There is a great article in the Wall St Journal that highlights a bizarre trait of Narcissists and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as well as how it manifests in Liberalism. The story describes a flap between the President of Bowdoin and a Wall Street investor turned philanthropist named Thomas Klingenstein. They played a game of golf, and in the course of it, a dispute arose over Bowdoin’s teaching of diversity. Much of the reality behind the article will go over people’s heads, but if you understand Narcissists and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you will see commonalities in your own experiences.
Are Narcissists obsessed with themselves, or obsessed with avoiding any anxiety regarding themselves? Anxiety is the motivator, not desire.
Basically, Klingenstein told the President of Bowdoin that Bowdoin should spend more time teaching what commonalities in our history bring Americans together, rather than focusing so much of its efforts on racial, gender, and class differences which separate us. It is such a beautiful concept, it is hard to imagine why Bowdoin’s President wouldn’t warmly embrace it, let alone why he ended up castigating Klingenstein as some racist heathen when he recreated the discussion months later for a speech. In the Bowdoin President’s version, he was endlessly assailed by a rabid racist, until he finally walked off in despair.
Since grassroots Conservative ideologues don’t tend to think like Liberals or Narcissists, our first response is to view the President of Bowdoin as a lying jackass, who just makes things up. He knows what happened, because he was there, so he must be lying. But in my experience, this might not be so. Narcissists very often have a very tenuous grip on reality, and here, I think the President of Bowdoin may have very little idea of exactly what happened during that golf outing, even as he is completely sure that he was assailed by a radical racist.
As I explained in the fractured amygdala, both Liberals and Narcissists appear to have hyper-sensitive amygdalae. The amygdala is a brain structure which scans incoming stimuli, looks for stimuli which appear “bad,” for lack of a better term, and then the amygdala gives us an unpleasant “brain pain,” until the bad stimuli is addressed in a way which renders it less-noxious. Maybe the “bad” stimuli is a tiger about to eat us, in which case our amygdala gives us an unpleasant aversive stimuli, until we escape, and the tiger is no longer a threat. Maybe we have a deadline for a project, in which case the amygdala haunts us until we finish it, and then it turns off.
In my experiences with Narcissists, their amygdala is so sensitive to anxiety, that just telling them any information which bothers them sets it off like a nuclear bomb, forcing them into an immediate state of denial of the offending stimuli, to try and short-circuit the “brain pain.” Tell a Narcissist something he doesn’t want to hear, and it is like spraying pepper spray from a fire extinguisher into his face. He won’t listen to the entire idea, consider it, and then reject it, like we would. Instead, the Narcissist will begin to get the faintest whiff of what you are saying, identify it as bad, and then he will close his eyes, hide his head, and wave his arms while screaming, until you are finished.
I have literally spent several minutes explaining some totally neutral technical topic to a Narcissist (a topic the Narcissist needed to understand in order to accomplish a task), only to finish, and then have the Narcissist proceed to explode in rage and attack me for criticizing him. As the conversation progressed, I discovered that the Narcissist thought that because I was telling him about something, I was implying he didn’t understand it, and therefore, he was stupid. Just that hint of a possibility of criticism at the beginning caused him to ignore everything I told him, after the first sentence. He literally didn’t hear a word, because he thought I was implying that he was ignorant of the topic. He was, however, certain that the rest of the conversation had consisted of me continuing to humiliate him for not knowing what I was describing. Even though he wasn’t listening to the technical information I was dispensing, and could not recall anything I said, his brain filled in the informational void for him with me castigating him for being stupid.
Of course, in a typically comedic twist, he actually didn’t understand the topic, and really needed to know what I was saying. However, as a Narcissist, he reflexively thought his ignorance was shameful. As a result, all he could see at the very beginning was my assumption he didn’t know it, so he exploded, assuming I was shaming him (something he assumed because that was probably something he would have enjoyed doing in similar circumstances).
I got around all of this with him by explaining that I wasn’t criticizing him, but was rather just telling him a “special” piece of knowledge I happened to learn by accident (and which he couldn’t possibly have known). Using this ploy, his Narcissistic amygdala booby-trap bomb was disarmed, and I could then re-explain what he needed to know, with most of what I said being absorbed, since I had made it clear that I wasn’t criticizing him, and indeed, he was beyond threat of criticism since he couldn’t know what I was about to tell him.
What was amazing was how once the Narcissist thought I was being critical of him, due to that first sentence, he would not process a single piece of information after that. He literally could not hear or process a single word. Once their amygdala is triggered, they cannot listen, so you could tell such a Narcissist that aliens from space were invading, and point to an alien behind him, and later all they would recall was how mean you were to them.
The funny thing about all of it is, your idea doesn’t have to actually be noxious to the Narcissist. The first sentence you say just has to have the faintest appearance of an idea he doesn’t want to hear, at the very beginning, when you relate it. If you want to do this, imbue the line with some psuedo-criticism, like an assumption they don’t know something, a mistake they made, some way someone else is better than them, or something funny about them. They will not listen from that point forward, and you will get an out-pouring of Narcissistic rage afterward.
Liberals, have a slightly more well-developed way to protect their amygdala. Liberals have developed several memes, which they will reflexively fall back on to shoehorn you and your statement into a patently negative light, thereby letting them intellectually justify ignoring everything you say. Each meme is almost like a programming subroutine, to allow them to ignore your argument and any cognitive dissonance it might produce, while still feeling intellectually superior, and correct in their reasoning. With Liberals, if the Liberal’s amygdala thinks the idea might possibly, maybe, be noxious in some way, they will immediately classify it as racist/homophobic/stupid/Conservative/etc., and they will not hear a single word you say after that.
From that point forward, their amygdala will fire off, and the Liberal/Narcissist will not listen, to protect themselves from the agony of amygdala anxiety, just as they would shut their eyes as you begin to fire pepper spray at them.
Here, in this case, Klingenstein mentioned diversity, and sounded vaguely critical at the outset, and Bowdoin’s President made the jump to classifying him as a racist who wanted to kick all the minorities out of the school. Once that happened, the President of Bowdoin did not hear a single word Klingenstein said after that, no matter what is was. In the President’s head, everything was some racist remark, and he just patiently endured them until he finally walked off in despair, “because you can’t reason with a racist.” He genuinely believes all of that, because that is what he remembers, even if he doesn’t remember a single phrase or idea Klingenstein said to him (which I am sure he doesn’t).
(It should be noted, if attempting an amygdala hijack, and your opponent successfully meme-ifies you in their mind, your hijack will fail, because they will no longer be listening. In such a case, you must de-meme-ify yourself in their head, by identifying how they meme’d you, and then showing exactly how wrong they are using pure logic, in an argument made to the crowd of observers watching. Once you are no longer racist, etc. to the crowd, they look silly for thinking that, and they are back paying attention, continue to out-group and humiliate, in a calm and reasoned fashion.)
Of course, when asked, the professors of Bowdoin don’t see themselves as partisan, at all. From the article:
“A political imbalance [among faculty] was no more significant than having an imbalance between Red Sox and Yankee fans,” sniffed Henry C.W. Laurence, a Bowdoin professor of government, in 2004. He added that the suggestion that liberal professors cannot fairly reflect conservative views in classroom discussions is “intellectually bankrupt, professionally insulting and, fortunately, wildly inaccurate.”
Perhaps so. But he’d have a stronger case if, for example, his colleague Marc Hetherington hadn’t written the same year in Bowdoin’s newspaper that liberal professors outnumber conservatives because conservatives don’t “place the same emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge that liberals do.”
To acknowledge they might be partisan would be to trip their amygdalae, with the prospect of being inferior. This is why all debate with Liberals comes down to childhood, “Yes you are!,” “No I’m not!” debate. There is no reasoning, or ability to consider facts.
If Klingenstein wants to screw with Bowdoin, then he should challenge every professor there to take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Test. It is a nice, non-partisan test which will reveal any personality disorders among the staff. Since nobody at Bowdoin could possibly have a personality disorder, nobody should object to taking this simple test.
I think Conservatives have to understand the difference between r and K-strategies in r/K Selection Theory, to fully grasp this. Conservatism is an ideology, which at its most polar extreme, is designed for a world where in order to feed our families, we have to kill other people, and take their food. That means that before acting, we need to very carefully take in every piece of information, scrutinize it, and then plan our attack in a detailed fashion. If we fail to accurately mold our behavior to reality, we will die. If we fail to consider a piece of evidence because we don’t like it, we will die.
Liberals are designed for an r-selective world with resources everywhere, where when confronted with a potential threat, they immediately run as fast as they can to a new place, without looking back. If there is a threat, and you fail to run, you die. If you run, but there wasn’t a threat, there is no penalty. As a result, you are best served by being overwhelmingly panicked at the mere possibility of threat. This is the difference between the psychologies of the wolf and the rabbit, and it was produced very carefully in our species, over eons of selection. In humans, it speaks to a wide gulf between our methods of cognition, and our behavioral instincts.
We cannot talk to Liberals, and reason with them, wolf to wolf. If ever we are going to communicate, we will need to learn how to slip information past their amygdala, and that will require a better understanding of this bizarre psychological state.