"I was born to the Hebrew persuasion, but I've since converted to Narcissism."
Woody Allen in "Scoop"
The New York Times science section reports on The Fame Motive today. The article does a decent job of describing some of the overt features of people who are highly motivated to achieve fame. [Emphases mine-SW]
People with an overriding desire to be widely known to strangers are different from those who primarily covet wealth and influence. Their fame-seeking behavior appears rooted in a desire for social acceptance, a longing for the existential reassurance promised by wide renown.
The article makes an attempt at a brief, superficial explanation for the behavior and quotes Orville Gilbert Brim, a psychologist who is completing a book called “The Fame Motive.”
“It’s a distinct type, people who expect to get meaning out of fame, who believe the only way to have their lives make sense is to be famous,” said Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “We all need to make meaning out of our lives, and this is one way people attempt to do it.”
Consider how the upheavals of the last half century have constituted an assault on meaning and the current struggle at the center of our times becomes more understandable.
Primitive societies have always had one great advantage over the modern, technological society we inhabit: When you have to wonder where your next meal is coming from, you have very little time to worry about the meaning of life.
Once civilization reached the point where large numbers could survive and thrive materially, and I have argued that our post-war generation (significantly, post-antibiotic generation) is the first generation in mankind's tenure on the planet that grew up with the expectation and reality of minimal deprivation (Demographics and Narcissism), the question of meaning became primary. At the same time, post-enlightenment Utopianism led directly to the overthrow of Religion and God as reason enough for life. If there is no God, then there is no meaning to be derived from his existence and our relationship to Him; all that is left is ourselves. Existentialism is the bleakest of religions because it is based on the religious belief in atheism, ie in Nothing.
The current war is between a civilization that has achieved the heights of material success and yet has left too many of its members bereft of meaning, and a civilization which has utterly failed its people on almost every measure, yet offers its members the certainty of God's love and favor. Furthermore, our enemies are able to harness just those emotional states that are most antithetical to Civilization in the service of their God of Hate. Envy, rage, hatred are all nurtured by those who seek to destroy us. Why is it that no matter how much we give to the poor, oppressed Muslims, they can not forgo the pleasure of hating us and wishing nothing more than to see us damaged and humbled?
Shelby Steele, in today's Wall Street Journal, via Atlas Shrugs, writes about Israel's existential fight with those who desire nothing more than to destroy her. He emphasizes white guilt as a partial explanation for the West, and Israel's, damaging diffidence in this war:
If this war makes anything clear, it is that Israel can do nothing to appease the Muslim animus against her. And now much of the West is in a similar position, living in a state of ever-heightening security against the constant threat of violence from Islamic extremists. So here, from the Muslim world, comes an unappeasable hatred that seems to exist for its own sake, a hatred with very little actual reference to those it claims to hate. Even the fighting of Islamic terrorist groups is oddly self-referential, fighting not for territory or treasure but for the fighting itself. Standing today in the rubble of Lebanon, having not taken a single inch of Israeli territory, Hezbollah claims a galvanizing victory.
Hatred and murder are self-realization because they impart grandeur to Islamic extremists -- the sense of being God's chosen warrior in God's great cause. Hatred delivers the extremist to a greatness that compensates for the ineffectuality in his world. Jews and infidels are irrelevant except that they offer occasion to hate and, thus, to experience grandiosity. This is why Hezbollah -- Party of God -- can take no territory and still claim to have won. The grandiosity is in the hating and fighting, not the victory.
White guilt in the West -- especially in Europe and on the American left -- confuses all this by seeing Islamic extremism as a response to oppression. The West is so terrified of being charged with its old sins of racism, imperialism and colonialism that it makes oppression an automatic prism on the non-Western world, a politeness. But Islamic extremists don't hate the West because they are oppressed by it. They hate it precisely because the end of oppression and colonialism -- not their continuance -- forced the Muslim world to compete with the West. Less oppression, not more, opened this world to the sense of defeat that turned into extremism.
But white guilt's most dangerous suppression is to keep from discussion the most conspicuous reality in the Middle East: that the Islamic world long ago fell out of history. Islamic extremism is the saber-rattling of an inferiority complex. America has done a good thing in launching democracy as a new ideal in this region. Here is the possibility -- if still quite remote -- for the Islamic world to seek power through contribution rather than through menace.
I think he underestimates how significant this fight is as an existential fight for Islam as well as for the Wets, which is why it will not end anytime soon. I also think that out of this conflict we may be seeing the salvation of the West (and of Islam, if the Islamic fascists lose.) In a fascinating blog post, Dear Center, we hardly knew thee, about the death of the center in Israel, Idan at Pixane.net has this:
I hope somebody smarter than me can think of a way to again lure middle-ground-Israel out of their hiding places and towards the left, and put the brakes on the slide towards extremes that will one day tear Israel apart from inside; a sectarian Israel to go with her northern neighbor. Already, the fractures in Israeli society are showing, and we are not a cohesive group. When Israel finally makes peace with our neighbors, one future sunny day, we will have to deal with ourselves, and that may be our toughest battle yet. In truth, if the Arab world really wants to destroy Israel, all it has to do is make peace with us and leave us alone for 20 years or so — we’re far more capable of committing national suicide than they are of destroying us. [Emphasis mine-SW]
The anti-Semite, who derives his meaning in life from killing Jews, rescues the Jews from themselves by giving them a reason to live. Since we are all Jews now, those who hate us and want to kill us may yet save us from the only thing that can destroy us, our despair.
Update: Synchronicity at Dr. Sanity's, re: Thomas Sowell.