Tuesday, May 16, 2006

THE NARCISSISTIC SYNTHESIS - Sometimes, You Get What You Need

You can't always get what you want, no!
You can't always get what you want (tell ya baby)
You can't always get what you want (no)
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

-Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

In an earlier post on "The Narcissistic Dialectic", I argued that the development of a healthy psychological self in each individual is determined by the concurrent evolution of two opposed developmental lines --one originating from the primitive self of the infant; and the second from the idealized m(other) on whom the infant is totally dependent for survival. Any conflicts between the two poles must be resolved by adulthood for optimal psychological functioning in the world.

Problems for the individual and for society occur when remnants of either side of this dialectic are not fully integrated into a "cohesive self" in adulthood, and thus emerge as dysfunctional behavior. It is fair to say that much of the evil that humans do to each other comes as a result of the ensuing narcissistic rage and narcissistic awe/ idealism.

When the grandiose self is out of control; the fragments self of the individual(s) will manipulate, control, subjugate, hurt and in extreme cases even kill others. This happens because without a cohesive self, other people are not seen as separate from the self, or even necessarily human. Those in the thrall of the grandiose self are not capable of real human empathy.

We see stories of this kind of thing happening all the time on the news, and frequently exclaim in astonishment, "How could someone do that?" Examples are the ex-boyfriend who cannot accept that the woman he loved has dared to withdraw her love from him and so must kill her (and often himself); the serial killer who does not experience others as really human; the pedophile who abuses then murders his child victim; and every petty criminal who believes implicitly that his feelings and desires are paramount and justify his behavior.

The second type problem for society at large is an evil that is far more subtle, but even more destructive; and it originates from the idealized object developmental line . Individuals with this particular narcissistic defect (as likewise described for the grandiose self) also do not see other people as separate individuals; and instead see them only as fodder for the expression of an IDEAL or as pawns for an Omnipotent Object (e.g., a dictator).

For all the lip service given to compassion and caring for others, the individual in the throes of narcissistic idealism also completely reject the needs of the individual and enslave him or her to their IDEAL. Eventually, the enslavement--whether religious or secular--snuffs out human ambition, confidence, energy and self-esteem. These "do-gooders" cause considerable human misery and their ideologies can lead to genocidal practices and unbelievable atrocities on a grand scale, all in the name of the IDEAL or GOD. Appropriate benevolence and compassion toward others can only occur when there is a cohesive self in residence; who accepts that other people are separate from him, with thoughts, desires, wishes and beliefs that may not coincide with his own--and that those others have a right to be so.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

Many people never completely resolve all the tension between the two poles of narcissistic development; thereby never reaching a fully integrated and cohesive self. While most would not meet specific criteria for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, such people have extremely dysfunctional narcissistic traits that continually interfere with their own and other's lives.

Societies and the way they are structured can either facilitate a dialectical synthesis in the maturing child; or they can predispose the child toward one pole or another. Societies like Oceania in Orwell's 1984, would be an extreme example of one that deliberately attempts completely eliminate the grandiose self from each individual so that all is left is one's love in the submergence of one's self with "Big Brother."

Some societies like what the Palestinians have currently, mostly view each child as a soldier of the Jihad--without individual goals or ambitions-- and from an early age route the child into service to the state. By the time the child has grown up, they have little ambition but to do the will of the omnipotent state and/or Allah. In this case, the grandiose self is not eliminated, but purposefully subjugated to act out the violent priorities of the state. The narcissistic defect is perpetuated when these children grow up and, those who do not blow themselves up in an act of ultimate union with an evil god, go on to mother and father more fragmented and horribly impaired individuals.

In fact, throughout most of history, it has been the grandiose self that society has most tried to control. Either by eliminating it entirely; or chaining the energy it brings to the achievement of union with the omnipotent other.

Of course this has not been successful for very long when it is done; if only because the two lines are like flip sides of a coin. You may think that by emphasizing one side you are eliminating or subjugating the other; but in reality you are simply holding onto the extremes of both sides. That is why most totalitarian societies (either from the left or the right) have one big dictator, and numerous little dictators (thugs) running things. Such societies willingly give carte blanche to the most sociopathic of grandiose selves when they can be pledged to the service of the idealized object; but are fearful of the positive aspects of the grandiose self--the personal autonomy; individual desires and ambitions--which must be relentlessly rooted out in order to achieve that completely "selfless" soldier for jihad.

Developmentally, the fusion with mother during gestation and the early months of life lead to the idealized object developmental line. As the child matures, the evolving relationship with father while separating slowly from mother allows for the growth and development of the grandiose self. A healthy child requires both a healthy mother who allows slow separation from her mothering; and a father who encourages further individuation and maturation into a unique person. Defects occur when mother withdraws too quickly or father expects too much too soon.

This sequence of mothering and fathering is also recapitulated in brain development. Our early ancestors functioned at a primitive level where the tribe or group was primary and individuals separated from their tribe could not survive on their own.

As the human brain evolved over time, and complex thought and cognitive functioning became possible, the development of the individual as an individual was then possible. The growth of abstract thought and complex reasoning that came with the evolution of higher levels of the brain allowed each human to be able to function more independently, and to break away from the herd --unlike other animal species.

And, interestingly, as individuals became more and more empowered, their creativity and imagination benefited the entire tribe and drove the entire species foward.

In fact, for civilization to move forward from those primitive, tribal days, the developing grandiose self had to be unleashed to allow for individual accomplishment and creativity. Without it civilization would have remained primitive and basic, focused on the mystical and inexplicable (to them) universe. We see this process even in modern times, when totalitarian societies (modern tribes) deteriorate to the degree that they squash individual human ambition and effort. Such societies stop evolving and instead devolve toward the primitive and basic.

That has certainly been the result of every socialist experiment of the 20th century. Instead of bringing better standards of living for their citizens, as egalitarian principles were played out in the real world, they only succeeded in making everyone live in poverty. Where there is no significantly integrated grandiose self, there is no ambition, self-esteem; or even a sense that one is entitled to a life of one's own outside the confines of the state.

Dinocrat, in commenting on the same Lee Harris article that caught my attention says:

[I}t should not be that hard to stop Marxist or Islamic thugs around the world. Relatively speaking they have little power, and their myths of superiority have been shown to be bankrupt and have been rejected by large parts of the world. Moreover, the thug chieftains are often cruel, sadistic, and evil men. So stopping the thugs should be relatively easy for a sane and mighty civilization. However, our own elites fawn over these evil men and their bankrupt ideologies. How do we stop this enemy within from getting us killed?

Lee Harris in TCS discussed the persistence of socialism, despite its gross and manifest failures, and the continued rule of awful men who are its leaders, like Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Harris sees these strongmen as reaching motivations and desires “deeper and more primordial than mere reason and argument” in the people than their rational self-interest; hence reason is always in danger of being overpowered. Capitalism, he argued, has no comparable powerful myth, and this is a persistent weakness.
{...}The Marxist world and the Islamic world have in common that they have political systems that create poverty and slavery, so the totalitarian model must have some appeal, as Harris says.

The totalitarian model grips the human imagination from time to time, despite its flaws. It’s a story as old as tribal man himself. Men are drawn to the strong horse, who is often the authentic man of violence. In primitive societies, a man of power and violence can be a good protector. So much the better if he cloaks his cruelty in Utopian rhetoric or service to the gods; one of the greatest empowering devices of man is to do violence in the name of good (see Henninger today).

With those introductory comments, I present the table that follows ("THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE NARCISSISTIC DIALECTIC") for discussion and debate. It is my first attempt to organize some of the implications of the Narcissistic Dialectic and to conceptualize what an "optimal narcissistic synthesis" might include. It is likely that there are defects and blind spots in my thinking, since I don't know everything (really!) and have likely left something out; or put it in the wrong place.

Additionally, I have included some (as yet)undefined concepts of my own that are not fully fleshed out in my thinking. For example, the idea of a "Polydimensional Reality" is my own pathetic attempt to come up with a way to rationally include those aspects of reality that can't always be explained in completely "rational" terms.

This is NOT an attempt to insert something "mystical" into reality, but instead to rationally include for scientific consideration a way of experiencing reality that is inherent in all human beings; because humans are, after all, animals and possess the same kind of instincts that most animals possess.

This earlier post of mine describes what I am trying to get at here. While, the information obtained from this method of reality perception is frequently inaccurate and inadequate for survival, I think it needs to be included because it adds a new dimension that can truly enhance the human experience in unique ways--particularly when it is supervised by the rational faculty. This is especially true in esthetic and artistic pursuits.

Sometimes there is no way known to measure or describe something that is real, and, while this may be a limitation on our science it does not necessarily mean that it doesn't exist. One useful way to think about this sort of conundrum is in the concepts of "horizontal" and the "vertical" worlds that Gagdad Bob describes at his blog, One Cosmos:

...[L]et's just suppose that there's a horizontal world and a
vertical one.

This vertical/horizontal duality is just one of many ultimate
antinomies in the universe, in the sense that you cannot have one
without the other. Indeed, they cannot be defined except in reference
to one other: subject-object, external relations-internal relations,
mechanism-organicism, quantity-quality, time-eternity, part-whole,
consciousness-matter, form-substance, life-lifeless, etc.

Let us further suppose that each of these antinomies is indeed
ultimate--that each one represents a "horizon of knowabilty" for us.
And that furthermore, these antinomies are related in an unsuspected
way, as follows:

There is a horizontal world of matter, objects, external relations,
mechanism, quantities, time, parts, substance, and lifelessness.

And a vertical world of form, subject, internal relations, organicism,
qualities, eternity, whole, life, and consciousness.

Let us also stipulate that the causal influence of the horizontal realm
operates on the basis of past, to present, to future. On the other
hand, the vertical realm operates outside chronological time and has
"top-down" or "bottom-up" causation. But knowledge in either realm
involves a type of memory. Horizontal knowledge involves remembering
the past so that we may understand the present and predict the future.
Vertical knowledge involves remembering the "above" or "below" so that
we may understand the now.

The horizontal discloses all sorts of facts. That is the domain of
science. But scientific facts only reveal their significance in the vertical.

What is vertical recollection? What does it mean to "remember" what is

For human beings, remembering is to forgetting as waking is to sleeping
and birth is to death. "Forgetting" the vertical reduces man to
animality, just as sleep reduces us to vegetality and death to
minerality. To sleep is to forget, to forget is to die.

To awaken to the vertical is to remember and to actually be alive, or
"born again" from above.

The mind is an organ of truth. Just as the heart pumps blood and the
lungs exchange oxygen, the mind functions to metabolize truth. In fact,
human beings would cognitively and spiritually starve and suffocate--do
starve and suffocate--without constant exchanges with the oxidized
blood of Truth from above. Because of this exchange, the mind grows and renews itself.
What I call "Neo-Rationalism" in the table would then be the new epistemology that incorporated a synthesis of the horizontal and vertical worlds. [I especially like the thought that "neo-rats" would be the nickname for those who adopt this concept!]

I have tended to shy away just yet from too much discussion of religion and its role in human life. Like the socialism that won't die; religion also will not pass out of human consciousness because it reflects a very real aspect of our self that comes from the same source. I will not go into a debate about the existence of a anthropomorphic, all-powerful and all-good God; that debate is still open, as far as I'm concerned. The fact is that the human brain is predisposed psychologically to "believe in" something greater and outside of itself and that is human nature. That fundamental truth will not go away because some demand complete rationality from people at all times. It ain't gonna happen, folks. Total and complete rationality 24/7 just ain't human nature.

I dont' know about you, but I can live with that; just as I can live with all sorts of religions as long as they don't force me (the grandiose me, of course) to think exactly as they decree.

The problem with both the pseudo-religion of socialism and the religion of Islam is that they won't permit people like myself to disagree and not believe in them. That is exactly why they are such abysmal failures in the real world in advancing the lives of the individuals who do believe; and the societies that enforce belief.

Having said all that, I would suggest that religions can either be life-affirming and add something to human existence; or they can detract and make human existence a misery--just as any social system that appeals to the normal human desire for reunion with the idealized object.

In other words, there is clearly a place for religion (or something similar) in human life. But not just any religion. For optimum psychological health--just as for optimal societal health--religion must also be included in the narcissistic synthesis and must recognize the rational side of human nature.

Two final points. First, "Synthesis" is not the same thing as "Compromise". I am NOT talking about "compromising" reason or reality. The synthesis of dialectically opposed concepts requires-- not compromise, which simply gives power to one concept over the other--the development of an entirely new and frequently innovative concept that manages to incorporates the two poles in what might be an unexpected, but wholly creative manner.

And the second and concluding point is simply that, by resolving the narcissistic dialectic and achieving an optimal synthesis of the the two opposing poles of the self, the mature individual may not always get what he wants; but sometimes, he actually gets what he needs.

I am sure there are several books contained in the above table. A blog post is really a very unsatisfactory forum in many ways for the kind of discussion that would be useful. Nevertheless, feel free to discuss, tear apart, and add to the ideas in this chart. I look forward to your thoughts.

No comments: