Saturday, 5 March 2016

Nothing but ...

Nothing but ... In one of Doris Lessing's books - I forget exactly which one - most of the main characters are seeing psychiatrists. Now I suppose we would say they were "in therapy". Whatever the terminology, one of the important things was to be diagnosed. Once you became "nothing but ...." whatever disorder they labelled you with, then you could get on with your life. 

In the years since Doris Lessing wrote her books we have done a lot more labelling. Children's behaviour or learning problems are explained away because they suffer from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or they are "somewhere on the (autistic) spectrum". When I was teaching in sixth form colleges, certain of my students were equipped with various coloured plastic overlays to put on top of printed handouts. This helped them deal with their previously undiagnosed dyslexia, which had not prevented them doing well in high school. Or so I was assured. 

I was, and in fact still am, more than a little sceptical about how many of these so-labelled young people actually deserved that label. (No, I am not denying the existence of dyslexia, just the prevalence of the condition!) But it gave them a kind of comfort blanket to hang onto so that they could cope with the demands of studying and in many cases it worked. Now that they are out in the big wide world, many of them holding down proper jobs, I wonder if they still hang onto the label and the coloured plastic sheets to help them deal with life. 

Now I have come across a new and interesting label: Narcissistic personality disorder!!!! 

This is characterised, I am told, by a lack of empathy, a tendency to self-regard, and a radical overestimation of one's own talents and likability. Many politicians suffer from it but not all of them, obviously. There are still some rare idealists around. And the politicians who do suffer from it vary in the degree of their affliction. No doubt, however, you have to believe that people will vote for you or you would not stand for office in the first place. Some of the people who are famous just for being famous make a point of displaying the disorder, taking a perverse pride in not caring for others and letting their audience know they do not care. Here comes the philosophical bit: do they really not care or do they want to be famous for not caring? Either way, they enjoy the notoriety! 

Strangely, according to the article where I came across this term, another element of "narcissistic personality disorder" is the public outpouring of grief and concern about great tragedies or the death of the likes of David Bowie. You post something on your social media of choice about how upset you are over whatever is going on and all you are really doing is showing off to everyone what a wonderfully sensitive and caring individual you are! 

Aaaghh!!! We can't win! We are all of us nothing but the victims of modern labelling. 

 So, to cheer us all up, here's a link to an article with views of the London skyline before the fire of London and comparing them with views from the same perspective today. Fascinating.

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