We are all narcissists.
It is not a terrible trait. It is part of the human condition. Sometimes it can even be a good thing. Narcissism can turn a boy who couldn’t make his high school basketball team into a super-focused workaholic icon named Michael Jordan. It can make a skinny, big-eared black boy whose father left him, think a Princeton-educated woman would want to go out on a date with him. It can convince that same kid that he could become the 44th President of the United States.
Sometimes narcissism tortures us. It makes us endow random coincidence with a specific meaning. It is the reason we believe “God must have something bigger for me” when we lose our jobs, or ascribe existential meaning to death or loss. Narcissism is sometimes a blinder that protects our shallow egos from seeing the randomness of the universe and understanding that there are some things we have no control over. There are certainly valuable life lessons hidden in certain events that we can learn from, but our sensibilities sometimes make us too afraid to face an inescapable fact of life:
When Steve Stephens killed a man on Facebook people across social media immediately voiced their own individual interpretations of the horrific event. Hotep niggas who get all their information from Youtube and haven’t picked up a book with a bibliography since their 10th-grade science report said it was a hoax. They dissected the video and said it didn’t look real, because– their forensic knowledge from all of the other times they performed autopsies gave them the expertise to disprove this outlandish conspiracy.
The contingent of makeshift mental health professionals immediately started talking about mental health. They made no mention that Stephens was a mental health worker who had no history of mental health problems. They offered no specific diagnoses. They just used the scientific method of speculation that comes with a degree in not knowing shit.
Some said it was indicative of this era of social media, and said Facebook needed to do something with Facebook Live.
Others blamed it on how women treat men, or how black men treat women, or feminism, or hypermasculinity, or his fraternity, or the need to talk about Black fathers, or the lack of gun control or… something. There had to be a lesson in all of this. It must mean something, right?
I once interviewed a woman who endured one of the most horrible tragedies ever. Her first child passed away at 4 months old from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, sending her into a spiraling depression. She told me that the biggest part of her struggle was fighting to overcome the thoughts of how she could have prevented her child’s death. Should she have watched him more closely? Did she put him to sleep in the wrong position? Was God punishing her? In her mind–she said–she needed to come up with a reason this tragedy happened because if it was simply a random occurrence, that she couldn’t have prevented it, then it was scarier–because it meant that she had absolutely no control over the most precious thing in the world–life itself.
That’s why humans invented religion and gods–to give significance and definition to the things of which we are not in charge. Humans need purpose and context. We want to be here for a reason. Perhaps the ultimate narcissism is the idea that we can control anything.
Sometimes shit happens.
Too often we try to extrapolate significance from unpredictability. When a crazy white boy shoots up a Charleston Church, people will try to say it is a message that we should remove the Confederate flag. What if Dylan Roof was simply a racist intent on murder like the millions of other racists in America? What if Steve Stephens was just bitch nigga with a fragile ego and evil in his heart? As sad and tragic as this case was, hundreds of murders happen every day in America, it was probably inevitable that someone would commit one on a platform that serves over a billion people. Considering the there are more guns in this country than people, it is relatively shocking that something like this is so relatively rare.
What is more dangerous is the Minority Report-like, knee-jerk reaction that there is something we can do to control these kinds of situations. It is reminiscent of how white-nationalists ignore the fact that most white women are sexually assaulted by white men, but when the same crime is perpetrated by someone of a different race, they start screaming about Mexican rapists, immigration, the violent tendencies of black people or “law and order. When a white kid goes on a shooting spree, they talk about that kid. When a person with a Muslim name does it, it is called “terrorism.” Sometimes a thing is just a thing.
Today a man killed someone because of a woman. I don’t know the name of the victim or the murderer, but I can guarantee it happens because it happens every day. But since we didn’t see the video footage and it’s nor in our social media feeds, it doesn’t mean anything to us. It is just another senseless, nameless and faceless murder. The family of this hypothetical victim will grieve as loudly and just as hard as Robert Godwin, but we won’t care as much about them, because we didn’t see it–so it doesn’t mean anything to us.
Now that’s narcissism.