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Children of Narcissus: Feedback

Some of the more interesting replies, with names and other identifying information removed.

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It's Not So Easy | Random Walk Hypothesis / Word Usage | My Narcissism

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Note: Because my psychology correspondence has gradually evolved toward offering people advice, I want to say I am not a psychologist and any advice I offer is based only on common sense and life experience. I think most educated readers will accept this.

It's Not So Easy
I have taken a special interest in your writings about pathological narcissists. As I believe I have mentioned to you before I got mixed up with one a few years ago and it cost me dearly.

I was reading some of the reader exchanges and I came across a submission from someone under the title "How not to get along with a narcissist" and I wanted to comment on your response to it. You said: "I am going to say something here and I hope you will not be offended. In order for a narcissist to devalue a person, that person must voluntarily put himself in a position to be devalued."

Now I know that you weren't trying to offend anybody or hurt anybodies feelings, however, there is something that I want to point out to you which I am sure you can appreciate: all narcissists are EXTREMELY predatory.
That may be true, but their predations only work with certain people — those predisposed to be enablers. They each have a customized tool kit that can entrap or strike at even the most sophisticated and worldly of people. No, this is false. If it were true, there would be no "enabler" category with particular identifiable weaknesses. You are absolutely right in expressing the fact that you are responsible for removing yourself from the narcissists company once they are identified as such and you serve your readers well by doing so. But, I would like to point out some examples of how these people harvest victims from their environment, and I am sure that I am not telling you anything that you don't already know. It's true, but it's only true for enablers. — Firstly, they are always on the lookout for victims in a hyper vigilant way. What they are on the lookout for are enablers, which reminds me of an old saying about junkyard dogs — you're safe as long as you don't show fear. — Initially, they always appeal to their targets good will by either playing a fellow hero or a martyr in need of help. They are the very best of actors. And some people realize the danger of suspending disbelief. The behavior you are describing is unnatural, and sets off alarm bells in normal people. — They are very, very good at instilling a false sense of obligation through the use of a tremendous gift (given conspicuously so as to dazzle intimate bystanders that they can use later as proxies for slander and calumny and outright abuse in the inevitable event that the victim starts to end the relationship). I have to tell you, people who are not enablers instinctively recognize what the gift represents and refuse it. Eric Hoffer once said: "There is a sublime thievery in all giving. Once someone gives you all they have then all that you are belongs to them." That's only true in the relationship between a narcissist and an enabler. Charity really exists, and not all charity is a prelude to exploitation. You need to realize that normal people are made uncomfortable by excessive charity. They recognize the danger. — They are also very good at getting their victims, yes even the smartest ones, into a position where they are totally dependent on them. Well, "smart" isn't a defense, but "wise" certainly is. The wise are invulnerable to narcissists. Examples of this include withholding narcissistic abuse of a spouse until after a child is born and then letting them have it. Also, there is the simple act of giving someone a job. That's a perfect example of my point. Back when I worked for a living I met a few narcissists, and as soon as they realized I would walk the minute they got out of line, they cleaned up their act. Being an employee is sort of like being a pawn on a chessboard — the king can't win without you. To see my point, try playing chess without pawns. Everyone understands this — except enablers.

This doesn't mean I slacked off. I worked intensely and effectively, and I made sure my employers knew it.
These are just four examples that come to mind, but I am sure that each narcissist out there has their own little bag of tricks that they use to pick someone out. Narcissists don't get their pick of people. They only get their pick of enablers. Narcissists have no empathy whatsoever and have no problems invasively manipulating their victim's families, their coworkers, educational institutions, and even the law to repeatedly devalue their victims. They are always character assassins, and character assassination works I can tell you. Yes, it does, but it's a two-way street. Narcissists don't expect to get a taste of their own medicine, and they are shocked into silence when this happens. Getting into a relationship with a narcissist is fiendishly easy and getting out of one is always a rough ride and sometimes people don't always have control over how or when it finally ends. You are describing reality from the perspective of an enabler. Narcissists are precisely as bad as enablers allow them to be. You are actually describing a situation that enablers make possible, and if enablers refused to coöperate, narcissists would have to fold their tents and leave town.

The reason? Narcissists are parasites. The parasite is the dependent organism, not the host. No host, no parasite.
The point you made in your response to the reader was well taken and largely correct, but I would mention that a lot of people out there don't always have the resources necessary to conveniently remove themselves from one of these people. "Conveniently?" When did it become a matter of convenience? Is it convenient to get away from a burning building? This is a classic enabler rationalization — at a moment when his life is in danger, he asks whether it's convenient to escape. And of course being the predators that they are, they always go for the easiest prey. And without prey, they expire. I hope that you take my point ... Yes, I take your point. You can't imagine defending yourself against a narcissist. If you could, you wouldn't be an enabler.

To see how to defend against a pathological narcissist with a borderline personality disorder, read this:

Asperger's By Proxy: Case History

That is a true story. That particular narcissist had never met anyone willing to defend himself, and she quickly lost control — narcissistic rage, breaking the law, lying under oath, all of which backfired. She chose the wrong victim.

Some readers may object to the tone I take with this correspondent, but I have an excellent reason. At some point each of Charles Manson's followers had to rationalize joining his "family" of enablers. If only each of them had spoken to someone a bit less sympathetic to narcissists, perhaps they wouldn't all be in jail right now (and their eleven victims would be alive).
Random Walk Hypothesis / Word Usage
[In the "authority" page of the "Children of Narcissus" article]: "A stock that has doubled in value in 12 months is way ahead of the market average and isn't statistically likely to continue that pattern of growth"

That assertion runs counter to the random walk hypothesis, does it not?
No, for these reasons:
  1. Random walks follow a stochastic pattern (one determined by randomness and probability). While a small move is likely, a large move is less likely because such a move is normally (but isn't required to be) composed of a series of small moves. This doesn't mean there are no large moves, it means they are less probable.

  2. Equity markets respond to human emotion and fundamental issues like P/E ratios, not just stochastic moves, about which more below.
My understanding of random walk is that valuations have no momentum, It's not a question of momentum, it's a question of the relationship between step size and probability, something that looks like momentum to a first approximation. so random stocks A and B are equally likely to double or exceed the market average in the coming year, regardless of whether they did either of these things in the trailing year. That is a correct statement of the Gambler's Fallacy, which is true — the future of a random process owes no allegiance to its past. But the equities market follows different probabilities, because of the role of human psychology and market fundamentals.

Remember there is a cause-effect relationship between any particular stock and the overall market averages — it is difficult for a stock to escape the expectation that it should follow the market up and down. And because individual companies are normally components of larger interdependent assemblages, this tracking effect is reasonable.

Also, for any particular stock, a sudden infusion of capital must be followed by growth in the company's profits. If this doesn't happen, if an infusion of capital is not followed by an increase in the company's profits, further price increases will be stymied by the resulting unfavorable P/E ratio. So a sudden increase in a stock's price is less likely to be duplicated unless and until the company responds to the first increase, something that is by no means guaranteed.

Remember about the random walk hypothesis that, unlike a pair of dice or a roulette wheel, some market players pay attention to the relationship between a stock's present price and the company's present earnings. This attention to fundamentals tends to tamp down wild swings in price, especially repeated ones.

For example, the 2000 tech bubble burst because people finally realized the tech companies would never redeem the faith expressed by the absurd P/E ratios of that era, so investors pulled out all at once.

The same thing just happened again — investors finally realized that banks' published P/E ratios weren't truthful. The P/E ratios didn't take into account all the bad commercial paper that banks had managed to keep off their books, so once investors realized this, they pulled out.

Banks had been using accounting tricks to hide an unsustainable level of debt, to get around banking rules that require a particular ratio of liquidity to debt. But even though the debt was off the banks' books, the consequences of default were not.

These are factors not taken into account in the random walk hypothesis, which basically argues that the market is a stochastic process, without emotion or attachment. The is true only to a first approximation.
I submit this with some trepidation because once I hastily pointed out to you that you used "malice aforethought" when you meant "malice of forethought". Of course I hear "malice aforethought" regularly now. I asked my English-as-a-second-language wife if she knew it and of course she did. Nature has a fondness for serving me with these cock whippings.
  1. Apparently the "malice aforethought" construction has been with us since at least 1581:

    Etymology of "afore"

    It is also regularly used in a legal context:

    Malice Aforethought (Wikipedia)

  2. You know, when I deal with a language issue, I can be as cowardly as anyone, but I have a method. First, I realize that language is not a top-down system (dictionaries don't tell us how to speak), it is definitely bottom-up (we tell dictionaries what to contain). Based on that, when in doubt I Google for a word or phrase to see how real people are speaking and writing — and the form with the biggest number of hits is the winner.


    Compare this:


    To this:


    As expected, "high-tech" prevails over "hi-tech", but not by very much:

    "high-tech: 89 million
    "hi-tech": 45 million

  3. Another example with a different solution. Someone once wrote me to suggest that spell checkers could be much more useful than they are. She gave as an example the English rule that says "I before E except after C". So I decided to check the rule — Linux systems have a rather large spell-check dictionary installed by default, so I decided to use it to make a statistical determination (this is a case where Googling is less useful).

    Since you are running Linux, [I refer to my original correspondent, but why aren't you running Linux?] you can repeat this experiment for yourself. Open a shell session and type:

                          $ grep "cie" /usr/share/dict/words | wc -l
    result: 863

    (the '$' at the left is just to remind you that it's a shell session, you don't type it)

    Now the other form:

                          $ grep "cei" /usr/share/dict/words | wc -l
    result: 300

    Okay. This says that, in a large English spelling dictionary, "cie" is more than twice as common as "cei". But this result contradicts the rule:

    (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_before_E_except_after_C)

    "in words where i and e fall together, the order is ie, except directly following c, when it is ei."

    So much for spelling rules.

  4. One more example. Did you know that "literally" can now mean "figuratively"? When I discovered this I was astonished.


    Definition 2 : in effect : virtually

    This makes no sense, and by so doing proves that language is a bottom-up system. More on literally/figuratively:

    The Word We Love To Hate (Slate)
I admit scoffing when you postulated that religion might be a side-effect of brain evolution. Soon thereafter I read http://ffrf.org/fttoday/2003/april/index.php?ft=sapolsky which vindicates your position. Either that or Sapolsky got the idea from me, in which case it could be an example of two great minds occupying the same gutter. It's a fascinating and funny read, and describes how OCD and schizophrenia can be what Richard Dawkins calls an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS), of which Tit for Tat is a model of sorts. There's plenty of evidence for "Tit for tat" as a survival strategy, much more than for a stable narcissism/enabler ratio in groups. It's possible this is only true because we haven't figured out how to detect narcissism in amoebas. Similarly narcissism might be a feature, not a bug, from an evolutionary point of view. The fact that most people aren't narcissists, and expect others to be like them, might in of itself guarantee that a certain portion of the population is genetically programmed to be narcissistic. Or in group dynamics there might be a requirement for a certain number of narcissists as well as a requirement for enablers, in a particular stable ratio. But one thing is certain — you can't have too many narcissists, because they are parasites, and parasites can't survive except within a larger population of hosts. See http://biomed.brown.edu/Courses/BIO48/16.Evol.Behavior.HTML and http://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/osu-npm100708.php (I think I got the latter link from you, but nevertheless I can't find it on your site). Yep, you did. It's in the references section of the "Narcissism" page of "Children of Narcissus". I see I need to consolidate my reference lists. ... here's the nickel version. Suppose there is a society with no narcissists. In that case, a narcissist is guaranteed to spring up because his unnatural confidence will make him a leader and afford him better opportunities than his peers. If narcissists become too numerous, the society catches on and begins penalizing narcissists, whose numbers then decline. All else being equal the number of narcissists will settle on a fixed proportion. Honest, I didn't read ahead in your message when I made this same point above.

But all light banter aside, my article is more about the dangerous variety of narcissist, the kind that psychologists label "malignant." These people aren't part of a natural balance between enablers and narcissists — they are really parasitic. They carve a place for themselves out of the flesh of those who happen to be standing too close.

Thanks for writing.
My Narcissism
As the second gulf war turned south and we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction; we only succeeded in weakening our country, doing Bin laden's work for him; as the dead and maimed U.S. soldiers piled up, I turned against George Bush. At first, being young and having not lived through the Vietnam war, I was shocked and I pitied Bush for how badly the war had turned, but slowly I began to blame him for the causalities and costs of the war. I wondered how he could live with himself, and then it dawned on me, that I shared his blame, because it was me, in the lead up to the war, who went to a rally in my downtown, holding a sign: "Free the Iraqi People." I guess this is the narcissism you speak of. No, actually the narcissism I speak of is the sort that never acknowledges error — the sort of person who, when confronted by evidence of his own missteps, claims he was misinformed and holds himself blameless. The sort of person who, if given a chance, would do it the same way again.

What you describe is called "growing up." Narcissists never grow up.

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