The Narcissism of Politics

Column by Bob Wallace.

Exclusive to STR

“Nowhere are prejudices more mistaken for truth, passion for reason, and invective for documentation than in politics.  This is a realm, peopled only by villains or heroes, in which everything is black or white and gray is a forbidden color.”  ~ John Mason Brown, Through These Men (1956)
I sometimes entertain myself with a thought experiment in which people are evolved from dogs, with their sunny, goofy, manic natures.  We couldn’t be any worse than the genocidal primates we are now.
Would intelligent dogs be as narcissistic as humans, splitting things into a non-existent pure good and pure evil?  I don’t know.  Would they believe in the force and fraud of politics?  It’s impossible to tell, because there are no intelligent, self-aware dogs.
Would dogs have a “Garden of Eden” myth in which the first thing they felt when they became self-aware was shame because they were exposed? Would they have a “Cain and Abel” myth in which murder was bought into their world because of feelings of humiliation and the desire for revenge? Who knows? We can only imagine.
Still, I just can’t imagine dogs going to war.  Cats are a different story, like the Kzin in Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” series. They might do it out of pure feline carnivore meanness.
Not only is politics based on force and fraud, it is also, as Brown pointed out, based on the belief in pure good and pure evil.  It’s why
so many of the people who supported a buffoon like George Bush and thought he was a great President were horrified that Obama was elected to office (“He’ll destroy the United States!”) and why those who supported Obama were shocked to discover he was just a continuation of Bush, only a little worse.
When it comes to politics, the mass of people never learn, because the mass of people cannot think, only feel; they don’t follow principles, only leaders. And they are always convinced their guy is Good and his opponent is Evil.
After splitting everything into pure good and pure evil, the next step is to see yourself (meaning your political party) as the Good Guys, meaning you have to project all badness onto the other party.  It’s why I encountered people who said Bush was a psychopath, or evil, or stupid – and why I encountered people who said the same thing about Obama.
In reality there’s about a dime’s worth of difference between Bush and Obama. Neither is evil, just incompetent (I am reminded of what Napoleon said: “Never attribute to evil that which can be explained by incompetence”).
I don’t think it’s particularly hard to manipulate mobs of people.  Tell them they’re under attack by evil people, tell them they’re good (the way Bush said the United States was attacked for its goodness by the Evil Ones), and watch them regress into simple-minded, narcissistic infants and then march off to war.
I see as incredibly dangerous any philosophy that defines the world as good versus evil – Nazism, Communism, or, among some libertarians, Objectivism.
It’d be a far better world if politics didn’t exist.  But even the existence of politics isn’t the real problem.  The real problem is the narcissism of human beings and their tendency to split everything into pure good and pure evil, with the result of projecting “evil” onto people and attempting to destroy them through force.

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Bob Wallace's picture
Columns on STR: 89


Paul's picture

"When it comes to politics, the mass of people never learn, because the mass of people cannot think, only feel; they don’t follow principles, only leaders."

This MAY be overstating things a bit.

My impression is that most people don't follow leaders so much as hold their nose and pick the least offensive alternative (according to their values). And that they do generally follow principles, but inconsistently; and they are easily taken advantage of, by playing on their emotions, particularly on their fears. And I think people do usually learn over time.

In other words I don't have quite the black and white view of the average Joe as you do. ;-)

Glen Allport's picture

Great use of dogs to help explain the human condition! I sometimes think STR should REQUIRE dog examples in every column, but that would be going too far.

I disagree with you on incompetence vs evil, however: Bush, for instance, PLANNED to invade Iraq even before the 2000 elections. That's not incompetence; it's criminal behavior (invading another nation on false pretenses -- and after campaigining on "a humble foreign policy") including mass murder. If "evil" means anything -- I'm talking about the here-and-now world, not anything supernatural -- then I'd say that qualifies.

As for ideologies and the tendency to see everything in black or white, them or us, completely true or not-true -- for the most part, I agree.

Suverans2's picture

Narcissism is egoism, 1a : a doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action b : a doctrine that individual self-interest is the valid end of all actions 2 : excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance, or egocentrism, thinking only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others ; self-centered, neither of which, in my opinion, has anything at all to do with "splitting things into...pure good and pure evil".

Individualism & Ender = Endervidualism

Does this author have a problem with, and wish to end, individualism? The opposite of individualism is collectivism.

Robert Wallace's picture

"Narcissism is egoism"

The psychiatric definition of narcissism is splitting things into airtight compartments of all-good and all-bad, pure good and pure evil. It doesn't matter if it's Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, or Sociopathic/Psychopathic Personality Disorder.

All you have to do, on a mass scale, if look at Communism, Nazism, or any genocidal monotheistic religions --Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Where do you think the idea of an all-good God and an all-bad Devil came from?

It also applies to Rand's religion and her close-minded fanatical followers.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Bob Wallace,

You apparently didn't see my question.

Individualism & Ender = Endervidualism

Does this author have a problem with, and wish to end, individualism? The opposite of individualism is collectivism. And, if you are a collectivist, i.e. "a supporter of collectivism", it would certainly explain your apparent hatred of Ayn Rand and/or her writings.

"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)." ~ Ayn Rand

Strange, I do not see anything even vaguely resembling, “splitting things into airtight compartments of all-good and all-bad, pure good and pure evil,” in the diagnostic criteria for “narcissistic personality disorder” listed below.

Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) requires excessive admiration

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth Edition. Copyright 1994 American Psychiatric Association

ElasahBazlith's picture

Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder
See modern mainstream media operations manual.

When it comes to a choice between a PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION GANG MEMBER or a witch doctor, I would choose the witch doctor.

At least you could get the chicken back for YOUR dinner.

Why grant plenipotentiary license?

To make prize of?

Suverans2's picture

@ ElasahBazlith,

That was in response to this, "The psychiatric definition of narcissism is..." Bob Wallace did not say, "The witch doctor definition of narcissism is..."

ElasahBazlith's picture

The aspector , jawn, that is right, change subject.
Throw a cat in the meal?
I would rather wait to see which way the cat jumps.
And you?
Enough to make a cat laugh?

To early for the forfex.

Forhend the forinsecal .

Suverans2's picture

Congratulations, ElasahBazlith, you went 'trolling' and caught a LOL

Robert Wallace's picture

The opposite of indivualism is not collectivism. That's a straw man. True opposites are freedom versus the State, the Political Means versus the Economic Means.

No one is "an individual." Our "self" is created by our relationships with other people. You can't be a father without a child, a spouse without a husband of wife, etc. No one is "independent," because we are involved in an infinite web of relationships with other people, the environmetnt, etc. Are of us are part of a "collective."

Rand is a complete fraud, a third-rate philosoper, a philodoxer.

Too bad "libertarians" waste their time with nonsense. I've yet to meet one who understood even the basics of Object Relations Theory, which inn one form or other, runs backs thousands of years.

Suverans2's picture

Guess again, Bob.

self noun▸who you are and what you think and feel, especially the conscious feeling of being separate and different from other people ~ Macmillan Dictionary

Too bad "collectivists" waste their time on libertarian websites.

ElasahBazlith's picture

Self may be a remnant to be left.
'Tis just an element of compound words.
As in -self originating-.
Or would it be -self culture-?
Either way, remain -self willed-.
One should always look at life as being dreadless.
One must have the ability -to hold forth-.
There are those in this world that fail -to put in mind-.

Robert Wallace's picture

"Guess again, Bob."

One of the funniest things I encounter is someone who quotes dictionary defintions because they cannot understood the advanced technical definitions.

One of the greatest State-worshipping collectivists among psuedo-libertarians was Ayn Rand.

Suverans2's picture

And, one of the funniest things I encounter, Bob, is someone who has trouble understanding simple sentence structure. The correct tense is "understand", Bob, not "understood". And, attacking the messenger with name-calling really shows the paper tiger behind your arguments.

ElasahBazlith's picture

The funniest thing I encounter is text blindness and the isogloss.
'Tis just a caprice of the feminine mind.

In the end, both are consimilar.
A feigned issue.
One can only interwish nicery.

The law burrows deeply?
The -law burrows- deeply?

Big difference to strike the root.
What would Thoreau do?