Jeffrey Toobin wrote a lame piece for the New Yorker on June 10th (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/06/edward-snowden-nsa-leaker-is-no-hero.html) in which he blasted the whistle-blowing actions of one Edward Snowden, calling him a narcissist. This really pissed me off because as a person with NPD relatives, I could only wish for them to a) be able to hold down the kind of jobs Snowden had and b) to do something so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t help the psychiatric professions one bit when lazy uninformed writers use the names of serious illnesses as put downs and so I posted the following comment to Toobin’s article:
It’s extremely irresponsible to brand someone a “narcissist” as a way of condemning their actions. Narcissism is an actual personality disorder (NPD) that must satisfy specific diagnostic criteria. When it is used merely as a disapproving insult, this is highly insensitive to people who actually have to deal with real NPDs in their family and other close relationships. It also belittles the efforts of those in the mental health professions, who do not brand someone with this label willy nilly. Having watched the Snowden interview and having a long-time personal experience of actual NPDs, I do not perceive him as showing any signs of having this tragic condition whatsoever. Someone like Lance Armstrong would be an example of an NPD in the public eye, as would the vast majority of pop stars. These are people who will cheat, lie, steal, trample on the rights of others in order to gain personal glory; whether or not Jeffrey Toobin agrees with Snowden’s stated motives for whistleblowing, it is abundantly clear that Snowden is not on an egoistic quest to become famous and in fact has now put himself at enormous risk as well as opened himself up to international criticism. NPDs simply don’t do this. Armstrong tried to hang on to his lies right up until the moment when there was just too much evidence for his denials to be credible. That is classic NPD behaviour. In contrast, Snowden’s demeanour is not self-aggrandizing; he is not blowing his own trumpet and is rejecting the title of hero. He was extremely cautious and considered in the way that he leaked his story and carefully chose journalists who would handle the sensitive material in the most responsible fashion. A narcissist would do the opposite. Julian Assange, for example, has numerous classic NPD features, of which his irresponsible sexual conduct is typical as is his refusal to deal with the consequences of his actions. I’m ashamed of the New Yorker for publishing such a cheap analysis. People, especially journalists for major media outlets, need to realize that the names of serious psychiatric conditions are not to be used as adjectives to casually smear the people whose actions they disdain.