Wednesday, July 26, 2006

MALIGNANT NARCISSISM - Sociopathic Selfishness and Sociopathic Selflessness

The following is an example of a certain type of person who considers herself caring, loving, and compassionate:
NOBEL peace laureate Betty Williams displayed a flash of her feisty Irish spirit yesterday, lashing out at US President George W.Bush during a speech to hundreds of schoolchildren.
Campaigning on the rights of young people at the Earth Dialogues forum, being held in Brisbane, Ms Williams spoke passionately about the deaths of innocent children during wartime, particularly in the Middle East, and lambasted Mr Bush.

"I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence', because I don't believe that I am non-violent," said Ms Williams, 64.

"Right now, I would love to kill George Bush." Her young audience at the Brisbane City Hall clapped and cheered.

This precious little story helps me segue into a topic that I have been meaning to discuss for some time, that relates to a form of narcissistic sociopathy (also called "malignant narcissism") that dominates the mind of the collectivist. The typical leftist collectivist, however, considers his or her sociopathy as a form of altruism, or "selflessness".

Thirty years ago when I first studied object relations theory and became familiar with the ideas of Heinz Kohut, Otto Kernberg and others; I remember thinking, "THIS is important!" Over the years, both in my personal and professional life, that initial response has been reinforced repeatedly.

The longer I have thought about it, the more applicable these concepts are in appreciating the psychological elements that underscore all aspects of human endeavor. Understanding the development and optimization of psychological health is tantamount to understanding the essence of human nature; and understanding human nature--both the good and the bad--is essential to be able to develop an integrated view of human existence--i.e., a philosophy of life that advances and enriches not only one's own life, but all of human life.

This seems like a rather grandiose goal (did I mention how grandiose I am? But I will leave it to a future post to discuss those tendencies); but one which I consider extremely important for every individual to undertake.

Several earlier posts on this blog have begun to lay a foundation for integrating human psychology into various aspects of philosophy. Those posts include:

Narcissism & Society Parts I-III
The Narcissistic Dialectic
The Narcissistic Synthesis

As a suggestion, you might want to review those articles prior to reading this one.

In "The Narcissistic Synthesis", I proposed that the optimal synthesis of the two opposing ethical imperatives of the developing self--the Grandiose Self (GS) and the Idealized Object (IO) -- was Individualism, or as it is sometimes called, "Enlightened Self-Interest". The two ethical imperatives that derive from the GS and IO, and which form the dialectic are in the table below in red and blue:

The study of Ethics is concerned with the question of what constitutes ethical ( good) human behavior; as well as unethical (bad) human behavior.

Through Ethics, we are able to develop our values and take action in the real world to pursue those values. The study of Ethics answers such questions as: "Should I only pursue my own happiness?" or "Should I sacrifice myself for the greater good of others?"

These two questions are at the heart of the narcissistic dialectic in the area of Ethics, and they appear to be completely the opposite of each other. But somehow, a healthy individual must find a way to creatively synthesize an effective and life-affirming value system from both sides of that ethical dialectic.

It is not an exaggeration to say that most of human history has been a battle between forces which advocate one or the other of these two absolute ethical imperatives. The self-GS says unequivocally that I should always pursue my own happiness, regardless of its impact on others; while the self-IO demands that I always sacrifice myself for others and/or the "greater good"; or, that an individual's happiness is nothing compared to the happiness of others.

Individuals, as they go through life, often run head-on into this seeming dilemma; and if they do not find a way to resolve it within their psychological self they will forever bounce back and forth between what I have termed "sociopathic selfishness" and "sociopathic selflessness".

It is my contention that the adoption of either of the extreme ethical systems derived from the developing self will inevitably leads to disastrous consequences for both for the individual and for society, and is the cause of most human suffering. Both extremes represent a form of malignant narcissism with which our world is plagued.

The unopposed Grandiose Self gives rise to tyrants big and small; to megalomaniacal dictators and dictator wannabees; to unbelievable corporate greed and plundering; and to the typical criminal sociopath in all his/her glory. The damage that such individuals do in individual relationships, in business, in politics and in all spheres of human behavior, is well documented and appreciated in the world. Most children are abjured repeatedly never, never to be "selfish". To always consider others. Laws are set up to protect people from victimization at the hands of these unrestrained grandiose monsters, unable to see other people as distinct individuals separate from their own self. These "others" exist only as the means to achieving their own desires.

But far more menacing to humanity is the unrestrained IO, which has unlimited potential to cause human misery and death; and whose destructiveness we have seen dominate the 20th century. The countless dead bodies that are the direct result of this form of malignant narcissism are quickly forgotten because they died as some nations, religions, ideologies attempted to implement their IDEAL in the real world.

This second type of evil is more subtle, and it derives from the ethics of the IO side of the self. The IO also does not see other people as distinct individuals with needs and desires of their own, but only as fodder for the expression of an IDEAL; or as pawns for the wishes of a deified GS. People with this narcissistic defect completely reject the needs of the individual and enslave him or her to the service of their IDEAL. Eventually, the enslavement--whether religious or secular--snuffs out human ambition, confidence, energy, self-esteem, and life. These mindlessly malignant "do-gooders" -- like our Nobel Laureate mentioned at the start of this article-- do far more harm than good and their ideologies can lead to genocidal practices and unbelievable atrocities on a grand scale, all in the name of an IDEAL or GOD.

The malignant and sociopathic potential of both the GS and IO are inherent in the human species. They are flip sides of the same human coin, you see. One side cannot exist without the other. Either a way is found to synthesize the two, or an individual will forever flip-flop between them--coldly and viciously tyrannical toward all humans in pursuit of his own desires on the one hand; and on the other, coldly and viciously determined no matter what the cost in human lives and suffereing to implement his IDEAL in all human society.

We are always warned about the individual narcissitic sociopaths; but most people don't appreciate the sociopathic qualities of groups, religions, nations, and ideologies that demand all individuals sacrifice themselves for the good of the latest utopian ideal or some blood-thirsty god.

In our modern world, the Islamic Jihadists have perfected this ethical demand; and the suicide-bomber is the ultimate expression of their ethics. (see the post "Union With An Evil God" and "Narcissistic Rage and Awe" for more on this).

But they are not alone in their disregard and contempt for the individual, who they see as only existing to serve the IDEAL, or to bring about the utopia/paradise/caliphate/[insert fantasy delusion here].

Extremes of both the political left and the political right are also dominated by the malignant narcissism of the GS and the IO.

If we go back to our understanding of healthy narcissistic development, we appreciate that the GS and the IO in adults is a result of the failure of narcissistic synthesis. The developmental process that should lead to a healthy self is broken; or fractured; or poisoned.

This can happen under many and varied circumstances--some of which can be prevented and some of which cannot (but that is for another post). We see it happening to the Palestinian children, taught from birth to hate the other/Jew; taught to die for the IDEAL. We see it in college students who are encouraged by their malignantly narcissistic professors to reject traditional moral values; embrace nihilism, and transform the world according to the professor's utopian fantasy. We see it in the postmodern rhetoric of the socialists who still dream of a universal socialist utopia, no matter how many people they have to kill to make it happen.

We see glimpses of it, in fact, in a Nobel Peace Laureate who is so concerned for the IDEAL of some abstract "suffering children" that she is willing to poison the minds of the very real children right in front of her with her own undiluted ideology--knowing full well those minds aren't capable of mature judgment and analysis. She is so unswervingly sure that the source of all suffering children must be…George Bush. How is she different from the Imams of Islam who preach hate --but in the name of some universal Islamic "good".

She doesn't want to face the truth, you see, that it is one variation or another of HER beliefs; HER ideology; HER behavior that is behind most of the unnecessary suffering of--not only children--but all human beings.

She, and many of the others that have been referred to as "useful idiots", has made herself into a willing agent of the malignant narcissism of the Idealized object. They are actually worse than idiots; they are true co-conspirators with the enemies of life itself.

So, how does the self, torn between these two potentially malignant outcomes resolve the conflicting ethical imperatives and come out whole and fully integrated?

The solution lies not in a compromise between the two extremes, but in a synthesis that creates a new and wholly unexpected perspective for the self. It is a synthesis that rejects the pathology of either extreme and recognizes that the individual self has worth; that the needs and desires of the Individual self are worth pursuing for their own sake; and that because of the affiliative nature of human beings that an individual can value another individual or individuals enough to sacrifice himself for that other person or persons when it is rational and necessary to do so.

One might say that true "selflessness" actually requires a healthy and whole self; and that contrary to common wisdom, when a psychologically mature individual chooses to sacrifice himself for someone or something, it simultaneously reflects a situation of true "selfishness" as well.

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