Saturday, February 28, 2015

Living Through National Decompensation

For the last three months, the main focus of the posts on this blog has been the psychological examination of the public American persona. That persona is characterized by a certain pathology, which I have identified as narcissistic personality disorder. According to the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association, the signs of this disorder are as follows:

“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is 'special' and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excessive admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”
According to the site from which I copied this description, there should be added a tenth characteristic, namely, an exaggerated desire to mete out justice.

How does the behavior of the United States, both historical and recent, stack up against this diagnosis? Let's look at a few characteristics.

Grandiosity and Requiring Excessive Admiration: We would like to believe that we are and have always been the greatest nation on earth, and that we are the most exceptional people on earth. This, by the way, is not just a feature of American narcissism, but of Anglo-American narcissism. Therefore, in an odd irony, one of the greatest champions of American exceptionalism is Rupert Murdoch, an Australian who became an American citizen so that he could buy up most of American electronic and print media. This is also the myth that has been preached from the pulpits of mainstream white America's churches from the nation's founding until now.

Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love: I can't speak for the “ideal love” part, but this nation certainly seems to be preoccupied with the other fantasies, as seen in the movies we make and watch, the celebrities we exalt, and the supposed cleverness, genius and ingenuity of which we constantly boast. This preoccupation is also seen in the constant pushing of the Horatio Alger myth that anyone in this country can get rich, and that this is something we should all want.

Entitlement, Exploitation and a Lack of Empathy: In order to exalt ourselves in our own eyes, we have abased much of the rest of the world, to the point of dispossessing people of their lands, robbing them at gunpoint, murdering them and enslaving and oppressing them. Yet we have felt entitled to do so, and have been genuinely surprised by the resulting hostile “blowback.” We can't for the life of us figure out why our enemies are fighting us, except that in some vague way, “they hate our freedoms.” Unable (or actually unwilling) to comprehend our enemies, we ascribe their motivations to an inchoate and unnameable “savagery.”

Envy, Arrogance and an Exaggerated Desire to Mete Out Justice: This explains the peculiar American tendency to justify its aggression and oppression of the world by casting itself as the world's “policeman.” This is the motivation for a few lines of Francis Scott Key's “Star Spangled Banner”:

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
That Key's hymn is a direct contradiction of the New Testament is a fact that seems to have escaped a few American “Christian patriots,” but that is a subject for another time.

Certain writers have described the narcissistic personality as a “grandiose self” manufactured by a person who is actually very fragile on the inside. The grandiose self is the compensatory mechanism of such a person. However, when that grandiose self is effectively contradicted by outside events, the person who constructed that self is liable to suffer an episode of decompensation.

In a previous post, I began to describe what American national decompensation might look like. In future posts I will elaborate on that description, and will begin to describe the moral choices facing a person living in our decompensating society. My point of view will be Biblical as well as technical, and for every finger I point outward, there will be three pointing back at me – which is to say that the posts will be more of a personal diary than an analysis.

Meanwhile, the literature I have read indicates that two signs of decompensation are a worsening of narcissistic behaviors combined with a diminishing of sound judgment and cognitive function.  Here then are a few signs of American national decompensation for you to chew on: first, the U.S. is busy building the infrastructure needed to become a major oil and gas exporter, even though most independent analyses of U.S. oil and gas reserves and production show that shale and tight oil production is at peak or will peak by 2016. Why are we doing this? Because certain members of our ruling class want to continue to live in the fantasy that this is the greatest nation on earth, even though reality contradicts this fantasy. (See this also.)  Another sign of decompensation is our continual and escalating search for any nation we can start a fight with. Narcissists have a great deal of inward hostility, and they need a target on whom to dump it. This narcissistic nation, having long used the poor and the nonwhite within its own borders as its toilet bowl, is looking to build more outhouses in the Mideast and Eastern Europe (i.e., the Ukraine).


Aimee said...

I'm very much looking forward to your future writing on this subject.

TH in SoC said...

Hello Aimee,
Thanks for your continued readership. I will try to recruit one or more psychologists to tackle this subject as well.