Sunday, March 29, 2009

This is the week, that was...

I was, earlier in the week, going to do a blast about an article that appeared in the Herald. After digging around, it became apparent that the only (at that time) other sources were Ha'aretz and the Beeb. There was no comment in Jpost, apart from one or two rather desultory letters to the Ed that skirted around... All of that seems to have gone, though the Beeb article still eads the search engine. The Jewish Weekly also has the story - for those who might be interested.

This morning, I turn to the old fav ALDaily and there is an echo of the response I posted a couple weeks back to TF's item on narcissism.

Rather than being written by a "world reknowned expert on narcissism" (the one whose only qualification is an off-the-shelf Doctorate in "Philosophy of Physics")this is from a journalist, Emily Yoffe, who has taken the time to research
This is the cultural moment of the narcissist. In a New Yorker cartoon, Roz Chast suggests a line of narcissist greeting cards ("Wow! Your Birthday's Really Close to Mine!"). John Edwards outed himself as one when forced to confess an adulterous affair. (Given his comical vanity, the deceitful way he used his marriage for his advancement, and his self-elevation as an embodiment of the common man while living in a house the size of an arena, it sounds like a pretty good diagnosis.) New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley wrote of journalists who Twitter, "it's beginning to look more like yet another gateway drug to full-blown media narcissism." And what other malady could explain the simultaneous phenomena of Blago and the Octomom?

These days, "narcissist" gets tossed around as an all-purpose insult, a description of self-aggrandizing, obnoxious behavior.

And too, can I add, as a politically charged epithet for people whose politics are somewhat different to one's preference and whose appearance is far more widely praised than one's own.

She rather spoils the line of thought with this;
A recent study titled "Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader" describes how narcissists have skills and qualities—confidence, extraversion, a desire for power—that propel them into leadership roles but that when true narcissists are in charge, other aspects of their makeup—a feeling the rules don't apply to them, a need for constant stroking—can have "disastrous consequences." Yes, we're talking about you, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. After Blagojevich was caught on tape trying to sell a Senate seat, he reveled in the opportunity to appear on talk shows, making the case that he himself was a victim—self-pity being a favorite narcissist refuge.

A line from a New York Times profile of him is as trenchant a description of narcissism as is found in most psychology textbooks: "[He] is unapologetically late to almost everything, and can treat employees with disdain, cursing and erupting in fury for failings as mundane as neglecting to have at hand at all times his preferred black Paul Mitchell hairbrush." There it all is: the sense that other people don't matter, the belief others are instruments for the narcissist's use, the self-admiration.

Well, at least she chose a valid instance.

Another of ALDaily's links led to this piece from Geoff Mulgan ; one which , I recommend, requires reading and careful thought; one which, I suggest, is in the realms of far-sighted analysis that we should see far more of in future. Yes, TF, he is a "socialist" but he does not present socialism as "the answer". He raises very valid, and to the point, questions.
The US banking system faces losses of over $3,000bn. Japan is in a depression. China is headed for zero growth. Some still hope that urgent surgery can restore the status quo. But more feel that we are at one of those rare points of inflection when nothing is the same again.

But if one dream is over, what other dreams wait in the shadows? Will capitalism adapt? Or should we be asking again one of the great questions which has animated political life for nearly two centuries: what might come after capitalism?
Only a few years ago that question had been parked, deemed about as sensible as asking what would come after electricity. Global markets had pulled China and India into their orbit, and capitalism’s triumph appeared complete, with medievalist Islam and the ragged armies that surround the G8 summits jostling to be its last enfeebled competitor. Multinational companies were said to command empires greater than most nation states, and in some accounts had won the affiliation of the masses through their brands.

Yet the lesson of capitalism itself is that nothing is permanent—“all that is solid melts into air” as Marx put it. Within capitalism there are as many forces that undermine it as there are forces that carry it forward.

His conclusion -
Capitalism’s crisis is, of course, a global one, and has shown up the limitations of the global institutions that took shape half a century ago. China is set to become a dominant player in a strengthened IMF and World Bank, followed by India and Brazil. The G20 is edging out the G8 as the club that matters. And waiting in the wings are possible new institutions to police and manage carbon, to handle everything from global migration to the regulation of biotechnology, alongside less formal institutions to help the world’s public to engage, from e-parliaments to global campaigning platforms like Awaaz, an online newspaper.

No one can know which of these possibilities will come to fruition. There are in principle an infinite number of directions social systems can take. But history suggests that at key moments evolution is highly selective. Only a few models turn out to be sustainable, with an affinity to the prevailing technologies, values and power structures.

In the first phase of the crisis the most successful claimants for support have been the big, failing (and well-connected) industries of the last era of capitalism. But the arguments are moving on—to how recovery plans can back job growth, fixing the future (as in San Francisco’s electric car infrastructures or Korea’s massive green jobs programme) rather than trying to fix the mistakes of the past. It’s not clear yet which politicians will be able to articulate a vision of a “servant capitalism” better suited to the 21st century. David Cameron has made some attempts—hard though that may sometimes be for the descendant of generations of stockbrokers. Gordon Brown is a son of the manse, but also deeply implicated in the crisis. Obama should be ideally suited to offering a new vision, yet has surrounded himself with champions of the very system that now appears to be crumbling.

The result is that a large political space is opening up. In the short run it is being filled with anger, fear and confusion. In the longer run it may be filled with a new vision of capitalism, and its relationship to both society and ecology, a vision that will be clearer about what we want to grow and what we don’t. Democracies have in the past repeatedly tamed, guided and revived capitalism. They have prevented the sale of people, of votes, public offices, children’s labour and body organs, and they have enforced rights and rules, while also pouring resources in to meet capitalism’s need for science and skills, and it has been out of this mix of conflict and co-operation that the world has achieved the extraordinary progress of the last century.

To discover what comes next, maybe we should look upwards. Skylines provide the simplest test of what a society values, and where its surpluses are controlled. A few centuries ago the greatest buildings in the world’s cities were forts, churches and temples; then for a time they became palaces. Briefly in the 19th century civic buildings, railway stations and museums overshadowed them. And then in the late 20th century everywhere they were banks. Few believe that they will be for much longer. But what will come next—great leisure palaces and sports stadiums; universities and art galleries; water towers and hanging gardens; or perhaps biotech empires? We need to rekindle our capacity to imagine, and to see through the still-gathering storm to what lies beyond.

At which point I want to return to the Emily Yoffe piece, and her conclusion.
If the observers who say that part of our economic troubles result from a mass case of narcissism, from consumers who thought they should have the house of their dreams financed on bad debt to bankers who thought they deserved eight-figure bonuses for packaging that bad debt, then perhaps we are about to be cured. Twenge and Campbell point out that the 1920s was a narcissistic era whose economic collapse led to the Great Depression and the greatest generation. Perhaps it's time to dig out those Depression-era recipes for humble pie.

Humble pie that should first be served in the Middle East.


T. F. Stern said...

“…that propel them into leadership roles but that when true narcissists are in charge, other aspects of their makeup—a feeling the rules don't apply to them, a need for constant stroking—can have "disastrous consequences…”

The definition, as presented from an authentic and well versed authority on Narcissism, would seem to agree same basic definition as given by the other “not so recognized authority” on Narcissism. My original line of thought holds true; the issues which Obama brought to the Oval Office make him a very dangerous person. He has already exhibited utter contempt for the Constitution and rule of law which have led the United States for over 200 years. His unwillingness to “stay within the lines”, grabbing portions of private industry without so much as a blink will destroy the free market system. This may not appear Narcissistic to you; however, it does match the template of a person so wrapped up in their own importance as to be able to exempt himself from the rules which have governed others in similar situations.

The probligo said...

So, TF, you are saying that Obama should not leave GM and Chrysler to sink?

It is not a case of "definition" but a matter of fact that anyone who launches themselves into politics - whether as President of the USofA or as a tinpot petty-fogging Councillor on the local band of back-scratchers - has to have a measure of narcissism.

Is a narcissist dangerous? No more so than Bush, Schwartzenegger, or Reagan... and remember that two of them were film stars, probably the most narcissistic occupation America could dream of.

Starsplash said...

I thought to make fun of myself as I beleive others see me but I thought you would take me seroius.