The first human being who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization. - Sigmund Freud
Narcissism and Drive Containment
The obvious first question to address is what is the connection between increased narcissism and the fall of civilization. After all, some of our most overt narcissists reside at the pinnacle of our society. We celebrate celebrity, fill our Senate with preening peacocks, pay six figure incomes to "star" university professors, and have no difficulty cheering for our favorite football players as they do their end zone dance; so, again, what is the connection?
Allow me a slight digression. The most crucial job for parents is to take an unformed little human baby, whose only experience of the world is to know himself as the center of the universe, and tame his instincts so that he can become a productive member of society. I focus primarily on the male because they tend to have more powerful drives or drive expressions, both libidinal and aggressive, and are more difficult to tame. Every infant demands instant gratification of all their needs. By adolescence, even the most intact families will often need help in controlling their teenager's burgeoning drives, and in order to make the transition into functioning adulthood, the young person will have needed to tame their drives, allow for and tolerate delayed gratification, and in the ideal case, to have sublimated their aggressive and sexual drives in the service of productive pursuits. Pathological narcissism interferes with the process of taming the instincts.
If the parents are emotionally unavailable or overtly neglectful or abusive, the children's need for nurturance is never adequately satisfied; they are forever in need of confirmation and admiration (emotional nurturing) from the environment. They require the environment to cater to their needs in order to make up for the missing nurturance they deserve (think of the word "entitlement"). On the other hand, infants who have the misfortune to have "perfect" parents, who attend to their every need and protect them from all hurts and disappointments, will never have the opportunity to develop ways to deal with the inevitable setbacks and disappointments of life. They are prone to become adults who have minimal resiliency in the face of reverses; as a result they constantly need the affirmation of the environment that protects their fragile self-esteem. In past posts, I have described the concept of the "good enough" mother, a concept from D. W. Winnicott which suggests we only need "good enough" parenting in order to develop into healthy adults. As a corollary, we also need our parents to be "bad enough" (HT: Robert Godwin), to allow us to find our way to dealing effectively with the vicissitudes of life. I will be pointing out in future posts how current trends in the Islamic world, in the West, and in the Islamic world within the West, tend to exacerbate the problem of insufficient emotional nurturing.
There is an extremely important implication of these parenting issues that forms the core of my argument.
It is easy to see how emotional deprivation can lead to the type of enhanced and pathological narcissism that allows for the free expression of drives. Adolescence is a time when narcissism is naturally increased (just recall how much time teenagers spend in front of mirrors); because of the hormonal changes of adolescence, their drives are enhanced as well. Young men are the most likely to drive too fast, get involved in fights and in crime, or riot in the streets of France. (Certainly, there are other issues involved, but I am limiting my focus to the particular issue of the interplay of narcissism, drives, and society.) Among other reasons, the ongoing need (demand) for gratification from the environment, along with their relative paucity of models for deferring gratification for future gratifications, leads to an increase in the tendency of young men to "act out", ie demand gratification by expressing their basic drives without inhibition. This is often at the core of delinquency and is a factor in the French Intifada, seen in the joyful burning and smashing by many of the rioters, as well as in the epidemic of rape (a conflation of sex and aggression) by Muslim immigrants in Sweden and Norway that Fjordman has described. The effect of enhanced narcissism in this population thus leads to more open and free expression of sexual and aggressive drives; this is inimical to civilization.
It is, at first, more difficult to recognize that the narcissism prevalent in the Western civilization has the same outcome, though in a subtly disguised fashion.
Among the Western elites are many who exhibit all the signs of over-valuation of their own thoughts, ideology, and philosophy that are hallmarks of the Narcissistic Intellectual. (The best way to tell if an intellectual has his narcissism within a non-pathological range is to note their reaction to criticism and the possibility of error.) There are many who, in the face of frightening developments in the world, react with timidity and suggest our best response is to do more of the same. Many politicians, like Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, who suggest appeasing the rioters by offering the same things that haven't worked in the past while hoping for a different outcome in the future, may be motivated by timidity as much as by ideology. However, the true ideologues, especially on the left, expose their narcissistic investment in their ideology by their refusal to elevate the needs of real people over the need for their ideology to carry the day and win the political argument. Bill Clinton, though often accused of being driven by a narcissistic need for approval, was not an ideologue (he used his charm to evoke praise and admiration, not his intellect, which is formidable nonetheless); he was not wedded to his party's ideology and was able to take a practical approach to politics which lead to welfare reform, a non-ideological result, under his aegis. Unfortunately, most political philosophers and too many professors are narcissistically invested in their beliefs. They cannot allow for the possibility that their ideas are wrong because it is the equivalent of admitting that they are no good. (I will go into how this transformation occurs in a future post.) Because their ideas must be correct, when they fail in the real world, it can only be because evil people are interfering with the perfect execution of their beautiful and brilliant theory. Since their theory, if executed perfectly, is, at its core, Utopian, and exists solely (their lust for power being denied) for the benefit of all the victims of the evil Oppressors (Capitalists, Americans, Jews, etc), all efforts to support the ideology and fight the counter-revolutionary are countenanced. This forms the basic rationalization underlying the left's romanticization of "revolutionary violence."
[For a more extensive explication of the Utopian roots of left-wing ideology and particularly of the PC philosophy, see my series on PC & Defects in Reality Testing. One Cosmos has more on the topic, including a brief recap Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, the wonderful book by Stephen Hicks that shines a spotlight on the ways in which the left in academia has attempted to subvert education with indoctrination by attacking the very concept of a knowable reality.]
Since the left/liberal elites in the West truly believe that the state should take over many of the traditional roles of the parents in order to help the underprivileged (which then inexorably metastasizes into taking over more and more of the parenting role for the rest of society), when the mother state enables, endorses, or condones violence as an acceptable behavior of the oppressed, the narcissism of the so-called victim is, again, enhanced, now from the side of external reality. Intellectuals who believe that their own theories of how to achieve Utopia trump the wisdom and judgment of fallible parents, also encourage our children to freely express their sexuality, aided and abetted by their fellow travelers, who have their own enhanced Narcissism, in Hollywood, advertising agencies, and throughout the Media. Younger and younger children are being encouraged to express their pan-sexuality with all orientations being equally valid and welcome; by the time they reach young adulthood, the ability to enter into a mature, intimate relationship with a member of the opposite sex (and ultimately, society's require their members to have offspring if they hope to survive), has been seriously impaired. The Western, "civilized" Narcissist, with his command of the language and his ability to intellectualize, for which our culture has richly rewarded him, ends up supporting just those drives that interfere with the ability to maintain a civilization. The left wing professors who parse the distinction between the "understandable and acceptable violence of the oppressed Palestinians" have already endorsed the use of violence to redress grievances; once violence is accepted as an acceptable way to react to slights, real or perceived, within a society, all that is left is one's choice of victim. (The fact that the left supports the Muslim "victim" uprising while it also supports the free expression of sexuality, especially female sexuality and homosexuality, for which they would likely find the same fate as Theo van Gogh if their victims ever took power, is where their suicidal tendencies reveal themselves, which will be further explored in future posts.)
Both the Western elites and the Muslim rioters, for their own reasons, endorse the free expression of instinctual drives. Sex, violence, and Rock and Roll (well, Rap. apparently, among French Muslims) bind the aging 60's left to the Muslim rioters of the French Intifada today.
If the first human being who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization, the civilization that supports the use of violence to solve its internal problems, even if those who encourage the violence do not realize they are doing so, has begun the descent into chaos.
Next up will be further exploration of those pro-civilization forces that are under assault in the West today.