Christopher Lasch argues that modern society has become narcissistic, but at this site, we point out that the basis of modernity arises from solipsism, or a belief in a human-only world centered around the individual.
In other words, modernity does not cause narcissism, but is the result of narcissism. When we overthrew the hierarchy of the kings, we also dethroned any sense of an order to nature in which we serve a role other than total masters of all, pursuing our individual desires.
Narcissism afflicts the human mind when it does not have a goal, such as adapting to reality and maximizing that experience through qualitative, transcendental excellence (arete). In life, you either have a goal or fall into the aimless, infinite abyss of the self.
Any society based on equality — the notion that all individuals are equally “valid” and deserve to have their viewpoints accepted — quickly removes any necessity of adapting to reality or understanding anything beyond the self and its desire.
This creates people who are both aimless and controlling, or prone to manipulating others in order to affirm the worldview of the manipulator. Narcissism is inherently unstable, so it requires others to conform and treat it as if it were real; this is also “validation.”
Consequently, it creates people who act for symbolic reasons. They assert their power and individuality, but use others and the world around them as their canvas, caring little for the consequences to these things outside of the narcissistic self.
This makes narcissists inherently tyrannical and incompetent, since they demonstrate no concern for what is actual, only what creates that symbolic feeling of power and validation. This takes on its worst form in the narcissism of parents:
My mother began a pattern of expelling and eliminating people from her life. In this she had form with her own family. Friends, co-workers, neighbors, it didn’t matter who it was. Eventually they would all do something to “betray her” and then they were cast out of her life, never to be spoken of again except to belittle and humiliate them.
Looking back I am convinced that she had equal parts bipolar disorder and chronic narcissism. The nadir for me occurred when I was 11, when my parents were still together. I was being badly bullied at school and my parents had not provided me with the skills to deal with the situation. Somehow my mother found out and all hell broke loose. She marched into the school the next day, a private Catholic boys school, and she set it on fire in a figurative sense. The school went into blind panic mode while I watched on helplessly as my world crumbled around me. Back at home she was triumphant at how brilliant she had been, at how she had “given them what for”. She would extol her brilliance in this matter for years to come.
The next day I went back to school, and at lunch time I ate my lunch alone. I would eat my lunch alone for the next two years until I enrolled myself in a different school without my parents’ knowledge.
In this example, the narcissist asserts her power in defense of a child she treats as an extension of herself, something symbolic in appearance to make her look good. In doing so, she makes a bad situation worse by denying the obvious reality of the situation, namely the child lacking skills to address difficult social situations.
We are finding out that our leaders have done the same thing. Their relentless pursuit of looking good has made them ignore the obvious reality, which is that none of these symbolic acts are working for us, and we as the tools of their positive appearance lack the skills to cope.