Sunday, 10 February 2019

Look at me - or else

Son pointed me in this direction. It's one of those areas of life we may think we understand without going into it as deeply as perhaps we should. We all know what narcissism is – it’s a kind of vanity isn’t it? We seem to know a fair bit about it via the entertainment business but maybe we should cast the net much more widely. 

Narcissists cut a wide, swashbuckling figure through the world. The most benign type may be the charismatic leader with an excess of charm, whose only vice may be an inflated amour-propre. In stark contrast are individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, whose grandiosity soars to such heights that they are easily angered when they don't receive the attention and admiration that they consider their birthright. Bona fide narcissists may also have a tendency to disregard other people's feelings and take advantage of others to get what they want. As with many characteristics, narcissism can be viewed as a spectrum: Some people are lower on the trait and others higher, with many landing in the middle. Out-and-out narcissists exhibit the highest levels of self-flattery.

In a world where the public arena becomes more and more public with bigger and bigger audiences it should come as no great surprise if the whole show has a strong tendency to attract narcissists. As it always has of course, but maybe a bigger and brighter arena is attracting them much more strongly than in the comparatively recent past. Maybe it is also attracting them into more areas of public life than before simply because public life has become more public than it was.

Politics, major bureaucracies, major charities - they may all attract a damaging number of narcissists. It would be surprising to the point of unbelievable if they did not. As we found with Tony Blair who to this layman's eye was certainly a narcissist.

When confronted with damaging narcissists in major league politics we have to point the finger at party selection but mainly at tribal voters. Unfortunately it may well suit a political party to foist an endless supply of engaging narcissists onto a bovine electorate too familiar with offering their applause to preening entertainers. In which case the electorate may need to smarten up because it is not necessarily easy to spot the malign narcissist as opposed to the narcissist with some genuine and useful leadership qualities.

How should voters assess candidates before voting for them?

If you want to find out whether someone is a narcissist, simply ask them:

Are you a "narcissist"?

This may seem counter-intuitive at first, and it certainly doesn't always work to ask people directly about their personality traits, but the case of narcissism is unique. True narcissists do not appear to view their narcissism as a bad thing. In fact, they are likely to be proud of it! Indeed, a number of recent studies have shown that narcissists often admit that they behave in explicitly narcissistic ways, that they happily describe themselves as arrogant, braggy, etc., and even strive to be more narcissistic! Narcissists also appear aware that other people view them less positively than they view themselves, yet simply don't care.

Oh dear - I can't see that working with political candidates. May as well ask them - are you a devious, unreliable, self-centred bastard? Back to the drawing board. 


Bill Sticker said...

Try flipping the question around and opening it up. "You seem a little narcissistic. How would you answer that allegation?" If the reply is word salad, the answer is yes, they're a narcissist.

Sackerson said...

But that's enough about you. Let's talk about me.

Sam Vega said...

It's long been known that politics and power attract the wrong kinds of people. It would be interesting to see research on what kinds of personality disorders are attracted by different political systems. Was the Soviet apparatchik, for example, a fundamentally different type of nutcase from or own Tory Bastard or Daft Liberal Plonker?

Last election, I voted for parliamentary candidates put up by a pressure group interested in sortition, or demarchy: rule by public lottery. I think it's the only way to get around the fact that politics attracts the wrong sort of people, simply because they are unfit for office because they are attracted by it in the first place.

The Jannie said...

As Billy Connolly said some years ago - "We should be wary of anyone who even WANTS to be a politician"

A K Haart said...

Bill - the answer might be - "What do you mean a little narcissistic? I'm the biggest narcissist I know."

Sackers - but not for long - in fact that's quite long enough.

Sam - I like the sound of demarchy although it could simply hand even more power to the bureaucracy. Even so it could be tried in the House of Lords without too much risk.

Jannie - he was right, wanting it is inherently suspicious.

Sobers said...

I've been saying for ages, we've got to stop politics being a career young people can consider as something they plan to spend their life doing (and making them their primary living). It just means that the only people entering politics will be the ones aged 25-35 who want to be politicians, and thats the last group of people we should be allowing anywhere near power.
Standing for Parliament should have an age requirement of 50. And a maximum period of say 20 years, or a certain number of elections. That will mean that by the time your average narcissist/borderline psychopath has gotten old enough to enter politics, he's either had a bit more humility hammered into him by life, or has gone off to lord it over people in some other career where he can't do as much damage as politics. Either way they are far less likely to enter politics in the first place, and far more people who have grown into their personalities and lives will feel enabled to join in later in life. Everyone involved will also have had decades of experience of life outside politics, doing normal jobs and deal with normal people. We have got to stop this conveyor belt of identikit wannabe politicians leaving uni and less than a decade later are in Parliament telling everyone else how they should live their lives.

A K Haart said...

Sobers - I agree, we need an age requirement to ensure experience. Maybe we need a term limit too - such as three general elections and you are out. Or maybe two would be enough. I'd raise the voting age too - at least 25 or even older.