We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Tuesday, April 7. 2009
Readers know that I am always skeptical about labelling and diagnosing people with whom I have not sat and talked for quite a while. Every time a mass murderer goes on a rampage, though, we shrinks come out of the woodwork to opine.
Our friend Shrinkwrapped discusses the Binghamton murders in terms of Narcissistic pathology. It's a good, clear description of pathological narcissism (we posted on the "Narcissism Epidemic" last week) but, in one way, I find it disappointing.
Here's the problem: the world is full of pathological narcissists. Many of them are very successful in worldly terms (if unsuccessful in relationships). Most or all of them endure painful humiliations, failures, and disappointments in life (as does everybody - but narcissists are less resilient in the face of these things and are more likely to sink into rage or depression). Assuming that SW's speculative diagnosis is correct in this case, it still has no predictive power.
Thus my speculative, highly professional diagnosis of killers - whether mass killers or not or whether narcissists or not - is that they have a screw loose. Everybody feels like killing somebody sometimes, but very few do (in Western civilization).
SW did highlight something I had been thinking of writing about anyway. He says:
True (although I would not say "damaged." I would say developmentally delayed, or genetically retarded, or something. Also, I do not understand what a "self" is despite much study on the subject). The larger point is interesting to me. Everybody has psychological frailties and weaknesses. Everybody wants the external world to compensate for those - to patch those holes and gaps.
We usually are able to find a way, to find a niche, to find supports we need (a devoted spouse is a good one - and so is some money) and, worst case, booze and drugs can paper over lots of cracks in our walls. Oftentimes, people are only made aware of their weaknesses when the external supports are removed.
I have seen many people for consultation who I believed needed psychotherapy but whose world insulated them (or who arranged a life such that the world would insulated them) from the self-awareness and the discomfort. I never try to talk people into treatment: they need to feel the need and the inner disturbance to get help. If old Mr. Reality eventually gets through to them, I know they will come back.
However, people with personality disorders are fairly well-protected from Mr. Reality: they live in worlds of their own imagination. Instead of finding a way to make the world work for them, they just invent a world that suits them - and live in it unless or until it unravels.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Nice post. If we assume a correct diagnosis, it still does not really tell us why a mere handful of people out of millions of narcissists erupt in this extreme way when their world unravels.
Curious and curiouser the rub, that narcisissies be determined by autopsy, another medical miracle.
So narcissism is the new found hammer and all the world's a nail.
"So narcissism is the new found hammer and all the world's a nail."
That doesn't really apply to SW. While I disagree with his habit of offering diagnoses at a distance, he has repeatedly demonstrated a subtle and comprehensive understanding of psychopathology.
Not that I was referring specifically to SW. Since Obambi's not-so-self aggrandizement began, narcissism has been a recurring theme here. Seems a bit of a stretch when applied to Mr. Wong, but then I haven't exactly spent much time with the story. FWIK, he was just another loser (and I do mean that in a kind way) who couldn't handle a world he perceived as evil or wrong. More than likely his perceptions had more to do with being confused by the alien culture he was living in. I just now read his letter and he sounds paranoid as hell about cops following him around and watching him all the time. I just don't see where he's all that in love with himself.
Really, this subject plays more to the narcissism of shrinks. One really needs to think highly of oneself to believe one understands the human mind as well as this profession professes to. Maybe that is what really is being revealed by this discussion?
What this post diagnosed is that shrinks disagree. That gives me the creeps. I don't expect them to agree anymore than I expect a bunch of doctors to agree. It's just that they each seem to 'know-it-all', and when one is toying with the mind, it could end up a disaster if they misdiagnose their patient. I agree narcissism is part of the profession: What other profession allows one to play god - to use that term loosely. People who move on from medicine to psychiatry have their own problems and assuage those problems by being in control all the time. Medical doctors don't always have that luxury, though they rank way up on the altruism scale compared to shrinks.
Don't know why shrinks disagreeing should give you the creeps. It's NOT rocket science. No algorithm, no set determinants... final judgment left in the hands of a subjective human being. Mental differences even less differentiated than MD's with their distinct knowledge of at least anatomy.
I would think that anyone who has others come to them for assistance might consider themselves as a 'know it all'. I get that every day in my profession. Though I just keep planes flying.
Every profession allows one to play god. Have you talked to a good plumber lately?
Altruism... when I meet an MD with that notion I'll let you know. Perhaps you've been lucky to have known same.
While the narcissist angle is interesting but the sorry fact of the matter is that spree killings mostly occur after a long history of actions that, in retrospect, was a warning of things to come. Actions matter. Not possession of certain hardware. Not interests. It's what they do with it.
Narcissists aren't just people who "are in love with themselves." They're people for whom other people are fundamentally unreal, just tools for stoking their own self-esteem, which is fake and fragile. They can be very high-functioning, but you don't want to be standing nearby if anything goes wrong. They are the exact opposite of the ideal of the guy who's "invaluable in a shipwreck" that someone was quoting here a couple of months ago.
"people for whom other people are fundamentally unreal, just tools for stoking their own self-esteem"...a description that fits a significant number of shrinks better than fits Mr. Wong. Seems he was just paranoid and scared. When reading the comments of shrinks, on this matter and many others, it often seems to me that they could just as easily be making observations about rats in a cage as about complex individuals. Even the most base people are more complex than many shrinks give them credit for.
Regarding Luther's comment,
"I would think that anyone who has others come to them for assistance might consider themselves as a 'know it all'. I get that every day in my profession. Though I just keep planes flying."
Yes, true, but those of us (yourself included) who have to come up with answers that have to be somewhat well defined are generally more careful in what we think we know. Shrinks seem to run a thing up a flagpole and see if it gets saluted. If the airplane isn't built/fixed/flown properly, it crashes and people die. If the bridge defies the reality of physics, not matter how pretty it looks, it will fall. While the saying goes that MD's bury their mistakes, shrinks just pick a different overriding theory and whose to know the difference? To too many shrinks, "perception is reality".
And planes do crash and people do die. My point was that hubris is not confined solely to the psychiatric profession. I've known too many pilot's, and mechanics too, for whom "perception is reality" is all too real a concept.
Understood. But my point is that in other professions hubris comes with a price. Who holds shrinks accountable? I know of one out on the left coast who has written a 9/11 conspiracy book and rants like a looney and yet she is "board certified". Yes, that may be an extreme (or maybe not) but I really don't think I'm cherry picking here. A post here a year or so ago was about shrinks having patients come into their own homes for office visits. That's just nuts. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see where that trouble may lead, and in more than just one direction. But shrinks perceive themselves as being above such human foibles.
Another thing that I've noticed here is when someone (I'm thinking of MM here) posts a question to the shrinks (and in MM's case it's been an innocent request for further comment), there is no reply. It kind of reminds me of Updike's comment on Ted Williams, "Gods don't answer their mail".
I see what you are saying and will agree, to a point. But then the question becomes what to do about it. What nearly inhuman standard do we hold shrinks too that we can filter out those who aren't up to the job. I fear that we may be stuck with what we have. We've allowed that witchdoctor cult, which it is really, to be created. I know... it's science, but to my mind not a quantifiable one.
Not long ago here, we had a shrink's light dissertation on patients who do not return for their second visit. These patients were described as losers who couldn't get their lives together no matter what.... lots of negative discourse about the ones who don't come back.
It never occurred to the shrink that maybe that 'loser' didn't like the shrink, that that loser saw something not good about that shrink.... maybe judgmental as hell ?
What a perfect example of narcissism.