Sunday, December 9, 2007

Does embracing your narcissism mean that you have to feel superior than other people?

I just took an online psychology study for extra credit, and while I don't want to ruin the experimental integrity of the study (so if you are planning on taking it, don't read this post), one of the questions has stuck with me. The section asks you to rate which attitude you most agree with. So either you believe more strongly that,

a) I am not better or no worse than most people
or b) I think I am a special person.

There are some social cues working against the second answer, and overconfidence bias working against choosing the first answer. I suppose that this question aims to determine which of these forces is stronger, and hopefully illuminate how narcissistic you are.

Tyler Durden insists in Fight Club that you "are not a special, unique snowflake." But I think that for the purposes of positive psychology and pragmatism (ie, getting shit done) it is more useful to consider yourself as at least a little bit special. If you don't think of yourself as special, why should you even do anything? You might as well wait for somebody else to do it first. And as Victor Frankl describes in Man's Search for Meaning, a purposeful life is one of our core human needs. So there is plenty of reason to choose option b, and nobody can fault you for that.

But there may be reason to fault those who believe that they are better or worse than others. To not believe that you are "not better or worse than most people," or in essence to believe that you are intrinsically better than most other people at just life in general, is a scary thought. It's the idea that led Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment that it was forgivable to commit murder. So there is also very good reason to choose option a.

So here's the problem that this question poses us, and I would say that this question is indicative of our society's general view towards narcissism. Either we think of ourselves as special, and better than other people, or we think of ourselves as boring, but the same worth as everybody else. Do you have to feel superior to others in order to embrace your narcissism? Or, can you think of yourselves as special and still assign yourself the same value as you assign everybody else? Let me know what you think.