Selfless Narcissists? The Paradox of the Headless Egomaniac
Lost in non-falsifiable doctrines, narcissist become “crow-it-all, crow-bots."
Posted May 31, 2020
About 90 years ago, philosopher Karl Popper noticed that Freud’s theories explained everything.
That may sound like a good thing. Who wouldn’t want such a powerful theory? But Popper argued that a theory that explains everything was scientifically useless.
No matter what challenge you threw at Freudians they’d be able to crow, “Yes! You see! That confirms our theory.” Popper called such doctrines “non-falsifiable,” simply meaning that no matter how you challenged them, nothing could prove their doctrine false and everything proved it true.
Popper came up with a theory of his own that has taken hold in the sciences: If your theory explains everything, it explains nothing. A non-falsifiable theory has no place in science since science is committed to testing theories. He went further in arguing that science can never prove theories. Science is an ongoing process of elimination. No theory gets the last word.
Though non-falsifiable theories have no place in science, they have a place in our anxious hearts. It would be nice to have a theory that was affirmed by every challenge to it. Nothing can kill it and everything that didn’t kill it (meaning everything) makes it stronger. Think of the confidence it would give you! Think of the power and popularity! People would flock to your non-falsifiable theory!
With a non-falsifiable theory, you could crow, “That makes me right!” triumphantly no matter what anyone threw at you. You’d be a pan-triumphalist, invulnerable, invincible, and inconvincible.
With a non-falsifiable theory, you’d feel like a know-it-all knowing nothing more than your non-falsifiable theory. With your one non-falsifiable theory you’d be a crow-it-all who appears to be a know-it-all.
To embrace a non-falsifiable theory would be like resheathing your glasshouse in titanium. You could throw all the stones you wanted at other people’s theories without ever worrying about retaliation.
A lot of our religious, spiritual, pop-psych, political, and philosophical theories are non-falsifiable. Take, “It’s all God’s will,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Everything you throw at them makes them stronger.
“See? That proves me right! That too is the will of God!”
“See? That proves me right! That too happened for a reason!”
A non-falsifiable theory doesn’t have to be a one-liner like “it’s all God’s will.” Often it’s a collection of principles bundled together as one doctrine as was the case with Freud.
For another example, take homeopathy’s doctrine. Homeopaths prescribe remedies that are sugar pills containing a microscopically diluted trace of some active ingredient based on the dubious assumption that the more dilute the trace, the stronger the remedy is.
When homeopaths prescribe remedies there are three possible outcomes: The patient has no reaction, improves, or gets worse.
Homeopathy has an explanation for each of these.
No reaction proves the wrong homeopathic remedy was prescribed.
Improvement proves it was the right homeopathic remedy.
Getting worse means the patient is having a “homeopathic aggravation,” which proves the homeopathic treatment was powerful because with homeopathic remedies either make you better worse.
The homeopathic doctrine is non-falsifiable. Like Freud’s doctrine, it’s one doctrine with mix-and-match rules that apply such that the doctrine is always confirmed.
Many people take a similar approach to morality. They consider themselves moral because they have a moral doctrine, that they can defend whatever they do.
Picture it like an all-inclusive omnivore diet: Commit to all of the diets and you can always eat anything you want since one diet or another says its OK.
Bacon? Sure! Keto!
Cake? Sure. The all-carb diet!
With the moral equivalent, you’re affirmed no matter what. Your doctrine is a non-falsifiable collection of theories that rationalize crowing no matter what you do.
There are absolute narcissists in this world, but I doubt that every person we label as one is really that self-infatuated or conversely, compensating for self-loathing. I suspect many of those diagnosed as such are lost in the seductive power of non-falsifiability. They may look self-obsessed but what you see may not be what they’ve got.
Indeed it may be just the opposite. Their titanium fortress has no mirrors. They can lose themselves within it, acting like they’re not interpreting reality but observing it from what philosophers mock as “the view from nowhere,” a godlike perspective untainted by subjective bias or perspective.
Cultists are crow-it-alls for a doctrine they surrender too. When we say that someone “lost themselves” to a cult, that’s what we mean. If you challenge a cultist it feels like you’re swiping at thin air. They may seem narcissistic but in a way, nobody’s home.
Selfless narcissists—a contradiction in terms but there’s something to it.
In 1984, George Orwell described the process I’m calling selfless narcissism this way: "That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed."
In other words, when we call a person a know-it-all, we may mean a crow-it-all anesthetized by the reliable crowing they can do after having embraced a non-falsifiable doctrine thereby becoming robotic.
Becoming robotic is natural. Philosopher C. S. Peirce argues that if we never experienced pushback we’d have no idea that we exist. When our habits work reliably we can stop wondering what to do. non-falsifiable theories give us this selfless advantage.
Crowbots: People who lose themselves into robotic crowing because their non-falsifiable doctrine can’t fail.
Crowbots are liberated to say and do anything and never face consequences for it. Through their non-falsifiable doctrine, they take possession of a wild card and a trump card. The wild card says they’re free. The trump card says they’re safe. That combo liberates them from ever having to doubt themselves. It’s like living in a titanium fortress high above every challenge, a fortress with no mirrors, a fortress from which they can attack others without any fear of retaliation.
People will try to intervene saying, “Will you just look at yourself? You’re being a hypocrite.” But no, why would you? Why should you? You’re crowing all the time. Every rock thrown at you proves you’re right!
Crowbots are like the self-winding movement in some wristwatches. No matter how you shake them they just get wound up with more energy.
Some people know lots; some just crow lots. When people crow proud answers to every challenge, don’t mistake them for knowing lots. They’re probably just lost to one of those can’t-fail non-falsifiable doctrines.