Narcissism versus Sadism
- The tendency to derive pleasure, esp. sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others
- (in general use) Deliberate cruelty
It should come as no surprise that the vindictive nature of the narcissist features sadistic streaks. Although less specific, Fromm does suggest a generative route leading to the formation of the sadistic personality that is reminiscent of the one leading to the narcissistic personality as mentioned in the section What Brings the Narcissist into Existence:
“Individual factors enhancing sadism are all those conditions that tend to make the child or the grown-up feel empty and impotent (a non-sadistic child may become a sadistic adolescent or adult if new circumstances occur). Among such conditions are those that produce fright, such as terroristic punishment. By this I mean the kind of punishment that is not strictly limited in intensity, related to specific and stated misbehaviour, but that is arbitrary, fed by the punisher’s sadism, and of fright-producing intensity. Depending on the temperament of the child, the fear of such punishment can become a dominant motive in his life, his sense of integrity may be slowly broken down, his self-respect lowered, and eventually he may have betrayed himself so often that he has no more sense of identity, that he is no longer ‘he’.” (Fromm; p. 397)
Note the similarity between the shaming but unsoothing parent of Hotchkiss with the sadistic punisher of Fromm. The only difference being that Hotchkiss refers to the shaming of specific undesired behavior while Fromm refers to unspecific punishment meted out at the sadist’s whim. But this is nonetheless just a quantitative rather than a qualitative difference since its function is the same: humiliation and propagation of shame; it has a destructive- rather than constructive psychological effect. As such, since they share the same generative mechanism, one may expect a certain comorbity to exist between sadism and narcissism. That is, where either narcissism or sadism is found in a person, the other psychopathology is likely to be present too.
But Fromm offers another generative route towards sadism, one that is consequential to chronic boredom and lethargy:
“The other condition for the generation of vital powerlessness is a situation of psychic scarcity. If there is no stimulation, nothing that awakens the faculties of a child, if there is an atmosphere of dullness and joylessness, the child freezes up; there is nothing upon which he can make a dent, nobody who responds or even listens, the child is left with a sense of powerlessness and impotence. Such a powerlessness does not necessarily result in the formation of the sadistic character; whether or not it does, depends on many other factors. Yet it is one of the main sources that contribute to the development of sadism, both individually and socially.” (Fromm; p. 397)
It is interesting to speculate on what may cause boredom. If one is envious of someone doing some sort of activity, rather than using this unhappy feeling as a motive to try and improve one’s own ability in that activity, a lazy approach is to try and depress or deny those feelings of envy. The envious person may go ahead and look for reasons to condemn and disqualify the activity and as such simply render it unworthy of being envied any longer.
While this strategy may succeed in reducing envy, the great disadvantage is of course that none of the activities that have been previously condemned can now be pursued; if they were, then the person would have to deal with the psychological tension belonging to hypocrisy and even self-hatred. And so the more a person condemns different types of activity, whether driven by envy or not, the more he limits the spectrum of possible activities he could enjoy and so the greater the risk of boredom becomes. Boredom basically is a state of depression of general motivation and may very well be brought on by a lazy man’s response to envy. Also note that the narcissist runs the risk of developing boredom via this route; he too has a condemnatory character.
To Fromm a sense of powerlessness is necessary for the development of sadism. A few pages back he elaborates on his preferred definition of sadism:
“Sadism is one of the answers to the problem of being born human when better ones are not attainable. The experience of absolute control over another being, of omnipotence as far as he, she, or it is concerned, creates the illusion of transcending the limitations oh human existence, particularly for one whose real life is deprived of productivity and joy. Sadism has essentially no practical aim; it is not ‘trivial’ but ‘devotional’. It is transformation of impotence into the experience of omnipotence; it is the religion of psychical cripples.” (Fromm; p. 386)
“For the sadistic character everything living is to be controllable; living beings become things. Or, still more accurately, living beings are transformed into living, quivering, pulsating objects of control. Their responses are forced by the one who controls them. The sadist wants to become the master of life, and hence the quality of life should be maintained in his victim. This is, in fact, what distinguishes him from the destroying person. The destroyer wants to do away with a person, to eliminate him, to destroy life itself; the sadist wants the sensation of controlling and choking life.
Another trait of the sadist is that he is stimulated only by the helpless, never by those who are strong. It does not cause any sadistic pleasure, for instance, to inflict a wound on an enemy in a fight between equals, because in this situation the infliction of the wound is not an expression of control. For the sadistic character there is only one admirable quality, and that is power. He admires, loves, and submits to those who have power, and he despises and wants to control those who are powerless and cannot fight back.
The sadistic character is afraid of everything that is not certain and predictable, that offers surprises which would force him to spontaneous and original reactions. For this reason, he is afraid of life. Life frightens him precisely because it is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. It is structured but it is not orderly; there is only one certainty in life: that all men die. Love is equally uncertain. To be loved requires a capacity to be loving oneself, to arouse love, and it implies always a risk of rejection and failure. This is why the sadistic character can ‘love’ only when he controls, i.e., when he has power over the object of his love. The sadistic character is usually xenophobic and neophobic — one who is strange constitutes newness, and what is new arouses fear, suspicion, and dislike, because a spontaneous, alive, and not-routinized response would be required.
Another element in the syndrome is the submissiveness and cowardice of the sadist. It may sound like a contradiction that the sadist is a submissive person, and yet not only is it not a contradiction — it is dynamically speaking, a necessity. He is sadistic because he feels impotent, unalive, and powerless. He tries to compensate for this lack by having power over others, by transforming the worm he feels himself to be into a god. But even the sadist who has power suffers from his human impotence. He may kill and torture, but he remains a loveless, isolated, frightened person in need of a higher power to whom he can submit. For those one step below Hitler, the Fuehrer was his highest power; for Hitler himself, it was Fate, the laws of Evolution.”
But again these are also all properties of the narcissist. Like Fromm’s sadist, i.e. the person who possesses “the passion for unlimited, godlike control over men and things” (Fromm; p.226), the narcissist too “loves” (in a practical sense this translates to: tolerating and accepting) only that which perfectly mirrors his will. Anything short of his picky demands is worthy of condemnation at best, and downright bloody persecution at worst. Things that do not mirror the narcissist’s self-image are worthy of his wrath as they range from being perceived to be annoying all the way up to being regarded as threatening. Spontaneous unguided acts are unpredictable and may end up shaming the narcissist and since this prospect is unbearable, no stone should be left unturned at trying to prevent actions that are beyond his control and will. Or alternatively, the narcissist may use the failure of the satisfaction of his will as an excuse to shame the ones he holds responsible, which essentially is a main defining function of sadism. Hence it seems warranted to assume that, for all practical purposes, the sadist and the narcissist are identical.
Although it should be noted that not all sadists go around reveling subjecting others to physical torture. It is key to keep in mind that the sadist enjoys seeing other people suffer, and suffering does not have to be limited to the infliction of physical suffering but may also include mental or emotional suffering (e.g. verbal abuse). Also the sadist need not be directly responsible for the inflicting of the suffering but may use proxies if he has the necessary power (e.g.political sadists such as dictators).
Regarding self-assertive aggression, the type of aggression normal healthy non-sadistic people have in order to achieve objectives of whatever kind, minor or major, Fromm comments:
“The person with an unimpeded self-assertive aggression tends, in general, to be less hostile in a defensive sense than the person whose self-assertion is defective. This holds true both for defensive aggression and for malignant aggression like sadism. The reasons for this are easy to see. As to the first, defensive aggression is a response to a threat. The person with unimpeded self-assertive aggression feels less easily threatened and, hence, is less readily in a position of having to react with aggression. The sadistic person is sadistic because he is suffering from an impotence of the heart, from the incapacity to move the other, to make him respond, to make oneself a loved person. He compensates for that impotence with the passion to have power over others. Since self-assertive aggression enhances the person’s capacity for achieving his aims, its possession greatly diminishes the need for sadistic control.” (Fromm; p. 263, 264)
In order to make sense of Fromm’s quote, this “incapacity to move the other” should be interpreted as the narcissist/sadist having the mindset of someone who presumes he cannot make, or fears that he cannot make, the other “move” on a voluntary basis (i.e. by asking) and so he sees himself obliged to resort to compulsion and manipulation. The use of power does provide one with the “capacity to move the other”, albeit of an involuntary kind. I suspect that the reason why a narcissist/sadist is incapable of loving a person, “impotence of the heart” as Fromm calls it, is that the closer a person gets to him the more damage they can do by way of shaming. And therefore intimacy is an inherent liability to the narcissist. He cannot genuinely and deeply love another person because consciously or unconsciously he registers it as being too dangerous. I previously raised this issue in section The Soothing versus the Shaming Inner Parent.
“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn’t know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.” (Page 401, 1953 Penguin Edition, trans. Margaret R.B. Shaw). Wikipedia
Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism
The full implications of the adoption of a superior self-image together, account for all of what Sandy Hotchkiss calls the seven deadly sins of narcissism and succinctly capture the essence of the narcissist in a phenomenological sense. The narcissist has never learned to deal with shame, and it is therefore considered intolerable and worthy of avoidance, cost what it may. The first sin, shamelessness, is a direct consequence of seeking to deny acts that would normally shame normal people. Hotchkiss writes:
“In the Narcissist, shame is so intolerable that the means have been developed not to experience it at all. What psychologists call ‘by-passed shame’ looks like shamelessness or the absence of a conscience, hiding behind a protective barrier of denial, coldness, blame or rage. Since there are no healthy internal mechanisms available to process this painful feeling, the shame is directed outward, away from the Self. It can never be ‘my fault.'” (Hotchkiss; p 5,6)
The second, magical thinking, automatically comes with the delusional mindset of the narcissist, also responsible for the adoption of an inflated self-image grounded in wishful thinking and fiction. Magical thinking serves to distort reality and to smoothen its harshness into a more palatable semblance. The loftiness and boldness of the self-image is naturally accompanied by arrogance and a sense of entitlement — the third- and fifth sin, respectively — although any self-esteem derived from the self-image remains fragile as it is fragile itself by being vulnerable to sudden deflation on occasions at which the shaming inner parentis invoked. Hotchkiss writes:
“If they are feeling deflated, they can reinflate themselves by diminishing, debasing, or degrading someone else. This is the reason why Narcissists are often bossy, judgmental, perfectionistic, and power-hungry. They are simply are trying to secure the kind of status that will afford them the most distance from the taint of personal defect and shame. If their balloon gets torn by the ill winds of life, they can repair themselves by showing someone else to be inferior.” (Hotchkiss; p. 11)
Unfortunately, putting people down does come with a psychological cost: it creates conscience debt. You may get yourself pumped yourself up, whether you put someone down in their presence or absence, but your hostility forces you to prepare for retaliatory action, revenge coming from the insulted party. This of course, is not a healthy means to inflate yourself as it is fear-based. And the more you practice it, the more you’ll get stranded in fear and ultimately paranoia as your conscience debt piles up, expecting more and more retaliation coming from an ever increasing number of people who have been disadvantaged by your arrogant demeanor. In order to avoid confrontation with the people you’ve put down or condemned, you limit your freedom of mobility. It’s again the same mechanism that contributes to the risk of experiencing chronic boredom (and self-hatred), something that Fromm blames for the development of sadism.
Although the purpose of the narcissist is to inspire awe and envy through hoisting his aggrandized self-image high up in the proverbial sky — which is about the ultimate act of defiance and arrogance, BTW — it should be reminded that, to begin with, he is propelled by envy himself; thus bringing us to the fourth sin. Indeed, he is extremely envy-sensitive for the goodies and traits other people have, and as such unwittingly challenge his superiority, a threat which he then in turn tries to neutralize with scorn and contempt — which is functionally the same as arrogance as it too works to depreciate the object of contempt.
Regarding the fifth sin, entitlement, Hotchkiss writes:
“Whether overwhelmed with shame or artificially protected from it, children whose infantile fantasies are not gradually transformed into a more balanced view of themselves in relation to others never get over the belief that they are the center of the universe. Such children may become self-absorbed ‘entitlement monsters,’ socially inept and incapable of the small sacrifices of Self that allow for reciprocity in personal relationships. The undeflated child turns into an arrogant adult who expects others to serve as constant mirrors of his or her wonderfulness. In positions of power, they can be egotistical tyrants who will have their way without regard for anyone else.” (Hotchkiss; p. 21)
Self-confessed self-aware narcissist Sam Vaknin writes:
“Narcissists are angry men – but not because they never experienced love and probably never will. They are angry because they are not as powerful, awe inspiring and successful as they wish they were and, to their mind, deserve to be.” Narcissists and Women – Sam Vaknin
Since the narcissist can only bring himself to be “loving” whenever things perfectly mirror his own demands and preferences, it is only logical to expect that the narcissist naturally tends to gravitate to positions of power. The more power the narcissist has the more he will be able to control the circumstances to his own liking and the less frequent menacing imperfect reflections of his will are presented to him.
“Ns install a mental filter in our heads a little bit at a time. Before we know it, everything we do, say, or think, goes through this filter. ‘Will he get upset if I do/say/think this? Will he approve/disapprove? Will he feel hurt by this?’ Until we can uninstall the N-filter, our actions are controlled by N to some degree.” NPDQuotes
“Empathy will not develop, however, unless the child achieves a separate sense of Self and the capacity to tolerate a range of emotions, including shame. Bypassed shame — the shame that narcissistic people so deeply suppress that it remains beneath conscious awareness — stunts the growth of empathy. Without empathy, people have difficulty controlling aggressive impulses. Driven by shame[lessness] and prone to rage and aggression, the Narcissist never develops the capacity to identify with or even to recognize the feelings and needs of others. This is a person who, in terms of emotional development, got stuck around the age of one to two. Others are not seen as separate entities but rather as extensions of Self, there to do the Narcissist’s bidding. This, along with an underdeveloped conscience, tends to make them interpersonally exploitative.” (Hotchkiss; p. 24)
Since other people are viewed as extensions of the Self, to be subjected to the whim of the narcissist, there is no reason why he should respect their individuality or persons who possess inviolable boundaries. The narcissist does not recognize the boundaries between his own person and that of other people. Observing bad boundaries is the seventh and final narcissistic sin that Hotchkiss mentions. She writes:
“Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who offer the possibility of some sort of gratification will be treated as if they are a part of the Narcissist and will be expected, automatically, to live up to that person’s expectations. In the mind of a Narcissist, there is no boundary between Self and other.” (Hotchkiss; p. 28)
In the mind of the narcissist the personhood of other people factually do not exist. For all practical purposes he views them as self-animating objects whose motility may or may not be co-opted to his service.
“Death is no longer symbolically expressed by unpleasant-smelling feces or corpses. Its symbols are now clean, shining machines… But the reality behind this antiseptic facade becomes increasingly visible. Man, in the name of progress, is transforming the world into a stinking and poisonous place… He pollutes the air, the water, the soil, the animals – and himself. He is doing this to a degree that has made it doubtful whether the earth will still be livable within a hundred years from now.” (Fromm; p. 465, 466)
Narcissism versus Necrophilia
The above quote illustrates a more general kind of necrophilia, love of death, to be distinguished from a more specialized sense of the word, love of the dead:
“The term ‘necrophilia’, love of the dead, has been applied generally only to two kinds of phenomena: (1) sexual necrophilia, a man’s desire to have sexual intercourse or any other kind of sexual contact with a female corpse, and (2) non-sexual necrophilia, the desire to handle, to be near to, and to gaze at corpses, and particularly the desire to dismember them. But the term has generally not been applied to a character-rooted passion, the soil in which its more overt and cruder manifestation grows.” (Fromm; p.433)
We will follow Fromm and focus on the character-rooted “soil” of necrophilia. Rather than concentrating on people literally loving corpses we will focus on people loving death or, more generally still, loving unaliveness and how it relates to narcissism. The resemblance with narcissism can already be gleaned from this wider meaning:
“Necrophilia in the characterological sense can be described as the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures.” (Fromm; p.441)
First of all, the necrophile’s penchant to “destroy for the sake of destruction” can easily be read as the ultimate form of punishment, capital punishment in fact. This punitive character is what the necrophile and the narcissist have in common, the latter too is driven by a vindictive and destructive character.
Secondly, “the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical” is one that is naturally favored by the narcissist as well. Indeed, his interpretation of the world around him is based on the shallow notion that people, or living beings in general, are self-animating objects which are either under his control to cater to his needs and desires, or discarded or ignored if they fail to that end. What better measure of control if those “objects” are controlled directly by the will of the narcissist?
In a mechanical world, the narcissist has the fullest ability to see service of his will. While in infancy his mother served as an extension of his will, a stage of development Freud called Primary Narcissism, a selection of blindly obedient and ungrudging robots and machinery could perhaps ideally substitute for the narcissist’s Mother Dearest.
Fromm goes on to discuss the appearance of necrophilia in dreams. “The attraction to what is dead and putrid”, he writes, “can be observed most clearly in the dreams of necrophilous persons. ” (Fromm; p.441) As he mentions several dream events, one struck me as being of particular interest in relation to this treatment of narcissism:
“Dream 5. ‘I have made a great invention, the super-destroyer. It is a machine which, if one secret button is pushed that I alone know, can destroy all life in North America within the first hour, and within the next hour all life on earth. I alone, knowing the formula of the chemical substance, can protect myself. (Next scene.) I have pushed the button: I notice no more life, I am alone, I feel exuberant.’ This dream is an expression of pure destructiveness in an extremely narcissistic person, unrelated to others and with no need of anyone. This was a recurrent dream with this person, together with other necrophilous dreams. He was suffering from severe mental illness.” (Fromm; p.445)
The necrophile glorifies violence and like the narcissist, he lives in a perpetual state of warlike emergency, unable to relate to his fellow human being in a compassionate manner:
“Another manifestation of the necrophilous character is the conviction that the only way to solve a problem or a conflict is by force and violence. The question involved is not whether force should be used under certain circumstances; what is characteristic for a necrophile is that force — as Simone Weil said, ‘the power to transform a man into a corpse’ — is the first and last solution for everything; that the Gordian Knot must always be cut and never dissolved patiently. Basically, these persons’ answer to life’s problems is destruction, never sympathetic effort, construction, for example. … Motivated by this impulse they usually fail to see other options that require no destruction, nor do they recognise how futile has force often proven to be in the long run.” (Fromm; p.449)
Worship of Technique
Indeed, no less than an unabashed promotion of the irrational “worship of speed and the machine” can be found in the works of a prominent Italian Fascist, named F.T. Marinetti:
“The overt connection between destruction and the worship of technique found its explicit and eloquent expression in F.T. Marinetti, the founder and leader of Italian Futurism and a lifelong Fascist. His first Futurist Manifesto (1909) proclaims the ideals that were to find their full realization in National Socialism and in the methods used in warfare beginning with the Second World War. …
1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness. […] 7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. […] 9. We will glorify war — the world’s only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman. 10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice. 11. … deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd. (R.W. Flint, 1971)
Here we see the essential elements of necrophilia; worship of speed and the machine; glorification of war; destruction of culture; hate against women; locomotives and aeroplanes as living forces.” “The second Futurist Manifesto (1916) develops the idea of the religion of speed:
Speed, having as its essence the intuitive synthesis of every force in movement, is naturally pure. Slowness, having as its essence the rational analysis of every exhaustion in repose, is naturally unclean. After the destruction of the antique good and the antique evil, we create a new good, speed and a new evil, slowness. Speed = synthesis of every courage in action. Aggressive and warlike. Slowness = analysis of every stagnant prudence. Passive and pacifistic….(R.W. Flint, 1971)
It has been said that Marinetti was a revolutionary, that he broke with the past, that he opened the doors to a vision of a new world of Nietzschean supermen, that together with Picasso and Apollinaire, he was one of the most important forces in modern art. Let me answer that his revolutionary ideas place him close to Mussolini, and still closer to Hitler. It is precisely this blending of rhetorical professions of a revolutionary spirit, the worship of technique, and the aims of destruction that characterize Nazism.” [emphasis mine] (Fromm; p.457-459)
Again, the desire for control or satisfaction of will, expressed in the control over machinery, and the glorification of speed, an emphasis on destruction and war are all traits that are also shared by the vindictive mind of the narcissist. The worship of speed (factual rashness and irrationality) and the condemnation of slowness (representing deliberation and rationality), is synonymous to a craving for all stimuli that bring exhilaration and excitement and a loathing for all those that bring agitation and depression; it is essentially the identity of the addict, much like the narcissist who is also animated by a rash and warlike character, i.e. fueled forward by the stream of adulation from others.
The connection of technicalization of society and necrophilia became particularly apparent at around WWII:
“The fusion of technique and destructiveness was not yet visible in the First World War. There was little destruction by planes, and the tank was only a further evolution of traditional weapons. The Second World War brought about a decisive change: the use of the aeroplane for mass killing. The men dropping the bombs were hardly aware that they were killing or burning to death thousands of human beings in a few minutes. The aircrews were a team; one man piloted the plane, another navigated it, another dropped the bombs. They were not concerned with killing and were hardly aware of an enemy. They were concerned with the proper handling of their complicated machine along the lines laid down in meticulously organized plans. That as the result of their acts many thousands, and sometimes over a hundred thousand people, would be killed, burnt, and maimed was of course known to them cerebrally, but hardly comprehended affectively; it was, paradoxically as this may sound, none of their concern. It is probably for this reason that they — or at least most of them — did not feel guilty for acts that belong to the most horrible a human being can perform.” (Fromm; p.460)
In short, by using machines, the act of killing becomes more and more an exercise of anonymity and more and more depersonalized (by way of being more and more remote controlled) and as such any possible obstructive conscientious reservations become less and less significant.
With this “technicalization of destructiveness”, as Fromm calls it, comes
“the removal of the full affective recognition of what one is doing. Once this process has been fully established there is no limit to destructiveness because nobody destroys: one only serves the machine for programmed — hence, apparently rational — purposes.” (Fromm; p. 462)
Hence this increasing mechanization of warfare, at the expense of obstructive human affective sentiments, enables the narcissistic leaders of war to see to it that their will gets to be more rigorously implemented. As such, they are able to enjoy a higher accuracy of seeing their mirror image reflected by a world they seek to create. The preferred tool of the narcissistic necrophile is destruction and the progressive replacement of living breathing beings–guided by a relatively uncontrollable and potentially resistive will–by mechanical contraptions that are completely devoid of initiative and will. His ultimate wet dream has to be to command a perfectly controllable purely robotized mechanical world.
Hence it should come as little surprise that of all the character types addressed by him, Fromm acknowledges the necrophile to be the most narcissistic:
“Freud and his co-workers … discovered that sadism was often a by-product of the anal character. This is not always the case but it occurs in those people who are most hostile and more narcissistic than the average hoarding character. But even the sadists are still with others; they want to control, but not to destroy them. Those in whom even this perverse kind of relatedness is lacking, who are still more narcissistic and more hostile, are the necrophiles. Their aim is to transform all that is alive into dead matter; they want to destroy everything and everybody, often even themselves; their enemy is life itself.” (Fromm; p. 463)
New Character Types
Commenting on the most recent times (early 70s at the time of writing), Fromm mentions the existence of a new type of character arriving on the scene. This “character of the new type of man does not seem to fit into any of the older categories”, he writes, “such as the oral, anal, or genital characters. I have tried to understand this new type as a ‘marketing character'” (E. Fromm, 1947). He writes:
“For the marketing character everything is transformed into a commodity not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles. This character type is a historically new phenomenon because it is the product of a fully developed capitalism that is centred around the market — the commodity market, the labour market, and the personality market — and whose principle it is to make a profit by favourable exchange. The anal character, like the oral or genital, belongs to a period before total alienation has fully developed. These character types are possible as long as there is real sensuous experience of one’s body, its functions, and its products. Cybernetic man is so alienated that he experiences his body only as an instrument for success. His body must look youthful and healthy; it is experienced narcissistically as a most precious asset on the personality market.”[emphasis mine] (Fromm; p. 464, 465)
This cybernetic character
“turns his interest away from life, persons, nature, ideas — in short from everything that is alive; he transforms all life into things, including himself and the manifestations of his human faculties of reason, seeing, hearing, tasting, loving. Sexuality becomes a technical skill (the ‘love machine’), feelings are flattened and sometimes substituted for by sentimentality; joy, the expression of intense aliveness, is replaced by ‘fun’ or excitement; and whatever love and tenderness man has is directed towards machines and gadgets. The world becomes a sum of lifeless artifacts; from synthetic food to synthetic organs, the whole man becomes part of the total machinery that he controls and is simultaneously controlled by. He has no plan, no goal for life, except doing what the logic of technique determines him to do. He aspires to make robots as one of the greatest achievements of his technical mind, and some specialists assure us that the robot will hardly be distinguished from living men. This achievement will not seem so astonishing when man himself is hardly indistinguishable from a robot.” (Fromm; p. 465)
“The cybernetic man is almost exclusively cerebrally oriented: he is a monocerebral man. His approach to the whole world around him — and to himself — is intellectual; he wants to know what things are, how they function, and how they can be constructed or manipulated. This approach was fostered by science, and it has become dominant since the end of the Middle Ages. It is the very essence of modern progress, the basis of the technical domination of the world and of mass consumption.” (Fromm; p. 467)
“The monocerebral man is characterized”, Fromm writes,
“by special kind of narcissism that has as its object himself — his body and his skill — in brief, himself as an instrument of success. The monocerebral man is so much part of the machinery that he has built, that his machines are just as much the object of his narcissism as he is himself; in fact, between the two exists a kind of symbiotic relationship: ‘the union of one individual self with another self (or any other power outside of the own self) in such a way as to make each lose the integrity of its own self and to make them dependent on each other’ (E. Fromm, 1941). In a symbolic sense it is not nature any more that is man’s mother but the ‘second nature’ he has built, the machines that nourish and protect him.” (Fromm; p. 468, 469)
By seeking to merge with machine, man effectively surrenders (part of) his free will in order to meet a closer approximation of some overall societal narcissistic ideal, in which human spontaneity and unpredictability are the enemy.
To be sure, by turning the “mass man” into an ever more robotic being, our narcissistic leaders gain an ever closer grip of the world and as such are ever better able to see their will mirrored back at them by the world they raise into being. By seeking to obliterate general human free will, we progressively lose the ability to resist the megalomaniacal ambitions of our control freakish leaders who are infected by the most virulent kind of narcissism, necrophilia.
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