The Necessity of Narcissism
The battle between narcissism and nihilism for the human soul
We’ve all heard the myth of Narcissus, and we’ve all come to accept the detriment that arrogance and self-absorption can bring. The teachings against egoism are certainly beneficial and important, but not everyone realizes the existence of an absolute self-absorption that resides within all of us as human beings. These ideas are strongly tied and somewhat inspired to the modern philosopher Ernest Becker’s ideas on the Denial of Death, but I see a truth in Becker’s ideas, a truth I did not encounter in the text, but actually recognized — as if I knew it all along. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you will also recognize this at some level.
Essentially, there is the basic idea of self-preservation and the selfishness that exists within us, and in all living things. This is a sort of organismic arrogance, that is expressed as selfishness and is truly a part of the natural order. However, humanity has allowed that organismic selfishness to inhabit a new plane of existence. Humans have something special about them, largely attributed to our capacity for not only intelligence, but also consciousness. An insect is not aware that everything it is doing is to survive. But humans are aware of this tendency, and wrestle with its existence.
Now, as a conscious being, there is an intellectual plane that we create that can be seen as separate from the physical plane — where we share and generate ideas, thoughts, philosophies, cultures, sciences, etc. For humanity, this intellectual plane comes with a large void of purpose that we fill on the periphery with different ideas. But, at the core, there is this subtle belief in all of us — sometimes out of our own conscious reach — that we mean something. That we have a role — this comes in religious form, in self-esteem. As if existence was a theatre, and we had a part in it.
This organismic self-absorption becomes translated into this embedded narcissism when we reach this conscious and intellectual plane in our mind. A belief in our distinct specialness, at least in some way, without which we experience a lack of meaning in an infinite, confusing universe. We feel hopeless, lost, frustrated. This narcissism is essential to our survival. Today, I attribute the rise of atheism/existentialism directly to a loss of purpose and meaning, causing the rise of postmodernism and nihilistic depression.
When one thinks about it, must not a certain degree of ego above simple self-respect exist for the manifestation of the belief that we can accomplish things, have a duty to do good things? Without this seemingly arrogant belief in our moral importance, we devolve into the acceptance of a selfish, savage society that holds no high intellectual philosophy as its epicenter, and the only truth is the lack of all truth. It cannot be discovered if reality is nihilist, or of humanity and its individuals are important in some way — it does not matter what reality is. The fact is that some degree of self-delusion, belief — whatever you wish to call it — is required for the evolution of society and individuals.
It’s becoming more necessary to recognize this idea. Narcissism isn’t a good thing to adopt as a virtue — what’s needed is the awareness of its existence, and the recognition of its importance. We all need that self-ironizing part of our mentality to stay humble, but we cannot let those lenses of irony creep over everything we see, turn our perspective absolutely cynical, diminish the appreciation we hold for our world and our existence, and erode our sense of meaning in ourselves and the human endeavor. Even now, I myself struggle between a subtle narcissism in me that considers myself worthy to speak on such things, deserving of your attention, the belief of being “clued in” on some kind of intelligence or awareness about reality, versus a self-critical and self-ironizing stance I push myself to adopt that criticizes that inflated self-esteem. And yet, I recognize its necessity, while also trying my hardest to keep it in check. What is the point? Does there need to be a point? It’s good to explore that rabbit hole, as long as we have the intellectual fortitude to prevent from crumbling, and thus destroying our appreciation and our passion.