The World of the Self-Absorbed

Jeff Spector Mormon, thought 39 Comments

Definition

self-absorbed: /ˌself.əbˈzɔːbd//-ˈzɔːrbd/ adj usually disapproving . Only interested in yourself and your own activities (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/)

I don’t know what it is, society, the culture, the sign of the times, whatever. But people seem much more self-absorbed these days. Now, I think all of us are a bit self-absorbed at times, but there are definite degrees of self-absorption (and not in a Sponge Bob sort of way).

I rate the degrees as follows:

Extremely Self-Absorbed:  This would be movie, TV and music stars (Reality TV personalities rate very extreme), Athletes (mainly professional), Politicians, High level business leaders, etc. Some obvious examples might be Paris Hilton, The Kardasian Sisters, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, all NBA basketball players, Sean Combs, most Hip-Hop Stars, Rush Limbaugh, GLENN BECK, all political ideologues ( like the Tea Party movement), almost every Politician on the face of the planet, etc. You get the idea. Some individuals of these types might not be, but they are the rare exception. There are also, of course, “regular” folks who also fall into this category. The Extremely Self-Absorbed know they are, believe they deserve to be and, wouldn’t want it any other way.

They have their own websites; update it regularly with their exploits, their thoughts, answers to critics, and all manner of detail about their personal lives. They hold to the adage that no attention is bad as long as they spell the name right.

In a religious sense, many extremely self-absorbed types (who claim to be religious) believe that God is somehow directly and personally responsible for their success. For example, at a recent Grammy award show, many award winners would start off their speeches thanking God. Which would be OK, except you wonder if God really supports a singer who is homophobic, misogynist, racist and just plain foul? And that God would care who wins a Grammy, Oscar, Tony or any other award such as that. Those award shows are the direct evidence of an extremely self-absorbed industry and people.

Normally Self-Absorbed – Most people fall into this category.  We all have a “feel sorry for me moment,” Over worry about our appearance, what kind of an impression we might make, how we feel physically at any given time, etc.  This is all within the bounds of normal, in my view so long as it is not continuous. A warning sign might be if someone asks you, “How Are You,” you spend the next 20 minutes actually telling them without finding out how they are and listening for the answer.

Religiously, you are, of course, concerned with your own eternal progression and salvation (since we are all responsible for ourselves first), but are also very willing to extend yourselves in the service of others. Not for the glory of it, but for the joy of serving and helping others.

And lastly, we come to what I call:

Dangerously Self-Absorbed – These folks are dangerous because they are self-absorbed, do not know it, and thus can’t help themselves. Some might call it insecurity, but these dangerously self-absorbed do not typically consider others.  They are so wrapped up in their own lives, their own problems, their superior knowledge and experience, and their everything, that they cannot or do not care about others that much.

Any conversation with those folks inevitably turns to themselves. “How are you, they might ask.”  But as soon as you give an answer, it is a launching pad for how they are, either good or bad. If you feel bad, they feel worse, if you feel good, they’ve never felt better. If you have family problems, theirs are or were worse and on and on. It is always a competition.

This group tends to use social networking to an extreme. They document their every thought, action and circumstance on “Facebook,” as an example. They use it as a sort of a journal, except that everyone can read it.

How do dangerously self-absorbed people manifest themselves in Church?  They are the ones who openly aspire to a calling, usually a higher calling, and the one who can do the “job” better than the person called to do it.  In Sunday School, they don’t just have the answer, they have the lecture about the answer.

In testimony meeting, these folks are usually always up to give their testimony, which is seldom a real testimony but a “Blessing-amony,”  (“The Lord truly blessed us with a great house, five wonderful kids, all served missions, married in the Temple and 25 grandchildren…”). Or an “Update-amony,”  “Robbie is in jail again for selling drugs, please pray for him.” Just two common examples.

I sometimes think that some of those who have issues with the Church in the manner of doctrine, leadership, both general and local, history and such, also have this problem. While I am sure that many struggle with it, there are many who almost seem proud over their disaffection. I often wonder if those members who leave the faith really think of their spouse and family and the big picture rather than their own desires.  Again, for some, I am sure it is pure agony to find themselves on the outside looking in, yet for some, it is a proud moment and the effect on others is just a mere consequence.

The prophets have warned us against becoming too self-absorbed.  The Book of Mormon documents time after time where the people became too prideful and forgot the Lord.  President Benson, in his excellent address on Pride said this:

“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

…Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.

Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen. We are tempted daily to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them. (See Hel. 6:17; D&C 58:41.)” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4)

We all have a bit of this self-absorbed attitude in us and it is a constant battle to overcome it. Some do it quite successfully and for the rest of us, we work it on a daily basis.  For others, they are oblivious to it and need to work harder. For those who are worldly and proud, while they are never hopeless, it will be a tough road to travel to humility.

One answer to this problem is service to others. To lose yourselves in the service of others is to find peace and happiness outside of ourselves. It is hard to be self-absorbed when you are serving others.

The Savior gives the answer quite simply:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 10:39)

Comments

comments

Comments 39

  1. Jeff Brilliant!!! It needed to be said. I think most of us will cringe a little or a lot as we read this and see ourselves vividly in what you wrote.

    Our family will read and discuss it hopefully leave our egos at the door.

  2. You forgot the political variety that’s reflected currently in the Tea Party Movement. This self-absorption refuses to deal with any larger cultural values and marginalizes and despises any “other”. It recognizes no responsibility to tax to pay for the services and infrastructure that maintain the society and provide for the future. It reduces everything in society to what the group refuses to provide for anyone outside the immediate nuclear family.

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  4. Jeff, Great post. That being said, I think all of us at any given moment in time can be self absorb. I know I’m self absorbed when it comes to my newly adopted dog.( Yes, he’s fantastic and Yes, I’m just a little bit prejudice about him and his accomplishments, but at least I know that about my self and apologize for it ahead of time)

    The one thing that I would have to disagree with you on is your point about the people who are disaffected members. Being one of them, I can tell you with every fiber in my being, its’ not about pride, etc that keeps members away from the church. In fact, I know that I have tried in every way possible to rectify what with wrong with no success. I shouldn’t have to go to church and be verbally and emotionally attacked by an older sister who feels that she has a right to be abusive not only to me, but other sisters that she believes to be inferior. She has behaved this way since the branches inception and no one in leadership does anything. They expect the sister with whom she targets to put up with her crap. I say no. I don’t expect to go to church to be abused and when I tell my leadership to do something about and they refuse simply because of her age, they really don’t leave the member much choice but to leave. Especially when we are denied the right to have our records transferred to another ward or branch so that I don’t have to put up with that crap.
    I have sent email after email to leadership for six months with regard to this very issue. Is that being self absorbed? I don’t think so I want a resolution. It doesn’t seem as if the church does and I have the documentation of my efforts to prove my points

    The other issue I have with your post is the loose your in service is good to a point. Some people do service to the point that they neglect themselves. Women are told by church leaders to provide service for members all the time. (i.E) Can you please make a meal for so and so they are sick. Can you please stay with so and so’s daughter because they need to take care of something and they can’t take them. It reminds me of a story of the early days’ of relief society and Joseph Smith ( I think that’s who the prophet was at the time) announced a project that he wanted the sisters to provide and one of the sisters stood up and said,” Who do you think is going to slap those hogs?” My point being woman in church provide service all the time and the one time they don’t they are made to feel guilty

  5. I think I struggle with this because I am an extroverted thinker and need others to work through my issues. But there is certainly value it your critique here to remind us that it is not always about us.

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    Dblock #4,

    I am sorry you are having trouble in your branch. I will offer one piece of advice. If I were you, I will not let someone intimidate me into not worshiping and partaking of the sacrament. i would just ignore her. The trouble with your leadership is they are mostly male and that is how we handle situations such as this. We ignore it. Sisters do not seem to be able to do that so easily. But, if you are serious about the real reason we attend Sacrament meeting, it might make it easier to handle. Not attending any meetings does seem a bit prideful to me.

    Also, there are extremes in everything. i would never recommend that a person neglect themselves or their family just to perform service for someone else. Sometimes it takes some sacrifice on our part, but not always.

    Also, I would auction you that no one can make you feel anything, guilt or otherwise. We do that to ourselves.

  7. self absorbed, caring too much about yourself… and then there’s caring way too much about other peoples business… like Alice #2.

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  9. Jeff,

    Great post. I agree with you – especially when it comes to the solution as being service. One of the best talks I’ve heard regarding this was given by President Uchtdorf at a General Relief Society Conference. (“Happiness, Your Heritage“). Here is a little excerpt from it,

    “President Gordon B. Hinckley believed in the healing power of service. After the death of his wife, he provided a great example to the Church in the way he immersed himself in work and in serving others. It is told that President Hinckley remarked to one woman who had recently lost her husband, “Work will cure your grief. Serve others.”

    These are profound words. As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness.

    President Lorenzo Snow expressed a similar thought: “When you find yourselves a little gloomy, look around you and find somebody that is in a worse plight than yourself; go to him and find out what the trouble is, then try to remove it with the wisdom which the Lord bestows upon you; and the first thing you know, your gloom is gone, you feel light, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, and everything seems illuminated.”10

    In today’s world of pop psychology, junk TV, and feel-good self-help manuals, this advice may seem counterintuitive. We are sometimes told that the answer to our ills is to look inward, to indulge ourselves, to spend first and pay later, and to satisfy our own desires even at the expense of those around us. While there are times when it is prudent to look first to our own needs, in the long run it doesn’t lead to lasting happiness.”

    Anyways. Sorry about the long post, but I think that you did a good job on this post. Thanks!

  10. Dblock. I can understand how you feel, particularly if your are in a branch where there aren’t enough numbers to allow you to just avoid someone.

    Lately, I’ve become aware that I feel guilty when I don’t like someone in my ward. There are a couple of people in my congregation who are quite unpleasant. They are very demanding, take advantage of charity and care nothing for the feelings of others. The members have always tip toed around these people and have had a “bless their heart” mentality toward them. I guess the members feel judgmental if they call them on their behavior. The offending person is never taken to task; and therefore, they apparently feel that it’s perfectly okay to act in an offensive manner.

    In the last year I’ve just decided there are people I don’t like and I can’t go on feeling guilty or feeling that my inability to like them means I am not a forgiving person. It’s actually been quite liberating.

  11. Jeff–

    I enjoyed this post and the comments. Towards the end you started to offer suggestion on how to deal with the different degrees of self absorption–service. I would really enjoy knowing more about your views on how to apply the Saviors words:

    He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 10:39)

  12. Wow, I just don’t know what to say to this post. Perhaps I am one of those who are dangerously self-absorbed. After all, I like politics, discussing my ideas with others, sometimes tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, I like Facebook, I think the Tea Party movement is good for America, and I have problems with the church, its leadership, and doctrines. Oh, and I also have my own website.

    It looks to me like we have a perfect recipe for quickly labeling and stereotyping anyone who doesn’t see things our way, is a public figure, or who rejects Mormonism and therefore doesn’t hearken to God’s will.

    Am I missing the point of the post?

  13. #11, Jared,

    In the larger sense, losing one’s life means to me that we give up our worldly ways and adopt the life the Lord wnat s us to lead. To take up our crios and follow Him. To do as He would do, serve as He would serve.

    In that way, we find our life, which is life eternal.

  14. cheap. pointing out those overly concerned with politics while putting an obvious political slant in the post…

  15. BC Rich,

    It’s an example. There are many examples on both sides. I just chose those. When you write a post, you can chose yours.

    I am opposed to blowhards not matter where they come from.

  16. “You forgot the political variety that’s reflected currently in the Tea Party Movement. This self-absorption refuses to deal with any larger cultural values and marginalizes and despises any “other”…It recognizes no responsibility to tax to pay for the services and infrastructure that maintain the society and provide for the future.”

    Reducing a movement to such a straw man takes a monumental level of self-absorption, i.e., an utter refusal to see that movement through any other lens but one’s own MSNBC ideological filter. The irony of that thoroughly mendacious cheap shot immediately following a discussion of “enmity” is remarkable.

    I am probably somewhere between “normally self-absorbed” and “extremely self-absorbed,” in that, having probably stronger political opinions than average, I would probably qualify as a “political ideologue.” But since I consider that group (including its members on both sides of the aisle) to be more or less congruent with “everybody who cares about politics and is motivated enough to educate himself to the point of having informed opinions,” I’m satisfied I’m in good company under that label. Well-behaved, un-self-absorbed people rarely make history.

    “I sometimes think that some of those who have issues with the Church in the manner of doctrine, leadership, both general and local, history and such, also have this problem. While I am sure that many struggle with it, there are many who almost seem proud over their disaffection.”

    Yes. On the other hand, I wonder sometimes whether — if “pride is enmity” — the proudly loyal and orthodox are likewise guilty. Mormon culture is absolutely more hostile to people who leave the tradition than, say, Presbyterian or even Catholic culture is hostile to “apostates.” I wonder sometimes if we have done more, in pursuing the ideal of humility, than trade individual self-absorption, or pride, for institutional pride. I do see, in Church culture, something I notice in other small, relatively obscure nations and cultures: An exaggerated sense of its significance and influence.

    “I often wonder if those members who leave the faith really think of their spouse and family and the big picture rather than their own desires.”

    I suspect that many, many people give these considerations too little weight. On the other hand, they may be encouraged by the “it’s all true or all a fraud” rhetoric presently in fashion. If members who find themselves unable to give their assent, in good conscience, to fundamental doctrines of the Church are supposed to put on a show of belief for the sake of their families, Church culture certainly doesn’t openly say so. And it’s questionable whether it should: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26.)

  17. Thomas, #20

    I will set aside the comments on politics because that really is not the point of the post. But, you do bring up an important point that self-absorption and pride in one’s orthodox observance is really no different than the Pharisees of old. And it is equally not the true mark of a righteous individual.

    “Mormon culture is absolutely more hostile to people who leave the tradition than, say, Presbyterian or even Catholic culture is hostile to “apostates.” I wonder sometimes if we have done more, in pursuing the ideal of humility, than trade individual self-absorption, or pride, for institutional pride.”

    By nature, Mormon church practices tends to keep closer tabs on folks than either of the two demoninations you mentioned. If people are hostile to them, it is the work of those people and not of the Church. There is nothing in Church doctrine or teachings that ask, require or permit other members to be hostile to those less valiant than they.

    “If members who find themselves unable to give their assent, in good conscience, to fundamental doctrines of the Church are supposed to put on a show of belief for the sake of their families,”

    I would never recommend anyone live a lie for the sake of show. Either your faily can accept the situation of they do not. Living a lie does not work in the end.

  18. “If people are hostile to them, it is the work of those people and not of the Church. There is nothing in Church doctrine or teachings that ask, require or permit other members to be hostile to those less valiant than they.”

    Exhibit A = “The Bitter Fruits of Apostasy,” Lesson 27 in last year’s Priesthood manual. I will go out on a limb and speculate that a similar lesson would not be found in an old-line denomination’s Bible study lesson materials. And then there’s the whole notion that people with different beliefs are less “valiant.”

    And if I hear the “milk strippings” story one more time….

  19. Thomas- I reject your assertion that I created a straw man. I generalized about the tea party movement and I’ll admit that. But the overt message is hard to sum up in a different bottom line than “we’ve got ours, too bad about you”. Even to the irony of the brandished posters that say something the equivalent of “keep governments hands off my Medicare”.

    Are you suggesting that they have a reasonable and decent reply to the working poor? People who work at WalMart who, at WalMart’s encouragement, use government safety net programs just to stay afloat? That they even think about them for a minute? Mind explaining tea party recommendations to families whose insurers have cut off children born with congenital conditions? Explain their alternatives for people who get laid off by no-longer existent companies who have no COBRA option, if you don’t mind making them seem less straw man. ‘Cause I haven’t heard the merest suggestion that anyone in that movement has contemplated those sorts of issues or has made any attempt at resolution of these thorny things.

    I will say that I accept upfront that my family will pay higher taxes. I think that’s part of the bargain of being in a civilized society where I want to not wonder if the person next to me in line in the Post Office is coughing because they have a nagging allergy or untreated TB.

  20. “But the overt message is hard to sum up in a different bottom line than “we’ve got ours, too bad about you”.

    Madam, taxes may be the price we pay to live in a civilized society. But it does not necessarily follow that the higher the taxes, the greater the civilization. There is an optimum level of government involvement in the economy, and what motivates the Tea Parties is a sense that we have passed that point. (N.B., no less a liberal than John Maynard Keynes, who thought the ideal government share of GDP was no more than 25%, would agree.)

    Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe there’s some more safety margin that we can run through, in continuing to expand government and taxation, without becoming a sclerotic dysfunctional basket case like pre-Thatcher Britain. On the other hand, maybe they’re on to something. Maybe we are approaching a tipping point, in that something like a third of the people already pay no or negative income tax, and thus have little personal incentive to restrain the growth of government (and the economic distortions such growth unavoidably brings — Econ 110 here.) As the government grows, it fortifies itself: More government obligations means more government employees, whose unions (FDR didn’t think they should be allowed, for just this reason) become increasingly powerful, to the point where they can negotiate compensation and pension packages which have quite literally bankrupted my home state of California. And these people have the nerve to say my attitude is “I’ve got mine, too bad about you”??

    To sum up, this is not a choice between civilization and anarchy, as you have tried to reduce it to. The leftist trope of libertarian conservatives as being against all government is (there’s no gentler way to put it, really) a vicious lie, unworthy of repetition by a Saint. The Founders weren’t idiots. Their fears of government self-aggrandizement are not quaint irrelevancies from the age of flintlocks and smallpox. They identified something endemic to the human condition, and you ignore it at your peril. It is one thing to argue that the latest expansion of government can be accomplished safely; quite another to discount even the possibility that such expansion is ever anything to worry about. Fools mock.

    “Explain their alternatives for people who get laid off by no-longer existent companies who have no COBRA option, if you don’t mind making them seem less straw man. ‘Cause I haven’t heard the merest suggestion that anyone in that movement has contemplated those sorts of issues or has made any attempt at resolution of these thorny things.”

    Well, you see, that would require you to listen. The quick answer is “Buy a HSA policy for about $400 a month to cover a family (as of the quote I just got last week.)” If they run into extensive medical problems and have trouble making the $8,000 deductible, get a payment plan. Have family and friends help, or church, or the Elks or whoever. If that’s not enough, government can help out. Notice that my first reflex is not to nationalize the whole bloody system. Government should be a last resort, not the first. Being a monopoly, it is an inherently poor economic actor. It should keep to its role as referee and emergency backstop.

    “Mind explaining tea party recommendations to families whose insurers have cut off children born with congenital conditions?”

    Increase subsidies for high-risk insurance pools. $5 billion or so a year ought to take care of that whole problem. (That was one of the few good ideas in Obamacare. It was in most of the Republican counterproposals, too.) For this we need a $200 billion/year overhaul?

    “I will say that I accept upfront that my family will pay higher taxes.”

    Unlikely. In point of fact, you expect the other guy will pay higher taxes. Problem is (as California is finding), when you set up an extremely progressive tax structure, you set yourself up for fiscal crises: The income of a tax base centered on high-earning individuals and businesses is highly variable across the economic cycle. During boom times, the money pours in — and the government promptly sets its baseline spending at that unsustainably elevated level. But then when the cycle turns down, the taxable income of many of the high-income taxpayers (particularly S-corporations) tends to drop far more than the overall income of people further down the scale. And then everybody in Sacramento sits around wondering why the state is $20 billion in the hole. The problem here, is that American liberals want European levels of social services, without European levels of taxation on the middle and lower classes (which are much higher than ours, mainly due to those countries’ VATs). Say it with me: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

    Again, it takes a remarkably self-absorbed person to refuse to look at detail beyond one’s one-dimensional view of the opposition. Maybe this is natural in Utah (I presume you live there?) where there are, to be sure, some similarly caricatured portrayals of your own side. But consider that the guy sending you Birther e-mails may be no more representative of the opposition’s best reasoning, than Dr. Jones at BYU is representative of the best arguments liberalism can make. (Those would be John Rawls’, and he’s still ultimately wrong.)

  21. Thomas- This is getting personal so I won’t continue except to assure you that I have 1) listened to what you had to say and 2) that I know very well what tax bracket I’m in and that my family and other top bracket Americans have been getting a free ride for far too long already. Because I know my particulars I know very well that I’ll pay more taxes and I’ll do it willingly to invest in the country and the culture. I much prefer that to borrowing money for services we should be paying for as we go thus allowing people who insulate themselves from the larger population to pocket the tax savings and offshore jobs to countries that provide healthcare for their workers.

    And, BTW, I have lived in countries that tax and provide those European levels of social services. They’re not just more humane and urbane, they’re more collegial and more liveable as well. And people there are not whipped up to hostile rages by politicians trying to score electoral points.

    Now you are cordially invited to have the last word on me.

  22. “I much prefer that to borrowing money for services we should be paying for as we go….”

    Unfortunately, you will be doing both. Deficits in the trillions as far as the eye can see. (Mine can see sovereign default.) Adding a brand-new entitlement scheduled to quickly cost close to $200 billion a year is not exactly a step in the right direction. And there hasn’t been an American entitlement program in recorded history that didn’t exceed cost projections by orders of magnitude.

    If you are in the top tax bracket — congratulations. If you’re really truly in the “top bracket,” that means you’re piling up northwards of $372,950 per year. Nice. You can afford to pay more. I can’t. Unfortunately, liberals’ definition of “the rich” tends to trickle down onto the likes of certain journeyman professionals struggling to make ends meet in states with absurdly elevated costs of living. If this is a “free ride,” I’d hate to see the full-fare version.

    “invest in the country and the culture” — If it increases productivity, thus increasing future taxable income, it’s an investment. Build a dam to generate power, educate a talented student to enable him to make more (taxable) money, etc. If it doesn’t increase productivity, it’s consumption. The road to hell is paved with fuzzy language like this. The unfortunate fact is that a great deal of public “investment” is in fact subsidy of consumption. Even most of the additional money “invested” in education doesn’t actually budge the achievement meter measurably. Maybe we owe the baby boomers an obligation to nurse them comfortably through their decrepitude and get them safely into the ground, but don’t call it “investment.”

    Like you, I have also lived in Europe. I was fascinated to see the lesser level of personal comfort and consumption middle-class Europeans have traded for their social benefits. Much smaller living space, for one thing (although since nobody has any kids, maybe they don’t need it.) As for material goods, Americans — even (highly subsidized) working and unemployed poor Americans — compare pretty well to many middle-class Europeans. (One of the greatest hardships a poor American faces is — having to live around other poor Americans. Screech, but it’s true. There’s a reason you don’t live on that side of the tracks.)

    A fair trade? I can’t say. I do know that not every place in Europe is “humane and urbane.” There are not-particularly “liveable” immigrant neighborhoods plagued by chronic unemployment, which is arguably a direct result of the burden the European welfare state places on business formation. Even in fast-socializing California, the economic opportunities for a Mexican entrepreneur setting up in Santa Ana are still much better than a Somali immigrant in Malmo. Which is more livable — an immigrant neighborhood in Santa Ana, or a French banlieue? Pommes to apfel, please.

    And I wonder whether the notion that “people there are not whipped up to hostile rages” is all that accurate. Say the wrong thing about the Prophet (no, not that one) in some corners of Europe is liable to earn you a less than “collegial” response from his followers. The U.S. does not have an equivalent of the British National Party having any significant political success. (This is where the standard lefty response is “There doesn’t need to be — the Republicans are hatemongers enough! Phooey, of course.) Geert Wilders’ party just came in second in the Netherlands’ recent election for European Parliament members. Etc., etc. If Europe is truly the land of American liberal dreams — where seldom is heard a Glennbeckaging word, and the airwaves are Fox-free all day — it’s got some really fine camouflage going on.

    Golly, that was a lot of last words. Quick, a bottom line. “I’ve got mine, too bad about you.” No, wait, that’s not it. The bottom line is that these are matters about which reasonable people can disagree, and being a Tea Partier doesn’t make a person self-absorbed any more than supporting Obamacare does. I would much rather that arguments clash on their merits, rather than that their advocates attack each other’s character. If I am right, it doesn’t matter if I am the most self-absorbed sonofagun ever born; likewise, the fact that I am in actuality just two venial sins from translation doesn’t make a flawed argument convincing.

  23. Re Thomas-
    Just wanted to throw a shout out and thank you for the analysis. I think we all know I agree with your political vantage points, but you articulate the position much better than I can.

    My biggest pet peeve in the U.S. today is the idiotic notion that those of us who favor reduced gov’t, free-markets, and more liberty are somehow self-absorbed, malevolent, ego-centric jerks who are interested in nothing other than personal wealth.

  24. jmb and Thomas,

    “those of us who favor reduced gov’t, free-markets, and more liberty”

    It wouldn’t be so bad if this were really true. The trouble is one person’s version of what this means is no better than anyone else’s. We don’t have this, we never had this and we never will have this. The Constitution of the United States is not even written with this sort of structure in mind.

    What we have is one of the most corrupt, morally bankrupt political systems on the face of the earth. And with enough arrogance not to recognize it nor do anything to change it. This is irregardless of political persuasion or belief.

  25. I’ve not seen those who are in favor of less government as self absorbed and egocentric “jerks” but I have been concerned about the different way our country’s problems, specifically health care are viewed. And more importantly what are proposed as reasonable solutions. I would think that the ability to look outside one’s own needs to the greater good is really the most important thing we need to do. As a family doctor for the last 34 years I guess I see the health care problem on a more personal level and have been concerned from my first days in practice the role that money and insurance play in who gets care and the kind of care received. Anyway, to me it comes down to seeing the problem and then being willing to do what it takes to fix it.

  26. “What we have is one of the most corrupt, morally bankrupt political systems on the face of the earth. And with enough arrogance not to recognize it nor do anything to change it. This is irregardless of political persuasion or belief.”

    Do you guys have this in some LDS dictionary under the heading “Gadianton Robbers”?

  27. “Do you guys have this in some LDS dictionary under the heading “Gadianton Robbers”?”

    Not that I am aware of. And, this come from someone who is very left of center politically. Not a right wing, “commie under every rock kind of person.”

    We can’t very well have a decent discussion of politics because the very nature of our system has been corrupted by money and take over by special interests who have more influence then the people themselves.

  28. Jeff:

    I recognized which side you came from, which was sort of the point. Given the level of corruption in the system now as acknowledged by BOTH sides of the left-right spectrum, how much difference would it make if there really WERE special Gadiantons among us?

    What you’ve set forth above sounds like the definition of the real thing wouldn’t have to change much to apply.

  29. I think Beck and Limbaugh and others are out there in the “extremely self-absorbed” category. I actually voted for Obama. However, in commenting on Alice and Thomas’ comments, I think that they’ve lost me. Obama and the democrats have also proven to be extremely self-absorbed as well. Their “plan” for health care is deeply flawed and is going to lead us down another entitlement program that we, as a country, can’t afford. Their estimates are incredibly off, using smoke and mirrors to try to get people to buy off on it. When Medicare was started in 1965, they predicted it would grow to around $8 billion by 1990. It was actually over $60 billion. They were off by nearly 900%. Anyone who thinks this is going to cost our country anything near what the politicians promised has obviously never read anything about prior government projections. So, health care reform was absolutely needed, but this bill is a disaster on a national & collective basis.

    On a personal basis:
    – My taxes are going to go up, because I’m in the 50% of the US that actually pays income taxes.
    – My healthcare insurance costs are going to go up.
    – My gross income is going to go down, because I work in the healthcare industry. The elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about is the looming 20+% cut in pay that Congress keeps kicking down the road.
    – My expenses are going to go up, because health insurance for my staff, etc are going to go up. Congress also refused to consider tort reform because they are either lawyers or paid of by a bunch of lawyers

    Because of my nature, I am willing to give if it is to a worthy cause or for the better good of society. Unfortunately, this is all money that is going to be taken out of my pocket and lost in the black hole of government.
    This is

  30. Mike S and others,

    First of all, this was not the intended direction of the OP, but hey, these things happen.

    Second, I agree with everything Mike S just said.

    Thirdly, the world is becoming more self-absorbed, the political arguments and climate is just an example of it.

  31. Jeff, I’m not sure the problem is that the world is becoming more self-absorbed. I tend to believe that human nature is more or less constant: There is a fixed ratio of virtue to vice. A civilization’s competence or dysfunction depends on its estimating that ratio within a useful ballpark, and adapting itself to it. Thence my quaint admiration for the Founders’ emphasis on limited government — government sufficient to restrain the self-destructive impulses of human nature, but not so powerful as to magnify them.

    Again, I don’t think we are more self-absorbed. I think we have taken some wrong civilizational turns, that tend to magnify the consequences of self-absorption. If there is an increased reliance, modern in political discourse, on nostrums and slogans that carry more emotional punch than they have fidelity to the actual facts, perhaps that is an inevitable problem of civilization becoming too complex for the average, time-constrained, and unreflective person (i.e., most voters, and probably most politicians, too) to really grasp. There is surely an upper limit on how much complexity a person can process. As the issues multiply that a man is called upon to have an opinion on, the percentage of those issues as to which the “rational ignorance” problem applies, also increases.

    This is one reason why there really does need to be a limitation on the tasks government undertakes, and why — as much as possible — the economy ought to be ordered such that the person who benefits and the person who pays are the same person. A man is much more likely to do his due diligence on an issue, when he puts his money where his opinion is. Is this possible, in a practical sense? I hope so — because the inevitable conclusion otherwise is that democracy is obsolete, and we have yet to dream up a workable replacement.

    N.B., Jeff, really: “one of the most corrupt, morally bankrupt political systems on the face of the earth”? In the same league as Zimbabwe? Mexico? North Korea?

  32. Post
    Author

    Thomas #36,

    “N.B., Jeff, really: “one of the most corrupt, morally bankrupt political systems on the face of the earth”? In the same league as Zimbabwe? Mexico? North Korea?”

    In a way, yes, in a matter of degree, perhaps not. The USA takes an arrogant and self-righteous position but does not, in reality, practice what is preaches. In those other countries, people are repressed, feel repressed and everyone knows it. The leaders are corrupt and everyone knows it.

  33. Jeff,

    I’m sorry; though I recognize the imperfection fo the American political system, I simply can’t get past the fact that thousands upon thousands of people literally risk their lives to come live under it. In the countries I mentioned (and many others) not so much.

    Excessive humility is itself a kind of arrogance. It is simply an objective fact that American civilization is an unusually successful civilization. We fail to practice all we preach — but we do practice a great deal of it.

    Nobody wants to be the ugly American — to go around the world boasting of our superior institutions. But what if those institutions are superior? As a friend of mine put it:

    “No one wants to appear proud of the American, or at least the Western, way. It’s a bit like making the best engineered car in the world and being embarrassed to teach anyone else about the technology. It’s a counterproductive humility, one that literally costs people their lives.

    Some years ago, for example, I read about a young woman on an African mission, who prided herself on not even arranging for paper and crayons for the children she was teaching. She thought it would be “disturbing their culture” to give them something to use for writing. Seriously. It’s one thing to condemn, justifiably, the materialism of our own culture; it’s quite another to keep people from writing their names because they might become as shallow as we are and buy a few too many Ipods. You could file this under the pre-emptive cultural justice heading — keep the third world poor and needy, so they won’t ever be spiritually slothful. It represents a kind of arrogance all its own.”

    I believe we have turned away, in significant part, from the source of our greatness and goodness. But much remains, and more can be recovered; likewise, the refinement of our imperfectly perfected ideals continues. Whether you like it or not, the fact is that America (I would extend that to “Anglo-American civilization”) has been a pacesetter for a huge number of the trends that have made human life objectively better, more comfortable, less tragic, safer, freer, and more just. It’s not perfect, and can learn (and has learned) much from other civilizations. There is a difference between a proper measure of justly earned self-confidence, and arrogance. (Aristotle classified these different things as “pride” — which he called a virtue — and “vainglory.”) But I wonder: If you applied the same exacting standard of no-imperfection to the Church as you apply to your country, why would you not call the Church “arrogant and self-righteous”? Certainly the Church and its leaders have at times fallen short of Gospel ideals. The declaration that it the “one true church” certainly might sound arrogant to a faithful adherent of another faith. It’s not arrogant, of course, because it’s true. But then why is it arrogant to take an accurate measure of what is good about American civilization? Why does humility require one to fixate on the imperfections?

    Seriously. It’s not 1865 anymore, and the Church isn’t in a death-grapple with federal authorities out to destroy the Principle. That some Latter-day Saints may go too far in the super-patriot direction doesn’t require you to go all Howard Zinn (“no, Sir, that’s not history”) to balance things out.

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