Thursday, July 19, 2012


Krugman again, on the mark again -- this time about the narcissistic dimension of our elites' insanity. I would just add that it's not only about wealth and privilege (pace F. Scott). It's about isolation (cue Jared Diamond). 

My experience in corporate America has made it clear to me that the putative emotional-familial structure of hierarchical organizations (and by extension, societies) is, in fact, a willful collective delusion. We tell ourselves that our leaders are like parents and those they lead are like children -- but the emotional truth is precisely the opposite. Executives are emotional babies, in need of constant stroking and assurance that they are wise, powerful, beautiful, beloved. The workers of any organization play the role of the grown-up, reassuring and protecting them. 

Why do we do this?  Because we want there to be leaders (and, eventually, to be a god). We find a life in which there is no final authority -- a genuinely open uiniverse -- too frightening. We're acutely aware of our own limitations, and we long for a loving authority who will protect us from having to be adults. So we invent one, we invent more than one. We tell ourselves and them that they actually exist.

This collective fiction can be sustained when the overall system is more or less stable and broadly beneficial. But when it breaks down, when the power imbalances get too wide, and a correction is required, the emotional dishonesty is suddenly unavoidable. What we're hearing from these criminal infants on Wall St. is not just the deranged hypersensitivity of the bubble-ensconced rich brat (though the thought does occur that bubbles beget other bubbles). It's the desperate cris de coeur of the naked emperor, the dreamer of the universal dream of inadequacy who has suddenly been woken up. They have to blame that on somebody. Being awake is too scary.

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