This past Monday night, I sat down and wrote two quick pieces that did not, at the time, seem terribly controversy-inducing to me. The first one, for TTAC, discussed the fact that middle class families cannot afford new cars. The second one, for Road&Track, explained why you shouldn’t disable stability control while driving on the street or during your first few trackdays as a novice. Insofar as I supported the first article with a lot of numbers, mostly sourced from other, reasonably well-respected sources, and I drew on twelve years’ worth of experience coaching trackday drivers for the second article, I didn’t think that either one would cause too many people to break out in the fookin’ fury.
Boy, was I wrong, mostly because I didn’t pay enough attention to Sigmund Freud when I was younger.
It’s from Freud that we get the idea of the narcissistic injury and “narcissistic rage”. This is one of those situations where the Wiki editor really did his job, so let’s quote him:
Narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist feels that their hidden ‘true self’ has been revealed. This may be the case when the narcissist has a fall from grace, such as when their hidden behaviors or motivations are revealed or when their importance is brought into question. Narcissistic injury is a cause of distress and can lead to dysregulation of behaviors as in narcissistic rage.
The DSC article brought out the narcissistic rage in full, mostly via the comments on R&T’s Facebook page. Hundreds of commenters called for me to be fired, banned from driver instruction, and/or beaten to death. I thought about including a few of the more unhinged comments and honestly there are too many candidates for inclusion. I’m paralyzed by choice. Somebody even created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of attacking me:
Do you think that would make him feel better? It’s hard to screencap a spreadsheet but here you go:
For my own amusement, I chose ten of my worst detractors at random and I looked through their Facebook pages. There wasn’t a licensed racer in the group. Most of them weren’t even advanced-group drivers; half of them appeared to have no track time under their belts at all. At the same time, I had a lot of experienced racers and instructors chiming in to agree with me either in full or in part. So I decided to keep skimming the comments until I found a racer. Finally, I found somebody who said he was a professional driver for Porsche:
Alas, he’s not really a racer. He’s a university student who “canyon carves” in his old Cayman. Still, note the absolute certainty in his voice. It’s the worst article he’s ever read. He’s never laughed harder. And yet he’s never won a race. Never entered a race. Never coached a student. In short, he doesn’t have a single fucking clue about what it means to drive fast. Why does he feel empowered to lash out?
The answer is that I did him a narcissistic injury. I suggested that he needed DSC (in his Cayman, it’s PSM) to keep him from making major mistakes at the limit of the tires. While I didn’t criticize him directly, I did refer to novice trackday students and street-only drivers. In short, I listed two categories to which he would belong, and I stated that drivers in that category would be better served by using stability control.
The way he, and many other readers, took it was this: You don’t know how to drive. And it caused them to lose their minds. I was insulting their perceived skill or ability, and they were unable to handle it with any other response but sheer rage. And hundreds of people called for the article to be removed from the R&T website. In other words, they were so triggered by my statements that they needed those statements to be hidden from their view.
Am I the only person in America who sees how fuckin’ stupid that is? When I read something in Guitar Player that says, “Most average guitarists can’t improvise over the modes,” do I contact the magazine and scream at them to TAKE IT DOWN? When SportsCar says that regional autocrossers are inconsistent on faster courses, do I DEMAND AN APOLOGY? What is wrong with people when they can’t even accept general statements based on a decade-plus of experience in the field? Is this where we are as a society?
Oh, well. You really can’t get away with telling anybody that they don’t know how to drive. The plain fact is that you have to get to a pretty high level just to understand how slow you are — and you have to get to a higher level than that to truly understand what the very best drivers can accomplish. I have much less confidence in my driving now than I did when I was seventeen, and that’s with a shelf full of trophies that I didn’t have then.
It was the response to the TTAC article that truly shocked me. The ad hominems really came out in force when I stated what everybody knows: middle-class people can’t afford new cars. The responses were variously pathetic and despicable. There was one guy who kept trying to bring Obama’s “blackness” into it, another guy who called me racist, fifty readers who wanted to brag about their own success, fifty more who wanted to lecture middle-class people that a) they didn’t have the right to own a new car and b) I didn’t have the right to discuss the matter. One fellow started frothing at the mouth about the fact that I have a couple of Porsches, as if that somehow disqualifies me from caring about the struggles of regular Americans.
It took me a while to realize why people were so upset. It was the part where I referred to the “post-2008” economy. Many readers took that as an attack on Mr. Obama. Well, when it comes to Mr. Obama I have nothing but contempt for him and the harm he’s done to the United States both foreign and domestic. As the New York Review Of Books pointed out last week, African-Americans have lost 31.4 percent of their buying power under Obama’s administration, while whites have gained 3.4 percent. What do you call a guy who takes from black people to give to whites? Do you call that man a hero, or do you call him a racist?
But what I didn’t figure on was that criticism of Mr. Obama is, by definition, a narcissistic injury to the people who voted for him, particularly the people who voted for him twice. I’ve never felt that personally caught up with my presidential vote, but apparently that attitude is not universal. Many of my readers make the following leaps of, er, logic:
Demonstrating the shitty condition of the American economy == criticism of Obama
Criticism of Obama == racism
Criticism of Obama == condemnation of anybody who voted for him
So when I point out that the median middle-class family makes $57,000 nowadays, I’m a racist. When I point out that healthcare costs have gone UP for the majority of employed Americans, I’m a racist. When I suggest that this country might be better off if working parents could afford a new Camry instead of a 10-year-old one to carry their children around…
wait for it…
…I’m a racist. Because the word “racist” today simply means, “anybody who disagrees with the entirely of the progressive platform, in its most current and aggressive version.” Anybody can be a racist, from Richard Dawkins to Jesse Jackson to the people who made this hyper-trigging, hugely offensive, racist advertisement:
And when it turns out that the two girls doing the “racist” pose are sisters, people are still getting angry:
So it’s not okay to have your two kids pose any way they want to in an ad, because it might offend somebody who sees it and is not interested in anything other than the first impression that comes to their minds. And then it turns out that Gap did exactly the opposite thing a while ago and nobody complained:
The depressing conclusion to which I’ve come is that some major percentage of American readers consume media with the primary goals of either having their preconceptions confirmed (“Watch John Oliver DESTROY Racists Who Don’t Think Mormon Kids Should Be Held Down And Smeared With Feces From A San Francisco Bath House!”) or finding a target for their pre-loaded and pre-configured outrage. Very few people want to learn anything besides basic facts or figures, and the ones that do can’t handle any facts or figures that disagree with their feelings. This is not exclusively a liberal or conservative mindset. Not by far. It’s the American mindset. The imperial reader permits no disrespect to his self-image. You can’t tell him that he can’t drive for shit, even if he can’t. And you can’t tell him that the President he chose was responsible for the further destruction of the middle class in general and the black middle class in particular.
Is it any wonder, then, that car magazines find it difficult to run anything besides “The New Bentlayaggasaurus is LUXURY PERSONIFIED”? Is there anybody left out there who is capable of hearing some bad news? Will the last literate, classically-educated human being in the United States please turn out the lights, assuming there are any working power stations left to make ’em glow in the first place?