Discover more from Culturcidal by John Hawkins
America’s Broken Relationship with Shame, Fame, and Narcissism
We’re a country full of people with mediocre accomplishments and Kayne West-sized egos.
Here’s a little secret about human psychology that you don’t often hear people talk about. Despite the fact that a person’s self-esteem is often a direct outgrowth of their achievements, it’s also surprisingly arbitrary. You can be a pile of human garbage with an ego as big as Donald Trump or the greatest person on earth and think you’re a complete loser. In other words, your image of yourself can be much more heavily influenced than most people realize by the input you get from the people around you. It’s kind of like that classic Twilight Zone episode, “Eye of the Beholder” where unseen doctors try to help a woman whose face is hidden from the viewers, although you’re assured that she’s hideously ugly. Then, we finally get the big reveal of everyone’s faces.
Actually, she’s extremely attractive and they’re all pig people. Well, guess what? If you were the most beautiful person on earth today and you grew up in that same situation, you’d think you were nightmarishly ugly, too. People have become increasingly aware that a dad who’s an angry drunk spewing abuse, a careless mom who tells her child that he’s bad instead of “you did a bad thing,” and the mean girls at school picking on other kids can create self-esteem issues.
This is all true.
So, in an effort to fight that sort of thing, we’ve started bending over backward to raise EVERYONE’s self-esteem. “Don’t grade that paper in red because it might hurt their self-esteem!” “Make sure to pay attention to what little Jimmy has to say about the environment so he feels heard!” “Let’s not keep score in the football game and give everyone participation trophies!” “You go, girl! You’re a queen who only deserves the best!”
The problem with this is something you almost never hear anyone say….most people should not have sky-high self-esteem. Granted, that doesn’t mean that they should hate themselves either, but we’re a country full of people with mediocre accomplishments and Kayne West-sized egos. The endpoint of America’s obsessive desire to build self-esteem in everyone, whether they deserve it or not, is not a nation full of mentally healthy, happy people, it’s a country overrun with narcissists whose only concern is glorifying themselves. Why would they need to know more? Do more? Be more? They’ve been hearing all their lives that they’re a “special little boy” whether they won or lost, tried or gave up, excelled or surrendered to mediocrity.
Then, because capitalism responds to the marketplace, our society fed the beast.
Colleges created “safe spaces” so their unique little snowflakes didn’t have to be challenged by anything they didn’t already believe was true. We created video game worlds where people could be legends, super-heroes, and gods, all from the comfort of their living rooms. Most damagingly, we created social networks that essentially promised everyone the ability to be a star. Suddenly, you didn’t need connections or powerful people backing you, because if you got enough people’s attention, you could become an “influencer” at best or occasionally drowned in likes and shares that validated your self-worth at worst.
That last one was particularly big. Initially, most of us focused on the joy of bypassing the old gatekeepers who controlled everything we saw and heard to get new ideas and voices out there. For a brief, shining moment, it seemed that the giant Army of Davids was going to build a more open, beautiful world after humbling all the Goliaths. In actuality, it turned out to be more like a seesaw violently crashing to the ground after the husky kid fell off and busted his lip. We replaced the tyranny of the gatekeepers with the tyranny of tens of millions of yammering narcissists drowning each other and many of the saner voices out while trying to live up to Andy Warhol’s prophecy.
Back in the day when Right Wing News was doing legendary amounts of traffic on Facebook, I used to tell the people that picked the stories we ran on a day-to-day basis to remember that every story needed an emotional hook because we were competing for attention with cute cat videos. Along similar lines, although the book it was in escapes me, I recall an author discussing how he believed that pro-wrestling of all things was losing viewers to politics because the hatred, the drama, and the stakes were more real in the political world. This is a microcosm of the dire problem we now have in America. Everything, from politics to wrestling, to social media, to cat videos, to cooking, to conspiracy theories, on and on and on, is now part of a never-ending campaign to capture our attention by any means necessary.
So, if you’re competing against tens of millions of people for attention, it’s only natural that people in politics are going to look for any way to up the ante in order to make you notice them. They’re going to spout conspiracy theories, aim over the top insults at people that don’t deserve it, and pull crazy stunts to get people to “look at me!”
Do you know what “message” AOC was trying to send by wearing that dress to an event filled with fabulously wealthy supporters of her policies? It’s the same one most people are trying to send on social media. It’s “look at me” and it worked. The problem is we’re creating a world where people have to keep doing more and more ridiculous things to top each other in order to satisfy their craving for fame. For example, think back to the BLM, ANTIFA, and Jan 6. riots. How much of that was simply a way for people to say, “look at me?” It’s impossible to say for sure, but if those riots weren’t covered by the MSM and if everyone knew in advance that no pictures from riots could be posted on social media, it’s entirely possible that there wouldn’t have been any rioting at all. Some people may poo-poo that, but don’t underestimate how far people in America are willing to go for fame. As Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire noted when they publicly announced that they would no longer post the names of school shooters, there are people literally willing to kill to “make you look.”
As Professor Jennifer Johnston and Andrew Joy of Western New Mexico University found in a paper presented to the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in 2016, “media contagion” can help make mass shootings more common. “Unfortunately,” said Johnston, “we find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is a desire for fame.” The rise of such a trait in mass shooters, she claimed, rose “in correspondence to the emergence of widespread 24-hours news coverage on cable news programs, and the rise of the Internet during the same period.” Johnston recommended a media pact to “no longer share, reproduce, or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years.”
This is where we are in America folks. Our politicians are behaving like lunatics. Our public discourse is increasingly stupid, rude, and dehumanizing. Innocents are literally being tortured on video by people who apparently expected to be praised for it. There are even Americans so narcissistic that they feel entitled to MURDER OTHER HUMAN beings because they want everyone to hear their names.
That leads us to the final missing piece of the morality puzzle in modern America and that is the almost complete and total absence of shame. Like self-esteem, shame can be an arbitrary emotion at times. All of us know people who have felt ashamed of their actions when they didn’t deserve it. They’re ashamed because they’re poor, because they were raped, or perhaps because when they were a child, they were sexually abused. Because of our desire to help people like this get past the wounds of their undeserved shame, we’ve practically tried to banish that emotion from American society. We tell people not to feel bad about themselves, “if it feels good, do it” and the only people that should be judged are those that judge others.
The problem with this is that shame is often a necessary, healthy emotion. There are times when you are supposed to feel ashamed of yourself. If you lie, steal, or cheat, you’re supposed to feel ashamed. If you let the people you care about down, if you behave in a way that brings disrepute on your family, if you are rude and abusive to strangers without being provoked, you are supposed to feel bad about that. If you follow people in the bathroom to harass them, you shouldn’t feel good about yourself afterward.
If you’re chanting f*** Joe Biden in public, you should be ashamed that you’re not a better person.
If you’re willing to go to a children’s event dressed as a “rainbow, dildo, butt monkey,” you probably should be struggling with self-loathing.
You’re SUPPOSED TO feel bad when you do bad things and it’s okay to want attention, but you’re also supposed to be thoughtful and actually care about the welfare of other humans while you try to get it.
If you are so desperate for attention and fame that you’re willing to abuse other people or hurt the country to get it and you don’t feel bad about it, you’re a bad neighbor, a bad American, and a terrible human being. Unfortunately, that description fits far too many of our politicians, an ever-increasing number of prominent people in our society, and an enormous number of Americans who’ve been convinced the highest value in life is chasing anything that will help them get fame, validation, and make them feel good no matter what the cost may be to other people. A nation teeming with people that have those kinds of values doesn’t deserve to succeed long-term and unfortunately for us, it seems highly likely that it won’t.