Thursday, June 01, 2006

Penitential Narcissism

John Hinderaker at Powerline muses:

For reasons that are hard to understand, quite a few Americans seem to have lost the most basic ability to distinguish between friends and enemies.

I read a quote the other day in an online New Yorker article (yeah, who'da thunk?) that, to me, is a very good term to describe the illness that affects so much of the west.

The quote was from French (!) philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in praise of Oriana Fallaci for not being intimidated by thepenitential narcissism that makes the West guilty of even that which victimizes it.”

I've been mulling over for quite some time just how to describe this phenomenon, but the best I could come up with up to now is "holier than thou" which doesn't quite fit.

Penitential narcissism fits it to a "T". It describes the grotesque distortion of a couple of noble qualities -- introspection and self-criticism -- to the art of doing it for its own sake, or more precisely, to use introspection and self-criticism as tools to glorify one's self. "Look how self-critical I am! Aren't I noble?"

Mind you, it is the "collective" self that the individual is criticizing, allowing for an arm's length distancing from actual, personal blame. In this way, the narcissist can distance himself from the blame, but still be "self" critical by criticizing his culture or country. It is completely self-serving.

To quote the now infamous Jesse MacBeth, "Protesting makes me feel good."

Zealots on the religious right as well as those believers in the ideology of the left can both be guilty of this -- as a matter of fact, a search on the term comes up with this New Yorker article and a sermon from St. Paul's (Episcopal) Cathedral of the City (San Diego) warning against it.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are not just about having ashes placed upon our foreheads and beating our breasts in shame because of our great unworthiness. To leave things simply at that more often results in penitential narcissism.

Unfortunately, the afflicted typically can't see this sickness in themselves as they self-righteously parrot the propaganda of communist and islamist organizations who are only too happy to feed the egos of the penitentially narcissistic left.

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