Explaining the Narcissistic “Critical Thinkers” in Your Life

Decoding Toxic Narcissistic Critical Thinkers

Do you have one of those narcissistic critical thinkers in your life, who is always finding faults in you, and make you feel horrible about yourself?

I hear from lots of commenters who pride themselves on their critical thinking. They’re into facts. They’re into reality. All of the fools who oppose them are unrealistic and deluded. 

I think of them as corrupt fallacy police. They are quick on the draw when policing other people for failing to live up to the exacting standards of critical thinking but they won’t tolerate any criticism of their beliefs. 

If you point out a fallacy in their thinking, they ignore or dismiss it—or better yet, cite you for another failing. They’ll dish out critical thinking but don’t you ever dare make them apply it to their beliefs. If you try, they’ll throw the book at you, a bunch of memorized cliche talking points. 

They’ll insist on umpiring all debates they enter. They know the crux of the issue. It’s whatever they insist it is, whatever they think trumps all other concerns. If you won’t follow them to what they think is fundamental, you’re deluded because after all, they’re critical thinkers!

For example, I often hear from people who say in so many words, “You used the ad hominem fallacy, therefore you’re wrong about everything,” not noticing that they’re indulging in an ad hominem argument.  

There’s a Subreddit called Selfawarewolves that collects examples of such proudly, blindly, blatant hypocrisy. I would have called that Reddit “Self-awary.” 

It’s natural to be wary of self-awareness. Self-awareness breeds self-consciousness, second-guessing, and doubt. That stuff is wonderful so long as other people do it. Your opponents should do it but you shouldn’t have to. It’s liberating to ignore your own critical thinking failures and you can if you focus on other people’s. Blare your police siren loud and you don’t have to hear yourself thinking. 

Related: Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: Why They Are Never Good Enough

I love critical thinking. Socrates is commonly regarded as its founder, a leader in doubt and questioning. Ironically, he’s also regarded as the founder of its opposite, the quest for absolute truth beyond all doubt and questioning. I embrace both goals but don’t believe they’re reachable. Since Socrates, we come to realize that we can’t doubt what we don’t know we assume and that there are no absolute truths immune to all doubt and questioning. 

Narcissistic Critical Thinkers
Narcissistic Critical Thinkers

I embrace Socrates most for his trouble with sophists, people who use critical thinking (logic, or logos) only to bash other people’s views, in other words, exploiting critical thinking as a gaslighter, narcissist, total arse’s arsenal. 

Sophistry is a pandemic these days. The world has gotten overwhelmingly complicated. It’s not comfortable to be self-aware and doubtful in our current sandstorm of doubt-generating possibilities. People are therefore naturally drawn to anything that makes them feel self-certain as though they’ve found the absolute truth beyond all doubt (here’s a short video about it). Declaring yourself a critical thinker comes in very handy that way. 

You can simply proclaim yourself a critical thinker without ever having any training in it or giving any thought to what the term means. Just ornament yourself in the critical thinking badge of authority because that’s what the cool kids are wearing. You’re a critical thinker because you say so. Just as someone posturing as a know-it-all doesn’t have to know much, someone posturing as a critical thinker doesn’t have to critical think much. 

In order to wear that badge proudly, it helps if you don’t critical-think your own beliefs. I call it “exempt by contempt.” You have such contempt for uncritical thinkers that you must be an expert on uncritical thinking and therefore exempt from it. “Moi! Uncritical?! Impossible! I hate uncritical thinking!”

That’s like playing the constant victim of unfairness, assuming that you’re an expert on unfairness and therefore exempting yourself from ever being accused of unfairness. “I’m fair-minded because I can always tell when someone is being unfair to me!”

Or you can proclaim yourself a critical thinker because you follow a leader who proclaims that they are. We find an example of this in the followers of Ayn Rand, who titled her philosophy “objectivist,” as though she had access to some privileged access to objective truth. To this day, her pulp cartoonish novels about objectivist heroes have readers and even leaders swooning all over themselves, identifying with the heroes, declaring themselves objective, and posturing as the fallacy police. 

Often people will fall for leaders who simply style themselves as critical thinkers, employing like the pied piper the rhetorical music of critical thinking, the upright posture, the parental scolding voice, the flattering clothing, without employing any real critical thinking other than to trounce all challenges to their uncritical self-certainty. 

Related: The Ten Narcissistic Commandments

Or you can take a course in critical thinking and get excited about it for the power it affords you to play fallibility police, armed to defend your gut-assumptions. Declare yourself an expert on critical thinking and take on the world! 

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Jeremy E. Sherman

Adjunct Professor, Rhetoric and Language, University of San Francisco I have a Ph.D. in evolutionary epistemology, and a masters in Public Policy. Call it my middle-age spread, I'm all over the life and social sciences. I've taught college level psych, sociology, English, Western Civ, cultural studies, business strategy, advertising. I'm part of a research team developing an new theory on the origins of life.View Author posts