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This is what I wrote as part of an exam for my Science degree in Psychology. Given the rise of far-right politics in the European Parliament, I thought it fitting to share it alongside some illustrations I made.


 

Recent politics are shifting towards authoritarian regimes rather than democratic ones 12, 18. Behind that shift could lie narcissism. Narcissism can be understood as a pathological personality disorder or as one component of the dark triad of personality traits 23. The latter is composed of two other traits, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. In both cases, narcissism is usually characterised as excessive entitlement, vanity, illusions of grandeur and lack of empathy. The difference is that the pathological disorder is a mental health diagnosis, whereas the dark trait represents a continuum where people will differ in the amount of the trait. The narcissistic trait is strongly associated with the pathological disorder 23. How does narcissism affect political behaviour? This essay will explore this question by presenting how narcissism relates to (1) political involvement, (2) online political trolling, (3) collective narcissism and (4) narcissistic political leaders.

A person with a reddish hallo on the left with ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ written underneath. Then a mathematical sign of a crossed equal sign. On the right a person with 3 coloured line representing scales of narcissism, psychopathy and machiavellism. Underneath the words ‘dark triad traits’.

The literature suggests that people high in narcissism are also more likely to get involved in politics. Researchers analysed data from more than 5,000 participants who responded to surveys in Denmark and the United States and filled out the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and questionnaires on their political involvement 8. The results showed a positive correlation between narcissism and political engagement. Those who scored higher on the inventory also participated more in writing to their local politicians, signing petitions, donating money to campaigns, attending demonstrations, and voting 8. However, a study criticised the validity of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, arguing that high scores predict psychopathy better 11. Hence, another study used a different measurement, the Short Dark Triad scale and still found similar results 3. They found that both psychopathy and narcissism correlated with political engagement. They also found that those higher in narcissism also showed the least knowledge of politics 3. As such, narcissistic people are most likely the least politically informed but the most politically involved. Therefore, regardless of the measurement type, narcissism is a trait that significantly influences political involvement.

Two papers representing the narcissist personality inventory and the short dark triad scale. Both have an arrow pointing to a group of people, surrounded with a hallo of reddish and greyed colours, branding protest signs saying ‘let’s vote’ and ‘narcs and sadists unite’.

Considering the increased political involvement on online platforms and the spread of political propaganda, what place does narcissism hold? First, online discussion groups for politics are the most trolled 1. Second, political trolls are sometimes sponsored by governments such as Russia to influence other governments’ elections, as seen in the Trump 2016 election 20. Interestingly, a study found that online anti-social behaviours such as trolling were more likely to be done by men who exhibited greater narcissism 10. However, the use of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory is to be questioned again. When using the Short Dark Triad scale, research showed that, indeed, the dark triad was related to greater trolling but that it was predicted by sadism, not narcissism 2. The research explored the topic further and showed that narcissists feel so superior that they only perceive highly popular individuals as viable competitors 17. In other words, narcissists feel too superior to bother trolling the public but do feel a need to bring famous people down. So far, the literature is missing regarding narcissism and the specific genre of political trolling. One could argue that a sense of superiority of one's political view could increase political trolling behaviours as a form of political involvement. Meanwhile, the evidence suggests that narcissism may not influence online political behaviours.

A person with devil’s horn and tail. On its left, three speech bubble showing a tweet, a facebook comment and an instagram comment under the names of PoliticalTroll666. On it’s left, two bars (one reddish, one greyish) representing a low scale for narcissism and high scale for sadism.

Nonetheless, sponsored political trolls and propaganda do exist and may contribute to the rise of collective narcissism and preferences for extreme politics (either left or right), as well as an endorsement of political conspiracy theories. Collective narcissism is similar to individual narcissism, but instead of a sense of grandeur for the self, the grandeur is attributed to the group 9, 16. The function of collective narcissism is a defence mechanism argued to be in response to a perceived loss of control 4. Investigative research was conducted on 1,730 surveyed participants 9. Participants were compared on their votes for Trump and their scores on the collective narcissism scale. Results show a strong and significant relationship between the two 9 Furthermore, collective narcissism appears linked to authoritarian political endorsement, perception of attacks on affiliated groups and even blind patriotism 7. Collective narcissism is also linked to conspiracy theory endorsement: a study covering 54 countries and more than 50,000 participants found that the higher the nationalistic narcissism, the more susceptible they were to believe and share conspiracy theories 19. Dangerously, collective narcissism also correlates with grave false theories about the Jewish community, which increases antisemite political adherence 14. Thus, collective narcissism appears to be a risk in the political endorsement of extreme politics.

In the middle, the mathematical sign of a barred equal. On the left, a person with a reddish hallo saying ‘I’m the best’. Underneath the words “individual narcissism’. On the right, a group of people with the same reddish hallo saying ‘we are the best’. Underneath the words ‘collective narcissism’.

The danger of extreme politics is the consequent election of leaders with narcissistic tendencies, which bring whole nations to their knees due to cruel outcomes. A vicious cycle can be created: traumas experienced by groups (e.g., ethnic and national identities) are passed on to new generations, which reinforces collective narcissist ideations and increases the election of narcissistic leaders to revenge the wounds felt by the group 22. In the literature, past leaders such as Hitler, Mao or Stalin are often associated with narcissistic personality disorders 5, 6, 15. Some researchers explain that leaders such as Hitler and Stalin committed the atrocities they did because their narcissism meant they devalued others and attacked them to keep their inflated sense of superiority and entitlement intact 13. A sense of grandeur can lead dictators to incompetence: erratic decisions, a paranoid need for protective defence and political and historical catastrophes such as deaths ensuing from unnecessary wars 13, 15. Some argue that narcissistic leaders also give rise to structures such as monuments, bunkers and walls, which are the external expression of the leader’s internal sense of grandiosity and their pathological need to protect their superior identity 21. Therefore, a narcissistic leader influences politics cruelly, decimating whole groups of people, destroying nations and exhibiting grandiosity externally through architectural structures.

A group of people with words underneath saying ‘population with generational trauma’. most of the group, on its left, is surrounded by a green hallo and the word ‘healing’. The righ side has a red hallo and the word ‘revenge’. The right side have people brandishing protest banners stating the name ‘LePen’ and another ‘Trump’.

In conclusion, narcissism influences politics, whether as a dark triad personality trait or as a personality disorder. High levels of narcissism are associated with greater political involvement despite less knowledge. The literature on narcissism and its influence on online trolling as a form of political involvement is still in its infancy. For now, it suggests that narcissism may not influence this domain. Collective narcissism, however, does influence political behaviours. In particular, it influences the endorsement of extreme political views and even conspiracy theories. Those who have a collective sense of grandeur due to transgenerational collective trauma are also more likely to elect leaders with narcissistic personalities causing a vicious cycle of political incompetence and national traumas. Research would benefit in offering solutions to limit the possible uprisal of narcissism both in individuals and collective experience or limit the ease of its consequences in the political sphere.


 

REFERENCES

  1. Bishop, J. (2014). Dealing with Internet Trolling in Political Online Communities: Towards the This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things Scale. International Journal of E-Politics (IJEP), 5(4), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.4018/ijep.2014100101

  2. Buckels, E. E., Trapnell, P. D., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 97–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.016

  3. Chen, P., Pruysers, S., & Blais, J. (2021). The Dark Side of Politics: Participation and the Dark Triad. Political Studies,69(3), 577–601. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032321720911566

  4. Cichocka, A. (2016). Understanding defensive and secure in-group positivity: The role of collective narcissism. European Review of Social Psychology, 27(1), 283–317. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2016.1252530

  5. Cook, M. (Ed.). (2012). Is Hitler mad? Personality disorders. In Levels of Personality (3rd ed., pp. 338–364). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139108140.021

  6. Coolidge, F. L., Davis, F. L., & Segal, D. L. (2007). Understanding madmen: A DSM-IV assessment of Adolf Hitler. Individual Differences Research, 5(1), 30–43. https://agingandmentalhealthlab.uccs.edu/sites/g/files/kjihxj1911/files/2020-07/DSM-Assessment-of-Hitler-IDR-2007.pdf

  7. de Zavala, A. G., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1074–1096. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016904

  8. Fazekas, Z., & Hatemi, P. K. (2021). Narcissism in Political Participation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(3), 347–361. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167220919212

  9. Federico, C. M., & de Zavala, A. G. (2018). Collective Narcissism and the 2016 US Presidential Vote. Public Opinion Quarterly, 82(1), 110–121. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfx048

  10. Ferenczi, N., Marshall, T. C., & Bejanyan, K. (2017). Are sex differences in antisocial and prosocial Facebook use explained by narcissism and relational self-construal? Computers in Human Behavior, 77, 25–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.033

  11. Foster, J. D., Shiverdecker, L. K., & Turner, I. N. (2016). What Does the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Measure Across the Total Score Continuum? Current Psychology, 35(2), 207–219. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9407-5

  12. Freedom House. (2021, March 3). New Report: The global decline in democracy has accelerated. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-report-global-decline-democracy-has-accelerated

  13. Glad, B. (2002). Why Tyrants Go Too Far: Malignant Narcissism and Absolute Power. Political Psychology, 23(1), 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1111/0162-895X.00268

  14. Golec de Zavala, A., & Cichocka, A. (2012). Collective narcissism and anti-Semitism in Poland. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15(2), 213–229. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430211420891

  15. Hughes, I. (2019, September 7). How To Be A Dictator: Timely look at narcissistic authoritarianism. The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/how-to-be-a-dictator-timely-look-at-narcissistic-authoritarianism-1.3995167

  16. Jarrett, C. (2017, March 3). How ‘collective narcissism’ is directing world politics. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170303-how-collective-narcissism-is-directing-world-politics

  17. Lopes, B., & Yu, H. (2017). Who do you troll and Why: An investigation into the relationship between the Dark Triad Personalities and online trolling behaviours towards popular and less popular Facebook profiles. Computers in Human Behavior, 77, 69–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.036

  18. Morgan, M. (2021, November 8). Understanding the Global Rise of Authoritarianism. https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/understanding-global-rise-authoritarianism

  19. Sternisko, A., Cichocka, A., Cislak, A., & Bavel, J. J. V. (2020). National Narcissism and the Belief and the Dissemination of Conspiracy Theories During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence From 56 Countries. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/4c6av

  20. Stringhini, G., & Zannettou, S. (2020, August 13). Political trolls adapt, create material to deceive and confuse the public. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/political-trolls-adapt-create-material-to-deceive-and-confuse-the-public-135177

  21. Volkan. (2021, February 9). Bunkers, Bubbles, Monuments, and Walls: Pathological Narcissism, Nazi Germany, and Donald Trump | European Journal of Psychoanalysis. https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/bunkers-bubble-monuments-and-walls-pathological-narcissism-nazi-germany-and-donald-trump/

  22. Volkan, V. D., & Fowler, J. C. (2009). Large-group Narcissism and Political Leaders with Narcissistic Personality Organization. Psychiatric Annals, 39(4). https://doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20090401-09

  23. Vossen, T. J., Coolidge, F. L., & Muehlenkamp, D. L. S. and J. J. (2017). Exploring the Dark Side: Relationships between the Dark Triad Traits and Cluster B Personality Disorder Features. Journal of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Disorders, 1(6), 317–326. https://www.fortunejournals.com/articles/exploring-the-dark-side-relationships-between-the-dark-triad-traits-and-cluster-b-personality-disorder-features.html

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three 'trauma sketchbooks' opened showing drawings.
Art by Olivia Jo featured at the Art in Mind exhibition at the Brick Lane Gallery, London


Sunday, the sun is shining, and the temperature is close to zero. Going to an art gallery is a perfect excuse to trick me into going out of the house despite the cold. The Brick Lane gallery is at a comfortable walking distance for me and my hip pain issue (I'm improving on that front). It has two separate spaces, which makes it feel like visiting two independent galleries (more fun!). What surprised me the most on this visit was the pricing. I immediately thought "low and underselling" for most featured artists. For instance, I saw many oil paintings priced like acrylics. But oil paintings should be more expensive than other mediums because the paint and materials are expensive. Storage of such expensive materials may also be costly. It is also a medium that requires more time because of the layering process and drying time in between. And from the size of the painting, I have a rough idea of how long it might have taken them time-wise, and I can assure you that they undersell themselves. Assuming that artists in that show are paying themselves a salary based on time spent on the piece, then it is clear that some artists wouldn't cover their basics.



Pen drawing of a bird with gold ropes tight around its body. The wings are detached from the body and opened on both side and a pencil triangular geomteric shape is above the bird's head.
Art by Isabel Russel

The paintings by Isabel Russel are priced at £375 each, and I believe that price is lower than their value. I mean, LOOK AT THEM: they are beautifully executed, have an original composition, and have an interesting artistic point of view. However, while the pricing is a bargain for buyers and investors - if I were you, I'd grab them now- the downside is that it harms the artist and the entire community too. Like Isabel, I also undersell myself, so I know how difficult it is to not continue to do that, and I definitely feel the guilt of it.


Let's break down the pricing in this example. Excluding materials (paints, MDF board, studio space charges), £375 is roughly like paying oneself double minimum wage for 20 hours of work or minimum wage for 40 hours of work. I would estimate this kind of painting to take about 15 hours on the low end of just painting labour (the artist confirmed that in a private discussion). The time she may have spent prior to the painting process could range from a few hours to indefinite. These may include; the conception of the piece (thinking about it, creating it internally as well as sketching it), finding or creating references for the painting and testing out the composition and/or colour combinations on smaller pieces as paint sketches. Usually, the work done before the painting process is about the same as the painting time and quickly takes twice or thrice as long as the painting stage.


The reason why many artists stops their career in art is usually because of selling matters (which lies in the field of economy, sales and capitalism) and less often because of artistic reasons.

The artist is 20 years old, so by age alone, we can assume she takes longer to create, and her fictitious minimum wage is, therefore, lower. We could estimate 15 hours for painting and the same or more for conception and pre-painting work. Hence, I estimate around 40 hours of work per piece. According to the UK government website, the minimum wage for those between 18 and 20 years old is £6.83. This would mean £273.20 for her pocket. However, she is an artist studying at Goldsmiths and living in London. I believe she would deserve the London living wage, which is about £2 extra the minimum wage. Those above 23 years old have a living wage set at £9.50 by the government. It rises to £11.95 for Londoners. So for the sake of logic, let's add £2 for a living wage destined for a 20-year-old Londoner, and we now reach £353.20 for her labour. Well, you will tell me, does it not sound right considering she is selling at £375? Those £20 something definitely goes towards covering the costs of the materials. It does not cover her labour of social media marketing, the transport (including wrapping materials) of the artwork to and from the gallery, or the time required to find a place to be exhibited. Thankfully for her, she does not have to think of commission in her price since the brick lane gallery takes 0% commission which is fantastic. Still, it also means they will likely do no to little sales work and that the artist is probably paying a fee to be exhibited, which I can assure you will be well above £20.


So all and all, I estimate the artist barely covers her costs and labour time. My heart breaks because while it can be considered fair that artists are paid the same as everyone else, the reality is that we are NOT paid the same as everyone else. We do not get near fair compensation for all our time working because making art is more than just painting or drawing. I believe this artist deserves to double this painting's price. Actually, I think she could add a 1 in front of that price tag (£1,375) because her piece of work is also the best of the show, and she has a promising career in front of her. I hope that these prices will not slow down her professional progress to the point of halting her career altogether. Because unfortunately, the reason why many artists stop their career in art is usually because of selling matters (which lies in the field of economy, sales and capitalism) and less often because of artistic reasons.


Pen drawing of a bat foetus with wings covering the face, frontal view, in a circle filled with gold paint
Art by Isabel Russel

As artists, we are often in a hard place decision-wise. Do we accept to be exploited for our free labour, or do we choose to give our labour freely? Essentially we are choosing to volunteer (i.e., make art for free or so underpriced we don't feed ourselves from it) in the hopes of securing a better opportunity later on, but we are faced with two different routes to do so.

One way is to conform to the current game. Similarly to accepting an unpaid internship and hoping for a paid long-term contract at the end, we hope that by agreeing to be exploited, things will turn around and finally pay off. We all know the low certainty of that method, and most of us recognise its unfairness and how it favours some more than others. But we can easily believe it works because of those outliers for whom it did.

The other route is to not conform to the current game. We hope that by arguing the rules, they will be corrected and adjusted for greater fairness. This choice requires an unshakeable faith that by modelling the art scene we deserve, we will create the art scene we want. Yet, many of us may not believe that and start with some helplessness already hardwired. In this case, the first solution seems to be an emotionally logical choice. The sad part is that, in both cases, we have to choose between volunteering to make art or making no art by finding another job that takes all physical and emotional resources away from art.


I can hear the people at the back saying that many artists in that gallery are "emerging", and there is a post-pandemic economic crisis, so we should expect low prices. I don't see it this way. First, I believe we still deserve the same pay as everyone else in the country and the same opportunities to make a living from our professional skills. Because we also need to eat and have a roof over our heads to survive and thrive. Second, why would we expect the most vulnerable members of society to be the ones to struggle further during a crisis? I argue that it would be more logical, fair and righteous if established artists reduced their price points during economic crises. In contrast, emerging artists increase theirs to level up the field. I am not saying established artists should absolutely do that; I am only making a point. The point is that we find it absolutely acceptable to consider the vulnerable artists in the community as unworthy of financial support.


The point is that we find it absolutely acceptable to consider the vulnerable artists in the community as unworthy of financial support.

Here is an excellent example of how artists are often considered outsiders, not part of society. The myth that 'art is not a real job" persists. That stereotype is so pernicious that it has sipped through and can even be found among us artists. This underlying false belief rears its head when we underprice ourselves. As artists, we can regularly review our choices and treat each situation differently to assess which version is best: conformity or rebellion. The market involves more than just artists, so different responsibilities lie within different roles we have in it. Even if they offer no selling service, galleries could advise better on pricing and ensure that group exhibition features coherent pricing among artists to uplift the values of every artwork. The public could pay attention to their reason for buying art: do they like the piece or consider it an investment? They would help by buying art, not just for themselves, but also to build a relationship with the artist: support in exchange for an original piece. And suppose the public cannot buy art. In that case, there are other ways to support an artist, like being more conscious of how to consume art or being emotionally supportive (as opposed to financially).



On this food for thought, I hope you will look at Isabel Russel's art and show her some support. Follow her Instagram and write some comments under her posts to show that real humans are engaging with her, not just robots. Share her images (and credit her, of course), especially with those you think may like it or to places where you wish to see her art on their walls. If you can afford it and like her artwork, get your hands on some of her work. Build a relationship with her and see her progress and how she evolves in her art journey and career, knowing you were there from the start.


🤍 with love, x

Linka.

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three 'trauma sketchbooks' opened showing drawings.
My trauma sketchbooks


In the last week or so, my mood has plummeted down into the realm of depression. I have many reasons to be as there is much to grief. I have had quite a lot of past sexual abuse flashbacks in the last two weeks, and I am in the process of grieving the person I could have been. On top of that, the news of Leo Grasset - a French YouTuber who does scientific vulgarisation - abusing women has upset me and reminded me of my former abusive ex (more flashbacks). A day later, the news of the Roe Vs Wade - people with uteruses losing human rights in the United States - came through and with it, the victim-blaming commentaries online. More triggers for me as I remember the lack of justice I received after reporting sexual abuse to the police and the victim-blame I have often endured (yet even more flashbacks). Do not worry. I will be okay again. This too shall pass, but it is fair to say I have much grieving to do and good reasons to be depressed.

Said bout of depression made me realise how, for me, being depressed quickly becomes a trigger in itself. Let me explain. Depression means I'm sad, numb, or angry, as one would. In other words, I'm hurting, I'm in pain. That state raises the wants and needs I have. I need to be soothed, taken care of and hugged while I go through the emotions. I want the pain to go away, a fairer world, and people to be kinder. So far, all seems alright. But experiencing needs and wants triggers past emotional and neglectful abuse, which then makes me depressed and keeps me trapped in a cycle of wants and needs triggering depression ad infinitum. A sort of "traumaception" where trauma brings you one level deeper and deeper until you struggle to recognise what is fantasy from reality.


Growing up, my needs were used as ammunition against me (the reasons behind it are not the topic here). Each desire and need is akin to a bullet to be loaded into a weapon for abuse. There were three ways for my needs to be addressed: denied until I met their needs, dismissed as inappropriate or attended with conditions attached. Conditions were to forfeit independence and freedom and attend to their excessive needs later. Experiencing any form of need is like renouncing myself to abuse. My logical child's mind thought that if I made my needs disappear, there would be no more bullets for them to load the weapons with. One has to admire my past child self's inventiveness and innocence. No one told her they could still hit her with an empty gun. I've grown up, and all I know is to make my wants and needs disappear and attend to those of others. Well.. in recent years, I've been working hard to undo that.


Pen drawing of a bird with gold ropes tight around its body. The wings are detached from the body and opened on both side and a pencil triangular geomteric shape is above the bird's head.
Pen drawing of feeling trapped

Relationships-wise, it's a problem. I still don't know how to trust people. I sometimes attempt to share my needs and wants. I share perhaps between 1 and 10% of my actual need because I don't want to overwhelm people. Unfortunately, in many instances (not always, of course), I find that their efforts are limited and don't even cover a tenth of my need. I likely communicated poorly and clumsily, and maybe people misunderstood its importance. The results are the same, I lose trust and proceed to close the door a little more. And the cycle repeats, I feel down, isolate myself and so on.


How does this have anything to do with art?


Well, you may not know, but I procrastinate making art all the time. I think it's partly because I deny my wants and needs. Every day I think about making art, and my lists of creative projects inside my head keep getting longer and longer. I think about it most when I go to bed, and I tell myself, "If I do it now, I'll mess up my sleep schedule and my health, so I'll do it tomorrow". Tomorrow comes, and I make no art, and the cycle repeats. Mostly, I believe I am attempting to preserve my art, which is usually an extension of me, from being weaponised against me. I want to keep it safe, in my head, where no one can get to it. No one can abuse it.

I want to reach out to the child past me, hug her and tell her she's been so clever in keeping herself safe even though that wasn't her job. I want her to know she can let go now. She's too scared still, so bear with me while I work through this...


Pen drawing of a bat foetus with wings covering the face, frontal view, in a circle filled with gold paint
Pen drawing of a bat foetus

🤍 with love, x

Linka.

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