Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pathological Narcissism and Growing Disparity Between Super-Rich and Everyone Else in U.S. (with Side Notes re: Catholic Clerical Abuse Crisis)

Yesterday, evagrius provided a valuable link in a comment about my recent posting discussing abuse survivors' responses to the news that Pope Benedict defrocked 400 abusive priests before his resignation from the papacy. Evagrius's link points to an article by digby at Hullabaloo discussing corporate narcissism. Digby features an email discussion he had in 2009 with journalist Tim Hall, who suggests that the strike-it-rich schemes of Wall Street, bankers, and corporate leaders that resulted in the crash of the world economy several years ago is rooted in pathological narcissism. 

This kind of narcissism encourages members of ruling elites to imagine their lives and activities in grandiose self-absorbed terms, while the "little people" whose lives are radically affected by the pathological narcissism of those in the elites are ignored by the elites. Members of pathologically narcissistic elites also typically band together, forming tight, cohesive, clubby bonds reinforced by the myth that the elite group is being persecuted by malicious outside forces

Tim Hall tells digby that the theory of pathological narcissism has "explanatory and predictive" power as we look at ruling elites. The pathology is "recurrent and invariable" across ruling elites, and we can predict the behavior of these elites--we can predict their abuse of all of those who do not belong to their club--as a consequence of the pathology of narcissism infecting them.

As I tell evagrius in my response to his comment about the digby link, I think there are clear parallels between the behavior of the clerical elite that runs the Catholic church and the behavior of the ruling elites of the corporate world, Wall Street, and the banking system. Those parallels have been reinforced and have become stronger in recent decades, I suspect, because top Catholic leaders have persistently turned to CEOs and their corporate lawyers to advise them about their response to the abuse crisis.

Pathological narcissism is a good diagnostic tool to understand the behavior of the leaders of the Catholic church as they've been confronted with constant requests from abuse survivors, many lay Catholics, and the legal and criminal justice systems to account for their behavior in covering up clerical abuse of children. It's also a very good diagnostic tool to understand what produced the abuse in the first place, and the shocking, omnipresent inability of both priests abusing minors and church officials who protect them to see the humanity of the children they abuse.

If you want to see a snapshot of what the pathological narcissism of the world's ruling economic elites is now doing to the world in which we live, I highly recommend the briefing paper entitled "Working for the Few" just published by Oxfam (pdf file). The chart at the head of the posting is from the Oxfam briefing paper. Notice anything about it? Look at the share of the national income now going to the richest 1% in the U.S., and compare the green line showing that percentage with the darker line showing what the percentage was in 1980. Before Ronald Reagan took office, and before the Bush tax cuts . . . . 

And then compare the graph for the situation in the U.S. with all of the graphs below it--showing how much of the rest of the world deals with the question of economic inequality, as compared with the U.S. Finally, think about the effects of those who have produced the situation of dire economic disparity in the U.S. on the leaders of the Catholic church, when those producing this economic situation become close advisers and role models for Catholic bishops and even Vatican officials.

"Pathology" seems to me a judicious term to apply here. But a dangerous pathology that ends up affecting all of us, even when we don't happen to be the 1% suffering from the infection, the delusions, the inability to see anyone outside our own little club--and therefore a dangerous pathology that has to concern all of us, if we expect healing for the world in which we live . . . . 

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