Pears Cyclopaedia 2014-5 Edition: Human Knowledge Encapsulated

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

This one volume cyclopaedia is maintained meticulously up to date by a dedicated team of scholar-contributors, headed by the indefatigable polymath, Dr. Chris Cook. Hundreds of entries in dozens of sections reflect the latest developments and knowledge in numerous areas of life. It is an astounding feat.

The 2012-2013 edition of Pears Cyclopaedia was the first major revision in some time. It added considerable heft to veteran chapters as well as re-introduced categories of knowledge from previous editions. This 2014-5 edition follows in its footsteps and is augmented with a Biblical Glossary, replete with coverage of the Apocrypha.

The “Chronicle of Events” is brought up to April 2014. The “Prominent People” section has been updated to include, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State (2009-13) and Chavez’s passing away.

The “Background to World Affairs” – a compilation of chronologies arranged by country and monographs about the history and societies of the regions of the globe – is indispensable: it is as updated as an online blog and as thorough as an encyclopedia. Four pages are dedicated to the History and Development of the European Union.

“Britain Today” is by far the best synopsis of current affairs and statistics of that Sceptered isle. It has been completely revamped to include a Who’s Who in British Politics and a Glossary of Recent Politics as well as chapters about “Redress of Grievances”, the media, and pressure groups. It offers a sweeping overview of the British constitution and system of government.

“The Historical World” comprises a historical glossary, a guide to historic Britain, a dictionary of modern wars since 1914, annotated lists of famous battles and treaties and alliances, selected European rulers, and a comprehensive chapter about archaeological discoveries and sites.

The “General Compendium” is a cornucopia of tables and data and delectable lists, some useful, some quaint: English and Scottish monarchs, British Prime Ministers since 1721, US Presidents, foreign phrases, national currencies, Roman numerals, the international time-table, the Greek alphabet, common legal terms, Popes since 1800, Archbishops of Canterbury and York, traditional ranks in the armed forces, Roman rulers and towns, a digest of new words (including “selfie”), Nobel Prize winners, major literary prizes, famous ships, the order of succession, patron saints, the phonetic alphabet, the Chinese and Hindu calendars, the dates of Easter Day, signs of the zodiac, a glossary of antiques, taxes, British military anniversaries, and the Beaufort Scale of Wind.

The venerable and popular section “Myths and Legends” now covers not only Greece and Rome, but also Norse mythology. Pears provides a constantly-updated survey of “Ideas and Beliefs” throughout the centuries. The entry about the Gay Movement, for example, notes that the first gay marriages in Britain took place on 29 March 2014 and that in Russia “homophobia is rife and attacks on gays are common.”

Regrettably, the Gazetteer of the British Isles is all that remains from the once excellent Atlas. It is followed by a much enlarged “General Information” gateway: a mini encyclopaedia with hundreds of listings pertaining to all fields of human knowledge, from astronomy and architecture to zoology. The entries are scrupulously au courant: under “Television” one learns about the next trend: UHDTV or that “India’s population will overtake China by 2028.”

To augment these magnificent offerings, Pears Cyclopaedia provides a “Literary Companion” (outline of English literature arranged as a chronological survey, replete with biographical and bibliographic entries and surveys of twentieth-century poetry and drama); an “Introduction to Art and Architecture” (key terms, movements, and styles as well as biographies); “The World of Music” (outline historical narrative, glossary of musical terms, index to composers, and a special topic about popular dances in the West); “The Cinema” (its history and famous actors and directors as well as a glossary of key terms and list of Oscar winners up to and including 2013).

A massive section, aptly titled “Food and Drink”, tackles the world of wine (including a detailed treatment of the libations of Europe), proffers a glossary of food terms, discusses beer and brewing, spirits and liqueurs, only to revert to the quintessential Anglo-American delectable obsession of coffee and tea. This is seamlessly, albeit somewhat incongruously followed by a “Sporting Almanac.”

The “World of Science” comprises coverage of diverse fields such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and human evolution. It also sports a variety of scientific tables. Medicine merits its own gateway, inevitably titled “Medical Matters”: the most common illnesses and conditions, some of them treated to in-depth analyses within special topics. A subject index caps this wondrous work of reference.

“Affection” and “attachment” are terms rarely used in a review of a reference title, but, they are the ones that come to my mind as I contemplate the new (2014-2015) edition of Pears Cyclopaedia, one of many editions I possess. I confess to my addiction proudly: control freak that I am, I like to hold the Universe of Knowledge in the palm of my hand, in a manageable, pocket-sized form.

What renders this single volume unique is not that it is a cornucopia of facts (which it is, abundantly and lavishly so), but that it arranges them lovingly in patterns and narratives and, thus, endows them with sense and sensibility. It is at once an erudite friend, a mischievous iconoclast, a legend to our times, the sum total of human knowledge in a panoply of fields, and a treasure-trove of trivia and miscellany. It is as compellingly readable as the best non-fiction, as comprehensive as you need it to be, and as diverting as a parlour game. It is both quaint and modern in the best senses of these loaded words.

Pears Cyclopaedia is a labour of love and it shows. Its current editor (formerly its Assistant Editor), Christopher Cook, has been at it for decades now. Annually, he springs a delicious surprise on the avid cult that is the readership of Pears Cyclopaedia: new topics that range from wine connoisseurship to gardening. This edition is not an exception, though the surprises are within the chapters.

At more than 1000 pages, Pears Cyclopaedia is a bargain. Alas, its distribution leaves something to be desired. I have spent the better part of a long afternoon searching for it in vain in London’s bookshops. Last time I had it ordered in Europe, I waited for months on end for its arrival. It is also not exactly available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It should be. Pears Cyclopaedia is wonderful, in the true meaning of this word: it is full of wonders and, therefore, is itself a wonder.

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Putting the Broken Humpty-Dumpty Narcissist Back Together

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

Positive feelings (about oneself or pertaining to one’s accomplishments, assets, etc.) – are never gained merely through conscious endeavor. They are the outcome of insight. A cognitive component (factual knowledge regarding one’s achievements, assets, qualities, skills, etc.) plus an emotional correlate that is heavily dependent on past experience, defense mechanisms, and personality style or structure (“character”).

People who consistently feel worthless or unworthy usually overcompensate cognitively for the lack of the aforementioned emotional component.

Such a person doesn’t love himself, yet is trying to convince himself that he is loveable. He doesn’t trust himself, yet he lectures to himself on how trustworthy he is (replete with supporting evidence from his experiences).

But such cognitive substitutes to emotional self-acceptance won’t do.

The root of the problem is the inner dialog between disparaging voices and countervailing “proofs”. Such self-doubting is, in principle, a healthy thing. It serves as an integral and critical part of the “checks and balances” that constitute the mature personality.

But, normally, some ground rules are observed and some facts are considered indisputable. When things go awry, however, the consensus breaks. Chaos replaces structure and the regimented update of one’s self-image (via introspection) gives way to recursive loops of self-deprecation with diminishing insights.

Normally, in other words, the dialog serves to augment some self-assessments and mildly modify others. When things go wrong, the dialog concerns itself with the very narrative, rather than with its content.

The dysfunctional dialog deals with questions that are far more fundamental (and typically settled early on in life):

“Who am I?”

“What are my traits, my skills, my accomplishments?”

“How reliable, loveable, trustworthy, qualified, truthful am I?”

“How can I separate fact from fiction?”

The answers to these questions consist of both cognitive (empirical) and emotional components. They are mostly derived from our social interactions, from the feedback we get and give. An inner dialog that is still concerned with these qualms indicates a problem with socialization.

It is not one’s “psyche” that is delinquent – but one’s social functioning. One should direct one’s efforts to “heal”, outwards (to remedy one’s interactions with others) – not inwards (to heal one’s “psyche”).

Another important insight is that the disordered dialog is not time-synchronic.

The “normal” internal discourse is between concurrent, equipotent, and same-age “entities” (psychological constructs). Its aim is to negotiate conflicting demands and reach a compromise based on a rigorous test of reality.

The faulty dialog, on the other hand, involves wildly disparate interlocutors. These are in different stages of maturation and possessed of unequal faculties. They are more concerned with monologues than with a dialog. As they are “stuck” in various ages and periods, they do not all relate to the same “host”, “person”, or “personality”. They require time- and energy-consuming constant mediation. It is this depleting process of arbitration and “peacekeeping” that is consciously felt as nagging insecurity or, even, in extremis, self-loathing.

A constant and consistent lack of self-confidence and a fluctuating sense of self-worth are the conscious “translation” of the unconscious threat posed by the precariousness of the disordered personality. It is, in other words, a warning sign.

Thus, the first step is to clearly identify the various segments that, together, however incongruently, constitute the personality. This can be surprisingly easily done by noting down the “stream of consciousness” dialog and assigning “names” or “handles” to the various “voices” in it.

The next step is to “introduce” the voices to each other and form an internal consensus (a “coalition”, or an “alliance”). This requires a prolonged period of “negotiations” and mediation, leading to the compromises that underlies such a consensus. The mediator can be a trusted friend, a lover, or a therapist.

The very achievement of such an internal “ceasefire” reduces anxiety considerably and removes the “imminent threat”. This, in turn, allows the patient to develop a realistic “core” or “kernel”, wrapped around the basic understanding reached earlier between the contesting parts of his personality.

The development of such a nucleus of stable self-worth, however, is dependent on two things:

  1. Sustained interactions with mature and predictable people who are aware of their boundaries and of their true identity (their traits, skills, abilities, limitations, and so on), and
  1. The emergence of a nurturing and “holding” emotional correlate to every cognitive insight or breakthrough.

The latter is inextricably bound with the former.

Here is why:

Some of the “voices” in the internal dialog of the patient are bound to be disparaging, injurious, belittling, sadistically critical, destructively skeptical, mocking, and demeaning. The only way to silence these voices – or at least “discipline” them and make them conform to a more realistic emerging consensus – is by gradually (and sometimes surreptitiously) introducing countervailing “players”.

Protracted exposure to the right people, in the framework of mature interactions, negates the pernicious effects of what Freud called a Superego gone awry. It is, in effect, a process of reprogramming and deprogramming.

There are two types of beneficial, altering, social experiences:

  1. Structured – interactions that involve adherence to a set of rules as embedded in authority, institutions, and enforcement mechanisms (example: attending psychotherapy, going through a spell in prison, convalescing in a hospital, serving in the army, being an aid worker or a missionary, studying at school, growing up in a family, participating in a 12-steps group), and
  1. Non-structured – interactions which involve a voluntary exchange of information, opinion, goods, or services.

The problem with the disordered person is that, usually, his (or her) chances of freely interacting with mature adults (intercourse of the type 2, non-structured kind) are limited to start with and dwindle with time. This is because few potential partners – interlocutors, lovers, friends, colleagues, neighbors – are willing to invest the time, effort, energy, and resources required to effectively cope with the patient and manage the often-arduous relationship. Disordered patients are typically hard to get along with, demanding, petulant, paranoid, and narcissistic.

Even the most gregarious and outgoing patient finally finds himself isolated, shunned, and misjudged. This only adds to his initial misery and amplifies the wrong kind of voices in the internal dialog.

Hence my recommendation to start with structured activities and in a structured, almost automatic manner. Therapy is only one – and at times not the most efficient – choice.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

The Narcissist Loves His Narcissistic Personality Disorder

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

The narcissist can get better, but rarely does he get well (“heal”). The reason is the narcissist’s enormous life-long, irreplaceable and indispensable emotional investment in his disorder. It serves two critical functions, which together maintain the precariously balanced house of cards called the narcissist’s personality. His disorder endows the narcissist with a sense of uniqueness, of “being special” – and it provides him with a rational explanation of his behaviour (an “alibi”).

Most narcissists reject the notion or diagnosis that they are mentally disturbed. Absent powers of introspection and a total lack of self-awareness are part and parcel of the disorder. Pathological narcissism is founded on alloplastic defences – the firm conviction that the world or others are to blame for one’s behaviour. The narcissist firmly believes that people around him should be held responsible for his reactions or have triggered them.

With such a state of mind so firmly entrenched, the narcissist is incapable of admitting that something is wrong with HIM.

But that is not to say that the narcissist does not experience his disorder.

He does. But he re-interprets this experience. He regards his dysfunctional behaviours – social, sexual, emotional, mental – as conclusive and irrefutable proof of his superiority, brilliance, distinction, prowess, might, or success. Rudeness to others is reinterpreted as efficiency.

Abusive behaviours are cast as educational. Sexual absence as proof of preoccupation with higher functions. His rage is always just and a reaction to injustice or being misunderstood by intellectual dwarves.

Thus, paradoxically, the disorder becomes an integral and inseparable part of the narcissist’s inflated self-esteem and vacuous grandiose fantasies.

His False Self (the pivot of his pathological narcissism) is a self-reinforcing mechanism. The narcissist thinks that he is unique BECAUSE he has a False Self. His False Self IS the centre of his “specialness”. Any therapeutic “attack” on the integrity and functioning of the False Self constitutes a threat to the narcissist’s ability to regulate his wildly fluctuating sense of self-worth and an effort to “reduce” him to other people’s mundane and mediocre existence.

The few narcissists that are willing to admit that something is terribly wrong with them, displace their alloplastic defences. Instead of blaming the world, other people, or circumstances beyond their control – they now blame their “disease”. Their disorder become a catch-all, universal explanation for everything that is wrong in their lives and every derided, indefensible and inexcusable behaviour. Their narcissism becomes a “licence to kill”, a liberating force which sets them outside human rules and codes of conduct.

Such freedom is so intoxicating and empowering that it is difficult to give up.

The narcissist is emotionally attached to only one thing: his disorder. The narcissist loves his disorder, desires it passionately, cultivates it tenderly, is proud of its “achievements” (and in my case, makes a living off it). His emotions are misdirected. Where normal people love others and empathize with them, the narcissist loves his False Self and identifies with it to the exclusion of all else – his True Self included.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

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.

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.

 

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.

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”

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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.