Is Belief in Equality Creating Narcissism?

By D.C. McAllister, whose lengthy article makes some good points and some others that are not so good, but at the least he is asking a question worthy of some discussion:

Fair question, fair-minded responses. Thanks.
Or is the question, Is being a narcissist driving the push for equality? Fair question, too.

In the 2009 book The Narcissism Epidemic, Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell make a convincing case that America is becoming infected with narcissism. They say there’s a growing number of people who have either narcissistic traits or full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a trend that has been increasing across all demographics since the 1970s, if not before. [SMcK: Twenge’s earlier book, Generation Me, is the research that propelled more research.]

The authors point to various causes for this rise: weak parenting, focus on self-admiration and self-expression instead of others, less community involvement, celebrity worship, the impact of the Internet and social media, and excessive materialism bolstered by irresponsible spending….

The cause of our narcissism is equality. Not equality before the law, where everyone is bound by the same legal code. That is a fundamental right and necessary for justice, freedom, and happiness in a democracy. I’m referring to equality of conditions—our economic well-being and social status, the material aspects of equality Europeans experienced when they broke from the caste system of their homeland, shedding aristocracy and an impenetrable class structure that denied them access to material wealth and limitless possibilities.

They were set free to achieve, accomplish, and accumulate according to their dreams. The servant had no master. The street sweeper could become a merchant. The poor could become rich. Families and groups didn’t define the individual or his future. All were equal.

The breakdown of the laws that stood in the way of opportunity was revolutionary, and we never want to return to those oppressive times. Living one’s dreams is part of being human, American, and free. Equality gave birth to joy and hope, creating a new way of living the world had never known. The individual could be his authentic self without being defined or confined by “others.”

But equality, like freedom, has its dark side. Just as too much freedom leads to libertinism, anarchy, and destruction, equality (or the expectation of equality) leads to entitlement, self-centeredness, isolation, idealism of human perfectibility and progress, autonomous individualism, materialism, and ultimately despotism.

As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “One must recognize that equality, which introduces great goods into the world, nevertheless suggests to men very dangerous instincts. . . . it tends to isolate them from one another and to bring each of them to be occupied with himself alone. It opens their souls excessively to the love of material enjoyments.” It makes him a narcissist….

We have allowed one of our greatest democratic virtues to become our greatest vice. It is feeding our narcissism and driving us to self-destruction and servitude. Equality rightly understood was meant to bring happiness and joy as we were free to experience material enjoyments like never before, to the benefit of ourselves and others. But from the very beginning, we became greedy for equality, letting go of the guiding hand of God and clutching the things of this world because we thought they would make us gods.

But the opposite happened. Not only did we fail to become gods, we are now at risk of losing our humanity. Equality’s seduction and satisfaction with material goods over higher spiritual and moral values is reducing us as a people. Ironically, as Tocqueville wrote, we are losing the art of producing the very goods we cling to; we are merely consuming them to no real benefit. Quality and beauty are lost.

If we keep going on this same path, we will no longer enjoy the material blessings of equality produced in our great republic. No longer will we discern their value, and our progression as a free people will cease. Instead, we will become like soulless beasts, wandering in the wilderness.

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