Patricide: How Young Leaders Mistreat Their Predecessors

By definition, leaders are authority figures and, as such, stand in for one’s father, especially in patriarchal and traditionalist societies. Old-school psychoanalysts would tell you that such substitution is bound to provoke one’s latent Oedipal complex and proclivity for patricide, whether actual (in the form of an assassination) or symbolic (in the form of dissent and disdainful criticism). Young, emerging leaders more often than not treat their predecessors this way: as hated parent-figures. This is especially true when the new or young leader’s childhood has been marked by the traumas wrought on by an absent, or an abusive father.

This pernicious undercurrent often mixes unsettlingly with virulent envy, the outcome of deep-seated feelings of inferiority and insecurity. The less self-regulated the new or young leader’s sense of self-worth, the more he resorts to narcissistic defenses and the more he compulsively seeks narcissistic supply (attention, adulation) to buttress his precariously-balanced personality. Narcissism is frequently tinged with sadism and passive-aggressive behaviors: taunting the older or previous leader, publicly humiliating him or her, thus showing him/her “who is boss”. The more successful the new or young leader is at defeating or subjugating his predecessors, the more it supports his belief in his own omnipotence, omniscience, and cosmic-messianic sense of mission.

Every manner of psychological defense mechanism is provoked in the young leader: denial (of the inappropriateness, impudence, and immorality of his actions); devaluation (of the older leadership, thus justifying their mistreatment); displacement (scapegoating the previous leaders for one’s own predicament and failures); fantasy (evading reality by constructing elaborate grandiose narratives and confabulations); idealization (of the nation, for instance, or of one’s own coterie or political party); omnipotence; projection (attributing to the former leaders one’s own faults, frailties, and shortcomings); projective identification (provoking the older leaders into action that is unseemly or against their best interests); rationalization and intellectualization (of one’s misconduct and misdeeds); splitting (casting the older, erstwhile leaders as evil, corrupt, and incompetent while attributing to oneself all the positive traits).

The narcissistic or psychopathic leader is the culmination and reification of his period, culture, and civilization. He is likely to rise to prominence in narcissistic societies. The leader’s mental health pathologies resonate with the anomies of his society and culture (“psychopathological resonance”.) The leader and the led form a self-enhancing and self-reinforcing feedback loop, a dyad of mirrored adoration and reflected love. By elevating and idealizing their “fuehrer”, the mob actually elevates and idealizes itself; in his ascendance they find hope, in his manifest illness – curative solace and a legitimation of their own collective insanity.

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

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

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

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

Many narcissistic and psychopathic leaders are the hostages of self-imposed rigid ideologies. They fancy themselves Platonic “philosopher-kings”. Lacking empathy, they regard their subjects as a manufacturer does his raw materials, or as the abstracted collateral damage in vast historical processes (to prepare an omelet, one must break eggs, as their favorite saying goes).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is precisely the source of the fascination with Hitler, diagnosed by Erich Fromm – together with Stalin – as a malignant narcissist. He was an inverted human. His unconscious was his conscious. He acted out our most repressed drives, fantasies, and wishes.

Hitler provided us with a glimpse of the horrors that lie beneath the veneer, the barbarians at our personal gates, and what it was like before we invented civilization. Hitler forced us all through a time warp and many did not emerge. He was not the devil. He was one of us. He was what Arendt aptly called the banality of evil. Just an ordinary, mentally disturbed, failure, a member of a mentally disturbed and failing nation, who lived through disturbed and failing times. He was the perfect mirror, a channel, a voice, and the very depth of our souls.

The narcissistic leader prefers the sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and method of real accomplishments. His reign is all smoke and mirrors, devoid of substance, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions.

In the aftermath of his regime – the narcissistic leader having died, been deposed, or voted out of office – it all unravels. The tireless and constant prestidigitation ceases and the entire edifice crumbles. What looked like an economic miracle turns out to have been a fraud-laced bubble. Loosely-held empires disintegrate. Laboriously assembled business conglomerates go to pieces. “Earth shattering” and “revolutionary” scientific discoveries and theories are discredited. Social experiments end in mayhem.

As their end draws near, narcissistic-psychopathic leaders act out, lash out, erupt. They attack with equal virulence and ferocity compatriots, erstwhile allies, neighbors, and foreigners.

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

All populist, charismatic leaders believe that they have a “special connection” with the “people”: a relationship that is direct, almost mystical, and transcends the normal channels of communication (such as the legislature or the media). Thus, a narcissist who regards himself as the benefactor of the poor, a member of the common folk, the representative of the disenfranchised, the champion of the dispossessed against the corrupt elite, is highly unlikely to use violence at first.

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

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

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

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

APPENDIX: 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.

 

 

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Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism

Interview granted to the Romanian newspaper Adevarul

Q. Do you think there are huge networks of traffic in organs that operate in Romania? How many Romanians it is estimated, in your opinion, annually sell organs?

 

A. “Huge” would be an exaggeration. Globally, about 10,000 organs are illegally harvested and transplanted each year. Donors in Moldova receive c. $3000 per kidney and in Romania – double this amount. There are c. 600 known donors in Moldova and no figures available for Romania. Still, it would be safe to assume that more than 2000 Romanian citizens have sold their organs in the last decade. Each year, about 100 Romanians sell kidneys to Israeli brokers who work with South-African hospitals and another 200-300 sell organs, mostly kidneys, to criminal rings and networks with connections to Turkey, Brazil, Italy, and the USA. Romanian organs are expensive and so organ harvesting has shifted to Asia and parts of Latin America.

 

Organ sellers – euphemistically called “donors” – are mainly poor, unemployed, and Roma. Romanians who want to emigrate or are in debt sometimes end up selling their organs or brokering such sales from prisoners, soldiers, and even adolescents. It is easy to find advertising related to organ trafficking on the Internet and even in the daily papers.

 

Q. What method is used more often in the case of Romania? Romanians who want to sell their organs are taken abroad to have their organs removed? Or, they are operated in Romania, then the organs are removed from the country? Or both methods are used?

 

A. Actually, organ sellers are often flown from other countries (even from Israel) INTO Romania. The organs are then harvested in Romania. Rarely, the organs are transplanted in Romania using fraudulent affidavits claiming that the donor and recipient are relatives. More frequently, the organs are flown to other countries, such as South Africa and Turkey, where the operations take place.

 

Many people are involved in these networks: from petty criminals to politicians and from medical doctors to businessmen. In Romania, the typical organ broker is a donor: someone who sold his kidney. Small-time criminals are also involved as well as officials in Customs and Immigration and, to a lesser extent, the Police and the Airports. Even hospital directors are in on the take.

 

A typical patient pays c. $120.000 per transplant, so there is a lot of money to divide. It is no wonder that Romania was the only country not to attend the conference that yielded the Istanbul Declaration against organ trafficking and transplant tourism!

 

Generally speaking: trafficked organs are either sold domestically, or exported to be transplanted into patients from the US, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and especially Israel.

 

Q Have you heard or seen cases in which the Romanians sold their organs?

 

A. Yes, and so have you: Robert Mihaly in 2005.

 

Q. What are the organs most commonly trafficked from Eastern Europe?

 

A. Kidneys are the most sought after, extracted, sold, and transplanted. Harvesting a kidney poses few risks to the donor. Kidneys are tiny and easy to conceal and smuggle. About 10,000 kidneys are harvested illegally each year.

 

Q. Are the rumors about harvesting organs from adopted children true?

 

A. No, they are not. Children’s organs are often ill-suited for transplantation for histological and immunological reasons. So, the stories about Israeli adoption agencies which work in tandem with Israeli doctors to extract organs from Romanian children are nonsense and merely the latest version of the medieval anti-Semitic blood libel. Still, I am ashamed to say that Israeli doctors are very prominent in the organ trafficking and transplant tourism business.

Interview granted to El Pais

Q. Why do Israelis buy more organs for transplantation than other nations?

A. Because Israeli doctors and businessmen (and, more generally, Jewish doctors in places like South Africa) are heavily involved in the trade. Jewish religion forbids the donation of organs from a living person. So, in Israel, there is an enormous shortage of organs coupled with a sizable purchasing power. It is simply easier for an Israeli to find the right connections as all the roads lead to Tel-Aviv.

Q. Which countries provide the most donors?

A. In Europe: Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, and, to some extent, Albania, Kosovo, and the former republics of Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia). In the Americas: Mexico, Haiti, Bolivia, Peru. In Asia: Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam. In Africa: Nigeria and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. But there are donors who hail from rich countries as well: even from Israel. Still, demand gravitates to where supply is abundant and cheapest. In Moldova and Turkey donors sell a kidney for 200-500 euros; in Romania, Romas sell the same organs for double or triple that; while Israeli donors demand up to 10,000 USD per kidney. Normally, buyers prefer Moldovan or Turkish donors.

Q. How does a person how want to buy an organ find his way?

A. Predominantly through his doctors. In a few cases, he may know someone who has had a similar procedure. There are even Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards, and forums where such information is exchanged.

Q. How many organs have been bought in the last 2 years in the Middle East?

A. Arab patients in the Gulf States, Israelis, Egyptians, Iranians and Turks are the most numerous clients for such operations. But the surgical procedures themselves – harvesting the organs and then transplanting them – take place in other locations: Kosovo, Turkey, South Africa, Morocco. In total, about 12,000 organs are illegally traded every year the world over. Middle Eastern patients account for c. 2400 of these.

Q. Has the organ trade decreased or increased in the last 10 years in this area?

A. Increased dramatically as the business has been taken over by organized crime networks, aided and abetted by businessmen, financiers, hoteliers, truck operators, politicians, customs officers, local doctors, judges, police officers, and other officials, including representatives of the international community. Everyone has been corrupted by this scourge.

Q. How much can an organ cost? (let’s say a kidney)

A. The patient pays between 100-150,000 USD for a kidney transplant, including two weeks of convalescence in a five-star hotel for him and his immediate family.

Q. How much does the donor /seller receive?

A. Donors typically receive between 1000-2000 USD per kidney (about 1-2% of the cost to the recipient patient). Many donors in distress or those who want to emigrate sell organs for much less. Retinas, hearts, lungs, even bone marrow are also harvested and sold.

Q. How much does the doctor get? How much does the clinic and the stuff performing the operation? How much the mediators?

A. A typical operation involves 2 surgeons, 1 anaesthesiologist, 2 nurses, and 1 specialist (cardiologist, nephrologist, etc.) The surgeons receive 20,000 USD each; the specialist (who only monitors the patient and serves as a consultant) about 10,000 USD; the anaesthesiologist about 5000 USD; and each of the nurses about 2000 USD per operation. The rest goes to the long chain of mediators involved. The brokers pay off everyone else: truck drivers, receptionists at the hotels; customs officers; judges; policemen; and midlevel politicians.

Q. What is the role of Turkey in all this? Are Turkey’s clinics or doctors into this illegal business?

A. Turkey is a major junction in the trafficking of illicit organs. Turkish doctors work closely with Israeli and Jewish doctors the world over. They operate on both donors and recipients. They run illegal clinics all over the world, including in Turkey, where many transplants take place as part of a phenomenon of “transplant tourism” (mostly next to Antalian resorts). They recruit donors. The whole business would be unimaginable without the Turks. Recently, Israeli and Turkish networks have started to infiltrate Russia (with the help of the Russian mafia) and the Turkic former republics of the USSR as well as Kazakhstan and through these, China. This is the next “growth market”.

 

 

Names of Collectives (Sets) versus Names of Individuals

Individuals are members of classes or sets (hereinafter referred to as “collectives”). Names of collectives are fundamentally different to names of individuals:

Individuals cannot own their names, collectives can and strive to possess their names and protect them against incursion and misuse. This is especially true in the case of brand names;

Individuals do not have exclusive names. When they do (tattooed numbers in Auschwitz; prison numbers) such exclusivity tends to be humiliating and dehumanizing. In contrast, collectives aspire to exclusivity on their names, although, in practice the enforcement of such self-imputed exclusivity may be fraught with difficulties (witness the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece). Collectives find name-exclusivity uplifting;

The names of individuals do not reveal the attributes of the bearers or referents, nor do they contain or convey any information regarding the traits or qualities of said. The names of collectives come laden with context and history and, therefore, are infused with data regarding the collective. In a sense, the names of collectives are among their more dominant and prominent attributes. This intimate relationship between names, denotats, and connotates gives rise to stereotypes;

The names of individuals do not define their bearers or referents. The name of a collective is an integral part of its definition. It is impossible to construct a workable definition of a collective without including its name in the definition, whatever its nature (lexical, stipulative, or ostensive);

The name of the individual does not determine the individual. The individual’s name also has nothing to do with his or her traits, attributes, qualities, behavior patterns, and other extensive parameters of the person named. This is different where collectives are concerned: the name of a collective is an important element in the collective’s self-determination and usually the first act on the road to autonomy, independence, and differentiation.

The names of individuals are, ultimately arbitrary and cannot be defined or explained, though they may possess semantic values. The names of collectives are always contextually “meaningful” and can always be defined;

The names of individuals are largely devoid of emotional content and provoke little or no emotional reaction in the listener. The names of collectives never fail to elicit and provoke emotional reactions;

Finally, individual names are very loosely interwoven with individual identities. In stark contrast, names of collectives are often synonymous with their identities: this is how close the relationship between the two is.

 

Monopolizing the Field of Vision: From AND Screens to OR Screens

1. Screens that Include Reality vs. Screens that Exclude It

Screens have been with us for centuries now: paintings are screens and so are windows. Yet, the very nature of screens has undergone a revolutionary transformation in the last decade or so. All the screens that preceded the PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistant) and the smartphone’s were inclusive of reality, they were AND screens: when you watched them you could not avoid (“screen out”) data emanating from your physical environment. “Screen-AND-reality” was the prevalent modus operandi.

Consider the cinema, the television, and the personal computer (PC): even when entangled in the flow of information provided by these machines, you were still fully exposed to and largely aware of your surroundings. The screens of the past were one step removed: there was always a considerable physical distance between user and device and the field of vision extended to encompass copious peripheral input.

Now consider the iPhone or the digital camera: their screens, though tiny, monopolize the field of vision and exclude the world by design. The physical distance between retina and screen has shrunk to the point of vanishing. 3-D television with its specialty eyeglasses and total immersion is merely the culmination of this trend: the utter removal of reality from the viewer’s experience. Modern screens are, therefore, OR screens: you either watch the screen OR observe reality. You cannot do both.

2. Perception and Representation in Analog and Digital Cameras

The digital camera profoundly affects the way we perceive and represent the world around us on “film”.

To start with, the user of the analog camera used to watch the world, however indirectly. All that stood between him and reality was the viewer of his apparatus. He recorded what he saw “out there”.

In contrast, the user of the digital camera watches a representation of the world on a screen. He records what he sees on the screen of his gadget. He rarely glances up to gaze directly at his subject matter.

The digital camera is more forgiving and permissive. Errors can be instantly deleted. The whole experience is characterized by an urgency and immediacy that is absent from the analog equivalent. The digital camera allows its user to experiment with cost-free and, therefore, risk-free alternatives. It transforms the whole procedure of shooting pictures into a spontaneous, even irreverent, experience. With the digital apparatus visuals are a public good.

Environmental facts that used to serve as external constraints on use of the analog camera – the quantity and angle of light, for instance – are now compensated for by special settings in its digital successor. The typical gadget provides for preset “templates” that capture the moment in an optimal manner, removing obstacles and limitations posed by the photographer’s physical surroundings.

The digital photo is never a finished product. It can be downloaded onto a storage device (a computer’s hard disk, the Internet) and there edited with software applications. Reality is thus rendered tentative and negotiable, a declaration of intent rather than a final statement.

 

Macedonia’s Hopeful Holocaust

Macedonia boasts one of only four major Holocaust memorials in the world (the others are in Jerusalem, Washington, and Berlin). For a country of 2 million people with fewer than 130 Jews and no tourism to speak of this is a curious circumstance. That Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is a bestseller in Macedonia and old people still believe in anti-Semitic blood libels renders the whole affair a travesty.

 

Like the vast majority of Jewish communities in Europe, the Jewish community in Macedonia – 7400 members strong – was completely annihilated during the Holocaust. Like the vast majority of the peoples of Europe (with a few notable and noble exceptions), the Macedonians sat back and did not lift a finger to help. Only a few brave Macedonian individuals bucked the trend. The silent majority gleefully took over the possessions and property of the exterminated Jews and looked the other way. For a definitive account of the Holocaust in Macedonia, read the book by the historian Jenny (Zeni) Lebl. For a harrowing – and, as far as the Macedonians go, unflattering – account of one survivor’s ordeal watch Eitan Oren’s documentary film about Isaac Adijes. Especially pay attention to how the local Macedonians “welcomed” Adijes when he had returned, decades later, to visit his ancestral home.

 

It has been my experience that anti-Semitism is alive and well among the Macedonians. The few Jews left here are aware of it: being an Israeli Jew myself, I have been chastised by them for criticizing the government and, potentially, bringing the wrath of the populace and the authorities upon their collective head. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive their status as precarious.

 

Yet, the Macedonians are conflict-averse and their variety of anti-Semitism is relatively benign and far from virulent. Jews are mostly feared and admired because they “rule the world and the United States, the media and the banks, and all the money in the world”. Such fear and “admiration” (which is a thinly-disguised stereotype, steeped in spite and envy) are also forms of anti-Semitism. Indeed, the Holocaust Museum – almost fully funded with the proceeds from the sale of denationalized properties of liquidated Jews, hastily declared heirless by the Macedonian authorities – is the Macedonians’ way of bribing the Jews to help them with their economic and geopolitical dire straits. Highfaluting speeches aside, Macedonia’s dignitaries – alternately bored or inappropriately smiling – said as much in the Museum’s festive opening ceremony.

 

As usual, the Jews collaborated: the “leaders” of the Jewish community took over the unclaimed funds and erected a white elephant of a museum in the erstwhile Jewish quarter. Now that the deed is done, it would be nice to see the accounting for the moneys contributed by the dead Jews and spent by the living ones in the multi-year process.

 

Anti-Semitism is a Balkan staple.

 

I was shown the same book in Yugoslavia, in Macedonia and in Bulgaria – “The World Conspiracy” – a shabby tome written by an ageing “scholar”. The main, unabashedly anti-Semitic, hypothesis (presented as undisputed fact) is that the Jews rule the world supreme: always have, probably always will. Lists of prominent Jews in the world of international finance reprinted with lists of influential Jews in the Soviet communist regime. And it all amounts to a well organized secretive machinery of illicit power, claims the author with all the persuasion of a paranoid. In here, trash magazines dwell endlessly on these and similar themes.

 

Yet, anti-Semitism is only one species in a zoo of rumours, conspiracy theories, meta histories and metaphysics. Superstitions, prejudices and calumny thrive in the putrid soil of disinformation, mis-information and lack of information. In the void created by unreliable, politicized and corrupt media rumour mills spring eternal. It is a malignant growth, the outcome of a breakdown of trust so compleat that communication is rendered impossible. This is the main characteristic of the East (from Russia to Albania): distrust. Citizens and politicians, businessmen and government, the media and its consumers, manufacturers and service providers, the sick and their doctors – all suspect each other of ulterior motives and foul play. All are more often than not quite right to do so.

 

It is a Kafkaesque, sealed universe in which nothing is as it appears to be. This acrimonious divorce between appearances and essence, facade and truth, the Potemkin and the real is a facet of daily life, of the most mundane exchanges, of the most trivial pursuits. Motives are sought with increasing urgency: why did he do it, what did he try to achieve, why had he not chosen a different path, why here, why with us, why now, what can it teach us. Information is pursued frantically, appearances discarded, data juggled, heated debates ensue, versions erupt, only to subside and be replaced by others. It is a feverish ritual, the sound of clashing exegeses, of theories constructed and demolished in vacuo.

 

At the heart of it all, is the unbearable uncertainty of being. Political uncertainty under communism was replaced by economic uncertainty under the insidious and venal form of capitalism that replaced it. Tucked in identical cubicles, the citizens of planet communism were at least assured of a make belief job in a sprawling bureaucracy or in a decrepit factory, manufacturing redundant documents or shoddy goods. Subsistence was implicitly guaranteed by the kleptocracy that ruled them and, in principle, it was always possible to ignore the moral stench and join the nomenklatura, thereby developing instant upward mobility. Corruption, theft and graft were tolerated by the state as means of complementing income. Life was drab but safe as long as one abstained from politics and subserviently consumed the bitter medicines of acquiescence and collaboration. The vast majority (with the exception of the USSR under Stalin) were not affected by the arbitrary capriciousness of history. They decayed slowly in their housing estates, morally degenerate, possession-less but certain of a future that is the spitting image of their past.

 

Under the spastic orgy of legalized robbery of state assets that passed for privatization, millions were made redundant while thousands enriched themselves by choreographed looting. The results were instability, unpredictability, uncertainty and fear. In a world thus unhinged, the masses groped for reason, for a scheme, for a method in the madness, for an explanation, however sinister and ominous. Anything was preferable to the seemingly random natural forces unleashed upon them with such apparent vengeance. Even a “World Government” (a favourite), the Illuminati (a Freemasonry-like movement but much more odious), the Jews, the USA, aliens. The greatest conspiracy theory of them all – the Phoenix of religion – sprang back to life from the ashes it was reduced to by communism. A host of mystical beliefs and sects and cults mushroomed noxiously in the humid shadows of irrationality.

 

Thus, every event, no matter how insignificant, any occurrence, no matter how inconsequential and any coincidence, no matter how coincidental assume heraldic meaning. People in these domains carry their complex jigsaw puzzles with them. They welcome each new piece with the zeal of the converted. They bellow triumphantly with every “proof” of their pet theory, with every datum, with each rumour. Things don’t just happen – they whisper, conspiratorially – things are directed from above, ordained, regulated, prevented, or encouraged by “them”. A group of 400 rule the world. They are Jews, they are the Serb mafia, or the Bulgarian. Or the Americans who plan to dominate (which obviously puts Kosovo in context). They are the rich and powerful, the objects of envy and frightened admiration, of virulent hate and rage. They are responsible. We pay the price – we, the small and powerless and poor. And it is hopeless, it has been like that forever. The disparity between them and us is too great. Resistance is futile.

 

Why was this president elected? Surely, the West demanded it. Or political parties conspired to rig the vote. Or rich businessmen supported him. What is the real aim of foreign investors in coming to these godforsaken places, if not to infiltrate and penetrate and establish their long term dominion? And wouldn’t it be safe to assume that al the foreigners are spies, that all the Jews collaborate, that the neighbours would have liked to conquer and to subjugate us, that the world is a colossal puppet show? In other words, is it not true that we are puppets – victims – in a theatre not of our making? They filter out that which does not conform to their persuasion, does not accord with their suspicions, does not fit within their schemes.

 

This deferral of responsibility brings relief from shame and blame. Guilt is allayed by symbolically and ritually passing it onto another. Fear is quelled by the introduction of schemata. These are potent psychological incentives. They provide structure to the amorphous, bring order to the chaos that is the brave, new world of the economies in transition. Flux is replaced by immutable “truths”, possibilities by certainties, threats by “knowledge”. It is a re-construction and reconquest of a paradise lost by giving up the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

 

It is this hyper-vigilance, this elevated suspicion, these instant certainties fabricated from frail pseudo-theories and conspiracies that make the Man of the East so easy to manipulate, so vulnerable, so amenable to collude in his own downfall. Bewitched by his self-spun myths, captivated by his own paranoia, under the spell of his magical, immature, thinking – non critical, non analytical, non discriminating – he is exquisitely susceptible to crooks and charlatans, to manipulators and demagogues, to the realization of the very threats he tried to fend off in the first place.

 

Here is what the DSM (“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual”) IV-TR (2000) published by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) has to say about paranoids and schizotypals:

 

The Paranoid Personality Disorder

 

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

 

 

Dancing as an Evolutionary Strategy

Dances are thinly disguised simulations of sex acts. But there’s more to dancing than bawdy ribaldry. The sweaty proximity allows the partners to exchange an enormous amount of information about their respective bodies: from joint suppleness, through spatial orientation and coordination, and down to the fine details of their immunological systems (such as the major histocompatibility complex MHC) carried by their body odours. In this sense, dancing aids and abets the forces of natural selection and eugenic breeding. Indeed, in many 16th and 17th century textbooks dancing is grouped with hunting, fighting, wrestling, and running.

In times past, the dance-hall was the only venue open to prospective partners to gather such fitness data. Indeed, there is reason to believe that dancing was consciously invented and designed to do precisely that. Capriol, a protagonist in Thoinot Arbeau’s dance manual “Orchesography”, complains: “(W)ithout knowledge of dancing, I could not please the damsels.” Arbeau himself is nothing if not brutally explicit:

“Dancing is practised to reveal whether lovers are in good health and sound of limb, after which they are permitted to kiss their mistresses in order that they may touch and savour one another, thus to ascertain if they are shapely or emit an unpleasant odour as of bad meat.”

Arbeau and dance masters such as Caroso actually named dances to reflect the underlying amorous, matchmaking process. Inevitably, Puritans and other spoilsports targeted the practice and its purveyors repeatedly in both England and its overseas colonies.

But dancing, as a form of health-enhancing strenuous exercise, also serves to perpetuate the species. This aspect of dancing was especially important when and where women’s movements were restricted by tradition, social mores, and religion: allowed to indulge in dances, even with their own sex, women have thus secured a modicum of sanatory locomotion.

Nowadays, dancing is often thought of as a couple’s activity. But, this is a recent development. Until the nineteenth century, dancing was a social act and the vast majority of dances involved frequently switched multiple partners, as demanded by ballroom etiquette. Thus, dancing and saltation yielded social cohesion; increased social interaction; and enhanced the opportunities for mating and cooperation.