Friday, November 12, 2010

Politics requires a lot of narcissism

What we call narcissism is a normal part of every human being. Without narcissism, we are unable to feel good about either ourselves or other people. In the healthy adult, the excessively grandiose side of the self is tamed and harnessed to an appropriate set of ideals and values and is capable of perceiving others as separate sources of action, thought, and feeling. A healthy self with appropriate levels of narcissism--or self love--has two fundamental and equally important parts: […]

Much of the evil that humans do to each other comes as a result of narcissistic rage and/or narcissistic idealism (and they are found often oscillating back and forth in the unhealthy narcissist). In the former case, we hear about or know individuals who manipulate, control, subjugate, hurt or kill others and they are able to do this because they do not consider other people as human or separate from their own self; or because they are so enraged and grandiose they are not capable of empathy. We see stories of this happening all the time on the news, frequently exclaiming, "How could someone do that?" The ex-boyfriend who cannot accept that the woman has dared to withdraw her love and so must kill her (and often himself); the serial killer who does not experience others as really human. The pedophile who abuses then murders his child victim. Every petty criminal who believes implicitly that his feelings and desires are paramount and justify his behavior.

A second type of evil is more subtle, and it comes from the unhealthy idealistic narcissist. This narcissist also does not see other people as individuals; and instead sees them only as fodder for the expression of an IDEAL or as pawns for an Omnipotent Object (e.g., a dictator). People with idealizing narcissism completely reject the needs of the individual and enslave him or her to their IDEAL. Eventually, the enslavement--whether religious or secular--snuffs out human ambition, confidence, energy and self-esteem. These "do-gooders" cause considerable human misery and their ideologies can lead to genocidal practices and unbelievable atrocities on a grand scale, all in the name of the IDEAL or GOD. Needless to say, both the development of normal self-esteem as well as the ability to have appropriate ideals and admiration for others are essential to psychological health. When one aspect develops at the expense of the other it has grave consequences--both for the individual and society.

One could say that the entire psychological process of maturation is one in which the child is able to form a cohesive sense of himself AND at the same time appreciate the separateness of Mother and Father --and by extension, all other people. When this process is achieved, true empathy and benevolence toward others is possible, as is a healthy and realistic appreciation for one's own worth and capabilities. In Wretchard's comparison of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin we see the essentials of how all this plays out in different political personalities. As I noted earlier, there are certain professions that require a lot of narcissism to be successful--and politics is foremost among them. 

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