Sunday, March 29, 2015

Understanding certain crazy people

I was saddened by the deaths in Germanwings crash this week.

The natural question to ask oneself is why?  Why kill all these people while committing suicide?

Narcissism is a good place to start with “asocial” behaviors. Yet you must be careful in understanding what narcissism is about. Wikipedia, for example, starts by defining it as: “narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes”. That is only a subset of what narcissism is really about. Therefore, staying within the narcissistic theme, but taking another approach, I would argue that it is best to approach the subject from the “mental bubble boy disease” perspective. (Same for girls too!)

The classical bubble boy disease is about the inability of the immune system to deal with infections. The “mental” analogy is to argue that some people with certain “socialization” issues build a “mental bubble” to protect part of their inner "identity core" from the social world around them. The Wikipedia definition of narcissism (given above) only covers a specific form of “bubble” (the social image thing). Yet it does not capture the scope nor the essence of the problem: bubbles can be of varied content, and once locked-in to a bubble, the person will put as much effort to preserve the bubble, as to preserve themselves. Said differently, the person sees the bubble as part of their self, and will protect it as strongly as they protect themselves.

All of us have one form or another of narcissistic bubbles, they shape our personalities, they give us character. Most are harmless, and even entertaining: we like independence in others that gives character (and is not anti-social). Yet not all bubbles are the same, and some bubbles are  unsustainable, and can be dangerous to others.

Learning, and growing, is a layered process. Therefore, the earlier the setup of the narcissistic bubble, the more a person will build “on top” of this bubble. For example, someone who sets up a bubble before adolescence, may well have introduced a distorted view of relations between the sexes, and may end up understanding the world only through this distorted view. (This is one reason why kids should be protected from sexual implicit content, and why sexual discrimination is so hard to change in a culture).

To be an airline pilot, is to be a skilled pilot and to have built professional and social status that goes with the job. A person that obsesses early in their life about airline pilots, to the point of creating a “bubble” between themselves and the world, centered on the notion of being an airline pilot, is in effect creating a way to “interpret the world” with a “me the airline pilot” as reference. The sad story is that if started young enough, such a person would not have much other understanding of people, things, relations, than an understanding that supports him as an airline pilot. I could try to elaborate here, but the sad truth is that this man did not kill people as you and I feel and live people, he killed people that were not supporting his self-made “me the airline pilot” world. Knowing that he was crazy does not make it better. Still, it is worth understanding, and therefore this blog entry today.

To understand this subject better, I can recommend the book “Identifying and understanding the Narcissistic Personality” by Elsa F. Ronningstam. Add to this a good amount of personal introspection (you cannot understand others if you do not understand yourself) and much people observation.