Narcissism

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Have we entered the age of narcissism? It may seem ironic when the hallmark of the 21st century is ‘social media’ and ‘sharing’ but most of this sharing is about ‘look at me’ and ‘share MY pain.’

Selfies cover the universe in self-aggrandising wallpaper — look at me laugh or cry, look at me be sexy, even look at me with bears. Some have even suggested that selfies are an early symptom of narcissism and body image disorders. Some say this is nonsense.

I tend to side with the latter. People have been taking selfies ever since the camera was invented. There is nothing new about selfies — I can remember taking a few with regular film cameras long before anyone had a cell phone.

And before the camera we had self-portraits. Done mostly I’m sure by artists who couldn’t afford to hire a model (or who had run out of friends who would do it for free).

There is nothing new about narcissism — how could there be? The very word is derived from a Greek legend dating back at least 3000 years.

It is odd that we war with this issue of the self. We worry about teens with low self-esteem, all the while we rail against arrogant bastards who think they are better than everyone else.

This is the burden of consciousness. Bees are social creatures — more social than we but the bee never worries about standing out from the crowd. The only unique bee is the queen and even she is quite replaceable. Because bees are not self-aware they never take selfies. Or have issues with self-esteem.

But we are aware of our own individuality — no matter how communal a society we live in. It is constantly there in the I and the me, always distinct from the other. Yet we are also social; it is doubtful that we would even exist if not for the social and linguistic relationships we have with others.

So narcissism is natural — which doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing (Remember arsenic is natural too).

Narcissism leads us to strange places. It fools liberals into thinking that the rational individual — or clusters of them — can change the world. Tear it all down and build a new one. But that didn’t work. At least if the French revolution is any measure. We need to reform not revolutionize. We need a new enlightenment built on social rather than individual precepts.

And then there is the narcissism of religion — the belief that some all-powerful god cares about the minutiae of individual behavior. What a strange idea — that we are the centre of god’s attention rather than a mere flicker at the edge of his vision. (If there was a god — but that’s another matter.)

It is this narcissism at the heart of most (though not all) religions that leads people to think that their version of religion is the Truth (solely because they hold it). From there, gunning down innocent children is a far easier step than you might think.

But that’s ten minutes.

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