Wednesday, May 9, 2007

On the Meaning and Origin of the Term/Concept of 'Narcissism'

In this essay, I will explore some of the roots and history of the concept of narcissism -- and my own theory of narcissism as it applies to GAP-DGB Philosophy.

Narcissism is both a good and bad thing -- and we cannot escape it because narcissism is 'hard-wired' into human nature. By 'narcissism', I am referring to a combination of 'selfishness', 'hedonism', 'egotism', and 'self-centredness'. We will call these the four 'cornerstones' of narcissism.

Kids don't need to 'learn' to be selfish. They just are -- until they are taught to keep their narcissism (selfishness and self-centredness)in check. They need to be taught 'manners', 'ethics', 'morals', 'sharing', 'giving', 'fairness', 'loving' and the like...because if they aren't then they never will. Both 'pampering' and 'neglect' can promote narcissism. A 'healthy' child is a child that learns a good balance between 'soft' and 'tough' love....'soft love' comes from 'compassion' and 'encouragement', 'tough love' comes form 'accountability'. There's no such thing as a 'perfect parent' any more than there is a 'perfect child'. We all try to teach 'balance' -- as well as achieve it ourselves -- but the pendulum is always swinging back and forth without really coming to a rest in the middle (at least until we are dead).

Similarily, in history you can find a 'prevalence of narcissism' in every generation in one form or another -- and/or 'overcompensation' against narcissism which can be just as bad. When there is too much 'suppression', 'denial' and/or 'repression' of narcissism -- narcissism always finds a way to 'leak out' in the form of 'acting out' and 'symptoms'. On the other side of the coin, too much open, unbridled narcissism in a society can lead to a breakdown or self-destruction of a society (the fall of the Roman Empire).

Two of the philosophers who wrote the most on the prevalence and dangers of narcissism -- even though they didn't call it that -- were Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) who wrote that 'civil' life in a society would be 'savagery' (Lord of the Flies) without a strong government, strong police force, and strong army that is able to 'keep in check' and 'under control' all uncivil acts (of narcissism) -- Hobbes's account of human nature as self-interested (narcissistic) cooperation has proved to be an enduring theory in the field of philosophical anthropology; and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) -- the ultimate philosopher of pessimism who wrote essentially that life was essentially evil, futile, and full of suffering. (He also had the arrogance and gall to schedule his lectures at the same time as Hegel. Scopenhauer despised Hegel -- who presumably, he thought was 'too idealistic', 'too 'wishful thinking' and had to much of his 'head in the clouds' to see what was happening in the 'real world' (of suffering and savagery).

It is easy to try to equate 'narcissism' with Capitalism but that is not an equal equation because some of the most 'savage narcissists' have been 'socialists and/or communists' (Lenin, Stalin). Similarily, it is easy to say that the main fight of 'religion' is against 'human greed and narcissism' but that equation doesn't completely fit either because some of the 'greediest and most narcissistic acts' were committed by the Roman Catholic Church at the height of its power -- and of course other religions too that get caught up in their own 'power and greed'.

The origin of the term 'narcissism' came from Havelock Ellis...

Henry Havelock Ellis (February 2, 1859 - July 8, 1939), known as Havelock Ellis, was a British doctor, sexual psychologist and social reformer.

He described 'narcissism' as a type of 'sexual disorder' where a person is more or less 'in love with themselves' -- the name 'Narcissius' coming from ancient Greek mythology...

Found on the internet...


Re: Echo and Narcissius
posted by WolfKing on 3/18/03 11:17 PM

Narcissius was a handsome young man that every woman fawned over. Narcissius was so handsome that he felt there was no comparison for his beauty and he often ignored his would be lovers or told them to leave him alone. Well Echo was a Nymph who fell in love with Narcissius, who had gotten into trouble with Hera a while back. On an expidition to find out which of the nymphs was Zeus' latest love, Hera found herself diverted by Echo's chatter until all the nymphs had fled. As a result, Hera was annoyed with Echo and herself and doomed Echo by decreeing that she [Echo] would not be able to say one word on her own. She would have to repeat the last few words of what another person had said.

Of course this wouldn't help Echo one bit in her pursuit of Narcissius. Now she could only repeat the words that he spoke to her, which were basically, "Go away" or "Leave me alone". Eventually Echo became saddened and embarassed by her situation that she hid herself in a mountain and to this day repeats the last words of travelers who speak into caves.

Narciuss, meanwhile, had found somebody that he could love. While peering into a pool of clear water he spotted his own reflection, and not realizing that it was only his reflection, reached down into the water to try to touch the beautiful face and he drowned. (In another version of the story Narcissius looked into a pool of clear water, and seeing his own reflection realized that the only person he could ever love was himself. And he died of a broken heart.)

I remember reading this from a book called "Greek Myths: Gods, Heroes and Monsters" by Ellen Switzer and Costas. I hope that helped you out.


Second Paper On Narcissism

There is no corner of human thought, feeling, and behavior that the phenomenon and concept of 'narcissism' does not touch. For those of my less experienced philosophy and psychology readers, if you are having trouble getting your brain and your lips around the word 'narcissism', then let me associate it with a word that I am sure you are much more familiar with -- selfishness.

So that is your starting point -- your basepoint of recognition and meaning, relative to the term narcissism. However, that is only the starting point. For those of you who may be reasonably familiar with Psychoanalysis, you might know that Sigmund Freud came to use the term 'narcissism' as one of the centrepieces of his philosophical and psychological investigation. And so it is with me. I will acknowledge my debt to Freud and indirectly, to Havelock Ellis,, who influenced Freud who in turn influenced me -- a chain reaction from Ellis to Freud through various other psychoanalytic theorists but basically arriving to me through Freud.


From Wikepedia, the free encyclopedia....

Narcissism describes the character trait of self love.

The word is derived from a Greek myth. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name, the narcissus.

Freud believed that some narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth and was the first to use the term in the reference to psychology.[1].

Andrew Morrison claims that, in adults, a reasonable amount of healthy narcissism allows the individual's perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others[2].

In psychology and psychiatry, excessive narcissism is recognized as a severe personality dysfunction or personality disorder, most characteristically Narcissistic Personality Disorder, also referred to as NPD.

The terms "narcissism", "narcissistic" and "narcissist" are often used as pejoratives, denoting vanity, conceit, egotism or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others.


There are many questions to be asked about narcissism. Some have been asked by theorists before me. To what extent is narcissism 'natural' and 'normal'? From my perspective, it seems to be a healhty component of natural and normal self-assertion. Before you can be assertive about what you want, you need to know what you want, and to the extent that what you want is based on your own self-perceived needs and/or wishes, this is healthy narcissism.

Narcissism starts to become pathological when it 'blocks out' the needs and/or wishes of others. When we are like a horse with blinders on, and can only see what is directly in front of us, projected there like a movie screen from our own self-perceived needs and/or wishes while we are trying to live or work in a relationship where an other person may have perceived needs and/or wishes that are quite different than our own, it is here that the narcissistic person gets 'stuck'. The narcissistic person becomes like a 'pitbull' trying to force his or her jaws into other people in order to get his or her way. Get his or her way and the narcissistic person is happy; stymied, and he or she gets angry and/or moody, and will usually stay that way til the other side gives in. Intimidation and/or manipulation are usually the marks of the narcissistic person. So too is a marked lack of social empathy, social sensitivity, and/or social respect for the rights and/or opinions of and/or feelings of others.

It is important to note both the family and the cultural base of narcissism. Pathological narcissim can be 'nurtured' in a family either by neglect (a narcissistic parent or parents that ignore the child in which case the child copies the ignoring behavior of the parent(s)); or by spoiling or pampering the child in which case the child grows up thinking he or she is king or queen but without a proper social empathy and/or respect for the rights, opinions, and/or feelings of others.

From an economic and cultural perspective narcissism can be tied to both socialism and capitalism. The socialist narcissist is the person who feels entitled to whatever 'handouts' the government is willing to give him or her. This is different from the person who actually legitimately needs help from the government system; rather it is the type of person who will spend much time and energy doing what is necessary to 'manipulate the system' in his or her favor, perhaps because this is the way he or she has been taught to survive.

The influence of capitalism on narcissism and narcissism on capitalism is massive -- hugely disturbing when you think out the full ramifications of this two-sided (or dialectical) influence. So much so that I have come to differentiate between narcisistic capitalism and ethical humanisitic-existential capitalism; between narcissistic politics and ethical humanistic-existential politics; between narcissistic medicine and ethical humanistic-existential medicine; between narcissistic law and ethical humanistic-existential law; between narcissistic business and ethical humanistic-existential business; between narcissistic sports and entertainment and ethical humanistic-existential sports and entertainment; between narcissistic masculinism and/or feminism and ethical humanistic-existential masculinism and/or feminism...

What is the relationship between narcissism and capitalism in this regard? Simply this. It creates conflict of interest between ethical capitalism and unethical capitalism. Unethical capitalism becomes a short cut to the fulfillment of human greed -- invariably at someone else's expense which is why narcissistic capitalism and unethical capitalism are essential one and the same thing. The game often becomes 'two in, one out' -- 'let's you and me get rich at someone else's (for example, the public's) expense'. This is what you call a 'kickback' or 'feeding' scheme. Two people or sets of people are feeding each other at the expense of a third party that is left outside in the dark not knowing what is happening -- unless or until the third party finds out. Then we may have a 'scandal' that blows up and hits the fan -- for example, the media if it is big enough -- and then the two people or two sets of people who have been playing 'two in, one out' may have egg on their respective faces and may either get fired or have a lot of explaining to do or even end up in a court of law with their freedom at stake. Too often government officials get off with slaps on the wrist where a private, corporate person might go down a lot heavier. (Witness the trial of Conrad Black.) The punishment for a government official should at least be that of what would be relevant for a private, corporate person; if someone in government is responsible for 'losing' or 'misappropriating' millions of dollars of public pension fund money, for example, then this is a huge violation of public trust money and not something that should roll off our backs like water off a duck's back. But unfortunately, we have become way too 'immunized' to the expectancy and continuity of 'government narcissism' --its taking what it wants and not having to account for what it is doing -- to the point that government officials keep doing it because they feel confident they are not going to get caught, and that even if they are, the consequences will not likely fit the crime, and in the mean time they may have set themselves up to be very rich for after they retire as politicians. The government -- and this does not seem to be tied to any one party -- narcissism (greed, power, egotism...) corrupts most if not all parties, Liberal and Conservative alike, from Trudeau to Mulroney to Cretien --all have all been guilty of anything from very bad budgets to at the very least having members of their party guilty of personal violations of public funds.

When politicians continue to dig deeper and deeper into our pockets for more and more tax money, as much of the middle class continues to drop in their collective standard of living because their paycheques are not keeping up with their expenses, not keeping up with inflation, not keeping up with higher rent and mortgages, and higher food bills, and higher energy bills, and higher utility bills, and the aforementioned higher tax bills, when our senior citizens are getting hit even harder because they are now operating on small pensions that are a pittance of what they used to earn and what they paid to the government in pension money -- all this while government officials can write off huge personal expenses on gold-plated expense accounts, probably have tax-free exemptions that the rest of us could only dream about (politicians should be paying the same taxes that the rest of us do -- how else could they even begin to feel our pain?), even while they are earning 100,000 dollar salaries and packing away pensions that would leave the rest of Canada nauseous if they fully knew the details of them; at the very least, these same politicians should be held accountable for proper ethical standards and they should be held accountable when they do not spend our tax and pension money in the way that they say they are going to spend it.

I remember a high end hockey agent -- Alan Eaglson, to be specific -- who I believe got jail time and heavy fines for his fraudulant behavior relative to the hockey players whose pension funds he controlled and violated. Something tells me that his crime would pale compared to what has happened to much of Canada's billions of dollars of pension money, parts of which has been steered in other directions.

Now this is important. When I was working for the TTC, I used to get a printout periodically of how much pension money I had in my account. The total of my account was a combination of my own contributions plus those of the TTC which I believe equalled mine. But the point is that there was transparency here. Everything was above board. Everything was visible. When I left the TTC after 12 years, I walked away with about $50-60,000 in pension money that I put into RRSPs. What I put into my pension money, I took out of it, in combination with what the TTC added to it. This is basically how an ethical pension plan should be run.

But what about the way the government runs our pensions plans? Do we see the same method of operation? No. The way that the government handles our pension money would be illegal if it was being handled that way by a private corporation or a pension agent. No visibility. No transparency. All is secret. Do I know how much money I have contributed to my pension plan in the government? No. Do they tell me? No. Do I get printouts each year showing me how my pension plan is growing each year? No. Does money in equal money out, or will it ever? No, of course not. This is why we have a government pension fund that is continuing to grow at an astronomical rate -- a hugely greater rate than what is being used from it. So the question becomes, what are they doing with all the billons of extra dollars in the pension fund? Where are parts of it -- significant parts of it -- going? Who is being held accountable for telling us what is happening to all of the people of Canada's pension money that is not going back to the people of Canada? No one. This is the mark of a narcissistic, unethical government -- if not a downright illegal one (except they make their own laws for themselves). This is not the mark of a democratic, ethical government. And Harper's government -- as much as he said that he would walk in and clean up the ethical side of government -- continues to run the Canadian Pension Plan as per usual. In the dark. Do I trust Harper's ethics? No. I trust Gomery's ethics. But how much of Gomery's report on the Liberal Ad Scandal was actually implemented by the Conservative Government? Precious little, probably. Most of it pushed away into some back library. The Conservative Government had its own 'ethics' agenda, and for the most part it didn't include Gomery. Gomery was a man, an honourable judge, who for about 2 years captured the respect and the awe of the people of Canada. Here was a man who took no garbage, took no bullshit. Like a farmer, he ploughed through the bullshit, cleared out everything in his way that was hampering him from getting to the truth -- making politicians everywhere around him in his path uneasy, if not shaking in their boots -- who had a right to feel exactly this way because Gomery was exposing them, showing the Canadian people, what these politicians were doing in the dark from where they were accustomed to freely working from. They weren't used to someone checking on their business, checking on their ethics. Really checking on their ethics. Who is accountable for telling us what is happening with all our pension money?

My parents could be living without worrying if they had access to all the pension money that they put into the Canadian system. As much as they love Prince Edward Island, they probably wouldn't have been forced to move out there if they had access to the full extent of the money that they put into the Canadian Pension Fund. Or at the very least, they might actually be able to take one worry-free vacation every year. But alas, what goes in does not always equal what comes back out when dark forces are at work. A 'siphoning' process seems to be happening in between 'in' and 'out' that the Canadian people know far too little about -- just enough to know that something is happening that is probably dirty but without the full insight, and what's worse, without the full committment to demanding that a man like Gomery be put in charge of a full-scale investigation aimed at fully finding out what has been happening to our pension money for the last 20 or so years. He is the only man who I would trust to properly do the job. Anyone else -- especially one with parisan ties -- and I would expect a 'whitewash', not the truth. Let's say go back to about 1990. Off the top of my head, I think we could possibly be looking at the biggest scandel, the biggest misappropriation of Canadian money, in the history of Canada. But maybe I'm just blowing hot wind without substance. I don't think so. What is the old saying? Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.

A democratic government should be a transparent government, and it is only narcissistic govemerments that need to hide their financial activities, it is only narcissistic goverments that have trouble with transparency. Because they do not want the public to see what they are up to with our money. They like to operate behind closed doors. They like to operate in the dark. This is the modus operandi of a narcissistic, unethical goverment -- or any private corporation, or person, as well.

That is a good start for what we mean relative to the concept of narcissism -- individual, corporate, political, cultural...

db, May 9th, 2007. Link:

No comments: