7 April 2009 • Comments are now closed. Unfortunately, they were devolving into a steady stream of people who didn’t bother to read to narrative thus far and added no value at all.
You’ll pardon my bluntness in the title, but I find it concise and to the point.
My entry “Sam Vaknin’s Self-Love” remains one of my most popular entries, and continues to attract a dialog/argument between refugees from various fora and user groups pertaining to narcissism and NPD. From commenter Derek comes word that Vaknin has seen fit to throw his hat into America’s current political ring by penning an amazingly obtuse and ridiculous article about Barack Obama.
Narcissism, not politics
I should pause here to point out that Vaknin’s article isn’t necessarily the usual political scree offered by such sites as TownHall, where one is likely to find the hysterical, obnoxious bloviating of a range of the Right’s rabble1. He doesn’t persist in the sinister rumors of Obama’s Muslim faith, or throw about the canard of Obama qua socialist, or really delve into many of the G.O.P. talking points/whisper campaigns at all.
But he (I’m talking about Vaknin again) does try to frame Obama in a context he understands: Narcissism. Namely, he thinks that Obama is a narcissist (it’s the first line of his article).
Vaknin’s mess of an article begins by enumerating some of the qualities that may indicate NPD: these are, you may realize as you read them, so very general that anyone with confidence or a dominant personality may be labeled as such. The all-important consideration in diagnosing mental illness is whether such characteristics interfere with the subject’s life. I, for instance, maybe exhibit some signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; I do not have it, however, because I prefer things neat and tidy, and messiness does arouse in me some level of distress, I am perfectly capable of having a messy apartment, or passing a crooked picture without straightening it, or ignoring any such impulses which I feel are destructive or harmful to myself. Vaknin himself not only realizes this, but states as much in his article, going on to explain—badly—why he thinks Obama falls in such a category.
In this, we may consider Vaknin’s article farcical on its face, then, since it seeks to indict Obama for qualities which he is clearly not only not suffering from, but in which he is in fact thriving. And, as I will illustrate momentarily, are common characteristics of politicians—this, if you even recognize that Obama has these characteristics, which of course he likely does not.
Newsflash: politicians are egotistical!
Here are the charges that Vaknin levels against Obama (which I’ve reformatted to be somewhat readable):
Obama displays the following behaviors, which are among the hallmarks of pathological narcissism:
- Subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions, views, opinions, and “ideals” (e.g., about campaign finance, re-districting). These flip-flops do not cause him overt distress and are ego-syntonic (he feels justified in acting this way). Alternatively, reuses to commit to a standpoint and, in the process, evidences a lack of empathy.
- Ignores data that conflict with his fantasy world, or with his inflated and grandiose self-image. This has to do with magical thinking. Obama already sees himself as president because he is firmly convinced that his dreams, thoughts, and wishes affect reality. Additionally, he denies the gap between his fantasies and his modest or limited real-life achievements (for instance, in 12 years of academic career, he hasn’t published a single scholarly paper or book).
- Feels that he is above the law, incl. and especially his own laws.
- Talks about himself in the 3rd person singluar or uses the regal “we” and craves to be the exclsuive center of attention, even adulation
- Have a messianic-cosmic vision of himself and his life and his “mission”.
- Sets ever more complex rules in a convoluted world of grandiose fantasies with its own language (jargon)
- Displays false modesty and unctuous “folksiness” but unable to sustain these behaviors (the persona, or mask) for long. It slips and the true Obama is revealed: haughty, aloof, distant, and disdainful of simple folk and their lives.
- Sublimates aggression and holds grudges.
- Behaves as an eternal adolescent (e.g., his choice of language, youthful image he projects, demands indulgence and feels entitled to special treatment, even though his objective accomplishments do not justify it).
I think it unnecessary for me to explain to my readers how very generic this complaints are2, and will simply rebut them as they relate specifically to Obama. It would be far to easy to point out that Vaknin, as an obvious narcissist himself, is naturally prone to finding such a condition in others. Politicians, who in some ways survive on an inflated sense of their own self-importance3, are easy but misleading targets to an obviously disturbed man who leaps at the opportunity to find his own disorder in others.
Subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions, views, opinions, and “ideals[.]” Assuming for a moment that Obama does opportunistically shift positions for political expediency4, and that he feels no obvious distress over these. Does that not make him a politician running for office? And what exactly does “Alternatively, reuses to commit to a standpoint and, in the process, evidences a lack of empathy” even mean? It seems to me a nonsense phrase.
“Obama already sees himself as president because he is firmly convinced that his dreams, thoughts, and wishes affect reality[.]” Is Vaknin accusing Obama of some sort of solipsism, wherein his reality, controlled by himself, is the only confirmable one? Perhaps Obama sees himself as president because (1) the polls show him likely to become as much, and (2), he really wants to be president. Unless Obama has a secret condition, hidden from me, wherein he truly does believe himself to be sitting in the Oval Office, surrounded by his willing subordinates, then I’m afraid Vaknin has mistaken narcissism with ambition. But my favorite part of this criticism of Vaknin’s is this: “Additionally, he denies the gap between his fantasies and his modest or limited real-life achievements (for instance, in 12 years of academic career, he hasn’t published a single scholarly paper or book).”
This, I think, is perhaps one of the most telling lines in Vaknin’s article. Take a person like Obama, who aspires to be the President of the United States. Granted, you may take issue with his relative inexperience in politics5, but Obama’s professional career as a lawyer and politician has been a storied and productive one6. What Vaknin takes issue with is the fact that Obama (a lawyer) has never published a scholarly article or book. Obama has published books, mind you, and was editor of the Harvard Law Review, but what Sam Vaknin the Narcissist would like you to realize, please, is that Obama has never published an awful, pseudo-scholarly book about NPD like Sam Vaknin has.
Let me see if I can sum this up for you in a phrase:
Sam Vaknin wants to be more important than Barack Obama (but he never, ever will).
Have a messianic-cosmic vision of himself and his life and his “mission.” I’m sure that Obama campaign likes to cultivate the image of Obama as a Jesus/Che/rockstar, but whether or not Obama actually views himself as a messiah is hard to pin down. Likely not, given his ability to make fun of just such a characterization (see Obama’s speech at the 2008 Alfred Smith dinner).
Displays false modesty and unctuous “folksiness” but […] the true Obama is revealed: haughty, aloof, distant, and disdainful of simple folk and their lives. Wait, what? I don’t think Obama’s the one you have to worry about cultivating “folksiness.” In fact, before Sam Vaknin opened his stupid mouth, I’d never heard such a word spoken with respect to the Obama campaign. If what Vaknin means is that Obama really doesn’t so much care for [insert local delicacy, e.g. cheese-steak] but eats it anyway within [location], then yes, there’s probably plenty of that in any political campaign. Let’s immediately disabuse ourselves of the notion that politicians are proletariat: on the national level especially, politicians tend to be well-educated, rich, and not a little snobbish. They may share your predilection for school prayer or play “folksy” when they have to talk to blue-collar workers, but let’s not have any illusions that politicians, regardless of alignment, are generally cut from the same cloth. That being said, there’s no reason to believe that Obama, more than any other, is “disdainful” of the lives of ordinary Americans. This line of thinking would lead one to believe that his entire political career, even back when he was a lowly community organizer, was little more than him putting up with the common rabble until such time as he could become president and exert the full measure of his narcissistic control over the country.
Sublimates aggression and holds grudges. What?
Behaves as an eternal adolescent (e.g., his choice of language, youthful image he projects). It’s no surprise that Obama, as one of the younger candidates for presidency, would emphasis his youth, at least when talking to a younger generation of voters. Every politician aspires to play the youthful, inspiring populist, McCain included, but Obama has the relative benefit of actually being relatively young and populist; that he would use some of this (tempered to allay associations with inexperience) is no surprise whatsoever.
Conclusion: Sam Vaknin is an idiot
Perhaps the title of this article (and section) are misleading: Sam Vaknin is not, in all likelihood, an idiot. Were he a mere simpleton submitting his wrongheaded drivel to the latest blogging service, I’d pay him no heed; after all, the internet has a surplus of very stupid people, and one more is hardly a notable figure. No, when I say that Sam Vaknin is stupid, I mean that he’s clearly a narcissist himself, and he goes to any length to spread his nonsensical writing, like a virus, to any site that will take it. What’s more, his writing is awful in every imaginable sense, and perhaps he even knows it. My guess would be that, were Vakin to read this entry, it would only fuel the fire in his sick little head: he could imagine himself a True Intellectual™, henpecked by illiterate rabble such as myself, who clearly don’t understand his genius (he published a “scholarly book,” donncha know…).
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take the typical Republican talking points about coastal elitists sipping soy cappuccini and focus them into a singular obsession with a particular disorder, you’ve essentially understood the latest work of Sam Vaknin—replete with zero credibility, politically or academically. Part of me wants to be sorry for this pathetic little creature, but then I remember how truly obnoxious he is, and I don’t necessarily feel guilty for wishing upon him all the scorn and scrotum-ablating contempt that stupidity of his magnitude may engender.
- And occasionally one of its more thoughtful commentators, but this is rare. I find much of the more thoughtful conservative commentary to be found at such places as the National Review, which, though I think it no less wrong, involves much less of the hysterical flailing and rending of garments that so much marginal conservative writing does[↩]
- You mean a politician “[s]ubtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions”? Say it ain’t so![↩]
- Forgive my banal political cynicism here; I realize that talking about Washington “fatcats” is about as productive as spitting into a hole all day, but let us for a moment labor under the assumption that politicians are in fact piglets at the teat of government largess, speaking from both sides of their mouth in order to crassly manipulate the sympathies of voters.[↩]
- Those right-leaning readers are nodding your heads vigorously now, I know.[↩]
- Despite his 11(?)+ years as a senator on state and national levels, Obama does admittedly have little executive experience.[↩]
- It’s possible you’re so petty as to deny importance to Obama’s entire career; I’ve seen it so debased in chain e-mails from ridiculous conservatives. What I’d like here is agreement in any case that Obama is an intelligent and successful man, if nothing else.[↩]