The Self-Enamoured Narcissist

Narcissism has taken centre-stage in the past couple of years, appearing in psych articles and newsfeeds more than any other personality problem (with the exception of sociopathy). Investigations into things like “When your boss is a narcissist” and “What’s it like to date a narcissist?” are shared and chronicled as much as anything else remotely medical. Which all makes sense; narcissists can be giant assholes, and we’re naturally curious about the mental mechanics behind asshole behaviour. I’m reading a book at the moment that makes a strong case for differentiating between assholes and narcissists (literally called Assholes: A Theory), but only in the sense that you can be an asshole and not be a narcissist; most narcissists are still assholes.

The thing about narcissism, is that it’s so heavily defined by a lack of empathy and regard for the feelings of others that the other traits within the definition often go unchecked when uncoupled from the rest. There’s obviously a strong correlation between ego and a lack of empathy in most cases, ergo the pervasiveness of NPD, but I think most of us intuit there to be another group separate from the personality disorder: those who are simply up themselves. Vain individuals self-enamoured to the point of it defocusing and inhibiting the very traits and talent they’re enamoured by. We all know one (or dozens), and as teenagers, most of us probably went through a period of it ourselves.

I don’t think this group has had as much attention as it should have. It’s fair enough to assume that a problem benign to the outside world and invisible to the person with it has less broader social imperative, though. It’s not pervasive, just repulsive. It also tends to be non-persistent. By virtue of it’s benign nature, pronounced vanity tends to promote immediate feedback from close friends more than most faux pas do; an important cog in the necessary filtration of bullshit from our personalities. The vanity itself may be irrational or rational in nature (but always rationalised), but it always looks the same: conceited, self-indulged, self-aggrandised. Sometimes arrogant, sometimes disinterested, and at the far end of the spectrum, when it escalates to egomania, always a spectacle.

The pervasion of vanity is mostly internal. Self-indulgence denotes self-focus, in turn denoting a division of focus between self and whatever task is at hand. When the egotistical person does anything, they’re self-consciously aware (or disillusioned) of their own prowess at doing it (especially if there’s any to begin with). The moment said prowess is perceived in motion, the egotistical person becomes conscious to it,  fragmenting their focus and slowing their cognitive momentum to a halt. It becomes self-defeating behaviour, and it can be triggered by everything from genuine accomplishment, to excessive drug use, to false feedback, to trauma.

For someone vain to be more congenial and socially egalitarian, I think the change needs to be at the atomic level. It isn’t enough to simply mask feelings of self-enamouration; to feign modesty when you really think you’re king shit: these feelings have to be eradicated to the core. They’re nothing more than weedy vines wrapped around a person’s personality, that choke the organic growth of abilities through experience.

Inflated ego is all about unnecessary advocacy, whether to ourselves or to the outside world. It’s often correlated with a low self-esteem (in pretty much the exact same way ‘small dog barking syndrome’ exists) but it can be seen in people of all varied levels of mental and emotional stability. Correlations in the data exist, but point is, vanity’s up in our grill constantly, from all kinds of different people.

To transition from an unhealthy level of egotism to a regular sense and response around merit isn’t difficult in theory—it’s simply not thinking some things after all—but like any meaningful personal growth, the practical application can be pretty cumbersome at first. It primarily requires one thing: plain old curiosity. That’s the hook; the force propelling our interest and attention towards stuff existing outside of ourselves. Self-awareness of having a problem is also paramount, but it’s penultimate in importance to curiosity: without feeling curious about the world and other people, there’s little left for a pure and undivided attention to be drawn to. Thoughts can compound and potentially lead our minds into mild-psychosis. We need to find something else in the universe more interesting than ourselves.

Key to marshalling this kind of change within a person is a developed sense of moment-to-moment mindfulness. To pull out a weedy thinking pattern, being objective and observant, and non-reactive about our emotions, is the first step; the point when a second thought starts appearing in succession that makes an observation about the first. “Looks like I’m getting irrational and anxious, better slow down…” etc.  We’ve all had them; being mindful is just having them all of the time. It’s an entire cognitive faculty unto itself, but unlike most others, has an extremely high uptake for growth and development. Meditation—the right kind—is tailored to building mindfulness with the precision of a heat-seeking missile, and with the effectiveness of training a muscle group at the gym. It’s literally a work-out for the mind, and functions as a crucial tool in the journey from vanity to humility.

At the Inception level of egotistical thinking—where the idea that we’re a special person exists—change is also key. Being genuinely curious involves subtracting the human value scale and beginning to see other people as equal vessels of experience to our own, by not even considering them as equal or otherwise to begin with. And besides, I’m pretty sure there’s no philosophical argument for being special that doesn’t, in some way,  imply that all people are special. Calling anything special immediately implies a spectrum of qualification, and no matter how mild the ‘specialness’ of a person is, they will always be, in some way, special relative to the rest of the population. It’s such an insanely subjective word, the very lack of special in a person could in itself be special enough to make them special.

I think ‘special’ applies better to acts of character than character itself. We’re a fundamentally communal species, that functions on the back of our performance as people. Who we are makes no difference: it’s what we do that matters (which you’ve probably read and heard enough times for it to be physically imprinted on your hippocampus). There’s no point getting wasted all day thinking we can do something; a hundred million other people won’t have any hesitation in surpassing our tangible achievements when we falter. Thinking we’re special not only has zero value, but it also stifles our thirst for betterment by making us excessively satisfied—enamoured—with our present selves, rendering us partly impotent to the allure of achieving goals and supporting other people.

Vipassana meditation teaches us to let go of ego entirely. It translates to, “to see things as they really are”; it’s pure mindfulness meditation, Buddhist-influenced but secular, that focuses the attention on unregulated breathing and isolated body sensations irrespective of sensations elsewhere on the body, even hardcore physical pain. It trains balance in the mind by giving it the tools to avoid the natural impulse to reaction, by teaching it to observe thoughts and emotions rather than jump at them. When committed to and practiced with discipline, it makes a person selfless, clearer-minded, more centred and balanced, relaxed, compassionate, focused and purpose-driven. It’s easily the best practical remedy for problems of vanity, and even if these things tend to get better on their own over time (in most cases), taking control of it and becoming the person we want to be—someone, at least, who doesn’t have their head up their ass—through nothing more than our own grit and determination, makes the change infinitely more likely to remain.

Today’s blog was written by a guy who’s booked in for another 10 day Vipassana course, starting in a couple of weeks.

Facebook: Blurring Friendship Lines?

Facebook cops a lot of flack in the blogosphere. It’s an easy target, heavily influencing social interactions while giving users the opportunity for optimal self-representation among their peer group. Things rarely sound so Orwellian. It’s been vaguely linked to issues of envy, obsessiveness, narcissism, social angst, insomnia and addiction, and yet with 1.5 billion users and little evidence of a broad problem, the pandemic seems to be a fairly benign one.

There has been an undoubtable cultural shift around socialising in the past 10 years, something discernible to anyone living through the 90s and 00s, but I don’t buy the idea Facebook’s the only party to blame (or thank). It could be just as related to smartphones and the internet/media cross-pollination and the advent of Psy; cultural change is as certain as winter and as multi-faceted as a mosaic. There’s too much happening in the world to pin change down to any one thing.

The phrase “change is inevitable” is perhaps one of the most over-used platitudes on the planet (hence my shameless rewording of it above), but the vast majority of us don’t pay it more than a passing thought. When it actually happens, many of us lose our shit—most of all when it pertains to human behaviour.

The change around friend associations is an interesting one. Unlike the broader shift towards the instantaneous and constantly connected, which can be tied to public WiFi as much as Snapchat, it’s a specific symptom of Facebook. You know the drill: you can connect with anyone you want, then categorise them into friends, close friends, restricted, or acquaintances. Helps to keep things private and as close-to-life as possible while still maintaining some form of friendly connection. But is this level of Facebook sophistication always mutual? Can Facebook make passing associations seem more meaningful than they are?

I’ve worked in call-centre environments with hundreds of people (literally) who I’ve come to know by name, and many of them have become FB friendly. For a large part I wouldn’t even call them acquaintances—they’re nice folk who I worked around for a while. I may have barely interacted with them aside from working matters, or barely at all. Yet there’s this ongoing sense of them being there. Being a vague part of whatever aspect of my life I’m inclined to share.

Is this a problem? Generally, no; unless you’re a cantankerous people-hating hermit, networking with more and more individuals in a controlled manner has the potential to open up opportunity and experience in ways we’ve never had before. In those terms, I think it’s excellent. On the other hand though, it has the potential to create degrees of false intimacy.

There was a story on the radio the other day about a girl (let’s call her Lucy) who met another girl (Jane) through some mutual friends at a party, who then swapped last names to do the FB thing. They hit it off pretty well in person (as pals, cool your jets) but only interacted for a few hours. Typical situation these days. Within a week, Lucy started to share memes and articles on Jane’s wall, routinely, every several days. It wasn’t reciprocated beyond the polite acknowledgement of the ‘like’ button, and Jane began feeling uneasy. She didn’t know Lucy at all beyond having the first friendly conversation, and yet here Lucy was assuming a connection strong enough to be an ongoing presence in Jane’s consciousness.

Lucy’s behaviour may seem a product of a kooky personality, but to me she’s just representative of a shift in social etiquette (albeit a very earnest one). When Facebook is both the primary social domain and the most passive and easy form of multi-media sharing available, of course there’s a greater propensity for interaction without much foundation. It’s nearly half a generation old already, and as it becomes more intrinsic to our society—more normal to us—over time, the barriers of casual intimacy may become radically different to what they have been in the past.

I’d like to think that irrespective of human invention, human drivers remain relatively unchanged. Invention isn’t a deviation from humanity after all; it’s just an exponent and enhancement of it. All Facebook’s really doing, as far as I can tell, is changing the social throttle. It’s a tool, and as with all tools, there will be tools that abuse it.

Today’s unfocused blog was written by guest contributor, Mark Zuckerberg.

Guns & America

This post covers a few common counter arguments against gun reform, expands on gun reform reasoning as provided by Jim Jefferies and John Oliver, partially examines international gun statistics with a focus on Switzerland, and gives a TL;DR summary of all points made. I’m attempting objectivity here, but it’s obviously coming from an anti-gunner perspective. Note: Suicide is discussed in detail.

Comedian Jim Jefferies on Gun Control

The Daily Show on Gun Control

These clips form an integral part of this blog post, so if you’re reading, things may make more sense if you give them a look. They’re obviously comedic and not encompassing of the entire issue, but the logic is sound.

Additional points:

Protection

Forgetting Australia’s success through executive action and the available empirical data; in practical terms, how does possessing a gun really make a person more protected? And how easy do gun-owners think it is to shoot someone? Police officers often have to undergo prolonged counselling from killing violent offenders, and they’ve had years of training and preparation.

To justify shooting someone (and not be considered sociopathic) you need to be in imminent danger: the offender must have a weapon or become dangerously violent or sexually abusive towards you. Many people subsequently believe that owning a weapon will make them safer. The problem with this idea—the cardinal idea around weapon ownership—is that a criminal is more likely to shoot or attack you if you pose a counter-threat to them, and they’re also more likely to pull their trigger first. It was their threat that spiked an adrenaline rush and prompted you to draw your weapon to begin with, and the situational leverage is all theirs. Unless you have the fastest hands in the west and no hesitation, you’re screwed.

For a gun to provide you with any protection at all, you’d literally need to have it on-hand and fully loaded without the safety on, everywhere you go. Only the clinically paranoid in society would ever do this, so it follows that having a gun for protective purposes likely puts a person in more danger, not less.

A common response to this, is that gun ownership is more about the ‘scarecrow’ effect: burglars are more deterred from breaking into homes if the majority of homeowners have a firearm. If that were true there would be data branded all over the place by the NRA showing a negative correlation between gun ownership and house intrusions. No such data exists (will happily stand corrected if it does) as most burglaries are perpetrated by psychotic drug addicts with very little sense of reason. Moreover, the scarecrow deterrent has this problem to contend with:

…between 1999 and 2010, over 8,300 people in the United States were reported as dying from unintentional shootings, including 2,383 children and young people ages 0-21. On average, over 16,000 individuals in the United States are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional gunshot wounds, and a 1991 study found that 8% of accidental shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six.

The unsafe storage of firearms is a public health and safety issue in the United States.  A 2000 study of firearm storage patterns in U.S. homes found that “[o]f the homes with children and firearms, 55% were reported to have 1 or more firearms in an unlocked place,” and 43% reported keeping guns without a trigger lock in an unlocked place.  A 2005 study on adult firearm storage practices in U.S. homes found that over 1.69 million children and youth under age 18 are living in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms. In addition, 73% of children under age 10 living in homes with guns reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms.

Source: http://smartgunlaws.org/safe-storage-gun-locks-policy-summary/

The only thing a responsible gun owner can do in response is place their weapons in a safe, which as Jim Jefferies perfectly illustrates, would completely negate any protection in the first place. Not to mention his other point: criminals aren’t usually coming in to murder you! The likelihood of a weaponised criminal shooting a homeowner actually increases if the homeowner has a weapon of their own. And is it really okay to shoot someone who’s just trying to burgle you? What percentage of burglars are cold-blooded murderers? Having a gun in your home only provides protection against a home invasion if you’re lucky enough to be in the right position (polishing your weapon next to the window), and does so at the expense of family safety, and prioritising the safety of your family and locking your gun away means having no protection to begin with.

Guns either do nothing or they put families (and individuals) at greater risk from inside the home and out.

Suicide

The rate of gun-related suicides in the US ranks as the third highest in the world at 6.7 deaths per 100,000 population (2013). That’s over 20,000 per year, and accounts for more than all other methods of suicide combined.

Pro-gun proponents believe suicide rates to be constant regardless of method, and that removing guns would only increase suicide by different means. Seems intuitive and straight-forward, but running the logic a little deeper, it’s an idea tragically ignorant of basic psychology. The greater the number of guns in possession and stored in homes, the greater the availability, the higher the suicide rate. And not just gun-related suicides; suicides in general.

The decision processes of self-termination are extremely complex. There’s a lot more to it than having a depression-culminating epiphany and choosing an exit strategy. Though some consider themselves dead well beforehand, the impulse to suicide often undergoes moment-to-moment fluctuations in seriousness. Not to mention, a person’s standard fears of death may limit their options: people afraid of heights are unlikely to jump off a building, for example. Suicide by firearm has a significantly higher success rate than any other variety. It’s simple and perceptibly instantaneous, and to the suicidally depressed, presents a very attractive escape route to their suffering. Not only because of how painless and immediate it is, but also because the depression that precursors suicide is usually infused with extreme self-loathing. Shooting oneself in the head in that circumstance is the ultimate cathartic punishment.

Suicide by firearm is convenient, appealing and immediate, and it stands to reason that restricting access would not only decrease gun-related suicides, but suicides on the whole.

American Culture & Mentality

As shown on The Daily Show, in the 18 years before the Port Arthur massacre Australia had 13 mass shootings, and since then, has had none (depending on whether the wounded are tallied: the Monash shooting killed 2 people and injured several; typically a mass shooting is defined by 4 deaths or more; either way, America’s mass shootings with 4 or more deaths is 30 to 40 per year). There is no doubting the fact that American gun reform would be harder to implement than it was in Australia, but as John Oliver suggests to Paul Van Cleave, saving reform for a strategy that eradicates 100% of a problem is a tad misguided.

The usual means for highlighting how entrenched guns are in America is to juxtapose it to Switzerland, which has the 4th highest rate of gun ownership in the world, yet still has a relatively low death rate:

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.56.19 am

Gun deaths per 100,000 population:

USA – 10.64
Switzerland – 2.91

America has more than twice the rate of gun ownership, and under four times the rate of gun-related deaths, implying there to be roughly a 30% higher death to gun ownership ratio than Switzerland. When you consider that the Swiss have an easily containable population of 8.2 million spread over a tiny region, the 3rd highest Human Development Index in the world, and a highly unified culture—comparatively speaking—to the United States, the difference is quickly mitigated. It’s further explained by the US having a much vaster geographical region, higher levels of poverty and a subsequently more challenging population to evenly legislate and police.

In the context of a conversation on gun control, the only thing an analysis of Switzerland ends up suggesting is that it would have one of the lowest gun-related death rates in the world if it adopted tighter restrictions.

It’s clear that gun-culture is heavily entrenched in the US consciousness, so it’s also clear that gun reform probably wouldn’t yield the same results as we’ve seen here in Australia. But again, meaningful change doesn’t denote the entire eradication of a problem: it simply means improving it. The real problem preventing meaningful change in the US is the political mentality against gun control; not the mentality around how weapons are used.

TL;DR

  • Shooting another person can be extremely damaging psychologically.
  • Guns kept on your person potentially put you in more danger.
  • Guns kept in the home are more of a threat to families than intruders.
  • Guns in your home present a greater risk of suicide, to you and your family.
  • Restricting guns means people with mental illness—the main perpetrators of massacres—will find it very difficult to source them.
  • Weapons on the black market cost several times what they do in stores if made illegal.
  • Suicide by firearm is the most convenient and appealing method, and as such, isn’t meaningfully substituted by other methods.
  • America’s cultural fragmentation and entrenchment of firearms only makes full eradication of shootings difficult, not impossible.
  • Having a gun for the purpose of fighting a ‘corrupt government’ is insanely archaic, and stupid.
  • The only real reason for having a gun, outside of hunting, is because you like them, or enjoy target practice. Every other reason crumbles under scrutiny.
  • The 2nd amendment is an amendment: it can be amended!

The notion that tighter gun control won’t reduce gun violence in America is logically, obviously, patently and adjectively untrue.

Why is there a mentality problem?

I used to think this was just a form of extreme right-wing ignorance, but I’ve since observed people from every cultural, political and educational background show passionate objections to reforms of any kind, so it’s apparent this is a much deeper phenomenon.

So what’s causing people to defy reason and common sense so vehemently?

My theory:

1. A fear-mongering news media over-emphasising the threat of violence in society.
2. A psychological trait in humans regarding defence and weaponry carried over from our tribal ancestors.
3. America being a vast and fragmented society with no sense of cultural unification and a fragile national esteem (something the Bernie Sanders campaign has capitalised on with amazing success).
4. The extreme socio-economic divide and the proportion of people below minimum wage.

Following President Obama’s speech a few weeks ago—perhaps one of the most passionate a US president has ever delivered—the response was, for a large part, amazingly incredulous. So completely defiant of thought and reason, pro-gunners are competing on a drastically different conceptual terrain to the rest of us. Hopefully the saplings of reason will find enough political soil to grow in over time, but until then, this is by far the most frustratingly absurd showcase of pervasive human ignorance we’ve seen in the developed world.