TIPS: How to Cope with Financial Abuse

Interview granted to The Guardian, June 29, 2013
by: Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-love – Narcissism Revisited” and other books about personality disorders (www.narcissistic-abuse.com)
My media kit (with ideas for articles) is available here: http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/mediakit.html
Q. Would narcissists often try to restrict their partner’s independence by reducing their access to shared family finances? Why?
A. Narcissists are control freaks, paranoid, jealous, possessive, and envious. They are the sad products of early childhood abandonment by parents, caregivers, role models, and/or peers. Hence their extreme abandonment anxiety and insecure attachment style. Fostering financial dependence in their nearest and dearest is just another way of making sure of their continued presence as sources of narcissistic supply (attention.) He who holds the purse strings holds the heart’s strings.
Reducing other people to begging and cajoling also buttresses the narcissist’s grandiose fantasy of omnipotence and provides him with a somewhat sadistic gratification.
Q. Would it also happen with female narcissists exercising control over men?
A. Yes. There is no major psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissists.

Q. What advice would you give to someone in a relationship with a narcissist? Should they try to keep their finances separate?

A. They should never allow themselves to be irrevocably separated from their family of origin and close friends. They should maintain their support network and refuse to become a part of the narcissist’s cult-like shared psychosis. They should make sure that they have independent sources of wealth (a trust fund; real estate; bank accounts; deposits; securities) and sustainable sources of income (a job; rental income; interest and dividends; royalties). Above all: they should not share with their narcissistic intimate partner the full, unmitigated details of their life and critical bits of information such as banking passwords and safe box access codes.

Q. I understand that narcissists will sometimes sacrifice their finances and get into big trouble financially (even going bankrupt) in order to satisfy other narcissistic desires – so I presume this means that narcissists are also people whose finances can be instable?

A. It is not as simple as that. The classic narcissist maintains an island of stability in his life (e.g.: his job, business, and finances) while the other dimensions of his existence (e.g., interpersonal relations) wallow in chaos and unpredictability. The narcissist may marry, divorce, and remarry with dizzying speed. Everything in his life may be in constant flux: friends, emotions, judgements, values, beliefs, place of residence, affiliations, hobbies. Everything, that is, except his work. His career is the island of compensating stability in his otherwise mercurial existence. This kind of narcissist is dogged by unmitigated ambition and devotion. He perseveres in one workplace or one job, patiently, persistently and blindly climbing up the corporate ladder and treading the career path. In his pursuit of job fulfilment and achievements, the narcissist is ruthless and unscrupulous – and, very often, successful.

The borderline narcissist reacts to instability in one area of his life by introducing chaos into all the others. Thus, if such a narcissist resigns (or, more likely, is made redundant) – he also relocates to another city or country. If he divorces, he is also likely to resign his job.

This added instability gives this type of narcissist the feeling that all the dimensions of his life are changing simultaneously, that he is being “unshackled”, that a transformation is in progress. This, of course, is an illusion. Those who know the narcissist, no longer trust his frequent “conversions”, “decisions”, “crises”, “transformations”, “developments” and “periods”. They see through his pretensions, protestations, and solemn declarations into the core of his instability. They know that he is not to be relied upon. They know that with narcissists, temporariness is the only permanence.

Narcissists hate routine. When a narcissist finds himself doing the same things over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeps, over-eats, over-drinks and, in general, engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless, and compulsive behaviours. This is his way of re-introducing risk and excitement into what he (emotionally) perceives to be a barren life.

The problem is that even the most exciting and varied existence becomes routine after a while. Living in the same country or apartment, meeting the same people, doing essentially the same things (even with changing content) – all “qualify”, in the eyes of the narcissist, as stultifying rote.

The narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right – due to his intellectual or physical superiority – to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He wants to force life itself, or at least people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety.

Do We Need Another Black Death?

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

The Black Death – an epidemic of bubonic plague in the 14th century – decimated between one third and one half of Europe’s population, yet it was the best thing to have happened to Mankind in many centuries. The depleted number of survivors shared in the vast fortunes of the deceased, laying the foundation for modern, entrepreneurial capitalism; the added physical spaces and vacancies made available via the devastation of numerous households spurred urban renewal and magisterial architecture on an unprecedented scale; the crumbling authority of the Church and its minions led to reformist religious stirrings and the emergence of the Renaissance in arts and sciences; labourers and women saw their standing in society much improved as the scarcity of workforce rendered them much sought-after commodities.

So, is the solution to our global and escalating woes another pandemic?

The latest census in Ukraine revealed an apocalyptic drop of 10% in its population – from 52.5 million two decades ago to a mere 45.7 million last year. Demographers predict a precipitous decline of one third in Russia’s impoverished, inebriated, disillusioned, and ageing citizenry. Births in many countries in the rich, industrialized, West are below the replacement rate. These bastions of conspicuous affluence are shrivelling.

Scholars and decision-makers – once terrified by the Malthusian dystopia of a “population bomb” – are more sanguine now. Advances in agricultural technology eradicated hunger even in teeming places like India and China. And then there is the old idea of progress: birth rates tend to decline with higher education levels and growing incomes. Family planning has had resounding successes in places as diverse as Thailand, China, and western Africa.

Some intellectuals even regard the increase in the world’s population as a form of “quantitative diversification”: as technology homogenizes cultures, societies, and civilizations everywhere, the risks associated with such a monoculture grow. Homogeneous populations are less adaptable and, therefore, less fit for survival. The only defense lies in the sheer force of numbers. The greater the number of people, goes this strain of thinking, the more varied the human species, such variety and variation being the sole guarantors and generators of adaptability and, therefore, survival.

In the near past, fecundity used to compensate for infant mortality. As the latter declined – so did the former. Children are means of production in many destitute countries. Hence the inordinately large families of the past – a form of insurance against the economic outcomes of the inevitable demise of some of one’s off-spring.

Yet, despite these trends, the world’s populace is augmented by 80 million people annually. All of them are born to the younger inhabitants of the more penurious corners of the Earth. There were only 1 billion people alive in 1804. The number doubled a century later.

But our last billion – the sixth – required only 12 fertile years. The entire population of Germany is added every half a decade to both India and China. Clearly, Mankind’s growth is out of control, as affirmed in the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.

Dozens of millions of people regularly starve – many of them to death. In only one corner of the Earth – southern Africa – food aid is the sole subsistence of entire countries. More than 18 million people in Zambia, Malawi, and Angola survived on charitable donations in 1992. More than 10 million expect the same this year, among them the emaciated denizens of erstwhile food exporter, Zimbabwe.

According to Medecins Sans Frontiere, AIDS kills 3 million people a year, Tuberculosis another 2 million. Malaria decimates 2 people every minute. More than 14 million people fall prey to parasitic and infectious diseases every year – 90% of them in the developing countries.

Millions emigrate every year in search of a better life. These massive shifts are facilitated by modern modes of transportation. But, despite these tectonic relocations – and despite famine, disease, and war, the classic Malthusian regulatory mechanisms – the depletion of natural resources – from arable land to water – is undeniable and gargantuan.

Our pressing environmental issues – global warming, water stress, salinization, desertification, deforestation, pollution, loss of biological diversity – and our ominous social ills – crime at the forefront – are traceable to one, politically incorrect, truth:

There are too many of us. We are way too numerous. The population load is unsustainable. We, the survivors, would be better off if others were to perish. Should population growth continue unabated – we are all doomed.

Doomed to what?

Numerous Cassandras and countless Jeremiads have been falsified by history. With proper governance, scientific research, education, affordable medicines, effective family planning, and economic growth, this planet can support even 10-12 billion people. We are not at risk of physical extinction and never have been.

What is hazarded is not our life – but our quality of life. As any insurance actuary will attest, we are governed by statistical datasets.

Consider this single fact:

About 1% of the population suffer from the perniciously debilitating and all-pervasive mental health disorder, schizophrenia. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 16.5 million schizophrenics – nowadays there are 64 million. Their impact on friends, family, and colleagues is exponential – and incalculable. This is not a merely quantitative leap. It is a qualitative phase transition.

Or this:

Large populations lead to the emergence of high density urban centers. It is inefficient to cultivate ever smaller plots of land. Surplus manpower moves to centers of industrial production. A second wave of internal migrants caters to their needs, thus spawning a service sector. Network effects generate excess capital and a virtuous cycle of investment, employment, and consumption ensues.

But over-crowding breeds violence (as has been demonstrated in experiments with mice). The sheer numbers involved serve to magnify and amplify social anomies, deviate behaviour, and antisocial traits. In the city, there are more criminals, more perverts, more victims, more immigrants, and more racists per square mile.

Moreover, only a planned and orderly urbanization is desirable. The blights that pass for cities in most third world countries are the outgrowth of neither premeditation nor method. These mega-cities are infested with non-disposed of waste and prone to natural catastrophes and epidemics.

No one can vouchsafe for a “critical mass” of humans, a threshold beyond which the species will implode and vanish.

Luckily, the ebb and flow of human numbers is subject to three regulatory demographic mechanisms, the combined action of which gives hope.

The Malthusian Mechanism

Limited resources lead to wars, famine, and diseases and, thus, to a decrease in human numbers. Mankind has done well to check famine, fend off disease, and staunch war. But to have done so without a commensurate policy of population control was irresponsible.

The Assimilative Mechanism

Mankind is not divorced from nature. Humanity is destined to be impacted by its choices and by the reverberations of its actions. Damage caused to the environment haunts – in a complex feedback loop – the perpetrators.

Examples:

Immoderate use of antibiotics leads to the eruption of drug-resistant strains of pathogens. A myriad types of cancer are caused by human pollution. Man is the victim of its own destructive excesses.

The Cognitive Mechanism

Humans intentionally limit the propagation of their race through family planning, abortion, and contraceptives. Genetic engineering will likely intermesh with these to produce “enhanced” or “designed” progeny to specifications.

We must stop procreating. Or, else, pray for a reduction in our numbers.

This could be achieved benignly, for instance by colonizing space, or the ocean depths – both remote and technologically unfeasible possibilities.

Yet, the alternative is cataclysmic. Unintended wars, rampant disease, and lethal famines will ultimately trim our numbers – no matter how noble our intentions and how diligent our efforts to curb them.

Is this a bad thing?

Not necessarily. To my mind, even a Malthusian resolution is preferable to the alternative of slow decay, uniform impecuniosity, and perdition in installments – an alternative made inexorable by our collective irresponsibility and denial.

From an interview granted to Transitions Online, August 2008

The Macedonian government has initiated a campaign to provide economic support and benefits to families with children.

Q: Do you think that the economy maybe influences the society in some other way – maybe with the young people going out of the country to work, or the fact that the majority of the workers don’t have free time for the family or…?

A: The fact is that the poor people have more children. The highest birth rates in the world are registered in Africa and parts of Asia with less than 1 US dollar a day in income. Birth rates decline as people become more educated and wealthier. The lowest birth rates in the world are in Germany, Scandinavia, and California. Even within Macedonia, poor minorities have the most children per household.

People tend to rationalize their decision not to procreate by using economic excuses. The truth is that many of them simply put career, money-making, enjoying life, and seeing the world ahead of having children. It is a shift in social values and priorities, not a decision driven by harsh economic realities (and, admittedly, in Macedonia they are harsh).

Q: What is according to you the best idea to stimulate the people to have children? What is your opinion about this whole campaign? How it may effect
the economy on short, medium and on long term???

A: Not every problem can be solved by throwing money at it. Modern civilization is self-centered, individualistic, hedonistic, and narcissistic. People put themselves and their interests first. Experience from countries such as Israel, France, Germany, and Scandinavia where childbirth and childrearing are heavily subsidized shows that government intervention is futile and a colossal waste of resources. In the medium to long-term, it has zero (insignificant) statistical effect. In all these countries – despite the fact that these policies are still being implemented – population growth is flat to negative (except in Israel and France which have a lot of immigrants).

Instead of encouraging women to have more children, the government should make sure that current families and households are well catered to: workplace discrimination against pregnant women and women in childbirth ages should be outlawed and persecuted; day care centers should be opened and made available to young mothers; parenting classes and free medical care should be rendered accessible and affordable; a whole gamut of goods and services – from public transport to formula milk to textbooks should be made free to families with more than 4 children; maternity wards should be improved and modernized; new mothers should have preference in professional re-skilling and re-training.

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.

Britannica Online, Britannica DVD 2014

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

Britannica Online

The Britannica’s rich online content adds context and dollops of information to the already unsurpassed DVD (see below). It has been completely re-designed and is now Google-like in its simplicity, clutter-free and user-friendly as never before. Indeed, buyers of any of the Britannica’s physical products enjoy 30-180 days of free access to this cornucopian resource (they merely need to register their products online). Admittedly, at 30-50 USD annually the Britannica Online is not cheap and thus more suited to institutions, universities, schools, and libraries than to individuals. It already has an academic edition as well as editions geared at schools and libraries, which include special features such as Image Quest (downloadable, annotated videos) and STEM resources, including Pathways: Science. Still, the Britannica would do well to consider an affordable, more limited consumer version.

The home page includes one major article, which changes frequently; Today on the Britannica (an “on this day in history” feature); a selection of 5 other articles, apparently randomly selected; excerpts from the Britannica’s Advocacy for Animals website and Blog; and a few spotlight topics (women who changed the world; US Presidents; D-Day; Black history; Holocaust; Oscar winners; Titanic; and more.) The menu bar is comprised of a search box, “popular topics”, quizzes, image galleries, lists, and “Browse Experts” (a gallery of the Britannica’s contributors.) There’s a Google Ads bar at the bottom, which is both unseemly and incongruent.

The search results are straightforward and every article page contains relevant images and videos as well a list of related topics, people, places, quotations, websites, bibliography, and contributors. There’s even a Wikipedia-like “article history”, which reflects its editing process. The Article Tool Bar allows the user to print the article, share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus (and also the old-fashioned way, via e-mail), cite it (using a variety of styles), or contribute to it. Unlike Wikipedia, though in a nod to crowdsourcing, users’ comments, corrections, and suggestions, are vetted and reviewed for relevance and accuracy by the Britannica’s dedicated team of editors. Any word in any of the articles can be double-clicked for its definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

But, in an age of mobile, wireless smartphones, and ultrabooks, or netbooks, the Britannica Online is also a stand-alone product: it provides the entire content of the DVD and much, much more besides. Recently, the Britannica added a range of apps to its offerings: owners of iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones, and Microsoft’s Word 2013 can enjoy unfettered and free-to-cheap access to the Concise Britannica, or to its full text and multimedia, depending on the app. Apps as well as the main website are available in several languages, including Japanese, Russian, Korean, and Spanish. I tested the site on 4 mobile phones (older versions of SonyEricsson and Nokia, iPhone 3, and Siemens) and it worked well as far as text is concerned. Graphics and videos were another matter, but this is a problem common to all websites: from YouTube to the CNN. The apps can be obtained via Google Play.

There is a variety of delightful apps for kids (US Presidents; Snakes; Knights and Castles; Aztec Empire; Ancient Rome; Rainforests; Solar System; Ancient Egypt; Volcanoes; and Dinosaurs.). There are also browser widgets which facilitate the surfing of the Britannica Online and fully benefit from its visual content. Although Britannica Online sports a Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube presence there does not seem to be coherent strategies in place either for content management, or for marketing via social networks. Britannica’s presence on these sites seems to be an afterthought.

Britannica Online provides a gamut of educational resources: learning materials (lists, quizzes, image galleries, study guides, interactive lessons, online activities, printable worksheets, and other exercises); Teacher Handbooks; Educational Web sites; Britannica training documents for teachers, students, parents, and administrators; and a monthly newsletter, featuring new and updated content. The Britannica even organizes Professional Development workshop for educators. There is a delightful, colourful, and multimedia-rich Britannica Online for Kids , and a hugely helpful SmartMath portal.

In total, the Britannica Online comprises more than 1 million pages. The paid content is augmented by loads of free features. The aforementioned “Spotlights” provide hand-picked multimedia-enhanced tours of broad subjects; newsletters provide a plethora of theme-specific information; RSS feeds allow the user to explore places, people, and topics.

Encyclopedia Britannica 2014 Ultimate Edition

My first pleasant surprise was the speed at which this mammoth software installed on a 4 year old laptop. The user is prompted to choose from 3 encyclopaedias (Britannica, Student, and Elementary). Many articles in the Britannica Ultimate 2014 edition have been revamped to incorporate up to the minute developments. From the “Morsi, Mohammed” (Egypt’s deposed president) to the Edward Snowden (in the updates section), the Britannica is now fully up to date. This has not been the case in previous editions and it is a welcome development if the Britannica is to compete with online reference works such as Wikipedia. The DVD is a loss-leader, but a great promotional vehicle for the lucrative online edition, so hopefully it won’t go the way of the print edition, which was terminated in 2012.

The Encyclopedia Britannica 2014 Ultimate Edition (formerly “Student and Home Edition”) builds on the success of its completely revamped previous editions in 2006-10. The rate of innovation in the last seven versions had been impressive and welcome. It continues apace in this rendition with Britannica Biographies (Great Minds, Heroes and Villains, and Leaders), Classical Music (500 audio files arranged by composer), and a great Workspace for Project Management (a kind of friendly digital den). Six months of free access to the myriad riches of the Britannica Online complete the package (as well as monthly updates and discounts on a plethora of products).

The Britannica 2014 comes bundled with an atlas (close to 2900 maps linked to articles and 287 World Data Profiles of individual countries and territories); the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus, augmented by a Spanish-English translation dictionary; classic articles from previous editions; seventeen yearbooks (14,200 articles in total); Interactive Timelines with 4000+ indexed timeline entries; a Research Organizer; and a Knowledge Navigator (called The Brain or BrainStormer). All told, it offers a directory of more than 166,000 reviewed and vetted links to online content.

In its new form the Britannica is user-friendly, with an A to Z Quick Search feature. The Britannica’s newest interface is even more intuitive and uncluttered than previously and is great fun to use. It offers morsels of knowledge, some of it date-specific, appetizingly presented through a ticker-tape of visuals that leisurely scrolls across the bottom of the screen plus highly edifying interactive tours of articles and attendant media.

When you enter even the first few letters of a term in the search box, it offers various options and is persistent: no need to click on the toolbar’s “search” button every time you want to find something in this vast storehouse of knowledge. Moreover, the user can save search results onto handy “Virtual Notecards”. Whole articles can be copied onto the seemingly inexhaustible Workspace.

The new Britannica’s display is tab-based, avoiding the erstwhile confusing proliferation of windows with every move. Most importantly, articles appear in full, not in sections. This major improvement facilitates the finding of relevant keywords in and the printing of entire texts. These are only a few of the numerous alterations and enhancements.

Perhaps the most refreshing change is the Britannica’s Update Center. Dozens of monthly updates and new, timely articles are made available online (subject to free, pain-free, registration). A special button alerts the user when an entry in the base product has been updated.

Regrettably, the updates are not incorporated into the vast encyclopedia and its search interface: they are out there on a website. Moreover, the product does not alert its user to the existence of completely new articles, only to updated ones. It takes a manual scan of the monthly lists to reveal newly added content.

Speaking of updates, one must not forget to dwell on the Britannica’s unequalled yearbooks. Each annual volume contains the year in events, scientific developments, and everything you wanted to know about the latest in any and every conceivable field of human endeavour, or Nature. About 14,200 articles culled from the last 17 editions buttress and update the Encyclopedia’s anyhow impressive offerings. In the 2014 edition, the content of the yearbooks is more neatly and intuitively arranged than before, both chronologically and thematically.

The Britannica provides considerably more text than any other extant traditional encyclopedia, print or digital (a total of 62 million words). But it has noticeably enhanced its non-textual content over the years (the 1994-7 editions had nothing or very little but words, words, and more words): it now boasts in excess of 23,000 images and illustrations (depending on the version) and 900 video and audio clips. This is not to mention the Britannica Classics: articles from Britannica’s most famous contributors: from Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein to Harry Houdini and from Marie Curie to Orville Wright.

The Britannica fully supports serious research. It is a sober assemblage of first-rate essays, up to date bibliographies, and relevant multimedia. It constitutes a desktop university library: thorough, well-researched, comprehensive, trustworthy.

The Britannica’s 85-107,000 articles (depending on the version) are long and thorough, supported by impressive bibliographies, and written by the best scholars in their respective fields. The company’s Editorial Board of Advisors reads like the who’s who of the global intellectual and scientific community.

The Britannica is an embarrassment of riches. Users often find the wealth and breadth of information daunting and data mining is fast becoming an art form. This is why the Britannica incorporated the “Personal Brain” to cope with this predicament. But an informal poll I conducted online shows that few know how to deploy it effectively.

The Britannica also sports Student and Elementary versions of its venerable flagship product, replete with 19,500 articles, a Homework Helpdesk, “how to” documents, and interactive games, activities, and math and science tutorials. Still, the Britannica is far better geared to tackle the information needs of adults and, even more so, professionals. It provides unequalled coverage of its topics.

Ironically, this is precisely why the market positioning of the Britannica’s Elementary and Student Encyclopedias is problematic: compared to Wikipedia, the Britannica’s brand is distinctly adult and scholarly. The vacuum left by the Encarta (lamented) discontinuance, though, should make it easier to market the Student and Elementary versions (which are an integral part of the Ultimate Edition and not sold separately).

Still, the 2014 editions of both the Student and Elementary encyclopedias improve on the past in terms of both coverage and facilities: the Homework Helpdesk is a collection of useful homework resources including a video subject browse; online learning games and activities; online subject spotlights; and how-to documents on topics such as writing a book review. There are also Learning Games and Activities: hundreds of fun and interactive games and activities to help students with subjects like Math, Science, and Social Studies. Both versions are updated monthly with new online-only articles. There is a Workspace for managing projects and many timelines and tutorials.

The current edition is fully integrated with the Internet. Apart from articles about new topics and personalities in the news, it offers additional and timely content and revisions on a dedicated Web site. The digital product includes a staggering number of links (166,808!) to third party content and articles on the Web. The GeoAnalyzer, which compares national statistical data and generates charts and graphs, is now Web-based and greatly enhanced.

The Britannica would do well to offer a browser add-on search bar and to integrate with desktop search tools from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. Currently it offers search results through Google but this requires the user to install add-ons or plug-ins and to go through a convoluted rite of passage. A seamless experience is in the cards. Users must and will be able to ferret content from all over – their desktop, their encyclopedias, and the Web – using a single, intuitive interface.

Some major and minor gripes:

I couldn’t find a way to install all three encyclopaedias at the same time. Households with adults and children may need different versions of the Britannica installed on the same computer.

The Britannica DVD cannot be downloaded as an ISO or EXE file from the Internet. In an age of widespread broadband this is a curious omission of a powerful, all-pervasive distribution channel. The Britannica DVD – now shipped via regular mail from locations around the globe – could also be distributed through marketing affiliates in the dozens of developing countries where postal services are dysfunctional or non-existent.

The atlas, dictionary, and thesaurus incorporated in the Britannica are still surprisingly outdated. Why not use a more current – and dynamically updated – offerings (perhaps team up with Google)? What about dictionaries for specialty terms (medical or computer glossaries, for instance)?

Despite considerable improvements over the previous editions, the Britannica still consumes (not to say hogs) computer resource far in excess of the official specifications. This makes it less suitable for installation on older PCs and on netbooks. If you own a machine with anything earlier than Pentium 4, less than 1 Gb RAM, and fewer than 10 Gb of really free space, the Britannica would be clunky at best.

But that’s it. Don’t think twice. Run to the closest retail outlet (or surf to the Britannica’s Web site) and purchase the 2014 edition now. It offers excellent value for money. For less than the price of an antivirus software and for a fraction of the cost of Windows 7, you will significantly enhance your access to the sum total of human knowledge and wisdom.

With the demise of Microsoft’s Encarta (it has been discontinued) and the tribulations of the Wikipedia (its rules have been revamped to resemble a traditional encyclopedia, alienating its contributors in the process), the Encyclopedia Britannica 2013 (established in 1768) may have won the battle of reference.

The Death of Traditional Sex in a Unisex World

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

Traditional sex – the heady cocktail of lust and emotional bonding – is all but dead. In a culture of casual, almost anonymous hookups, suppressing attendant emerging emotions is the bon ton and women and men drift apart, zerovalent atoms in an ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic world, separated by a yawning expectations gap, their virtual isolation aided and abetted by technologies, collectively misnomered “social media“.

It is increasingly more difficult to both find a mate and keep him or her. One fifth of all American couples are sexless. In Japan, about half of all adolescents are schizoid and prefer technological gadgets to flesh-and-blood peers. A quarter of all males in Britain would rather watch the telly or bar crawl with their friends than garner carnal pleasure. People everywhere increasingly rely on Internet porn and auto-erotic stimulation to relieve themselves. Sex has become the sordid equivalent of other excretory bodily functions, best pursued in solitude.

At the root of this upheaval is the ill-thought and violent subversion of received gender roles. Women sought to become not only equal to men, but identical to them. Rather than encourage a peaceful evolution, they embarked on a series of shattering and disorienting gender wars with men as the demonized enemy. Attempting assertiveness, women found aggression.

Relationships have become virulent battlefields and the zero testing grounds of a brave, new world. No wonder men find women bafflingly masculine and unattractive. They recoil from commitment and bonding because the rules of engagement are fuzzy, the resources required depleting, the rewards scanty, and the risks – pecuniary and emotional – devastating. Birth rates have plunged well below the replacement rate in most industrialized societies: childrearing requires stable arrangements with reasonable prognoses of functional health and longevity.

In short: the typical, chauvinistic male still wants to get married to his grandmother and his narcissistic female counterparty wishes to live happily ever after with a penile reflection of herself. The differences in expectations lead to discrepancies in performance which are all but unbridgeable and irreconcilable. Breakup rates are unprecedented in human history. The lucrative business of divorce is no longer frowned upon and is facilitated by lenient legislation and a veritable cornucopia of institutions. The proliferation of models of pairing and cohabitation is proof positive that the system is broken: it’s every man for himself now. Society is even more clueless and impotent than the individuals it is ostensibly comprised of and, therefore, can provide no normative guidance.

People react to this massive rupture in various ways: some abstain from or renounce sex altogether; a few experiment with bi- or homosexuality; others immerse themselves in cybersex in its multifarious forms; many choose one night stands and random encounters rendered riskless by contraceptives and made widely available via modern transportation and telecommunication. Opportunities for all the above abound and, socially well-tolerated, recreational, non-committal, and emotionless sex is on the rise.

But the roots of the crumbling alliance between men and women go deeper and further in time. Long before divorce became a social norm, men and women grew into two disparate, incompatible, and warring subspecies. Traditionalist, conservative, and religious societies put in place behavioural safeguards against the inevitable wrenching torsion that monogamy entailed: no premarital sex (virginity); no multiple intimate partners; no cohabitation prior to tying the knot; no mobility, or equal rights for women; no mixing of the genders. We now know that each of these habits does, indeed, increase the chances for an ultimate divorce. As Jonathan Franzen elucidates in his literary masterpieces, it boils down to a choice between personal freedoms and the stability of the family: the former decisively preclude the latter.

 

During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, discreet affairs were an institution of marriage: sexual gratification and emotional intimacy were outsourced while all other domestic functions were shared in partnership. The Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age, the backlash of the sexual revolution, belligerent feminism, and the advent of socially-atomizing and gender-equalizing transportation, information processing, and telecommunication technologies led inexorably to the hollowing out of family and hearth.

 

In a civilization centred on brainpower, Men have lost the relative edge that brawn used to provide. Monogamy is increasingly considered as past its expiry date: a historical aberration that reflects the economic and political realities of bygone eras. Moreover: the incidence of lifelong, childfree (or childless) singlehood has skyrocketed as people hope for their potential or actual relationship-partners to provide for all their sexual, emotional, social, and economic needs – and then get sorely disappointed when they fail to meet these highly unrealistic expectations.

 

In an age of economic self-sufficiency, electronic entertainment, and self-gratification, the art of compromise in relationships is gone. Single motherhood (sometimes via IVF, with no identifiable partner involved) has become the norm in many countries. Even within marriages or committed relationships, solitary pursuits, such as separate vacations, or “girls’/boy’ nights out” have become the norm.

 

The 20th century was a monument to male fatuity: wars and ideologies almost decimated the species. Forced to acquire masculine skills and fill men’s shoes in factories and fields, women discovered militant self-autonomy, the superfluousness of men, and the untenability of the male claims to superiority over them.

 

In an age of malignant individualism, bordering on narcissism, men and women alike put themselves, their fantasies, and their needs first, all else – family included – be damned. And with 5 decades of uninterrupted prosperity, birth control, and feminism/ women’s lib most of the female denizens of the West have acquired the financial wherewithal to realize their dreams at the expense and to the detriment of collectives they ostensibly belong to (such as the nuclear family.) Feminism is a movement focused on negatives (obliterating women’s age-old bondage) but it offers few constructive ideas regarding women’s new roles. By casting men as the enemy, it also failed to educate them and convert them into useful allies.

 

Owing to the dramatic doubling of life expectancy, modern marriages seem to go through three phases: infatuation (honeymoon); procreation-accumulation (of assets, children, and shared experiences); and exhaustion-outsourcing (bonding with new emotional and sexual partners for rejuvenation or the fulfilment of long-repressed fantasies, needs, and wishes.) Divorces and breakups occur mostly at the seams, the periods of transition between these phases and especially between the stages of accumulation-procreation and exhaustion-outsourcing. This is where family units break down.

 

With marriage on the decline and infidelity on the rise, the reasonable solution would be swinging (swapping sexual partners) or polyamory (households with multiple partners of both genders all of whom are committed to one another for the long haul, romantically-involved, sexually-shared, and economically united.) Alas, while a perfectly rational development of the traditional marriage and one that is best-suited to modernity, it is an emotionally unstable setup, what with romantic jealousy ineluctably rearing its ugly head. Very few people are emotionally capable of sharing their life-partner with others.

 

The question is not why there are so many divorces, but why so few. Surely, serial monogamy is far better, fairer, and more humane than adultery? Couples stay together and tolerate straying owing to inertia; financial or emotional dependence; insecurity (lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem); fear of the unknown and the tedium of dating. Some couples persevere owing to religious conviction of for the sake of appearances. Yet others make a smooth transition to an alternative lifestyle (polyamory, swinging, or consensual adultery).

Indeed, what has changed is not the incidence of adultery, even among women. There are good grounds to assume that it has remained the same throughout human history. The phenomenon – quantitatively and qualitatively – has always been the same, merely underreported. What have changed are the social acceptability of extramarital sex both before and during marriage and the ease of obtaining divorce. People discuss adultery openly where before it was a taboo topic.

 

Another new development may be the rise of “selfish affairs” among women younger than 35 who are used to multiple sexual partners. “Selfish affairs” are acts of recreational adultery whose sole purpose is to satisfy sexual curiosity and the need for romantic diversity. The emotional component in these usually short-term affairs (one-night stands and the like) is muted. Among women older than 60, adultery has become the accepted way of seeking emotional connection and intimacy outside the marital bond. These are “outsourcing affairs.”

 

The ancient institution of monogamous marriage is ill-suited to the exigencies of modern Western civilization. People of both genders live and work longer (which renders monogamy impracticable); travel far and away frequently; and are exposed to tempting romantic alternatives via social networking and in various workplace and social settings.

 

Thus, even as social monogamy and pair commitment and bonding are still largely intact and more condoned than ever and even as infidelity is fervently condemned, sexual exclusivity (mislabelled “sexual monogamy”) is declining, especially among the young and the old. Monogamy is becoming one alternative among many lifestyles and marriage only one relationship among a few (sometimes, not even a privileged or unique relationship, as it competes for time and resources with work, same-sex friends, friends with benefits, and opposite-sex friends.)

 

The contractual aspects of marriage are more pronounced than ever with everything on the table: from extramarital sex (allowed or not) to pre-nuptial agreements. The commodification and preponderance of sex – premarital and extramarital – robbed it of its function as a conduit of specialness and intimacy and since childrearing is largely avoided (natality rates are precipitously plummeting everywhere) or outsourced, the family has lost both its raison d’être and its nature as the venue for exclusive sexual and emotional interactions between adults.

 

Professed values and prevailing social mores and institutions have yet to catch up to this emerging multifarious reality. The consequences of these discrepancies are disastrous: about 40-50% of all first-time marriages end in divorce and the percentage is much higher for second and third attempts at connubial bliss. Open communication about one’s sexual needs is tantamount to self-ruination as one’s partner is likely to reflexively initiate a divorce. Dishonesty and cheating are definitely the rational choices in such an unforgiving and punitive environment.

 

Indeed, most surviving marriages have to do with perpetuating the partners’ convenience, their access to commonly-owned assets and future streams of income, and the welfare of third parties, most notably their kids. Erstwhile sexual exclusivity often degenerates into celibacy or abstinence on the one hand – or parallel lives with multiple sexual and emotional partners on the other hand.

 

One night stands for both genders are usually opportunistic. Extra-pair affairs are self-limiting, as emotional involvement and sexual attraction wane over time. Infidelity is, therefore, much less of a threat to the longevity of a dedicated couple than it is made out to be. Most of the damage is caused by culturally-conditioned, albeit deeply and traumatically felt, reactions to conduct that is almost universally decried as deceitful, dishonest, and in breach of vows and promises.

 

Until recently, couples formed around promises of emotional exclusivity and sexual fidelity, uniqueness in each other’s mind and life, and (more common until the 1940s) virginity. Marriage was also a partnership: economic, or related to childrearing, or companionship. It was based on the partners’ past and background and geared towards a shared future.

 

Nowadays, couples coalesce around the twin undertakings of continuity (“I will ALWAYS be there for you”) and availability (“I will always BE there for you.”) Issues of exclusivity, uniqueness, and virginity have been relegated to the back-burner. It is no longer practical to demand of one’s spouse to have nothing to do with the opposite sex, not to spend the bulk of his or her time outside the marriage, not to take separate vacations, and, more generally, to be joined at the hip. Affairs, for instance – both emotional and sexual – are sad certainties in the life of every couple.

 

Members of the couple are supposed to make themselves continuously available to each other and to provide emotional sustenance and support in an atmosphere of sharing, companionship, and friendship. All the traditional functions of the family can now be – and often are – outsourced, including even sex and emotional intimacy. But, contrary to marriage, outsourcing is frequently haphazard and unpredictable, dependent as it is on outsiders who are committed elsewhere as well. Hence the relative durability of marriage, in its conservative and less-conventional forms alike: it is a convenient and highly practicable arrangement.

 

Divorce or other forms of marital breakup are not new phenomena. But their precipitants have undergone a revolutionary shift. In the past, families fell apart owing to a breach of exclusivity, mainly in the forms of emotional or sexual infidelity; a deficiency of uniqueness and primacy: divorced women, for instance, were considered “damaged goods” because they used to “belong” to another man and, therefore, could offer neither primacy nor uniqueness; or an egregious violation of the terms of partnership (for example: sloth, dysfunctional childrearing, infertility).

 

Nowadays, intimate partners bail out when the continuous availability of their significant others is disrupted: sexually, emotionally, or as friends and companions. Marriages are about the present and are being put to the test on a daily basis. Partners who are dissatisfied opt out and team up with other, more promising providers. Children are serially reared by multiple parents and in multiple households.

 

Psychology of The Lifestyle (Swinging)

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

The Lifestyle involves sexual acts performed by more than two participants whether in the same space, or separately. It is also known as “swinging”, “wife-, or spouse-swapping”, “wife-, or spouse-sharing”, “group sex” and, where multiple people interact with a single person, “gangbanging”. Swinging can be soft (engaging in sexual activity with one’s own intimate partner, but in the presence of others), or hard (having sex not with one’s spouse or mate.) Threesomes (mostly male-female-male or MFM) are the most common configuration.

The psychological background to such unusual pursuits is not clear and has never been studied in depth. Still, thousands of online chats between active and wannabe adherents and fans in various forums reveal 10 psychodynamic strands:

1. Latent and overt bisexuality and homosexuality: both men and women (but especially women) adopt swinging as a way to sample same-sex experiences in a tolerant, at times anonymous, and permissive environment;

2. The Slut-Madonna Complex: to be sexually attracted to their spouses, some men need to “debase” and “humiliate” them by witnessing their “sluttish” conduct with others. These men find it difficult to have regular, intimate sex with women to whom they are emotionally attached and whose probity is beyond doubt. Sex is “dirty” and demeaning, so it should be mechanical, the preserve of whorish and promiscuous partners;

3. Voyeurism and exhibitionism are both rampant in and satisfied by swinging. Oftentimes, those who partake in the Lifestyle document their exploits on video and share photos and saucy verbal descriptions. Amateur porn and public sex (“dogging”) are fixtures of swinging;

4. Vicarious gratification. “Cuckolds” are (typically male) swingers who masturbate to the sight of their partner having sex with another, usually without actually joining the fray. They derive gratification from and are sexually aroused by the evident pleasure experienced by their significant other: her vocalizations, body language, body fluids, enraptured movements, and orgasm and abandon;

5. Masochism is a prime motive for a minority of swingers. They relish in their own agony as they watch their spouse hooking up with others: envy, pain, anxiety, a sense of humiliation, an overpowering feeling of worthlessness and inadequacy, sinfulness, debauchery, depravity, and decadence all conspire to thrill the masochist and delight him;

6. Swinging is also a form of legitimized cheating. It spices up the stale sex lives of the players and neutralized the emotional and financial risks and threats associated with furtive extramarital escapades. Many swingers adopt the Lifestyle in order to alleviate boredom, counter routine, realise sexual fantasies, learn new techniques, feel desirable and attractive once more, and cope with discrepancies in sex drive. They insist: “swinging saved my marriage”;

7. Some swingers use the Lifestyle to “display” or “exhibit” their partners, casting them as desired and desirable trophies, or status symbols. Others present may sexually “sample the wife” but never own her, a form of restricted access which causes her suitors much envy and frustration. “I am the one who ends up going home with her” – these swingers brag, thus reaffirming their own irresistibility and attractiveness;

8. The Lifestyle is a rollercoaster of serial relationships, mostly with strangers. It is, therefore, thrilling, risky, and exciting and provokes anxiety, romantic jealousy, and guilt (for having dragged the partner into the Lifestyle, or for not having restrained her). There is also a recurrent fear of losing the partner owing to a growing emotional or sexual bond with one of her casual “F-buddies” or “friends with benefits”. Swinging results in an adrenaline rush, a high, and in addictive periods of calm after these self-inflicted psychosexual storms;

9. Swinging calls for the objectification of sexual partners. Many swingers prefer to remain anonymous in settings like Lifestyle retreats or group sex and orgies. They are thus reduced to genitalia and erogenous zones enmeshed in auto-erotic and narcissistic acts of masturbatory gratification with other people’s bodies as mere props. Women reported experiencing a new sense of empowerment and mastery as they can finally dictate the terms and conditions of sexual encounters, pick and choose partners, and realize hitherto suppressed sexual fantasies. Other practitioners actually prefer to swing only with close friends, using sex as a form of intimacy-enhancing recreation;

10.Nudity has a pronounced aesthetic dimension and when multiple naked bodies intertwine, the combination can amount to a work of art, a flesh-and-blood throbbing sculpture. Many swingers find sex to be the most supreme form of artistic experience, an interconnectedness that enhances empathy and communication and provides extreme sensual pleasure. It is also great fun: the ultimate in entertainment, where novelty and familiarity merge to yield a unique journey with each new entrant.

 

Munchausen and Munchausen by Proxy Syndromes: Forms of Pathological Narcissism?

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

Patients afflicted with the Factitious Disorder colloquially known as “Munchausen Syndrome” seek to attract the attention of medical personnel by feigning or by self-inflicting serious illness or injury. “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome” (Factitious Illness or Disorder by Proxy, or Imposed by Another, or FII – Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers) involves the patient inducing illness in or causing injury to a dependent (child, old parent) in order to gain, in her capacity as a caretaker, the attention, praise, and sympathy of medical care providers. Both syndromes are forms of shared psychosis (folie a deux or a plusieurs) and “crazy-making” with hospital staff as unwilling and unwitting participants in the drama.

Superficially, this overwhelming need for consideration by figures of authority and role models (doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers) resembles the narcissist’s relentless and compulsive pursuit of narcissistic supply (which consists of attention, adulation, admiration, being feared or noted, etc.) But, there are some important differences.

To start with, the narcissist – especially the somatic variety – worships his body and cherishes his health. If anything, narcissists tend to be hypochondriacs. They are loath to self-harm and self-mutilate, let alone fake laboratory tests and consume potentially deleterious substances and medications. They are also unlikely to seriously “damage” their sources of supply (e.g., children) as long as they are compliant and adulating.

As opposed to narcissists, people with both Munchausen Syndromes desire acceptance, love, caring, relationships, and nurturing, not merely attention: theirs is an emotional need that amounts to more than the mere regulation of their sense of self-worth. They have no full-fledged False Self, only a clinging, insecure, traumatized, deceitful, and needy True Self. Munchausen Syndrome may be comorbid (can be diagnosed with) personality disorders, though and the patients are pathological liars, schizoid, paranoid, hypervigilant, and aggressive (especially when confronted.)

While narcissists are indiscriminate and “promiscuous” when it comes to their sources of narcissistic supply – anyone would do – patients with the Munchausen Syndromes derive emotional nurturance and sustenance mainly from healthcare practitioners.

Solitude as a Rational Choice

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

“Purebred” schizoids shrug off their disorder: they simply don’t like being around people and they resent the pathologizing of their lifestyle “choice” to remain aloof and alone. They consider the diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder to be spurious, a mere reflection of current social coercive mores, and a culture-bound artefact.

Narcissist, as usual, tend to rationalize and aggrandize their schizoid conduct. They propound the idea that being alone is the only logical choice in today’s hostile, anomic, and atomized world. The concept of “individual” exists only in the human species. Animals flock together or operate in colonies and herds. Each member of these aggregates is an extension of the organic whole. In contradistinction, people band and socialize only for purposes of a goal-oriented cooperation or the seeking of emotional rewards (solace, succor, love, support, etc.)

Yet, in contemporary civilization, the accomplishment of most goals is outsourced to impersonal collectives such as the state or large corporations. Everything from food production and distribution to education is now relegated to faceless, anonymous entities, which require little or no social interaction. Additionally, new technologies empower the individual and render him or her self-sufficient, profoundly independent of others.

As they have grown in complexity and expectations (fed by the mass media) relationships have mutated to being emotionally unrewarding and narcissistically injurious to the point of becoming a perpetual fount of pain and unease. More formalized social interactions present a substantial financial and emotional risk. Close to half of all marriages, for instance, end in a divorce, inflicting enormous pecuniary damage and emotional deprivation on the parties involved. The prevailing ethos of gender wars as reflected in the evolving legal milieu further serves to deter any residual predilection and propensity to team up and bond.

This is a vicious circle that is difficult to break: traumatized by past encounters and liaisons, people tend to avoid future ones. Deeply wounded, they are rendered less tolerant, more hypervigilant, more defensive, and more aggressive – traits which bode ill for their capacity to initiate, sustain, and maintain relationships. The breakdown and dysfunction of societal structures and institutions, communities, and social units is masked by technologies which provide verisimilitudes and confabulations. We all gravitate towards a delusional and fantastic universe of our own making as we find the real one too hurtful to endure.

Modern life is so taxing and onerous and so depletes the individual’s scarce resources that little is left to accommodate the needs of social intercourse. People’s energy, funds, and wherewithal are stretched to the breaking point by the often conflicting demands of mere survival in post-industrial societies. Furthermore, the sublimation of instinctual urges to pair (libido), associate, mingle, and fraternize is both encouraged and rewarded. Substitutes exist for all social functions, including sex (porn) and childrearing (single parenthood) rendering social institutions obsolete and superfluous social give-and-take awkward and inefficient.

The individual “me” has emerged as the organizing principle in human affairs, supplanting the collective. The idolatry of the individual inexorably and ineluctably results in the malignant forms of narcissism that are so prevalent – indeed, all-pervasive – wherever we direct our gaze.