Saturday, October 10, 2020

Is the Age of Narcissism About to End?

Answering the Kennedys’ Call

Are we nearing the end of what historians and psychologists have called the Age of Narcissism, an era that has spawned populist governments and closed borders, the breakup of traditional families and communities, and the election of Donald Trump?

The Greeks may once again be an example for western liberal democracy after a multi-year struggle to reject their own neo-fascist autocracy that attempted to capitalize on this modern age of discontent.

Foreign Policy Magazine reports that the leaders of Greece’s Golden Dawn political party were found guilty on Wednesday of a range of criminal activity, including using the party as cover to run a criminal organization.

“The ruling followed a trial that lasted five-and-a-half years. Several dozen party members and associates, including 18 former lawmakers and party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were found guilty on a variety of charges, including murder, attempted murder, assault, and possession of weapons.”

Does this sound familiar? The FBI and Michigan’s State Police just arrested 13 members of two neo-fascist Michigan militia groups for plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Witmer and try her for treason, after their plan for an armed occupation of its state capital fell through.

This is while President Trump has refused to disavow white supremacist violence as well as autocratic foreign leaders for their abuse of human rights.

Trump is the man that has been diagnosed by multiple mental health professionals with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), “using other people as instruments of gratification even while craving their love and approval,” in the words of social historian Christopher Lasch.

While suffering from COVID-19, Trump has held several coronavirus super-spreader campaign events that infected some 34 supporters, Senators, and White House staff with COVID-19 to date; showing no concern for their health and safety.

Christopher Lasch was perhaps the first to broach the subject in various critiques of modern American society. This included his 1979 best-seller, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations that took “what was still mainly a narrow clinical term and used it to diagnose a pathology that seemed to have spread to all corners of American life,” per a recent NY Times summary of his book.

Lasch saw this as a societal pathology that took individualism to its destructive extreme of ‘me first’ over concern for others that broke up communities in the headlong rush to a post-WWII, consumer-driven economy. The extended family was transformed into the nuclear family of a married couple with children; grandparents migrating to senior living centers; as the growing middle class moved to  suburbs and away from traditional family and community values.

“In Lasch’s definition (drawn from Freud), the narcissist, driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, escapes into a grandiose self-conception, using other people as instruments of gratification even while craving their love and approval,” said the review. “Lasch saw the echo of such qualities in “the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations, the horror of death.”

I contend that Greece’s example may be the first sign of the demise of the culture of narcissism, and its white supremacist, neo-fascist roots that have spawned so-called populist governments in Hungary, UK’s Brexit movement, and Presidents for life in Turkey and Russian.

We are now seeing its demise in the return to traditional households within the American populace, where families are once again coming together. NY Times’ Timothy Egan wrote a wonderful Op-ed on his yearning for the extended family that he saw returning in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The PEW Research Center reported that 64 million Americans were living in multigenerational households—the highest number on record, and an increase of almost 70 percent from 1980. Last year, for the first time in 100 years, the average number of people in the American household started going up instead of down, to 2.63 people per unit,” he reported.

The Age of Narcissism was probably a historical anomaly anyway, said Egan, which probably began its demise before the pandemic, as millennials remained stuck in their parents’ home during the Great Recession because of the lack of jobs and failure of Wall Street. It’s really an indictment of what our narcissistic culture has spawned since the 1970s—a modern, self-interested capitalism that enshrined “greed is good” and maximization of profits as the sole responsibility of modern corporations.

Tens of thousands of people gathered outside the courthouse to await the verdict of Greece’s Golden Dawn trial, reported Foreign Policy. When the news came, the crowds erupted in applause and cheers. “The mood here today is resonant of the celebrations we saw with the liberation of Athens from the Nazis. It’s a great day,” said Petros Constantinou, a leading anti-racism activist.

Harlan Green © 2020

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