The Narcissism of the Angry Young Men

Excerpts below from an article in which Tom Nichols describes at length the problem of young men going on murderous rampages. He lists many such events and points out that great anger seems to lie behind them all. He has no solution to the problem they pose however. He can see what the young men are but has no idea of the forces that make them into human timebombs.

Even in his title, however, he goes astray. He refers to them as Narcissists. Narcissism has of course been the subject of much research by psychologists after Freud wrote an influential article on it over a century ago. And Freudian thinking has remained influential. But at least some of it is simply wrong.

And a 1991 study by Paul Wink was very informative about that. He combined three existing measures of narcissism, including the MMPI and CPI, and factor analysed the responses of a heterogeneous sample to them.

The sample responses showed no such thing as as unitary trait of narcissism. Varimax rotated eigenvectors revealed two distinct and uncorrelated traits underlying the "narcissism" questions: Vulnerabiliy and grandiosity.

So it seems that Freud's picture of the narcissist is fiction. The traits he describes do exist but they do not form the coherent syndrome described by him. So talk of narcissism needs to be avoided.

But Nichols is undoubtedly on to something. His use of the term "narcissism" is over-broad but egotism is undoubtedly to be seen in the “Lost Boys” he describes. It has long been my contention that excess ego is at the root of a lot of social problems: Crime generally, for instance. The criminal thinks that what he wants transcends the rights of others.

When (on October 30, 2008) Obama spoke of his intention to "fundamentally transform" America, he was not talking about America's geography or topography. He was talking about transforming what he thought American people can and must do. He thought he knew better: Clearly egotistical.

But when we see how widespread the problem of excess ego is, it becomes clear that it is NOT the defining characteristic of the “Lost Boys”. Most egotism does not result in shooting rampages. So we have to look for more than excess ego for our understanding of them.

And a major cause of their disgruntlement is pretty obvious: Men and masculinity are in both the media and the educational system routinely described as "toxic" and men are told that feminine characteristics are the only praiseworthy ones. How would YOU feel if people kept calling you toxic?. Anger is surely an understandable response.

Young men are in effect told by the whole society that they are contemptible. Is it any wonder that some will want to hit back at society as a whole in any way that they can? You reap what you sow.

Most young men do not go on murderous rampages but those who combine great anger with few rewards in life may do so

So the problem is largely traceable to the way feminism of various extremes has become normative thinking in our society. The “Lost Boys” are however only a minor penalty for that thinking. The way feminists have substantially destroyed marriage is the major evil that they have inflicted. Given the punitive divorce laws that have been enacted under feminist influence, it takes a brave or foolish man to get married these days

So no cure for the “Lost Boys” is in sight. But we know what would help. If feminism were to moderate its intolerance of all things masculine, the world would be a much happier place. How about a bit of "equity" for men?

Some years ago, I got a call from an analyst at the National Counterterrorism Center. After yet another gruesome mass shooting (this time, it was Dylann Roof’s attack on a Bible-study group at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine and wounded one), I had written an article about the young men who perpetrate such crimes. I suggested that an overview of these killers showed them, in general, to be young losers who failed to mature, and whose lives revolved around various grievances, insecurities, and heroic fantasies. I called them “Lost Boys” as a nod to their arrested adolescence.

The NCTC called me because they had a working group on “countering violent extremism.” They had read my article and they, too, were interested in the problem of these otherwise-unremarkable boys and young men who, seemingly out of nowhere, lash out at society in various ways. We think you’re on to something, the analyst told me. He invited me to come down to Washington and discuss it with him and his colleagues.

The meeting was held in a classified environment so that the group’s members, representing multiple intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, could more easily share ideas and information. (I was a government employee at the time and held a clearance.) But we could have met in a busy restaurant for all it mattered—the commonalities among these young men, even across nations and cultures, are hardly a secret. They are man-boys who maintain a teenager’s sharp sense of self-absorbed grievance long after adolescence; they exhibit a combination of childish insecurity and lethally bold arrogance; they are sexually and socially insecure. Perhaps most dangerous, they go almost unnoticed until they explode. Some of them open fire on their schools or other institutions; others become Islamic radicals; yet others embrace right-wing-extremist conspiracies.

I emerged from the meeting with a lot of interesting puzzle pieces but no answers. Since then, there have been more such attacks, more bodies, more grief—but precious little progress on preventing such incidents. A few recent examples: In 2021, a 15-year-old boy murdered four of his fellow students in his Michigan high school. In 2022, an 18-year-old man carried out a massacre in a Texas school; another, the same age, committed a mass murder in a grocery store in upstate New York. A 21-year-old male attacked a Fourth of July parade in Illinois. A 22-year-old went on a rampage at an LBGTQ nightclub in Colorado.

These attacks are not merely “violence” in some general sense, nor are they similar to other gun crimes classified as “mass shootings” beyond the number of victims. Drug-war shoot-outs and gang vendettas are awful, but they are better-understood problems, in both their origins and possible remedies. The Lost Boys, however, are the perpetrators of out-of-the-blue massacres of innocents. Their actions are not driven by criminal gain, but instead are meant to shock us, to make us grieve, and finally, to force us to acknowledge the miserable existence of the young men behind the triggers.


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