Narcissism and self destruction – the two sides of populism, radicalisation, trumpism and fakenewsism

[auf deutsch]

We are living in strange times, that’s obvious. Looking at the spreading right populism, the radicalisation of young people, post truth and fakenewsism that emerge all over the world – there is one thing I really wonder about most: The strange coincidence of narcissism and self destruction.

Considering narcissism as self-elevation, selfishness and lack of empathy we see striking parallels to today’s politics and society.

Specially when we look at Trump, he seems to be the personified narcissist. This works on an individual level – regarding the way he speaks and acts, his body language and how he makes decisions – as well as on a collective level. “Making America great again” adresses collective narcissism. Also the Brexit-Campain worked with the subtext “We first” as well as the right populists shouting against migrants and Marie Le Pen’s evocation of la “Grande Nation”. Nationalism seems to generally be collective narcissism.

Both come together

Isn’t that a contradiction to self destruction? No. In fact both come – as it seems – together. This is evident and easy to identify with the european young people that have letting themselves been radicalized by salafism: for the great vison of becoming immortal heroes they kill themselves in suicide attacks. This obvious personal self destruction wants to – and does – evoke collective uncertainty. Suicide attacks love to happen in public places where people feel safe, meet each other and do things that hold societies together. That is the toxic effect of terror.

Looking at the Brexit it is less evident, but there is a also great part of self destruction. “Why would they leave the EU?” everyone thought – including Cameron himself – “It’s against their interest”. That was true. And despite, they did.

Same with Trump. The Americans voting for him has a deep and strange factor of self destruction. People I trust told me weeks ago America wouldn’t possibly vote for Trump, because his agenda was against too many people’s interests: Women, hispanics, poor people, people who need health care and respect. And despite, they did.

Where narcissism and self destruction meet

Now what do we do with all this? The effect – that is easy to say – is toxic and destructive. It infiltrates the cracks inside societies and blows everything up. But how can we understand it? How can we handle it? What can we do against it?

Psychologists know that inside a great narcissist there is always a little unanswered and unloved. Inside narcissism is weakness, not strength.

And this is where narcissism and self destruction meet.

We have to imagine people saying: “Please! Let me feel great and in control again! Even if – in fact – what makes me feel great and in control is against my own interests.” Even if “in control” also means “under control”.

Self destruction is the price people pay for feeling great and in control. That should worry us.

We need a new approach

All our sociocultural strategies are based on the assumption that people don’t act and vote against their interest. Everything we thought until now on elections, on political education, on how democracy and societies work changes now.

We don’t have answers for self destructive behaviour: We don’t have rules against people who don’t care whether they die. Democracy doesn’t have rules to deal with citizens who don’t care about wrong or right. We have no rules for a post-truth democracy.

We have to find a solution for that. I mean it’s really serious.

A resilient digital society: the antidote we need

As society we have to ask: How could we get here? Why do people feel weak and out of control? What can we do to make them feel selfconfident, oriented, self-efficient und capable of acting in a changeing, digital, dynamic globalized world? How can we make ourselves and our societies resilient against manipulation, hate and destruction?

It seems that our societies foster narcissism. They encourage toxic behaviour patterns like ruthlessness, lack of empathy and competition (specially when coming with performance and ambition)[1] rather than solidarity, empathy and sovereignty [2]. Do we want that? Are we aware of the consequences?

Digital change, technical progress and globalisation are great. But they also come with great challenges, disruptive changes and a lot of uncertainty. We can’t just let this happen. We have to actively shape the digital society we want to be and we want to live in. How can we use digital space for good, to get people in contact with each other, to build communities, to be emotionally correlated and attached? Let us find ways to foster our values that have their origin in Enlightenment, human rights and democracy. We have to identify the fabric that holds our societies together and how we can build a breeding ground for it.

We neglected to long the socio-cultural and social-emotional side effects of digitalisation and globalisation. We have to focus on that now. It is time to socio-culturally second technologic progress. I am sure this is a good idea.


If you want to go on reading:

My Post on “Bindung, Identität, Glück”:

My colleague Jörg Blumtritt on Fakenews, hatespeech and why he expects 2017 to be the Year of Slow Media:


[1] You may exemplarily add your own thoughts on the Financial Crisis in 2007 and bankers’ bonuses

[2] We also see reflections of the “empathyless society” that Arno Grün, who recently died at the age of 92, already noted (“empathielose Gesellschaft”).


← letzter Beitrag:

nächster Beitrag: