— Counter-Currents —

The Original Optics Cucks, Part 3:
Narcissism & Honor


Rousseau’s Émile

3,539 words

Part 3 of 3 (Part 2 here [2])

This conversation took place in the spring of 2015. We would like to thank KC for making this transcript. 

Greg Johnson: When people talk about vanity, another term that they’ll use is narcissism. “So-and-so is very narcissistic.” Again, I think that there’s a certain sense of narcissism that’s not a bad thing. The myth of Narcissus is that he’s captivated by his own reflection in the water. He exists as a prisoner of his own image, reflected in something external. Now, that is a bad situation. That is to be empty, in some sense. The bad sense of narcissism, as I understand it, is when a person’s sense of worth is entirely dependent upon how he or she is perceived by others, such that it’s just good enough to manipulate how others perceive you in order for you to feel good about yourself. So, a narcissistic person doesn’t necessarily have to be virtuous, doesn’t necessarily have to have good taste, doesn’t necessarily have to be anything. He just has to seem that way well enough that others think he’s that way, and then he derives a kind of gratification from the reflection of himself in the eyes of others.

What’s objectionable about bad narcissism is the inauthenticity, the unrealness. The narcissist isn’t necessarily really a good person, or really a smart person, or really an accomplished person. His primary concern is to be seen that way, so he ends up manipulating other people — defrauding other people of esteem, basically. Narcissists get esteemed for things they’re not, and to do that they have to manipulate how other people think. So it’s a parasitic, manipulative form of life. I think that’s a really negative and dangerous thing.

Another sense in which people talk about narcissism is self-love. A certain amount of that, I think, is crucial. But then there’s a sense of narcissism as basically being empty and unreal as a human being and living in the perceptions of others, so that you’re false, manipulative, and dependent on others. But at the same time, it’s possible for there to be an element of narcissism, an element of imitation, an element of acting, an element of playing to the crowd in the process of growth and maturation. Boys want to be like their dads. Women and girls want to be like their moms. You want to have certain features of the people that you respect. You want to internalize those features, and so there’s a great deal of psychological development that just works through the process of imitating others.

How do you know you’re doing a good job? They tell you you’re doing a good job. So you’re imitating others in order to gain their accolades, in order to gain their praise. The problem, though, is when you never get beyond that, and it never becomes authentic. It never becomes you. It never becomes real. So you’re always just acting, always just playing a game. And then beyond that, there are the people whose whole lives are involved in manipulating others so that they praise you, or they think well of you, or they give you things. That’s a kind of fraudulent existence. It’s a bad existence because it doesn’t require you to be real, to have real virtues and talents. And it also makes you entirely dependent on others and manipulative of others rather than being somewhat psychologically independent and capable of grappling with the problems of life on your own.

In his book Émile, and in his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau claims that the main problem of civilization is vanity (amour-propre). He has a very negative sense of vanity, and it’s basically just narcissistic manipulation of others in order to gain esteem and status. He thinks vanity is at the root of human inequality, in the bad sense of human inequality, human unhappiness, tyranny and domination, and so forth. He thinks vanity is really the root of all social evils.

But Rousseau thinks that the solution to these social evils is self-love (amour de soi-même). So, he makes a contrast between vanity and self-love, and he thinks that self-love is grounded ultimately in a sense of being able to master the challenges of life, whereas vanity is ultimately haunted by a kind of emptiness and a kind of dependency on other people. The man with self-love has the power to conquer nature and control nature, whereas the man who lacks self-love and whose life is caught up in vanity lacks the power to conquer nature, and therefore he has to conquer or manipulate other people in order to deal with the problems of life.

Rousseau wrote his book Émile, or On Education, basically because he was trying to figure out how vanity becomes a problem. He thinks it becomes a problem because of maleducation starting from the very earliest phases of life. So he tries to put forward an alternative scheme of education that allows people to gain self-worth and self-love rather than vanity. The aim is to create a society of people who are self-actualized and self-confident, not psychologically dependent and manipulative. It’s a society of autonomous adults who are capable of non-manipulative, non-dependent relationships with one another. And he also says that the product of this education would basically be a kind of Übermensch — of course he doesn’t use that term. A few people with this sort of education who have self-love but lack vanity, and thus have inner strength rather than weakness, could smash the world. This is a chilling and powerful idea. He really was trying to create an Übermensch who could revolutionize and overturn a society of weak, manipulative, vain, dependent, narcissistic people.

Hugh MacDonald: To aspire to be good and to aspire to make yourself better, that’s a positive quality.

GJ: I would say so.

HM: And to care what other people think of you is also a positive quality. That’s also a healthy thing, because it encourages you to improve.

GJ: Yes.

HM: But if you have that care without the actual self-improvement, that’s when it becomes unhealthy. If you care to present yourself as something that you’re not as a form of lying, that’s the bad thing.

GJ: Yeah, exactly. And so there’s a sense in which honor is a good thing. What is an honorable man? He’s a person who is concerned about his reputation, for instance.

HM: And the reputation for his people.

GJ: No man is an island. He’s not just an individual.

HM: That’s how Jack Donovan in The Way of Men frames honor. Honor is important, because you are a representative of your group, and if you’re acting like a fool, you’re making everyone else in the group — your whole tribe — appear weak.

GJ: Yeah, and it’s not just appearing weak, although that’s part of it, it’s to make them weak. And that’s really the most pressing concern. We want appearances and concerns with appearances ultimately to track what’s real. And if you behave in a bad way, if you’re the kind of person who’s flagrantly unconcerned with honor, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t care about his reputation, if you’re the sort of person who therefore breaks promises, or speaks in an impulsive way, or just does dumb stuff, that doesn’t just make your group look bad, that makes your group weak.

HM: It makes your group bad.

GJ: It makes your group bad, not to mention looking bad.

HM: It’s not just looking bad. It makes you bad.

GJ: Looking bad is the alarm bell. That’s what we see. But the real concern is actually making us be bad. And there might be some times when you have to be unconcerned with looking bad in order to be strong. Can you think of examples where you might have to look bad in order to be strong or effective?

HM: It could be empowering to make it appear as if you don’t care what people think of you. Yeah. And you can deliberately kind of force that appearance. You want people to believe you don’t care what they think because, if you don’t care what they think of you, then they don’t have power over you.

GJ: Yes.

HM: You’re stronger if you genuinely don’t care what they think of you, so it’s to your advantage to at least appear like you don’t care. In public spaces, I’ve heard this many times. People will be very vocal about saying, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I just don’t care what people think.” But if they honestly didn’t care what other people thought of them, then why would they bother to vocalize that idea in the first place?

GJ: That’s a very good point.

HM: You know people will tell you that they don’t care what you think of them, because they really care. They care that you know that, because it’s an empowering thing. If someone else cares what I think of him, then I have power over him, because I’ve got some pull. He fears my judgment. So, it’s important at least to present yourself as if you don’t care while secretly caring. You obviously really care, which is why you do your best to appear like you don’t care.

GJ: Right, right. Vanity — being too concerned with what other people think of you — comes off as weakness to me. However, you don’t want to be so “strong” that you don’t really care at all what anybody thinks of you. Because then you’re autistic, or you’re like Aristotle’s God, who’s sort of autistic. Aristotle has this notion of God as totally self-absorbed and uninterested in anything else: totally self-contained. The Daoists have a similar idea of the sage or the emperor as entirely self-contained. He doesn’t even need to act, because others are drawn to imitate him.

Now, there’s something real about that. There’s something deep and true and powerful about that. I think that really psychologically strong and healthy people do have a kind of self-containedness and aloofness about them that makes them very charismatic. However, if they were entirely that way, they wouldn’t even be human. But if you’re a person of real quality, then you can’t really seriously care about what everybody thinks of you — just anybody, right? Because most people don’t even have the criteria to judge.

HM: Right.

GJ: If you are a skilled violinist or a physicist, if you are somebody who does something that is very difficult and very hard to appreciate, the number of people whose opinions really matter to you has to be pretty small. You’re only going to be concerned with the opinions of your peers, the people who are in your class. So there might be people who are superlative individuals, extremely strong people, extremely self-contained people, and they might look like they don’t care about what anybody thinks, but they’re still human, and they still care about the opinions of significant others, people who matter to them; the opinions of the people who matter to them, matter to them a great deal. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t even be human. They’d be on an entirely different plane of existence.

When you believe in hierarchy, when you believe in inequality, you’re going to naturally and necessarily believe that there will be certain people who are so advanced that they don’t really care about the opinions of most people. And therefore, they are going to have this quality of aloofness and self-containedness that can be extremely attractive, extremely charismatic. Yet, they do have peers, and the opinions of their peers do matter to them, because they’re human, and because there are other people on their level. It might be lonely at the top, but there are still other people at the top. But the opinions of everybody don’t necessarily matter.

No matter how important you are or how accomplished you are, you’re still a human being. You still put your pants on one leg at a time. So on some level, there’s going to be a sense in which anybody can judge you. And on those levels where anybody can judge you, then their opinions will matter. You might be the hottest guy in town, you might be the smartest guy in town, you might be really up there, but if you get out of the car and slip and fall in the mud, you’re going to look bad to anybody. You’re going to feel embarrassed, no matter who sees you, because there are certain levels in which we’re all the same, basically.

But still, on some higher levels of achievement — moral, intellectual, aesthetic, scientific — the opinions of others that really matter to you become very rarefied, and the numbers of people who really matter become quite small. Therefore, you seem distant and almost godlike to a lot of people.

It’s fashionable for people to say, “I don’t care what other people think of me,” and it fits in with a sort of corrosive individualism in our culture. However, if people really don’t care what other people think of them, they’re kind of dangerous. They’re not quite human in that sense. That’s something to be concerned about.

HM: Especially if they’re an ally, because they’re part of the same group. When someone is weaker than you, then it doesn’t matter what they think because they are no threat to you.

GJ: Right.

HM: That’s the real importance of caring what other people think. If someone is potentially threatening, then you want to appear strong to them. You want to appear like you could resist them if they were to attack you. Whereas, if they’re weak, even if you yourself appear weak, you still feel like you’re stronger than them, and they want to attack you.

GJ: Right.

HM: I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be civilized. And if you think about an uncivilized people like sub-Saharan Africans, for thousands of years, they really didn’t create very much. Whereas, if you compare them to a civilized people like Europeans, and you look at what all we did — our music, our philosophy, our buildings, our architecture, our science, our government, all of these things — we created so much. Creativity is really the distinguishing thing between being a civilized people and an uncivilized people.

And that’s connected to the idea of vanity in a sense that fashion is a form of creation. A woman’s makeup is a form of creation. I guess even bodybuilding is a form of creation. And so, there are people who look down on vanity, but I say: No, vanity is a positive quality. It’s a form of being civilized; it’s a form of cultivating yourself; it’s a form of carving your existence into a form of self-expression. It’s a form of making your existence a form of self-expression, carving every atom of your being into something. That’s what a civilized person does; that’s part of what it means to be civilized: it’s to be making things, constantly making things, constantly creating things, constantly making art — art understood as that through which one can express oneself.

GJ: The most pretentious thing possible is to be civilized. I wish I had said this, but I think it actually came from Thomas Sowell: Every new generation is an invasion of barbarians, and you’ve got to civilize them, or they’ll destroy your society. To a barbarian, there is nothing more pretentious than being civilized. And how have our people raised ourselves above barbarism? It’s a pretense, if you will. Not an empty pretense, but an earnest pretense, an earnest pretense to improve oneself.

HM: And so to be vain, to take the time to very consciously present in your haircut or the clothing that you wear — these are in fact expressions of culture. Your hairstyle is a form of culture, and the way you speak even is a form of self-expression, and that’s part of what it means to be cultured and to be civilized, which is an important part of what it means to be a European.

GJ: Yes, yes. Most of our people don’t know it yet, but our people are in an ethnic struggle for their very existence. Those of us who are self-conscious of that existential threat, we need to really be at our best. We need to live up to the ambition that we set for ourselves, which is to be the people who preserve and carry forward civilization. That’s a big task.

HM: The war that we’re fighting is a culture war. Our cultural landscape is a battlefield, and so every act, every cultural gesture, the clothing that you wear, the way you cut your hair, the style in which you build your home, how you decorate your home — all these forms of self-expression: the music that you make, the art you paint — this isn’t just window dressing. This is an act of war. This is an expression of our European identity and our rejection of multiculturalism: very consciously dressing in a traditional European style, wearing a European suit, or cutting your hair in the fascist style. It’s an expression of our European identity, an act of war, a gesture of our rebellion and rejection of multiculturalism, and a celebration and embrace of our European identity and European culture. That’s vanity, being very conscious about these things and how other people perceive you, and how you are presented. And so, in that sense, vanity is a virtue, a positive quality.

GJ: I would agree, and at the same time, we have to be aware that the negative sense of vanity makes us weak, but the positive sense of vanity is at the core of what makes us strong and how we become stronger and better.

The Left doesn’t dismiss the idea that art and fashion are connected with politics. Our people tend to dismiss those ideas. It’s part of the reactionary populism that a lot of our people just sort of stumble into because they really are just reacting against something they dislike about the Left, and therefore they want to negate it. They think that “Oh, these people are horrible elitists, so we’re going to somehow be democratic ordinary Joes.” But ordinary Joes don’t beat elites. Elites beat elites. So we have to be a better elite than they are. That’s the only way we’re going to win.

But the enemy doesn’t dismiss the inherently political nature of every aesthetic gesture, every bit of fashion, every bit of art. And we need to see things in the same way. They’re right. Everything is politicized in that sense, and the reason they promote ugly hairstyles and ugly clothes and ugly music is to attack us. When people present ugly music as great art, we should feel the same sense of horror and existential threat that we feel toward somebody who throws acid in the face of a beautiful woman. It’s the same malice; it’s the same evil.

The flip side of having taste is that it makes it difficult to enjoy a lot of things. I can’t listen to some kinds of singing — or “vocalizing” — anymore. But on the other hand, it does sensitize you to things that are threats and meant as threats to our identity, and I think that we all have to become more sensitive to that, because we really are under threat. And the threat comes in all directions.

HM: I can think of clear examples of degenerate art when it comes to film, especially films like Bridesmaids or The Kingsmen, which was a clear celebration of degeneracy. But anyway, that would be cool to have a separate broadcast talking about degenerate art versus quality art.

GJ: Yeah, that would be a really entertaining and interesting thing to dig into. Well, Hugh, we’ve been going on for about an hour now, and I really feel like this is becoming clearer to me. I really do think there are defensible senses of vanity, pretentiousness, and snobbery, which are terms that are used pejoratively. I also think we need to defend these things, because as European nationalists, we are anti-egalitarian. To defend the idea that there are real distinctions of quality in the world, we have to defend snobbery, which is the ability to distinguish between real levels of quality. We also have to distinguish between a good and a bad sense of pretentiousness. I think good pretentiousness is the ambition to improve oneself. And like you were saying, the good sense of vanity is an aspiration to improve oneself specifically in terms of one’s beauty. These are all things we stand for and believe in. I think this was really valuable. I think it’s probably very valuable for our listeners. So, let’s definitely do this again soon.

HM: All right, sounds good.