June 11, 2009

Where Did The Title Come From?

I'm sure you've read The Catcher In The Rye.  Why is it called that?

And a few more that came to mind.

The Catcher In The Rye

Here's a little self-test for narcissism:

  • if you think Holden Caulfield "gets it" and sees through people's pretenses, you're a narcissist.  Unless you are under 25, in which case you are completely normal.
  • if you think Holden Caulfield is really just sad and alienated, but afraid to take the dangerous steps towards adulthood and meaningful connections with other people, then you are perceptive; unless you are under 25, in which case you are a perceptive girl.

"You know that song, 'if a body catch a body comin' through the rye?' I'd like to be--"

"It's 'if a body meet a body comin' through the rye!' " old Phoebe said.  "It's a poem.  By Robert Burns."

"...Anyway, I keep picturing all these kids playing some game in this big field of rye....and nobody's around-- nobody big, that is-- except me.  And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  And what I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff...I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really  like to be."

Robert Burns also gave us Auld Lang Syne, which I have never once attempted to sing sober.  Partly a metaphor for how Holden Caulfield sees adulthood (the cliff) and saving kids from it; but also an escape from any responsibility towards progress.  He doesn't have to grow, or help kids grow, all he has to do is just be a little older and smarter.  That's enough.

His absorption with phoniness is the inner conflict of one who is discovering that the world doesn't bend to his wishes.

Narcissism is normal in 17 year old boys, especially the quasi-idealistic kind embodied by Holden.  They eventually grow up.   Hopefully, they then can remember what it was like so they don't destroy their kids when they're 17.

One day, a 17 year old will look at you and think you're a phony.  That will mean either you are old, and he's wrong; or you're old, and he's right.

Atlas Shrugged

The book that was once dismissed as high school level sophistry has suddenly become the second most prescient book in modern history.  The first is 1984. (#3 is Debt Of Honor.)

"If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater the effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders--what would you tell him to do?"

"I...don't know. What...could he do? What would you tell him?"

"To shrug."

Originally entitled The Strike, the book describes a future dictatorship where the dictators have created an artificial altruism: the productive are required to sacrifice themselves for others-- i.e. their output is taken from them and redistributed.  The book describes this altruism as a trick; the society has convinced people that "it's the right thing to do," that it is just.  It is a moral code and thus the productive members are coerced by guilt.

It could occur to Atlas that just because he is the strongest, it doesn't have to be his lot to hold up the world.  He could simply shrug it off.

NB: such state control through a moral code would not have been possible if the productive people were narcissists (as our current crop of Wall Streeters seem to have been)-- they don't feel guilt.  Only shame would have worked.  The government might want to consider psychology before it sets up the next round of oversight.

Notes from the Underground

Quick test: give this book to your girlfriend.  If she says, "it kind of sounds like you" then you're both in trouble.

There in its nasty, stinking, underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed mouse promptly becomes absorbed in old, malignant and, above all, everlasting spite.

A man who imagines himself an acutely conscious mouse, in a world of men who never bother with self-reflection, who seem all the happier, more capable because of it. 

And he'll think about these happy, stupid men, and all the misery that their happiness has caused him:

For forty years together it will remember its injury down to the smallest, most ignominious details, and every time will add, of itself, details still more ignominious, spitefully teasing and tormenting itself with its own imagination.  It will itself be ashamed of its imaginings, but yet it will recall it all, it will go over and over every detail, it will invent unheard of things against itself, pretending that those things might happen, and will forgive nothing.
But why do it to yourself?  Why stay underground and... fester in spite?

But it is just in that cold, abominable half despair... in that hell of unsatisfied desires turned inward... that the savour of that strange enjoyment of which I have spoken lies.

Enjoyment?  Better to consider it validation: in the suffering, in being the mouse, in being Underground is an identity, an individualism, a defining of the problem as you vs. them.  You are not-them, and so you are better.

This is narcissism; sometimes despair is the only pleasure you have.

The lesser read Part 2 describes his relationship with a prostitute.  He more than insults her; like a psychic he astutely identifies her inner dreams and external hardships, and then predicts the misery that is her future.  He later says he did it to have power over her, which is only partly true.   He does it because he wants her to see him as knowing.  The power over her was to get her to see him the way he wanted to be seen.

But she has a good soul, she's a woman, and she's a prostitute: she's three times more perceptive than he is.  He knows she'll eventually be able to see right through him-- to see him as he really is-- not even as a bad person, just not as he wants to be seen.  This is the worst thing that can happen.  To preempt this, he degrades her: to cause her to leave.

And of course, she does.

One of the best depictions of narcissism, ever.  Study it.

The Sound And The Fury

Wherefore was that cry?     
  Seyton:.  The queen, my lord, is dead.     
  Macbeth:  She should have died hereafter;     
There would have been a time for such a word.     
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,     
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,     
To the last syllable of recorded time;     
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools     
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!     
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player     
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,     
And then is heard no more; it is a tale     
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,   
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

Life is absurd; time is an abstraction humanity applies to it to help make sense of it, but it's artificial nonetheless.  Quentin Compson goes to his suicide, Sartre once observed, not by passing through the present, but rather looking backwards, in retrospect, as if he is remembering his suicide in the past.  Make plans if you want; your death came already.  Six more thousand years of future people won't know or care about you.

A more modern interpretation, from the movie that ended a century:

Agent Smith has Neo ("Mr. Anderson") in a chokehold on the train tracks; the subway speeds towards them.  Agent Smith is-- satisfied. 

Hear that, Mr. Anderson?  That is the sound of inevitability.  It is the sound of your death.  Good bye, Mr. Anderson.

Agent Smith has it figured right:  Anderson's life, like all humans', was a pointless struggle even if it was a happy and successful one.  It always ends in failure, in death.

Faced with the absurdity and unintelligibility of life, but the inevitability of its end; lacking God or country or dynasty, there is only one answer that today's man-- the narcissist-- can give that makes his life meaningful, and he gives it:

My name is Neo.

The only solace is to define oneself, otherwise you become aware that your brief life is all just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

three geese inna flock, one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo's nest... O-U-T spells out, goose swoops down and plucks you out.

Which (I think) comes from the Louis Untermeyer poem "Rainbow In The Sky" which begins, "Wire, briar, linder-lock..."

A story (that can be) as much about racism and the Soviet Union as it was about psychiatry, many of these themes are underdeveloped in the movie. 

The story's narrator is the Chief, whose grandmother used to sing the above nursery rhyme.
The Chief knows that the outside world is controlled by the Combine, and Big Nurse Ratched  is its inside agent.  Patient Randle McMurphy is her nemesis (or she his)-- she is control, he is freedom; she is conformity, he is a cowboy individualist who must become a  self-sacrificing hero.  He rips her uniform, exposing her breasts-- look, she's not a machine, she's just a person-- and he gets lobotomized.

Though it must be said: even a harsh, controlling, artificial world, like the Matrix or any good conspiracy theory, provides comfort because it says what every free floating individual wants to hear: you're powerless because someone else is controlling everything.  But at least someone else is controlling everything.

The Last Psychiatrist

...the time of the most despicable man is coming, the man who is not able to despise himself....



ummmm, nacissism gives your... (Below threshold)

June 11, 2009 6:34 PM | Posted by tom: | Reply

ummmm, nacissism gives your individual internal struggle for purpose and meaning, purpose and meaning. Stripped of all the false construct of an external, predetermined fate, we can rest assured that absolute self-absorption holds still our burning light...sounds like a religion of one.

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Great post several of those... (Below threshold)

June 11, 2009 7:42 PM | Posted by mariana_soffer: | Reply

Great post several of those books I liked a lot, but I never had a clue why they where called like that. Do you know the other salinger book called "rise high the roof beam carpenters", why is it the name?

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I find your mild obsession ... (Below threshold)

June 11, 2009 9:40 PM | Posted by Aurora: | Reply

I find your mild obsession with narcissism helpful in dealing with some of the more difficult people in my life. The section in today's post about "Notes From the Underground" was a scarily accurate portrayal of a somewhat recent ex, who really put me through the wringer. Whenever I questioned him in any way, he would get incredibly angry. Funny that he claimed *his* ex/baby-mama was a classic narcissist. This guy was very very very into Freud, and said that he would have become an old-school psychoanalyst, had he started the training earlier. So glad we're through!

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My brother told me that som... (Below threshold)

June 11, 2009 11:06 PM | Posted by Andrew Ator: | Reply

My brother told me that some guy in Sweeden was making Catcher and the Rye 2, but he heard this from *his* ex girlfriend when she called him from therapy. She called to tell my brother that when they were having sex in highschool her step-father was outside the window watching/videotaping them. Sometime after they broke up, or before, or during, whatever, it came up that she was a pathological liar. It was the first relationship I ever saw from a working angle being the little brother and all. My mother would read my brother's emails from time to time without his knowing until she called *his* girlfriend's mother because of a suicide-related note or something to that effect. The yelling went back and forth and forth and back until accusations came one way and rebuttals flowed back. She eventually admitted to reading the emails, but was the argument really necessary?

And Aurora, don't think too much about it. He probably wasn't worth your time anyway. I know a guy that does psychoanalyzing. He was in my speech class and gave an incredible presentation about how Facebook will be the downfall of humanity for reasons of Vanity. I knew an All American Tri-athlete in BUD/S who still has my "Trust Me I'm A Virgin" tee shirt that got his masters in clinical psychology. I think he dated three women at a time while in X-Div, unsurprisingly two were his exes. He was a cool guy. Some people suck. Some people are honest. Just be glad you didn't waste too much time on him.

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I thought that Catcher in t... (Below threshold)

June 11, 2009 11:28 PM | Posted by G. Day: | Reply

I thought that Catcher in the Rye was a little bit sadder than that, because, inevitably, no man is an island, and Holden is going to have to integrate with people who really are phony, or at least highly unreflective. Just because he's immature and inarticulate doesn't mean he isn't right.
I'd suggest reading The Recognitions; it's like the above, but for grown-ups.

To me, the goal is not finding the right ideology so much as dispensing with as much dogma as possible. What are my goals? To be happy. What makes me happy? A stable society, self-esteem, friends. The question is not whether it's morally right to give up your extra production (because, as your Macbeth excerpt points out, morality itself is on a bit of a shaky footing in the grand scheme of things), but whether or not that actually serves my interest in the long run... and it really does. Not perfectly (bailouts, lol) but it's better than unworkable libertarian anarchy.

Or, given the choice of agonizing self-consciousness of my flaws and narcissitic "spin-control", I'll take the latter. (You're right: Orwell was prescient in his conception of Doublethink.)

And, though I'd rather have friends I can be my exact, reflexive unfiltered close-as-you-can-call-it "self" with, I'm obviously going to have to fudge that in the real world. Maybe a little manipulativeness here, maybe a little fakery there, all adding up to-- what? legitimate, reciprocated feelings of affection, though these feelings might be directed at a mask.

It's a shitty situation, but until Haley's comet comes back and my cult reunites all of humanity with The Source, narcissism is just the default mode of living (there's a speech by a guy named David Foster Wallace on that very topic at Kenyon College. I think his heirs are trying to resurrect him through humiliating irony, because it is, as we speak, being butchered, formatted and printed into a hundred or so pages for what is, at most, a few pages of speech in a form that debases the content most thoroughly.)

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"It always ends in failure,... (Below threshold)

June 12, 2009 3:12 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"It always ends in failure, in death."

Who equates death with failure? Nature only does if the animal hasn't reproduced before his/her death. If large enough numbers of an animal die then an extinction. A failure to adapt to the environment. Good thing we humans got brains to adapt. I hope we can use them to find a long term balance in the limitations of the Earths resources.

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Speaking of death and failu... (Below threshold)

June 12, 2009 11:39 PM | Posted by information addict: | Reply

Speaking of death and failure, how about "The Good News Bible" for a title, eh?

Jesus: the ultimate anti-narcissist.

What have you done for (someone else) lately?

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Fascinating. I never under... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 7:15 AM | Posted by Nadia: | Reply

Fascinating. I never understood my ex-boyfriend's complete love of Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; nor why why he always choose to be unhappy rather than fix things or face himself.

I've been reading LP for a few months on The Bunny's reccomendation. I'm really very grateful for all this information; it helped me realize that I should get away from him as soon as possible and helps me not be as bitter.

Freaking narcissist.

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Ah ha. The other must-read... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 7:19 AM | Posted by Annie: | Reply

Ah ha. The other must-reads. I especially like the way Notes From the Underground is suggested as a boyfriend/girlfriend diagnostic tool.

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I just want to tell you how... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 9:37 AM | Posted by Mae: | Reply

I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. I may not always agree with you 100%, but the posts always make me think. So thank you for taking the time to write and/or vent here.

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No, it's not a neo moment, ... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 3:10 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

No, it's not a neo moment, no matter how fixated on that series as you are (evidenced by many a post on said object of desire). Remove the pop culture frame, and it's about one defining one's self, one's values and then attempting to live according to those values. It's called integrity. Now, whether that's narcissistic or not, I'll leave to others who've made the existential choice that narcissism primarily is what restricts us to view life and it's myriad aspects "Through a Glass, Darkly."

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The book that was ... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 4:10 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The book that was once dismissed as high school level sophistry has suddenly become the second most prescient book in modern history.

Yeah, right. I think Ayn Rand's view of "free markets" would be amusing if it weren't so completely debunked by this concept called reality.

Sometimes, the absolute irony does seem prescient- take Hank Rearden, for example. Hank owns the the most important steel companies in the world and is a poster boy for the industrial employer who "comes to realize what is wrong with the world."

Let's flash to the reality known as U.S. Steel, a corporation (oh yeah ... most huge companies are not privately owned ... oops!) which, over two decades, literally begged the US government (curses!) to enact protective tarrifs so they could "rebuild" their aging factories they were too short-sighted, greedy and stupid to rebuild in the first place. The US government agrees, US Steel shareholders make a mint and the factories never get updated. This occurred in the 80's and 90's.

Then, in 2002 they agreed to consolidate with a number of US companies, including Bethelhem Steel. Representing that company? Rober Miller Jr., who engineered the federal bailout in 1979 of Chrysler. But it gets better. Miller said they'd still need protective tarrifs that cost the taxpayers AND they'd need $13 billion for the industry's pension and retireee health care benefits. Blame the unions all you want, in Atlas Shrugged, Rearden treated his employees better than any union, which is why they never went on strike. Presumably that included retirement and health benefits.

Rand's book is a paen to narcissism and to a child's uninformed and wishful view of a world run along the lines of heroic individualism and free markets.

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And the hits keep coming: <br ... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 5:03 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by David Johnson: | Reply

And the hits keep coming:
The American steel industry will likely follow the footstep of the car manufacturing industry by seeking a federal bailout. The amount of $1 trillion over two years is being eyed to hike demand for steel for use in roads, bridges, electric power grids, universities, medical centers, water treatment facilities and mass transit system.

There's a provision to "buy american," as opposed to buy the best product at the cheapest price. How anti-Ann can you get? Just another example of her complete inability to forsee the inevitable result of unregulated markets and markets which have almost always relied upon the "kindness of taxpayers."

Read more: http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7013591502#ixzz0ILVyzZXQ&C

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Did you ever think, when yo... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 7:25 PM | Posted by come hither, anon: | Reply

Did you ever think, when you were a sophomore in college, that you'd one day have a blog and be able to post your book reports for all the world to see?

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Why is no one able to see A... (Below threshold)

June 13, 2009 8:45 PM | Posted by Vladimir Zhirinovsky: | Reply

Why is no one able to see Ayn Rand as she was - a violent, reactionary anticommunist; an ex-Soviet Jew who was using her books and position to lash out against a system of government that had artificially held back her ethnic group's position in society?

Oh...right. Defining the world only as it exists from your narrow perspective, that's narcissism. In other words, the people who criticize her are almost always doing the same thing she did, they're just not writing books about it.

Alone, I'd be interested to hear you expound sometime on what you think of the youth/drug culture in the USA, particularly with regards to marijuana and the implications of its popularity.

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So it's anti-commie screed ... (Below threshold)

June 14, 2009 3:52 AM | Posted, in reply to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's comment, by David Johnson: | Reply

So it's anti-commie screed celebrating her childish and rose-colored naif's view of "free market" economics as the only alternative to a repressive government who had "held back her ethnic group's position in society?" That's the rebuttal?

I rather think it was a viscerally personal reaction to her father's pharmacy being confiscated and a group of individuals, including herself, being kicked out of the University of Petrograd, not because of being Jewish, but because they were judged as being "non-proletarian." But all this is really beside the point of some of these comments you find critical. It's just your attempt at apologetics.

Her books are overly long and mawkishly sentimental. She makes a hash of philosophy and economics because she never studied either to any great degree, formally or informally, and was acurately judged as being a writer, not a philosopher and certainly not an economist. Her viewpoint, called objectivism, celebrates

the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

She asserted the only moral social system is laissez-faire capitalism.

I criticize her for posing as a serious philosopher or a serious economist. Unless you read everything she wrote as limited to anti-communism (which she would reject) history has proven her woefully wrong. She rode the currents of unfettered capitalism and anti-communism through the cold war and profited mightily from this country's fear of the "red scare." Good enough.

Ayn Rand described selfishness as a virtue, rejecting altruism. To be sure, it's not the common use of the word selfish. She felt to be selfish, to act in one's interest, ultimately meant one would commit to the virtues of rationality, justice , productiveness and benevolence. This goes a long, long, way towards explaining her early disciple, Alan Greenspan's, incredibly naive and ignorant lament come the financial crash and the unsurprising government bailout of these incompetent crooks:

Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief.
Only if you studiously ignore any other viewpoint of reality other than that prattle called objectivism. Imagine- people acting both legally and illegally, primarily out of their own (commonly form) selfishness, without any regard to others or the future.

One can only wonder what she would say about the absolute failure of unfettered capitalism and its controlling abuse of government in order to bail out the largest examples of incompetence and greed. Labeling this book as prescient is nescient.

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All of these comments and n... (Below threshold)

June 14, 2009 5:45 AM | Posted by Andrew Ator: | Reply

All of these comments and no one asks what the prototype of this most despicable person is supposed to be? I bet its Walty from Gran Torino. I just saw that movie for the first time today. Funniest. Movie. Ever. The only thing that was missing was a rat walking across the dashboard in the final shot.

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Whoa there, my friend. I'm ... (Below threshold)

June 14, 2009 11:06 AM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by Vladimir Zhirinovsky: | Reply

Whoa there, my friend. I'm not defending Rand - personally I find her stuff boring, trite, and overly simplistic.

But, three words for you: IT IS FICTION.

Yes, it's fiction that has enabled thousands of narcissists. But what are you suggesting, that she forced people to read her books and adopt them as a philosophy? Or is it possible, just maybe, that she was in the right place - in a country jam-packed with narcissistic, greedy peasants from all over the world - to find people to whom her writing would be extremely appealing?

Let me ask you this, what writer wouldn't want that kind of attention? Narcissism or not, that sort of notoriety means you've made it.

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Exactly. It's fiction. My... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2009 3:20 AM | Posted, in reply to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's comment, by Dave Johnson: | Reply

Exactly. It's fiction. My rant had to do with "Alone's" completely missing this point, and, what's more, labelling it "prescient," at a point in time where her idolization of laissez-faire (read unregulated) capitalism has been eviscerated by reality. It was her, after all, narcissistic to the core, who decided she had a philosophy worth spreading. Perhaps she was one of pioneers who confused a type of style with substance?

It is fiction. Bad fiction. Tedious. Interminable. Fiction. And I wouldn't argue for a moment she wasn't in the right place at the right time. She made it! doG bless America.

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I think there is a definite... (Below threshold)

June 16, 2009 6:47 PM | Posted by Stanley Stammerson: | Reply

I think there is a definite drive to push oneself through actual hardship but only to seem amazing and supernatural to others, to seem like the hero that saves them, but if you send them to hell and they don't notice isn't distingueshed as different from seeming like the hero. Indeed the hero can get away with sending everyone else to hell and no one cares, and that is in essence the problem with society, that they would be happy enough to just have a "perceived hero" regardless of that hero's actual value and effects. An idol that has no true value other than role.

The actual effects are brushed aside as long as they keep people trapped in a situation where "the drug"/hero is the only solution (an addicted situation) then people will fail to innovate and think they are special for receiving that which was only a trick solution. If taking your medication reminds you to study and you do better was it the medication? If watching TV and drinking helps one to relax and one finds that to be a good thing is not one worshiping the content providers inadvertantly?

The content providers do not give a rats ass about anything but sales, and quality of life and the future of life are left completely to chance, a gamble, a game where everyone (and thing) else is placed as collateral against the petty drives of the greedy few. If you take something, and your brain is altered and impaired, I do not see how this necessarily serves you (unless to pop you out of the system it was designed to trap you within), but I certainly see how this serves them keeping you trapped within their system. The problem is people worship the solutions that they have instead of actual solutions.

Actual solutions do not make (or seem to cost) money in and of themselves because actual solutions are not products, actual solutions are ideas that empower people beyond their problems, but powerful ideas in and of themselves lead as easily to hell as to heaven. It is only in the method of application of ideals that one achieves anything great. It is almost impossible to do good things that do not inadvertantly serve those who set up the system "lens" through which everything is seen. It is very difficult to do a thing that both destroys the evil system while benefiting only good people because almost everyone serves the system. Worst of all they take pride in the system, and even in a perfect world would still be unhappy and destructive beings.

No one pays for great ideas that would solve the problem via wisdom, while people do pay for evil "dirty" pill sucking solutions gladly. The imbalance in society is that people only trust the evil solutions to be real enough to work for them, and they don't believe in anything that doesn't come at cost to them because they are so use to paying for everything they get that nothing else has any value, so people only value worthless transient things while neglecting everything that has any level of permanence and actual existence as magic, too complex for their system trained brains not to dismiss because the system keeps the amazing impossible to keep people trapped within it.

My only solace is these people stand no chance against a real Puma, they have just been so lucky to prevent themselves from meeting one yet, but not meeting one does not serve them except in staying trapped. They will almost all certainly meet their ends within the confines of a system that they trapped themselves within too eager for simplicity to realize they boxed themselves gift wrapped for the great Puma to consume, as if the word "great" alone was enough for them to call it hero. Envy for that which is big enough to crush you is almost always misplaced and misguided. Respect the boulder avalanche (that is system) but get too close and it will crush you. To say "I like the avalanche as a system, it makes perfect sense" will not prevent the avalanche from crushing you... but it will keep you inside your house in direct path of destruction.

The drive to seem amazing to others is not enough to actually win at the end of the day because seeming amazing and being amazing are completely distinct things. To seem amazing you have to add a bunch of sugar, otherwise known as crap. Its not because its good, its because Taste Buds, societies acquired Taste that is itself an outdated artifact of another time... and we sink back in time. We have been so much more advanced from this before so long ago, yet have somehow been tricked into accepting this as more real than the ideal, while reality only generates that which you focus on, and everyone is focused on the wrong things in the wrong lights, generating and valuing and selling their physical human crap as if it were a manifestation of g

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I'm starting to think that ... (Below threshold)

June 18, 2009 5:37 AM | Posted by Nemo: | Reply

I'm starting to think that your obsession with narcissism may be a severe case of projection.

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I read Catcher when ... (Below threshold)

June 19, 2009 6:04 AM | Posted by Mark Tyrrell: | Reply

I read Catcher when I was 17 the same age as the protagonist and recall feeling genuinely concerned for his state of mind but also,
I've got to say, identified with his focus on phoniness.

I think as we grow and mature we learn to compromise with the artifice of life and make allowances for it (if we want to get by)

Orwell's 1984 illuminate the phoniness of political systems and mass psychology and control; a nice adjunct to Salinger's focus on personal and interpersonal self deceptions.

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I'm both fascinated and int... (Below threshold)

June 22, 2009 4:29 PM | Posted by seriously not: | Reply

I'm both fascinated and intrigued with your obsession on narcissism. When you look at it closely, all of us tend to be narcissistic in a way. Have any of us wondered why "I' is the only pronoun that has to be capitalized wherever it is placed in the sentence. Setting aside linguistics and the rudimentary rules of the English grammar, associating this with the common emphasis on oneself above others, helps support my reasoning that it is a fact that we cannot see the world without our faces or shadows figuring out right at the centre of the picture. Hence, since all authors tend to be moral philosophers presenting their view of the intricacy of human personalities interwoven with reality, both personal or common, it is not surprising to see how they would delve on issues bordering on "narcissism".

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How is it possible to read ... (Below threshold)

June 22, 2009 6:01 PM | Posted by wilfred: | Reply

How is it possible to read "Catcher in the Rye" and not know where the title comes from? Or Atlas Shrugged? Or One flew over the cuckoo's nest?

The mind boggles at the thought that anyone could read these books and remain in the dark about the importance or origin of the titles. I mean if you claim to have read "Catcher" and do know where the title comes from then sorry, you have simply not really read the book at all.

Unless of course you are confusing the terms "reading a book" and "owning a book", in which case I am sure this will be an invaluable guide for people who have loads of books on their shelves and are incapable or unwilling to actually open and understand them.

Pandering to those who will not read anything longer than a blog is a distressing and destructive habit that is undermining books and intelligence in general...The rise of the internet really is conributing to a general decline in book reading and wisdom in general, and I find this page an especially worrying example of how idiots are taking over the world.

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You are an idiot if you don... (Below threshold)

June 23, 2009 2:59 PM | Posted by crumbskull: | Reply

You are an idiot if you don't remember a ten sentence passage from a book you haven't read since you were forced to ten years ago?

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"Raise the roof beam high c... (Below threshold)

June 24, 2009 12:26 AM | Posted by Common Reader: | Reply

"Raise the roof beam high carpenter" is written in soap on a bathroom mirror by one of the characters for her brother to find on the morning of his wedding, which he doesn't show up for. It is a quotation from a fragment of a wedding song of the poet Sappho.

"Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man."

The habit of writing literary quotations in soap on the mirror is one of the many exceedingly charming habits of the exceedingly charming Glass family. Salinger himself was not charming at all unfortunately.

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Actually, I think "Brave Ne... (Below threshold)

July 2, 2009 11:25 AM | Posted by Purpletempest: | Reply

Actually, I think "Brave New World" is the most prescient book in modern history, and I'm surprised no one mentioned it.

Forgive the multiple links:

The first link is about article that reviews a book that I now intend to read, Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death". An excerpt from the book:

"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."

Someone somewhere on this vast web made a comic out of a shortened version of the above quote, but I can't seem to find it right now.

Isn't the narcissism in Huxley's novel more the kind of thing we are seeing nowadays?

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Just found this blog. Very... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2009 1:10 PM | Posted by skylar: | Reply

Just found this blog. Very nice. loved all your comments, people.
I'd like to add that I read the book, "the art of selfishness" by David Seabury and it also says that to live authentically you must not compromise your self. This is similar to Ayn Rands philosophy, but it also adds a second rule: No ego satisfactions. Leaving that part out, makes the first rule into simple narcissism.

No ego satisfactions means to face reality, not what you wish was real or have convinced yourself was real in order to feel better about yourself. Then, when you make selfish choices, it is because they are the right choice both for you and everybody involved.

Another book, "the myth of irrationality" is about the worship of individuality in our culture. The myth of the loner/hero living life as he feels it and fighting societal convention, is the basis for narcissism in our culture. But according to this author, it is also a lie, because an individual feels only what society programmed him to feel beginning in infancy. Language is the primary method of this programming. Society creates the language and the language creates individual thoughts, which then creates individuals who then create society and so on...

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Because God forbid we allow... (Below threshold)

June 1, 2010 4:59 PM | Posted by Andrew T Ator: | Reply

Because God forbid we allow ourselves the ability to forgive and forget.

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Thanks for sharing your tho... (Below threshold)

November 12, 2010 3:06 AM | Posted by Medifast Coupons: | Reply

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter.

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I second Brave New World. A... (Below threshold)

March 30, 2012 2:53 PM | Posted by Gabe Ruth: | Reply

I second Brave New World. Also, Love In the Ruins? I've said before, I think you're Dr. Thomas More incarnate.

I'm surprised you think 1984 and Atlas Shrugged were prescient. The productive aren't going to go on strike, they are going to disappear due to attrition. I'd like to see Wall Streeters going Galt. 1984 wasn't a bad guess and isn't without value, but it got every body looking in the wrong direction and for the wrong signs.


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I don't think Jesus could h... (Below threshold)

March 31, 2012 10:23 AM | Posted, in reply to information addict's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I don't think Jesus could have been the "ultimate anti-narcissist" because he was both human and divine (as we all are, as well). Since the word narcissist suggests human to me, I'm just not sure that would work. Obviously I'm not talking about someone with serious profound narcissistic conflicts that seriously limit their ability to relate to other people.
My other question is, Jesus had a sense of humor. He had such a sense of humor (laughing, carrying on) some people thought he was a drunk. I don't really understand the psychology of humor (I'm sure there are articles on it on the internet but I don't know if they're any good). But it seems one good source of humor would be one's own narcissism, or even someone else's. But I'm not really interested in what I have to say, obviously I haven't developed a really compelling argument, just thought maybe someone else might have a few thoughts. To clarify, I'm also not saying (as a Christian) anything against any religion and what they do or attempt to do with the ego based on anything Jesus supposedly did or did not do. I also never thought Eastern and Western religion were really that dichotomous, though, although I've read stuff that framed them that way. Anyone---?

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The tone and content of thi... (Below threshold)

March 31, 2012 10:29 AM | Posted, in reply to wilfred's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The tone and content of this post reminds of Master Thespian. Remember Master Thespian from SNL in the 70's? This is Master Reader: Defending All Literature!
So funny. He writes:

"Unless of course you are confusing the terms "reading a book" and "owning a book", in which case I am sure this will be an invaluable guide for people who have loads of books on their shelves and are incapable or unwilling to actually open and understand them."

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Another dead-on depiction o... (Below threshold)

March 2, 2013 7:23 PM | Posted by lia: | Reply

Another dead-on depiction of narcissism (your definition) is Paul's Case by Willa Cather. What advice would you give to a young man like Paul?

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I would put Jesus as less o... (Below threshold)

March 3, 2013 8:10 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I would put Jesus as less of a narcissist than Buddha simply because his life was more other focused than Buddha. Buddha saw a starving peasant and meditated under a tree about what it meant to HIM. Jesus saw people getting hungry after listening to him and fed them. The difference is the focus -- Buddha made a starving man's plight about how bad it made him feel about living in a world where people starve, while Jesus saw a hungry crowd and knowing how much it stinks to be hungry fed the crowd. Buddha wasn't poor by any means -- he was a prince, he could have set the starving man up for life, but he didn't. The starving man wasn't a real human, in a sense. He was outside the monkeysphere (http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html), meaning that the guy didn't have an independent life in Buddha's brain. He was "hungry guy that ruined my day" to Buddha. At least the lepers were somewhat in the monkeysphere for Jesus.

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I think I'd agree on Brave ... (Below threshold)

March 3, 2013 8:50 AM | Posted by Dovahkiin: | Reply

I think I'd agree on Brave New World being a better description of our current age, but I would also point to the "Butlerian Jihad" backstory of Dune as being a very accurate description of how we actually live. Especially in how the need for the Jihad came about. Humans in that book series were fighting "thinking machines" yet what is frighteningly accurate about the books was how the machines came to take over in the first place. It was essentially narcissism that eventually let humans "outsource" more and more of their thinking (in the case of the series, to computers) and doing less and less for themselves. This is what we do, and not always to computers. We outsource our culture to "Hollywood" -- we don't make up a story to tell, we rent something from Redbox, we outsource our decision making to computers and thus to computer programmers (in fact there have been a few cases in which a bug in a computer program has caused a minor panic in the markets), we outsource raising our kids to daycares and schools and even at home, it's TV or Xbox. In almost everything, we don't do it ourselves, we have "servants" of various types to do those things for us.

And I think that does help to breed shallow narcissistic people -- because when you don't have to think for yourself, you tend not to develop a self that thinks. Why wouldn't you think the universe revolves around you? In a sense, it actually does. You don't have to decide what you like as long as some outside force is telling you what to like. You don't have to decide if you should or shouldn't do something, the people or whatever outside force are there to tell you. You don't even have to think about who to vote for -- the Matrix has made the choice for you before your birth by creating two brands (Republicans and Democrats) and using marketing and demographics to allow you to choose exactly who they told you to.

Even in the world of the people who read books, how much of your choice is really coming from you and not from outside? Is it any accident that almost all of us think the same books are literature? Why Catcher in the Rye rather than something else, why is it every "literary" reader loves Proust or Milton? Or if trashy stuff is more your thing, why is it that we all read the Amazon reviews long before we buy a book?

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That reference to Nietzsche... (Below threshold)

February 11, 2014 5:31 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

That reference to Nietzsche is interesting as the explanation for the blog title. The posts seem very critical of people who could be comparable to the "last man", though you are also named after the idea.

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