Narcissistic personality disorder as a national trait
The Mayo Clinic describes NPD as:
a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
Describing the national character of the United States as narcissistic is nothing new. Kuni Miyake wrote an insightful article in the Japan Times back in 2018 in which he came up with NND (Narcissistic National Disorder) to describe the United States.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper with the title: “Narcissism and United States’ Culture: The View from Home and Around the World” in which it is made quite clear that narcissism is a trait which is not only excessively prevalent among the people in the USA, but is actively encouraged throughout the culture, especially with its worship of the rich and famous and their extravagant lifestyles. In America this narcissistic plateau can be reached only if one is ruthlessly concerned with oneself and one’s own satisfaction. Lack of empathy for others plays a huge role in all this of course. Americans see this narcissism in themselves and their peers, and people from around the world regard the US as a nation of narcissists mainly due to this evident lack of empathy.
Color lithograph by J.S. Pughe • Library of Congress statement: No known restrictions on publication.
Since most people are not familiar with the political situation in 1899, a quick description of the cartoon might be helpful: Uncle Sam stands on a map of China, which Germany, Italy, England, Russia, and France (Austria in background sharpening shears) want to cut up; Uncle Sam clutches the Trade Treaty with China and says: “Gentleman, you may cut up this map as much as you like, but remember that I’m here to stay, and that you can’t divide me up into spheres of influence.”
Published in Puck on August 23, 1899, the cartoon emphasizes the role the United States played in enforcing what was known at that time as the Open Door Policy. It prevented any country from creating an exclusive territorial trade zone in China and ensured that all countries involved could trade on an equal footing. It saved China from being cut up into pieces like Africa had been, and the Chinese were permitted to get tariffs for their goods, but they were not consulted on whether they were in favor of the policy. It was imposed upon them from above, with the United States once again making sure that its own national interests were protected.
Uncle Sam is “Putting His Foot Down” in an unmistakable gesture of authority, in the belief that he is the most important and the most powerful person in the world. The Mayo Clinic description of NPD fits so well, it’s uncanny. And, the operative narcissistic phrase here is in the caption: I’m here to stay, and … you can’t divide me up into spheres of influence. In other words, I’m the boss! an attitude that has not changed since then and, after 4 years of the most brazen narcissism a president has ever shown to his people and to the world, it is even more prevalent among the “folk” of the US than ever before. A prime example of this is the racism that has now come out of the closet into the public sphere.
Racism has all the traits of narcissism listed by the Mayo Clinic, with the most important being: a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. Every white supremacist has fragile self-esteem and hates any kind of criticism, especially if it’s true. Yes, it’s true that white people have enslaved and maltreated and exploited people who they deem to be non-whites for hundreds of years. Bring this truth to the ears or eyes of a white supremacist and their fragile self-esteem cracks open the protective shell and lets out the demon living inside. This demon has been released aplenty during the past and looks like it will continue to haunt us well into the future.
The governing capitalist elites of the United States are no different. They know that their positions of power are only attainable because they have acted with a complete lack of empathy for others, herding wage slaves into factories to produce goods which will enable an accumulation of enormous profits that will never be fairly distributed among the “folk” for the benefit of the many instead of the few. Why should this profit be distributed anyway? It was capital than enabled it! Capital may have been the yeast in the dough, but labor enabled the manufacture and distribution of the goods. Yeast does not grow the wheat, harvest it, grind it into flour, add the water, knead the dough or heat the oven or put the kneaded dough in the oven, nor take it out when it has reached the right consistency and is finally edible. Without the labor and the natural world the raw material comes from, no bread. Capital is, like yeast, an ingredient, but all it does is consume the sugar in the dough and burp out carbon dioxide gas and alcohol called ethanol. This gas gets trapped inside the bread dough due to the presence of gluten, thus making the dough rise. The alcohol gets evaporated in the baking process. Dough that uses yeast rises slowly and for a longer period of time. The more gas that forms in the dough, the higher the dough will rise and thus, the fluffier your baked bread will be.
So if capital is like yeast, why should we consider all the burped out holes in the bread as its right to an enormous return from the bread when it is sold. After all, the yeast only creates places where there is nothing present but air: i.e. an inflated sense of their own importance. And if you think about it, yeast is not a necessary ingredient at all. Bread can be baked without yeast. It’s called no-yeast bread. And of course there is matzo as well. Flour and water.
The capitalist doesn’t distribute the profits from the sale of produced goods because that money is needed to buy up and control the natural world where the raw materials are hidden or available in plain sight, and to exploit the labor of the local population in order to get those raw materials and transport them so that the goods can be manufactured by labor at a profit for the people who have a deep need for excessive attention and admiration. The people living on the land to be exploited have no say in how the materials are mined or gathered – either they cooperate or they will be eliminated from the game. That’s what Uncle Sam is telling the Europeans in that political cartoon. The fact that the Chinese have absolutely no say in the matter doesn’t even need to be mentioned. It’s a given. After all, they don’t count. They are only the ones who will provide the labor and the raw materials. They belong to the non-white underclass. The Opium Wars of the 19th century, instigated by Britain and then Britain and France working together, reduced China to a country with absolutely no say in its own destiny. And they didn’t have a say until Mao went on his Long March (against the fascist Japanese) and took the land away from the colonial capitalists who would have liked to return after the ultimate defeat of Japan and Germany. Of course this liberation of China from the grip of the western capitalists has been a long-lasting insult to the fragile self-esteem of Europeans and Americans, and a battle for revenge has been in progress ever since the establishment of the PRC (People’s Republic of China).
Do other nations suffer from narcissistic personality disorder? Of course. Nations around the world act in their own self-interest all the time. Many nations believe they are special. And authoritarian leaders of countries cannot cease to exhibit their deep need for excessive attention and admiration. That includes Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. However, not since the demise of the great empires has there been a nation as powerful militarily and as narcissistic in its national policy as the United States. Americans actually believe they won the second world war all by themselves. They believe their ideals of freedom and democracy should be the political religion governing the world. The fact that their antiquated system of government was constructed to protect an oligarchic status quo is not even in the periphery of their consciousness. Other nations have crafted together more egalitarian forms of democracy, with less influence from the oligarchs sitting above. Eliminate the Wild West cowboy capitalists and egalitarian democracy should stand a better chance of success. Without Uncle Sam and his heavy boot stomping on the earth to tell us all who is boss, we might have a real chance at getting to a place where egalitarianism is possible.
Oh, but the narcissist will tell us: It’s for your own protection that I wield my power! No, it’s to protect profits and oligarch narcissists that stifling trade deals are crafted and countries like Bolivia are treated like vassal states, while countries like Cuba and Iran and Venezuela, who refuse to cooperate with the capitalist powers that be, are punished as renegades, and every attempt is made to force them to pay for their lack of respect. A complete lack of empathy for the people who live in those countries is part of the package of assertion of dominion. No wonder torture is back on the agenda in the USA, it has been used as national policy for decades: You want the pain to stop? Cooperate!
The French Communist Party got the message long ago and even created propaganda posters against US imperialism and its threat to colonize France. The current French government is, however, full of non-empathetic narcissists and continues to do all it can to thwart the will of the people while allowing the American capitalist octopus to slide its menacing tentacles into the European Union.
No! France will not be a colonized country!
Americans stay in America! (Public Domain)
Frankly, like many people who no longer live in the United States and among Americans and the constant stream of nationalistic propaganda they are subjected to through their media channels, I have grown tired of the constant whining from American oligarchs that Europe has no right to force them to pay a fair share of taxes on the enormous profits they make from cyber business and franchise business in Europe. Google and Microsoft and Apple and Facebook demand to be recognized as the greatest thing that was ever given to mankind. Living here in Germany it reminds me of the Deutschland Über Alles that was once so prominent in the thinking of the people here and still finds expression in the national anthem, as well as in the way fans regard their national football team. [Aside: Why do you think Uber chose that name for its company? They most probably would have kept the umlauts over the U if they could have gotten away with it. After all, their business model is predicated on being Über Alles.]
Unfortunately, we are going to be stuck with American narcissists for a while yet. The German narcissistic personality disorder system collapsed rather quickly. The American NPD system is taking a bit longer to collapse. The hollow center will fold in on itself eventually and will cause disarray and chaos, but maybe that inflated sense of their own importance and that deep need for excessive attention and admiration will dissolve into a realization that cooperation for the good of all will save Americans from further destruction in the future.
Don’t hold your breath!
Psychology Today gives us “8 Ways to Handle a Narcissist”, but it’s not going to be easy to get the United States to recognize that it can benefit from professional intervention.
Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany