Friday, December 10, 2010

Po-Mo Narcissists

Jason forwards an article from the WSJ titled Why Narcissism Defines Our Time. The piece is by a professor at USC named Elizabeth Currid-Halkett who argues that it was a mistake to drop narcissism from the list of personality disorders. Narcissism, she observes, is rampant in our culture:
Narcissism is one of the most obvious examples of a personality disorder. We see it everywhere in our culture. Narcissism can explain part of the motivation for participating in reality TV show antics, and Hollywood has always seemed a refuge for beautiful people who need to be the center of attention. We know that not much will change in Hollywood with this announcement. But will it change any other parts of our culture?

Most troubling about not including NPD as a personality disorder is that there is evidence of narcissism in all of our social lives. It’s alarming that in an age when narcissism is so evident, and with new ways for narcissists to get attention so apparent, that it would not be considered a personality disorder. The new world of democratic celebrities—on Facebook, reality TV and Twitter—where there are fewer traditional constraints on runaway narcissism, demonstrates the need to take this personality disorder seriously.

It’s almost tautological to say that celebrity favors narcissistic personalities. Michael Jackson is a tragic example: consumed with a desire to be loved, to stay young and to remain the “King of Pop,” he built a fantasy childhood kingdom at his house and subjected himself to disfiguring plastic surgery. He was particularly vulnerable and unsupported, but his quest for attention isn’t a million miles from Britney shaving her hair off or 80s-era Madonna and her endless and often sacrilegious desire to shock.

However, reality TV and the rise of the 24/7 news cycle (begetting the 24/7 gossip cycle) has enabled a very visual and real-time way to observe the dangers of narcissism. Like Jackson, Heidi Montag, former reality star from The Hills, is so pathologically obsessed with her physical appearance that she underwent plastic surgery multiple times while still in her early 20s. She and her husband, Spencer Pratt, appear to devote many of their waking hours to drumming up publicity for themselves. This past summer, Montag filed for divorce only to reconcile this November, admitting it was a stunt to make money. Pratt remarked in an interview with a tabloid, “Divorcing was the only way to keep Heidi’s career going.”
There's more at the link. It's a pretty good piece, but I had two thoughts as I read Currid-Halkett's essay, one important, I think, the other not so much.

The first was that I was a little disappointed, but not surprised, that the author didn't mention that narcissism is at bottom a moral problem, not just a kind of illness. Our infatuation with ourselves stems from an exaggerated view of our own self-importance and a failure to see others as equally important in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, one of the things our post-modern culture has deprived us of is the ability to make moral judgments. Thus, we'll say that things we think harmful are "disorders", they need "treatment", perhaps, but who's to say that they're actually wrong in a moral sense? That sounds so old-fashioned and judgmental.

Second, I wondered if the author's motivation for using a hyphenated name might not be just a little narcissistic itself.

Dihydrogen Monoxide

Some college students decided to have a little fun at the recent U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico. They stood by a water cooler and asked the delegates to sign a petition that would ban the greenhouse gas dihydrogen monoxide. Apparently, every delegate the students approached signed the petition. Dihydrogen monoxide is, well, see if you can figure it out:
It's understandable that someone with little background in chemistry might fall for this ruse, but these delegates are among those who have been trying to persuade us that the science behind anthropogenic global warming is indisputable. It hardly gives one confidence in either their scientific expertise or their judgment that they don't know enough science to realize that they were signing a petition to ban water.

On a side note, there were something like 1240 delegates at the Cancun conference. Last year's event in Copenhagen drew 45,000. What might we conclude from that about the state of the climate change movement? Wesley Pruden of the Washington Times offers some amusing thoughts on the matter here.

More details on the petition prank can be found here. Thanks to Hot Air for the tip.

Temper Tantrum

Thousands of students are protesting, rioting, and assaulting the royal family with shouts of "Off with their heads" (Why do leftists always want to kill their perceived opponents? Why has every left-wing revolution been so bloody? How many millions of innocent men, women, and children were murdered in the French, Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions?), all because parliament has legislated a university tuition hike. Well, how much is tuition going to rise? It's been hard to find a news story that actually tells us. All one hears in most reports is that the cost of a college education is going to triple and that the bill passed in parliament by only 21 votes.

Nevertheless, this CBS News account gives us the figure. British students can now expect to have to pay the astronomical sum of $14,000 a year for their degree, up from about $5000 a year. For this they're rioting in the streets.

Perhaps they need a little perspective. There's no one in the United States, unless they're on some sort of financial assistance program or scholarship, who can get a year's worth of university education for $15,000. Even state funded universities charge more than that and private schools charge more than twice that.

The Brits are still getting a bargain, but when you're used to receiving something almost for free, I suppose you might resent it when the people who've been carrying you on their backs all your life decide they can't do it anymore.

So, to the barricades!