Monday, April 9, 2012

Perception is a Prison of Narcissism and ***I*** am its Prisoner

Some people believe that the past 15 years have witnessed an increase in narcissistic behavior and thinking in Western society. What features of Western society during this span of time (for example, child rearing philosophies, advertising campaigns, sports heroes, book topics, and television) may be contributing to a rise in narcissistic functioning?

I am not convinced that the level of narcissistic thinking and behavior has increased over the past fifteen years in Western society. I don't think narcissism is the issue; I think higher functioning is the issue. Our brains evolve and change depending on the physical and metaphysical landscapes in which they operate. In an agricultural society, it is necessary for the body and brain to focus on physical tasks and on working together with others on physical tasks. Communication, in such a society, would be centered on agriculture and on the exchange of goods and services. In contrast, a global society, in which technology expands and evolves the functioning of our brains and bodies, calls for communication that takes on new forms and is expansive. The expansiveness of communication in modern Western cultures, via the Internet and other cyber forms of communication, affects the development and functioning of our brains. I cannot say how, because I myself do not know (and I also suspect that little is known about  the way in which changes in the brain come to pass - at what pace, to what effect, etc.).

I think the more we move away from a survivalist mentality - having to work together in physical ways in order to survive, the more opportunity (time and space in our psyches and physical bodies) we have to focus on extrasurvivalist issues - such as ourselves. I think we are all narcissistic to some degree - some of us are just more distracted from the preoccupation with ourselves than others. When we find healthy and fulfilling distractions from our natural narcissism, we might positively impact the larger community. When we get stuck in boredom or are without fulfilling distractions and opportunities to serve in our communities, we might stagnate or struggle with feelings of worthlessness or unproductivity. We want to feel that we have special assets as individuals that might benefit the whole community in some kind of service activity. But if we feel that our assets are not wanted or needed in the community, or if we feel like we do not have assets, then we are not likely to serve. Anyone can become caught up in a debilitating pattern of narcissistic thinking, because everyone is narcissistic to some degree. Building a community that encourages acceptance of its members and self-and-community-fulfilling service opportunities is the first step toward maintaining a balance between autonomous self and communal self. The key is balance - too much communal (non-self-focused) self is just as unhealthy as is too much autonomous self.

A community, at its best, is a gathering of individuals who take care of themselves and each other so that everyone within the community mutually benefits from the harmony of its parts - the yin and yang (individual and commune) coming together to build, collaborate and sustain balance. In my own experience, I sometimes feel (perceive myself as being) isolated living in the midwest. In those instances, I feel separate from the community. Is it because I don't fit in or because I am too narcissistic? I don't think it is either. I think it has more to do with finding a place that fits me and in which I fit in within the society. I haven't yet found my place, my niche, in Macomb. But there are other types of communities in which I have found a (my!!!) place - I have a very important roles and places within my extended and immediate families that I value and to/for which I try to make positive and lasting, healthy, contributions. I don't know that I buy into the idea that there is a certain brand of narcissistic behavior that is isolated to the period of the past fifteen years. I think the outlets and expressions and manifestations of the same old narcissism that was always there have simply evolved. Child rearing is a mixed bag. There still exist traditional corporal punishment based philosophies - they are a part of a continuum of philosophies that exist in modern Western culture. I believe and hope society is moving in the direction of love, peace and kindness in its child rearing philosophies, but I have seen evidence to the contrary. We may be out of balance as a society today, but who knows the promise or lie of tomorrow. I think people still value community, in its various forms, and the concept and function of community is evolving just as rapidly as is narcissism.

Capitalism, as an institution, creates a sort of individualist mentality in a society - in it, the good of the individual is put before the good of the whole and the good of the individual is considered key to the good of the whole. Socialism, on the other hand, places the whole before the individual and the good of the whole is considered key to the good of the individual. I think both are misguided attempts at government that create an imbalance between autonomy and community. They represent extremes that hinder both the individual and the whole. A balance between the two approaches and mentalities is a more stabilizing and reliable, as well as a better functioning, goal for human societies. Of course I cannot foresee what lies ahead and what approaches might be even better than "A Fine Balance."


Jess Mason McFadden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think you've taken this question to an interesting level--and I'm happy to see you talking about the BRAIN!
(although I would talk about it in terms of environmentally-induced adaptations, or in current parlance, "plasticity" instead of "evolution," which is a different process...)

Jess Mason McFadden said...

Oh lord. I think I need to take your course. Oh wait, I am taking your course. I need a lesson, maybe sometime later this week, on plasticity. Do you want to write a guest blog/lesson on plasticity for my blog? You can do it some a small degree of anonymity. :)

I can only talk about the brain from a no-brainer perspective, ha ha, but I'm always will to talk...

Jess Mason McFadden said...

You can do it some a small degree? Yeah, we are fatigued to the point of being drunk this week. I give up. I givaaaaaaap.