Tumblerite The Hotel Concierge has written a strident and broad advice piece/ social science observational on attraction. I greatly enjoyed the piece but I think he misses the centrality of shame and resentment in what he calls narcissism. One true achievement of the march of history, much like the hallmark of psychosexual maturation into adulthood, is the ability to freely choose ones role models. It is quite easy to be attractive: Emulate the motivations, ethics and behavior of those you admire. What prevents people from doing this is the idolatry of their rivavlrous gods.
THC’s rangy exposition involves the following train of logic as far as I can tell – which I don’t mean as a dig. I obviously love a good tangential aside as much as the next:
- America, as modern market democracy par excellence is competitive and obsessed with a statistical mindset of interpersonal comparisons including physical beauty or attractiveness.
- Not to be soothed by accepting ones lot in life, you can after all get better and improve yourself. He states that beauty is an mutable truth, by which he means it is adaptable, or more adaptable than people tend to think when using feelings of unattractiveness to justify their weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- He proceeds to rebut the popular equation of (#evopsych+FMRI+TED talks =buy my ebook) which propelled folks like David D’Angleo to financial success and which leads to ascribing beauty and attraction to health traits and Skinnerian behavioral triggers. He concludes his point with noting that the emergence of sexual differences during puberty either become conditioned to a hormonal response or perhaps are simply socially learned.
- He contrasts loneliness with love, and posits that people want two things – power and love.
- The desire for power signal-boosts social hierarchies into the stratosphere of the Big Men and Rubbish Men (and then chicks). Behold – the birth of prototypes.
- Embrace a type in contrast to the desire to shop around eclectically, statistics and sanity are on your side.
Prototypes are a relic of capitalism which has given us infinitely reproducible goods. You don’t covet your neighbors Ox as much as you covet the wife of the guy in the Ox commercial you both watched before buying Oxen. This helps you avoid conflict with your neighbor since you don’t care about the Ox or the wife. You just envy the guy in the commercial, his desire, his pride, his magesterium of being as embodied by the Ox and the wife. Before prototypes there were actually types: Born a peasant, die a peasant, enjoy a peasants pleasures and resentments along the way. Prototypes are transcendental and keep peasants from rioting thanks to metaphysics and Freud’s primary process (the substitution of an objects representation for the thing itself).
The unfortunate advice to aspiring Don Juan’s and successful businessmen alike has always been to act like you’re already successful. The unstated presumption behind this advice is that it means acting like someone else. Before markets this meant someone specific. Here we see the truth of desire: It is always mediated by the existence of some Other. The inability to sincerely imitate (mimetic admiration) other people without falling into humiliation or rivalry is the hallmark of what people call “narcissism.” This condition is also learned from someone who is too insecure to be idolized and forsaken by a child.
To the obsessed, the wretch who is convinced he has to have had sex with many women, it is not the women he wants, but the being of the mediator of his desire. He wants to be his role model, in this case the alpha male, or for women the girl who has it all. These of course are no longer individuals, but metaphysical media golem’s. Amalgams of fantasy and fiction have been ever more grafted onto ordinary identification.
The literary characters worth noting here of course include Don Juan himself. But one must turn to Dostoevsky to understand the role of the man who idolizes a Don Juan archetype. No story captures this wretchedness better than The Eternal Husband. (Readers may also enjoy Rene Girard’s comparison to Don Quixote’s vignette, “The Ill-Advised Curiosity,” for an older tale of cuckoldry). Cuckoldry upholds the desire for the woman above the bonds of resentment, and enshrines the role of Other as an idol. The narcissist makes gods of his tormentors. It is them he wants to be.
(The corollary for women of course is Emma Bovary, who watched too many feminist videos on youtube…err…I mean read too many shitty Parisian novels.)
This is why these people, much like the consumer of real estate seminars, are rarely successful. They are hiding their actual desire from themselves, the desire to appropriate and embody the je ne sais quoi of their hidden role model. The reason one would avoid this is the conscious experience of self-loathing, the shame of interpersonal envy, and the inchoate danger of humiliation – failure and debasement in the face of your god. So instead, you must prove your worth before your idols. Addictions and compulsions become a propitiatory sacrifice which never quite takes.
Being a nerd is to model your desire transcendentally. It’s a fine way to avoid conflict, but is also a way to avoid contact. And as such, it makes you traditionally unrelatable to some cohorts. Much like postmodernism movies are increasingly complicated mystery boxes and bloggers such as THC and I are at risk of obfuscation. We must after all not be accused of being typical. As an aside, Pixar makes the best movies because the characters have clear motivations.
The self is first and foremost being-toward-others. To be is to only ever be-like and a style is to be styled after. Fashion is the blatant copying of other peoples appearance, which is why it must always change to hide this fact in an illusion of novel originality. These paradoxes of individuality and impersonation, vanity and authenticity are the snares of modernity and have lead to a century of escalating obsession with the psycho-mythology of narcissism.
Narcissism can never truly be self-apsorption. Narcissus’ curse, after all, was that he thought he was staring at someone else. The modern version of this is people who think they are trying to find themselves. Look no further than your fellow man.