There’s A Dangerous Narcissism In The World

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on April 13, 2011

Today’s post isn’t meant to be political.  Although in today’s political climate, everything is political.  So I suppose today’s post is political, because someone will take it that way.  Pardon the paradox.

After writing about narcissism all last week and the beginning of this one, I found myself thinking about narcissism in the larger context of the world.   And it appears to me that a lack of empathy, grandifying behavior and a need for constant recognition has become the norm on Spaceship Earth.  From American exceptionalism to muslim extremism, from racial prejudice to religious discrimination, narcissism is on the loose, running rampant, and stealing all the attention of the press away from the very real issues facing our nation and this world.  And anyone who seeks a better way forward is likely to find themself unable to be heard above the noise of ‘What about me?’ emanating from so many places all at once.

Let’s start our examination of this idea close to home.

I grew up believing in the ideal of American exceptionalism:  That somehow history had conspired to produce our nation as a light unto the world.   And most the people I know grew up with the same idea.  (Thank you Walt Disney)  The world admired us when I was a kid, and for good reason.  Our generosity to the world, our creativity, our intelligence, our contributions to humanity,  our boldness and independence, and our leadership in facing humanity’s challenges, whether in global conflict or in establishing institutions to prevent that conflict, all drew positive attention to us.  What made us exceptional was that we were great!

Sadly, today our exceptionalism seems to have devolved into political narcissism and self hatred.  Rather than being exceptional because we are, well, exceptional, we are now calling ourselves exceptional while being increasingly as blind, arrogant, selfish and stupid as the rest of the world.

A great example of our narcissism was the renaming of french fries to ‘freedom fries’ in the congressional lunchroom.  Instead of it being a principled choice it was a petty and vengeance driven action.  And petty is how it came across to the world.  If being petty, vengeful and small minded is our path to exceptionalism, all I can say is welcome to the club of nations and the family of man, because these are the patterns that have plagued the human race from the beginning of recorded time.

Our current governance and the way we engage with those who govern us is an object lesson in what’s wrong in the world.  Our congress is so morally and ethically compromised, our representatives so beholden to horribly selfish agendas and so astonishingly shortsighted and irresponsible in the laws they pass and the debate that leads to the legislation, that no lasting good can possibly come of it.  They persist in disrespecting views other than their own,  and ignore the long term consequences of their actions, choices and votes to our collective peril.  Of course they came by their corruption honestly, since they are the manifest result of the narcissistic process that we created and allowed, that speaks to the lowest common denominator instead of our highest ideals.

But we’re not alone (hey, misery loves company, right?)  Muslim extremists throughout the world have their own sense of moral superiority.  Indeed, in the name of their superiority they can justify killing innocents for a whole host of narcissistic reasons.  Another example is the burning of a Koran in Florida by that dude who l0oks like Yosemite Sam.   While what he did is repugnant to decent people everywhere. what is more repugnant is how it was used as cover by muslim extremists in Libya to kill embassy workers and misdirect our attention away from themselves, who did the deed out of nothing but the selfish desire to exact revenge.   Throughout the middle east, the people are now rising up against their vain dictators, and the fear around the world is that they are going to replace them with another set of narcissists, the  messianic extremists who want to die and set the world on fire in order to prove their superiority to everyone else.   What do the dictators, book burners and and other extremists and exhibitionists that dominate the news have in common . . . besides dominating the news?  A profound disregard for life, for love, and for the rights of those who disagree with them.

I could go on, because it’s not just muslim extremists, or our Congress, the President, or governors eager to feather their own nest.

How about the Catholic church, which stakes claim to authority on social issues and human sexuality, while its priests have torn up the world with their lust for power and child abuse.

Our banks and companies are ruled by boards and chairmen whose only obligation is to shareholders, and to hell with everyone and everything else.  They applaud themselves with ridiculously large bonuses, while poisoning our air, land and water in more ways than we can count.

How about conservatives and liberals?  Don’t get me started.

Narcissism may be  the biggest challenge facing the human race.  Our future may very well depend on growing up out of such childish self-centered behavior and taking the larger context into account.  Otherwise, I fear we are heading down a dangerous road from which there is no return.  What’s dangerous about it?    My concern is not for the earth.   It will outlive the half life of the most horrible radioactive elements now falling from the increasingly poisonous sky and bubbling onto our shores in the water and food.   But we won’t.   The danger is to the human race, which seems to be barreling down the road of our worse instincts instead of meeting the challenge of acting for our greatest good.

I believe that nature gave us thousands of years to be petty, stupid, arrogant and violent and we could still keep going on.  But I also believe that, thanks to technology, the time has come for us each to turn and face the future instead of continuing to back into it.  Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in a bleak and horrid world that no decent person will want to be a part of.

What needs to happen:  Each of us must face the future and ask the question:  What kind of world do I want to live in?  Only with this answer in mind, and a commitment to it made, can we begin to measure our choices against that benchmark.   Only with this in mind can we measure the messages from our representatives, the actions of our companies, and the commitments of our communities.

This completes my series on narcissism, I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.  What do you think?  Are we doomed?  Can we grow up in time?  How are you doing in working towards a world that you want to live in?

Be well




Previous post:

Next post: