Early in the 20th century Havelock Ellis named intense self-love after Narcissus, the mythic Greek who adores his own reflection. Ellis turned a familiar human failing into a medical condition, which in 1980 was recognized (under the name “Narcissistic personality disorder”) by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Ever since, narcissism has played a steadily larger part in discussions of psychology. It seems to be the dominant emotional malady of our time, spreading through the population like a 1918 influenza virus.
Dr. Michael Crow, a social psychologist in Dallas, knows where to place the blame: On parents, of course. (Who else?) To encourage self-esteem, parents may lie to children, telling them they can do anything they want, which of course has never been true of anyone in history. Nursery schools extend this fiction. One psychologist claims to have found a place where kids sing (to the tune of Frere Jacques), “I am special, I am special. Look at me.”
The most dangerous rogues of the 20th century – Mao, Stalin, Hitler, etc. – were all narcissists, putting themselves above God. Most of Canada’s sad line of ineffective and destructive leaders – Mackenzie King, Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien, and certainly Paul Martin – were narcissists. And look at all the leaders of the Islamist movement – Osama Bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah, and the rest of the sadists that wish to change the world through terrorism, narcissists all.
We most commonly identify narcissism with Hollywood. But it is truly a deadly phenomenon when combined with politics, or infused with supernatural religious zeal. Beware Al Gore – certainly America’s most extreme narcissist.