A positive view of humanity says that, while our current regimes are failing, this is part of a larger process by which we are emerging from a time of illusion. Specifically, we focused on symbols because those manipulate a group, and that caused us to ignore the underlying reality.
From this comes an even more important change, which is that we are no longer taking human thoughts at face value. Since The Enlightenment™ we have believed that every human possesses “reason,” or the ability to analyze life and decide what is best for that individual and other things of importance (civilization, nature, culture, genetics).
A cynical but realistic view would hold that humanity, upon reaching its first really stable society in the West, immediately lost focus because previously, its entire focus was external, meaning that it needed to figure out food, hygiene, medicine, defeating predators, shelter, and other basics of the Maslowian pyramid.
One who believes in a central core of goodness in life, perhaps even the numinous, would say that not all people suffered this condition; some, through a process like internal death and rebirth, transcended the ego and gained a transcendental focus in which the purpose of life was not merely material, but included a sense of existential well-being that only comes from feeling unity with the basic design of life and, by understanding it, finding life to be fundamentally good or reaching toward the good. Paradoxically, this requires reaching inside oneself through intuition, since our surface-level analysis like deduction and empiricism cannot reveal the patterns of life, including the overall pattern that would tell us what drives existence to be what it is.
Most of humanity, like most of the “intelligent” animals such as monkeys, remains mired in solipsism, or a view which confuses our observation of the world through our brains for the world itself. That is, we have mental impulses that reveal the world, but we mistake those symbols for the reality to which they refer, and since these symbols are shared through word and gesture, we mistake the herd around us for being an extension of ourselves.
We might view this as a kind of neurosis, which is a cause-effect fallacy where we confuse an external event with our internal response (or vice-versa, as in superstition). The former might be someone who had their first kiss at a costume ball, and therefore sees costume balls as the essence of civilization; the latter includes the “cargo cults” where natives who performed a certain dance believed it would bring the cargo planes that dropped good things on their lonely island.
Neurosis arises most commonly in social setting. At some point we are thinking of something, and something else happens to make us feel good, so we associate that thing we are thinking of with the good feeling; we are in a group, and say something witty or emotional, and the group reacts favorably, so we cement in our minds that whatever we said is good and should come before all other things in that context because it is better than simple reality, but an idealized good because it made us feel good. This also happens if others do or say the “good” thing, since we emulate successful gestures, which means that we both form an “echo chamber” imitating others, and that we reward others for saying things which make us feel good.
Big brained humans get such strong signals from our minds that we pay more attention to those than to reality out there, and that this causes us to argue as individualists that our own thinking is more important than its consequences. We are more interested in what we want to be true because that makes us feel good, than we are with how our proposed action will shake out in reality. Since our success is regulated by social success, we feel good when the group approves, and this creates a natural self-referential self-confirming bias to social groups.
People exist somewhere on a spectrum of organization of their minds. The most organized have a clear sense of reality, purpose, direction, and what is stable, sane, real, and good. The disorganized have none of that, and act through reacting, sensing either internal needs (desires, wants, biology) or external needs, usually through the social group. Since an organized mind has an external purpose paired to an inner sense of meaning, it organizes itself around that center; a disorganized mind, lacking that, falls back into a preemptive defensive posture, looking to protect the individual against an outside world that it also perceives as disorganized.
From those feelings come the natural tendency of a crowd, which as a group of individuals which is accountable to nothing, consists of blaming something other than the group for everything that is wrong. Crowds demand equality, diversity, tolerance, pacifism, and inclusion. Like the disorganized individual mind, the disorganized group mind has no purpose, so its purpose becomes defending against those who recognize its lack of purpose.
The disorganized mind exists in a state of illusion, since it has to tell itself a little story in order to make life seem semi-coherent. If they had a sense of purpose, they would not need such stories, but because they have no purpose, they have to invent the pretense of having one
These stories are little more than pre-emptive excuses, justifications, validations, and rationalizations for why the disorganized mind is good, and they usually take the form of revenge fantasies, where the world has somehow wronged the disorganized mind and therefore the disorganized mind is justified in striking back and taking everything that it wants. We see this all the time in people who go to restaurants, looking for something that the restaurant might be doing wrong, just so that they can demand free food; this parallels the French Revolution, where the proles made themselves poor and then used that poverty as an excuse to demand the overthrow of their more intelligent leaders. Disorganized minds are thus passive-aggressive, and use the sense of being victimized as an excuse to be “entitled,” or deserving of what they want being provided by society at large.
For someone with a disorganized mind, since they lack a purpose in life, all that matters is the self and the defense of the narrative (little story) that makes the self seem powerful, wise, good, and purposeful. If anyone fails to affirm the narrative, therefore, they become an enemy; this is similar to how an ideology re-states failure as goodness, then demands that people conform or be destroyed.
This leads to a psychology like that of Narcissistic Entitlement Syndrome:
There are five major characteristics that attorneys with NES often have.
1. They are generally preoccupied with fantasies of limitless brilliance, power and success. While this may be something that many attorneys have, the attorney with NES will generally be quite consumed with these fantasies. Advancement and achievement are extremely important to them and they envision the environment around them as one where they should be the center of others’ attention due to their achievements.
2. Attorneys with NES generally have an exaggerated sense of self importance that is not commensurate with their actual level of achievement. They expect to be recognized as superior to others without a corresponding level of achievement. An attorney with NES will also generally exaggerate his achievements to others. Indeed, attorneys with NES like to speak about their achievements (and do) quite frequently. As a product of these fantasies, the attorney will often show a very arrogant attitude. The attorney with NES believes he is “special” and should only associate and work for other high status people and institutions.
3. An attorney with NES generally lacks empathy and is unwilling (or unable) to identify with the needs or feelings of others. Interpersonally, they are often quite exploitative and take advantage of others in order to achieve their own ends. In this respect, the attorney with NES often views those around him as objects to be manipulated to be in service of their ultimate fantasies of power, for example.
4. Attorneys with NES are most often very envious of those around them with advantages they do not have and believe that others are also envious of them.
5. Attorneys with NES require excessive admiration. They need constant approval from those around them. The NES attorney believes that he should be admired by others.
To someone in the grips of narcissism, the world exists for them and should do what they want by any means necessary. After all, they are victims, and they seek validation or approval from the group so that they can continue to be disorganized, tell themselves fictions about how this is good, and have others approve of this.
Their defensive outlook however forces them to adopt control. Their sense of well-being depends entirely on the narrative that they tell themselves in order to rationalize themselves as good, and this forces them into needing to enforce that narrative, which can only be done by destroying anyone or anything that either directly contradicts that narrative or worse, succeeds without it.
Take your average modern person. He has no purpose since there is no social context, and is unlikely to develop one on his own unless extraordinarily gifted, so he schleps through school and job and gets an adequate spouse and average kids. Now, he tells himself that his life turned out the best it could despite the limitations imposed on him by others, and that he is good because he obeys the rules and has the right (according to television, friends, and education) opinions. If his neighbor, who has none of these opinions and obeys few of the rules, ends up richer, smarter, happier, or with a better family, it makes the first person look silly; he followed a bunch of rules that he did not need to and ended up worse off for it. Most people in this situation will find a way to savagely destroy the life of the non-conformist, so that everyone else conforms, and the narrative of their lives is allowed to continue in its narcissistic praise of the self.
This is why modern society cultivates malignant narcissism in all who do not actively reject it:
Many narcissists draw their identity from what they accomplish, Fromm said. Malignant narcissists, by contrast, identify with special characteristics they believe they possess. Such internal measures, which aren’t dependent on external evidence or validation, enable narcissism to grow unchecked like cancer—hence the term malignant.
The concept of malignant narcissism was expanded by psychiatrist Otto Kernberg, who termed it a toxic combination of four highly dysfunctional traits and behaviors:
- Narcissism, with its grandiosity, lack of empathy, need for attention, and sense of entitlement.
- Antisocial behavior, with its lack of remorse, destructive and impulsive behavior, deceitfulness, and disregard for and violation of the rights of others.
- Paranoid thinking with its sense of persecution, difficulty trusting others, preoccupation with others’ loyalty, tendency to bear grudges, and tendency to view benign actions of others as attempts at deception or exploitation.
- Sadism, with its cruelty, efforts to humiliate or manipulate others, and deriving enjoyment from others’ pain and suffering.
You might think it odd that these behaviors could arise from the simple Enlightenment™ idea of all humans possessing reason. However, that idea originates in the notion that each individual should be able to do whatever he wants and have society absorb the cost, justified by the idea that he has reason, and in groups becomes egalitarianism, since if everyone has reason, they are all “equal.” In reality, this is just herd behavior, which is what happens when disorganized individuals form disorganized groups instead of systematically addressing the problem.
Consider a ball of fish. These happen when predators encircle a school of fish. If the fish were able to coordinate, they would all agree to go full speed to a certain heading in order to escape the predators; instead, however, each fish tries to get closer to the center of the ball in order to minimize his exposure to predation. Some individuals win, but it is more random than they would like, which is why the species of fish does not develop exceptional traits as it would were exceptional individuals able to escape predation and therefore reproduce at higher numbers.
For lower-intelligence creatures, the ball of fish model, or the yeast bloom, keeps them in line. For higher-IQ animals like humans, our tendency toward individualism sabotages us and keeps us from the next stage of our evolution.
In my optimistic mind, humanity has emerged from one stage and is heading to the next. In the last stage, we beat nature and so fell into navel-gazing because most people were simply along for the ride, and not civilization-creators. The future will not be based on the idea of universal inclusion of everyone on the basis that they have equal reason, but recognizing that most human thinking is rationalization or after-the-fact justification of decisions made that benefit the individual in material ways during the time between now and the next paycheck.