On narcissism

(How narcissistic is this: write one’s own note on the subject–sweet!) I have always thought that narcissism was a very strange malady from which to suffer, but the older I get, the more I think that it might be the most common national past-time in America. Far be it from me to judge, but our “me first” society, where we give participation trophies for breathing, seems ready to plunge head-first into its own image in a nihilistic search for eternal youth, breaking new records every day in what it spends on make-up, hair products, Botox, gyms, and plastic surgery. Our obsessions, however, don’t stop with the purely physical, but extends to all of the things our consumer society deems necessary for a happy and successful life–cell phones, flat screen televisions, fast cars, Caribbean vacations, tablets and other personal computing devices, large homes–the list is probably endless. Our narcissism extends to our obsession with digitally mediated communications and our involvement in social networks and the adulation we demand from our “friends,” who are probably anything but friends. We are constantly craving more and more interaction with our friends when they “like” a status, or a post, or a picture. The more we let others stroke our egos, the happier we are, plunging us further into the watery reflection at which we stare, hopelessly in love with the changing image floating in front of us, leaving real family and friends wondering where we are. Of course, a certain amount of narcissism is healthy when mixed with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. When you start believing your own press clippings, you really need to be dragged back into reality. The truth is, narcissism is a debilitating and unhealthy belief that one is too smart or too beautiful or too talented to mix with the regular rank and file. The Lake Wobegon syndrome, “that all the children are above average” only leads us all to the unhealthy belief that we are special, that we walk above the masses, that we are exceptional. that we are not a part of the hoi-polloi. I would suggest that the contrary is true: that average is average, and most of us are just that, average. The myth of Narcissus exists primarily as a cautionary in which the foolish exemplar dies, alone and unloved because he believes that his personal beauty is exceptional and above all others, yet his self-obsession drives him to madness, isolating him from Echo, the woman who would save him. The story of Narcissus is both tragic and ironic because he rejects the nymph who would love him, causing her great unhappiness, but the love of the forest nymph could have saved him if he could only get outside of himself. Consumed by his own image, Narcissus becomes isolated and still more self-absorbed, which I would suggest is a metaphor for the excessive egotism which assails our obsessive consumer society. We see the narcissism everywhere–on the road, at the supermarket, speeding through a school zone. The weird side of this problem is that it defies solutions–Narcissus never came around, there was no solutions to his obsession. He was incapable of self-awareness, a self-awareness of himself as just one small part of a much larger whole. Consumed by the superficiality of his own good looks, he was incapable of loving anyone else. In the end, it was his ego which robbed him of any kind of humility which might have averted his death.