Collective narcissism and identity politics: No empathy required.

I’m not writing this to gain favour with a certain political tribe, or to provoke people, although I’m sure there will be a range of reactions to this. I’m chiefly trying to make sense of all this craziness that continues in the west particularly on college campuses. This thought initially permeated into my brain while watching a video of the Evergreen College collective breakdown and the witch-hunt of Bret Weinstein (Professor of Evolutional Biology) in 2017. For those of you who haven’t heard about this, I’ve shared a video below to give an example of the type of antics that are occurring regularly on college campuses around the ‘anglosphere’. This episode is much like the psychotic Yale university ‘Halloween costume’ incident. I still find it difficult to understand such behaviour, as well as acknowledging that it’s disturbingly interesting. It also boggles my mind why education facilities and government entities continue to listen to such idiocy. But they do and therein lies a major problem.

I’ve written numerous articles about social justice activism, but I continuously struggle to the grasp the mentality surrounding these collegiate outbursts. Recently, it occurred to me partly due to watching these social justice car crashes, along with reading about narcissism from people like Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, plus my own experiences with narcissism (family member, ex-partners, ex-friends, yes I am a co-dependent), that there was something more to this lurking in the depths. While watching this video on Evergreen, I invite you to play a game called, spot the infantile, self absorbed, entitled, narcissist. Alright, so I’m possibly starting this article with a slight bias. Ooops!

Joking aside, it would be sensible at this juncture to define what a narcissist is, with a view to making sense of what collective narcissism means further into the article. Many people would possibly conclude that to explain what a narcissist is, all that would be required is a picture of Donald Trump. Alas, it’s slightly more complicated than that. Firstly, I want to nail down the definition of narcissism. Slapping a tag on someone who may be displaying a lack of self doubt or overconfidence isn’t really the best way to proceed. Narcissism is only present in approximately 1% of people and characterised among other traits with a lack of empathy. On top of this, there is a permanent desire for constant appreciation, a belief of being special and a solid conviction that they are more deserving than others.

It’s worth noting, that not all narcissists are bombastic fools like Donald Trump. Narcissists come in two general flavours; covert and overt. They share many traits such as; conceit, self-indulgence and a complete disregard for others, ‘overts’ are linked to an extroverted personality type and ‘coverts’ to introverts. Overt narcissism is marked by arrogance, a preoccupation with fantasies of success particularly in; attractiveness, power, brilliance and wealth. They expect preferential treatment and have an insatiable need for admiration. If this fails to materialise, it will be viewed as a narcissistic injury, which regularly leads to an excessive action, usually in the form of rage and almost certain revenge. To overt narcissists, other people exist purely to be exploited, therefore, unsurprisingly they display a poor perception regarding their own functioning, primarily in self concept, relationships, social adaptations, ethics, standards and morals.

Covert narcissists also have overblown fantasies, but these are not realised and are unable to be achieved. They have unfulfilled expectations and a vulnerability to stress is also a primary characteristic. Covert narcissists are hypervigilant to humiliation and rejection, while searching for power and glory. Often they live life vicariously through their children, viewing family members as a way of attaining their own rights, desires and values. Covert’s are generally devoid of any respect for authority, while being prone to boredom and depression. These types can fit in with society better than overt narcissists, but will often have a distinct lack of interest for work, known as “narcissistic deficiency”. In a nutshell, ‘coverts’ have an unconscious feeling of grandeur, but these thoughts and emotions are not reciprocated by the outside world.

Narcissism like many things is considered to be on a spectrum, a certain amount is thought to be healthy and required to function in daily life. At the extreme end of this is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Well known narcissists are; Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Ted Bundy and Elvis Pressley, plus modern day narcissists are notably; Simon Cowell, Kanye West, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Donald Trump. So what has this got to do with identity politics and social justice activism? The link is collective narcissism, this was a theory proposed by Theodore Adorno to explain how the Nazis gained and maintained support from the 1930’s to the end of World War II. No, I’m not implying that identarians resemble Nazis, but give them time (joke, sort of).

In a wonderfully ironic article posted in ‘The Conversation’, there are some fantastic examples regarding collective narcissism, rightly mentioning that the group in question fails to accept criticism and feel they deserve special treatment. The piece continues, suggesting collective narcissists are selective regarding their prejudices, while rejecting or attacking groups who do not share their grandiose image. Surmising that they use spin and conspiracy theories to attack competing groups. Noting that these ‘special’ groups also detect insult where nobody can see it (more narcissistic injury).

The ironic part is that the author only links collective narcissism with right wing endeavours, such as Brexit and Trump and displays no awareness that narcissists exist quite prominently within his own political tribe. Sure there’s plenty of collective narcissism on the right, just look at the US evangelical conservatives for suitable examples. However, social justice groups ticked just about every box in this article and yet there was no pause for reflection regarding their own team. This is despite that the piece mentions scoring high on the narcissist scale predicts an increase in prejudice, regardless of people’s age, gender or education.

The crux of this is that the ‘old left’, as I would call it, have been correct on many occasions; writers from Marx to Sartre catalogued the problems with wealth and capital. They predicted the psychological damage, the profound effects on health and the dismantling of society, as we collectively immerse ourselves in mass vacuity and banality. The truth is, the left are losing ground in just about every facet of society and in most geographical locations. The despairing reality is the left, what remains of it, is a shadow of its former self. It is unashamedly unrelated to the working class and hopelessly detached from global injustices. The new identarian left has fallen in love with its own reflection and has subsequently lost interest in the state of the planet, continual wars, free speech, democracy and even poverty.

The left of old created healthcare for all, pensions, economic safety nets, education and housing. These things were universal ventures, so people could have the basics in life, to live, prosper, participate and contribute in society. This now seems long ago, the new/identarian left are instead fixated on race, sexuality and gender. All the while as people on the streets of the world are starving, identarians get apoplectic with rage over the correct use of pronouns. It’s no wonder that people across the western world have rejected these ideas and now often resort to voting against their own best interests.

Democracies are failing and society is fragmenting, so these drastic, sometimes ill advised actions are a basic response to fear, in an effort to protect themselves. The needs of the many are being continually rejected in favour of supplying the demands of the ‘woke’ few, who are generally well off, educated and privileged. Surely valuing, fairness, truth, justice, democracy, morality and decency takes precedence over what is good for the self. Lets be honest what’s more important a starving child or validating your identity?

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If this identarian group doesn’t acquire what they feel is rightfully theirs (narcissistic supply) then as previously documented they will instinctively lash out. Narcissistic supply for identarians equates to people colluding with them (also known as allies) for causes such as cultural appropriation or deciding whatever they would like to be called that week. This isn’t the collective, universal vision of the left I once knew, this is pure self indulgent, infantile behaviour. These people should be challenged, rejected from the left and given no credence. They bear no resemblance to the great people who came before them, the likes of; Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Mikhail Bakunin, Bertrand Russell and Peter Kropotkin. Frankly, none of the identarian left would be fit to carry their books.

So lets explore why narcissists are attracted to identity politics and social justice activism in particular. It has been postulated that this arena allows young radicals to indulge their narcissistic urges, enjoying power, support and praise, regardless of their conduct. Their theories and beliefs are absent of any responsibility, the only concern is for themselves and their group, as they embark on a journey of hedonistic self-gratification. This insulation from reality rejects any acknowledgement of personal agency and plays out as an overgrown group of kids who have created the rules to feed their self-obsessed, infantile fantasy land. In a cult like fervour they are bound together as a collective, propelled by teenage infused hatred, aimed at all who refuse to agree with their every utterance.

All opposing narratives aimed at SJW’s are met with, anger, dismissal, derision and a desire to dismantle the perpetrators lives. Western colleges are littered with tales of destroyed reputations and careers, any hint of non-conformity is swiftly punished through a series of reprisals. The use of an opaque, malleable language, ensures that any individual caught in this web of lies is unable to escape these allegations of racism, sexism and the deadly accusation of being transphobic. Cultural appropriation, privilege theory, critical theory, intersectional feminism, micro-aggressions and the use of safe-spaces are all tools used to obfuscate the purpose of identity politics from the masses, while simultaneously justifying their beliefs. These are classic techniques used by narcissists, with the end result appearing rather like 1984, you are left questioning your own name or indeed how many fingers are held up.

Control can certainly be found in the lexicon of the narcissist and the one region these reins are held tightest is regarding the questioning of identity. Identity is used as a way of gaining respect. I regard myself as this, we are oppressed, therefore, you have no right to question or even discuss this with me. This purposeful stifling of dialogue is evident no more than in the arena of the trans debate. Many trans people state they have a right to be recognised for who they are (which they have), but proclaim obstacles are being put in their way and this is interpreted as questioning their right to exist. The phrase is often proclaimed as “you are invalidating my existence”. But this flamboyant fallacy alludes to a whole segment of society being wiped out. Alas genocide it is not, the real purpose of these grandiose declarations is to halt any debate, emphatically announcing that trans lives are clearly not up for discussion.

A term that is ubiquitous with narcissism, is ‘gaslighting‘. Simply put, it is a process of making an individual question their perceptions and version of events, in order for the narcissist to exert power over them. An example of this would be turning an ordinary event, such as someone questioning their beliefs and then comparing it to an abusive relationship. This conversion of a mundane moment in time to a massive overreaction from the alleged ‘abused’, manifests in actions such as doxing or the popular activity of calling out on twitter and can be categorised as a further ‘narcissistic injury’. This response from the alleged ‘abused’ in this current cultural climate can lead to a job loss, a removal from college or even a custodial sentence.

Which leads us to an obvious narcissistic trait as seen within Social Justice land, which is how nauseatingly public it all is. Live tweet Tinder dates are posted for all to see, this is coupled with a superficial casualness, in a vain attempt to display detachment. Relationships are increasingly talked about in a blasé manner, with advice webpages discussing issues such as, “not falling in love with someone you had casual sex with”. This behaviour is clearly a narcissistic trait, using avoidance particularly of emotions in an effort to maintain control. This inability to form authentic relationships, screams of fragility of the self. It is punctuated by further overreactions regarding any perceived transgressions by an individual. This is topped off with a distinct lack empathy for any other human being, typifying malignant narcissism.

The narcissistic group is held together by a need for external validation. This collective can be driven by a narcissistic individual, a core of narcissists or less prevalent due to the relative scarcity of narcissists (1 in a 100) a whole group. In the individual scenario, a single person idealises where the group belongs, in contrast this ideological  process can also take place at a group level. It is surmised that the more actively involved a group member is, the higher the opinion this individual will have of the group. An increased affinity towards their tribe is related to personal investment and a feeling of positive contributions connected to their success.

Personal narcissists will invariably see the group as a defining extension of themselves and will defend it as a form of protection against outsiders and also to strengthen their social standing within the group. A further potential adhesive is the charismatic leader creating the follower/leader dynamic. All members of the main group are narcissistic, but within this a charismatic leader emerges. It’s not uncommon for it to be a ‘grievance studies’ professor either, such as Suzanna Danuta Walters who wrote in the Washington Post, “why can’t we hate men“. This group consists of two types of narcissist; the ‘mirror hungry’ narcissist, seeking a constant flow of admiration from the followers and the ‘ideal narcissist’ who obtains comfort from the confidence, charisma and security provided by the leader. This is essentially a symbiotic relationship, but it can be toxic.

Intergroup aggression is a hallmark of group narcissism. They are more sensitive to perceived criticism externally, often resulting in the out group being attacked with disproportionate force. Again, these are overblown responses, but they are a reaction to a narcissistic injury. Below is a good example of what epitomises group narcissism. We have a charismatic leader, with her followers, who feels suitably emboldened to yell at a Yale Professor, over an extremely minor event. This collective tantrum was ‘initiated’ by Mr & Mrs Christakis (both professors) for suggesting that if students had a problem with a Halloween costume, then maybe they could discuss it with the wearer, rather than expecting the university to adjudicate. Below is a shortened video of the fallout in response to these benign ‘grown up’ emails. Take note that Yale is supposedly one of top universities in the world.

You may ask with some validity why I have concentrated most of this piece on linking narcissism with Social Justice Warriors and identity politics. There is no doubt that the right wing of politics and capitalism itself is awash with narcissists, history proves this; Hitler, Mussolini and John D Rockefeller to name a few. More recently we could easily use the dynamic duo of Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. Of course many CEO’s would have a range of narcissistic traits, some of these people who fit this criteria are; Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos to name a few. But they are all relatively obvious, arrogant, overt narcissists. However, on the other side of political fence, there are scores of narcissists who go unchecked or are readily dismissed as “silly children” who will eventually mature. Unfortunately, they are growing up and changing the rules as they go, while destroying lives all to obtain their narcissistic supply.

The mainstream media doesn’t write about narcissism and the identarian left, because identity politics is the mainstream. There are no critiques of how identarians arrogantly perceive themselves as the gatekeepers of acceptable speech, thoughts, actions and morality on campus. But even more worryingly, this ideology is now spewing out into the real world. This, at a time when the left has a damn good counter argument to neoliberalism. One that focuses on the human costs of massive economic inequality which includes; sub-standard education, increased crime rates, poorer health outcomes, an elevated prevalence of armed conflict and an acceleration of climate change. Frustratingly this strong, coherent message has undoubtedly been diluted by the cult-like, intrusive, puritanical behaviour of the ‘identarian left’, led and populated by a strong narcissistic element. Without doubt the ‘real left’ will not reconnect with the people, until we reject and eject the ‘identarian left’.