How can I Trust Again?

Our natural tendency is to trust, because, as infants, we trust our parents. It feels good to really trust. It is also an essential component of love and an important test thereof. Love without trust is dependence masquerading as love.

We must trust, it is almost biological. Most of the time, we do trust. We trust the universe to behave according to the laws of physics, soldiers to not go mad and shoot at us, our nearest and dearest to not betray us. When our trust is broken, we feel as though a part of us had died and had been hollowed out.

To not trust is abnormal and is the outcome of bitter or even traumatic life experiences. Mistrust or distrust are induced not by our own thoughts, nor by some device or machination of ours – but by life’s sad circumstances. To continue to not trust is to reward the people who had wronged us and rendered us distrustful in the first place. Those people have long abandoned us and yet they still have a great, malign, influence on our lives. This is the irony of being distrustful of others.

So, some of us prefer to not experience that sinking feeling of trust violated. Some people choose to not trust and thus skirt disappointment. This is both a fallacy and a folly. Trusting releases enormous amounts of mental energy, which is more productively vested elsewhere. But trust – like knives – can be dangerous to your health if used improperly.

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 a mutual, functional sort of trust.

People often disappoint and are not worthy of trust. Some of them 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 realm 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.

If we do trust, we should trust wholeheartedly and unreservedly. But, we should be discerning. 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. We gradually grow suspicious, inadvertently hunt for clues of infidelity or worse. 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 mistress or your partner could easily have robbed you blind – and, yet, they haven’t. They have passed the test. They have resisted the temptation.

Trust is based on the ability to foretell 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.

Here is another important lesson: whatever the act of betrayal (with the exception of grave criminal corporeal acts), it has limited and reversible consequences if you do not let it get out of hand.

Naturally, we tend to exaggerate the importance of such mishaps. 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, blowing things out of proprtion poisons the victim’s mental circuitry. Putting a breach of trust in perspective goes a long way towards the commencement of a healing process. No betrayal stamps the world irreversibly or eliminates all 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 inexorable process is to trust each other.

The Delegitimization of Torture

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

Throughout human (and Western) history and well into the 19th century torture was considered in large swathes of the world (and of Europe) to be a legitimate tool of interrogation, intended mainly to prove innocence and weed out the guilty. Torture was socially accepted and condoned. Both Church and state made use of torture habitually. There were manuals about torture techniques and implements. Written codes of conduct regulated minutely the process of torture and clearly demarcated what was allowed and what was impermissible.

During the colonial era, the practising of torture by “primitive” tribes was used as a pretext by colonial powers to invade and “civilize” the denizens of territories in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific. Abolishing torture was considered an integral part of the “White Man’s Burden.” Ironically, imperialist regimes subjected the Natives to barbarous forms of torture to enforce their humane anti-torture agenda. This hypocrisy continues to this very day as Western powers bomb and mutilate civilians in purported furtherance of a universal human rights agenda.

The perpetrators of torture rationalize and intellectualize their vile occupation by imputing to themselves roles within such cultural and historical narratives. They regard themselves as the saviours and guardians of their civilization; the avengers of national wrongs; the keepers of the faith. Thus, torture involves role-playing which engulfs and encompasses the victims as well. Torture is a danse macabre and requires the active participation of the maltreated in their self-assumed capacities as martyrs; the guardians of civilization; the heralds of a new dawn; the protectors of their class, nation, persuasion, ideology, or religion. Torture is a form of perverted intimacy which often leads to a shared psychosis known as the Stockholm Syndrome.

So, is torture a legitimate practice in some circumstances?

I. Practical Considerations

In the motion picture “Unthinkable”, the protagonist “H” tortures a confessed terrorist in order to extract from him the location of three nuclear bombs about to detonate. Having failed, he then proceeds to kill the perpetrator’s wife and attempts to torture his children in full view of his query. It works. The terrorist discloses the addresses and then commits suicide. Few would condone the torture, maiming, or killing of innocents to save lives (as H. Has done in the film). Many would outlaw torture altogether. But, the ethics of torture are murkier than we think. It is by no means a black-and-white problem.

The problem of the “ticking bomb” – rediscovered after September 11 by Alan Dershowitz, a renowned criminal defense lawyer in the United States – is old hat. Should physical torture be applied – where psychological strain has failed – in order to discover the whereabouts of a ticking bomb and thus prevent a mass slaughter of the innocent? This apparent ethical dilemma has been confronted by ethicists and jurists from Great Britain to Israel.

Nor is Dershowitz’s proposal to have the courts issue “torture warrants” (Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2001) unprecedented. In a controversial decision in 1996, the Supreme Court of Israel permitted its internal security forces to apply “moderate physical pressure” during the interrogation of suspects.

It has thus fully embraced the recommendation of the 1987 Landau Commission, presided over by a former Supreme Court judge. This blanket absolution was repealed in 1999 when widespread abuses against Palestinian detainees were unearthed by human rights organizations.

Indeed, this juridical reversal – in the face of growing suicidal terrorism – demonstrates how slippery the ethical slope can be. What started off as permission to apply mild torture in extreme cases avalanched into an all-pervasive and pernicious practice. This lesson – that torture is habit-forming and metastasizes incontrollably throughout the system – is the most powerful – perhaps the only – argument against it.

As Harvey Silverglate argued in his rebuttal of Dershowitz’s aforementioned op-ed piece:

“Institutionalizing torture will give it society’s imprimatur, lending it a degree of respectability. It will then be virtually impossible to curb not only the increasing frequency with which warrants will be sought – and granted – but also the inevitable rise in unauthorized use of torture. Unauthorized torture will increase not only to extract life-saving information, but also to obtain confessions (many of which will then prove false). It will also be used to punish real or imagined infractions, or for no reason other than human sadism. This is a genie we should not let out of the bottle.”

Alas, these are weak contentions.

That something has the potential to be widely abused – and has been and is being widely misused – should not inevitably lead to its utter, universal, and unconditional proscription. Guns, cars, knives, and books have always been put to vile ends. Nowhere did this lead to their complete interdiction.

Moreover, torture is erroneously perceived by liberals as a kind of punishment. Suspects – innocent until proven guilty – indeed should not be subject to penalty. But torture is merely an interrogation technique. Ethically, it is no different to any other pre-trial process: shackling, detention, questioning, or bad press. Inevitably, the very act of suspecting someone is traumatic and bound to inflict pain and suffering – psychological, pecuniary, and physical – on the suspect.

True, torture is bound to yield false confessions and wrong information, Seneca claimed that it “forces even the innocent to lie”. St. Augustine expounded on the moral deplorability of torture thus: “If the accused be innocent, he will undergo for an uncertain crime a certain punishment, and that not for having committed a crime, but because it is unknown whether he committed it.”

But the same can be said about other, less corporeal, methods of interrogation. Moreover, the flip side of ill-gotten admissions is specious denials of guilt. Criminals regularly disown their misdeeds and thus evade their penal consequences. The very threat of torture is bound to limit this miscarriage of justice. Judges and juries can always decide what confessions are involuntary and were extracted under duress.

Thus, if there was a way to ensure that non-lethal torture is narrowly defined, applied solely to extract time-critical information in accordance with a strict set of rules and specifications, determined openly and revised frequently by an accountable public body; that abusers are severely punished and instantly removed; that the tortured have recourse to the judicial system and to medical attention at any time – then the procedure would have been ethically justified in rare cases if carried out by the authorities.

In Israel, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the state to apply ‘moderate physical pressure’ to suspects in ticking bomb cases. It retained the right of appeal and review. A public committee established guidelines for state-sanctioned torture and, as a result, the incidence of rabid and rampant mistreatment has declined. Still, Israel’s legal apparatus is flimsy, biased and inadequate. It should be augmented with a public – even international – review board and a rigorous appeal procedure.

This proviso – “if carried out by the authorities” – is crucial.

The sovereign has rights denied the individual, or any subset of society. It can judicially kill with impunity. Its organs – the police, the military – can exercise violence. It is allowed to conceal information, possess illicit or dangerous substances, deploy arms, invade one’s bodily integrity, or confiscate property. To permit the sovereign to torture while forbidding individuals, or organizations from doing so would, therefore, not be without precedent, or inconsistent.

Alan Dershowitz expounds:

“(In the United States) any interrogation technique, including the use of truth serum or even torture, is not prohibited. All that is prohibited is the introduction into evidence of the fruits of such techniques in a criminal trial against the person on whom the techniques were used. But the evidence could be used against that suspect in a non-criminal case – such as a deportation hearing – or against someone else.”

When the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi concentration camps were revealed, C.S. Lewis wrote, in quite desperation:

“What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had no notion of what we mean by Right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the color of their hair.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, paperback edition, 1952).

But legal torture should never be directed at innocent civilians based on arbitrary criteria such as their race or religion. If this principle is observed, torture would not reflect on the moral standing of the state. Identical acts are considered morally sound when carried out by the realm – and condemnable when discharged by individuals. Consider the denial of freedom. It is lawful incarceration at the hands of the republic – but kidnapping if effected by terrorists.

Nor is torture, as “The Economist” misguidedly claims, a taboo.

According to the 2002 edition of the “Encyclopedia Britannica”, taboos are “the prohibition of an action or the use of an object based on ritualistic distinctions of them either as being sacred and consecrated or as being dangerous, unclean, and accursed.” Evidently, none of this applies to torture. On the contrary, torture – as opposed, for instance, to incest – is a universal, state-sanctioned behavior.

Amnesty International – who should know better – professed to have been shocked by the results of their own surveys:

“In preparing for its third international campaign to stop torture, Amnesty International conducted a survey of its research files on 195 countries and territories. The survey covered the period from the beginning of 1997 to mid-2000. Information on torture is usually concealed, and reports of torture are often hard to document, so the figures almost certainly underestimate its extent. The statistics are shocking. There were reports of torture or ill-treatment by state officials in more than 150 countries. In more than 70, they were widespread or persistent. In more than 80 countries, people reportedly died as a result.”

Countries and regimes abstain from torture – or, more often, claim to do so – because such overt abstention is expedient. It is a form of global political correctness, a policy choice intended to demonstrate common values and to extract concessions or benefits from others. Giving up this efficient weapon in the law enforcement arsenal even in Damoclean circumstances is often rewarded with foreign direct investment, military aid, and other forms of support.

But such ethical magnanimity is a luxury in times of war, or when faced with a threat to innocent life. Even the courts of the most liberal societies sanctioned atrocities in extraordinary circumstances. Here the law conforms both with common sense and with formal, utilitarian, ethics.

II. Ethical Considerations

Rights – whether moral or legal – impose obligations or duties on third parties towards the right-holder. One has a right AGAINST other people and thus can prescribe to them certain obligatory behaviors and proscribe certain acts or omissions. Rights and duties are two sides of the same Janus-like ethical coin.

This duality confuses people. They often erroneously identify rights with their attendant duties or obligations, with the morally decent, or even with the morally permissible. One’s rights inform other people how they MUST behave towards one – not how they SHOULD, or OUGHT to act morally. Moral behavior is not dependent on the existence of a right. Obligations are.

To complicate matters further, many apparently simple and straightforward rights are amalgams of more basic moral or legal principles. To treat such rights as unities is to mistreat them.

Take the right not to be tortured. It is a compendium of many distinct rights, among them: the right to bodily and mental integrity, the right to avoid self-incrimination, the right not to be pained, or killed, the right to save one’s life (wrongly reduced merely to the right to self-defense), the right to prolong one’s life (e.g., by receiving medical attention), and the right not to be forced to lie under duress.

None of these rights is self-evident, or unambiguous, or universal, or immutable, or automatically applicable. It is safe to say, therefore, that these rights are not primary – but derivative, nonessential, or mere “wants”.

Moreover, the fact that the torturer also has rights whose violation may justify torture is often overlooked.

Consider these two, for instance:

The Rights of Third Parties against the Tortured

What is just and what is unjust is determined by an ethical calculus, or a social contract – both in constant flux. Still, it is commonly agreed that every person has the right not to be tortured, or killed unjustly.

Yet, even if we find an Archimedean immutable point of moral reference – does A’s right not to be tortured, let alone killed, mean that third parties are to refrain from enforcing the rights of other people against A?

What if the only way to right wrongs committed, or about to be committed by A against others – was to torture, or kill A? There is a moral obligation to right wrongs by restoring, or safeguarding the rights of those wronged, or about to be wronged by A.

If the defiant silence – or even the mere existence – of A are predicated on the repeated and continuous violation of the rights of others (especially their right to live), and if these people object to such violation – then A must be tortured, or killed if that is the only way to right the wrong and re-assert the rights of A’s victims.

This, ironically, is the argument used by liberals to justify abortion when the fetus (in the role of A) threatens his mother’s rights to health and life.

The Right to Save One’s Own Life

One has a right to save one’s life by exercising self-defense or otherwise, by taking certain actions, or by avoiding them. Judaism – as well as other religious, moral, and legal systems – accepts that one has the right to kill a pursuer who knowingly and intentionally is bent on taking one’s life. Hunting down Osama bin-Laden in the wilds of Afghanistan is, therefore, morally acceptable (though not morally mandatory). So is torturing his minions.

When there is a clash between equally potent rights – for instance, the conflicting rights to life of two people – we can decide among them randomly (by flipping a coin, or casting dice). Alternatively, we can add and subtract rights in a somewhat macabre arithmetic. The right to life definitely prevails over the right to comfort, bodily integrity, absence of pain and so on. Where life is at stake, non-lethal torture is justified by any ethical calculus.

Utilitarianism – a form of crass moral calculus – calls for the maximization of utility (life, happiness, pleasure). The lives, happiness, or pleasure of the many outweigh the life, happiness, or pleasure of the few. If by killing or torturing the few we (a) save the lives of the many (b) the combined life expectancy of the many is longer than the combined life expectancy of the few and (c) there is no other way to save the lives of the many – it is morally permissible to kill, or torture the few.

III. The Social Treaty

There is no way to enforce certain rights without infringing on others. The calculus of ethics relies on implicit and explicit quantitative and qualitative hierarchies. The rights of the many outweigh certain rights of the few. Higher-level rights – such as the right to life – override rights of a lower order.

The rights of individuals are not absolute but “prima facie”. They are restricted both by the rights of others and by the common interest. They are inextricably connected to duties towards other individuals in particular and the community in general. In other words, though not dependent on idiosyncratic cultural and social contexts, they are an integral part of a social covenant.

It can be argued that a suspect has excluded himself from the social treaty by refusing to uphold the rights of others – for instance, by declining to collaborate with law enforcement agencies in forestalling an imminent disaster. Such inaction amounts to the abrogation of many of one’s rights (for instance, the right to be free). Why not apply this abrogation to his or her right not to be tortured?

Also Read:

The Business of Torture

The Psychology of Torture

IQCRACY: Against Barbarians with iPads

The survival of the species depends on the establishment of an IQcracy, a Platonian Republic of the Intellect. At the top, serving as leaders and decision-makers, would be people with 150 IQ and higher. A soaring Intelligence Quotient (IQ), by itself, is insufficient, of course. Members of this elite of “philosopher-kings” would also have to be possessed with a high emotional quotient (EQ) and sound mental health.
The next rung in thd social ladder would be comprised of those with an IQ of between 100 and 150. They will form and constitute the managerial, bureaucratic, scientific, and entrepreneurial classes. People with IQs between 80 and 100 will replenish the blue-collar skilled and trained working classes. Unfortunates with less than 80 IQ will be confined to simple, repetitive menial jobs. They will be barred from voting.
Why such drastic measures? Because Humanity is under imminent threat of being overreun by idiots, diluted by imbeciles, and submerged by a tidal wave of retardation. We often confuse technology with culture and civilization with progress. Nazi Germany is proof that such reflexive linkages are spurious. In truth, we have become barbarians with iPads: we use the latest innovations to play Angry Birds and watch inane videos on YouTube and exchange trivialities on Facebook.
A study of nine million young adults over 40 years (conducted by Jean Twenge and her colleagues and published in the March 2012 issue of the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy) has starkly demonstrated the deterioration from one generation to another. Youngsters are now focused on money, image, and fame and disparage values such as community, volunteerism, the environment, and knowledge acquisition. Other surveys have documented a rising level of illiteracy. As if to illustrate the imminence of these new Dark Ages, the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that it will cease the publication of its print edition after 244 years. Its surviving digital editions are a far cry from the print equivalent in terms of depth, length, and erudition.

The Stupid, the Trivial, and the Frivolous are everywhere: among the working classes, of course, but increasingly you can find them displacing the erstwhile elites, spawning hordes of mindless politicians, idiot business tycoons, narcissistic media personalities, vacuous celebrities, illiterate bestselling authors, athletes with far more brawn than brain, repetitious pop singers, and even ignorant academics. Their cacophony drowns the few voices of wisdom, expertise, and experience and their sheer number overwhelms all systems of governance and all mechanisms of decision-making. The Imbeciles are a menace to the continued existence not only of our civilization, but also of our species. We may end up being all Homo, no sapiens.

The percentage of stupid people in the general populace may not have changed. It may even have decreased. But in terms of absolute numbers, there are more Stupid heads now than the entire human population only a century ago. Modern medicine makes sure that the retarded and plain dim-witted live on to a ripe old age. That we are faced with the daunting prospect of idiocracy is the fault of the malignant transformation of the democratic ideal and the recent onslaught of the media, both old and new.

Start with democracy:

In the not-too-distant past stupid people had the right to vote once in a while and thus express their completely inconsequential opinion where it mattered least: in the ballot box. Alas, the inane idea of “one person (never mind how pinheaded, unqualified, or ignorant), one vote” has invaded and permeated hitherto hierarchical environments such as government, the workplace, and the military. With technology at their disposal, The Stupid repeatedly interfere with and disrupt the proper functioning of virtually every system.

Even the generation and transfer of knowledge have been “democratized” as crowdsourcing yielded enterprises such as Wikipedia, the “encyclopedia” that anyone can edit, add to, and delete from. Internet search engines rank results not according to the merits and authority of the content, but by the number of votes cast by … you guessed it: mostly dense people (who now congregate on social networks). This widespread and much-lauded vandalism reflects the utter collapse and disintegration of the education system which turns out illiterate, nescient, and irrational graduates having annihilated its standards in order to embrace them as students in the first place.

The Stupid, dimly aware of their innate inferiority, are anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, and anti-excellence. But, while in the past these remained mere sentiments, today they have become an ethos, a code of conduct, a set of values and ideals. It is politically incorrect and impolite to claim any advantage and superiority. Egalitarianism is running amok. Everyone is equal: doctors and their patients; professors and their students; experts and laymen alike.

Continue with technology:

In an act of self-preservation, past civilizations had confined The Stupid to certain settlements, replete with their drinking establishments, entertainments, and sports arenas. There the “intellectually-challenged” could safely torment each other with their vulgarities and rampant, uninformed idiocy. The advent of radio, television, and, most egregiously, the Internet has changed all that: now stupid people have unmitigated access to the kind of technology that allows them to pollute the airwaves and the broadband with their inferior analytic capacity, low-brow output, trivial observations, monosyllabic exclamations, and harebrained queries. Thus, the New Media have transformed stupidity from a mental endemic to a viral epidemic. The wise and knowledgeable may broadcast while the Stupid merely narrowcast – but the Stupid have the upper hand, what with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and YouTube decimating the traditional print and electronic media.

This technological empowerment is the crux of the problem: there are no barriers to entry, no institutional filters, and no erudite and experienced intermediaries to hold back the avalanche of doltish balderdash, the tsunami of nonsense, and the flood of misinformation, factoids, and conspiracies that corrupt our intellectual space. Commercial interests inevitably and invariably side with the brainless masses because of their superior aggregate purchasing power. The privatization of education is one manifestation of this creeping decadence. The mindless nature of television programming is another. The empty one-liners that comprise most “conversations” on social networks are its culmination. We are surrounded with clods, harassed by the lame-brained, criticized, censored, and ordered by simpletons. Welcome to the New Dark Ages.
The Misanthrope’s Manifesto

1. The unbridled growth of human populations leads to:

I. Resource depletion;

II. Environmental negative externalities;

III. A surge in violence;

IV. Reactive xenophobia (owing to migration, both legal and illegal);

V. A general dumbing-down of culture (as the absolute number of the less than bright rises); and

VI. Ochlocracy (as the mob leverages democracy to its advantage and creates anarchy followed by populist authoritarianism).

2. The continued survival of the species demands that:

I. We match medical standards, delivered healthcare and health-related goods and services with patients’ economic means. This will restore the mortality of infants, the old and the ill to equilibrium with our scarce resources;

II. Roll back the welfare state in all its forms and guises;

III. Prioritize medical treatment so as to effectively deny it to the terminally-sick, the extremely feeble-minded; the incurably insane; those with fatal hereditary illnesses; and the very old;

IV. Implement eugenic measures to deny procreation to those with fatal hereditary illnesses, the extremely feeble-minded; and the incurably insane;

V. Make contraception, abortion, and all other forms of family planning and population control widely available.

The Death Knell of Success in Business

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

The film “The Artist” describes the waning career of a megastar of the era of silent movies when he refuses to make the transition into the epoch of “talkies” (films with sound.) He mocks the innovation and then challenges it by producing a lavish production of yet another silent epic. His inevitable downfall follows. He is reduced to pawning and auctioning off his few remaining belongings.

In the biological realms, genetic mutations ensure that the repertory of responses to constantly varying circumstances is always fresh and never depleted. Not so in the world of business where success often spells death and doom and it is failure that spurs innovation. Indeed, the successful firms of yesteryear are often forgotten: no one can name the three dominant horse whip manufacturers in the 19th century, for instance. Silent era film stars are also not household names.

Business success is due to an appealing or groundbreaking product (which generates its own market and demand), an efficient process, or a fortuitous and serendipitous set of events coupled with emerging needs. The overwhelming advantage of the first-mover guarantees that competitors (mostly imitators) are left far behind. Brand recognition, customer loyalty and intellectual property protections pose often insurmountable barriers to entry. This forces newcomers to innovate or perish.

Faced with challengers, monopolies and duopolies, or even oligopolies retrench. Why don’t these companies counter-innovate? Because they are emotionally-invested in their cash cows, their current best-selling offerings, and the managerial-organizational structures and processes they gave rise to. Fears of rocking the boat and of the unknown mingle with the haughtiness of the well-to-do and the inertia and anti-entrepreneurial culture that are the hallmarks of big business. Finally, the institutional knowledge of successful firms and their skills set are skewed in favour of existing products and processes. Lurking in the back of everyone’s mind, from the upper echelons of management to the lowliest menial labourer is the question: “As long as the money keeps pouring in – why bother to innovate? Why take chances?”

Indeed, innovation is an entirely modern concept. Up to the 19th century, innovators were penalized for daring to upset the proverbial applecart. Imitators, conservatives, and traditionalists were richly rewarded. The culture of successful companies tends to resemble this period of pre-Industrial Revolution.

Bodily Effects of Torture and Abuse

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

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

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

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

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

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

Repeated abuse has long lasting pernicious and traumatic effects such as panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, flashbacks (intrusive memories), and suicidal ideation.

Victims and survivors experience psychosomatic and “real” bodily symptoms, some of them induced by the secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol: increased blood pressure, racing pulse, headaches, excessive sweating and myriad self-imputed diseases. The victims endures shame, depression, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, abandonment, and an enhanced sense of vulnerability.

C-PTSD (Complex PTSD) has been proposed as a new mental health diagnosis by Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University to account for the impact of extended periods of trauma and abuse.

In “Stalking – An Overview of the Problem” [Can J Psychiatry 1998;43:473–476], authors Karen M Abrams and Gail Erlick Robinson write:

“Initially, there is often much denial by the victim. Over time, however, the stress begins to erode the victim’s life and psychological brutalisation results. Sometimes the victim develops an almost fatal resolve that, inevitably, one day she will be murdered. Victims, unable to live a normal life, describe feeling stripped of self-worth and dignity. Personal control and resources, psychosocial development, social support, premorbid personality traits, and the severity of the stress may all influence how the victim experiences and responds to it Victims stalked by ex-lovers may experience additional guilt and lowered self-esteem for perceived poor judgement in their relationship choices. Many victims become isolated and deprived of support when employers or friends withdraw after also being subjected to harassment or are cut off by the victim in order to protect them. Other tangible consequences include financial losses from quitting jobs, moving, and buying expensive security equipment in an attempt to gain privacy. Changing homes and jobs results in both material losses and loss of self-respect.”

Surprisingly, verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse have the same effects as the physical variety [Psychology Today, September/October 2000 issue, p.24]. Abuse of all kinds also interferes with the victim’s ability to work. Abrams and Robinson wrote this [in “Occupational Effects of Stalking”, Can J Psychiatry 2002;47:468–472]:

(B)eing stalked by a former partner may affect a victim’s ability to work in 3 ways. First, the stalking behaviours often interfere directly with the ability to get to work (for example, flattening tires or other methods of preventing leaving the home). Second, the workplace may become an unsafe location if the offender decides to appear. Third, the mental health effects of such trauma may result in forgetfulness, fatigue, lowered concentration, and disorganisation. These factors may lead to the loss of employment, with accompanying loss of income, security, and status.”

Still, it is hard to generalise. Victims are not a uniform lot. In some cultures, abuse is commonplace and accepted as a legitimate mode of communication, a sign of love and caring, and a boost to the abuser’s self-image. In such circumstances, the victim is likely to adopt the norms of society and avoid serious trauma.

Deliberate, cold-blooded, and premeditated torture has worse and longer-lasting effects than abuse meted out by the abuser in rage and loss of self-control. The existence of a loving and accepting social support network is another mitigating factor. Finally, the ability to express negative emotions safely and to cope with them constructively is crucial to healing.

Typically, by the time the abuse reaches critical and all-pervasive proportions, the abuser had already, spider-like, isolated his victim from family, friends, and colleagues. She is catapulted into a nether land, cult-like setting where reality itself dissolves into a continuing nightmare.

When she emerges on the other end of this wormhole, the abused woman (or, more rarely, man) feels helpless, self-doubting, worthless, stupid, and a guilty failure for having botched her relationship and “abandoned” her “family”. In an effort to regain perspective and avoid embarrassment, the victim denies the abuse or minimises it.

No wonder that survivors of abuse tend to be clinically depressed, neglect their health and personal appearance, and succumb to boredom, rage, and impatience. Many end up abusing prescription drugs or drinking or otherwise behaving recklessly.

Some victims even develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder (or Reaction) are not typical responses to prolonged abuse. They are the outcomes of sudden exposure to severe or extreme stressors (stressful events). Yet, some victims whose life or body have been directly and unequivocally threatened by an abuser react by developing these syndromes. PTSD is, therefore, typically associated with the aftermath of physical and sexual abuse in both children and adults.

This is why another mental health diagnosis, C-PTSD (Complex PTSD) has been proposed by Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard
University to account for the impact of extended periods of trauma and abuse. It is described here:

How Victims are Affected by Abuse

One’s (or someone else’s) looming death, violation, personal injury, or powerful pain are sufficient to provoke the behaviours, cognitions, and emotions that together are known as PTSD. Even learning about such mishaps may be enough to trigger massive anxiety responses.

The first phase of PTSD involves incapacitating and overwhelming fear. The victim feels like she has been thrust into a nightmare or a horror movie. She is rendered helpless by her own terror. She keeps re-living the experience through recurrent and intrusive visual and auditory hallucinations (“flashbacks”) or dreams. In some flashbacks, the victim completely lapses into a dissociative state and physically re-enacts the event while being thoroughly oblivious to her whereabouts.

In an attempt to suppress this constant playback and the attendant exaggerated startle response (jumpiness), the victim tries to avoid all stimuli associated, however indirectly, with the traumatic event. Many develop full-scale phobias (agoraphobia, claustrophobia, fear of heights, aversion to specific animals, objects, modes of transportation, neighbourhoods, buildings, occupations, weather, and so on).

Most PTSD victims are especially vulnerable on the anniversaries of their abuse. They try to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, activities, situations, or people who remind them of the traumatic occurrence (“triggers”).

This constant hypervigilance and arousal, sleep disorders (mainly insomnia), the irritability (“short fuse”), and the inability to concentrate and complete even relatively simple tasks erode the victim’s resilience. Utterly fatigued, most patients manifest protracted periods of numbness, automatism, and, in radical cases, near-catatonic posture. Response times to verbal cues increase dramatically. Awareness of the environment decreases, sometimes dangerously so. The victims are described by their nearest and dearest as “zombies”, “machines”, or “automata”.

The victims appear to be sleepwalking, depressed, dysphoric, anhedonic (not interested in anything and find pleasure in nothing). They report feeling detached, emotionally absent, estranged, and alienated. Many victims say that their “life is over” and expect to have no career, family, or otherwise meaningful future.

The victim’s family and friends complain that she is no longer capable of showing intimacy, tenderness, compassion, empathy, and of having sex (due to her post-traumatic “frigidity”). Many victims become paranoid, impulsive, reckless, and self-destructive. Others somatise their mental problems and complain of numerous physical ailments. They all feel guilty, shameful, humiliated, desperate, hopeless, and hostile.

PTSD need not appear immediately after the harrowing experience. It can – and often is – delayed by days or even months. It lasts more than one month (usually much longer). Sufferers of PTSD report subjective distress (the manifestations of PTSD are ego-dystonic). Their functioning in various settings – job performance, grades at school, sociability – deteriorates markedly.

The DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) criteria for diagnosing PTSD are far too restrictive. PTSD seems to also develop in the wake of verbal and emotional abuse and in the aftermath of drawn out traumatic situations (such a nasty divorce). Hopefully, the text will be adapted to reflect this sad reality.

Atrocities are Good, Massacres are even Better!

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” 

In 1979, during my first year of compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), I was assigned to a unit of the much-dreaded “Golani” division. The unit’s remit encompassed a few villages in the West Bank. Jimmy Carter was visiting the region and we were tasked with suppressing any sign of overt dissent among the cowed populace. I was delighted to discover that a good friend of mine (we grew up together), SG, ended up in the same outfit. Otherwise, the company was comprised of social rejects, primary school dropouts, and worse.

The commanders of this tightly-knit camaraderie correctly interpreted their orders from highest up: they were to embark on a spree of torture and gruesome murder. One day, when they dispensed with an elderly villager by feeding him jam till his guts burst open, SG and I decided to maintain a coded diary of all events and to inform the military authorities of the unfolding atrocities.

Finally, at a serious risk to our lives, we both testified against the murderers and torturers in a closed session of a military court. The evidence was overwhelming, incontrovertible, and impeccable. Yet, the sentences were laughably lenient: the commander of the company, who murdered at least one Palestinian with his own hands, got six months in jail. Others were reprimanded.

As far as the military is concerned, atrocities and massacres have their good sides. Such misdeeds and abuse serve important strategic goals. They boost the morale of the troops and let them blow off steam; they deter would-be insurgents; they teach the Natives who is boss. The signal that such atrocities send is that the soldiery will stop at nothing and will observe no law when it is out to subdue a hostile population. This is why perpetrators of such deeds – if they belong to a victorious army – are never punished properly and proportionately.

A Kosovo Case Study

“You can’t blame the whole army. But why did they allow such a soldier to come here?”
“We believe he also has a mother an father and we cannot speak good or ill of him.”
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

“Sex offenders typically have a history, but if the guy was raised here, and went to school here, is there any evidence of it at all?”

“When soldiers are on a peacekeeping mission, it can be a very paranoid state. They’re not in attack mode, like they’re trained to be; they’re stuck in a neutral mode. (But…) the guy’s (Ronghi – SV) a staff sergeant. He’s been around, he’s not a rookie.”
Dr. Keith John Smedi, formerly a Mental Health Officer in the US Army

“We looked at KFOR as saviours, to save us from war and from violence… We want to see a picture of the man who did this to us.”
Remzje Shabiu, mother of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

“We again trust the Americans.”
Hamdi Shabiu, father of Merita, the sexually molested, forcibly sodomized and murdered child

Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized (“indecent acts with a child”) and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building, when her father went to market to do some shopping. Then he spread flour from a UN aid package over the blood-stained floor. He wrapped the little, still warm body, in two sacks and dumped it under the staircase. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. It was a heinous crime which would have most certainly introduced him to the wrong end of a lethal injection in his homeland, the USA. But Staff Sergeant Ronghi was wise to have unleashed his depravity in Kosovo upon an Albanian girl. Ceteris paribus, it would seem that the going rate for dead Albanian girls is lower than for dead American ones.

There is nothing new in this supercilious attitude of the new masters of the universe. Fiercely independent, solipsistically provincial and fatuously ignorant – this nation of video clips and sound bites has imposed its narcissistic “culture” upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold. Never averse to exploiting the global institutions to its ends – it often refrains from providing them with means. It still owes in excess of 160 million US dollars to the poorer nations of the world – its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations. It refuses to subject itself to the judgements of the World Criminal Court, to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and to the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. In short, it is a bully – making its own laws as it goes, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgated at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent mixture of superiority and contempt.

The case of the bestial murderer Ronghi is not an aberration. It happened before (in Japan in 1995, for instance). Nor is the double moral standard applied only by the USA. When a (most probably intoxicated) Norwegian soldier killed a Macedonian minister and his family in a car crash in August 1999 (having swerved into the wrong lane), he was rushed back to Norway to face an incredibly lenient sentence of two months in prison – unimaginable if the Minister were Norwegian and the venue Oslo. More than 60 criminal investigations against NATO soldiers by the Macedonian police (the tip of an iceberg, no doubt) ended this way. So did proceedings in more than 200 traffic accidents involving almost 20 fatalities. These are the remains of a colonial state of mind – natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, the white man’s burden must not be exacerbated by excess legalism. Western folks should stick together, you know and, above all, should never be exposed to the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence.

In the village of Vitina, in Kosovo, a wiry Hamdi Shabiu, in an upturned fur hat and evanescent nylon jacket, waves the photograph of the swollen face of his formerly beautiful daughter, Merita. Her battered body was discovered on Thursday, January 13, 2000 (no one seems to agree as to where). The 35 year old weapons squad leader from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (born in Niles, Ohio), was arrested 3 days later in a show of unprecedented investigative efficiency. He was transferred to a confinement facility (a military euphemism for prison) in Mannheim and from there to a prison in Wuerzburg, near Frankfurt, Germany.

It was the sad denouement of what started as a love affair. The American contingent of KFOR was welcomed by the Kosovars in scenes of jubilation not seen since the end of World War Two. But this exuberance was soon quelled by the liberties some soldiers took with the local girls (for instance, when “searching” their bodies for “weapons”). Complaints were lodged – and ignored (another pattern of behaviour – American soldiers are ex-territorial). Later, Americans were involved in violent and brutal clashes with local Albanians, including in Vitina. The atmosphere has soured.

The Kosovo the peacekeepers entered is a fantastic place, the outcome of a hundred years of solitude. It is teeming with disgruntled and covinous guerilla fighters, steely-eyed and ruthless mafiosi, contumacious small-time delinquents and noisome, unctuous pimps in chintzy cars. In this nebulochaotically permissive atmosphere of insidious disintegration and ludic, sinuous sex – soldiers became involved in all manner of invenial skulduggery, drug peddling and abuse, in weapons trading and white prostitution networks. Ask any Macedonian, Kosovar, Greek, Albanian, Serb, or Bulgarian and they will tell you how deep and institutionalized the involvement of KFOR soldiers is in the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, flour and consumer goods. The surrealistic morass that is the Balkan has digested them and enmeshed them in venality and crime. The lack of functioning law enforcement institutions and the gaping void that replaced civil society in Kosovo contributed to the general moral turpitude. The unbearable lightness of being has rendered all moral precepts remote and niggling. To these soldiers, Kosovo was an Elysium of sin, an apogee of lasciviousness and avarice, a profligate perdition.

Ronghi set impassively through the reading of his verdict on July 30th. He offered the grieving family a convoluted apology: “I don’t know what went wrong that day”. Pathological Narcissists are characterized by alloplastic defences. They blame the world, destiny, the Universe, fate, or other people for their behaviour and for its (usually deleterious) outcomes. Faulty maps were blamed on the demolition of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The unfortunate event of the downing of an Iranian airliner was attributed to “human error”. An American pilot violated his flight instructions, killing vacationers in Italy in the process – and was exculpated. Ronghi, described as a wholesome American phenomenon by friends, family and commanders, blamed the day: “I don’t know what went wrong that day”, he said. He might as well have been discussing a scorched omelette. Devoid of all emotion or compunction, he added stolidly, reading from a crumpled piece of paper his lines of what evidently was, to him, merely a bad script. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the family. I ask them for my forgiveness” [sic! How Freudian!]. He added: “I never did anything wrong before. I know what I did was very wrong. That’s why I pleaded guilty.” In other words: I am a good and upright man, who can tell right from wrong and who assumes responsibility for his wrongful acts. The brutal rape and thrashing to death of a pre-adolescent girl is the exception in an otherwise commendable life and virtuous conduct.

But Ronghi was unfazed by what he did. To bury Merita’s body, ensconced in two UN flour sacks, under the staircase in the basement, Ronghi took with him another soldier, a private, who finally turned him in. He told him: “(it was) easy to get away with something like this in a Third World country”. Sergeant Christopher Rice, who was on duty the night Ronghi murdered the child, added: “He knew because he’d done it before in the desert (in operation ‘Desert Storm’ in Iraq – SV).”

If Rice knew this about Ronghi – why didn’t he turn him in? If the Army knew this about Ronghi – why did they send him on a peacekeeping mission involving contact with civilian population? Is it true that peacekeeping operations are the dumping grounds of mercenaries and military misfits, drug addicts and the criminally-inclined? That the selection criteria and procedures are less than rigorous is an open secret. Peacekeepers are notoriously culturally insensitive, undressing publicly (in Kumanovo), getting embroiled in inebriated brawls (in restaurants and bars), raping and thieving, smuggling and trading, playing with pistols during the famous Struga poetry festival. This has come to be expected of them. But not murder and, perhaps, not the rape of a pre-pubescent girl.

So many under-estimated the pernicious effects of promiscuousness and disdain combined. Many more have turned a blind eye to the convergence of the armed presence of Albanian thugs of all political hues and their counterparts in KFOR. To many soldiers, the citizens of Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, were but sub-humans – a view shared by the Albanian predators that confiscated their apartments and killed them by the hundreds. This confluence of jaded scorn, this somnolent sadism and condescending malfeasance, this propinquity of criminal and law – made Kosovo the Dantesque netherland it has become. It killed Merita. It had the face of Ronghi but the number of the beast.

Affiliation and Morality

The Anglo-Saxon members of the motley “Coalition of the Willing” were proud of their aircraft’s and missiles’ “surgical” precision. The legal (and moral) imperative to spare the lives of innocent civilians was well observed, they bragged. “Collateral damage” was minimized. They were lucky to have confronted a dilapidated enemy. Precision bombing is expensive, in terms of lives – of fighter pilots. Military planners are well aware that there is a hushed trade-off between civilian and combatant casualties.

This dilemma is both ethical and practical. It is often “resolved” by applying – explicitly or implicitly – the principle of “over-riding affiliation”. As usual, Judaism was there first, agonizing over similar moral conflicts. Two Jewish sayings amount to a reluctant admission of the relativity of moral calculus: “One is close to oneself” and “Your city’s poor denizens come first (with regards to charity)”.

This is also known as “moral hypocrisy”. The moral hypocrite feels self-righteous even when he engages in acts and behaves in ways that he roundly condemns in others. Two psychologists, Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno, have demonstrated that, in the words of DeSteno:

“Anyone who is on ‘our team’ is excused for moral transgressions. The importance of group cohesion, of any type, simply extends our moral radius for lenience. Basically, it’s a form of one person’s patriot is another’s terrorist … The question here is whether we’re designed at heart to be fair or selfish.” (New-York Times, July 6, 2008).

Dr. Valdesolo added:

“Hypocrisy is driven by mental processes over which we have volitional control.. Our gut seems to be equally sensitive to our own and others’ transgressions, suggesting that we just need to find ways to better translate our moral feelings into moral actions.”

One’s proper conduct, in other words, is decided by one’s self-interest and by one’s affiliations with the ingroups one belongs to. Affiliation (to a community, or a fraternity), in turn, is determined by one’s positions and, to some extent, by one’s oppositions to various outgroups.

What are these “positions” (ingroups) and “oppositions” (outgroups)?

The most fundamental position – from which all others are derived – is the positive statement “I am a human being”. Belonging to the human race is an immutable and inalienable position. Denying this leads to horrors such as the Holocaust. The Nazis did not regard as humans the Jews, the Slavs, homosexuals, and other minorities – so they sought to exterminate them.

All other, synthetic, positions are made of couples of positive and negative statements with the structure “I am and I am not”.

But there is an important asymmetry at the heart of this neat arrangement.

The negative statements in each couple are fully derived from – and thus are entirely dependent on and implied by – the positive statements. Not so the positive statements. They cannot be derived from, or be implied by, the negative one.

Lest we get distractingly abstract, let us consider an example.

Study the couple “I am an Israeli” and “I am not a Syrian”.

Assuming that there are 220 countries and territories, the positive statement “I am an Israeli” implies about 220 certain (true) negative statements. You can derive each and every one of these negative statements from the positive statement. You can thus create 220 perfectly valid couples.

“I am an Israeli …”

Therefore:

“I am not … (a citizen of country X, which is not Israel)”.

You can safely derive the true statement “I am not a Syrian” from the statement “I am an Israeli”.

Can I derive the statement “I am an Israeli” from the statement “I am not a Syrian”?

Not with any certainty.

The negative statement “I am not a Syrian” implies 220 possible positive statements of the type “I am … (a citizen of country X, which is not India)”, including the statement “I am an Israeli”. “I am not a Syrian and I am a citizen of … (220 possibilities)”

Negative statements can be derived with certainty from any positive statement.

Negative statements as well as positive statements cannot be derived with certainty from any negative statement.

This formal-logical trait reflects a deep psychological reality with unsettling consequences.

A positive statement about one’s affiliation (“I am an Israeli”) immediately generates 220 certain negative statements (such as “I am not a Syrian”).

One’s positive self-definition automatically excludes all others by assigning to them negative values. “I am” always goes with “I am not”.

The positive self-definitions of others, in turn, negate one’s self-definition.

Statements about one’s affiliation are inevitably exclusionary.

It is possible for many people to share the same positive self-definition. About 6 million people can truly say “I am an Israeli”.

Affiliation – to a community, fraternity, nation, state, religion, or team – is really a positive statement of self-definition (“I am an Israeli”, for instance) shared by all the affiliated members (the affiliates).

One’s moral obligations towards one’s affiliates override and supersede one’s moral obligations towards non-affiliated humans. Ingroup bias carries the weight of a moral principle.

Thus, an American’s moral obligation to safeguard the lives of American fighter pilots overrides and supersedes (subordinates) his moral obligation to save the lives of innocent civilians, however numerous, if they are not Americans.

The larger the number of positive self-definitions I share with someone (i.e., the more affiliations we have in common) , the larger and more overriding is my moral obligation to him or her.

Example:

I have moral obligations towards all other humans because I share with them my affiliation to the human species.

But my moral obligations towards my countrymen supersede these obligation. I share with my compatriots two affiliations rather than one. We are all members of the human race – but we are also citizens of the same state.

This patriotism, in turn, is superseded by my moral obligation towards the members of my family. With them I share a third affiliation – we are all members of the same clan.

I owe the utmost to myself. With myself I share all the aforementioned affiliations plus one: the affiliation to the one member club that is me.

But this scheme raises some difficulties.

We postulated that the strength of one’s moral obligations towards other people is determined by the number of positive self-definitions (“affiliations”) he shares with them.

Moral obligations are, therefore, contingent. They are, indeed, the outcomes of interactions with others – but not in the immediate sense, as the personalist philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggested.

Rather, ethical principles, rights, and obligations are merely the solutions yielded by a moral calculus of shared affiliations. Think about them as matrices with specific moral values and obligations attached to the numerical strengths of one’s affiliations.

Some moral obligations are universal and are the outcomes of one’s organic position as a human being (the “basic affiliation”). These are the “transcendent moral values”.

Other moral values and obligations arise only as the number of shared affiliations increases. These are the “derivative moral values”.

Moreover, it would wrong to say that moral values and obligations “accumulate”, or that the more fundamental ones are the strongest.

On the very contrary. The universal ethical principles – the ones related to one’s position as a human being – are the weakest. They are subordinate to derivative moral values and obligations yielded by one’s affiliations.

The universal imperative “thou shall not kill (another human being)” is easily over-ruled by the moral obligation to kill for one’s country. The imperative “though shall not steal” is superseded by one’s moral obligation to spy for one’s nation. Treason is when we prefer universal ethical principles to derivatives ones, dictated by our affiliation (citizenship).

This leads to another startling conclusion:

There is no such thing as a self-consistent moral system. Moral values and obligations often contradict and conflict with each other.

In the examples above, killing (for one’s country) and stealing (for one’s nation) are moral obligations, the outcomes of the application of derivative moral values. Yet, they contradict the universal moral value of the sanctity of life and property and the universal moral obligation not to kill.

Hence, killing the non-affiliated (civilians of another country) to defend one’s own (fighter pilots) is morally justified. It violates some fundamental principles – but upholds higher moral obligations, to one’s kin and kith.

Note – The Exclusionary Conscience

The self-identity of most nation-states is exclusionary and oppositional: to generate solidarity, a sense of shared community, and consensus, an ill-defined “we” is unfavorably contrasted with a fuzzy “they”. While hate speech has been largely outlawed the world over, these often counterfactual dichotomies between “us” and “them” still reign supreme.

In extreme – though surprisingly frequent – cases, whole groups (typically minorities) are excluded from the nation’s moral universe and from the ambit of civil society. Thus, they are rendered “invisible”, “subhuman”, and unprotected by laws, institutions, and ethics. This process of distancing and dehumanization I call “exclusionary conscience”.

The most recent examples are the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany’s Third Reich, and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. Radical Islamists are now advocating the mass slaughter of Westerners, particularly of Americans and Israelis, regardless of age, gender, and alleged culpability. But the phenomenon of exclusionary conscience far predates these horrendous events. In the Bible, the ancient Hebrews are instructed to exterminate all Amalekites, men, women, and children.

In her book, “The Nazi Conscience”, Claudia Koontz quotes from Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents”:

“If (the Golden Rule of morality) commanded ‘Love thy neighbor as thy neighbor loves thee’, I should not take exception to it. If he is a stranger to me … it will be hard for me to love him.” (p. 5)

Note – The Rule of Law, Discrimination, and Morality

In an article titled “Places Far Away, Places Very near – Mauthausen, the Camps of the Shoah, and the Bystanders” (published in Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck (eds.) – The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined – Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998), the author, Gordon J. Horwitz, describes how the denizens of the picturesque towns surrounding the infaous death camp were drawn into its economic and immoral ambit.

Why did these law-abiding citizens turn a blind eye towards the murder and mayhem that they had witnessed daily in the enclosure literally on their doorstep? Because morality is a transaction. As Rabbi Hillel, the Talmudic Jewish sage, and Jesus of Nazareth put it: do not do unto others that which you don’t want them to do to you (to apply a utilitarian slant to their words).

When people believe and are assured by the authorities that an immoral law or practice will never apply to them, they don’t mind its application to others. Immoral acts inevitably devolve from guaranteed impunity. The Rule of Law does not preclude exclusionary or discriminatory or even evil praxis.

The only way to make sure that agents behave ethically is by providing equal treatment to all subjects, regardless of race, sex, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, or age. “Don’t do unto others what you fear might be done to you” is a potent deterrent but it has a corollary: “Feel free to do unto them what, in all probability, will never be done to you.”

Nazi atrocities throughout conquered Europe were not a-historical eruptions. They took place within the framework of a morally corrupt, permissive and promiscuous environment. Events such as Dir Yassin, My Lai, and Rwanda prove that genocide can and will be repeated everywhere and at all times given the right circumstances.

The State of Israel (Dir Yassin) and the United States (My Lai) strictly prohibit crimes against humanity and explicitly protect civilians during military operations. Hence the rarity of genocidal actions by their armed forces. Rwanda and Nazi Germany openly condoned, encouraged, abetted, and logistically supported genocide.

Had the roles been reversed, would Israelis and Americans have committed genocide? Undoubtedly, they would have. Had the USA and Israel promulgated genocidal policies, their policemen, secret agents, and soldiers would have mercilessly massacred men, women, and children by the millions. It is human nature. What prevents genocide from becoming a daily occurrence is the fact that the vast majority of nations subscribe to what Adolf Hitler derisively termed “Judeo-Christian morality.”

“Parasite singles”, “boomerang kids”, and “accordion families”

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

“One man cannot be a warrior on a battlefield.”
(Russian proverb)

The Japanese call them “parasite singles”, the Americans “boomerang kids”. Sociologists refer to the “accordion family”: it expands and then contracts as children return to what should have been an “empty nest.” With an anemic jobs market (youth unemployment hovers above 20% throughout the industrial world), extended education, and a culture of rampant individualism (not to say egotistical narcissism), parents are forced to continue to bankroll their children and take care of their needs well into their offspring’s thirties. Infantilism rocks and rules.

There is no word for it in Russian. Platon Karatayev, the typical “Russian soul” in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, extols, for pages at a time, the virtues of communality and disparages the individual – this otherwise useless part of the greater whole. In Macedonia the words “private” or “privacy” pertain to matters economic. The word “intimacy” is used instead to designate the state of being free of prying, intrusive eyes and acts of meddling. Throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the rise of “individualism” did not give birth to its corollary: “privacy”. After decades (and, in most cases, centuries) of cramped, multi-generational shared accommodation, it is no wonder.

To the alienated and schizoid ears of Westerners, the survival of family and community in CEE sounds like an attractive proposition. A dual purpose safety net, both emotional and economic, the family in countries in transition provides its members with unemployment benefits, accommodation, food and psychological advice to boot. Divorced daughters, saddled with little (and not so little) ones, the prodigal sons incapable of finding a job befitting their qualifications, the sick, the unhappy – all are absorbed by the compassionate bosom of the family and, by extension the community. The family, the neighbourhood, the community, the village, the tribe – are units of subversion as well as useful safety valves, releasing and regulating the pressures of contemporary life in the modern, materialistic, crime ridden state. The ancient blood feud laws of the kanoon were handed over through familial lineages in northern Albania, in defiance of the paranoiac Enver Hoxha regime. Criminals hide among their kin in the Balkans, thus effectively evading the long arm of the law (state). Jobs are granted, contracts signed and tenders won on an open and strict nepotistic basis and no one finds it odd or wrong. There is something atavistically heart-warming in all this.

Historically, the rural units of socialization and social organization were the family and the village. As villagers migrated to the cities, these structural and functional patterns were imported by them, en masse. The shortage of urban apartments and the communist invention of the communal apartment (its tiny rooms allocated one per family with kitchen and bathroom common to all) only served to perpetuate these ancient modes of multi-generational huddling. At best, the few available apartments were shared by three generations: parents, married off-spring and their children. In many cases, the living space was also shared by sickly or no-good relatives and even by unrelated families.

These living arrangements – more adapted to rustic open spaces than to high rises – led to severe social and psychological dysfunctions. To this very day, Balkan males are spoiled by the subservience and servitude of their in-house parents and incessantly and compulsively catered to by their submissive wives. Occupying someone else’s home, they are not well acquainted with adult responsibilities. Stunted growth and stagnant immaturity are the hallmarks of an entire generation, stifled by the ominous proximity of suffocating, invasive love. Unable to lead a healthy sex life behind paper thin walls, unable to raise their children and as many children as they see fit, unable to develop emotionally under the anxiously watchful eye of their parents – this greenhouse generation is doomed to a zombie-like existence in the twilight nether land of their parents’ caves. Many ever more eagerly await the demise of their caring captors and the promised land of their inherited apartments, free of their parents’ presence.

The daily pressures and exigencies of co-existence are enormous. The prying, the gossip, the criticism, the chastising, the small agitating mannerisms, the smells, the incompatible personal habits and preferences, the pusillanimous bookkeeping – all serve to erode the individual and to reduce him or her to the most primitive mode of survival. This is further exacerbated by the need to share expenses, to allocate labour and tasks, to plan ahead for contingencies, to see off threats, to hide information, to pretend and to fend off emotionally injurious behaviour. It is a sweltering tropic of affective cancer.

Newly found materialism brought these territories a malignant form of capitalism coupled with a sub-culture of drugs and crime. The eventuating disintegration of all polities in the ensuing moral vacuum was complete. From the more complex federations or states and their governments, through intermediate municipalities and down to the most primitive of political cells – the family – they all crumbled in a storm of discontent and blood. The mutant frontier-“independence” or pioneer-“individualism” imported from Western B movies led to a functional upheaval unmatched by a structural one. People want privacy and intimacy more than ever – but they still inhabit the same shoddily constructed, congested accommodation and they still earn poorly or are unemployed. This tension between aspiration and perspiration is potentially revolutionary. It is this unaccomplished, uneasy metamorphosis that tore the social fabric of CEE apart, rendering it poisoned and dysfunctional. This is nothing new – it is what brought socialism and its more vicious variants down.

But what is new is inequality. Ever the pathologically envious, the citizens of CEE bathed in common misery. The equal distribution of poverty and hardship guaranteed their peace of mind. A Jewish proverb says: “the trouble of the many is half a consolation”. It is this breakdown of symmetry of wretchedness that really shook the social order. The privacy and intimacy and freedom gained by the few are bound to incite the many into acts of desperation. After all, what can be more individualistic, more private, more mind requiting, more tranquillizing than being part of a riotous mob intent of implementing a platform of hate and devastation?

Parenting: The Irrational Vocation

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

Why do people become parents in the first place? Do we have a moral obligation to humanity at large, to ourselves, or to our unborn children? Hardly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s study another explanation.

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

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

How about this one then:

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

Both statements, alas, are false.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This edifice of maturity is severely tested by newfound parenthood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: Parenting as a Moral Obligation

Do we have a moral obligation to become parents? Some would say: yes. There are three types of arguments to support such a contention:

(i) We owe it to humanity at large to propagate the species or to society to provide manpower for future tasks

(ii) We owe it to ourselves to realize our full potential as human beings and as males or females by becoming parents

(iii) We owe it to our unborn children to give them life.

The first two arguments are easy to dispense with. We have a minimal moral obligation to humanity and society and that is to conduct ourselves so as not to harm others. All other ethical edicts are either derivative or spurious. Similarly, we have a minimal moral obligation to ourselves and that is to be happy (while not harming others). If bringing children to the world makes us happy, all for the better. If we would rather not procreate, it is perfectly within our rights not to do so.

But what about the third argument?

Only living people have rights. There is a debate whether an egg is a living person, but there can be no doubt that it exists. Its rights – whatever they are – derive from the fact that it exists and that it has the potential to develop life. The right to be brought to life (the right to become or to be) pertains to a yet non-alive entity and, therefore, is null and void. Had this right existed, it would have implied an obligation or duty to give life to the unborn and the not yet conceived. No such duty or obligation exist.