Thursday, May 22, 2014

"The Weak Self: Christopher Lasch on Narcissism"

"The only two things that can really get us in trouble are the 'Great I Am' and the 'Poor Little Me'" - Alcoholics Anonymous

Christopher Lasch was one of the first and most famous critics of narcissism and its destructive influence on society. As for James Burham, he of the Managerial State, he too was a severe critic of what I call the Machine State - Lasch's "the rise of mass production, with its concomitant deskilling of workers, destruction of economic independence, change in relations of authority from personal to abstract, and professionalization of education, management, mental health, social welfare, etc."

I've always been amused by those who think they understand such things as economics and narcissism. They don't. Let's use as an example those who are horrified by an increase in the minimum-wage, yet completely miss the fact that Cosmodemonic Transnational Megacorporations are trying to turn us into cogs and absorb us into their Machine State. Or the naive buffoons who write about "chicks digging the Dark Triad." They're seeing twigs and missing the entire fucking forest.

This article was written by George Scialabba, is from the site, Boston Review, and was written in response to this article. In Defense of Narcissism, by Vivian Gornick.

"Vivian Gornick’s review of 'The Americanization of Narcissism' is written with her usual cogency, verve, and elegance. But I think she and the book’s author, Elizabeth Lunbeck, are mistaken about the motivation and import of Christopher Lasch’s views on the 'underlying character structure' of late twentieth-century America.

"Lasch was fundamentally a critic of mass society. He located the pivot of modern psychic development in the rise of mass production, with its concomitant deskilling of workers, destruction of economic independence, change in relations of authority from personal to abstract, and professionalization of education, management, mental health, social welfare, etc. The result of those epochal changes was a drastic change in the socialization of children. Individuation largely consists of the gradual reduction in scale of infantile fantasies of omnipotence and helplessness [the Great I Am and the Poor Little Me - Editor], accompanied by the child's modest but growing sense of mastery, continually measured against its human and material surroundings. Formerly, the presence of potent but fallible individuals, economically self-sufficient, with final legal and moral authority over their children's upbringing, provided one kind of template for the growing child's psychic development.

"Narcissism refers to a weak, ungrounded, defensive, insecure, manipulative self. [Covered up by grandiosity - Editor]

"As fathers (and increasingly mothers) become employees, with the family's economic survival dependent on remote, abstract corporate authorities, and as caretaking parents were increasingly supervised or replaced by educational, medical, and social-welfare bureaucracies, the template changed. The child now has no human-size authority figures in the immediate environment against which to measure itself and so reduce its fantasies to human scale. As a result, it continues to alternate between fantasies of omnipotence and helplessness. This makes acceptance of limits, finitude, and death more difficult, which in turn makes commitment and perseverance of any kind—civic, artistic, sexual, parental—more difficult. The result is narcissism, which Lasch described in the opening pages of Culture of Narcissism thus:

"'Having surrendered most of his technical skills to the corporation, [the contemporary American] can no longer provide for his material needs. As the family loses not only its productive functions but many of its reproductive functions as well, men and women no longer manage even to raise their children without the help of certified experts. The atrophy of older traditions of self-help has eroded everyday competence, in one area after another, and has made the individual dependent on the state, the corporation, and other bureaucracies.

"'Narcissism represents the psychological dimension of this dependence. Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand along or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his 'grandiose self' reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.

"'Narcissism refers to a weak, ungrounded, defensive, insecure, manipulative self—what the title of Lasch's next book after The Culture of Narcissism labeled 'the minimal self.' It is emphatically not about 'selfishness,' 'self-absorption,' 'self-love,' or self-assertion. The grand opposition Gornick sets up between modern 'liberation' and traditional 'civilized behavior'—which she deems 'the way the world looked to a white, middle-class man without the gift of empathy who found all the social tumult depressing rather than stimulating, and who, feeling the ground beneath his own feet beginning to give way, came perilously close to idealizing a solidity of the past that never was'—may be relevant to understanding Allan Bloom or Saul Bellow. But it's not much use in coming to terms with Lasch's far deeper and subtler argument."

“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that's what is threatening the world at this minute...the state [is] a machine and asks, 'Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?'" - Joseph Campbell


Quartermain said...

Here's an article you may find of interest:

Unknown said...

I don't see any problems with the article. In fact I agree with it.

Quartermain said...

I should have typed in OT (off topic) before posting. I thought it kind of tied in with other you were saying.