Thursday, April 07, 2011

Narcissistic Stockholm Syndrome III: Rising Above Meism

Third in a series of three.

We often believe that things are more equitable than they are and that the things that are really wrong will be fixed soon. We believe that one extraordinary person can and should rise up to the challenges of the day. And we often believe that - with just the proper opportunities in just the right time - that person may be me.

Alas, it's all merely a socio-psychological trick.

A very small percentage of the population controls the vast majority of currency and holds the vast majority of wealth. And then they tell us that we are individuals who fully control our destinies while filling our airwaves and imagination with anecdotal evidence – stories of courageous individuals who have risen from the mud to the tops of wealth by clinging and clawing with their very own bootstraps.

Generally speaking, most people around the world know where their place is on the totem pole. It's at the bottom. In the United States, however, things that should be clear are haze-like. We know things aren't right, but we're induced to believe that it will all change soon enough. And some of us do make it. Most of us get by - or seem to get by. Just enough to the point where we're not so concerned to make revolutionary action.

Meanwhile, quite a few of us drown.

like to drownphoto © 2011 Aimanness Photography | more info (via: Wylio)

The following was a comment on a New York Times article quoted the other day here. It's a perfect encapsulation of the ego-centricism of the American Dream.
Social Mobility remains possible, but only if one has knowledge of their position and is willing to make sacrafices. This usually means giving up most of your friends and sidelining your family go to a fairly high end college for a marketable degree, and moving to an area where you can make good connections. You have to set high goals and fight to achieve them, and leave behind negative influences in your life, which in this case would be anyone making less than you want to earn.

Most people who grow up in a poor background tend to be risk adverse and want to stay with familiar things. They feel that family connections and approval are more important that success, and are not willing to sacrafice everything to climb the social and economic ladder. So they work a so-so job and don't set their goals high, and remain in the poverty trap.
That's the key to happiness, apparently. Get rid of meaningful relationships. Want your daughters to have the finest clothes and doctors money can possibly buy? Say goodbye; you won't have time for them, you'll be too important and busy being busy and important so that your absence shows that you care - or so that they can even get food on their tables. They're worth only what you're worth. And so relationships, others, communities, don't mean a thing.

That's how we save relationships - by destroying them?
As many Americans did, I grew up daydreaming to the intoxicating rhythms and melody of the American Dream. And in this dream, I'm wealthy. I'm wealthy enough to be able to run my own little empire.

It's a shared dream - this essence of the American mythos. The idea that, with enough talent and/or hard work, you can achieve much wealth and happiness, you can make it in this land of opportunity.

It seems that only now are typical Americans starting to realize that something is wrong with the Dream. That it's not working for them like it should be.

But it never really worked for them in the first place. It's not just broke - it was never meant to work for us. If Divide and Conquer is the first rule of elitist success, certainly the second rule is Give them False Hope. The false hope here is that *we* can be like *them*. More specifically, that *I* can be like *them*.

The most entrancing part of the lie is that you can do it all on your own. The biggest, most effective lie is that we are all individuals, fully capable of making our own destinies by ourselves.

But we don't live nor act alone or separate. We cannot make an action without in some way affecting our environment - which invariably includes other people. The counter is true. What others do, affects us. When an individual has more power, he also has more impact on the environment and on others.

The wealthy know that the common individual cannot affect tremendous change on her own (at least not without significant aid and luck); the wealthy do not buy their own myth -that's what we do. So here's where we are stuck, running this mythology in our heads - believing it, breathing it to such an extent that we can't rise above.

But that's exactly what we need to do. Realize that separate and alone and divided and distracted on our rich dreams, we are weak. We're like the ants in A Bug's Life trying to ward off the thugocracy on our own or allowing others to attempt it for us, not aware that we have the power among us. That we need to combine all our resources, courage, and creativity to work to make a place that fits all of us.

That means Republicans, Green Partiers, Tea Partiers, Democrats, immigrants, lesbians, Muslims, Buddhists, Fundamentalists, queers, Quakers, homophobes, criminals, cops, racists, judges, preachers, retailers, ditch diggers, feminists, anti-racists, African Americans, Latinos, Latin Americans, clerks, beauticians, morticians, anarchists, teens, seniors, teachers, the illiterate, single mothers, Boomers, hip hop heads, Elvis groupies ... We are all in this together, even though we've been unconsciously persuaded to believe we're not.

We must bury our tribalism and reach across borders. We must connect to any willing to connect and rise above the I's of tribalism and individualism. (Of course that would mean that racists, xenophobes, and homophobes would begin changing into something fully different. But grace and listening and learning tends to do that.)

That would be the primary method of revolution - to come together and recognize our own shared humanity.


  1. Anonymous5:53 PM

    As a conservative, at least for me, wealth does not equal success and success does not equal wealth. I think a lot of times that is where people get stuck. Being successful is about reaching ones goals.
    And I also agree that we can't do this alone. Alot of what I have accomplished is through the help of family. I won't deny that. But that is as far as that thought goes.
    The difference between our thoughts on working together to achieve, I think, is the size of the group and the depth of the bonds in the group. I think that working as a group, supporting each other as a group, works best when you have small groups that sometimes agree with each other and at least care about one another. This to me is the family unit and the important friendship. Passing laws to promote "socialistic" action or "communitarian" action won't make me view other people as family or friends and won't tie my future to them. It also won't change how I see other people-- as humans deserving of respect.

  2. Thanks, Anon. although it'd be cool if you have a name, i appreciate the convo.

    i'm not sure what you're referring to when you talk about passing laws to promote "socialistic"... or "communitarian" action. I'm not sure i know of anybody who believes in that, even among socialists.

    i do believe, however, that communities should be more free and have more access to power, with protections for all communities and all individuals within those communities.

  3. marla abe1:50 PM

    We do buy into that dream of success and blame those who have not achieved it. Today the CEO or some such title of MacDonalds told how she rose from a regular worker to her position. Gee, how many other people worked just like her and never got there. Nor can they get there now, if she doesn't resign.
    As long as we see someone else as "stranger" or "other", we will remain locked in our attitudes.
    And the media will tell us that successful equals wealthy.

  4. This may end up being under Anon again
    @jasdye What do you mean "that communities should be more free and have more access to power, with protections for all communities and all individuals within those communities"?

    I'm not sure how to take that statement. As far as I am aware we are free. Maybe that's why I don't understand what you mean. I have a differing perspective.

    @maria You are right. There are alot of people who have bought into the idea that success equals wealth. And that does lead to other problems. I also do agree that we do need to stop seeing one another as "strangers" or "others". But that also does not mean that we have to accept them as family or friends.

  5. Jemma,

    Sorry for taking so long to respond. I'm not sure how I missed responding in the first place.

    The statement itself is a lot to unpack. I'm not sure that I can in one comment. But I'll let you know some of what I was thinking:

    Back when LBJ launched the Great Society initiative, the original plan (as far as I understand it) wasn't to just give temporary aid to individuals and families through welfare, etc, as we now know it, but to disperse money through community groups that would seek the best ways to implement those funds through their communities. Meaning helping small businesses, attracting business and customers into the neighborhoods, schools, affordable housing, whatever the actual needs are in that community.

    Instead, some authoritarians (like Chicago's mayor Richard Daley the First) thought that that would be a loss of control. So they put in place this plan that actually keep these communities in a long-term emergency state.


Be kind. Rewind.