“Victimhood replaces accomplishment as the standard of merit. Ideology replaces competence as a marker of distinction.”
By Christopher Rufo
There is a creeping sense that our society has turned upside-down.
Healthy debate is replaced by activist hysterics. Speech is declared violence; violence is excused as speech.
Masculinity is condemned as “toxic,” while men in dresses are celebrated in the public square.
It feels as if we are in the midst of a society-wide mental breakdown.
One might be tempted to laugh at these manifestations as the outbursts of small but vocal minority, but the compromised health of our body politic is no trivial concern.
A strange new pattern of psychological dysfunction has infiltrated all our institutions, from humdrum bureaucracies to the highest offices.
Wherever we turn, that creeping feeling sets in: our society is sick; our institutions are out of balance; our public life has been consumed by a cluster of disorders that appeal to our worst instincts and derange our most vital social functions.
What happened? Why have old standards suddenly vanished in favor of narcissism, psychodrama, and moral theatrics—all in the name of “care”?
If we have any hope for recovering our sanity, we must first understand what we are dealing with.
Every historical period develops unique psychological characteristics that shape public life. After World War I, we had the “Lost Generation,” shell-shocked and disillusioned. In the mid-twentieth century, we entered the “Age of Anxiety,” characterized by a sense of existential dread in the face of the atomic bomb. And 50 years ago, we saw the rise of “the culture of narcissism,” which social critic Christopher Lasch described as a society obsessed with ego, desire, and self-image.
Today, we are witnessing the emergence of something new: the “Cluster B society.”
Like the culture of narcissism, our digital age has distinct psychological traits, heavily influenced by the rise of personal pathologies and the power of social media. For this generation, the cameras are always on. The audience is always watching. And the old narcissism has transformed into frenzy, moral theatrics, emotional volatility, self-indulgence, and outbursts of violence.
Psychologists have captured the spirit of our modern culture in four specific psychopathologies that, together, make up the Cluster B personality disorders: the narcissist, the borderline, the histrionic, and the antisocial. (They also identify Cluster A and Cluster C groupings of personality disorders.)
Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a sense of entitlement, obsession with one’s own importance, and deep feelings of resentment, often expressed through moral self-righteousness.
Borderline personality disorder is marked by an unstable sense of identity, black-and-white thinking, feelings of emptiness, and recurring self-harm and suicide attempts.
Histrionic personality disorder exhibits excessive emotionality, sexual provocation, and attention-seeking, often to serve a pathological need for sympathy.
Antisocial personality disorder is typified by impulsivity, manipulation, disregard for others, and a penchant for violence and aggression that violates social norms.
This cluster of psychopathologies is no longer an individual matter, however, to be dealt with in the privacy of the analyst’s office.
On the contrary, Cluster B psychological traits have begun to shape the patterns and structures of our culture.
The scenes of American public life increasingly resemble a Cluster B psychodrama:
- victimhood replaces accomplishment as the standard of merit;
- accusation replaces disagreement as the means of settling disputes;
- false compassion becomes the primary method of manipulating citizens into compliance; and
- the whole scheme is enforced with the threat of violence: obey, or suffer the consequences.
For most of American history, significant personality disorders were treated as problems and their sufferers largely relegated to the fringes of society.
But in the emerging Cluster B society, narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, and antisocial psychological traits can now be found in those elevated to positions of power and celebrated by our institutions.
The new status quo is an emerging leadership class that rules through emotional blackmail and uses the cover of various “victim” groups to impose its agenda on society.
If citizens dissent, they are branded hateful bigots, accused of lacking empathy, and sometimes banished from public life.
While these strategies are contemptible, they are also extraordinarily effective in controlling what we think, what we say, and how we act. And they have slowly transformed our institutions into what psychologist Andrzej Łobaczewski calls a “pathocracy,” or rule by psychological dysfunction. This has become our new social order.
Once a thoughtful observer internalizes this phenomenon, he will start to see it everywhere: the Cluster B traits have been formalized and entrenched in our human resource departments, government policies, cultural institutions, and civil rights laws.
Examples abound. A recent CIA recruitment video valorized the Cluster B traits of narcissistic identity obsession, self-righteousness, and craving for affirmation. “I am a woman of color. I am a mom. I am a cisgender millennial who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder,” intones the featured CIA analyst as the camera pans over her diversity awards. “I used to struggle with impostor syndrome, but at 36, I refuse to internalize misguided, patriarchal ideas of what a woman can or should be.”
In a Cluster B society, psychological disorders are job qualifications rather than problems to be solved; ideology replaces competence as a marker of distinction.
Politics, too, has been compromised. Earlier this year, Nebraska state senator Machaela Cavanaugh exemplified this cultural shift when, instead of offering reasoned debate, she screamed for nearly two minutes on the floor of the state legislature, bringing herself to the point of tears: “We need trans people! We love trans people! Trans people belong here! We need trans people! We love trans people! Trans people belong here!” Senator Cavanaugh’s deranged moral theatrics are a vivid representation of the attention-seeking, black-and-white thinking, and excessive emotionality associated with Cluster B.
In the new pathocratic regime, emotional manipulation, compassion-coded antagonism, and theatrical accusation become the staples of political discourse.
The goal is not to arrive at answers but to browbeat opponents and make them feel remorseful for denying left-wing orthodoxy.
Where do these phenomena emerge from? While their specific origins might be obscure, the modern university is the primary replication site for the Cluster B pathologies. On campus, the pathocracy rules.
Journalist and social critic Heather Mac Donald reveals the basic contours of this regime in a 2023 City Journal essay titled “In Loco Masculi,” where she argues that the dramatic rise in the number of female college administrators—who now dominate campus culture—has led to a growing obsession with “safety” and “victimhood.”
Rather than prioritize academic achievement and substantive debate, administrators have elevated nebulous, therapeutic concepts such as trauma, white fragility, and systemic injustice. Mac Donald concludes: “When students claim to be felled by ideas that they disagree with, the feminized bureaucracy does not tell them to grow up and get a grip. It validates their self-pity.”
As a result, American college students find themselves in the midst of an unprecedented mental-health crisis. According to the University of Michigan’s Healthy Minds study, more than 60 percent of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental-health problem—a nearly 50 percent increase since 2013. The more we indulge Cluster B-style pathologies, the more we replicate them within our institutions.
Rather than reverse course, university administrators have leaned into this broken model. On campus, students are told that they are always under attack, that their safety is constantly threatened.
And rather than strengthen young people for the challenges of life, administrators fight to sanitize the campus environment and shut down any speech deemed “harmful” or “offensive”—the perfect recipe for enabling and encouraging Cluster B-style narcissism and hysteria.
These scenes and sentiments have become ubiquitous: college students screaming and chanting their demands for maternal “care”; young adults rebelling against authority while also demanding that it resolve their “trauma”; a hothouse full of personal resentments flower and bloom under the guise of “social justice.”
At Stanford Law School, the dean of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” working in a co-dependent manner with protesting students, disrupted the speech of a federal judge, whom she accused of causing “harm” and making her “uncomfortable”—a preposterous standard, assertable only in an environment already saturated with pathocratic assumptions.
From the university, the culture of Cluster B spreads outward. Taken together, these pathologies have potent powers of transmission. Like a virus leaking from a lab, they have broken containment and are spreading throughout society. The public school, the hospital, and the state bureaucracy—all have succumbed.
The messaging of major corporations looks more and more like the celebration of Cluster B-style disorder, whether it’s attempting to normalize gender dysphoria or rewriting the standards of health and beauty so that the grotesque becomes the new ideal.
Social media accelerates these trends. Sites such as TikTok have become a petri dish for incubating mental illness, especially in teenage girls, who mimic the Cluster B behaviors they see online and register skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression.
The sudden explosion of transgenderism follows the same line of development. Transgender individuals are 30 times more likely to suffer from Cluster B personality disorders compared with the baseline population. And, according to an older study, more than 50 percent of mothers with gender-dysphoric boys suffer from borderline personality disorder themselves—a remarkable transmission rate of psychopathology.
Much of the recent left-wing violence, too, has taken on the cast of Cluster B disorders. The 2020 George Floyd riots were distinctive in part for their psychological tone: wild emotional displays, narcissistic identity rituals, victimology manifested in the streets.
Individuals with antisocial personalities seemed to flourish during that dreadful season of rioting, wielding left-wing ideology to justify their violence and terror. As psychologists have long known, a clear link exists between violent, narcissistic personalities and attraction to left-wing authoritarianism. The former serves as the desire, the latter as the rationalization.
The mugshots of Antifa foot soldiers that drifted through social media feeds during the George Floyd riots drive home this point. Face tattoos, deranged expressions, unkempt hair: these are not mentally well people. They are, in fact, the hideous face of antisocial violence—the enforcement arm of the modern Left, the political vanguard of our Cluster B society.
And they will not stop until they’ve transformed the world in their image.
Some right-wing critics have taken to calling this strange new state of affairs “the Longhouse,” a matriarchal form of society that privileges the values of care, concern, and feminine social strategies.
In an essay for First Things, the pseudonymous writer Lomez explains that women now outnumber men in professional-managerial roles and vastly outnumber them in human resources and compliance, which exert outsize influence on professional and cultural norms.
The Left has touted the Longhouse for years. In her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton confidently declared that “the future is female.” And in a much-discussed 2010 essay for The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin christened this change “The End of Men.”
But while some celebrate this shift, our “female future” has a darker side.
Contrary to the messages one gets from elites, biological sex differences are real, and a societal imbalance between the two has negative effects for everyone.
Taken too far, overly feminized leadership produces exactly the kind of Cluster B society we observe today: one in which identity is rewarded over merit, victimhood is prized over competence, and antisocial behavior goes unchecked.
Moral narcissism becomes the coin of the realm, and political conflicts are settled through blackmail and manipulation.
If we are to find a way out, we must understand the peculiar logic and rationality of the Cluster B society.
We must learn how to counter emotional falsification and how to say “no” with a renewed voice of authority.
We must find a way to restore balance, order, discipline, sanity.
If we do not, we will resign ourselves to a world gone mad.
The spontaneous life and beauty that are the fruits of a more balanced society will be snuffed out by grim commissars administering a Cluster B pathocracy.
Our self-governing regime would be over.