Did Narcissism Cause the Crisis?

Last Updated Jun 11, 2009 1:40 PM EDT

Academics W. Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge claim in their new book, the Narcissism Epidemic, that an overwhelming sense of entitlement is infecting America.  Conspicuous consumption, Twitter, reality TV: the signs of narcissism seem to be everywhere.  Narcissism is a rising trend across the population,  with growth especially evident amongst coddled Gen Y-types who are driving managers crazy with their grandiose expectations for themselves, disrespect for authority and short-term views on paying their dues, at least according to a story in the Boston Globe.

It's easy to see how these self-absorbed attitudes have been encouraged.  It's become almost a rite of passage for even the most privileged people to have to concoct a life myth about the challenges they had to overcome while applying to university programs.  Our President has been praised for how well he crafted his own life story as the myth of the individual rising from humble origins continues with the Sonia Sotomayor campaign. 

But now that the "Masters of the Universe" gambled their company's worth to win big bonuses and all those average Joes maxed out their credit cards to live an MTV-"Cribs" lifestyle, the economy has tumbled.  So did narcissism take it down?

Ultimately it's tough to say whether narcissism caused the crisis, considering that many captains of industry, narcissists like Bill Gates, Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, are believed to have created much of the wealth of the last few decades.

And the tumbling economy hasn't yet "suck[ed] the oxygen out of the system that narcissism needs to survive," as Campbell and Jean Twenge had hoped.  Today's laid off employees have rebranding themselves as the "funemployed," thumbing their noses at those left at the office by posting pictures of their severance pay-financed adventures on Facebook.

Photo by Flickr user "videocrab," CC 2.0.

  • Stefan Deeran

    Stefan Deeran helps environmental nonprofits and green businesses develop and execute their new media campaigns. He also publishes The Exception magazine, a nonpartisan news platform serving his home state of Maine. You can follow him on Twitter @RStefanDeeran or via Facebook.