Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Breakup of Pathological Spaces

To summarize last week's post, present-day American narcissism stands on the following legs:

  • A 1700-year legacy of the preaching of national exceptionalism in Europe by state churches who tried to justify the disconnect between the words of the New Testament and the actions of the states in which these churches were embedded.
  • Exceptionalism “taken to the next level” through Calvinism: first, the belief that some people were predestined from before the womb to eternal salvation, and others predestined from before the womb to eternal damnation, this election being completely independent of the choice of any of those so predestined. Second, the belief that all that happens in the world happens because God has willed it; therefore, all that happens must have been approved by God. This morphed into “social Calvinism”: the belief that the sign that one was a member of God's elect was material prosperity and success in earthly business, the belief that those who were not successful or who were poor were so because they were not of God's elect but were under God's curse, and the belief that whatever “God's elect” got away with doing to the rest of the people in the world was approved by God and a sign of His “Providence.”
As I said in last week's post, this is the foundation of American narcissism, the belief that this nation is above all nations in that it has a special mission from God (a mission which conveniently lines up with American imperial ambitions), that Americans (specifically, white Americans) are a special, chosen people, and the belief that both Scripture, Providence and nature bear this out.

The effect that such beliefs, combined with a long string of seeming “successes” has had on the Anglo-American psyche is that this has become the unconscious foundation of national identity and the unconscious justification of white privilege. Americans know they are special just because they are. Therefore many of them have begun to compete with each other to see who is most “special.” (“Mirror, mirror, on the wall...”)

Today's post will consider the environment which narcissists create for themselves and in which they operate. That environment is the narcissist's Pathological Space: “the network of relationships in their home, extended families, workplace, and neighborhood.” (Krajco, 2004-2007). Its purpose is to feed the narcissist by providing victims and mirrors who reflect back the narcissist's grandiose self. Garden-variety narcissists don't care about anything outside their pathological space, even though they know that there is a world full of people who live outside that space. Therefore they don't trouble themselves with that outside world unless someone mentions it to them, in which case they disparage the outside world and turn back to contemplating their own glory. Within the pathological space, everyone else is either a victim or a mirror. A person can choose to be a victim or a mirror, although sometimes mirrors are turned into victims apart from their own choice.

A mirror is an adoring lackey or sycophant, who always gives the right answer when asked the All-Important Question: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?” A victim is anyone who contradicts the narcissist. Contradicting is extremely easy to do. You can give the wrong answer to the All-Important Question – first, by pointing out someone (other than the narcissist) whom you admire or look up to, second, by being someone of obviously praiseworthy virtue or competence yourself, or third, simply by being obviously different in any way from the narcissist – especially if your “difference” makes you “vulnerable” in the narcissist's eyes.

So what happens to you if you contradict or refuse to validate the grandiose self constructed by a narcissist? You become the target of attack while you are in the narcissist's pathological space. The attack is designed to destroy you, for a contradiction to the narcissist's grandiose self must not be allowed to survive, as the contradiction is an existential threat to the narcissist's identity. If you fight back or defend yourself, you simply provoke a drastic multiplication of the narcissist's rage – he has to be right and victorious, or his grandiose self will suffer an intolerable injury. Therefore, it will be a no-holds-barred, knock-down and drag-out fight from his point of view. Even if you win a round, you'll have to be forever on your guard, because the narcissist will never quit – even if at times he seems to surrender. The only way to rid yourself of the narcissist is to cut off all contact with him, and that introduces an entirely different set of dynamics and risks into the situation.

What happens when a narcissist or narcissistic nation manages to turn the world into a Pathological Space? I think when that happens, you get the sort of foreign policy which the United States has enacted from the late 1800's until now (with more than a little help from England, another nation ruled by narcissists). The war against “contradictions” has involved the following nations:

  • Haiti, a former slave colony which obtained its independence by revolting from France in 1804. In the aftermath of the revolution, the United States sided with France in trying to economically isolate Haiti in order to destroy its self-determination and its government. France imposed a fine on Haiti in order to recoup the losses to its earning power resulting from the loss of its African slaves in Haiti, and the United States assisted France in its economic punishment of Haiti. Moreover, the United States has invaded the country numerous times during the 20th and 21st centuries. (For an example, see this.)
  • The Philippines during the Filipino-American War, where the United States inflicted casualties to the tune of at least 220,000 and possibly over 300,000 people, according to some historians.
  • The Dominican Republic, which was invaded four times by the United States from 1900 to 1965.
  • Vietnam, whose citizens fought a war of independence against France from 1946 to 1954. The French had become involved at the behest of the British government after World War 2. During that war, the United States supported the French with arms, intelligence, and funding. However, the French lost the war. Once the French were kicked out of the country, the United States brokered a partition of the country into North and South Vietnam. When the South Vietnamese government proved itself to be inept and corrupt, the Vietnamese people began fighting to overthrow it, thus triggering the American involvement of the 1960's and early 1970's which ended when Nixon negotiated a “peace with honor” that enabled America to walk away without having to admit defeat.
  • Both Gulf Wars, ISIS, Syria, and Afghanistan, where American intervention has caused from 1,200,000 to possibly 2,000,000 (yes, that's two million) civilian deaths so far, according to several sources (such as this one);
  • And many, many more!
In People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck wrote a chapter on the Vietnam War titled, “My Lai: An Examination of Group Evil,” in which he states that we fought so hard to conquer that country because psychologically we just had to be right, even though the facts on the ground contradicted us. We would rather have destroyed the contradiction entirely than admit that we had been wrong. Our zeal in fighting therefore shows our narcissism. It can be argued that this nation has never truly backed down from a war which it has started as an attempt to conquer a nation whose citizens plainly showed that they did not want to be ruled by the United States. After the U.S. was forced militarily out of Indochina, it used economic policies to enforce a partial subjugation of the region. And the U.S. has never truly left Iraq.

When the “good angels” in a narcissist's pathological space get together to compare notes, often the result is an exodus of people from the pathological space. Many writers describe this as “going No Contact (NC)” with the narcissist. Narcissists are enraged by contradiction, but they are made desperate by No Contact. Under No Contact, people who were mirrors to the narcissist, or who were used as sources of supply by the narcissist, are no longer there to reflect the narcissist's glory or power or influence back to him. Without such people, the narcissist faces an existential crisis even worse than the crisis provoked when he is contradicted by someone, for under No Contact, the narcissist sees his former victims and mirrors living meaningful lives completely independent of him, and he sees that his formerly grandiose self can no longer have any effect on them. This is the ultimate contradiction of his Grandiose Self.

Over the last thirteen to fifteen years, other nations have begun to go No Contact with the U.S. The diminishing of contact has taken place in the economic arena, as nations have sought to build trade agreements with each other independently from the United States, and to move away from the dollar as the world's reserve currency. This move was provoked initially by the American use of sanctions to subjugate Iraq after the first Gulf War. This move has accelerated in response to the unilateral American military and economic acts of aggression which have taken place since 2001. This move has not been without risk, as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi found out. Nevertheless, in spite of economic and military warfare waged by the United States, the U.S. dollar as a percentage of all foreign exchange holdings droppped from 55 percent in 2001 to 33 percent in 2013.  Further, new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and trade zones continue to be enacted throughout the world, independently of the United States, which is not being invited to enter these agreements. American attempts to wreck foreign economies through sanctions are backfiring, as targeted nations are learning that one can indeed survive without the U.S. dollar.

I think it's safe to say that we are witnessing the emergence of a new world order, but not one that is pleasing to the United States. What is emerging is a multipolar world, in which everyone must be polite, wait his or her turn, and say “Please” and “Thank you,” and in which no one nation will get to enjoy outlandishly “special” prerogatives or privileges over any other nation. The holders of concentrated privilege and power in the United States fear and hate the emergence of such a world, but increasingly, there doesn't seem to be a thing they can do to stop it. The long-term response of the United States to that emergence is likely to be some form of “decompensation.” That “decompensation” will be in part comically stupid, and in part dangerously ugly in many parts of this country, and in many sectors of American society. I'll talk about that in a future post.

A last note: when narcissists lose most of their current sources of supply, one sign of their resulting desperation is that they go back to former sources of supply and try to re-establish relationships with these people, in the hope of rebuilding a pathological space of mirrors and victims. Going back to former sources is called “hoovering” by many writers. As I think about hoovering, I think about the recent news that the United States is seeking to normalize relations with Cuba. Cuba – a nation which was ostracized by the United States over a span of 55 years – from the overthrow of the Batista regime until now. Cuba – a nation which has discovered that it is possible to live a meaningful and worthy life independent of the United States. Cuba – a nation which is now famous for having a first-rate medical system and which exports medical expertise and medical technology to the rest of the world. Cuba – a nation which is only 90 miles away from the American coastline. Cuba – a nation now being “hoovered”?  ¡Ten cuidado, Raul Castro!

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