“Love it or Leave it” – On Cultural Narcissism

A reader asks, “why in the hell are you still living in here when every post of yours involves amd critics Georgia and its people in there”.

I actually get this question a lot – this, or its imperative version (some variation on “if you don’t like it, leave”). My point of view is that this is, fundamentally, an expression of a sort of cultural narcissism, and therefore probably not really worth engaging. However, because it is such a common point of view, I thought I’d address it once and for all, so that at least if someone asks me I can point them here.

First of all, the premise is incorrect. The post this comment appeared on was not critical of Georgia at all, unless you count a passing reference to a previous critical post, which was only made to provide an example of how different approaches to social coordination might result in practical problems for individuals. In fact the question of whether students should be asked to remove their hats indoors is an international question, and American students are at least as likely to defy this rule as Georgian students. So I submit that if you read that 1200-word post investigating the importance of etiquette in education and your principal takeaway was “Georgian students don’t take their hats off” – a takeaway which is neither true nor justified based on the text of the post – then you probably just have a chip on your shoulder.

american flag love it or leave it caption

Done, and done

The shape of that chip can be inferred from the question “why do you live here if you have bad things to say about it?”. Whenever someone tells you to leave their country if you don’t like it, what they are really expressing is cultural narcissism. They have a feeling of grandiosity – “my country is the best” – coupled with the unavoidable reality that a lot of stuff about their country really sucks. This cognitive dissonance makes people feel anxious and uncomfortable and therefore they respond by trying to get rid of the people who are causing it – for example, by asking them to leave. Then they can go back to ignoring the problems in their country and enjoying their (unjustified) feelings of grandiosity.

For example, a certain kind of American used “love it or leave it” during the Vietnam War as a kind of rebuttal to anti-war protesters. Since the war was obviously an unjustified and indefensible failure and a waste of lives and resources, there was really no rational counterargument against the protesters. But if the protesters were right, that meant that America was doing something wrong. But America can’t do anything wrong, because America is the Greatest Nation in the History of the Universe. But the protesters… okay, you have to go away now, you stupid jerks! You sex-crazed drug-addled peacenik hippy commie assholes! Love it or leave it!

st george's flag with caption england love it or leave it

“Well, if you insist,” said America

Of course, any psychologically healthy person understands that you can love something and also criticize it. This is because psychological health is typically the result of having had loving parents who criticized you as a child, but did so lovingly and constructively and in a way that helped you grow and mature into a successful well-adjusted human adult. But for narcissists, who typically grew up with emotionally unavailable parents and/or parents who endlessly and hyperbolically praised them no matter what their actual level of achievement – for narcissists, any kind of criticism at all (even a perceived slight that wasn’t even intended as criticism) invokes feelings of deep anxiety and produces reactions designed to defend an unhealthy and fragile ego.

And so that’s why I call these people – people who can’t process criticism of some particular aspect of their culture or country – “cultural” narcissists. I think every country has them. I’m not picking on Georgia (although of course the cultural narcissists who happen to be Georgian will think that I am).

australia silhouette love it or leave it

Ironic slogan for a prison colony

I think it falls on me to address a few tangential points.

First, am I in fact issuing constructive criticism, from a place of love, with the intent of improving the subject of the criticism? My wife is Georgian and we have two children, who were both born in Georgia. Even putting aside my personal feelings, I want Georgia to be a better country for their sake. I would like my children to feel comfortable in their home country, and not feel compelled to leave – like so many young Georgians who dream of going to Europe or America feel compelled to leave Georgia, or like I felt compelled to leave America. And unlike America, which I think is heading downhill in many ways, I am actually still optimistic about Georgia’s future. So yes, I do love this country, I do want it to be better, and I do want my criticisms to be heard and understood for what they are.

Second, let me reiterate that I am not overly critical of Georgia. It’s very telling what a narcissist will interpret as a criticism. When I mean to criticize Georgia, I say something like “this is something I don’t like about Georgia” or “this is something I think Georgians need to change.” I very rarely say those things, either in person or on this blog. I am very aware that by the norms of Georgian culture I do not have standing to issue criticisms of Georgia, and so I do so sparingly and on issues of low importance.

However, my purpose with this blog has always been to present an honest assessment of Georgia with a particular eye towards identifying and analyzing differences between Georgia and the U.S., or things that might otherwise be noteworthy for someone who was planning to come live here. I am aware that that can look like criticism, and so over time I think I have gotten better at adopting a more clearly neutral viewpoint, and at issuing the cultural signals that let Georgians know that I do not intend criticism, which is why I have generated a lot less controversy since you-know-what even as I have taken on increasingly controversial topics, such as racism and homophobia in Georgia.

Unfortunately, no matter how many pains I take to avoid coming off as overly critical, there will always be some people who are waiting for the opportunity to be insulted so they can reinforce their self-image at the expense of others.

My point is, I do not criticize Georgia in every post – far from it – and I try very hard not to repeat the same critiques (rather, if I have occasion to refer to a previous critique, I will simply link to it rather than rehash it in a new post).

banner planet earth love it or leave it

Actually, this one I agree with

Finally, is it valid to tell someone to “love it or leave it”? Is that even good advice? It seems like that’s encouraging people to run away from their problems, rather than fix them. On the other hand, like most Americans of European descent, at some point in their history most of my ancestors decided to leave their birthplace and venture to a new land – as did I – and so there is certainly an argument to be made for leaving a place if it really sucks that much. So it is certainly conceivable that if you have a friend who seems to be stuck in an undesirable situation, the best advice for them might be to consider a change of scenery, to try moving somewhere else and starting a new life.

But internet strangers? You don’t know me that well. You don’t know the totality of my situation. You don’t know my daily life. You see what I choose to present to you – a choice which has a purpose which you clearly do not understand. To think that you know someone well enough, based on a few blog posts, to honestly advise them to up and move to a whole different country, and expect that they might actually benefit from this advice – if that isn’t narcissism, I don’t know what is.

So no, I can’t take seriously the idea that this might be genuine or well-intentioned advice from people who care about my well-being. It’s either advice from narcissists who think they can understand a stranger’s whole life better than the stranger himself based on a blog, or it’s bloviating, defensive flailing from narcissists who feel threatened by someone who doesn’t constantly acknowledge their imagined superiority.

Either way, this is the last time I’m going to address such a question or comment, so if you’re planning on asking or telling me some variation of “if you don’t like it, leave”, don’t bother: your comment will not make it out of my moderation queue.

Canadian flag love it or leaf it

Okay, I made this one up

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7 Responses to “Love it or Leave it” – On Cultural Narcissism

  1. Nina Chandler says:

    I read the whole of this post and it has made sense of quite a few things pertaining to my involvement with some things Georgian. thanks

  2. I read the whole post and you clearly hate Georgia, Neal.

  3. Giorgi Kvernadze says:

    Hey,

    Now I know that what I’m about to ask isn’t really related to this post and more to one of your older ones, know that I did so that the chance of you seeing this comment and maybe replying would be higher. OK with that out of the way:

    You seem to be more or less pro-Misha from your post and I’m not saying you shouldn’t and I even understand why you would have that inclination, knowing how you got here in the first place.
    But, have you ever heard of why he or rather his regime was deposed? I mean like personal stories of being oppressed and stuff like that. I have to admit that they did a lot of good, but I mean they kinda did quite a turn in the later years. The reason why I’m asking you this is that I count you as an intelligent person, more or less, on these kinds of topics, so it’s kinda confusing for me that you support him, if you knew at least some of the details. And if you didn’t then yeah understandable.

    Anyway,

    Have a good day

    • panoptical says:

      I am largely in agreement with Misha ideologically about most things, but obviously I do not agree with the abuses of power that are alleged against Misha.

      The other day someone flew a drone over a Misha rally with a broom attached to it. I don’t think it’s ever been established that Misha knew about or condoned prisoner abuse, and when that scandal broke the appropriate people resigned. As I said at the time, in the US there is rampant prisoner abuse, everyone knows about it, and there is zero chance that a top member of the government might end up resigning over it. I think Americans tend to view getting raped in prison as part of the punishment for committing crimes. As an American I look at the broom scandal as an example of how much better Misha’s government worked than the US government.

      Georgian Dream hasn’t turned out that bad – despite bungling some basic policy stuff (like visas and prescription drug lists) and the political prosecutions of UNM officials, they’ve generally continued to lead Georgia in the right direction overall. I just don’t personally like them as much because they are more socially conservative than the UNM was and I think they are giving nationalists and religious fanatics too much of a voice. But hey, that’s pluralism, and people have to have the right to speak up regardless of how stupid and repugnant their ideas are.

  4. I move every 9 months says:

    If you are living there, paying taxes, and contributing to society (which you are doing) then you are free to criticize. Expats, immigrants, and tourists travel to the US and criticize everything which is perfectly fine and most of their criticisms are valid. Criticism is necessary but changing the culture and society is even better, although sometimes it’s almost impossible if you live in a high-context culture that is also patriarchal, which is your current situation.

    I remember living in Georgia years ago but now I live in Las Vegas which sucks but for completely different reasons.

  5. Pingback: Zaza Pachulia: Why Georgians Ruined NBA Voting | Georgia On My Mind

  6. Pingback: Victim-Blaming in Georgia (or, stop telling women not to be “too friendly”) | Georgia On My Mind

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