Julie Burchill

In defence of narcissism

In defence of narcissism
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I am that rare thing, a vice-signaller; a breed defined by the fact that unlike our virtue-signalling opposites, we delight in presenting ourselves as somewhat worse than we are. Reasons vary; sometimes we were Bad People in the past and changed but (like teenage wallflowers who grew into table-dancing divas and still describe themselves as ‘shy’) we keep an image in our mind of the way we were. Sometimes we choose to present in this way because we are repelled by people who consider themselves good but behave in a manner which we see as substandard; for example, regard the hardcore hypocrisy of racist, misogynist Corbynites who believe that they can never do wrong because they have ticked the box marked Brotherhood Of Man. Looking at such self-styled Good Guys, we vice-signallers cling tight to the comfort blanket of our allegedly wicked ways. Sometimes we are just very honest about what we want.

In our determined desire to show our bad side, we can be funny and original in a way no approval-seeking virtue-signaller ever could. For instance, after having a prolonged online ding-dong with an angry transsexual who first threatened me with a beating-up by their alleged Hell’s Angel partner and then threatened to report me to the police for hate crimes, I lost patience and phoned the local cop-shop to report myself. (They refused to believe me, as my voice is so cute and youthful, and suggested instead that I file a hate crime complaint against my erstwhile sparring partner.) Another time I implored my second husband to divorce me for adultery - which sounds wicked and thrilling -rather than unreasonable behaviour which sounds rather babyish but not half as bad. Sadly, the second option was chosen as I had committed not-strictly-adultery with a gorgeous 25-year-old girl; with true vice-signalling swag, I protested to my solicitor, ‘Have you seen her? It would have been unreasonable not to!’

To sum up, I know that I am a show-off, a grand-stander and maybe just a teeny bit of an Attention Whore. But this is quite understandable based in the fact that I come from such an extremely working-class background that my pretty, bright cousin was mocked for having her head ‘in the clouds’ when she informed the school careers officer that she wanted to be an air stewardess; it would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. Despite this, I have made my living as a writer from the age of 17 and I’m 60 now; percentage-wise I am an outrageously over-achieving freak. Not to celebrate this victory over all the legions of dull-minded spawn of the middle classes who tried and failed to have a career like mine would make me extraordinarily boring both personally and politically. The modest are modest either because they have plenty to be modest about and/or because they came from privileged backgrounds - thankfully I’m neither.

‘Narcissist’ is the latest diss in town for the likes of me, though I was called one in print by Will Self way back in 1999; talk about swank-pot, kettle, hack! It’s having a serious moment right now; the rise of popular populist politicians has seen the unpopular liberal elite throw it around a lot. It’s also used copiously by women about their exes - a rather silly form of #PoorMeToo feminism for those who don’t have the mental rigour to base their arguments on anything wider than their own limited experience. Lastly, I’ve noticed that it’s used, ironically, by conceited people without any achievements to be conceited about - the I AM THEREFORE I AM WONDERFUL brigade for whom Jung’s excellent line, ‘You are what you do - not what you say you’ll do,’ could have been invented. Like a lot of insults, it generally says more about the person giving it than the person it’s aimed at; to borrow another pop psychology favourite, it’s called projection. The person I’ve known who used the word most talked about herself so continuously, never showing a spark of interest in anyone else, that her nickname was The Queen Of Meeba.

She won’t be a bit pleased to read the findings of an ongoing research project by Queen’s University Belfast which has found that we are likely to be happier than most people, less likely to be stressed or depressed and are insulated against feeling bad about ourselves by our self-confidence - a ‘protective quality’ which makes us more likely to succeed in work and love due to a ‘mental toughness’, which helps us overcome rejection. I do recognise myself here - a resilient quality which once led a journalist to liken me to ‘The Bouncing Bomb’ due not just to my fatness but to my ability to resurface unexpectedly just when the monstrous regiments of haters who were dying to see me taken down thought I was finished.

With typical self-regard, I’m pleased that - in a society where mental illness is so apparently widespread - I won’t be taking resources away from the vast number of people who do apparently need it. If being a narcissist means I opt-out of this endless Greek chorus of whining and whingeing then I’m proud to be one. I’m also happy that I can never claim to be an empath - those secular saints who presume to be everything we narcissists are not. Funny how so many of them seem to spend so much time alone, considering their superior sensitivity to social situations; it may well have something to do with them being moody, needy, clingy wet blankets who anyone with a bit of spirit would gnaw off their own arm to get away from. How much better to admit to flagrant self-adoration and reap the benefits it brings! Was there ever a classier answer to enquiries as to why she posed naked for Playboy than Ursula Andress’s statement ‘Because I’m beautiful’? And yes, I know Narcissus died by melting away in a fire of passion after falling in love with his own reflection, eventually turning into a golden flower - but imagine how that would look on Instagram!