Moral Narcissists are living among us, and they are up to No Good

 

Read Jay B Gaskill’s Lost Souls Coffee Shop, an allegory for the human condition.  More on the Bridge to Being Blog at http://jaygaskill.com/blog2/ .

 

And read Jay Gaskill’s new thriller, The Stranded Ones.  More on the Policy Think Site at   http://www.jaygaskill.com/TourTheStrandedOnes.pdf .

 

 

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This essay is not about ideology, party or personality, but is sheds light on all three....

 

J

 

{corrected version 2-16-10}

Moral Narcissists are living among us

And they are up to No Good

By

Jay B. Gaskill

 

Narcissism is life in a self validating bubble.

 

In its milder forms, narcissism is the infatuation with one’s own personal narrative as if it represents the very center of the universe.  For a narcissist, the chords that bind us to others are ignored. Here, I’m using the musical version of cords here to express the notion that we are bound to our fellow beings more by resonances than by restraints. 

 

Narcissists have cut the ‘humbilical’ chords that tie them to the larger human narrative, to the Moral Center its Creator.

 

For purposes of this discussion, narcissism is a chronic self absorption so profound that all relationships with others (and by extension all values) are measured by whether - or the extent to which - they represent or validate approval of the narcissistic individual in question. 

 

In the most extreme forms of narcissism, empathy is replaced in by the miming of empathy in order to gain – or validate – approval. 

 

An aside:  Solipsism is the delusion (or absurd philosophical position) that because our knowledge is personal, our personal experience is all there is.  Or put differently, solipsism is “(a) the world view that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified; (b) the world view that the self is the only reality” (typical dictionary definition).   Taken seriously and acted on in practice, solipsism is a form of profound mental derangement.

 

Narcissism is the solipsism of the soul, the world view that one’s self is the only value.  This is why the notorious achievements of others are resented and denied by the narcissistic mind.  If one’s separate self is the only value, and the approval of others is the only proper response, then the elevated status of others can never be truly merited or endured.  The very existence of the more successful, the more loved, the more ... (insert envied trait here) challenges the narcissist’s “if I’m not doing well, then it must be someone else’s fault” set of assumptions.  The successes and high status of others disparages and undercuts the narcissist’s personal narrative. 

 

Malignant narcissists are actually willing to destroy the successes of others as a twisted from of ‘therapy’. 

 

Real therapists observe this pathological behavior in a number of situations, particularly in the attitudes of addicts who try to co-opt others into their miserable state. 

 

The rest of us can readily recognize the same behavior writ large on the world stage:  Malignant narcissism is the psychological fuel that drives violent jihadists who are willing to die in flames in order to bring down Western civilization, the notorious material success of which is an extreme example of the “if we’re not OK it is someone else’s fault” mindset. 

 

For the doctrinaire, bloody-minded Marxists, the act of bringing others down to one’s level is seen as simple justice, as perverted as that notion seems to a healthy mind.  This is the base appeal of all such leftwing collective egalitarian “reparations” notions.  [Contrast individuated justice in which an actual thief is legally compelled to return the stolen item or otherwise ‘pay’ for an actual crime.]

 

Moral narcissists are an interesting, but poorly understood subset of the larger narcissistic cohort.  They include the groups and subcultures of narcissists who have adopted a camouflage strategy to escape the moral disapproval of others - after all, no one truly loves a blatant narcissist.  They accomplish this camouflage by cloaking their narcissism in the trappings of ‘social justice positioning’.  [Bumper stickers do the job quite well as does cocktail party banter.]

 

These are members of “club narcissist” who live in an unspoken social compact, the first tenet of which is “We are not narcissists because we care”.  The second tenet consists of a commitment to sign onto a shifting list of approved ‘humanitarian’ positions and stances with the unspoken understanding that these will require little more than gestures - bargain basement humanitarianism, of you will.

 

Thus the moral narcissists create an artificial a moral universe where ‘standing for’ is the equivalent of ‘doing for’.  These self-selecting cohorts have simply expanded their approval bubble to include those who share the same approval needs.  This explains more than other factor why actual charitable activity - as measured by deeds, treasure and sacrifice - is far higher in so called ‘backward conservative’ communities than in ‘enlightened progressive’ areas.  [Many sources support this finding.  One sample-   http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1222/p15s01-ussc.html ]

 

Caveat:  Obviously, not everyone living in a social justice approval bubble is a moral narcissist as I’ve defined the term here, but the very existence of the bubble, characterized by the non-critical acceptance of ‘positions” in lieu of concrete helpful actions, provides perfect cover.

 

We need to address moral narcissism as a serious social problem because it is so rampant among the comfortable, well off, and “well meaning” intelligentsia,   These include those  who purport to care about the victims of war while opposing the use of armed forces needed to maintain peace, who purport to care about educating the poor, while opposing vouchers for indigent families to send their children to safer private schools, and who purport to care about civil peace while opposing necessary police resources and authority.  

 

Moral narcissists are easily controlled and manipulated by political elites, ideologues, and corrupt political predators.  Moral narcissists are immune from the teaching effects of authentic dialogue.  Moral narcissism is the disease of the modern mind. 

 

We all live in an information bubble of some sort, a position imposed by our circumstances and our limited resources of attention. But many of us are at least able to know something of the boundaries and limitations of our separate concerns, and we are able to make an effort to engage with the world outside those boundaries and limitations.  Some of us are actually willing to listen to and learn from ‘the other side’.

 

That is, we are able to engage the world unless we are crippled by some form of solipsism.  Babies are born with a passion for life and an aboriginal solipsism/narcissism from which they/we are eventually charmed by the attentions of loving, but morally centered adults. 

 

Or not.

 

Modern moral narcissism resembles an attempt to return to an infantile state.

 

Solipsism, in its various forms, occupies a continuum.  One end is occupied by the pure solipsists. This is a rare condition only simulated by philosophers – “We can’t really know anything about the world.” If ever solipsism is actually taken seriously, the warped minds it captures tend to exist in a delusional state (“I am the world”) so profound that it belongs in the DMS IV’s catalog of clinically recognized mental disorders. [The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the agreed diagnostic catalog used by mental health professionals in the United States.] 

 

At the other end of the continuum, solipsism’s milder forms slide naturally into one of the contemporary versions of narcissism.  We might say that a narcissist is a recovering solipsist who has accommodated the world’s existence but not its independent value. 

 

Here are the takeaway points:

 

  1. For purposes of this discussion, narcissism is an inappropriate and chronic self absorption so profound that all forms of approval (and by extension all value) are measured by whether (or the extent to which) they represent approval of the narcissist. In its more extreme forms, empathy is replaced in the narcissistic mind by the miming of empathy in order to gain – or validate – approval for ‘being nice”.  Yet the authentic achievements of others are almost always resented by the narcissistic mind.
  2. A moral narcissist lives in a self-approval bubble shared by other moral narcissists who collectively have agreed that their cocoon of mutually agreed moral gestures and self congratulations will constitute a perfect and sufficient engagement with an imperfect world. In their morally empty minds, the notion of ahimsa (essentially, “do no harm”) easily mutates into “do nothing concrete or risky” to prevent harm. 
  3. Moral narcissists are prey in a world full of predators.

 

This is why moral narcissists are naturally drawn to ideologies based on the moral validation of envy, and why it is safer for them to “feel” empathy for the “victims” than for those who take risks and engage in dangerous struggles to protect them. 

 

JBG