The Economics of Spam

Tennessee resident K. C. “Khan” Smith owes the internet service provider EarthLink $24 million. According to the CNN, in August 2001 he was slapped with a lawsuit accusing him of violating federal and state Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes, the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and numerous other state laws. On July 19, 2002 – having failed to appear in court – the judge ruled against him. Mr. Smith is a spammer.

Brightmail, a vendor of e-mail filters and anti-spam applications warned that close to 5 million spam “attacks” or “bursts” occurred in June 2002 and that spam has mushroomed 450 percent since June 2001. This pace continued unabated well into the beginning of 2004 when the introduction of spam filters began to take effect. PC World concurs.

Between one half and three quarters of all e-mail messages are spam or UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) – unsolicited and intrusive commercial ads, mostly concerned with sex, scams, get rich quick schemes, financial services and products, and health articles of dubious provenance. The messages are sent from spoofed or fake e-mail addresses. Some spammers hack into unsecured servers – mainly in China and Korea – to relay their missives anonymously.

Starting in 2003, malicious hackers began using spam to install malware – such as viruses, adware, spyware, and Trojans – on the unprotected personal computers of less savvy users. They thus transform these computers into “zombies”, organize them into spam-spewing “bots” (networks), and sell access to them to criminals on penumbral boards and forums all over the Net.

Spam is an industry. Mass e-mailers maintain lists of e-mail addresses, often “harvested” by spamware bots – specialized computer applications – from Web sites. These lists are rented out or sold to marketers who use bulk mail services. They come cheap – c. $100 for 10 million addresses. Bulk mailers provide servers and bandwidth, charging c. $300 per million messages sent.

As spam recipients become more inured, ISPs less tolerant, and both more litigious – spammers multiply their efforts in order to maintain the same response rate. Spam works. It is not universally unwanted – which makes it tricky to outlaw. It elicits between 0.1 and 1 percent in positive follow ups, depending on the message. Many messages now include HTML, JavaScript, and ActiveX coding and thus resemble (or actually contain) viruses and Trojans.

Jupiter Media Matrix predicted in 2001 that the number of spam messages annually received by a typical Internet user will double to 1400 and spending on legitimate e-mail marketing will reach $9.4 billion by 2006 – compared to $1 billion in 2001. Forrester Research pegs the number at $4.8 billion in 2003.

More than 2.3-5 billion spam messages are sent daily. eMarketer puts the figures a lot lower at 76 billion messages in 2002. By 2006, daily spam output will soar to c. 15 billion missives, says Radicati Group. Jupiter projects a more modest 268 billion annual messages this year (2005). An average communication costs the spammer 0.00032 cents.

PC World quotes the European Union as pegging the bandwidth costs of spam worldwide in 2002 at $8-10 billion annually. Other damages include server crashes, time spent purging unwanted messages, lower productivity, aggravation, and increased cost of Internet access.

Inevitably, the spam industry gave rise to an anti-spam industry. According to a Radicati Group report titled “Anti-virus, anti-spam, and content filtering market trends 2002-2006”, anti-spam revenues were projected to exceed $88 million in 2002 – and more than double by 2006. List blockers, report and complaint generators, advocacy groups, registers of known spammers, and spam filters all proliferate. The Wall Street Journal reported in its June 25, 2002 issue about a resurgence of anti-spam startups financed by eager venture capital.

ISPs are bent on preventing abuse – reported by victims – by expunging the accounts of spammers. But the latter simply switch ISPs or sign on with free services like Hotmail and Yahoo! Barriers to entry are getting lower by the day as the costs of hardware, software, and communications plummet.

The use of e-mail and broadband connections by the general population is spreading. Hundreds of thousands of technologically-savvy operators have joined the market in the last five years, as the dotcom bubble burst. Still, Steve Linford of the UK-based Spamhaus.org insists that most spam emanates from c. 80 large operators.

Now, according to Jupiter Media, ISPs and portals are poised to begin to charge advertisers in a tier-based system, replete with premium services. Writing back in 1998, Bill Gates described a solution also espoused by Esther Dyson, chair of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“As I first described in my book ‘The Road Ahead’ in 1995, I expect that eventually you’ll be paid to read unsolicited e-mail. You’ll tell your e-mail program to discard all unsolicited messages that don’t offer an amount of money that you’ll choose. If you open a paid message and discover it’s from a long-lost friend or somebody else who has a legitimate reason to contact you, you’ll be able to cancel the payment. Otherwise, you’ll be paid for your time.”

Subscribers may not be appreciative of the joint ventures between gatekeepers and inbox clutterers. Moreover, dominant ISPs, such as AT&T and PSINet have recurrently been accused of knowingly collaborating with spammers. ISPs rely on the data traffic that spam generates for their revenues in an ever-harsher business environment.

The Financial Times and others described how WorldCom refuses to ban the sale of spamware over its network, claiming that it does not regulate content. When “pink” (the color of canned spam) contracts came to light, the implicated ISPs blame the whole affair on rogue employees.

PC World begs to differ:

“Ronnie Scelson, a self-described spammer who signed such a contract with PSInet, (says) that backbone providers are more than happy to do business with bulk e-mailers. ‘I’ve signed up with the biggest 50 carriers two or three times’, says Scelson … The Louisiana-based spammer claims to send 84 million commercial e-mail messages a day over his three 45-megabit-per-second DS3 circuits. ‘If you were getting $40,000 a month for each circuit’, Scelson asks, ‘would you want to shut me down?'”

The line between permission-based or “opt-in” e-mail marketing and spam is getting thinner by the day. Some list resellers guarantee the consensual nature of their wares. According to the Direct Marketing Association’s guidelines, quoted by PC World, not responding to an unsolicited e-mail amounts to “opting-in” – a marketing strategy known as “opting out”. Most experts, though, strongly urge spam victims not to respond to spammers, lest their e-mail address is confirmed.

But spam is crossing technological boundaries. Japan has just legislated against wireless SMS spam targeted at hapless mobile phone users. Many states in the USA as well as the European parliament have followed suit. Ideas regarding a “do not spam” list akin to the “do not call” list in telemarketing have been floated. Mobile phone users will place their phone numbers on the list to avoid receiving UCE (spam). Email subscribers enjoy the benefits of a similar list under the CAN-Spam Act of 2003.

Expensive and slow connections make mobile phone spam and spim (instant messaging spam) particularly resented. Still, according to Britain’s Mobile Channel, a mobile advertising company quoted by “The Economist”, SMS advertising – a novelty – attracts a 10-20 percent response rate – compared to direct mail’s 1-3 percent.

Net identification systems – like Microsoft’s Passport and the one proposed by Liberty Alliance – will make it even easier for marketers to target prospects.

The reaction to spam can be described only as mass hysteria. Reporting someone as a spammer – even when he is not – has become a favorite pastime of vengeful, self-appointed, vigilante “cyber-cops”. Perfectly legitimate, opt-in, email marketing businesses and discussion forums often find themselves in one or more black lists – their reputation and business ruined.

In January 2002, CMGI-owned Yesmail was awarded a temporary restraining order against MAPS – Mail Abuse Prevention System – forbidding it to place the reputable e-mail marketer on its Real-time Blackhole list. The case was settled out of court.

Harris Interactive, a large online opinion polling company, sued not only MAPS, but ISPs who blocked its email messages when it found itself included in MAPS’ Blackhole. Their CEO accused one of their competitors for the allegations that led to Harris’ inclusion in the list.

Coupled with other pernicious phenomena – such as viruses, Trojans, and spyware – the very foundation of the Internet as a fun, relatively safe, mode of communication and data acquisition is at stake.

Spammers, it emerges, have their own organizations. NOIC – the National Organization of Internet Commerce threatened to post to its Web site the e-mail addresses of millions of AOL members. AOL has aggressive anti-spamming policies. “AOL is blocking bulk email because it wants the advertising revenues for itself (by selling pop-up ads)” the president of NOIC, Damien Melle, complained to CNET.

Spam is a classic “free rider” problem. For any given individual, the cost of blocking a spammer far outweighs the benefits. It is cheaper and easier to hit the “delete” key. Individuals, therefore, prefer to let others do the job and enjoy the outcome – the public good of a spam-free Internet. They cannot be left out of the benefits of such an aftermath – public goods are, by definition, “non-excludable”. Nor is a public good diminished by a growing number of “non-rival” users.

Such a situation resembles a market failure and requires government intervention through legislation and enforcement. The FTC – the US Federal Trade Commission – has taken legal action against more than 100 spammers for promoting scams and fraudulent goods and services.

“Project Mailbox” is an anti-spam collaboration between American law enforcement agencies and the private sector. Non government organizations have entered the fray, as have lobbying groups, such as CAUCE – the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail.

But, a few recent anti-spam and anti-spyware Acts notwithstanding, Congress is curiously reluctant to enact stringent laws against spam. Reasons cited are free speech, limits on state powers to regulate commerce, avoiding unfair restrictions on trade, and the interests of small business. The courts equivocate as well. In some cases – e.g., Missouri vs. American Blast Fax – US courts found “that the provision prohibiting the sending of unsolicited advertisements is unconstitutional”.

According to Spamlaws.com,  the 107th Congress, for instance, discussed these laws but never enacted them:

 

Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001 (H.R. 95), Wireless Telephone Spam Protection Act (H.R. 113), Anti-Spamming Act of 2001 (H.R. 718), Anti-Spamming Act of 2001 (H.R. 1017), Who Is E-Mailing Our Kids Act (H.R. 1846), Protect Children From E-Mail Smut Act of 2001 (H.R.  2472), Netizens Protection Act of 2001 (H.R. 3146), “CAN SPAM” Act of 2001 (S. 630).

Anti-spam laws fared no better in the 106th Congress. Some of the states have picked up the slack. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The situation is no better across the pond. The European parliament decided in 2001 to allow each member country to enact its own spam laws, thus avoiding a continent-wide directive and directly confronting the communications ministers of the union. Paradoxically, it also decided, in March 2002, to restrict SMS spam. Confusion clearly reigns. Finally, in May 2002, it adopted strong anti-spam provisions as part of a Directive on Data Protection.

Responding to this unfavorable legal environment, spam is relocating to developing countries, such as Malaysia, Nepal, and Nigeria. In a May 2005 report, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) warned that these countries lack the technical know-how and financial resources (let alone the will) to combat spam. Their users, anyhow deprived of bandwidth, endure, as a result, a less reliable service and an intermittent access to the Internet;

“Spam is a much more serious issue in developing countries…as it is a heavy drain on resources that are scarcer and costlier in developing countries than elsewhere” – writes the report’s author, Suresh Ramasubramanian, an OECD advisor and postmaster for Outblaze.com.

ISPs, spam monitoring services, and governments in the rich industrialized world react by placing entire countries – such as Macedonia and Costa Rica – on black lists and, thus denying access to their users en bloc.

International collaboration against the looming destruction of the Internet by crime organizations is budding. The FTC had just announced that it will work with its counterparts abroad to cut zombie computers off the network. A welcome step – but about three years late. Spammers the world over are still six steps ahead and are having the upper hand.


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The Demise of the Dinosaur PTTs

The Professions of the Future

Knowledge and Power

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The Psychology of Torture

There is one place in which one’s privacy, intimacy, integrity and inviolability are guaranteed – one’s body, a unique temple and a familiar territory of sensa and personal history. The torturer invades, defiles and desecrates this shrine. He does so publicly, deliberately, repeatedly and, often, sadistically and sexually, with undisguised pleasure. Hence the all-pervasive, long-lasting, and, frequently, irreversible effects and outcomes of torture.

In a way, the torture victim’s own body is rendered his worse enemy. It is corporeal agony that compels the sufferer to mutate, his identity to fragment, his ideals and principles to crumble. The body becomes an accomplice of the tormentor, an uninterruptible channel of communication, a treasonous, poisoned territory.

It fosters a humiliating dependency of the abused on the perpetrator. Bodily needs denied – sleep, toilet, food, water – are wrongly perceived by the victim as the direct causes of his degradation and dehumanization. As he sees it, he is rendered bestial not by the sadistic bullies around him but by his own flesh.

The concept of “body” can easily be extended to “family”, or “home”. Torture is often applied to kin and kith, compatriots, or colleagues. This intends to disrupt the continuity of “surroundings, habits, appearance, relations with others”, as the CIA put it in one of its manuals. A sense of cohesive self-identity depends crucially on the familiar and the continuous. By attacking both one’s biological body and one’s “social body”, the victim’s psyche is strained to the point of dissociation.

Beatrice Patsalides describes this transmogrification thus in “Ethics of the Unspeakable: Torture Survivors in Psychoanalytic Treatment”:

“As the gap between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ deepens, dissociation and alienation increase. The subject that, under torture, was forced into the position of pure object has lost his or her sense of interiority, intimacy, and privacy. Time is experienced now, in the present only, and perspective – that which allows for a sense of relativity – is foreclosed. Thoughts and dreams attack the mind and invade the body as if the protective skin that normally contains our thoughts, gives us space to breathe in between the thought and the thing being thought about, and separates between inside and outside, past and present, me and you, was lost.”

Torture robs the victim of the most basic modes of relating to reality and, thus, is the equivalent of cognitive death. Space and time are warped by sleep deprivation. The self (“I”) is shattered. The tortured have nothing familiar to hold on to: family, home, personal belongings, loved ones, language, name. Gradually, they lose their mental resilience and sense of freedom. They feel alien – unable to communicate, relate, attach, or empathize with others.

Torture splinters early childhood grandiose narcissistic fantasies of uniqueness, omnipotence, invulnerability, and impenetrability. But it enhances the fantasy of merger with an idealized and omnipotent (though not benign) other – the inflicter of agony. The twin processes of individuation and separation are reversed.

Torture is the ultimate act of perverted intimacy. The torturer invades the victim’s body, pervades his psyche, and possesses his mind. Deprived of contact with others and starved for human interactions, the prey bonds with the predator. “Traumatic bonding”, akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, is about hope and the search for meaning in the brutal and indifferent and nightmarish universe of the torture cell.

The abuser becomes the black hole at the center of the victim’s surrealistic galaxy, sucking in the sufferer’s universal need for solace. The victim tries to “control” his tormentor by becoming one with him (introjecting him) and by appealing to the monster’s presumably dormant humanity and empathy.

This bonding is especially strong when the torturer and the tortured form a dyad and “collaborate” in the rituals and acts of torture (for instance, when the victim is coerced into selecting the torture implements and the types of torment to be inflicted, or to choose between two evils).

The psychologist Shirley Spitz offers this powerful overview of the contradictory nature of torture in a seminar titled “The Psychology of Torture” (1989):

“Torture is an obscenity in that it joins what is most private with what is most public. Torture entails all the isolation and extreme solitude of privacy with none of the usual security embodied therein… Torture entails at the same time all the self-exposure of the utterly public with none of its possibilities for camaraderie or shared experience. (The presence of an all powerful other with whom to merge, without the security of the other’s benign intentions.)

A further obscenity of torture is the inversion it makes of intimate human relationships. The interrogation is a form of social encounter in which the normal rules of communicating, of relating, of intimacy are manipulated. Dependency needs are elicited by the interrogator, but not so they may be met as in close relationships, but to weaken and confuse. Independence that is offered in return for ‘betrayal’ is a lie. Silence is intentionally misinterpreted either as confirmation of information or as guilt for ‘complicity’.

Torture combines complete humiliating exposure with utter devastating isolation. The final products and outcome of torture are a scarred and often shattered victim and an empty display of the fiction of power.”

Obsessed by endless ruminations, demented by pain and a continuum of sleeplessness – the victim regresses, shedding all but the most primitive defense mechanisms: splitting, narcissism, dissociation, Projective Identification, introjection, and cognitive dissonance. The victim constructs an alternative world, often suffering from depersonalization and derealization, hallucinations, ideas of reference, delusions, and psychotic episodes.

Sometimes the victim comes to crave pain – very much as self-mutilators do – because it is a proof and a reminder of his individuated existence otherwise blurred by the incessant torture. Pain shields the sufferer from disintegration and capitulation. It preserves the veracity of his unthinkable and unspeakable experiences.

This dual process of the victim’s alienation and addiction to anguish complements the perpetrator’s view of his quarry as “inhuman”, or “subhuman”. The torturer assumes the position of the sole authority, the exclusive fount of meaning and interpretation, the source of both evil and good.

Torture is about reprogramming the victim to succumb to an alternative exegesis of the world, proffered by the abuser. It is an act of deep, indelible, traumatic indoctrination. The abused also swallows whole and assimilates the torturer’s negative view of him and often, as a result, is rendered suicidal, self-destructive, or self-defeating.

Thus, torture has no cut-off date. The sounds, the voices, the smells, the sensations reverberate long after the episode has ended – both in nightmares and in waking moments. The victim’s ability to trust other people – i.e., to assume that their motives are at least rational, if not necessarily benign – has been irrevocably undermined. Social institutions are perceived as precariously poised on the verge of an ominous, Kafkaesque mutation. Nothing is either safe, or credible anymore.

Victims typically react by undulating between emotional numbing and increased arousal: insomnia, irritability, restlessness, and attention deficits. Recollections of the traumatic events intrude in the form of dreams, night terrors, flashbacks, and distressing associations.

The tortured develop compulsive rituals to fend off obsessive thoughts. Other psychological sequelae reported include cognitive impairment, reduced capacity to learn, memory disorders, sexual dysfunction, social withdrawal, inability to maintain long-term relationships, or even mere intimacy, phobias, ideas of reference and superstitions, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic microepisodes, and emotional flatness.

Depression and anxiety are very common. These are forms and manifestations of self-directed aggression. The sufferer rages at his own victimhood and resulting multiple dysfunction. He feels shamed by his new disabilities and responsible, or even guilty, somehow, for his predicament and the dire consequences borne by his nearest and dearest. His sense of self-worth and self-esteem are crippled.

In a nutshell, torture victims suffer from a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their strong feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame are also typical of victims of childhood abuse, domestic violence, and rape. They feel anxious because the perpetrator’s behavior is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable – or mechanically and inhumanly regular.

They feel guilty and disgraced because, to restore a semblance of order to their shattered world and a modicum of dominion over their chaotic life, they need to transform themselves into the cause of their own degradation and the accomplices of their tormentors.

The CIA, in its “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual – 1983” (reprinted in the April 1997 issue of Harper’s Magazine), summed up the theory of coercion thus:

“The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level. As the subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall away in reverse chronological order. He begins to lose the capacity to carry out the highest creative activities, to deal with complex situations, or to cope with stressful interpersonal relationships or repeated frustrations.”

Inevitably, in the aftermath of torture, its victims feel helpless and powerless. This loss of control over one’s life and body is manifested physically in impotence, attention deficits, and insomnia. This is often exacerbated by the disbelief many torture victims encounter, especially if they are unable to produce scars, or other “objective” proof of their ordeal. Language cannot communicate such an intensely private experience as pain.

Spitz makes the following observation:

“Pain is also unsharable in that it is resistant to language… All our interior states of consciousness: emotional, perceptual, cognitive and somatic can be described as having an object in the external world… This affirms our capacity to move beyond the boundaries of our body into the external, sharable world. This is the space in which we interact and communicate with our environment. But when we explore the interior state of physical pain we find that there is no object ‘out there’ – no external, referential content. Pain is not of, or for, anything. Pain is. And it draws us away from the space of interaction, the sharable world, inwards. It draws us into the boundaries of our body.”

Bystanders resent the tortured because they make them feel guilty and ashamed for having done nothing to prevent the atrocity. The victims threaten their sense of security and their much-needed belief in predictability, justice, and rule of law. The victims, on their part, do not believe that it is possible to effectively communicate to “outsiders” what they have been through. The torture chambers are “another galaxy”. This is how Auschwitz was described by the author K. Zetnik in his testimony in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

Kenneth Pope in “Torture”, a chapter he wrote for the “Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender”, quotes Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman:

“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

But, more often, continued attempts to repress fearful memories result in psychosomatic illnesses (conversion). The victim wishes to forget the torture, to avoid re-experiencing the often life threatening abuse and to shield his human environment from the horrors. In conjunction with the victim’s pervasive distrust, this is frequently interpreted as hypervigilance, or even paranoia. It seems that the victims can’t win. Torture is forever.

Note – Why Do People Torture?

We should distinguish functional torture from the sadistic variety. The former is calculated to extract information from the tortured or to punish them. It is measured, impersonal, efficient, and disinterested.

The latter – the sadistic variety – fulfils the emotional needs of the perpetrator.

People who find themselves caught up in anomic states – for instance, soldiers in war or incarcerated inmates – tend to feel helpless and alienated. They experience a partial or total loss of control. They have been rendered vulnerable, powerless, and defenseless by events and circumstances beyond their influence.

Torture amounts to exerting an absolute and all-pervasive domination of the victim’s existence. It is a coping strategy employed by torturers who wish to reassert control over their lives and, thus, to re-establish their mastery and superiority. By subjugating the tortured – they regain their self-confidence and regulate their sense of self-worth.

Other tormentors channel their negative emotions – pent up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred – and displace them. The victim becomes a symbol of everything that’s wrong in the torturer’s life and the situation he finds himself caught in. The act of torture amounts to misplaced and violent venting.

Many perpetrate heinous acts out of a wish to conform. Torturing others is their way of demonstrating obsequious obeisance to authority, group affiliation, colleagueship, and adherence to the same ethical code of conduct and common values. They bask in the praise that is heaped on them by their superiors, fellow workers, associates, team mates, or collaborators. Their need to belong is so strong that it overpowers ethical, moral, or legal considerations.

Many offenders derive pleasure and satisfaction from sadistic acts of humiliation. To these, inflicting pain is fun. They lack empathy and so their victim’s agonized reactions are merely cause for much hilarity.

Moreover, sadism is rooted in deviant sexuality. The torture inflicted by sadists is bound to involve perverted sex (rape, homosexual rape, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pedophilia, fetishism, and other paraphilias). Aberrant sex, unlimited power, excruciating pain – these are the intoxicating ingredients of the sadistic variant of torture.

Still, torture rarely occurs where it does not have the sanction and blessing of the authorities, whether local or national. A permissive environment is sine qua non. The more abnormal the circumstances, the less normative the milieu, the further the scene of the crime is from public scrutiny – the more is egregious torture likely to occur. This is especially true in totalitarian societies where the use of physical force to discipline or eliminate dissent is an acceptable practice.


Also Read:

The Business of Torture

The Argument for Torture

How Victims are Affected by Abuse

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The Misanthropic Altruist

Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous – they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists?

The act of giving enhances the narcissist’s sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one’s largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.

But narcissists give for other reasons as well.

The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as a bait. He impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration. People are attracted to the narcissist’s larger than life posture – only to discover his true personality traits when it is far too late. “Give a little to take a lot” – is the narcissist’s creed.

This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than their “share of the profit”. The narcissist feels that he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships are asymmetric and imbalanced. “She gets out of our marriage far more than I do” – is a common refrain. Or: “I do all the work around here – and they get all the perks and benefits!”

Faced with such (mis)perceived injustice – and once the relationship is clinched and the victim is “hooked” – the narcissist tries to minimise his contributions. He regards his input as a contractual maintenance chore and the unpleasant and inevitable price he has to pay for his Narcissistic Supply.

After many years of feeling deprived and wronged, some narcissists lapse into “sadistic generosity” or “sadistic altruism”. They use their giving as a weapon to taunt and torment the needy and to humiliate them. In the distorted thinking of the narcissist, donating money gives him the right and license to hurt, chastise, criticise, and berate the recipient. His generosity, feels the narcissist, elevates him to a higher moral ground.

Most narcissists confine their giving to money and material goods. Their munificence is an abusive defence mechanism, intended to avoid real intimacy. Their “big-hearted” charity renders all their relationships – even with their spouses and children – “business-like”, structured, limited, minimal, non-emotional, unambiguous, and non-ambivalent. By doling out bounteously, the narcissist “knows where he stands” and does not feel threatened by demands for commitment, emotional investment, empathy, or intimacy.

In the narcissist’s wasteland of a life, even his benevolence is spiteful, sadistic, punitive, and distancing.


Also Read

The Silver Pieces of the Narcissist

The Pathological Charmer

The Compulsive Giver

The Inverted Narcissist