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The Narcissism Epidemic

A brief note before I start: The right has a habit of finding significant trends and memes and then overusing or distorting the meaning of terms in order to desensitize populations that might be getting a clue.  I suspect this is going to happen with the term narcissism. Once it starts to make an impact and the general population to see connections, expect the right wing to start conflating, confusing and overusing.  It’s what they do.  We might assume that we’ve hit a nerve when it happens.

**************************************************************************

Anne Manne is an Australian author who recently gave a talk on the predominance of narcissism in the most unequal cultures.  (See video below) This is a pretty good talk and gives some insight into how narcissistic, low empathy cultures are created, and asks whether those cultures can right themselves before the effects of climate change become irreversible.

We can’t rule out the role of helicopter parenting styles in the epidemic of narcissism.  Both of my kids grew up in an era when children were neither seen nor heard on the streets of our ultra safe New Jersey suburb, though I think it was worse for my younger daughter.  Every kid is scheduled to within an inch of their lives in career enhancing activities and competitive sports.  See Freerangekids for more horror stories about our warped American childhoods and how the culture of “stranger danger” has kept children from exploring their environments, making new friends and, probably, prevented them from developing empathy for people who are not like themselves.  Thank you, Fox News.

She briefly touches on religious and malignant narcissism at the very end of this video when referring to ISIS and says something very insightful about how religious narcissism works.  In essence, when you claim “all good” to yourself, looking down on non-believers as undeserving, the result is the dehumanization of others who do not share your belief.  When that happens, it’s much easier to behead others.  I am immediately reminded of end-times religions that claim that non-believers will be annihilated at the second coming.  And these religions make it quite clear that it doesn’t matter how “good” a non-believer is because “good deeds” do not count.  They are saved by grace alone and that requires surrendering reasoning to pure, unquestioning belief.

As Tony Robinson pointed out in his documentary on The Doomsday Code, this is a dangerous trend because adherents are so caught up in the anticipation of the end times that they may exacerbate bad conditions or allow them to go unchecked.  The resulting spread of inequality and evil reinforces their concept that the “system of things” is spiraling out of control and the second coming is imminent.  Consequently, religious narcissists may be quite content to sacrifice the poor and disenfranchised in the name of bringing on the end.  They may be even more tolerant of rising inequality because it represents another sign of the end.  This is how people like Glenn Beck survive and make millions.  It doesn’t take too much extrapolation to figure out that uber capitalists and corrupt political parties can take advantage of this complacency to grab more resources for themselves and permanently ensconce themselves at the top of the food chain. When the history books are written, the rise of fundamentalist eschatological Christianity is going to be a significant factor in the rise of extreme inequality.

It is also very difficult to combat because the eschatological mindset is almost impervious to reason.  In this respect, fundamentalist eschatological christianity is similar to ISIS.  It has no empathy for the feelings of people unlike itself.

Manne also briefly mentions that Joseph Stiglitz visited Australia recently (maybe it’s this video?) and warned it to not to import American values especially with respect to privatization and capitalism.  Stiglitz apparently thinks we are out of control.  The end timers must be peeing themselves with excitement.

Here is Manne’s talk:

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Got an assault rifle? How about homeowner’s insurance?

Newtown apparently LOVES guns.  Yep.  It’s a lovely bucolic setting with lots of 4000 sq ft McMansions set back in the trees.  It sounds a lot like Bernardsville, NJ.  Let me guess, there are probably a lot of corporate executive types out there.  Probably a lot of Libertarians and Republican members of the NRA too.  The New York Times reports that the sound of guns, rifles and assault weapons is a common thing in Newtown and all efforts to curtail it just to make it safe to walk in the woods, have met with stiff resistance.

It must be a great place to live where your neighbor is allowed to shoot his gun 20 feet from your house and you have no right to protect yourself.  Where are the homeowner’s insurance companies?

When I moved into this modest little townhouse, I couldn’t get homeowner’s insurance.  Was there a major safety problem?  Gas leak?  No, there was a crack in the pavement around the municipal access cover that was buried in the apron of my driveway.  Let me be clear, the crack wasn’t ON my driveway.  It was located on a piece of pavement that was owned by the municipality. It wasn’t a deep crack or a wide crack.  But because it was elevated by about half an inch and someone might trip on it in front of my house, my homeowner’s insurance company wouldn’t write a policy.  The crack had to be fixed first.  That proved to be a problem because it was owned by the township and I wasn’t allowed to touch it.  Eventually, the township did fix it but for a couple of weeks there, no policy for love or money.

Over a crack.

So, verily I say to the state of Connecticut, the solution to this problem seems pretty easy to me.  If you have more than one gun or an assault weapon in your home, no homeowner’s insurance.  Just try to get that 4000 square foot monstrosity with the nice granite countertops and the finished basement covered.  Go on.  The owners will have to stash their guns somewhere else away from the property.  That should keep them away from the young male hotheads in the family. A gun is much more lethal than a pavement defect.

Money changes everything.

****************************

Commenter John R. posted a link to a DailyMail article that says that Nancy Lanza was a survivalist in the Glenn Beck mode. In any case, Beck and his ilk have been predicting catastrophe for a couple of years now from the collision with Nibiru, a wayward planet/dwarf star thingy that doesn’t exist,  or some other catastrophic event.  Ex Jehovah’s Witness kids have been through this crap before and know a scam when they see one but the people who buy into this nonsense keep getting sucked in by every new scenario. I knew people who quit school and bunkered down leading up to 1975.  Many more quit their jobs to pioneer for the Watchtower full time. If you live with people who are into eschatological fantasies, the world can start to look a little nutz. It’s a bit like child abuse to be terrorized all day, all year for years on end by an eschatological parent. For all we know, Adam Lanza might have thought he was doing those kids a favor by killing them before the end of the world as they knew it.

Yes, it’s insane.  But what’s more insane is that we allow people like Glenn Beck to promote these doomsday scenarios without any accountability whatsoever.  It’s like shouting Fire in a theater.  Glenn Beck-why am I not surprised.  His shadow has been lurking behind so many violent events in the past couple of years.  But you want to know how to tell that Glenn Beck and his end-of-the-world fantasies aren’t serious?  How many times lately has he talked and fretted about the “Fiscal Cliff”?  People who expect to be fighting for their lives in the next week and have reserved space in long term survivalist residences don’t have time to be worried about losing their Bush Tax cuts.  If he is, that’s because come January 1, 2013, he expects to be sitting behind his microphone in a nice safe location spewing nonsense to the gullible and he’s probably got tickets to the Superbowl.

For all we know, there will be more violent incidences this week.  Some people don’t know when they’ve been taken for suckers.  They really take this seriously.

Saturday: Right Wing Christianity is an oxymoron

Evil hides behind many beautiful faces

From the Globe and Mail we get this description of the murderer who confessed to shooting more than 87 people at a youth camp in Norway:

“He describes himself as a Christian, leaning toward right-wing Christianity, on his Facebook page,” Mr. Andresen said.
[…]
Mr. Breivik’s Facebook page was blocked, but a cached version describes a conservative Christian from Oslo who owned his own organic farming company, called Breivik Geofarm.

The profile veers between references to lofty political philosophers and gory popular films, television shows and video games. The Facebook account appears to have been set up on 17 July. The site lists no “friends” or social connections.

The profile lists interests including hunting, political and stock analysis, with tastes in music ranging from classical to trance, a hypnotic form of dance music.

Mr. Breivik had also set up a Twitter account recently, with a single post on July 17, a citation from 19th century thinker John Stuart Mill: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”

If you are a conservative, “right-wing” Christian, please note that horrors like this will be permanently associated with your ideology. Don’t give me that crap about, “Well, you can’t blame all of us for the actions of a few.” Yes, I’m talking to YOU. You know who you are. I know you personally. I know how you go off on angry tirades against anyone who doesn’t toe your particularly militant form of Christianity. I see how you allow bad things to happen to good people because you put your faith in God and are going to close your eyes and pray that the Rapture is just around the corner. Who is telling you that it is OK to remain passive in the face of so much misery?

This massacre is the result of the eschatological furor to purge the earth of all that the right-wing “Christian” thinks is rotten. This is what you get when you demonize people who do not think that America is a Christian nation. This is what you get when you believe every mean-spirited, selfish, greedy, hard-hearted fecal emanation from the mouths of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson and the other false prophets.

The real Jesus said turn the other cheek, give away all of your goods, love your neighbor and that those who are good to the least among us would be with him in heaven.

He did not say, “kill the children of the people whose political views you do not like because this will teach them a lesson and bring on the Apocalypse.”

The rottenness of the world that you want to purge now includes you. The term “Christian” is fast becoming a dirty word, like Al Qaeda. Not Catholic or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Methodist.  *Christian*  It has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years.  When you walk into a party and announce your *Christianity* at the first opportunity (and I know you will), everyone will now know exactly what you mean.  It now means fundamentalist, narrow-minded, judgmental, self-righteous, anti-intellectual, selfish and now violent.  Is that what you want?

If that’s not what you want, turn away from the conservative TV and radio shows and religious programming with their false prophets.

You will have to answer to Jesus for what you have allowed to happen in his name.

Ezekiel 28:15-18

You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.

Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, O guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.

Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings

By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.

Update: The backlash has begun.  This is the headline at the New York Times:

Norway Charges Right-Wing Christian

I feel sorry for all of the innocent Christians who we will now learn to fear.

Update II: This is from The Guardian, describing the murderer, Anders Behring Breivik:

It was revealed that the 32-year-old former member of the country’s conservative Progress Party – who had become ever more extreme in his hatred of Muslims, left wingers and the country’s political establishment – had ordered six tonnes of fertiliser in May to be used in the bombing. While police continued to interrogate Breivik, who was charged with the mass killings, evidence of his increasingly far right world view emerged from an article he had posted on several Scandinavian websites, including Nordisk – a site frequented by neo-Nazis, far right radicals and Islamophobes since 2009.

It is time to stop the madness in this country as well.  Recently, a moveon.org meeting was broken up by Tea Party activists (from Stephen Colbert’s site, of all places) who then proceeded to follow some of the meeting participants and harrass them.  Enough is enough.  Didn’t the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords teach these people anything?  Glenn Beck and the whole crazy anti-liberal, anti-islamic bigotry has to stop.  We need to shame these people because if we don’t, it won’t be long before some right wing christian decides to follow Anders Breivik’s example and we will all be sorry we didn’t put a stop to it.

Watch the video of the encounter.  Is Utoya far behind?

Book Review: The Passage

Summer is upon us and the time has come to go to the beach and get lost in a book.  But what to take?  If you’re like me, you don’t do trashy chick-lit.  That Candace Bushnell crap will never see my library shelf.  I want plot, action, good character development, some profound meaning.

So, The Passage, by Justin Cronin, may or may not be for you.

This was one of the most frustrating books I have ever read.  Er, listened to.  One word of warning, it is a loooooonnnnnngggg book.  The audible version is 40 hours long.  Maybe the audiobook is not the best format for this book but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I think part of my frustration is that the author tries too hard to be all things to all people.  Is the book an eschatological parable?  Science fiction?  An On-The-Road buddy story?  A love story?  An epic horror story spanning generations ala Stephen King’s interminable It?  A long winded luddite lecture on the perils of modern technology with a soupçon of magical realism?  A Beauty and the Beast fairy tale?  Who the frak knows?  It could be all of these things.  Some of them hang together.  Some of them hang separately.

There are two messages I got loud and clear from The Passage.  As Jackie Kennedy is reported to have said, “If you mess up your childern, nothing else you do really matters”.  The other one is, if you’re going to tinker with viruses, be sure NOT to use sociopathic murderers for your in vivo studies.  I made a note to self on this one because, *clearly*, scientists need to be reminded, ALL THE TIME, of their pretensions to divinity and the hubris that is inextricably linked in their DNA to their interest in biology.  Only scientists are capable of destroying our civilization.  Oil companies and investment bankers can not come close in destructive power to a guy in a white labcoat with a test tube.  We just can’t be trusted.

{{Sigh}}

Actually, it was the military that did it.  They recruited the scientist.

Ok, does anyone doubt that the Army has stocks of mutated biological agents that make smallpox look like a bad case of poison ivy?  Of course not.  But it’s not like they’re out to create a race of orcs.  I mean, come on.

So, here’s the premise of this weighty tome: A grief stricken biologist goes to South America to investigate a bat virus that has the power to cure terminally ill cancer patients.  Well, cure them temporarily.  There are a few kinks that need to be ironed out, like getting them to stop turning into immortal blood thirsty killers.  The Army sees this side effect as a feature, not a bug.  So, it makes the good doctor an offer he can’t refuse and gives him his own personal research lab in the mountains above Telluride, CO.  Enter the FBI agent, Wolgast.  Wolgast’s job is to recruit “volunteers” among death row inmates to participate in “clinical trials”.  The subjects are not told what’s going to happen to them but seeing as they don’t have many alternatives, most of the recruits sign up.  Then, the doctor says his research has progressed to the point where he needs a much younger subject.  He needs a child.  That’s where 6 year old Amy Harper Bellefonte comes in.

Amy is the abandoned child of a homeless woman turned prostitute.  When Amy was born, she and her mom lived with her grandfather in a poor but idyllic existence on an Iowa farm.  A series of unfortunate events leads to Amy’s abandonment at a convent with the eccentric Sister Lacy, and her subsequent abduction by Wolgast.  It doesn’t take long for Wolgast and Amy to bond.  Wolgast can’t bring himself to turn her over to research so he goes on the lam with her.  They’re both caught and Amy is subjected to a mutated form of the virus that brings her close to death.  Then, one night, all hell breaks loose on the mountain, the subjects escape and the world changes.  Once again, Wolgast disappears with Amy.  They retreat to an old summer camp in Oregon and hide from the chaos of the world around them.

And, Oh, what chaos ensues.  This is the most gripping part of the book.  Most of the details are provided by out of date newspapers that Wolgast finds while they’re hiding.  But there is one section concerning the evacuation of children from Philadelphia that is particularly harrowing.  The girl who tells it ends up in a FEMA camp in California.  She is part of the founding generation of survivors.  This is the end of the first part.

The second part concerns the California colony’s kibbutz-like existence.  They’re out in the middle of nowhere, 90 years later.  They haven’t heard from FEMA or the Army or nearly any other non-infected human beings for years.  For all they know, they’re the only ones who are left.  They sleep with the lights on, literally.  Light is the only thing that keeps the soulless virals at bay.  And their wind turbine powered batteries are starting to die.

That’s where the story starts to fall apart.  There are so many logical inconsistencies from this point on that even though the plot is still compelling, the stuff that doesn’t hang together started to grate on my nerves.  For example, the colony seems to have forgotten about modern medicine.  They don’t have antibiotics or anesthesia.  Ok, I know they may have used up the contents of their 50 ton push pack in 90 years but no one bothered to write down the recipe for chloroform or how to make penicillin from cheese mold?  And the battery problem: the guy responsible for running the power supply tells one of the more senior members of the colony of their impending fate and- they keep it to themselves?  No “let’s get together and brainstorm a solution or all 100 of us are going to die horrible deaths in, Oh, about a year”.  No, they just sit on that information.  Then, when a couple of the members of a clique get into trouble, the whole group takes off, leaving the colony to fend for itself, unaware that the lights are about to go out.  The colony is described as being kind and gentle to their children even after they learn the bitter truth about the world but they seem to not to have instilled a sense of moral responsibility to their community in them.  If you think you’re the last 100 people on earth, wouldn’t you go out of your way to make sure that community survival was paramount?

Amy comes back into the story.  Of all of the characters, her thoughts on being and existence are the most convincing.  But in the presence of others, you get no sense of the internal workings of her mind.  She is silent and passive, a mystery that drives the others to take action and her relationship to Peter, the reluctant leader of the group, remains woefully underdeveloped.  The other characters of the second half, trained survivalists, have all of the emotional depth of Degrassi High School students.  The action is punctuated by heart to heart conversations that lead nowhere and resolve nothing.  I don’t care about a bunch of college aged adolescents mooning over each other for months at a stretch.  Grow up and get to the frickin’ point already.

We do come to the point.  It should be thrilling but it seems a bit anti-climactic.  This is where the audiobook has its limitations.  Because, if you had the book, there are certain pages that you could comfortably skip right over but with an audiobook, you have to listen to the words to make sure you haven’t missed anything important and this. takes. for. ever.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the book really is good.  The first part is gripping and hair raising.  There are passages of astonishing beauty that make you ache for Wolgast and Amy.  There is no doubt that Cronin is a talented writer.  I think that the scope of the saga just got a bit too big and unwieldy.  He could have used a better editor to pare some of it back and focus the motivations of the characters.  And I have never heard so much overuse of the word “frown” in my life.  If a character has to express displeasure in any way, the frowny face seems to be the only option.  Didn’t Cronin have access to a Thesaurus?  Were there no other words to describe a furrowing of the brows?  A look of worry and concern?  A sense of disapproval?   But I digress.

Here’s my prediction: The book is going to be wildly popular.  There will be sequels.  The way the book ends, there almost has to be. If I were pushy enough to advise the author, I’d suggest that he spend more time world building.  An epic of this magnitude deserves an almost Tolkienesque attention to detail.  Take your time.  Please, please, please, tighten up the character relationships.  And try to figure out how things actually work. I realize that English majors don’t all flock to the hard sciences but make an effort to extrapolate.

As for the fate of this first of three books, there will be HBO miniseries or movie and a franchise and all sorts of character re-enactments.  There will be Halloween costumes and video games.  I hope they make a Wii version.  Get in on it early enough and you can say you were there when the phenomenon started.  Enjoy it while you can.

You never know when the world might end and the lights go off.

(Bwahahahahahhh!, she says, shaking her test tube)

Recommended.