Saturday, January 10, 2015

When The Ferris Wheel Flies Apart

“Decompensation” is what happens when a narcissistic individual or entity is no longer able to maintain the grandiose self which is its chosen identity. The Anglo-American identity which the United States has constructed for itself is just such a “grandiose self”: a “chosen nation,” a “city on a hill,” “the greatest nation on earth” because it consists of a race “predestined” to supreme greatness by “Providence.” In the name of that “Providence” it has conquered the North American continent, nearly exterminating the original inhabitants in the process, and it has managed to subjugate most of the rest of the world. In that process, moreover, the privileged among the citizens of the United States have come to believe that they deserve the special privileges they enjoy, having been predestined to these privileges; and that the nations and peoples who have been subjugated “deserve” the treatment which this country has inflicted on them, being “predestined” to that treatment. Throughout its history, there have been spokesmen for this country who have boasted that the United States is a “Christian” nation, “one nation under God.” Yet U.S. treatment of other nations – especially non-European nations – has been anything but a model of the Golden Rule, embodying instead the slogan, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Hence the need to invoke a Calvinist predestination to justify this country's treatment of other nations and peoples.

The identity which the U.S. has constructed is inherently unsustainable. It is now being threatened by forces beyond the control of this country and its privileged members. Some of those forces were identified in last week's post. The United States has become used to economic, political and military arrangements which allow four percent of the world's population to control almost all of the economic flows on this planet, and to enjoy over 40 percent of the world's resources. The rest of the world has for a long time regarded this a rather distasteful and burdensome arrangement, and has in the last few years begun to do something about it. Weekly – sometimes daily – new challenges to U.S. hegemony are now arising as nations seek to reassert control over their own affairs. The most recent contender is Greece, where the Syriza party, described as “far-left” by Western media, holds a lead over the ruling party days before the Greek general elections on the 25th of this month.  If the Syriza party gains a decisive number of seats in the Greek parliament, a Greek exit from the Eurozone would certainly be a possibility, as Syriza have made it clear that they want a drastic revision of economic austerity conditions imposed on them by the EU and the IMF. The beginning of a breakup of the EU would have serious implications for U.S. economic hegemony. Also, a number of European nations have been making noises within the last two weeks about breaking with the U.S. over the issue of sanctions against Russia.

But there is a more compelling reason than geopolitics for the unsustainability of the current American identity. This country has exhausted its base of many natural resources, just as the industrialized world has exhausted a critical mass of its natural resource base. The current and deepening depression in the price of oil, metals, and other commodities is a symptom of an anemic economy falling down after a period of overexertion. This fainting is a sign that the exertion was itself unsustainable. The German Energy Watch Group, which published supply outlook reports for oil, coal and uranium in 2007 and 2008, also published a comprehensive update to its forecasts in 2013. That update, titled, Fossil and Nuclear Fuels - The Supply Outlook, maintains that global production of conventional crude oil peaked in 2008, and that global extraction of all non-renewable energy sources will peak right around now. Concentrated energy sources are the lifeblood of an industrial economy, so the peak and decline in extraction means the inevitable decline of the global industrial economy. This means that a lot of people who were winners will now become losers; a lot of people who were used to being in control of things will lose control.

The various nations are being affected unevenly by this contraction, depending on whether they are producer nations who still have valuable concentrations of resources or importer nations who have largely used up their resources. The U.S. is an importer nation. A loss of hegemony by the U.S. at a time of energy and resource contraction means that U.S. consumers will increasingly find themselves cut off from access to remaining stocks of raw materials which exist in distant nations and are controlled by those nations. Those nations may be temporarily hurt by the current drop in demand for their materials, yet the fact that they can still produce things of value will enhance their long-term survival prospects compared to nations which import most of their resources and finished products. Thus the long-term standard of material wealth in a nation like the United States will inevitably and irreversibly decline.

What does this mean in plain language? This nation has built its identity as a “special and chosen people” on a foundation of having lots of stuff and being able to tell lots of people what to do. That identity is about to take a huge hit. When that happens, many of us will get to watch decompensation in action.

Of this decompensation, it has been written that “The stress of aging or illness and the attendant loss of beauty, strength, or cognitive function can undermine narcissistic fantasies of invulnerability and limitless power. It may lead to an empty, depleted collapse on the one hand or a frantic search for compensatory thrill-seeking on the other, both of which are described in the classic “midlife crisis”. Later-life crises, such as one experienced on the eve of retirement, also may reflect narcissistic pathology.” (See this and this.) In other words, the loss of ability to maintain a grandiose self provokes a crisis. What does that crisis look like? I am not a psychologist, and I don't usually make predictions, but I'd like to suggest a few possibilities.

I propose that there may be two phases to decompensation. Both phases are characterized by scapegoating and projection, but the nature of that scapegoating changes from the first phase to the next. In the first phase, scapegoating takes the form of “enemy creation” in order to justify not only the exploitation of groups or individuals targeted for exploitation, but also to distract from the dysfunctional dynamics experienced by those who are in long-term association with the narcissist. The scapegoating is an ever-present feature of the narcissist's interactions, but when his grandiosity is endangered, the scapegoating may kick into overdrive as the narcissist seeks a defense from the threat he perceives. This may well explain the evolution of the U.S. “War on Terror” from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the present day. The takeaway message of the “War on Terror” is that because the United States is a “special” nation, there are enemies out there who “hate our freedom” and want to attack us. This then becomes the primary focus of our attention, and we are trained to ignore our own dysfunctional treatment not only of others, but of the marginalized members of our own society. This also plays into two of the symptoms of narcissism described in the DSM-IV: “...believes that he or she is 'special' and unique...,” and “...believes that others are envious of him or her...”

In this first stage of decompensation, scapegoating then consists of “enemy creation” the purpose of which is to promote the cohesion of the dysfunctional group led by the narcissist, to mask the pain of the dysfunction experienced in the narcissist's pathological space, and to justify the exploitation of those who have things the narcissist wants to take, or who by their very existence threaten the narcissist's identity as the “fairest one of all.” I think this is what was behind the undeserved publicity surrounding the supposed North Korean hack of the computers of Sony Pictures over its release of “The Interview” – a movie about attempting to assassinate the leader of North Korea, a movie which was so technically and artistically bad that it earned a rating of only 52 percent from Rotten Tomatoes. Other examples include the inaccurate portrayal of people of color as largely criminal in the aftermath of the shootings of unarmed Black people in the U.S. last year, as well as the inaccuracies in media coverage of Libya and Syria prior to U.S. and NATO military action against these countries. And let's not forget the granddaddy of them all, the false case for “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq just before the 2003 invasion led by the United States.

The trouble with this kind of enemy creation is that over time, it stops working. Instead, an increasing number of people come to believe that each new “terror incident” or “threat incident” in the news is nothing more than a “false flag” attack designed to advance the ulterior interests of the nation which is supposedly warning us of the “threat.” (For instance, a surprising number of people believe that the recent Charlie Hebdo attack was a false flag operation designed to advance the “War on Terror” and the political prospects of far-right European nationalist political parties, as well as to dissuade member nations from leaving the EU. See this.) Think of the boy who cried “Wolf.” Nevertheless, it would not surprise me to find an increasing number of “enemies” being created by Anglo-American leaders and media in the years to come.

As the decline of our formerly grandiose nation continues, and we begin to enter the second stage of decompensation, we will begin obviously to lose the ability to affect events on the world stage. This will lead to a further decline in our material standard of wealth. At this stage I expect the scapegoating to turn to asking whom we can blame for our loss of prestige. This may take the form of infighting between powerful leaders of economic/political factions, with a little (or maybe a lot) of the old enemy creation added in the form of targeting foreign-born people and people of color within this country's borders. The point will be that someone, somewhere has to answer for the failure of this country's grandiose self, and the people who caused that failure will prove to be too brittle to take responsibility. Therefore they will project that responsibility on the most convenient target they can find. I think of a scene out of the Great Divorce where Napoleon Bonaparte is in Hell, in a well-lit mansion which can't keep out the rain, and he is endlessly pacing up and down, muttering, “It was Soult's fault. It was Ney's fault. It was Josephine's fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English...” The second stage of decompensation may also take a suicidal turn, as the remaining leaders of the old order enact policies which they know to be self-destructive, as Hitler did during the waning days of the Third Reich, or as Jim Jones did on the day that he and his followers drank poisoned Kool-Aid.

The task, then – for marginalized peoples in this country and for all people of principle who seek to maintain a good conscience – will be to successfully navigate perilous days for a while. For while it may be tempting to run away to another country, the reality is that most of us don't have that option. Also, there are other countries which have been poisoned to the same extent as the United States. (I think particularly of Great Britain, Canada and Australia.) Yet I don't think all areas of the United States will be equally bad. There will be a surprising number of geographical and cultural nooks and crannies where a meaningful and healthy life can be led. Finding and thriving in these niches is part of the task before us.

P.S. Please do read in their entirety the articles on narcissism which I quoted and linked from the Web of Narcissism site.   Pay special attention to the stories of decompensating individuals.  Then take a look at the folks around you.

No comments: