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July 15, 2010

Narcissism and the Counterfeit Life

I don't think it will come as any surprise to you all that I've been feeling a bit discouraged lately.

I've been thinking a lot about the competing interests of individuals and society and I see a growing disconnect between the way I was raised and the direction society at large seems to be headed in. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of these rifts in the social fabric is the increasing frequency with which people of all ideological bents justify the abandonment of morality and standards on no more compelling basis than that of their unmet needs.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say their unmet desires because these things are not in fact needs, but merely wants.

The proper relationship between individuals and society seems to be crumbling right before our eyes. Most adults of my age were raised to believe the world is populated by millions of equally important people, none of whom has any particular duty to love, like, or support us. To the extent that we produce something of value to others, we may trade what we have (and hopefully receive what we desire in return). This exchange of value occurs through negotiation and compromise. If you possess nothing I value, I have no duty to trade with you and vice versa.

This fundamental premise underlies every human interaction from friendship to commerce to marriage. In each case something of value is offered in the hope of exchanging it for something else of value. This system wouldn't work terribly well if we were all perfectly equal; if we all wanted the same things, or all possessed the same talents. It works precisely because we are NOT the same. Our usefulness to each other exists in direct proportion to the differences in our talents and desires and the relative scarcity of the things we can offer and wish to trade for.

There would be no reason for me to trade with someone who produced only what I can already produce for myself, nor would such a person need to trade with me. And since other people have no duty to like, love, or support me, there is no reason for them to part with what they have unless I have something they want.

In the world I was raised in, other people do not exist for my benefit, but for their own. They are not commodities to be used but thinking, feeling human beings whose wishes I must divine and take into account if I expect to interact with them to our mutual profit. My only "virtue" to them lies in my ability to produce what they value, not in my own desires or high opinion of myself. Such a mutually beneficial arrangement did not come about by chance, nor is it in our DNA. Rather, it is a fragile construct which rests on the presumption that, although what we want seems important to us, we are not the center of anyone else's universe:

The most crucial job for parents is to take an unformed little human baby, whose only experience of the world is to know himself as the center of the universe, and tame his instincts so that he can become a productive member of society. I focus primarily on the male because they tend to have more powerful drives or drive expressions, both libidinal and aggressive, and are more difficult to tame. Every infant demands instant gratification of all their needs. By adolescence, even the most intact families will often need help in controlling their teenager's burgeoning drives, and in order to make the transition into functioning adulthood, the young person will have needed to tame their drives, allow for and tolerate delayed gratification, and in the ideal case, to have sublimated their aggressive and sexual drives in the service of productive pursuits. Pathological narcissism interferes with the process of taming the instincts.

It is in this context that I address the PUA idiocy:

... the model is entirely wrong about what women want. What women look for in a man is respect.

I do not mean merely the obvious: that women want a man who respects them, or that they want a man who respects women. What is at least important is that they want a man who respects himself. They want a man who aspires to things, because he wouldn't respect himself if he didn't. They want a man who treats himself like a man of honor, which means that he behaves like a man of honor. That means he takes his word seriously, and does his duty. If he also treats women with honor and respect, he will not lack for love from women of worth.

That is simply said, but done with much labor. It is far harder than trying to fool them into thinking you might be worthwhile. Yet you can fool even a foolish person only for so long; the price of relying on that tactic is that you cast away the thing that really mattered, which was love.

Most of the defenses of these young men seem to center around how nothing is ever their fault. They didn't make the world: they're just responding to it and thus they cannot be expected to think about how their actions affect anyone else until that glorious day when the world becomes a perfectly fair place where life is easy, everyone is equally rewarded and no one is ever disappointed. I don't even know what to say to foolishness like this, except that it is foolishness of a degree that stuns me. Life is full of risk and that is the glory of living it. If we care, if we try, if we reach out beyond the bubble of ego and selfishness we risk exposure, humiliation, defeat. There are no guarantees and the truth is that there never were.

The very expectation that life is (or should be) "fair" is fraught with difficulty:

A focus on fairness points, interestingly, to a contradiction in free-market systems: On the one hand, it is only fair that people be given a chance to better themselves, and patently unfair if they are prevented from doing so. But on the other, given the inherent differences among individuals, as well as their socioeconomic discrepancies, the outcome of freedom is certain to be unequal, and thus unfair.

Let me repeat that: given the inherent differences among individuals... the outcome of freedom is certain to be unequal, and thus unfair.

This may be the single most important lesson I taught my small sons in over two decades of mothering. Life is not fair. I even had a pat phrase I hauled out when childish wails of "NO FAIR!" rose from the back seat of the car: "Life's not fair and I wasn't put on this earth to make it so."

You have no right to demand what others have just because you want it. And you have no guarantee to an equal share of life's pie. No matter where you go or who you meet, there will always be those who have more than you do and there will always be unfairness. And the hell of it is that our own petty unfairnesses tend to loom large in our eyes - so large, in fact, that we lose sight of the fact that to others life can seem just as unfair as it does to us. It's easy to nurse our own tiny grudges until they grow to gigantic proportions, distorting our sight and narrowing our vision until we see nothing and no one but ourselves, our own fears, our small discontents.

To self obsessed and perpetually aggrieved, other people - their hopes, fears, desires and needs - don't exist. There is only the Self and its selfish clamorings. There is no past, no future, but only now.

I may not know much but half a century of living has taught me one thing, even if I forget it far too often. There is great joy in making other people happy; in the give-and-take of voluntary partnerships and associations. There is pride when we're able to produce what others value and reciprocal joy when they counter our small proffers with hard won offerings of their own. There is not much joy in constant suspicion and one-upsmanship; in the never ending struggle not to be taken advantage of; in the absence of trust.

There is no joy in tricking and deceiving people we despise, nor in dominating the weak minded.

A while back on another thread an old friend asked me a question regarding a news item I'd posted. It was a study that claimed that stupid women are more likely to pursue rich men. He riposted, "Who's the stupid one?"

And I replied, "What woman wants a man who's more likely to cheat on her?"

Release your dream of marrying a man with money. Scientists say guys with smaller paychecks are emotionally available, faithful, and better in bed.

My friend responded, "Do women really perform that calculus?"

I can't answer for all women, but I know I did. It took me only a year or so of dating boys to distinguish true gold from base metal. I hate the terms alpha, beta, and omega male because all too often they're used to put the lipstick of false glamour on a pig made of base metal.

The sad thing is that I'm quite sure there are women who find buffoonery, braggadoccio, and posturing impressive - who can't tell the real thing from the cheap counterfeit. Who prefer the superficial and dishonest to the real and true. To them, and to the young men who think they've won a great prize when they manage to fool impress them, I have only one thing to say:


Is this your concept of manliness? Of value? Will this be the next Greatest Generation?

Dear God, man. Think of the children.

Posted by Cassandra at July 15, 2010 02:57 PM

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Good God - If it's the sign of virile manliness to fashion a "pimp" hat our of a Dr. Seus character, I want nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Boquisucio at July 15, 2010 07:26 PM

Quite a symbolic picture you found, there, Cass. Both the hat and the binoculars are sketches of things pertaining to men; and neither are actually useful for the purpose performed by the genuine version.

Posted by: Grim at July 15, 2010 07:36 PM

As much as I like hats - no. Absolutely not, not even at night in a blizzard while taking out the garbage! That makes my fur-shedding East German Army hat look respectable and even couth.

As to the individual under that horrible example of purported haberdashery, no. Unless he is dressing for a parade or a white-glove inspection, (or is cleaning up after having been dragged through a pen by a cow - true story) the guys I want to go out with or marry should not spend more time fussing with their grooming or clothes than I do. I'm all for careful hygiene and tasteful dress, but there are limits. Which brings us back to the narcissism problem. The dullest people I've found are the ones that are the center of their own world. Everything is about them or their ______ [political preferences, sexuality, food allergy, new car, ad infinitum]. Outside of that they have no existence - they are like Tomlinson in Kipling's poem by that title.

"We've handled him, we've dandled him, we've seared him to the bone;/ And Sire, if tooth and nail show truth, he has no soul of his own!"

Posted by: LittleRed1 at July 15, 2010 07:50 PM

Well done, Cass! That Roissy thing was nauseating. You raised your kids right. I still have to hope and pray that mine negotiate today's romantic minefields and find true love, become worthy of it, win it, despite the current "culture"

Posted by: Retriever at July 15, 2010 07:54 PM

*I* could have said it SO much better.

Posted by: David Foster Wallace at July 15, 2010 08:01 PM

OK, I finally went to the trouble of looking up this "PUA" thing...and what a disappointment. Pick Up Artist? Once upon a time I may have qualified (to some minimal degree) but now that I'm older (and more mature?) I am more concerned about having a successful, reciprocal relationship.

Oh, and that picture? Ye gods, what a freak! Eye liner, no less...

Posted by: camojack at July 16, 2010 12:33 AM

Amen, LittleRed. That's like no man I'd ever wish to date. I'm more into someone like this.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 16, 2010 12:44 AM

Yeah...no thanks. Any time I need a cold shower and can't get to one, I'll just conjure up that picture in my mind. That should do the trick. Thanks, Cass.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at July 16, 2010 02:19 AM

Dear God, man. Think of the children.

That may be an unnecessary concern...

Posted by: BillT at July 16, 2010 02:49 AM

I hate the terms alpha, beta, and omega male because all too often they're used to put the lipstick of false glamour on a pig made of base metal.

Yet the term true diamond or fake diamond is not simply used to enhance carbon based crystals over their more widely available zirconium competition. There is a real difference and it can be tested, hence the difference in terms.

Things only become troublesome when the market and the buyer can't tell a fake from the real deal, then they will buy into namebranding.

The sad thing is that I'm quite sure there are women who find buffoonery, braggadoccio, and posturing impressive - who can't tell the real thing from the cheap counterfeit.

They couldn't tell you the true difference between Democrats or Republicans, conservatives nor progressives. Why would they then be able to tell the difference between true and false? Society has not equipped them for this endeavour and government is actually interested in keeping them ignorant.

Who prefer the superficial and dishonest to the real and true.

It is not so much that they prefer the superficial and dishonest as they are never presented with the real or true and even if they were, they would be incapable of recognizing it for what it is.

Given how easy humans are to fool, this is not a particularly new thing. The scale of it is new and the methods used to create a cottage industry around it are new, but the phenomenon itself is not.

That should do the trick. Thanks, Cass.

Is the EPA accepting that as a coupon for hot water resource usage?

A person is forged much as sword steel is forged. You can't just put everything into a hot pot, put it into the fire, and out it comes all ready to go to slice some skulls. First you got to heat up the black iron, get rid of the impurities, to make malleable iron. Then you got to heat up the iron and add in some external agents.

Once you get a good base material, you then start shaping it. But without a good base material, the hammer of experience will shatter the metal and it won't be good for anything except the melting pot. Nor is it the case that you can add external agents like molybdenum or carbon at any time during the forging. The metal has to be ready for it.

Most people aren't at the proper time in their life-experience to utilize external factors like lessons from other people's lives. Not until those people have prepared their iron core and are ready for the next stage.

Or the case may even be that we are dealing with contaminated metal, that has been purposefully diluted or weakened so as to not be capable of accepting high heat or tempering. A little heat may make them malleable, but too much heat will simply melt them or shatter them under a blow.

In cases where the metal is no good, you got to start from scratch. Melt it down and start the process all over again.

Our usefulness to each other exists in direct proportion to the differences in our talents and desires and the relative scarcity of the things we can offer and wish to trade for.

Can we really have differences if we are to achieve Utopia? Is not Utopia, the goal of the Left, the very reason why there can be no differences allowed in human cogs?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 16, 2010 08:10 AM

I'll admit to my buffoonery when I was younger (I used to wear a cowboy hat in DC as a conversation starter), but I never took it to those extremes and quickly dropped those tricks when I found out how boring I really was. Now when I go out I wear a certain arrogance, a dangerous demeanor, a blasé attitude, and top it off with a sardonic grin. Just kidding. I've seen those types around and they quickly become the target of my jokes. I prefer to entertain the ladies long enough to let me dazzle them with my brilliance, or failing that, baffle them with my bullshit.

Posted by: Smart Grunt at July 16, 2010 10:21 AM

Dude! I think it's a great get up! What's wrong with having some fun? Look at what John Daly's wearing at the British Open. People dress outlandishly to get attention, and I think it's funny. Don't you?

Just keep them away from my daughters.

Posted by: spd rdr, contrarian in wing tips at July 16, 2010 10:38 AM

Now when I go out I wear a certain arrogance, a dangerous demeanor, a blasé attitude, and top it off with a sardonic grin.

No clothes???

At least spd is wearing wing tips.... :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 16, 2010 11:28 AM

On the question of daughters (I have two of them) I resolved early on that my job as a father was to raise children who knew who and what they were. The same would have been true for sons. If a child is secure in him or her self then they won't fall for the BS that bozo in a fur hat is pitching. Respect for yourself, your own integrity, knowledge of what real capabilities you do and don't have, is the start for a decent successful life. It leads to respect for others. It means you won't be too far misled by rascals. (Although everybody is entitled to a few mistakes along the way.) To paraphrase John Wayne, "Life's not easy, but it's a bitch if you're an ignorant narcissist."

Posted by: Mike Myers at July 16, 2010 11:36 AM

No clothes???

At least spd is wearing wing tips.... :)

When it comes to getting attention, sometimes less is more. ;)

Posted by: Smart Grunt at July 16, 2010 12:28 PM

When it comes to getting attention, sometimes less is more. ;)

MRUN appearance in 5, 4, 3,...

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 16, 2010 12:41 PM

I think CERN must have done something we don't know about. Whatever it was it appears that we've been sucked into an alternate universe.

The only thing I can think of that describes that look is: Gothic Pimp. Hey there's a band name for you, Gothic Pimp and the Roadbunnies.

Posted by: Allen at July 16, 2010 02:10 PM

All I can say is if something like that had knocked on my front door when my daughters were dating, I'd probably still be paying attorneys and the state.

Of course that, whatever it might be, would still be searching the hedges around my porch for its dislodged smirk.

BTW, being a long time subscriber to GQ, The RFD edition, I've long thought cap-toe oxfords superior to wingtips since they have no iddy biddy holes to collect globs of shoe polish.

Plus they go with everything from casual Friday bib overalls or black tie and blended wool bib overalls. Just saying...

Posted by: bt_resident_neanderthal_hun at July 16, 2010 05:03 PM

Ymar ~ it was a COLD shower.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at July 16, 2010 05:22 PM

See, I've been trying to arrange marriages for my children with the children of my friends. I figure, it take the pressure off, they're good looking kids, raised well, we all get along...

It would be good.

So far my third daughter keeps looking at me like I've lost my mind, but I'm hoping she'll come around to it eventually.

Posted by: airforcewife at July 16, 2010 10:18 PM

Hey, NO FAIR having that up in the morning!

Put me right off breakfast, it did. Cass, you owe me a bowl of oatmeal.

Posted by: tom at July 17, 2010 10:14 AM

Good GRIEF! Is that a new species? Children? Is it human?

My sons are not interested in dating. They are straight, but they loathe the PUA mentality and prefer to be friends.

This means many parents have breathed a sigh of relief. Us among them.

HF6, I can see an argument for arranged marriages these days...

Posted by: Cricket at July 17, 2010 07:16 PM

I sure could use some help, and I'm certainly no child. Actual arranged marriage? Maybe not. A little assistance from a matchmaker? Yeah, I could consider that...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 18, 2010 12:40 AM

afw ~ I'd say we could introduce J the Small to Princess Trouble but I suspect that would be like introducing gasoline to fire...

Posted by: HomefrontSix at July 18, 2010 05:18 AM

I've pretty much limited my "fashion statements" over the last decade to wearing bow ties, but I see in the paper that they're becoming "in". Now what should I do?

Posted by: htom at July 19, 2010 01:20 AM

My shy little wallflower of a daughter would kick his ass.

Just for fun!


No, seriously!

Posted by: JHD at July 19, 2010 02:11 PM

I don't personally know the guy in the picture, and it doesn't really look like the author or commenters know him either. I could be wrong.

But didn't the article mention posturing and braggadocio as fake and problematic? That's image stuff. And this picture is also only an image. Images like photos doesn't say one thing about someone's integrity. Plus, tons of people like to dress crazy just to get a laugh. Seeing a bunch of fashion statements is waaay more interesting than staring at a sea full of polo shirts and khaki pants (those are fine too but not particularly interesting).

So when you say "think about the children", I have to say "They'll think it's hilarious!!"

Posted by: Stella at July 19, 2010 03:11 PM

This post was a challenge for me to think about. I agree with the premise that parents are not there to make it fair, but I also tell my children that the *rules* are always being changed, so fairness does not exist, per se, if the rules are changed or no one follows them and the rulebreakers get away with it.

Therefore, they are to live by the rules.

Karma being what it is, it behooves us to play by them and ensure that the promises we speak are kept, that our decisions and acts either reduce or eliminate the unfavorable consequences, and when we do get slapped upside the head because of something beyond our control, that the response is geared to rising above it.

Sorry for the all over stuff, but I just went through part of the 1933 Securities Act and my head is reeling, and I haven't even gotten to the good part yet.

Posted by: Cricket at July 21, 2010 12:25 PM

The male pictured goes by the stage name Mystery. He, for all intents and purposes, is the High Priest of PUA. What you are seeing in that picture is the image that he has created for himself as a means of getting women into bed.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 21, 2010 02:29 PM

It is also a younger picture. A lot of younger, if that is in fact him. He has a different look now a days.

If you read the book of Style, a sort of auto biography of his insider impressions, you would know that Mystery,

1. hates his father

2. Has problems with commitment

3. Thought about killing himself, to the point of getting his free and possessions together.

You're right in the sense that image only says what the observer is able to interpret. But I know Mystery by hearing the thoughts of his best friend, fellow PUA Style.

To a certain extent, women set the rules because society has outlawed force, which is a male specialization, and only allows persuasion, a female specialization. Thus if females wish to promote such behavior, and they have for various reasons, then such behavior will continue and even flourish.

We live in a democracy, but that just means everybody can vote on everything. And if some people choose to vote in this type of image and peacocking, other women can't do much about it. It's a democracy, after all. The rule of the few over the many, by reality's definition.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 22, 2010 04:28 PM

Hi. I'm Andy and I'm 17 and found this very interesting. I'm struggling to come to terms with what i can actually offer to society. I want to do well in life and be a good person etc. but I'm finding it hard to decipher what society actually wants from me. I feel a little lost. To me it seems that the older generations want me to be a professor or scientist and the young want me to be a flashy, vain, narcissistic celebrity or something. Problem is I can be neither. I'm not smart or creative. I'm neither intelligently minded or talented. I'm just a good person with a good heart. Which brings me to my point: is that enough? I just wish it was but i don't think it is. It seems to me everyone values something different in life. My generation values beauty and superficiality to the highest degree and would reward someone for that and yet the older have told me that is not something to be desired. The points made in this post stated that you will be rewarded and valued for bringing to society something which is desired which brings me to the subject of celebrities. Of course they bring talent and artistic flair but do they really hold values which people should be desiring. I don't think they do. So why is my generation rewarding them. For being shallow? There just seems to be so many problems with modern day life that I struggle with. I want to please everyone yet fail to please anyone. Have we really lost touch of whats really valuable in life. Truth, honesty and humility. Those are the values I hold dear and think are truly desirable so why am I not being rewarded or commended by people. People just see me as worthless because I don't aspire to the same things as everyone else. I though that was a good thing but is it?

Posted by: Andy at August 25, 2010 10:26 PM

I'm just a good person with a good heart. Which brings me to my point: is that enough? I just wish it was but i don't think it is.


Yes. Yes it is enough, and more than enough.

You have no idea how many women want a decent, honest man. You don't have to be something you're not. You don't need to be rich or flashy. You just need to figure out who you want to be, and try your best to become that person. Trust your instincts.

I raised two sons, and by far the hardest thing I tried to teach them was that if they liked and respected themselves, they would find ways to be happy regardless of whether others approved of them or not.

We were a military family and that meant we moved all the time. No sooner would my sons find friends than we had to uproot them and they were forced to start all over again. I was raised the same way.

That's good in a way because it fosters self reliance.

I'm not saying it's easy - it's not. There were so many times when my sons felt like fishes out of water at a new duty station. But over time they learned to value themselves for who and what they were rather than for whether they conformed to the expectations of their peers. And it's a funny thing: if you look confident on the outside, most folks will take you at your own valuation.

It can be frustrating when you feel as though others don't value the same things you value. But you can't control them. You do have control over how you react to other people.

I think the biggest problem with the modern world is that we don't teach self reliance anymore. We are too dependent on approval (and your comment indicates you sense this). Put some serious thought into what YOU value and then strive to meet that expectation. And make sure to reward yourself when you do :)

I think the age you're at now (17-19) was the hardest for both my sons. It's normal to feel confused and overwhelmed at your age: you don't have the experience yet to know which path to choose but there's enormous pressure on you not to make a mistake.

It's OK to make mistakes; to stumble a bit on the road. I wish you could know how hopeful it makes me feel, seeing a young man who thinks for himself. Somehow, I just know that you will turn out just fine. Give yourself the time and space to grow and don't compare yourself too much to others.

This has got to be the corniest line ever, but I've always liked it:

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Get to know yourself, figure out what you believe, and then do your best to live up to that ideal. Don't let others determine your sense of self worth - measure yourself against your own yardstick and be gentle with yourself when things don't work out the way you planned. We all screw up from time to time :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 25, 2010 10:54 PM