Pandemic as Collective Narcissistic Injury: Headless and Chickens

Uploaded 5/4/2020, approx. 9 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and I am here with my trusted Minnie Mouse cup, which contains nothing but coffee.

Today we are going to discuss about the pandemic as a mass or collective narcissistic injury, because that is precisely what it is.

The pandemic left us all headless, or chickens, and some of us headless chickens.

It is an irony that many of us have the time now to develop self-awareness and self-consciousness.

Many of us suddenly find ourselves in a situation where we have to confront our inner demons, where we have to gain insight as to our internal processes, our inner landscape, our fears, our hopes, our preferences, our wishes, our dreams, broken dreams, future dreams.

All this gained insightful self-awareness, all of it is useless. All of it is too late. All of it is too late because the world is never going to be the same.

We are using the frame of reference of BC, before Corona. We are trying to apply it to AD after distancing.

But the world after the pandemic will have very little to do with the world before the pandemic.

All the promises we make to ourselves, or the vows, or the late blooming understanding, all the mistakes we have made and now have come to realize, to acknowledge, and to confess to.

This is all very nice and dandy, but all very irrelevant.

You see, the pandemic caused a collective narcissistic injury to all of us, because we were living in a narcissistic civilization.

We have developed inexorably, both men and women, a civilization which was highly narcissistic and highly psychopathic, a civilization where values, or shall I say lack of values, such as ambition, competitiveness, defiance, hatred of authority, despising the intellect and expertise, promiscuity, lack of impulse control, faking it till you make it, always became the core values of our civilization.

And now suddenly, suddenly, the tiniest organism, almost the tiniest, prions are tinier, but the second tiniest organism in the entire universe came here to remind us of a few basic facts, and these basic facts are injurious, they're hurtful, and we are not coping very well with the message.

As a species, nature uses the virus to humble us, to remind us how small, insignificant, interdependent we are, to tell us, to send us a clear signal that defiance and contumaciousness will be punished. Nature will not tolerate anymore our encroachment on the living spaces of other species. Nature has a self-balancing, interlocking set of mechanisms, and we have, narcissistically, grandiosely, badly interfered with literally every single one of them, and it is payback time, nature is telling us.

And just to make clear who is the boss, nature didn't send us gigantic dragons, nature didn't deploy monsters to consume us, nature sent us something that is not even alive, an RNA package invisible to the naked eye, so tiny, so non-existent literally, an envelope of protein or lipids or whatever. And this invisible enemy, to use Trump's favorite expression, this invisible enemy is tearing us down, is killing us, is putting us in ICUs, is decimating us.

Could nature have sent us a more stark reminder of who is in charge? I don't think so.

Nature challenged directly our omnipotence, it showed us that there are limits to our growth, economic growth, but also psychological growth. Nature demolished, eradicated our grandiosity in a single stroke, rendered us helpless.

This helplessness will remain with us, because this pandemic is the equivalent of a trauma in an individual, and we will all be in a post-traumatic condition. We are all developing post-traumatic stress disorders.

Every time you open the television, every time you go online, and you see dead bodies in trucks, refrigerator trucks, you see an endless row of coffins, every time this happens, every time you see someone frothing in the mouth, lungs collapsing in an ICU, every time you hear about young people dying, children dying, every time this happens you're traumatized, these mini traumas accumulate, and you're developing a post-traumatic condition.

No one can maintain omnipotence, the feeling of omnipotence, the sensation of being all-powerful, in the face of such constant reminders, how powerless one is, how impotent, in the face of inexorable, impersonal forces that comprise our universe.

Our omniscience is also a challenge. The utterly delusional belief that we already know everything, or almost everything, there's very little to discover.

Every century encouraged this delusion.

The physicists of the early 20th century believed that there's nothing more to discover, and this was before relativity and quantum mechanics.


Similarly, medicine has developed hubris. Medical doctors have become grandiose, they have become complacent. Medical doctors believe they have the answers to everything, even to questions they've never heard before.

And so here comes nature, here comes the virus, here comes this non-organism to remind us how little we know, how far we are from understanding almost anything about the human body.

We are still discovering whole, gigantic, underlying foundational systems in the brain, in the guts. We are still revamping and revising our view of the body, what we think we know, more or less every two years.

We didn't know that most of the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the intestines. We didn't know that 10 years ago, we didn't know five years ago that there's an underlying sewage or canalization or lavatory connecting the brain to the spine. We didn't know that there was a superstructure upon which the brain relies and is founded, a superstructure which is the equivalent of the internet network.

We didn't know this five years ago.

And yet, we pretend to know everything. We give people medicines like antidepressants, based on transitory and temporary discoveries that are overturned every single year.

Here's a virus. There's a science of virology and epidemiology, and it goes back well over a hundred years.

Had you spoken to an epidemiologist or a virologist? Only six months ago, they would have told me, we know more or less 90% of what we need to know. Now they know that they don't know 90% of what needs to be known.

We have a long way to go before we can say that we know something.

We need to be a lot more Socratic. We need to accept that the only thing we know for sure is that we don't know. We need to be far less grandiose. We are vulnerable. We are fallible. We are all fallible. We all die.

Sometimes we die long before we are supposed to die. Sometimes we get things right. Very often, most often, most frequently we get them wrong.

We are not infallible. And yet we all believe ourselves to be immortal. We behave and we react to this pandemic as though we have a right to live, as though it's an obligation of nature.

Because we have a right, nature is a corresponding obligation, you know, to keep us alive.

Who said that? Who said that? Life is an inexorable process of dying. Of course, it's a life sentence.

We all behave as though if we only apply the rules of reason and rationality, we are bound to find answers to all the questions.

And yet we have to accept, even in my field in psychology and in previous fields, I've been an economist, I've been a physicist, I've been a philosopher. We have to accept that some questions have no answers, that some problems have no solutions.

We have to be humble. We have to realize how fragile we are, how ephemeral, how transient. We are dust. The Bible is right about this at least. We are dust. Packaged dust, prepackaged dust, but dust all the same.

And we are living in a speck of dust in the furthest corners of a speck of a galaxy. It's a big galaxy, but in the suburbs. We're not very central, we've never been.

And even what we did construct over the centuries are social institutions. Look at them. Look how we botched our own history. Look at the family. Look at our communities. Look at our governments. Look at our elites.

And on the other hand, look at the people, the amount of stupidity, ignorance, retarded conspiracy theories. Look at us. It's a shameful, disgraceful spectacle.

So, we are justified to be anxious. Anxiety and depression are totally healthy reactions.

Someone who is not depressed, anyone who is not depressed and is not anxious right now needs treatment. Something's wrong with him or her.

Because you know what? I look into the future and I see nothing.

We all know that our economies will recover for some of us, but for the vast majority they will never recover.

Our institutions definitely will never recover.

Is this the end of history, to use Fukuyama's terminology? Of course not. We are a resilient species. We'll continue to exist. We will construct new institutions. We'll survive somehow.

But from now on we are all the victims of abuse. Our parents, nature, and if you wish, God, if you're inclined to such fantasies, they've abused us.

There's this lingering feeling that we are not really liked, that the universe had rejected us, that we did something so wrong, so vile, so contemptible, that we are no longer accepted, that we are unwanted guests.

We have failed. We have failed. That is the knowing. This is what's knowing at our souls.

We realized that we had failed individually, collectively.

Ask the young. Ask them what world we are leaving them. What's our legacy? Anywhere from climate change to this pandemic. We made it happen, and we are bequeathing this to the next generations.

Already their wages are lower than our wages. Already many of them continue to live with their parents, can't afford rent, can't afford education. The level of illiteracy has never been higher. The planet is polluted beyond redemption. Locusts swarmed the earth. It's biblical what we have done, possibly the Bible, was kind of automatic writing, our unconscious scripting the future based on our deficiencies.

Is it too late to reverse?

Well, largely yes.

Remember what I said earlier, not every problem is a solution. We screwed up, but we need to focus on areas where we can make a difference.

There are such areas, possibly the environment, possibly medicine, possibly psychology. There are some areas, some parts of the arts, cinema maybe. We need to focus on these areas and regain our strength via accomplishment, via doing the right things for a change.

But what are we doing instead? Trade wars, rearmament, ballistic missiles.

Yes, in the midst of this pandemic, that's what we're doing.

Fighting with each other, quarreling, cutting off budgets to the WHO, doing other things, who did what to whom, which laboratory released which virus, if at all.

We can't get our act together, even faced with extinction.

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