The Narcissism of Small Differences

Almost a century ago, 1917 to be exact, Sigmund Freud pilfered the term narcissism of small differences from British anthropologist Ernest Crawley. The term describes adjacent communities engaged in constant feuds, bickering and ridiculing each other.

The Democratic and Republican parties have dispensed with the psychology and turned the concept into a reliable moneymaker. And not just the parties either — both have factions devoted to internal squabbles that are little more than thinly disguised money grabs.

Fox News and MSNBC serve as the electronic cheerleaders, but according to the Economist, their impact is more feared than real. “Perhaps 10-15% of the voting age population watches more than 10 minutes of cable news per day, a share that rises modestly before exciting collections. For most individual news shows (including hybrids like Jon Stewart’s satirical ‘Daily Show’), two million viewers count as a wild success. That is the equivalent of 0.8% of voting age Americans.”

According to psychologists, we have an easier time seeing the flaws in the other guy’s argument than in our own. When under pressure, we tend to resort to party tribalism. This can actually help to solve problems and facilitate decisions but only if there is a desire to do so. Since a problem solved is a fund raising opportunity lost, the necessary will goes missing.

We are also getting better at squabbling. There was a time when the parties could only focus on one battle at a time. They didn’t have the bandwidth to fight about anything else. Thanks to a concept known among policy wonks as conflict extension, virtually all issues can be fought over simultaneously. Who leads the charge? The activists with their hands out.

Views change according to party loyalty rather than specifics. The filibuster is terrible when my team is in power but sacred when we are out. Republicans are okay with NSA snooping when George Bush is in office, but Democrats are indignant. Now Democrats favor it and Republicans are appalled. Yet neither the filibuster nor the snooping has changed.


Likely none of the people who bring these phenomena to us live on a daily basis has read The Butter Battle Book, a Dr. Seuss classic in which the Yooks and the Zooks fight about whether their bread should be held butter side up or butter side down.

Unlike most children’s stories, The Butter Battle Book ends in stalemate — exactly the desired objective of proponents of the narcissism of small differences.



4 Responses to “The Narcissism of Small Differences”

Sellers, January 30, 2014 at 8:57 am said:

While I agree that there are small differences which could and should be settled/negotiated, the problem, as I see it, is that there are major philosophical differences among the populace, not the least of which are the big government/small government debate, what is one’s “fair” share of taxes, and several others. Couple this with a lazy, divisive President who seems either ignorant or disdainful of the Constitution, and a racist DOJ, and you have a recipe for disaster.
I say what is happening in Washington, is exactly what The Founders intended to happen when you elect a President or government which is out of touch with the people.
As far as the media is concerned, I hardly think it fair to compare MSNBC and Fox, the latter of which has at least some respect for truth and decorum. Be that as it may, one of our major shortcomings as a country is exactly that our voting public is either clueless or has been brainwashed by our far left educational system. The Founders thought it difficult to imagine how our system could survive without an educated and interested populace. Guess what?


Haven Pell, January 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm said:

The founders actually had an answer for ill-educated voters. Don’t let them vote.


Johnny Bronx, January 30, 2014 at 10:46 am said:

Nobody wants you to be free.

The Republicans want to force you to pray. The Democrats won’t let you pray. The Libertarians are too high to pray.

The Republicans will let you keep your property, as long as you don’t believe any of those new fangled ideas, like gay marriage. The Democrats will let you believe whatever you want, as long as you give up your property to “less fortunate” people, like gays who want to get married. The Libertarians are so high they don’t know what to think about your property, except that they need a place for their gay friends to get high.

Think about it long enough and you’ll see that, for the entirety of the lives of anyone alive today, no American has ever been free. It’s just that, now, it’s patently obvious.


Haven Pell, January 30, 2014 at 3:19 pm said:

Perhaps others have views they too would like to share.


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