What is a disease? Oxford Language defines it as “a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people.”
We are all familiar with infectious diseases like smallpox, measles or the flu. We all live in fear of cancer, because we still do not know what causes it. And though we have all been exposed to someone with mental illness at some point in our lives, it is still a big mystery to most of us, so we tend to marginalize it.
One of the most pernicious and destructive diseases in America is Pathological Narcissism. We all know people that are selfish and unconcerned about others feelings and generally refer to them as “A-Holes.” But Pathological Narcissism is much more serious than just egomania or self-centeredness. Our country is suffering from an epidemic of it and no one is talking about it.
Look at how marriage and birth rates are way down, as people struggle to establish long term business and personal relationships. Many young people are choosing to live with their parents longer, and working from home more. Millennials aren’t buying homes or automobiles, they are afraid to invest in the future. Socializing in general has evolved into group activities like pub crawls and large outdoor concerts. The inability to relate to, trust or otherwise empathize with others and a fear of intimacy and commitment are characteristics of narcissism.
Looking at the cultural quagmire recent generations have experienced, we should not be surprised many people are frightened, confused, unhappy and angry. Gender role confusion, broken families, constant international and domestic conflict, extreme economic pressures, and social media’s complete destruction of privacy, all add up to systemic insecurity. Experts tell us pathological narcissism is ultimately a defensive effort to subvert extreme insecurity.
Pathological Narcissists are bullies. Whenever their fantasy world is threatened, they resort to insult, name-calling, character assassination and violence to put down challenges to their constructed reality. The kind of behavior that describes gangsters, skinheads, spousal abusers, social justice rioters and unfortunately, a lot of politicians.
Most psychologists consider narcissism as a healthy aspect of human development. We teach our kids to be proud and celebrate themselves, to expect to be special and to never underestimate their potential. But over time, our progressive schools have overwhelmed students with a sense of inflated self-admiration, effectively breeding people who have discovered the benefits of demanding “special” treatment. We have institutionalized victimhood and normalized narcissism.
In a noble effort to help people to assimilate and live in harmony, we have inadvertently created a culture of grievance and confrontation. We all walk on thin ice in the workplace, afraid to offend a coworkers sensitivities. All because “victims” can legally demand employers placate them. Workplace lawsuits are a growth industry.
Feeding this metastasizing social disease is the fertilizer of social media. Saturating the digital landscape with vitriol and charging the atmosphere with electricity over any perceived slight contaminates our sense of community.
Author and futurist Marshall McLuhan warned us about the implications of this syndrome in his book, “The Medium Is The Message,” written in 1967. In that study of the impact of media on society, he noted that people can be “distracted by the obvious and miss the subtle” when they confuse content and delivery. In the absence of Facebook or Twitter his warning had little immediate impact, but now it seems eerily prescient. He was describing the “Cancel Culture.”
As society conflates personal relations with digital pseudo-identities, we have been slow to confront the epidemiology of psychological deviance. If we look dispassionately at our modern progressive culture, narcissistic pathology is the new normal. Is it a result of our ubiquitous social media, our educational system or the food we eat? That remains to be learned, but in the meantime, it is important that we recognize and treat it before it overwhelms our nation’s equilibrium.
Rick Elkin is an author, columnist and artist and a longtime resident of Escondido. You can follow him at www.rickelkin.com.