Owning our own narcissism

October 8, 2018

1503683533549It’s the last day of holidays here and I’ve been thinking (again) about narcissism. Particularly about how important it is to own our own narcissism. Perhaps it’s prompted in part by watching the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and then reading and watching the reaction from liberals and conservatives alike.

Kavanaugh outraged at having his confirmation (and integrity) seriously threatened at the last minute and being accused of sexual assault and also drunken boorishness as an adolescent and young adult. Democrats outraged that someone whose integrity can be so seriously at question and who lied under oath (at least about the extent of his drinking) can be shoe-horned into the Supreme Court with a sham of an FBI investigation. Women and men outraged that getting a Conservative swing-vote on the US Supreme Court appears to be more important than taking allegations of sexual assault seriously. And so on.

I think it’s easy as Democratic supporters to get outraged and discouraged. And I’m not downplaying the importance of righteous anger. Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad looks like an excellent recent example of how to harness the power of anger.

But what calmed me down in part was realising that my own anger has as much to do with my own expectations, hopes and ideals for the US and the world as a whole. As someone wisely said, haters are gonna hate, and by extension conservatives are gonna carry on being conservatives, and the privileged will continue to protect their own privilege. Socially and politically, the answer seems to be to keep on taking responsibility for whatever influence we have. To keep on trying to change things for the better. And also, paradoxically perhaps, to be more patient of the slow pace of transformation.

People’s ideas and also political systems won’t change easily in our increasingly partisan information bubbles. But if we accept that lasting change takes time, perhaps we can all be more patient and tolerant with ourselves (as we sensitively challenge others).





Learning from The Donald

September 21, 2016

Fascinating article on the upcoming Clinton vs Trump debate at The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/10/who-will-win/497561/).


I was feeling quite anxious about the upcoming US presidential election but on reading this I feel a  bit more reassured. Trump does worry me, but if you look more closely at his body language and his statements there’s a pattern there – of domination, bullying etc. He is powerful because his message (both verbally and physically) is often very simple. James Fallows shows in this article how Hillary can win the debates (and by extension the election).

More broadly it also got me thinking about how I relate to bullies. How I am intimidated by them, how they get under my skin, how I get rattled and irritated. But I also started thinking about how I relate to dominance in general – whether it be a dominant male boss or a controlling parent! And when my partner is dominant and controlling, do I sometimes feel intimidated and annoyed as well? What about using our own dominance, and learning from the bullies (without being insensitive though)?

What I also found interesting was seeing the narrow band that dominant women have to operate in . It’s easy for Hillary to fall into the trap of being too shrill or harsh. She’s much better (and more effective) when she’s powerful AND relaxed. When she’s able to joke – and also deliver some put-down lines at the same time. Thanks James Fallows for a stimulating article. I’ll report back here after the debate on the 26th.

The mind of Donald Trump

May 25, 2016

The mind of Donald Trump

Interesting article. Dan McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, has crafted a detailed psychological portrait of Donald Trump, the reality-TV star and real-estate mogul who would be US President.

 He looks at Trump in terms of the Big Five of Personality Variables:

Extroversion: gregariousness, social dominance, enthusiasm, reward-seeking behavior

Neuroticism: anxiety, emotional instability, depressive tendencies, negative emotions

Conscientiousness: industriousness, discipline, rule abidance, organization

Agreeableness: warmth, care for others, altruism, compassion, modesty

Openness: curiosity, unconventionality, imagination, receptivity to new ideas


How does Trump stack up? High extraversion plus “off-the-chart low agreeableness”.

“People low in agreeableness are described as callous, rude, arrogant, and lacking in empathy.”

“Anger can fuel malice, but it can also motivate social dominance, stoking a desire to win the adoration of others. Combined with a considerable gift for humor (which may also be aggressive), anger lies at the heart of Trump’s charisma. And anger permeates his political rhetoric.”

A tendency to lie and distort.

Fascinating comparison with Andrew Jackson (who was the source of the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party). Similar populist appeal and driving personality. Brashness and anger.

Authoritarianism (associated with prejudice towards minorities or outgroups)


A textbook case of narcissism

Archetypal warrior

But what is the purpose of fighting to win? Make America Great Again, says the Trump slogan. But what does that mean?

Great conclusion: “It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.”


Drunk on Obama

November 6, 2008

I’m enjoying reading the post-election blog posts. The joy, the hope, the sense of history- in-the-making. We’ll all come down to earth soon enough. In the meantime, a few links from the world-wide Obama wave. BeeDrunken captures the euphoria of election-watching, Charlotte sums up our hopes about Obama’s leadership and makes a thought-provoking comparison with Mandela, Verbivore does a great take on the acceptance speech here and Ted revisits America’s promissory note in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Enjoy.

Update: And in news just in … while president-elect Obama is choosing his team for the next four years, the public are more interested in the choice of the First Puppy. Those puppies are damn cute – and who knew that the choice of a dog was so controversial? And once you’ve chosen the puppy then comes the name part. Obama sources deny that the front-runner at this stage is George.

Flogging a dead moose

October 7, 2008

Caribou Barbie courtesy of Mudflats and College OTR.

What is the difference between a dead moose with lipstick on and a dead moose without lipstick? Lipstick. You have to read the whole article – George Saunders is brilliant. If he wasn’t such an Elite I would well, I wouldn’t kiss him because that would be like, gross, and possibly un-Regular. But you get the drift. Read it. Weep. Or not.

Some other quotes:

“At the end of the day, campaigns are campaigns. In the last five days, it always comes down to a knife fight in a telephone booth.” — Democratic consultant Chris Lehane

“Palin’s people said her strategy would be to stay upwind of Biden, flush him into an open area, and then take a go for a clean shot through the lungs. You don’t want to mess up the head — that’s the trophy.” —Jimmy Kimmel

Back to the dead-moose-flogging. Maureen O’Dowd gets in some pretty good jibes about Sarah Palin.

With her pompom patois and sing-songy jingoism, Palin can bridge contradictory ideas that lead nowhere: One minute she promises to get “greater oversight” by government; the next, she lectures: “Government, you know, you’re not always a solution. In fact, too often you’re the problem.”

I just have one question: How do Americans get any work done?

Playing political poker with the US presidential debate

September 27, 2008

At one point last night’s first televised US presidential debate became a “tale of two bracelets”. Senator John McCain spoke of how a mother of a slain US marine had given him her son’s bracelet and encouraged McCain to continue the war in Iraq so that her son and others like him had not died in vain.

“I will wear his bracelet with honour,” McCain said, raising his right hand to show the bracelet on his arm.
“I’ve got a bracelet, too,” replied Obama, recalling his own story of a Wisconsin mother who wanted other mothers to be spared the pain she had been through.

Now I don’t want to trivialise the losses that these families suffered but it did seem a bit like the two senators were engaged in a game of political poker.

“John, I’ll see your bracelet and raise you two dog-tags and an engraved ring.”
“I don’t think Senator Obama understands the gravity of the situation. I’m seeing his dog-tags and his ring and raising him one heartfelt poem which just happens to be from a swing-state veteran who has been my close friend for 35 years.”
Moderator: “Ok you two, break it up. We’ve got a debate to run here.”

On a more serious note, I thought that Obama needs to play more to his strengths. For example, Obama appeared to listen more attentively to his opponent (although frowning at times when he did so) and sought to make eye contact, something which McCain appeared to avoid.

The US political bloggers will do a much better job of analysing the ins-and-outs of the debate but one thing that Obama does well is to make people feel acknowledged and understood. I think it would be a good tactic (and just good practice) to show that respect a bit more. I thought Obama had the upper hand when he was speaking from a position of strength and acknowledged the contributions of his opponent. McCain supporters will be more likely to change their allegiance if they feel that Obama really respects their candidate. Remember the sighs of Al Gore when George W. Bush was speaking in the 2000 debate? Those were fatal to his chances. I think Obama does respect McCain and I would like to see him using that respect to neutralise some of McCain’s criticisms. It’s maybe not that important to debate the small stuff and to defend his voting record in the Senate. Obama needs to make people believe that he knows McCain and really respects him but that he is the better candidate to become the next US president.

Update: Found some interesting blog comments on the debate. Firstly Mother Jones and the Moderate Voice. Then a blogger called maxedoutmama provides a reminder (if one was needed) why we should be worried about the average US voter. Here’s her finishing comment (or zinger if you like):

Anyone who watched last night’s debate and can still consider voting for Obama loses my respect. There’s a limit to how far one can defy reality and live. That man is currently outside the parameters of the land of the living. It’s probably due to inexperience.

For some excellent and thoughtful comments read George Lakoff at the Huffington Post.