Everyone’s now special

The 70s were called the “me” decade, but it appears that we’ve built on the foundation they laid. College students’ scores on a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory have been rising steadily since testing began in 1982, with the proportion of high scorers rising from half to two-thirds. The study worries that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and overcontrolling and violent behaviors.” The symptoms do sound familiar. Still, what does it all mean?

The researchers blame the phenomenon on the “self-esteem movement” that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence has gone too far. The emphasis on self-esteem though is itself a response to the weakening of the social relationships and value hierarchies that normally give things and people their place and meaning. If that weakening goes far enough the normal becomes pointless and you have to be extra-special to be worth anything. The choices, for those brought up on current attitudes and understandings, can come down to a little narcissism on the one hand, or crime, suicide or drug addiction on the other. Concern about the latter, after all, is why normally intelligent people have taken to having preschool children sing songs like “I am special, I am special, Look at me” to the tune of “Frere Jacques.”

All of which gives a certain point to one college student’s comment on the high narcissism scores: “It would be more depressing if people answered, ‘No, I’m not special.'” Because today that would mean they are nothing at all.

1 thought on “Everyone’s now special”

  1. Where all the children are above average
    As traditional and natural social structures and attachments atrophy (under liberal attack), the flip side of the subversion is the glorification of the individual (this process is usually framed as “emancipation”).

    But the further removed an individual is from traditional and natural settings, the more anonymous he/she becomes, and the more rigorous the reduction of the individual to objective, rationalized criteria: computerized credit scores, credentials, performance tests, etc.

    Thus, the more individuals become “special” under a liberal regime, the more they are reduced to bits of objective information useful to the purposes of the totalizing regime.


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