A Beheaded Cart

(In Hebrew, the word “Agala” means both cart and the feminine form of calf. A beheaded calf is among the sacrificial offerings enumerated in the Bible).

My grandfather, cradling an infant’s crib, departed. Navigating left and right, far along the pavement, he reached a concrete, round, post. There he rested, sheltered from the humid sun by peeling posters for lachrymose Turkish films. He pushed the crib outside the penumbral circle and waited.

Curious folks besieged the old man and his orphaned frame and then proceeded to buy from him the salted seeds and sweets that he lay, meticulously organized, inside the crib. My grandfather smiled at them through sea-blue eyes, as he wrapped the purchased sweetmeats in rustling brown paper bags.

My embarrassed uncles built for him a creaking wooden cart from remaindered construction materials. They painted it green and mounted it on large, thin-tyred, wheels borrowed from an ancient pram. They attached to it a partitioned table-top confiscated from the greengrocer down the lane. Every morning, forehead wrinkled, my grandfather would fill the wooden compartments with  various snacks and trinkets, at pains to separate them neatly. Black sunflower seeds, white pumpkin seeds, the salted and the sweet, tiny plastic toys bursting with candies, whistles, and rattles.

Still, he never gave up his crib, installing it on top of his squeaking vehicle, and filling it to its tattered brim with a rainbow of offerings. At night, he stowed it under the cart, locking it behind its two crumbling doors, among the unsold merchandise.

With sunrise, my grandfather would exit the house and head towards the miniature plot of garden adjoining it. He would cross the patch, stepping carefully on a pebbled path in its midst. Then, sighing but never stooping, he would drive his green trolley – a tall and stout and handsome man, fair-skinned and sapphire-eyed. “A movie star” – they gasped behind his back. Day in and day out, he impelled his rickety pushcart to its concrete post, there dispensing to the children with a smile, a permanence till dusk. With sunset, he gathered his few goods, bolted the fledgling flaps, and pushed back home, a few steps away.

When he grew old, he added to his burden a stool with an attached umbrella, to shield him from the elements, and a greenish nylon sheet to protect his wares. He became a fixture in this town of my birth. His lime cart turned into a meeting spot – “by Pardo”, they would say, secure in the knowledge that he would always be there, erect and gracious. Like two forces of nature, my grandpa and the concrete post – older than the fading movie posters – watched the town transformed, roads asphalted, children turn adults, bringing their off-spring to buy from him a stick of bitter black chewing gum.

Lone by his cart, he bid the dead farewell and greeted the newborn, himself aging and bending. Creases sprouted in his face, around his dimming sights, and in his white and delicate hands.

My grandfather had one love: my grandmother. A ravishing, proud, raven-haired woman. A framed retouched photo of her hung, imposing, on one of the walls. In it she stood, defiant, leaning on a carved pillar in a faraway place. This is how he must have seen her at first: a mysterious, sad-eyed disparity between dark and fair. Thus he fell in love and made her his only world.

This woman sat by his side, adjacent to his azure pushcart, day in and day out. She said nothing and he remained mute. They just stared with vacuous eyes, perhaps away, perhaps inside, perhaps back, to previous abodes in bustling cities.

At first, she seemed to like being his sidekick, confidently doling confectionery to toddlers, whose mothers remained forever infants in her memory. Intermittently, she laid a shriveled hand on his venous knee, leaving it there for a split, fluttering, second, conveying warmth and withdrawing as unobtrusively. It was enough to restore him to his full stature. But then, the municipal workers came and pasted funereal announcements onto his concrete pole and the magic was all but gone.

My grandma withered, dilapidated by this onerous existence. Eveningtime, she would get up and carry her stool afore, clenched in two twiggy hands, tediously dragging her reluctant self on the long march home. My grandfather observed her, his eyes a moist, eroding guilt. His disintegrating pushcart, the rain-drenched figure of his loved one, the whizzing torment of the desert winds, the sound of the crackling paper bags in her arthritic palms – they all conspired to deny him his erstwhile memory of her.

Each morning, my grandfather woke up to study this ageless image as he glided over her translucent skin, high-arching cheeks, and sleep-fluttery eyelashes. He fended off the intrusions of the world as he smoothed the covers and tucked her figure in. Then, he would get up and make her breakfast, arranging ceremoniously her medicines in multicolored plastic containers on the tray.

But my grandma rejected his sunup pleas. She wouldn’t go on living. One silent morning, she clung to her sheets and wouldn’t rise and accompany him. That day, gray and defeated, my grandpa ploughed the pavement with his barrow, unfolded a worn deck chair, and sank in, awaiting my grandmother’s reappearance.

When she did not materialize, he left his post much earlier than usual. He emptied the compartments duteously, packed the unsold goods in large canvas sacks, tidying them away behind the two bottom doors of his cart. He then unfurled a polyester sheet above it and sailed home, shoving and cajoling his screeching and scraping workstation.

My grandma was in bed, as he had left her, ensconced in blankets, a suicidal tortoise, glaring at the ceiling as it bled in aqueous abstracts. My grandfather parked his rusting, faded, wagon and climbed home. His wife awoke with startled whimpers, tears streaming silently down her creviced face, tearing his heart with the iron grip of festering love. He hugged her and showered her with panicky little kisses.

She froze and fortified her berth with pillows piled high, staring at him through narrow cracks of oozing sanity.

One day, my grandpa, returning in the evening, left his cart outside, uncharacteristically. He entered and, for a few minutes, he and my grandmother just watched each other wearily. He extended a calloused hand and she dreamily stood up and escorted him to their porch, which overlooked the weed-grown garden.

My grandfather draped her shoulders with a knitted woolen shawl. He tightened it, and then, her shivering hand in his, he sat his love among some cushions he prepared. She glanced aimlessly at a guava tree that shot among the trail of graveled stones. My grandfather contemplated her awhile and then, with sudden resoluteness, left.

Seconds later he reappeared among the shrubs, saluted her with a sledgehammer he held tenuously with both hands. She strained her face, attentive, consuming his image, like a flower would the sun, or the blind do the sounds.

Gasping and panting, my grandpa heaved the pushcart to the center of the plot. With repeated, furious, blows, he dislocated its wheels and doors. Reduced to splintered wood and twisted metal, he cocooned it in the nylon throw and left it, devastated by the trees.

Sitting beside, they watched the setting sun diffracted from the green-hued sculpture in the garden. A smile budded in my grandma’s honeyed eyes and spread into my grandfather’s deep blue gaze.

The cart stood there for years, disintegrating inexorably beneath its blackening shield. Its wheels, now rooted in the soil, it sank into the mildewed ground, another, peculiarly shaped sapling. My grandpa never adjusted the synthetic sheet that swathed it, nor did he dig out the burgeoning wheels.

My grandpa was visiting a pharmacy, replenishing her medications, when my grandma died. With the dignity of the indigent, he never bargained, never raised his voice. Packed in small, white, paper bags, he rushed the doses to his wife, limping and winded.

This time the house was shuttered doors and windows. My grandma wouldn’t respond to his increasingly desperate entreaties. He flung himself against the entrance and found her sprawled on the floor, her bloodied mouth ajar. As she fell, she must have hit her head against the corner of a table. She was baking my grandfather his favorite pastries.

Her eyes were shut. My grandpa knew she died. He placed her remedies on the floured and oiled table and changed into his best attire. Kneeling beside her, he gently wiped clean my grandma’s hands and mouth and head and clothed her in her outdoors coat.

His business done, he lay besides her and, hugging her frail remains, he shut his eyes.

My uncles and aunts found them, lying like that, embraced.

My grandparents’ tiny home was government property and was reclaimed. The sanitary engineers, revolted, removed from the garden the worm-infested, rotting relic and the putrid sheet concealing it.

The next day, it was hauled by sturdy garbage collectors into a truck and, with assorted other junk, incinerated.

Read the Hebrew Original


Sam Vaknin


Back to Table of Contents



Download Free Anthologies


Poetry of Healing and Abuse


Journal of a Narcissist


Malignant Self Love Narcissism Revisited


After the Rain How the West Lost the East


A World in Conflict and Transition


Microsoft’s Encarta and MS Student 2008

While Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006 marked Microsoft’s commitment to the Web – Microsoft Encarta Premium 2007 marks its commitments to its own technology. The new Encarta relies on Microsoft’s powerful, flexible, scalable, and adaptable .Net Framework 2.0. There is a price to pay, of course: the time it takes to install the product is much longer and the user is henceforth prompted to constantly download security updates from Microsoft. It is also recommended to turn off your firewall and anti-virus products during installation.

More than ever, the Encarta is a breathtaking resource. With 68,000 articles (compared to 64,000 last year), it is much expanded (though about 1000 photos and illustrations and 500 music and sound clips were removed from this edition). Certain, resource-hogging features disappeared from last year (for example: the Read Aloud and Live News functions).

The Encarta caters effectively (and, at $30-50, affordably) to the educational needs of everyone in the family, from children as young as 7 or 8 years old to adults who seek concise answers to their queries. It is fun-filled, interactive, and colorful. Kids have their own encyclopedia-within-encyclopedia, dubbed Encarta Kids with age-appropriate, appetizingly presented content and games to boot!

The 2007 Encarta’s User Interface is far less cluttered than in previous editions. Content is arranged by topics and then by relevancy and medium. Add to this the Encarta’s Visual Browser and you get only relevant data in response to your queries. The Encarta Search Bar, which was integrated into the product two years ago, and is resident in the Task Pane even when Encarta is closed, enables users to search any part of the Encarta application (encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, etc).

The Encarta’s newish Web Companion obtains search results from all the major search engines without launching any additional applications (like a browser). Content from both the Encarta and the Web is presented side by side. This augmentation explicitly adopts the Internet and incorporates it as an important source of reference.

I am not sure how Microsoft solved the weighty and interesting issues of intellectual property that the Web Companion raises, though. Copyright-holders of Web content may feel that they have the right to be compensated by Microsoft for the use it makes of their wares in its commercial products.

Encarta would do well to also integrate with new desktop search tools from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. Users should be able to seamlessly access content from all over – their desktop, their encyclopedias, and the Web – using a single, intuitive interface.

The Encarta Premium includes a dictionary, thesaurus, chart maker, searchable index of quotations, games, Discovery Channel videos, 25,000 photos and illustrations, 2500 sound and audio clips, hundreds of maps and tables (with a staggering 1.8 million map locations), and 300 videos and animations. It incorporates numerous third-party texts and visuals (including hundreds of newspaper articles and a plethora of Scientific American features).

The Encarta is augmented by weekly or bi-weekly updates and the feature-rich online MSN Encarta Premium with its Homework Help offerings. Unfortunately, the Encarta still conditions some of its functions – notably its research tools and updates – on registration with its Plus Club. Moreover, last year Encarta released only 26 updates, compared to its annual average of 50-60.

The Encarta is the most comprehensive, PC-orientated reference experience there is. No wonder it has an all-pervasive hold on and ubiquitous penetration of the child-to-young adult markets. Particularly enchanting is the aforementioned Encarta Kids interface – an area replete with interactive quizzes, pictures, large icons, hundreds of articles, and links to the full version of the Encarta. A veritable and colorful sandbox. Those kids are going to get addicted to the Encarta, that’s for sure!

Encarta actively encourages fun-filled browsing. It is a riot of colors, sidebars, videos, audio clips, photos, embedded links, literature, Web resources, and quizzes. It is a product of the age of mass communication, a desktop extension of television and the Internet.

Inevitably, in such a mammoth undertaking, not everything is peachy. A few gripes:

As I said, installation is not as easy as before. The Encarta 2007 makes use of Microsoft’s .Net technology. As most home computers lack it, the installer insists on adding it to the anyhow bloated Windows Operating System. There is worse to come: the .Net version installed by Encarta 2007 is plagued with security holes and vulnerabilities. Users have to download service packs and patches from Windows Update if they do not wish to run the risk of having their computers compromised by hackers.

Fully installed on the hard disk, the Encarta Premium 2007 gobbles up less than its predecessors but still a whopping 3 Gb. That’s a lot – even in an age of ever cheaper storage. Most homesteads still sport PCs with 20-40 Gb hard disks. This makes the Encarta less suitable for installation on older PCs and on many laptops. 

The Encarta DVD 3-D tours have improved but they still hog computer resources and are essentially non-interactive. Is it worth the investment and the risk to the stability and performance of the user’s computer?

The Encarta tries to cater to the needs of challenged users, such as the visually-impaired – but it is far from doing a good or full job of it.

The dictionary has been greatly improved in this edition. Actually, the Encarta 2007 comes equipped with five foreign language dictionaries and verb conjugating applications. Still, the atlas, English language dictionary, and thesaurus incorporated in the Encarta are somewhat outdated. Why not use a more current – and dynamically updated – offering? What about dictionaries for specialty terms (medical or computer glossaries, for instance)? The Encarta’s New English Dictionary dropped a glossary of computer terms it used to include back in 2001. All’s the pity.

But that’s it. Encarta is a must-buy (especially if you have children). The Encarta is the best value for money around and significantly enhances you access to knowledge and wisdom accumulated over centuries all over the world. The amount and quality of content squeezed into a $50 package (before rebate) defies belief. I am a 45 years old adult but when I received my Encarta Premium 2007, I was once more a child in a land of wonders. How much is such an experience worth to you?

Microsoft Student 2008

Homework assignments are the bane of most students I know (not to mention their hard-pressed and nescient parents). This is mainly because of the tedious and mind-numbing chores of data mining and composition. Additionally, as knowledge multiplies every 5-10 years, few parents and teachers are able to keep up.

Enter Microsoft Student 2008: a productivity suite which includes English and foreign language dictionaries, thesaurus, quotations library, assignment templates, tutorials, graphing calculator software and a Web Companion. MS Student comes replete with the entire Encarta Premium 2008 encyclopedia and its dynamic atlas and provides online access to the feature-rich MSN Encarta Premium through October 2008.

The previous versions of Encarta included a host of homework tools. Two years ago, these have evolved into a separate product called Microsoft Student. Since then, it has been gainfully repackaged and very much enhanced. This year, for the first time, MS Student can be downloaded from the Web or purchased as a standalone, packaged product (DVD only).

Among the new or revamped features: free online access to MSN Encarta Premium, Step-by-Step Math Solutions calculator, Step-by-Step Math Textbook Solutions, Triangle Solver, Equations Library, tutorials, and foreign language help.

To augment the performance of MS Student 2008, Microsoft offers “Learning Essentials”: preformatted report and presentation templates and tutorials designed for Microsoft Office XP and later. MS Student’s templates are actually clever adaptations of the popular Office suite of products: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. They help the student produce homework plans and schedules, science projects, book reports, presentations, research reports, charts, and analyses of problems in math, physics, and chemistry. Detailed step-by-step tutorials, Quick Starters, and pop-up toolbars (menus) guide the student along the way in a friendly, non-intrusive manner.

The Ace in MS Student’s deck is Microsoft Math. It is a seemingly endless anthology of tools, tutorials and instruction sheets on how to grasp mathematical concepts and solve math problems, from the most basic (e.g., fractions) to mid-level difficulty (e.g., trigonometric functions). And if this is not enough, there’s free access to HotMath, an online collection of math study aides and problem solvers.

The graphing calculator is a wonder. It has both 2-D and 3-D capabilities and makes use of the full screen. Aided by an extensive Equations Library, it does everything except cook: trigonometry, calculus, math, charting, geometry, physics, and  chemistry. And everything in full color! Triangles get special treatment in the Triangle Solver. The most vexing trilateral relationships and rules are rendered simple through the use of enhanced graphics. The Equation Library, though, is disappointing. It holds only 100 equations and calculus is sorely neglected throughout.

MS Student provides a powerful English-Spanish-French-German-Italian dictionary. It helps the student to translate and conjugate verbs. The synergy between this product and the impressive foreign language capabilities of MS Word creates an effective language laboratory which allows the user to study the languages up to the point of completing assignments using specialized foreign-language templates.

For the student keen on the liberal arts and the humanities, Student 2008 provides detailed Book Summaries of almost 1000 classic works. Besides plot synopses, the student gets acquainted with the author’s life, themes and characters in the tomes, and ideas for book reports.

Similar to the Encarta, MS Student’s Web Companion obtains search results from all the major search engines without launching any additional applications (such as a browser). Content from both the Encyclopedia and the Web is presented side by side. This augmentation explicitly adopts the Internet and incorporates it as an important source of reference – as 80% of students have already done.

I am not sure how Microsoft solved the weighty and interesting issues of intellectual property that the Web Companion raises, though. Copyright-holders of Web content may feel that they have the right to be compensated by Microsoft for the use it makes of their wares in its commercial products.

MS Student would do well to also integrate with desktop search tools from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. Students will benefit from seamless access to content from all over – their desktop, their encyclopedias, and the Web – using a single, intuitive interface.

Microsoft would do well to incorporate collaborative and Web publishing tools in this product. MS Student does not equip and empower the student to collaborate with teachers and classmates on class projects and to seamlessly publish his or her results and work on the Web. Future editions would do well to incorporate a NetMeeting-like module, a wiki interface, and an HTML editor.

All in all, MS Student 2008 is a great contribution to learning. Inevitably, it has a few flaws and glitches.

Start with the price. As productivity suites go, it is reasonably priced had its target population been adult professional users. But, at $50-100 (depending on the country), it is beyond the reach of most poor students and parents – its most immediate market niches.

MS Student 2008 makes use of Microsoft’s .Net technology. As most home computers lack it, the installer insists on adding it to the anyhow bloated Windows Operating System. There is worse to come: the .Net version installed by MS Student 2008 is plagued with security holes and vulnerabilities. Users have to download service packs and patches from Windows Update if they do not wish to run the risk of having their computers compromised by hackers.

Fully installed on the hard disk, MS Student 2008, like its predecessors, gobbles up a whopping 4 Gb. That’s a lot – even in an age of ever cheaper storage. Most homesteads still sport PCs with 40-80 Gb hard disks. This makes MS Student less suitable for installation on older PCs and on many laptops. 

Finally, there is the question of personal creativity and originality. Luckily, MS Student does not spoon-feed its users. It does not substitute for thinking or for study. On the contrary, by providing structured stimuli, it encourages the student to express his or her ideas. It does not do the homework assignments for the student – it merely helps rid them of time-consuming and machine-like functions. And it opens up to both student and family the wonderful twin universes of knowledge: the Encarta and the Web.

Also Read:

The Six Sins of the Wikipedia

Microsoft’s Encarta and MS Student 2007

The Britannica 2007 Opens to the Web

Old Reference Works Revived

The Encyclopedia Britannica 2006

Revolt of the Scholars

The Idea of Reference

The Future of the Book

The Kidnapping of Content

The Internet and the Library

Interview with Tom Panelas

The Future of Online Reference

Will Content Ever be Profitable?

The Disintermediation of Content

The Future of Electronic Publishing

Battle of the Titans – Encarta vs. the Britannica

Free Online Scholarship – Interview with Peter Suber

Microsoft Embraces the Web – Encarta and MS Student 2006

Eugenics and the Future of the Human Species

“It is clear that modern medicine has created a serious dilemma … In the past, there were many children who never survived – they succumbed to various diseases … But in a sense modern medicine has put natural selection out of commission. Something that has helped one individual over a serious illness can in the long run contribute to weakening the resistance of the whole human race to certain diseases. If we pay absolutely no attention to what is called hereditary hygiene, we could find ourselves facing a degeneration of the human race. Mankind’s hereditary potential for resisting serious disease will be weakened.”

Jostein Gaarder in “Sophie’s World”, a bestselling philosophy textbook for adolescents published in Oslo, Norway, in 1991 and, afterwards, throughout the world, having been translated to dozens of languages.

The Nazis regarded the murder of the feeble-minded and the mentally insane – intended to purify the race and maintain hereditary hygiene – as a form of euthanasia. German doctors were enthusiastic proponents of an eugenics movements rooted in 19th century social Darwinism. Luke Gormally writes, in his essay “Walton, Davies, and Boyd” (published in “Euthanasia Examined – Ethical, Clinical, and Legal Perspectives”, ed. John Keown, Cambridge University Press, 1995):

“When the jurist Karl Binding and the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche published their tract The Permission to Destroy Life that is Not Worth Living in 1920 … their motive was to rid society of the ‘human ballast and enormous economic burden’ of care for the mentally ill, the handicapped, retarded and deformed children, and the incurably ill. But the reason they invoked to justify the killing of human beings who fell into these categories was that the lives of such human beings were ‘not worth living’, were ‘devoid of value'”

It is this association with the hideous Nazi regime that gave eugenics – a term coined by a relative of Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton, in 1883 – its bad name. Richard Lynn, of the University of Ulster of North Ireland, thinks that this recoil resulted in “Dysgenics – the genetic deterioration of modern (human) population”, as the title of his controversial tome puts it.

The crux of the argument for eugenics is that a host of technological, cultural, and social developments conspired to give rise to negative selection of the weakest, least intelligent, sickest, the habitually criminal, the sexually deviant, the mentally-ill, and the least adapted.

Contraception is more widely used by the affluent and the well-educated than by the destitute and dull. Birth control as practiced in places like China distorted both the sex distribution in the cities – and increased the weight of the rural population (rural couples in China are allowed to have two children rather than the urban one).

Modern medicine and the welfare state collaborate in sustaining alive individuals – mainly the mentally retarded, the mentally ill, the sick, and the genetically defective – who would otherwise have been culled by natural selection to the betterment of the entire species.

Eugenics may be based on a literal understanding of Darwin’s metaphor.

The 2002 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say:

“Darwin’s description of the process of natural selection as the survival of the fittest in the struggle for life is a metaphor. ‘Struggle’ does not necessarily mean contention, strife, or combat; ‘survival’ does not mean that ravages of death are needed to make the selection effective; and ‘fittest’ is virtually never a single optimal genotype but rather an array of genotypes that collectively enhance population survival rather than extinction. All these considerations are most apposite to consideration of natural selection in humans. Decreasing infant and childhood mortality rates do not necessarily mean that natural selection in the human species no longer operates. Theoretically, natural selection could be very effective if all the children born reached maturity. Two conditions are needed to make this theoretical possibility realized: first, variation in the number of children per family and, second, variation correlated with the genetic properties of the parents. Neither of these conditions is farfetched.”

The eugenics debate is only the visible extremity of the Man vs. Nature conundrum. Have we truly conquered nature and extracted ourselves from its determinism? Have we graduated from natural to cultural evolution, from natural to artificial selection, and from genes to memes?

Does the evolutionary process culminate in a being that transcends its genetic baggage, that programs and charts its future, and that allows its weakest and sickest to survive? Supplanting the imperative of the survival of the fittest with a culturally-sensitive principle may be the hallmark of a successful evolution, rather than the beginning of an inexorable decline.

The eugenics movement turns this argument on its head. They accept the premise that the contribution of natural selection to the makeup of future human generations is glacial and negligible. But they reject the conclusion that, having ridden ourselves of its tyranny, we can now let the weak and sick among us survive and multiply. Rather, they propose to replace natural selection with eugenics.

But who, by which authority, and according to what guidelines will administer this man-made culling and decide who is to live and who is to die, who is to breed and who may not? Why select by intelligence and not by courtesy or altruism or church-going – or al of them together? It is here that eugenics fails miserably. Should the criterion be physical, like in ancient Sparta? Should it be mental? Should IQ determine one’s fate – or social status or wealth? Different answers yield disparate eugenic programs and target dissimilar groups in the population.

Aren’t eugenic criteria liable to be unduly influenced by fashion and cultural bias? Can we agree on a universal eugenic agenda in a world as ethnically and culturally diverse as ours? If we do get it wrong – and the chances are overwhelming – will we not damage our gene pool irreparably and, with it, the future of our species?

And even if many will avoid a slippery slope leading from eugenics to active extermination of “inferior” groups in the general population – can we guarantee that everyone will? How to prevent eugenics from being appropriated by an intrusive, authoritarian, or even murderous state?

Modern eugenicists distance themselves from the crude methods adopted at the beginning of the last century by 29 countries, including Germany, The United States, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Venezuela, Estonia, Argentina, Norway, Denmark, Sweden (until 1976), Brazil, Italy, Greece, and Spain.

They talk about free contraceptives for low-IQ women, vasectomies or tubal ligations for criminals, sperm banks with contributions from high achievers, and incentives for college students to procreate. Modern genetic engineering and biotechnology are readily applicable to eugenic projects. Cloning can serve to preserve the genes of the fittest. Embryo selection and prenatal diagnosis of genetically diseased embryos can reduce the number of the unfit.

But even these innocuous variants of eugenics fly in the face of liberalism. Inequality, claim the proponents of hereditary amelioration, is genetic, not environmental. All men are created unequal and as much subject to the natural laws of heredity as are cows and bees. Inferior people give birth to inferior offspring and, thus, propagate their inferiority.

Even if this were true – which is at best debatable – the question is whether the inferior specimen of our species possess the inalienable right to reproduce? If society is to bear the costs of over-population – social welfare, medical care, daycare centers – then society has the right to regulate procreation. But does it have the right to act discriminately in doing so?

Another dilemma is whether we have the moral right – let alone the necessary knowledge – to interfere with natural as well as social and demographic trends. Eugenicists counter that contraception and indiscriminate medicine already do just that. Yet, studies show that the more affluent and educated a population becomes – the less fecund it is. Birth rates throughout the world have dropped dramatically already.

Instead of culling the great unwashed and the unworthy – wouldn’t it be a better idea to educate them (or their off-spring) and provide them with economic opportunities (euthenics rather than eugenics)? Human populations seem to self-regulate. A gentle and persistent nudge in the right direction – of increased affluence and better schooling – might achieve more than a hundred eugenic programs, voluntary or compulsory.

That eugenics presents itself not merely as a biological-social agenda, but as a panacea, ought to arouse suspicion. The typical eugenics text reads more like a catechism than a reasoned argument. Previous all-encompassing and omnicompetent plans tended to end traumatically – especially when they contrasted a human elite with a dispensable underclass of persons.

Above all, eugenics is about human hubris. To presume to know better than the lottery of life is haughty. Modern medicine largely obviates the need for eugenics in that it allows even genetically defective people to lead pretty normal lives. Of course, Man himself – being part of Nature – may be regarded as nothing more than an agent of natural selection. Still, many of the arguments advanced in favor of eugenics can be turned against it with embarrassing ease.

Consider sick children. True, they are a burden to society and a probable menace to the gene pool of the species. But they also inhibit further reproduction in their family by consuming the financial and mental resources of the parents. Their genes – however flawed – contribute to genetic diversity. Even a badly mutated phenotype sometimes yields precious scientific knowledge and an interesting genotype.

The implicit Weltbild of eugenics is static – but the real world is dynamic. There is no such thing as a “correct” genetic makeup towards which we must all strive. A combination of genes may be perfectly adaptable to one environment – but woefully inadequate in another. It is therefore prudent to encourage genetic diversity or polymorphism.

The more rapidly the world changes, the greater the value of mutations of all sorts. One never knows whether today’s maladaptation will not prove to be tomorrow’s winner. Ecosystems are invariably comprised of niches and different genes – even mutated ones – may fit different niches.

In the 18th century most peppered moths in Britain were silvery gray, indistinguishable from lichen-covered trunks of silver birches – their habitat. Darker moths were gobbled up by rapacious birds. Their mutated genes proved to be lethal. As soot from sprouting factories blackened these trunks – the very same genes, hitherto fatal, became an unmitigated blessing. The blacker specimen survived while their hitherto perfectly adapted fairer brethren perished (“industrial melanism”). This mode of natural selection is called directional.

Moreover, “bad” genes are often connected to “desirable genes” (pleitropy). Sickle cell anemia protects certain African tribes against malaria. This is called “diversifying or disruptive natural selection”. Artificial selection can thus fast deteriorate into adverse selection due to ignorance.

Modern eugenics relies on statistics. It is no longer concerned with causes – but with phenomena and the likely effects of intervention. If the adverse traits of off-spring and parents are strongly correlated – then preventing parents with certain undesirable qualities from multiplying will surely reduce the incidence of said dispositions in the general population. Yet, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. The manipulation of one parameter of the correlation does not inevitably alter it – or the incidence of the outcome.

Eugenicists often hark back to wisdom garnered by generations of breeders and farmers. But the unequivocal lesson of thousands of years of artificial selection is that cross-breeding (hybridization) – even of two lines of inferior genetic stock – yields valuable genotypes. Inter-marriage between races, groups in the population, ethnic groups, and clans is thus bound to improve the species’ chances of survival more than any eugenic scheme.

Also Read:

The Aborted Contract

The Myth of the Right to Life

Euthanasia and the Right to Die

And Then There were Too Many

In Our Own Image – The Debate about Cloning

Narcissist, Beware the Children

“… I should be unhappy … having to put up indefinitely with the company of other children, their noise, their nastiness, their boasting, their back-answers, their cruelty, their silliness … The realization that it was not people I disliked but children was for me one of those celebrated moments of revelation …”

(Philip Larkin, Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982, Faber, 1983, p. 111)

I see in children feigned innocence, relentless and ruthless manipulation, the cunning of the weak. They are ageless. Their
narcissism is disarming in its directness, in its cruel and absolute lack of empathy. They demand with insistence, punish absent-mindedly, idealize and devalue capriciously. They have no loyalty. They do not love, they cling. Their dependence is a mighty weapon and their neediness – a drug. They have no time, neither before, nor after. To them, existence is a play, they are the actors, and we all – are but the props. They raise and drop the curtain of their mock emotions at will. The bells of their laughter often tintinnabulate. They are the fresh abode of good and evil pure and pure they are.

Children, to me, are both mirrors and competitors. They reflect authentically my constant need for adulation and attention. Their grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are crass caricatures of my internal world. The way they abuse others and mistreat them hits close to home. Their innocuous charm, their endless curiosity, their fount of energy, their sulking, nagging, boasting, bragging, lying, and manipulating are mutations of my own behaviour. I recognize my thwarted self in them. When they make their entrance, all attention is diverted. Their fantasies endear them to their listeners. Their vainglorious swagger often causes smiles. Their trite stupidities are invariably treated as pearls of wisdom. Their nagging is yielded to, their threats provoke to action, their needs accommodated urgently. I stand aside, an abandoned centre of attention, the dormant eye of an intellectual storm, all but ignored and neglected. I watch the child with envy, with rage, with wrath. I hate its effortless ability to defeat me.

Children are loved by mothers, as I was not. They are bundled emotions, and happiness and hope. I am jealous of them, I am infuriated by my deprivation, I am fearful of the sadness and hopelessness that they provoke in me. Like music, they reify a threat to the precariously balanced emotional black hole that is myself. They are my past, my dilapidated and petrified True Self, my wasted potentials, my self-loathing and my defences. They are my pathology projected. I revel in my Orwellian narcissistic newspeak. Love is weakness, happiness is a psychosis, hope is malignant optimism. Children defy all this. They are proof positive of how different it could all have been.

But what I consciously experience is disbelief. I cannot understand how anyone can love these thuggish brats, their dripping noses, gelatinous fat bodies, whitish sweat, and bad breath. How can anyone stand their cruelty and vanity, their sadistic insistence and blackmail, their prevarication and deceit? In truth, no one except their parents can.

Children are always derided by everyone except their parents. There is something sick and sickening in a mother’s affections. There is a maddening blindness involved, an addiction, a psychotic episode, it’s sick, this bond, it’s nauseous. I hate children. I hate them for being me.

Also read

Narcissistic Parents

Beware the Children

Leveraging the Children

Tell Your Children the Truth

The Roots of Pedophilia

The Incest Taboo

What is Abuse (series)

Abuse in the Family (series)

Parenthood – The Irrational Vocation

The Genetic Underpinnings of Narcissism

Parenting – The Irrational Vocation

The advent of cloning, surrogate motherhood, and the donation of gametes and sperm have shaken the traditional biological definition of parenthood to its foundations. The social roles of parents have similarly been recast by the decline of the nuclear family and the surge of alternative household formats.

Why do people become parents in the first place?

Raising children comprises equal measures of satisfaction and frustration. Parents often employ a psychological defense mechanism – known as “cognitive dissonance” – to suppress the negative aspects of parenting and to deny the unpalatable fact that raising children is time consuming, exhausting, and strains otherwise pleasurable and tranquil relationships to their limits.

Not to mention the fact that the gestational mother experiences “considerable discomfort, effort, and risk in the course of pregnancy and childbirth” (Narayan, U., and J.J. Bartkowiak (1999) Having and Raising Children: Unconventional Families, Hard Choices, and the Social Good University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, Quoted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Parenting is possibly an irrational vocation, but humanity keeps breeding and procreating. It may well be the call of nature. All living species reproduce and most of them parent. Is maternity (and paternity) proof that, beneath the ephemeral veneer of civilization, we are still merely a kind of beast, subject to the impulses and hard-wired behavior that permeate the rest of the animal kingdom?

In his seminal tome, “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins suggested that we copulate in order to preserve our genetic material by embedding it in the future gene pool. Survival itself – whether in the form of DNA, or, on a higher-level, as a species – determines our parenting instinct. Breeding and nurturing the young are mere safe conduct mechanisms, handing the precious cargo of genetics down generations of “organic containers”.

Yet, surely, to ignore the epistemological and emotional realities of parenthood is misleadingly reductionistic. Moreover, Dawkins commits the scientific faux-pas of teleology. Nature has no purpose “in mind”, mainly because it has no mind. Things simply are, period. That genes end up being forwarded in time does not entail that Nature (or, for that matter, “God”) planned it this way. Arguments from design have long – and convincingly – been refuted by countless philosophers. 

Still, human beings do act intentionally. Back to square one: why bring children to the world and burden ourselves with decades of commitment to perfect strangers?

First hypothesis: offspring allow us to “delay” death. Our progeny are the medium through which our genetic material is propagated and immortalized. Additionally, by remembering us, our children “keep us alive” after physical death. 

These, of course, are self-delusional, self-serving, illusions. 

Our genetic material gets diluted with time. While it constitutes 50% of the first generation – it amounts to a measly 6% three generations later. If the everlastingness of one’s unadulterated DNA was the paramount concern – incest would have been the norm.

As for one’s enduring memory – well, do you recall or can you name your maternal or paternal great great grandfather? Of course you can’t. So much for that. Intellectual feats or architectural monuments are far more potent mementos.

Still, we have been so well-indoctrinated that this misconception – that children equal immortality – yields a baby boom in each post war period. Having been existentially threatened, people multiply in the vain belief that they thus best protect their genetic heritage and their memory.

Let’s study another explanation.

The utilitarian view is that one’s offspring are an asset – kind of pension plan and insurance policy rolled into one. Children are still treated as a yielding property in many parts of the world. They plough fields and do menial jobs very effectively. People “hedge their bets” by bringing multiple copies of themselves to the world. Indeed, as infant mortality plunges – in the better-educated, higher income parts of the world – so does fecundity.

In the Western world, though, children have long ceased to be a profitable proposition. At present, they are more of an economic drag and a liability. Many continue to live with their parents into their thirties and consume the family’s savings in college tuition, sumptuous weddings, expensive divorces, and parasitic habits. Alternatively, increasing mobility breaks families apart at an early stage. Either way, children are not longer the founts of emotional sustenance and monetary support they allegedly used to be.

How about this one then:

Procreation serves to preserve the cohesiveness of the family nucleus. It further bonds father to mother and strengthens the ties between siblings. Or is it the other way around and a cohesive and warm family is conductive to reproduction?

Both statements, alas, are false.

Stable and functional families sport far fewer children than abnormal or dysfunctional ones. Between one third and one half  of all children are born in single parent or in other non-traditional, non-nuclear – typically poor and under-educated – households. In such families children are mostly born unwanted and unwelcome – the sad outcomes of accidents and mishaps, wrong fertility planning, lust gone awry and misguided turns of events.

The more sexually active people are and the less safe their desirous exploits – the more they are likely to end up with a bundle of joy (the American saccharine expression for a newborn). Many children are the results of sexual ignorance, bad timing, and a vigorous and undisciplined sexual drive among teenagers, the poor, and the less educated.

Still, there is no denying that most people want their kids and love them. They are attached to them and experience grief and bereavement when they die, depart, or are sick. Most parents find parenthood emotionally fulfilling, happiness-inducing, and highly satisfying. This pertains even to unplanned and initially unwanted new arrivals.

Could this be the missing link? Do fatherhood and motherhood revolve around self-gratification? Does it all boil down to the pleasure principle?

Childrearing may, indeed, be habit forming. Nine months of pregnancy and a host of social positive reinforcements and expectations condition the parents to do the job. Still, a living tot is nothing like the abstract concept. Babies cry, soil themselves and their environment, stink, and severely disrupt the lives of their parents. Nothing too enticing here.

One’s spawns are a risky venture. So many things can and do go wrong. So few expectations, wishes, and dreams are realized. So much pain is inflicted on the parents. And then the child runs off and his procreators are left to face the “empty nest”. The emotional “returns” on a child are rarely commensurate with the magnitude of the investment.

If you eliminate the impossible, what is left – however improbable – must be the truth. People multiply because it provides them with narcissistic supply.

A Narcissist is a person who projects a (false) image unto others and uses the interest this generates to regulate a labile and grandiose sense of self-worth. The reactions garnered by the narcissist – attention, unconditional acceptance, adulation, admiration, affirmation – are collectively known as “narcissistic supply”. The narcissist objectifies people and treats them as mere instruments of gratification.

Infants go through a phase of unbridled fantasy, tyrannical behavior, and perceived omnipotence. An adult narcissist, in other words, is still stuck in his “terrible twos” and is possessed with the emotional maturity of a toddler. To some degree, we are all narcissists. Yet, as we grow, we learn to empathize and to love ourselves and others.

This edifice of maturity is severely tested by newfound parenthood.

Babies evokes in the parent the most primordial drives, protective, animalistic instincts, the desire to merge with the newborn and a sense of terror generated by such a desire (a fear of vanishing and of being assimilated). Neonates engender in their parents an emotional regression.

The parents find themselves revisiting their own childhood even as they are caring for the newborn. The crumbling of decades and layers of personal growth is accompanied by a resurgence of the aforementioned early infancy narcissistic defenses. Parents – especially new ones – are gradually transformed into narcissists by this encounter and find in their children the perfect sources of narcissistic supply, euphemistically known as love. Really it is a form of symbiotic codependence of both parties.

Even the most balanced, most mature, most psychodynamically stable of parents finds such a flood of narcissistic supply irresistible and addictive. It enhances his or her self-confidence, buttresses self esteem, regulates the sense of self-worth, and projects a complimentary image of the parent to himself or herself.

It fast becomes indispensable, especially in the emotionally vulnerable position in which the parent finds herself, with the reawakening and repetition of all the unresolved conflicts that she had with her own parents.

If this theory is true, if breeding is merely about securing prime quality narcissistic supply, then the higher the self confidence, the self esteem, the self worth of the parent, the clearer and more realistic his self image, and the more abundant his other sources of narcissistic supply – the fewer children he will have. These predictions are borne out by reality.

The higher the education and the income of adults – and, consequently, the firmer their sense of self worth – the fewer children they have. Children are perceived as counter-productive: not only is their output (narcissistic supply) redundant, they hinder the parent’s professional and pecuniary progress.

The more children people can economically afford – the fewer they have. This gives the lie to the Selfish Gene hypothesis. The more educated they are, the more they know about the world and about themselves, the less they seek to procreate. The more advanced the civilization, the more efforts it invests in preventing the birth of children. Contraceptives, family planning, and abortions are typical of affluent, well informed societies.

The more plentiful the narcissistic supply afforded by other sources – the lesser the emphasis on breeding. Freud described the mechanism of sublimation: the sex drive, the Eros (libido), can be “converted”, “sublimated” into other activities. All the sublimatory channels – politics and art, for instance – are narcissistic and yield narcissistic supply. They render children superfluous. Creative people have fewer children than the average or none at all. This is because they are narcissistically self sufficient.

The key to our determination to have children is our wish to experience the same unconditional love that we received from our mothers, this intoxicating feeling of being adored without caveats, for what we are, with no limits, reservations, or calculations. This is the most powerful, crystallized form of narcissistic supply. It nourishes our self-love, self worth and self-confidence. It infuses us with feelings of omnipotence and omniscience. In these, and other respects, parenthood is a return to infancy.

Also read

 Beware the Children

The Narcissist’s Mother

Born Alien

The Development of Narcissists and Schizoids

The Content Downloader’s Profile

Interview granted to Tim Emmerling, a student at Eastern Illinois University.

Q. What do you know about people illegally downloading files over the internet?

A. I know what everyone knows from being exposed to the news media and to lawsuits filed by publishers: the phenomenon is widespread and most of the millions of exchanged files are music tracks and films (though book rip-offs are not unknown as well).

Q. Why do you think people are taking part in these electronic transactions? Does the cost of purchasing the media come into play?

A. It’s a complex canvass of motivations, I guess. Many media products (especially in developing and poor countries) are overpriced in terms of the local purchasing power. Illegally downloading them is often an act of protest or defiance against what disgruntled consumers perceive as excessive profiteering. It may also be the only realistic way to gain ownership of coveted content.

The fact that everything – from text to images – is digital makes replication facile and enticing. Illegal downloading also probably confers an aura of daring and mystique on the “pirates” involved (whose life may otherwise be a lot drearier and mundane).

Additionally, these products resemble public goods in that they are nonrivalrous (the cost of extending the service or providing the good to another person is (close to) zero) and largely nonexcludable.

Most products are rivalrous (scarce) – zero sum games. Having been consumed, they are gone and are not available to others. Public goods, in contrast, are accessible to growing numbers of people without any additional marginal cost. This wide dispersion of benefits renders them unsuitable for private entrepreneurship. It is impossible to recapture the full returns they engender. As Samuelson observed, they are extreme forms of positive externalities (spillover effects).

Moreover, it is impossible to exclude anyone from enjoying the benefits of a public good, or from defraying its costs (positive and negative externalities). Neither can anyone willingly exclude himself from their remit.

Needless to emphasize that media products are not public goods at all! They only superficially resemble public goods. Still, the fact that many books, music, and some films are, indeed, in the public domain further exacerbates the consumer’s confusion. “Why can I (legally) download certain books and music tracks free of charge – but not others?” – wonders the baffled surfer, who is rarely versed in the intricacies of copyright laws.

Q. Do you think this leads to a feeling of disrespect toward the various pieces of media by the person that steals it so frequently? (If I download music all the time, will I lose interest in it?)

A. I am not sure that the word “respect” is relevant here. People don’t respect or disrespect music – they enjoy it, like it, or dislike it. But frequent illegal downloading of media products is, probably, the outcome of disrespect towards content intermediaries such as publishers, producers, and retail outlets. I don’t know for sure because there is no research to guide us in this matter, but I would imagine that these people (wrongly) perceive content intermediaries as parasitic and avaricious.

Q. Downloading is still a widespread act today. The threats of lawsuits and legal action against downloaders hasn’t stopped the problem. What, in your opinion, needs to be done to stop this behavior?

A. Law enforcement activities and lawsuits are already having an effect. But you cannot prosecute thousands of people on a regular basis without suffering a commensurate drop in popularity and a tarnished image. People do not perceive these acts as self-defense but as David vs. Goliath bullying. Sooner or later, the efficacy of such measures is bound to decline.

Media companies would do better to adopt new technologies rather than fight them. They must come forth with new business models and new venues of dissemination of content. They have to show more generosity in the management of digital rights. They have to adopt differential pricing of their products across the board, to reflect disparities in earnings and purchasing power in the global marketplace. They have to transform themselves rather than try to coerce the world into their antiquated and Procrustean ways of doing things.

Q. Psychologically speaking, is there a certain kind of person who is more likely to take part in this behavior? Do you feel that this is a generational issue?

A. I cannot but speculate. There is a dearth of data at this early stage. I would imagine that illegal downloaders are hoarders. They are into owning things rather than into using or consuming them. They are into building libraries and collections. They are young and intelligent, but not affluent. They are irreverent, rebellious, and non-conformist. They may be loners who network socially only online. Some of them love culture and its artifacts but they need not be particularly computer-savvy. 

Also Read:

Differential Pricing

Revolt of the Scholars

The Future of the Book

The Second Gutenberg

Microsoft’s Third Front

The Medium and the Message

The Kidnapping of Content

The Internet and the Library

Germany’s Copyright Levy

Project Gutenberg’s Anabasis

Will Content Ever be Profitable?

The Disintermediation of Content

The Future of Electronic Publishing

The Case of the Compressed Image

Free Online Scholarship – Interview with Peter Suber

The E-book Evangelist – Interview with Glenn Sanders

The Disruptive Engine – Innovation and the Capitalist Dream

The Butterflies are Laughing

My parents’ home, it is dusk time, and I am climbing to the attic. I settle on my childhood’s sofa, whose unraveled corners reveal its faded and lumpy stuffing. The wooden armrests are dark and bear the scratchy marks of little hands. I contemplate these blemishes, set bright against the deep, brown planks, and am reminded of my past. A light ray meanders diagonally across the carpet. The air is Flemish. The fitting light, the shades, the atmosphere.

There is a watercolor on an easel of a thickset forest with towering and murky trees. A carriage frozen in a clearing, a burly driver, looking towards nowhere, as though there’s nothing left to see. No light, no shadows, just a black-singed mass of foliage and an incandescent, sallow horse.

My little brother lies bleeding on the rug. Two gory rivulets, two injured wrists, delineate a perfect circle. They cross his ashen palms and waxen, twitching fingers. It may be a call for help but I have been hard of hearing.

I crouch beside him and inspect the wounds. They are shallow but profuse. Red pain has broken past his skin, his face is wrinkled. I wipe him gently, trying not to hurt.

He stares at me, eyes of a gammy colt awaiting the delivering shot. He radiates the kind of gloom that spans the room and makes me giddy. I cower to my heels, then squat beside him, caressing his silent scream. My palms are warm.

We while the time. His frothy exhalations, my measured air inhaled, our lungs entwined in the proliferating density. The volumes of my childhood mob the shelves, their bindings blue and rigid.

I look at him and tell him it’s alright, he shouldn’t worry. A mere nineteen, he gives me a senescent smile and nods in frailty. He grasps it all, too much. Shortly, I may have to lift him in my arms and set him on the couch. We are not alone. Echoes of people downstairs. I can’t tell who. Mother, our sister, Nomi perhaps. Someone arrives and sparks excited speech and lengthy silences.

I descend the steps, some hasty greetings, I stuff a roll of coarse, green toilet paper in my pants. Back to the horror, to frisk around the crimson wreckage. I wipe my brother wrathfully from floor and carpet and from couch, reducing him to a ubiquity of chestnut stains. I am not content. He is writhing on the inlay, attempting tears. It’s futile, I know. We both forgot the art of crying, except from torn veins.

The light is waning. The brown blinds incarcerate my brother behind penumbral bars. His bony hands and scrawny body in stark relief. It is the first time that I observe him truly. He is lanky but his face unchanged. I was no child when he was born but he is still my little brother.

He is resting now, eyes shut, our lengthy lashes – both mine and his – attached to fluttering lids. Birds trapped in quivering arteries flap at his throat. He is sobbing still but I avert my gaze, afraid to hug him. We oscillate, like two charged particles, my little brother and myself. His arms by his side and my arms by his side, divergent. I thrust into my bulging pocket a ball of ruby paper.

There is a clock in here that ticks the seconds. They used to sound longer. It was another time. The hemorrhage stopped. A mournful lace of plasma on his sinewed wrists. It must have hurt, the old corroded blade, no flesh, just coated skeleton. To saw the bones till blood. To hack the skin, to spread it like a rusty butterfly, dismantling slithery vessels. I move to occupy the wooden ladder back, near the escritoire that I received as gift on the occasion of my first year in school.

He nods affirmative when asked if he can rise. I hold him under hairy, damp armpits. I confront him, seated on my grandma’s rocking chair, a cushion clad in Moroccan equine embroidery on my knees. I gently hold his hand and he recoils. I didn’t hurt him, though.

I wait for him to break, his hand in mine. Thus clenched, our palms devoid of strength, we face a question and a promise, the fear of pain and of commitment. We dwell on trust.

He unfists and bleeds anew. I use the paper ball to soak it up. It’s dripping. I gallop down the spiral staircase and collect another roll, adhesive bandages, and dressing. Into my pocket and, speechlessly, I climb back. He is sitting there, a Pharaonic scribe, wrists resting on his knees, palms lotus flowers, but upturned. His gifted painter’s fingers are quenched in blood.

I mop and dab, swab and discard, apply some pressure and erase. My brother is calling me in sanguineous tongue and I deface it, incapable of listening, unwilling to respond.

I bind him and I dress and he opens his eyes and gapes at the white butterflies that sprouted on his joints. He feels them tenderly, astonished by this sudden red-white beauty.

I count his pulse and he gives in to my pseudo-professional mannerisms. His pulse is regular. He hasn’t lost a lot of blood, therefore.

He tells me he is OK now and asks for water. All of a sudden, I remember. One day, he was a toddler, could hardly walk, I led him back from the clinic. He gave blood and was weeping bitterly. A giant cotton swab was thrust into his elbow pit and he folded him arm, holding onto it tightly.

One jerky movement, it fell and he stood there, gawking at the soiled lump and whimpering. He was so tiny that I hugged him and wiped the tears from his plump cheeks.

I improvised a story about “Adhesa Cottonball”, the cotton monster, who forever wishes to return to the soil, her abode. His eyes cleared and he giggled nervously. This sound – his chuckle – is in my ears, obscuring all real-life acoustics.

He gulps down the water silently, his eyes a distant blackness, where no one treads but he, his forest, among the trees, perhaps this carriage and its attending coachman. Where does he want to go, I wander?

My brain is working overtime. My skull-domiciled well-oiled machine, whose parts are in metallic shine, impeccable, unerring, impervious to pain. Machines don’t ache this brother, sprawled on the couch, his shoulders stooping, in torn shirt and tattered trousers, my erstwhile clothes, his chest hirsute, his face adorned with budding beard and whiskers.

What story shall I tell him now to clear his eyes? How shall I make him laugh again? What monster should I bury in the sand?

I tell him to pack few things and come with me. He acquiesces but still won’t budge. His twin wrist-butterflies are quite inert. He sighs as he buttons his shirt and rolls unfastened sleeves to cover his abrasions. When he gets up I see him as before: a gangling figure, an angular face, two cavernous sockets, big brown mole. He drags his feet.

We both descend. Don’t tell our parents, he begs, I promise not to. Enters his room and exits fast, carrying a small plastic bag with severed handles. A pair of worn jeans spill from the top to cover some half-deleted lettering.

We bid farewell and walk placidly to the car. He freezes on the back seat, still cradling his plastic treasure, gazing forward but seeing little.

Nomi is driving while I watch him through the windshield mirror. His inanimate stare, directed at the window, is deflected by transparence. Slumped on the imitation leather seat, he and his trousers bump from one side to another on the winding road.

He falls asleep this way, sack closely clutched, chin burrowing into his hollow torso. At times, he shakes his head in stiff refusal. He is very adamant. Only his hands are calm, as though detached from his rebellious body.

Nomi is negotiating the parking and I touch his shoulder. He opens a pair of bleary eyes and looks at me like he used to when I was still his entire world. I touch once more and gently. When he was two years old , I left home for many years, never to be heard from. The hurt resides still in his eyes, that injury.

I touch a third time, thus pledging to remain, thus telling him my love. I study him at length and he does not divert his eyes.

Suddenly he smiles and dimples collect around his lips. He flings his hands high up and waves his red-white butterflies. He imitates their flight. He plucks their wings. He laughs and I respond by laughing and Nomi joins and the space of our car is filled with laughs and butterflies and butterflies and laughter.

Sam Vaknin


Back to Table of Contents



Download Free Anthologies


Poetry of Healing and Abuse


Journal of a Narcissist


Malignant Self Love Narcissism Revisited


After the Rain How the West Lost the East


A World in Conflict and Transition