Thursday, 18 October 2012

Reinventing Narcissism

I listened to an interesting podcast this evening. The podcast itself is called ‘Four Thought’ and it’s available on iTunes. The episode I listened to was released on October 10th. The speaker was Mark Vernon and the description of the talk was thus:

Mark Vernon, writer and former priest, says we should rehabilitate the concept of narcissism as a valuable form of self-love.”

Firstly let me begin this post by defining ‘narcissism’.

narcissism |ˈnärsəˌsizəm|
excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance.
Psychology extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

That is pretty harsh modern take in my view!

In my thesaurus ‘narcissism’ has the following associated with it: vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism.
Now if we took aside the most self-centered definitions that may have been added over the years, by my reckoning we’d be left with the following positives:
·      self-love
·      self-admiration
·      self-regard

We may also have the following slightly negative traits:
·      self-centeredness
·      self-absorption
·      egotism

I ask you to look at the positives and read them. What in all honesty is wrong with those? In my humble view – nothing is wrong with those and nothing is wrong with any person showing these traits. The following blog post will talk a bit about an institution I believe has a vested interest in keeping humanity suppressed for its own selfish gain. Engaging in ‘positive narcissism’ in my view, could help free us from this institution.

The reason Mr. Vernon’s talk caught my attention is because he spoke about an issue that has been in my thoughts since I wrote my thesis. Now my disclaimer here is that my arguments are against the institution of religion itself, namely the Roman Catholic Church whom I consider to be one of the most corrupt, evil institutions the world has seen. My arguments are not so much about religious beliefs – more the teachings of this criminal institution. Now part of my thesis involved me researching and writing about the control the institution of the Roman Catholic Church was able to place over society right from the Church’s very beginnings. A lot of the Church’s teachings have been about controlling the individual. Part of my first chapter centered on the French philosopher Michael Foucault. In lectures given in the 1970’s, Foucault spoke about certain Christian practices which firstly began with “the emergence of a very strange phenomenon in Graeco–Roman civilization, that is the organisation of a link between total obedience, knowledge of oneself, and confession to someone else.” (Foucault in Holland, 2002: 86) Foucault argued that the goal of these Christian practices was the same: Their goal was “to get individuals to work at their own ‘mortification’ in this world.” In my thesis my argument was that this phenomenon taught people to feel shame if they ever had a notion that the Church was committing wrongs and that this inbuilt shame in people caused silence rather than outspokenness in times of wrong doing for fear of offending a god and/or shaming those purportedly doing his work here on earth. I argued that this was and still is powerful and destructive control to have.

I mention this to give you the reader a very brief introduction to my theory of institutional Church control. Mr. Vernon when speaking about the criticism associated with self-love made the following point in his talk. He asks why narcissism carries such automatically negative connotations today? He says “it may have something to do with religious injunctions around the notion that its better to give than to receive, though I suspect its too easy just to blame religion.” (08.11 – 08.24) I have no such qualms! It is very easy to blame institutional religion and I have part of my argument laid out above. The institution of the Church has taught people over many, many centuries to feel ashamed of their bodies. It has taught society to feel ashamed of the natural act of sex. That any form of self-love is wrong. Only their definition of love is acceptable. This societal indoctrination of course had an impact on the psyche of people. This indoctrination led to the ‘crime’ of narcissism and the negative associations that my thesaurus listed alongside the word. My thesis aimed to prove that if society had different teachings, we would be different people. I personally turn to philosophy in my attempts to find answers and in this instance I turn to Aristotle.

While the word ‘narcissism’ was not around in Aristotle’s day, the concept of self-love was and Aristotle spoke of the need to love oneself for he believed that you are closer to yourself than to anyone else. Aristotle argued that those who denigrate self-love are thinking of people who seek the greatest honors and pleasures only for themselves. A good person who is self-loving will seek only what is best for himself or herself, which will be consistent with what is best for all. A good person will do seemingly unselfish acts, such as taking risks for friends or giving away money, but will do these things because they are noble and are motivated by self-love. 

Now I do not believe the institution of the Catholic Church fully understand or believe the message taught by their supposed saviour Jesus Christ because using Aristotle’s logic from this point, Jesus could be described as a ‘positive narcissist’.

Now, please excuse me while I paraphrase sparknotes but the following paragraph succinctly returns us to my control theory. They write that Aristotle’s discussion of self-love marks him as one of the early proponents of ethical egoism, a controversial issue in the modern world. Ethical egoism is the idea that self-love is the most important virtue and that if we all sought what was best for ourselves, the world would naturally work its way into a desirable shape without the need for selflessness. This idea is unpopular in the modern world because its most ardent proponents tend to be selfish conservatives (the emphasis is mine) who have no interest in the needs of others. Unlike us, however, Aristotle lived in a world where there was common agreement on what was good for all and where the community mattered more than the individual. In such a world, successful people measured their success in part by the success of their fellow citizens. Selfishness seems like a vice only in a world driven by individualism, where there is no evident benefit for oneself in helping others. 

Some of the most selfish conservatives that come to my mind today are the ones in the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic Church. A close second are some of the conservatives in the United States of whom a majority would recognise the Christian god as their almighty. Don’t believe me? Look at Church responses to the worldwide scandal of child rape and sexual abuse. A lot of Republican conservatives in the US argue for the right to life right up to the point of birth. Once born, you can face the death penalty at some point in your life, crippling poverty – basically neither have much interest in the needs of others. Their main priorities are maintenance of power and control over their flocks.

I believe that by reinventing the notion of self-love and thus ‘narcissism’, by removing the stigma that the institution of the Church has put on the notions of love, I believe a freer, more confident and vibrant people could emerge. My basic argument here is that in nearly everyone’s life, you are one of your own first loves. As a child, loving yourself helps to foster your belief in yourself that for example, your decision-making skills are good. Obviously the love of a parent or parents, guardian or guardians helps to foster these beliefs and they guide us back to the right path when our inexperience in life leads us off in the wrong direction. Loving yourself helps you feel grounded in your own body. It gives you confidence to face the world as an individual person; warts and all. The institution of the Church does not want this. It wants you to acknowledge that you are weakness ‘humanified’. It requires you to pray for strength to overcome your weakness. Self-love is no weakness.

I believe humanity needs to have more belief in itself and love for itself. The love starts within you. Please remember that no form of love is perfect. If we could only remove the stigma associated with narcissism I think we could persuade people to be a lot happier and a lot more confident. Not only would this removal of stigma facilitate this, I believe that it would begin to free society of the yoke that religion has placed around its existence. By accepting that we have faults and that we must live with them, only then can we can more easily accept the faults in others and become a more tolerant society. It is beliefs put in our heads by the Institution of the Church that cause us to question any theories or notions of love. When presented with thoughts, it is most important to remember the following:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

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