Why today's social justice activism looks a lot like narcissism
Thank you @Karl for this much appreciated pre-emptive support! The right side of justice depends on who’s judging oppression. Usually the wild reactions come immediately or at the 3 day mark after publishing. So far there’s been more support than not but I think we all know that it won’t last :)
A few years ago I left a humanitarian organization because my mental health was getting so bad.
In retrospect, it was clear that the leader(s) suffered from some expression of NPD.
You’ve captured the experience perfectly. And what’s most interesting is that while we had a strong social media and comms practice, most of what you have described here played out exactly as you’ve written, only for us in real spaces usually in war zones.
Somehow that made the behavior much more scalable (due to chaos, ambiguity, and lack of accountability) but also that much more damaging.
As soon as the founders were removed by the board due to complaints regarding their toxicity, they founded a nearly identical organization refusing to reflect or answer calls for accountability/reconciliation.
I’m confident that any aid we provided would have absolutely been provided by other means (even though we were all taught to think it was ALL up to us).
In some ways, the aid world is perfect for those with NPD because the righteous ends justify any means.
I am aware that many of these traits and narcissistic tendencies are woven deeply in to my unconscious at this point.
I’ve been finding that slowly deconstruction my own narcissism appears to be much more helpful to my community than railing against today’s perceived enemy.
I’ll also say that having grown up in a home with a parent suffering from NPD, I was so attracted to organizations with leaders like this until I started to get mental health help and understand the pattern.
I’ve found that to be true for many of us that chose military service/aid/Justice work.
Thank for working so hard on this, solidarity to all those deconstructing the effects of the SIWs in our lives.
Wow. Thank you for this. I have nothing of real value to add, except these:
1) There is no such thing as "social justice." There is justice, and there is injustice.
2) "I think we're raising whole generations who regard facts as more or less optional.
We have kids in elementary school who are being urged to take stands on political issues, to write letters to congressmen and presidents about nuclear energy. They're not a decade old, and they're being thrown these kinds of questions that can absorb the lifetime of a very brilliant and learned man. And they're being taught that it's important to have views, and they're not being taught that it's important to know what you're talking about. It's important to hear the opposite viewpoint, and more important to learn how to distinguish why viewpoint A and viewpoint B are different, and which one has the most evidence or logic behind it. They disregard that. They hear something, they hear some rhetoric, and they run with it.” ~ Thomas Sowell
Great piece Natalie. Without air a good narcissist will wither. This piece reminded me of what Ernest Becker was getting at in 'The Denial of Death' - that ultimate realisation of 'our' insignificance and the yearning for a cosmic specialness. That yearning, if packaged well, is now a very nice little earner for some. And with the world the way it is, there is always 'injustice' to be fought somewhere.
I'd add that pretendians camouflage themselves as social (in)justice warriors in order to win the approval of white liberals/leftists. Pretendians can only be successful if they are believed and supported by white folks who perceive social justice pretendians as a combo of Bernie Sanders and Geronimo.
One of the more destructive and underrecognized Social Injustice Warriors are the pretendians—pretend Indians. These are non-Natives who use all of the tactics you describe here in order to personally and professionally benefit from their false identity. Here's a good Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretendian
Except, this world doesn’t exist. ...........I cannot comprehend the meaning.
Fantastic piece, Nathalie. I learned a lot from this.
Sounds like social justice activists are Karen’s and Stans. Have you noticed a correlating link to extreme group like radical feminism, narcissisism and social justice aftivists?
You are brilliant and I just bought your assertiveness book. Thank you.
I'm working on a look at this phenomenon in history right now! There have been many moments when this impulse rises to prominence in societies, usually after the "old order" has been severely undermined (like during the Reformation or the dissolution of the Roman empire, or in Eastern Europe after the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and people feel empowered to make other people live out their vision of the world.
The bad news is those moments tend to leave a trail of bodies in their wake.
Thank you, great piece. I've observed some of these dynamics when supporting those who are hired to lead DEI and anti-racism efforts within organizations. I seems like a triad develops to attack them and derail the work. Have you observed that dynamic?
I’m looking forward to reading this when I don’t have so much work to do. But I wanted to pop in even though I haven’t read more than the first few lines, to give you some encouragement.
I suspect a lot of people will object to what you’re saying. I hope that a lot more see it as a reasonable response to a kind of behavior that we don’t like to criticize because we don’t want to be on the wrong side of oppression. It’s very important for people like you to talk about this stuff.
I think it’s time to say out loud that being on the right side doesn’t mean you’re always correct about everything, and it doesn’t mean that your intuitive need to lash out at people rather than engage them is about problem solving. It’s about you feeling good for a minute-- another interaction inviting people to dismiss your ideas, and what you got in return will fade quickly like a drug high. In the meantime, their disdain for your values will last forever.
I walked away from every progressive social or environmental group I was ever a part of when the hair began to stand up on the back of my neck. The ongoing questioning and testing - the feeling that I had to prove something before I would be accepted - brings the word "hazing" to my mind and my lack of obedience, when it became clear that the unspoken rules far outnumbered the openly acknowledged ones, seemed to be a reasonable response.
Another reason I am no longer active in any social or environmental group in my region is because I was abused, assaulted, stalked and smeared by a husband (and his current whatever) who's hypocrisy and inconsistencies in values and actions, along with his porn infected abusiveness, goes far beyond attention seeking behavior into the realm of needing a life-long alibi for his psychopathological behavior. For instance: he assaulted me because I said no and a few months later he was volunteering to help rebuild a women's health clinic. He seems to have convinced the activist community that he is a fine upstanding human being or maybe they just don't care what he does as long as it is someone else. Social injustice indeed.
Have a good day at school dear........“Do your best!”.....Mommy loves you!
I can't even begin to describe how much your articles have helped me.