Saturday, February 26, 2011
I'm Okay; You're Not So Hot
The title of this piece refers to the the attitude of every person, country, ethnic group and tribe that has ever been toward Outsiders. This belief -- which is really, "We're human, but you're not quite -- or not even close," has been one of the pre-eminent causes of war and genocide throughout history. Technically, it's called narcissism.
One of the few decent contributions that Freud made to psychology was his study of narcissism. Wacky he certainly was, but he made up for it by being a superb diagnostician. He was the first that I know of who wrote about "infantile grandiosity." Adult grandiosity has been noticed for thousands of years. The Greeks called it Hubris, always followed by Nemesis. The Bible speaks of "pride going before a fall" (the correct translation of "pride" is the same as "Hubris"). Satan's catastrophic flaw was that of pride, or a completely unrealistic and self-deluded grandiosity that led him to believe he could be God. But Freud was the first to locate this grandiosity as starting in our infancy (Thomas Hobbes came close when he noticed, "The evil man is the child grown strong").
Psychologists of the Object Relations School believe that every infant goes through a period of splitting their selves--and the world outside -- into "all-good" and "all-bad." In a sentence, the "all-good" is grandiose; the "all-bad" is envious, rageful, and hating. Those who don't outgrow this, when they grow up, are afflicted with (among other things) Narcissistic Personality Disorder or, much worse, Anti-Social Personality Disorder (those with Anti-Social Personality Disorder used to be called psychopaths or sociopaths). Hitler is a prime example of a psychopath; so is Clinton, but he is a much lesser danger, although I don't have the same conviction about his evil Marxist wife. Satan, too, is the story of a psychopath--grandiose, rageful, hating, envious. Psychopaths have no conscience, leading them to believe people are things to be exploited and manipulated for their benefit. They are almost always quite charming, as Clinton is ("con man" means confidence man, since they are very good at gaining your trust).
I am familiar with only one fiction writer who has consciously written about our tendency to split things into all-good and all-bad, and that is the humorist Tom Bodett, who, in his book "The End of the Road," writes about a liberal vegetarian bubble-headed woman who cannot stand the fact her true love has joined the Army. And she cannot forgive him. "Tamara's personal iron gates were guarded by a demon that painted everything black or white," writes Bodett. "Black or white. And she was the only cold judge of which was what. This was black, and her demon would not let her see the light even as it burned inside her." The result? She leaves him, forever. "And Tamara Dupree, soldier of conscience, paragon of wholeness, went out to her bus, looked at the lit, empty windows of a Holiday Inn, and fell apart." Hubris, followed by Nemesis.
Probably the most well-known writer who unconsciously portrayed everything as black or white was the narcissist Ayn Rand, who tried to elevate her mental illness to the status of something divine (she grandiosely called herself "the perfect woman" and the "second- greatest philosopher ever," and denigrated her opponents as "sub- humans" living in "a hell"). Her long-time friend, the psychologist Alan Blumenthal, diagnosed her as suffering from Narcissistic, Paranoid, and Schizoid Personality Disorders. If you know what to look for, all three of these disorders are easily discernable in Atlas Shrugged.
Unfortunately, all of us are prone, in greater or lesser degree, to splitting the world into "all-good" and "all-bad." Tragically, it is part of our nature, and we especially engage in it when under great stress. One of the problems is that we don't know we do it. Since we can't stand the rage, hate and envy in ourselves we cast it onto others. This is scapegoating. We blame the other person. They're the ones responsible for my life, my problems, and my bad feelings! The perceptive and wise story of the Garden of Eden explains it well: Adam scapegoats Eve ("It's her fault!") and Eve scapegoats the serpent ("It's his fault!") The serpent, not at all surprisingly, is a symbol of envy, meaning envy is the basic cause of narcissism and scapegoating (this is exactly what Object Relation theorists have concluded, a few thousand years later). This is also why one of the Ten Commandments reads, "You will not envy." Envy oftentimes leads to murder and theft -- two of the other main prohibitions in the Commandments.
The worst eruptions of rage and hate I have ever witnessed came from envious people. And it was directed at people who weren't much better off than they were. It was then I realized the envious are truly greedy -- no matter how much they're given, it's never enough. What they really want is to drag everyone down to their level. No matter how much taxes are raised on the rich, it will never be enough for the envious.
Rage may be hot, but hate is ice-cold. Only that kind of complete cold-heartedness could allow people to pilot planes into buildings, knowing that children and babies would die.
Every tribe that has ever existed has grandiosely called itself "the Humans" or "the People," devaluing outsiders to the status of sub- or non-humans. Group narcissism, Erich Fromm called it, in such books as Escape From Freedom. Group narcissism explains why tribes could do such bizarre things as treating their own with great kindness and spitting outsiders' babies on spears. Every religion has tried to overcome this Original Sin of ours with such commandments as "Love your neighbor as yourself" or "Do to others as you would have them do to you." The Golden Rule, as C.S. Lewis has pointed out in The Abolition of Man, exists in every religion.
I find it curious, and somehow significant, that the word Jesus used -- "Gehenna" (mistranslated as "Hell" in some Bibles)--is a valley in which infants were sacrificed to the idol Moloch. Much as the "Palestinians" are doing today with their children, and in the same area. Human sacrifice is a form of scapegoating; it's also based on our narcissism. Little noticed is that when Jesus drove the money-changers from the Temple he also drove out those selling pigeons and doves for sacrifice to God.
Nations are just tribes writ large. They grandiosely call themselves "the Fatherland," "the Motherland," or speak of "God and Country." I've come to the conclusion it is possible for the citizens in nations to be hypnotized into a mass psychopathology. If they couldn't be then all those millions of soldiers would not have marched off to be slaughtered in WWI and WWII (I've had this fantasy for years that when governments try to start wars everyone in all the countries involved says, "Naw, I don't think so...I'm just fine in my recliner here. Beer?")
Propaganda works by appealing to our narcissism. Propaganda dehumanizes, then demonizes and scapegoats "the enemy," then calls for their destruction, supposedly leading to peace. Steven Spielberg, for a good example, did a despicable thing in his pro-war propaganda film, Saving Private Ryan. He did not portray one of the Germans as a human being. All are cowardly, murderous, shaven-headed thugs (and being shaven-headed they are as interchangeable as cogs. And cogs are things, not humans). I wonder if he's familiar with All Quiet on the Western Front or the movie, The Boat?
The U.S. government, sadly, is no different than any other government in the history of the world. We were founded as something truly different, but now it has gotten to the point where our government has relegated many other nations -- outsiders -- as Not Quite Human. It has meddled for decades in the internal affairs of other countries, supporting murderous tyrants who have slaughtered and abused their citizens. Is it surprisingly the US government is absolutely hated by so many people in the world? That it is called "the Great Satan"? The USG is engaging in a type of human sacrifice: "We have to sacrifice them to save ourselves."
I honestly thought after the collapse of the Soviet Union we were looking at new era of peace. I did not believe the American Empire, without the Cold War to restrain it, would just simply explode across the world, interfering and meddling in nearly every country's business. We have troops in 140-145 countries, and some of the lunatics in the administration believe we should have troops in every country. If other countries had troops here, how would we feel about that?
When you apply the concept of narcissism to politics, it explains many things. Let's take Osama bin Laden (who I now believe is dead). Here was a guy with grandiose, unrealistic fantasies covering up the humiliating fact his religion had its Golden Age 1000 years ago and has been left behind by the West. The Islamic countries are so weak we can conquer all of them, although I'm sure it would be a Pyrrhic victory because of guerilla warfare and the loss of domestic liberty. I'm sure bin Laden was eaten alive by envy, hate, and the desire for revenge. I'm also sure he scapegoated the West and blamed all problems on it (I think one of the reasons the WTC was targeted because the essence of envy is to "bring down" the envied. I'm sure most of the Third World envies us and wishes to bring us down, even if they go down with us).
Yet, for all his delusions, bin Laden was right about the US government committing genocide in Iraq. After all, we had to sacrifice them to save ourselves. And it certainly was "worth it," as the oozy Madeleine Albright put it (whenever I see her on TV, I close my eyes and see Jabba the Hutt).
While everyone else was narcissistically idealizing bin Laden as some sort of satanic genius, I instead saw him as a deluded, envious nut, who covered up his humiliation and feelings of inferiority with grandiosity, and who had no idea of what the United States military could do to anyone who got in its way. Stupidity is envy's retarded little brother.
Much of the Islamic world scapegoats Israel ("That country is the cause of all our problems"). If Israel ceased to exist would the Islamic Golden Age bloom again? Nope. What would happen is the standard of living of everyone in the area would collapse. Then someone else would be found to fix the blame upon. And you would find people saying, "We need another 60 years to overcome the fact Israel was here for 60 years," just they way I've heard Americans say, "We need another 300 years to overcome the fact we were slaves for 300 years." It's denying self-responsibility, the bane of humanity.
The United States scapegoated alcohol and tried to get rid of it with Prohibition. What we ended up with is organized crime, which still plagues us. Currently the State is scapegoating drugs, which is why we have that catastrophic failure known as the "War on Drugs."
The essence of narcissism is abuse. In a sense, all countries, politically, are psychopathic in their dealings with other countries. They try to exploit, abuse and manipulate them. This is why I consider the State to be a satanic entity. It's chaos intruding into order.
Narcissists also can't take a joke. They are completely lacking in a self-depreciating sense of humor. That's also of the main characteristics of the State. And most politicians, too (when I think of the typical politician, I think of C.S. Lewis' description of Hell: "a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance and resentment").
The U.S. government has been narcissistically abusing the citizens of other countries, treating them as expendable things, while seeing itself as "good" (This is why Dubya said, "They hate us because we're good"). Foreigners returned the favor and flew planes into our buildings, treating us as things. So we returned the favor again, speaking of "the axis of evil" and "the evil ones" while bombing the rubble in Afghanistan into even smaller rubble. It sounds like children hurling insults at each other--"You're the Great Satan!" "No, I'm not, but you're the Evil Ones!"
Right now the US government is trying to scapegoat Saddam Hussein, who, like Manuel Noriega, used to be a "friend" of the US (Henry Kissinger once made the comment that as dangerous as it was to be an enemy of the US, it was fatal to be a friend). Whether or not this is going to lead to an unnecessary war I am still not sure.
Because governments are consistently psychopathic in their dealings with each other, and because they are consistently trying to scapegoat each other, the best thing countries can do is have as little political dealings with others as possible. They should engage in little more than free trade.
Around and around and around we go, and when everyone learns their lesson no one knows.