The Hissy Fit Generation and the Loss of Free Speech IV: The Narcissism Factor (2)

“…the oversensitivity of individuals today, including political correctness and microaggressions, all stem from this idea that people operating under the notion of the pristine self view you as evil because you are showing them something other than love.”

— Howard Schwartz, professor emeritus of Oakland University,


Continuing from the previous post which looked at how narcissism defines our present culture, and how it may feature in the younger generations of today. We now turn to the main sources manifesting normalised cultural and/or personality narcissism and its perpetuation.

Here are six key areas:

Parenting

We have to differentiate between cultural narcissism and the kind of abuse that comes from neglectful parents or what is called the narcissistic family. In the latter, this is a form of emotional abuse or covert narcissism sourced from one or other of the parents’ needs and desires taking precedent over the child’s. From an emotionally deficient family life the child’s sense of self is warped leading to intense shame since the expectation of a nurturing environment is absent. Psychologist Joseph Burgo describes this trauma and arrested emotional development as a result of “disappointed expectations”. When the genetic inheritance that offers a “blueprint of normality” is disrupted in the child, he knows at a deep level, that his  fundamental development has gone awry and he feels insecure and unsafe. Burgo explains: “instead of instilling a sense of beauty, an abusive or traumatic environment leaves the infant with a sense of internal defect and ugliness.” [1]

This sense of disgust and shame at the self has huge implications for the processing of feelings and social functioning. However, such covert narcissism is likely not the primary cause of the cultural narcissism we are now witnessing. There is very little empirical data to support it, whereas more modern studies show clear evidence that inflated feedback is the primary cause. In other words, the conditioning of overpraising and over-protection, where the child or infant is told over and over again that s/he is special and unique.

Telling a child that s/he is super smart and intrinsically special has been taught for several generations. Far from providing a healthy self-confidence this focus has encouraged a prince and princess syndrome; a generation of entitled, spoiled children with little defence against the objective realities of this world. Such well-intentioned coddling often results in a role reversal where the child becomes precociously “adult” and the parent reverts to child-like infantilism due to the dominance of the child’s personality – a wholly abnormal state of affairs. Far from feeling a deep-seated shame, the child genuinely believes that s/he is special and superior since it comes from a learned behaviour of entitlement – wired into the brain.

Although authoritarian parenting is most certainly not the answer, the pendulum has now swung toward the opposite extreme where indulgence misinterprets nurturing. Discipline and structure is an essential part of a child’s navigation and learning, but such an “old-fashioned” view is now shunned in favour of letting the child do and have exactly what s/he wants; where the child is constantly love-bombed with no boundaries or limits. And when the child or young adult eventually faces the real world he comes face to face with the fact that his love-cocoon, this pristine self has programmed an essential weakness in the face of life’s vicissitudes. Far from creating self-reliance and resilience this parenting creates the exact opposite, namely, a generation of “snowflakes” where all aspects of living are seen as a form of bullying and act of offence.  The capitulation of university campuses when confronted by these collective hissy fits only makes matters much worse.


“People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying. The helicopter parent protects the children from real dangers but also fantasy dangers. These precious snowflakes are the children of political correctness, their parents and schools lead them to believe that the world is perfectly moralistic — they don’t live in the real world, it is a fantasy.”

Howard Schwartz, professor emeritus of Oakland University, author of: Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self


This truly is the era of weak parenting where constructive criticism and firm guidance is replaced with overpraising and over-protection. In studies on parenting and narcissism, Jean Twenge states in The Narcissism Epidemic that his is the era of weak parenting where: “… this kind of lax parental monitoring was one of the strongest correlates of narcissism in teens. It’s also a good predictor of teen drug and alcohol abuse and crime.” [2] Although correlation doesn’t equal causation when a synthesis of associated causes converge over time then the data becomes compelling, as we shall see. Over-praising has seeped into mainstream education with children getting better grades for doing less work right up to university, where some students demand the right to take their exams at home. [3] [4] This promotion of self-absorption leads, as we have seen, to fragility in the work-place and resistance to negative feedback, therefore, the potential to grow.

Stricter parenting, a balanced introduction to the work ethic and the harsh realities of this world would do much to redress the balance. After all, the job of the original western fairy-tale tradition was to do just that: to integrate the left and right hemispheres of the brain and to alert the child to the presence of the shadow side of the instincts and emotions that would have to be faced and acknowledged in life so that they could be channelled productively; so that the brain structures and neuronal growth at key stages of development could create a firm foundation for healthy emotional “circuits.”

Fairly tales were mythic instructional manuals for the child and emerging teen, an echo of our oral traditions that appealed to the realm of imagination and the neural networks of their young brains; primed and ready to grow given the right stimulus and in much the same way a garden is properly nourished by just the right amount of sun and rain. Like so much of the the old ways passed down through the centuries, fairly tales came firmly under the jackboot of the politically correct. They were sanitised and given the postmodern treatment; stripped clean of their carefully tailored imagery that could have given the child’s psyche the needed archetypes and motifs, with the necessary psycho-spiritual knowledge that was contained therein. An example of this was recently picked up the UK’s Independent newspaper which reported on a Newcastle mother’s mission to have the already Disneyfied fairy-tale Sleeping Beauty to be removed from her son’s primary school curriculum for its ‘inappropriate sexual’ message.” [5]

What happened to fairy tales is now happening on a vaster scale and nothing much of true education is left vis a vis parenting and modern systems of  education. It is the neglected shadow side of the unconscious that is suppressed and ignored with no natural outlet that has metastasized into a little demon with a smartphone fetish. When little Johnny or Jeanette is not seen as unsullied perfection and the apple of his mother’s or father’s eye but rather sovereign souls in need of structured and loving guidance then we might have a chance against some deeply entrenched parenting and educational philosophies saturated in new age, * self-help psychobabble and postmodernist social science. Unfortunately, there is no sign of that happening anytime soon.


“When narcissism is viewed as good; good is viewed as narcissism.”

– Fathom


Celebrities and Media

It’s hard to imagine a time when the obsession with fame, selling oneself and being famous as an end itself was as all-consuming as it is now. For those like myself who grew up when there was no internet, no social networks and no Reality TV nor the level of consumerism and corporatism that is now eating up the world, a comparison can be formed in the mind; distant maybe but it’s there. Certainly, different problems existed and in some cases it was worse. But there was an immediacy of communication and the requisite effort that at least retained a sense of the present. There was no technological intermediary that speeded up our lives and our expectations so that it cut the human ground from under us.

Mainstream media and gossip blogs buttress the cult of celebrity keeping us focused on mediocrity. It has reached into the soft belly of the young and aligned their hopes and wishes with a transitory feeling of admiration and adoration, building and perpetuating the spread of narcissism. Cinema and television provide a singular prism through which narcissism is reinforced on a daily basis. Reality TV shows for example, as Twenge observes: “…often the majority of the highest rated shows are a showcase of narcissism, making materialistic, vain, and anti-social behavior seem normal. Fictional TV shows already have a large impact on children and teens, shaping how they view the world. This is even more true of reality, with no fiction and no script to stand in the way of undeveloped minds’ belief that this is the way the everyone behaves in real life.” [6]  It is no coincidence that such a psycho-spiritual disease acts exactly like a pathogen. And those spellbinders in our infortainment industries play an important part in spreading the disease. As the authors explain:  “In the epidemiology of viruses some people are known as ‘superspreaders’. The historic prototype of the superspreader is Typhoid Mary, the cook who gave more than 50 people typhoid fever between 1900 and 1915.  Celebrities and the media they dominate are the superspreaders of narcissism.” [7] *

With economic uncertainty bubbling in the background children, young adults and their parents have all been caught up in this escapist circus, whether it is tuning in to incessant YouTube celebrities who throw out pearls of “wisdom”; saving hard-earned cash for Bo-tox and boob jobs; sculpturing our bodies to the metro-sexual ideal; marking ourselves with tattoos just like the Kardashians or Angelina Jolie and queuing for American Idol to live the American dream… But the dream has a very dark side. Actors, pop and porn stars and the virtual reality they sell are the new role models – the demi-gods of cultural narcissism which atrophy the brain and extinguish the soul.

Internet / Social networks

Television is a neutral tool which has provided entertainment, information and an expanding awareness of our world. It has also acted as an ever-present hypnotic elephant in the room for dumbing us down, channelling mediocrity and replacing family, community and the effort required to interact with our fellow man and woman. The internet is similarly neutral and has an equal potential to be the ultimate tool of freedom of expression that has ever existed. It also has “…the potential to serve as a giant narcissism multiplier.” It’s all down to the perception that currently dominates our times and since this is normalised pathology it means such potential will flow into whatever tributaries have been grooved into the global brain. Twenge and Campbell posit five reasons they believe that the latter will continue:

1) The internet allows individual narcissism to be reinforced.
2) The internet promotes narcissistic behaviours.
3) Some people become addicted to internet use.
4) Standards of normal behaviour are changing.
5) The internet has enormous reach. [8]

My 19 year-old niece and 28 year old nephew are testament to this fact. Take away their i-pad, i-phone or laptops and take them for a walk in the countryside and before long they are irritable, sullen and distracted. They both exhibit signs of addiction. According to Twenge and Campbell: “Studies suggest that the rise in individual level narcissism has been accelerating since 2000, possibly because more and more young people have structured their identities using MySpace and Facebook.” [9] Nor does this factor in the extraordinary dominance of the four monoculture corporations who effectively control the consumer habits of internet users making it more and more indispensable that we use their services, whilst they mine our data to retain power over our buying habits. As writer Franklin Foer states in World Without Mind: “..their algorithms have pressed us into conformity and laid waste to privacy. They have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation, and out us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection – a world without mind.” [10]

Is it any wonder that young minds are in crisis when we have artificial intelligence bots turning children’s brain to mush as harmless entertainment?  What effect does this have on a generation already reeling with technological overload from social networks holding their attention from morning til night? We are paradoxically all connected and plugged in to a global mind but trapped in our own separate worlds only to venture forth into a pre-defined set of socially accepted rules and regulations for the “greater good;” social networks of group-think algorithms with narcissism as the binder.  (More on social networks and its relationship to free speech in Part VI)


“Because a screen culture … is rooted in a peekaboo mentality anchored in images, today’s teens are experts exhibitionists, vigilant voyeurs, and novice narcissists.”

– Candice Kelsey – Generation MySpace


Self-promotion / Self admiration and Vanity

All three obviously go together with social networking sites like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook the perfect means to showcase narcissism. Self-promotion has been steadily increasing decade after decade, in line with a more corrosive capitalism that sees individualism, consumerism and materialism taken to extremes. The body is expressing this shift towards external ideals with the gym culture. plastic surgery, self-marketing and advertising all converging to make money and fame as the ultimate form of self-validation.

Self-promotion is partly as a result of more part-time work and self-employment. Young people are taught from year zero that they’ll get nowhere unless you promote and sell yourself. This becomes even more necessary as universities become more competitive. Combine these realities with a failing economy, infotainment and social networks that sanctify and legitimize grandiose promotion as a means to make their own monolithic profits, it’s little wonder that the draw to being self-centered is paying off. But a selfish paradigm never nourishes its constituent parts. Ultimately, it fizzles out bringing individual or collective chaos in its wake, as do all things which are based on transitory, self-important desires. The analogy to how viruses’ behave is again pertinent:”The damage that narcissism does to the ‘host’ often does not show up for a long time. Narcissists typically look healthy and appealing from the outside, at least in young people and strangers. Narcissism however, is a destructive trait in old age. You lose your looks and your behavior drives away your family and friends. … Senior citizen narcissism is not a good way to end your time on earth.” [11]

If you have invested all your energy on the image you see as a facebook selfie or in the bedroom mirror there will be little left to supply the neglected self within. Yet, there are plenty of external inducements to keep you away from attempting such a transformation. The tragic thing is, most narcissists remain trapped in that mirror since the loving shock they sorely needed when younger was actively avoided. So, it becomes a vicious circle. Without the courage and humility to know that you need help, it is unlikely the full blown individual narcissist will ever escape his/her carefully crafted fantasy. Those of us suffering from the osmosis of cultural narcissism with only narcissistic traits, there may still be cracks in the glass and thus the potential for healing.

If if you are not thinking positively enough or the law of attraction hasn’t delivered then of course, one’s only recourse is to invest more energy in self-love; upping the stakes to become even more aggressive in marketing yourself. Selective self-promotion is fine but in our culture it seldom stays that way. Since narcissism is steadily rising, the promotion of oneself alongside leisure time admiration of one’s body, the latest outfit; the latest girlfriend or boyfriend for a hook-up swiped on Tinder – all of it normalises the idea of a dog-eat-dog world, where putting yourself first is both and act of economic and psychological survival and narcissistic supply. **

Self-Esteem and Being “special”

The value of self-esteem as a means to success has been pushed from all quarters – education, government programs; parenting, pop psychology and the new age movement. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that focusing on self-esteem in the child as a foundation for healthy adulthood does any good at all, in fact, it may do the reverse, fostering narcissism and an undeserved belief that the child is different and special.

“One of the items on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is ‘I think I am a special person.’ (the non-narcissistic choice is ‘I am no better and no worse than most people.’) Feeling special is one of the central traits of narcissism, helping to justify the belief that it’s OK to cut in line, get something for nothing and treat others as inferior. Less narcissistic people like to say, ‘Yes I’m special, but so is everyone else.’ But can everyone be special? The American heritage Dictionary defines special as ‘surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional: [e.g.] ‘a special occasion.’ Thus it is logically impossible for everyone to be special. Even young children can figure this out. In a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Katherine Kersten described her then seven year-old daughter’s reaction to a school day when every kid wore a badge that said ‘[Blank] is special’ with her name filled in. She commented, ‘Mom, if everyone is special, then no one is special.’ ” [12]

We are all unique in our own ways – most obviously in respect of our biology – our DNA and complex psycho-spiritual make up. Our differences are what make us fascinating. Yet, the implication behind the tag of “special” means that you are actually better than others. It means there is a simmering future of greatness that parents must keep seasoning and stirring; adding the required condiments of unconditional and unimpeded emotional support so that s/he may take his rightful place in our Official Culture of the 0000.1%. The insulated son or daughter is given an entirely false view of life by believing that s/he is destined to be above the ho-polloi of mere mortals.

To be obsessed about little Johnny or Jeanette being better than others is surely a product of the same cultural narcissism. Self-confidence will not be damaged if parents stop calling their daughters ” my most special princess” or their sons “the most precious diamond in the world” and protecting them from reality. Praising one’s child when she has made an effort and has done well at school or helped another in need should be acknowledged and rewarded. When they show integrity, fortitude, courage and kindness and the real meaning of success derived from such acts – this builds true confidence and self-worth, especially if the parent leads by example. Not focusing on specialness at all and building self-confidence through discipline and loving support appears to the direction to take if the child is to have the inner strength and eventual humility to face the future.

This is why we are seeing a great deal of often middle-class, privileged university students who are projecting their angst and anger onto a range of left-liberal issues. The red carpet treatment in youth does not lead to a gilded throne of their own desires but ultimately a rude awakening to the fact that the universe does not revolve around their wants, needs and opinions – even if rationalised as altruistic activism.

Judging by the rise in mental illness and the inability of some millennials and  Generation Z to cope with objective facts, the likelihood is that we will see an exponential rise in the incidence of breakdowns as our the world becomes initially more chaotic and uncertain. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and it is likely to be particularly “dark” for those who realise that their overblown expectations are not going to met anytime soon. We will look at possible solutions to this conundrum in the final part in this series.


“Americans see people with fancy cars and clothes and assume they must be rich. In reality, it is often safer to assume they are in debt.”

–  The Narcissistic Epidemic; p. 137.


Easy Credit

The United States situation is dire, the national debt load having reached – at the time of writing – a $20, 454 664, 998, 513 trillion and a total debt of $67, 992, 107, 805, 468 trillion which is 153% rise in debt since the year 2000. This which works out at $62, 708 for every American. Since these are official US government figures it is likely a very conservative estimate. Easy credit is the financial enabler for a narcissistic culture.

Since the sub-prime mortgage disaster of 2008 the global financial architecture and its system of credit and debt has been largely unaltered. Americans still reach for status through consumption and credit card usage has never been more ubiquitous. Millennials and Generations Z’ers were raised by parents who placed everything on the plastic. Nothing has changed except that we were swindled into believing that ordinary people should pay through their noses and suffer massive cuts in social provisions so that the banking system could continue fleecing us all as though nothing was inherently wrong. As a result, the richest are richer and the poorest, poorer. Meanwhile, narcissist desires are channelled once again through mounting debt appealing to the ethos of have it now, pay later; a fantasy land of overblown expectation where so many believe they’ll make it big to pay off those mounting debts. Everyone deserves the best because “…I’m worth it” as the L’Oreal ad goes … even if it is at 18% APR.

The narcissistic illusion is serviced by a banking industry and rampant consumerism selling the religion that one is wealthy and successful through buying things you cannot afford. It is a catastrophic enabler of the disease that will soon repeat the same crisis, the only difference being it will much worse, since it is now a global bubble incorporating the toxic derivatives market. “The inflation in credit leads to the inflation of self-image” – a merry-go-round of wishful thinking that can only spin faster until it breaks its moorings. But without debt slavery banks would make no money which is why economic orthodoxy is against people saving their money and even more dire  – diversifying their investments by purchasing precious metals and hoarding their cash in safe places. Such wisdom means that banks in their present form would die out like the predators they are. They will never stop lending to people who can’t pay because it is the penalties for late payments and the interest charges which keeps this banking monolith ticking over. Fiscal policy and its financial architecture depends on narcissism for its monetary supply. When the pleasure principle meets actual reality and is sourced from a cultural narcissism that knows no other way to live – it’s like asking for the Universe for a collective slap-down.

And that time is coming.

***

Now that we armed with a basic knowledge of what narcissism is and how it has become normalised, in the next post we can take a look at a further symptom of cultural narcissism lying behind the attack on free speech and made worse by the lazy thinking of left-liberal sentiment. Trans-generational in scope, there are signs of a resistance to adulthood and a burgeoning manifestation of infantilism. Against this psychological backdrop  Part VI will explore its effects of infantilism within left-liberal ideology as expressed in higher education and its implications for  free speech.

 


*= The so-called rise of “indigo children” is one example of the new age movement’s contribution to helicopter parenting that fosters early narcissism by excusing appalling behaviour due to the erroneous belief that they are spiritual beings here to save us…In truth, an Indigo child checklist has shocking symptoms akin to pathological narcissism and/or psychopathy.)

** = Authors Twenge and Campbell somewhat forlornly hope that the green movement will act as a mitigating factor against these trends. However, this domain is equally tarnished by the same narcissism we find in the SJW movements; fusing with an ideological militancy, radicalism and plain old bad science that is very far from any semblance of objectivity and integrity. There are still wonderful people out there doing great things but it is important to reiterate that no societal domain is immune from ponerological infection. This is why it is so vital that we begin to see this problem and inoculate ourselves against it. – more on that in the final part of this series.


Notes

[1] p.162; Burgo, Joseph; Why Do I do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and The Hidden Way They Shape Our Lives (2012) New Rise Press.
[2] pp.82-83; Twenge, Jean ; Campbell, W. Keith, The Narcissism Epidemic – Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009).
[3] Study finds college students get better grades for less work’ Study International, April 4, 2016.
[4] ‘Berkeley students shut down exam, demand ‘take-home’ instead’By Kyle Perisic Leadership Institute Intern,www.campusreform.org/Oct 02, 2017.
[5] ‘Sleeping Beauty teaches ‘inappropriate behaviour’, says mother calling for book to be banned from primary school’ By Jack Shepard, The Independent, November 24th , 2017.
[6] op.cit.Twenge; p.91
[7] Ibid. pp.270-271 | See the book for in-depth studies, polls and surveys on each of these statements.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Foer, Franklin; The World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech (2017) Introduction to the Kindle Edition.
[11] Op. cit Twenge; Campbell pp.273-274
[12] Ibid. pp.189-190

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