Friday, January 25, 2008


Excellent analysis at The Belmont Club about how the discredited ideas of socialism, communism, and marxism--instead of being defeated in the Cold War--have managed to ride the democratic process into power in a growing number of locales :
If Zimbabwe used the vote to reverse the domination of the whites by the blacks, in Latin America switch involved the rich and the poor. But one of the unfortunate legacies of the Cold War has been to resurrect in third world countries many of the Marxist nostrums that have been laughed into the grave in Eastern Europe, Russia or China. Five year plans may be largely dead in those countries, but they still roam like zombies in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The archetype of this phenomenon is Zimbabwe. Majority rule brought Robert Mugabe, who in turn brought his vision of '30s socialism to power. Then the Night of the Living Dead began: those long buried policies roamed the earth again bringing starvation, misery and impoverishment in their wake.

The process of "Zimzombification" is now overtaking Venezuela. The Chavez government is now seizing food in order to stem shortages. "Venezuela's top food company has accused troops of illegally seizing more than 500 tonnes of food from its trucks as part of President Hugo Chavez's campaign to stem shortages. The leftist Chavez this week created a state food distributor and loosened some price controls, seeking to end months of shortages for staples like milk and eggs that have caused long lines and upset his supporters in the OPEC nation."

As anyone with the slightest knowledge of economics knows -- excepting Marxists, who by definition already know everything about economics -- Chavez's policies will guarantee even greater shortages, spur the growth of blackmarkets, recreate the breadlines, drive producers into idleness, and in general follow along the well-trodden path of Robert Mugabe.

The political consequence of this "Zimzombification" may be to create such desperation that the starving populations will turn once again to the old elitist juntas of the past, hoping that subsistence in subservience is better than starvation while in political power. The danger is that democracy will be discredited along with the Mugabes and Chavezes of this world. Thus the essential crisis confronting third world democracies is whether it can resolve the ideological debates of the Cold War, especially with respect to economic policy, within the framework of the electoral process.

Read it all.

A good question is WHY do such crackpot ideas and thuggish dictators like Chavez and Mugabe who use them to manipulate large populations, stimulate the imagination of any human being anywhere anymore? WHY is it that the world is regaled on a regular basis to these boring sequels to the political equivalent of "The Night of the Living Dead"; and WHY do people seem all too eager to turn themselves into the mindless zombie hordes that support such regimes?

Lee Harris once noted in a TCS article titled "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.

It is discouraging to see the insanity continue through the efforts of the neo-marxist totalitarians like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Robert Mugabe et al, rising on a tide of populist 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?

To understand why this is happening, why socialism continues to live; and why we just can't kill this beast, we must return to the fundamentals of human nature.

In re-reading Harris' excellent analysis, it occurs 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--each one is the political expressions of one of the two fundamental developmental lines of the human psyche.
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 narcissistic self comes the predeliction for one type of social/political/economic system or another; and that, without the full integration of the two poles of narcissism into a fully cohesive self in the members of various groups, we see the excesses of both narcissistic rage and awe acted out on a grand political scale, sometimes alternating between the two sides of the dialectic.

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) , it 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/self, on the other hand, prefers the authoritarian society because it recaptures the primitive--and seemingly 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.

In a narcissistically impaired society, groups can easily alternate between the two poles, just as individuals do.

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 side of the developmental 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 with which political left and right attack each other.

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 ignoring that side of themselves and glorifying the likes of a Hugo Chavez because he espoouses their utopian fantasies. OTOH, extreme right (grandiose self) sees all members of the left as the collective mob whose goal is to erase individuality and freedom, while ignoring the human need to believe in something outside themselves. 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 or poles 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.

I discuss all this further, as well as some of the important implications for both individuals and society at large, in a post "The Narcissistic Synthesis"

All over the world, on a daily basis we see the horrible and tragic consequences that occur when either of the dual aspects of human narcissism are given complete control over human destiny. Individuals and groups; religions and nations act out their narcissistic rage at various insults--real and imagined-- and people suffer and die for the purposes 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 was a big mistake to think that when the West was victorious in the cold war; and when all the defects and deadly outcomes of socialism and communism were exposed, that it was the end of the matter. Like a zombie brought to pseudo-life by some mysterious cosmic process, eating the flesh of the living, socialism never was completely dead. In the same way, no matter how many tomes are written to discredit religion or a belief in God, it will not make the fundamental psychological need of homo sapiens to yearn for the perfect "other."

But without the mitigating influence of the grandiose self, these utopian fantasies have a way of devolving into scenes from "The Night of the Living Dead."

The task of the Free World in the 21st century is not only to "resolve the ideological debates of the Cold War", it is undo the narcissistic psychopathology that continues to strangled human potential and freedom all over the planet.

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