- - Sunday, September 8, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As narcissism proliferates, indifference to humanity rampages

Christopher Lane was shot in the back and killed last month. Charged with his murder are three teenagers in Duncan, Okla., who were “bored,” and “decided to kill somebody” for fun.

In a statement issued to the Australia Herald Sun, the White House described the act as “an extra measure of evil.”

Lane’s slaying was indeed an act of evil, but the indiscriminate, arbitrary manner in which those charged with his killing acted should not come as a surprise, considering the shift in values that our society has undergone.

When I first heard about Lane’s killing, I was reminded of a line from the 1983 suspense thriller “Gorky Park.” William Hurt, as a Soviet detective investigating a triple homicide in the heart of Moscow, makes the very true point that people have an easier time killing, “especially if they feel themselves superior beings.”

There has probably never been a more transparent example of this kind of superiority complex than the way O.J. Simpson treated his wife, Nicole Brown. He is the classic illustration of how narcissism can enable a person to morally justify his actions no matter how hurtful they are to others.

During Simpson’s marriage to Brown, he threatened and abused her. After their divorce, he stalked and terrorized her. And when Nicole moved on to someone else — the ultimate form of defiance to any narcissist — Simpson made sure that she could never defy him again.

No one ever dreamed during the 1970s when Simpson was a superstar athlete, sports hero and household name that he would ever be capable of violence. However, his arrogance, coupled with the reverence that America bestowed upon him, enabled and even encouraged his self-aggrandizing sense of entitlement.

Peter Lane, Christopher Lane’s father, said of his son’s slaying, “It is heartless, and to try to understand is a short way to insanity.”

There is a way to understand it, though.

Though Lane’s accused killers were not celebrities like Simpson was, they grew up in a rapidly changing society that is creating a similar mass delusion of self-aggrandizement among young people. Once limited to celebrities, the practice of self-promotion is now at the fingertips of almost every American, including children in elementary school.

Just as guns can be misused as instruments of death, mobile devices accessing social media can be abused as instruments of narcissism, making it all too easy for people to promote themselves in a virtual world while losing sight of the real-world consequences of their actions on real people.

Reality TV has popularized this celebrity-driven mentality, glamorizing everyday people as Hollywood stars, who are rewarded for engaging in manipulation, vindictiveness and deceit.

Movies that were once plot-driven now depict indiscriminate, ultraviolent killing carried out by characters with little forethought about the consequences or morality of their actions.

The result is a desensitized, self-obsessed culture of young people that places little value on others and minimal emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual or on human life in general.

It hasn’t taken long for us to drift far from the America in which most of us grew up, a nation that cared about the needs of others and inspired young people to “be all you can be” to make the world a better place.

That was the America that existed when Simpson was still a hero. But just as Simpson’s out-of-control sense of self turned him into someone unrecognizable, gradually, we have watched — and sometimes enabled — our society to transform into something else as well.

The America in which we now live is driven by instant gratification, unhealthy, mean-spirited competitiveness and affirmation of one’s superiority over others.

Those who doubt the sociological connection between our narcissistic, virtual culture and the increase in youth violence should consider the nonchalant, indiscriminate and thoughtless way that Lane was killed.

To his accused killers, Lane was not a real-life human being with feelings. Pulling a trigger was just as easy as deleting a ‘friend’ on Facebook. With the flick of a finger, he was deleted from every real person who ever knew him.

Why?

Because like so many impatient, self-obsessed young people today, the defendants were bored and wanted instant gratification. They wanted to feel empowered. They wanted to feel like stars. Like O.J. Simpson, they believed they were entitled to do whatever they wanted, to whomever they wanted to do it.

The underlying mentality of these three, ruthless young men and the other young people who embrace our new, narcissistic culture is all the same: “I don’t care what happens to anyone else. It’s all about me.”

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative reporter and a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C.

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