Developmentally, narcissism is pretty early stuff.  It emerges with differentiation from the mother.  Not terribly attractive as a quality in adults, narcissism is an essential step in each of our progressions.  Some of us tend to carry it with us longer than others.  Some societies have difficulty viewing the world in non-narcissistic ways.

Still, there is a positive relationship between selfishness and compassion, narcissism and global consciousness that was not really clear to me until now.

Societies exhibit or express human individual developmental stages.  Ontogeny and society are closely tied.  A number of theorists over the last century have explored this relationship, including Gebser, Habermas and Wilber.  William Irwin Thompson’s books introduced me to the concept in the 70s.  There is a tendency to observe individual progress (ontogeny) and societal progress through the lens of a succession of stages.  Wilber has expressed consternation with the surges of narcissism that characterize American society.  To some it seems that the presence of this early developmental stage inhibits a societal transformation to an experience of a far wider identity, seeing oneself as a citizen of the world and the engaging of compassion in the decision-making process of world affairs.

Indeed, this seems to be the case.  The American consumer is drawing in close to 25% of the world’s resources to serve 5% of the world’s population.  Most Americans have no compunction about supporting a might-makes-right, dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest, social Darwinist foreign policy, if it is efficient, if people sort of like us, and it gets us what we want.  Most Americans have no problem with an unregulated, nontransparent corporate/financial infrastructure with little accountability as long as it seems efficient and the money flows.  Granted, if we had news that shared with us the repercussions of our political and economic behaviors, we might elect responsible leaders, but we’re too lazy to go online where good news lives or demand high-quality information.  We Americans encourage short-sighted selfishness.  It seems to help goose productivity.

And, it seems to be tied to creativity.

I am wrestling with a concept.  The concept is this.  Just as it is deeply rewarding to carry the creative forces characteristic of early childhood into adulthood, might it also be deeply rewarding to carry forward the self-focused, narcissistic selfishness characteristic of the stage that follows?  Evidently there are bonuses to doing so.  The question is, how best to integrate this feature of early childhood into an adult with the ability to identify with far more than what occurs within the boundaries of his or her body, or in the case of a country, within a nation’s borders?

The Republicans do seem to have a lot of respect for this particular developmental stage.  Granted, it’s taken my deep respect for the power of creativity and the dynamics of neoteny to see what their point is.  There is a connection between this very Republican country and its astonishing creative output.  Selfishness and creativity are closely tied.

Observing the intense creativities in play today with the broadening of the new ways of relating through the web, a widening of identity is also quietly and quickly occurring.  This shift is characteristic of a far more mature consciousness, one that is able to identify with a world beyond our borders.

In a very peculiar way, intense narcissism is protecting and encouraging a profound creativity that is transforming and propelling society down a compassionate path.  It would seem that owning and embracing our origins where creativity is stored could be accompanied by owning and embracing the selfishness that follows.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Share your wisdom