If you read this blog often enough — and I hope you do, we’re clocking along at very close to that sacred break-even point where the fiscal rewards for my online babbling precisely match the sunk costs of making said babbling available — then you know that all, or at least many, roads lead to The Last Psychiatrist and his recurring focus on narcissism as our modern disease. Periodically, we will have a smarter-than-thou reader who will cast a weary, jaded eye upon all that is discussed here and airily condemn it with some variant of “Yeah, yeah, whatever, people have always been narcissists, there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s nothing to worry about.” The first two assertions are probably correct; the third is probably not.
Want proof? Would you like to see just how addicting and powerful narcissism can be? Then let’s start with a conversation between two people who think it’s just hilarious to nearly kill innocent people through deliberate stupidity.
Remember that “Cannonball record” where the guy put a bedpan and two leaky gas tanks into a used AMG Benz then rode that sweet cloud of loose-floating shit smell and aromatic xylene into the imaginary record books, endangering the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people, some of them children, along the way? If you don’t, then just take my word for it that something along those lines happened and that the fellow behind the “record run”, Ed Bolian, now runs some kind of business called “VINWiki”. Recently, Ed made a very long and tiresome video where he complains that Alex Roy and I “cheapened the craft” of long-distance turd-riding when we pulled an April Fools’ prank in 2015.
He really says that. He really says we “cheapened the craft” of swerving down a freeway at 140mph while sitting on a bedpan. Four years later, he’s still upset about it.
(You can see Mr. Roy’s thoroughly appropriate response here.)
This week, “VINWiki” sat down with a fellow named John Hope Bryant. Mr. Bryant is a very important fellow; just give him a minute, and he’ll tell you all about it. Anyway, Mr. Bryant did a “VINWiki Story” about how to make endurance race officials angry. He’s an amusing and somewhat gifted storyteller and I’m sure many people were thrilled to hear his tale of woe. I’ll spare you the click and break down his assertions:
- He was a customer, driving a rented BMW M3 in an AER race, and
- He misses a couple of flags
- But he doesn’t really do anything bad, he just makes a few slow passes
- His team tells him not to come in
- Eventually they start shaking the black flag at him
- He comes in…
- and is DISRESPECTED by a race official who RAISES HIS VOICE at him
- Therefore, he and his rich friends, including Henry Ford III, are going to make sure the “old boys club” at AER goes out of business.
- He also implies that race is a factor, because everybody hates racism.
- The end.
This is Mr. Bryant’s second appearance on VINWiki; in the first one, he talked about how he crashed his Lotus Evora because he received bad instruction from the right-seater provided by Chin Motorsports. It wasn’t his fault. It was the instructor’s fault. Naturally, this AER situation, although TOTES HILARIOUS, is also someone else’s fault. The team lied to him. The flags weren’t that visible. Someone disrespected him in the pitlane. He’s the victim in all of this! But despite that, he still “owns his mistake” like a man. Inspirational, right?
In response, AER released a statement and the video, which is shown below, moved up to the 48:00 mark where the problems began.
So here’s what really happened.
- Bryant is driving around at full race pace during a full-course-yellow situation.
- His “full race pace” is between 8.5 and 11 seconds below that of his co-drivers, just to put this in perspective.
- Although he is 10 seconds off the pace of his co-drivers, he’s running a prepped M3 in a series filled with four-cylinder cars, which happen to be moving at the reduced speed appropriate for a full-course-yellow, so he starts passing people.
- He passes nine cars under yellow and tries a divebomb pass which fails.
- At the 50:20 mark, Bryant swerves around a single-file line of traffic at over 100 mph, coming within about five feet of track safety workers who are attempting to put a disabled car on a rollback trailer.
There had been a corner worker killed at Road Atlanta several months before this race, so as you can imagine people still had that very much on their mind when ol’ Juan Fangio Bryant went blowing past unprotected recovery personnel at triple digits. This was very, very bad. People could have been killed or seriously injured. Mr. Bryant’s actions would warrant suspension from pretty much every race series on the globe and permanent license revocation in many cases. There’s nothing funny about it. He put lives at risk for no good reason.
Luckily, he has an excuse: the same “laser focus” that has made him such a success in this world has also rendered him incapable of seeing flag stations. I’m serious. That’s his excuse. That’s him “owning his mistake”.
Can you see why I prefaced this discussion by mentioning narcissism?
I have no idea what Mr. Bryant is like off the track. He’s been appointed to a diversity of positions and he’s received a lot of public money so perhaps he is a genuine inspiration to people who need his words and example. On the track, however, he is a fatality waiting to happen. And it’s worth noting that his “laser focus” operation of a Class 5
E92 V8 M3 resulted in laptimes approximately equal to what Seamus Erskine got out of a Class 1 Honda Fit at the same race. (AER has five classes; the fastest is, you guessed it, Class 5.)
Mr. Bryant’s narcissism literally blinded him to the flags, and it figuratively blinded him to the fact that he came within a few feet of killing someone who just wanted to help out at a racetrack. And why not? True narcissists don’t really “see” other people. They consider the people around them as mere characters in their story. It can be chilling to observe this philosophy in operation. I assume Mr. Bolian felt the same way about the families and motorists around him when he rode his vomit comet to a dubious “record”.
And yeah, there have been times in my life where I failed to take the safety of others seriously myself. God knows I’ve had enough moments of faulty judgment in my life to fill a dozen novels. However, Mr. Bryant isn’t a 17-year-old trying to max-out his VW Fox at 98mph on a downhill stretch of I-71. He’s not even a 35-year-old making a few sketchy passes around the Hocking Hills. He is a 53-year-old “thought leader” who presents himself as a moral example to young people and others but who cannot be bothered to look up from the dashboard of his $100,000 rental racer long enough to see the “little people” putting recovery hooks on a car mere feet from his fenders.
Furthermore, Mr. Bryant expects that he will be automatically forgiven by everyone involved for “owning his mistake”, even if his mistake had potentially deadly consequences, and if the “owning” in question amounts to blaming the situation on the team. This is how children, specifically pre-teen children, have been taught to think in 2019. It is paternalistic: As long as you admit you were wrong, everything will be alright. I never followed this line of parenting with my own son; mistakes have consequences, whether those consequences are a missed podium spot in a BMX race or a LifeFlight ride for the woman sitting next to you in a Town Car. I can “own my shit” as much as I want to but it doesn’t unbreak bones or uninjure people. Nor does it put anyone’s mind at ease regarding potential repetitions of the incidents in question. Adults are judged on results, not on feelings — that is, unless your particular circumstances in life put you in a position to endlessly benefit from paternalistic third parties who view you as a child to be alternately pampered and disciplined. Let’s not open up that particular can of worms right now.
For me, however, the most fascinating, and most damming, aspect of Mr. Bryant’s mindset is the fact that he never questions, not even for a moment, how he went from being easy meat for the bulk of AER drivers to being the fastest guy on track. Around the 17:30 mark, as an example, you can see him get blocked and shoved around by an NA Miata and an E30 convertible before an M235i appears out of nowhere and leaves him for dead — but half an hour later he’s sailing around all these folks on full throttle while they seem to be standing still.
Any vaguely competent race driver would notice this. Even an incompetent driver who has some passing acquaintance with reality would notice this. When my son was eight years old, he was able to watch for flags on a kart track — but more than that, he was able to accurately judge where he and his kart stood compared to the competition. Had he magically passed everybody in a single lap, he would likely have come in and asked what the problem was.
Mr. Bryant, however, accepts this magical change of circumstance as his just and proper due. What happened in his life to make him think that all the barriers to his success would be magically removed, and that his path would be made smooth and straight by external circumstances? It’s beyond the scope of this blog to ponder such questions, but it’s worth noting that he never does so much as cock an eyebrow at his good fortune. He just turns on that laser focus and dive-bombs a group of cars tootling along past the waving yellow and white flags.
I think there are two appropriate passages from the TLP definition-of-narcissism piece here. The first one:
The narcissist believes he is the main character in his own movie. Everyone else has a supporting role– everyone around him becomes a “type.” You know how in every romantic comedy, there’s always the funny friend who helpes the main character figure out her relationship? In the movie, her whole existence is to be there fore the main character. But in real life, that funny friend has her own life; she might even be the main character in her own movie, right? Well the narcissist wouldn’t be able to grasp that. Her friends are always supporting characters, that can be called at any hour of the night, that will always be interested in what she is wearing, or what she did.
That guy putting an E30 on a rollback? He’s a supporting character. Oh, and there’s this:
the goal in development is to become the one with the most power. Hence, narcissists can be dogmatic (“adultery is immoral!”) and hypocrites (“well, she came on to me, and you were ignoring me at home”) at the same time. There is no right and wrong– only right and wrong for them. He’s an exaggerated example: if they have to kill someone to get what they want, then so be it. But when they murder, they don’t actually think what they’re doing is wrong–they’re saying, “I know it’s illegal, but if you understood the whole situation, you’d understand…”
Narcissists never feel guilt. Only shame.
I think Mr. Bryant’s endless name-dropping and self-referential listing of accomplishments is meant to both assert power and to deflect shame. Which is fine. That’s why a website like VINWiki exists: for narcissists to congratulate each other. There’s plenty of room for Bedpan Bolian and John Hope Bryant on VINWiki. When it comes to real racing, however, I suspect that the room, and the patience of everyone involved, has run out. Shame on him.