(I wrote this paper for a Criminal Justice course that I took, while working at a college. I wanted to put this here, but I have misplaced the two pages of references. If any one has any complaint with this, I would be willing after a few weeks to look for them or take this down, but as far as I am concerned, this is for my own personal use, even if viewed by those who come to my blog.)
It is known in psychological circles that narcissism creates the energetics of highly compulsive and manipulative behavior. In psychiatric circles this compulsion for attention is called a demand for narcissistic supply. If the mechanism of function of the victim of this personality disorder is so down trodden that they can not get their ego satisfied by acceptable behavior, they will look for the feeding of their thwarted ego or, as previously stated, narcissistic supply, through criminal means. The question then becomes are we creating a society with a disposition towards crime, and, if we are creating a propensity towards personality disorders, is the social consciousness that we live in morally responsible for the victims of this type of deviation? My answer is yes to all of the above.
The present punitive prison environment seems to think not. They treat prisoners as if there is no cause and effect relationship to their earliest formative years or the age and society we live in easily forgetting that in earlier times it was the very penal system that perpetrated the types of murders we are so appalled with when hearing of the brutality of criminals who have personality disorders. Isn’t the rise in crime, the percentage of repeat offenders and the tendency for criminals to learn how to work the weaknesses of the system while in jail enough for us to wake up and realize the present system is not working. Furthermore, there is a wide array of opinions about what is to be considered sane and what is not. In my opinion, murders committed by people with personality disorders, is not a good example of sanity, even though the person knows that they are committing a murder, but even in psychiatric circles, whether or not to call these maladjusted individuals sane is disputable. Some people believe that these people are actually immature and selfish. How many immature people do you know go out and murder someone or desecrate a human body? In my opinion, these are sick individuals who are desperately in need of help. That in itself is a problem worth tackling, since the present day psychiatric system also does not have appropriate means to treat them. Why? These people can be charming and so manipulative that it is almost impossible to get a handle on them. But, I believe that getting a handle on them we must do.
Although we cannot compare the present prison system to the abuses of power of centuries past, I still believe that the present prison system is cruel and unusual punishment and exactly what the Eighth Amendment rejects. Why? Since I believe that our present, so-called, modern-day society is a breeding ground for narcissism and personality disorders, I believe that we are also responsible for finding a cure and not a convenient way to overlook something. In no way do I condone the behavior of the criminally insane, but equally I cannot condone our behavior in allowing the annihilation of human beings for the sake of our vanity. I say vanity, because I believe that it is vanity that allows us to feel superior enough to murder the criminally insane without the willingness to recognize how we have created them. In fact, if that is the level of responsibility that we take as a whole, how can we expect more from individuals? What example are we setting?
In my mind, as 9/11 so proves, to think that the United States is above it all and continue to glorify itself amidst a declining educational standard, economic insecurity and a rise in criminal behavior, will only lead to stagnation and a ticking time bomb. Worse, it is the very essence of narcissism and contains a suicidal stranglehold, which once we are thoroughly in the grips of will lead to the total decline of this society.
Since the upsurge in crime started in the sixties, it seems fitting to bring to mind the writing of two famous authors of that time period. Marshall McLuhan who in 1967 wrote ‘The Medium Is The Message’ and Edward Hall. The main point of Hall’s work can be found in the following.
Man is an organism with a wonderful and extraordinary past. He is distinguished from the other animals by virtue of the fact that he has elaborated what I have termed extensions of his organism. By developing his extensions, man has been able to improve or specialize various functions. The computer is an extension of part of the brain, the telephone extends the voice, the wheel extends the legs and feet. Language extends experience in time and space while writing extends language. (Edward T. Hall, U.S. anthropologist, educator. The Hidden Dimension 1966)
Although it may be difficult for our ears to listen to, if ‘The Medium Is The Message’ what is the message of murders, including serial killers. Is it possible that these killers have lost their autonomy and are incapable of recognizing the distinction between themselves and others (or society) who they see as nothing more than an extension of themselves? In psychiatric circles, it is said that narcissism develops at a very early age. It is a time when the child is learning the difference between itself and others and fails. Narcissism is said to be an attempt of the organism to disassociate from a loathing of itself and to feed itself. It does not understand that the harm or deprivation that it feels has nothing to do with itself. If these people are already filled with self loathing and see those that they destroy only as an extension of themselves in a compulsion to play out a drama that they are unconscious about, if there manipulation and cunning is there only means of feeding themselves and getting recognition with the final outcome of punishment already charted, how is the present day penal system possibly helping them?
The following is an exert from a website dedicated to Mc Luhan titled ‘Who Was Marshall McLuhan’:
Like all great artists, McLuhan fingered the enemy of the people long before the people figured that the enemy existed. Over four decades ago, he foresaw a corporate stranglehold – facilitated by electric-electronic media –that would result in the death of literacy, morality, and sovereign individual rights. The seer-savant predicted show-biz politics, besieged cities, ubiquitous surveillance systems, electronic highways, and cyber spatial pseudo-realities that would dominate the “discarnate” human being who would become little more than a cell in the vast techno-brain of network consciousness fueled by corporate consumerism’s unrelenting demands.
Is this not the very essence of what one would think of as a narcissistic society?
On the political front, since the sixties, two presidents were shot; one president was impeached; Sadat who was negotiating peace in the Middle East was also assassinated; an icon of the British monarchy, Princess Diana was killed in a fatal car accident while photographers hounded her and in the last Presidential election even the tallying of our ballots was in question.
On the educational front, the literacy level has gone down, money for educational budgets has gone down, violence in school setting has increased and the amount of victimization of students from gangs has increased.
On the corporate front the bottom line has been the focus of attention in order to impress stockholders while one company after another has been subject to hostile takeovers, downsizing, the closing of plants and cutting out of middle management leaving a feeling throughout the nation, even amongst people who are able to be educated, that job security is no longer something that can be counted on.
One’s social security number is no longer something to receive social security benefits (and there is extreme doubt about how much longer people will be able to receive those benefits), but is a means of identification. It allows people to look at our health record, our criminal record and our credit record and denying us our right to privacy. On the opposite spectrum, phone systems are set up in such a way that it is more and more difficult to reach people whether it is to get information, set an appointment with a doctor, pay a bill or even reach a friend in a constant affront to people’s need to communicate.
We are inundated with input that overloads our senses like no other time was exposed to. Advertising campaigns that dictate to us what our sexuality should look like, what success should look like, what foods to eat and what possessions we should have with not the slightest care if those ‘extension’ are for our highest good or not. The poverty of other countries and those dying in wars is not something we hear about through friends; the news is flooded with it. We are exposed to violence not only on TV and in the movies, but on the news featuring real people and in our newspapers that portray an overabundance of the negative phenomena of society only we view it passively as if it were not even real or anything more than a movie. In fact, our whole process of viewing media is disassociated from the advertising to viewing the bombing in Iraq. I say disassociated, because we are not required to react or to feel. This lack of feeling is one of the most important characteristics of personality disorders.
The divorce rate has skyrocketed, the job market is poor, the average American family is a two income household leaving children with less quality times with their parents, people work longer hours. Our food is more laden with chemicals, we eat more junk food, we have 12 step programs for every addiction under the sun, we have an increasing population of over weight children and on the other spectrum of the coin people who are obsessed with physical fitness while we are asked to turn our heads to the toxic chemicals in our environment (least we be accused of being a liberal or a greenpeacer) while our government uses chemicals like napalm and agent orange in war and then rants about chemical weapons in a country they want to do battle with. Now not only do people sit in front of the TV without communicating to each other, they hide behind a computer and become more flooded with advertisements while looking at the Internet.
The very computer which was originally advertised as something that would save people time, including the Internet, has speeded up our world and created an even more competitive environment. Instead of working nine to five, most of us work eight to five. How many people do you know have an hour break for lunch? To this day, when I think of a break for lunch, the words lunch hour come to my mind, but in truth, since I have returned to the United States in 1995, I have not worked for a single company, including temp jobs, that allowed me a lunch hour. Yet, in the sixties and seventies, not to have a ‘lunch hour’ was unusual.
We are overwhelmed and often deal less and less with others and ourselves in response to our having to cope with more and more and feeling defeated. End result: we look for temporary fixes to make us feel better, and the world of advertising is only too happy to oblige us. Now imagine this kind of psychic overload in someone being born or in his or her first few months of life. Imagine it and you will begin to understand the world of the personality disordered, as scary as it may be.
Since I have lived outside of this country between the years 1985 and 1995 I would like to address some of my experiences being away and coming back to this country. I was appalled by the Japanese medical systems. Most men who were working about sixty hours a week never had time to go to the doctor, unless they were really in danger or had an accident. I was also appalled at the amount of moral education that was passed onto the educational system and the amount of time that students spent in after school programs cramming (which parents, even from less affluent parts of society paid dearly for). I was appalled at the long hours men worked and the lack of opportunity for women. I was appalled at the amount of men who were drinking after work and appalled at the amount of racism within that country, including towards myself a foreigner for which the Japanese word literally means outsider. I am no longer appalled though, you will see why.
It was during that time that I read the words of Edward Hall. While reading his theories about man and his extensions, I realized that an opposite form of extension was to alienate out certain elements of society which rather than become extensions become disassociated on a societal level.
In Japan foreigners were it. In Japan, the idealization and narcissism of the country is based on its homogeneousness. Japanessness is often thought of as a kind of national purity. Sameness is a cultural value. The language flourishes with ideas of insider and outsider with gaijin (outsider) the word for foreigner being just one small example. .
My point is that most of social ills in the American culture today are stemming from narcissism and that, in this country, which was founded on multi-culturalism, criminality is its point of dissociation in the same way that Japan with its homogeneous society has foreigners as its point of dissociation..
I came back to this country, after leaving it in the 80’s at a time when companies were looking to create corporate culture from the bottom up and the loyalty between employers and employees was still something to be valued. It was a culture, where people were still coming out of the sixties and seventies with idealism which wanted to end discrimination of all kinds, where education was valued and the arts were valued and where meditation and enlightenment were not uncommon words.
Some of the experiences that I encountered on my return were as follows. HMOs had taken over. Doctor’s appointments sometimes took weeks to get, and, if I got one right away, I often waited for over an hour in the doctor’s office. My girlfriend’s daughter was told that her daughter had to have so many visits with a regular doctor, before her HMO would pay for a specialist. She finally went to one out-of-pocket and was told that had she waited any longer her child might have lost her hearing.
There was no loyalty between workers and employers and everyone was working longer hours. If an employer was dealing with an employee, no matter how loyal they had been or how long they had worked there, that was ill the company was looking for ways to aggravate them and coerce them into leaving. I saw this over and over at a company I worked for that has a corporate image of working together values and a long history in the US.
The trust level and willingness of people to extend themselves for others had gone down. I was at a bank and a customer service employee was unwilling to help an elderly woman balance her checkbook. Sales people were ruder and no longer knew their products as well, if you could find a salesperson. Restaurants and department stores in New York City no longer wanted to take checks.
I had been a teacher in Japan and spoke with many teachers there who already had told me that they were fleeing the American Educational system. When I returned to the states, my friends who were teachers told me about the larger classes and expenses come out of their own pockets for supplies for their students, along with the lack of computers or educational materials. Student violence, gangs and drive bys were things to be feared. The cost of a college education had sky rocketed and the amount of people with poor credit had also skyrocketed while the use of someone’s social security number to identify them or as a means to get information about them had become common place.
When I graduated Forest Hills High School in New York, it was the number one High School in the country. My Jr. High School, about a mile away, had grown, but it was now monitored by police to protect the students from violence and gangs. This had been a school where you never saw more than a rare after school fight. My old neighborhood was now so multi-cultural that, most people on the trains were not speaking English, and the Caucasian people were in the minority. My Caucasian friends told me that it was hard for them to get jobs and easier for minorities to get them, because they would pay them lower wages. Most of them felt that they now should be the ones getting preferential treatment as a minority.
Mail was coming to me from Reader’s Digest and others saying that, “If I did not want something, I had to sign and return a form”, instead of my signing if I did want something. I made a complaint to a student loan department about issues that had taken place while I was in Japan. They insisted that information had been sent to me. When I pressed on with them, I was told that it was returned for insufficient postage. I asked them whether they had sent it out again with the right postage and was told quote unquote, “we are only responsible for making an attempt.”
When I went to my former college about completing my coursework, I was told by my academic adviser to finish my coursework and she would get me into Harvard for my Masters. I was shocked and sputtered something about not having the grades. She told me that the standards were no longer the same to get into Harvard. I gasped.
I walk into a cub supermarket, after ten years of living with the frugal Japanese with their limited choices and small supermarkets, and I was aghast. The amount of products, the multitude of brands, the amount of variance on a theme was so overwhelming that I found it good enough entertainment to sit down on a bench near customer service and watch all while my friend shopped.
The divorce rate had soared. Few of my friends were in the relationship with the person they were with, when I had left the country. No one seemed to be able to make it on one income. Everyone feared for the safety of their children, even in what had been relatively good neighborhoods.
Furthermore, there was an atmosphere where everyone seemed to feel that they were entitled to something more than what they had and were having trouble attaining with increasing amounts of distrust dependent on how far the realm of possibility was for their achieving what they were after and the level of competition needed to achieve the goal. To me, the atmosphere of the country had changed dramatically. Within six months of being here, the hospital system and way of doing things in Japan didn’t look so bad. After all, which was worse, a man who still loved his wife and kids and satisfied his narcissistic feelings of infatuation with an occasional affair or the rocketing American divorce rate which included lack of child support and abandoned children? I was in a state of shock that I did not come out of or even realize for several years.
Today, teenagers are involved in self-mutilation. Body piercing and tattooing are not something as easily erased as ragged pairs of jeans. It brings the idea of mutilation and attention getting mechanisms to a state of the art. In other words, it is narcissistic to the point of vengeance or being anti-social.
The rising criminal population and the current generation seem to be both expressing what we wish to deny and disassociate from. America stood for freedom and “Give me you tired, your sick and your poor’, but today the effects of multi-culturalism far surpasses what we are able to assimilate. And, we had the arrogant attitude, until 9/11, that there could never be war on our shores.
How does this tie in with the criminal system? As I mentioned earlier, our present penal system and the psychiatric institutions differentiate between types psychological deviations. It does this in attempt to justify its methods of deterring crimes. Even in a case where someone was clearly psychotic, but had intent to kill people, they have been executed, as in the case of Angel Maturino Resendiz. In a case where a person has had neurological or intellectual deficits and had been proved to have intent to kill, they were also executed, as in the case of Wanda Jean Allen.
Narcissism is a trauma, which happens early in childhood. In that trauma, the child’s trust that its bond with its mother (or provider) will continue is broken (I question whether the rising criminal mentality does not reflect a broken trust with society). The internalization of that loving figure never formulates within the child. This creates in the child a sense of rage and also triggers in the child that it must fend for itself with its own devices. The normal give and take interaction between the child and its caregivers becomes a multitude of maneuvers to get attention sometimes successful and sometimes not. Since at the time of onset the child is just determining a sense of self and others, it sees denials of its needs as a source of blame and shame within itself. It has not mastered the sensing devices to recognize what is its own fault and what is not due to any shortcomings of its own.
Narcissism and Personality Disorders can be seen on a scale of degrees to the assault of character development at an early age with narcissism at its base. There are those who believe that these disorders are due to the functioning of MAOA within the brain and its relationship to seritonin and how they work with neurotransmitters. But, studies have shown that childhood abuse and, even in adults, chemical toxicity effect MAOA levels in the body.
Birth trauma and the sounds a child hears when it is in the mother’s womb all effect the baby. In the Aborigine culture the state of dream is the connection with the eternal. It is believed to be the timeless space that a child rests in. If a child is shocked out of this stage by trauma, it can be in a state of post traumatic stress for its entire life and will never bond properly with anyone. Our present society, in which adults are under extreme stress tempered with a lowering of educational standards and in juxtaposition with false expectations is the soil for producing traumatized adults which will create traumatized children who can not respond properly to the signals that they are receiving from the world.
The narcissistic is constantly looking for some sort of attention to prove to itself and its worthiness or make it feel good. If the narcissistic is backed into a corner where it can no longer find attention (narcissistic supply) through the normal channels of society, it will do so through illegal means. It is in essence a perverted need for nourishment of the self in order to hide emptiness and shame.
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. has done vast scholarly works in the field of narcissism. He defines a model for determining a narcissistic society as encompassing the following points: The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group feel grandiose and self-important; are obsessed with group fantasies of unlimited success; are firmly convinced that the group is unique; require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wish to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply); feel entitled; they expect unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment; they demand automatic and full compliance with expectations; they rarely accept responsibility for their actions; are “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., use others to achieve their own ends.
Unfortunately, the United States is seen this way by a good majority of the world. And most unfortunately people with personality disorders are often displaying symbolic behavior. As I said previously, I believe that the present climate in America is a breeding ground for this type of behavior.
Some of the things I believe that we need to look at are, reevaluating the purpose of prisons; creating new psychological modalities that can alleviate birth trauma and a lack of bonding within the first few years of life, checking offenders for chemical toxicity and better means for alleviating it, looking more closely at the relationship between MAOA, neurotransmitters and serotonin, finding better means of therapy for personality disorders. Variations on Neuro Linguistic Programming and Rebirthing may have some answers.
One thing I believe is certain, further alienating and punishing people who already feel alienated and punishable and/or are getting satisfaction from being in the limelight no matter how negative a stage they are playing on is certainly not the answer. In fact, it gives them what they want and too often prison becomes a safe haven for them or a place to learn more about the glory of beating the system. It also gives those of the same bent the knowledge of what avenues to take.
Some people will argue that the criminally insane are not really out to be punished, but alas they leave behind enough of a pattern that they are caught. Without staging the crime, leaving a trail and being caught, their acts would be no more than the sound of one hand clapping and at a level of intimacy that no narcissistic can handle.
In closing I would like to say that, I am not at all implying that the public is not to be protected from these predators. What I am saying is that, there needs to be a thorough understanding of all concerned that these people are ill; that many who are afflicted with this illness are in a kind of emotional death in which they become thrill seekers, even to the point of the extremes of sadistic behavior; that there are patterns in our present day society that cause this type of deviation; and that are present modality for treating the criminally insane is not working.
People may be born with certain character traits, but what those traits are molded into certainly has to do with the environment that they are placed into. When a fine artist works with a piece of stone and turns it into a master piece of sculpture, he looks carefully at what stone can be. Each stone will have its flaws, but the artist brings out the beauty of the stone anyway.