Hero fiction is a good place to start.
In the West, hero fiction has traditionally followed the script of the passive, as opposed to active, hero. Things happen to them as opposed to happening because of them. The hero is not an initiator, he is a responder. This represents a profound disconnect.
The 1940s Dashiell Hammett private detective is depicted sitting in his office, unshaven – perhaps half drunk – when “the most beautiful dame he’s ever laid eyes on walks in, bringing with her a whole barrel of trouble.”
This hero is almost always a regular working man, going about mundane business in a cubicle, the rock quarry, at the company Christmas party, the science lab, maybe picking up groceries or standing in line at the bank. Willing participants in the system. Then at some point events occur outside any actions on their part, forcing them to come to terms with their heroic destiny.
There are some initiators in hero movies, people who dictate the course of events, plan ahead, take aggressive actions and form strategies with specific goals. But those characters are almost always bad guys. They aren’t willing participants in the system. They want more for themselves, and they are willing to go after it violently and creatively. This agency is what makes them villains. Getting the picture yet?
Real life is completely opposite. Things rarely happen “to you.” It's impossible to find a good parking space at the supermarket and $600,000 won’t magically appear in your bank account as the rattling sound of helicopters reverberate in the sunless apartment courtyard.
The Mongrel Mob isn't going to target you for death after you witnessed a murder, a mutant spider ain't gonna bite you in science class, bank robbers are not going to hold up the bank and take you hostage and hot women aren’t going to ask you for help (unless it’s in the form of loan.)
So while young women “wait for their prince to arrive” to sweep them off their feet, millions of young to middle-aged men wait to be swept up into an adventure which will prove to everyone their uniqueness, their prowess, their worth. “See, that's who I said I was all along!”
It’s conditioning. It’s narcissism. It is living as the hero of your own story, without the guilt that comes from needing to look into the past or directly at the present. Only the future matters to the hero and to the narcissist.
Narcissism is an unavoidable outcome of thinking. And the only way to not be a narcissist is to live in the present moment as a feeling creature. When thinking, one is not feeling, or at least blocking off feelings, which is the definition of narcissism (living as an image, denying true feelings and actual experiences, both of which require control – the application of thought).
Future orientation breeds narcissism. Modern society is future oriented. Future orientation requires planning, pragmatism and alienation from feelings in case they get in the way. Modern society – a free market – requires all participants to be narcissists or it falls down.
In this structure of society, charities and activism no longer reflect community. They exist so people can virtue-signal the chosen identity they demand other people believe. A wise book says the left hand shouldn’t know what the right is doing. But status updates, pictures and tweets are not a bug in the communitarianism of modern society, they are a feature. Charity is a commodity used as reinforcement of chosen identity. Of course, the poor don’t care either way. Help from a narcissist still brings them a ladle of soup or a dry coat.
When societies focus more on present or past, they are less narcissistic. Image, self, identity: these are useless when the future is unknowable or uncertain. What you will be, what we will be, requires a focus on the self concept. Self dissolves when we live in the present, focusing on relationships, the moment, the feeling of being alive. Living as though an extra in someone else’s movie, not the hero.
In some people narcissism is pathological. For a 17-year-old girl, it’s expected. But when mothers with three children and septuagenarians can’t see others as separate from their own constructed identity, narcissism has turned into an ideology.
It is an undercurrent in the bending streams of culture. The only changed thing is the crowdsourced values and technology placing narcissism on display – where it should be, but from where it can hurt the most.
Narcissism is obvious when someone’s values tell them the proper image is to be a tortured artist or a coffee drinking yuppie who can't pay the minimum credit card payment. Narcissism is less obvious when values model a fake image of a pious good worker or whatever. But again, the poor don’t care about image maintenance, only the coat.
The only truly non-narcissistic societies are where the food supply is controlled by seasons, requiring close awareness of past, present and future.
The agricultural society is unnatural, which is why this style of living feels fake and requires a fake way of living (we controlled seasons and everything else when we invented how to make food year-round). In short, the real cause of narcissism is agriculture, everything else is detail.
It is clear agricultural society is unnatural, with its tools and leisure and inevitable isolation from others while living in cities of millions. Get in line, go along with the system, don’t make waves, sit on the couch, watch TV, drink heavily, medicate yourself, grow old, buy a fast car, a Harley, a leather jacket. Is this not the message? The unnaturalness of this is disturbing. Safety becomes a prison, and heroes should escape their prison.
A narcissist isn't an egotist, someone who thinks they’re the best. Their defining feature is an inability to appreciate other people exist, or have thoughts, feelings and actions unrelated to them. Those thoughts don't have to be good, but they must be linked to the narcissist because only his story counts.
Being on YouTube, having a blog, an iPhone, being on MySpace – all of this is self-validation. It allows the illusion so important to narcissists: they are the main characters in a movie. Not that they’re the best, or the good guys but the main characters. Everyone else is supporting cast. The funny friend, the crazy ex, the neurotic mother, the egotistical date, etc. Which makes reminders of our insignificance even more infuriating.
But worry not, when the time comes, we, the system, the omnipotent other, will let you know. In the meantime, stay low, don’t protest or think outside the box or try to get more for yourself or change your circumstance – that’s what the bad guys do. Sit tight, we’ll get back to you. In the meantime here's some really cool videogames and rap music to tide you over.
The amount of freedom you have is directly proportional to the time between the desire for something and the moment you reach out to grasp it.
For most people, this time is short. They see something they want and immediately extend their arm. Consider the immortal words from Fight Club: "The things you own end up owning you." If you are owned, then you are a slave. Slaves are not free. If a thing arouses such a desire that you immediately move to own it, then you are not free. The thing owns you, and you exist to serve it.
The concepts – store, property, ownership, etc – are illusions designed to convince us the act of buying is something other than giving someone else our money, which is a physical manifestation of our time. (Money quite literally represents time worked in the past, or, if on credit, the time remaining to work in the future to pay off the debt.)
If you see something in a store you like, then you know exactly where it is. It's in the store, safe and secure. You can go see it anytime you want. If you bought it, nothing would change but its position in space.
But a narcissist imagines how buying it will reinforce or change identity. They see the thing and their mind constructs a meaning for it (helpfully aided by advertising). “A $12 notebook means I'm a creative person, unlike that $1 notebook.”
You desire something because They made you desire it. I'm convinced the force of marketing and advertising is so effective and been so thoroughly perfected, it is almost impossible to resist. Some product exists where these tricks work. It might be sneakers for you and for someone else it is t-shirts.
What we have to do is cultivate that same control, not fight it. You want a thing, but don't reach for it. Walk away and ask "why do I want that? What is it about that thing that makes me want it and not other things?" Replace the instinctive motion to the wallet with an instinctive question: Why this?
True, you may never find the object again, replaced by something else with immediate desire. When that happens, the thing before will seem dull and faded. There is always something new. Desire is never satisfied. It's an endless cycle.
Freedom is an act of resistance. The only force operating on our lives with any power is consumerism. The messages of consumerism will define our world and identities if we don't intervene on our own behalf. Your money is valuable because it represents time, and time is life. Don't trade your life for some new trinket.
Look at the thing and admire the thought and creativity that went into it. And with your hands firmly in your pockets, turn and walk away.