America’s socio-psychic health

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Thanks to MinnPost.com for publishing this opinion piece on socio-psychic dynamics of the American political culture in 2017 as seen through the ancient myth of Narcissus.

Click Recalling Narcissus -and the roles of Echo and the pond to read the story on MinnPost. Then, if you choose, leave a comment on the MinnPost page or here on Views from the Edge.

In any case, as always, thanks for dropping by the evaporating pond!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 23, 2017.

When the Pond drives up and the Echo stops

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scorched-earth

Classical Greek mythology held a deep wisdom familiar to the framers of the U.S. Constitution. They were well-schooled in the Greek and Roman classics.

In the Greek myth of Narcissus, two things keep Narcissus alive: the unruffled water of the pond that reflects back his self-image, and the voice of Echo, the beautiful wood nymph whose voice the gods have silenced, except to echo Narcissus’s speech.

Narcissus dies of thirst. He refuses to drink because to do so would mean disturbing  the pond’s reflection on which his sense of self depends. The pond and Echo are enduring metaphors of a deeper wisdom.

What happens to a president when the pond (the electorate) is disturbed or dries up and the voice from across the pond (the press) no longer echoes his words? Or, to the contrary, what happens to the pond and Echo when they placidly yield to the needs and voice of Narcissus?

Yesterday the President and his Press Secretary acted to shrink the pond and silence Echo by including Breitbart News and other alt-right media and by excluding the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and CNN from the informal “gaggle” White House Press Conference. They took another step toward shrinking and smoothing out Narcissus’s pond, and muting Echo’s own voice.

“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.” – Thomas Jefferson.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 25, 2017.

 

Praying for the President

Yesterday was at once heartening and frightening.

The Women’s March participants refused to Echo, the tragic nymph of the Greek myth who, enchanted with Narcissus’ charm, loses her own voice except to echo Narcissus’ words as Narcissus stares at his own reflection across the pond. Meanwhile, on the same day, Narcissus, despairing of Echo’s recovered independence, went across the river to visit the CIA – the intelligence community he had scorned – in hopes they might become the new reflecting pond and echo that would confirm his claims to singular greatness as the new Commander-in-Chief.

The President is disintegrating before our eyes. Mental health is about integration – the spiritual/psychic process by which a person brings together the disparate parts of the self and the various conflicting sorts of experience into a greater psychic wholeness. This process requires a center that does not depend upon the adulation or negation of others.

Yesterday we saw a lonely, frightened man with neither the Echo nor the reflecting pond into which he stares to be reassured of his real self.  He is a sick man deserving of prayers and pity. But when a threatened narcissist has access to the nuclear codes no one else in the world has, prayers for this president become prayers for ourselves and the planet that reflect a greater glory than Narcissus’ reflection.

“The whole Earth is the theater of God’s glory.” – John Calvin.

As a member of the Confirmation Class  at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens, NY, a young Donald John Trump learned by heart the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Question: “What is the chief end (i.e. aim or purpose) of man?”

We have need to hope and pray the 70 year-old Donald remembers the antidote to the psychic integration and disintegration of Narcissus:

Answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.”

The Book of Common Worship (1946) in use at the time of the President’s confirmation includes this Election Day:

Almighty God, who dost hold us to account for the use of all our powers and privileges: Guide, we pray Thee, the people of these United States of their rulers and representatives; that by wise legislation and faithful administration of the rights of all may be protected, and our nation be enabled to fulfill Thy purposes. . . .  Amen.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2017.

 

 

American Echo and Narcissus

During the course of this election season much has been written about Narcissus, the self-absorbed figure of the classical myth of Narcissus. Less attention has been paid to the larger context in the myth itself and its application to the American political scene: the figure of Echo and the Pond which reflect back Narcissus’s claims for himself.

Without Echo, the scorned, talkative nymph who loses her voice except to echo Narcissus’s words, and without the Pond which reflects back the beautiful image Narcissus lives and dies to see, there would be no Narcissus.

narcissus-caravaggio-300x363

Narcissus painting by Caravaggio

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes Narcissistic Personality Disorder as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts . . . .”

The Mayo Clinic summarizes DSM-5’s symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as follows:

• Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
• Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
• Exaggerating your achievements and talents
• Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
• Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
• Requiring constant admiration
• Having a sense of entitlement
• Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
• Taking advantage of others to get what you want
• Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
• Being envious of others and believing others envy youBehaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

If Donald Trump is elected President, it will be because he successfully channeled long-festering sources of anger—“Make America Great Again” as in a former age when Mexican immigrants, blacks, and non-Christians knew their place in a white, Christian nation with a manifest destiny—or because he echoed the American public’s deep frustration with political gridlock and partisan posturing.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Trump is refused the Oval Office, Echo will continue to be obsessed with his voice. Though not as alarming as a Narcissist with a nuclear arsenal at his command, there is little comfort in a disentitled Narcissus manipulating global media as his mirror.

The socio-psychic health of Echo and the Pond (the social mirror) will determine the extent to which the dynamics of the Narcissus myth become the permanent disorder of American political life.

It may help to remember that, according to Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes, Narcissus will “live to a ripe old age, as long as he never knows himself.

How long Narcissism prevails in American society depends on the American Echo and the mirror into which Narcissus looks—whether the American electorate will choose to see Narcissus and ourselves as we really are —a sad man with a public echo without self-knowledge.

In the ancient myth, Narcissus grows increasingly thirsty, but his reflection in the water is more important than slaking his thirst. Enamored with his own reflection but dying of thirst, he refuses to drink because he loses the reflected image whenever he gets close enough to sustain his life. Narcissus dies of thirst, and, according to the Greek myth, at that moment, a lovely flower – a Narcissus (daffodil or joncus) – blooms next to the pond.

narcissus-flower

Narcissus (daffodil)

In the wake of this electoral flirtation of Echo and Narcissus, the story won’t be over no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Yet there remains the hope that something more beautiful and natural than a personality disorder will rise next to the pond of what remains of the American democratic republic, and that Echo will get back her own voice.

• Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Oct. 25, 2016