Barack Obama – Narcissist or Merely Narcissistic?

Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist. Scroll down for a detailed treatment.
Granted, only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews. But, in the absence of access to Barack Obama, one has to rely on his overt performance and on testimonies by his closest, nearest and dearest.
Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They are subtle, refined, socially-adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian skills, and convincing. Both types equally lack empathy and are ruthless and relentless or driven.
Perhaps it is time to require each candidate to high office in the USA to submit to a rigorous physical and mental checkup with the results made public.
I. Upbringing and Childhood
Obama’s early life was decidedly chaotic and replete with traumatic and mentally bruising dislocations. Mixed-race marriages were even less common then. His parents went through a divorce when he was an infant (two years old). Obama saw his father only once again, before he died in a car accident. Then, his mother re-married and Obama had to relocate to Indonesia: a foreign land with a radically foreign culture, to be raised by a step-father. At the age of ten, he was whisked off to live with his maternal (white) grandparents. He saw his mother only intermittently in the following few years and then she vanished from his life in 1979. She died of cancer in 1995.
Pathological narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or early adolescence. The source of the abuse or trauma is immaterial: the perpetrators could be dysfunctional or absent parents, teachers, other adults, or peers.
II. Behavior Patterns

The narcissist:

  • Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, demands to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements);
  • Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion;
  • Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions);
  • Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply);
  • Feels entitled. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment;
  • Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends;
  • Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others;
  • Constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration. Suffers from persecutory (paranoid) delusions as he or she believes that they feel the same about him or her and are likely to act similarly;
  • Behaves arrogantly and haughtily. Feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, “above the law”, and omnipresent (magical thinking). Rages when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.
Narcissism is a defense mechanism whose role is to deflect hurt and trauma from the victim’s “True Self” into a “False Self” which is omnipotent, invulnerable, and omniscient. This False Self is then used by the narcissist to garner narcissistic supply from his human environment. Narcissistic supply is any form of attention, both positive and negative and it is instrumental in the regulation of the narcissist’s labile sense of self-worth.
Perhaps the most immediately evident trait of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is their vulnerability to criticism and disagreement. Subject to negative input, real or imagined, even to a mild rebuke, a constructive suggestion, or an offer to help, they feel injured, humiliated and empty and they react with disdain (devaluation), rage, and defiance.
From my book “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited”: “To avoid such intolerable pain, some patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) socially withdraw and feign false modesty and humility to mask their underlying grandiosity. Dysthymic and depressive disorders are common reactions to isolation and feelings of shame and inadequacy.”

Due to their lack of empathy, disregard for others, exploitativeness, sense of entitlement, and constant need for attention (narcissistic supply), narcissists are rarely able to maintain functional and healthy interpersonal relationships.

Many narcissists are over-achievers and ambitious. Some of them are even talented and skilled. But they are incapable of team work because they cannot tolerate setbacks. They are easily frustrated and demoralized and are unable to cope with disagreement and criticism. Though some narcissists have meteoric and inspiring careers, in the long-run, all of them find it difficult to maintain long-term professional achievements and the respect and appreciation of their peers. The narcissist’s fantastic grandiosity, frequently coupled with a hypomanic mood, is typically incommensurate with his or her real accomplishments (the “grandiosity gap”).

An important distinction is between cerebral and somatic narcissists. The cerebrals derive their Narcissistic Supply from their intelligence or academic achievements and the somatics derive their Narcissistic Supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and romantic or physical “conquests”.

Another crucial division within the ranks of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is between the classic variety (those who meet five of the nine diagnostic criteria included in the DSM), and the compensatory kind (their narcissism compensates for deep-set feelings of inferiority and lack of self-worth).

Obama displays the following behaviors, which are among the hallmarks of pathological narcissism:

  • Subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions, views, opinions, and “ideals” (e.g., about campaign finance, re-districting). These flip-flops do not cause him overt distress and are ego-syntonic (he feels justified in acting this way). Alternatively, reuses to commit to a standpoint and, in the process, evidences a lack of empathy.
    Ignores data that conflict with his fantasy world, or with his inflated and grandiose self-image. This has to do with magical thinking. Obama already sees himself as president because he is firmly convinced that his dreams, thoughts, and wishes affect reality. Additionally, he denies the gap between his fantasies and his modest or limited real-life achievements (for instance, in 12 years of academic career, he hasn’t published a single scholarly paper or book).
    Feels that he is above the law, incl. and especially his own laws.
    Talks about himself in the 3rd person singluar or uses the regal “we” and craves to be the exclsuive center of attention, even adulation
    Have a messianic-cosmic vision of himself and his life and his “mission”.
    Sets ever more complex rules in a convoluted world of grandiose fantasies with its own language (jargon)
    Displays false modesty and unctuous “folksiness” but unable to sustain these behaviors (the persona, or mask) for long. It slips and the true Obama is revealed: haughty, aloof, distant, and disdainful of simple folk and their lives.
    Sublimates aggression and holds grudges.
    Behaves as an eternal adolescent (e.g., his choice of language, youthful image he projects, demands indulgence and feels entitled to special treatment, even though his objective accomplishments do not justify it).
III. Body Language
Many complain of the incredible deceptive powers of the narcissist. They find themselves involved with narcissists (emotionally, in business, or otherwise) before they have a chance to discover their true character. Shocked by the later revelation, they mourn their inability to separate from the narcissist and their gullibility.

Narcissists are an elusive breed, hard to spot, harder to pinpoint, impossible to capture. Even an experienced mental health diagnostician with unmitigated access to the record and to the person examined would find it fiendishly difficult to determine with any degree of certainty whether someone suffers from a full fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder – or merely possesses narcissistic traits, a narcissistic style, a personality structure (“character”), or a narcissistic “overlay” superimposed on another mental health problem.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between traits and behavior patterns that are independent of the patient’s cultural-social context (i.e., which are inherent, or idiosyncratic) – and reactive patterns, or conformity to cultural and social morals and norms. Reactions to severe life crises or circumstances are also often characterized by transient pathological narcissism, for instance (Ronningstam and Gunderson, 1996). But such reactions do not a narcissist make.

When a person belongs to a society or culture that has often been described as narcissistic by scholars (such as Theodore Millon) and social thinkers (e.g., Christopher Lasch) – how much of his behavior can be attributed to his milieu and which of his traits are really his?

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is rigorously defined in the DSM IV-TR with a set of strict criteria and differential diagnoses.

Narcissism is regarded by many scholars to be an adaptative strategy (“healthy narcissism“). It is considered pathological in the clinical sense only when it becomes a rigid personality structure replete with a series of primitive defence mechanisms (such as splitting, projection, projective identification, or intellectualization) – and when it leads to dysfunctions in one or more areas of the patient’s life.

Pathological narcissism is the art of deception. The narcissist projects a False Self and manages all his social interactions through this concocted fictional construct.

When the narcissist reveals his true colors, it is usually far too late. His victims are unable to separate from him. They are frustrated by this acquired helplessness and angry at themselves for having they failed to see through the narcissist earlier on.

But the narcissist does emit subtle, almost subliminal, signals (“presenting symptoms”) even in a first or casual encounter. Compare the following list to Barack Obama’s body language during his paublic appearances.

These are:

“Haughty” body language – The narcissist adopts a physical posture which implies and exudes an air of superiority, seniority, hidden powers, mysteriousness, amused indifference, etc. Though the narcissist usually maintains sustained and piercing eye contact, he often refrains from physical proximity (he is “territorial”).

The narcissist takes part in social interactions – even mere banter – condescendingly, from a position of supremacy and faux “magnanimity and largesse”. But he rarely mingles socially and prefers to remain the “observer”, or the “lone wolf”.

Entitlement markers – The narcissist immediately asks for “special treatment” of some kind. Not to wait his turn, to have a longer or a shorter therapeutic session, to talk directly to authority figures (and not to their assistants or secretaries), to be granted special payment terms, to enjoy custom tailored arrangements – or to get served first.

The narcissist is the one who – vocally and demonstratively – demands the undivided attention of the head waiter in a restaurant, or monopolizes the hostess, or latches on to celebrities in a party. The narcissist reacts with rage and indignantly when denied his wishes and if treated equally with others whom he deems inferior.

Idealization or devaluation – The narcissist instantly idealizes or devalues his interlocutor. This depends on how the narcissist appraises the potential his converser has as a Narcissistic Supply Source. The narcissist flatters, adores, admires and applauds the “target” in an embarrassingly exaggerated and profuse manner – or sulks, abuses, and humiliates her.

Narcissists are polite only in the presence of a potential Supply Source. But they are unable to sustain even perfunctory civility and fast deteriorate to barbs and thinly-veiled hostility, to verbal or other violent displays of abuse, rage attacks, or cold detachment.

The “membership” posture – The narcissist always tries to “belong”. Yet, at the very same time, he maintains his stance as an outsider. The narcissist seeks to be admired for his ability to integrate and ingratiate himself without investing the efforts commensurate with such an undertaking.

For instance: if the narcissist talks to a psychologist, the narcissist first states emphatically that he never studied psychology. He then proceeds to make seemingly effortless use of obscure professional terms, thus demonstrating that he mastered the discipline all the same, as an autodidact – which proves that he is exceptionally intelligent or introspective.

In general, the narcissist always prefers show-off to substance. One of the most effective methods of exposing a narcissist is by trying to delve deeper. The narcissist is shallow, a pond pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack of all trades. The narcissist never admits to ignorance in any field – yet, typically, he is ignorant of them all. It is surprisingly easy to penetrate the gloss and the veneer of the narcissist’s self-proclaimed omniscience.

Bragging and false autobiographyThe narcissist brags incessantly. His speech is peppered with “I”, “my”, “myself”, and “mine”. He describes himself as intelligent, or rich, or modest, or intuitive, or creative – but always excessively, implausibly, and extraordinarily so.

The narcissist’s biography sounds unusually rich and complex. His achievements – incommensurate with his age, education, or renown. Yet, his actual condition is evidently and demonstrably incompatible with his claims. Very often, the narcissist lies or his fantasies are easily discernible. He always name-drops and appropriates other people’s experiences and accomplishments.

Emotion-free language – The narcissist likes to talk about himself and only about himself. He is not interested in others or what they have to say, unless they constitute potential Sources of Supply and in order to obtain said supply. He acts bored, disdainful, even angry, if he feels that they are intruding on his precious time and, thus, abusing him.

In general, the narcissist is very impatient, easily bored, with strong attention deficits – unless and until he is the topic of discussion. One can publicly dissect all aspects of the intimate life of a narcissist without repercussions, providing the discourse is not “emotionally tinted”.

If asked to relate directly to his emotions, the narcissist intellectualizes, rationalizes, speaks about himself in the third person and in a detached “scientific” tone or composes a narrative with a fictitious character in it, suspiciously autobiographical. Narcissists like to refer to themselves in mechanical terms, as efficient automata or machines.

Seriousness and sense of intrusion and coercion – The narcissist is dead serious about himself. He may possess a subtle, wry, and riotous sense of humor, scathing and cynical, but rarely is he self-deprecating. The narcissist regards himself as being on a constant mission, whose importance is cosmic and whose consequences are global. If a scientist – he is always in the throes of revolutionizing science. If a journalist – he is in the middle of the greatest story ever. If a novelist – he is on his way to a Booker or Nobel prize.

This self-misperception is not amenable to light-headedness or self-effacement. The narcissist is easily hurt and insulted (narcissistic injury). Even the most innocuous remarks or acts are interpreted by him as belittling, intruding, or coercive. His time is more valuable than others’ – therefore, it cannot be wasted on unimportant matters such as mere banter or going out for a walk.

Any suggested help, advice, or concerned inquiry are immediately cast by the narcissist as intentional humiliation, implying that the narcissist is in need of help and counsel and, thus, imperfect and less than omnipotent. Any attempt to set an agenda is, to the narcissist, an intimidating act of enslavement. In this sense, the narcissist is both schizoid and paranoid and often entertains ideas of reference.

These – the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the constricted sense of humor, the unequal treatment and the paranoia – render the narcissist a social misfit. The narcissist is able to provoke in his milieu, in his casual acquaintances, even in his psychotherapist, the strongest, most avid and furious hatred and revulsion. To his shock, indignation and consternation, he invariably induces in others unbridled aggression.

He is perceived to be asocial at best and, often, antisocial. This, perhaps, is the strongest presenting symptom. One feels ill at ease in the presence of a narcissist for no apparent reason. No matter how charming, intelligent, thought provoking, outgoing, easy going and social the narcissist is – he fails to secure the sympathy of others, a sympathy he is never ready, willing, or able to reciprocate.

IV. Narcissistic and psychopathic Leaders
The narcissistic or psychopathic leader is the culmination and reification of his period, culture, and civilization. He is likely to rise to prominence in narcissistic societies.

The malignant narcissist invents and then projects a false, fictitious, self for the world to fear, or to admire. He maintains a tenuous grasp on reality to start with and this is further exacerbated by the trappings of power. The narcissist’s grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are supported by real life authority and the narcissist’s predilection to surround himself with obsequious sycophants.

The narcissist’s personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement. Most narcissists are paranoid and suffer from ideas of reference (the delusion that they are being mocked or discussed when they are not). Thus, narcissists often regard themselves as “victims of persecution”.

The narcissistic leader fosters and encourages a personality cult with all the hallmarks of an institutional religion: priesthood, rites, rituals, temples, worship, catechism, mythology. The leader is this religion’s ascetic saint. He monastically denies himself earthly pleasures (or so he claims) in order to be able to dedicate himself fully to his calling.

The narcissistic leader is a monstrously inverted Jesus, sacrificing his life and denying himself so that his people – or humanity at large – should benefit. By surpassing and suppressing his humanity, the narcissistic leader became a distorted version of Nietzsche’s “superman”.

But being a-human or super-human also means being a-sexual and a-moral.

In this restricted sense, narcissistic leaders are post-modernist and moral relativists. They project to the masses an androgynous figure and enhance it by engendering the adoration of nudity and all things “natural” – or by strongly repressing these feelings. But what they refer to as “nature” is not natural at all.

The narcissistic leader invariably proffers an aesthetic of decadence and evil carefully orchestrated and artificial – though it is not perceived this way by him or by his followers. Narcissistic leadership is about reproduced copies, not about originals. It is about the manipulation of symbols – not about veritable atavism or true conservatism.

In short: narcissistic leadership is about theatre, not about life. To enjoy the spectacle (and be subsumed by it), the leader demands the suspension of judgment, depersonalization, and de-realization. Catharsis is tantamount, in this narcissistic dramaturgy, to self-annulment.

Narcissism is nihilistic not only operationally, or ideologically. Its very language and narratives are nihilistic. Narcissism is conspicuous nihilism – and the cult’s leader serves as a role model, annihilating the Man, only to re-appear as a pre-ordained and irresistible force of nature.

Narcissistic leadership often poses as a rebellion against the “old ways” – against the hegemonic culture, the upper classes, the established religions, the superpowers, the corrupt order. Narcissistic movements are puerile, a reaction to narcissistic injuries inflicted upon a narcissistic (and rather psychopathic) toddler nation-state, or group, or upon the leader.

Minorities or “others” – often arbitrarily selected – constitute a perfect, easily identifiable, embodiment of all that is “wrong”. They are accused of being old, they are eerily disembodied, they are cosmopolitan, they are part of the establishment, they are “decadent”, they are hated on religious and socio-economic grounds, or because of their race, sexual orientation, origin … They are different, they are narcissistic (feel and act as morally superior), they are everywhere, they are defenceless, they are credulous, they are adaptable (and thus can be co-opted to collaborate in their own destruction). They are the perfect hate figure. Narcissists thrive on hatred and pathological envy.

This is precisely the source of the fascination with Hitler, diagnosed by Erich Fromm – together with Stalin – as a malignant narcissist. He was an inverted human. His unconscious was his conscious. He acted out our most repressed drives, fantasies, and wishes. He provides us with a glimpse of the horrors that lie beneath the veneer, the barbarians at our personal gates, and what it was like before we invented civilization. Hitler forced us all through a time warp and many did not emerge. He was not the devil. He was one of us. He was what Arendt aptly called the banality of evil. Just an ordinary, mentally disturbed, failure, a member of a mentally disturbed and failing nation, who lived through disturbed and failing times. He was the perfect mirror, a channel, a voice, and the very depth of our souls.

The narcissistic leader prefers the sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and method of real accomplishments. His reign is all smoke and mirrors, devoid of substances, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions. In the aftermath of his regime – the narcissistic leader having died, been deposed, or voted out of office – it all unravels. The tireless and constant prestidigitation ceases and the entire edifice crumbles. What looked like an economic miracle turns out to have been a fraud-laced bubble. Loosely-held empires disintegrate. Laboriously assembled business conglomerates go to pieces. “Earth shattering” and “revolutionary” scientific discoveries and theories are discredited. Social experiments end in mayhem.

It is important to understand that the use of violence must be ego-syntonic. It must accord with the self-image of the narcissist. It must abet and sustain his grandiose fantasies and feed his sense of entitlement. It must conform with the narcissistic narrative.

Thus, a narcissist who regards himself as the benefactor of the poor, a member of the common folk, the representative of the disenfranchised, the champion of the dispossessed against the corrupt elite – is highly unlikely to use violence at first.

The pacific mask crumbles when the narcissist has become convinced that the very people he purported to speak for, his constituency, his grassroots fans, the prime sources of his narcissistic supply – have turned against him. At first, in a desperate effort to maintain the fiction underlying his chaotic personality, the narcissist strives to explain away the sudden reversal of sentiment. “The people are being duped by (the media, big industry, the military, the elite, etc.)”, “they don’t really know what they are doing”, “following a rude awakening, they will revert to form”, etc.

When these flimsy attempts to patch a tattered personal mythology fail – the narcissist is injured. Narcissistic injury inevitably leads to narcissistic rage and to a terrifying display of unbridled aggression. The pent-up frustration and hurt translate into devaluation. That which was previously idealized – is now discarded with contempt and hatred.

This primitive defense mechanism is called “splitting”. To the narcissist, things and people are either entirely bad (evil) or entirely good. He projects onto others his own shortcomings and negative emotions, thus becoming a totally good object. A narcissistic leader is likely to justify the butchering of his own people by claiming that they intended to kill him, undo the revolution, devastate the economy, or the country, etc.

The “small people”, the “rank and file”, the “loyal soldiers” of the narcissist – his flock, his nation, his employees – they pay the price. The disillusionment and disenchantment are agonizing. The process of reconstruction, of rising from the ashes, of overcoming the trauma of having been deceived, exploited and manipulated – is drawn-out. It is difficult to trust again, to have faith, to love, to be led, to collaborate. Feelings of shame and guilt engulf the erstwhile followers of the narcissist. This is his sole legacy: a massive post-traumatic stress disorder.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder at a Glance

Narcissist vs. Psychopath

Narcissists in Positions of Authority

What Doth a Leader Make?

Collective Narcissism


Narcissism in the Boardroom


Resources regarding Leadership Styles


What Really Happened on September 11?

On September 11, I entertained a couple of house guests, senior journalists from Scandinavia. I remember watching in horror and disbelief the unfolding drama, as the United States was being subjected to multiple deadly attacks on-screen. I turned to the international affairs editor of a major Danish paper and told her “This could not have been done by al-Qaida.” I am an Israeli and, as such, I have a fair “sixth sense” as to the capabilities of terrorists and their potential reach.

Enter David Ray Griffin. I was introduced to him by a mutual acquaintance. He is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has published over 30 books, including eight about 9/11, the best known of which is “The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé.”

On the face of it, his credentials with regards to intelligence analysis are hardly relevant, let alone impressive. But, to underestimate him would be a grave error. Being a philosopher, he is highly trained and utterly qualified to assess the credibility of data; the validity and consistency of theories (including conspiracy theories); and the rationality and logic of hypotheses. These qualifications made him arguably the most visible and senior member of what came to be known as the 9/11 Truth Movement.

In our exchange, he proved to be tolerant of dissenting views, open to debate, and invariably possessed of rigorous thinking. Still, while the 9/11 Truth Movement has succeeded to cast doubts on the official version of the events of September 11 (correctly labeled by Griffin: “the official conspiracy theory”), it failed, in my view, to present a compelling case in support of the alternative conspiracy theory much favored by many of its members: that the Bush administration was behind the attacks, one way or the other. Judge for yourselves.

The Incompetence Theory

A. This administration demonstrated incredible incompetence with Hurricane Katrina, the governing of occupied Iraq, and the subprime mortgage crisis. Why should September 11 and the months leading to that fateful day be any exception?

DRG: It was not an exception: The planning and the execution were terribly flawed, resulting in so many problems in the official story, including both internal contradictions and the obvious contravening of basic laws of physics, that if Congress and the press had carried out even the most superficial investigation, the fact that 9/11 was an inside job would have been quickly exposed. I will give nine examples (in giving these, I cite places in my books where the issues are discussed more fully):  

First, President Bush was in a classroom in Florida when the second of the Twin Towers was struck. Although the first strike had been dismissed as an accident, this second one was taken as evidence that America was “under attack,” as Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, reportedly whispered in his ear. Back in the White House, the Secret Service took Vice President Cheney down to the bunker under the White House. But the Secret Service agents with Bush allowed him to stay in the classroom for another 10 minutes, as shown by a video that was included in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” If the attacks had really been, as they seemed, surprise attacks by terrorists going after high-value targets, the Secret Service agents would have feared that a hijacked airliner was bearing down on the school at that very minute. Their failure to hustle Bush away thereby implied that they knew that Bush was in no danger because they knew who was in control of the planes. The White House’s apparently belated recognition of this implication was manifested a year later (before the video had emerged on the Internet), when it started telling a different story, claiming that Bush left the classroom within seconds after being told about the second strike on the Twin Towers (“9/11 Contradictions,” Ch. 1).

Second, the White House and the Pentagon also later found it necessary to distort the truth about where Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and General Richard Myers were between 9 and 10 AM that morning. Richard Clarke reported in his book, “Against All Enemies” that Myers and Rumsfeld were in the Pentagon’s teleconferencing studio participating in his White House video conference, but Myers and Rumsfeld both claimed that they were elsewhere. Although Clarke and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta reported that Cheney was down in the bunker before 9:20, the 9/11 Commission claimed that he didn’t enter it until almost 10:00 (20 minutes after the attack on the Pentagon and just before the crash of Flight 93). And although Clarke reported that he received the shootdown order from Cheney by 9:50 (at least 13 minutes before Flight 93 went down), the Commission claimed that Cheney did not issue this authorization until after 10:15 (“9/11 Contradictions,” Chs. 2-7).

Third, much of the evidence that the planes had been hijacked was provided by people who reported that they had received cell phone calls from relatives or crew members on board the planes. About a dozen cell phone calls were reported from Flight 93 alone. But after the 9/11 Truth Movement publicized the fact that cell phone calls from high-altitude airliners had not been technologically possible in 2001, the FBI changed its report, saying that the only cell phone calls from any of the four airliners were two that occurred when Flight 93 had descended to 5,000 feet (at which altitude they would have been at least arguably possible). This change of story meant, among other things, that the FBI, having stated in an affidavit in 2001 that American 11 flight attendant Amy Sweeney had made a 12-minute cell phone call, needed to fabricate a very implausible tale to support its revised claim that she had actually used an onboard phone (“The New Pearl Harbor Revisited” [henceforth NPHR], Chs. 3 & 6). 

Fourth, the military’s original explanation as to why it was unable to intercept the first three flights before they hit their targets was so obviously problematic that it needed to be changed. Members of the 9/11 Truth Movement had shown that, even if the FAA had been as slow in notifying the military as NORAD claimed in 2001, there had still been sufficient time for the flights to have been intercepted, especially Flights 175 and 77. So the 9/11 Commission in 2004 simply created a new timeline, claiming, wholly implausibly, that the FAA had not notified the military at all about those two flights (“9/11 Contradictions,” Chs. 10 & 11).

Fifth, after considerable evidence was publicized by the 9/11 Truth Movement that Flight 93 had been shot down, the 9/11 Commission created a completely new story about it. Although the military had stated that the FAA had notified it about this flight and even that fighter jets were tracking it, the 9/11 Commission claimed that the FAA had not notified the military about Flight 93 until after it had crashed. Also, as I pointed out above, the 9/11 Commission claimed that Cheney did not issue the shootdown order until about 10:15, even though Richard Clarke reported that he had received this order at about 9:50 (“9/11 Contradictions,” Chs 12-13).

Sixth, the FBI first told reporters that proof of al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the attacks was incriminating material, including Mohamed Atta’s last will and testament, that was found in a Mitsubishi rented by Atta and left in the parking lot at the Boston airport. The FBI also reported that two other members of al-Qaeda who were on Flight 11, Adnan and Ameer Bukhari, drove a rented Nissan on September 10 from Boston to Portland, where they stayed overnight and then took a commuter flight back to Boston the next morning in time to catch Flight 11. On September 13, however, the FBI realized that neither of the Bukhari brothers had died on 9/11: one was still alive and the other had died the year before. So the FBI simply changed the story, saying that Atta and another al-Qaeda operative, Abdul al-Omari, had driven the Nissan to Portland. The incriminating materials were now said not to have been found in the Mitsubishi in the parking lot but in Atta’s luggage, which had failed to make the transfer from the commuter plane to Flight 11. One problem with this new story, besides the fact that it did not get fully formed until September 16, is that it made no sense, because it implied that Atta had planned to take his will on a plane that he intended to fly into the World Trade Center (“9/11 Contradictions,” Ch. 16). 

Seventh, the official story about the attack on the Pentagon said that the pilot of Flight 77, which was a Boeing 757, executed an amazing maneuver in order to strike the first floor of Wedge 1. But the authorities also claimed that this pilot was Hani Hanjour, who could not, as was reported by several stories in the mainstream press, safely fly even a single-engine plane. The identification of the incompetent Hanjour as the pilot was evidently a last-minute decision, because his name was even not on the FBI’s first list of al-Qaeda operatives on Flight 77 (NPHR Chs. 2 & 6).

Eighth, eyewitness accounts by journalists and Pentagon employees, along with photographs and videos taken right after the attack on the Pentagon, reveal that there was no sign that the Pentagon had been hit by a giant airliner. Although about 30 people claimed to see an airliner strike the Pentagon, their testimonies were often in contradiction with each other and the physical facts (“NPHR Ch. 2).

Ninth, WTC 7 was evidently supposed to come down at about 10:45 in the morning, shortly after the collapses of the Twin Towers. A massive explosion occurred in the basement at about 9:15, which would have been 90 minutes before the explosions that were supposed to bring the building down (which would have been the same time-interval as that between the 8:46 explosion in the basement of the North Tower, as reported by janitor William Rodriguez, and the explosions that brought the building down at 10:28). But evidently most of the explosives that were supposed to go off at 10:45 failed to do so. As a result, the building did not come down until late in the afternoon, at which time the collapse was captured on several videos, which show the collapse to have been identical to typical implosions caused by pre-set explosives. This fact necessitated trying to keep most people in the dark about the collapse of WTC 7 as long as possible: Videos of WTC 7’s collapse were never again (after 9/11 itself) shown on mainstream television; the 9/11 Commission did not even mention this collapse; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology repeatedly delayed its report on this building, finally issuing it only late in 2008, shortly before the Bush administration was to leave office.

As shown by these and many other problems, almost every aspect of the 9/11 operation revealed incompetence. If any of the resulting problems had been pursued by Congress or the press, the 9/11 hoax would have been quickly exposed.


Q: Did the US Government possess in-house the expertise necessary to control-demolish WTC 7? Surely they didn’t sub-contract or farm out the demolition?

DRG: Apart from an investigation, we have no way to know for certain. But the planners probably did hire someone: As explained by, true implosions, which cause a building to come straight down into its own footprint (as WTC 7 clearly did), are “by far the trickiest type of explosive project, and there are only a handful of blasting companies in the world that possess enough experience . . . to perform these true building implosions” (“Debunking 9/11 Debunking,” Ch. 3). If the point of your statement that they “surely” would not have farmed out the demolition is that they would have feared that doing so would result in someone spilling the beans, this is an unrealistic assumption. No one would have been brought into the operation who could not be trusted to keep quiet. And why would someone confess to having participated in a project that killed thousands of fellow citizens?

Q: Why didn’t the conspirators wait until a few hours after the attacks and then publicly demolish all three buildings as hazards to the public and for public safety reasons?

DRG: Again, apart from an investigation, in which people are induced to talk by subpoenas and threats of prison, we cannot know why they made the various decisions they made. We can, however, make reasonable guesses in some cases. In this case, the desire to demolish these particular buildings was surely a secondary motive, important to only a few of the conspirators. The main purpose was surely to create a traumatizing spectacle—the planes hitting the buildings and then the buildings coming down shortly thereafter, killing thousands of people—in order to get the American people and Congress psychologically prepared to support attacks on Muslim countries, starting with Afghanistan (against which a war had already been planned), and to accept restrictions on our constitutional rights (the PATRIOT Act). This spectacle could then be replayed endlessly on television to reinforce the public’s fury and readiness to support the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” which could be morphed to attack Iraq (a war against which had also been planned in advance) and, assuming that the wars in those first two countries would go well, some of the other countries on the administration’s “hit list,” which has been reported by General Wesley Clark and neocon Michael Ledeen (NPHR Ch. 7). 

Q: Why was WTC7 targeted and not other WTC buildings which suffered worse damage from debris and fires?

DRG: Again, we could learn the answer to this question easily enough through a genuine investigation, in which the usual types of inducements are used to get people to talk. Because that has not happened, some people have offered theories. One theory is that the building contained records that some authorities wanted destroyed. Another theory is that Giuliani’s Emergency Operations Center on the 23rd floor had equipment for drawing the two planes into the Twin Towers, which meant that the building needed to be totally demolished in order to destroy all the evidence. I myself do not speculate about this, as I do not try to develop a complete theory as to what happened that day. I concentrate instead on the various types of evidence that the official story is false, which is all that is needed to point out that another—a real—investigation is in order.

United 93

Q: The conspiracy at the government level, according to the 9/11 Truth Movement, involved a stand-down order: an instruction to the military not to interfere with the hijacked aircraft and to allow them to crash into their targets. If so, why was UA 93 the exception? Why was it shot down (according to the Truth Movement)?

DRG: Let me begin by correcting your first statement. Many, perhaps most, people in the 9/11 Truth Movement do not believe there were any hijackers on board and hence do not believe that there were any “hijacked aircraft” that were simply “allowed” strike their targets. I at least do not believe this (I’ve explained why at great length in NPHR) and assume, instead, that the whole operation was carried out by the White House and the Pentagon, with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Myers being three of the central figures.

As to what happened to Flight 93, we will probably never know unless there is an investigation. There is indeed strong evidence that a plane was shot down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And this could have been the original plan, in order to have a basis for fabricating the story about the heroic passengers foiling the intention of the evil Arab Muslims to strike another target (such as the White House or the US Capitol building), so that this story could be used by Bush as the beginning of the “war on terror,” in which the American victims would strike back against the Muslim terrorists and “the countries that harbor them.” But we have no way of knowing for sure.

We can, however, say one thing with certainty: that the official story—according to which there was no wreckage at the site because the plane, headed down at 580 miles per hour, buried itself completely in the ground, although a red headband (like those allegedly worn by the hijackers) and the passport of the al-Qaeda pilot were found on the ground—is not true. For one thing, that description of the plane’s descent does not fit what any of the eyewitnesses reported. Also, different eyewitnesses of an airliner flying over the area reported it as going in two different directions, and then two crash sites were cordoned off. From the evidence, therefore, it’s very hard to figure out much beyond the fact that the official story is a lie (NPHR Ch. 3).

Q: In your book, “9/11 Contradictions”, you accept a purported phone call from the aircraft to a fixed line as a fact (pp. 116-7). Why, then, do you reject the veracity and existence of the other phone calls, allegedly made from other aircraft?

DRG: Actually, you misunderstood. I did not accept the purported call from Tom Burnett as a fact. What I accepted is that Deena Burnett “received a phone call that she believed to be from” her husband, Tom Burnett. The passage to which you refer is from Chapter 12 of “9/11 Contradictions.” If you look at Chapter 17, you’ll see that I used the calls received by Deena Burnett as a central part of the evidence that the calls were faked. Here’s why: She reported that she was certain that the calls were from Tom, because she had recognized his cell phone number on her Caller ID. But when the FBI changed its story to get rid of all claims about high-altitude cell phone calls, it said that the calls from Tom Burnett were made on an onboard phone (even though the FBI report written on 9/11 had cited Deena’s assertion that Tom had used his cell phone to make the calls). If one accepts this new FBI report (which was presented at the Moussaoui trial in 2006), how does one explain the fact that Deena reported seeing his cell phone number on her caller ID? Surely, given the fact that she reported this to the FBI that very day, we cannot assume that she was mistaken. And surely we cannot accuse her of lying. But an explanation becomes possible once we become aware of technology that can fake people’s phone numbers as well as their voices. The conclusion that these calls were faked is also supported by internal problems in the statements purportedly made by Tom Burnett.

Once we realize that the cell phone calls were faked, moreover, we must assume that calls reportedly made using onboard phones were also faked: If hijackers really surprised everyone by taking over the planes, why would have people been ready to make fake cell phone calls reporting the existence of hijackers on the planes? (NPHR Chs. 3 & 6).

Al-Qaida and Atta

Q: Why would the FBI and the 9/11 Commission endorse a fallacious timeline regarding Atta’s whereabouts and activities throughout 2001? They admit that they cannot explain his movements. They do not use this timeline to support the official history.

DRG: I explained above that the FBI did have a reason for giving a false account of Atta’s movements on September 10 and 11: The story about two Flight 11 hijackers having driven a Nissan to Portland had become so well known that, when the FBI discovered that the Bukharis had not died on 9/11, it evidently felt that the best solution was to say that Atta had taken the Nissan to Portland. This revised account did become part of the official story.

With regard to the FBI’s timeline for Atta in the early months of 2001, part of the motive for saying that he had left Venice, Florida, never to return, was evidently to cover up the fact that during March and April of 2001 he had lived with a stripper, Amanda Keller, which many people in Venice knew (especially the people who rented the apartment to them). Another motive, suggested by investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker, is that Atta—who, according to Keller, took cocaine, which he would obtain from Huffman Aviation, where he was supposedly taking flight lessons (although Keller reported that he was already an expert pilot)—was perhaps involved in a drug-smuggling operation headquartered at Huffman. In these respects, therefore, the denial that Atta was in Venice in 2001 evidently did serve to support the official story.

In NPHR, incidentally, I reported still more evidence that the FBI timeline on Atta is false. Although this timeline claimed that Atta first arrived in the United States in June 2000, several credible individuals, including a Justice Department official, reported that Atta was in the country much earlier in 2000, as did the military intelligence operation known as Able Danger. It was clearly very important to the authorities to maintain otherwise, as shown by the fact that the Pentagon’s inspector general went to great lengths to get Able Danger members to change their stories or, when they would not, to defame them (NPHR Ch. 6). But why it was so important, I do not know. Perhaps the FBI and Pentagon simply felt that, having strongly insisted that Atta did not arrive in the United States until June 3, 2000, they had to stick with it. But it may have also been motivated by the concern to keep his real activities during that period secret.

Q: If al-Qaida were not involved, how do you explain Project Bojinka as well as multiple warnings (by the foreign minister of Afghanistan, various agents, and the intelligence services of countries from Russia to Israel), all of them pointing the finger at Usama bin-Laden? How do you account for multiple intercepted communications that clearly point the finger at al-Qaida and bin-Laden?

DRG: I have never claimed that al-Qaeda was “not involved” at all. I claim only that there is no evidence that al-Qaeda operatives hijacked the planes. They appear to have been involved as paid assets to provide plausible people on whom to blame the “hijackings.” The White House and the 9/11 Commission, for example, went to great lengths to cover up the fact that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia funneled money to them (NPHR Chs. 6, 8). 

Q: Everyone al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah mentioned in his testimony had died shortly thereafter. Why has Abu Zubaydah survived? How come he hasn’t been liquidated as well?

DRG: I would not presume to know. And perhaps this is a good time to respond explicitly to your apparent assumption that, to challenge the official conspiracy theory, one must have an alternative theory of equal specificity, with answers to all the questions that could conceivably be raised about it. But this is not true. Let’s say that you were accused by the authorities of murdering Bill Jones. You would assume that, to get the case dismissed, all you and your lawyer had to do was to prove that you could not possibly have killed Jones. But imagine that, after you had done so, the judge then declared: “Sorry, that’s not good enough. You must also tell us who did kill Jones, how the murder was committed, and why.” You would surely consider that unreasonable. By analogy, the 9/11 Truth Movement has provided abundant evidence that the 9/11 attacks could not have been carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists. We need not also specify exactly who did organize and carry out the attacks, all their motives, and why they handled each part of the operation and the cover-up as they did. So there is simply no need for us to try to explain why Zubaydah was not liquidated.
Q: The removal of Mahmoud Ahmad from office (as head of Pakistan’s ISI) – ostensibly in order to silence him – could have actually provoked him to spill the beans and reveal what he knows. Alternatively, if he were being punished, at the behest of the CIA, for his collaboration with the 9/11 hijackers, this would seem to prove that the Bush Administration has not been complicit in the attacks.

DRG: I do not find it plausible that because Ahmad was removed, he would have been likely to spill the beans. People, especially long-time professionals like Ahmad, usually do not, out of spite, confess to participation in mass murder. And he was probably rewarded handsomely to resign quietly.

Government and Other Institutions

Q: Americans are prone to distrust their government and to attribute to it the worst motives, intentions, and conduct (consider, for instance, the conspiracy theories whirling around the Kennedy Assassination). Isn’t the Truth Movement another instance of this brand of “anti-establishment” paranoia?

DRG: Like other a priori charges against the 9/11 Truth Movement, this one fails to fit the facts. If this characterization, according to which we joined the movement because we suspected the worst of the Bush administration (rather than because we became convinced by good evidence), were true, most of us would have started calling 9/11 an inside job the very first week. But if you look at the histories of most of the leading members of the movement, they joined much later. I myself first heard the inside-job theory near the end of 2002 and, when the advocate of this theory sent me what he considered good evidence, I did not find it convincing. It was not until I learned of Paul Thompson’s “9/11 Timeline” in March 2003 that I started moving in that direction. To give two more examples, Steven Jones, our leading physicist, did not become involved until 2005, and Richard Gage, who started Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, until 2006.

Another consideration is that paranoid people are usually not very good at weighing evidence carefully. If you look at the writings of people such as Kevin Ryan (a chemist formerly employed at Underwriters Laboratories), Rob Balsamo (founder of Pilots for 9/11 Truth), A. K. Dewdney (former columnist for Scientific American), Robert Bowman (former head of the “Star Wars” program), as well as Jones and Gage, you will see that they exemplify careful, empirical observations, not paranoid thinking. The claim that the leading members of the 9/11 Truth Movement are paranoid is a purely a priori charge, not supported by empirical observation. 

Q: Previous false flag operations did not take place on American soil and involved a minimal number of casualties. Not so September 11. Why the change in MO? Wouldn’t the mere destruction of the Twin Towers (at night, let’s say and with explosives) been enough? Why the enormous – and easily avoidable – toll in lives (for instance, in the Pentagon)?

DRG: My answer to this would be much the same as my response to your second question under the WTC 7 (which actually dealt with the Twin Towers as well), namely, that the spectacle of the planes hitting the buildings and then the buildings collapsing (which would be replayed endlessly on television), along with the toll in lives, was surely considered essential to get the American people, and our representatives in Congress, fired up to give the administration carte blanche to do as it wanted. 

With regard to your observation that no previous false-flag operation had taken place on American soil, that is true only because President Kennedy vetoed Operation Northwoods. The Pentagon’s joint chiefs of staff all signed off on plans to kill American citizens in 1962 in order to have a pretext for a war to regain control of Cuba (“The New Pearl Harbor,” Ch. 7).

Q: If not al-Qaida operatives, then who flew the planes? Who were the suicide pilots? Surely not Americans?

DRG: I doubt if anyone was flying the planes that struck the Twin Towers and whatever it was that hit the Pentagon. They were most likely all flown remotely. The evidence suggests that the Pentagon, besides having bombs go off inside, was struck by a missile or some small airplane (which could have been flown by remote control). And the planes that hit the Twin Towers might have been taken out of the pilots’ control by means of a technological override. Or, more likely, drones may have been substituted for them when their transponders went off near the Air Force base at Rome, New York (hence exemplifying one of the scenarios suggested in Operation Northwoods). In any case, I do not assume that there were any American pilots who volunteered to commit suicide.

Q: If a missile hit the Pentagon, then where is or was flight 77?

DRG: I have never argued that a missile hit the Pentagon. I reported in my first book (The New Pearl Harbor) that Thierry Meyssan argued this case. But I also mentioned that his main point was that there is no good evidence that a Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon and some evidence that it was a missile or a small military plane. That still leaves, of course, your question: If Flight 77 did not hit the Pentagon, what happened to it?

I never cease being amazed at how many people think that, unless those who deny that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon can answer this question, our claim is discredited. But that is simply the most prevalent example of the assumption that, to provide a convincing argument against the official theory, one must provide a fully detailed alternative theory—in this case explaining what happened to Flight 77. But that does not follow. There are many possible things that could have happened to it. It might, for example, have been the airliner that reportedly crashed on the Ohio-Kentucky border; or it could have been taken to a US Air Force base. But apart from an investigation, there is no way for those of us not involved in the operation to know what really did happen to it. And there is no need for us to have an answer, just as you, to prove you didn’t kill Bill Jones, would not have to be able to say who did it and how.

We do, I might add, have strong evidence that the government used deception to convince us that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. US Solicitor General Ted Olson—who had been instrumental in putting the Bush administration in power by successfully arguing that the US Supreme Court should stop the 2000 vote count in Florida—claimed on 9/11 that he had received two phone calls from his wife, TV commentator Barbara Olson, from Flight 77 shortly before the Pentagon was hit, during which she reported that the flight had been taken over by hijackers armed with knives and boxcutters. This was used as evidence that Flight 77 had been hijacked and that it had not crashed in the Mid-West. When the FBI presented its evidence about phone calls from the planes at the Moussaoui trial in 2006, however, it said this about Barbara Olson: She attempted one call, which was “unconnected,” and hence lasted “O seconds.” Accordingly, although the FBI is part of the Department of Justice, its report indicates that the story told by Ted Olson, the DOJ’s former solicitor general, was untrue—which implies either that Olson lied or that he was duped. In either case, the claim that Barbara Olson gave information about Flight 77 was based on deception. And such deception is one more piece of evidence that the whole story about Flight 77 and the attack on the Pentagon is false (NPHR Ch. 2).
Q. Can you please comment on the role of terrorist attacks in domestic politics in the US?

DRG: Clearly the 9/11 attacks played a major role in the elections of 2002 and 2004, helping the Republicans gain control of the Congress and the White House. This role was not, to be sure, sufficient to keep Bush and Cheney in the White House in 2004, as the Republicans also had to resort to distorting John Kerry’s war record and also to stealing the election through various means, most clearly in Ohio (see Mark Crispin Miller, Fooled Again). But there seems to be little doubt that the use of 9/11 to scare people into voting for Republicans played a role (even if irrationally, because the 9/11 attacks, if not either orchestrated or deliberately allowed by the Bush administration, were allowed by its incompetence).

By 2006, the 9/11-based appeal to fear had little effect, and thus far it is still weaker in 2008. This fact has not, however, prevented the Republicans from trying to use it one more time to scare people into voting for them, as the addresses to the Republican convention by Bush, Giuliani, and McCain illustrated.

Many people in the 9/11 community, however, fear that another false-flag attack, perhaps this time employing a nuclear weapon, will come before the 2008 elections, whether to help McCain win or, more fatefully, as a pretext for Bush to declare martial law and cancel the elections, allowing him, by the power he gave to himself in Presidential Directive 51, to assume unilateral control of the federal government. I am not saying that I expect this to happen. But I do not consider the fear unrealistic.

Q. In the days prior to September 11, the volume of put options on the stocks of firms involved in the attacks (mainly airlines and companies whose headquarters were in the WTC) soared. Do we know who bought these options and was it a case of insider trading?

DRG: It does appear to have been a case of insider trading (as I reported in “The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions,” citing the careful study by Allen Poteshman, who teaches finance at the University of Illinois).

But the 9/11 Commission, while assuring us that it was not a case of insider trading, refused to tell us who bought the extraordinary numbers of put options on these companies. In illustrating its purported evidence that all the purchases were innocent, it said that “[a] single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda purchased 95 percent of the UAL puts.” The Commission thereby employed circular logic. Beginning with the assumption that the attacks were planned and carried out entirely by al-Qaeda, with nobody else knowing about the plans, it argued that unless the put option purchasers were connected to al-Qaeda, the purchaser could not have had any inside information. But that argument begs the basic question at issue, which is precisely whether the attacks were planned by al-Qaeda, with no one else knowing about the plans (NPHR Ch. 5).

By not telling us who the investors were, the 9/11 Commission made it impossible for us to confirm its assurance that the purchases did not reflect insider information. We must simply take it on faith—which is difficult to do, given the dozens of lies of omission and distortion within the Commission’s report (“The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions”). 

Sam, thanks for your questions, which have perhaps allowed me to reach a new audience with evidence that the official story about 9/11 is a lie. This evidence—only a small portion of which I have mentioned here—means that the policies that have been based on the assumption that America was attacked by Muslims on 9/11 need to be reversed. This point is especially germane in the light of Barack Obama’s argument that one reason to wind down our involvement in Iraq is to have the troops and resources to “go after the people in Afghanistan who attacked us on 9/11.” His position, which was stated repeatedly by speakers at the Democratic convention, is also reflected by the New York Times, which refers to the US attack on Iraq as a “war of choice” but the attack on Afghanistan as a “war of necessity,” and by Time magazine, which has dubbed the latter “the right war.” If we were not really attacked by Muslims on 9/11, these two wars were equally unjustified (as well as equally illegal under international law).

Also Read

The Union of Death –
Terrorists and Freedom Fighters in the Balkans

Macedonia to the Macedonians!

The Black Hand

The Insurgents and the Swastika

The Army of Liberation

Selling Arms to Rogue States

Terrorism as a Psychodynamic Phenomenon

The Dialogue of Dreams

Read an Interview about DREAMS – Click HERE!

Are dreams a source of reliable divination? Generations upon generations seem to have thought so. They incubated dreams by travelling afar, by fasting and by engaging in all other manners of self deprivation or intoxication. With the exception of this highly dubious role, dreams do seem to have three important functions:

  1. To process repressed emotions (wishes, in Freud’s speech) and other mental content which was suppressed and stored in the unconscious.
  1. To order, classify and, generally, to pigeonhole conscious experiences of the day or days preceding the dreaming (“day residues”). A partial overlap with the former function is inevitable: some sensory input is immediately relegated to the darker and dimmer kingdoms of the subconscious and unconscious without being consciously processed at all.
  1. To “stay in touch” with the outside world. External sensory input is interpreted by the dream and represented in its unique language of symbols and disjunction. Research has shown this to be a rare event, independent of the timing of the stimuli: during sleep or immediately prior to it. Still, when it does happen, it seems that even when the interpretation is dead wrong – the substantial information is preserved. A collapsing bedpost (as in Maury’s famous dream) will become a French guillotine, for instance. The message conserved: there is physical danger to the neck and head.

All three functions are part of a much larger one:

The continuous adjustment of the model one has of one’s self and of one’s place in the world – to the incessant stream of sensory (external) input and of mental (internal) input. This “model modification” is carried out through an intricate, symbol laden, dialogue between the dreamer and himself. It probably also has therapeutic side benefits. It would be an over-simplification to say that the dream carries messages (even if we were to limit it to correspondence with one’s self). The dream does not seem to be in a position of privileged knowledge. The dream functions more like a good friend would: listening, advising, sharing experiences, providing access to remote territories of the mind, putting events in perspective and in proportion and provoking. It, thus, induces relaxation and acceptance and a better functioning of the “client”. It does so, mostly, by analysing discrepancies and incompatibilities. No wonder that it is mostly associated with bad emotions (anger, hurt, fear). This also happens in the course of successful psychotherapy. Defences are gradually dismantled and a new, more functional, view of the world is established. This is a painful and frightening process. This function of the dream is more in line with Jung’s view of dreams as “compensatory”. The previous three functions are “complementary” and, therefore, Freudian.

It would seem that we are all constantly engaged in maintenance, in preserving that which exists and inventing new strategies for coping. We are all in constant psychotherapy, administered by ourselves, day and night. Dreaming is just the awareness of this on-going process and its symbolic content. We are more susceptible, vulnerable, and open to dialogue while we sleep. The dissonance between how we regard ourselves, and what we really are and between our model of the world and reality – this dissonance is so enormous that it calls for a (continuous) routine of evaluation, mending and re-invention. Otherwise, the whole edifice might crumble. The delicate balance between we, the dreamers, and the world might be shattered, leaving us defenceless and dysfunctional.

To be effective, dreams must come equipped with the key to their interpretation. We all seem to possess an intuitive copy of just such a key, uniquely tailored to our needs, to our data and to our circumstances. This Areiocritica helps us to decipher the true and motivating meaning of the dialogue. This is one reason why dreaming is discontinuous: time must be given to interpret and to assimilate the new model. Four to six sessions take place every night. A session missed will be held the night after. If a person is prevented from dreaming on a permanent basis, he will become irritated, then neurotic and then psychotic. In other words: his model of himself and of the world will no longer be usable. It will be out of synch. It will represent both reality and the non-dreamer wrongly. Put more succinctly: it seems that the famous “reality test” (used in psychology to set apart the “functioning, normal” individuals from those who are not) is maintained by dreaming. It fast deteriorates when dreaming is impossible. This link between the correct apprehension of reality (reality model), psychosis and dreaming has yet to be explored in depth. A few predictions can be made, though:

  1. The dream mechanisms and/or dream contents of psychotics must be substantially different and distinguished from ours. Their dreams must be “dysfunctional”, unable to tackle the unpleasant, bad emotional residue of coping with reality. Their dialogue must be disturbed. They must be represented rigidly in their dreams. Reality must not be present in them not at all.
  1. Most of the dreams, most of the time must deal with mundane matters. Their content must not be exotic, surrealist, extraordinary. They must be chained to the dreamer’s realities, his (daily) problems, people that he knows, situations that he encountered or is likely to encounter, dilemmas that he is facing and conflicts that he would have liked resolved. This, indeed, is the case. Unfortunately, this is heavily disguised by the symbol language of the dream and by the disjointed, disjunctive, dissociative manner in which it proceeds. But a clear separation must be made between subject matter (mostly mundane and “dull”, relevant to the dreamer’s life) and the script or mechanism (colourful symbols, discontinuity of space, time and purposeful action).
  1. The dreamer must be the main protagonist of his dreams, the hero of his dreamy narratives. This, overwhelmingly, is the case: dreams are egocentric. They are concerned mostly with the “patient” and use other figures, settings, locales, situations to cater to his needs, to reconstruct his reality test and to adapt it to the new input from outside and from within.
  1. If dreams are mechanisms, which adapt the model of the world and the reality test to daily inputs – we should find a difference between dreamers and dreams in different societies and cultures. The more “information heavy” the culture, the more the dreamer is bombarded with messages and data – the fiercer should the dream activity be. Every external datum likely generates a shower of internal data. Dreamers in the West should engage in a qualitatively different type of dreaming. We will elaborate on this as we continue. Suffice it to say, at this stage, that dreams in information-cluttered societies will employ more symbols, will weave them more intricately and the dreams will be much more erratic and discontinuous. As a result, dreamers in information-rich societies will never mistake a dream for reality. They will never confuse the two. In information poor cultures (where most of the daily inputs are internal) – such confusion will arise very often and even be enshrined in religion or in the prevailing theories regarding the world. Anthropology confirms that this, indeed, is the case. In information poor societies dreams are less symbolic, less erratic, more continuous, more “real” and the dreamers often tend to fuse the two (dream and reality) into a whole and act upon it.
  1. To complete their mission successfully (adaptation to the world using the model of reality modified by them) – dreams must make themselves felt. They must interact with the dreamer’s real world, with his behaviour in it, with his moods that bring his behaviour about, in short: with his whole mental apparatus. Dreams seem to do just this: they are remembered in half the cases. Results are, probably, achieved without need for cognitive, conscious processing, in the other, unremembered, or disremembered cases. They greatly influence the immediate mood after awakening. They are discussed, interpreted, force people to think and re-think. They are dynamos of (internal and external) dialogue long after they have faded into the recesses of the mind. Sometimes they directly influence actions and many people firmly believe in the quality of the advice provided by them. In this sense, dreams are an inseparable part of reality. In many celebrated cases they even induced works of art or inventions or scientific discoveries (all adaptations of old, defunct, reality models of the dreamers). In numerous documented cases, dreams tackled, head on, issues that bothered the dreamers during their waking hours.

How does this theory fit with the hard facts?

Dreaming (D-state or D-activity) is associated with a special movement of the eyes, under the closed eyelids, called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). It is also associated with changes in the pattern of electrical activity of the brain (EEG). A dreaming person has the pattern of someone who is wide awake and alert. This seems to sit well with a theory of dreams as active therapists, engaged in the arduous task of incorporating new (often contradictory and incompatible) information into an elaborate personal model of the self and the reality that it occupies.

There are two types of dreams: visual and “thought-like” (which leave an impression of being awake on the dreamer). The latter happens without any REM cum EEG fanfare. It seems that the “model-adjustment” activities require abstract thinking (classification, theorizing, predicting, testing, etc.). The relationship is very much like the one that exists between intuition and formalism, aesthetics and scientific discipline, feeling and thinking, mentally creating and committing one’s creation to a medium.

All mammals exhibit the same REM/EEG patterns and may, therefore, be dreaming as well. Some birds do it, and some reptiles as well. Dreaming seems to be associated with the brain stem (Pontine tegmentum) and with the secretion of Norepinephrine and Serotonin in the brain. The rhythm of breathing and the pulse rate change and the skeletal muscles are relaxed to the point of paralysis (presumably, to prevent injury if the dreamer should decide to engage in enacting his dream). Blood flows to the genitals (and induces penile erections in male dreamers). The uterus contracts and the muscles at the base of the tongue enjoy a relaxation in electrical activity.

These facts would indicate that dreaming is a very primordial activity. It is essential to survival. It is not necessarily connected to higher functions like speech but it is connected to reproduction and to the biochemistry of the brain. The construction of a “world-view”, a model of reality is as critical to the survival of an ape as it is to ours. And the mentally disturbed and the mentally retarded dream as much as the normal do. Such a model can be innate and genetic in very simple forms of life because the amount of information that needs to be incorporated is limited. Beyond a certain amount of information that the individual is likely to be exposed to daily, two needs arise. The first is to maintain the model of the world by eliminating “noise” and by realistically incorporating negating data and the second is to pass on the function of modelling and remodelling to a much more flexible structure, to the brain. In a way, dreams are about the constant generation, construction and testing of theories regarding the dreamer and his ever-changing internal and external environments. Dreams are the scientific community of the Self. That Man carried it further and invented Scientific Activity on a larger, external, scale is small wonder.

Physiology also tells us the differences between dreaming and other hallucinatory states (nightmares, psychoses, sleepwalking, daydreaming, hallucinations, illusions and mere imagination): the REM/EEG patterns are absent and the latter states are much less “real”. Dreams are mostly set in familiar places and obey the laws of nature or some logic. Their hallucinatory nature is a hermeneutic imposition. It derives mainly from their erratic, abrupt behaviour (space, time and goal discontinuities) which is ONE of the elements in hallucinations as well.

Why is dreaming conducted while we sleep? Probably, there is something in it which requires what sleep has to offer: limitation of external, sensory, inputs (especially visual ones – hence the compensatory strong visual element in dreams). An artificial environment is sought in order to maintain this periodical, self-imposed deprivation, static state and reduction in bodily functions. In the last 6-7 hours of every sleep session, 40% of the people wake up. About 40% – possibly the same dreamers – report that they had a dream in the relevant night. As we descend into sleep (the hypnagogic state) and as we emerge from it (the hypnopompic state) – we have visual dreams. But they are different. It is as though we are “thinking” these dreams. They have no emotional correlate, they are transient, undeveloped, abstract and expressly deal with the day residues. They are the “garbage collectors”, the “sanitation department” of the brain. Day residues, which clearly do not need to be processed by dreams – are swept under the carpet of consciousness (maybe even erased).

Suggestible people dream what they have been instructed to dream in hypnosis – but not what they have been so instructed while (partly) awake and under direct suggestion. This further demonstrates the independence of the Dream Mechanism. It almost does not react to external sensory stimuli while in operation. It takes an almost complete suspension of judgement in order to influence the contents of dreams.

It would all seem to point at another important feature of dreams: their economy. Dreams are subject to four “articles of faith” (which govern all the phenomena of life):

  1. Homeostasis – The preservation of the internal environment, an equilibrium between (different but interdependent) elements which make up the whole.
  1. Equilibrium – The maintenance of an internal environment in balance with an external one.
  1. Optimization (also known as efficiency) – The securing of maximum results with minimum invested resources and minimum damage to other resources, not directly used in the process.
  1. Parsimony (Occam’s razor) – The utilization of a minimal set of (mostly known) assumptions, constraints, boundary conditions and initial conditions in order to achieve maximum explanatory or modelling power.

In compliance with the above four principles dreams HAD to resort to visual symbols. The visual is the most condensed (and efficient) form of packaging information. “A picture is worth a thousand words” the saying goes and computer users know that to store images requires more memory than any other type of data. But dreams have an unlimited capacity of information processing at their disposal (the brain at night). In dealing with gigantic amounts of information, the natural preference (when processing power is not constrained) would be to use visuals. Moreover, non-isomorphic, polyvalent forms will be preferred. In other words: symbols that can be “mapped” to more than one meaning and those that carry a host of other associated symbols and meanings with them will be preferred. Symbols are a form of shorthand. They haul a great amount of information – most of it stored in the recipient’s brain and provoked by the symbol. This is a little like the Java applets in modern programming: the application is divided to small modules, which are stored in a central computer. The symbols generated by the user’s computer (using the Java programming language) “provoke” them to surface. The result is a major simplification of the processing terminal (the net-PC) and an increase in its cost efficiency.

Both collective symbols and private symbols are used. The collective symbols (Jung’s archetypes?) prevent the need to re-invent the wheel. They are assumed to constitute a universal language usable by dreamers everywhere. The dreaming brain has, therefore, to attend to and to process only the “semi-private language” elements. This is less time consuming and the conventions of a universal language apply to the communication between the dream and the dreamer.

Even the discontinuities have their reason. A lot of the information that we absorb and process is either “noise” or repetitive. This fact is known to the authors of all the file compression applications in the world. Computer files can be compressed to one tenth their size without appreciably losing information. The same principle is applied in speed reading – skimming the unnecessary bits, getting straight to the point. The dream employs the same principles: it skims, it gets straight to the point and from it – to yet another point. This creates the sensation of being erratic, of abruptness, of the absence of spatial or temporal logic, of purposelessness. But this all serves the same purpose: to succeed to finish the Herculean task of refitting the model of the Self and of the World in one night.

Thus, the selection of visuals, symbols, and collective symbols and of the discontinuous mode of presentation, their preference over alternative methods of representation is not accidental. This is the most economic and unambiguous way of representation and, therefore, the most efficient and the most in compliance with the four principles. In cultures and societies, where the mass of information to be processed is less mountainous – these features are less likely to occur and indeed, they don’t.
Excerpts from an Interview about DREAMS – First published in Suite101

Dreams are by far the most mysterious phenomenon in mental life. On the face of it, dreaming is a colossal waste of energy and psychic resources. Dreams carry no overt information content. They bear little resemblance to reality. They interfere with the most critical biological maintenance function – with sleep. They don’t seem to be goal oriented, they have no discernible objective. In this age of technology and precision, efficiency and optimization – dreams seem to be a somewhat anachronistically quaint relic of our life in the savannah. Scientists are people who believe in the aesthetic preservation of resources. They believe that nature is intrinsically optimal, parsimonious and “wise”. They dream up symmetries, “laws” of nature, minimalist theories. They believe that everything has a reason and a purpose. In their approach to dreams and dreaming, scientists commit all these sins combined. They anthropomorphesize nature, they engage in teleological explanations, they attribute purpose and paths to dreams, where there might be none. So, they say that dreaming is a maintenance function (the processing of the preceding day’s experiences) – or that it keeps the sleeping person alert and aware of his environment. But no one knows for sure. We dream, no one knows why. Dreams have elements in common with dissociation or hallucinations but they are neither. They employ visuals because this is the most efficient way of packing and transferring information. But WHICH information? Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” is a mere literary exercise. It is not a serious scientific work (which does not detract from its awesome penetration and beauty).

I have lived in Africa, the Middle East, North America, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Dreams fulfil different societal functions and have distinct cultural roles in each of these civilizations. In Africa, dreams are perceived to be a mode of communication, as real as the internet is to us.

Dreams are pipelines through which messages flow: from the beyond (life after death), from other people (such as shamans – remember Castaneda), from the collective (Jung), from reality (this is the closest to Western interpretation), from the future (precognition), or from assorted divinities. The distinction between dream states and reality is very blurred and people act on messages contained in dreams as they would on any other information they obtain in their “waking” hours. This state of affairs is quite the same in the Middle East and Eastern Europe where dreams constitute an integral and important part of institutionalized religion and the subject of serious analyses and contemplation. In North America – the most narcissistic culture ever – dreams have been construed as communications WITHIN the dreaming person. Dreams no longer mediate between the person and his environment. They are the representation of interactions between different structures of the “self”. Their role is, therefore, far more limited and their interpretation far more arbitrary (because it is highly dependent on the personal circumstances and psychology of the specific dreamer).

Narcissism IS a dream state. The narcissist is totally detached from his (human) milieu. Devoid of empathy and obsessively centred on the procurement of narcissistic supply (adulation, admiration, etc.) – the narcissist is unable to regard others as three dimensional beings with their own needs and rights. This mental picture of narcissism can easily serve as a good description of the dream state where other people are mere representations, or symbols, in a hermeneutically sealed thought system. Both narcissism and dreaming are AUTISTIC states of mind with severe cognitive and emotional distortions. By extension, one can talk about “narcissistic cultures” as “dream cultures” doomed to a rude awakening. It is interesting to note that most narcissists I know from my correspondence or personally (myself included) have a very poor dream-life and dreamscape. They remember nothing of their dreams and are rarely, if ever, motivated by insights contained in them.

The Internet is the sudden and voluptuous embodiment of my dreams. It is too good to me to be true – so, in many ways, it isn’t. I think Mankind (at least in the rich, industrialized countries) is moonstruck. It surfs this beautiful, white landscape, in suspended disbelief. It holds it breath. It dares not believe and believes not its hopes. The Internet has, therefore, become a collective phantasm – at times a dream, at times a nightmare. Entrepreneurship involves massive amounts of dreaming and the net is pure entrepreneurship.

Also Read

Narcissism’s Clarion Call – A Dream Interpreted

The Myth of Mental Illness

The Insanity of the Defense

In Defense of Psychoanalysis

The Metaphors of the Mind – Part I (The Brain)

The Metaphors of the Mind – Part II (Psychotherapy)

The Use and Abuse of Differential Diagnoses

Althusser, Competing Interpellations and the Third Text

Short Fiction about Dreams and Dreaming

Night Terror

A Dream Come True

Lucid Dreams

The Shattered Identity

I. Exposition

In the movie “Shattered” (1991), Dan Merrick survives an accident and develops total amnesia regarding his past. His battered face is reconstructed by plastic surgeons and, with the help of his loving wife, he gradually recovers his will to live. But he never develops a proper sense of identity. It is as though he is constantly ill at ease in his own body. As the plot unravels, Dan is led to believe that he may have murdered his wife’s lover, Jack. This thriller offers additional twists and turns but, throughout it all, we face this question:

Dan has no recollection of being Dan. Dan does not remember murdering Jack. It seems as though Dan’s very identity has been erased. Yet, Dan is in sound mind and can tell right from wrong. Should Dan be held (morally and, as a result, perhaps legally as well) accountable for Jack’s murder?

Would the answer to this question still be the same had Dan erased from his memory ONLY the crime -but recalled everything else (in an act of selective dissociation)? Do our moral and legal accountability and responsibility spring from the integrity of our memories? If Dan were to be punished for a crime he doesn’t have the faintest recollection of committing – wouldn’t he feel horribly wronged? Wouldn’t he be justified in feeling so?

There are many states of consciousness that involve dissociation and selective amnesia: hypnosis, trance and possession, hallucination, illusion, memory disorders (like organic, or functional amnesia), depersonalization disorder, dissociative fugue, dreaming, psychosis, post traumatic stress disorder, and drug-induced psychotomimetic states.

Consider this, for instance:

What if Dan were the victim of a Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as “Dissociative Identity Disorder”)? What if one of his “alters” (i.e., one of the multitude of “identities” sharing Dan’s mind and body) committed the crime? Should Dan still be held responsible? What if the alter “John” committed the crime and then “vanished”, leaving behind another alter (let us say, “Joseph”) in control? Should “Joseph” be held responsible for the crime “John” committed? What if “John” were to reappear 10 years after he “vanished”? What if he were to reappear 50 years after he “vanished”? What if he were to reappear for a period of 90 days – only to “vanish” again? And what is Dan’s role in all this? Who, exactly, then, is Dan?

II. Who is Dan?

Buddhism compares Man to a river. Both retain their identity despite the fact that their individual composition is different at different moments. The possession of a body as the foundation of a self-identity is a dubious proposition. Bodies change drastically in time (consider a baby compared to an adult). Almost all the cells in a human body are replaced every few years. Changing one’s brain (by transplantation) – also changes one’s identity, even if the rest of the body remains the same.

Thus, the only thing that binds a “person” together (i.e., gives him a self and an identity) is time, or, more precisely, memory. By “memory” I also mean: personality, skills, habits, retrospected emotions – in short: all long term imprints and behavioural patterns. The body is not an accidental and insignificant container, of course. It constitutes an important part of one’s self-image, self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and sense of existence (spatial, temporal, and social). But one can easily imagine a brain in vitro as having the same identity as when it resided in a body. One cannot imagine a body without a brain (or with a different brain) as having the same identity it had before the brain was removed or replaced.

What if the brain in vitro (in the above example) could not communicate with us at all? Would we still think it is possessed of a self? The biological functions of people in coma are maintained. But do they have an identity, a self? If yes, why do we “pull the plug” on them so often?

It would seem (as it did to Locke) that we accept that someone has a self-identity if: (a) He has the same hardware as we do (notably, a brain) and (b) He communicates his humanly recognizable and comprehensible inner world to us and manipulates his environment. We accept that he has a given (i.e., the same continuous) self-identity if (c) He shows consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns (“memory”) in doing (b) for a long period of time.

It seems that we accept that we have a self-identity (i.e., we are self-conscious) if (a) We discern (usually through introspection) long term consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns (“memory”) in our manipulation (“relating to”) of our environment and (b) Others accept that we have a self-identity (Herbert Mead, Feuerbach).

Dan (probably) has the same hardware as we do (a brain). He communicates his (humanly recognizable and comprehensible) inner world to us (which is how he manipulates us and his environment). Thus, Dan clearly has a self-identity. But he is inconsistent. His intentional (willed) patterns, his memory, are incompatible with those demonstrated by Dan before the accident. Though he clearly is possessed of a self-identity, we cannot say that he has the SAME self-identity he possessed before the crash. In other words, we cannot say that he, indeed, is Dan.

Dan himself does not feel that he has a self-identity at all. He discerns intentional (willed) patterns in his manipulation of his environment but, due to his amnesia, he cannot tell if these are consistent, or long term. In other words, Dan has no memory. Moreover, others do not accept him as Dan (or have their doubts) because they have no memory of Dan as he is now.

Interim conclusion:

Having a memory is a necessary and sufficient condition for possessing a self-identity.

III. Repression

Yet, resorting to memory to define identity may appear to be a circular (even tautological) argument. When we postulate  memory – don’t we already presuppose the existence of a “remembering agent” with an established self-identity?

Moreover, we keep talking about “discerning”, “intentional”, or “willed” patterns. But isn’t a big part of our self (in the form of the unconscious, full of repressed memories) unavailable to us? Don’t we develop defence mechanisms against repressed memories and fantasies, against unconscious content incongruent with our self-image? Even worse, this hidden, inaccessible, dynamically active part of our self is thought responsible for our recurrent discernible patterns of behaviour. The phenomenon of posthypnotic suggestion seems to indicate that this may be the case. The existence of a self-identity is, therefore, determined through introspection (by oneself) and observation (by others) of merely the conscious part of the self.

But the unconscious is as much a part of one’s self-identity as one’s conscious. What if, due to a mishap, the roles were reversed? What if Dan’s conscious part were to become his unconscious and his unconscious part – his conscious? What if all his conscious memories, drives, fears, wishes, fantasies, and hopes – were to become unconscious while his repressed memories, drives, etc. – were to become conscious? Would we still say that it is “the same” Dan and that he retains his self-identity? Not very likely. And yet, one’s (unremembered) unconscious – for instance, the conflict between id and ego – determines one’s personality and self-identity.

The main contribution of psychoanalysis and later psychodynamic schools is the understanding that self-identity is a dynamic, evolving, ever-changing construct – and not a static, inertial, and passive entity. It casts doubt over the meaningfulness of the question with which we ended the exposition: “Who, exactly, then, is Dan?” Dan is different at different stages of his life (Erikson) and he constantly evolves in accordance with his innate nature (Jung), past history (Adler), drives (Freud), cultural milieu (Horney), upbringing (Klein, Winnicott), needs (Murray), or the interplay with his genetic makeup. Dan is not a thing – he is a process. Even Dan’s personality traits and cognitive style, which may well be stable, are often influenced by Dan’s social setting and by his social interactions.

It would seem that having a memory is a necessary but insufficient condition for possessing a self-identity. One cannot remember one’s unconscious states (though one can remember their outcomes). One often forgets events, names, and other information even if it was conscious at a given time in one’s past. Yet, one’s (unremembered) unconscious is an integral and important part of one’s identity and one’s self. The remembered as well as the unremembered constitute one’s self-identity.

IV. The Memory Link

Hume said that to be considered in possession of a mind, a creature needs to have a few states of consciousness linked by memory in a kind of narrative or personal mythology. Can this conjecture be equally applied to unconscious mental states (e.g. subliminal perceptions, beliefs, drives, emotions, desires, etc.)?

In other words, can we rephrase Hume and say that to be considered in possession of a mind, a creature needs to have a few states of consciousness and a few states of the unconscious – all linked by memory into a personal narrative? Isn’t it a contradiction in terms to remember the unconscious?

The unconscious and the subliminal are instance of the general category of mental phenomena which are not states of consciousness (i.e., are not conscious). Sleep and hypnosis are two others. But so are “background mental phenomena” – e.g., one holds onto one’s beliefs and knowledge even when one is not aware (conscious) of them at every given moment. We know that an apple will fall towards the earth, we know how to drive a car (“automatically”), and we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, even though we do not spend every second of our waking life consciously thinking about falling apples, driving cars, or the position of the sun.

Yet, the fact that knowledge and beliefs and other background mental phenomena are not constantly conscious – does not mean that they cannot be remembered. They can be remembered either by an act of will, or in (sometimes an involuntary) response to changes in the environment. The same applies to all other unconscious content. Unconscious content can be recalled. Psychoanalysis, for instance, is about re-introducing repressed unconscious content to the patient’s conscious memory and thus making it “remembered”.

In fact, one’s self-identity may be such a background mental phenomenon (always there, not always conscious, not always remembered). The acts of will which bring it to the surface are what we call “memory” and “introspection”.

This would seem to imply that having a self-identity is independent of having a memory (or the ability to introspect). Memory is just the mechanism by which one becomes aware of one’s background, “always-on”, and omnipresent (all-pervasive) self-identity. Self-identity is the object and predicate of memory and introspection. It is as though self-identity were an emergent extensive parameter of the complex human system – measurable by the dual techniques of memory and introspection.

We, therefore, have to modify our previous conclusions:

Having a memory is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition for possessing a self-identity.

We are back to square one. The poor souls in Oliver Sacks’ tome, “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat” are unable to create and retain memories. They occupy an eternal present, with no past. They are thus unable to access (or invoke) their self-identity by remembering it. Their self-identity is unavailable to them (though it is available to those who observe them over many years) – but it exists for sure. Therapy often succeeds in restoring pre-amnesiac memories and self-identity.

V. The Incorrigible Self

Self-identity is not only always-on and all-pervasive – but also incorrigible. In other words, no one – neither an observer,  nor the person himself – can “disprove” the existence of his self-identity. No one can prove that a report about the existence of his (or another’s) self-identity is mistaken.

Is it equally safe to say that no one – neither an observer, nor the person himself – can prove (or disprove) the non-existence of his self-identity? Would it be correct to say that no one can prove that a report about the non-existence of his (or another’s) self-identity is true or false?

Dan’s criminal responsibility crucially depends on the answers to these questions. Dan cannot be held responsible for Jack’s murder if he can prove that he is ignorant of the facts of his action (i.e., if he can prove the non-existence of his self-identity). If he has no access to his (former) self-identity – he can hardly be expected to be aware and cognizant of these facts.

What is in question is not Dan’s mens rea, nor the application of the McNaghten tests (did Dan know the nature and quality of his act or could he  tell right from wrong) to determine whether Dan was insane when he committed the crime. A much broader issue is at stake: is it the same person? Is the murderous Dan the same person as the current Dan? Even though Dan seems to own the same body and brain and is manifestly sane – he patently has no access to his (former) self-identity. He has changed so drastically that it is arguable whether he is still the same person – he has been “replaced”.

Finally, we can try to unite all the strands of our discourse into this double definition:

It would seem that we accept that someone has a self-identity if: (a) He has the same hardware as we do (notably, a brain) and, by implication, the same software as we do (an all-pervasive, omnipresent self-identity) and (b) He communicates his humanly recognizable and comprehensible inner world to us and manipulates his environment. We accept that he has a specific (i.e., the same continuous) self-identity if (c) He shows consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns (“memory”) in doing (b) for a long period of time.

It seems that we accept that we have a specific self-identity (i.e., we are self-conscious of a specific identity) if (a) We discern (usually through memory and introspection) long term consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns (“memory”) in our manipulation (“relating to”) of our environment and (b) Others accept that we have a specific self-identity.

In conclusion: Dan undoubtedly has a self-identity (being human and, thus, endowed with a brain). Equally undoubtedly, this self-identity is not Dan’s (but a new, unfamiliar, one).

Such is the stuff of our nightmares – body snatching, demonic possession, waking up in a strange place, not knowing who we are. Without a continuous personal history – we are not. It is what binds our various bodies, states of mind, memories, skills, emotions, and cognitions – into a coherent bundle of identity. Dan speaks, drinks, dances, talks, and makes love – but throughout that time, he is not present because he does not remember Dan and how it is to be Dan. He may have murdered Jake – but, by all philosophical and ethical criteria, it was most definitely not his fault.

Also read:

The Habitual Identity

Death, Meaning, and Identity

Fact and Truth

Dreams – The Metaphors of Mind


Can the Narcissist Become Violent?


I am afraid of my ex-Narcissist. He stalks me, harasses me, threatens me verbally. Can he become real violent? Am I at risk? I am mostly worried about my children. Will he do something bad to them to get back at me?


Pathological narcissism is a spectrum of disorders. People suffering from the full blown, all-pervasive, personality distorting mental health disorder known as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – are, indeed, more prone to violence than others.

Actually, the differential diagnosis (=the difference) between NPD and AsPD (Antisocial PD, psychopaths) is very blurred. Most psychopaths have narcissistic traits and many a narcissist are also sadists. Both types are devoid of empathy, are remorseless, ruthless, and relentless in their pursuit of their goals (the narcissist’s goal is narcissistic supply or the avoidance of narcissistic injury).

Narcissists often use verbal and psychological abuse and violence against those closest to them. Some of them move from abstract aggression (the emotion leading to violence and permeating it) to the physically concrete sphere of violence.

Many narcissists are also paranoid and vindictive. They aim to punish (by tormenting) and destroy the source of their frustration and pain.

There are only two ways of coping with vindictive narcissists:

1. To Frighten Them

Narcissists live in a state of constant rage, repressed aggression, envy and hatred. They firmly believe that everyone is like them. As a result, they are paranoid, suspicious, scared and erratic. Frightening the narcissist is a powerful behavior modification tool. If sufficiently deterred – the narcissist promptly disengages, gives up everything he was fighting for and sometimes make amends.

To act effectively, one has to identify the vulnerabilities and susceptibilities of the narcissist and strike repeated, escalating blows at them – until the narcissist lets go and vanishes.


If a narcissist is hiding a personal fact – one should use this to threaten him. One should drop cryptic hints that there are mysterious witnesses to the events and recently revealed evidence. The narcissist has a very vivid imagination. Let his paranoia do the rest.

The narcissist may have been involved in tax evasion, in malpractice, in child abuse, in infidelity – there are so many possibilities, which offer a rich vein of attack. If done cleverly, noncommittally, gradually, in an escalating manner – the narcissist crumbles, disengages and disappears and lowers his profile thoroughly in the hope of avoiding hurt and pain.

Most narcissists have been known to disown and abandon a whole PNS (pathological narcissistic space) in response to a well-focused campaign by their victims. Thus, a narcissist may leave town, change a job, desert a field of professional interest, avoid friends and acquaintances – only to secure relief from the unrelenting pressure exerted on him by his victims.

I repeat: most of the drama takes place in the paranoid mind of the narcissist. His imagination runs amok. He finds himself snarled by horrifying scenarios, pursued by the vilest “certainties”. The narcissist is his own worst persecutor and prosecutor.

You don’t have to do much except utter a vague reference, make an ominous allusion, delineate a possible turn of events. The narcissist will do the rest for you. He is like a little child in the dark, generating the very monsters that paralyze him with fear.

Needless to add that all these activities have to be pursued legally, preferably through the good services of law offices and in broad daylight. If done in the wrong way – they might constitute extortion or blackmail, harassment and a host of other criminal offences.

2. To Lure Them

The other way to neutralize a vindictive narcissist is to offer him continued narcissistic supply until the war is over and won by you. Dazzled by the drug of narcissistic supply – the narcissist immediately becomes tamed, forgets his vindictiveness and triumphantly takes over his “property” and “territory”.

Under the influence of narcissistic supply, the narcissist is unable to tell when he is being manipulated. He is blind, dumb and deaf to all but the song of the NS sirens. You can make a narcissist do ANYTHING by offering, withholding, or threatening to withhold narcissistic supply (adulation, admiration, attention, sex, awe, subservience, etc.).

School Shootings

Healthy narcissism is common in adolescents. Their narcissistic defenses help them cope with the anxieties and fears engendered by the demands and challenges of modern society: leaving home, going to college, sexual performance, marriage, and other rites of passage. There is nothing wrong with healthy narcissism. It sustains the adolescent in a critical time of his life and shields him or her from emotional injuries.

Still, in certain circumstances, healthy narcissism can transform into a malignant form, destructive to self and to others.

Adolescents who are consistently mocked and bullied by peers, role models, and socialization agents (such as teachers, coaches, and parents) are prone to find succor in grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience. To sustain these personal myths, they may resort to violence and counter-bullying.

The same applies to youths who feel deprived, underestimated, discriminated against, or at a dead end. They are likely to evoke narcissistic defenses to fend off the constant hurt and to achieve self-sufficient and self-contained emotional gratification.

Finally, pampered adolescents, who serve as mere extensions of their smothering parents and their unrealistic expectations are equally liable to develop grandiosity and a sense of entitlement incommensurate with their real-life achievements. When frustrated they become aggressive.

This propensity to other-directed violence is further exacerbated by what Lasch called “The Culture of Narcissism”. We live in a civilization which condones and positively encourages malignant individualism, bad hero worship (remember “Born Killers”?), exploitativeness, inane ambitiousness, and the atomization of social structures and support networks. Alienation is a hallmark of our age, not only among youngsters.

When societies turn anomic, under both external and internal pressures (terrorism, crime, civil unrest, religious strife, economic crises, immigration, widespread job insecurity, war, rampant corruption, and so on), narcissists tend to become violent. This is because communities in anomic states offer little by way of externally-imposed impulse control and regulation, penal discipline, and rewards for conformity and ‘good behavior”. Narcissists in such settings of disintegration become serial and mass killers on a greater (Hitler) or smaller scale.

Interview with Lehr Beidelschies

Q: What is your background with NPD?

A: The content of my Web site are based on correspondence since 1996 with hundreds of people suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (narcissists) and with thousands of their family members, friends, therapists, and colleagues.

I am the author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited. (number 1 bestseller in its category in Barnes and Noble). 


The Web site “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited” is an Open Directory Cool Site and a Psych-UK recommended Site.

I am not a mental health professional though I am certified in psychological counseling techniques by Brainbench.

I served as the editor of Mental Health Disorders categories in the Open Directory Project and on I maintain my own websites about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and about relationships with abusive narcissists here and in HealthyPlace. You can read my work on many other Web sites: Mental Health Matters, Mental Health Sanctuary, Mental Health Today, Kathi’s Mental Health Review and others.

I am also the editor of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder topic, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse topic, and the Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence topic, all three on Suite101, as well as the moderator of the Narcissistic Abuse List and other mailing lists (c. 6000 members). I write a column for Bellaonline on Narcissism and Abusive Relationships.

Q: Have you ever encountered someone with NPD who had extreme violent behavior as a result of the disorder?

A: It is difficult to say whether as a direct result of the disorder or of other psychological dynamics but, yes, I came across people who were either diagnosed with NPD, or struck me as suffering from NPD and who were also violent. They inhabited the seam between the narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders (between pathological narcissism and psychopathy).

Q: If so, what often triggered this behavior?  Could you perhaps provide some examples?

A: Invariably, violent behavior was triggered by frustration, perceived to be a threat to the integrity and veracity of the False Self. In other words, if the narcissist could not achieve gratification, or was criticized, or encountered resistance and disagreement – he tended to turn violent. He felt that his grandiose fantasies were being undermined and that his sense of entitlement due to his uniqueness is challenged. this often happens in prison where the atmosphere is paranoid and every slight, real or imaginary, is magnified to the point of narcissistic injury.

Q: How easy is it for most narcissists to be pushed into violence?

A: Pathological narcissism rarely appears in isolation. It is usually co-morbid with other personality or mental health disorders. Substance abuse and other forms of reckless behavior are common. The best predictor is past violence. But it is safe to say that narcissists who also abuse alcohol or drugs and who have been diagnosed with psychopathy or the antisocial personality disorder are very likely to be consistently violent in different settings.

Q: After committing a violent act, how will the narcissist deal with his/her actions?

A: The narcissist has alloplastic defences. He does not accept responsibility for his actions. He accuses others or the world at large for provoking or aggravating his outbursts of violent behaviour. He feels immune to the consequences of his actions by virtue of his inbred superiority and entitlement. Narcissists are also mildly dissociative. They sometimes go through depersonalization and derealization. In other words, some narcissists sort of “watch themselves” and their life from the outside, as one would a movie. Such narcissists do not feel fully and truly responsible for their acts of violence. “I don’t know what came over me” – is their frequent refrain.

Q: Do you know of any instances where a person with NPD has murdered as a result of his/her outbursts?

A: Many serial killers have been diagnosed as narcissists – but I personally am not acquainted with one personally (laughing).

You may wish to quote from this:

Q: What kind of background shapes a violent narcissists?  Is there any difference to that of a narcissist with less violent tendencies?  Is there such a thing?

A: There is no research pertaining to this question. From my experience, violent narcissists come from dysfunctional and abusive families.

There are a million ways to abuse. To love too much is to abuse. It is tantamount to treating someone as an extension, an object, or an instrument of gratification. To be over-protective, not to respect privacy, to be brutally honest, with a sadistic sense of humor, or consistently tactless – is to abuse. To expect too much, to denigrate, to ignore – are all modes of abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse. The list is long.

Narcissists who have been exposed in childhood to abusive behaviours by parents, caregivers, teachers, other role models, or even by peers would tend to propagate the abuse and behave aggressively, if not violently.

Q: What about the victims of crimes committed by narcissists?  Is it often someone they know?

A: Not necessarily. Any person – known to the narcissist or not – who is perceived by the narcissist to be a source of frustration is in danger of becoming the victim of violence. If you disagree with the narcissist, criticize him, or deny him the unfettered and instantaneous fulfillment of his wishes – you become his enemy and the target of his unwelcome attentions.

Q: Are the treatments for violent narcissists different from those of non-violent narcissists?

A: Only in adding specific medication to the mix of talk therapy and medicines which are used in treating NPD.

Q: To your knowledge, has the presence of NPD ever been used as a defence for criminals in the court system?

A: Suffering from a personality disorder does not constitute a defence in any country I know of. It is often raised as a mitigating circumstance but never as a defence. Nor, at least in the case of pathological narcissism, can be used as one. Narcissists are fully aware of the difference between right and wrong and are fully capable of controlling their impulses. They simply do not care enough about their victims to do so. They lack empathy, are exploitative, feel entitled and superior and thus regard other people as objects or as extensions of themselves.

Guns and Narcissists

Q: Should I tell my narcissist that I have a concealed weapon? I want to deter him.

A: My advice is to conceal the weapon both physically and verbally.

For two reasons:

One, narcissists are paranoids. NPD is often co-morbid with PPD (Paranoid PD). The presence of a weapon confirms their worst persecutory delusions and often tips them over the edge.

The second reason has to do with the balance of power (or rather balance of terror) complex.

In his mind, the narcissist is superior in every way. This fantasized and grandiose superiority is what maintains the precarious equilibrium of his personality.

A gun – the virile symbol that it is – upsets the power relations in favor of the victim. It is a humiliation, a failure, a mockery, a defying challenge. The narcissist will likely seek to restore the previous poise by “diminishing” his opponent and “containing” the menace.

In other words, the presence of a gun guarantees conflict – sometimes a potentially lethal one. As the narcissist – now terrified by his own deranged persecutory phantasms – seeks redress, he may resort to the physical elimination of the source of his frustration (to battering, or worse).

Also Read

Serial and Mass Killers

Divorcing the Narcissist and Psychopath

The Intermittent Explosive Narcissist

Anger – The Iron Mask

 The Vindictive Narcissist

Coping with Your Stalker

The Narcissist as a Sadist

Abusing the Narcissist

Coping with Stalking and Stalkers

How to Cope with Your Paranoid Ex

Avoiding Your Paranoid Ex

The Three Forms of Closure

Getting Help

Domestic Violence Shelters

Planning and Executing Your Getaway

Should You Get the Police Involved?

Should You Get the Courts Involved?

Verbal and Emotional Abuse – Articles Menu

Spousal (Domestic) Abuse and Violence

Maritime Piracy- Treasure Island Revisited

The rumors concerning the demise of maritime piracy back in the 19th century were a tad premature. The scourge has so resurged that the International Maritime Board (IMB), founded by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 1981, is forced to broadcast daily piracy reports to all shipping companies by satellite from its Kuala Lumpur Piracy Reporting Center, established in 1992 and partly funded by maritime insurers. The reports carry this alarming disclaimer:

“For statistical purposes, the IMB defines piracy and armed robbery as: An act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act. This definition thus covers actual or attempted attacks whether the ship is berthed, at anchor or at sea. Petty thefts are excluded, unless the thieves are armed.”

The 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed by individuals (borne aboard a pirate vessel) for private ends against a private ship or aircraft (the victim vessel)”. When no “pirate vessel” is involved – for instance, when criminals embark on a ship and capture it – the legal term is hijacking.

On July 8, 2002 seven pirates, armed with long knives attacked an officer of a cargo ship berthed in Chittagong port in Bangladesh, snatched his gold chain and watch and dislocated his arm. This was the third such attack since the ship dropped anchor in this minacious port.

Three days earlier, in Indonesia, similarly-armed pirates escaped with the crew’s valuables, having tied the hands of the duty officer. Pirates in small boats stole anodes from the stern of a bulk carrier in Bangladesh. Others, in Indonesia, absconded with a life raft.

The pirates of Guyana are either unlucky or untrained. They were consistently scared off by flares hurled at them and alarms set by vigilant hands on deck. A Colombian band, riding a high speed boat, attempted to board a container ship. Warring parties in Somalia hijacked yet another ship in June 2002.

A particularly egregious case – and signs of growing sophistication and coordinated action – is described in the July 1-8, 2002 report of the IMB:

“Six armed pirates boarded a chemical tanker from a small boat and stole ship’s stores. Another group of pirates broke in to engine room and stole spare parts. Thefts took place in spite of the ship engaging three shore security watchmen.” Piracy incidents have been reported in India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Nigeria, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela.

According to the ICC Year 2001 Piracy Report, more than 330 attacks on seafaring vessels were reported in 2001 – down by a quarter compared to 2000 but 10 percent higher than 1999 and four times the 1991 figure. Piracy rose 40 percent between 1998 and 1999 alone.

Sixteen ships – double the number in 2000 – were captured and taken over in 2001. Eighty seven attacks were reported during the first quarter of 2002 – up from 68 in the corresponding period the year before. Seven of these were hijackings – compared to only 1 in the first quarter of 2001. Nine of every 10 hijacked ships are ultimately recovered, often with the help of the IMB.

Many masters and shipowners do not report piracy for fear of delays due to protracted investigations, increased insurance premiums, bad publicity, and stifling red tape. The number of unreported attacks in 1999 was estimated by the World Maritime Piracy Report to be 130.

According to “The Economist”, the IMO believes that half of all incidents remain untold. Still, increased patrols and international collaboration among law enforcement agencies dented the clear upward trend in maritime crime – even in the piracy capital, Indonesia.

The number of incidents in the pirate-infested Malacca Straits dropped from 75 in 2000 to 17 in 2001 – though the number of crew “kidnap and ransom” operations, especially in Aceh, has increased. Owners usually pay the “reasonable” amounts demanded – c. $100,000 per ship. Contrary to folklore, most ships are attacked while at anchor.

Twenty one people, including passengers, were killed in 2001 – and 210 taken hostage. Assaults involving guns were up 50 percent to 73 – those involving mere knives down by a quarter to 105. Piracy seems to ebb and flow with the business cycles of the host economies. The Asian crisis, triggered by the freefall of the Thai baht in 1997-8, gave a boost to East Asian maritime robbers. So did the debt crises of Latin America a decade earlier. Drug transporters – armed with light aircraft and high speed motorboats – sometimes double as pirates during the dry season of crop growth.

Pirates endanger ship and crew. But they often cause collateral damage as well. Pirates have been known to dump noxious cargo into the sea, or tie up the crew and let an oil tanker steam ahead, its navigational aides smashed, or tamper with substances dangerous to themselves and to others, or cast crew and passengers adrift in tiny rafts with little food and water.

Many shipowners resorted to installing on-board satellite tracking systems, such as Shiploc, and aircraft-like “black boxes”. A bulletproof life vest, replete with an integral jagged edged knife, was on display in the millennium exhibition at the Millennium Dome two years ago. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is considering to compel shipowners to tag their vessels with visibly embossed numbers in compliance with the Safety of Life at Sea Convention.

The IMB also advises shipping companies to closely examine the papers of crew and masters, thousands of whom carry forged documents. In  54 maritime administrations surveyed in 2001 by the Seafarers’ International Research Centre, Cardiff University in Wales, more than 12,000 cases of forged certificates of competency were unearthed.

Many issuing authorities are either careless or venal or both. The IMB accused the Coast Guard Office of Puerto Rico for issuing 500 such “suspicious” certificates. The Chinese customs and navy – especially along the southern coast – have often been decried for working hand in glove with pirates.

False documents are an integral – and crucial – part of maritime piracy. The IMB says:

“Many of the phantom ships that set off to sea with a cargo and then disappear are sailed by crewmen with false passports and competency certificates. They usually escape detection by the port authorities. In a recent case of a vessel located and arrested in South-East Asia further to IMB investigations, it has emerged that all the senior officers had false passports. The ship’s registry documents were also false.”

As documents go electronic and integrated in proprietary or common cargo tracking systems, such forgery will wane. Bolero – an international digital bill of lading ledger – is backed by the European Union, banks, shipping and insurance companies. The IMO is a proponent of a technology to apply encrypted “digital signatures” to electronic bills of lading. Still, the industry is highly fragmented and many ships and ports don’t even possess rudimentary information technology. The protection afforded by the likes of Bolero is at least five years away.

Pirates sometimes work hand in hand with conspiring crew members (or, less often, stowaways). In many countries – in East Asia, Latin America, and Africa – Coast Guard operatives, corrupt drug agents, and other law enforcement officials, moonlight as pirates. Renegade members of British trained Indonesian anti-piracy squads are still roaming the Malacca Straits.

Pirates also enjoy the support of an insidious and vast network of suborned judges and bureaucrats. Local villagers along the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia – and Africa – welcome pirate business and provide the perpetrators with food and shelter.

Moreover, large tankers, container ships, and cargo vessels are largely computerized and their crew members few. The value of an average vessel’s freight has increased dramatically with improvements in container and oil storage technologies. “Flag of convenience” registration has assumed monstrous proportions, allowing ship owners and managers to conceal their identity effectively. Belize, Honduras, and Panama are the most notorious, no questions asked, havens.

Piracy has matured into a branch of organized crime. Hijacking requires money, equipment, weapons, planning, experience and contacts with corrupt officials. The loot per vessel ranges from $8 million to $200 million. Pottengal Mukundan, Director of ICC’s Commercial Crime Services states in an IMB press release:

“(Piracy) typically involves a mother ship from which to launch the attacks, a supply of automatic weapons, false identity papers for the crew and vessel, fake cargo documents, and a broker network to sell the stolen goods illegally. Individual pirates don’t have these resources. Hijackings are the work of organized crime rings.”

The IMB describes the aftermath of a typical hijacking:

“The Global Mars has probably been given a new name and repainted. Armed with false registration papers and bills of lading, the pirates – or more likely the mafia bosses pulling the strings – will then try to dispose of their booty. The vessel has probably put in to a port where the false identity of vessel and cargo may escape detection. Even when identified, the gangs have been known to bribe local officials to allow them to sell the cargo and leave the port.”

Such a ship is often “recycled” a few times. It earns its operators an average of $40-50 million per “cycle”, according to “The Economist”. The pirates contract with sellers or shipping agents to load it with a legitimate consignment of goods or commodities. The sellers and agents are unaware of the true identity of the ship, or of its unsavory “owners/managers”.

The pirates invariably produce an authentic vessel registration certificate that they acquired from crooked officials – and provide the sellers or agents with a bill of lading. The payload is then sold to networks of traders in stolen merchandise or to gullible buyers in a different port of destination – and the ship is ready for yet another round.


In January 2002, the Indonesian Navy has permanently stationed six battleships in the Malacca Straits, three of them off the coast of the secessionist region of Aceh. A further 20-30 ships and 10 aircraft conduct daily patrols of the treacherous traffic lane. Some 200-600 ships cross the Straits daily. A mere 50 ships or so are boarded and searched every month.

The Greek government has gunboats patrolling the 2 miles wide Corfu Channel, where yachts frequently fall prey to Albanian pirates. Brazil has imposed an unpopular anti-piracy inspection fee on berthing vessels and used the proceeds to finance a SWAT team to protect ships and their crews while in port. Both India and Thailand have similar units.

International cooperation is also on the rise. About one third of the world’s shipping traffic goes through the South China Sea. A conference convened by Japan in March 2000 – Japanese vessels have become favored targets of piracy in the last few years – pushed for the ratification of the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) 1988 Rome Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation by Asian and ASEAN countries.

The Convention makes piracy an extraterritorial crime and, thus, removes the thorny issue of jurisdiction in cases of piracy carried in another country’s territorial waters or out on the high seas. The Comite Maritime International – the umbrella organization of national maritime law associations – promulgated a model anti-piracy law last year.

Though it rejected Japan’s offer for collaboration, in a sharp reversal of its previous policy, China started handing down death sentences against murderous pirates. The 13 marauders who seized the Cheung Son and massacred its 23 Chinese sailors were executed five years ago in the southern city of Shanwei. Another 25 people received long prison sentences. The – declared – booty amounted to a mere $300,000.

India and Iran – two emerging “pirates safe harbor” destinations – have also tightened up sentencing and port inspections. In the Alondra Rainbow hijacking, the Indian Navy captured the Indonesian culprits in a cinematic chase off Goa. They were later sentenced severely under both the Indian Penal Code and international law. Even the junta in Myanmar has taken tentative steps against compatriots with piratical predilections.

Law enforcement does not tolerate a vacuum. “The Economist” reports about two private military companies – Marine Risk Management and Satellite Protection Services (SPS) – which deploy airborne mercenaries to deal with piracy. SPS has even suggested to station 2500 former Dutch marines in Subic Bay in the Philippines – for a mere $2500 per day per combatant.

Shipowners are desperate. Quoted by “The Economist”, they “suggest that the region’s governments negotiate the right for navies to chase pirates across national boundaries: the so-called ‘right of hot pursuit’. So far, only Singapore and Indonesia have negotiated limited rights. Some suggest that the American navy should be invited into territorial waters to combat piracy, a ‘live’ exercise it might relish. At the very least, countries such as Indonesia should advertise which bits of their territorial waters at any time are patrolled and safe from pirates. No countries currently do this.”

Also Read

The Greatest Savings Crisis in History

The Typology of Financial Scandals

The Bursting Asset Bubbles

(Case Studies: The Savings and Loans Crisis, Crash of 1929, British Real Estate)

The Shadowy World of International Finance

Hawala, or the Bank that Never Was

Money Laundering in a Changed World

The Varieties of Corruption

Corruption and Transparency

Straf – Corruption in CEE

The Criminality of Transition

The Kleptocracies of the East

The Enrons of the East

Bully at Work – Interview with Tim Field

The Economics of Conspiracy Theories

The Industrious Spies

The Business of Torture

Fimaco Wouldn’t Die – Russia’s Missing Billions

Organ Trafficking in Eastern Europe

Begging Your Trust in Africa

Slush Funds

The Economics of Expectations

Economies revolve around and are determined by “anchors”: stores of value that assume pivotal roles and lend character to transactions and economic players alike. Well into the 19 century, tangible assets such as real estate and commodities constituted the bulk of the exchanges that occurred in marketplaces, both national and global. People bought and sold land, buildings, minerals, edibles, and capital goods. These were regarded not merely as means of production but also as forms of wealth.

Inevitably, human society organized itself to facilitate such exchanges. The legal and political systems sought to support, encourage, and catalyze transactions by enhancing and enforcing property rights, by providing public goods, and by rectifying market failures.

Later on and well into the 1980s, symbolic representations of ownership of real goods and property (e.g, shares, commercial paper, collateralized bonds, forward contracts) were all the rage. By the end of this period, these surpassed the size of markets in underlying assets. Thus, the daily turnover in stocks, bonds, and currencies dwarfed the annual value added in all industries combined.

Again, Mankind adapted to this new environment. Technology catered to the needs of traders and speculators, businessmen and middlemen. Advances in telecommunications and transportation followed inexorably. The concept of intellectual property rights was introduced. A financial infrastructure emerged, replete with highly specialized institutions (e.g., central banks) and businesses (for instance, investment banks, jobbers, and private equity funds).

We are in the throes of a third wave. Instead of buying and selling assets one way (as tangibles) or the other (as symbols) – we increasingly trade in expectations (in other words, we transfer risks). The markets in derivatives (options, futures, indices, swaps, collateralized instruments, and so on) are flourishing.

Society is never far behind. Even the most conservative economic structures and institutions now strive to manage expectations. Thus, for example, rather than tackle inflation directly, central banks currently seek to subdue it by issuing inflation targets (in other words, they aim to influence public expectations regarding future inflation).

The more abstract the item traded, the less cumbersome it is and the more frictionless the exchanges in which it is swapped. The smooth transmission of information gives rise to both positive and negative outcomes: more efficient markets, on the one hand – and contagion on the other hand; less volatility on the one hand – and swifter reactions to bad news on the other hand (hence the need for market breakers); the immediate incorporation of new data in prices on the one hand – and asset bubbles on the other hand.

Hitherto, even the most arcane and abstract contract traded was somehow attached to and derived from an underlying tangible asset, no matter how remotely. But this linkage may soon be dispensed with. The future may witness the bartering of agreements that have nothing to do with real world objects or values.

In days to come, traders and speculators will be able to generate on the fly their own, custom-made, one-time, investment vehicles for each and every specific transaction. They will do so by combining “off-the-shelf”, publicly traded components. Gains and losses will be determined by arbitrary rules or by reference to extraneous events. Real estate, commodities, and capital goods will revert to their original forms and functions: bare necessities to be utilized and consumed, not speculated on.

Also Read

The Dismal Mind – Economics as a Pretension to Science

Economics – The Neglected Branch of Psychology

The Fabric of Economic Trust

The Distributive Justice of the Market

Scavenger Economies and Predator Economies

Notes on the Economics of Game Theory

Knowledge and Power

The Disruptive Engine – Innovation and the Capitalist Dream

The Spectrum of Auctions

Market Impeders and Market Inefficiencies

Moral Hazard the Survival Value of Risk

The Principal-Agent Conundrum

The Myth of the Earnings Yield

The Principal-Agent Conundrum

Trading in Sovereign Promises