Prof. Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He is Visiting Professor of Psychology, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russia and Professor of Finance and Psychology in SIAS-CIAPS (Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies). Here we talk briefly about his philosophy of nothingness.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Our focus today is the proposal of “nothingness” in a specific sense by you. To start in negation, what is not “nothingness,” in your sense?
Professor Sam Vaknin: Nothingness is not about being a nobody and doing nothing. It is not about self-negation, self-denial, idleness, fatalism, or surrender.
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, what is nothingness?
Vaknin: Nothingness is about choosing to be human, not a lobster. It is about putting firm boundaries between you and the world. It is about choosing happiness – not dominance. It is accomplishing from within, not from without. It is about not letting others regulate your emotions, moods, and thinking. It is about being an authentic YOU.
Jacobsen: How does this nothingness connect to Neo-Daoism and Buddhism?
Vaknin: It would be best to watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8ePaN70SyM&t=1s
Jacobsen: We live, as many know, in an era of narcissism. You brought this issue to light in 1995, particularly pathological narcissism. What are the roots of the ongoing rise in individual and collective narcissism?
Vaknin: The need to be seen and noticed in an overcrowded and terrifyingly atomized world. Ironically, narcissism is a cry for help, a desperate attempt to reconnect. There is no such thing as an “individual”: we are all the products of our interactions with others (object relations). But, increasingly, technology is rendering us self-sufficient and isolated. So, our social instincts metastasize into narcissism: dominance and hierarchy replace sharing and networking.
Jacobsen: How does one choose happiness over dominance, authenticity over being fake, and humanity rather than lobster-kind, with this form of nothingness?
Vaknin: We need to choose happiness over dominance (be human, not a lobster); Choose Meaning over complexity; Choose fuzziness, incompleteness, imperfection, uncertainty, and unpredictability (in short: choose life) over illusory and fallacious order, structure, rules, and perfection imposed on reality (in short: death); Choose the path over any destination, the journey over any goal, the process over any outcome, the questions over any answers; Be an authentic person with a single inner voice, proud of the internal, not the external.
Jacobsen: What is the importance of living a life worth remembering in the philosophy of nothingness?
Vaknin: Identity depends on having a continuous memory of a life fully lived and actualized. At the end of it all, if your life were a movie, would you want to watch it from beginning to end? Nothingness consists of directing your life in accordance with an idiosyncratic autobiographical script: yours, no one else’s. Being authentic means becoming the single story which only you can tell.
Jacobsen: What type of personality or person can accept nothingness in its fullest sense?
Vaknin: Only those who are grandiose are incapable of Nothingness. Grandiosity is the illusion that one is godlike and, therefore, encompasses everything and everyone. Grandiosity, therefore, precludes authenticity because it outsources one’s identity and renders it reliant on input from others (hive mind).
Jacobsen: How is nothingness an antidote to narcissism?
Vaknin: Narcissism is ersatz, the only self is false, others are instrumentalized and used to regulate one’s sense of faux cohering oneness. Nothingness is echt, harking back to the only true, authentic voice, eliminating all other introjects, not using others to regulate one’s internal psychological landscape. Narcissism is alienation, it interpellates in a society of the spectacle. Nothingness gives rise to true intimacy.
Jacobsen: What is the ultimate wisdom in the philosophy of nothingness?
Vaknin: Identify the only voice inside you that is truly you. Peel the onion until nothing is left behind but its smell. Rid yourself of introjected socialization. Become.
Jacobsen: Then, to conclude, what is the motto or catchphrase of nothingness in this sense?
Vaknin: Do unto yourself what you want others to do to you.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Vaknin.
Vaknin: Much obliged for having me. Always a pleasure.
Image Credit: Sam Vaknin.