Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Esteemable David Brooks

Brooks in paradise

Let's face it, David Brooks isn't very bright. However he has a fine grasp of the obvious, if the obvious is conservative conventional wisdom, and it's taken him far. But when you substitute popular misconceptions for evidence and wisdom, you're going to end up saying stuff that's just stupid.

Let us enter, you and I, into the moral universe of the modern narcissist.

Immediately Brooks is in trouble, for he is using a word with an actual definition, and Brooks only fares well when he can make up his own words.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic classification system used in the United States, as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy."[1]

The narcissist is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, and prestige.[2] Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to self-centeredness.


The etiology of this disorder is unknown, according to Groopman and Cooper. However, they list the following factors identified by various researchers as possibilities.[4]

An oversensitive temperament at birth
Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents
Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem
Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
Unpredictable or unreliable caregiving from parents
Severe emotional abuse in childhood
Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or talents by adults
Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for poor behaviors in childhood

These characteristics were explained by Alice Miller. A sensitive child who feels deeply, a gifted child in Miller's words, who is given love and attention only when he satisfies his parents' emotional needs will grow up twisted and unable to love. Brooks, because he is ignorant, slurs neediness into vanity. Narcissism doesn't mean you think you are the greatest thing on earth. It means you constantly seek the attention and love you did not get in childhood by obsessing about yourself and what others think about you. You must constantly be praised and envied because you were never given attention and love for who you actually are, you only got them if you acted in ways that pleased other people. It is the opposite of excessive self-esteem and vanity.

The exploitative, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, disregard for others, and constant need for attention inherent in NPD adversely affect interpersonal relationships.

And it also affect everything else about a person; their religious, political, social and even trivial entertainment views.

Some narcissistic traits are common and a normal developmental phase. When these traits are compounded by a failure of the interpersonal environment and continue into adulthood, they may intensify to the point where NPD is diagnosed.[5] Some psychotherapists believe that the etiology of the disorder is, in Freudian terms, the result of fixation to early childhood development.[6] If a child does not receive sufficient recognition for their talents during about ages 3–7 they will never mature and continue to be in the narcissistic early development stage. It has been suggested[6] that NPD may be exacerbated by the onset of aging and the physical, mental, and occupational restrictions it imposes as can most personality traits.

Brooks acknowledges this definition, but, without making the slightest attempt to corroborate his claims, states that the definition is now considered wrong. By David Brooks, at least.

The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself.

There used to be theories that deep down narcissists feel unworthy, but recent research doesn’t support this. Instead, it seems, the narcissist’s self-directed passion is deep and sincere.

His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.

And because he plays by different rules, and because so much is at stake, he can be uninhibited in response. Everyone gets angry when they feel their self-worth is threatened, but for the narcissist, revenge is a holy cause and a moral obligation, demanding overwhelming force.

Brooks parrots the words but obviously doesn't understand their implication. Someone secure in his self-belief to the point of "deep and sincere" grandiosity isn't threatened by criticism. Someone with doubts is.

Mel Gibson seems to fit the narcissist model to an eerie degree. The recordings that purport to show him unloading on his ex-lover, Oksana Grigorieva, make for painful listening, and are only worthy of attention because these days it pays to be a student of excessive self-esteem, if only to understand the world around.

Gibson's father is a radically fundamentalist Catholic, Holocaust denier, and all-around extremist. (We are very fortunate to have Arthur Silber's thoughts on Hutton Gibson, a textbook example of parental abuse warping his son's outlook.) He said, "The greatest benefit anyone can have is to be a Catholic. You have the lifelong satisfaction of being right," and obviously has spent his entire life telling everyone else that they are wrong and he is right.

Gibson is an outspoken critic of the modern post-conciliar Catholic Church and is a proponent of various conspiracy theories. He disseminates his views in a quarterly newsletter called The War is Now! and has self-published three collections of these periodicals: Is the Pope Catholic?, The Enemy is Here!, and The Enemy is Still Here![6][19]

Gibson believes that the Second Vatican Council introduced explicitly heretical and forbidden doctrines into the Catholic Church in order to destroy it from within.[citation needed] He also holds that every pope elected since John XXIII, inclusively, has been an anti-pope or illegitimate claimant to the papacy.[citation needed] This doctrine is called "Sedevacantism", from the radices Sede ("See") and vacante ("vacant"), and affirms that from 1958 until the present the Holy See is being occupied by invalidly elected, imposter "popes".[citation needed]


At the January 2004 We The People conference, Gibson advocated that the states secede from the Federal government of the United States and that the United States public debt be abolished.[21]

Gibson garnered widespread outrage when remarks questioning how the Nazis could have disposed of six million bodies during the Holocaust were printed in a March 2003 New York Times Magazine article.

[snip]"The entire catastrophe was manufactured, said Hutton, as part of an arrangement between Hitler and 'financiers' to move Jews out of Germany. Hitler 'had this deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs,' he said".

Gibson was further quoted as saying the Second Vatican Council was "a Masonic plot backed by the Jews"[2] and that the September 11, 2001 attacks were perpetrated by remote control: "Hutton flatly rejected that Al Qaeda hijackers had anything to do with the attacks. 'Anybody can put out a passenger list,' he said".


In the early 1990s, Gibson and Tom Costello hosted a video called Catholics, Where Has Our Church Gone?[26] which is critical of the changes made to the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council and espouses the Siri Thesis that in 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, the man originally elected pope was not Angelo Roncalli, but another cardinal, "probably Cardinal Siri of Genoa" (a staunch conservative candidate and first papabile).


Gibson endorsed Ron Paul for President in the 2008 United States Presidential Election.[29] In January 2010, he made an appearance on the far-right-wing radio show, The Political Cesspool, to promote his views.[30]

The man who reveled in always being right brainwashed his son into hating Jews, women, blacks and himself. But Brooks has a different, imaginary interpretation.

[T]he sad fact is that Gibson is not alone. There can’t be many people at once who live in a celebrity environment so perfectly designed to inflate self-love. Even so, a surprising number of people share the trait. A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health suggested that 6.2 percent of Americans had suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, along with 9.4 percent of people in their 20s.

In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.

That doesn’t make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.

Authoritarian leaders do not want people to have self-esteem. It makes it much, much harder to manipulate and control them. Instead of merely pushing their buttons, you have to use facts and logic to persuade people, and that's a tiny problem when you are trying to convince them that we need to drill for oil offshore or neglect our infrastructure or invade other countries. Authoritarian followers are horrified at the idea of self-esteem because their leaders tell them it is bad, and they are terrified of being rejected for holding opinions that displease their leaders/God/parents, which all run into the same Disapproving Authority that must be feared and obeyed. The last thing in the world David Brooks will approve of is self-esteem.


Downpuppy said...

I'd have left it at "Bozos with no training shouldn't psychoanalyze strangers & draw sweeping conclusions"

Or maybe just "Psychology? Humbug"

I try to say "Humbug" at least twice a day. It does a body good.

Anonymous said...

I listened to an NPR piece today that was jumping off from the Gibson thing and though it was actually pretty good I have to say I'm astonished by the number of people who called in, or who discussed Gibson's problems, as though he couldn't possibly believe what he's been recorded as saying. He says abusive, drunken, cruel, sick things to his girlfriend but that's just the sorrow/narcissism/alcohol talking. He says anti semitic things, and anti gay things, but that's just the...talking.

You know what? People who are assholes when they are drinking or abusing drugs are assholes the rest of the time, just with slightly better filters. There's lots of evidence that Gibson believes absolutely that he is entitled to hurt other people who don't do what he wants, that he hates and fears Jews, that he hates and fears gay people. Way more evidence on the public record than that these are anomalies, like those caused when an otherwise moral and upright citizen is diagnosed with a brain tumor pressing on one part of the brain and disinhibiting him.

But shorter shorter Brooks, as usual, fails to grasp the obvious. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. People who are raised by abusive jerks become abusive jerks. No narcissism or self esteem issues involved.


Downpuppy said...


Plenty of people raised by abusive jerks get out from under & say "I will never be like that".

Most of them are on the WTA tour, but there are a few others.

Susan of Texas said...

Miller says that people who develop outside emotional attachments will not co-opt the views of the parent as much. As long as somebody cares about you (or there is something you care about very much that helps you develp a sense of self), people can recover.

Kathy said...

I wonder why brooks choose "narcissistic" instead of say "bipolar" or schizophrenia, or some other diagnosis-du jour? He obviously can't tell one mental illness/condition from another.

Perhaps because he heard it used against Bush II so much? He obviously didn't understand the term then, either.

Kia said...

The dignity of other people is beyond Brooks' powers of conception. Not surprising, really, since whatever little he had he sold a long, long time ago. There's something about his resolute toadyism that must embarrass the hell, so to speak, out of Satan himself and make him feel he got the worst of the bargain.

Batocchio said...

Well, this is a novel way for Brooks to shill his usual "know your place, peons" shtick.

There's "narcissist" in the vernacular versus a clinical diagnosis, but as always, Brooks just wants his launching point. (However, there's also the acting profession's connection with both types. Good grief, the stories...) And per anonymous' comment, money can reveal the beast even more than booze.

Susan of Texas said...

I thought about that, Batocchio, but decided to go ahead because I don't think he's just talking about a minor moral weakness. Gibson's a sick puppy, not just some vain Hollywoood star.

Mr. Wonderful said...

It is Brooks's job (if not mission) to discredit the left by whatever method his toady brain can devise, and to whitewash or promote the right, via the same method.

His column a few years ago, in which he interviewed Bush and reported back, was a model of courtier flattery, evasion, special pleading, half-truths, and hagiography.

This--Mel Gibson is a monster because liberals praise their children--is just Brooks walking the beat and doing the job.

Susan of Texas said...

I should have emphasized that when you take Brooks' view--children should not be taught self-esteem or think of themselves as valuable--that's how you end up with your Mel Gibsons.

Batocchio said...

I should have emphasized that when you take Brooks' view--children should not be taught self-esteem or think of themselves as valuable--that's how you end up with your Mel Gibsons.

Yeah, that sums it up nicely. But that's also why there are updates, and future posts, and comment threads...

You're right, Brooks is going much further than just show biz. I'm just thinking of the actors/actresses I've known, worked with, or (cough) dated... Some are lovely people, others can be great in particular settings but tread with caution, and there's a certain stereotype that's laughably accurate. Even if they go into something else, like social work, legal work or teaching, the same patterns remain – less so if they have kids. But the work (at least a certain style) can require a sometimes precarious mix of ego and insecurity.

There's a Big Bang Theory episode where Penny meets Leonard's mother in the lobby, and it comes out that Penny is a waitress and aspiring actress:

Dr. Beverly Hofstadter: There have been studies suggesting that many who into the performing arts suffer from an external locus of identity.

Penny: Yeah, I don't know what that means.

Beverly: It means you value yourselves only as other value you. Which is often the result of un-met childhood emotional needs.

Penny: (weakly) I had a wonderful childhood.

Beverly: Tell me about it.

Penny is in tears by the time they get upstairs.

Substance McGravitas said...

Let us enter, you and I, into the moral universe of the modern narcissist.

You're soaking in it!