Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The ideology of self-absorption

I was glad to see that Frank Bruni, writing last month in the New York Times, agrees with me (just kidding). His article, "Individualism in Overdrive," complements nicely some of the remarks about the new narcissism I have written about here as the pervasive evil underlying our culture and political life.

I refer to the Tea Party belief that taxes are not needed because each of us is meant to help ourselves rather than ours. This, after all, is the basis of the extreme indidivualism that has moved the country so dangerously to the right, even in the name of Christianity, which is about loving thy neighbor.

Bruni describes the new Johnny Appleseed of Hypernarcissism, the personal improvement guru Tim Ferris, who suggests putting an unloaded starter pistol in your luggage to make sure that the TSA people at the airport won't lose it. You get peace of mind that way; no matter that government time and money is wasted, which is our (collective) money.

I hope Ferris, a best-selling author, is only joking. Bruni is not when he zeroes in those who try to "game the system" to advance their own cause at the expense of the common good. "Selfishness run amok is a national disease," he writes; too many people act as if they live in a civic vacuum, with no responsibilities to others.

Consider the huge increase in Social Security disability applications, many by people who don't need such assistance, based on the view that the federal treasury is too big to be affected. But isn't that treasury the sum of us? And cheating it is to cheat your neighbor. Looking out for No. 1 may sell books and get you on TV, but it is immoral and destructive of the social fabric.

How many fundamentalist Christians, voting for Republicans, subscribe to the anti-government, me-first principle without seeing that it contradics the Gospel? There is no reason to be surprised by this since there is nothing new under the sun. Selfishness, sometimes called pride, has been, for about 2,000 years, the chief of the deadly sins, and anyone who has read Dante or other earlier authors knows that the avarice of earlier times is little different from that of today. It is always rooted in the self at the expense of the other.

This brings me back to selfishness as the essence of evil--and to its opposite, love, which brings compassion and whatever justice we deserve on this earth.

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