Abusers Target Their “Nearest and Dearest”

It is an established fact that abuse – verbal, psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual – co-occurs with intimacy. Most reported offenses are between intimate partners and between parents and children. This defies common sense. Emotionally, it should be easier to batter, molest, assault, or humiliate a total stranger. It’s as if intimacy CAUSES abuse, incubates and nurtures it.
And, in a way, it does.
Many abusers believe that their abusive conduct fosters, enhances, and cements their intimate relationships. To them, pathological jealousy is proof of love, possessiveness replaces mature bonding, and battering is a form of paying attention to the partner and communicating with her.
Such habitual offenders do not know any better. They were often raised in families, societies, and cultures where abuse is condoned outright – or, at least, not frowned upon. Maltreatment of one’s significant others is part of daily life, as inevitable as the weather, a force of nature.
Intimacy is often perceived to include a license to abuse. The abuser treats his nearest, dearest, and closest as mere objects, instruments of gratification, utilities, or extensions of himself. He feels that he “owns” his spouse, girlfriend, lovers, children, parents, siblings, or colleagues. As the owner, he has the right to “damage the goods” or even dispose of them altogether.
Most abusers are scared of real intimacy and deep commitment. They lead a “pretend”, confabulated life. Their “love” and “relationships” are gaudy, fake imitations. The abuser seeks to put a distance between himself and those who truly love him, who cherish and value him as a human being, who enjoy his company, and who strive to establish a long-term, meaningful relationship with him.
Abuse, in other words, is a reaction to the perceived threat of looming intimacy, aimed at fending it off, intended to decimate closeness, tenderness, affection, and compassion before they thrive and consume the abuser. Abuse is a panic reaction. The batterer, the molester, are scared out of their wits – they feel entrapped, imprisoned, shackled, and insidiously altered.
Lashing out in blind and violent rage they punish the perceived perpetrators of intimacy. The more obnoxiously they behave, the less the risk of lifelong bondage. The more heinous their acts, the safer they feel. Battering, molesting, raping, berating, taunting – are all forms of reasserting lost control. In the abuser’s thwarted mind, abuse equals mastery and continued, painless, emotionally numbed, survival.

Cold Empathy and Warm Empathy

Empathy is comprised of two components:

I. Cold Empathy: an intersubjective agreement as to the mental content (especially emotions) of two or more human subjects;

II. Warm Empathy: the emotional response to Cold Empathy.

Cold Empathy is an act of taxonomy and an attempt to overcome the barriers posed by the inaccessibility of the private languages of the empathee and the empathor. It entails a comparison of the mental states of the subjects, based on introspection and the classification of said mental states within agreed linguistic and cultural frameworks, vocabularies, and contexts.

Warm Empathy is the emotional arousal engendered by Cold Empathy in the empathor and the panoply of emotional responses it evokes.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2011 edition) defines empathy as:

“The ability to imagine oneself in anther’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modelled on “sympathy.” The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counselling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers.”

Empathy is predicated upon and must, therefore, incorporate the following elements:

  1. Imagination which is dependent on the ability to imagine;
  2. The existence of an accessible Self (self-awareness or self-consciousness);
  3. The existence of an available other (other-awareness, recognizing the outside world);
  4. The existence of accessible feelings, desires, ideas and representations of actions or their outcomes both in the empathizing Self (“Empathor”) and in the Other, the object of empathy (“Empathee”);
  5. The availability of an aesthetic frame of reference;
  6. The availability of a moral frame of reference.

While (a) is presumed to be universally available to all agents (though in varying degrees) – the existence of the other components of empathy should not be taken for granted.

Conditions (b) and (c), for instance, are not satisfied by people who suffer from personality disorders, such as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Condition (d) is not met in autistic people (e.g., those who suffer from Asperger’s Disorder). Condition (e) is so totally dependent on the specifics of the culture, period and society in which it exists – that it is rather meaningless and ambiguous as a yardstick. Condition (f) suffer from both afflictions: it is both culture-dependent AND is not satisfied in many people (such as those who suffer from the Antisocial Personality Disorder and who are devoid of any conscience or moral sense).

Thus, the very existence of empathy should be questioned. It is often confused with inter-subjectivity. The latter is defined thus by “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995”:

“This term refers to the status of being somehow accessible to at least two (usually all, in principle) minds or ‘subjectivities’. It thus implies that there is some sort of communication between those minds; which in turn implies that each communicating mind is aware not only of the existence of the other but also of its intention to convey information to the other. The idea, for theorists, is that if subjective processes can be brought into agreement, then perhaps that is as good as the (unattainable?) status of being objective – completely independent of subjectivity. The question facing such theorists is whether intersubjectivity is definable without presupposing an objective environment in which communication takes place (the ‘wiring’ from subject A to subject B). At a less fundamental level, however, the need for intersubjective verification of scientific hypotheses has been long recognized”. (page 414).

On the face of it, the difference between intersubjectivity and empathy is double:

  1. Intersubjectivity requires an EXPLICIT, communicated agreement between at least two subjects.
  2. It involves EXTERNAL things (so called “objective” entities).

These “differences” are artificial. This is how empathy is defined in “Psychology – An Introduction (Ninth Edition) by Charles G. Morris, Prentice Hall, 1996”:

“Closely related to the ability to read other people’s emotions is empathy – the arousal of an emotion in an observer that is a vicarious response to the other person’s situation… Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response. Just as sensitivity to non-verbal cues increases with age, so does empathy: The cognitive and perceptual abilities required for empathy develop only as a child matures… (page 442)

In empathy training, for example, each member of the couple is taught to share inner feelings and to listen to and understand the partner’s feelings before responding to them. The empathy technique focuses the couple’s attention on feelings and requires that they spend more time listening and less time in rebuttal.” (page 576).

Thus empathy does require the communication of feelings AND an agreement on the appropriate outcome of the communicated emotions (=affective agreement). In the absence of such agreement, we are faced with inappropriate affect (laughing at a funeral, for instance).

Moreover, empathy does relate to external objects and is provoked by them. There is no empathy in the absence of an empathee. Granted, intersubjectivity is intuitively applied to the inanimate while empathy is applied to the living (animals, humans, even plants). But this is a difference in human preferences – not in definition.

Empathy can, thus, be re-defined as a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as “objects” to which the communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is wrong to limit our understanding of empathy to the communication of emotion. Rather, it is the intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only with the empathee’s emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).

This leads to the important (and perhaps intractable) psychophysical question.

Intersubjectivity relates to external objects but the subjects communicate and reach an agreement regarding the way THEY have been affected by the objects.

Empathy relates to external objects (Others) but the subjects communicate and reach an agreement regarding the way THEY would have felt had they BEEN the object.

This is no minor difference, if it, indeed, exists. But does it really exist?

What is it that we feel in empathy? Do we feel OUR emotions/sensations, provoked by an external trigger (classic intersubjectivity) or do we experience a TRANSFER of the object’s feelings/sensations to us?

Such a transfer being physically impossible (as far as we know) – we are forced to adopt the former model. Empathy is the set of reactions – emotional and cognitive – to being triggered by an external object (the Other). It is the equivalent of resonance in the physical sciences. But we have NO WAY of ascertaining that the “wavelength” of such resonance is identical in both subjects.

In other words, we have no way to verify that the feelings or sensations invoked in the two (or more) subjects are the same. What I call “sadness” may not be what you call “sadness”. Colours, for instance, have unique, uniform, independently measurable properties (their energy). Even so, no one can prove that what I see as “red” is what another person (perhaps a Daltonist) would call “red”. If this is true where “objective”, measurable, phenomena, like colors, are concerned – it is infinitely more true in the case of emotions or feelings.

We are, therefore, forced to refine our definition:

Empathy is a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as “objects” to which the communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is the intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only with the empathee’s emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).

BUT

The meaning attributed to the words used by the parties to the intersubjective agreement known as empathy is totally dependent upon each party. The same words are used, the same denotates – but it cannot be proven that the same connotates, the same experiences, emotions and sensations are being discussed or communicated.

Language (and, by extension, art and culture) serve to introduce us to other points of view (“what is it like to be someone else” to paraphrase Thomas Nagle). By providing a bridge between the subjective (inner experience) and the objective (words, images, sounds), language facilitates social exchange and interaction. It is a dictionary which translates one’s subjective private language to the coin of the public medium. Knowledge and language are, thus, the ultimate social glue, though both are based on approximations and guesses (see George Steiner’s “After Babel”).

But, whereas the intersubjective agreement regarding measurements and observations concerning external objects IS verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools (e.g., lab experiments) – the intersubjective agreement which concerns itself with the emotions, sensations and experiences of subjects as communicated by them IS NOT verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools. The interpretation of this second kind of agreement is dependent upon introspection and an assumption that identical words used by different subjects still possess identical meaning. This assumption is not falsifiable (or verifiable). It is neither true nor false. It is a probabilistic statement, but without a probability distribution. It is, in short, a meaningless statement. As a result, empathy itself is meaningless.

In human-speak, if you say that you are sad and I empathize with you it means that we have an agreement. I regard you as my object. You communicate to me a property of yours (“sadness”). This triggers in me a recollection of “what is sadness” or “what is to be sad”. I say that I know what you mean, I have been sad before, I know what it is like to be sad. I empathize with you. We agree about being sad. We have an intersubjective agreement.

Alas, such an agreement is meaningless. We cannot (yet) measure sadness, quantify it, crystallize it, access it in any way from the outside. We are totally and absolutely reliant on your introspection and on my introspection. There is no way anyone can prove that my “sadness” is even remotely similar to your sadness. I may be feeling or experiencing something that you might find hilarious and not sad at all. Still, I call it “sadness” and I empathize with you.

This would not have been that grave if empathy hadn’t been the cornerstone of morality.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1999 Edition:

“Empathy and other forms of social awareness are important in the development of a moral sense. Morality embraces a person’s beliefs about the appropriateness or goodness of what he does, thinks, or feels… Childhood is … the time at which moral standards begin to develop in a process that often extends well into adulthood. The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg hypothesized that people’s development of moral standards passes through stages that can be grouped into three moral levels…

At the third level, that of postconventional moral reasoning, the adult bases his moral standards on principles that he himself has evaluated and that he accepts as inherently valid, regardless of society’s opinion. He is aware of the arbitrary, subjective nature of social standards and rules, which he regards as relative rather than absolute in authority.

Thus the bases for justifying moral standards pass from avoidance of punishment to avoidance of adult disapproval and rejection to avoidance of internal guilt and self-recrimination. The person’s moral reasoning also moves toward increasingly greater social scope (i.e., including more people and institutions) and greater abstraction (i.e., from reasoning about physical events such as pain or pleasure to reasoning about values, rights, and implicit contracts).”

But, if moral reasoning is based on introspection and empathy – it is, indeed, dangerously relative and not objective in any known sense of the word. Empathy is a unique agreement on the emotional and experiential content of two or more introspective processes in two or more subjects. Such an agreement can never have any meaning, even as far as the parties to it are concerned. They can never be sure that they are discussing the same emotions or experiences. There is no way to compare, measure, observe, falsify or verify (prove) that the “same” emotion is experienced identically by the parties to the empathy agreement. Empathy is meaningless and introspection involves a private language despite what Wittgenstein had to say. Morality is thus reduced to a set of meaningless private languages.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“… Others have argued that because even rather young children are capable of showing empathy with the pain of others, the inhibition of aggressive behaviour arises from this moral affect rather than from the mere anticipation of punishment. Some scientists have found that children differ in their individual capacity for empathy, and, therefore, some children are more sensitive to moral prohibitions than others.

Young children’s growing awareness of their own emotional states, characteristics, and abilities leads to empathy–i.e., the ability to appreciate the feelings and perspectives of others. Empathy and other forms of social awareness are in turn important in the development of a moral sense… Another important aspect of children’s emotional development is the formation of their self-concept, or identity–i.e., their sense of who they are and what their relation to other people is.

According to Lipps’s concept of empathy, a person appreciates another person’s reaction by a projection of the self into the other. In his Ästhetik, 2 vol. (1903-06; ‘Aesthetics’), he made all appreciation of art dependent upon a similar self-projection into the object.”

This may well be the key. Empathy has little to do with the other person (the empathee). It is simply the result of conditioning and socialization. In other words, when we hurt someone – we don’t experience his pain. We experience OUR pain. Hurting somebody – hurts US. The reaction of pain is provoked in US by OUR own actions. We have been taught a learned response of feeling pain when we inflict it upon another. But we have also been taught to feel responsible for our fellow beings (guilt). So, we experience pain whenever another person claims to experience it as well. We feel guilty.

In sum:

To use the example of pain, we experience it in tandem with another person because we feel guilty or somehow responsible for his condition. A learned reaction is activated and we experience (our kind of) pain as well. We communicate it to the other person and an agreement of empathy is struck between us.

We attribute feelings, sensations and experiences to the object of our actions. It is the psychological defence mechanism of projection. Unable to conceive of inflicting pain upon ourselves – we displace the source. It is the other’s pain that we are feeling, we keep telling ourselves, not our own.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“Perhaps the most important aspect of children’s emotional development is a growing awareness of their own emotional states and the ability to discern and interpret the emotions of others. The last half of the second year is a time when children start becoming aware of their own emotional states, characteristics, abilities, and potential for action; this phenomenon is called self-awareness… (coupled with strong narcissistic behaviours and traits – SV)…

This growing awareness of and ability to recall one’s own emotional states leads to empathy, or the ability to appreciate the feelings and perceptions of others. Young children’s dawning awareness of their own potential for action inspires them to try to direct (or otherwise affect) the behaviour of others…

…With age, children acquire the ability to understand the perspective, or point of view, of other people, a development that is closely linked with the empathic sharing of others’ emotions…

One major factor underlying these changes is the child’s increasing cognitive sophistication. For example, in order to feel the emotion of guilt, a child must appreciate the fact that he could have inhibited a particular action of his that violated a moral standard. The awareness that one can impose a restraint on one’s own behaviour requires a certain level of cognitive maturation, and, therefore, the emotion of guilt cannot appear until that competence is attained.”

That empathy is a REACTION to external stimuli that is fully contained within the empathor and then projected onto the empathee is clearly demonstrated by “inborn empathy”. It is the ability to exhibit empathy and altruistic behaviour in response to facial expressions. Newborns react this way to their mother’s facial expression of sadness or distress.

This serves to prove that empathy has very little to do with the feelings, experiences or sensations of the other (the empathee). Surely, the infant has no idea what it is like to feel sad and definitely not what it is like for his mother to feel sad. In this case, it is a complex reflexive reaction. Later on, empathy is still rather reflexive, the result of conditioning.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica quotes fascinating research which dramatically proves the object-independent nature of empathy. Empathy is an internal reaction, an internal process, triggered by external cue provided by animate objects. It is communicated to the empathee-other by the empathor but the communication and the resulting agreement (“I know how you feel therefore we agree on how you feel”) is rendered meaningless by the absence of a monovalent, unambiguous dictionary.

“An extensive series of studies indicated that positive emotion feelings enhance empathy and altruism. It was shown by the American psychologist Alice M. Isen that relatively small favours or bits of good luck (like finding money in a coin telephone or getting an unexpected gift) induced positive emotion in people and that such emotion regularly increased the subjects’ inclination to sympathize or provide help.

Several studies have demonstrated that positive emotion facilitates creative problem solving. One of these studies showed that positive emotion enabled subjects to name more uses for common objects. Another showed that positive emotion enhanced creative problem solving by enabling subjects to see relations among objects (and other people – SV) that would otherwise go unnoticed. A number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of positive emotion on thinking, memory, and action in pre-school and older children.”

If empathy increases with positive emotion (a result of good luck, for instance) – then it has little to do with its objects and a lot to do with the person in whom it is provoked.

ADDENDUM – Interview granted to the National Post, Toronto, Canada, July 2003

Q. How important is empathy to proper psychological functioning?

A. Empathy is more important socially than it is psychologically. The absence of empathy – for instance in the Narcissistic and Antisocial personality disorders – predisposes people to exploit and abuse others. Empathy is the bedrock of our sense of morality. Arguably, aggressive behavior is as inhibited by empathy at least as much as it is by anticipated punishment.

But the existence of empathy in a person is also a sign of self-awareness, a healthy identity, a well-regulated sense of self-worth, and self-love (in the positive sense). Its absence denotes emotional and cognitive immaturity, an inability to love, to truly relate to others, to respect their boundaries and accept their needs, feelings, hopes, fears, choices, and preferences as autonomous entities.

Q. How is empathy developed?

A. It may be innate. Even toddlers seem to empathize with the pain – or happiness – of others (such as their caregivers). Empathy increases as the child forms a self-concept (identity). The more aware the infant is of his or her emotional states, the more he explores his limitations and capabilities – the more prone he is to projecting this new found knowledge unto others. By attributing to people around him his new gained insights about himself, the child develop a moral sense and inhibits his anti-social impulses. The development of empathy is, therefore, a part of the process of socialization.

But, as the American psychologist Carl Rogers taught us, empathy is also learned and inculcated. We are coached to feel guilt and pain when we inflict suffering on another person. Empathy is an attempt to avoid our own self-imposed agony by projecting it onto another.

Q. Is there an increasing dearth of empathy in society today? Why do you think so?

A. The social institutions that reified, propagated and administered empathy have imploded. The nuclear family, the closely-knit extended clan, the village, the neighborhood, the Church- have all unraveled. Society is atomized and anomic. The resulting alienation fostered a wave of antisocial behavior, both criminal and “legitimate”. The survival value of empathy is on the decline. It is far wiser to be cunning, to cut corners, to deceive, and to abuse – than to be empathic. Empathy has largely dropped from the contemporary curriculum of socialization.

In a desperate attempt to cope with these inexorable processes, behaviors predicated on a lack of empathy have been pathologized and “medicalized”. The sad truth is that narcissistic or antisocial conduct is both normative and rational. No amount of “diagnosis”, “treatment”, and medication can hide or reverse this fact. Ours is a cultural malaise which permeates every single cell and strand of the social fabric.

Q. Is there any empirical evidence we can point to of a decline in empathy?

Empathy cannot be measured directly – but only through proxies such as criminality, terrorism, charity, violence, antisocial behavior, related mental health disorders, or abuse.

 

Moreover, it is extremely difficult to separate the effects of deterrence from the effects of empathy.

 

If I don’t batter my wife, torture animals, or steal – is it because I am empathetic or because I don’t want to go to jail?

 

Rising litigiousness, zero tolerance, and skyrocketing rates of incarceration – as well as the ageing of the population – have sliced intimate partner violence and other forms of crime across the United States in the last decade. But this benevolent decline had nothing to do with increasing empathy.

The statistics are open to interpretation but it would be safe to say that the last century has been the most violent and least empathetic in human history. Wars and terrorism are on the rise, charity giving on the wane (measured as percentage of national wealth), welfare policies are being abolished, Darwininan models of capitalism are spreading. In the last two decades, mental health disorders were added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association whose hallmark is the lack of empathy. The violence is reflected in our popular culture: movies, video games, and the media.

Empathy – supposedly a spontaneous reaction to the plight of our fellow humans – is now channeled through self-interested and bloated non-government organizations or multilateral outfits. The vibrant world of private empathy has been replaced by faceless state largesse. Pity, mercy, the elation of giving are tax-deductible. It is a sorry sight.

 

ADDENDUM – The I=mcu Theorem

 

I postulate the existence of three basic modes of interpersonal relatedness:

 

(1) I=mcu (pronounced: I am seeing you)

 

(2) I=ucm (pronounced: I am what you see in me)

 

(3) U=icm (pronounced: You is what I see as me)

 

Mode (1) and (3) represent variants of empathy. The ability to “see” the other is indispensable to the development and exercise of empathy. Even more crucial is the capacity to identify with the other, to “see” the other as “me” (i.e., as oneself).

 

Mode (2) is known as pathological narcissism. The narcissist forges a False Self that is designed to elicit external input in order to sustain itself and perform some important ego functions. The narcissists exists merely as a reflection in the eyes of others. In the absence of Narcissistic Supply (attention), the narcissist crumbles and withers.

 

Cold Empathy vs. Warm Empathy and the Concept of “Unacanny Valley”

Click HERE to watch the video

Contrary to widely held views, Narcissists and Psychopaths may actually possess empathy. They may even be hyper-empathic, attuned to the minutest signals emitted by their victims and endowed with a penetrating “X-ray vision”. They tend to abuse their empathic skills by employing them exclusively for personal gain, the extraction of narcissistic supply, or in the pursuit of antisocial and sadistic goals. They regard their ability to empathize as another weapon in their arsenal.

I suggest to label the narcissistic psychopath’s version of empathy: “cold empathy“, akin to the “cold emotions” felt by psychopaths. The cognitive element of empathy is there, but not so its emotional correlate. It is, consequently, a barren, detached, and cerebral kind of intrusive gaze, devoid of compassion and a feeling of affinity with one’s fellow humans.

Narcissists and psychopaths also appear to be “empathizing” with their possessions: objects, pets, and their sources of narcissistic supply or material benefits (often their nearest and dearest, significant others, or “friends” and associates). But this is not real empathy: it is a mere projection of the narcissist’s or psychopath’s own insecurities and fears, needs and wishes, fantasies and priorities. This kind of displayed “empathy” usually vanishes the minute its subject ceases to play a role in the narcissist’s or psychopath’s life and his psychodynamic processes.

Cold Empathy evokes the concept of “Uncanny Valley”, coined in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. Mori suggested that people react positively to androids (humanlike robots) for as long as they differ from real humans in meaningful and discernible ways. But the minute these contraptions come to resemble humans uncannily, though imperfectly, human observers tend to experience repulsion, revulsion, and other negative emotions, including fear.

The same applies to psychopathic narcissists: they are near-perfect imitations of humans, but, lacking empathy and emotions, they are not exactly there. Psychopaths and narcissists strike their interlocutors as being some kind of “alien life-forms” or “artificial intelligence”, in short: akin to humanoid robots, or androids. When people come across narcissists or psychopaths the Uncanny Valley reaction kicks in: people feel revolted, scared, and repelled. They can’t put the finger on what it is that provokes these negative reactions, but, after a few initial encounters, they tend to keep their distance.

The Demise of Empathy at Home and in the Family and the Role of Technology

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

Empathy is on a precipitous decline in the family and home environments. Technology is partly to blame, but so are other social and economic trends.

 

On June 9, 2005 the BBC reported about an unusual project underway in Sheffield (in the United Kingdom). The daily movements and interactions of a family living in a technology-laden, futuristic home are being monitored and recorded. “The aim is to help house builders predict how we will want to use our homes 10 or 20 years from now.” – explained the reporter.

 

The home of the future may be quite a chilling – or uplifting – prospect, depending on one’s prejudices and predilections.

 

Christopher Sanderson, of The Future Laboratory and Richard Brindley, of the Royal Institute of British Architects describe smaller flats with movable walls as a probable response to over-crowding. Home systems will cater to all the entertainment and media needs of the inhabitants further insulating them from their social milieu.

 

Even hobbies will move indoors. Almost every avocation – from cooking to hiking – can now be indulged at home with pro-am (professional-amateur) equipment. We may become self-sufficient as far as functions we now outsource – such as education and dry cleaning – go. Lastly, in the long-run, robots are likely to replace some pets and many human interactions.

 

These technological developments will have grave effects on family cohesion and functioning.

 

The family is the mainspring of support of every kind. It mobilizes psychological resources and alleviates emotional burdens. It allows for the sharing of tasks, provides material goods together with cognitive training. It is the prime socialization agent and encourages the absorption of information, most of it useful and adaptive.

 

This division of labour between parents and children is vital both to development and to proper adaptation. The child must feel, in a functional family, that s/he can share his experiences without being defensive and that the feedback that s/he is likely to receive will be open and unbiased. The only “bias” acceptable (because it is consistent with constant outside feedback) is the set of beliefs, values and goals that is internalized via imitation and unconscious identification.

 

So, the family is the first and the most important source of identity and of emotional support. It is a greenhouse wherein a child feels loved, accepted and secure – the prerequisites for the development of personal resources. On the material level, the family should provide the basic necessities (and, preferably, beyond), physical care and protection and refuge and shelter during crises.

 

Elsewhere, we have discussed the role of the mother (The Primary Object). The father’s part is mostly neglected, even in professional literature. However, recent research demonstrates his importance to the orderly and healthy development of the child.

 

He participates in the day to day care, is an intellectual catalyst, who encourages the child to develop his interests and to satisfy his curiosity through the manipulation of various instruments and games. He is a source of authority and discipline, a boundary setter, enforcing and encouraging positive behaviors and eliminating negative ones. He also provides emotional support and economic security, thus stabilizing the family unit. Finally, he is the prime source of masculine orientation and identification to the male child – and gives warmth and love as a male to his daughter, without exceeding the socially permissible limits.

 

These traditional roles of the family are being eroded from both the inside and the outside. The proper functioning of the classical family was determined, to a large extent, by the geographical proximity of its members. They all huddled together in the “family unit” – an identifiable volume of physical space, distinct and different to other units. The daily friction and interaction between the members of the family molded them, influenced their patterns of behavior and their reactive patterns and determined how successful their adaptation to life would be.

 

With the introduction of modern, fast transportation and telecommunications, it was no longer possible to confine the members of the family to the household, to the village, or even to the neighborhood. The industrial revolution splintered the classical family and scattered its members.

 

Still, the result was not the disappearance of the family but the formation of nuclear families: leaner and meaner units of production. The extended family of yore (three or four generations) merely spread its wings over a greater physical distance – but in principle, remained almost intact.

 

Grandma and grandpa would live in one city with a few of the younger or less successful aunts and uncles. Their other daughters or sons would be married and moved to live either in another part of the same city, or in another geographical location (even in another continent). But contact was maintained by more or less frequent visits, reunions and meetings on opportune or critical occasions.

 

This was true well into the 1950s.

 

However, a series of developments in the second half of the twentieth century threatens to completely decouple the family from its physical dimension. We are in the process of experimenting with the family of the future: the virtual family. This is a family devoid of any spatial (geographical) or temporal identity. Its members do not necessarily share the same genetic heritage (the same blood lineage). It is bound mainly by communication, rather than by interests. Its domicile is cyberspace, its residence in the realm of the symbolic.

 

Urbanization and industrialization pulverized the structure of the family, by placing it under enormous pressures and by causing it to relegate most of its functions to outside agencies: education was taken over by schools, health – by (national or private) health plans, entertainment by television, interpersonal communication by telephony and computers, socialization by the mass media and the school system and so on.

 

Devoid of its traditional functions, subject to torsion and other elastic forces – the family was torn apart and gradually stripped of its meaning. The main functions left to the family unit were the provision of the comfort of familiarity (shelter) and serving as a physical venue for leisure activities.

 

The first role – familiarity, comfort, security, and shelter – was eroded by the global brands.

 

The “Home Away from Home” business concept means that multinational brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds foster familiarity where previously there was none. Needless to say that the etymological closeness between “family” and “familiar” is no accident. The estrangement felt by foreigners in a foreign land is, thus, alleviated, as the world is fast becoming mono-cultural.

 

The “Family of Man” and the “Global Village” have replaced the nuclear family and the physical, historic, village. A businessman feels more at home in any Sheraton or Hilton than in the living room of his ageing parents. An academician feels more comfortable in any faculty in any university than with his own nuclear or immediate family. One’s oldneighborhood is a source of embarrassment rather than a fount of strength.

 

The family’s second function – leisure activities – fell prey to the advance of the internet and digital and wireless telecommunications.

 

Whereas the hallmark of the classical family was that it had clear spatial and temporal coordinates – the virtual family has none. Its members can (and often do) live in different continents. They communicate by digital means. They have electronic mail (rather than the physical post office box). They have a “HOME page”. They have a “webSITE”.

 

In other words, they have the virtual equivalents of geographical reality, a “VIRTUAL reality” or “virtual existence”. In the not so distant future, people will visit each other electronically and sophisticated cameras will allow them to do so in three-dimensional format.

 

The temporal dimension, which was hitherto indispensable in human interactions – being at the same place in the same time in order to interact – is also becoming unnecessary. Voicemail and videomail messages will be left in electronic “boxes” to be retrieved at the convenience of the recipient. Meetings in person will be made redundant with the advent of video-conferencing.

 

The family will not remain unaffected. A clear distinction will emerge between the biological family and the virtual family. A person will be born into the first but will regard this fact as accidental. Blood relations will count less than virtual relations. Individual growth will involve the formation of a virtual family, as well as a biological one (getting married and having children). People will feel equally at ease anywhere in the world for two reasons:

 

1. There will be no appreciable or discernible difference between geographical locations. Separate will no longer mean disparate. A McDonald’s and a Coca-Cola and a Hollywood produced movie are already available everywhere and always. So will the internet treasures of knowledge and entertainment.

 

2. Interactions with the outside world will be minimized. People will conduct their lives more and more indoors. They will communicate with others (their biological original family included) via telecommunications devices and the internet. They will spend most of their time, work and create in the cyber-world. Their true (really, only) home will be their website. Their only reliably permanent address will be their e-mail address. Their enduring friendships will be with co-chatters. They will work from home, flexibly and independently of others. They will customize their cultural consumption using 500 channel televisions based on video on demand technology.

 

Hermetic and mutually exclusive universes will be the end result of this process. People will be linked by very few common experiences within the framework of virtual communities. They will haul their world with them as they move about. The miniaturization of storage devices will permit them to carry whole libraries of data and entertainment in their suitcase or backpack or pocket.

 

It is true that all these predictions are extrapolations of technological breakthroughs and devices, which are in their embryonic stages and are limited to affluent, English-speaking, societies in the West. But the trends are clear and they mean ever-increasing differentiation, isolation and individuation. This is the last assault, which the family will not survive. Already most households consist of “irregular” families (single parents, same sex, etc.). The rise of the virtual family will sweep even these transitory forms aside.

 

The Role of Technology

 

Technology had and has a devastating effect on the survival and functioning of core social units, such as the community/neighborhood and, most crucially, the family.

 

With the introduction of modern, fast transportation and telecommunications, it was no longer possible to confine the members of the family to the household, to the village, or even to the neighborhood. The industrial and, later information revolutions splintered the classical family and scattered its members as they outsourced the family’s functions (such as feeding, education, and entertainment).

 

This process is on-going: interactions with the outside world are being minimized. People conduct their lives more and more indoors. They communicate with others (their biological original family included) via telecommunications devices and the internet. They spend most of their time, work and create in the cyber-world. Their true (really, only) home is their website or page on the social network du jour. Their only reliably permanent address is their e-mail address. Their enduring albeit ersatz friendships are with co-chatters. They work from home, flexibly and independently of others. They customize their cultural consumption using 500 channel televisions based on video on demand technology.

 

Hermetic and mutually exclusive universes will be the end result of this process. People will be linked by very few common experiences within the framework of virtual communities. They will haul their world with them as they move about. The miniaturization of storage devices will permit them to carry whole libraries of data and entertainment in their suitcase or backpack or pocket. They will no longer need or resort to physical interactions.

 

Consider screens:

 

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.

 

Modern technology allows us to reach out, but rarely to truly touch. It substitutes kaleidoscopic, brief, and shallow interactions for long, meaningful and deep relationships. Our abilities to empathize and to collaborate with each other are like muscles: they require frequent exercise. Gradually, we are being denied the opportunity to flex them and, thus, we empathize less; we collaborate more fitfully and inefficiently; we act more narcissistically and antisocially. Functioning society is rendered atomized and anomic by technology.

Feel Entitled to Cut Off Your Child

“A Good Mother Loves Her Children Unconditionally, No Matter What.”

But what about narcissistic or psychopathic children, children suffering from conduct disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder)?

Donovan, 16 years old, is incapable of loving and, therefore, has never loved you, his mother (or, for that matter, anyone else, himself included) in his entire life. His natural capacity to love and to return love was all but eliminated by his horrid childhood. We practice loving first and foremost through our parents. If they fail us, if they turn out to be unpredictable, capricious, violent, unjust – this capacity is stunted forever. This is what happened to Donovan: the ideal figures of his childhood proved to be much less than ideal. Abuse is a very poor ground to breed healthy emotions in.

Granted, Donovan – being the brilliant and manipulative person that he is – knows how to perfectly simulate and emulate LOVE. He acts lovingly – but this is a mere act and it should not be confused with the real thing. Donovan shows love in order to achieve goals: money, a warm house, food on the table, adoration (Narcissistic Supply). Once these are available from other sources – the former ones are abandoned callously, cold-heartedly, cruelly and abruptly.

You have been such a temporary stopover for Donovan, the equivalent of a full board hotel (no chores, no requirements on his time). Not only was he able to secure his material needs from you – he also found in you a perfect Source of Narcissistic Supply: adoring, submissive, non-critical, wide-eyed, approving, admiring, the perfect narcissistic fix.

You describe a very disturbed young man with a clear NPD. He values intelligence above all, he uses foul language to vent his aggression (the narcissist resents his dependence on his Sources of Supply). The narcissist knows it all and best, is judgemental (without merit), hates all people (though he calls upon them if he needs something – he is never above exploiting and manipulation). When not in need, he does not contact his “friends”, not even his “girlfriend”. After all, emotions (“sensitivity”) are a deplorable weakness.

In the pursuit of narcissistic gratification, there is no place for hesitation or pause. You put it succinctly: he will do nothing for others, nothing matters to him if it is not for himself. As a result, he lets people down and refrains almost religiously from keeping promises and obligations.

The narcissist is above such mundane things as obligations undertaken. They counter his conviction that he is above any law – social or other, and this threatens his grandiosity.

The narcissist, being above reproach (Who is qualified to judge him, to teach him, to advise him?), inevitably reverts to blaming others for his misdeeds: they should have warned/reminded/alerted him. For instance: they should have woke him up if they desired his precious company and wanted him to keep a date.

The narcissist is above normal humans and their daily chores: he doesn’t think that he needs to attend classes (that others do. This is the unspoken continuation of this sentence). Other people should do so because they are inferior (stupid). This is the natural order of things – read Nietzsche. Most narcissists are predictable and, therefore, boring.

To love a narcissist is to love a reflection, not a real figure. Donovan is the most basic, primitive type: the somatic (or anal) narcissist, whose disorder is centred around his body, his skin, his hair, his dress, his food, his health. Some of these preoccupations attain a phobic aura (“freaky with germs”) and that is a bad sign.

Hypochondriasis could be the next mental step. But Donovan is in great danger. He should seek help immediately. His NPD – as is usually the case – has been and is still being compounded by other, more serious disorders. He is led down a path of no return. Donovan is constantly depressed. Maybe he has had few major depressive episodes but he is distinctly dysphoric (sad) and anhedonic (hates the world and finds pleasure in nothing). He alternates between hypersomnia (sleeping too much) and insomnia (not sleeping for two days). This is one of the surest signs of depression.

Narcissists suffer, by their nature, from an undulating sense of self-worth and from all-pervasive feelings of guilt and recrimination. They punish themselves: they dress in ragged clothes contrary to their primary predilections and they direct their pent up aggression at themselves. The result is depression.

Donovan also seems to suffer from a schizoid personality. These people prefer to stay and work in their rooms, in solitary confinement, chained to their computers and books – to any social encounter or diversion. They rarely possess sufficient trust in others and the requisite emotional baggage to develop stable interpersonal relationships. They are miserable failures at communicating and confine their interactions to first degree relatives.

The total picture is that of a young person suffering from a Borderline Personality Disorder with strong narcissistic and schizoid hues. His reckless and self-destructive spending and his eating irregularities point in this direction. So does the inappropriate affect (for instance, smiling while pretending to shoot people). Donovan is a menace above all to himself.

Borderline patients entertain suicide thoughts (they have suicidal ideation) and tend finally to act upon them. This aggression can perhaps be directed elsewhere and result in catastrophic consequences. But, at best, Donovan will continue to make people around him miserable.

Treatment – psychoanalysis and other psychodynamic therapies included – is not very effective. My advice to you is to immediately stop your “unconditional love”. Narcissists sense blood where others see only love and altruism. If – for masochistic reasons – you still wish to engage this young person, my advice to you would be to condition your love. Sign a contract with him: you want my adoration, admiration, approval, warmth, you want my home and money available to you as an insurance policy? If you do – these are my conditions. And if he says that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with you anymore – count your blessings and let go.


The Insanity of the Insanity Defense

Aron Levy, who kidnapped, murdered and dismembered 8-year old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn now faces a battery of defense-appointed experts in an attempt to plead NGRI (“Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”). He has a history of “psychiatric disorders” and had been hearing voices, his lawyers claim.

The insanity defense in criminal trials is nothing new. The Babylonian Talmud had this to say 1800 years ago: “It is an ill thing to knock against a deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor. He that wounds them is culpable, but if they wound him they are not culpable.”

But even the Talmudic rabbis – renowned for their intellectual acuity – would have been stymied by the modern version of the insanity defense.

To start with, no one seems to be able to define “insanity” unequivocally. Insanity in legalese is not the same as the colloquial expression (“he is nuts”) and is equally distinct from the way psychiatrists use the term (which they rarely do.)

Indeed, when it comes to the antiquated insanity defense, the legal profession is completely at odds with modern psychiatry.

The legal system applies three tests to determine whether an accused should be held not responsible for his criminal actions:

1. Can s/he tell right from wrong? Does s/he lack substantial capacity to “know and appreciate” the criminality or wrongfulness of her/his (mis)conduct (aka “diminished capacity”)?

2. Did s/he intend to act the way s/he did (“mens rea”)?

3. Could s/he not control her/his behavior (“irresistible impulse”)?

But, mental health scholars regard these “tests” as subjective, biased, and ludicrous. A “guilty but insane” verdict is a contradiction in terms, they insist. What matters is whether the defendant’s perception or understanding of reality (his “reality test”) is impaired and not only when he had committed the criminal act.

This rigorous criterion applies only to psychotics, such as Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter (whose reality test is subverted by bouts of psychosis, i.e., delusions). All others should be deemed both sane and culpable for all intents and purposes, insist most psychiatrists.

Moreover: the “perception and understanding of reality” can co-exist even with the severest forms of mental illness. Even when a criminal is clinically mentally-ill, as long as s/he maintains a perfect reality test, s/he should be held criminally responsible (Jeffrey Dahmer, who was denied the insanity defense, comes to mind).

Consider the cases of the Norway shooter, Anders Breivik or of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber: they both have coherent (albeit reprehensible) worldviews, a consistent internal logic, and rules of right and wrong (their own, personal, overriding ethical codes).

Breivik, for instance, is not delusional or otherwise psychotic. And, yet, his lawyer is seriously considering to use the insanity defense and, under the current, irredeemably flawed legal definition of insanity, may well get away with it!

This is not to say that a defendant’s mental state at the time he had committed the crime is irrelevant: he may have held mistaken (even delusional) beliefs or may have misread the situation, may have been misinformed, may have been under the influence of mind-altering drugs, may have lacked criminal intent, may have been unable to tell right from wrong, or to control his or her urges.

As the scholar Christopher Slobogin argues convincingly in his Virginia Law Review essay titled “An End to Insanity”: mental illness should play a part in and inform the traditional defenses already available in a criminal trial – but, shaky as it is, it should not stand on its own. Indeed, it can’t.

(An edited version was originally published in New-York Daily News)

Can the Albanians in Macedonia be Bought off?

The once and future Prime Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, has surrendered large swathes of his government to his Albanian coalition partners, DUI, the political incarnation of the rugged insurgents who roiled the country in an armed conflict in 2001. Even the sensitive Ministry of Defense is now in their hands. Moreover: Gruevski, the ostensible arch-nationalist gave way on a host of issues largely perceived by ethnic Macedonians of vital interest. Albanian will now be used as official second language everywhere, for instance and effective amnesty will be granted to Albanian terrorists who are alleged to have murdered and mutilated civilians. The measures are to be passed in the rubberstamp parliament in the form of fast track legislation. This unseemly alacrity is decried by both opposition and legal scholars as non-constitutional.
But will the Albanians be placated by these concessions? Can they be bought off? Is their long-term strategy of an incremental takeover of the state and its institutions paying off?
Western thinkers – even in the era of virulent nationalism – ignored Thucydides’ dictum (“People make war because of: honour, fear, and interest.”). They believed that throwing money at discontent – in the form of better and freer commerce – is the perfect and irretrievable antidote to war. They accentuated interest at the expense of fear and honour. The all-pervasiveness of this fallacy amounts to an almost reflexive defence mechanism of denial of the reality and inevitability of war and of its role as arbiter and pacifier.
In the Balkan, both the United States and the European Union continue this tradition. The association and stabilization agreements they often dangle and rarely sign, are sometimes followed by civil wars. The stability pact brought no stability. And the profusion of aid money and credits served only to augment flagrant corruption and arm the combatants.
The same tried and disproven methods are now applied by cynical and weary diplomats in Macedonia. Aid is withheld and promised as a bargaining chip. Elusive EU membership is supposed to concentrate the minds of the antagonists. But Macedonia’s problem is one of honour, and of fear, and only then – of self interest.
The Albanians in Macedonia are economically better off than their kith and kin anywhere else in the Balkan. This, they claim, is no thanks to the state. Official unemployment amongst the young is intolerably high. Access to secondary and higher education limited (especially since the use of the Albanian language in these institutions is restricted). They are under-represented in public administration. The physical infrastructure of their villages and cities is crumbling or altogether non-existent.
To this the Macedonians retort that Albanians make up a hefty chunk of the informal economy, thus distorting official unemployment figures. Albanians in western Macedonia largely do not pay taxes – an act of civil disobedience long preceding the current insurgency. Their admitted undr-representation in state administration is due to the lack of properly qualified and educated cadre. That they prevent their women from attending school does not help. And infrastructure all over the country is decrepit, Macedonia being the third poorest country in Europe.
What preceded what – discrimination poverty or the reverse – is immaterial except to traditional Balkan hair splitters. Economic problems should and can be solved by economic and regulatory means, goes the West. A tweaked constitution, the right laws passed, credits to small and medium enterprises and, presto, problem solved.
But the Macedonian problem – now in its second century – is a lot deeper than any Western pocket.
The Macedonians regards the current state of Macedonia as the final realization of a dream. It occupies less than a third of the historical territory known as Macedonia – but it is theirs, a sovereign state, where they are fully Macedonian in language and in custom. Macedonia to the Macedonians is, in other words, a fatherland, not merely a convenience. They cling to their tiny plot even more tenaciously in the face of Serb, Greek and Bulgarian disparagement. The Greek doubt the authenticity of the current inhabitants of Macedonia as do the Serbs (to whom Macedonia is “south Serbia”). The Bulgarians regard Macedonian as a villager’s dialect of Bulgarian. This inane opposition by their neighbours hardens Macedonian resolve to prevail and perpetuate both their national identity and their language. This is a throwback to the 19th century concept of nation-state – a space populated by a more or less homogeneous people with their own history, national myths, language, and political agenda.
Where the Macedonian’s attitude is historical – the Albanians’ is territorial (“Albania is where Albanians are”). To them Macedonia is a mere territory inhabited by two major nations (the Macedonians and the Albanians). It is a political and economic partnership. As such, it can theoretically be dismantled, or substantially altered at will. Since no single nation in such a citizen’s compact can have a privileged position – they each can veto each other’s decisions and vision.
This Albanian rendering of Macedonia is much closer to the American instrumental ethos of the state. To Americans, the USA, is the outcome of a social contract constantly re-negotiated and rephrased. It is founded upon piles of documents – the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. It is an abstract entity in flux, re-defined by its constituents and managed by semipternal arbitration.
The Albanian position is also close to the European Union’s new found totem of the “multi-cultural society”. States belong to their citizens, regardless of colour, race, or origin. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France are slowly being transformed into immigrant societies – dysfunctional melting pots of hitherto foreign cultures and societies. This tendency is further enhanced by the gradual emergence of the European supranational federation. Sovereignty is in the descendant – national cohabitation in the ascendant.
Here lies the danger to Macedonia’s future. Both the USA and the EU are likely to coerce Macedonia to adopt a contract-based, multi-cultural solution to the crisis. The Americans are likely to impose on it an American style constitution – and the European are likely to implement a bevy of “minority rights” measures. In a region still steeped in nationalistic lore and enthralled by the spectre of the nation-state, these would spell the end of Macedonia as a political entity. At the very least it would spell the end of Macedonia as the homeland of the Macedonians.

Reclaiming Time

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

The commoditization and commercialization of Time are recent phenomena. Until the advent of the Industrial Revolution, man’s time was at the mercy of Nature and the seasons or surrendered to superiors and masters to be allocated at their will. Serfs and servants, vassals, and clergy were mere cogs in social machines which dictated what they did and, as importantly, when they did it, in accordance with strict long-predetermined schedules.

With the abolition of feudalism and the emergence of modern manufacturing, workers reassumed control over and ownership of Time. They began to sell time units (in the form of labour), bartering them for money, lodgings, clothing, and food. Yet, even so, labourers remained slaves to the rhythms of production lines and markets. Technology merely took over from Nature and substituted for erstwhile landlords: machines and clocks now set the pace and rationed time.

The last third of the twentieth century heralded a true revolution in Man’s relationship with Time. Trends such as self-employment, telecommuting, the mobile or virtual office, flextime, and multiple careers mean that workers are the ones who decide on the timing of work and leisure activities and hobbies as well as the amount of time to allocate to them. Technologies such as the Internet and smartphones while atomizing society also render us more self-sufficient, more mobile and less dependent on decisions made by others in many fields: from banking to entertainment.

We are reclaiming Time and, in the process, for the first time in history, we have become our true and only masters.

In his book, “A Farewell to Alms” (Princeton University Press, 2007), Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, suggests that downward social mobility in England caused the Industrial Revolution in the early years of the 19th century. As the offspring of peasants died off of hunger and disease, the numerous and cosseted descendants of the British upper middle classes took over their jobs.

These newcomers infused their work and family life with the values that made their luckier forefathers wealthy and prominent. Above all, they introduced into their new environment Max Weber’s Protestant work ethic: leisure is idleness, toil is good, workaholism is the best. As Clark put it:

“Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving.”

Such religious veneration of hard labor resulted in a remarkable increase in productivity that allowed Britain (and, later, its emulators the world over) to escape the Malthusian Trap. Production began to outstrip population growth.

But the pendulum seems to have swung back. Leisure is again both fashionable and desirable.

The official working week in France has being reduced to 35 hours a week (though the French are now tinkering with it). In most countries in the world, it is limited to 45 hours a week. The trend during the last century seems to be unequivocal: less work, more play.

Yet, what may be true for blue collar workers or state employees – is not necessarily so for white collar members of the liberal professions. It is not rare for these people – lawyers, accountants, consultants, managers, academics – to put in 80 hour weeks.

The phenomenon is so widespread and its social consequences so damaging that it has acquired the unflattering nickname workaholism, a combination of the words “work” and “alcoholism”. Family life is disrupted, intellectual horizons narrow, the consequences to the workaholic’s health are severe: fat, lack of exercise, stress – all take their lethal toll. Classified as “alpha” types, workaholics suffer three times as many heart attacks as their peers.

But what are the social and economic roots of this phenomenon?

Put succinctly, it is the outcome of the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure. This distinction between time dedicated to labour and time spent in the pursuit of one’s hobbies – was so clear for thousands of years that its gradual disappearance is one of the most important and profound social changes in human history.

A host of other shifts in the character of work and domestic environments of humans converged to produce this momentous change. Arguably the most important was the increase in labour mobility and the fluid nature of the very concept of work and the workplace.

The transitions from agriculture to industry, then to services, and now to the knowledge society, increased the mobility of the workforce. A farmer is the least mobile. His means of production are fixed, his produce mostly consumed locally – especially in places which lack proper refrigeration, food preservation, and transportation.

A marginal group of people became nomad-traders. This group exploded in size with the advent of the industrial revolution. True, the bulk of the workforce was still immobile and affixed to the production floor. But raw materials and finished products travelled long distances to faraway markets. Professional services were needed and the professional manager, the lawyer, the accountant, the consultant, the trader, the broker – all emerged as both parasites feeding off the production processes and the indispensable oil on its cogs.

The protagonists of the services society were no longer geographically dependent. They rendered their services to a host of geographically distributed “employers” in a variety of ways. This trend accelerated today, with the advent of the information and knowledge revolution.

Knowledge is not geography-dependent. It is easily transferable across boundaries. It is cheaply reproduced. Its ephemeral quality gives it non-temporal and non-spatial qualities. The locations of the participants in the economic interactions of this new age are transparent and immaterial.

These trends converged with increased mobility of people, goods and data (voice, visual, textual and other). The twin revolutions of transportation and telecommunications really reduced the world to a global village. Phenomena like commuting to work and multinationals were first made possible.

Facsimile messages, electronic mail, other forms of digital data, the Internet – broke not only physical barriers but also temporal ones. Today, virtual offices are not only spatially virtual – but also temporally so. This means that workers can collaborate not only across continents but also across time zones. They can leave their work for someone else to continue in an electronic mailbox, for instance.

These technological advances precipitated the transmutation of the very concepts of “work” and “workplace”. The three Aristotelian dramatic unities no longer applied. Work could be performed in different places, not simultaneously, by workers who worked part time whenever it suited them best.

Flextime and work from home replaced commuting (much more so in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but they have always been the harbingers of change). This fitted squarely into the social fragmentation which characterizes today’s world: the disintegration of previously cohesive social structures, such as the nuclear (not to mention the extended) family.

All this was neatly wrapped in the ideology of individualism, presented as a private case of capitalism and liberalism. People were encouraged to feel and behave as distinct, autonomous units. The perception of individuals as islands replaced the former perception of humans as cells in an organism.

This trend was coupled with – and enhanced by – unprecedented successive multi-annual rises in productivity and increases in world trade. New management techniques, improved production technologies, innovative inventory control methods, automatization, robotization, plant modernization, telecommunications (which facilitates more efficient transfers of information), even new design concepts – all helped bring this about.

But productivity gains made humans redundant. No amount of retraining could cope with the incredible rate of technological change. The more technologically advanced the country – the higher its structural unemployment (i.e., the level of unemployment attributable to changes in the very structure of the market).

In Western Europe, it shot up from 5-6% of the workforce to 9% in one decade. One way to manage this flood of ejected humans was to cut the workweek. Another was to support a large population of unemployed. The third, more tacit, way was to legitimize leisure time. Whereas the Jewish and Protestant work ethics condemned idleness in the past – the current ethos encouraged people to contribute to the economy through “self realization”, to pursue their hobbies and non-work related interests, and to express the entire range of their personality and potential.

This served to blur the historical differences between work and leisure. They are both commended now. Work, like leisure, became less and less structured and rigid. It is often pursued from home. The territorial separation between “work-place” and “home turf” was essentially eliminated.

The emotional leap was only a question of time. Historically, people went to work because they had to. What they did after work was designated as “pleasure”. Now, both work and leisure were pleasurable – or torturous – or both. Some people began to enjoy their work so much that it fulfilled the functions normally reserved to leisure time. They are the workaholics. Others continued to hate work – but felt disorientated in the new, leisure-like environment. They were not taught to deal with too much free time, a lack of framework, no clear instructions what to do, when, with whom and to what end.

Socialization processes and socialization agents (the State, parents, educators, employers) were not geared – nor did they regard it as their responsibility – to train the population to cope with free time and with the baffling and dazzling variety of options on offer.

We can classify economies and markets using the work-leisure axis. Those that maintain the old distinction between (hated) work and (liberating) leisure – are doomed to perish or, at best, radically lag behind. This is because they will not have developed a class of workaholics big enough to move the economy ahead.

It takes workaholics to create, maintain and expand capitalism. As opposed to common opinion, people, mostly, do not do business because they are interested in money (the classic profit motive). They do what they do because they like the Game of Business, its twists and turns, the brainstorming, the battle of brains, subjugating markets, the ups and downs, the excitement. All this has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with psychology. True, money serves to measure success – but it is an abstract meter, akin to monopoly money. It is proof shrewdness, wit, foresight, stamina, and insight.

Workaholics identify business with pleasure. They are hedonistic and narcissistic. They are entrepreneurial. They are the managers and the businessmen and the scientists and the journalists. They are the movers, the shakers, the pushers, the energy.

Without workaholics, we would have ended up with “social” economies, with strong disincentives to work. In these economies of “collective ownership” people go to work because they have to. Their main preoccupation is how to avoid it and to sabotage the workplace. They harbour negative feelings. Slowly, they wither and die (professionally) – because no one can live long in hatred and deceit. Joy is an essential ingredient of survival.

And this is the true meaning of capitalism: the abolition of the artificial distinction between work and leisure and the pursuit of both with the same zeal and satisfaction. Above all, the (increasing) liberty to do it whenever, wherever, with whomever you choose.

Unless and until Homo East Europeansis changes his state of mind – there will be no real transition. Because transition happens in the human mind much before it takes form in reality. It is no use to dictate, to legislate, to finance, to cajole, or to bribe. It was Marx (a devout non-capitalist) who noted the causative connexion between reality (being) and consciousness. How right was he. Witness the prosperous USA and compare it to the miserable failure that was communism.

From an Interview I Granted

Question: In your article, Workaholism, Leisure and Pleasure, you describe how the line between leisure and work has blurred over time. What has allowed this to happen? What effect does this blurring have on the struggle to achieve a work-life balance?

Answer: The distinction between work and leisure times is a novelty. Even 70 years ago, people still worked 16 hours a day and, many of them, put in 7 days a week. More than 80% of the world’s population still live this way. To the majority of people in the developing countries, work was and is life. They would perceive the contrast between “work” and “life” to be both artificial and perplexing. Sure, they dedicate time to their families and communities. But there is little leisure left to read, nurture one’s hobbies, introspect, or attend classes.

Leisure time emerged as a social phenomenon in the twentieth century and mainly in the industrialized, rich, countries.

Workaholism – the blurring of boundaries between leisure time and time dedicated to work – is, therefore, simply harking back to the recent past. It is the inevitable outcome of a confluence of a few developments:

(1) Labour mobility increased. A farmer is attached to his land. His means of production are fixed. His markets are largely local. An industrial worker is attached to his factory. His means of production are fixed. Workers in the services or, more so, in the knowledge industries are attached only to their laptops. They are much more itinerant. They render their services to a host of geographically distributed “employers” in a variety of ways.

(2) The advent of the information and knowledge revolutions lessened the worker’s dependence on a “brick and mortar” workplace and a “flesh and blood” employer. Cyberspace replaces real space and temporary or contractual work are preferred to tenure and corporate “loyalty”.

Knowledge is not geography-dependent. It is portable and cheaply reproduced. The geographical locations of the participants in the economic interactions of this new age are transparent and immaterial.

(3) The mobility of goods and data (voice, visual, textual and other) increased exponentially. The twin revolutions of transportation and telecommunications reduced the world to a global village. Phenomena like commuting to work and globe-straddling multinationals were first made possible. The car, the airplane, facsimile messages, electronic mail, other forms of digital data, the Internet – demolished many physical and temporal barriers. Workers today often collaborate in virtual offices across continents and time zones. Flextime and work from home replaced commuting. The very concepts of “workplace” and “work” were rendered fluid, if not obsolete.

(4) The dissolution of the classic workplace is part of a larger and all-pervasive disintegration of other social structures, such as the nuclear family. Thus, while the choice of work-related venues and pursuits increased – the number of social alternatives to work declined.

The extended and nuclear family was denuded of most of its traditional functions. Most communities are tenuous and in constant flux. Work is the only refuge from an incoherent, fractious, and dysfunctional world. Society is anomic and work has become a route of escapism.

(5) The ideology of individualism is increasingly presented as a private case of capitalism and liberalism. People are encouraged to feel and behave as distinct, autonomous units. The metaphor of individuals as islands substituted for the perception of humans as cells in an organism. Malignant individualism replaced communitarianism. Pathological narcissismreplaced self-love and empathy.

(6) The last few decades witnessed unprecedented successive rises in productivity and an expansion of world trade. New management techniques, improved production technologies, innovative inventory control methods, automatization, robotization, plant modernization, telecommunications (which facilitates more efficient transfers of information), even new design concepts – all helped bring workaholism about by placing economic values in the forefront. The Protestant work ethic ran amok. Instead of working in order to live – people began living in order to work.

Workaholics are rewarded with faster promotion and higher income. Workaholism is often – mistakenly – identified with entrepreneurship, ambition, and efficiency. Yet, really it is merely an addiction.

The absurd is that workaholism is a direct result of the culture of leisure.

As workers are made redundant by technology-driven productivity gains – they are encouraged to engage in leisure activities. Leisure substitutes for work. The historical demarcation between work and leisure is lost. Both are commended for their contribution to the economy. Work, like leisure, is less and less structured and rigid. Both work and leisure are often pursued from home and are often experienced as pleasurable.

The territorial separation between “work-place” and “home turf” is essentially eliminated.

Some people enjoy their work so much that it fulfils the functions normally reserved to leisure time. They are the workaholics. Others continue to hate work – but feel disorientated in the new leisure-rich environment. They are not taught to deal with too much free and unstructured time, with a lack of clearly delineated framework, without clear instructions as to what to do, when, with whom, and to what end.

The state, parents, educators, employers – all failed to train the population to cope with free time and with choice. Both types – the workaholic and the “normal” person baffled by too much leisure – end up sacrificing their leisure time to their work-related activities.

Alas, it takes workaholics to create, maintain and expand capitalism. People don’t work or conduct business only because they are after the money. They enjoy their work or their business. They find pleasure in it. And this is the true meaning of capitalism: the abolition of the artificial distinction between work and leisure and the pursuit of both with the same zeal and satisfaction. Above all, the (increasing) liberty to do so whenever, wherever, with whomever you choose.