By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"After the Rain - How the West Lost the East"
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Is being special or unique a property of an object (let us say, a human being), independent of the existence or the actions of observers - or is this a product of a common judgement of a group of people?
In the first case - every human being is "special", "one of a kind, sui generis, unique". This property of being unique is context-independent, a Ding am Sich. It is the derivative of a unique assembly with a one-of-its-kind list of specifications, personal history, character, social network, etc. Indeed, no two individuals are identical. The question in thenarcissist's mind is where does this difference turn into uniqueness? In other words, there are numerous characteristics and traits common to two specimen of the same species. On the other hand, there are characteristics and traits, which set them apart. There must exist a quantitative point where it would be safe to say that the difference outweighs the similarity,the "Point of Uniqueness", wherein individuals are rendered unique.
But, as opposed to members of other species, differences between humans (personal history, personality, memories, biography) sooutweigh similarities - that we can safely postulate, prima facie, that all human beings are unique.
To non-narcissists, this should be a very comforting thought. Uniqueness is not dependent on the existence of an outside observer. It is the by-product of existence, an extensive trait, and not the result of an act of comparison performed by others.
But what happens if only one individual is left in the world? Can he then still be said to be unique?
Ostensibly, yes. The problem is then reduced to the absence of someone able to observe, discern and communicate this uniqueness to others. But does this detract from the fact of his uniqueness in any way?
Is a fact not communicated no longer a fact? In the human realm, this seems to be the case. If uniqueness is dependent on it being proclaimed - then the more it is proclaimed, the greater the certainty that it exists. In thisrestricted sense, uniqueness is indeed the result of the common judgement of a group of people. The larger the group - the larger the certainty that it exists.
To wish to be unique is a universal human property. The very existence of uniqueness is not dependent on the judgement of a group of humans.
Uniqueness is communicated through sentences (theorems) exchanged between humans. The certainty that uniqueness exists IS dependent upon the judgement of a group of humans. The greater the number of persons communicating the existence of a uniqueness - the greater the certainty that it exists.
But why does the narcissist feel that it is important to ascertain the existence of his uniqueness? To answer that, we must distinguish exogenous from endogenous certainty.
Most people find it sufficient to have a low level of exogenous certainty regarding their own uniqueness. This is achieved with the help of their spouse, colleagues, friends, acquaintances and even random (but meaningful) encounters. This low level of exogenous certainty is, usually, accompanied by a high level of endogenous certainty. Most people love themselves and,thus, feel that they are distinct and unique.
So, the main determinant in feeling unique is the level of endogenous certainty regarding one's uniqueness possessed by an individual.
Communicating this uniqueness becomes a limited, secondary aspect, provided for by specific role-players in the life of the individual.
Narcissists, by comparison, maintain a low level of endogenous certainty. They hate or even detest themselves, regard themselves as failures. They feel that they are worthy of nothing and lack uniqueness.
This low level of endogenous certainty has to be compensated for by a high level of exogenous certainty.
This is achieved by communicating uniqueness to people able and willing to observe, verify and communicate it to others. As we said before, this is done by pursuing publicity, or through political activities and artistic creativity, to mention a few venues. Tomaintain the continuity of the sensation of uniqueness - a continuity of these activities has to be preserved.
Sometimes, the narcissist secures this certainty from "self-communicating" objects.
An example: an object which is also a status symbol is really a concentrated "packet of information" concerning the uniqueness of its owner. Compulsive accumulation of assets and compulsive shopping can be added to the above list of venues. Art collections, luxury cars and stately mansions communicate uniqueness and at the same time constitute part of it.
There seems to be some kind of "Uniqueness Ratio" between Exogenous Uniqueness and Endogenous Uniqueness. Another pertinent distinction is between the Basic Component of Uniqueness (BCU) and the Complex Component of Uniqueness (CCU).
The BCU comprises the sum of all the characteristics, qualities and personal history, which define a specific individual and distinguish him from the rest of Mankind. This, ipso facto, is the very kernel of his uniqueness.
The CCU is a product of rarity and obtainability. The more common and the more obtainable a man's history, characteristics, and possessions are - the more limited his CCU. Rarity is the statistical distribution of properties and determinants in the general population and obtainability - the energy required to secure them.
As opposed to the CCU - the BCU is axiomatic and requires no proof. We are all unique.
The CCU requires measurements and comparisons and is dependent, therefore, on human activities and on human agreements and judgements. The greater the number of people in agreement - the greater the certainty that a CCU exists and to what extent it does.
In other words, both the very existence of a CCU and its magnitude depend on the judgement of humans and are better substantiated (=more certain) the more numerous the people who exert judgement.
Human societies have delegated the measurement of the CCU to certain agents.
Universities measure a uniqueness component called education. It certifies the existence and the extent of this component in their students. Banks and credit agencies measure elements of uniqueness called affluence and creditworthiness. Publishing houses measure another one, called "creativity" and "marketability".
Thus, the absolute size of the group of people involved in judging the existence and the measure of the CCU, is less important. It is sufficient to have a few social agents which REPRESENT a large number of people (=society).
There is, therefore, no necessary connection between the mass communicability of the uniqueness component - and its complexity, extent, or even its existence.
A person might have a high CCU - but be known only to a very limited circle of social agents. He will not be famous or renowned, but he will still be very unique.
Such uniqueness is potentially communicable - but its validity is not be effected by the fact that it is communicated only through a small circle of social agents.
The lust for publicity has, therefore, nothing to do with the wish to establish the existence or the measure of self-uniqueness.
Both the basic and the complex uniqueness components are not dependent upon their replication or communication. The more complex form of uniqueness is dependent only upon the judgement and recognition of social agents, which represent large numbers of people. Thus, the lust for mass publicity and for celebrity is connected to how successfully the feeling of uniqueness is internalized by the individual and not to "objective" parameters related to the substantiation of his uniqueness or to its scope.
We can postulate the existence of a Uniqueness Constant that is composed of the sum of the endogenous and the exogenous components of uniqueness (and is highly subjective). Concurrently a Uniqueness Variable can be introduced which is the sum total of the BCU and the CCU (and is more objectivelydeterminable).
The Uniqueness Ratio oscillates in accordance with the changing emphases within the Uniqueness Constant. At times, the exogenous source of uniqueness prevails and the Uniqueness Ratio is at its peak, with the CCU maximized. At other times, the endogenous source of uniqueness gains the upper hand andthe Uniqueness Ratio is in a trough, with the BCU maximized. Healthy people maintain a constant amount of "feeling unique" with shifting emphases between BCU and CCU. The Uniqueness Constant of healthy people is always identical to their Uniqueness Variable. With narcissists, the story is different. It would seem that the size of their Uniqueness Variable is a derivative of the amount of exogenous input. The BCU is constant and rigid.
Only the CCU varies the value of the Uniqueness Variable and it, in turn, is virtually determined by the exogenous uniqueness element.
A minor consolation for the narcissist is that the social agents, who determine the value of one's CCU do not have to be contemporaneous or co-spatial with him.
Narcissists like to quote examples of geniuses whose time has come only posthumously: Kafka, Nietzsche, Van Gogh. They had a high CCU, which was not recognized by their contemporary social agents (media, art critics, or colleagues).
But they were recognized in later generations, in othercultures, and in other places by the dominant social agents.
So, although true that the wider an individual's influence the greater his uniqueness, influence should be measured "inhumanly", over enormous stretches of space and time. After all, influence can be exerted on biological or spiritual descendants, it can be overt, genetic, or covert.
There are individual influences on such a wide scale that
they can be judged only historically.