Narcissus, according to the myth, was a man who was so deeply in love with himself that it ultimately caused his downfall. The story is that the young man was fooled into thinking that his reflection in still water was the image of another person.
He fell in love with this person.
Eventually, Narcissus deceives himself to the point of heartbreak and kills himself.
Narcissus gave his name to a rather less romantic trait: narcissism. Narcissistic people are deeply in love with themselves to the point where reason or normative behaviour are cast aside and abnormality ensues.
On a basic level, a person might be called narcissistic if they talk about themselves a lot.
Dictionary.com lists a rather entertaining psychoanalytical definition of the trait: Erotic gratification derived from admiration ofone's own physical or mental attributes, being a normalcondition at the infantile level of personality development.
But there’s a new kind of narcissism on the block.
Monday 8 April 2013, Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, died.
Best known by the saying ‘Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’, the Baroness was not overly liked by many sections of British society.
I was only two years old when Thatcher was ousted (1990). I don’t know enough about her to tell whether she was good or bad. But good or bad is largely irrelevant here.
Within hours of her death, huge numbers of people took to Twitter and other social networks to announce that ‘ding, dong, the witch is dead. lol.’ More notable still, parties were arranged all over the country to celebrate her death.
Twitter isn’t a stranger to peculiar reactions to major events, but the country’s reaction to the death of a person was overwhelmingly confusing.
On the one hand, everything was perfect. A person who had overseen the privatisation of industry and many shining examples of British socialism was dead.
But she hasn’t been Prime Minister for 23 years. It seems a little late to celebrate a change in government – even if it feels like her premiership has been reincarnated in the form of David Cameron & Co. (hopefully extremely) Ltd.
At the base of all the criticism though, there are two very uneasy still ponds in which we can collectively gaze.
Firstly, this is the death of a mother and a wife. There is a grieving family on the other end of the screen. Unlike those of us fortunate enough to not be famous, they cannot avoid the reminder that their mother and wife was hated by many.
I understand the arguments made by The Guardian’s Glen Greenwald who says that she was a public figure and it is our duty to remind ourselves of her mistakes in order to ensure they do not happen again. He has a point.
However, there is malice involved in the majority of comment made on the topic of Maggie Thatcher’s death. And it’s the malice that brings us to the second silvery pool of reflection.
When we rejoice in the tragedy of another, we reveal the part of us that believes absolutely in the superiority of our own opinion – an opinion, by the way, that will rarely by rooted in facts.
In this case, we’re quite literally celebrating our own superiority in the streets. At best that’s moral masturbation and at worst it’s narcissistic.
We are obsessed with the notion that we know best about politics, economics, culture and that our opinion is a trump card. The internet has given us the opportunity to puff out our chests and prove just how witty we can be while we put aside the misery and feelings of a minority to demonstrate our own narcissism.
But that silvery pool, that’s mercury – not water.