While Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses, the sigh of the oppressed creature, the soul of soulless conditions, he may have made his point a bit too fine to be precise. Religion is merely one of the huddling forms beneath the large umbrella of human groups – and the cloud of group narcissism that blooms in times of trouble.
In Freud’s 1914 On Narcissism, the psychoanalyst provides a simple explanation for the title disorder: “The libido that has been withdrawn from the external world has been directed to the ego and thus gives rise to an attitude which may be called narcissism.”
In other words, in a world where external satisfaction is inaccessible, a protective fixation of the self develops – leaving no room for other care.
In a group, like an individual, a collective narcissism provides a reason for members to feel proud and worthwhile. As reality darkens, what could be called fanaticism causes a behavior typically not normative within society; the need for group approval has surpassed the existing moral or ethical scope found in the general population.
The successful groups, those achieving influence and/or longevity, depend on the cessation or mitigation of external sources of satisfaction as much as any in-group characteristic.
As Fromm puts it in An Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, ” (the) narcissistic person achieves a sense of security in his own entirely subjective conviction of his perfection, his superiority over others, his extraordinary qualities, and not through being related to others or through any real work or achievement of his own.”
Regardless of your politics, would you not describe those you consider fanatical with eerily similar terms.
With the advent of the internet increasing our connectivity in greater and greater ways each day, we’ve managed to do more than build two Americas. In addition to two separate value systems, we’ve created two groups with distinctly narcissist characteristics.
While the individual narcissist might seek power or fame to satisfy their unhealthy need for praise or positive consensus regarding their worth, a fairly large amount of talent – and opportunity – must be present. In contrast, a member of a group can grasp lack of personal value while receiving sustenance from their perceived value of the group. If those around them are in accord over their expressions of valuing the group (faith or patriotism), the developing bond is one of “individual via group” value consensus more than any trait specific to group membership.
The attack on the group becomes an attack on the value of each member.
Before engaging in some hate-filled attack against someone with a different political stance, understand the horror so many of us have faced since 9/11. Think about the wars. Think about the recessions. Think about the pandemics. The fanaticism we see on either side of the aisle is a symptom of so much going wrong for such a long period.
If we focus on the conditions creating a drought of human satisfaction, we will find the remedy to group narcissism for all parties involved.