The Narcissist Meme

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

~ Isaac Asimov


It began as libel. I turned it into a joke, as I often do. As a result, it became fodder for my detractors, based in ignorance and stupidity. Thus did my joke get turned on me. So much for playing Court Jester.

I’m referring to narcissism. Technically, I’m referring to narcissistic personality disorder. The latter is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.

This is all better than the recent, online, anonymous, unfounded accusation that I’m a, “eugenicist baloney scientists (sic) on the pay roll (sic) of the wealthiest 1%.” It’s difficult to disagree with the concluding line: “the man should be shot.”

That last sentence was a joke. Some readers will not understand. Others will twist the meaning and conclude I’m suicidal.

First a little background about the narcissist story, and then the personal history, followed by the evidence. I suspect the typical reader will be least interested in the latter. Evidence is ignored or worse in a culture infatuated with celebrities. As suggested by Asimov — and many others, before and after him — the typical American reader is woefully, willfully ignorant and sufficiently stupid to believe his or her own opinion is superior to any evidence s/he encounters.

My detractors grab onto anything that might prove me wrong. They don’t know enough about the process of science to understand terms such as proof, fact, theory, and evidence as applied within the realm of science. Don’t even get me started on the postmodern palaver of everybody has his/her own truth, an idea rooted in exceptionalism that promotes abandoning personal responsibility. I’ll not take the time within this essay for a course in Introduction to Scientific Terminology, a course badly needed and seldom offered on contemporary college campuses. I taught such material for years, in yet another case of a slim minority failing to keep up with a rising tide. As a result of their lack of knowledge and lack of interest, my detractors frequently fail to differentiate between me and my work, as I’ve mentioned before in this space.

I’ve been the target of this type of nonsense for years. Surprisingly, I’m not yet accustomed to it. For example, I was diagnosed by my so-called colleagues with a rare brain disease when I left active service at the university in 2009. Apparently only insanity would drive a full professor to leave a high-pay, no-work position in exchange for an escape from the omnicidal heat engine affectionately referred to as civilization. The attempt to escape an asylum run by its inmates seemed a rational approach at the time, even though it failed in my case.

I was diagnosed as a narcissist a few months ago by somebody who could not distinguish me from my work. Feebly latching onto a label, he indicated the evidence I collated was rooted in narcissism. Perhaps you see the problem. Perhaps not. Going a step further, the detractor in question claimed my ill-advised attempt to attract attention was motivating my collation, organization, and synthesis of the evidence. To some people, this actually makes sense. Asimov’s quote applies to these people.

Turning the libelous comment into a joke, as I’m inclined to do with insults launched my way, was a mistake on my part. It was a humorous attempt to make fun of the libel and also to make fun of those people for whom such libelous comments make sense. It’s consistent with my pattern of overestimating the intelligence of my audience, contrary to a line attributed to H.L. Mencken (probably paraphrased): “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” My pattern of overestimating the intelligence of my audience doubtless contributed to my going broke.

My Camus-inspired, absurdist outlook on the universe routinely has me turning everything into a joke. The typical person in this culture has no idea what the prior sentence means.

The joke went south. Now people are claiming that I admit my narcissism. Well, I do: as a joke! As should be clear with the application of a small amount of logic, no narcissist would admit to being a narcissist, much less make the proclamation before an audience. Logic is an attribute possessed by few within contemporary culture.

I’ve no doubt my detractors will continue to use my humor against me. Indeed, quite recently a woman claiming to love me — and the people on that list is quite different from the same list a few years ago, when the collegiate accolades were still coming my way — sent me an email message in which she pointed out her love for me and then, a few lines later, she referred to the “well known (sic) admittance of your narcissism” (sic). She went on to explain to me that I hadn’t done the requisite work in building my human community, thereby ignoring the thousands of hours I’ve contributed exactly to this cause during my life, and quite recently with my former tribe in New Mexico. She has benefited directly from this work, and she continues to do so. This is yet another case of making my oft-repeated error of trusting “friends” with my thoughts. And, far worse, with my heart.

Again, I refer the reader to the quote from Asimov with which I began this short missive. Again, I continue to overestimate the intelligence of the populace, not to mention their empathy.

I have a long history of incorporating the learning of empathy into my classrooms and presentations. My TEDx talk from 2012 focused on this topic, which is consistent with my lifelong commitment to service. Such pursuits are clearly inconsistent with narcissistic personality disorder, which is characterized by“a lack of empathy for others.” Considering my long-exhibited propensity toward empathy of others — including non-human species — the charge of narcissism seems especially incoherent and mean-spirited. And I’m not surprised.

A quick look at the other two elements of narcissistic personality disorder, according to the Mayo clinic, are “an inflated sense of their own importance” and “a deep need for admiration.” The former is readily discounted with a close look at any one of my dozens of public presentations in which I point out the insignificance of the human experience, and also by my weak will to live. And had I a “deep need for admiration,” I would no longer focus my presentations on the most-dreaded topic in the world.

Were I half as mean-spirited as my detractors, I’d again reference Asimov’s line here.


McPherson’s latest book is available in audio, and can be purchased here. Ms. Ladybug and Mr. Honeybee: A Love Story at the End of Time is intended for ages 11 and up.