Thursday, 7 May 2015

Things I Don't Understand - Number Nine - Egotism

I don't understand egotists.

By egotists, I mean those who are convinced that they're somehow so special that the world should revolve around them and their needs, that they are above the rules that act as guidelines for other people's behaviour, and sometimes even above the law.

There are varying degrees and kinds of egotism, though none can be said to be entirely harmless. There are the spoilt brats of both sexes, who learn in childhood to throw tantrums if they don't get what they want. Such children are often tiresome to be around, and many of them, alas, continue this behaviour into adulthood.

Then there are the adolescent 'mean girls', with their bitchy little cliques, and the arrogant young men (and many older ones too) who seem convinced that the mere possession of a penis makes them superior. They always give me the impression that they believe they're somehow "too special" to bother with things like being nice or considerate of others.

There are plenty of egotistic adults as well. People who use and abuse others, who whine and manipulate and scheme, controlling others for their own ends. Their attitude seems to be that only their own wants, desires and feelings have any validity, or if they do recognise others' feelings at all, it's only so they can use them against those others. They are, in their eyes, the centre of the Universe, and others are mere 'backdrops' for their own dramas. We've probably all met people like this, and some of us have suffered at their hands. I know I have.

Julia Cameron, author of my favourite book on creativity, The Artist's Way, describes such people as 'crazymakers'. They're the ones who always manage to create drama just when you don't need it, constantly undermine your efforts to establish order or sanity in your life, jerk you back on a short leash whenever you try to escape, invade your personal space and time, and generally drive you crazy - all the while telling you it's all your own fault, that if only you did this, or were that, things would be just fine... But no matter how hard you try, it never seems to work. Of course it isn't - they're pulling your strings. Such relationships are often verbally or emotionally abusive, but of course they rarely acknowledge that.

Some of these people would probably fit diagnostic criteria for conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, if they ever submitted to being evaluated that is, which most of them wouldn't - any problems they have, in their view, are always someone else's fault. Others would not perhaps quite fit into that category, but are still extremely unpleasant to be around. An unknown percentage are outright abusers - the sexual exploiters of children, the domestic abuse perpetrators, the rapists, the workplace predators, the sleazy guys in the pub or nightclub with roofies in their pockets.

Sociopaths and psychopaths seem to me to be the ultimate egotists. Other people's pain are sources of amusement or pleasure to them, they truly don't care. And of course some of these become serial killers. It's surely the epitome of egotism, to see others only as prey or as obstacles to achieving their desires. These people are truly chilling.

Many dictators are egotists too, or become that way after long years of the corrupting influence of absolute power. They take their egotistical beliefs and apply them to an entire nation, or even beyond. Anyone who dares to defy them becomes, in their eyes, guilty of a kind of sin against the little god they see themselves as. There are plenty of examples in history of this - Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, the list is a long one, and they're not all dead yet.

Egotism occurs everywhere, even where you'd think it wouldn't. I spent several years on the fringes of the New Age movement, and while I saw much good, I also saw some not-so-good things. The worst was an article I read once, by a man whose name I forget, but who was said to be one of the 'fathers' of the rebirthing movement. In this article, he bluntly stated that if his followers did not financially support him so that he could indulge in constant all-day rebirthing sessions, they were "oppressing" him. No, I'm not kidding. (I had to read it several times myself, before I could believe it wasn't some kind of joke.)

I don't get why on earth any of these people would think themselves so superior, or as having the 'right' to demand everyone else treats them accordingly. They're usually singly lacking in any qualities that would justify such a high opinion of themselves, and often behave in ways that lower them in mine. I also don't get why egotists want power over others - the only power over others I've ever wished for, is the power to make them stop dumping on me.

I'm no psychologist or psychiatrist, but it seems to me that egotists of all stripes have something seriously out-of-kilter in their psyches, a kind of sucking need or hollowness within, that can never really be filled, no matter how hard they try. Even seeing that, however, I still feel I don't really understand these people.

Once again, I'm not sure whether this is due to my being aspie, or simply being me, or a combination of both. Many aspies view all human beings are intrinsically equal, probably due to a) our intense honesty and passion for justice, and b) our failure to 'read' all the little signals of social status. I am not alone in that.

Then again, it could be due to my family background and upbringing, most especially the influence of my mother. A year or two ago, I was watching an episode of Midsomer Murder Mysteries with her one afternoon. When the murderer and their motivation was revealed at the end, I turned to my Mum and commented that many reasons for murder, in both fiction and real life, seemed to me so silly, certainly not good enough reason to take a life. "That's because you or I would just walk away, Pen," she commented. "We couldn't be bothered."

I've thought about this quite a lot since, and I've realised she was right. One of the qualities my mother passed on to us was a sort of matter-of-fact humility and emotional stability. In other words, none of us have the kind of egos that expect the world to revolve around us, and if anyone really annoys us, we simply withdraw from them. Perhaps these egotists lack such a stable upbringing and family 'style'.

Either way, whatever the reason, I just don't understand egotism and egotists, and avoid them wherever possible.