Once upon a time there was a narcissist who achieved the one dream shared by all narcissists everywhere. He became the most important person in the world.
His every action, statement, and thought compelled attention. These actions, statements, and thoughts were generally simple if not childish. You might expect the great minds of the world to spend little time thinking about them, to focus instead on their consequences. But they studied them with the intensity of Ph.D. candidates trying to redefine nuclear physics.
Some imagined him their savior, others their tyrant king. But he fascinated his admirers and detractors alike. They looked into his void and saw mystery. They looked at his luck and saw skill.
His hold over the uneducated was not difficult to understand. He talked like them and generally thought like them. His success was, in a sense, their success.
His hold over the educated was more difficult to grasp, but it too was rooted in success.
Intellectuals tend to see the world as an n-dimensional chess game played by themselves and other intellectuals. In such a game, victory, by definition, goes to the smartest.
In earlier times, the most important person in the world had often seemed smart. Even when the leader of a powerful nation had not seemed smart, that leader had seemed disciplined, as if he was taking orders from another. In such cases, it was easy to imagine that the “leader” was simply a useful figurehead, while the real most important person in the world ruled from the shadows.
This man, though, seemed neither smart nor disciplined.
Rather than surrender their vision of how the world worked, many intellectuals ended up doing something they scorned the uneducated for doing. They tried to force the facts to fit their established beliefs.
Surely, they said, the most important person in the world must be secretly smart. Look at all he has accomplished: a builder, an entertainer, and now a leader. We underestimated him at our peril, and we still do, even now. His actions are planned, coordinated. He sees through lies that the rest of us believed. He has outwitted us already. He must have, to become what he is today.
Or, failing this, they said, if he is not smart, then he must be a figurehead, taking orders from a Svengali at his side… no, taking orders from the true leader of his political party… no, taking orders from the leader of a rival nation…
And as they rationalized, the most important man in the world went on his way.
True, he could be manipulated, but not reliably, and not by any one person or agency. Those who believed he could be controlled were almost as misguided as those who believed he controlled himself.
He loved those who loved him, so long as they did so unconditionally. Any conditions, any demands or expectations, were equivalent to disloyalty. And disloyalty was betrayal. Everyone in the world should be loyal to him, just as he was loyal — to himself.
He hated those who betrayed him. He hated those who hated him. Yet somewhere inside, he secretly loved them, too. For their hate gave him life.
Without their regard, he would begin to disappear. It had happened before, many years ago, when a chain of poor decisions had drained most of his inherited money and relevance. Back then, not only had he no longer been praised, but even the jokes at his expense had nearly ceased.
He could not permit that. Not ever again.
The yawning void at the center of his soul was larger every year, and only the attention of others kept it from consuming him utterly. And so he was focused, in a way that few are truly focused, on the acquisition of power.
This did not make him clever or strong, though he would declare that it did to anyone who would listen, especially himself.
It did made him malleable, however. At times, that malleability could serve him. It served him best when he stepped into an arena that was likewise ready to surrender principle, ready to embrace its own naked worship of success and power. The builders of his youth, the entertainers of his middle age, the conservative leaders of his senescence fell back on the power principle, paving the way for him, a man who embodied that principle.
At an age when many people retire, he was able to make his voice heard by all. Why? Because he was loud. Because he was resentful as the people were resentful. But mostly because where it mattered most, no one had opposed him but other, smaller voids.
His ideas, borrowed from the uneducated and the merchants of paranoia, felt new compared to his conservative rivals, who were mostly still reciting corrupted scripture and the grandfatherly aphorisms of their last truly popular leader, who was himself now long dead.
His liberal rivals were likewise bound by affection for their own past, passing over or never considering their true forward-thinkers. Their leading voice was almost ideally vulnerable to him. Despite her intelligence and accomplishments, she owed her original fame to the fact that she bore another leader’s name. She had spent twenty years as a favorite target of the merchants of paranoia, the same merchants who informed his thinking now. She seemed almost to resent the need for a nation’s would-be leader to become more popular. He relished it.
And so, while two communities of would-be leaders all but consumed themselves, he stepped in among the scraps and claimed his prize.
He was now the most important person in the world.
But it was not enough. It would never be enough.
There was no plan, no strategy, to his endless clashes with any person or entity who might represent moral or factual authority. Such authorities had always found him wanting. That was the only reason he needed to make them all his enemies.
There was no end goal behind his persecution of the disadvantaged, only his belief that the strong dominate the weak, and he was strong, so strong, so clever and strong. Surely he must have been, to be who he was.
There was nothing mysterious about his favoritism to those who would sing his praises. There was no coherent alternate reality he was trying to construct with his constant, self-serving lies. There was no subtle whisper behind the brutal sledgehammer of his ideas about “diplomacy” and “governance.” There was no grand design, no vision of an inverted society guiding his hand, as he flouted the rules of law and decency, calling attention, attention, attention to himself as he did.
There was only need. Endless need.
The most important person in the world reserved a special, jealous love for the true tyrant kings of other nations. These figures alone, if they did not threaten him directly, could command admiration from him. Admiration and something close to loyalty.
None of those tyrants’ countrymen criticized them. None would dare. What a heaven that must be, he thought, to have everyone around you love you. They’d have to love you. They’d have no choice.
No one to say anything but “you, you, you, you, you” to match the voice in my head that says “Me, me, me.”
Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me…