The Pivoting: On narcissistic collusion or how evil “just happens”


Dadu Shin

The Pivoting, dear reader, is now in full force — and what a spectacle it is. It is as scary as The Shining, only less bloody — so far.

But that’s how it always goes, as anyone familiar with the horror genre knows: an innocent, idyllic even, adventure turns surely but imperceptibly enough into a full-blown nightmare from which there is no escape. And the protagonists, mired in horror, are left to wax regretful — between whatever tortures are imposed on them — about their wrong choices that led them to their terror. “If only we knew!”

I am not talking about Brexit, though it too qualifies as another sign of our Shadow trying to break through our narcissistic blindness and force us to pay attention to the invisible suffering contained within, a process complete — as it always is — with its own uber-narcissist enabling it. Interestingly, in this season of the Shadow’s revolt, orange-ish is the new white.

I am talking about the shameful spectacle of the GOP politicos lining up behind (or in front, as in the picture on top) Agent Orange, a man whose painfully apparent character defect, so profound that it makes him unfit to run a chicken coop, is now somehow blissfully unnoticed or blithely disregarded —  often by the same people who openly pointed it out before. Pivoting, they call it, and hope, naively, that the process would be mutual. Pivoting is the word of the year — or should be, if the Merriam-Webster folks are paying attention as they should. And even though Cenk Uygur calls it plain lying, there is more to it.

The Guardian has an open and growing gallery of these pivoters, the Enduring Hall of Shame of sorts; but their graphics showing Trump as the star in the center of this disordered solar system are wrong. The man is not a star but a black hole –a singular event in the spacetime fabric of America that bends and defies reality as we understand it and sucks in everything around it, destroying it in the process, as he was designed to do. Nothing can escape from it. That’s what black holes do.

It is easy to guess why so many of the conscience-deficient GOPers support their pathological candidate –the two all too obvious reasons are fear (of ostracism if refusing to follow the herd), and a desire to remain in good graces of the future president and his sycophants, assuring a place at the trough of power and the perks that come with it. And an adherence to a perverted principle that the good of the party comes above all else.

This short-sighted complicity that makes even people with a conscience, albeit a weak one, compromise their principles for safety and primitive goals always ends badly for everyone involved, including the compromisers whose dignity never recovers, even if they survive. Dignity, of course, is one of those  values that only exist and matter if you have a functioning conscience, the part of human beings that’s both most elusive and most important as it makes all the difference in the world.

It may be that the pivoting GOPers are not craven, but just do not fully, or at all, understand the extent of their candidate’s character problem, especially if they themselves share his narcissistic defect and the blindness it creates. People with an impaired conscience sometimes do not see things clearly; so as a Public Service Announcement for the non-seeing ones, I’d like to take this opportunity to address this issue:

Your candidate, dear GOPers, is not going to change. Not because he does not want to — and he surely does not want to — but because he cannot. In order to change in any meaningful fashion, a person must have a functioning conscience. There is no way around it, no matter how hard we may try to find it. There’s just not enough lipstick in the world.

A functioning conscience, much better than reason itself, tells us when and where we erred and how, and what we must do to correct our errors. A functioning conscience with its empathy, guilt, and humility — the three capacities distinctly missing from a narcissist’s inner milieu — is what makes it possible for us to notice and admit that we are at fault, want to rectify our mistakes and change our behavior. No functioning conscience, no change; not even a possibility of acknowledging a wrongdoing. And, if you are a grandiosely narcissistic “winner” (triple redundancy warning!), the best in all you do and also in things you have never done, you would see no need whatsoever to learn anything. Why, perfection means no need to ever say you’re sorry — it is one of its undeniable benefits, for gods and narcissistic humans alike. 

This also means your candidate is not going to surround himself with reasonable, or — god forbid — wise people, because, again, he does not believe he could be wrong and he does not need anyone’s advice. And, as he’s someone with the best brain, whose advice could even come close to his own? Besides, he has no tolerance for competition.

The impairment of conscience characteristic for narcissism severely limits a person’s cognitive capacities, as it makes him (or her) incapable of, among so many things, understanding points of view other than his own. This itself makes objective — or at least non-egocentric — reasoning impossible. The result is dangerous solipsism where one’s desires become a substitute for reality, and facts (and people), particularly those that are unpleasant for the narcissist to acknowledge, cease to exist. What he wants, must happen, regardless of consequences for the world — the consequences he is unable to envision in the first place, but even if he did so, he would disregard them.

Unable and unwilling to learn — a distinction without a difference in a narcissist’s case — the best your candidate can be expected to do is to stick to a teleprompter and read the scripts written for him by his children and handlers. Those scripts are not going to be free of their own pathology, however, one which they share with your candidate; but they will be more subdued and polished, as such things go. So they may fool more people, maybe even enough to have your candidate elected, if that’s what you’re after. They will not help your candidate grow a conscience, though. He probably does not understand a lot of what he reads in those prepared speeches; and if he does, he likely does not care to notice how it may differ from what he is about and what it could possibly mean. No conscience, no values, no problem.

Once he’s off the teleprompter, he will remain his usual “winning” self, looking for any opportunity to make a “deal” that would personally elevate him and humiliate someone else, because this is his lifelong modus operandi. 

Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” You have been shown time and again, and also explained, one hopes clearly enough; so don’t say you have not been warned. 

With the PSA concluded, let’s pivot back to our narcissistic collusion in progress.

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What is both fascinating and frightening — but also instructive — in this case is that the GOPers’ presumptive nominee openly promises to undo most of the things that supposedly have made America the beacon of freedom and democracy — and his eager supporters are the very same people who routinely sloganeer about that freedom and democracy when it suits their personal agenda (= they are up for election). We are getting a glimpse of the inner corruption that lurks right behind the polished facade, corruption that stems from the all too common deficits of conscience.

What’s happening on the American political stage now is what happens in all organizations ran, or soon to be ran, by character-disordered tyrants: a willful and spontaneous collusion of people who should know better (one sometimes still erroneously assumes)  with a deeply immoral and inherently destructive leader.

We are watching history repeat itself with a maddening insistence, and we are privileged, if one can call it that, to observe this phenomenon live, as it takes place before our very eyes. Being a witness to history can be educational, should one want to learn a thing or two about the curious malleability of the human conscience.

Frederick Burkle describes this process of narcissistic collusion as applied to politics in his paper on Narcissism in the US polity where he talks about political parties that

(…)  demand total loyalty, whose members all speak from the same playbook and daily-drilled sound bites, and where disloyalty is severely punished by those on the top of the narcissistic pack who have built for themselves a powerful and self-serving political culture.

Many in power truly believe in having god-like powers that absolve whatever faults other humans may be judging them by. Indeed, society is at fault for lavishing praise and creating an unfathomable yet favorable impression while knowing that those actions contribute little or nothing to society itself.

Indeed, we are at fault.

We, humans, engage in this blind danse macabre time and again, oblivious to history lessons or even common sense. As if driven by a compulsion to repeat repressed traumas, we bring on this misery upon ourselves.  Paraphrasing the words of the famous American philosopher, George W. Bush, our children is not learning. As if by design. The enlightenment driven away, / The habit-forming pain,/ Mismanagement and grief:/ We must suffer them all again. And not just in America.

Our common mistake, one among many that shape and define the tragedy of our human nature, is denying reality to protect our cherished illusions. This leads us to cultivating willful ignorance of behavioral and historical patterns that should be obvious by now, not in the least because they have been documented, described, and explained repeatedly. But we don’t want to know, not when it matters; and when we do, it’s only in passing and always too late.

This process — of narcissistic collusion with character-defective leaders — affects individuals and entire nations. It is aided and abetted by what Russell Jacoby termed social amnesia, which is based, in part, on active propaganda and miseducation that lead us to forget history and distort reality in ways that support whatever regime benefits from our unquestioning compliance. Henry Giroux calls it the violence of organized forgetting. It is another name for narcissistic blindness in the service of power that purposefully maims our minds and bodies, transforming us into tools of evil. Not quite openly willing, but one’s will — and conscience — become easily disposed of and immaterial when subsumed under the authority of a powerful leader who, like god, always knows best and will absolve our sins committed in his name.

This narcissistic collusion, so natural that’s nearly invisible, is behind the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt wrote about, exemplified everywhere around us, and vividly enough in the pivoting we’re witnessing now. It the same process that allowed Adolf Eichmann say, “I was just following orders,” during his trial, believing it a valid defense; and let Sarah Kyolaba, one of Idi Amin’s five official wivesdefend her husband by stating “He was just a normal person, not a monster. He was a jolly person, very entertaining and kind.” This jolly-not-a-monster was responsible for torture and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the suffering of many more. But the narcissistic collusion, through the blindness it engenders, makes this aspect of his life invisible or not worthy of much attention to the wife.

The collusion happens “naturally” within the narcissist’s circle of intimates and closest family members, for whom the pathology of the narcissist is invisible despite its nearly constant evidence. This is why the narcissist’s children, for example, will so often defend their parents from any accusations of wrongdoing even as they face evidence of it. The same goes for spouses. It helps that usually both spouses and children share the narcissistic pathology.

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Narcissistic collusion and the ensuing blindness are the most spectacular and horrific in cases of political tyrants who instill — as they always do, because nothing else satisfies a narcissistic psychopath in power — totalitarian dictatorships. The Ceausescus, Nicolae and Elena, are one such example among too many. Detailing their narcissism and the process of narcissistic collusion between them and the Romanians at the time would take a book; maybe we could even title it The Pivoting (™).

Both Nicolae and Elena showed signs of narcissistic disturbance from childhood: sensation seeking behaviors and poor impulse control; aggression; arrogance; grandiosity, with a concomitant need and desire to be treated as special; and an impaired conscience evidenced in antisocial behaviors and disregard for the rights of others. They were smart enough to rapidly advance in any power hierarchy, although both lacked what Burkle calls the capacity to be bright, which can only arise on the basis of a conscience.

Their functioning as adults, especially after they achieved power, fits the description of narcissistic psychopathy, in political power and not, down to the manifestation of their defensive grandiosity in the form of building obscenely opulent palaces as their people suffered; and the inevitable paranoia that besets a narcissistic psychopath in power as his or her reign progresses, and even more so as it starts to crumble, as it always does. Using their examples, we could illustrate step-by-step every aspect of narcissistic psychopathy as applied to political leadership. But it is crucial to note that, first, the beginning of their rule was as innocent and rewarding as the start of any good horror movie, with Nicolae’s initial promises of making Romania great again fulfilled for a while; and, second, they would not accomplish any of their dastardly deeds if they were not supported by so many who were eagerly colluding with their personal pathology.

One example of how pervasive and invisible this collusion can be was Elena’s reputation as an accomplished and internationally recognized chemist. This Mother of the Nation and Doctor Horroris Causa was a barely literate woman, who flunked elementary classes and grades, but managed to obtain Ph.D. in chemistry, along with scientific awards and titles from Romanian and Western academic institutions and scientific bodies. Those were awarded to her on the basis of research  contained in papers written for her by (eagerly or not) compliant legitimate scientists. It is difficult to believe that the scientific and academic institutions, especially domestic, which awarded Elena those honors, did not understand that her scientific career was fraudulent; and yet such is the power of narcissistic blindness — it makes us not see what’s in front of our eyes. The narcissistic collusion needs that blindness to proceed.

Just how eager and extensive was the narcissistic collusion of the academics and other, seemingly well educated and informed people, in Elena’s deception, is shown in Carl Andersson’s paper on The Personality Cult of Elena Ceausescu. Here’s a fragment:

In 1975 Elena was awarded Doctor Honoris Causa at both the University of Teheran and Jordan University in Amman (Les 3-4).

Before Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu set out for a state visit to the United States in 1978, the Illinois Academy of Science approached Elena, offering her an honorary membership. When told that President Carter could not assure her an honorary degree from a Washington-based institute, Elena uttered vehemently: “Come off it! You can’t sell me the idea that Mr. Peanut [Carter] can give me an Illi-whatsis diploma but not any from Washington. I w-i-l-l n-o-t g-o t-o I-l-l-i-what ever it is. I will not!” (Pacepa 180).

However, as no other center acknowledged Elena’s scientific achievements, she had to give in and accept the honorary degree that was being offered. Notwithstanding she showed her abhorrence by having to accept this ‘low-ranked’ degree and on top of it from the hands of a ‘dirty Jew’ – Doctor Emanuel Merdinger was the head of the Illinois Academy of Science in 1978 when Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu visited the United States (Pacepa 181).

Entitlement and contempt for others go together in a narcissist’s mind. Despite that contempt, people are somehow always happy to oblige and meet, or try to at least, the narcissist’s grandiose demands.

The last remaining of the Ceausescus’ three children, their adopted son Valentin, who is a (legit) nuclear physicist, said this about his father in a 2009 interview:

He was not informed about the (scope of) the discontent. Things were kept from him that he wouldn’t like.

Even after all these years, Valentin, who appears to be the most psychologically intact of the Ceausescus’ children, cannot see and admit the extent of his father’s narcissistic disturbance. For it was really not a lack of information that kept Nicolae’s grandiose delusions going to the very end, but his own narcissism.

It has to be said, however, in a semi-defence of the man and his son’s perception of him, that Elena was the more ruthless and cunning of the pair,  the driving force behind some of the most draconian and cruel “reforms,” like Decree 770. It is possible that, especially in later years, she actively prevented Nicolae from accessing information about the mood of the nation. Then again, what we know about narcissistic blindness and collusion tells us that no such interference is usually necessary. The tyrants and elites are always shocked to discover, as they usually do too late, how unhappy the invisible masses are.

In his last official public appearance, we see Ceausescu standing high above the crowds in Bucharest and giving another of his bombastic speeches in front of the admiring crowd covered with the usual sea of flags, banners with Communist slogans, and outsized portraits of the couple. Nicolae carries on as the crowd begins to unsettle and roar in anger. He does not comprehend the sounds at first, mistaking them for the usual exuberant, if forced, adoration.  He continues to wave with a benevolent smile on his face, as the crowd’s discontent intensifies. Even as an aide comes up from behind him to tell him to hide, Nicolae is incredulous. Surely, it cannot be that his people would dislike him. He knows that they love him, especially after all he did for them. Narcissistic blindness personified.

It is another feature of the narcissistic tyrants’ pathology to believe to their last breath, often taken just before their executions, that their nation / people love them. They either remain oblivious to the hatred they inspired through their ruthless and murderous rule, or rationalize its most obvious manifestations — like their capture, trial, and impending execution — as a plot concocted by their enemies. In their minds, their people — those very same people whom they starved, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered en masse — love them and would never want to hurt them.

There is an obvious tragic aspect to a narcissists’ quest for love, since even as they crave it, they act in ways that inevitably inspire contempt and hatred. But, paradoxically — although not really when we remember the emotional blindness that permeates a narcissist’s life — that hate either does not register in their minds or is misinterpreted as love. Not surprisingly so, as a narcissist’s love, particularly that reserved for the more distant of its objects, like a tyrant’s love for his people — has more to do with hate than love as normal people understand it. It is controlling and often sadistic, based on the inherent, in narcissistic pathology, tendency to dehumanize people and see them as objects of the narcissist’s wish and need fulfillment.

The narcissist’s love, as s/he gives it and sees it given to him or her, is another hint at the quality of “love” s/he received in childhood, which, more often than not, was marked by abuse and neglect coached in the language of parental “love” and devotion. “It’s for your own good,” she would hear when subjected to regular abuse; or “It hurts me more than it hurts you,” as he tried to express his pain; or “I do it because I love you,” imprinting on his or her young mind and body what love was all about.

It is no surprise that a tyrannical narcissist raised this way would then “love” his people in the same sadistic, controlling, and dehumanizing way, without an inkling of the horrors of such “love,” and convinced to the very end, as many abusive parents are, that s/he was loved in return, as a loving parent should be. Yes, the Ceausescus, like all narcissistic tyrants, saw themselves as “parents” of their nation.

Since we are on the subject of a narcissist’s familial relations, let’s bring up research on the authoritarianism of Trump’s supporters showing that the most distinct dimension distinguishing them from those who supported other Republican candidates were their views on child rearing:

Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, conducted a poll in which Republicans were asked four questions about child-rearing. With each question, respondents were asked which of two traits were more important in children:

  • independence or respect for their elders;
  • curiosity or good manners;
  • self-reliance or obedience;
  • being considerate or being well-behaved.

Psychologists use these questions to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call “authoritarianism.”

Note the narcissistic character of the authoritarian standards for child rearing: the stress on externalities — the outward presentation of behavior rather than its intent, and by extension the child’s character — and respect due a (narcissistic, because hierarchical) authority. Unsurprisingly, the authoritarian child rearing methods overlap with narcissistic parenting or, more accurately, with forms of narcissistic parental abuse where the focus is on image rather than substance, and on conformity that sacrifices the child’s own feelings and thoughts for the parental self-image.

The abusive political power structures, those that restrict our freedom and use us as tools of evil while trying to convince us to the contrary, depend on the creation of obedient citizens who are used to not questioning the superiors from an early age, and who have substituted their own thoughts with pre-packaged beliefs. It helps if those beliefs include those about our own specialness because this justifies any and all things we want to do to others.

Because if we are special — better — then they are worse, often not quite human, not in the way we are; and it becomes our right to do to them as we wish or, in our superior judgment, deem necessary (and, to be sure, there usually is no difference between the two). That’s how evil happens, so naturally, imperceptibly, as just another necessity of life as we know it — something we are justified in doing by virtue of our narcissistic belief in our superiority and righteousness; or something we “just” comply with through our narcissistic blindness and collusion it engenders, which make evil, the one we do or participate in, invisible to us.

If we still retain a functioning conscience, however, the collusion and blindness are never perfect for long, as our conscience insists on being heard. It does so by creating discomfort, doubts, and inner conflicts. Difficult to tolerate as those manifestations of a conscience are, they should never be silenced because they are the best and most important part of us, sometimes the only one that reminds us of our humanity.

Hope you’re paying attention, Mitch McConnell. You too, Paul Ryan.

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Technical difficulties

Hey, My Peeps (who are the best peeps in the whole blogging universe) —

my apologies for the technical difficulties which some of you have noticed, including untimely publishing of a rough draft. I promise to finish and let it out soon. The site remains open (the temporary privacy setting was in place in order to clean up the mess — one of these days yours truly will get a hang of basic technology*).

Apologetically,

Auntie Emma.

*This is not a promise, even though it is in writing.

 

Darkness (in)Visible, or On Dangers of Narcissistic Blindness

Credit: Klubovy

The worst U.S. mass shooting in the 21st century. Unimaginable and ungraspable — but sadly familiar already.

Ever sadder, there will be more, with greater numbers of victims, because this bloody contest is one about numbers. The next wannabe-martyr strives to outdo the last one in the scope of damage inflicted, to underscore the specialness of his grievance and assure his unique place in the roster of men like him.

Looking for the reasons, along with the requisite finger-pointing, has commenced, as it always does after these regular now events. We are hurt and heartbroken, and we want to understand — but never enough to change. This horrific massacre will soon become part of our constantly updated dreadful historical record, but we will continue straight to the next one, and the next, because we must. Our narcissistic blindness, which always makes us project blame on outside forces and see ourselves as blameless, demands that.

We ask “why?” but we don’t want to know true answers as they would challenge our worldview and our existence, even though such challenge is overdue now, since our persistence in going about life the usual way is what has created the deadly problem on our hands. But we cannot see what ails us, because this blindness is a feature of the defect that’s written into our society and our psyche, shaping both in predicable ways to enable its perpetuation.  Like cancer, this malignant defect will eventually destroy its helpless host unless urgent and radical means are implemented to stop its virulent spread. We would have to first acknowledge, however, that we are sick and properly diagnose our malady.

Among the reasons listed for the massacre are homophobia, terrorism, Islamic radicalization, self-loathing, toxic masculinity, our gun culture, security failures, and just plain hate, the last one coming closest to the truth, although we don’t want to examine it too closely. All these reasons are correct to various degrees, and they are connected through a thread that we are not able and/or willing to see.

As it is always the case, mental instability of the shooter is being blamed as a matter of course and mental illness is brought up, along with the reasonably-sounding and necessary matter of keeping guns from the mentally ill. But we never talk about what mental illness is, how to identify it, whether it is really dangerous, and what to do about it. That’s because we use the mental illness crutch / excuse just as we use the other ones, to push the issue away and remove ourselves from the responsibility for it, because once we name it that, it becomes the experts’ job to deal with it. This too is part of our narcissistic blindness, which makes us believe that “they” are unlike “us,” and that we are better, and certainly not responsible.

It is correct to assume that a person who does such evil is mentally disturbed, although their problem is not mental illness.

People who are mentally ill – those suffering from psychoses and mood disorders – are usually not violent, which means that our attempts at blaming the problem on mental illness are unfair to the mentally ill and to ourselves, since we remain in the dark about the causes of such violence and ways to prevent it.

Sure enough, there were no signs of mental illness in this shooter’s life, even though he was seriously disturbed and that disturbance manifested early in his life in aggressive behaviors directed at others. However, we rarely name that disturbance and educate people about it. Not surprisingly perhaps, as, at the core, it is the very same character defect that affects the less outwardly and violently destructive men (and  women) who occupy positions of power and prominence, and influence the whole society and culture at large; and one that shapes our society and culture in multiple and all-encompassing but no longer noticeable ways. Like fish to water, we are blind to its presence and influences on our lives.

That defect is narcissism in its many gradations, the most of extreme of which wipes out a conscience and thus ties in with psychopathy and often sadism. It manifests early on in life and its core symptoms are related to the impairment of conscience, most notably lack of empathy and compassion, lack of the capacity to experience guilt, impulsivity, aggression – emotional and physical, arrogance, and an elevated view of one’s own attributes and importance. A narcissist knows he is special, better than others, and his behavior reflects that. His sense of entitlement, unchecked by feedback from reality – a sign of narcissistic blindness that is a feature of the disorder – grows along with his anger at the world for not recognizing and accommodating his specialness through entirely deserved, in his mind, fame, power, and adulation.

Depending on the severity of narcissistic disturbance and the narcissist’s individual strengths and weaknesses, social milieu, and life opportunities, he may with time become a small town mayor, a real estate developer turned presidential candidate, a Fortune 500 CEO, or a mass shooter.

The malignantly narcissistic disturbance of mass shooters has been well documented and described in the psychological literature and the media, but for some reason it is rarely, if ever, mentioned in discussions after each massacre; just as the presidential candidate’s profoundly narcissistic character defect and its ramifications are not openly discussed; and just as we don’t talk about the dangers of narcissism affecting our politicians, religious leaders, beloved heroes and public figures, and our entire culture. Yes, we sometimes note it in passing, but we do not stop to discuss what it really means. It is the last taboo in a society that has proudly disposed of its taboos.

Narcissism has become so normalized that we no longer notice it. The analyses of American narcissistic culture were performed, repeatedly and at length; but they were then put aside and largely forgotten, leaving little influence on society whose narcissism continues to grow, along with the necessary blindness that enables its spread. The normalization of narcissism was probably best reflected in the proposals of the DSM-V writers to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a diagnostic category, given the ubiquitousness of narcissism as a character trait in the American population. At the end it was decided that NPD should stay in after all. For now.

And that’s a good thing, all things considered, as we have already disposed with a conscience as a requirement for mental health by removing psychopathy as a psychiatric disorder in 1980, just in time for the “greed is good” era. At least we are still acknowledging, by keeping Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a diagnosable condition, that deficits of conscience combined with high self-regard are not normal or healthy. Our society, however, disagrees as evidenced by our culture that is inhabited and run by narcissists and psychopaths in nearly every aspect of it, from households to politics. They are the dangerous types who should be prohibited access to lethal weapons and any forms of power; unfortunately, as a society we not only do not recognize their pathology as dangerous, we promote them and reward them with privileges, which include an unfettered access to all kinds of deadly weapons of their choice.

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Although their deficit of conscience makes them inherently destructive,  not all narcissists and psychopaths are physically violent. All mass killers, however, are driven by narcissistic rage. Whatever the ideological rationalizations, political or religious, attached to mass shootings or large scale (and not) acts of terror perpetrated by psychopathic individuals, underneath them there is always a sense of entitlement and seething, vengeful anger that comes from its perpetual frustration. Narcissistic entitlement and rage manifest in a belief that “I am special and deserve to be recognized as such, and if the world fails to deliver this well-deserved recognition, I will force it to do so by any means at my disposal.”

And as those means are always very limited — because, among other things, we no longer teach our young, as mostly we don’t know ourselves, what really matters in life and how to go about creating it (and no, it is not outward achievements and fame) — what remains is naked aggression that serves as an outlet for a lifetime, brief as it usually is, of growing confusion and unbearable frustration of one’s grandiose expectations.

We all want to matter and belong, and to find meaning in our lives this way. William James said that,

No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. 

When we develop normally, we learn, or should, to live with a high degree of social invisibility and most of all unspecialness supported by humility, empathy, and compassion  — each of us is but a speck among billions, as significant– and not — as every other one, mattering most to our families and friends, but perhaps not extraordinary much in the grand scheme of things. In a narcissistic world where social bonds are frayed or non-existent for many, however, we no longer teach humility, empathy, and compassion; instead, we have turned the desire to be seen into a central priority and a substitute for human bonds.

The explosion of social media driven by our collective need to make ourselves seen is one of many examples of our narcissistic culture. We upload our existence, in two-dimensional images and words, into cyberspace while neglecting to build its three-dimensional version, connected with other physical beings. But in a society where everyone is trying to get noticed, no one has time to pay attention to another. Thus we become a new species, of social media savvy loners, whose individual invisibility becomes even more acute as the vastness of human indifference is magnified in the silence of social cyber sphere. The invisibility becomes nearly absolute and thus fiendishly unbearable for a narcissist for whom a desire to be noticed for his specialness becomes the life’s mission.

The first images we got of the Orlando’s shooter were his selfies, a documented correlate of narcissism and psychopathy in men. The pictures show a young man experimenting with different moods and roles, from playful to increasingly more despondent and dark. The last ones have an eerie similarity with other mass shooters, whose young faces started to express their grim and vengeful determination as time went by. The growing darkness showed, but nobody paid attention. We are not supposed to see.

Like Donald Trump, another man with a similar character defect, the Orlando shooter had a history of aggressive behavior dating to childhood, at one point threatening to kill his classmates. As an adult, he beat his wife “because the laundry wasn’t finished,” further evidencing his narcissistic entitlement and co-existent tendency to objectification and dehumanization of others. Misogyny is so strongly associated with narcissistic psychopathy that it could, and should, be considered its diagnostic feature. But we not only do not talk about it, we don’t even notice it. The connection between the two must remain invisible.

He often spoke about his desire to kill people and sought employment that accorded him power over others and opportunities to use violence if necessary (and also if not): he was a security guard and aspired to be a cop, one of the top occupations favored by conscienceless psychopaths. He was not very religious, judging by the recollections of those who knew him personally, so it is probably fair to assume that his dallying with Islam was halfhearted at best, and his pledge of allegiance to ISIS most likely a last-minute effort at adding some “elevated” meaning to his murderous rage.

How the killer turned this way we cannot tell for certain; both nature and nurture are implicated in the specific psychopathology of mass and serial killers. The nurture part involves child abuse and mistreatment, a practice that, despite significant progress in the area, is still shrouded in the secrecy maintained by narcissistic blindness. We loathe talking about but we must, because, as Alice Miller reminded us,

Those children who are beaten will in turn give beatings, those who are intimidated will be intimidating, those who are humiliated will impose humiliation, and those whose souls are murdered will murder. 

The statements from the killer’s father, a man with his own dreams of glory obscuring reality at hand and distorting relationships with others as they always do, are stunning in their unawareness:

He was well behaved. His appearance was perfect. 

(…)

He had a child and a wife and was very dignified, meaning he had respect for his parents. I don’t know what caused him to shoot last night.

This, as he re-affirmed his contempt for homosexuals.

The stress on a child’s perfect appearance and respect for narcissistic parents (father), and mistaking obedience for dignity, are signs of narcissistic parenting that focuses on externalities to the detriment of the child’s emotional life. And this particular child’s life was marked for years by aggressive behaviors and disregard for others; but the father, in a classic example of narcissistic blindness, does not want to, cannot, acknowledge it, because that would require an admission of culpability and guilt, something narcissists are congenitally incapable of doing.

We don’t know whether the shooter’s parents were physically abusive (although in one report a witness recalls the father hitting his young son in public and there is a police report of domestic violence in the home), but the hints of narcissistic abuse described by Alice Miller are aplenty in the father’s statements and behavior. It is the kind of abuse that underlies our culture of violence  but we have so normalized as part of child rearing that we do not see it as harmful. The glaring deficits or even a total lack of conscience, in a parent and, not surprisingly, in a child, become unnoticeable unless something drastic happens. Only then we stop and ask why, and we wonder, because no one could have known. We are not supposed to know.

The father’s behavior is one example of how our narcissistic blindness demands that we remain oblivious to the harbingers of narcissistic rage and the darkness of our shadow it manifests. Another comes from the behavior of the shooter’s wife, who went with him to buy ammo and scout the place of his massacre, knowing, though not really, what he planned to do. She received his texts and texted back in the middle of mayhem, as if oblivious to or unaware of what was happening. Hard as it may be to imagine, it is possible she indeed was. Those who live with a narcissist are prone to fall for his reality distortions and may have difficulties after a while telling truth from fiction, even as it pertains to their own perceptions, feelings, and thoughts.

Narcissistic rage is blind to better execute the aggrieved narcissist’s revenge. It is enabled by the unempathetic, narcissistic split that erects a firm barrier between a grandiose self and the contempt-worthy not-quite-human others. Dehumanization is inherent in it, as both its result and a cause. The worthless non- or barely humans who have ignored, rejected, failed to acknowledge the greatness, or otherwise wronged the aggrieved narcissist can and will be destroyed with sadistic pleasure that comes from finally giving them the punishment they deserve.

The shooter laughed while firing into people.  A consummate narcissist, he stopped mid-mayhem to contact a TV station to make sure that his evil deeds received appropriate coverage. Then he commenced murdering, only to stop again at some point to text his wife and see whether she saw any signs that he’s getting the recognition he deserves.

This chilling in its callousness behavior is a less elaborate and more direct equivalent of the mass killers’ manifestos, in which they outline their pathological worldview permeated with real and imaginary slights, grievances, and grandiose notions of their importance. This shooter was not eloquent enough to put his rage into words first, but why use words when bloody images can be instantly transmitted to captive audiences? In this day and age, the horrific manifestations of the narcissistic rage are guaranteed to be made almost instantly visible, live-streamed if needed, to the whole world, making the narcissist’s sick dream come true before his, or his survivors’, very eyes, and replaying his glory for eternity.

The same narcissistic rage, darkness made visible in ways that make it impossible for us to ignore it any longer, is what drives ISIS killers in their grotesquely sadistic acts of mayhem. The brutality of their violent deeds, put so prominently on display to shock and terrify the world, signals the extent of rage that drives it.

It is the rage that comes from a frustrated sense of entitlement of conscience-deficient men who, unable to find their rightful place in broken societies that did not have much use for them, have found a way to stop being invisible and tell the world that has ignored them, and themselves, that they matter. A  jihadist proudly holding a severed head of another human being tells the world to notice and fear him, for if one were not seen before with appreciation and love, one will surely be noticed in horror and hate, even if one risks or sacrifices his life for the privilege, whether in Aleppo or Orlando. The ISIS and Taliban killers obtain status and glory through violence, not unlike members of gangs, criminal organizations, and, in somewhat more sanitized versions, militaries in normally functioning states. And, of course, mass shooters in the West.

Young people, men in particular, want to be heroes; but we, collectively speaking, have not given them good examples of what heroism, of the humane and creative kind, is and how to go about pursuing it. On the contrary: we have effectively replaced substance with image and popularity, and/or focused our attention on promoting one-sided development where achievement, measured by good grades, better schools, and best jobs has become a mark of success, decency and humanness. In an individualist and highly competitive society, where money equals everything desirable and virtuous, this inhumane standard is indeed a mark of proper adjustment. We have dispensed with a conscience and its values — love, altruism, compassion, care — to become better at profit-making and getting ahead, even as we don’t want to know, or even ask, where that ahead leads. And those who can’t make it in that blind race are rendered invisible by those who can. In a narcissistic society where everyone is seen as special and applauded for it, being invisible is the greatest injury to a narcissist, one that demands vengeful answering for, the more spectacularly and sadistically, the better.

Fundamentalist religions, like all radical social movements, have sublimated, or tried to, our narcissism  through worship of vengeful narcissistic gods or devotion to narcissistically psychopathic leaders who demand absolute submission, which can only happen through self-abasement and dehumanization of others. The narcissistic blindness engendered by that trade-off is cemented by a  belief that we are special and will be rewarded for our devotion as long as we renounce our will and humanity. This blindness is not just mandated, but brutally reinforced by the leaders or the deities’ proxies.

It is no accident that those sorts of punitive, dehumanizing belief systems  lead to the most grotesque displays of gratuitous violence known to mankind today, displays that are celebrated as signs of manly achievement the way money is celebrated in the West. They also, entirely unsurprisingly, attract individuals, often intelligent, highly skilled, and well educated, with an underdeveloped or non-existent conscience. For these men (and women), a narcissistic identification with the strongman-leader / deity / belief system / movement offers an opportunity to compensate for their personal inadequacies and channel their narcissistic rage, which the strongman / ideology embodies, through somehow legitimate, as they see them, pursuits dressed in a language of grandiose — but false — ideals.

This general dynamic — of narcissistic splitting between a grandiose self (idealization) and contemptible others (devaluation), accompanied by narcissistic collusion between leaders and followers, and augmented by the narcissism of small differences that sets our group apart as better than others — is applicable to any ideology, group, or organization, including family, that’s based on centralized power that demands submission and thus dehumanization of its members. Such groups and systems are characterized by the top-to-bottom as well as horizontal abuse, which must remain invisible and unaddressed for the ideology / organization / system to survive as long as possible. Eventually, they all crumble, but not as long as the protective blindness is in place, affecting most of their members.

Meanwhile, this dynamic fuels all kinds of social maladies and ills, including mob actions, gang violence, and protracted conflicts and wars. It also underlines our political and economic system, where the narcissistic divisions between the elites and the invisible rest maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism, which, in a classically narcissistic fashion, drives the gap between the (grandiose) haves and the devalued have-nots to gargantuan proportions, resulting in a whole host of predictable social ills. Its source, however, must remain invisible, as narcissistic blindness demands.

In his article, Our Neoliberal Nightmare: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Why the Wealthy Win Every Time, Anis Shivani described, insightfully though probably unwittingly, the problem of narcissism as applied to our economic and political system.  He did not call it that, however — maybe because it was not the focus of his inquiry, or maybe because he could not name it. Narcissistic blindness demands that what ails us remains unnamable and thus invisible.

But he came close, noting the narcissistic features of the system, including its inherently destructive nature and the reality distortions it creates to obscure it:

Neoliberalism has been more successful than most past ideologies in redefining subjectivity, in making people alter their sense of themselves, their personhood, their identities, their hopes and expectations and dreams and idealizations. 

(…)

It should be said that neoliberalism thrives on prompting crisis after crisis, and has proven more adept than previous ideologies at exploiting these crises to its benefit, which then makes the situation worse, so that each succeeding crisis only erodes the power of the working class and makes the wealthy wealthier. There is a certain self-fulfilling aura to neoliberalism, couched in the jargon of economic orthodoxy, that has remained immune from political criticism.

(…)

Neoliberalism believes that markets are self-sufficient unto themselves, that they do not need regulation, and that they are the best guarantors of human welfare. 

(…)

Neoliberalism expects — and education at every level has been redesigned to promote this — that economic decision-making will be applied to all areas of life (parenthood, intimacy, sexuality, and identity in any of its forms), and that those who do not do so will be subject to discipline. Everyone must invest in their own future, and not pose a burden to the state or anyone else, otherwise they will be refused recognition as human beings.

These paragraphs are a good encapsulation of the narcissistic character of neoliberalism and the blindness it engenders in, and demands from, those immersed in it, through, among other things, abuse and conflicts, the way individual narcissistic psychopaths “naturally” do so wherever they go. We don’t have to look further than the behavior of the GOP presumptive presidential nominee.

The abuse is rooted in the inherent, in narcissism, dehumanization of people, which it then further perpetuates by its inhumane practices. It stems from the narcissistic split between the idealized, grandiose self-image of “us,” the neoliberal elites, and devalued “others,” the invisible victims of their abuses. Such narcissistic “otherization” is always a vehicle for displaced hatred, contempt, and self-justified aggression and exploitation, all of which, however, must remain unnamed and unnamable, thus perpetually invisible.

But this invisibility is never perfect and it unmasks itself in ways that reflect the extent and depth of the devastation caused by the narcissistic abuse, most notably in the narcissistic rage.

Apart from the multiple social ills created by the growing economic inequality inherent in the system, we are witnessing the seemingly incomprehensible epidemic of suicides and mass shootings, the “strange” preoccupation with death among the GOP uber-narcissist’s supporters, and the unmasking of individual fears and socialized hatreds. Those are the signs of our shadow trying to break through our blindness to make us acknowledge the darkness behind our narcissistic facades and reckon with it already. It has never been as apparent as in this era of Trumpism, when the presidential candidate’s character defect is his only qualification for office, and the narcissistic rage he evokes in the masses is what fuels his popularity.

It is no accident that the task of making the narcissistic darkness visible — should we want to see it — fell upon a man who embodies it in an archetypal manner. His unsettling and overpowering emergence on our political stage, and even more so in our collective consciousness, just like that of the most horrific, to date, mass shooting, tells us that we should begin to see already what begs to be seen.

There are some signs that we may be ready, as acknowledged by one of the professional purveyors of narcissistic unreality, Bill Pruitt, producer of “The Apprentice.” Speaking about Trump, he issued, inadvertently, a condemnation of our narcissistic blindness and a belated warning of its lethal consequences:

It’s guys like him, narcissists with dark Machiavellian traits, who dominate in our culture, on TV, and in the political realm. It can be dangerous when we confuse stories we’re told with reality. We need to wake up—and that’s from someone who helped tell these stories.

========

Thank you, Uncle Skip.

Edited 6/21/16.

A Matter of Values

Bernie Sanders Speaking Harry Reid Capitol Hill Alex Brandon/AP

The conscience of our nation is in the process of exiting the presidential race — or being unceremoniously pushed out, depending on who you listen to – accompanied with big sighs of relief from many for whom a conscience is an inconvenient burden; and with a blessing of the so-called pragmatists who, while eager to invoke conscience and the values it represents when it suits them, are nevertheless not entirely convinced of its usefulness. Yes, they talk about values and all that touchy-feely stuff, but when the proverbial push comes to shove, or even just a gentle nudge of special interests, those values are summarily set aside as ever so impractical. Too idealistic, they say – as if they set the metric for idealism and were qualified to offer such judgments.

When you are dispensing with a conscience, the best way to do it is through good-sounding rationalizations and earnest assurances of the mutuality of the parting. This is made all the more convincing if one presents the benefits of what remains. Stressing how useful, efficient, and successful life without a conscience will be from now on has an undeniable appeal to many. The exhausting high hopes that lead to gnawing doubts and inner conflicts they engendered can be put to rest now, while we focus on achieving our goals. These may not be the goals you wanted, and certainly not the goals your conscience would approve, but, practical people that we are, we understand. As with so much in life, you may not get what you want, but you get what you need. So they say.

The conscience personified is, of course, Bernie Sanders – the real Improbable Candidate, unlike the other one whose flaming narcissism is rather well suited for our nation as it reflects so much of its own character, even though we may loathe to admit it.

From the very beginning, his campaign, much more so than that of Agent Orange, elicited incredulous “Whaaa…?s” and contemptuous snickers from People Who Always Know Better. Who does he think he is, that cantankerous socialist from Vermont? The hair, the rumpled suits (he even wore the same one to the White House Correspondents Dinner, can you imagine?), the old car – what on Earth made him believe that he could inspire any following, much less become a serious contender? And did we mention that he is a socialist? There is hardly a more dreadful label that can be applied to a person in this country. A feminazi may come close, but its context is more specific – you have to be a woman — and its sting not as poisonous, easier to laugh off.

Talking Heads could hardly contain their condescension when speaking to and about Bernie. They couldn’t help but guffaw when mentioning his socialism and inquired, insistently and often with poorly disguised hostility, just when he would drop out. No, seriously, isn’t it time already? Such is the inconvenience that a conscience creates at times, particularly when it interferes with our carefully laid out plans to achieve a self-serving goal, that we do our very “best” to mute and remove it. The sooner, the better.

We like our candidates to espouse some ideals, but not so much as to make us nervous. We are a practical nation – or so we are told – that understands the need to compromise. Too much idealism can be hazardous to our collective health, giving us dangerous notions about how things ought to be and making us notice just how far away they are from that ideal. And that would only lead to misery and discontent. It is far better to focus on what we are being told is achievable, as practical people should. Equality – yes, it would be nice, but we can’t have it (yet or at all – that’s never quite clarified). Justice – of course, but, you know, there are limitations. Peace – a grand idea, if we could only afford it. Dignity — maybe, if one is into that kind of thing.

These human values, which our conscience clamors for with annoying insistence as if it did not know anything about pragmatism and compromise and so-called realities, are skillfully used by conscience-deficient politicians who trot them out for public applause, but shed them as easily in the privacy of their well-appointed homes as they do their designer garbs.

Bernie is different in that he lives them. That’s what integrity is.

And it shows, and grows steadily a movement of millions who pitch a few dollars here and there to make sure that the conscience of the nation will be heard and make a difference in their and everyone’s lives. They come to his rallies by the thousands, though you may not know it as People Who Always Know Better are busy spinning a conscience-free fool’s tale into a coherent vision of something, anything. One is compelled to wonder what this election would look like if our media covered the socialist with the same fervor they devoted to the sociopath. But our media has priorities too, and they show, as they always do. Not values, just goals: chasing profit is not a value, but a goal, and the first priority of our so-called free press.

So this is what integrity looks like – messy hair, a rumpled suit, an old car, doing what’s right for the right reasons — and we should pay attention because not many today understand what it really means. People are so unused to it that they don’t know it when they see it and mistake it for its opposite, accusing the man of posturing in self-interest and self-aggrandizement when he upholds the principles he preaches. Curiously (or not), those are often the same people who look at the cravenly, obscenely self-aggrandizing valueless candidate and praise his “integrity” in “telling it like it is.” We show our values, or lack of them in our judgments, just as we show them in our actions. They define us to ourselves and to others.

Even more importantly, however, this is what an active conscience – a creature so rare as to be endangered today, certainly in politics – looks like. Because one can demonstrate integrity in pursuit of one’s primitive goals: if I tell you that I’m going to clobber you into a bloody pulp and I proceed to do just that, I have shown integrity, of sorts. This is the easiest sort, because nothing is easier than to give in to our primitive wants and desires, particularly when we have no conscience. But when one preaches the highest human values and ideals, and lives his or her life according to them – which is something far more difficult than many realize – that’s integrity of the highest kind.

An active conscience is always unsettled and unsettling and that can be a mighty inconvenience, in an individual’s life as in a nation’s. It questions our cherished beliefs and lofty motives, it exposes the gap between our words and actions, it makes us feel the always uncomfortable and distinctly un-American shame and guilt, it clarifies our values and insists that we put them in action. What a nasty annoyance that is.

But it is also a nice thing to have to showcase during special celebrations – ceremonies and parades and whatnot — as long as it knows to keep quiet, and either smiles or nods solemnly, depending on occasion.

So we have to pretend to listen to it and appease it sometimes, if only for the children — the way we did again this time. In showing what was meant to be his appreciation for Bernie’s ever-so-quickly summed up and put aside role in this election, President Obama praised his influence on Hillary as a “healthy thing” as he rushed to endorse her. Yes, having a conscience to stop by sometimes can be healthy, but let’s not make it a habit.

This attitude couldn’t be better illustrated than in the photograph, featured on top, which accompanies Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece on the lessons that Democrats will most likely not learn from their brush with conscience Bernie. Here, amidst the opulence of the palace is the palace gate keeper, Harry Reid, making sure the concerned-looking (isn’t he always?) conscience Bernie does not cross the threshold and create some unpleasantness with his presence, as he is wont to do. Harry appears to lecture or admonish Bernie on something, his index finger extended to better make his point, while the space between them is pierced by a blinding burst of sunlight. There is a crack in everything, as Leonard Cohen sings, that’s how the light gets in.

An anonymous commenter* on Raw Story made the following astute observation:

In a Freudian sense: Trump is the Id, Clinton is the Ego, and Sanders is the Super Ego. We as voters will respond to one, depending upon how we are driven. This is telling about the very character of America.

Indeed. Although a conscience is more than Freud’s superego which was full of harsh demands and prohibitions imposed on us by punitive parents. Conscience is built, first and foremost, on empathy and the caring bonds it helps us create with other people and the world.

This election season, like no other in the recent past, has exposed many until now unseen or unmentioned, and unmentionable on purpose, rifts in our society. Fates themselves could not have written a better script, casting the main characters as the embodiments of the major trends unearthed by those rifts.

The conscienceless Id, with its rapacious drives unencumbered by any reasonable limitations of an ego and either unaware or openly contemptuous of human values, propels itself forward toward its primitive goals by the inherently destructive force of its rage, augmented by that of its supporters. The Id attracts most easily the similarly conscienceless, who were either born or became this way.

The Ego reminding us, ever so reasonably, why it should be in charge (because reason and reasons), draws in the pragmatists who appreciate the conscience, generally speaking, but are not ready or willing to follow its dictates. Good, practical people, as practical people go. They’ve been around a block or two, so they know what’s possible. Equality, justice, peace are nice ‘n all, but not really possible, as anyone who’s been around the block knows. You young ones will too learn it one day, they proclaim.

And the Super Ego, or our conscience rather, comes straight at us, without pretense or embellishments, but with an insistence that feels at once fresh and familiar, showing us what matters and why, and we are astonished to realize how obvious it is and wonder, for a moment, why we have forgotten it. Why indeed is an important question that has to be answered individually by each one of us, but also collectively, as a nation. Those answers are not easy as they bring about inevitable shame and guilt (if you have a conscience), but also a recognition that there is a better way possible, that we do not have to be enslaved by the primitive drives of our Id or compromise our values to appease the pragmatic Ego.

This election is different not only because because it has revealed the unbridgeable chasm between human values and craven valuelessness, but also because it has showed us that we can live our lives in accordance with those values which our conscience teaches us are true. And there are people, right here, among us, who show us how to do that – the way Bernie has, a rumpled suit, an old car, ‘n all.

*Sks_55557

The Way of Peace

hands

This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

My simple peace message is adequate – really just the message that the way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things. One in harmony with God’s law of love has more strength than an army, for one need not subdue an adversary; an adversary can be transformed.

On one hand, people have found inner peace by losing themselves in a cause larger than themselves, like the cause of world peace, because finding inner peace means coming from the self-centered life into the life centered in the good of the whole. On the other hand, one of the ways of working for world peace is to work for more inner peace, because world peace will never be stable until enough of us find inner peace to stabilize it.

In order for the world to become peaceful, people must become more peaceful. Among mature people war would not be a problem – it would be impossible.  In their immaturity people want, at the same time, peace and the things which make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up. Yes, our institutions and our leaders reflect our immaturity, but as we mature we will elect better leaders and set up better institutions. It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid: working to improve ourselves.

Peace Pilgrim

A hijacked nation and the shadow candidate


Charlie Neibergall/AP

Americans have lost their minds. No, this is not my professional opinion, but you may quote me, if you must.

We have been subjected daily for the past several months (with many more to go; assuming, fates willing, that Trump would lose in November — something nobody should take for granted) to temper tantrums and psychodramas of one man’s profoundly disordered mind. That would typically be just fodder for comedy, but this man happens to be a serious contender for American presidency. Rather than see his behaviors for the pathological fool’s effusions that they are, Americans are drawn to him like powerless objects to a black hole — with consequences easy to predict.

My German friend asks, anxiously, on the phone:

“Soo… about that Trump dude… what’s up with that?” (paraphrased) “You guys are not serious, are you…?”

I don’t know what to say. We are not serious, I don’t suppose. But yes, we are frighteningly, madly, deadly serious.

She sees what’s going on in her own country, yet she is more concerned with what’s happening in ours. She is not unusual in that. People all over the world watch the mass insanity enveloping our nation with astonishment and horror.

Nick Turse, writing about his recent trip to South Sudan, had to focus his article on the preoccupations of the locals with the craziness of the American election, demonstrated in the choice of someone so fundamentally ill-suited for presidential office as Trump. He wanted to write about the bloody hell they live in, but the Sudanese he met were more concerned with the rise of Trump in America.

It is easy to be incredulous: why would faraway people whose daily existence is marred by unspeakable violence, terror, and harrowing deprivations be preoccupied with Trump’s rise to power in America? My guess is because they know what it means all too well, better than many Americans. Their current suffering and the hell in which they live now is the direct result of leaders with Trump’s character defect coming to power in their countries, now and in the past. They also understand America’s influence on the world’s affairs and are able to see that someone like Trump is a danger to the world, and that includes them too.

A former neo-Nazi skinhead leader Christian Picciolini talked in his interview last week on Chicago Tonight about his recent trip to Europe, where he was repeatedly asked, Why Trump? I encourage you to watch that interview, it’s about 7 minutes long; this good man knows what he is talking about.

Why Trump?

Sadly, far from being improbable, Trump’s candidacy has not only been entirely predictable but inevitable — and not just from the satellite point of view of political and economic development, but also from that of human psychological growth. The framework I have in mind in this instance is that of Jungian depth psychology, although other theories of human development apply as well.

Viewed through the lens of Jung’s ideas about human psyche, the boastful thug’s emergence on the American political stage can be considered a manifestation of the America’s shadow.

The shadow, in Jungian psychology, is the mostly unconscious part of our human psyche containing all of our repressed, and usually — though not exclusively — negative qualities. An extrovert’s personal shadow, for instance, will contain his or her repressed introvert, and vice versa.

The size and strength of our shadow, and its pull on our conscious functioning, depends on the stubbornness of its repression. So, for example, we can assume that a holier-than-thou person who, in his or her mind and outward presentation, is a walking paragon of all virtues and no vice, will have the shadow a size of Texas and as dark as a tar pit. That shadow consists of all the shortcoming and sins s/he must repress in order to maintain the (illusion of) pious facade. It will let itself be known, as shadow always does, in our virtuous paragon’s eager condemnations of the “imperfect” others or seemingly bizarre behaviors (e.g., committing small and incomprehensible transgressions — stealing small objects from friends, etc.). It will also come out, in creative and sometimes not so ways, in our dreams, fantasies, and projections. There are people whose nearly entire worldview is comprised of nothing but projections — they fall in the personality disordered category in the psychopathological and psychiatric literature and practice. Seeing and understanding their projections gives us a glimpse of their personal shadow.

Our shadow can also contain positive qualities, as in the case of a person whose outward persona is decidedly negative. The (positive) shadow of a cranky misanthrope, for example, can break through to the conscious surface in a random act of kindness or an overwhelming — and uncharacteristic for him or her — feeling of compassion for another.

The shadow is thus the mostly unconscious container for the part of our psyche that has been repressed in order to cultivate, mostly consciously, our outward persona.

One of our developmental tasks as human beings, individually and collectively, is to integrate the contents of our shadow with our conscious life. This can be accomplished in various ways (through creativity or introspection, for example), and it must be done, in some measure at least, if we are to live a version of the self-aware, “examined” life.

America’s outward persona has been, since forever, that of a beacon of freedom and democracy, the force for good in the world, exceptional in its benevolence and other positive attributes (acceptance, tolerance, compassion, you name it). The obscenely — narcissistically even — grand size of that uber-positive, carefully cultivated image has been directly proportional to the depth and scope of destructive, evil machinations that America as the political power has exerted on the world, including its own people and starting with its own violent inception in the land of native Americans.

For every bombastic proclamation about America’s exceptional virtue, we can — and should, if we aspired to integrate our collective shadow through self-critical introspection — find examples of our equally exceptional  vice, domestically and abroad. If we were to do this (as we should), soon enough our collective self-image would become more closely aligned with reality, and our opinion of ourselves more humble, enabling meaningful change and growth.

This particular task, however, has been actively avoided in and by America. Humility and self-reflection are distinctly un-American and contraindicated in a capitalist / consumerist society. So rather than promote critical introspection on the individual and collective scale, our powers-that-be — political and cultural — insist on cultivating America’s blameless and spectacular image, entrenching its one-sided narcissistic persona in ways that are both grotesque and devastating, given the painful reality this persona is meant to obscure.

The laws of psychological hydraulics (yes, it is a thing) demand that suppressed and repressed emotions and motivations contained in our shadow be expressed or otherwise dealt with (sublimated, for example); if not, the growing pressure that comes from keeping them completely under wraps may lead to dramatic, possibly catastrophic, events (e.g., eruptions of violence, mental breakdowns, etc.). That’s one way in which the raw, unharnessed power of the too-long-ignored shadow can manifest itself. When the distance between the overblown narcissistic persona and its unacknowledged shadow becomes too great, some sort of a break is but inevitable.

It is impossible to say whether we are, collectively, at such a breaking point, but if we elect Trump as our president we may get there sooner than later. That is because Trump embodies all the elements of the American shadow that have been forever repressed — in the minds of most Americans — yet in plain view of outside observers: greed; selfishness; intolerance; fear and hatred of “the other;” arrogance and the need to dominate and “win” at all cost; violence, emotional primitivism, contempt or utter disregard for values, immorality, and stark raving stupidity — and that’s when he is coherent — his occasional moments of lucid and correct observations notwithstanding.

Like a true messenger and catalyst of the shadowy forces, he does so unabashedly (of course) and without a smidgen of self-awareness, leading the growing flock of his followers — which may soon become, reluctantly, the entire nation — straight into an abyss where the unavoidable confrontation with our collective shadow awaits. Absurdly enough, but also entirely predictably for someone oblivious to the shadow and its influences, he does so while promising to Make America Great Again! As if we did not have enough of this fake narcissistic greatness he boastfully and outwardly offers, while unconsciously projecting a near guarantee of our annihilation.

To be entirely accurate, we could avoid such a dramatic and possibly devastating confrontation by electing a humble, self-aware, and thoughtful candidate who is willing to work at trying to stop our self-destructive gallop by introducing ideas and policies that promote peace, equality, and justice. But given that this won’t happen, as we have just officially dispensed with that candidate, we are doomed to reckon with our shadow in ways that are going to be painful and difficult, and maybe not very effective or safe, no matter who wins in November.

The shadow’s lessons, particularly if we persistently ignore and/or deny its existence, are always painful and difficult. But we must experience them in order to learn — just talking about them does not work.

And those experiences are by necessity dark — conflicts, crises, and disintegration of a varying depth and scope. They teach us invaluable lessons about ourselves and life in general: on the deadly toxicity of our primitive strivings (for power and self-aggrandizement, for example); on the destructive nature of our hubris and self love; on the futility of our frantic efforts to keep darkness and death at bay; and, overwhelmingly, on the tragedy inherent in our existence. These are the lessons that America has been avoiding with all its might , which is one reason why it has persisted in its destructive politics at home and abroad.

That difficult learning process is potentially positive, however, since it is one of clarification and purification. As we are forced to examine and dismantle (not necessarily in this order) the wrong ways in which we lived our lives, we learn to see more clearly what remains and what matters.

Time will tell whether America’s confrontation with its shadow, catalyzed by Mr. Shadow Extraordinaire himself, will be transformative in positive ways. There is no guarantee of growth. In individuals, the outcome of this process depends on the person’s overall character structure, their emotional, moral, and intellectual strengths, but also on the quality of their social support — the presence of other people willing to respond with patience, compassion, and care. It also depends on those mysterious factors we call fate.

As a country, we may or may not have much of that genuine external social support, having alienated a good portion of the world — although its transactional and pragmatic versions may still exist, should we need them. We do have plenty of inner strengths to draw upon, however, if we know where to look.

Edited on 6/11.

A history lesson

More from Dorothy Thompson, of the American Dictator.

In 1931, Thompson interviewed Hitler and was underwhelmed by his appearance and demeanor, predicting, erroneously of course, that he would never become the leader of Germany.

But what she wrote about him is worth quoting at length (the text below is posted in its entirety from Dorothy on Adolf by sallybrown):

Millions of Germans follow Hitler because he has proclaimed war upon the banks, upon the trusts, upon the ‘loan-capital.’ He has asserted time and time again that he will abolish the rule of one class by another. What actually do these statements mean, in terms of practical politics?

I couldn’t find out, and anyone who can is a better interviewer than I. When I dared to interrupt the stream of eloquence by bluntly repeating my question, he replied (rather coyly) that he didn’t intend to hand his program over to his enemies (the German Chancellor) for them to ‘steal.’ . . . People who laughed at Hitler a year ago, now pull serious faces and say: ‘There’s a great deal to the man.’ . . .

This social and economic theory is, to a halfway educated person a tale told by an idiot. . . . But reason never yet swept a world off its feet, and Hitler, an agitator of genius, knows this. Self-interest, expressed in the most pathetic terms, does. Hitler is the most golden tongued of demagogues. Don’t bother about the fact that most of what he says, read the next day in cold news print, is usually plain nonsense. . . . This is the way Hitler writes–but he cannot write; his book is one long speech. Eight hundred pages of Gothic script, pathetic gestures, inaccurate German, and unlimited self-satisfaction. You must imagine the crowds he addresses. . . . Do you wonder that millions follow him? Listening to him they feel themselves exalted. Better times are coming. Just around the corner is the era of Race, when all good Teutons, just by reason of their being Teutons, will come into their own. . . .

Take the Jews out of Hitler’s program, and the whole thing, both the economic program and the racial, collapses. The Jews are responsible for everything. In ‘My Fight’ I find that Mr. Hitler is capable of accusing them of the most contradictory impulses without turning a hair. They are worthless democrats and bloodthirsty plutocrats; they are shabby and given to oriental pomp; unimaginative rationalists and mystic international conspirators; ritual murderers and bloodless intellectuals; crass egotists and sentimentalists; their way is paved with corpses and they are the world’s international pacifists; they are dangerous assimilationists, and a foreign element in the body politic.

It doesn’t, you see, make sense.

But if you want to gauge the strength of the Hitler movement, imagine that in America, an orator with the tongue of the late Mr. Bryan and the histrionic powers of Aimee MacPherson, combined with the publicity gifts of Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee should manage to unite all the farmers, with all the white collar unemployed, all the people with salaries under $3000 a year who have lost their savings in bank collapses and the stock market and are being pressed for payments on the icebox and the radio, the louder evangelical preachers, the American Legion, the D.A.R., the Ku Klux Klan, the W.C.T.U., Mathew Woll, Senator Borah, and Henry Ford–imagine that, and you will have some idea of what the Hitler movement in Germany means.

In one of the great underestimations of history, she predicted that Hitler would falter:

He needs money for this vast organization which he has built up–and banks and great trusts give it to him. . . . What becomes then of his brave words against them? Once in power, will he want to risk another French invasion? What becomes, then, of his sonorous calls to arms? He will have to maintain law and order. What becomes then, of his promises to a revolutionary working class? He has promised to win back all the Germans handed by the peace treaties to other countries. But diplomacy demands concessions . . . . And the Jews? Bismarck’s first speech in the Reichstag was against the Jews. But he lived to have a Jewish banker as his most intimate advisor.

In 1934, Thompson was the first American journalist expelled from Nazi Germany.

Ten years after interviewing Hitler, Thompson reflected on the rise of Nazism in “Who Goes Nazi?”

Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. . . . Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind. . . .

It’s fun—a macabre sort of fun—this parlor game of ‘Who Goes Nazi?’ And it simplifies things—asking the question in regard to specific personalities.

Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes—you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.

Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi. Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.

Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t-whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi. It’s an amusing game. Try it at the next big party you go to.

Still more about Thompson on Hitler; and the full text of her “I Saw Hitler!” (must read).

American Dictator

No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will. … When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American. And nobody will ever say ‘Heil’ to him, nor will they call him ‘Führer’ or ‘Duce.’ But they will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic, sheeplike bleat of ‘O.K., Chief! Fix it like you wanna, Chief! Oh Kaaaay!’

Dorothy Thompson (1935)

Drumpf Chronicles: The huuuge elephant in the room

This should be the beginning of the Agent Orange’s end already, if our journalists were doing their job. The man is running for our president, for Pete’s sake. His pathological mind is in full view of everyone (everyone who wants to keep their eyes open, that is).

But then the same could have been said about any and all Trump’s “productions,” and not just from this election, but from any time in this man’s history — which, let’s remember, has been an open book (or two, or three).

The media must stop already covering Trump as if he were a normal candidate, one whose pronouncements had any value beyond signaling his profound pathology.

The failure of our journalists, as well as mental health experts, to seriously discuss the man’s flaming personality disorder and its consequences is as peculiar as it is unforgivable; it is also, however, unsurprising.

“This is a marvelous demagogue who can really inspire loyalty.”

“This guy is a clown. He’s like a caricature of himself.”

The media both idealized and devalued another similarly disordered character from the past who set out to show the world how great he was and how much adulation he deserved, Adolf Hitler.

They do this, every time, with every extreme (psychopathic) narcissistic leader / public character because his pathology evokes just that very kind of response in people, media people included: it makes us either laugh in disbelief and contempt, or idolize his hyped-up “skills” — which are really nothing more than expressions of his profound pathology — often both at the same time. And while the public is both amused and mesmerized by the future tyrant’s larger-than-life persona, he ever so persistently marches toward his ultimate goal unimpeded.

The predictable and co-occurring idealization and devaluation are two emotional states that generally define a narcissist’s attitude toward himself (idealization) and others (devaluation). He projects them, primitively — i.e., without any self-reflection or inhibitions, as there is no functioning conscience to impose such “obstacles” on his mental processes and behavior — onto the world and constructs an entire ideology from them. This pathological process that, when dressed up in grandiose and empty sloganeering on patriotism and other perverted “ideals,” is mistaken for “political brilliance” and other such dangerous nonsense, inspires people, who see in the narcissistic leader a chance for fulfillment of their frustrated needs, to follow him, even if straight into an abyss.

We shall discuss this peculiar, but common development more in the near future, fates permitting, but now it really is time to start talking seriously about Trump’s incurable character defect, one he shares with the nastiest types in human history, and its dangerous ramifications for the world.

Everything the man says has to be considered a product of his disordered mind. It is unconscionable to treat it otherwise as it only creates confusion and discord; sends the media and the nation on an absurd mission of finding meaning in his inane and/or sadistic and self-aggrandizing bloviations; and makes the world alternately laugh at us and fear our collective stupidity.

Enough already. Time to call this spade a spade.

P.S. Also see Too Sick To Lead: The Lethal Personality Disorder of Donald Trump.

And then go — no, run — to read Frederick Burkle’s Antisocial Personality Disorder and Pathological Narcissism in Prolonged Conflicts and Wars of the 21st Century.

Drumpf Chronicles: “My African American”

This is must see to believe.

As you laugh or cringe — or both — pay attention to the Trump sign on the podium — it was affixed properly at the beginning of that… performance, but it just couldn’t take it any more, kinda like the rest of us.

And who can blame it? Even inanimate objects — signs with his own name on them, no less — cannot stand Agent Orange’s inane bloviations.

It is both a symbol of the quality of Trump’s “brand” and a portent of things to come (one hopes):

You are going down, Slippery Don.

And not a moment too soon.

Edited: A great column Trump wants thanks? Here it is by Rex Huppke.