Ask Emma

Advice on love and sanity for the 21st century

The Election and Our Narcissism: Why we vote like children

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I don’ t think I’ll stray into politics very much but the mid-term election was fascinatingly disturbing. “Change,” they cried. Isn’t that what we heard in the last election? Doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd that everybody, all the time, is going to change business as usual in Washington, give America back to the voters, deliver common sense solutions, etc., etc. It’s disturbing to me that these simple, repetitive, and completely unrealistic ambitions seem to resonate over and over again. We’re like chickens pecking at a button to get a corn chip. An article in New York Magazine gets it right I think, but pointing out that our fundamental political problem is our excessive narcissism. In other words, we vote like children.

The article argues that Americans are increasingly narcissistic, meaning that they expect to get what they want without working for it, they expect it to be easy, and when they don’t get what they want they throw a tantrum. Cited as evidence for this is the argument that psychologists Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell make in The Narcissism Epidemic, published last year. States the article: ”Based on dozens of surveys, the authors found that college students have been scoring higher and higher on the Narcissism Personality Inventory since its debut in 1979. They unearthed a study of 11,000 teenagers that was done once in 1951 and once in 1989, in which only 12 percent agreed with the statement ‘I am an important person’ the first time around, whereas 78 percent agreed the second. This was attributed at least partly to a rise in self-esteem curricula in schools, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but when self-esteem is no longer linked to hard work and achievement, it’s not a good thing, either. Perhaps most memorably, the authors highlighted the disparity between the overwhelming confidence of American students and the underwhelming nature of their test scores. One study noted that 39 percent of American eighth-graders feel good about their math skills, compared with just 6 percent of Koreans. Guess who’s better at math.”

So we have a culture that has developed in a way that can’t tolerate long, complicated solutions. We want messiahs. We want to be told that we are great, that things are great, and that we don’t need to suffer. First Obama, then Palin. We want what we want and we want it now. This is a problem we need to rectify. Read the article.

Categories: General
Alistair Highet