Sunday, March 15, 2009

Narcissism's Avatars

Greens [in California] often speak movingly about the earth - but also about their personal redemption. They have engaged a legal and regulatory process that provides the wealthy and their progeny an opportunity to act out their desire to "make a difference" - often without real concern for the outcome. Environmentalism becomes a theater in which the privileged act out their narcissism.
It's even more disturbing that many of the primary apostles of this kind of politics are themselves wealthy high-livers like Hollywood magnates, Silicon Valley billionaires and well-heeled politicians... They might imagine that driving a Prius or blocking a new water system or new suburban housing development serves the planet, but this usually comes at no cost to themselves or their lifestyles.

As much came from Newsweek's dissection of California's unraveling economy. In his article, Joel Kotkin - a presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University - writes that the "politics of narcissism" is most conspicuous among liberals, and concludes that the Left's obsession with "personal redemption" by way of embracing a green ideology has served to render California unable to make the adaptations necessary to sustain economic growth. It appears that California's "limousine liberals" have no concern whatever as to whether their eco-fervor will impact the economic well-being of the state's most impoverished.

That the Left's fixation on all things ecological would be born of a preoccupation with self does not surprise. In a cobwebbed corner of this blog, there is an essay that submits narcissism to be an elemental part of the liberal psyche. And if California's affluent eco-warriors are any indication, a progressive's degree of activism is roughly commensurate with the level of their self-absorption. To be sure, I am not alone in reaching this conclusion; in his book
The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch makes a similar inference.
The left has too often served as a refuge from the terrors of the inner life... As long as political movements exercise a fatal attraction for those who seek to drown the sense of personal failure in collective action - as if collective action somehow precluded rigorous attention to the quality of personal life - political movements will have little to say about the personal dimension of social crisis.
Speaking of crisis, the economy - in California and elsewhere - is on the minds of many as of late. Much like his fellow travelers, Comedy Central's John Stewart is not one to let a crisis go to waste. Stewart has spent much of the last few days lampooning CNBC for being "disingenuous at best and criminal at worst" for acting as something of a cheerleader for corporate America prior to the recession. Stewart went on to heap an ample dose of scorn on Jim Cramer - the one CNBC host who had the temerity to fire back at Stewart. The contretemps ended last Thursday with Cramer repairing to the Daily Show to issue a stream of mea culpas. (See part one below, and see here and here for parts two and three respectively.)

The whole affair offers multiple tangents of absurdity. Here are two:

1) It is beyond comprehension that Jim Cramer - who has made (and lost) more money for himself and his clients than John Stewart can count - felt the need appear on the Daily Show, even as Cramer's CNBC counterpart Rick Santelli declined a similar invitation.

2) It is equally puzzling as to how Stewart - he of the eternal smirk - has gone from court jester to hanging judge, condemning Cramer and CNBC for failing to foresee the economy's downturn, while (as points out) neglecting to heap similar scorn on more resource heavy news outlets for failing to do likewise.

Add in the fact that - as much as this squabble was touched touched off by Santelli and Cramer having the audacity to question Barack Obama's handling of the recession - Stewart's wrath failed to encompass Warren Buffett, who also took to CNBC's airwaves recently to express his own displeasure with aspects of Obama's Stimulus Plan (as discussed elsewhere.)

Most interesting of all is the fact that both Stewart and Obama occupy the same sort of space, an expanse where power - that is, the power to shame and indict - comes with no concomitant accountability. (Stewart in particular constantly deflects criticism of his own objectivity with the defense that his is a comedy show.) Both men go through the motions of serving their respective constituencies, but each is equipped to do their job with little more than a passel of sardonicisms and a pair of eyebrows that arch at will, as if to denote condescension to the mortals who question their capability or motives.

Obama and Stewart are also linked by the fact that, for all practical purposes, there is little meaningful difference between a campaign promise (particularly one issued by this president, as he has changed his positions on key issues) and a joke, especially when both are delivered with the same sense of irony, and the same "wink-and-nudge" insincerity.
And while it has not quite reached the level of a "bromance," both men clearly need each to affirm the other, even as liberals more generally display a collective need for affirmation. We gain further clarity on this aspect of liberal psychology from Lasch.
Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his own individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his "grandiose self" reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror.
Doubtless, it was exactly the Left's need for affirmation that inspired liberal umbrage over Rush Limbaugh's "I want Obama to fail" remark. If Obama fails, which is to say his policies are shown to be wrong for the country, it is the Left - John Stewart included - that fails as well. This then reveals the foundational flaw of liberalism; it is too focused on self and kind to be concerned with the greater good of America.

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