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The Culture of Narcissism, Part 2: Sex and the Self

The Culture of Narcissism, Part 2: Sex and the Self

This is the second part in a series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism.

Narcissism is the self in love with itself; it’s believing the world revolves around one’s ego. While narcissists lack regard for the needs of others, they crave attention, admiration, and even envy to bolster their own self-esteem. And they will manipulate others for their own self-aggrandizement and personal satisfaction. Narcissists see others, and the world, as mirrors reflecting their own ego needs. Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, argued that “every society reproduces its culture…in the individual, in the form…

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UnREAL Season 1, Part 2: Death by Suicide, Death to Self-Pity

UnREAL Season 1, Part 2: Death by Suicide, Death to Self-Pity

This is part two in a series on UnREAL, a Lifetime drama returning for its second season on June 6. You’ll find part one here. Mega-super-nuclear-option spoiler alert: the following discloses the ending of the show’s first season.

Reality TV often has an ambience of controlled insanity. The contestants act in violent, conniving, or erratic ways, and one can legitimately wonder how many are (a) truly acting or (b) truly mentally ill. In the latter category, were they chosen because of their illness by cynical producers? Are the producers exacerbating antisocial behavior in mentally ill contestants, or are the producers (probably pleasantly) surprised? The uncertainty is…

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Dan Ariely on Traffic Jam “Altruism”

Dan Ariely on Traffic Jam “Altruism”

This from his new advice-column book, Irrationally Yours. Ariely sees the contradiction implicit in our own self-regard when stuck in traffic, or, you know, everywhere else. As Jesus said, let not the hand steering the wheel know what the hand directing merging vehicles is doing. Or something like that.

Dear Dan, 

Often as I creep along in a traffic jam, someone inevitably tries to enter my lane from the side. Now here is the issue: If I let the car in, I feel good about it. But when I see others in front of me let someone in, I feel cheated, because I’ve been…

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William James’ Self-Esteem Equation

From the, er, esteemed psychologist’s Psychology, A Briefer Course:

“With no attempt there can be no failure; with no failure no humiliation. So our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do. It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities; a fraction of which our pretensions are the denominator and the numerator our success: Thus:

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Such a fraction may be increased as well by diminishing the denominator as by increasing the numerator. To give up pretensions is as blessed a relief as to get them gratified; and where disappointment is incessant and the struggle unending, this is what men will always do. The history of evangelical theology, with its conviction of sin, its self-despair, and its abandonment of salvation by works, is the deepest of possible examples, but we meet others in every walk of life. There is a strange lightness in the heart when one’s nothingness in a particular area is accepted in good faith… How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young or slender. ‘Thank God!” we say, ‘those illusions are gone.’ Everything added to the Self is a burden as well as a pride.” (pg 168)

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UnREAL Is Uncomfortably Close to Reality

UnREAL Is Uncomfortably Close to Reality

This is part 1 of a multipost series on UnREAL, a serial drama on Lifetime that is returning for its second season on June 6. Spoiler alert, but you’ve had a year to enjoy this one…

I am that guy who hates reality shows and wants you to know about it—out of sincere concern for the genre’s effect on intelligence and a subconscious need to broadcast my superiority (eg, this sentence). I would like to tell you, therefore, that the serial drama UnREAL, about the production of a fictional reality show, is appealing because it holds a mirror to bad art….

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Misunderstanding, Misunderstood: The Sylvia Plath Who Wrote For Children

Misunderstanding, Misunderstood: The Sylvia Plath Who Wrote For Children

At 17, I read The Bell Jar. After grimacing through the suicide attempts, the shock therapy sessions, the nervous breakdowns, and the general darkness, I closed the book, appreciated the work, and then thought, “Damn. This woman was crazy.”

At 21, I thought my life had become The Bell Jar. I felt the same suffocating dread Plath expressed in her characters’ fears of “settling.” I wallowed in my failures, was crippled by indecision, felt misunderstood, tired, and nervous. About everything. Plath was my female masthead, unapologetically vocalizing every one of my rite-of-passage fears with poetic authenticity.

Then, just last week, my English major survey…

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That’s the Law, Baby

That’s the Law, Baby

Since I’m a parent of two small children, I watch a lot of crap TV. (This is, to be clear, different from the crap TV I used to watch of my own volition. See left.) And by “watch,” I mean, “check my phone/read while the kids watch.” But recently a plot point of an episode of Octonauts caught my attention. Please stay with me–I promise at least the potential of relatability.

The animal adventurers (I guess there’s a submarine? And they’re in some version of the Navy? Or something?) stumbled upon their twice-per-episode sea creature, and this particular example was…

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Cords of wool in the EU Colors

String Theory, Shoestring Theory, and Your Entry in Modern Jackass Magazine

In 2010 Kathryn Schulz, a journalist for the New Yorker, wrote a book called Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. This passage comes from that book, and describes a phenomenon we know all too well: that we pretend to know something that we, in fact, don’t know anything about. Maybe we lay out the chief causes of the Flint, Michigan water crisis because we skimmed a Washington Post story on it. Maybe we throw out some statistics about incarceration in America–statistics even we didn’t know before they came out of our mouth. Maybe we describe to our spouse how he/she should water the fig plant….

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Personality Assessments: Grace in Neuroses

Personality Assessments: Grace in Neuroses

In seminary there were three really important questions you asked your fellow students:

What diocese are you from? (New York)
Sherry or Port? (Lemon-tini)
What is your Myers Briggs? (INFJ)

I haven’t figured out if Myers Briggs was a part of the Gnostic gospels or the Apocrypha, but it is a fundamental personality identifier in mainline Protestant seminary culture. So it must be in the scriptures somewhere. As a J, I can tell you that it was the fastest way to sort out the weirdos from the weirdest. And also, it was a great way to preemptively excuse your bad behavior. Once I learned…

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From the Archives: Projecting Our Way Through Holy Week

From the Archives: Projecting Our Way Through Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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From the Archives: What Kind of Anxious Are You?

From the Archives: What Kind of Anxious Are You?

“To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck—paddling, paddling, paddling…” – Scott Stossel

You don’t have to have a therapist on speed-dial to relate. You don’t need a prescription to Xanax or Ativan, or a shelf full of ‘how to reduce stress’ books to know what he’s talking about. You don’t even need to be interested in mental health. All you need is a pulse, and possibly an Internet connection, to know that the ducks are multiplying.

Indeed, the level of anxiety in America is skyrocketing. Every…

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Even Though I Ought To…I Kant!

There was an interesting article in the Gray Matter column of this past Sunday’s Times. The article, written by philosophy student Paul Henne and social science researcher Vlad Chituc, take a look back at one of central ideas of Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher who is also considered to be the central figure of “modern philosophy.” He is known for his moral philosophy, and specifically his understanding of the “categorical imperative,” that moral laws–if they exist at all–must exist universally and necessarily. Kant also believed that a prescriptive law, by definition, implies that it can be followed/achieved.

In their article, “The Data…

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