Good year! In 2023, deport Trump, Elon Musk, Kanye and Depp
The presence of narcissists permeates our society like second-hand smoke, poisoning public discourse. Wherever you go — newspapers, websites, podcasts, social media, or cable TV — their behavior has grabbed headlines in 2022, becoming increasingly normalized and even celebrated. Although in very different fields, men like Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), Elon Musk, Donald Trump, Johnny Depp and Sam Bankman-Fried will forever be linked by this ignominious characteristic.
True narcissists self-centeredly ignore the needs of others and care little about annoying things like consequences.
True narcissists self-centeredly ignore the needs of others and care little about annoying things like consequences. They can also tend to be manipulative, arrogant, grandiose, and hungry for admiration. Always busy concocting fantasies of unlimited power or brilliance, narcissists delight in tricking others into supporting roles in dream worlds, where they are always the stars.
Why have they gained so much power and influence? Why are so many people in awe every time they open their mouths or tweet? Are they the problem or the symptom of something bigger than their own ego?
The truth is that our society breeds narcissists. We put them on pedestals and get a heavy dose of vicarious pleasure when they act.
And they most certainly act. Over the past 12 endless months, America has witnessed the rantings of Hitler-loving Ye; Musk’s Edgelord hangs out on his new toy, Twitter; Depp and his toxic TikTok fanboys; and Trump being Trump on any given day.
Then, just when we thought we had reached Peak Narcissist, along comes crypto brother Bankman-Fried, all 30, seizing the scene with his alleged fraud fiesta. Feliz Navidad!
The younger Bankman-Fried was accused of running a scam that redirected billions from his FTX cryptocurrency exchange to his personal piggy bank and sister company, Alameda Research. Many people lost large sums when FTX exploded – and some didn’t have that wealth to spare. They include FTX employees, who have been encouraged to reinvest their earnings into the business.
The favored son of two Stanford law professors, Bankman-Fried disarmed with his unruly mop and uniform of “schlubby” t-shirts and shorts. While he doesn’t appear conceited like Ye or Depp or overtly thuggish like Trump and Musk, he nevertheless exhibits traits that point to something sinister behind the “just a regular dude” persona.
Bankman-Fried practices the dark arts of narcissistic manipulation, posing as a guy who avoids material things. Yet his most recent home (prior to his detention in a Bahamian prison) was a marble-topped penthouse in one of the world’s most exclusive resorts overlooking a mega-yacht marina. Not exactly discreet.
If what Justice Department prosecutors are saying is true, he’s a guy who shirks responsibility like the plague (“I got bad legal advice”) and resorts to minimizing (it was only an accounting error), while playing on people’s hearts (“I am, and for most of my adult life, sad).”
The same goes for people who have lost their life savings.
Bankman-Fried embodies the narcissistic altruist. He claimed that all of his actions were designed to help others. This helped distract from his anti-social antics. Psychologists call this the “white knight narcissist,” a person who hides selfish agendas behind flowery displays of benevolence. Here is a man who misses no opportunity to proclaim the philosophy of “effective altruism”, according to which he must earn as much money as possible to save the future of humanity, but who is fucked by the charities that he promised.
Effective altruism is what happens when you take utilitarianism – the theory that actions are right if they benefit the majority – and hand it over to pretentious technicians. (Musk is also said to be a fan.) Described as an “ideology of hubris,” it’s actually a vapid belief that the wealthy know best and that money can magically translate to salvation.
Like all of his narcissistic brethren, Bankman-Fried enjoys swallowing his own Kool-Aid, deluding himself that he’s one of the good guys, but forgetting to treat people with basic respect. “The selfless thing to do is take risks,” Bankman-Fried said, failing to take them with other people’s money.
Self-serving statements like these will flood our ears as we ring in the new year, along with gems like “We need to stop ranting about Nazis all the time” (much obliged, Ye); “Massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution” (you don’t say, Donald); “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci(way to go, Elon); and “I’ll f— his burnt corpse” (thanks, Johnny).
It’s narcissism on a grand scale. But where do we go from here? Trying to turn those vile statements into action – or persuade someone else to do so.
That’s what the House Jan. 6 committee spent 18 months explaining that Trump had done with the insurgency. Just days ago, a man attacked another in New York’s Central Park, shouting “Kanye 2024!” Police are investigating a possible anti-Semitic hate crime. Encouraged by their narcissistic heroes, maybe someone is stalking Dr. Anthony Fauci in real life instead of trolling him. Or kill their partner instead of joking about it with a pal. (One in three women in the United States experiences violence from a domestic partner.)
All of this is incredibly dangerous – to say the least. But how did we get here?
All of this is incredibly dangerous – to say the least. But how did we get here?
On the one hand, our society teaches boys how to be toxic. From their first days in nursery, daycare or preschool, boys see too few men in nurturing roles. At school, they learn to interact with others through competition and domination. This pattern breeds “heroic soloists,” warns author Margaret Heffernan, who suppress empathetic instincts and see everything through the lens of “what does this get me?”
Being the winner becomes paramount. In college, young men find fraternities that associate manhood with degrading women, alcoholism, and mutual encouragement. Social networks reinforce the me-me-me instinct: my aspirations, my clothes, my holidays, my life. Look at me! Emulate me! The more extreme you are, the more attention you attract.
Boys (and girls) grow up idolizing movie stars, rap gods, and politicians who blithely validate their worst instincts. They enter a workforce in which they regularly see the boss putting profits above all human value. All the while, the fear of losing out in a ruthless capitalist system haunts them. If they succeed in gaining power, some transform into men who, as economist Robert Reich describes Trump and Musk, “wield masses to protect their fragile egos” and live to “wield raw power over people.” Alternatively, they may take their grievances to women, groups and ethnicities suspected of stealing their power.
At the very least, they can bully by proxy. One key thing about narcissists – they operate in the realm of fantasy. It’s a game for them, and they can’t wait to take others with them.
But there are some encouraging signs. When conspirator Alex Jones squirms at Ye’s anti-Semitic musings and shock jock Howard Stern calls Depp a “huge narcissistyou have to wonder if the narcissists among us have finally gone too far, even for America. Currently, Bankman-Fried is a disgraced man under house arrest with his parents. Trump appears to be losing ground, and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have finally eliminated their “Kanye. Elon. Tweet from Trump. Musk asked Twitter users if he should step down as CEO, and they voted “yes.”
Unfortunately, until we get to the root causes, there will always be another swaggering bully, another Trump, another Ye.
2022 ended with this gallery of rogues (a dishonorable mention goes to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Silicon Valley con artist Elizabeth Holmes and, if we go global, Russian President Vladimir Putin ). But as a new one begins, it may be time to think about how to promote pride in characteristics and values that are socially beneficial – such as honesty, helping others, and strength through mastery of self. We can remember that democracy is based on the sharing of power and resources, on a sense of a common destiny.
Remember that a society with more equality is a society with less narcissism. Perhaps building one of these is the best 2023 New Year’s resolution of all.