Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 36
Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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1. Politicians as Narcissists
Are all politicians narcissists? The answer, surprisingly, is: not universally. The preponderance of narcissistic traits and personalities in politics is much less than in show business, for instance. Moreover, while show business is concerned essentially (and almost exclusively) with the securing of Narcissistic Supply - politics is a much more complex and multi-faceted activity. Rather, it is a spectrum. At the one end, we find the "actors" - politicians who regard politics as their venue and their conduit, an extended theatre with their constituency as an audience. At the other extreme, we find self-effacing and schizoid (crowd-hating) technocrats. Most politicians are in the middle: somewhat self-enamoured, opportunistic and seeking modest doses of Narcissistic Supply - but mostly concerned with perks, self-preservation and the exercise of power.
Most narcissists are opportunistic and ruthless operators. But not all opportunistic and ruthless operators are narcissists. I am strongly opposed to remote diagnosis. I think it is a bad habit, exercised by charlatans and dilettantes (even if their names are followed by a Psy.D.). Please do not forget that only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from NPD and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews.
IF the politician in question is ALSO a narcissist (suffers from NPD), then, yes, he would do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to remain in power, or, while, in power, to secure his Narcissistic Supply. A common error is to think that "Narcissistic Supply" consists only of admiration, adulation and positive feedback. Actually, being feared, or derided is also Narcissistic Supply. The main element is ATTENTION. So, the narcissistic politician cultivates Sources of Narcissistic Supply (both Primary and Secondary) and refrains from nothing while doing so.
Often, politicians are nothing but a loyal reflection of their milieu, their culture, their society and their times (zeitgeist and leitkultur). This is the thesis of Daniel Goldhagen in "Hitler's Willing Executioners".
Consider the Balkan region, for instance:
Pathological narcissism is the result of individual upbringing (see: "The Narcissist's Mother" and "Narcissists and Schizoids") and, in this sense, it is universal and cuts across time and space. Yet, the very process of socialization and education is heavily constrained by the prevailing culture and influenced by it. Thus, culture, mores, history, myths, ethos, and even government policy (such as the "one child policy" in China) do create the conditions for pathologies of the personality. Christopher Lasch, for instance, labelled the American civilization as narcissistic (see here: "Lasch - The Cultural Narcissist").
2. Pathological Narcissism - Under-Diagnosed
My personal view is that narcissism is under-diagnosed and under-reported and that many more people than we care to admit are tainted by it. I fully believe that pathological narcissism is under-diagnosed and mis-diagnosed. Very few narcissists actually subject themselves to treatment, even if they become aware of their problems (which they rarely do). Those who do receive treatment often deceive their therapists, charm them, or mislead them. In a narcissistic culture, narcissistic behaviour is often encouraged and taught.
3. Interview - The Narcissist as an Author
Q: How did you get started?
A: While in the Israeli army, I published a few detective/mystery stories in the army's mouthpiece. The publisher of martial arts novels (an insult to the genre, I assure you) invited me to his seedy, crumpled and crowded office cum warehouse and commissioned four such masterpieces. I did my best, concocting sex, kong fu fighting and booze. But the publisher was very unhappy with my stream of consciousness technique. Thus, despite strong sales of one of my four aberrant tomes, I was fired with meagre compensation.
Q: What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
A: I write both short fiction and long reference. To my utter amazement, I discovered that the same writing techniques and strategiesapply to both. First, I determine what I want to say. Then, I fix the points of departure and of arrival. Then I plot. In fiction, I let myself go. I daydream. I let my characters lead me astray. I succumb. But this is easy for me to say. Most of my writing is autobiographical, so really it is a glorified form of literary non-fiction. Replace the word "characters" with the word "ideas" - and this is what I largely find myself doing in authoring textbooks.
Q: Do you write best at a certain time of the day?
A: I write best when under pressure, in the midst of a mayhem of other chores, when enraged. I am enraged all day (and night) long - so, there you are. But I love the night. I am a misanthrope, so the night, in its human absence, is magnificent.
Q: What type of writing schedule do you have?
A: I scribble between snacks. Standing. Sitting. All the time. In response to deadlines, internal and external. I write all the time and everything.
Q: How do you handle life interruptions?
A: My whole life is one huge interruption... (laughing). I have been a prisoner, a political fugitive, an economic fugitive, I divorced, I escaped... It's a long story. I try to generate interruptions and upheaval in my life. A stagnant life tends to become swampy. And interruptions are a wonderful (indispensable, really) raw material. I compare life to the direction of a movie. Who wants to watch a 70 years long boring flick?
Q: Do you get blocked? Any hints how to stave it off?
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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A: Never happened to me. Not once. I guess I am blessed. I think the key is not to panic and to forsake the perfect in favour of the good.
Q: What authors do you look to as a role model and inspiration?
A: Edgar Alan Poe for his calculated exquisiteness, Lewis Carol for his outlandish childlikeness, Stephen King for his money ... (laughing) Among non-fiction authors (really my mainstay), I value Kenneth Galbraith, Carl Sagan, Kenneth Clarke, Stephen Hawking, Rip Thorne, Milton Friedman - there are so many excellent popularizers of the incomprehensible... (sigh)
Q: What's the best advice you ever received?
A: From Alan Levy, an author and Editor in Chief of Prague Post. He said that my main problem is the "Dudi Kravitz Syndrome". I am pushy and obsessive. And compulsive. And narcissistic. And self-promoting. I even wrote a book about my obnoxious disorder ("Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited").
Q: What sparks a story?
A: Life, of course. It begs to be written and it becomes awfully aggressive if ignored... And the wish to be heard. To affirm one's existence by replicating oneself in the eyes and the brains of hundreds or thousands. And the fear of being alone. That's important. Writing is an existentialist vocation.
Q: What was it about your genre that interested you enough to choose to write in it and not in another genre?
I wrote short fiction because I was in unbearable pain. I was in prison,
penniless, abandoned by my long suffering wife after 9 years. I was castigated
as an "enemy of the people". I needed to finally talk to myself, this
long delayed conversation. I documented the dialogue in my short fiction (which
I can no longer force myself to read).
I write non-fiction because I like to impress people. My self-esteem and sense of self-worth depend on it. Authoring reference is a good way to secure guru status ... (kidding). Actually, it is a good way to communicate with people where it hurts (if you concentrate on the right subject matter).
I like to move people, to alter their lives (however minutely), in short: to make a difference. I can hear the ideas budding in their minds. I can feel the thrill they experience as those old cobwebbed cogwheels start grinding again. It is rewarding. Good non-fiction ought to do to our cognition what good fiction often does to our emotions. Mobilize it.
Q: Have you seen an evolution in your writing? What steps did it take?
A: I master the language better, of course. And I am less compassionate and empathic than I was when I started out. I recognize the value of shock. And I research more, much more.
Q: What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?
A: A stage play, of course. This (replaced by its modern, shabby and less demanding equivalent, the movie script) has been the dream of authors everywhere, always. There is something in the immediacy of the theatre (not to mention the limelight) that does it to us...:o))
Q: What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
Very much like sex, the act itself is nothing to write home about. But the
foreplay... ah, the foreplay ...
To imagine, to alter destinies, to compose the music of clashing words... this is the real thing (for me at least). This is to CREATE. The rest is technique and technology.
The author is God until and as long as he doesn't put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). Then, when he does, he is subjected to the basest form of slavery. He is subject to the tyranny of grammar and syntax, to the caprice of words and metric, to the dicta of marketing departments and the media. It is sordid in comparison.
Q: What is your next project?
A: The second volume of "Malignant Self Love" is due in January 2001. Another volume of my articles in "Central Europe Review" is planned (tentatively titled "Where Time Stood Still"). The first one was published this year ("After the Rain - How the West Lost the East").
4. More about Me - Published in "Bright Ink News - Volume 1, Issue 10"
When I left prison, I thought my life was over. It was an appropriately rainy day and I stood outside the clanking metal gate, not a penny to my name, divorced by a woman I greatly loved, universally derided and with a criminal record which barred me from any gainful employment. While in jail, I jotted down observations in a cardboard-bound improvised notebook. These were the signposts of a road of self-revelation. It was an agonizing and dangerous road, less taken than imposed by the injuries I suffered. I forced myself onward in blind fury until I had the outline of my self. I called it tentatively "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" and relegated it to the treasure chest of my other grandiose projects.
Jail does things to you. I emerged completely devoid of self-esteem and deprived of a sense of self-worth. The publication of an anthology of my short fiction and a prestigious award I won back home (at the time I won it I lived in Russia) - restored both. I was ready now to tackle the issue of pathological narcissism in public. I decided to make myself - a narcissist - available to public scrutiny. It was the only way I could make any contribution to the field.
I have already posted chapters of the crystallizing tome on my web site. The reactions were (and are) phenomenal. I could not have predicted nor imagined the oceans of pain out there. Today I respond to 20 letters daily. My web sites generate 5000 daily impressions (hits). There are 2500 members in my various mailing lists. Narcissism seems to be THE mental health problem of the last decade. and my activity spawned other web sites and discussion and support lists.
From a laptop in my living room, 15 months ago, I published the print version of "Malignant Self Love". I also made the entire text available online free of charge and ad-free for those who can't afford it. My royalties from the sales of my book are used exclusively to finance my mental health-related educational activities. I now made the book available as an e-book through Barnes and Noble and others.
It was not my first success. My short fiction book sold well and so did previous books I wrote - both reference and fiction. But "Malignant Self Love" is I. It is my self between these covers. In this sense, its success IS my first success.
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