Monday, July 8, 2013

All the Rage

Marian Kester Coombs

February 2012-July 2013


Pity the poor immigrant: the newborn human infant. It has been forced from an Eden of One, a form-fitting world where all is provided and nothing demanded. From the moment it hits the outside air, it begins to suffer accelerated depreciation, like a brand-new car just driven off the lot. And so it subsides, writhing, degree by degree, a magnificent balloon losing heft and altitude until it lies full length upon the ground, in the “footprint” of its own grave ... "Oh, my beautiful wickedness! Ohhh, what a world, what a world … "

The litany of necessary losses (Judith Viorst's term, circa 1998) is one indignity heaped upon another. First let's name this tragic creature doomed to be tormented by such losses. Imperial Self - Infant Emperor - Infantile Narcissist - Infantile Megalomaniac - Raging Ego - how about Raging Infant? For to call a newborn’s inborn drive the “human spirit” or “élan vital” or "quest for identity" or "desire" or "passion" or even "lust" falls short: it is a burning Rage to live and to prevail against all comers, a brightly burning torch which the world immediately starts trying to quench. "You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end," sighs J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan.

Once borne, the creature must now depend upon its Mother, a disturbingly capricious being, instead of the trusty umbilical cord. She can be … unreliable. Her services may be … intermittent. Her responses may leave … something to be desired … Civilization and its discontents!

Then the chill dawn of a suspicion: the creature must share this sketchy Mother with another - perhaps multiple others. The horror of a sibling may arise and threaten to eclipse its beautiful wickedness altogether. If that were not enough, it next appears that the Raging Infant must appease entities besides the Mother: it must not hog all the toys, it must not bite, it must play nicely. Meanwhile, as the outside world starts to intrude more rudely than ever, the Infant becomes acquainted with the quaint, absurd notion that it may not be considered the very best at everything, that it may not be universally adored, that it may in fact be judged and even rejected.

Come adolescence, and the unspeakable indignities only compound. In the crucial competition to start pairing off, some truly outrageous insinuations about the adequacy of the Infant may be made. Bullying is a fairly ruthless attempt by males to eliminate the competition of other males, and by females to do the same to other females. Yet at this very time the Infant is exhorted more and more to view itself with some baffling thing called “objectivity” or “relativity,” which only further curdles its narcissism.

Juvenile delinquency and criminality are often misinterpreted as acute insecurity and self-loathing, but are prompted by quite the opposite: injured amour-propre. Hell hath no fury like an ego scorned. Each individual is like a burnt offering to the god of his or her Self, dedicated to being – (worshipped) – recognized, remembered, identified, gratified, esteemed, admired, attended to, accepted, well-regarded, valued, cherished, loved, wanted, needed; to feeling proud, powerful, important, useful; and to mattering. Suicide is the ultimate bid to prove oneself God-like, by ending the world.

You may demur that not everybody is aflame at so high a temperature, and it’s true, there are degrees of Rage. William Blake thought that “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.” In other words, the weak are too weak to be “bad” and the strong are too strong to be “good.” You can be a crazed egotist only to the extent of your own particular endowment of unholy energy. Or perhaps only to the extent you are unable to mask your egotism. Nietzsche certainly believed this, calling it the Will to Power.

In Winesburg, Ohio, the “grotesques” whom Sherwood Anderson introduces to us all have one thing in common: They are completely insane on the subject of themselves. One of the more sober grotesques interacts with Anderson’s “hero” thus:

When George Willard went to work for the Winesburg Eagle he was besieged by Joe Welling. Joe envied the boy. It seemed to him that he was meant by Nature to be a reporter on a newspaper. “It is what I should be doing, there is no doubt of that,” he declared, stopping George Willard on the sidewalk before Daugherty’s Feed Store. His eyes began to glisten and his forefinger to tremble. “Of course I make more money with the Standard Oil Company and I’m only telling you,” he added. “I’ve got nothing against you but I should have your place. I could do the work at odd moments. Here and there I would run finding out things you’ll never see.”

R.D. Laing wrote, “Yet all [the human heart] asks is that I let it love me, and not even that.” Sentimental nonsense! The human heart asks infinitely more than that. It demands to be loved, loved exclusively. It tells the Greatest Story Ever Told: itself! Its every action from the most banal intimate gesture to the most grandiose spectacle is a howl for attention to be paid: “My name is [your name here], King of Kings:/Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

What’s the formula for success at any social gathering? Ask people about themselves, then actually (at least appear to) listen, and you will be accounted the most fascinating person on the planet. And what do you hear when people start to talk? That the world revolves around them, that but for the machinations of idiots they would be colossi, that had they only been heeded the world would be a wonderland, that they got a raw deal but lived to have the last laugh. Et cetera.

Fandom is but self-love writ large.

The Golden Rule is based on the frank acknowledgment that self comes first: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

"Love thy neighbor as thyself" recognizes the tenderness with which "thyself" is loved.
The tears we shed upon being moved by a heroic act of self-sacrifice are for the fact that by this act our own wickedness has been preserved.

The saintly selflessness of saints is the greatest egotism of all.

The hero or martyr for his part, like Achilles, actually prefers physical death to the death of his fame:

My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall lose my safe homecoming, but I will have a glory that is unwilting: whereas if I go home, my glory will die, but it will be a long time before death itself shall take me.

Even our grief at the loss of loved ones is self-pity for the blow to our own dear selves, our ego-armature, our possessions, our retinue. Our mourning is more than a little like the North Koreans hysterically bemoaning their dead leader, fearing ghostly (or political) revenge if they don’t. And mother-love is anything but selfless. The selfish gene, as Richard Dawkins called it, loves not just you but all your kind – nation, race, class, family – and is happy to rain death upon your enemies to advance its own fortunes.

To grow up is supposed to mean the progressive surrendering of infantile delusions of grandeur, but they are never, ever completely outgrown. “Anger issues” all stem from the thwarted Infant lashing out enraged at an uncooperative, indifferent world. “Road rage” is a special case: the encapsulation of the automobile creates a sort of hardened ego-state that proceeds to vigorously begrudge all other capsules the “right” of way, with much swerving, tailgating, sudden braking and other moves that act out the Infant’s intolerant reaction to others who dare get in its way.

Sociopaths (we all have some sociopath in us) are just infants masquerading as adults; nothing and no one is real to them except themselves. They never mean to hurt anyone – by which they mean they never meant to get caught or punished for hurting anyone. Drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine and heroin fleetingly recapture the infantile state of senseless bliss, absolute power, the amoeba-self engulfing an ecstatic world …

As deftly portrayed in Peter Pan, Mr. Darling throws an infantile tantrum over having to take some evil-tasting medicine and scapegoats the innocent Nana, thus making it possible for Peter to abscond with Wendy, John and Michael:

His proud heart was nearly bursting. … It was dreadful the way all the three [children] were looking at him, just as if they did not admire him. … It was all owing to his too affectionate nature, which craved for admiration.

Eventually the Infant finds someone willing to mutually “settle,” and real babies may come. The mirror that offspring hold up to the Infant is often unsettling – a frequent cause for divorce. In time the job proves disappointing, the boss is an *******, the career is not what it should be; and finally the Infant is compelled to notice that it is fairly rapidly being ushered out of the world - given the bum’s rush in fact – and that Death, the ultimate outrage, may dare to lay hands upon its beautiful wickedness. Et tu, Ego?

The aptly-named Me Generation or Baby Boom, 50 million tiny tyrants strong, disbelieves not only in death but in the fact of age itself. Youth is a right and aging an affront, the skunk at the garden party. Typical Boomers of both sexes have had multiple midlife crises by the time they hit 50. The author of the epigram “American lives have no second act” should have had in mind Boomers and their very rare transition from infancy to adulthood.

Were people less beautifully wicked in the past than they are now? History suggests that hard times – depressions, world wars, famines – force people to mature whether they want to or not, hence the eerie “adultness” of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. They were so “grown up” (i.e., generous and giving toward us). They were “the Greatest.” Ronald Reagan reminded us of our dads.

Women, particularly those who’ve lived off their looks, have always clung more bitterly to Youth than men have, and may more readily be forgiven, since older women face such painful demotion in society. Female beauty is cruelly dependent on neoteny, the retention of juvenile characteristics, while men are permitted to get at least a bit craggy and silvery. George Orwell admired the tenacity of one beldame he encountered whilst Down and Out in Paris and London:

[She] was quite sixty years old, and she stood at the sink thirteen hours a day, six days a week, the year round; she was, in addition, horribly bullied by the waiters. … It was strange to see that in spite of her age and her life she still wore a bright blonde wig, and darkened her eyes and painted her face like a girl of twenty. So apparently even a seventy-eight-hour week can leave one with some vitality.

Men have greater trouble kicking true infantile narcissism than do women, however. It has been speculated that it’s easier for daughters to separate from their mothers, who are less jealous of “rivals” (suitors), but mothers may go on to be the authoresses of the most hopeless cases of narcissism in their sons. These enablers encourage their sons to see every problem as everyone’s fault but their own; each failure is excused, explained away, with many a sympathetic cluck and roll of the eye. Never does such a mother admit that "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

It’s dangerous to let the Infant out to play, but it’s fun at first, and so easy. Lovers tempt each other’s latent narcissism with coos of “Ooh, baby, baby.” Like waving a glass of Scotch under the nose of an alcoholic, this temptation can reawaken the Rage-prone inner infant with very unfortunate results, as thousands of estranged spouses and children could attest if they hadn’t been murdered. Look at the monstrous behavior of Nero, Caligula, Commodus and other Roman emperors; like all others given absolute power, they descended to absolute depravity.

Abortion is now a sacrament, the only one Infants care about. You might think they would identify with actual infants and want to protect the genuine version of themselves, but no, again the opposite is true. The Infant is mortally jealous of the young and loudly makes known it has no intention of ever saddling itself with any. Pets are the new kids, far more gratifying and adoring.

And what are economic bubbles but infantile wishful thinking? Something for Nothing! Sounds too good to be true, so we can’t help believing it! Besides, someone else will pay if it doesn’t pan out.

Like lovers, advertisers too play a role in seducing the Infant. “You deserve the best,” “What are you waiting for?,” “Go ahead – indulge yourself,” etc. Whatever you want is OK because You want it. Think of all that is now shrilly celebrated and once was frowned upon. TGIF, “snow days,” “I’d rather be ________ing [anything but working].” “Forbidden” “decadent” desserts, “Chocolate is good for you!,” junk food. Binge drinking, marijuana legalization, “spice.” Garbage mouth (“like” and “y’know,” cursing, obscenities) and rudeness. Tats, piercings, wacked-out hair, the unshaven just-got-outta-bed look. Comic books (“graphic novels”), video gaming, splatter movies, pornography, rap, gambling, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!” and numberless other polymorphous perversions. The New York Times says the latest lesbian vampire flick possesses “a distinctive sensibility,” blah blah blah. It’s cool to be a nerd or geek or fanboy, not a man.

Of course acquiring the advertised product or service is unsatisfying because you can’t buy what you truly hunger for – power, admiration, indelibility – goods that must be freely bestowed by other people. The dissatisfaction with commodities fosters susceptibility to other forms of entitlement ideology. The political parties work ceaselessly to embolden bums and bum out responsible people. It’s the old shakedown: for the Poor, the Children, the Have-Nots, the Underprivileged, Fairness, Justice - all just crafty, indirect, passive-aggressive tactics for dominating and ripping off others. Observant philosophers have called the technique ressentiment, the superficial paradox of the “servant” lording it over the “master.”

Unearned affluence never satisfies, it just stimulates further demands, more discontent, more Rage. “Enough” has no meaning to the Infant. The entitlements pall quicker and quicker, until at last you have the Occupy movement howling about some mythical dearth of privileges and “hope.” They are literally incapable of being made to feel special enough.


Denial of recognition to individuals can be very dangerous. But even more dangerous is denial of recognition to entire groups within society, and to entire nations within the “global community.” What is a person or people not capable of when its self-love has been violated? It will plot to make endless war or at least endless mischief.

There is a very practical reason for the need to feel oneself wanted, valued and useful. The instinct to reign over all other wills is perfectly consonant with the drive of any social animal to be considered competent and thus essential to the group. Incompetent or inessential members are turned out or left by the wayside when the tribe or troop moves on. The Infant’s pugnacious “I can do it myself!” signals loud and clear “You need me, I can carry my own weight.”

Now we get to the positive life-affirming qualities of Raging Infancy.

It is the inner voice that shouts “Don’t go to sleep!” when you’re freezing, “Keep going!” when you’re about to drop from exhaustion, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” as Death approaches, "Next time's the charm!" when your latest love object eludes you. “Attention must be paid” is not just atrociously bad dialogue but human truth: we are, each and every one of us, precious and irreplaceable. If one of us is not, then none of us is. It is so because we are made to will it so. Our belief must correspond to something real and true about the universe, or else it would not have evolved and persisted.

Egotism must have huge survival value as well, since after a thousand thousand thousand years all beings continue to be born with it. It may be thought of as a fuel cell that powers even the tiniest creature throughout its life, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” until the fuel at last runs out. To be born without the Rage is to be an egg without a yolk. Just as the body is not designed to eat only what it needs to merely subsist, so the self packs on “ego-fat” against the dark days of adoration-famine that are sure to come.

If you follow fearlessly the ancient advice to “Know thyself,” you will see this truth wherever you look, and it can only enhance the humbling intensity of your own experience of life. Robert Burns reworked the idea as “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” But how little we should care to see ourselves thus …

The Rage is infinite, the ability to sate it, finite. “And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make” – a pretty thought. The Infant wants only one small thing: to feel important, admired and necessary. Is this so much, too much to ask? In a world of seven billion souls, is there not enough “positive regard” to go around? “Celebrities” receive far more than their share, a sometimes lethal dose, while most individuals starve on too little. It would seem there is not enough Love in the whole universe to meet that simple need to be esteemed.

Capitalism is the absolute worse system ever devised to order human affairs, except, of course, for all the others. Capitalism is the only economic system that even begins or pretends to accommodate man’s Rage (and Judeo-Christianity is one religion that compassionately acknowledges it, rewarding faith and reverence with ego-stroking wealth and success). Capitalism depends upon “naked” self-interest to power an engine of innovation and motivation that has made it a raging triumph for the past 300 years. Every man's home is his castle because Everyman is King. This philosophy is not "cynical" - it works because it is rooted in natural truth. In fact the more forcibly communitarian the society, the more darkly selfish the populace.Two words: Soviet Union.

“Capital” understands that human beings are overjoyed to slave away for their own and their kindred’s benefit. Hence its Declaration that each of us is "endowed by [the] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [among which are] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Tapping even a fraction of that free joy, that bottomless energy, that infinite taking of pains in the interest of the self is like harnessing nuclear reactions on the surface of the sun. And this is why, for all the catastrophes that mindless politicians are shoving us toward, we will rise phoenix-like from the flames of our own destruction, singed but singing yet the great ode of Life: Long live My Self!

Le Soleil, le foyer de tendresse et de vie,
Verse l'amour brûlant à la terre ravie ...

The Sun, of tenderness and life the hearth,
Pours burning love on the delighted earth - (Rimbaud)