Generally, the most valuable insight comes from the people you like most. This case is no different.
This is going to be a lengthy consideration of considerable complexity. Let's kick it off by laying down some foundational reading. Firstly :
Time's Person of the Year Is Someone Who Doesn't Actually Matter
That would be youi.
The short version of the Time article is that we as individuals have formed a community on the internet (YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, etc), and this community is starting to "build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician... but person to person."
Ok, no. Wrong, wrong, wrong all over the place.
The author of this piece is Lev Grossman. Grossman is fairly famous book critic, one of the better ones. He also wrote a novel that's a nod to Borges. This isn't bad, it's just context.
The entire problem with Grossman's premise is exemplified by his first paragraph:
The "Great Man" theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year.
Well, not exactly. Grossman's thesis is that we matter, we can shape our destinies; he puts that in contrast to Carlyle's premise that great men help shape destiny. But that's not what Carlyle actually says. Here's the actual quote:
In all epochs of the world's history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable savior of his epoch;--the lightning, without which the fuel would never have burnt. The History of the world, I said already, was the biography of Great Men.
Carlyle doesn't say great men shape destiny; he says great men, and only great men, cause history. These great men should be given powerii to run society because only they can be trusted to do it. Great men actually drive history, not shape it.
Democracy can't be trusted. Paternalistic socialism, or at least a non-hereditary, anti-capitalist, aristocracy is all that can keep us from the dark of ochlocracy. Individuals trump ideology-- which sounds like a good motto, except when individuals means Stalin and ideology means liberalismiii. Oh, and the last book Hitler read was Carlyle's History of Friedrich of Prussia.iv
So Grossman is not really paraphrasing Carlyle correctly. This is important because Grossman is a book critic with a PhD from Harvard in comparative literature. Either he simply did not know this about Carlyle, which I have to assume is impossible, or it didn't matter: he commandeered the quote, stripped it of the meaning Carlyle intended and used it the way he needed to use it. And that exactly describes the problem: truth and reality aren't important, what's important is you.
Because "You" as Person of the Year is actually quite portentuous. It's is both representative and symptomatic of the problem of our times: narcissism. Nowadays we are so alienated and matter so very little to larger society that the only thing that inflames any passion is to be reminded of this. Consider Bush and Cheney. Put aside politics for a moment, it is clear that their single-mindedness of purpose ignores each of us as individuals. Give them the benefit of the doubt, that they are doing what they think is best. But it's best for society, for America: what we hate is that it isn't for us, for you, for me. That's what people hate about them, the seeming indifference to our individual worth, to our sense of importance. Our votes don't count; everything is about religion; "Global War On Terror." Where in all that is the individual? We are tools to their "higher cause." I know people say that they are angry at the cause; but I think it's really anger that we're being used for anything.v
Being on YouTube, having a blog, having an iPod, being on MySpace-- all of these things are self-validating, they allow that illusion that is so important to narcissists: that we are the main characters in a movie. Not that we're the best, or the good guys, but the main characters. That everyone around us is supporting cast; the funny friend, the crazy ex, the neurotic mother, the egotistical date, etc. That makes reminders of our insignificance even more infuriating.
Take a look at the photos in the Time article: a DJ, a punk rocker, a guy in dredlocks, a kid dancing with headphones, a guy singing into a mic, a hot chick taking a photo of herself-- none of these people could ever be "Person of the Year." They barely have identities outside of their image. (And observe how so many are defined through music they listen to.) They must be defined by something from without, like a tattoo. But they deserve everything anyone else can have. It's their right.
I'm not saying each of us as individuals is insignificant.vi We should, could, matter.vii But to protect ourselves from an existential implosion, we decide to define ourselves through images and signs, rather than behaviors; lacking an identity founded in anything real makes us vulnerable to anger, resentment. But no guilt, ever. The narcissist never feels guilt. He feels shame.
It can't last.viii If society chooses to make narcissism the default, it's going to have to deal with society-wide narcissistic injuries-- when we suddenly realize that it isn't solely our movie and we're really not the main character.ix And no one wants to see this stupid movie anyway. This inevitably leads to violence: the school shooting, inexplicable knifing over Play Station 3, Andrea Yates, beating the wife because she wore the wrong shoes type of violence.x Oh, they weren't white high heeled pumps? That bitch! She used to wear them for her old boyfriend.
I'm not sure anyone in psychiatry sees this-- they are too busy documenting Pharma excesses and Lamictal outcomes-- but it is the problem of our times. The only ones who seem to notice are advertisers, marketers-- they see it. They don't judge it, they simply profit from it.
Grossman could morph Carlyle into what he wanted because Carlyle doesn't matter, what matters is what Grossman wanted, what Grossman needed. Carlyle doesn't exist, or he only exists as we need to use him. He becomes a tool, another supporting character. Anyone actually read anything by Carlyle anymore? Why bother? We only need a few soundbites for our own use. Grossman is a clearly a good writer and hardly the problem here. But picking "You" as Person of the Year only reinforces the collective delusion that our individual selves matter more than other person, or a collective good, an ideology, truth, or right and wrong. It's relativism with a cherry twist.
It won't last. It absolutely can't.xi
Narcissism- what I believe to be the primary disease of our times-- is one side of a coin. The other side-- the narcissist's enabler-- is the borderline.
If the analogy for narcissism is "being the main character in their own movie," then the analogy for borderline is being an actress.
Note the difference: the narcissist is a character: invented but well scripted, complete with backstory, identity. The narcissist is trying to be something-- which already has a model. Perhaps he thinks himself an artist type, or a tough guy, or the type interested in spiritualism, or like the guy in the Matrix. Types, characters. The borderline is no one: the borderline waits for the script to define her.
Her? Yes. Narcissists are mostly hes, and borderlines hers. (Not always, sure.)
The classic description includes: intense, unstable relationships; emotional lability; fear of abandonment. The borderline has no true sense of self.xii
Ironically, the borderline is a borderline only in relationship to other people. The borderline has a problem with identity only because other people in the world have stronger identities. Your Dad wants you to be one way, so you do it. Your boyfriend wants a different woman; so you do it. Your husband wants something else; so you do it. Who the hell are you, really? You have no idea, because you are always molding yourself based on the dominant personality in your life.
This is done mostly out of fear of abandonment: if you don't "be" the person they want, then they'll leave you, and then what? (Borderlines don't end relationships-- they end relationships for another relationship.)xiii
The narcissist creates an identity, then tries to force everyone else to buy into it.xiv The borderline waits to meet someone, and then constructs a personality suitable to that person.
If a borderline is dating a guy who loves the Dallas Cowboys, then for sure, she will love the Dallas Cowboys. If, however, she breaks up with him, and then dates a guy who loves the Giants, then she'll love the Giants. But here's what makes her a borderline: she will actually believe the Giants are better. She's not lying, and she's not doing it for him; she actually thinks she thinks it's true. Everyone else on the outside sees that it is obviously a function of whom she's dating, but she is sure she came up with it on her own. And she's not play acting: at that moment that she believes, with every fiber of her being, that the Giants are better.
Here's the ironic part: if a borderline was shipwrecked on a desert island with no one around, she'd develop a real identity, of her own, not a reaction to other people. Sorry, that's not the ironic part, this is: she'd become a narcissist.
The bordeline has external markings of identity: tattoos, changing hair colors, clothes. You may recall I said almost the same thing about the narcissist: the difference is, of course, the borderline changes her image as she changes her identity-- in other words, as she cahges the dominant personality in her life; but the narcissist crafts a look, an identity, which he then defends at all costs: "I would sooner eat fire ants than shave my mustache." Of course. Of course.
All those silly movies about a woman moving away, or to the big city, and she "finds herself:" that's a borderline becoming a narcissist.
If you look back on past long term relationships you've had, and are completely perplexed as to what on earth you ever saw in each of those people that kept you with them for a year; well, there you go.
This is why narcissists marry borderlines, and not other narcisstists. Two narcissists simply can't get along: who is the main character? Meanwhile, two borderlines can't be with each other-- who supplies the identity? The narcissist thrives with the borderline because she provides for him the validation that he is, in fact, the lead; the borderline thrives with the narcissist because he defines her. And, as she will tell you every single time, without fail: "you don't know him like I do." Everyone else judges his behavior; but the borderline is judging his version of himself that she has accepted.
Go back to my white high heel shoes example. The narcissist demands his woman wear white high heel pumps not because hem ay like them himself-- he might or might not-- but because he is the type of man that would be with the type of woman who wears white pumps. He thinks he's the sophisticated, masculine man of the 1980s, so she damn well better be Kim Bassinger from 9 1/2 Weeks. Blonde hair, white pumps. She could weight 400lbs, that's not the point (though it will become one later.) So she wears the shoes, and starts to believe she likes them, starts to believe that she is that woman. He reinforces this with certain behaviors or language towards her (he'll open the door for her, push her chair in, etc. You say, "well, what's wrong with that? Nothing, except that he ALSO beats her when she doesn't wear the shoes.)
It's almost battered-wife syndrome: what keeps her with tat maniac is that when he's not beating her, it seems like he is actually being kind to her, so great is the difference between being beaten and simply not being beaten. Meanwhile everything he does wrong has an external explanation: it was the alcohol, he's under stress, etc. And she's doing this rationalizing for herself, not for him, because it is vital to her own psychological survival that he actually be who he says he is, that he actually have a stable identity that things happen to, because her identity depends on his being a foundation.
That's why the therapist has to maintain such neutrality, consistency in the sessions. It's not just to avoid conflicts; by being the most dominant (read: consistent) personality, the borderline can begin to construct one for herself using the blueprints of yours as a guide.
If the borderline sounds like a 15 year old girl, that's because that's what she is. The difference, of course, is the actual 15 year old girl is supposed to be flaky, testing identities and philosophies and looks until she finally lands on the one that's "her." But if you're 30 and doing that, well...
And this takes us home.
The narcissist, as a human type, eventually as a stereotype, has been documented and discussed and represented ad nauseam during the past fifty or so centuries. The pathology of narcissism is a recent, and thoroughly nonsensical addition. Saying one's sick of narcissism is not unlike saying one's sick of tallness. Sure, tall people exist, this is directly observable and in contrast with other people, who also exist and who aren't tall. But merely difference is not per se meaningful. There's a tendency to define physiology as "the average" and pathology therefore as "deviation from the average". This works particularly well in the more scientific sides of medicine : for heartbeats, for instance.
Even if it does work, it still remains a heuristic, an empirical observation, not actual science. You can't find the "average human gender" and then proceed to treat women for womanity and men for menity. This is the direction one particular tentacle of the Organised American Pseudosciencexv is currently heading, sure, but fashion doth not a science make. Divergence in the human population is not pathology per se, even if being black was at some point considered more debilitating (mentally and especially morally) than any venereal disease. Fashion, again, is not what makes science.
Let's leave aside that "borderline" is a thoroughly constructive "disease", with no more substance to it than the "true" identity it proposes to diverge from, and also leave aside the quite obvious reasons of convenience that led to its invention - in the film called the DSM (in which every pseudoscientist sees himself as playing a role) it's that character that exists to cover a plot hole. Let's ignore "borderline" altogether, on the grounds that it exists about as much as centrifugal force exists, and instead focus on the fashion part of pseudomedicine.
It's true that fashion does not make science, but it nevertheless makes quite excellent politics. All politics is nothing more and nothing but very pretentious fashion.
The game of politics is played by leaders and their followers.
The game of politics is a game of representation : whoever gets to represent the other leaders as defeated wins. The trick is that it has to represent them as defeated to themselves. To quote a little Orwell :
The final ruin of England could only be accomplished by an English government acting under orders from Berlin. But that cannot happen if England has awakened beforehand. For in that case the defeat would be unmistakable, the struggle would continue, the IDEA would survive. The difference between going down fighting, and surrendering without a fightxvi, is by no means a question of "honour" and schoolboy heroics. Hitler said once that to ACCEPT defeat destroys the soul of a nation. This sounds like a piece of claptrap, but it is strictly true. The defeat of 1870 did not lessen the world-influence of France. The Third Republic had more influence, intellectually, than the France of Napoleon III. But the sort of peace that Petain, Laval and Co have accepted can only be purchased by deliberately wiping out the national culture.
And so this is the threat, quite exactly : should you accept Hiler's ideas as true and your own as false, you pose no further threat to Hitler. Should you refuse to do so, no matter what exactly is left as your material base, you remain a threat for him. The fiat state is no different from Hitler : it has the same exact interestsxvii, and the same exact means available to serve those interests.
Should you accept to see your leadership as "narcissists", should you accept to see yourself as "borderline", you then pose no further threat to it. Should you instead persevere in seeing its agents as the future corpses that they are, they will in due time actually become those corpses, hanging in the breeze for the crime of not having seen their future correctly.
It is said that there's no such thing as successful treason. The reason being, of course, that if it's successful the treason is to be found on the other side.———
- After doing a typically badly implemented "vote online" thing, which was utterly owned by 4chan resulting in moot being "elected" to the position through the exact process Time had proposed, Time decided to fall back to a particular sort of emotional thinking : establishment logic. And so they proclaimed an abstract "you" as the concrete referent for the prize. Because why not ? Given the choice between logical impossibility and admitting that their entire identity is built on theoretically unsound and practically broken premises, the logical impossibility wins twelve cases out of five. You didn't really expect Times to publish a single page, all black edition going "We fail. Good bye." in sad gray lettering, now did you ?! [↩]
- The risk of approaching a field as an amateur isn't that you're not going to have good ideas. You probably will, good ideas aren't really that rare, on account of most good ideas being in fact rather obvious.
The risk is twofold. First off, you are not able to distinguish good ideas from wrong, or not-even-wrong ideas. But this can be readily overcome by sheer luck. The clincher is that you can't keep good ideas on the road, because various trivial obstacles that you don't have the experience to recognise as obstacle nor the skills to safely remove always overturn your cart.
Exactly what happens here : while Ballas correctly finds a chasm of a sore spot in Grossman's paralogy-in-essay-form, nevertheless he casually steps on a rake with that "given". There's not even the vaguest consideration of "giving" great men anything whatsoever. For one thing, because there isn't who to give (narcissism is generally diagnosed by narcissists, for the record - not for any reason than the obvious, statistical one), and for another because there is not what to give. Much like ideas aren't ideas unless in the hands of one who may have them, just so power is only power in the hands of the great man. That lightning doesn't exist "in and of itself". [↩]
- Have you noticed how dead this "liberalism" thing is, by the way ? When's the last time you heard a "all men are rapists" feminist say that "well, I don't agree with your idea that women should just take it and be thankful for every bit they get, but hey, I'll fight to the death for your right to promote it" ? Doesn't happen all that often, does it ? (Last one I recall is Clinton telling some derp - hey, I understand you don't like abortions, but we do, and as it happens we're in power. So we'll pursue our policy, not yours, and if you don't like it, do better in the next election.) [↩]
- And the last girl I used as a toilet was a feminist. What's this do, if anything ?
I am serious, by the way : on her knees by the urinal, drenched her from head to toe. And yes she was a feminist. This somehow matters, there's some relation ? [↩]
- The correlation between this and consumerism should probably be examined.
In a traditional society, the closest role I can readily identify for the average "civilised" derp, that consumer who "has come to expect" is the household's pig. Kept in a dirty wooden thing a ways from the house, fed all the leftover slop. (By the way : Prikoke's an excellent story of the whole thing done by a group of talented Eastern Romanians.)
Now, obviously the absolute consumer is not particularly interested in being used for anything. This is because the only thing he's likely to be used for has to do with his insides. You may think this is too subtle a consideration to be ever available to the average derp. However, this subtlety is more due to the winding road the mind has to take to see itself, nothing else. If consumption is the point, or comes to dominate existence, then by the very definition of those words nothing external can be the point. And if something internal's the point, obviously evisceration is the prototype of any future use. Whether the average derp's neocortex is or is not developed enough to breach these veils and notice, nevertheless any mammal's primitive brain figures it out in half a minute. If that. [↩]
- He should, because that's exactly the problem. All this vast pile of narcissism is not pathological, it is merely reactive.
Consider : a century ago, a kid walking down the street of some town, ten thousand souls strong, could figure himself the fifth most eligible bachelor and live with that. Even if in fact he was the 19th most eligible, and flattered himself to the 5th position. And if he didn't live in a small enough town, he'd just move a little West and the problem solved itself.
The Internet means everyone's connected. The same kid can no longer even walk on the street anymore. Not that street anyway. The street he hitchhikes on, drenched by rains and broiled by the Sun is called "The Information Superhighway" (remember that ?). He goes on youtube and notices there's literally an infinity of bachelors more eligible than him. The offering's so wide it's not even finite. And there's no place to go : youtube's everywhere.
The truth of the matter is that individual human life is drastically insignificant in any sort of randomly chosen scale or perspective. Neverthless, individual human beings can not generally survive with that outlook. The wounding of everyone's narcissism is why Stalin's "deaths are just a statistic" quip is still remembered. Not that it weren't true - of course it is - but that he shouldn't have said it! And he should be replaced with someone or something else - let's call it, for simplicity, "democracy", that will never - what ? That will never say it! That's what democracy can be trusted to deliver : never saying those things. The things nobody wants to hear.
Of course it can't fucking move history, or act remarkably, or deliver anything of practical value. In the immortal words of the Knights of Ni, "one doesn't get too far in life without saying it". But that's not the point, much like the amateur trader's not trading to make money, democracy is not here to do anything. It's simply here so that particular things are never said. This being also being why I'm profoundly and irredeemably undemocratic : I'll say whatever the fuck I please. Do you know any greater political evil ? [↩]
- Think about it - what would happen if every single member of an eight billion strong army mattered ? Suppose you're not you, suppose you're a game designer. Your game is played by eight billion players, and each of them makes a change to the environment. A meaningful change. Something that matters. How would you distinguish an average game session from a simple "X has crashed, blinkage and corrupted video memory artefacts" ?
Suppose you're a school administrator, and your school has eight... billion ? million ? thousand ? Eight hundred! Eight hundred kids, and every single one of them modifies the fucking building. Normal school administrators have enough trouble with the one kid in a hundred that breaks a window once in his school life. What if each one of them started altering the design, moving the doors, replacing windows with large faucets etc ? What then ?
Of fucking course people should not matter. God help us if they ever do. [↩]
- It'd better fucking last. [↩]
- Yes, but the alternative is dealing with an Earth that has already been shaped like a cube, a cone and Eva Longoria's left tit before breakfast today. [↩]
- Violence, you will notice, is great for this application : it reduces the size of the problem pool. [↩]
- It has to. [↩]
- The problem is, no one has a "true" sense of self that survives under deliberate scrutiny. The major depressive has this problem. The compulsive definitely. Let's not even get into the "true sense of self" in schizo. Every pathologic state of the mind has this problem, fundamentally because physiologically the mind has the same problem, fundamentally because "identity" is like Augustine's beauty : before you asked me I thought I had it, but now that you ask it seems to have melted away. [↩]
- "Feminine" women generally, not just "borderlines". [↩]
- Leaders generally, not just narcissists. [↩]
- Generally it calls itself "mainstream science", in a bout of unchecked narcissism. [↩]
- Remember Here's what they don't tell you when they bring you those papers to sign ? [↩]
- As defined by Mussolini : Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; [↩]