They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the beast
-The Eagles, Hotel California
In an article titled "Thank You My Foolish Friends In The West", Ian Buruma notes that leftist intellectuals' adoration of tyrants and thugs like Hugo Chavez is nothing new:
When the Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas managed to escape to the US in 1980, after years of persecution by the Cuban government for being openly homosexual and a dissident, he said: “The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream. And I came here to scream.”
One of the most vexing things for artists and intellectuals who live under the compulsion to applaud dictators is the spectacle of colleagues from more open societies applauding of their own free will. It adds a peculiarly nasty insult to injury.
Buruma goes on to describe a sort of "populist authoritarianism" that has become all the rage in intellectual circles. The left applauds the dictator who is swept into power by the "poor", who can always be counted on to cheer the empty promises of a tyrant offering an easy way out of poverty and blaming their condition on the usual scapegoats: the "rich", capitalism, America, or Israel. Such thinking fits in nicely with the fundamental way the left thinks.
That thinking no longer (if it ever did) includes the concepts of individualism, freedom and democracy. As Buruma says:
That Chavez is applauded by many people, especially the poor, is not necessarily a sign of democracy; many revolutionary leaders are popular, at least in the beginning of their rule, before their promises have ended in misery and bloodshed.
Ditto for Hamas, who are planning the usual misery and bloodshed associated with progressive thought as we speak and are cheered on by the likes of Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter, the quintissential passive-aggressive enablers of evil.
Along these lines, I have been meaning to write about a very thought-provoking column by Lee Harris at TCS recently. It is fairly long, but definitely worth reading and re-reading for those of us who are actively working in this new century to prevent a replay of the devastating "socialist experiment" that literally killed millions in the last century.
It is discouraging to see the insanity currently going on in the western hemisphere with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales rising on a tide of socialist bullshit, even as Castro's failed paradise--which once was the last stronghold of these discredited ideas in the hemisphere-- waits expectantly for its dear leader's impending demise. These newest embryonic nations of "misery and bloodshed" have only a limited time until they too, reach their anti-human potential. The question is why are we seeing this happening all over again, in another hemisphere; in another century?
Several paragraphs in Harris' article were particularly striking in this regard:
When Hernando de Soto asserts that capitalism is the only rational alternative left to mankind, he is maintaining that capitalism is the alternative that human beings ought to take because it is the rational thing to do. But what human beings ought to do and what they actually do are often two quite different things. For human beings frequently act quite irrationally, and without the least consideration of what economist called their "enlightened self-interest." And it is in this light that we must approach the problem, Why isn't socialism dead?
It may well be that socialism isn't dead because socialism cannot die. As Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in "the profounder regions of our mental life," in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn't want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?
Here we have the problem facing those who, like Hernando de Soto, believe that capitalism is the only rational alternative left after the disastrous collapse of so many socialist experiments. Yes, capitalism is the only rational method of proceeding; but is the mere appeal to reason sufficient to make the mass of men and women, especially among the poor and the rejected, shut their ears to those who promise them the socialist apocalypse, especially when the men who are making these promises possess charisma and glamour, and are willing to stand up, in revolutionary defiance, to their oppressors?
The shrewd and realistic Florentine statesman and thinker, Guicciardini, once advised: "Never fight against religion...this concept has too much empire over the minds of men." And to the extent that socialism is a religion, then those who wish to fight it with mere reason and argument may well be in for a losing battle. Furthermore, as populism spreads, it is inevitable that the myth of socialism will gain in strength among the people who have the least cause to be happy with their place in the capitalist world-order, and who will naturally be overjoyed to put their faith in those who promise them a quick fix to their poverty and an end to their suffering.
Thus, in the coming century, those who are advocates of capitalism may well find themselves confronted with "a myth gap." Those who, like Chavez, Morales, and Castro, are preaching the old time religion of socialism may well be able to tap into something deeper and more primordial than mere reason and argument, while those who advocate the more rational path of capitalism may find that they have few listeners among those they most need to reach -- namely, the People. Worse, in a populist democracy, the People have historically demonstrated a knack of picking as their leaders those know the best and most efficient way to by-pass their reason -- demagogues who can reach deep down to their primordial and, alas, often utterly irrational instincts. This, after all, has been the genius of every great populist leader of the past, as it is proving to be the genius of those populist leaders who are now springing up around the world, from Bolivia to Iran. (emphasis mine)
The idea that "socialism cannot die" and that "the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in 'the profounder regions of our mental life...'" are key to what I intend to address in the next several posts.
In reading Harris' excellent analysis, it occurred to me that if socialism cannot die because its mythology is seared into the psyche of the individual; captialism, the bane of socialism (just as socialism is the bane of capitalism), also cannot perish for precisely the same reason.
Let me explain.
In an earlier series of posts on Narcissism (PART I , PART II , and PART III ) I argued, using primarily Heinz Kohut's concepts of the Self, that the development of a healthy, integrated, mature Self required the integration of two separate developmental lines.
At some point, the Self and the Other--once "perfectly" merged--are now two distinct objects. This important process of separation-individuation is facilitated by the normal shortcomings(i.e. imperfections) in maternal care, which spur the child's development as an individual. For example: baby demands food, but mother is unavailable right now and doesn’t feed baby until her schedule permits (but doesn’t let him starve either!). Such natural and normal imperfections of empathy with the child are actually healthy. I won’t go into a full discussion of this, but suffice it to say that the Other must not be too perfect, nor too imperfect, as either extreme carried on for too long will interfere with the developing Self of the child.
It is because of the slow separation of Self from Other--Child from Parent-- that the two developmental lines come into being. The first line Kohut refers to as the “Grandiose Self”(or idealized self image) and the second is referred to as the “Idealized Parent Image”. Both of these images represent psychological attempts to save the original experience of "perfection" by the infant when the Mother (Other) and the infant (Self) were “one”.
The “grandiose self” will develop over time (if not disrupted) into healthy Self-Esteem; and the” idealized other” (or idealized parent image) will eventually lead to the development of ideals that give meaning to the individual’s life; to empathy and healthy interpersonal relationships.
I also argued in that series that from these two emerging parts of the self comes the predeliction for one type of social/political/economic system or another. In particular, the grandiose self prefers to live in those systems that maximize individual liberty and self expression i.e., "life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness." On it's extreme side (without any integration of the idealized self into its functioning), the grandiose self in a social context can lead to excessive ambition, narcissistic grandiosity, indifference to others, and what is commonly referred to as "narcissistic rage" when it is thwarted in its pursuit of satisfaction.
The idealized object, on the other hand, prefers the authoritarian society because it recaptures the primitive--and perfect-- union the infant once had with mother. Those social/political/economic systems that promise such a union (i.e., most religions, socialism, communism and all their totalitarian variants) are the systems that feel right.
On the idealized object's extreme side are the intense utopian urges that distinguish any cult; the submersion of individual identity and selfhood into the collective; and what I have referred to as the "narcissistic awe" one experiences in contemplating the pursuit of union, or utopia.
On their own, without the attenuating influence of the other line, either side is a distortion of human nature. Each side sees the other as the extreme expression of the opposite pole of the self, thus leading to the polarizing stereotypes that left and right political sides attack each other with. The extreme left (idealized other) sees all members of the right as sociopaths out to get whatever they can from the world at the expense of others; while the right sees all members of the left as the collective mob whose goal is to erase individuality and freedom. But the truth is that at the exreme left AND the extreme right there is a striking convergence of grandiosity and totalitarianism.
The grandiose self, left to its own devices with minimal interference from or integration with its counterpart, the idealized object, becomes the prototype of the tyrant--cold, ruthless, and without pity for others. He goes his way wreaking havoc in the world, supressing other individuals to his will and disposing of them without a thought. When thwarted his narcissistic rage and aggression are sights to behold.
With parents and a society both encouraging individuality and social responsibility simultaneously in human development; extreme individuals of this type are generally recognized as sociopaths and held to account for their antisocial and destructive behavior in society at large.
The idealized object side of the self, left to its own devices with minimal interference from or integration with its own grandiose self, becomes the human fodder that acts out the will of the tyrant. Their overwheming desire for union with the perfect god, the perfect mother--i.e, the perfect "other"-- will inevitably lead them to revere the onminpotent grandiose self of others. They see only the "goodness" and perfection of the other; and they actively and single-mindedly pursue "union" with that other; often desiring to drag others with them toward that utopian ideal.
Parents and societies that deliberately try to suppress all individualistic tendencies (as is seen in most totalitarian societies) will encourage the development of a psyche that is ripe for takeover by a strong, grandiose dictator-thug.
It is important to note that the extreme, or "pure", state of either of these developmental lines does not exist in a real, living human being. We can discuss them in this sort of abstract manner; and tease out the implications of one side's development or the other; but both sides exist to some degree in every single human because every single human originates from the same biological starting point and grows within a mother's womb; and is initially helpless and completely dependent on that mother for its existence. (And, no. I am not going to go into some of the exceptions to this at this time--even though they pose some extremely interesting questions from a psychological development standpoint)
Rather, these two processes can be thought of as flip sides of the same coin. Extremes of one side or the other occur because of breakdowns in empathy between the child and the parent or the larger environment. If these breakdowns are not resolved by adulthood, then the adult will continue to act them out, and they will flip back and forth between the two poles of the dialectic.
On the one hand, when the will of the grandiose self is thwarted, the individual will experience narcissistic rage and act out various types of aggression. When the union with the "perfect" object is not perfect (since it never will be), they experience even greater narcissistic idealism/awe and redouble their efforts to submit to the will of Big Br(other). Often they simply alternately cycle between the two extremes.
Harris discusses the myths of socialism and bemoans the fact that capitalism has no myths to compete with the romance of the former. But both of these political ideals are played out on the ultimate battleground within the developing psyche.
The "revolutionary" myth of the idealized other side of the self involves submission of the individual to the collective, and may be stated as follows:
One day, I (we) will be reunited with, and submit to, the will of the perfect other; and when that happens, utopia will be achieved and I (we) will be whole.
The counterpart myth of the grandiose self involves aggression and may be stated as follows:
One day, I will achieve total power and dominance over the imperfect other; and when that happens, I will be whole.
Both myths originate from the primitive narcissism of the infant whose needs are too imperfectly met by the parents (and secondarily by the society those parents live in).
But both political myths are delusional; in that they attempt to compensate for defects in narcissistic development by going to one extreme or the other; and hence do not recognize that human nature requires both poles of the dialectic for optimal psychological health.
If you are with me so far, then the next thought in this logical sequence is apparant. For the purposes of this essay, I will refer to these two aspects of Narcissisism as the Narcissistic Dialectic.
Somehow, a healthy individual must find a way to integrate these two opposing parts of the self into their psyche. In other words, they must achieve a true, dialectical synthesis.
In the Narcissism series referred to earlier I wrote:
We have seen that the development of a Cohesive Self is dependent on two separate, equal and parallel developmental lines that arise originally from the biological and psychological fusion of the Infant and Mother early in life. If each of these lines are not interrupted in their normal evolution the Infant will eventually become an Adult with both narcissistic poles adequately developed and be able to function in the world in a healthy way—both in his attitude toward his own physical and psychic self; and in his attitude toward other human beings.
In some ways, the rise of human civilization from the cave to the present day has resulted because of attempts through the Rule of Law and social controls to set limits on the unrestrained Grandiose Self. This is primarily due to the destructiveness of the Narcissistic Rage generally associated with that part of the Self.
Because of this, the Grandiose Self has received a bad reputation philosophically, morally, and politically. The natural development of Governments and Religions (which ultimately are an expression of the Idealized Parent Image/Omnipotent Other side of the Self)have all too often attempted to ruthlessly suppress the Grandiose Self--much to the detriment of the individual AND the success of the particular society or religion.
In fact, despite the obvious truth that governments, nations, and religions are in a much better position to wreak far more systemized misery and death on human populations, it is almost always the Grandiose Self that gets the blame. As Wretchard at The Belmont Club pointed out in a recent post, a review of the 20th century, for example, shows that all the "people's revolutions" supported by the Left and purportedly for the purpose of "freeing" large populations of people; resulted instead in enslaving them and increasing authoritarian rule.
In the second part of this essay--which will focus on Narcissistic Synthesis--I will discuss thow this process works and its implications for both individuals and society. Thus far, I have only touched on the psychology of the self; but psychology (which derives from biology) has significant implications not only for how we think about ourselves, but also for how we think about everything else-reality, knowledge, politics and ethics.
All over the world, on a daily basis we see the horrible results of narcissism gone wrong. Individuals and groups; religions and nations act out their narcissistic rage at various insults--real and imagined-- and people suffer and die for the purpose of the grandiosity of the tyrant, or the glory of the religion.
When not pursuing the objects of their narcissistic rage; the same rage-filled and aggressive individuals and groups easily submit to the will of Allah, God, the religion, the government, the collective, or the despot of the day, as they are filled with the desire for a reunification of the perfect other.
It has been said that the 20th century was the “century of the narcissist”, but the 21st is well on its way to outdoing the horrors of the past, as a seemingly never-ending epidemic of malignant narcissistic rage and idealism--both caused by a defect in narcissism and both in turn combining to crush the human spirit--all for the purpose of serving the self-aggrandizing vision of the few.
It truly seems that we just can't kill that beast--we must tame it by integrating all aspects of it into our self, if we are to be whole.