The Realpolitik of Beverly Hills

Given two assumptions:

  1. Narcissism is not extreme self-love, but rather, extreme self-preoccupation in the absolute sense, i.e. encompassing both "positive" delusions like egomania and "negative" delusions like self-loathing (as The Last Psychiatrist says);
  2. Narcissism is our generational pathology (TLP again, following Christopher Lasch);

One could argue that the narcissist's inability to attain happiness comes down to his inability to experience love. And that, his inability to experience love, in turn, comes down to his basic contempt for those who would attempt to love him.

That is, the narcissist depends on external validation for his self-worth but fundamentally mistrusts and, indeed, resents the people providing him with that input, according to the subliminal logic, "you're either stupid or a cynic if you believe in someone like me."

A lot of ink has been spilled on the idea that the so-called "algorithmic regime" has created a culture of narcissism by encouraging the drive to optimize. The effect of dating apps on our romantic lives is the obvious example. But think also of ordering takeout on Seamless. Or choosing a restaurant to go to on Yelp. Or scrolling dead-eyed through PornHub at some ungodly hour to find the perfect cumshot compilation to beat off to. 

The big reveal, of course, is that constant optimization is ultimately... suboptimal. Back in the day, people had national borders, organized religion and nagging wives to remind them of this fact. Now, an Ecuadorian guy will bike two miles to your house in a snowstorm to deliver your laundry just so he can send some cash back to his nagging wife in Cuenca—and everyone is still miserable. ENDLESS AMENITIES AND INFINITE SCROLL TO FILL THE BOTTOMLESS VOID IN YOUR SOUL!

But the point is, none of this came about with "neoliberal consensus" or "platform capitalism" or whatever the Ben Bratton Appreciation Caucus is calling it these days. As a wise woman once said, social media only exacerbates your preexisting inability to relate to others. If neither the internet nor "politics" ever lived up to a democratic ideal, it was always by design.