Modern Narcissism: Why We’ve Come to Respect Egomaniacs

Everyone should get a good look into the eyes of a narcissist who finds himself rising toward what he wants to pull down to himself. Many have been offered: Citizen Kane ("the most miserable rich guy"), Fidel Castro ("megalomaniac, sociopath"), Hannibal Lecter ("the handsome cipher behind the plexiglass"), Howard Hughes ("grandiose, isolated, paranoid") and—you already know—'Ye. At one time, it was a moment we wanted to rebuff—the arrogant loudmouth earning the right to walk unchallenged in the starry heaven of cats who can say, "I told you so." But as of real late, we've hedged and found something sort of like like respect for these people—the ones who take a page from the book of Sherman's March when they make the leap into self-actualization and leave throngs of haters burning behind them.

Narcissism is easy to recognize, hard to define. It comes in degrees and mutations as varied as the people who fly the condition's colors. The central stitch is that each narcissist is, obviously, self-obsessed—the cuddled look of a mama's boy since way back, with an insatiable need to advance some impression of himself. They're Miss Piggy dead-eyeing the camera and saying, "For the thin look, buy clothes two sizes too large. For the glamorous look, choose plain-looking dining companions." Yes, if these people only had a little humility, they'd be perfect.

Our reasons, historically, for detesting a pure narcissist, then, make a lot of sense. One of the key traits of narcissistic personality disorder is having the feeling that the rules don't apply to you: everything from feeling like you're above the moral order (genocide malefactors) to feeling like you're above common decency (Alec Baldwin refusing to put the kibosh on Words with Friends on an airplane). But really, our reasons for shunning selfish people are, themselves, a little selfish because our scorn amounts to "no way that person will ever do anything for me."

So, with the pendulum swinging toward near-appreciation of the narcissistic set, one wonders if that means that narcissism itself can be inherently good, and not just an interim fascination.

This realization, whether we vocalize it or not, has contributed to our nascent waffling, our coming to almost appreciating narcissists, if not extolling them. In the last decade or so, a time where we've come to love a little polarization, the capital"N" narcissist is, in his own polarization, a source of inspiration. Because, like all good reputations, every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity. Furthermore, narcissists aren't trying to conceal the fact that they think highly of themselves (look no further than songs with names like "I Am a God"). And it's because every time one such person fesses up to a ballooning ego, we give them power by not shunning them, like welcoming Kanye with open arms after the Taylor Swift blunder. Kanye's public apologies prove there's a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has a right to blame us. It's the confession, not the priest, which gives us absolution.

So, with the pendulum swinging toward near-appreciation of the narcissistic set, one wonders if that means that narcissism itself can be inherently good, and not just an interim fascination. One reason for this is that, at a time in our country's history not long ago, when we were out of the woods mortality-rate speaking, wealth and goodwill became plentiful enough for us to become a little selfish, but we weren't yet good at being selfish.

Let's say steak, cigars and scotch are what you put in your body—that's a rookie narcissistic move. That's where we're uneducated narcissists. Because, as we're starting to see, rookie sorts of selfish are ceasing to exist amongst the most influential narcissists. An excellent narcissist would, in fact, be a powerful tool for saving the planet because those people would find it in their inner fiber to fix everything in their environment. It's not self-absorbed if it's also knowing what's good for self. But as we perfect our narcissism, it comes around to where you're actually doing things that feel like sharing, that feel like connected behavior. That's, to close the circle, Kanye's ego as motivation to put out products that enrich our lives.

Taking all this into account, a new moral code emerges. One that—stripping away the streamers and fanfare—amounts to "narcissism is A-okay if its presence does something for regular people's lives" because the true crime isn't caring about yourself, it's caring about yourself too much to entertain us.

Now ain't that a little egotistical of regular people?

Rick Morrison is a writer living in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter here.