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New Age Narcissism

It won't come as news to most AVA readers, but as I was recently reminded, there's no narcissism like New Age narcissism. “New Age” ideas allow the already self-absorbed to go beyond mere egotism into an advanced — one might say more evolved — form of Holier-Than-Thou solipsism. New Agers aren't “more devoted to God” than anyone else. They are actually more God-like, or so they imagine.

The “new” in New Age is the first clue to this narcissistic behavior, because nothing in New Age-ness is actually new. Astrology, meditation, mantras, yoga, herbal healing, feng shui, chanting, vegetarian and macrobiotic diets and so on and so forth, have all been around for a long, long time. These “New”-comers to the notions of “transcendent” consciousness and activities all seem to think they're on to something that the rest of us pathetically un-evolved peons couldn't possibly comprehend. Donald Trump, whether he means to be or not, is funny, and therefore has some entertainment value. But the average New Age narcissist takes himself quite seriously and is therefore usually a soporific bore.

I ran into one of these New Agers, a “musician,” at Kinko's the afternoon of New Year's Eve. As it happens, I had played guitar in a Christmas Eve service for my ex-wife's church and this New Age character was also, as he called it, “in the show.” (It was a church function with a choir, and children singing “Joy to the World,” hardly what any rational person would call showbiz.) This guy, Peter, is a relentless self-promoter, and sees no contradiction between that and his professed “spirituality.” He walks up to me in the copy shop and says, “Richard?”

Now, Peter was fully aware of my actual name. Calling someone an erroneous name or otherwise making a show of not knowing or being concerned about a subject's name is a tactic often used by sleazy lawyers to put a witness at a psychological disadvantage; it's been done to me in court.

I remind him of my real name and predictably, he displays no interest in it. Instead, he immediately gets to the point: “Are you playing somewhere tonight?” (The 1999 New Year's Eve musician's gravy train was legendary on Maui, with even the most mediocre people earning at least a thousand dollars apiece for the evening's work. Most of these gigs were booked well in advance.)

“No,” I replied.

“Well,” Peter says triumphantly, “I'm playing at a huge New Year's Eve extravaganza.” (At this I'm reminded of a pimply 17-year old who once told me, in dead earnest, “I have a luncheon engagement tomorrow.”)

I couldn't resist. “Extravaganza!” I count my fingers and say, “Five syllables! That's really impressive.”

He doesn't know how to deal with this but goes on. “Yes, there will be chanting until seven in the morning.” Was he waiting for me to drop to my knees now?

I say, “How about that? I'll probably be in bed before midnight…” Now, his nose points visibly upward and he sniffs with cosmic superiority. “Well, I guess we'll all be where we're supposed to be tonight.” Having established his higher place in the evolutionary pecking order, Peter turned to the business of printing advertising posters for the Cosmic Extravaganza.

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