Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Characteristics of the Narcissist I

The narcissist is calculating. He is utilitarian through and through. He refuses obedience to the basic requirements of the natural moral law, for obedience implies that there is something larger than himself of which he is not the measure, but which measures him. Such a notion, however, is incompatible with the very thrust of his character. He has become the measure. He is calculating for the sake of procuring power; for it is power that allows him the control he needs to protect himself from exposure and from his having to face his own finitude. Power allows him to more easily procure a supply of narcissistic fuel. His entire life has become a struggle to procure this fuel, or what Samuel Vaknin calls narcissistic supply, and he will employ the most devious means at his disposal to get it. And if, by some misfortune, he should come into a position of power, we can expect his style of leadership to be thoroughly Machiavellian.

There is no better insight into the workings of the mind of the morally depraved and narcissistic leader than what is provided in chapter 18 of Machiavelli's The Prince. The principal characteristic of such a leader is not prudence, but craft:

"Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word."

Because such persons have depleted their character so profoundly through choices contrary to the norms of reason, they approach the bestial level and will even begin to see themselves as such. For beasts are not governed by the natural moral law, but by the law of power. The narcissistic leader is fundamentally bestial in his rule, but he cannot appear that way without exposing his true colors, and exposure is his greatest fear. And so he must employ craft and know when to "avail himself of the beast". Machiavelli writes:

"… it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man. …A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer."

Such a person, by virtue of his olympian egotism, always regards others as inferior to himself. Everyone is a simpleton in his eyes. What helps afford him this illusion is that most people are unsuspecting and are unaware of the degree to which they are being taken advantage of, used and abused. This unawareness is not due to a general lack of intelligence in people, but to their tendency to project their own range of normalcy onto others. Hence, their disinclination to suspect someone so profoundly depraved to be in their midst, carrying on an existence that is fundamentally and thoroughly alie. But the character disordered conveniently regard this trait as evidence of intellectual inferiority and will take a twisted delight in the knowledge that they have so many fooled.

"But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived."

When it is a question of evil, it is precisely the element of disguise that people tend to overlook. We are wont to assume that evil, character disorder, profound moral depravity, psychopathy, pathological narcissism, etc., are easy to detect and that such people can only intimidate and inspire fear upon a first encounter. But this is only the case with those not intelligent enough to disguise their depravity, like the common criminal. The most dangerous among us are those intelligent enough to appear as paragons of virtue.

"…it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.… a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result. … he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, …"

With respect to evil, there still exists a sort of half-baked Platonism in the attitudes of many people, for there is a common assumption that if a person is knee deep in depravity, either he does not know any better or is under the influence of environmental and psychological determinants he has no control over. But there is a distinction between intellectual and moral virtue. Morality is in the will. It is very possible to have a brilliant mind, but at the same time a wicked and depraved will. The most dangerous predators among us are ingeniously veiled. They carefully surround themselves with people entirely unlike themselves, that is, with deeply empathic human beings who wish to please others, who are slow to judge, who are excessively tolerant and who have an eye for the good to be found in others. They know how to exploit to their own advantage such character traits. It is their association with such people that maximizes their chances of perpetuating the facade and keeping themselves from exposure.

Doug McManaman