Deluded By Their Own Device

The New Narcissism
By Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

“How can well-to-do members of society be so stupid as to spend large amounts of money on advertising in order to confirm their belief in the stupidity of others?” - Niklas Luhman

[...] the term “narcissism” is used to designate a condition characterized by self-obsession and an extreme thirst for attention and admiration... Narcissism is normal among children, but after puberty, it may be considered pathological. We might say it is also normal to find it among politicians during an electoral campaign. But, when self-promotion becomes a standard feature of a society’s public life, one must ask if it has not become a social disorder.

Let us leave aside for the moment the logic of the law that is supposed to regulate electoral campaigns. We have seen how easy it is to go around it. The law has been interpreted to apply only to individuals and entities that have filed their official candidacy. It does not cover those who have only signified an intention to run. So long as they are not yet candidates, the latter can do everything that candidates are prohibited from doing, short of actual vote solicitation. The result of this has been the proliferation of all forms of political advertising long before the official campaign period has begun. To all intents and purposes, the offense of premature campaigning has been effectively erased from the election code.

Yet our election laws have not changed much. What seems to have changed is our general attitude toward self-promotion. It is no longer frowned upon. The new principle appears to be: “if you have it, flaunt it; if you don’t have it, imagine you have it.” A new narcissism seems to have replaced the ethic of quiet modesty and self-deprecation that citizens in the past looked for in their leaders.

[...] if politicians had a better appreciation of how advertising today works, and how countless forms of self-promotion only evoke negative reactions from the public, they would think twice before they inflict their narcissism on the public consciousness.

Let me offer a few examples to illustrate this point. Every time I see promotional material stapled on trees or dangerously clipped onto electric and telephone wires, I cringe. I take a good look at the faces of these irresponsible politicians and swear never to vote for them. Whenever I pass a road or a bridge being repaired, and I see the beaming faces of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her public works secretary, and the local politicians on the billboards—instead of the budget for this project and the starting and completion dates—my blood boils. These politicians are using public money to promote themselves instead of empowering the public with useful information. [...]

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Sana ang bolok na pamamaraang ito ng tradisyonal na mga politiko na inaasahan nila ng malaki na makapagpanalo sa kanila ay sa halip ang magiging pinakamismong kasangkapang matahimik na maglalaglag sa kanila ng unti-unti hanggang sa kalaunan ay tuloyang magpapatalo sa kanila.