Sunday, January 29, 2017


Bannon and Trump

In the 1950’s when as a child I first began to wonder about mental health, being crazy was roughly equivalent to being criminal, a failure to conform that had moral weight.  Thus, being hospitalized in a mental institution was equivalent to being incarcerated.  And yet the times were sympathetic to drunkenness or family violence, and for women there was no escape from child-bearing nor way of reliably making enough money to support them. We drafted young men.  Life was double-binds and punishments.  I got the idea that one should not have defenses, that one should stand alone and take the punishment.  It doesn’t work.

The upshot of that WWII aftermath was child-rearing practices that centered on force, deprivation, and secrecy.  They were control-based.  They created narcissists.  I suggest that narcissism is at core a pattern of self-defense against attack, a sort of castle/fortress.  Freud and others defined it while responding to their times by attaching “selfishness” to a Greek myth that doesn’t fit.  Trying to survive in a world where everyone wants to control the pretty boy is not the same as the pretty boy admiring himself beyond limits.  Nor does it claim the pretty boy wants control.

Below, the first of three, is a relatively light-hearted video exploration of pretty boy (website marketing) narcissism which leads to two vids by hard-core narcissism expert, Sam Vaknin.  The last time I ran across Sam Vaknin (maybe 2001) there was no YouTube.  I was interested to see him, so as to pick up a visual impression.  So far, I’ve watched these three vids and find that I pretty much agree with Vaknin.

“How Narcissists Took Over the World”  Is funny and not Trump friendly.

“Trump, Clinton - Narcissists? "Experts" Spew NONSENSE!” is useful in sorting the political evidence.

“How to Manipulate the Narcissist”  How to be co-dependent by feeding the needs of a narcissist.

When Vaknin was only in print rather than vids, he was much more confessional and reported the damage he had done as a narcissist.  (He served jail time.)  He was not a nice guy, but I’m not sure how he gave up his viciousness -- maybe it was by accepting the diagnosis.  In these vids he seems like the usual Viennese shrink full of pronouncements.  Nevertheless, he makes good points.

I like the distinction he makes between “cold” narcissists and “warm” narcissists, which is mainly a separation from someone who can figure out your inner dynamics and use them (which I identify as Theory of Mind) and someone who really can “feel” another person, sharing their interior worldview to some extent.  One can pass moral judgement, saying that cold is bad and manipulative, but warm is nurturing and reassuring.  I would bypass all that morality.

Theory of Mind is a category that is a little mechanistic, but useful.  Empathy isn’t always that embracing, endorsing thing.  It can be terrifying to be shared too thoroughly by someone else.  What might they do with the information?  Some people become determined to squeeze themselves into your private world.  Isn’t that what reading is about?  Still, attempts at empathy are less dangerous than Theory of Mind when the latter is wrong and one’s motivation is misinterpreted.  Both empathies become Procrustean when they are categories with labels.

Beyond that, empathy appears to be organically based, maybe housed in the entorhinal part of the brain.  Mirror cells are only the beginning of the discoveries as well as the understanding of how they work.  Vaknin doesn’t leave the psychoanalytic world, though he splits his attention between behaviorism and analytical systems.  The actual empathic comprehension of others may be simply missing from some people’s brains for one reason or another — maybe hereditary, maybe environmental, maybe a matter of the epigenome, and finally perhaps because the empath can’t bear the realities of other persons.  And some people simply don’t believe that anyone is not just like themselves.

If you google for the neurology of narcissism, there is evidence — but not very comprehensive — about actual brain tissue differences.  No doubt they exist, but they are probably on a continuum and maybe very subtle, cell by cell.

My original education, once when I got to high school and then intensively at undergrad college, was theatre-based, notoriously narcissistic but also intensely empathetic.  It’s a double-dimensioned approach to humans, one from inside and one from outside.  “Warm” inhabitance of a character was taking on the role in one’s own being (the Method); but just over the boundary it co-existed with “cold” analysis of the effectiveness of one’s performance.  Both were necessary to create the pattern of the production, the artistic design.  

In seminary I found the same thing expressed as “inside the believer’s circle” and “outside the believer’s circle.”  Inside is the commitment to the reality of the faith system; outside is the analysis (usually logical but including empathic knowledge) of the same system.  One learns to step from inside to outside, though some feel that doing that will break the value of the illusion, make you “lose faith” and therefore confidence.  This is a concept in both religious studies and anthropological work, esp. that which is about small protected societies in remote places.  It may require the scholar to develop a larger understanding than his own culture.

More painfully, stepping away from intense (hot) emotional sharing with a narcissist to cooler reflective adding-up of objective events and dynamics, can evoke both grief and rage on both sides.  Or not.  I appreciate Vaknin’s measured judgement that not all narcissism is some kind of malignant attack.  As I said in the beginning, it might just be a defense mechanism that should not be taken away without providing some compensating safety.  Who can provide that in a culture where safety is a purchased commodity?  Those who know how to sell it will get rich.

The relationship of all this to actual brain function — which can break apart into hallucinations, rage, paralysis, sleeplessness, violence, and addiction (the symptoms of PTSD)— is only now beginning to develop for understanding individuals.  But I think there is a parallel in social life, politics, and art.  A suggestion grows that there is no reality out there, merely a consensus that lets the world turn, but — we fear — a consensus that could be broken by invasion from “outer space” until the world is so dystopian that survival is not possible.  Not even for Trump or Bannon.

The real truth of survival is always in the ecosystem, the pattern of relationships governed by resources and fittingness, finding a niche that fits.  Since the world is dynamic and everything is always changing, the individual must adapt — that’s the definition of living, the capacity to adapt in some ingenious way or other.  

Vaknin, diagnosed as narcissistic by early court-ordered evaluations, has made a living from the category. "In 2009, he was the subject of an Australian documentary film, 'I, Psychopath,' directed by Ian Walker. In the film, Vaknin underwent a psychological evaluation in which he met the criteria for psychopathy according to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, but did not meet the criteria for narcissism."  I guess he didn't need the defense mechanism anymore.  So now he's just a psychopath.

WIKIPEDIA NOTES ON VAKNIN.  (No way to know who wrote them.)

Vaknin has a prolific online presence, writing on narcissism and psychopathy.[14] His views have been solicited by the media.[3][15]

In his view, narcissists have lost their "true self", the core of their personality, which has been replaced by delusions of grandeur, a "false self". Therefore, he believes, they cannot be healed, because they do not exist as real persons, only as reflections: "The False Self replaces the narcissist's True Self and is intended to shield him from hurt and narcissistic injury by self-imputing omnipotence ... The narcissist pretends that his False Self is real and demands that others affirm this confabulation,"[16] meanwhile keeping his real-life imperfect true self under wraps.[17] 

Vaknin extends the concept of narcissistic supply, and introduces concepts such as primary and secondary narcissistic supply.[18] He distinguishes between cerebral and somatic narcissists; the former generate their narcissistic supply by applying their minds, the latter their bodies. He considers himself a cerebral narcissist.[19] He calls narcissistic co-dependents "inverted narcissists."[20] "[They] provide the narcissist with an obsequious, unthreatening audience...the perfect backdrop."[21] He believes that disproportionate numbers of pathological narcissists are at work in the most influential reaches of society, such as medicine, finance and politics.[5]

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