Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Egotistic Predicament

An increasingly common problem is the Egocentric Personality Disorder (a kind of arrested psychological development involving traits similar to a child's defense against hurt feelings). A couple years ago there was much furor over George W Bush’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and a little over the United States as a whole exhibiting this sociopathic problem. But these syndromes have roots, to some degree, in all of us.
A true victim of the syndrome:
• Lives largely in a dream-world, with actively indulgent fantasies of exceptional success, power, beauty, genius, &/or love, while also deceptively exaggerating personal achievements and talent (knowingly, to others, without admitting it as fantasy)
• Expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
• Has a sense of entitlement, with unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment, including automatic compliance with his or her expectations
• Has a self-image as especially privileged, and only understandable by others of similar high-status (and of similar tendency to exaggerate accomplishments, and tendency to demand to be considered superior without real evidence of achievement)
• “Has an attitude" – is frequently haughty, acting in arrogant ways, with a grandiose sense of self-importance, and requires, indeed, demands, excessive admiration
• Believes in being more than just special – more than simply better than everybody else; indeed, is so self-important as to be unaware of others' needs and the effects of that their actions produce on others (and even, in fact, on their own life); all is unimportant compared with their mission from God
• Fails (sociopathically) to recognize other people's emotions and feelings – is lacking in empathy, not recognizing or identifying with others' feelings
• Expresses disdain for any who can, or might, be seen as inferior
• Is frequently envious, jealous of others while (usually mistakenly) sensing jealous envy of themselves by others
• Is exploitative towards others, feeling free to take advantage of them (within a pattern alternating between unrealistic idealization of some people, and equally unrealistic devaluation of both the same people – sometimes, and others - always), with most assessment of others being in terms of usefulness
• Can’t accept criticism; is easily hurt &/or made to feel rejected due to fragile self-esteem (though often appearing tough-minded and unemotional - behind a mask of ultra-confidence lies fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism).
• Has diminished sense of potential repercussions for negative (wrong) actions, seldom, if ever, feels remorse, and simply hates even the idea of ever saying “I’m sorry”
• Expects others to go along with all ideas and plans; demands rather than asks (has a sense of entitlement) – cannot work cooperatively or budge from thinking their own way always right
• Once started, will stick to a course of bad behavior &/or bad judgment regardless of the inevitability of being punished for it
• Sets unrealistic goals, desiring constant praise and admiration
• Shows marked preference for appearance over reality
• Has great trouble maintaining productive relationships
• Has intense, short-term relationships with others, and is unable to sustain intimate ones, except with obsequious service providers.
• Expects this state of affairs to be able to continue indefinitely!

One clearly needn’t exhibit all instances of the syndrome to be adversely affected by it!

The Egotistic Personality sometimes connects aspects of reality generally seen as objectively unrelated (but relatable within a delusive, intuitive and illusory time sense). Selective in self-awareness, editing out many negative (darker) aspects of the self, with an addictive personality and furtive rebellious impulses that fail to adequately discern distinctions between the imaginary and real, it has a profound sexual bewilderment which often leads to irresponsible, hedonistic, and overly-indulgent activity. Associating spontaneity with intoxication, there’s a strong conscious need to be noticed, and even stronger unconscious need to manipulate, that leads to relishing sexual exhibitionism (but mostly only receptively, to protect vulnerable self-image). Responses to demands will usually be aggressively negative, often using passive-aggressive means like procrastination, deliberate forgetfulness, dawdling, and intentional inefficiency.
It’s a manipulative, resentful, sometimes infantile, disdainful and covetous personality, arrogant, haughty, patronizing, &/or with contemptuous attitude, as shown in behavior. Efforts at accommodation are forced and occasionally inappropriate; compelled by aspirations to prestige and praise, the egotist finds need to exaggerate, misrepresent, distort, mimic and occasionally invent, to bolster cherished delusions.

Feelings of despondency, helplessness, aggression, and guilt aren’t just poorly dealt with – they’re there, but denied. So there’s a contingent desire for escape, to find respite and refuge in intoxication and unconsciousness (without expecting any consequent loss of importance and prestige). Desperately insecure, the egotist compensates by constructing a grandiose self-image, which only contributes to disfunctionality.
Egotistic personality disorder involves dramatic and emotional behavior, similar to that of histrionic, antisocial and borderline personality disorders. Perhaps guilt-ridden (though that’s quite Freudian), but certainly sexually obsessed, bent on self-destruction, and negligent of others, disturbed personalities failure to resist dangerous desires and impulses, and become willing and able to perform acts harmful to others (and by extenuation, to the self). Many will experience a feeling of release and gratification upon completing a destructive act (especially humiliation of another - often, preferably sexual), and frequently become obsessive-compulsive (except, instead of with a judgmental and overactive conscience, with weak or nonexistent code of morals). There’s a tendency to dysfunction in productivity, but, especially with the egotist, this often gets overlooked.

Egotists usually have normal, even high, intellectual development, while remaining emotionally and morally immature. Dealing with them can give a sense of trying to have a reasonable discussion with a clever six-year-old – the age when children are often grandiose and exhibitionistic, and strongly resist to blame for misbehavior. Although they understand what the rules are (what lying, cheating, and stealing are), they still try to wriggle out of accepting those rules for themselves!
The egotist, like the narcissist, and most politicians, theologians and philosophers, has a context problem similar to that of the 6-year-old. This comes partially from self-identification being an absolute: one is a fixed thing (or capacity), instead of part of a process. This self-importance, seeming fundamental to receptive success (the gaining of further encouragement from others, especially those who seem to matter most), seems to make pomposity a prerequisite. That one comes from limited capacity, and is headed for limited capacity, isn’t just brushed aside, but virtually denied. “I am a blue-blood, created for this role” seems to be the operative theory – though little can be further from the truth. None of us is fundamentally superior, we all make mistakes. We’re all born of mothers, and all will die. Some may wish to deny death, but that’s also to deny process, the inevitability of change, and other fundamental realities over which opinion holds no sway.

Compare these traits of 5- and 6-year-olds: they’re almost amoral, conscienceless; they care overly much about appearances, are authoritarian, contemptuous, critical of others, frequently cruel, stingy and disappointing as gift-givers, envious, competitive, sure of entitlement, hyper-sensitive to criticism, impulsive, naive, and more than occasionally secretive, self-contradictory, and often with a warped sense of time.
In egotistic personality disorder, these traits are also there. They may be a child's defense against cold and un-empathetic care-givers (usually the mother), and may be felt useful towards winning emotional favor. The child hyper-inflates whatever it senses the care-giver approves of, while perceived weaknesses are "split off" into a hidden part of the self (or so its theorized). This splitting may produce a lifelong tendency to swing between extremes of grandiosity and feelings of emptiness and worthlessness.
Or, it may relate to defenses against shame, or be due to excessive pampering, over-indulgence and over-valuation by parents… maybe even to being valued by parents as a means to improve their own self-esteem. That it’s related to excessive parental indulgence not balanced with realistic feedback seems likely; other causes could be unreliable, unpredictable care-giving, emotional abuse, too much praise for perceived exceptional looks or talent, &/or learning manipulative behaviors from parents. A child can learn to overcompensate for feeling rejected, isolated and unconnected... or objectified.

Egocentricity is usually strongest around age 5 (though kids that age can be very nice and fun to be around). It takes years for a person to learn to think from the perspective of someone else, and longer to become consistently inclined to do so.
This is how we are; the egocentric predicament doesn’t mean we don’t know and need love (something impossible for a monad or solipsist). Most of us learn to consider long-term consequences of self-centeredness and dishonesty, but some, including some generally regarded as highly successful, simply don’t. A core root here must involve the mother-child relationship: one could certainly be considered mentally-ailing to doubt the existence of one’s mother, as some egocentric philosophers seem to have done (are we merely dreaming, only imagining once having been a baby – might there not be a malicious deceiver getting something from producing these illusions?)!
When children, particularly after age 6, lie, they’re usually considering what other people are thinking or feeling, then deciding how best to stay out of trouble by figuring out what the other(s) would prefer to hear. This means they’re learning to try to see through other eyes, and starting on the path to empathy! But some come to prefer a mask to flexibility, vulnerability, and spiritual growth.

Root social and cultural contributing factors and probable (partial) causes include:
• Social (and media) preoccupation with wealth, power and fame, rather than with ordinary or average people
• Social approval of open displays of money, status, or accomplishments ("if you've got it, flaunt it") rather than modesty and self-restraint
• Near-idolatry of inherited title, money, power and “class”
• Preference for a leadership style that emphasizes leaders’ outward appearance and personality rather than understandings and values
• The growth of large corporations and government bureaucracies that favor a managerial style based on "impression management" rather than objective measurements of performance (got this one off the Net, and don’t really know what it means, but hey, corporations and government must be at least part of the problem, surely, no?)
• Social trends that encourage parents to be self-centered and to resent children's needs
• Weakening of social institutions that traditionally help children see themselves as members of a community rather than as isolated individuals
• Tendency to condone spoiled over-indulgence, conspicuous consumption and even to revere arrogance
• Youth worship, acceptance of indulgence and the popularity of instant-gratification seeking
• Belief that children should be respected similarly as adults, accepted "for what they are," and thus able to feel self-confident – leading to deficiency in self-critical abilities (yeah – a little New Agey, and from the same place on the Net).

Although the egotistic personality may seem confident, with strong self-esteem, it’s just a pretension. The inclination to monopolize conversations, and to look down on and belittle any that can be seen as inferior, is rooted in insecurity. Underneath lies fragile self-esteem, trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism, a strong tendency to react with rage, contempt and efforts to demean other people in order to bolster the self, and perhaps also a sense of secret shame and humiliation (Freudian, once again, sorry).
Egotists enjoy solipsistic fantasies, living in their own private worlds (and reacting with affront when reality dares to intrude). They don't care what you think unless they're afraid of you, but show interest in the world and how it works, and are fond of novelty and amusement - games, music, stories, outings, adventures…
Egotists see other people mostly in terms of potential utility (to themselves), and find normal people as expendable. They expect the ordinary hoi-poi to stop whatever they're doing to accommodate anything the egotist wants! Egotists use other people to get what they want, without caring about the cost (both to their own self, and to other people).

Narcissists are said to often look, or think they look, significantly younger than they are; this is a point of great pride; some emphasize it by either maintaining styles from their youth, or following the styles of people the age they want to fit in with. That their faces don't show their chronological age may be a sign that they haven't been living real lives with normal wear and tear. The narcissists' years sometimes pass without touching them! The egotist, somewhat more grand, prefers an aristocratic, authoritarian, autocratic mien, and so doesn’t mind looking a little older, and accordingly, superior.

Egotists feel entitled to whatever they can get, expect privileges and indulgences, and also feel entitled to exploit other people without repercussion, or any expectation of reciprocity. They’re typically stingy, even to the point of eccentricity, but can be charming (and flirtatious and seductive) with strangers. The narcissist will flatter shamelessly to get something; the egotist will bribe. With both, any attempt to get intimate is threatening, and puts on emotional pressure; there’s likely to be a quick withdrawal from these “demands.” Only the narcissist will be positively fawning and solicitous – whenever, and as long as, they're afraid - maybe just afraid of not getting what they want. The egotist resorts more readily to using intimidation.
Neither likes to provide much personal information. They not only frequently act unusually reserved, but are quite secretive, and jealous of their privacy. As their real life isn't interesting to them, it doesn't seem potentially of interest to anyone else; they're ashamed of much about their real life, and realize much about their work, friends, families, homes and possessions aren't really up to snuff: they deserve better, and want others to think they have it. Also, exposure of personal detail would reveal conflicting detail…
Inevitably, they will freely contradict generally accepted fact, and even lie about things they did with someone, to that very person. They’ll misquote you, to you, completely bold face. Any who disagree with them, they'll accuse of deception, delusion or both. But eventually, they tend to undo themselves - by behavior that seems oddly stupid for people as intelligent as they are; they rarely consider probable consequences of their actions.

Egotists, extremely sensitive to personal criticism, are extremely critical of other people, thinking being critical shows their superiority. They want to be seen as infallible, and even of unique cosmic significance. But if someone says to them, "Please don't do that again -- it hurts," they might simply do it harder, just to prove they were right the first time, reasoning that, "As I’m a good person and can do no wrong, I didn't really hurt you and you’re lying about it." They’re habitually cruel in both big and little ways; they're paying attention to their fantasy, and never (or almost never) closely to other people – though the bruises they inflict are real, not part of that fantasy, and not just part of the victim’s imagination. No matter how gently one suggests to the narcissist that they might do better to change their ways or get some help, they’ll only react in one of two equally horrible ways: they’ll attack, or they’ll petulantly withdraw (almost autistically).
Like the narcissist, the egotist often doesn’t get jokes, not even cartoons or simple riddles, and can’t make effective jokes, except for sarcastic cracks and the lamest puns. This, because, lacking empathy, they don't get the context, or affect, of words or actions; and all humor, jokes and comedy depend on context and affect. The egotist may specialize in sarcasm about others, which can be taken for wit (as with George W. Bush’s facile nicknaming), but only narcissists are totally incapable of irony. What might at first seem a mimic, pose or humorous put-on might well, in fact, be something the narcissist is totally serious about. They can come close to parody in their pretensions and pretending, and be quite funny without knowing it. But you'd better not let on that you think so! The Emperor with no clothes can still order one’s head chopped off.
Of course, the autocrat rarely achieves truly desirable results…

"Modern American Christianity is filled with the spirit of narcissism. We are in love with ourselves and evaluate churches, ministers and truth-claims based upon how they make us feel about ourselves. If the church makes me feel wanted, it is a good church. If the minister makes me feel good about myself, he is a terrific guy. If the proffered truth supports my self-esteem, it is, thereby, verified."

Like with social-climbing women on Thai soap operas, narcissists want (need?) to win every time. They’re poor sports who can't stand to lose, often argumentative and quarrelsome, defiant, fresh, snippy, jealous, envious, competitive, combative, belligerent, verbally and physically aggressive. They’re prone to threaten, insult, and get physically violent; and may occasionally have violent temper tantrums which can require physical restraint because of violent striking out.

Sounds like a lot of Thais and Expats I encounter. Both, to make sure of winning, will cheat or make up idiosyncratic rules, while complaining that others are cheating and not following rules

and gays: who often love to dress up and pretend they’re somebody else.... and are frequently less interested in actual final products than in what they’re doing at the moment

And many popular entertainers, and especially most Expats, who’ve largely escaped possibility of social censure, can successfully avoid peer pressure, and are proud to have left most problems back home…!!!

Mencius and empathy

Chinese sage Mencius (372-289 BCE) believed people are pulled toward being good. He wrote:
“If men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress. They will feel so, not as a ground on which they may gain the favor of the child’s parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor from a dislike of the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing. From this case we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man.” He wasn’t familiar with psychopaths (epitomized by continual changes of feelings) or sociopaths (who feel no empathy). These are people intensely hurt, alienated and emotionally isolated, who can vengefully delight in the agonies of others. Some are even highly successful. Cooperative impulses are healthy and powerful towards achieving the common good, but we seem to have been losing them. Anticipation of reciprocity and reconciliation simply isn’t what it used to be – much trust is gone, as with the autistic, sociopathic and psychotic. We’ve become alienated – and what are we going to do about it?
It IS indeed up to the individual. When the madmen of absurd power notice they’ve been left out of something good, their behavior may well change; but that won’t happen as long as we remain followers looking just for fun and acceptance, instead of self-motivators who know that to give is to receive.

Psychopathy, or antisocial personality disorder, can seem enigmatic and beyond normal human understanding, but isn’t. Although its symptoms are easy enough to recognize, its roots remain unclear; undoubtedly, different paths can cause similar forms of it.
Psychopaths commit violent, nefarious criminal acts, often predatory, premeditated and with a sadistic quality, without the slightest personal upset. Sadistic behavioral aspects often decline after about age twenty-seven, but other personality traits remain constant and decline in severity with age, little, if at all. A third of psychopaths remain criminally active throughout their lives. Mostly affecting men, individuals with this disorder seem to lack most normal emotions, and commit violent crimes without remorse or even disgust. It involves an inflexible, all pervasive, pattern of behavior which has noticeable roots in adolescence or childhood deviations from social norms. Sufferers show repeated disregard for the rights of others, plus a general recklessness, impulsivity, deceitfulness and irresponsibility. They’re usually of normal intelligence, able to manipulate others for personal gain through a superficial charm and deviousness (with a characteristic lack of remorse, regret or empathy); a trait of callous unemotionality fuels poor behavioral and emotional regulation, lack of empathy, moral poverty, propensity to manipulation and the violating of the rights of others. Their egotistic personality allows them no concern for consequences others might suffer due to them. This lack of emotion might be a temperament style of low behavioral inhibition. Generally, psychopaths fail to understand or experience the emotional significance of affective stimuli the way ordinary people do; studies involving autonomic nervous system and skin conductance show psychopaths responding less anxiously to fear-eliciting stimuli. Dysfunctions in the limbic system and frontal cortex are found when psychopaths process affective material. Damage in the cingulate cortex may be a basis for the fearlessness that makes psychopaths so impulsive and recklessness. They have deficient processing of unconditioned stimuli (such as a distress cues), which implies psychopaths have a sub-optimally functioning amygdale (a poorly functioning amygdala could also be responsible for emotive and cognitive defects). Abnormalities existing within the limbic system and prefrontal cortex could be a reason for the impulsivity and lack of morality that permeates a psychopath, or could result from a joint root, stem from the same cause.
Often psychopathy afflicts children of abusive families, or ones exposed to violence and aggression at an early age. Although some psychopaths develop out of relatively normal households of apparently loving parents, more come out of broken homes or poor living conditions. Exposure to violence, aggression and neglect could well lead to the belief that the world is neither a good nor safe place, and thus create a "survival of the fittest" attitude, with consequent lack of empathy and moral altruism. An absence of pro-social models can certainly effect the development of psychopathy. Attachment theory suggests that inconsistent parenting practices lead to poor attachment profiles in young children; these weak attachment profiles aren’t significant enough to create a mental representation for guiding future behavior. The psychopath, with no mental model for morality or interpersonal relationships, feels no significant connection to others. Inconsistent parenting, punishment and resentment may be salient factors in the development of psychopathy. Varying degrees of punishment may lead a child to assume consequences to his actions aren’t something to be concerned about, or, worse, that punishment is at best capricious and arbitrary, and may even be inappropriate, disconnected and indicative of an order-less, immoral world. There may even be a sense of revenge for not feeling accepted, included, appreciated – perhaps even for having been over-so protected and isolated as to be unable to earn intimacy. Caring can come to seem weakness, and to trust to be naïve, to feel merely to be vulnerable…
Remind you of any particular person, or group of people?

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