The Bubble of Narcissism
If you have been with The Chrysalis, or the earlier Dark Age Blog, for any length of time, you will know that I hold narcissism to be the human, all-too-human condition, without exception for the most part. I also hold Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the bubble of narcissism to be virtually identical in meaning. Furthermore, that which in former Ages was called “idolatry” is the same narcissism. Only the name has changed, but not the meaning of it. It seems to be the inevitable spiritual problem, and eventual obstacle, of creatures such as ourselves that rise to self-consciousness.
While it seems to have been relatively out of the news of late, Zoe Williams at The Guardian published a piece today on narcissism entitled “Me! Me! Me! Are we living through a narcissism epidemic?” My God! After all these years following Christopher Lasch’s publication of The Culture of Narcissism in 1979, do we really have to ask that question again?
Every once in a while, someone comes along again who raises the question of whether or not we are having a “narcissism epidemic”, indicating to me that they neither understand the meaning of narcissism nor the meaning of the question about it. I’ve read all the authorities on narcissism cited by Zoe Williams in her article except Pat MacDonald, who alone seems to get it mostly right. (I haven’t yet read MacDonald’s article “Narcissism in the Modern World” as yet, but only her conclusions as summarised in Williams’ piece.)
We should understand that the bubble of narcissism is what William Blake calls “Ulro” — the Shadowland. Moreover, thanks to Iain McGilchrist’s research in neurodynamics published in The Master and his Emissary, we now understand that the Emissary is the narcissist, and that the left-hemisphere mode of attention — the second attention — is the narcissistic bubble. Unfortunately, McGilchrist spends very little time on that issue apart from acknowledging that narcissism is the problem of the second attention or ego-nature associated with the brain’s left-hemisphere mode of attention/mode of being.
This bubble of narcissism is about to burst. That’s why Gebser uses the term “irruption” to describe the volatile reorganisation of the human psychic structure — the human form or mold. The bursting of the narcissistic bubble is called the apocalyptic, and it is why Blake and Gebser are, amongst others, apocalyptic thinkers. Both have anticipated the impending destruction of the narcissistic bubble, as well as the attendent chaos that comes from that.
Now we are suddenly noting that humans are very narcissistic, and that there is a “culture of narcissism” and an “epidemic of narcissism”. Yet for the greater part of human history it has always been the case. The apparent confusion about this is because it is now becoming evident, and it is becoming evident precisely because the narcissistic bubble is beginning to deconstruct. So, to keep asking the same question of whether there is a “narcissism epidemic” is the wrong question. The question is whether we are beginning to wake up from the narcissistic fascinum (or magic spell) because we now notice what was earlier taken for granted as “normal” is actually quite abnormal.
We now are concerned that there is an evident “empathy deficit”, which is the chief feature of the condition of narcissism. But when has there not been an empathy deficit? Those in the past who were deemed highly empathetic or compassionate were honoured as exceptions, as extraordinary, as saints, or even as martyrs to empathy. When was empathy ever considered the norm and not the exception?
Something in us now acknowledges and recognises a problem that what was previously deemed “normal” is actually quite abnormal — an empathy deficit and a culture of narcissism.
If idolatry, proper, was all about the thralldom of images, narcissism is the thrall of the self-image, which is all that this “I am” really is — an imaginative fabrication, a character in a novel, a role in a play. The so-called post-modern “loss of self” is part of the process of the bubble bursting, and loss of self (or identity crisis or dissolution of the “rational soul”) is coincident with chaotic emotion/affective disorders — and therewith, nihilism.
The strange paradox implied in this: how can the “loss of self” be coincident with the “epidemic of narcissism”? They seem completely contradictory and opposed interpretations of the times. But that, too, belongs to the “double-movement” that Gebser saw in the trends of the present.