The Narcissism of the West

Yesterday I was given a copy of a recent report published by the London School of Economic’s !deas think tank. Entitled ‘Five Years after Maidan: Toward a Greater Eurasia’, its foreword (by LSE Emeritus Professor Michael Cox) begins with this provocative, but I think rather penetrating, statement:

The West’s increasing self-absorption verging on the narcissistic … has made many of us ‘over here’ forget that there is another very different world ‘out there’ about which most of our leaders know very little and think about even less. … other people in other places have other, rather more important things to worry about than the comings and goings of western politicians and pundits.

I’ve been wondering for some time about Russiagate, America’s inability to end its ‘forever wars’ in the Middle East, and other phenomena of the modern era, and trying to puzzle out what explains it all. It seems to me that Cox has found an important part of the puzzle – the narcissism of the West. Boosted by victory in the Cold War, believing that our systems represent the ‘end of history’, we in the West have come to see ourselves as ‘masters of the universe’. We are all that matters. And so it follows that we must be at the top of everybody else’s agenda, and that whatever anybody else in the world does, it must somehow be about us.

Take the paranoid stories I’ve been covering on this blog about how the Russians are bound to ‘meddle’ in Canada’s upcoming general election. Why on earth do people here think that this is so likely, given that the choice is between a governing party whose foreign minister is banned from entering Russia and an opposition party whose leader is banned from entering Russia? The answer lies in our strange belief that we’re actually really important. Canada is a G7 country after all. Of course the Russians will target us. We matter! Except that in reality we don’t. As was mentioned in the report by Sergey Sukhankin which I critiqued a week or so ago, Russians who study international affairs don’t look at Canada as a truly independent country. To most of them, we’re just an appendage of the United States. Our belief that the opposite is true – that we’re a big player, that our elections really matter to foreign countries, that they’re bound to try to undermine us because ‘WE’RE IMPORTANT!’ – is narcissism pure and simple.

Canadians aren’t the only one guilty of this. Americans have a similar problem. It’s why they had such a huge problem understanding what Saddam Hussein was up to after his defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Faced with apparent Iraqi obstruction of US demands, they assumed that this meant that Saddam was plotting some sort of evil revenge against the United States. In fact, it turned out that he wasn’t thinking of the Americans at all; his real concerns were to do with Iran. You can find lots of examples like that. Americans are told that they must fight the Taleban because of the danger that terrorists might again use Afghanistan to strike the United States. But is the average Talebani really thinking about America? Or is he thinking about his home, his family, his village – all things local? If the Iranians are helping the Syrian government, is it because they view the war in Syria as part of a global struggle against the United States, or is it because Syria is next door to Iran and what happens there is of direct importance to Iran’s own security? The answers, I think, are pretty clear.

To put it another way, states (and non-state actors) have their own interests unconnected to us. The fact that their pursuit of their interests sometimes makes them clash with Western states who are pursuing different interests doesn’t mean that they’re doing what they doing because of us. Moreover, as the balance of power in the world shifts, it’s likely that more and more often the West will become less and less of a factor in non-Western states’ calculations. As Derek Averre says with reference to Russia in another part of the LSE report:

We are in danger of missing the fact that European norms are becoming less important as a reference point against which Russia’s political elite measures its policy. Indeed, Ted Hopf’s argument – that Russia constructs its identity in relation to the US/Europe as ‘significant others’ – should be subject to appraisal at this time of far-reaching change in Russian foreign policy.

In short, it’s not all about us, and becoming less and less about us with every passing day. But arrogance and narcissism prevent us from seeing this. As a result we stumble from foreign policy blunder to foreign policy blunder. Unless and until we are able to come off our high horses and recognize that we’re not the centre of the universe, we’re going to keep getting things horribly wrong.

20 thoughts on “The Narcissism of the West”

  1. I feel that all nations are narcissistic, currently in the disunited kingdom we are so obsessed with the B word and the antics of Paul’s former classmate that everything else pales into insignificance.

    I think that all nations look at the world with a view that as to how other nations impact on them. On top of this are placed historical prejudices and fears and other folk history. This produces a bit of a distorted picture. Everybody does this, but closed or monoglot nations do this more.

    The problem this factor causes in international relations is pretty big. It leads to a megaphone dialogue rather than the understanding needed to preserve peace while defending national interests

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m always rattled by the selfish obsession over Brexit here in UK yet no concern over Britain arming the destruction of Yemen. I was also taught that murder is bad. Apparently it’s fine though if Muslims are the target.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You just put the finger on a big reason why America is headed for political and economic collapse–probably within the next decade. The narcissism isn’t just in our foreign policy, but within the political and media elites who not only refuse to address America’s mounting pile of serious domestic problems, but don’t really believe there is any problem at all. It also reveals itself in the narcissism of believing we can continue to endlessly borrow trillions of dollars to finance our increasingly feeble ability to dictate what happens everywhere on the globe.

    America’s day of reckoning is coming–and even though I am an American I recognize that it has to happen if mankind has any hope for the future.


  4. The Earth is going to collapse and still nobody knows the reality! Come on guys, all those wars, it’s all about Evil vs. God, to be specific it’s a war against Islam, and where is Islam mostly located at? it’s common in the Middle East, Yemen, Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.. Simply USA and its allies, plus Israel are fighting Islam, they don’t care about US or their peoples, by using their armies they don’t defend USA, they’re doing their jobs in killing Muslims as much as they can. But why it’s just about Islam? Find out yourself.

    Meanwhile, US gov and whoever controlling the west and US they just done with their nations, they fucked up their nations, look at the western peoples and Us peoples, they’re fucked up by their govs. now it’s time to fuck everything in the Middle east and everywhere else on this Earth. But the great punishment is coming and happening right now, observe the weather, the earthquakes, volcanos, those flood, soon will be a massive destruction of the Earth by its Creator, why? because it’s enough, those fuckers who’re fucking everything on the Earth need to be stopped.

    On the other side, Read about Islam. Your soul needs to be connected to Allah, Its Creator, otherwise you feel like sh!t for no obvious reason specifically at night, by the way, Jesus religion is Islam regardless of what they changed and tampered in the books. The Quran: The Holy Book of Islam is the only truth existed in this chaos. Islam religion is what Allah (God/Creator) wanted for the humanity. You want to be safe in this chaos.

    Save your soul of an infinite punishment right now, believe in Allah & be a good Muslim and worship Allah, simple as that and stop being in pain like you’re in hell while you’re on the earth.

    Fight your inner demon who is telling you to hate Islam. Be strong and have faith in Allah, He is the only One will be with you after you died. Peace upon you brothers.


      1. Yes, twisted arguments seem to suggest dissembling almost authomatically. Especially if they come along as the above. … troll?

        Have you ever followed M.E.M.R.I on Russia?, eg. their selection from first to 23th of September 2019, randomly? Are they agenda setters? …

        I mostly connect them based on their dissappearing articles. Which might be an interesting study in itself, wished I had a couple of IT tools to help. … Once upon a time.

        Randomly: would you still find an article concerning our former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, or Birne/pear, as we preferred to call him. According to M.E.M.R.I once upon a time, he supposedly stated in private meetings in Iran, with–Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or whoever relevant at the time–that the Holocaust was “fake news”? …

        Now, not in my weakest mental moments, would I ever have expected to be forced to defend Helmut Kohl/ Birne/pear. But at that time, I felt I had to signal to my US insider, who sent me an article to be published in the Weekly Standard in advance, that the M.E.M.R.I “intelligence” was more then just simply unlikely….


      2. well yes auto is auto, but then there is author vs the German Autor. Well it looked curious.

        Maybe I need a spell checker.

        Noticed you surfaced elsewhere, by the way.


  5. thanks paul.. i agree with your basic conclusion and think this is especially so in canada and the usa.. as a canuck, i am always shocked at the views of many of my fellow canucks, but what can one do aside from watch this accident in motion, proceeding to its self evident conclusion? as someone above mentioned – i would give it 10-20 years to become very apparent… maybe sooner..


    1. Narcissism may be a part of it, but there is also the dear old “blame the foreigners” impulse that rulers always resort to when things don’t go well.

      And who can think things have gone well the last few decades – a stagnating economy and a soaring inequality.

      Russians are well posed to take the foreigner role. Think of all the Bond films we have seen through the years. But I bet it will change to the Chinese within short – the yellow peril is also a good old card to play for unpopular governments.


  6. This article is oh so correct! Even today, as the US tries to determine “what to do about Iran,” politicians continually spout off that their concern is that we (the West) are the caretakers of the mid-east, the world. Who appointed them? Is it because we are so “moral,” always know what’s right? Yeah right….then why are we starving the Iranian people with sanctions? Does the end justify the means? I guess so, when you’re ALWAYS right!


  7. I have only visited Canada a couple of times and don’t really get the culture or politics, so I can’t comment on that.
    I am fairly familiar with United States, however, and long ago came to the conclusion that the main culture here is one of narcissism.
    Almost every day I hear Americans talking about how great they are, and how other countries suck, and “we’re the greatest country in the world” yada yada. These types of statements are usually triggered when they watch international news segments.

    Sometimes, just to mess with Americans I encounter, I offer them this thought experiment:
    Imagine that countries are people. Like, people who all live together in a neighborhood. And there is this one neighbor who goes around boasting, “I am the greatest person in the world! Everybody else wants to be like me. Other people are miserable because they aren’t me.”

    What would you think about that person? Would you believe him? Would you admire him?
    People usually say no, they wouldn’t want to be around such a person…
    But to ask America to be more modest and more humble, well, that is not even possible, due to the rampant narcissistic ideology.


    1. May I throw in my two (euro) cents’ worth?

      A lot of the benefits Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, etc. enjoy that are absent in the USA include:
      * universal healthcare (obviously)
      * 1- and 2-dollar coins (Japan and Switzerland go as far as to have 5-franc/500-yen coins)
      * paid maternity leave
      * weights and measures in metric (the US, a republic, has been using a decimal currency of 100 cents to the dollar since 1792)
      * public transport
      * three or more political parties to choose from
      * GMO labeling
      <b(not all of these apply to every entity; for example, Canada has yet to label GMOs)

      Sadly, what prevents any real change is the “American superiority” mantra you describe, and because these USians believe the USA is superior, they see no reason to implement any of the above to improve their own standards of living. I find it odd that non-USians choose the USA as a role model despite these open flaws, when countries like Canada and Australia provide more bang for their buck.

      (I hesitate to use “American” because the name also refers to the landmasses, the Americas. Why the Founding Fathers didn’t pick an original name is another subject on its own.)


      1. I think a lot of nations have a “holier then thou” attitude. I sometimes feel bad badmouting americans for it because we Krauts certainly got that as well (we clearly perfected the international humble bragg).

        But yeah, the American one is kind of off the charts, and it really worries me. The idea for example that “Russia will be no match” militarily (seems to be really prevalent in the US military) is honestly scaring the hell out of me. I served in the Bundeswehr as a conscript. Among the rank and file, even in 2004, there was the “yeah, the Russians are tougher then us physically, can take way more bullshit then us, but they have kind of worse equipment and wont be motivated to fight outside of their borders, and what fucking madman would pick a fight with Russia on or near her own turf?”.

        The iraq war was kind of a hot topic back then and well, I still remember a remark by our battery commander “Es ist gut, dass der Ami im Irak Scheiße baut, dann macht er es wenigstens nicht in Russland”. “It is good that the yankee is doing stupid shit in Iraq, this means he is not also doing it in Russia”.

        Well, turns out the yankee can do stupid shit in a lot of places at the same time.

        I half think that the Bundeswehrs current operational performance is an elaborate brave soldier Schweijk recreation on a national scale, in which we try to convince the US of not doing even more stupid shit regarding Russia by giving the most convincing impersonation of completely incompetence we can manage.


      2. 2 A.I.Schmelzer
        Off-T. Have you read recent interview with S. Shoygu (first big one in 7 years)? He touches upon about nuts’n’bolts of improving situation in Russian Army, starting with the time he became the head of MoD. I served in 2012/13, i.e. during the “interesting times” of the transitional period. Doubly so for us, as our brigade went through retirement of its CO, interim command of his Chief of Staff (who strongly reminded me of czar Pavel I – only without any redeeming qualities), and then appointment of several “varangians” from far away on key positions. It was a time when we finally switched to the socks, yet have to daily demonstrate out needling skill in order to have clean white podvorotnichok. If the article tells the truth, now (finally!) every company has a washing machine back in the barracks – in our time it was far from a given.

        I also remember how for the first half of the service we had “sudden revisions” from higher ups elsewhere, about which everyone knew before hand. Now, I hope, such revisions – along with the surprise instant alert drills – are indeed what they are.

        As for this narcissistic “holier then thou” attitude – its real and it really precludes any meaningful dialog between the US/Greater West and the Rest. Because it is really a belief (hence “holier” in the expression), a religious belief. How can you expect a Faithful to entertain a notion that heathens and heretics might be right? No – you try to convert them one way or another. That’s the top-down attitude prevalent even among the so-called “thinking masses” in the West, who think that if the Rest is not offering the universalist Credo (like “Free Market Liberalism” of theirs), then their opposition to it is phony and they will make a bunch of nice converts whether they like it or not. Engaging in meaningful dialog would result in questioning of their liberal dogma’s current universality, with heretical conclusion that it is either not universal or needs serious revisions (with outside input) to become it. That kind of stuff (especially for the people who grew up during turbo charged rhetorics of 1980s and then during the shameless triumphalism of 1990s) is unacceptable for the Western elite, and strati dependent on them.

        “I half think that the Bundeswehrs current operational performance is an elaborate brave soldier Schweijk recreation on a national scale”


        “Do you know me?! I’m telling you that you don’t know me! But you will know me! Maybe you knew me only on the good side! But now you gonna learn about me bad side too! I’ll make you cry!” –Lt. Oak, US Army (NATO liaison officer), first words to allied personnel during confidence building and enhanced interoperability field exercises.


    2. Another disturbing thing I’ve noticed is how some USian expats/tourists make little to no effort to adapt to the host countries’ cultures; instead they expect the locals to cater to them and speak English. The proliferation of USian military power, the English language, and Hollywood has created the (false) notion that Anglo-Saxon cultural norms are adequate and should apply to every other country.

      In the example of continental European countries such as Germany, visit a forum like ToyTown Germany and Expatica, and invariably you’ll find Anglo expats who complain about
      * perceived rudeness from locals
      * lack of air-conditioning and ice in drinks
      * lack of queuing
      * people not smiling
      * “poor” customer service
      * people not holding doors
      * lack of English proficiency
      * people not saying “please” or “thank you”
      (Some of the complainers spell things the British way, so I doubt it’s a USA-thing; the USA stands out for its long-standing indoctrination of American exceptionalism.)

      Is it my imagination, or do English-speaking countries (esp. The Five Eyes) tend to be more politically-correct than the continental European countries?


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