The Narcissistic Creed - When preening replaces thinking, our ability to engage in responsible self-government is diminished.

Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call “signaling,” a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person.

For a very long time, thousands of years, in fact, politics was a complex variation on the fable of the blind men and the elephant, each individual and each school of thought perceiving, at best, an aspect of the great and permanent problem before us. Groping at reality from behind the inescapable veil of ignorance, our reach exceeds our grasp. The rate of GDP growth, the man sleeping in the street, the number of months it takes to become licensed as an interior decorator, Levantine unrest — all of these things are part of the same animal, but it is impossible for any of us to comprehend the beast, our impressions limited to an ear or a tusk. 

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

But say this for the blind sages of the fable: They were reaching out. In the 21st century, we have regressed to the Freudian phallic stage of development, reaching in, back in short pants with our hands all the way down them, which gives one a rather limited impression of the elephant in the room.

Slavery in Nigeria, the occupation of Ukraine, whatever: It ain’t about you, Sunshine.

The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, directed at the fanatical Islamist slavers in Nigeria, has inspired selfies from U.S. senators and the wife of the president of these United States, while State Department spokesman Jen Psaki, the Pippi Longstocking of the diplomatic world, took to Twitter to photograph herself with a “United for Ukraine” placard. To confront the heinous crimes of Boko Haram, a U.S. senator has many options — for example, introducing an authorization to use military force against said terrorist franchise. The U.S. State Department has many tools at its disposal for confronting the expansionist tendencies of Vladimir Putin.

The selfie is not among those tools.

Imagine, if you can, the abjectly juvenile state of mind necessary to contemplate the hundreds of Nigerian girls taken into slavery by a fanatical Muslim anti-education militia — whose characteristic activity beyond slave-taking is setting fire to children — and, in the face of all that horror, concluding: “You know what this situation really calls for? A cutesy picture of . . . me!” Bad enough when your cousin Caitlin at Bryn Mawr does that — but senators? State Department officials? These are men and (disproportionately, I think) women of power and influence, who have the ability to engage with the world and change it. But they are enchanted by the unique witchcraft of the age of social media, the totemic power of the digital expression of the self. It is not accidental that the only good selfie in the history of world leaders came well before the invention of Twitter from a man with an ego sufficiently robust not to require the constant reinforcement that is the psychic lifeblood of Millennials (and Washingtonians well old enough to know better), without which they find themselves paralyzed.

Bishop Berkeley, the early-18th-century champion of the philosophy of “immaterialism,” which held that all things exist only as subjective sensory experiences, condensed his thought into this slogan: “To be is to be perceived.” Bishop Berkeley’s works were regarded with some skepticism at the time of their publication; today, his proverb is more influential than the Nicene Creed. God forgive me for my lack of charity, but I hope that, on his way to Abraham’s bosom, His Excellency got at least a brief taste of Purgatory for planting that seed in the mind of mankind.

But unlike his 21st-century epigones, Bishop Berkeley did not believe that being perceived was in and of itself sufficient. He was very much engaged with the world, not only through his intellectual correspondence but also through such practical projects as creating the Foundling Hospital to look after London’s orphans and abandoned children. He did not merely commission William Hogarth to paint a portrait of him looking serious above the slogan #standwithorphans.

Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call “signaling,” a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person. As the socialist blogger Fredrik deBoer put it:

Online liberalism, as I’ve said many times, is not actually a series of political beliefs and alliances but instead a set of social cues that are adopted to demonstrate one’s class background — economic class, certainly, but more cultural class, the various linguistic and consumptive signals that assure those around you that you’re the right kind of person and which appear to be the only thing that America’s 20-something progressives really care about anymore. The dominance of personal branding and cultural signaling over political theory means that liberal attitudes change very rapidly and then congeal into a consensus that is supposedly so obviously correct that it does not need defending.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/378228/narcissistic-creed-kevin-d-williamson

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