Stop Feeding Your Brain Junk Food

Humans evolved to seek out sugar because it was a scarce source of energy. But when we learned how to produce sugar on an industrial scale, our love for sweet things went from an evolutionary asset to a liability. The same is now true of data. In an age of information overabundance, our curiosity, which once focused us, now distracts us. And the insatiable appetite for distraction is ruining the minds of both content creators and their audiences.

The analogy between information and sugar is not just a pretty metaphor. A 2019 study by Berkeley researchers found that new information can act on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as food, whether or not the acquired information is useful. Put simply, the brain treats the receipt of new information as a reward in itself, and can grow to crave it for its own sake, regardless of its quality.

For hundreds of millennia, this wasn’t a problem, because on the plains of the savanna, or in the depths of the jungle, information was as scarce and precious as honey. But this all changed with the rise of the printing press, industrialized societies, and, of course, the Internet.

We now live in what might be called an attention economy, full of actors seeking to draw our interest by any means possible. Since low-quality information is just as effective at satisfying our information-cravings as high-quality information, the most efficient means of getting our attention is by mass-producing low-quality “junk info”—a kind of fast food for one’s brain. Like real fast food, junk info is cheap to produce and pleasing to consume, but also high in additives and low in nutritional value. It’s also potentially addictive and, if consumed excessively, dangerous.

Junk info is often false info. But it isn’t junk because it’s false. It’s junk because it doesn’t make your life better, and it doesn’t improve your understanding of the world. All it offers is distraction.

Common types of junk info include gossip, clickbait, hackery, conspiracy theories, and babble. The cheapness and addictiveness of this kind of low-quality content has allowed it to dominate the web. It’s always within easy reach of netizens, and millions of people are now hooked on it. It’s why they endlessly scroll their Twitter timelines or check their Instagram notifications, or repeatedly click refresh on YouTube’s homepage.

Such forms of mindless browsing not only fail to improve one’s understanding of the world, but they can actually hinder it. Recent research (summarized in the video below) suggests that people scrolling social media tend to experience what’s called “normative dissociation,” a phenomenon whereby they become less aware and less able to process information, to such an extent that they often can’t recall what they just read.

But despite being “empty calories,” junk info still tastes delicious. Since your dopamine pathways can’t distinguish between useful and useless info, consuming junk info gives you the satisfaction of feeling like you’re learning—it offers the illusion of getting smarter—even though essentially all you’re doing is shoving popcorn into your skull.

Eventually, the addiction to useless info leads to what I call “intellectual obesity.” Just as gorging on junk food bloats the body, so gorging on junk info bloats the mind, filling it with a cacophony of half-remembered gibberish that sidetracks your attention and confuses your senses. Each morsel of sugary content you consume whets your appetite for more—and as you consume more, you learn less and think less. The result is that your consciousness becomes clogged; you develop atherosclerosis of the mind.

Millions of us are now perpetually distracted by junk info. Some spend their days cheerleading for their team in the unwinnable online culture war, entertaining themselves with wild caricatures of their opponents’ supposed evils, and in so doing immersing themselves ever deeper into a one-sided view of the world. Others spend their days binge-watching the carefully choreographed “lives” of their favorite influencers on TikTok or YouTube, mistaking the artificial world on display for the real thing, neglecting their own comparatively bleak lives until the only joy they experience is vicarious.

This kind of binge-like behavior is comparable to “emotional eating,” the habitual consumption of comfort-food as a coping mechanism to avoid the stress of reality. But what makes an addiction to junk info more destructive than traditional food-binging is that it doesn’t just destroy the health of its consumers, but also that of its producers.

Since producing junk info is the easiest way for aspiring influencers to gain a following, it’s how many of them start off their online careers. The problem is that once they begin along this path, it becomes almost impossible for them to stop, because they quickly find themselves locked with their newly acquired audiences in a feedback loop of mutual addiction and corruption that I call “symbiotic stupidity.”

Essentially, the influencer produces content that feeds audience members’ addiction to junk info. In turn, the audience offers the influencer praise, which feeds his (or her) addiction to approval and attention. The more the influencer feeds his followers’ appetite for junk, the more they feed his ego. This cycle of mutual reinforcement drives both the influencer and the audience into an obsessive state. The eventual fate of the audience is that they become intellectually obese. But the fate of the influencer is often more extreme.

As the influencer focuses on producing more of the specific flavor of junk info that his audience seems to crave most, he falls deeper into a niche. This niche quickly becomes the influencer’s distinct brand. Like all brands, it’s an artificial construct. And yet, as the brand becomes more familiar than the human projecting it—both to the audience and to the influencer himself—it also comes to be regarded by both as more authentic. Thus, in order to retain a sense of fidelity to himself and his audience, the influencer must continue to play the character he’s created, offering the same flavor of junk info again and again. In this way, the persona hijacks the person, and the influencer becomes a puppet of his audience.

I periodically intentionally shed clusters of followers to avoid what I years ago termed “Audience Capture” by tweeting fair points that I know unreasonable people will not abide. Whoever is left is usually fair minded.I’m now worried I’m losing followers due to a purge though.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) January 9, 2021

The podcaster Eric Weinstein dubbed this process “audience capture.” And its effects are starkly illustrated by the strange case of Ukrainian-American Internet celebrity Nicholas Perry, known to the world as Nikocado Avocado.

Perry’s story begins in 2016, when the classically trained musician, then 24 years old, focused on becoming an influencer. His ambitions led him to start uploading YouTube videos in which he extolled the virtues of veganism and pursued his musical passion—playing the violin. But to his frustration, he went largely unnoticed.

A year later, Perry abandoned veganism, citing health concerns. Now free to eat whatever he wanted, he began uploading videos of himself consuming various dishes while talking to the camera, as if having dinner with a friend. In this way, he became part of the video craze known as mukbang—which translates from Korean as “eating broadcast.”

Perry’s new videos quickly found a sizable audience. But as the audience grew, so did its demands. The comments section became filled with people challenging Perry to eat as much as he could. Eager to please, he began to set himself torturous challenges, each bigger than the last. His audience applauded, but always demanded more. Soon, he was filming himself eating entire menus of fast-food restaurants in one sitting.

In some respects, all his eating paid off: Nikocado Avocado “blew up” online, as the expression goes, amassing almost seven million subscribers across six YouTube channels. But the cost of this was that he also blew up in a more literal manner.

A March, 2021 video uploaded by Nikocado Avocado.

Nikocado, molded by his audience’s desires into a cartoonish extreme, is now very different from the vegan violinist who first started making videos. Where Perry was mild-mannered and health conscious, Nikocado is loud, abrasive, and physically grotesque. Where Perry was a picky eater, Nikocado devoured everything he could, including, in a sense, Perry himself.

He and his audience are now locked in symbiotic stupidity; just as he was driven by his audience toward physical obesity, now he in turn drives his audience further toward intellectual obesity, compelling them to watch, share, and like as he eats himself to an early grave.

Perry’s transformation is particularly striking because it affected his physical appearance. But even in less outwardly obvious cases, the metamorphosis from human being to online caricature can be unsettling to observe.

Left: Nicholas Perry’s 2011 Twitter profile picture. Right: Perry, photographed a decade later.

Consider Louise Mensch, a former British Conservative MP and writer who in 2016 published a viral story (much of which was later debunked) about Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. She subsequently gained a huge online audience of people fiercely opposed to Trump. Pressured by her new followers to uncover more evidence of Trump’s corruption, Mensch began to find patterns in pure noise, concocting increasingly speculative conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia (including the claim that Vladimir Putin assassinated Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart News, so his job could go to Trump ally Steve Bannon). When Mensch’s former allies expressed concern over her new trajectory toward fringe theories, she accused them of being shills of Putin or Trump. In the end, the only people she didn’t regard as shills were members of her junk-addicted audience, and together they continued to radicalize each other even after the mainstream media had abandoned the Russiagate narrative.

Another, more recent, victim of audience capture is Maajid Nawaz. A former Islamist who’d renounced his old ways, Nawaz made a name for himself as a fiery but rational counterextremist. Unfortunately, the pandemic led him back into radicalism, albeit of a different type. His descent began with him posting a few vague theories about COVID being a hoax perpetrated on an unsuspecting public. After those went viral, he found himself inundated with new “COVID-skeptical” followers who showered him with praise and new leads to chase.

In January, after Nawaz lost his position at the UK radio show LBC due to his unsubstantiated claims of a secretive, globalist “new world order,” he implied his firing was part of a conspiracy to silence the truth, and urged his loyal followers to subscribe to his Substack, as this was now his family’s only source of income. His new audience proved to be generous with both money and attention, and his need to meet their expectations seems to have spurred him, whether consciously or unconsciously, to double down on his more extreme views. His recent work is his wildest yet, combining common conspiracist tropes such as resurrected Nazi eugenics programs, satanic rituals, and the Bilderbergers. Among the “evidence” he now relies on is numerology.

British MPs have begun voting on a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the UK Parliament against Prime Minister Johnson. The vote commenced at:6pm, on the6th day, of the6th month. No joke. آل عمران:[54]وَمَكَرُوا وَمَكَرَ اللَّهُ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ https://t.co/Od4azf5UlF— Maajid أبو عمّار (@MaajidNawaz) June 6, 2022

There is obvious value in investigating unaccountable global organizations. But Maajid and his audience are no longer in a position to do this, because their symbiotic stupidity has filled their heads with junk info and cost them their objectivity and credibility. Instead of performing real investigations, Maajid is now merely performing the role of investigator for his audience, a role that requires drama rather than diligence, and which can lead only to his audience’s desired conclusions.

Ultimately, it’s probably impossible for influencers to not be at least partly reshaped by their audiences. As social animals, we develop our identities by viewing ourselves through the eyes of others. But although content creators can’t choose to not be influenced, they can choose who they’re influenced by. If they put effort into producing thoughtful and measured content from the get-go, and resist the quick and easy path of mass-producing junk info, they’ll cultivate an audience whose expectations encourage the influencer to maintain high standards of thought and creativity instead of devolving into self-parody.

Audiences, too, can improve the information landscape, since a simple way to discourage influencers from producing junk info is for the rest of us to stop consuming it. Most of us have standards for what we allow into our bodies, so we should likewise have standards for what we allow into our minds.

The online ecosystem is built on the exploitation of human instincts. So if you blindly follow your cravings, you’ll become trapped in an algorithmically-enforced symbiosis that can rob you—as well as those you listen to—of perspective, agency, and even identity. The bait for this trap is always within arm’s reach, and it will surely taste good for a while. But if you value yourself, it should be staunchly resisted, because the more you consume it, the more it will consume you.

This article contains material adapted from the author’s previously published Substack essays, The Intellectual Obesity Crisis and The Perils of Audience Capture.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/07/26/stop-feeding-your-brain-junk-food/
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yeah … nah
the video that was inserted in the article suggested we do not try to stick the “addiction” label on the behaviour, i agree.
also refer you to a recent Quillette article entitled “the new prohibition”
The online ecosystem is built on the exploitation of human instincts. So if you blindly follow your cravings, you’ll become trapped in an algorithmically-enforced symbiosis that can rob you—as well as those you listen to—of perspective, agency, and even identity. The bait for this trap is always within arm’s reach, and it will surely taste good for a while. But if you value yourself, it should be staunchly resisted, because the more you consume it, the more it will consume you.
a bit over the top don’t you think. ?
I have just come from my workplace’s break room. 7 young women. nurses and admin staff. one watching a video on her phone. One reading an actual book. one concentrating on her food. 4 chatting about some recent minor domestic drama. Not a scrolling zombie amongst them.
let’s not panic just yet.
and i wonder if the author might not look to himself as a purveyor of “intellectual junk food.”

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Yeah, yeah. Of course, the #1 source of “junk info” is politics. And politics is a problem because it is all about fighting the enemy, not just wasting time.

And of politics, one may say that "every word is a lie including “and” and “the.”

You folks that don’t spend all your time clickbaiting will know of Mary McCarthy’s famous comment about Commie Girl Lilian Hellman. And I must say, having watched Hellman’s play The Watch on the Rhine with a bunch of lefties at the Berkeley Rep, McCarthy had a point

The fact is that almost all of us waste 97.2 percent of our lives in useless activity.Yet almost all that useless activity is the use of a useful human trait “taken too far.”

For instance women’s gossip is famously derided, but it is the way that the women of a community police it without violence by talking to each other about who said what to whom. But women can take that gossiping too far…

Now this little comment includes a bunch of allusions taken from a life of reading. But was it all just a waste of time?

It’s a good thing no one is doing that in this very articl–

D’oh

People should check out the linked article about Nawaz, firing. Here I’ll repost it. It’s really reaching.

It’s just a list of ways in which he doesn’t conform to the prevailing orthodoxy of the mainstream media. I mean look at this:

Natural immunity is in scare quotes like it’s some kind of myth while this mRNA project that necessitated changing the definition of the word vaccine is just taken as a given like it is the natural default over the phony quote-unquote “human immune system.”

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A very interesting essay.
But I suspect many of these ‘content producers’ were already 10 cents short of a dollar to begin with its just eventually mask off when emboldened enough & circumstances dictate.

Take Jordan Peterson’s descent to The Daily Wire’s vapid sensationalism complete with super high production values pontificating deep psycho analyses like ‘the Ukraine war was ‘perhaps’ motivated by a resistance to wokism’ complete with the Golden Siggie’s three piece suit & multiple camera angles. If you consider his rise to fame wasn’t that far off similar proven false outlandish claims of trans pronoun enforced laws ergo 1984 is upon us he’s essentially the same guy.

And maybe even those who eat these claims up were already of the same unhealthy mindset too culminating in a toxic co dependancy relationship that’s bound to spiral further out of control. So I doubt given the essential conspiratorial character traits involved here anything short of hitting ‘rock bottom’, intervention, twelve step program & forced separation is going to help.

https://youtu.be/u5Cmhr52us8

I blame rock music. And reefer.

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Not much nutritional value in that article.

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Not forgetting just-so stories that sound like simple answers to complex problems. A fundamentalist is someone who has been taken over by such a story.

[A]n individual who simply mistakenly uses the wrong pronoun when referring to a transgender individual will not be fined under the new law. However, a person who intentionally and repeatedly refuses to use an individual’s preferred pronoun would be subject to fines (that could reach as high as $250,000 for multiple violations) under the the law.

To make a comparison, if someone tells me they are the Pope and I intentionally and repeatedly refuse to call him ‘Your Holiness’ that could cost me a quarter of a million bucks. Seems to me JBP’s warning was if anything too soft. You yourself have stated on many threads that those who are not goodthinkers should at the very least be fired.

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Is this junk?

https://acecomments.mu.nu/?post=400151

There are no advisories from the CDC telling gay men to cool it with the orgies and anonymous sex. No stern warnings to… not even go celibate, but just pick one sexual partner for the duration of the pandemic and be monogamous temporarily.

No, that’s too much of an imposition on the gay community.

But when this spreads out to the general population, they’ll have no problem telling us our kids will have to remain locked in their homes for a year, will they?

I strongly recommend you do not comply.

Is this article satire? Otherwise, pot/kettle much? Most of what is produced online (this site included) qualifies as intellectual junk food. That’s what happens when you have unlimited bandwidth and access. This is just the simple application of the law of averages/bell curve/etc. Most of what is produced is going to be mediocre.

And that’s all OK. That comes with a widely dispersed and easily accessible marketplace of ideas. Rather have that than the alternative.

No, not yet. In Canada. You can be fired, but not jailed. Yet. But social movements often take decades to reach their full flowering no? You’re in your motte right now, but come out into your bailey – what do you think should be done with people who refuse to give in to a psychological fantasy and/or who refuse to see the language butchered with ‘ze’ and ‘zir’ and ‘?e’ and whatever else might be invented? There must be punishment of course. What would be severe enough?

@gamma247 Johnny, you might want to tune in to this. I’m directly tempting Ella to stop playing motte and bailey. Will she come out of the castle?

Edit:

BTW, what happens when some trannie decides that their Gender Identity is so far above anything that can be expressed in the language of the Oppressor that … well we already have the precedent of the name of the dead artist last known as the artist formerly known as Prince but who was so transcendent that his name couldn’t be pronounced? As a dolphin, supposing I announce that I want everyone to start using dolphin pronouns which, to be honest, you don’t have the ability to pronounce? Supposing trannie Indians (feathers) start demanding the use of Ojibwe pronouns which get rather complex:

my (pronoun)

ni= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

in= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

n= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

nind= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

ind= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

nd= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

nim= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

im= pf [first person prefix before b-]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

m= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

niy= pf I, me [the one or ones speaking, the first person]; my [the one or ones speaking, the first person]

my turn

niinitam pron per my turn, me next


Could a trannie Indian be denied?

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Look, I know Majid Nawaz went a bit off the deep end, but we already know that Covid booster vaccinations for the 16 to 22 age bracket in the US were a net health negative, with hospitalisation through Covid running at 0.3 per 100K vs. hospitalisations from booster vaccinations at 10 per 100K. My guess is that we will eventually find that vaccinations are a net health negative for anyone healthy under 30 and not obese.

Similarly, some of the global conspiracy theory stuff is nonsense but some of it is not.

Geneva, Switzerland, 27 January 2021 – Globally, almost 2 billion people do not have access to enough safe, nutritious food, and 690 million suffer from hunger. With 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to fundamentally change the way food is produced and consumed. This includes changing the practices of more than 500 million smallholder farmers and the consumption patterns of 7.7 billion individuals.

So the answer to both issues is to force a shift to organic farming, simultaneously depriving the world of the single most positive agricultural innovation in the past 200 years? Simultaneous depriving farmers of their living and pushing the world into man-made hunger. Organic. Farming. Is. Not. Good. For. The. Planet. It. Requires. More. Tillage. Causing. Soil. Erosion. And. It’s. Lower. Yields. Means. More. Forests. Need. To. Be. Cut. Down.

The man who saved a billion lives.

Other than that, good essay. Majority rule may run democracies, but individual rights don’t require permission, especially given that both lockdowns and masks have proven ineffective, in study after study, with the exception of those who could few countries who had the geographical luxury of shutting their borders to await vaccination and the first two vital weeks where the quickly acquired natural immunity of nodal vectors provided those countries which reacted quickly enough with an advantage heading into the pandemic.

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As the influencer focuses on producing more of the specific flavor of junk info that his audience seems to crave most, he falls deeper into a niche. This niche quickly becomes the influencer’s distinct brand. Like all brands, it’s an artificial construct. And yet, as the brand becomes more familiar than the human projecting it—both to the audience and to the influencer himself—it also comes to be regarded by both as more authentic. Thus, in order to retain a sense of fidelity to himself and his audience, the influencer must continue to play the character he’s created, offering the same flavor of junk info again and again. In this way, the persona hijacks the person, and the influencer becomes a puppet of his audience.

Donald Trump?

Alex Jones?

Glenn Greenwald?

Tucker Carlson?

This is a very partial list. Take your pick.

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You forgot “Barack Obama”

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Indeed. What’s striking is the level of narcissism now taken as normal. It’s obvious in the case of Obama and devastatingly obvious in the case of Trump. But even seemingly more normal types like Carlson and Greenwald have reshaped themselves to fit the zeitgeist.

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I think Carlson may fit the mold. I don’t think this is a fair characterization of Greenwald, however. He is confident on camera. But that does not translate into narcissism. I think many people are dismayed by someone like Glenn Greenwald because he is consistent and not necessarily linked to an ideological outcome. As for Carlson, he is surely a bit of a narcissist but of course, he is an entertainer. There is a chasm of difference between Alex Jones, Glenn Greenwald and Tucker Carlson when compared to Donald Trump, Barack Obama or Joe Biden. The first three want to influence within the marketplace and do not have any power other than the platform that they develop on their own. They live within a marketplace that can eliminate them just as quickly as build them up. Consider the likes of Bill O’Reilly, for example. He was a top right-wing performer on Fox and overnight he was removed.

Trump, Obama and Biden, on the other hand, inherit the power of the state. Their brand of narcissism is a matter of public concern. Politicians and entertainers are not in the same category. The standards which we should hold them to should be completely different. Narcissism in public life is fine. And to be expected. But for the life of supposed “public servants” we should be far less accommodating.

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I think Carlson and Greenwald have narcissistic traits, but are not narcissists per se. (The same can be said of Hillary Clinton IMO, although Vaknin in the video thinks otherwise.) If you watch the video with Vaknin, he carefully distinguishes the two. Vaknin is a recognized authority on narcissism and is not a media/hype figure. He uses the terminology with technical precision.

Obama and Trump are narcissists, however, as simply an analysis of their speech patterns and body language shows. To confirm this, of course, they would need in-person diagnosis. Vaknin talks here about that as well, and in other places about the diagnostic criteria for narcissism. He explicitly claims only “remote” evaluation of public personalities based on what is seen, heard, written, and acted upon.

In psychology, narcissism at bottom is the inability to distinguish Self from Not-Self. Others are viewed and used as extensions of Self and not seen as other Selves. This is sometimes called “primary narcissism,” the narcissism of the infant. What people often and wrongly think is narcissism is more like ordinary selfishness or egoism, sometimes called “secondary narcissism.”

As Vaknin explains, true narcissists are always destructive in the end. Think of history’s great tyrants to picture extreme examples. People with narcissistic traits, even very obvious ones, are not like this. (I’m not saying that Obama or Trump fits the extreme tyrant model, in case you’re wondering about a partisan angle in this. But I think certain people’s reaction to the mannerisms of both was and is based on something real about these two.)

Obama’s narcissism is less obvious than Trump’s, but quite real nonetheless. His is a “cerebral” kind, cool and aloof, with an unfounded sense of superiority. That fits Obama to a “T”: president (but not editor) of the Harvard Law Review, professor of law (but author of no refereed academic research), two partially completely terms as state then US senator before becoming president. An almost-universal trait of narcissists is their strong sense of entitlement, a wide gap between what they imagine themselves to be and deserve and what they actually are.

Trump’s narcissism is of course more blatant, a “display” or “somatic” narcissism (think of “small hands”).

The persistence of this kind of narcissism beyond earlier childhood is the result of a “narcissistic wound.” In Obama’s case, it’s undoubtedly a result of growing up as a biracial child in the 1960s, when that was less common and accepted, especially being raised by a grandmother who couldn’t fully accept him. When Obama was a child, his father abandoned him, then died; then his mother died; then his grandmother, his only real parent, teetered between accepting and rejecting him. This repeated abandonment must have been impossible for him to cope with at that age.

Trump’s case is a result of his relationship with his father. The best biography of Trump (so far), that of Michael D’Antonio, recounts this and alludes to the concept of narcissism, without full understanding. Mary Trump’s book is supposedly better, but I found it disappointing. She clearly doesn’t get narcissism. D’Antonio’s book, while flawed and exhibiting his (admitted) political bias, is much better. (There’s a newer edition of his book, with some attempts at rewriting history – the 2015 original is better.)

The main manifestations of Trump’s narcissism are: his obsession with being and being seen as a “winner” – his politics consists of projecting this obsession on to America as a whole; his fear of being seen as a “loser”; the need to be around the “winners” and “beautiful people,” manifest in his relationships with his wives and celebrities; and in his business misjudgments. This makes him not mainly “greedy” or “selfish” in the ordinary sense. Instead, what he’s really after is constant attention – all publicity is good publicity, a narcissist’s motto in public life.

Trump is also not a racist, as D’Antonio reluctantly admits. What is true is that Trump needs to be seen as a winner and to be hanging out with other winners. If that meant, back in the day, hanging out with Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan, so much the better. What he despises and fears is that which is perceived as “loser.”

The sad part is that both Obama and Trump are of above-average intelligence. Their character flaws are, however, near-determinative and vitiate that advantage. Even Steve Bannon has called Trump a “broken vessel” – a useful vessel for Bannon’s purposes, but broken nonetheless.

The key political question Vaknin asked a number of years ago is, why are American voters now electing narcissists, who are riskier and possibly dangerous. Part of the answer is obviously the search for “outsiders.” Obama was initially an outsider, although quickly adopted by the Democratic establishment and donors, so much so that his candidacy completed the transformation of the Democratic party into a vehicle for wealthy donors, not a real party any more, with a new political tool, the obsession with race as a distraction (not new for the Democratic party BTW). Trump could have been a brilliant insider, but never fit in, because of his narcissistic wound. This wound drove him out of “insider-dom” to being an aggrieved outsider, in a striking self-fulfilling prophecy.

(To tie up a loose end, Biden has narcissistic traits, as do all of us, especially men in power, but he’s not a narcissist. He has suffered from a mild premature dementia for decades, since the late 1980s, when he had some kind of surgery. That state has clearly accelerated in the last decade. In the eyes of the Democratic donors and others in 2020, this was not a disqualification but a desirable trait. It’s part of the larger and strikingly gerontocratic nature of the Democratic party today. It makes the Democrats’ leadership extreme in both how out of touch it is and how vulnerable it is to being intimidated by fringe “progressives” who aren’t that popular, even among Democrats.)

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