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Safetyism, Narcissism, America
And how old folks can go places without leaving their home!
Before I begin…
Turns out many of you like the new Glad Tidings section. Thanks for the feedback! Yes, my intention is to sprinkle some +++ signs on top of the steady diet of negativity. I am starting to doubt it's all just because of bad news bias in the media, though. Did you see Bill Maher's American Carnage segment? And he doesn't even mention mass shootings.
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This week's topic will make many uncomfortable. It upsets me, on principle, and considering the long-term implications of our nearsightedness, which some mistaken for avant-garde thought. Who knows, after reading this, you may decide that I am the nearsighted one. Mind you that on some level, I am still thinking about these concepts. My thoughts will inevitably continue to evolve. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, too!
"Saftyism" describes a phenomenon I've struggled with for a while; our society's intense commitment to protect individual psychological comfort by shutting down controversial, uncomfortable, politically charged, and contradictory ideas and the people espousing them. I did not call it "left" or "right" because I believe it transcends political and ideological lines. But more on this later.
Towards the end, I'll share one of the latest studies on narcissism and tell you why I feel safetyism and narcissism are interconnected.
It is human to seek comfort and, whenever possible, the easy way out. If the odds were favorable and people could easily win the lottery, they'd probably play it instead of getting a job, except those who really love doing something and put in 110%. For everyone else, mediocracy will suffice, as long as it's no trouble.
Most would rather avoid an argument too and spear themselves a headache. People would rather feel good about themselves, satisfied, and content. But life is a jungle, and few sit at the top 1% of the food chain. Among them, are people born with a silver spoon in the mouth, those with superhuman abilities, extraordinary intellect, marvelous talents, and the ones lucky to be in the right place at the right time, as well as master manipulators, cunning politicians, con artists, and mafia bosses. The rest of us must work a lot to get somewhere, work even more to feel good about ourselves, and work even harder to leave a meaningful legacy and make the world better.
However, to the untrained eye, the world is full of famous and wealthy individuals. Even regular people on social media seem to be better off and have more fun than any one of us ordinary mortals.
The neighbor's house is better. Younger is more beautiful. People have better jobs, make more money, go on better vacations, date the better looking, look better in yoga pants, have more hair and fewer wrinkles, have higher status, and more friends. The comparisons never end.
Thus, insecurities abound. I dare say the insecurities mount faster and make a bigger pile in individualistic societies more so than in societies where people tie a larger portion of one's identity to the family and the community. If we could draw personal significance from our roles and contributions to the well-being of the community and the respect and reputation of the family, we'd have a much smaller hole to fill with our own self-importance.
I am not promoting collectivism over individualism because we know how that works out in places like North Korea and the Islamic states. But I am also not a fan of "every man is an island." A balance would be nice. Sadly, balance is exactly what we do not have!
What we have is a nation of individualists, glorifying individual accomplishments, comparing and contrasting themselves with the top 1% of every category – wealth, beauty, natural ability, brains, luck, experiences, etc. while feeling like a failure in every category – interpersonal relationships, career, health, wealth, status, accomplishments, etc. The burden feels so huge that most need someone to blame, starting with their parents and ending with a conspiracy theory or a conveniently twisted misrepresentation of the world.
I am not saying that parents have nothing to do with how children grow up. I do have a degree in Psychology, after all. But I am pointing out how two children in the same family, under the same circumstances, will often turn out vastly different, and I can't help but ask why. This, however, is a topic for another discussion.
I am not saying that the world is perfect either or that our society has reached the epitome of fairness. But in this same society, many with resources do worse than many others without resources who do better and become better humans despite their odds. This also is a topic for another discussion.
I return to the part where having someone or something to blame defuses the personal responsibility one feels for the outcomes of their life and the level of their self-esteem. It goes hand in hand with not wanting to hear anything bad anyone thinks of us. So, the friend who points out our bad behavior or faulty thinking is a traitor. The teacher who holds us up to higher standards clearly does not like us. And any form of tough love, contradicting points of view, or criticism is considered a violation, or some sort of abuse.
We no longer appreciate any form of discomfort. Hence, a Temur-pedic bed here when people sleep on floor mats in Japan. And I am not just talking about our bedrooms. We expect the world to be as such, with individual settings for maximum ease.
How does all this play out in real life?
I've been paying attention to the situation in US colleges and all the cancel culture, political correctness, and loyalty to ideology have to offer on the right and the left. For the left, "cancel culture" is a way to protect someone's feelings and sensitivities. On the right, it is a way to defend their values, supposedly.
The left fights for safe spaces.
The right fights for safety from ideas.
Examples on the left abound of colleges canceling speakers who may be "stirring the pot," "poking people in the eye," and "pushing the envelope." They claim concern over how diverse students would feel, fearing a high level of anxiety on their campuses.
Thus, the most liberal collages end up canceling not only conservative speakers holding fundamentally different ideas but also some of the most liberal speakers like Peter Singer, a world-renowned animal activist famous for his Animal Liberation book and promoting veganism, who's done massive amounts of work on reducing world poverty and increasing effective altruism. But also questioning the "personhood" of people with severe cognitive disabilities, who some find offensive.
Meanwhile, on the right, people ban books! Books contain uncomfortable history and ideas. Mind you that conservatives invoke the First Amendment every time a conservative speaker gets canceled or criticized. Yet, they remain unwilling to extend The First Amendment consideration to the authors of books they don't like. Books such as The Bluest Eye, In the Dream House, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren't Blue, and Lawn Boy.
Conservatives claim moral superiority to decide who has the right to vote and the right to choose, trying to pass laws accordingly. Hence, the current escalation over abortion and redistricting of the US population. Anything that sounds uncomfortable regarding racial history, inequality, or gender and sexuality is better swept under the rug. So much so, that firing teachers teaching Critical Race Theory is OK in conservative districts. At the same time, Florida's fight over 'Don't Say Gay' is getting more heated. And it hasn't even gone into effect yet, Politico reports.
That's not to say that the left lets all books live. Look what happened to Harry Potter after the author was accused of being transphobic. Or To Kill a Mockingbird, a literary classic. Even Dr. Seuss ended up on the chopping board for "hurtful" content and "politically incorrect caricatures." As if caricatures can or should ever be politically correct…
On the right, most Republican representatives who voted for Trump's impeachment met censure from the GOP organizations in their states. Fox News canceled the reporter who called Arizona for Biden before anyone else in the networks during the last election. Basically, speaking ill about Trump means trouble, which is an issue paralyzing and dividing the Republican Party as various politicians consider the future of their careers. Congresswoman Liz Cheyney got canceled. Mike Pence almost got hung!
(If you want to see a civilized discussion on who fells vs. who gets censored and gets in trouble most – liberals or conservatives, watch this Middle Ground video.)
Many question the sustainability of the situation as is. Most only see the faults presented by the other side or wrongly assume that safetyism is a problem only on the left.
My point is not to assess which side has more transgressions. My point is to consider the unintended devastating consequences of safetyism for our society. Censorship, political correctness, wokeness, retaliation against people who don't tow the official line, banning books, and changing the laws to remove choice and agency for half the population all fall under safetyism for me. I see those who feel insecure and threatened attempting to bend reality to their model of least discomfort.
I see safetyism as a cancer that eats our society from within. It is possible, I argue, because we are a nation of narcissists. According to the latest study, narcissism is driven by insecurity and not an inflated sense of self, as psychologists used to think.
Our work reveals that these narcissists are not grandiose, but rather insecure, and this is how they seem to cope with their insecurities.
More specifically, the results suggest that narcissism is better understood as a compensatory adaptation to overcome and cover up low self-worth,
Overall, the results showed high correlations between FLEX and Narcissism—but not with psychopathy. For example, the need for social validation (a FLEX metric) correlated with the reported tendency to engage in performative self-elevation (a characteristic of vulnerable Narcissism). By contrast, measures of psychopathy, such as elevated levels of self-esteem, showed low correlation levels with vulnerable Narcissism, implying a lack of insecurity. These findings suggest that genuine narcissists are insecure and are best described by the vulnerable narcissism subtype, whereas grandiose Narcissism might be better understood as a manifestation of psychopathy.
(FLEX captures insecurity-driven self-conceptualizations that are manifested as impression management, leading to self-elevating tendencies.)
From my perspective, the desire to differentiate oneself and attract others' attention comes from the feeling of insecurity amplified by the perceived illusory importance and success of others. Blaming our parents for our individual insignificance only goes so far. To compensate, we flex on social media and in our social circles. Also, we claim victimhood, attaching ourselves to a cause and demanding consideration of our grievances, claiming moral superiority and sensitivities that should not be challenged.
Sadly, there's now an entire generation or even two, growing up believing that the world owes them special consideration and emotional safety. Freddie DeBoer talks about the notion of incapacitating so many young people in his article Safetyism Is The Water In Which We Swim. I agree with his statement:
But insisting that the psychic comfort of some should be the top priority of all is ideology at its purest, political by definition. And Carlin's career is a good example of what's lost when we so prioritize the implacable human demand to feel safe, respected, and valid: the world is permanently unsafe, and in order to navigate its treacherous complexity, we must think and speak in ways that will inevitably offend some.
The article was sent to me by another writer who I've introduced in the past. He asked me for a comment on it and the topic of safetyism. You can find Ric Leczel's latest post on the subject in Compass Star Wordsmith.
The quote I provided him is how I'd like to conclude this piece.
Safetyism kills spontaneity and creates anxiety. It makes the world a very dull and hostile place. Why do I say this? Because in an attempt to create a sterile society devoid of emotional discomfort and pandering to the grievances and insecurities of conflicting groups of people, we end up anxiously constrained in our humanity. Every day, we die a little forced to self-censor and worry that someone may get offended anyway and come for us with an angry hoard of virtue signaling zealots intent on destroying our reputation, career, and life. We forget that life is not supposed to be fair, easy, or comfortable. Life just is. And it is mostly what we each make it. What we do make it, depends on our abilities, resourcefulness, resilience, and creativity. Safetyism erodes all of these. Thus, in attempting to make life better for ourselves, we make it worse.
Finally, a reminder from a wise man. He didn’t mention entitlement.
How do you feel about all of this?
Comment below. Share if this spoke to you and you know someone who will appreciate it.
Watch this news story of how a young graduate found a way to bring happiness to seniors through Virtual Reality and gave many of them a reason to get up in the morning, especially during the lockdowns.
If you are not talking to your pet, you (and your pet) are missing out… And so much more really great stuff in this Atlantic article – Why Do Humans Talk To Animals If They Can't Understand.
Wow! You got to the end.
Thank you for reading.
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