Why Do We Love Sports?

The love of – nay, addiction to – competitive and solitary sports cuts across all social-economic strata and throughout all the demographics. Whether as a passive consumer (spectator), a fan, or as a participant and practitioner, everyone enjoys one form of sport or another. Wherefrom this universal propensity?

Sports cater to multiple psychological and physiological deep-set needs. In this they are unique: no other activity responds as do sports to so many dimensions of one’s person, both emotional, and physical. But, on a deeper level, sports provide more than instant gratification of primal (or base, depending on one’s point of view) instincts, such as the urge to compete and to dominate.

1. Vindication

Sports, both competitive and solitary, are morality plays. The athlete confronts other sportspersons, or nature, or his (her) own limitations. Winning or overcoming these hurdles is interpreted to be the triumph of good over evil, superior over inferior, the best over merely adequate, merit over patronage. It is a vindication of the principles of quotidian-religious morality: efforts are rewarded; determination yields achievement; quality is on top; justice is done.

2. Predictability

The world is riven by seemingly random acts of terror; replete with inane behavior; governed by uncontrollable impulses; and devoid of meaning. Sports are rule-based. Theirs is a predictable universe where umpires largely implement impersonal, yet just principles. Sports is about how the world should have been (and, regrettably, isn’t). It is a safe delusion; a comfort zone; a promise and a demonstration that humans are capable of engendering a utopia.

3. Simulation

That is not to say that sports are sterile or irrelevant to our daily lives. On the very contrary. They are an encapsulation and a simulation of Life: they incorporate conflict and drama, teamwork and striving, personal struggle and communal strife, winning and losing. Sports foster learning in a safe environment. Better be defeated in a football match or on the tennis court than lose your life on the battlefield.

The contestants are not the only ones to benefit. From their detached, safe, and isolated perches, observers of sports games, however vicariously, enhance their trove of experiences; learn new skills; encounter manifold situations; augment their coping strategies; and personally grow and develop.

4. Reversibility

In sports, there is always a second chance, often denied us by Life and nature. No loss is permanent and crippling; no defeat is insurmountable and irreversible. Reversal is but a temporary condition, not the antechamber to annihilation. Safe in this certainty, sportsmen and spectators dare, experiment, venture out, and explore. A sense of adventure permeates all sports and, with few exceptions, it is rarely accompanied by impending doom or the exorbitant proverbial price-tag.

5. Belonging

Nothing like sports to encourage a sense of belonging, togetherness, and we-ness. Sports involve teamwork; a meeting of minds; negotiation and bartering; strategic games; bonding; and the narcissism of small differences (when we reserve our most virulent emotions – aggression, hatred, envy – towards those who resemble us the most: the fans of the opposing team, for instance).

Sports, like other addictions, also provide their proponents and participants with an “exo-skeleton”: a sense of meaning; a schedule of events; a regime of training; rites, rituals, and ceremonies; uniforms and insignia. It imbues an otherwise chaotic and purposeless life with a sense of mission and with a direction.

6. Narcissistic Gratification (Narcissistic Supply)

It takes years to become a medical doctor and decades to win a prize or award in academe. It requires intelligence, perseverance, and an inordinate amount of effort. One’s status as an author or scientist reflects a potent cocktail of natural endowments and hard labour.

It is far less onerous for a sports fan to acquire and claim expertise and thus inspire awe in his listeners and gain the respect of his peers. The fan may be an utter failure in other spheres of life, but he or she can still stake a claim to adulation and admiration by virtue of their fount of sports trivia and narrative skills.

Sports therefore provide a shortcut to accomplishment and its rewards. As most sports are uncomplicated affairs, the barrier to entry is low. Sports are great equalizers: one’s status outside the arena, the field, or the court is irrelevant. One’s standing is really determined by one’s degree of obsession.


Also Read

Games People Play

Notes on the Economics of Game Theory

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Why Do We Love Pets?

The presence of pets activates in us two primitive psychological defense mechanisms: projection and narcissism.

Projection is a defense mechanism intended to cope with internal or external stressors and emotional conflict by attributing to another person or object (such as a pet) – usually falsely – thoughts, feelings, wishes, impulses, needs, and hopes deemed forbidden or unacceptable by the projecting party.

In the case of pets, projection works through anthropomorphism: we attribute to animals our traits, behavior patterns, needs, wishes, emotions, and cognitive processes. This perceived similarity endears them to us and motivates us to care for our pets and cherish them.

But, why do people become pet-owners in the first place?

Caring for pets comprises equal measures of satisfaction and frustration. Pet-owners often employ a psychological defense mechanism – known as “cognitive dissonance” – to suppress the negative aspects of having pets and to deny the unpalatable fact that raising pets and caring for them may be time consuming, exhausting, and strains otherwise pleasurable and tranquil relationships to their limits.

Pet-ownership is possibly an irrational vocation, but humanity keeps keeping pets. It may well be the call of nature. All living species reproduce and most of them parent. Pets sometimes serve as surrogate children and friends. Is this maternity (and paternity) by proxy proof that, beneath the ephemeral veneer of civilization, we are still merely a kind of beast, subject to the impulses and hard-wired behavior that permeate the rest of the animal kingdom? Is our existential loneliness so extreme that it crosses the species barrier?

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

Could this be the missing link? Does pet-ownership revolve around self-gratification? Does it all boil down to the pleasure principle?

Pet-keeping may, indeed, be habit forming. Months of raising pups and cubs and a host of social positive reinforcements and expectations condition pet-owners to do the job. Still, a living pet is nothing like the abstract concept. Pets wail, soil themselves and their environment, stink, and severely disrupt the lives of their owners. Nothing too enticing here.

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

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

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

This edifice of maturity is severely tested by pet-ownership.

Pets evoke in their keepers the most primordial drives, protective, animalistic instincts, the desire to merge with the pet and a sense of terror generated by such a desire (a fear of vanishing and of being assimilated). Pets engender in their owners an emotional regression.

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

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

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

According to MSNBC, in a May 2005 Senate hearing, John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, asserted that “environmental and animal rights extremists who have turned to arson and explosives are the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat … Groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front and the Britain-based SHAC, or Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, are ‘way out in front’ in terms of damage and number of crimes …”. Lewis averred that ” … (t)here is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions”.

MSNBC notes that “(t)he Animal Liberation Front says on its Web site that its small, autonomous groups of people take ‘direct action’ against animal abuse by rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through damage and destruction of property.”

“Animal rights” is a catchphrase akin to “human rights”. It involves, however, a few pitfalls. First, animals exist only as a concept. Otherwise, they are cuddly cats, curly dogs, cute monkeys. A rat and a puppy are both animals but our emotional reaction to them is so different that we cannot really lump them together. Moreover: what rights are we talking about? The right to life? The right to be free of pain? The right to food? Except the right to free speech – all other rights could be applied to animals.

Law professor Steven Wise, argues in his book, “Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights”, for the extension to animals of legal rights accorded to infants. Many animal species exhibit awareness, cognizance and communication skills typical of human toddlers and of humans with arrested development. Yet, the latter enjoy rights denied the former.

According to Wise, there are four categories of practical autonomy – a legal standard for granting “personhood” and the rights it entails. Practical autonomy involves the ability to be desirous, to intend to fulfill and pursue one’s desires, a sense of self-awareness, and self-sufficiency. Most animals, says Wise, qualify. This may be going too far. It is easier to justify the moral rights of animals than their legal rights.

But when we say “animals”, what we really mean is non-human organisms. This is such a wide definition that it easily pertains to extraterrestrial aliens. Will we witness an Alien Rights movement soon? Unlikely. Thus, we are forced to narrow our field of enquiry to non-human organisms reminiscent of humans, the ones that provoke in us empathy.

Even this is way too fuzzy. Many people love snakes, for instance, and deeply empathize with them. Could we accept the assertion (avidly propounded by these people) that snakes ought to have rights – or should we consider only organisms with extremities and the ability to feel pain?

Historically, philosophers like Kant (and Descartes, Malebranche, and Aquinas) rejected the idea of animal rights. They regarded animals as the organic equivalents of machines, driven by coarse instincts, unable to experience pain (though their behavior sometimes deceives us into erroneously believing that they do).

Thus, any ethical obligation that we have towards animals is a derivative of our primary obligation towards our fellow humans (the only ones possessed of moral significance). These are called the theories of indirect moral obligations. Thus, it is wrong to torture animals only because it desensitizes us to human suffering and makes us more prone to using violence on humans. Malebranche augmented this line of thinking by “proving” that animals cannot suffer pain because they are not descended from Adam. Pain and suffering, as we all know, are the exclusive outcomes of Adam’s sins.

Kant and Malebranche may have been wrong. Animals may be able to suffer and agonize. But how can we tell whether another Being is truly suffering pain or not? Through empathy. We postulate that – since that Being resembles us – it must have the same experiences and, therefore, it deserves our pity.

Yet, the principle of resemblance has many drawbacks.

One, it leads to moral relativism.

Consider this maxim from the Jewish Talmud: “Do not do unto thy friend that which you hate”. An analysis of this sentence renders it less altruistic than it appears. We are encouraged to refrain from doing only those things that WE find hateful. This is the quiddity of moral relativism.

The saying implies that it is the individual who is the source of moral authority. Each and every one of us is allowed to spin his own moral system, independent of others. The Talmudic dictum establishes a privileged moral club (very similar to later day social contractarianism) comprised of oneself and one’s friend(s). One is encouraged not to visit evil upon one’s friends, all others seemingly excluded. Even the broadest interpretation of the word “friend” could only read: “someone like you” and substantially excludes strangers.

Two, similarity is a structural, not an essential, trait.

Empathy as a differentiating principle is structural: if X looks like me and behaves like me – then he is privileged. Moreover, similarity is not necessarily identity. Monkeys, dogs and dolphins are very much like us, both structurally and behaviorally. Even according to Wise, it is quantity (the degree of observed resemblance), not quality (identity, essence), that is used in determining whether an animal is worthy of holding rights, whether is it a morally significant person. The degree of figurative and functional likenesses decide whether one deserves to live, pain-free and happy.

The quantitative test includes the ability to communicate (manipulate vocal-verbal-written symbols within structured symbol systems). Yet, we ignore the fact that using the same symbols does not guarantee that we attach to them the same cognitive interpretations and the same emotional resonance (‘private languages”). The same words, or symbols, often have different meanings.

Meaning is dependent upon historical, cultural, and personal contexts. There is no telling whether two people mean the same things when they say “red”, or “sad”, or “I”, or “love”. That another organism looks like us, behaves like us and communicates like us is no guarantee that it is – in its essence – like us. This is the subject of the famous Turing Test: there is no effective way to distinguish a machine from a human when we rely exclusively on symbol manipulation.

Consider pain once more.

To say that something does not experience pain cannot be rigorously defended. Pain is a subjective experience. There is no way to prove or to disprove that someone is or is not in pain. Here, we can rely only on the subject’s reports. Moreover, even if we were to have an analgometer (pain gauge), there would have been no way to show that the phenomenon that activates the meter is one and the same for all subjects, SUBJECTIVELY, i.e., that it is experienced in the same way by all the subjects examined.

Even more basic questions regarding pain are impossible to answer: What is the connection between the piercing needle and the pain REPORTED and between these two and electrochemical patterns of activity in the brain? A correlation between these three phenomena can be established – but not their identity or the existence of a causative process. We cannot prove that the waves in the subject’s brain when he reports pain – ARE that pain. Nor can we show that they CAUSED the pain, or that the pain caused them.

It is also not clear whether our moral percepts are conditioned on the objective existence of pain, on the reported existence of pain, on the purported existence of pain (whether experienced or not, whether reported or not), or on some independent laws.

If it were painless, would it be moral to torture someone? Is the very act of sticking needles into someone immoral – or is it immoral because of the pain it causes, or supposed to inflict? Are all three components (needle sticking, a sensation of pain, brain activity) morally equivalent? If so, is it as immoral to merely generate the same patterns of brain activity, without inducing any sensation of pain and without sticking needles in the subject?

If these three phenomena are not morally equivalent – why aren’t they? They are, after all, different facets of the very same pain – shouldn’t we condemn all of them equally? Or should one aspect of pain (the subject’s report of pain) be accorded a privileged treatment and status?

Yet, the subject’s report is the weakest proof of pain! It cannot be verified. And if we cling to this descriptive-behavioural-phenomenological definition of pain than animals qualify as well. They also exhibit all the behaviours normally ascribed to humans in pain and they report feeling pain (though they do tend to use a more limited and non-verbal vocabulary).

Pain is, therefore, a value judgment and the reaction to it is culturally dependent. In some cases, pain is perceived as positive and is sought. In the Aztec cultures, being chosen to be sacrificed to the Gods was a high honour. How would we judge animal rights in such historical and cultural contexts? Are there any “universal” values or does it all really depend on interpretation?

If we, humans, cannot separate the objective from the subjective and the cultural – what gives us the right or ability to decide for other organisms? We have no way of knowing whether pigs suffer pain. We cannot decide right and wrong, good and evil for those with whom we can communicate, let alone for organisms with which we fail to do even this.

Is it GENERALLY immoral to kill, to torture, to pain? The answer seems obvious and it automatically applies to animals. Is it generally immoral to destroy? Yes, it is and this answer pertains to the inanimate as well. There are exceptions: it is permissible to kill and to inflict pain in order to prevent a (quantitatively or qualitatively) greater evil, to protect life, and when no reasonable and feasible alternative is available.

The chain of food in nature is morally neutral and so are death and disease. Any act which is intended to sustain life of a higher order (and a higher order in life) – is morally positive or, at least neutral. Nature decreed so. Animals do it to other animals – though, admittedly, they optimize their consumption and avoid waste and unnecessary pain. Waste and pain are morally wrong. This is not a question of hierarchy of more or less important Beings (an outcome of the fallacy of anthropomorphizing Nature).

The distinction between what is (essentially) US – and what just looks and behaves like us (but is NOT us) is false, superfluous and superficial. Sociobiology is already blurring these lines. Quantum Mechanics has taught us that we can say nothing about what the world really IS. If things look the same and behave the same, we better assume that they are the same.

The attempt to claim that moral responsibility is reserved to the human species is self defeating. If it is so, then we definitely have a moral obligation towards the weaker and meeker. If it isn’t, what right do we have to decide who shall live and who shall die (in pain)?

The increasingly shaky “fact” that species do not interbreed “proves” that species are distinct, say some. But who can deny that we share most of our genetic material with the fly and the mouse? We are not as dissimilar as we wish we were. And ever-escalating cruelty towards other species will not establish our genetic supremacy – merely our moral inferiority.

 


Also Read:

Coma and Persistent Vegetative State

The Aborted Contract

The Myth of the Right to Life

And Then There were Too Many

In Our Own Image – The Debate about Cloning

Eugenics and the Future of the Human Species

Tips on Dating and Online Dating

Interview granted to Jessica Linnell, author

1. How do divorced men or women know when they are ready to begin dating again? Is there a standard time period one should wait or should it be based on how far along one is in the healing process? How soon is too soon to get back into a serious relationship?

A. There is a delicate balance to be maintained between the need to process the trauma of divorce (to recuperate, heal, and recover) and the need to maintain the interpersonal skills essential to dating and, later, to bonding and pair-formation (pairing). The main problem may be the temporary suspension of the ability to trust, to open up, to render oneself emotionally vulnerable, and to reciprocate. The pain of divorce is so enormous and so all-consuming that narcissistic defenses kick in and the new divorcee is often unable to empathize and selflessly interact with potential partners. My advice is: listen to your inner voice. You know best. Do not let yourself be coerced, cajoled, and pushed into dating prematurely. You will know when you are ready.

2. What can divorcees do to “ready” themselves for dating again?

A. The most important thing is to learn to develop trust despite the recent harrowing experience of divorce and its often ugly aftermath.

You have to know WHO to trust, you have to learn HOW to trust and you have to know HOW to CONFIRM the existence of mutual, functional trust.

People often disappoint and are not worthy of trust. Some people act arbitrarily, treacherously and viciously, or, worse, offhandedly. You have to select the targets of your trust carefully. He who has the most common interests with you, who is invested in you for the long haul, who is incapable of breaching trust (“a good person”), who doesn’t have much to gain from betraying you – is not likely to mislead you. These people you can trust.

You should not trust indiscriminately. No one is completely trustworthy in all fields. Most often our disappointments stem from our inability to separate one area of life from another. A person could be sexually loyal – but utterly dangerous when it comes to money (for instance, a gambler). Or a good, reliable father – but a womaniser.

You can trust someone to carry out some types of activities – but not others, because they are more complicated, more boring, or do not conform to his values. We should not trust with reservations – this is the kind of “trust” that is common in business and among criminals and its source is rational. Game Theory in mathematics deals with questions of calculated trust. We should trust wholeheartedly but know who to entrust with what. Then we will be rarely disappointed.

As opposed to popular opinion, trust must be put to the test, lest it goes stale and staid. We are all somewhat paranoid. The world around us is so complex, so inexplicable, so overwhelming – that we find refuge in the invention of superior forces. Some forces are benign (God) – some arbitrarily conspiratorial in nature. There must be an explanation, we feel, to all these amazing coincidences, to our existence, to events around us.

This tendency to introduce external powers and ulterior motives into our reality permeates human relations, as well. We gradually grow suspicious, inadvertently hunt for clues of infidelity or worse, masochistically relieved, even happy when we find some.

The more often we successfully test the trust we had established, the stronger our pattern-prone brain embraces it. Constantly in a precarious balance, our brain needs and devours reinforcements. Such testing should not be explicit but circumstantial.

Your husband could easily have had a lover or your partner could easily have absconded your money – and, behold, they haven’t. They passed the test. They resisted the temptation offered to them by circumstance.

Trust is based on the ability to predict the future. It is not so much the act of betrayal that we react to – as it is the feeling that the very foundations of our world are crumbling, that it is no longer safe because it is no longer predictable. We are in the throes of death of one theory – and the birth of another, as yet untested.

Here is another important lesson: whatever the act of betrayal (with the exception of grave criminal corporeal acts) – it is frequently limited, confined, and negligible. Naturally, we tend to exaggerate the importance of the event. This serves a double purpose: indirectly it aggrandises us. If we are “worthy” of such an unprecedented, unheard of, major betrayal – we must be worthwhile and unique. The magnitude of the betrayal reflects on us and re-establishes the fragile balance of powers between us and the universe.

The second purpose of exaggerating the act of perfidy is simply to gain sympathy and empathy – mainly from ourselves, but also from others. Catastrophes are a dozen a dime and in today’s world it is difficult to provoke anyone to regard your personal disaster as anything exceptional.

Amplifying the event has, therefore, some very utilitarian purposes. But, finally, the emotional lie poisons the mental circulation of the liar. Putting the event in perspective goes a long way towards the commencement of a healing process. No betrayal stamps the world irreversibly or eliminates other possibilities, opportunities, chances and people. Time goes by, people meet and part, lovers quarrel and make love, dear ones live and die. It is the very essence of time that it reduces us all to the finest dust. Our only weapon – however crude and naive – against this unstoppable process is to trust each other.

3. What are the pros and cons of online dating? Do you recommend it and why or why not?

A. The only reason and justification to date online is if you have no access to venues where you can date “real” people face-to-face, instead of mere avatars. Online dating is a disaster waiting to happen. To start with, it is unsafe as it affords no way to establish the identity of your interlocutor or correspondent. It also denies you access to critical information, such as your potential partner’s body language; the pattern of his social interactions; his behavior in unexpected settings and circumstances; his non-scripted reactions; even his smell and how he truly looks, dresses, and conducts himself in public and in private. Frequently in online dating, the partners use each other as “blank screens” onto which they project dreams, wishes, and unfulfilled needs and yearnings. They are bound to be disappointed when online push comes to offline shove.

4. Besides online dating, where can divorced adults meet new people (especially those who are not into the bar scene)?

A. Divorced adults are surrounded with eligible partners: at work, on the street, in the elevator, the clinic, next to the traffic lights, buying a newspaper, pushing a shopping cart at the mall. The problem is that of mindset, not of opportunity. Divorcees are in such agony that many of them withdraw and  “block out” new information, potentials, and possibilities. Additionally, their narcissistic defenses kick in and they feel entitled to “something or someone better”. They become overly selective, pose unrealistic demands, and subject people they have recently met to a battery of tests that all but guarantee failure. It’s like they are self-defeatingly punishing wannabe partners and would-be mates and spouses for the sins of, and abusive misbehavior and maltreatment meted out by their exes.

5. How should parents explain to their children that they are starting to date again? What advice do you give to parents who have children? What should parents do if their children do not like the person they are dating?

A. It depends on: (1) Whether the divorce was consensual and amicable or ugly and rupturous (2) Who is perceived by the child to have been the “guilty” party (3) How old the kids are and (4) Whether one of the parents or both use the child to taunt, torment, and punish their counterparties. The parent should explain to his children his or her emotional needs. The parent should not supplicate, ask for the child’s permission, or pose as the child’s equal or “partner”. He or she should simply share. The child should be kept fully informed at all times regarding developments that may affect it: a date that is turning into something more serious and may alter living or custody arrangements, for instance. The parent should make clear his or her priorities and, as much as possible, foster the child’s sense of safety, emotional stability, and certainty that he is loved. But, the child should not have a veto power over the parent’s predilections, choices, and, ultimately, decisions.

6. What red flags or warning signs should newly single adults be aware of? What advice do you give newly single people about first dates (i.e., where to go, what to do, how much to say about previous relationships, how much personal information to share, etc.)?

A. Is there anything you can do to avoid abusers and narcissists to start with? Are there any warning signs, any identifying marks, rules of thumb to shield you from the harrowing and traumatic experience of an abusive relationship?Imagine a first or second date. You can already tell if he is a would-be abuser. Here’s how:

Perhaps the first telltale sign is the abuser’s alloplastic defenses his tendency to blame every mistake of his, every failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large. Be tuned: does he assume personal responsibility? Does he admit his faults and miscalculations? Or does he keep blaming you, the cab driver, the waiter, the weather, the government, or fortune for his predicament?

Is he hypersensitive, picks up fights, feels constantly slighted, injured, and insulted? Does he rant incessantly? Does he treat animals and children impatiently or cruelly and does he express negative and aggressive emotions towards the weak, the poor, the needy, the sentimental, and the disabled? Does he confess to having a history of battering or violent offenses or behavior? Is his language vile and infused with expletives, threats, and hostility?

Next thing: is he too eager? Does he push you to marry him having dated you only twice? Is he planning on having children on your first date? Does he immediately cast you in the role of the love of his life? Is he pressing you for exclusivity, instant intimacy, almost rapes you and acts jealous when you as much as cast a glance at another male? Does he inform you that, once you get hitched, you should abandon your studies or resign your job (forgo your personal autonomy)?

Does he respect your boundaries and privacy? Does he ignore your wishes (for instance, by choosing from the menu or selecting a movie without as much as consulting you)? Does he disrespect your boundaries and treats you as an object or an instrument of gratification (materializes on your doorstep unexpectedly or calls you often prior to your date)? Does he go through your personal belongings while waiting for you to get ready? Does he text or phone you multiply and incessantly and insist to know where you are or where you have been at all times?

Does he control the situation and you compulsively? Does he insist to ride in his car, holds on to the car keys, the money, the theater tickets, and even your bag? Does he disapprove if you are away for too long (for instance when you go to the powder room)? Does he interrogate you when you return (“have you seen anyone interesting”) or make lewd “jokes” and remarks? Does he hint that, in future, you would need his permission to do things even as innocuous as meeting a friend or visiting with your family? Does he insist on a “dress code”?

Does he act in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes you often? Does he emphasize your minutest faults (devalues you) even as he exaggerates your talents, traits, and skills (idealizes you)? Does he call you names, harasses, or ridicules you? Is he wildly unrealistic in his expectations from you, from himself, from the budding relationship, and from life in general?

Does he tell you constantly that you “make him feel” good? Don’t be impressed. Next thing, he may tell you that you “make” him feel bad, or that you make him feel violent, or that you “provoke” him. “Look what you made me do!” is an abuser’s ubiquitous catchphrase.

Does he find sadistic sex exciting? Does he have fantasies of rape or pedophilia? Is he too forceful with you in and out of the sexual intercourse? Does he like hurting you physically or finds it amusing? Does he abuse you verbally does he curse you, demeans you, calls you ugly or inappropriately diminutive names, or persistently criticizes you? Does he beat or slap you or otherwise mistreats you physically? Does he then switch to being saccharine and “loving”, apologizes profusely and buys you gifts?

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above stay away! He is an abuser.

Then there is the abuser’s body language. It comprises an unequivocal series of subtle but discernible warning signs. Pay attention to the way your date comports himself and save yourself a lot of trouble!

Abusers 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 is being abusive because he suffers from an impairment, i.e., a mental health disorder.

Some abusive behavior patterns are a result of the patient’s cultural-social context. The offender seeks to conform to cultural and social morals and norms. Additionally, some people become abusive in reaction to severe life crises.

Still, most abusers master the art of deception. People often find themselves involved with a abuser (emotionally, in business, or otherwise) before they have a chance to discover his real nature. When the abuser 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 that they failed to see through the abuser earlier on.

But abusers do emit subtle, almost subliminal, signals in his body language even in a first or casual encounter. These are:

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

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

Entitlement markers – The abuser 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. This tallies well with the abuser’s alloplastic defenses – his tendency to shift responsibility to others, or to the world at large, for his needs, failures, behavior, choices, and mishaps  (“look what you made me do!”).

The abuser 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 abuser reacts with rage and indignantly when denied his wishes and if treated the same as others whom he deems inferior. Abusers frequently and embarrassingly “dress down” service providers such as waiters or cab drivers.

Idealization or devaluation – The abuser instantly idealizes or devalues his interlocutor. He flatters, adores, admires and applauds the “target” in an embarrassingly exaggerated and profuse manner – or sulks, abuses, and humiliates her.

Abusers are polite only in the presence of a potential would-be victim a “mate”, or a “collaborator”. 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 abuser always tries to “belong”. Yet, at the very same time, he maintains his stance as an outsider. The abuser 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 abuser talks to a psychologist, the abuser 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 – which is supposed to prove that he is exceptionally intelligent or introspective.

In general, the abuser always prefers show-off to substance. One of the most effective methods of exposing a abuser is by trying to delve deeper. The abuser is shallow, a pond pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack of all trades, or a genius. Abusers never admit to ignorance or to failure in any field – yet, typically, they are ignorant and losers. It is surprisingly easy to penetrate the gloss and the veneer of the abuser’s self-proclaimed omniscience, success, wealth, and omnipotence.

Bragging and false autobiographyThe abuser 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 abuser’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 abuser’s lies or fantasies are easily discernible. He always name-drops and appropriates other people’s experiences and accomplishments as his own.

Emotion-free language – The abuser likes to talk about himself and only about himself. He is not interested in others or what they have to say. He is never reciprocal. He acts disdainful, even angry, if he feels an intrusion on his precious time.

In general, the abuser is very impatient, easily bored, with strong attention deficits – unless and until he is the topic of discussion. One can dissect all aspects of the intimate life of a abuser, providing the discourse is not “emotionally tinted”. If asked to relate directly to his emotions, the abuser 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.

Most abusers get enraged when required to delve deeper into their motives, fears, hopes, wishes, and needs. They use violence to cover up their perceived “weakness” and “sentimentality”. They distance themselves from their own emotions and from their loved ones by alienating and hurting them.

Seriousness and sense of intrusion and coercion – The abuser is dead serious about himself. He may possess a fabulous sense of humor, scathing and cynical, but rarely is he self-deprecating. The abuser 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 an aspiring businessman – he is on the way to concluding the deal of the century. Woe betide those who doubt his grandiose fantasies and impossible schemes.

This self-misperception is not amenable to light-headedness or self-effacement. The abuser is easily hurt and insulted (narcissistic injury). Even the most innocuous remarks or acts are interpreted by him as belittling, intruding, or coercive slights and demands. His time is more valuable than others’ – therefore, it cannot be wasted on unimportant matters such as social intercourse, family obligations, or household chores. Inevitably, he feels constantly misunderstood.

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

Finally, abusers are sometimes sadistic and have inappropriate affect. In other words, they find the obnoxious, the heinous, and the shocking – funny or even gratifying. They are sexually sado-masochistic or deviant. They like to taunt, to torment, and to hurt people’s feelings (“humorously” or with bruising “honesty”).

While some abusers are “stable” and “conventional” – others are antisocial and their impulse control is flawed. These are very reckless (self-destructive and self-defeating) and just plain destructive: workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, or reckless driving.

Yet, these – the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the restricted application of humor, the unequal treatment, the sadism, and the paranoia – do not render the abuser a social misfit. This is because the abuser mistreats only his closest – spouse, children, or (much more rarely) colleagues, friends, neighbours. To the rest of the world, he appears to be a composed, rational, and functioning person. Abusers are very adept at casting a veil of secrecy – often with the active aid of their victims – over their dysfunction and misbehavior.

7. When should men or women break off a relationship? How should they know if the relationship is not going anywhere or could be a bad situation?

A. That’s an easy one: when they are profoundly unhappy and also incapable of hoping or believing that things could or would get better, no matter what they do and how much they invest in the relationship. It is essential to maintain an on-going and honest dialog with oneself and to let your inner voice guide you as, undoubtedly, it knows best.

8. How does dating differ for different age groups (i.e., a newly divorced 20-something year old versus a newly divorced 50-something year old)?

A. The mechanics are the same, but the expectations are different. The divorced 20-odd years old is probably still looking for a partner to establish a family with, as her main priority. Her 50-something years old counterparts are more concerned with companionship, personal growth, and issues related to old age and security. Consequently, these two age groups are bound to home in on different profiles of potential mates.

9. What qualities or characteristics should newly single men and women look for in a new partner? Is it OK to look for Mr. or Mrs. Right Now? How should newly single people know when they have found someone to hold onto?

A. “For what qualities in a man,” asked the youth, “does a woman most ardently love him?”
“For those qualities in him,” replied the old tutor, “which his mother most ardently hates.”

(A Book Without A Title, by George Jean Nathan (1918))

A. Women look for these qualities in men: 1. Good Judgment; 2. Intelligence; 3. Faithfulness; 4. Affectionate behavior; 5. Financial Responsibility.

Men seem to place a premium on these qualities in a woman: 1 Physical Attraction and Sexual Availability; 2. Good-naturedness; 3. Faithfulness; 4. Protective Affectionateness; 5. Dependability.

The infatuation with Mr. Right or Ms. Right, common in the West, is very counterproductive and narcissistic. The romantic delusion that there exists, somewhere, a perfect match, a soulmate, a lost identical twin leads to paralysis, as we keep searching for the best rather than seize upon the good. It is the optimum that we should seek, not the illusory maximum. Dating and pairing is the art of compromise: of overlooking his shortcomings and deficiencies in order to benefit from your prospective partner’s good traits and qualities.

10. What do you advise about having friends with benefits? Why?

A. There’s nothing wrong with short-term, interim, intermittent, and less committed liaisons that involve sexual gratification as well as companionship. It provides for an oasis of much-needed calm in between more demanding, serious, ad sometimes onerous relationships. As long as this does not become a permanent and predominant pattern, it should be regarded as a welcome addition to the emotional and psychosexual arsenal of singles and the divorced.

11. What is your advice to people still hooking up with their ex? Should they break it off or try to make it work again? Why or why not? How should they approach the subject with their ex?

A. It depends to a large extent on who the ex is. Breaking up to a relationship is like illness to the body: it doesn’t have to be terminal. Some couples convalesce, re-establish their bond and reaffirm it. But, if the ex is narcissistic, psychopathic, or paranoid, hooking up again may not be such a great idea. Personality disorders are all-pervasive and intractable. Best stay away and avoid the traps of rescue fantasies and malignant optimism.

You cannot change people, not in the real, profound, deep sense. You can only adapt to them and adapt them to you. If you do find your narcissist rewarding at times – you should consider doing these:

  1. Determine your limits and boundaries. How much and in which ways can you adapt to him (i.e., accept him AS HE IS) and to which extent and in which ways would you like him to adapt to you (i.e., accept you as you are). Act accordingly. Accept what you have decided to accept and reject the rest. Change in you what you are willing and able to change – and ignore the rest. Conclude an unwritten contract of co-existence (could be written if you are more formally inclined).
     
  2. Try to maximise the number of times that “…his walls are down”, that you “…find him totally fascinating and everything I desire”. What makes him be and behave this way? Is it something that you say or do? Is it preceded by events of a specific nature? Is there anything you can do to make him behave this way more often?

Remember, though:

Sometimes we mistake guilt and self-assumed blame for love.

Committing suicide for someone else’s sake is not love.

Sacrificing yourself for someone else is not love.

It is domination, codependence, and counter-dependence.

You control your narcissist by giving, as much as he controls you through his pathology.

Your unconditional generosity sometimes prevents him from facing his True Self and thus healing.

It is impossible to have a relationship with a narcissist that is meaningful to the narcissist.

Moving On

To preserve one’s mental health – one must abandon the narcissist. One must move on.

Moving on is a process, not a decision or an event. First, one has to acknowledge and accept painful reality. Such acceptance is a volcanic, shattering, agonising series of nibbling thoughts and strong resistances. Once the battle is won, and harsh and agonizing realities are assimilated, one can move on to the learning phase.

Learning

We label. We educate ourselves. We compare experiences. We digest. We have insights.

Then we decide and we act. This is “to move on”. Having gathered sufficient emotional sustenance, knowledge, support and confidence, we face the battlefields of our relationships, fortified and nurtured. This stage characterises those who do not mourn – but fight; do not grieve – but replenish their self-esteem; do not hide – but seek; do not freeze – but move on.

Grieving

Having been betrayed and abused – we grieve. We grieve for the image we had of the traitor and abuser – the image that was so fleeting and so wrong. We mourn the damage he did to us. We experience the fear of never being able to love or to trust again – and we grieve this loss. In one stroke, we lost someone we trusted and even loved, we lost our trusting and loving selves and we lost the trust and love that we felt. Can anything be worse?

The emotional process of grieving has many phases.

At first, we are dumbfounded, shocked, inert, immobile. We play dead to avoid our inner monsters. We are ossified in our pain, cast in the mould of our reticence and fears. Then we feel enraged, indignant, rebellious and hateful. Then we accept. Then we cry. And then – some of us – learn to forgive and to pity. And this is called healing.

All stages are absolutely necessary and good for you. It is bad not to rage back, not to shame those who shamed us, to deny, to pretend, to evade. But it is equally bad to get fixated on our rage. Permanent grieving is the perpetuation of our abuse by other means.

By endlessly recreating our harrowing experiences, we unwillingly collaborate with our abuser to perpetuate his or her evil deeds. It is by moving on that we defeat our abuser, minimising him and his importance in our lives. It is by loving and by trusting anew that we annul that which was done to us. To forgive is never to forget. But to remember is not necessarily to re-experience.

Forgiving and Forgetting

Forgiving is an important capability. It does more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. But it should not be a universal, indiscriminate behaviour. It is legitimate not to forgive sometimes. It depends, of course, on the severity or duration of what was done to you.

In general, it is unwise and counter-productive to apply to life “universal” and “immutable” principles. Life is too chaotic to succumb to rigid edicts. Sentences which start with “I never” or “I always” are not very credible and often lead to self-defeating, self-restricting and self-destructive behaviours.

Conflicts are an important and integral part of life. One should never seek them out, but when confronted with a conflict, one should not avoid it. It is through conflicts and adversity as much as through care and love that we grow.

Human relationships are dynamic. We must assess our friendships, partnerships, even our marriages periodically. In and by itself, a common past is insufficient to sustain a healthy, nourishing, supportive, caring and compassionate relationship. Common memories are a necessary but not a sufficient condition. We must gain and regain our friendships on a daily basis. Human relationships are a constant test of allegiance and empathy.

Remaining Friends with the Narcissist

Can’t we act civilised and remain on friendly terms with our narcissist ex?

Never forget that narcissists (full fledged ones) are nice and friendly only when:

  1. They want something from you – Narcissistic Supply, help, support, votes, money… They prepare the ground, manipulate you and then come out with the “small favour” they need or ask you blatantly or surreptitiously for Narcissistic Supply (“What did you think about my performance…”, “Do you think that I really deserve the Nobel Prize?”).

  1. They feel threatened and they want to neuter the threat by smothering it with oozing pleasantries.

  1. They have just been infused with an overdose of Narcissistic Supply and they feel magnanimous and magnificent and ideal and perfect. To show magnanimity is a way of flaunting one’s impeccable divine credentials. It is an act of grandiosity. You are an irrelevant prop in this spectacle, a mere receptacle of the narcissist’s overflowing, self-contented infatuation with his False Self.

This beneficence is transient. Perpetual victims often tend to thank the narcissist for “little graces”. This is the Stockholm syndrome: hostages tend to emotionally identify with their captors rather than with the police. We are grateful to our abusers and tormentors for ceasing their hideous activities and allowing us to catch our breath.

12. When is the right time to move a date/relationship into the bedroom? What precautions should people take before entering the bedroom? What advice do you have when it comes to sex?

A. The sooner, the better. If he strikes you as a “candidate”, if she strikes you as a potential partner, it is time to hit the sack. Sexual incompatibility is the reason for a majority of breakups and divorces. Better to get this issue out of the way before things get more serious. If you find that he repels you sexually; if you find her unimaginative or frigid; if you find him clumsy and irritating; if you find her perfunctory or domineering – better put an end to it now, before you commit yourselves and get entangled emotionally.

Of course, all the precautions apply: gather information about your prospective partners from his/her friends, family, and colleagues; insist on protected, safe sex; make clear, in advance, what you are willing to do and where do you draw the line. But, otherwise, go for it now, before it is too late. Find out if you are a true couple in bed as well as away from the sheets.

Interview granted to About.com about Online Dating

1. In your opinion, why does the Internet seem to be an easy forum to fall in love?
 
A. Frequently, in online dating, the partners are treated as “blank screens” onto which the online dater projects her dreams, wishes, and unfulfilled needs and yearnings. The Internet allows the two sides to maintain an emotionally riskless intercourse by fully controlling the interaction with their interlocutors or correspondents. While thoroughly gratified, they are less likely to get hurt and feel less vulnerable because they invest – emotionally and otherwise – far less than in a full-fledged, “real” life liaison. Of course, they are usually disappointed when they try to flesh out their online fantasy by moving the relationship offline, “down to earth” and into “brick-and-mortar” venues.
2. Despite an online relationship being made up of text messages and pictures, why does it seem people more easily get into Internet relationships than they do in real life?
 
A. “Internet relationship” is an oxymoron. A relationship entails the existence of a physical dimension, time spent together, friction and conflict, the satisfaction of all the senses, and experiences shared. IM, chat, webcams, and the like can seemingly bring people closer and create the illusion of intimacy, but actually it is a narcissistic sham, an echo chamber, a simulacrum. People “fall in love” with their own reflections and with idealized partners, not with the real items. Their counterparty is merely a peg on which they hang their desire for closeness, a sounding board.  It is like watching a film: one can be moved to tears by what is happening on the screen, but very few confuse the flickering lights with reality itself.
3. What dangers are there in falling in love online?
A. Online “love” is not love at all and, therefore, it is less prone to heartbreak and disappointment. The parties fully control their side of the interaction and limit it at will. The information exchanged is doctored and there is no way of verifying it (for instance, by paying attention to body language and social cues). Online “love” is more akin to infatuation, comprised of equal measures fantasy and narcissism. The parties fall in love with the idea of falling in love: the actual online partner is rather incidental. The extant technology dictates the solipsistic and self-centered nature of these exchanges.Online dating is inherently unsafe as it affords no way to ascertain the identity of your interlocutor or correspondent. When you date online, you are missing out on critical information such as your potential partner’s body language; the pattern of his social interactions; his behavior in unexpected settings and circumstances; his non-scripted reactions; even his smell and how he truly looks, dresses, and conducts himself in public and in private. The dangers, like in real life, is when one comes across a predator: a psychopath, a stalker, or a bully. Click on this link to learn how to avoid these people: How to Recognize a Narcissist or Psychopath Before It is Too Late?

4. What tips can you share with readers who have fallen in love online and have been burnt by the rejection of a breakup online who might do it again?

A. The Internet is merely a sophisticated, multimedia communication channel, a glorified videophone. “Distance relationships” don’t work. Real, lasting, emotionally-rewarding relationships that lead to happiness and personal growth require propinquity, familiarity, intimacy, and sacrifices. Don’t make the Internet your exclusive dating venue and don’t use it to shield you from life itself . Deploy it merely to find information and reach out and, on the first opportunity, log off and go out there to confront multidimensional reality with all its complexity and ambiguities. Do not use the Internet to fend off potential hurt: there is no growth without pain and no progress without experience.

5. Despite some problems, do you think the Internet should be sworn off as a means of finding love?

A. Online dating is a great tool for people who, for various reasons, have limited access to other dating options or venues where you can date “real” people face-to-face, instead of mere avatars.

Strong Men and Political Theatres – The “Being There” Syndrome

“I came here to see a country, but what I find is a theater … In appearances, everything happens as it does everywhere else. There is no difference except in the very foundation of things.”

(de Custine, writing about Russia in the mid-19th century)

Four decades ago, the Polish-American-Jewish author, Jerzy Kosinski, wrote the book “Being There”. It describes the election to the presidency of the United States of a simpleton, a gardener, whose vapid and trite pronouncements are taken to be sagacious and penetrating insights into human affairs. The “Being There Syndrome” is now manifest throughout the world: from Russia (Putin) to the United States (Obama).

Given a high enough level of frustration, triggered by recurrent, endemic, and systemic failures in all spheres of policy, even the most resilient democracy develops a predilection to “strong men”, leaders whose self-confidence, sangfroid, and apparent omniscience all but “guarantee” a change of course for the better.

These are usually people with a thin resume, having accomplished little prior to their ascendance. They appear to have erupted on the scene from nowhere. They are received as providential messiahs precisely because they are unencumbered with a discernible past and, thus, are ostensibly unburdened by prior affiliations and commitments. Their only duty is to the future. They are a-historical: they have no history and they are above history.

Indeed, it is precisely this apparent lack of a biography that qualifies these leaders to represent and bring about a fantastic and grandiose future. They act as a blank screen upon which the multitudes project their own traits, wishes, personal biographies, needs, and yearnings.

The more these leaders deviate from their initial promises and the more they fail, the dearer they are to the hearts of their constituents: like them, their new-chosen leader is struggling, coping, trying, and failing and, like them, he has his shortcomings and vices. This affinity is endearing and captivating. It helps to form a shared psychosis (follies-a-plusieurs) between ruler and people and fosters the emergence of an hagiography.

The propensity to elevate narcissistic or even psychopathic personalities to power is most pronounced in countries that lack a democratic tradition (such as China, Russia, or the nations that inhabit the territories that once belonged to Byzantium or the Ottoman Empire).

Cultures and civilizations which frown upon individualism and have a collectivist tradition, prefer to install “strong collective leaderships” rather than “strong men”. Yet, all these polities maintain a theatre of democracy, or a theatre of “democratically-reached consensus” (Putin calls it: “sovereign democracy”). Such charades are devoid of essence and proper function and are replete and concurrent with a personality cult or the adoration of the party in power.

In most developing countries and nations in transition, “democracy” is an empty word. Granted, the hallmarks of democracy are there: candidate lists, parties, election propaganda, a plurality of media, and voting. But its quiddity is absent. The democratic principles are institutions are being consistently hollowed out and rendered mock by election fraud, exclusionary policies, cronyism, corruption, intimidation, and collusion with Western interests, both commercial and political.

The new “democracies” are thinly-disguised and criminalized plutocracies (recall the Russian oligarchs), authoritarian regimes (Central Asia and the Caucasus), or puppeteered heterarchies (Macedonia, Bosnia, and Iraq, to mention three recent examples).

The new “democracies” suffer from many of the same ills that afflict their veteran role models: murky campaign finances; venal revolving doors between state administration and private enterprise; endemic corruption, nepotism, and cronyism; self-censoring media; socially, economically, and politically excluded minorities; and so on. But while this malaise does not threaten the foundations of the United States and France – it does imperil the stability and future of the likes of Ukraine, Serbia, and Moldova, Indonesia, Mexico, and Bolivia.

Many nations have chosen prosperity over democracy. Yes, the denizens of these realms can’t speak their mind or protest or criticize or even joke lest they be arrested or worse – but, in exchange for giving up these trivial freedoms, they have food on the table, they are fully employed, they receive ample health care and proper education, they save and spend to their hearts’ content.

In return for all these worldly and intangible goods (popularity of the leadership which yields political stability; prosperity; security; prestige abroad; authority at home; a renewed sense of nationalism, collective and community), the citizens of these countries forgo the right to be able to criticize the regime or change it once every four years. Many insist that they have struck a good bargain – not a Faustian one.

 


Also Read:

Narcissistic Leaders

Narcissists, Terrorists and Group Behaviour

Collective Narcissism

Hitler – The Inverted Saint

Narcissism in the Boardroom

Resources regarding Leadership Styles

The Role of Governments in Global Crises

Market failures signify corruption and inefficiency in the private sector. Such misconduct and misallocation of economic resources is usually thought to be the domain of the public sector, but actually it goes on eveywhere in the economy.

Wealth destruction by privately-owned firms is typical of economies with absent, lenient, or lax regulation and often exceeds anything the public administration does. Corruption, driven by avarice and fear, is common among entrepreneurs as much as among civil servants. It is a myth to believe otherwise. Wherever there is money, human psychology is in operation and with it economic malaise. Hence the need for governmental micromamangement of the private sector at all times. Self-regulation is a costly and self-deceiving urban legend.

Another engine of state involvement is provided by the thrift paradox. When the economy goes sour, rational individuals and households save more and spend less. The aggregate outcome of their newfound thrift is recessionary: decreasing consumption translates into declining corporate profitability and rising unemployment. These effects are especially pronounced when financial transmission mechanisms (banks and other financial institutions) are gummed up: frozen in fear and distrust, they do not lend money, even though deposits (and their own capital base) are ever growing.

It is true that, by diversifying risk away, via the use of derivatives and other financial instruments, asset markets no longer affect the real economy as they used to. They have become, in a sense, “gated communities”, separated from Main Street by “risk barriers”. But, these developments do not pertain to retail banks and when markets are illiquid and counterparty risk rampant, options and swaps are pretty useless.

The only way to effectively cancel out the this demonetization of the national economy (this “bleeding”) is through enhanced government spending. Where fearful citizens save, their government should spend on infrastructure, health, education, and information technology. The state’s negative savings should offset multiplying private savings. In extremis, the state should nationalize the financial sector for a limited period of times (as Israel has done in 1983 and Sweden, a decade later).

It is a maxim of current economic orthodoxy that governments compete with the private sector on a limited pool of savings. It is considered equally self-evident that the private sector is better, more competent, and more efficient at allocating scarce economic resources and thus at preventing waste. It is therefore thought economically sound to reduce the size of government – i.e., minimize its tax intake and its public borrowing – in order to free resources for the private sector to allocate productively and efficiently.

Yet, both dogmas are far from being universally applicable.

The assumption underlying the first conjecture is that government obligations and corporate lending are perfect substitutes. In other words, once deprived of treasury notes, bills, and bonds – a rational investor is expected to divert her savings to buying stocks or corporate bonds.

It is further anticipated that financial intermediaries – pension funds, banks, mutual funds – will tread similarly. If unable to invest the savings of their depositors in scarce risk-free – i.e., government – securities – they will likely alter their investment preferences and buy equity and debt issued by firms.

Yet, this is expressly untrue. Bond buyers and stock investors are two distinct crowds. Their risk aversion is different. Their investment preferences are disparate. Some of them – e.g., pension funds – are constrained by law as to the composition of their investment portfolios. Once government debt has turned scarce or expensive, bond investors tend to resort to cash. That cash – not equity or corporate debt – is the veritable substitute for risk-free securities is a basic tenet of modern investment portfolio theory.

Moreover, the “perfect substitute” hypothesis assumes the existence of efficient markets and frictionless transmission mechanisms. But this is a conveniently idealized picture which has little to do with grubby reality. Switching from one kind of investment to another incurs – often prohibitive – transaction costs. In many countries, financial intermediaries are dysfunctional or corrupt or both. They are unable to efficiently convert savings to investments – or are wary of doing so.

Furthermore, very few capital and financial markets are closed, self-contained, or self-sufficient units. Governments can and do borrow from foreigners. Most rich world countries – with the exception of Japan – tap “foreign people’s money” for their public borrowing needs. When the US government borrows more, it crowds out the private sector in Japan – not in the USA.

It is universally agreed that governments have at least two critical economic roles. The first is to provide a “level playing field” for all economic players. It is supposed to foster competition, enforce the rule of law and, in particular, property rights, encourage free trade, avoid distorting fiscal incentives and disincentives, and so on. Its second role is to cope with market failures and the provision of public goods. It is expected to step in when markets fail to deliver goods and services, when asset bubbles inflate, or when economic resources are blatantly misallocated.

Yet, there is a third role. In our post-Keynesian world, it is a heresy. It flies in the face of the “Washington Consensus” propagated by the Bretton-Woods institutions and by development banks the world over. It is the government’s obligation to foster growth.

In most countries of the world – definitely in Africa, the Middle East, the bulk of Latin America, central and eastern Europe, and central and east Asia – savings do not translate to investments, either in the form of corporate debt or in the form of corporate equity.

In most countries of the world, institutions do not function, the rule of law and properly rights are not upheld, the banking system is dysfunctional and clogged by bad debts. Rusty monetary transmission mechanisms render monetary policy impotent.

In most countries of the world, there is no entrepreneurial and thriving private sector and the economy is at the mercy of external shocks and fickle business cycles. Only the state can counter these economically detrimental vicissitudes. Often, the sole engine of growth and the exclusive automatic stabilizer is public spending. Not all types of public expenditures have the desired effect. Witness Japan’s pork barrel spending on “infrastructure projects”. But development-related and consumption-enhancing spending is usually beneficial.

To say, in most countries of the world, that “public borrowing is crowding out the private sector” is wrong. It assumes the existence of a formal private sector which can tap the credit and capital markets through functioning financial intermediaries, notably banks and stock exchanges.

Yet, this mental picture is a figment of economic imagination. The bulk of the private sector in these countries is informal. In many of them, there are no credit or capital markets to speak of. The government doesn’t borrow from savers through the marketplace – but internationally, often from multilaterals.

Outlandish default rates result in vertiginously high real interest rates. Inter-corporate lending, barter, and cash transactions substitute for bank credit, corporate bonds, or equity flotations. As a result, the private sector’s financial leverage is minuscule. In the rich West $1 in equity generates $3-5 in debt for a total investment of $4-6. In the developing world, $1 of tax-evaded equity generates nothing. The state has to pick up the slack.

Growth and employment are public goods and developing countries are in a perpetual state of systemic and multiple market failures. Rather than lend to businesses or households – banks thrive on arbitrage. Investment horizons are limited. Should the state refrain from stepping in to fill up the gap – these countries are doomed to inexorable decline.


Also Read

Governments and Growth

Is Education a Public Good?

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

Trading in Sovereign Promises

Men and Women – The Qualities We Seek

“For what qualities in a man,” asked the youth, “does a woman most ardently love him?”
“For those qualities in him,” replied the old tutor, “which his mother most ardently hates.”

(A Book Without A Title, by George Jean Nathan (1918))
 

Q. The Top 5 Things Women Look for in a Man, the top five qualities (based on an American survey):

1. Good Judgment
2. Intelligence
3. Faithful
4. Affectionate
5. Financially Responsible

Why is this something women look for in men – why is it important?
How does this quality positively affect a relationship or marriage?
How do women recognize it?

A. There are three possible explanations as to why women look for these qualities in men: the evolutionary-biological one, the historical-cultural one, and the psychological-emotional one.

In evolutionary terms, good judgment and intelligence equal survival and the transmission of one’s genes across the generations. Faithfulness and a sense of responsibility (financial and otherwise) guarantee that the woman’s partner will persevere in the all-important tasks of homebuilding and childrearing. Finally, being affectionate cements the emotional bond between male and female and militates against potentially life-threatening maltreatment and abuse of the latter by the former.

From the historical-cultural point of view, most societies and cultures, well into the previous century, have been male-dominated and patriarchal. The male’s judgment prevailed and his decisions dictated the course of the couple’s life. An intelligent and financially responsible male provided a secure environment in which to raise children. The woman lived through her man, vicariously: his successes and failures reflected on her and determined her standing in society and her ability to develop and thrive on the personal level. His faithfulness and affections served to prevent competitors from usurping the female’s place and thus threatening her male-dependent cosmos.

Granted, evolutionary constraints are anachronistic and social-cultural mores have changed: women, at least in Western societies, are now independent, both emotionally and economically. Yet, millennia of conditioned behavior cannot be eradicated in a few decades. Women continue to look in men for the qualities that used to matter in entirely different circumstances.

Finally, women are more level-headed when it comes to bonding. They tend to emphasize long-term relationships, based on reciprocity and the adhesive qualities of strong emotions. Good judgment, intelligence, and a developed sense of responsibility are crucial to the maintenance and preservation of functional, lasting, and durable couples – and so are faithfulness and being affectionate.

Soaring divorce rates and the rise of single parenthood prove that women are not good at recognizing the qualities they seek in men. It is not easy to tell apart the genuine article from the unctuous pretender. While intelligence (or lack thereof) can be discerned on a first date, it is difficult to predict traits such as faithfulness, good judgment, and reliability. Affections can really be mere affectations and women are sometimes so desperate for a mate that they delude themselves and treat their date as a blank screen onto which they project their wishes and needs.

Q. What are the top 5 Things Men Look for in a Woman, the top five qualities?

Why is this something men look for in women – why is it important?

How does this quality positively affect a relationship or marriage?

How do men recognize it?

 

A. From my experience and correspondence with thousands of couples, men seem to place a premium on these qualities in a woman:

 

1.    Physical Attraction and Sexual Availability
2.    Good-naturedness
3.    Faithfulness
4.    Protective Affectionateness
5.    Dependability

There are three possible explanations as to why men look for these qualities in women: the evolutionary-biological one, the historical-cultural one, and the psychological-emotional one.

In evolutionary terms, physical attractiveness denotes good underlying health and genetic-immunological compatibility. These guarantee the efficacious transmission of one’s genes to future generations. Of course, having sex is a precondition for bearing children and, so, sexual availability is important, but only when it is coupled with faithfulness: men are loth to raise and invest scarce resource in someone else’s progeny. Dependable women are more likely to propagate the species, so they are desirable. Finally, men and women are likely to do a better job of raising a family if the woman is good-natured, easy-going, adaptable, affectionate, and mothering. These qualities cement the emotional bond between male and female and prevent potentially life-threatening maltreatment and abuse of the latter by the former.

From the historical-cultural point of view, most societies and cultures, well into the previous century, have been male-dominated and patriarchal. Women were treated as chattels or possessions, an extension of the male. The “ownership” of an attractive female advertised to the world the male’s prowess and desirability. Her good nature, affectionateness, and protectiveness proved that her man was a worthwhile “catch” and elevated his social status. Her dependability and faithfulness allowed him to embark on long trips or complex, long-term undertakings without the distractions of emotional uncertainty and the anxieties of  letdown and betrayal.

Finally, men are more cavalier when it comes to bonding. They tend to maintain both long-term and short-term relationships and are, therefore, far less exclusive and monogamous than women. They are more concerned with what they are getting out of a relationship than with reciprocity and, though they often feel as strongly as women and can be equally romantic, their emotional landscape and expression are more constrained and they sometimes confuse love with possessiveness or even codependence. Thus, men tend to emphasize the external (physical attraction) and the functional (good-naturedness, faithfulness, reliability) over the internal and the purely emotional.

Soaring divorce rates and the rise of single parenthood prove that men are not good at recognizing the qualities they seek in women. It is not easy to tell apart the genuine article from the unctuous pretender. While physical attractiveness (or lack thereof) can be discerned on a first date, it is difficult to predict traits such as faithfulness, good-naturedness, and reliability. Affections can really be mere affectations and men are sometimes such narcissistic navel-gazers that they delude themselves and treat their date as a blank screen onto which they project their wishes and needs.

Lucid Dreams

“Imagine a Lucid Dreaming Tournament for Individuals and Multiplayer Teams” – I said.

Jack imbibed his drink listlessly. He was as uninspiring as his pedestrian first name. I couldn’t fathom why I kept socializing with this amebic specimen of office worker. We had nothing in common, except the cramped and smelly cubicle we shared.

“Lucid Dreaming?” – He intoned, gazing dolefully at his empty glass, his waxy fingers compulsively smoothing the doily underneath it.

“It’s when you know that you are dreaming and can change the contents of your dream at will: its environment, the set of characters, the plotline, the outcome …”

“I know what is lucid dreaming,” – stated Jack, his voice as flat as when he ordered the next round of drinks.

“You do?” – I confess to having been shocked. Lucid dreaming is the last thing you would dream of associating with Jack.

“Yes, I do.” – A hint of a smile – “I used to practice it.”

“Practice it? What do you mean?”

Jack turned and eyed me curiously, his equine face strangely animated:

“Just how much do you know about lucid dreaming?”

“Not much.” – I admitted – “Read about it here and there. I am more interested in its business applications. Hence my idea of organizing a tournament. It is doable, isn’t it? I mean, I read about shared dreams and such.”

If I hadn’t known Jack, I could have sworn to have seen his visage fleetingly turning derisive. But, the moment passed and he was his old anodyne self again. He sighed and sipped from his long-stemmed receptacle:

“There are many techniques developed and used to induce lucid dreams. There’s WILD, where you go directly from wakefulness to a dream state. It’s eerie, like an out of body experience.”

“How would you know what an out of body experience is like?” – I couldn’t help but ask.

Jack smoothed the greasy strands that passed for hair on the shiny, bumpy dome of his skull:

“I had a few when I was a kid. Doctors told me it was dissociation, my way of fleeing the horrors of my youth, so to speak.”

He smiled ruefully and the effect was terrifying. I averted my eyes.

“Anyhow, I also tried MILD, to recognize tell-tale signs that I am dreaming while asleep and WBTB – that’s: wake-back-to-bed – where you sleep for a while, then wake up, then concentrate on a dream you would like to have and then go back to sleep. I even went for supplements and devices that were supposed to help one to have lucid dreams. Some of them worked, actually.” – He scrutinized the fatty residues of his fingertips on the surface of the glass and then gulped the entire contents down.

“Wow!” – I said, appropriately appreciative – “I didn’t know there was so much to it!”. I hoped that flattery – augmented by a few more drinks – will be enough to secure the free consultancy services of Jack.

“It’s just the tip of an iceberg. Users and developers all over the world are now working on shared lucid dreaming and on enhanced learning techniques. It’s an awesome new field.”

I suppressed a smirk. “Awesome” was one of my favorite catchphrases and Jack has just plagiarized it nonchalantly. Maybe there’s still hope for him, I mused.

The conversation looked stalled, though, Jack lost in some labyrinthine inner landscape. I had to do something.

“Imagine a gadget that could record dreams, and then replay, upload them, and network with others. I call it: Mindshare.”

“Oldest theme of sci-fi novels and films.” – Jack shrugged and waved the waitress over. She glance furtively in my direction. I knew I had this effect on women: tall, athletic, always expensively attired, handsome, I am told. Poor Jack: dour, gruff, balding, dull and looks to match his character or lack thereof.

“Such a machine can be used to commit the perfect murder.” – I insisted – “Induce a dream of extreme physical exertion in a person with a heart condition. Or show spiders to an arachnophobe, or place someone with a fear of heights poised to fall off a cliff.”

He gave a stifled snigger:

“You seem to be good at this sort of thing, but a bit behind the curve.”

I ignored the insinuated disdain:

“I have it all figured out.” – I proceeded cheerfully – “The implement must come equipped with a mind firewall for protection. I call it the mindwall. You know, to fend off unwanted intrusions, hackers, crackers, criminals, that sort of thing. The mindwall will be designed to prevent exactly the sort of crime we have just been discussing.”

Jack shifted his gangly body in the high-backed transparent plastic chair. He didn’t respond, just studied the fan-shaped pastel lights around us.

I got really carried away, treating Jack merely as a neutral backdrop:

“Now, there will be content developers, talented dreamers, dream distributors, platforms, and what not. Exactly like software, you know. All content will be allowed but with ratings, like in the film industry. Inevitably, I can foresee the emergence of miruses, mind viruses, and mrojans, or mind-Trojans. I even thought of a new type of criminal offense: Mind Trapping, trying to alter the consciousness of a collective by interfering with the minds of a critical mass of its members. All these will all be illegal, naturally, and the FBI will have a special branch to take care of them, the…”

“… MIND: Mind, Identity, Neural, and Dreaming Police” – Said Jack.

For a moment there, I was disoriented. This was my line, the next few words I was about to say. How did Jack … How did he …

Jack stared at me oddly. Beads of clotted sweat formed on his brow and stubbly jowls. He muttered: “Hutton’s Paradox”.

“What?” – He was beginning to piss me off with his feigned aloofness and enigmatic utterances. The waitress glanced at us curiously. I realized that I had raised my voice. “What?” – I repeated, this time whispering.

“The British writer, Eric Bond Hutton, suggested to ask the question ‘Am I dreaming?’ to determine if you are in a dream-state or not. This query would never occur to you while you are awake, so the very fact that you feel compelled to pose it proves that you are asleep.”

“That’s utter nonsense!” – I susurrated – “I am definitely and widely awake right now and I can ask this question and it’s not conclusive one way or the other.”

“Then how do you explain the fact that I knew what you were about to say?”

“Lucky guess!” – I hissed – “Sheer coincidence!”

Jack shook his head sadly and used a flimsy paper napkin to wipe films of soupy perspiration off his contorted face:

“The words were too specific. Plus I got the acronym right. Either I was reading your mind loud and clear or we are both dreaming right this very minute.”

We sat there, thunderstruck. I knew he was right. The pub, its tubular fittings, pinstriped waitresses, and ponytailed barmen looked suddenly contrived and conjured up, like papier-mâché, or cardboard cutouts, only animated somehow.

“But, …” – I began

And he continued: “… who is …”

“… dreaming who?” – I finished

Who is the dreamer? Who is the figment? I certainly didn’t feel invented. I had a flat, a horde of girlfriends, money in the bank, a family, a history, a future. I had Jack, for Chrissakes! I had co-workers, a boss, a career, a cubicle that smelled like wet dog in winter and a man’s locker-room in summer!

Still, Jack didn’t look unreal, either. He was too loathsome to be a dream, but insufficiently deformed to fit into a nightmare. He was just an ordinary, interchangeable, dispensable cog. Repellent cog, but useful. And he drank martinis. No one in my dreams ever drank alcohol, a vestige of my teetotalling upbringing. And Jack, too, had a job and a life.

Or, did he? What did I really know about him? Coming to think of it, nothing much. He wore garish clothes, ate sandwiches wrapped in oily paper, claimed to have a parrot, which I never saw. Is that enough to disqualify him and render me immaterial? No way!

“There are tests.” – Said Jack after a while.

“What do you mean: ‘tests’?”

“Tests to determine if you are dreaming or not. Like: pinching your nose tight-shut and trying to breathe without using your mouth. If you succeed to do it, it’s a dream.”

“Anything else?”

“Oh, there are hundreds.” – Grunted Jack noncommittally.

“Something we can do right here and now?”

“Both of us don’t need to do it.” – Said Jack – “If one of us succeeds, then the other is real. If he fails, the other’s a mere fantasy.”

I shuddered.

Jack raised both his hands and stuck his left thumb through his right palm. Clean through. I gazed at him, dumbfounded. As the realization of what this meant dawned on me, I felt elated.

“There!” – He said, strangely triumphant – “I am the delusion and you are real. I always knew this to be true. In fact, I am relieved. It’s wasn’t easy being me.” He stood up and repeated the stunt.

“That was cool!” “Could you do it again?” “Way to go, man!” – A chorus of adulation, applauding bartenders, waitresses, and patrons surrounded Jack, who seemed to bask in the attention. He kept thrusting his thumbs into his palms and extracting them, not a drop of blood in sight, his hands none the worse off for the tear and wear that must have been involved.

Suddenly someone asked:

“Can your friend do tricks, too?”

Jack chortled:

“No way! He is real, man!” – And the room exploded in sinister laughter.

“I don’t think he is more real than you are!” – Said the red-headed waitress that couldn’t keep her eyes off me when she served us drinks. The bitch!

“Yeah, right, let him do some magic!” – Everyone joined in and gradually drifted and formed a circle around me. Jack stood aside, smirking and spreading his hands as if to say: “What can I do?”

“Do it! Do it! Do it!” – The murmur gradually increased, until it became a minacious roar, an ominous rumble. I lifted my hands to fend off the sound wall, but all I could see was two bleeding stumps where they should have been: crushed, bleached bones and protruding arteries, spouting a dark and strangely fragrant liquid onto my face.

“Jack!” – I shrieked – “Where are my hands? Where are my hands, please! Jack!”

The mob clapped thunderously and Jack took bows, as he weaved his way towards me. He knelt down and put his fleshy mouth to my ear:

“That’s another test. If you cannot see your hands, if they are replaced by something hideous, you are dreaming. It’s merely a nightmare, don’t worry about it.”

“But, I can’t be dreaming, I am real, I am not a character in a hallucination!” – I protested, striving to raise myself off the shiny chessboard-patterned floor, supporting my mysteriously weightless body on the two stumps that were my arms.

Jack sighed:

“I don’t know about that. These tests only tell you that you are in a dream, but they can’t distinguish between characters in the phantasmagoria. They can’t tell you if you are the dreamer or merely one of the characters being dreamed of.”

“But, when you pierced your hand with your thumb, you said that you were unreal and that I exist! That I am doing the dreaming and you are in my dream!” – I cried.

He smiled benevolently: “I knew that it meant a lot to you, that this is what you wanted to hear.’

“So, it was all a lie? All of it?” – I heaved, holding back a torrent of tears.

Jack slid by my side, legs extended, touching the opposite wall:

“All you have to do to find out is to wake up.” – He said and rubbed his temples wearily. I noticed how fatigued he looked: bags under his eyes, his veiny skin, his distended paunch. He appeared old, unkempt, and disheveled.

“I don’t want to wake up, I am afraid, Jack. I am afraid that I might not exist.”

Jack nodded in empathy:

“I know, I know. But, like that, trapped in a dream, you definitely do not exist. It’s an illusion, all of it. It changes at its creator’s whim and behest. We are nothing, mere stand-ins, decorations, frills. Don’t you want to at least try to have a life? Don’t you want to have something to call your own, to be someone? You don’t even have a name here!”

And he was right. I didn’t. I wanted to protest, but, the minute I opened my mouth, I knew Jack had a point and I did not have a name. I was nameless. I might as well call myself “Jack” for all I knew.

“Just give me your hand.” – Jack said softly – “We are in this together. We will wake up or we won’t, but we are a team, buddy. After all, we share the same office, remember?” – He smiled, a vain attempt at joviality. He extended his right hand and I proffered my left, coagulated stump, and we held on to each other and willed ourselves awake.


Mindgames Tales

The Capgras Shift

I Hear Voices

Folie a Plusieurs

The Elephant’s Call

Night Terror

Anton’s Trap

A Dream Come True

The Con Man ComethReaders Discussion

The Last DaysReaders Discussion