callousness, lack of empathy should define the rules of the game.
Anglo-Saxon capitalism is founded on Darwinian natural selection, survival of the fittest, perseps. Darwinianism, which is a distortion of the theory of evolution, led, of course, to social movements such as Nazism. So, it's a really, really bad idea.
But Darwinianism has been on the ascent and on the rise and especially lately in the past 10 or 20 years. Marginalized groups have adopted victimhood as a stance or a position from which they could extract benefits and rise from others, blackmail basically, the rest of society.
Now, all this was happening within cities, urbanization. Cities are spaces of artificial virtual reality. Cities are not real. Cities are make-believe. Cities are pretense.
And within cities, there's consumerism. Cities are huge shopping malls in effect. You reside in a city and you shop in a city. You shop for other people too. You commodify them. You objectify them.
But how to signal your existence and availability within the city?
Cities comprise very often of millions of people. It's very difficult to stand out above the noise.
So, to do this, there is spectacle, the society of spectacle, Guy de Beau.
Spectacle became the main, I would say the exclusive mode of communication within the artificial environments and spaces that we call cities. It is through spectacle that we signal things. We signal victimhood. We signal virtue. We signal availability via spectacle. We signal attributes, very often fake and false attributes of ourselves.
This is all part of the spectacle.
But all these are zero-sum games. If I buy something, you can't buy it. It's mine. Scarcity, economic scarcity. If I become ultra-rich, you become ultra-poor, income inequality. If I reside in an apartment, you can't inhabit it with me. You can't cohabit. It's mine.
So, property laws created zero-sum games within capitalism, within cities, within consumers.
And spectacle itself became a zero-sum game. Spectacle is about attention, the attention economy.
And so, if I get attention, you don't get attention.
Monetizing eyeballs. An eyeball is a finite resource. At any given moment, an eyeball is either in point A or in point B. It cannot be at both points simultaneously.
Eyeballs are monopolized. Viewers, fans, subscribers are monopolizes only so many hours in the day. And there's only so much leisure time, especially in a workaholic in personal safety and stability.
So, little is left. And there's competition on attention. And it's a zero-sum game.
All these games emphasize escapism, the denial and repression of reality.
Reality had become intolerable, burdensome, terrifying, unpredictable.
And so, reality induces anxiety. And we all try to avoid anxiety in a variety of ways.
And so, escapism is a way to avoid anxiety by divorcing reality, detaching yourself from reality, impairing your reality testing via artificial, virtual, digital counter realities.
So, this is the world we're living today. People are no longer with us. They're no longer here, at present. They're no longer alive in any sense of the word. They're not embedded in reality. They're out there. They're out there in a metaverse. They're out there in social media. They're out there in a conspiracy theory. They're out there in virtual, artificial, counterfactual realities.
Reality is the denial, the only true, veritable, tangible reality, escapism.
Both toxic masculinity and jungle capitalism, Anglo-Saxon capitalism, are founded on the relentless and ruthless pursuit of gurus. Both of them are the reification of ambition in adversarial competition.
So masculinity, especially toxic masculinity and capitalism, are both spectator sports.
Morality plays, but in a protestant kind of way. If you're successful, you've been chosen by God. If you are rich, you've been doubly chosen by God.
And to accomplish this special status with God, you need to wipe out everyone else. You need to eliminate and eradicate and vanquish the competition because they are your foes and adversaries.
This doesn't leave much place or space for empathy.
Spectacle thrives on negative emotions. The only way to realize your ambitions, to self-actualize in an overpopulated, crowded world, is to stand out, to be noticed.
How do you attract attention to yourself? Spectacle.
But the best way to attract attention to yourself by making a spectacle of yourself, the best way is to leverage negative emotions, hatred, fear-mongering, envy, anger. These are great as attractors of attention.
Attention gravitates towards negative emotion much more than towards positive emotions.
As social media designers have realized, social media platforms are constructed deliberately. One would add maliciously to foster and gender, amplify and disseminate negative emotions because that's the core of a good, successful spectacle which can then be monetized via advertising and otherwise.
So negative emotions are the foundation. They give rise to successful spectacles which then attract attention, which then allows the individual and the collective to realize their ambitions, to accomplish their goals.
This is the chain of being in this post-modern or post-modern world.
Spectacle involves negative emotions but not only negative emotions. It is of course centered around self-preoccupation, self-promotion and make-believe fantasy.
Spectacle is a fantasy, it's not reality, it's a theater production, it's a movie, it's a piece of fiction. So spectacle is, I would say, a synonym of fantasy and it involves negative emotions in order to attract attention and gender stickiness, attention at loss.
And it is about the self, about the individual. So it is self-preoccupied and self-promoting and egotistic.
What am I describing? Narcissism.
These are the hallmarks of narcissism. Even the justice system becomes a retributive reality show. Reality TV. The justice system nowadays is a spectacle.
It's not about justice, it's not about the truth, it's not about rehabilitation, it's not even about retribution. It's about being seen. The judge wants to be seen, the jury wants to be seen. They give interviews, they make money, they write books. The accused is the only one paying the price, but even the accused is embedded in a spectacle and derives some gratification from the fact that is the center of attention in the limelight.
The justice system is a reality TV show with the defendants as gladiators. This is the world we ended up with.
And so to go back full circle to the opening question, is narcissism a kind of toxic masculinity?
I would reverse the question.
Toxic masculinity is a kind of narcissism.
Is capitalism a kind of narcissism?
Yes, absolutely yes.
And the reason it is a kind of capitalism, narcissism, is because capitalism has transitioned from manufacturing and consumption to spectacle and addiction.
Somewhere around the 50s or 60s, we made, there was a tectonic shift in the essence of capitalism.
Capitalism for well over 400, 500 years since the age, since the 14th century, the sulfuric acid, capitalism was mostly concerned with enhancing manufacturing, marketing and dissemination, distribution channels, and increasing consumption with new offerings.
In short, capitalism until the 1960s was concerned with everlasting perpetual growth. It was a kind of perpetual mobily.
And then in the 60s and 70s and more so in the 80s and 90s, capitalism has transitioned from generating value-added and convincing consumers to depart with their hard-earned money.
Capitalism has transitioned from these goals to two other goals, rendering consumption and addiction, converting consumers into junkies, into addicts.
And on the other hand, spectacle.
The chiefs, the robber barons of capitalism, the captains of industry realized that spectacle, narcissism, grandiosity, attention are the biggest motivators and engines and fuel of human life, of human psychology.
And they also realized that all these can be packaged nicely in the concept of spectacle.
So they provided arenas for spectacles, including lately social media.
On the one hand, on the other hand, they understood that because population is plateauing, birth rate is under the replacement rate. Everyone is aging fast. There are no new consumers being created.
They've introduced women into the workforce in order to convert them into consumers.
But that wasn't enough.
So they realized that the only hope is to convert consumers into junkies and addicts who cannot stop consuming utterly unnecessary things which become obsolete within a year.
And this is the new model of capitalism, addiction and spectacle.
Again, the two pillars of pathological narcissism.
Narcissism is the organizing principle of the modern world. It's no different when it comes to gender relations, when it comes to capitalism, when it comes to attention, the attention economy, to spectacles, to you name it.
Narcissism is everywhere. It is the seed that gave rise to this world that we inhabit. It is a sick world because it is founded. It is an extension of, it's a reification of narcissism.
It is not that our civilization is narcissist, is narcissistic. It is that our narcissism has been civilized.