The Narcissism Epidemic


I was pleasantly surprised when the definition of fuddy-duddy was listed on my favorite online dictionary. Defined as “an old-fashioned, fussy person,” fuddy-duddies are usually those grumpy old people that are constantly complaining about something the younger generation is or is not doing. Fuddy-duddies also like to wax rhapsodic about the many virtues found “back in my day.” Many of the culture war conservatives I know display many fuddy-duddy tendencies.

Unfortunately, the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic wrote what amounted to a fuddy-duddy polemic that comes irritatingly close to being an apocalyptic sermon. Psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell attempted to analyze the narcissism that plagues the United States culture by following a basic medical method: diagnosis, finding root causes and symptoms, and offering prognosis and treatment. What they actually wrote was a social commentary on their disdain for the narcissism found in the media. It was not unlike a person telling you how wrong everything is but not offering any solutions. A scant fifteen percent of this entire book was devoted to prognosis and treatment.

It is important in problem solving to recognize the problem itself and find the root causes. I would expect a book that tackled narcissism to spend a great deal of time on doing this. While these authors did this using data to support their claims, they also offered up a sassy social commentary that effectively eroded their professionalism. The authors also greatly limited themselves to examining sources of narcissism that are found in the media and Internet: Paris Hilton, MySpace, Facebook, blogs, and television shows like “My Super Sweet 16,” and “Cribs” were favorite and painstakingly reoccurring targets. Slogan T-shirts, spending habits, and the ideas of entitlement/uniqueness were also plastered everywhere in the remaining eighty-five percent of the book.

Here is a typical example of the sassy writing style I believe undermines their professionalism.

You can buy your daughter a T-shirt that says “Spoiled Rotten” or clothe your son in a shirt that says “Sorry, girls, I only date models.” One bright red shirt declares “I'm in Charge.” Another line of T-shirts allows you to announce that your child is the “Future Leader of the Free World” or a “Future Reality Show Contestant.” You can even buy your newborn baby a “Bling” brand pacifier decorated with rhinestones, complete with a tote that says “Princess” or “Rock Star.” These days, even when you're just a few weeks old, it's important not to leave the house without your bling. (76)

This reeks of talk-show commentary that is destined to become a New York Times Bestseller and a hit on Oprah. I say this because the book is filled with complaining and rehashing what everyone already suspects, something the masses are wonderful at doing. It does not come as any shock-at least for people that are not narcissists-that narcissism is caused and propagated by self-admiration, parenting, celebrities & media, Internet, and easy credit. Two hundred and fifty-five pages of this rammed down one's throat is more than enough to drive the point home.

This imbalance in the ratio of problem identification to problem solution is also not a very effective use of time, especially when one of the best methods in fighting narcissism is found on page 284: mindfulness. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a concise and simple teaching of mindfulness in his book True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart. What took these psychologists over three hundred pages to figure out only took Hanh one hundred and twenty pages. Simplicity is a virtue and if one knows a simpler way to do something and elects the more complex method, they are not only being illogical, they are also being narcissistic.

Yes, I am claiming these authors are being narcissistic. Here is my proof, using their own words.

We take a different approach in this book, describing the now-extensive scientific research on the truth about narcissists and why they behave the way they do. We believe that with a topic as complex as narcissism, the empirical research is the place to begin. (3)

If I have learned anything from my education in religion and philosophy, I have learned that anytime a person claims to have the truth, one should proceed with caution. A truth claim is often very difficult-if not impossible-to establish, especially when dealing with humans because they change rapidly and do not behave equally. Even if one has an abundance of empirical research, it is not wise to claim truth because you still can be proven wrong. Ignoring the possibility of being wrong and still claiming truth is a sure sign of a narcissist.

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