Via Andrew Sullivan's Dish this week, I came across a pair of articles by art critic Christia Rees about the horrors of dealing with cluster-B personality disorders:
Cluster Bs are probably somewhere between 1 and 5% of the population. Usually they’re just irritating and high-maintenance. They drum up a lot of drama. We manage them. But the smarter, pressurized ones are like landmines, and the longer you live, the more likely you are to deal with one of them directly and intimately.
I used to think some people (or communities, or entire nations) were completely immune to being manipulated by malign opportunists, but now I know in my bones that anyone can be conned: the chinks in our armor stem from vulnerable parts that are fundamental to human nature: vanity and ego (business cons operate on these points of entry), a desire to be “seen” by someone who “understands”, a desire to have someone guide us, or, in turn, we decide to help out an intriguing person who responds especially to us. We enter these dynamics, these traps, in good faith, with rationalizations and often willed blind spots, that make sense in the moment. Carnage follows.
I’ve been writing another piece about artists’ relationship to their influences, and I watched the new documentary about Evan Rachel Wood’s history with Marilyn Manson, Phoenix Rising, with that in the back of my head, in the sense that I never found Manson convincing as a rock star, and I personally don’t know anyone else who does, either. That’s because when he arrived on the scene, we were already adults. His attention-starved schtick was aimed at gullible, disaffected kids (Wood was in fact still a teenager when she started up with him), because they were the ones who would not have spotted how forced and artificial his reference points were. Cluster B agendas are often undone by moments of sloppiness or incoherence. He didn’t register with us cynical professional critics because his tactics were stale, and the music wasn’t any good.
But being savvy and even smug about being able to spot from a distance one kind of Cluster B, the Marilyn Manson kind, doesn’t confer protection against all of them. These lizards take a lot of shapes, and their methods vary. A person raised by one can still fall into another’s web as an adult. A person who ended a friendship with a Cluster B at school can find themselves seduced by another one at their new job.
I remember interviewing the late Prof. Jeff Kraus at my alma mater, which also happened to be former US Senator Norm Coleman's (R-MN). Coleman had led a sit-in that shut down the university for two days to protest the Kent State shootings in 1970, so when I did a documentary in 1990, Coleman's name came up a lot. When I asked Kraus about Coleman, Kraus looked up at the ceiling with a weird smile on his face and said, "Norm Coleman...Norm Coleman. Norm Coleman would be at the head of any organization that would get him laid."
Rees' earlier article explains what a cluster-B personality looks like and how the Norm Colemans of the world need to sit down and grow up:
Here are some traits we associate with very young children: lack of emotional regulation; an inability to understand that someone can say “no” to them and it does not make that someone a monster (in psychology it’s called “splitting” or binary thinking); a need for attention and approval now; testing the limits of tantrums to get adults and other children to fold to their demands. Empathy isn’t quite available to them yet at this age, because empathy does not live in the toddler brain of me, me, me. And most kids grow out of it.
People who have Cluster B personality disorders — Borderline, Narcissism, Histrionic and Antisocial — actually never grow out of the emotional cesspool that keeps them in this headspace, where no one else exists outside of what they can do for them. For a Cluster B person, other people are merely tools. Despite their age or status in the world, Cluster B people are still toddlers. It leads to behaviors that, in the adult world, would be considered pathological. Their interpersonal relationships are fraught, to say the least.
And the traits associated with Cluster B can start to metastasize to whole sectors of a community, or to a whole society. The seduction of identifying as a victim is huge right now — it’s where the power actually is. There are people playing victim on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. It’s a vicious kind of tail-eating snake, in that each side can yell about being victimized by the other ad nauseam.
There are now three generations of highly educated people out in the world who have taken up positions at all levels in our progressive institutions, who fully believe the oppressor/oppressed narrative… about everything. Bad-faith readings of other people’s intentions are built into this thinking. Victim status is built into it. That is the point.
What a way to live. What a way to see the world. How nihilistic.
How Cluster B.
I have experienced cluster-B disorders up close, more than once too close, and they left me feeling pissed off: at them, for wasting so much time and energy, and at myself, for not getting away from them sooner. So like Rees, I find it alarming that so few adults seem to run things right now, leaving the toddlers in charge. Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child.