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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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.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

This was true well into the 1950s.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Role of Technology

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Consider screens:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Reclaiming Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From an Interview I Granted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delegitimization of Torture

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

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

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

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

So, is torture a legitimate practice in some circumstances?

I. Practical Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alas, these are weak contentions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Dershowitz expounds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Ethical Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these two, for instance:

The Rights of Third Parties against the Tortured

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

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

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

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

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

The Right to Save One’s Own Life

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

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

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

III. The Social Treaty

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

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

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

Also Read:

The Business of Torture

The Psychology of Torture

IQCRACY: Against Barbarians with iPads

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

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

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

Start with democracy:

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

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

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

Continue with technology:

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

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

1. The unbridled growth of human populations leads to:

I. Resource depletion;

II. Environmental negative externalities;

III. A surge in violence;

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

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

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

2. The continued survival of the species demands that:

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

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

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

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

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