The Cultural Narcissist Essay Example
The Cultural Narcissist Essay Example

The Cultural Narcissist Essay Example

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  • Pages: 18 (4696 words)
  • Published: November 1, 2018
  • Type: Research Paper
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Sam Vaknin's Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web Sites

"The new narcissist experiences anxiety instead of guilt. Rather than imposing his own certainties on others, he searches for purpose in life. Without being bound by old beliefs, he even doubts the reality of his own existence. While appearing tranquil and open-minded, he disregards the significance of racial and ethnic purity ideologies but also forfeits the backing of collective alliances and regards everyone as rivals for the advantages offered by a paternalistic state."

Despite his permissive sexual attitudes, he still does not find sexual peace. He eagerly seeks approval and praise but is suspicious of competition due to his unconscious association with destruction. As a result, he rejects competitive ideologies and even doubts their presence in sports and games. He promotes cooperation and teamwork, but harbors deeply antisocial impuls


es. He applauds following rules and regulations while secretly believing they do not apply to him.

Christopher Lasch, in his work The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979), describes an acquisitive individual who does not accumulate goods for the future but instead seeks immediate gratification and lives in a perpetual state of unsatisfied desire. He contrasts this individual with the acquisitive individualists of nineteenth-century political economy who would accumulate goods and provisions. According to Lasch, this characteristic of our times is due to the predominance of the mass and the vulgar, even in traditionally selective groups. In intellectual life, the unqualified and unqualifiable pseudo-intellectual has triumphed. This quote is from Jose Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses (1932). Lasch, a former historian of culture turned prophet of doom and consolation, does not

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seem to approach science with passion. His extensive and eloquent output suggests that there is no single Lasch.

This chronicler of culture primarily chronicled his inner turmoil, conflicting ideas and ideologies, emotional upheavals, and intellectual changes. In this aspect of courageous self-documentation, Mr. Lasch personified Narcissism and acted as the embodiment of a Narcissist, making him better suited to critique the phenomenon. Some "scientific" disciplines, such as the history of culture and History in general, resemble art more than they do the rigorous sciences known as "exact," "natural," or "physical" sciences. Lasch heavily borrowed from other well-established branches of knowledge without properly acknowledging the original and strict definitions of concepts and terms.

The author extensively discusses "Narcissism", which is a well-defined psychological term. The book "Malignant self Love - Narcissism Re-Visited" provides more details.

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the severe form of pathological Narcissism, encompasses 9 symptoms as outlined in DSM-4.

These symptoms include a grandiose Self, the inability to empathize with others, manipulation and exploitation of others, idealization and devaluation cycles in relationships, and rage attacks.

The clinical definition, etiology, and prognosis of narcissism are clearly established. However, Lasch uses the term in a different way than it is used in psychopathology. While he attempts to convey a medical tone, his criticism of American society and its lack of self-awareness does not align with psychopathological usage. Lasch considers himself a member of an abstract ideological group called the "Pure Left."

Lasch's work, "The Culture of Narcissism - American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations," published during Jimmy Carter's presidency in 1979, showcased a peculiar mix of Marxism, religious fundamentalism, populism, Freudian analysis, conservatism, and various other -isms. Despite lacking

intellectual consistency, the search for truth warranted such a combination. However, what cannot be forgiven is Lasch's fervor and conviction in advocating for each of these contradicting ideas consecutively.

The book, endorsed publicly in the famous "national malaise" speech, argues that American society is self-absorbed, greedy, and frivolous. It relies on consumerism, demographic studies, opinion polls, and Government to define itself without self-awareness. The question arises: What is the solution?

  • Lasch proposes a return to basics:

This includes self-reliance, the family, nature, the community, and the Protestant work ethic. By embracing these values, individuals can eliminate feelings of alienation and despair. Despite appearing radical, with a pursuit of social justice and equality, the New Left is ultimately morally self-indulgent.

In a manner reminiscent of Orwell, the idea of liberation turned into tyranny and transcendence became irresponsibility.

  • The concept of "democratization" in education:

"...has not improved the general understanding of modern society, nor has it elevated the quality of popular culture, or reduced the enduring wealth gap. However, it has contributed to the decline of critical thinking and the erosion of intellectual standards. This compels us to consider the possibility that mass education, as conservatives have argued all along, is fundamentally incompatible with upholding educational standards." Lasch criticized capitalism, consumerism, and corporate America just as vehemently as he detested the mass media, the government, and even the welfare system (which sought to deprive its recipients of their moral responsibility and indoctrinate them into the role of victims of social circumstance). These entities always remained the antagonists.

  • But he included the New Left in this list, which is known for its leftist views.

He combined and rejected both of these viable alternatives that exist in American society. However, he believed that capitalism's time was limited due to its contradictory nature, being built on "imperialism, racism, elitism, and inhuman acts of technological destruction".

  • All that remained was God and the Family.

Lasch strongly opposed capitalism and highlighted multinational corporations as the main culprits.

To him, capitalism wasn't just about exploiting the working masses. He believed it also corroded the social and moral fabrics, causing them to break down. Lasch sometimes saw capitalism as an evil, demonic force from a theological perspective. However, his fervor often led to inconsistent arguments. For example, he argued that capitalism rejected social and moral traditions while catering to the lowest common denominator. Yet, in many cases, these traditions and mores are actually the lowest common denominator.

Lasch demonstrated a complete lack of comprehension regarding market mechanisms and the history of markets. While it is true that markets initially cater to the masses and entrepreneurs engage in mass production to meet the demands of newly emerged consumers, as markets progress, they become fragmented. The particular nuances of individual preferences and tastes cause mature markets to transition from a unified and homogenous entity into a diverse alliance of specialized segments.

The development of markets has resulted in computer aided design and production, targeted advertising, custom made products, and personal services. In the absence of capitalism, there is a prevalence of mass production of low-quality goods. However, Lasch's

biggest fault was his persistent disregard for reality that didn't align with his theories. Despite this, the facts show that all alternatives to the four known models of capitalism (Anglo-Saxon, European, Japanese, and Chinese) have failed and led to the very consequences Lasch warned against. In the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, social solidarity vanished, traditions were disregarded, religion was brutally suppressed, pandering to the lowest common denominator was official policy, poverty became widespread in material, intellectual, and spiritual aspects, and self-reliance diminished while communities disintegrated.

Lasch is unforgivable: despite the fall of the Wall in 1989, he failed to witness firsthand the consequences of non-capitalist alternatives had he taken an inexpensive trip. Instead, he chose to ignore his long-held misunderstandings and neglected to compile a list of his mistakes as a means of making amends, thus revealing his intellectual dishonesty. It is evident that he had no inclination towards seeking the truth.

The person was a propagandist in many ways and combined a beginner's understanding of Economic Sciences with the passion of a devout preacher to create an unscientific discourse. Let's analyze their view on capitalism's fundamental flaw, as stated in "The True and Only Heaven" (1991): the need for constant capacity and production to sustain itself. If capitalism operated within a closed system, this would have been harmful.

The economic system of capitalism would have been destroyed if it were limited by its own size, but the world is not a closed economic system. Every year, 80,000,000 new consumers join the global market. Markets are becoming more interconnected and trade barriers are being removed. International trade is growing at three times the speed of the

world's GDP and currently represents less than 15% of the global economy. Additionally, space exploration has tremendous potential as it is still in its early stages. Therefore, the economic system continues to be open and boundless.

Although capitalism continuously seeks out new consumers and markets for growth, it is still susceptible to experiencing periods of excess capacity. However, these crises are considered a natural aspect of the business cycle and should not be interpreted as inherent flaws within the market system. Rather, they represent temporary obstacles that must be overcome. Asserting otherwise either intentionally misleads or demonstrates ignorance about economic principles and current global trends. This perspective is just as questionable as the "New Paradigm" notion that dismisses the significance of business cycles and inflation.

Lasch's argument is that capitalism must continually expand in order to exist. This concept of expansion is known as "progress" and is closely tied to the idea of becoming insatiable consumers. However, Lasch believes that this viewpoint overlooks the fact that people actually create economic doctrines, not the other way around. People created capitalism with the intention of maximizing their own consumption. Throughout history, there have been numerous economic theories that have failed to match the psychological makeup of humanity, such as Marxism. Ultimately, even the most well-theorized and substantiated theory must face the harsh reality of public opinion and existing conditions.

Enormous force and coercion are necessary to control individuals who adhere to ideologies such as communism, which contradict human nature. According to Althusser, numerous Ideological State Apparatuses must be employed to maintain the dominance of religions, ideologies, or intellectual theories that do not adequately address the needs of society's members. The

Socialist ideology, particularly Marxism and the more extreme form of Communism, was abolished because it did not align with the actual conditions of the world. These ideologies were completely separate and existed only in a mythical realm free of contradictions (as Althusser suggests). Lasch commits the dual intellectual offense of disregarding both the messenger and the message: people are consumers and we have no choice but to ensure a wide variety of goods and services are available to them. Capitalism accommodates both highbrow and lowbrow options due to its commitment to choice, a principle Lasch detests.

He suggests a false dilemma: those who choose progress also choose a lack of meaning and hopelessness.

  • Lasch self-righteously asks, is it preferable to consume and live in these psychological conditions of unhappiness and emptiness?

According to him, the answer is obvious. Lasch condescendingly favors the lower-middle class undertones frequently found in the petite bourgeoisie: "its moral realism, its understanding that everything comes with a price, its respect for boundaries, its skepticism towards progress... the feeling of unlimited power granted by science - the exhilarating prospect of humanity conquering the natural world". The boundaries referred to by Lasch are metaphysical and theological.

In Lasch's view, there is a question regarding man's rebellion against God, which he considers a punishable offense. According to Lasch, both capitalism and science are exceeding limits as they possess the same arrogance that mythological Gods used to punish (remember Prometheus?). It is worth mentioning that a man proposed that "the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy". Some topics are better suited for psychiatrists rather than philosophers.

It is also important to note the presence of megalomania.

Lasch cannot comprehend how people continue to value money and other worldly possessions and pursuits even after his influential works exposed materialism as a shallow illusion.

  • In conclusion, Lasch believes that people are uninformed, egotistical, and foolish as they succumb to the allure of consumerism promoted by politicians and corporations.

America is currently experiencing an "age of diminishing expectations" according to Lasch.

According to Lasch, individuals who are happy can be seen as weak or hypocritical. He imagines a society where people are self-sufficient and the role of the State diminishes. However, this vision is not suitable for the realities of the late 20th century. These realities include large populations concentrated in metropolitan areas, market failures in providing public goods, challenges in promoting global literacy and good health, and an increasing demand for goods and services.

  • Even though small self-help communities have ethical value, they lack efficiency:

"Democracy flourishes when individuals take initiative and rely on their friends and neighbors instead of solely depending on the government." "Misguided compassion devalues both the victims by reducing them to objects of pity as well as their potential benefactors who find it easier to feel sorry for their fellow citizens rather than holding them to high standards that would earn respect."

Unfortunately, such statements do not tell the whole.

  • No wonder that Lasch has been compared to Mathew Arnold who wrote:

"(culture) does not try to teach down to the level of inferior classes; ...It seeks to do away with classes; to make the best

that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere... the men of culture are the true apostles of equality. The great men of culture are those who have had a passion for diffusing, for making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other, the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time." (Culture and Anarchy) a quite elitist view.

  • Unfortunately, Lasch, most of the time, was no more original or observant than the average columnist:

"The mounting evidence of widespread inefficiency and corruption, the decline of American productivity, the pursuit of speculative profits at the expense of manufacturing, the deterioration of our country's material infrastructure, the squalid conditions in our crime-ridden cities, the alarming and disgraceful growth of poverty, and the widening disparity between poverty and wealth growing contempt for manual labor... growing gulf between wealth and poverty...

The author criticizes the increasing isolation and impatience of the elites, who are stifled by their long-term obligations. Surprisingly, the one who denounces the "talking classes" also strongly opposes the "lowest common denominator". Although Lasch attempts to reconcile this contradiction by clarifying that diversity does not mean lowering standards or selectively applying criteria, this stance weakens his arguments against capitalism.

  • In his typical, anachronistic, language:

"The latest variation on this familiar theme, its reductio ad absurdum, is that a respect for cultural diversity forbids us to impose the standards of privileged groups on the victims of oppression."

  • This leads to "universal incompetence" and a weakness of the spirit:

"Impersonal virtues like fortitude, workmanship, moral courage,

honesty, and respect for adversaries (are rejected by the champions of diversity)... Unless we are prepared to make demands on one another, we can enjoy only the most rudimentary kind of common life... (agreed standards) are absolutely indispensable to a democratic society (because) double standards mean second-class citizenship." This is almost plagiarism. Allan Bloom ("The Closing of the American Mind"): "(openness became trivial) ...Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason.

According to Lasch, the concept of "openness" has lost its meaning and has resulted in a disregard for reason. The excessive pursuit of openness without any thought has led to a lack of significance in the idea. Lasch argues that valuing openness above everything else can lead to moral paralysis and a failure to uphold democracy. In the absence of shared standards, tolerance can easily transform into indifference. Lasch highlights that an "open mind" now equates to an "empty mind". Additionally, Lasch criticizes American culture for adopting a mindset of making excuses for oneself and for the disadvantaged. He also points out the prevalence of litigation in order to gain protected judicial turf.

We restrict free speech due to the fear of offending potential audiences, neglecting our responsibilities. We often confuse respect, which is something that needs to be earned, with toleration and appreciation, and indiscriminately accept without discriminating judgement. It is like turning a blind eye. All in all, it is important to understand and balance these dynamics to ensure fair treatment for everyone.

Political correctness has deteriorated into both moral incorrectness and indifference. However, why does the proper exercise of democracy rely on devaluing money and markets?

How can luxury be deemed "morally repugnant" and how can this be rigorously and logically proven? Lasch does not express his opinion, rather he provides factual information. What he states holds immediate truthfulness, is indisputable, and lacks tolerance. Consider this excerpt from the writings of an intellectual dictator: "...the challenge of restricting the influence of wealth implies that wealth itself should be restricted... a democratic society cannot permit unrestricted accumulation... a moral condemnation of significant wealth...

Effective political action has always been supported by at least a rough approximation of economic equality. In the past, Americans agreed that people should not have far more than they need. However, Lasch did not recognize that democracy and wealth formation are interconnected. Democracy is unlikely to emerge or thrive without addressing poverty or striving for complete economic equality.

The confusion between material equality and political equality is widespread due to centuries of plutocracy, where only the wealthy had the right to vote. Universal suffrage is a relatively recent development. In the 20th century, democracy successfully separated these two concepts by allowing egalitarian political access alongside unequal wealth distribution. However, it is important to note that the existence of wealth, regardless of how it is distributed, is essential for true democracy. Wealth grants the necessary free time for education and engagement in civic affairs.

In other words, feeling hungry can result in a decreased likelihood of reading Mr. Lasch or contemplating civil rights, not to mention practicing them. Mr. Lasch comes across as authoritarian and patronizing, even when he is making a strong effort to persuade us otherwise.

The mention of "far in excess of their needs" suggests both destructive envy

and a dictatorship mindset. It goes against individualism and infringes upon civil liberties, human rights, and liberal principles. Who gets to decide what constitutes wealth, how much is considered excess, and what are the needs of the individual labeled as excessive? Will it be determined by a governing agency? Would Mr. Lasch have been willing to establish these guidelines, and if so, what criteria would he have used? A significant portion of the global population (80%) would have regarded Mr. Lasch's wealth as far exceeding what he truly needed.

Lasch is prone to errors. Read Alexis de Tocqueville (1835): "I don't know any other country where the love for money is stronger and where a greater contempt is expressed for the idea of permanent property equality... The passions that deeply move the Americans are not political but rather commercial passions. They value practicality in accumulating wealth over creative genius that often squanders it."

  • In his book:

"The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy" (published posthumously in 1995), Lasch laments a divided society, a deteriorated public conversation, a social and political crisis that essentially is a crisis of the spirit. Lasch's book title is inspired by Jose Ortega y Gasset's "Revolt of the Masses," where he described the imminent political dominance of the masses as a major cultural catastrophe.

Ortega y Gasset explained that the old ruling elites were seen as the repositories of all that is virtuous in society, including civic virtues. He prophetically warned that the masses, in what he termed a hyperdemocracy, would take direct action outside of the law and impose themselves on the other social classes. The masses possessed a sense

of omnipotence, believing they had limitless rights and that history favored them. They considered themselves the ultimate authority and were exempt from submitting to those in power. They saw a limitless array of opportunities before them and believed they were entitled to everything at any given moment.

The new law of the earth was constituted by their whims, wishes, and desires. Lasch ingeniously reversed the argument, stating that today's elites possess the same characteristics. They control the international flow of money and information, oversee philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage instruments of cultural production, and consequently dictate the terms of public debate. However, these elites are self-appointed and do not represent anyone else but themselves. In contrast, the lower middle classes were considerably more conservative and stable compared to their self-appointed representatives and those who aimed to liberate them.

  • They possess knowledge of boundaries and recognize their existence; they also exhibit astute political instincts:

"They favor limitations on abortion, prioritize the two-parent family as a source of stability in an unpredictable world, resist unconventional lifestyles, and have significant reservations about affirmative action and other large-scale social engineering endeavors."

  • And who claims to represent them?

The enigmatic "elite", which is ultimately revealed to be merely a euphemism for individuals like Lasch. In Lasch's perspective, a conflict of epic proportions ensues between the general populace and this particular elite.

  • What about the political, military, industrial, business, and other elites?


  • What about conservative intellectuals who align themselves

with the middle classes and "have deep reservations about affirmative action" (as stated by Lasch)?

  • Aren't they considered part of the elite?
  • No response provided.

    • So why refer to it as the "elite" rather than "liberal intellectuals"?

    A matter of (in)congruity.

    The individuals comprising this fabricated group are hypochondriacs, fixated on mortality, self-absorbed, and feeble. Undoubtedly, this characterization is based on extensive scientific research.

    • Even if such a group reminiscent of a horror film actually existed, what purpose would it serve?
    • Did he propose a society without an elite, one that embraces pluralism, modernity, technology-driven advancements, and essentially (whether advantageous or detrimental) capitalism within a democratic framework?
    • Others have genuinely and diligently tackled this inquiry:

    Arnold, T.S. Elliot ("Notes towards the Definition of Culture"). When compared to their rigorous analyses, spending time reading Lasch's work is a complete waste. The man lacks self-awareness (no pun intended) to such an extent that he labels himself "a stern critic of nostalgia".

    • His life's work can be summarized in one word: nostalgia (for a world that never actually existed – a world of national and local loyalties, minimal materialism, primitive nobility, and communal responsibility towards others).

    He considered this world a utopia in comparison to the dystopia of America. He criticized the pursuit of a career and specialized expertise, calling it a "cult" and "the complete opposite of democracy". However, ironically,

    he himself was a member of the "elite" group he condemned. Furthermore, his written rants relied on the contributions of countless careerists and experts.

    He praised self-reliance, but disregarded how it often contributed to the pursuit of wealth and material possessions.

    • Can there be two types of self-reliance - one that should be condemned due to its outcomes?
    • Is there any human activity that does not involve the creation of wealth?
    • Does this mean that all human activities (except those necessary for survival) should come to a halt?

    Lasch identified emerging elites of professionals and managers, an intellectual elite, individuals who manipulate symbols; all considered a threat to true democracy. Reich described them as dealing with information, manipulating words and numbers as their occupation. They exist in a hypothetical world where information and expertise have worth as valuable commodities within an international market.

    The privileged classes prioritize the destiny of the global system over their local area, nation, or region, which results in their detachment and disengagement from everyday life. Their emphasis on social mobility has led to professional progress and the pursuit of financial gain becoming the main objectives of social policy. Their concentration is on discovering opportunities and promoting the accessibility of skills and abilities.

    Lasch claimed that the reign of specialized expertise goes against the American dream. He believed that this contradicted democracy as it was envisioned by those who saw the United States as the last best hope for the world. For Lasch, being a citizen did not simply mean having equal opportunities in economic competition. It meant actively participating in a shared political dialogue and a common life. He disapproved of

    the goal of escaping the laboring classes, considering it to be reprehensible. Instead, he argued that the true objective should be to establish the values and institutions of democracy based on the creativity, industriousness, self-reliance, and self-respect of workers.

    The decline of public discourse can be attributed to the "talking classes" who replaced intelligent debates with ideological battles, dogmatic quarrels, and name-calling. This shift caused the discourse to become more esoteric and insular rather than accessible to the general public. Unfortunately, the absence of "third places" and civic institutions that encourage conversations across different social classes further exacerbates this issue. As a result, social classes are left to communicate amongst themselves in a dialect that is unintelligible to outsiders.

    The media establishment prioritizes "a misguided ideal of objectivity" over context and continuity, essential for meaningful public discourse. The spiritual crisis differs, stemming from excessive secularization, as per Lasch. In the secular worldview, doubts and insecurities are absent, thereby dismissing modern science's constant questioning and lack of respect for authority, even if it is transcendental.

    Lasch claims that religion, despite its flaws and controversial history, is the home for spiritual uncertainties. He argues that religion offers higher meaning and practical moral wisdom. However, Lasch fails to acknowledge the suspension of curiosity, doubt, and disbelief required by religious practice, as well as the blood-soaked history of religions. It seems he wants to maintain a strong argument by avoiding these points.

    • The new elites hold a disdainful and hostile attitude towards religion:

    "The culture of criticism prohibits religious commitments... Religion is seen as useful only for weddings and funerals and is otherwise dispensable." Without the

    guidance of a higher ethical system provided by religion (which comes with the cost of suppressing free thought), the knowledge elites resort to cynicism and irreverence. According to Lasch, the loss of religion and its replacement by the relentlessly critical sensibility seen in psychoanalysis, along with the decline of the "analytic attitude" into a complete assault on ideals, have left our culture in a dismal state. Lasch was a fervent religious believer who would vehemently reject being labelled as such.

    However, he epitomized the worst kind: incapable of fully embracing religious practice while endorsing its application by others. When questioned about the merits of religion, he would elaborate on the advantageous outcomes it yielded. He neglected to address the fundamental essence of religion, its principles, its perspective on humanity's fate, or any other substantial aspect.

    • Lasch embodied a scorned type of social engineer aligned with Marxism:

    If it proves effective, if it shapes the masses, if it keeps them compliant and subservient - embrace it. Religion accomplished remarkable feats in this regard. Nevertheless, Lasch exempted himself from his own principles - he even went out of his way to write "god" instead of "God," a gesture deemed exceptionally courageous.

    Schiller discussed the loss of magic and fascination in the world, the disappointment that comes with secularism - a true indicator of bravery, as per Nietzsche. Religion is a powerful tool utilized by those who wish to instill confidence and contentment within individuals, regarding both their existence and the world at large.

    • However, Lasch has a different perspective:

    "The spiritual guidance against self-righteousness is the very core of religion... (those who possess) a proper

    comprehension of religion (would not view it as) a source of intellectual and emotional security (but instead) ...a call to challenge smugness and arrogance." Religion does not offer hope or solace. Its value lies solely in its ability to manipulate society.

    In "The New Radicalism in America" (1965), Lasch expressed disdain for religion, arguing that it obfuscated understanding. He criticized the progressive doctrine for its reliance on religious roots, which he saw as its main flaw. According to Lasch, these roots led to a tendency to manipulate education for social control instead of using it as a tool for enlightment.

    The text discusses the solution to blend Marxism and Psychoanalysis using the analytic method. This approach is similar to what Herbert Marcuse has done in his books "Eros and Civilization" and "One Dim

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