This is the second part of the two-part series on Woke group narcissism. In the previous section I give a summary of the psychodynamics of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) as a worldview, and I discussed the Mastersonian understanding of narcissistic character pathology. In this section, I discuss my observations of similar subtypes of narcissism at group level, as manifested by CSJ groups.
Narcissistic characterisation of the Woke subgroups
Group characterisation is a process by which the collective is classified as a dynamic organism, based on revealed behaviour, attitudes and mindsets of that collective. The systemic proliferation of Woke ideology in media, academe, politics, business and personal lives has made this task significantly easier compared to studying, describing and classifying a secretive cult, for instance. With the Mastersonian classification in mind, as well as the preliminary observations discussed in the previous article, the following formulations can be made:
The most obvious subgroup among the CSJ adherents consists of those who have resorted to excessive cathexis of the self (self-idealisation) whose identity markers assign them protective victim privilege. Their status as helpless, vulnerable and oppressed victims imbues them with immutable, essential moral innocence, which offers them immense social promotion and privilege. Due to the immutability of traits upon which their identitarian claims to privilege are based, their unique and superior status is perpetually guaranteed. This privilege includes: incontestable prioritisation of their “lived experience”; unchallengeable protection of their arguments and demands; privileged access to institutional resources; and immunisation against disagreement or criticism. This is achieved, not based on any productive achievements of their own, but purely based on identity-based vulnerability status. According to the newly created hierarchy of neo-tribal privilege, this vulnerability joker card ensures a competitive edge over members of rival identities: the essentially immoral and deplorable identities of being white, heterosexual, able-bodied males.
Due to their moral self-idealisation, this class demands exact agreement, affirmation and obedience from their surroundings. Their fused object-relations require mirroring feedback in the form of constant narcissistic supply. They demand tolerance, inclusion and diversity as far as these are applied to others but are opposed to applying the same values to themselves. True to narcissistic form, however, they have an aggressive aversion to diverse ideas. Dissent is hardly ever tolerated. Merit is despised because this introduces an external standard that surpasses and threatens their narcissistic identity claims to privilege. As a group, this Victim Class responds exactly as grandiose narcissists do when they encounter a break in mirroring feedback. In response to scrutiny or disagreement, this class typically engages in what is called crybullying: the vicious aggression expressed by those who typically assume a victim position. In this context, non-affirming or dissenting offenders are as a rule deplatformed, cancelled, doxed, publicly humiliated, terrorised online and slandered as hateful, phobic, racist, and bigoted. Because of the supremacy of lived experience by the Woke, because of the incontestability of their interpretations of words, and because their feelings do not include care for external standards such as facts, disagreement of any kind – however logical, factual or statistically accurate – is perceived as a bewildering attack.
Failing to participate in the narcissistic supply of mirroring affirmation, triggers the defensive split, so ubiquitous among those with developmentally primitive part-object representations. Based on mere disagreement or diversity of opinion, in-group/out-group tribal lines are drawn, identity markers of the offending Other are checked, and the non-mirroring person is devalued and condemned in toto as a hateful [pick your minority prefix]-phobe or racist. A period of grievance signalling and outrage usually follows narcissistic injury, during which the injured Victims and their allies demand explanation, confession and apology from the offending party. Needless to say, any explanation only provides further fodder for the outraged mob to deconstruct, misinterpret and gaslight what the offending Other had to say. Calm is usually restored after sufficient sadistic pleasure has been gained from the mob’s campaign of destruction, usually in the form of utter public humiliation, character assassination, resignation from positions, apology and self-debasement, and in some cases, even suicide.
One way to appreciate the extent of self-imposed vulnerability and hypersensitivity to even the slightest hint of offense or trauma, and the narcissistic imposition upon the environment to accommodate and appease their every discomfort, is to examine the microaggression enterprise. This uniquely Woke practice involves a system of “verbal, behavioural and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, and sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group (Sue, 2010). In their book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture, Campbell and Manning discuss this phenomenon in greater detail. One feature of this enterprise is that the vulnerable and intolerant victim decides whether the word, gesture or structure is offensive or not. The victim is at liberty to assign the most uncharitable meaning to words and declare the offender to be insensitive or even unconsciously biased towards minorities. Reparation by the offender in the form of apology, self-deprecation, commitment to “be better,” or worse, to resign from certain roles and responsibilities, is usually exacted for the “harm” caused. The list of microaggressions is an ever-growing document, with different institutions having their own compiled examples. Listed examples include minutiae like assuming the pronouns of biological males and females, or assuming a person has an opposite-sex partner, or just asking a waiter in a restaurant where they were from. Few features, so endemic and original to the Woke, demonstrate the infantile greed for perfect mirroring and juvenile insistence that the world needs to revolve around their every grievance. It is a collective display bringing Melanie Klein’s formulation of pathological envy to life.
Given the above description, this manifestation of this Woke subgroup is akin to Masterson’s exhibitionistic narcissism and can rightly be called the Woke Victim Subgroup. It is interesting to note that, even though the above classification is made from universal manifestations of attitudes and behaviours by the grandiose/exhibitionistic Victim Subgroup, recent research (Ok et al., 2021) showed that individuals with Dark Triad traits – Machiavellianism, Narcissism and Psychopathy – more frequently signalled victimhood with the purpose of exploiting social resources from their social environment.
The above collective phenomenon of Woke Victimhood would not be possible if it were not for the immensely empowering and protective presence of the second collective manifestation. This subgroup has also endorsed the Woke worldview of identitarian moral essentialisation of human groups based on immutable traits, and mostly consists of members of the Oppressor class (themselves white, heterosexual, male, female and able-bodied), whose guilt-drivenmotivations have led to their idealising the members of the morally innocent Woke Victim Subgroup. By virtue of their idealisation ofthe Victim class and their unswerving devotion to satisfying their every whim, their saviourship serves a dual function: it soothes their otherwise self-destructive guilt for – according to their own ideology – their morally contemptible identities. It also offers them the opportunity to “bask in the glory” of this privileged, idealised Victim class, by being endowed with moral and virtuous superiority, thanks to their commitment to “doing the work.” Although the collective self is not directly cathected, it is vicariously idealised through identification with the idealised Other.
As with the grandiose Victim Group, a state of fusion or one-mindedness with the Other is assumed through devotional obedience and worshipful commitment to the ultimatums of the Victim Subgroup. Their relationship with the Victim Subgroup goes beyond mere validation of their experiences while maintaining a sense of separateness. Symbiotic collusion with the Victim Subgroup is established in which the Victims’ wishes, demands and fantasies are affirmed, admired and obeyed. Emergencies are promptly broadcast, special rights are zealously advocated for, and grievances are aggressively attended to with uncritical, white-knuckled determination. One of the most prominent role-players in the microaggression enterprise of ever-growing lists of microscopic aggression signals the Victims may interpret as devastatingly offensive, are the members of this symbiotic, enabling ally group. The fused state is not only seen in this hardly distinguishable dyad between Woke ally and Victim, but also in their response to diversity of thought. Among the most vicious acts of “vindictive protectiveness” (Lukianoff & Haidt, p. 23) come from this group. It is a group that consist of politicians, university administrators, lecturers, teachers, parents, business leaders, health professionals, activists and policy makers. When fusion with the Victim Subgroup is threatened, defence against this break is aggressively defended against. In such cases devotees within this subgroup usually rush to the Victims’ consolation with virtuous displays of contriteness, confession and self-deprecation that serve as mirroring responses to the injured narcissist. This self-flagellating response of “doing better” is a primitive defensive splitagainst the state of all-bad self, fused with the aggressive Other.
If the source of fusion stress comes from the dissenting Other, members of this subgroup tend to become self-righteously destructive toward the dissenting Oppressor. This destruction is justified by the idealisation of the vulnerable Victim and the moral idealisation of the protective ally (the righteous Self). By ensuring the irreconcilable primitive defensive split between the idealised Victim-ally-fused state and the all-bad devalued Other (part-object representations), narcissistic dynamics are securely established and respective identities are neatly allocated to all-good and all-bad categories.
At this stage of our commentary this second manifestation most accurately corresponds to the Closet Narcissist, and can quite fittingly be referred to as the Woke Saviour Subgroup. This type of enabler-dependent dynamic is often observed in the co-dependent relationships involving addictions, paraphilias, and factitious disorders (like Munchausen syndrome by proxy). All actors in such dynamics create a shared fantasy in which the regressed or debilitated victim is spared all discomfort by virtue of their imagined fragility. The enabling saviour acts as a type of hero, committed to protecting, satisfying and avenging the needs and injuries of the victim. The severity of these conditions can be observed in the aggressive resistance to any threat to their fantasy, which could lead to the disintegration of their symbiotic bond. In the most severe cases, even reality is disavowed in service of this bond. Scientifically established truths and statistics that refute the single Woke narrative are ignored or downplayed in service of the shared delusion. Principles of consent, proper assessment and established psychological theory are disavowed when children as young as 12 years old are subjected to hormonal and surgical treatments in favour of a revered gender ideology. Severe health concerns associated with certain lifestyles are ignored or muzzled in service of body positivity propaganda. In collective terms, this symbiotic link between the collective Saviour Subgroup (the Closet Narcissistic collective) and the Victim Subgroup (Grandiose Narcissistic collective), reminds one of the relational dynamic between regressive groups and their hoped-for saviours. As Volkan notes:
“…[U]nstructured and regressed groups [represent] to their members an idealized, all-gratifying early mother (‘breast-mother’) that repairs all narcissistic lesions. The members of such regressed groups, when given an opportunity, choose leaders who promote such illusions of gratification, and the groupmay become violent and try to destroy external reality that is perceived as interfering with this shared illusion “ (p. 82).
In modern days, a whole grievance industry has been created with no end to the new editions of ever-changing rules about what may and may no longer be thought, said and done. The burden of grandiose narcissistic demand on the one hand and the ambition of closet narcissistic supply on the other makes for a formidable dyad that has systemically infiltrated all spheres of public life.
It is worth noting that, no matter where the Woke worldview is endorsed, it evokes the same kind of collective characteristics among its adherents. It is not uniquely American or British. And both young and old start behaving like insolent adolescents. A recent incident in South Africa demonstrates this. Professor Hennie van Coller is a distinguished professor emeritus and research fellow at the University of the Free State, author of various exceptional books on Afrikaans and Dutch literature, poet and former chairperson of various literature academies and associations. In an opinion piece (published on 7 May 2022, “‘Ordinary people’ are increasingly becoming marginal figures”), he writes that children’s literature no longer contains the “sweet, didactic accounts of children with mild problems” who then, after a talk with the local church minister, pull themselves together and everything is hunky-dory again. In this short piece, he lists themes that he finds are overrepresented in children’s literature: social problems and personal problems like molestation, rape, infidelity, disease, death, mental health problems, the loss of limbs and senses, homosexuality, racial problems, etc. He notices that other topics of our times (he mentions a few) that do not share associations with political correctness, do not enter publication. He argues that there seems to be inconsistency and a kind of censorship about what should and should not get published in children’s literature, and that publishers seem to follow a rubric of politically correct themes which are either exaggerated or idealised. He admits that such themes should be represented, but that nowadays these marginal themes are overrepresented. Nothing escapes political correctness, he says, not even fairy tales, and he asks whether there are still functional families somewhere with hardworking, loving parents who, like hundreds of thousands of others, want to live ethically and meaningfully. His argument is that marginal figures have become the norm, while most children live in a world whose realities are no longer proportionally reflected in children’s literature.
Needless to say, Van Coller’s opinion piece released the proverbial cat among the pigeons. His sin? He dared to criticise something that involved the untouchable: homosexuality. A media spat ensued. A gay author and winner of a prestigious Hertzog Book Prize, S J Naudé, used his entire moment of glory to give a most uncharitable deconstructive misrepresentation of Van Coller and his opinion piece – in fact, Van Coller was the chair of the very association who nominated this author for this prize. With his Woke wand, he pulled words apart, lumped words together, made unintended associations, and conjured up the most tragic and catastrophic conclusions, far beyond what Van Coller had intended. We know Van Coller never intended what the distorter claimed he did, because Van Coller wrote an open letter in July 2022 clarifying what he did and did not say. Only to be ambushed two days later by another gay journalist distorting and misrepresenting what he said, this time with even more ammunition with which to do it. This astonishing piece of gaslighting was ultimately a melodramatic caricature of what Van Coller had written, which only the most angry, victimised, Don Quixotean minds could summon up.
This drama would have been incomplete without the rest of the cast of actors and their performances entering the stage, namely the Saviours, or morality police. Even though Van Coller wrote his piece in his private capacity, two of his colleagues and members of the South African Academy of Science and Arts resigned from the organisation in protest. In July, three other associations joined the chorus, condemning Van Coller’s opinion piece as homophobic, demanding that he apologise for his piece and even be relieved of his position at the SA Academy, based on the same distorted interpretations of his words. In this whole uproar, the absence of nuance was surreal. There was no consideration of the character knowledge of a much loved and respected friend, author, mentor and lecturer. The tyranny of the Victims’ tears and those of their Saviours prevailed. When the anguish to him and his family from this terrorisation reached its peak, Van Coller apologised for any harm caused and resigned from his much-cherished position.
And like in the movies, after the marauders have mauled a hated enemy to certain death, the fight was over. Relationships destroyed. Reputations tarnished. A splendid career blighted by tyrannical brutality in the frenzy of self-righteous but deluded victimhood and perverse heroism. What was interesting was the response by some colleagues after the carnage. Dr Darryl David of the University of KwaZulu-Natal gave a most nuanced and even-handed assessment of the matter. Several other academics added their disappointment at the unnecessary and excessive force applied to a man who did not deserve it. But the damage was done.
This recent drama demonstrated the self-idealisation and excessive self-cathexis of the narcissistic Victim, the intolerant demand for one-mindedness – in this case, the biased interpretation of words to confirm victimhood – and the destructive aggression in response to criticism. The clear and sudden split in object-relations is observed in that narcissistic projections (idealising and devaluing) predominated when confronted with alternative viewpoints, and that the devalued Other becomes the target of well-deserved destruction. The closet narcissistic Saviour is seen participating in the shared delusion (a type of mass formation) of the Victim, rushing to their rescue and advocating for them, motivated by the irresistible urge to be moral and heroic. No empathy, because empathy requires perspective taking, which assumes the existence of a subjectivity outside the Victim’s and Saviour’s perspectives. Empathy and perspective-taking may weaken the claim for special victimhood and moral privilege, may humanise the Oppressor and may reduce the demand for narcissistic supply so greedily sought after. Perspective-taking could also lead to unbearable guilt. Instead, both groups display the shared rage in response to misaligned mirroring and criticism, using mainly two defences to justify their destruction: moral idealisation, either by the Victim or by the Saviour’s admiration of the Victim; and utter devaluation of the Other which keeps ambivalence and associated unbearable guilt repressed. The psychic greed of both role-players in the dyad is finally satisfied when the Oppressor is psychically killed off (when they apologise or resign), and both parties can return to a state of unchallenged self- and object-cathexis.
While fusion states and destructive impulses in response to fusion stress are common among the above-mentioned grandiose Victim and covertly-narcissistic Saviour Subgroups, a third phenomenon is observed that appears to be sufficiently distinct from the above-mentioned manifestations. While the grandiose Victim Subgroup resorts to resentment and crybullying when their ever-shifting mirroring demands are not adequately met, and the protective Saviour Subgroup resorts to self-righteous retributive vindictiveness, there appears to be a militant manifestation of devaluing narcissistic groups whose envious and destructive impulses are continuously activated and enacted. This subgroup can be called, the Woke Militant Subgroup. This spirit of committed destructiveness to what represents those of the Oppressor group, is best articulated by the antiracist Robin DiAngelo herself:
“[A] positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy… Rather, I strive to be ‘less white’” (p. 182).
It has become increasingly frequent over the last few years to hear about militant activists speak about dismantling “whiteness” and anything they associate with it, even in genocidal and murderous terms. Such as by the psychiatrist, Aruna Khilanani, who delivered a talk at Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Centre:
“This is the cost of talking to white people at all. The cost of your own life, as they suck you dry. There are no good apples out there. White people make my blood boil… I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body, and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a fucking favour… White people are out of their minds and they have been for a long time… We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero, to accept responsibility. It ain’t gonna happen. They have five holes in their brain. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. … Addressing racism assumes that white people can see and process what we are talking about. They can’t. That’s why they sound demented. They don’t even know they have a mask on. White people think it’s their actual face. We need to get to know the mask.”
This manifestation of the Woke collective aim to problematise (devalue), mark for destruction (destructive fantasy) and actually destroy (destructive behaviour) anything they associate with the Oppressor class – European, male, heterosexual and able-bodied. By focusing on what Douglas Murray calls the West’s Original Sin, namely slavery, and by doing it with an ideologically informed revisionist bias, militants have free rein to destroy everything they see fit – from time punctuality, to manicured lawns, to proper English, and nuclear families: As Murray observes:
“With any and all other grand narratives collapsed, the religion of [Critical Social Justice] fills people with purpose and a sense of meaning. … Perhaps most crucially, it also allows them to war on what were their own origins. The appeal of this conflict should not be underestimated. It is a very deep-seated instinct, the instinct to destroy, to burn, and to spit on everything that has produced you. And, of course, there is one final appeal. The opportunity to treat other people badly beneath the guise of doing good” (p. 156).
Whether online or on university campuses, the Militant Woke are out to destroy. When prowling mobs wait in ambush and band together to dox, threaten, insult and demonise non-compliant dissenters online; when activist groups organise and mobilise to problematise Western education systems and call for the cancelling of courses, topple statues and demonise Western values; when JK Rowling receives death threats for daring to express an opinion contrary to the single Woke narrative; when mobs mark and terrorise authors of unpopular opinions who ultimately commit suicide; or when organised radical groups mobilise to intimidate, disrupt and threaten with violence speakers at universities, then one sees devaluing narcissism of the Militant Woke on display.
Formulated psychodynamically, this most severe variant of pathological narcissism includes paranoid-level, aggressive interactions with enemies online, on campus and elsewhere in public. They have given up on mirroring and idealisation demands, asare seen in their bad-faith acting, intimidation and trolling of anyone who dares signal disagreement with their destructive ideology. The continuously-activated malignant hostility violently keeps their part-object representation in a permanent split when they make it their life’s mission to be constantly on the lookout to give the most uncharitable judgment to anything related to the West, to attack and destroy what they deem an utterly oppressive Western culture. If Critical Social Justice does not produce them, it is a welcome home to embittered, resentful revolutionaries whose single purpose in life is to destroy.
In the previous article I noted that Erich Fromm did not classify devaluing narcissism explicitly as such. His references to malignant narcissism and necrophilic life orientation are the closest allusions to what one would consider devaluing narcissism. What is interesting, is that Fromm considered identity-based overvaluation of self or others a trait of malignant narcissism. From a Frommian perspective, the narcissistic Woke Triad discussed above are to be considered types of malignant narcissism:
“In the case of malignant narcissism, the object of narcissism is not anything the person does or produces, but something he has; for instance, his body, his looks, his health, his wealth, etc. The malignant nature of this type of narcissism lies in the fact that it lacks the corrective element that we find in the benign form. If I am “great” because of some quality I have, and not because of something I achieve, I do not need to be related to anybody or anything; I need not make any effort. In maintaining the picture of my greatness I remove myself more and more from reality and I have to increase the narcissistic charge in order to be better protected from the danger that my narcissistically inflated ego might be revealed as the product of my empty imagination. Malignant narcissism, thus, is not self-limiting, and in consequence it is crudely solipsistic as well as xenophobic. One who has learned to achieve cannot help acknowledging that others have achieved similar things in similar ways… One who has achieved nothing will find it difficult to appreciate the achievements of others, and thus he will be forced to isolate himself increasingly in narcissistic splendour”(p. 80).
The West has become a society where victimhood has been elevated to coveted social and moral status (Campbell and Manning, 2018). While in other societies where honour or dignity are values either to aspire to, or inherently cherished, in victimhood culture, actual or imagined suffering can earn a person unlimited social privilege. The incentive of victimhood is a strong motivator to perpetually maintain the demand for grievance. As mentioned in Part 1, immutable characteristics of identity markers, unchangeable historical offenses and the Woke teaching that justice could never be attained, achieve precisely this: the maintenance of a grievance-based victimhood culture. The list of possible microaggressions have grown so vast, that it has become virtually impossible to soothe the insatiably greedy into satisfaction. Not that satisfaction and gratitude were ever the aim; subversion for subversion’s sake and spoiling for spoiling’s sake has been the primal drive right from the beginning of the ideologues’ resolve to subvert the West. In Kleinian terms, the aggrieved feels so hurt by the perceived sufficiency and achievement of the Other, that they resort to destructive impulses (resentment and actual destruction) of everything that represents the Other. Such destruction is justified by self-idealisation, or a perverse moralisation of identity-based victimhood. In Frommian terms, malignant narcissistic destruction of Western achievement by those who demand unrivalled identity-based privilege.
The West has many flaws, but its commitment to Enlightenment principles aim to encourage each individual to strip themselves of their narcissism. Incrementally, the West has had to endure the decentralisation of the self when geocentrism was replaced with heliocentrism. When Darwin broke it to us, that humans are but evolved animals. And when Freud embarrassed our narcissistic claim to rationality with the reality that most of our motivations are but unconsciously driven. The Woke has none of these pressures to outgrow their narcissism. CSJ with its self-indulgent obsession with identitarian prestige and its unchallenged privileging of subjective experience is not only narcissistic, but narcissogenic. In every society, every country and every institution, this theory has produced the same type of entitled, dissatisfied and resentful characters.
No organisation, institution, business or society can survive – let alone flourish – with a social religion as stalling, anaphylactic and corrosive as Critical Social Justice. Unless individuals resist the appeal to cheap and easy moral esteem, and societies can return to the principles of social liberties, lives will be harmed and society will be ruined. Like a shrewd saboteur, well camouflaged in a crowd while consistently inflicting ruin, this ideology will leave societal relations and institutions generationally debilitated, thousands of children psychologically abused, physically maimed and sterile, only to move to its next welcoming host. As we see the destruction of our societal fabric in the wake of Woke infiltration, hopefully, more will come to realise the insidiousness of this ideology, and preserve the values and principles that brought us a society in which individuals and families can thrive.
Campbell, B., & Manning, J. (2018). The Rise of Victimhood Culture. Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars. Palgrave Macmillan
DiAngelo, R. (2018). White Fragility. Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Penguin Books.
Fromm, E. (1964). The Heart of Man, Its Genius for Good and Evil. Harper & Row.
Klein, M. (1957). Envy and Gratitude. Tavistock.
Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind. How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. Penguin Press.
Masterson, J.F., & Klein, R. (1995). Disorders of the Self: New Therapeutic Horizons: the Masterson Approach. Brunner/Mazel.
Murray, D. (2022). The War on the West. Broadside Books Ok, E., Qian, Y., Strejcek, B., & Aquino, K. (2021). Signalling virtuous victimhood as indicators of Dark Triad personalities. Journal of personality and social psychology, 120(6), 1634–1661. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000329.
Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation. University of Chicago Press.
Volkan, V. (2001). Transgenerational Transmissions and Chosen Traumas: An Aspect of Large-Group Identity. Group Analysis 34(1), 79 – 97.
NB Links to web articles in Afrikaans can be translated into English, without losing the gist
By Jaco Van Zyl, a psychoanalytically trained clinical psychologist originally from South Africa. He recently relocated to Limerick, Ireland, where he works in private practice. Jaco has a special interest in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, personality, and group psychology.