ACTORS ALL - I MYSELF - ALONE
When life fails to bring us consistent satisfaction, when our weaknesses withhold from us the ego satisfaction we crave, most persons create fantasies that ease the pain caused by the near universal life-style dilemma of uncertainty. This allows each fearful person to protect his or her precious soul from suffering without exercising a great deal of effort. Some people cling to self-defeating attitudes, activities and relationships that offer short-term gains, while sacrificing the long range benefits only a maturing life-style provides. Our self imposed repressions and denials keep us from learning what we really need in order to live a consistently liberating life.
Spiritually minded adults who are maturing beyond their anxieties and self-deceptions have learned from our terrible 20th century disasters that existence is seldom simple. Unfortunately, psychospiritually immature persons avoid that reality of life like the plague, fervently hoping that denying everything unpleasant will deliver them from their problems. Winston Churchill, Englands great war time prime minister, muttered in disgust when he was trying desperately to get his people to prepare for the attack by Adolph Hitlers Germany:
The average man simply cannot tolerate the truth. And should he inadvertently stumble over it, he immediately hurries away lest it force him to discard the delusions with which he comforts himself.
Freud was right, of course, for within forty years after Doyles prediction, his rational, responsible world had fought World War I and World War II, endured the Holocaust and begun a half century long financially and spiritually devastating Cold War. As usual, there was little ordinary men and women could do to keep their commercial, political and military abusers from slaughtering a hundred million persons across the twentieth century. Unfortunately, few of us made a serious effort to stop them - which for me verifies the fact that we do indeed contain within our hearts and minds the narcissistic seeds of greed and violence we deny through the ultimate lie. This lie is the myth that men and women are mostly cool and calm persons who would live at peace were it not for a few wicked abusers who disturb the peace. We, the citizens of Western Civilization, failed miserably to behave responsibly as we followed ruthless manipulators who promised us revenge on and loot from those evil savages who competed with us from across first the Rhine and later the Vistula Rivers. Look, the most vicious abusers always find some enemy through which they harness many naïve cultural neurotics to do their bidding, to slaughter one another for the benefit of some ruthless and egoistic aristocracy.
J. R. R. Tolkien, the eccentric Oxford University don ended his magnificent LORD OF THE RINGS saga with some sound advice for humans troubled by wounded egos. He had Gandalf the wizard admonish the hobbits Pippin and Merry to be modest when they return home as national heroes. After many adventures theyd met with fortitude and courage, in which the peaceful little shire-folk defeated the overwhelming forces of Sauron, their wise old comrade told them to remain modest. They must remember, he said, they are after all only very small chaps in a vast and dangerous Middle Earth. Pippin and Merry laughed from the depths of their earthy hobbit souls and agreed with Gandalf. One hobbit said not to worry, he became heroic and bold only under protest, only when forced into battle by desperate circumstances. Actually, hed rather be home writing books on family history than treading the paths of glory which hed found led many comrades to the grave. The other hobbit sighed and said;
Alas, we Tooks and Brandybucks cannot live comfortably on the heights with the kings and nobles of Middle Earth.
They quickly tired of fames limelight; both wanted to go home and operate their farms in the lush green fields of the Shire with their loved ones. Hobbits have always shown excellent judgment; they spend most of their time growing and consuming as much good food as possible.
We are all beset by challenges that frustrate us consistently in an age when an act as simple as driving on a freeway requires a life or death decision every sixty seconds. Politicians are ruthlessly destroying our beloved Republic, creating a wicked American Empire in which one percent of our citizens control ninety percent of the nations wealth. Corporations destroy three million American careers every year through downsizing and out sourcing, dishonesty abounds in many places, millions of Americans are addicted to narcotics and terrorism is on the increase. We have only recently come through the Cold War with the threat of mass annihilation waved constantly as a red flag by politicians to manipulate us. Millions of Americans can remember crouching under their school desks, fearful that each alert would bring a nuclear holocaust. Teachers and principals everywhere were in turmoil. I was teaching science while in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati and we teachers were powerless to change anything the Military/Industrial Complex and its political lackeys saddled us with in order to stop the spread of collective ownership of the worlds resources.
We bring many problems on ourselves through our selfishness. Humans are so narcissistic that we give ourselves the benefit of every doubt, thinking ourselves superior and deserving more privileges than the common folk. The world revolves around I - MYSELF ALONE! And then we repress and deny everything that causes problems and pain. Gandalfs advice is good for us also. At best, we are temporal creatures who live briefly on the bubble of existence, although we normally ignore our vulnerability so long as health and wealth lasts. We remain only actors, Shakespeare said, pretending and strutting on the stage, speaking our few lines and vanishing into the wings as understudies take over our precious roles. Nevertheless, despite our limitations, each person whether woman or man, instinctively and automatically feels like the protagonist in the play - the central character around whom the action swirls, who deserves the lions share of the applause. All those lesser characters at the edges of the drama really should defer to us. That seems only right, for we can stand on lifes stage, swing our eyes around and see that I - MYSELF ALONE appears to be the only person in the midst of the action. We want to believe, if we will honestly admit it, that we are at the center of the Cosmos with everyone else waiting at the edges. And herein comes one great persisting tragedy for individuals, families, communities and entire cultures.
Very little about women and men is painted in pure black and white colors. A great many aspects of life come in shades of gray, somewhere between holy sainthood and ruthless deviltry. Humans should try to get along with a modicum of decency and satisfaction, at least until we are frustrated to distraction, frightened badly and feel we must fight to preserve our self-esteem, our possessions, our pleasure or our power to function without domination by another person.
Therefore, while I write about narcissism and self-esteem, about our desire to win respect from our peers, to become someone of significance, that also comes in many shades of gray. You may yearn to become the very best, most loving and competent nurse in Cook County Hospital. That is a noble ambition while also assuring us of continuing respect from friends and esteem about ones self. We all need to receive esteem, even if its only as the best neighborhood Martian slayer on the latest video game, so we almost all try to make ourselves look somewhat better than we really are. This is as normal as human narcissism gets. On the other hand, the Mafia don who wants the most respect within his family - which is another way of saying he demands fear from his subordinates - or a ruthless business manager who will cheat employees, suppliers and contractors to promote his or her wealth, is searching for dominance rather than esteem. This is certain to create distrust, resentment and attempts by others to restore some balance of power. But nothing is simple!
NATURES NASTY TWIST
Narcissism, when it gets out of hand. is an example homosapien selfishness, is usually dangerous and often fatal, leading us to lust inordinately for power, prestige, possessions and pleasure. Sigmund Freud who wrote long after Jesus time, reorganized the Biblical concept of mammon in classic terms. Freud used the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, who was so enamored with his own beauty that he died while admiring it, to explain our often overwhelming fixation with ourselves and our schemes. He coined the phrase narcissism to identify this condition that causes such devastation at so many times and places where humans interact.
Our virtually universal narcissistic drive to be superior - to appear more important than anyone else, to seize possessions and power and prestige over others, is arguably the major cause of human conflicts and most crippling disasters that follow. Massive human problems come from our yearning to make everyone else subservient to egoistic I - MYSELF ALONE. This lusting after possessions, power, prestige and pleasure, when it gets out of hand, is at the root of almost all individual, group and national conflicts.
This universal craving for existential significance became embedded in our psyches as a survival element during our primordial ancestors struggles as fangless little hominids who made convenient meals for the big carnivores on the wild African savannah. Because they could neither run fast nor fight fiercely, those with the greatest narcissism were more likely to survive and pass their genes on to a family group that carried them eventually to us. Those that didnt run and grasp and hoard what they needed, who didnt become paranoid enough to sacrifice their peers so they could escape, were less likely to survive. Their genes were lost to us. Now, a few million years later, each of us is still determined not to be ignored, devalued or deprived of our right to self-esteem, our right to dominate those lesser creature-selves around us.
From that egoistic lust for superiority, arises the bloody history of our violent race. Disaster comes often because the people and societies we yearn to dominate feel precisely the same way about us. As in the endless Balkan and African conflicts, people are almost always on a collision course with persons, organizations and nations that are equally willing to use others for their own benefit. Of course, each group rationalizes its violence as being caused by those evil strangers across the valley who threaten their own righteous and holy way of life. Obviously, we humans virtually always deny bringing conflicts down on ourselves. We are always tempted to blame others for our problems so we can justify our attacks, can feel good about sacrificing our young people to teach the enemy of the decade a lesson about challenging us. George W. Bush never makes a speech without praising the young American fighting men and women while ruthlessly cutting the Veterans Affairs budget just as the flood of casualties from his wars need the most help. He also constantly condemns the ruthless villains who attack and frustrate the good and righteous American way of dominating the world. After all, most humans feel that I MYSELF - ALONE absolutely do deserve the best in life. This narcissistic fantasy that each of us is superior to the rest of humankind and more deserving is buried deep in our unconscious from where it oozes out in crucial times and places. This nasty twist of human nature has complicated life more and more for us.
I realize that in order to cope with 21st century challenges, humans must become bold and courageous. We need to be brave in the presence of adversity - to live as strong men and women when most ordinary souls like Tolkiens hobbits wanted only to be left alone to make a living and rear a family. The human experience has never been easy, in fact it is always fatal eventually. Unfortunately, reactionary persons, those with too strong a defense system who cling to the past, always feel that society is at a crossroads, that nations can be saved only through a rebirth of the heroic self-sufficiency their ancestors supposedly nurtured. I challenge that simplistic assumption for one major reason.
The so called lost Golden Age of America, from just after our Civil War until the Vietnamese War, was golden mostly for affluent white males. Everyone else had to take what the powerful robber barons didnt want. Unfortunately financial abusers are like the Wyoming Rancher during the range wars who said he only wanted what was his - and what was next to it! With one or two percent of contemporary Americans owning some ninety percent of the nations wealth, they pretty much have it all! In my youth, multitudes of families lived in abject poverty as the novels GRAPES OF WRATH and GODS LITTLE ACRE revealed so poignantly. I know, I was there at the time, so dont try to fool me with half truths and ruthless ideologies. I remember the ragged, barefoot kids in school, the fights with the greedy aristocracy who opposed school lunch programs, free books and school buses as communistic in nature. I remember President Hoover sending the U. S. cavalry against fathers pleading for food for their children. And the glee of the generals who were laughing and joking when they were ordered to attack the rabble. A huge percentage of families endured severe hardships while trying to survive. And regardless of the myths many reactionary preachers and primitive politicians concoct, in order to frighten people into pulling their chestnuts from the fire, life really became much better for many persons. Only now, those benefits are being taken away by a wicked consortium of financial neo-fascists, reactionary political neo-cons and fundamental religious neo-zealots who are moving heaven and earth to crush everything decent and to deliver the nation back into the ruthless hands of the robber barons who have arisen again through Global Capitalism and the outright bribery of our politicians.
Many more persons of both genders and families of all creeds and races did better financially than at any previous time in American history. The rascals who deny this are either idiots or are yearning for a return to a white, male dominated society. Even the radical preachers protesting loudest about our liberal society, who keep trying to recreate that white, male controlled culture of the past because they are selfish white men, are fixated almost exclusively on material things. They hate sharing their power, prestige and possessions with women of all races and with men of color. To state it bluntly, the blatant narcissists want to steal everything they can haul away. That is the way their mind-sets operate, this is where their core values lead them, although they use clever propaganda to persuade the naive with their own clamoring anxieties, that they are working for patriotic or spiritual reasons when they are working for I MYSELF -- ALONE.
Nevertheless, going through the challenge of earning an education, building a career, nurturing a marriage and rearing a family while maturing, does require strength and courage. I know of no easy way to become a maturing person. I believe it is this reality that led early psychologist William James to call for human heroism on our often dangerous pilgrimage through life, for we are all bedeviled by selfish yearnings. Most of the scholars I draw from agree that many humans are frequently crippled by our universally self-centered traits that get out of control.
When it is uncontrolled, narcissism keeps every community and civilization boiling with frustration and aggression. Two cultures demonstrated this quite clearly. Our anti-bellum southern aristocratic men wore their egos on their sleeves, quarreling and dueling at the drop of a perceived insult. Imperial Germany and Spain were even worse - the haughty posturing of men and women is very obvious in old black and white photographs from the era. They struggled to win heroic significance for themselves and their social classes.
What do we yearn for and whom shall we sacrifice to get it? How powerful are the motives that flog us onward in our desire to become significant? How completely do the aristocrats in our communities shape our opportunities - with their wealth being used to control politicians and the criminal justice establishment and to finance the propaganda systems that stack the deck for themselves? How can we save the American Republic?
We all try to conceal our character flaws by finding clever ways to justify them. Not long ago my wife and I were waiting in a checkout line that had stalled when an elderly woman needed to exchange a purchase and several twenty year old youths successively paid their bills by writing checks for under three dollars. I started muttering and Roberta poked me. Take a walk before you embarrass me, she whispered. I left and when she came out a few minutes later, she was laughing. Weve been married half a century and she still has the ability to surprise and delight me. Naturally, she can see right through my facades - but she loves me anyway! I sometimes wonder why. She told me in her unique fashion;
Not a word about my books because she fights fair. I grinned wryly in agreement but protested to protect my ego.
Well, I am not alone -- I have plenty of company out here.
Indeed I do and while I know these concepts well enough to write about them, I too have a need for esteem within my soul. I would even appreciate a little cosmic worth from time to time. And so would you! So does everyone and that yearning sometimes runs wild in every society. Few events demonstrate this narcissistic selfishness in action more clearly than the constant battling in Serbia, Indonesia and among many African tribes.
In his book MEIN KAMPF, the arch-villain Adolph Hitler described very well the frustrated narcissism gnawing at Germanys resentful people after that nations defeat in World War I. After a century as Europes bully boy, Germany was reduced to poverty and hunger, even eating their cats and dogs to survive, calling the cats roof rabbits. Europes aristocrats would have done well to learn from him rather than dismiss Hitler as an ignorant rabble-rouser who deserved their contempt. Theyd always issued orders and docile corporals saluted and said: By your leave, Sir. Some of Europes powerful died on meat hooks and in gas chambers because they failed to see that Hitlers lust for power and prestige was every bit as great as their own. However, the slain aristocratic elite were a minority. They always are as narcissism often triumphs over ethics, morality and spirituality.