Last weekend, two events illustrated the gulf between where America has been, and where it is heading.
The contrast between solemn Memorial Day celebrations and the bloody outrage of Elliot Rodger’s murders clearly show the line between those who live for others and those who are all about themselves.
We still have many Americans, some in uniform and some not, who daily demonstrate that there are things more important than their comfort, wealth or acclaim. Teachers, first responders, military members, and parents actively do those things which help others while denying their own safety or gratification.
Unfortunately, we are becoming a country where narcissism is the primary driver and goal. Years ago, when you asked a child what they wanted to be, they would say something like doctor, lawyer, astronaut, teacher, etc. Nowadays, children often answer “famous.”
To reach that goal, people are willing to do absolutely anything. When you become a perennial magazine cover girl based on having released a self-filmed amateur porn film, or you get selected as commencement speaker at Ivy League colleges for having “starred” in a reality show as a drunken trollop, no one should be surprised that ever more want to emulate such behavior.
YouTube exists largely to display this pitiful need for attention.
David Thomas, in Narcissism: Behind the Mask, wrote that narcissists displayed (among other things):
• An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
• Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
• Difficulty with empathy
• Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults
• Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
• Haughty body language
• Detesting those who do not admire them (narcissistic abuse)
• Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
• Pretending to be more important than they really are
• Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
• Claiming to be an “expert” at many things
• Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
The more we learn about Rodger and the many other sick creatures who choose to kill rather than fix their own problems, the more we find these characteristics. In fact, the desire for fame led both Rodger and Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech massacre) to release press packages to the media so that they could guarantee their story would be told.
Mass killers are not the only ones who demonstrate their overweening sense of self.
Consider the increasing number of demographic advocacy groups which demand that the world see things their way. No longer are we allowed to just “accept” or “tolerate” people who were recently considered outside of the norms of society. Now, if you don’t endorse their lifestyle and enthusiastically applaud their behaviors, you are labeled a “hater” and are vulnerable to losing your livelihood.
This is also the mode of operation for those who have recently come to our country illegally. If you challenge their right to what others have earned, you are dismissed as a racist.
How is it that we have an epidemic of narcissists?
Since the change has not progressed over genetic time, it must be a learned behavior. For the last generation, educators, societal leaders, politicians, and Hollywood have promoted the idea that everyone is a special person who deserves a trophy for participating. No one is allowed to feel as though they are less special than anybody else.
Recently a Rhode Island middle school canceled its annual honors night because it was too “exclusive.”
Self esteem has replaced accomplishment.
But self esteem without accomplishment is toxic. Talk radio host Dennis Prager often points to studies that show the people with the highest self esteem in America are all incarcerated.
As Prager cites in his National Review article:
This belief — that increasing self-esteem will increase goodness in society — spread through the rest of America like proverbial wildfire.
It turns out, however, that the premise was entirely misguided. There is no correlation between goodness and high self-esteem. But there is a correlation between criminality and high self-esteem.
But narcissism does not mean that someone cannot be successful. A healthy self regard is necessary to be successful in many competitive fields.
Actors, doctors and computer giants are renowned for their huge egos. It is when self regard and self advancement trumps other societal imperatives that behaviors become dangerous.
There is a psychological scoring tool used to rate psycopathy. The Hare Psychology Checklist measures several factors of an individual’s personality.
Factor one describes aberrations shown as:
• Glibness/superficial charm
• Grandiose sense of self-worth
• Pathological lying
• Lack of remorse or guilt
• Callous/lack of empathy
• Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Come to think of it, that sounds like a set of measures to describe a politician. Mostly gone are the days of “public servants.”
The sooner we can reverse the narcissism indoctrination of American youth, the sooner civility will return to America.