Category Archives: narcissism

Inside the mind of the amok-killer

In Winnenden, near Stuttgart, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer went on a shooting spree at a school and then a car showroom, killing 15. He had said before the atrocity:

I’m fed up. I’ve had enough of this meaningless life, which is always the same. Everyone ignores me, no one recognises my potential.

Dalrymple comments:

This reeks of resentful, narcissistic grandiosity, the result of an imperative to be an individual at a time when individuation is more difficult than ever.

The vice of self-congratulation

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To give a child lessons in moral narcissism is a dismal thing to do

Dalrymple explains that he is

allergic to the use of children for the dissemination of political messages. I think it is a form of child abuse. Poor old Kant would turn in his grave.

Dalrymple notices a newspaper photo of a girl of about 8 holding up a banner at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., with I am kind, smart and important on it. The words, he says, are

thoroughly odious.

We teach self-congratulation early, he notes,

and far from learning that self-praise is no praise, children are taught that self-praise is the highest form. The object is to prevent that most frightful and damaging of psychological conditions, lack of self-esteem. From being insufficiently puffed-up about oneself all kinds of dire consequences flow, from repeatedly choosing the wrong mate to failure to progress in one’s career.

But Dalrymple points out that self-esteem is

an unpleasant quality, akin to conceit. Some of the most unpleasant people I have known were full of it, and it is perfectly possible for people to behave like monsters and have a very high conception of themselves. Self-esteem is dangerous as a positive invitation to appalling behavior, insofar as it is not derived from any effort, achievement, or good conduct, but is self-awarded as an inalienable right.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-20-24-27Does anyone, he asks,

who is kind and clever hold up a banner to the effect that he is kind and clever? A person who went round proclaiming, ‘I am important, I am important’ would seem to us either pathetic, as if he were whistling in the wind of his insignificance, or, if he used his supposed importance to push his way to the front of a queue, say, in order to be served before everyone else, very unpleasant indeed.

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On 30 March, 1933, Victor Klemperer noticed a children’s ball in a toyshop inscribed with a swastika

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Dalrymple is allergic to the use of children for the dissemination of political messages

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It is a form of child abuse. Kant would turn in his grave

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Trash-turned-terrorist

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-09-52-10Fethi Benslama practises, Dalrymple explains,

in one of the areas of Paris most notorious for raising Muslim terrorists, and offers various explanatory factors that operate on the would-be bomber or jihadist, particularly those brought up in the West.

For Benslama,

adolescence (and young adulthood) is not so much the age of idealism as of narcissism, self-importance and grandiosity.

Benslama writes:

To the young who lack self-esteem, who have the feeling of worthlessness, of ‘being a piece of rubbish’, as one of them put it to me, [jihadism] gives not only the recognition of having suffered a prejudice, but of being an elect of God, unbeknown to himself and others. To comply with this destiny, he must inspire respect and fear, become a missionary for the cause, a hero before whom the gates of glory are opened. He can make his own justice, he is authorised to be above the law in the name of God’s superior law. The ‘piece of rubbish’ becomes formidable. He must make himself fearsome and feared in his own family. A father said to me, ‘My son has become my father, he lays down the Islamic moral law for me.’

Dead-tree legacy media

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The Paris newspaper Libération: aimed at ageing bourgeois bohemians of left-wing persuasion, many of them with ponytails

Dalrymple knows no young person who reads a newspaper. And those few newspapers which survive, thanks to (rapidly dwindling) sales to older readers,

more and more resemble magazines.

He notes that with modern technology, newspapers

can hardly any longer be the first to break news.

As their circulations slump and journalists are sacked in large numbers, newspapers

cannot do much investigative journalism, either.

All that is left to newspapers, Dalrymple points out, is

  • gossip about celebrities
  • explanations of the obvious
  • speculation about the future based on what has happened in the recent past
  • drivel about sport
  • articles catering to modern man’s fathomless narcissism

Houellebecq’s protest against nihilism and cynicism

A salutary though uncomfortable writer

A salutary though uncomfortable writer

Michel Houellebecq, writes Dalrymple, draws our attention to our own weaknesses. His theme is

the emptiness of modern life in consumer society, an emptiness which he describes with an unparalleled acuteness. He puts his finger precisely on the sore points of our existence, or at least on those points that seem merely anæsthetised until someone like him presses on them.

In Houellebecq’s world, Dalrymple explains, people

  • buy without need
  • want without real desire
  • distract themselves without enjoyment

Their shallow personal relations reflect this.

No one is prepared to sacrifice his or her freedom, which is conceived of as the ability to seek the next distraction without let or hindrance from obligation to others. They are committed to nothing, and in such a world even art or cultural activity is distraction on a marginally higher plane – though it is a natural law in this kind of society that the planes grow ever more compressed.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 21.49.28For Houellebecq, the institution that best captures the nature of modern existence is the supermarket, in which

people wander between stacked shelves making choices without discrimination or any real consequences, to the sound of banal but inescapable music. This music is like the leprous distilment that Claudius pours into the ear of Hamlet père as he sleeps in his garden once of an afternoon. The shoppers in the supermarket are sleepwalking, or behaving as quasi-automata. Most of them don’t even have a list of what they need, or think they need. The drivelling music makes sure that they do not awake from their semi-slumber.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 22.00.34The whole of modern life is an existential supermarket,

in which everyone makes life choices as if the choices were between very similar products, between Bonne Maman jam, say, and the supermarket’s own brand (probably made by the same manufacturer), in the belief that if they make the wrong choice it can simply be righted tomorrow by another choice. Life is but a series of moments and people are elementary particles (the title of a book by Houellebecq).

One knows what Houellebecq means, says Dalrymple, who observes that

  • children are now adults and adults children
  • once-serious newspapers review cartoon strips with the same solemnity as works of scholarship
  • rock music is reviewed far more than any other, even though the average age of the population has risen and there are as many geriatrics as infants
  • relationships between human beings are analysed for their ingredients as if they were ready-made salad dressings

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 21.52.23If, says Dalrymple, you watch crowds shopping in any consumer society,

you cannot help but think that they represent the sated in search of the superfluous. I once spent an afternoon watching shoppers – mainly women – in Beverly Hills, who almost certainly had all the possessions anyone could reasonably desire, and who exuded a kind of bored dissatisfaction with everything that they no doubt mistook for sophistication. They had not that connoisseurship that is the only justification for searching for yet more possessions when one is already overloaded with them, for connoisseurship requires discipline and knowledge and not just the exercise of whim to ward off boredom.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 21.56.12The decline of the West into narcissistic consumerist nihilism

is, according to Houellebecq, not of recent date, if by recent date one means a decade or two. For example, the novel Plateforme begins with the narrator and protagonist in the flat of his recently dead father who was in his seventies when he died:

In the kitchen cupboards I found mainly Weight Watchers’ individual packet meals, tins of flavoured protein, and energy bars.

This disgusting diet was, of course, in pursuit of fitness and longevity, futile in the event, and a very undignified way of dealing with Man’s mortality.

Finding in another room his deceased father’s exercise and bodybuilding machine, the narrator says:

I rapidly saw in my mind’s eye a cretin in shorts – with a wrinkled face, in other respects very like mine – swelling his pectorals with a hopeless energy.

This, writes Dalrymple,

is a succinct and painfully exact delineation of a generation that refused to believe that it would ever age, which believed in nothing but sensual pleasure and laughed at religious consolation. In a few very painful lines, the author portrays the dénouement of such a life.

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Der Amok-Pilot: eine sehr moderne Geschichte

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 08.16.34Dalrymple writes that Andreas Lubitz

was not depressed, he was of bad character, for the improvement of which there is no drug. He was an angry narcissist, murderous at least as much as he was suicidal.

Suffering reverses in life, Lubitz

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 23.18.38sought revenge on what he thought was an unjust world.

Many people like him who commit suicide, or try to,

imagine a continued shadowy existence after their deaths in which they are able to witness the doleful effects that their death has had on others, and they enjoy the prospect. He didn’t want to slip away quietly, he wanted fame, even if it were only notoriety.

If he had killed himself

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 23.05.48by jumping from a building, say, which requires no more courage than crashing an aëroplane, no one would have heard of him.

But now,

after crashing his aëroplane, everyone has heard of him. The 149 people were sacrificed to his wounded vanity and his desire for fame.

Lubitz

was treated as if he were ill, thereby disguising from him his own responsibility for his state of mind.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 23.20.00He was

a narcissist whose sorrows and failures made him vengeful and murderous as well as suicidal. He thirsted for fame, though he had no achievements that entitled him to it, and he was willing to sacrifice 149 others to achieve it.

And he was prescribed

useless drugs that possibly contributed to his aggression.

Amok, according to a recent account, 'is found almost exclusively in men between the ages of 20 and 40. The incidents are characterised by frenzied attacks with kris, pedang or lembing. The assaults are often directed at family members or friends, then extended indiscriminately to others. Whether or not preceded by unusual behaviours (depression, brooding, sakit hati), amok occurs as a sudden outburst resembling a hyperstartle reaction, and amok-runners typically declare amnesia for the duration of the incident. The majority of amok-runners are killed during attempts by others to restrain the murderous rampages; those taken alive may be subjected to execution, imprisonment or institutionalisation in a psychiatric facility.' Sir Hugh Clifford, British Resident in Pahang (1896-1900 and 1901-03), described it as follows: 'Much has been written concerning the acts of homicidal mania called amok, which word in the vernacular means to attack. It was formerly believed that these outbursts were to be attributed to madness pur et simple, and some cases of amok can certainly be traced to this source. These are not, however, in any sense typical, and might equally have been perpetrated by men of another race. The typical amok is usually the result of circumstances which render a Malay desperate. The motive is often inadequate from the point of view of a European, but to the Malay it is sufficient to make him weary of life and anxious to court death. Briefly, where a man of another race might not improbably commit suicide, a Malay runs amok, killing all whom he may meet until he himself is slain.’

Amok, according to a recent account, ‘is found almost exclusively in men between the ages of 20 and 40. The incidents are characterised by frenzied attacks with kris, pedang or lembing. The assaults are often directed at family members or friends, then extended indiscriminately to others. Whether or not preceded by unusual behaviours (depression, brooding, sakit hati), amok occurs as a sudden outburst resembling a hyperstartle reaction, and amok-runners typically declare amnesia for the duration of the incident. The majority of amok-runners are killed during attempts by others to restrain the murderous rampages; those taken alive may be subjected to execution, imprisonment or institutionalisation in a psychiatric facility.’ Sir Hugh Clifford, British Resident in Pahang (1896-1900 and 1901-03), described it as follows: ‘Much has been written concerning the acts of homicidal mania called amok, which word in the vernacular means to attack. It was formerly believed that these outbursts were to be attributed to madness pur et simple, and some cases of amok can certainly be traced to this source. These are not, however, in any sense typical, and might equally have been perpetrated by men of another race. The typical amok is usually the result of circumstances which render a Malay desperate. The motive is often inadequate from the point of view of a European, but to the Malay it is sufficient to make him weary of life and anxious to court death. Briefly, where a man of another race might not improbably commit suicide, a Malay runs amok, killing all whom he may meet until he himself is slain.’

The amok-pilots

February 1982: amok-pilot Seiji Katagiri forces  Japan Airlines flight 350 to crash into Tokyo Bay. 24 deaths

February 1982: amok-pilot Seiji Katagiri forces Japan Airlines flight 350 to crash into Tokyo Bay. Diagnosis: insanity

Amok-pilot Andreas Lubitz forces Germanwings flight 9525 to crash into the French Alps

March 2015: amok-pilot Andreas Lubitz forces Germanwings flight 9525 to crash into the French Alps. Dalrymple’s diagnosis: wounded narcissism and chagrin d’amour

A little more stigma, please

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 19.44.37It would have saved the lives snuffed out by this amok-pilot

Andreas Lubitz’s problem, writes Dalrymple, was

one of character rather than of illness.

He was a narcissist whose enthusiasm for fitness was

not for fitness for any end other than a purely self-regarding one. The picture of him out running, pouting as if engaged on something serious and staring ahead with earphones in his ears to exclude the outer world from obtruding on him in his self-absorbed bubble, suggested a man more than usually self-centred.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 17.37.28He is reported to have been

determined to make more of a mark in the world than his native talents would permit, reducing him to the necessity of doing something terrible to catch the attention of the world that he so craved, and no doubt felt that he deserved. For narcissists, anonymity is the worst of fates.

Dalrymple says he cannot help but think that Western culture

is propitious to the promotion of narcissism of the type that I suspect that Lubitz suffered from — or made others suffer from.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 17.36.37Psychiatry

will never make the likes of Lubitz whole. We shall never be putty in technicians’ hands. That is not the same as saying that he should have been allowed to fly aëroplanes. A little more stigma and prejudice would have saved the 149 lives he so egotistically snuffed out.

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