Archaic Narcissism, Ideology Addiction and Political Ideology

In previous blog posts I have proposed that ideologies are psychoactive and potentially addictive. I suggested that ‘ideology addiction’ can be understood as a type of ideological possession and zealotry, with deleterious consequences for the individual and society. An individual in the grips of an ideology addiction exhibits psychological and behavioral patterns common to all addicted populations (It must be noted that I am not proposing that all individuals that adhere to an ideological system are ‘ideologically possessed’, but instead am referring to an extreme position of ideological belief).

From a psychodynamic perspective, ideology addiction can be understood as the result of a narcissistic disturbance of self experience and deficits in self capabilities. Simply put, ideology addiction can be understood as a pathological relationship with an ideology that provides a misguided solution to narcissistic injury and shame. Consequently, the activism of an ideology addict is fundamentally a narcissistic project. A misguided attempt at self repair and satisfaction of archaic narcissistic needs, and seldom motivated by the ideals of the ideology. From a self psychology perspective, narcissistic injury can lead to porous or scant psychic structure that is in constant threat of psychic fragmentation or annihilation. The individual with narcissistic injury often seeks self-objects that provide psychic scaffolding (Kohut, 1977). Ideology can be understood as a self-object that provides much needed psychic structure for such individuals, and transports them in a transmogrified fantasy world. The individual who is ideologically possessed is a “narcissist in wonderland” under the influence of “intoxicating fantasies” (Ulman & Paul, 2000) that presents a danger to him or herself and society.

In the context of the extreme political ideologies I will argue that there is narcissistic transference (Idealized, Mirroring and Twinship Transference) at play as a causal factor in determining an individual’s choice of extreme political positions. For example although extreme ‘left’ political ideologies, like Communism, and extreme ‘right’ political ideologies, like National Socialism, presents itself conceptually as two opposing ideological positions, from a psychological perspective I will argue that the logical and conceptual content of these ideological positions are superfluous, as the psychological dynamics that motivates both its adherents are similar. At the roots lies a form or archaic narcissism that leads to the mode-of-being of “ressentiment” (in the Nietzschean sense) and a yearning for a future utopia, and what distinguishes the extreme left from the extreme right is the type of narcissistic transference each applies to sooth their unstable inner worlds.

There are many typological perspectives that can be applied in the context of addiction. One example is that of feminine and masculine types. “When we speak of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ we are not necessarily speaking of biological ‘male’ or ‘female’, but rather referring to a spectrum of attitudes, behaviors, and cognitive styles. I have proposed that psychoactive substances can be classified according to a masculine or feminine typology (Du Plessis, 2018). Depressants or downers such as tranquilizers, and heroin can be classified as ‘feminine psychoactive substances’. And stimulants or uppers such as cocaine and methamphetamine can be classified as ‘masculine psychoactive substances’ (Du Plessis, 2010, 2012a).

I will argue that that extreme left and right political ideologies can also be classified according to a similar typological continuum. For example on the one side of the continuum we have extreme the extreme left wing ideology of Communism on the one side and on the other side we have extreme right wing ideology of National Socialism. Although they represent two extreme poles on the political spectrum, there are more similarities than differences. As Sir Rodger Scruton (2016) states in his book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands that “the public ideology of communism is one of equality and emancipation, while that of fascism [for example National Socialism] emphasizes distinction and triumph. But the two systems resemble each other in all other aspects…” (p. 200). I will classify extreme left ideologies like communist as a ‘pathological feminine ideology’ of “equality and emancipation” and extreme right ideologies like fascism as a ‘pathological masculine ideology’ of “distinction and triumph”. Like Scruton (2016) I will argue that there is a “deep structural similarity between communism and fascism, both as theory and as practice” and to think otherwise “is to betray the most superficial understanding of modern history…Communism, like fascism, involved the attempt to create a mass popular movement and a state bound together under the rule of a single party, in which there will be total cohesion around a common goal…Both aimed to achieve a new kind of social order, unmediated by institutions, displaying an immediate and fraternal cohesiveness (p. 200–201).

To elucidate a typology perspective of substance use disorders and ideology addiction I will apply the bioself-psychological typology of addiction of Ulman and Paul (2006). Kohut, (as cited in Ulman and Paul, 2006) stated: “The self should be conceptualized as a lifelong arc linking two polar sets of experiences: on one side, a pole of ambitions related to the original grandiosity [feminine] as it was affirmed by the mirroring self-object, more often the mother; on the other side, a pole of idealizations [masculine], the person’s realized goals, which, particularly in the boy though not always, are laid down from the original relationship to the self-object that is represented by the father and his greatness” (p. 30). In Ulman and Paul’s bioself-psychological typology, addiction is understood as a psychological end result of developmental arrest in the bipolarity of the formation of the self. Biological psychiatrists, in their conception of bipolar spectrum disorder, devote considerable attention to depression and mania as they manifest in this disorder. These mood disorders correlate with disorders of the bipolar self as understood by Kohut. He stated, “In general, a disturbance in the pole of grandiosity [feminine] may find expression in either an empty, depleted depression or, in contrast, in over-expansive and over-exuberant mania or hypomania; whereas a disturbance in the pole of omnipotence [masculine] may appear in either depressive disillusionment and disappointment in the idealized or, in contrast, in manic (or hypomanic) delusions of superhuman physical and/or mental powers. We maintain that an individual maybe subject to specific outcomes resulting from a disturbance in either or both of these poles of the self” (in Ulman & Paul, pp. 395–396). Owing to the specific accompanying mood disorder of each of the possible disturbances of the poles of the self, individuals will be attracted to certain psychoactive substances and ideologies, which can be understood as an attempt at rectifying a specific deficit in self and coping style (Ulman & Paul, 2006).

Therefore, by using the masculine and feminine typology, we could propose that the psychopharmacological properties of certain classes of psychoactive substances and the psychoactive effect of ideologies correlate with masculine and feminine typologies (i.e., depressant psychoactive substances and extreme left ideologies of “equality and emancipation” with the feminine, and stimulant psychoactive substances and extreme right ideologies of “distinction and triumph” with the masculine), and how Kohut’s (1977) poles of the self can also be classified within a masculine and feminine typology (pole of grandiosity/feminine and pole of omnipotence/masculine).We can, therefore, see how certain masculine/feminine psychoactive substances and masculine/feminine ideologies act as a structural prosthesis and a narcissistic object for transference in an attempt to rectify dysfunctional masculine and/or feminine poles of the self and coping styles. In short, extreme left ideologies of “equality and emancipation” (feminine) is a source for mirroring transference, and extreme right ideologies of “distinction and triumph” (masculine) is a source for idealized transference, and both provide a source for twinship transference.

According to Scruton the “[m]ost important is the way in which ideology of the kind I discuss [in Fools, Frauds and Firebrands] insulates itself against criticism, regards non-believers as a threat, and refuses to examine evidence coming from outside the closed circle of gratifying ideas” (personal communication, 5 August 2018). I would ascribe that “burying one’s head in the sand” phenomenon (so typical of the ideologically possessed) as a protective mechanism against ‘narcissistic mortification’. For this type of narcissistically disturbed individual the ideology serves the dynamic function of a ‘psychic prosthesis’ for a feeble and unstable self, and therefore a threat to the coherence of the ideology is experienced as an direct attack on the self, and conjures up powerful archaic fears of psychic fragmentation and annihilation. Therefore, to maintain psychic homeostasis the ideologically possessed individual must do everything in his power to refute these “attacks of reality” and eliminate the threat (often violently), or face a profoundly disturbing and frightening emotional experience (which perhaps could help explain the bizarre and elaborate mental gymnastics performed by many radical leftist “intellectuals” in their defence of Communist dictators like Lenin, Stalin, Mao even after these dictators were clearly exposed as brutal mass murderers).

(This blog post is based on section in a draft essay about applying Logic-Based Therapy in dealing with existential issues arising in the treatment of substance abuse disorders.)

References

Du Plessis G. P. (2018) An Integral Foundation of Addiction and its Treatment: Beyond the Biopsychosocial Model. Integral Publishers: AZ, Tuscan.

Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. New York, NY: International University Press.

Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of self. New York, NY: International University Press.

Scruton, R. (2016). Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Ulman, R. B., & Paul, H. (2006) The self psychology of addiction and its treatment: Narcissus in wonderland. New York, NY: Routledge.