Letter: Narcissism and empathy

Published: 7/30/2020 12:01:21 AM

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael, Melville’s narrator, says that narcissism “is the key to it all.” Narcissism, based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, who drowned while trying to embrace his own image reflected in a pool, is defined as extreme self-love. It is related to the Greek word idiotes, the source of “idiot,” referring to a private person, one so ignorant of others’ ideas that he is unfit for governing. Since to be human is essentially to be narcissistic, self-serving, and self-interested, we have to ask, “What limits, restrains, tempers, balances our narcissism?” Because we humans are also necessarily social, as a survival necessity if for nothing else than the sheer pleasure of others’ company, we implicitly trust the value of empathy, a word derived from the Greek empatheia (“feeling”) and the German word Einfuhlung (“a feeling in”). In English, the word refers to our ability to feel what other humans are feeling. The Golden Rule is a brilliant combination of narcissism and empathy.

Politically speaking, we have to remember that charisma, another Greek word meaning “divine favor,” is a dangerous attribute. The kings who ruled “by divine right” ruled dangerously and destructively because they were not well-schooled in empathy, the source of communing with others and, indeed, of conscience itself, which guides our interactions with others in the way of realizing the Golden Rule. But back to Moby-Dick: Ahab, the charismatic, narcissistic, demagogic captain or Idiot-in-Chief of the Pequod guides the whaling ship by “dead reckoning” (instead of scientific navigation) to its destruction.

In plain American, we, the narcissistic and empathic people, “in order to form a more perfect union,” need to dump Trump before he sails our ship of state into the abyss.



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