Guest Post: Narcissistic Consumerism And Self-Destruction

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Narcissistic Consumerism and Self-Destruction  

Health is horribly unprofitable; illness, anxiety and alienation are highly profitable. That is the destructive essence of our sociopathological "engine of growth," narcissistic consumerism.

Today I want to extend the discussion of a topic that I believe is absolutely central to "why things are falling apart": our dependence on a peculiarly adolescent narcissistic consumerism for identity, meaning and economic growth.

Understanding the consequences of this pathology is the core of my books, Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation, An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times and Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change.

Correspondent/physician Birgit insightfully extends the narcissistic consumerism at the heart of our economy to its self-destructive conclusion: an essentially suicidal cultural antagonism toward any intact ecosystem.

Thanks for your concise way of connecting consumerism and narcissism. I frequently wonder at the energy my patients devote to television, three-colored hair streaks, the right shoes and purses, expensive cars, big vinyl houses, and then are completely aghast when I tell them to just plain turn off the TV and go for a daily walk and cook some actual vegetables; somehow these are too time consuming and expensive. The cognitive dissonance is painful to the point where I feel a very strong suicidal impulse from our culture. (emphasis added, CHS)


I know you are aware of the recent results of the human microbiome project, showing our heritance includes 10 times more bacterial genetic material than human DNA; and it is becoming very obvious that this is an obligate relationship, and we need our microscopic flora at least as much as they need us (skyrocketing food allergy, MS, Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, autism rates all attest to this). I think that our cultural antagonism toward an intact ecosystem is suicidal. Actually, I know it is suicidal, but I think it is manifesting more and more strongly in our capitalist subconscious. So much sanitizer and plastic!


Strangely, I see a cultural refusal to acknowledge our dependency on an intact ecosystem most strongly when driving my in suburban neighborhood. All those mulch volcanoes, frantically trying to hide any hint of roots branching underground. The good citizens somehow feel the soil that supports all life is obscene and must be completely covered. Luckily the fermentation underground is there to balance the sterility impulse (Sandor Katz's new fermentation book is like a bible, I recommend it).


I also wanted to thank you for your career advice. I finally gave notice at my conventional healthcare practice and have cast myself loose in a private practice, with low overhead, no support staff, and my own ideas. Thanks to you I see the complexity of the insurance and Medicare systems as the marker of their unsustainability, and I know that business as usual won't be for too much longer.

Thank you, Birgit, for a brilliant and incisive description of permanent-adolescence narcissistic consumerism. For readers who are unfamiliar with the microbiome, here is an excellent overview Your Inner Ecosysem: Your Microbiome Community Brings New Meaning to "We the People" (Scientific American) and Explore the Human Microbiome.

As mentioned in yesterday's entry Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth, the culture of narcissism is based on fear: of emptiness, worthlessness and whatever else the marketing machine can make you fear.

In our heavily sanitized culture, that includes anything related to micro-organisms, i.e. "germs," dirt, etc. Those of you who know basic biology understand the irony of this sanitization: in killing off bacteria, we not only eliminate "good" bacteria we need to stay healthy, we also eliminate the weakest "bad" bacteria and leave only the most resistant few to reproduce.

This heavily marketed obsession with sanitization of everything has led to super-bugs which cannot be killed by conventional antibiotics.

In a way, the self-destructive consequences of obsessive sanitization is an apt metaphor for the self-destruction at the heart of the entire narcissistic consumerism project. Where does reacting to constant, exaggerated messages of fear lead to? To the loss of the ability to make realistic assessments of reality.

Permanent adolescence is the state of resolving insecurity, fear and social defeat by buying things that promise the invulnerability of a fantasy self and world, and by indulging in instant gratification to mask the self-destructive derangement of broken ecosystems: not just in the natural world, but in our bodies, in our society, in our economy and in our politics.

Nurturing permanent adolescence, anxiety and alienation are highly profitable, for people responding to the fear and anxiety of Thanatos (the instinct for destruction) will not only become malleable consumers, they will lose their grip on Eros, the instinct for life and love. Once lost to the Dark Side, they have no way to experience health or intact ecosystems; their world darkens as there appears to be no alternative to the Status Quo.

Health is horribly unprofitable; illness, anxiety and alienation are highly profitable. That is the destructive essence of our sociopathological "engine of growth," narcissistic consumerism.