What is the current global state of affairs doing to our individual and collective psyche? Does our future look bleak or bright?
Since the last presidential elections in the United States, we have awoken to a time of great uncertainty. Donald Trump confidently warned that he would provide an unprecedented leadership style. He guaranteed a presidency, the likes of which we have never seen before. This prediction is, indeed, being played out. Along with it is the feeling that we now live in unstable and dangerous world. Although there have been despots throughout the world for some time now, the United States has been regarded as a relatively stable centre that acts on important principles to protect life and enhance democratic ideals worldwide. At this time of uncertainty, these principles are being questioned. There is an increasing need for insight on how best to navigate the narcissistic environment we now live in.
The evolution of a narcissistic culture
In 1972, American historian and social critic, Christopher Lasch published a book warning us that we live in a culture of narcissism with diminished cultural expectations. In 2009, Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell published The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. In it, they propose that the present culture is permeated from top to bottom with narcissistic attitudes, beliefs, and values. These are visibly reflected in education, popular culture, parental attitudes, Facebook and Twitter. Narcissism comes with a shallow, subjective turn, magnifying the vital or life-ego, which results in an inflated view of the self, along with the expressed or implicit demand to ‘look at me, I am special.’
In 2011, Nicholas Carr published The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains, which gives a credible account of how the all-pervasive use of the computer is changing the neurons and neural synapses of our brains, affecting our ability for intense concentration. The forfeited ability for intense concentration encourages a shallow cultural frame. Additionally, there has been greater difficulty in being mindful and detaching from the ego. This shift is essential for a deeper subjective turn away from narcissism.
Many mental health professionals and non-professionals alike have given Trump an unofficial diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One could also note that he seems to have the ability to flexibly move from one subject to another, while manipulating data according to his perceptions of ‘reality.’ According to Carr, this flexibility to fluidly move between subjects is one of the advantages of the growing computer/internet culture since, with the Internet, self-censoring and focused attention is discouraged.
Mental flexibility and potential creativity is a positive aspect of our new computer culture. However, simultaneously, we lose the quiet centre of attention and concentrative power, as discussed above. Although the former may be a qualitative advantage to the individual. In -itself, it does nothing to challenge the narcissistic self, but instead may enhance it.
Where to from here?
There is another intriguing book, entitled Homo Deus, by Yuval Harari, published in 2010, which gives ample evidence to show the evolutionary trends in contemporary culture indicate a possible history of the future. Harari’s arguments are forceful and insightful, although he does issue a warning that homo sapiens could become redundant as humans are superseded by artificial intelligence, while ‘the brain’ becomes uploaded to the computer.
Future-oriented entrepreneur, Elon Musk, and acclaimed scientist, Stephen Hawkins, agree artificial intelligence is likely to exceed human intellectual capacity. Furthermore, they suggest that if not careful, humans might find themselves in an inferior position. The current narcissistic culture, I submit, can do nothing to change these trends; indeed, it is part and parcel of this evolutionary trend and powerless to detach from it.
We live in a subjective age. And narcissism is a shallow turn inwards to a subjective life, although it doesn’t extend beyond the inflated ego. It reflects false subjectivity and, in -itself, is a dangerous symptom. But, perhaps, it is the necessary precursor to the coming true subjective age. About which contemporary prophets such as Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, C. G. Jung, Jean Gebser and J.R.R. Tolkien inform us.
They uniformly insist that humans need to consciously turn within. Humans need to discover the objective archetypal psyche, as well as a deeper centre than the ego. In Jungian language, there is a need to discover the ‘heart-Self’, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s ‘psychic being’, and relate to it as the spiritual regulator of everyday life. There is a need, in other words, for individuals to consciously and deliberately embark on the process of individuation (Jung’s goal of Self-fulfillment), which potentially involves a dialogue with archetypal and universal patterns and energies, to bring down a future that is more like the Kingdom of Heaven on earth than the projected future described above by Harari.
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, there is potentially a far-reaching transformation of the present Homo sapiens’ human personality to another post-Homo sapiens species. In this light, the evolution to homo deus, which is the god-like ego described by Harari, is nothing but a narcissistic shadow of the real potential that lies ahead of us, as foreseen by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and Jung. Indeed, the narcissistic culture and uncertain times we currently live in could be the impetus for individuals to turn more deeply within to true sSubjectivity, and to participate consciously and responsibly in the creation of a desirable future.
David Johnston is a psychologist living in Victoria BC. He has studied at the Jung Institute in Zurich, and received his PhD from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpenteria, California.
Website link www.davidbear.ca
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