Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 65
Narcissism, Pathological Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the Narcissist,
And Relationships with Abusive Narcissists and Psychopaths
Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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Current Biography: Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, Google Scholar) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited (Amazon) and After the Rain: How the West Lost the East (Amazon) as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He was Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International (February, 2001 - April, 2003), CEO of Narcissus Publications (April, 1997 - April 2013), Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician (January, 2011 -), a columnist for PopMatters, eBookWeb, Bellaonline, and Central Europe Review, an editor for The Open Directory and Suite101 (Categories: Mental Health and Central East Europe), and a contributor to Middle East Times, a contributing writer to The American Chronicle Media Group, Columnist and Analyst for Nova Makedonija, Fokus, and Kapital, Founding Analyst of The Analyst Network, former president of the Israeli chapter of the Unification Church's Professors for World Peace Academy, and served in the Israeli Defense Forces (1979-1982). He has been awarded Israel's Council of Culture and Art Prize for Maiden Prose (1997), The Rotary Club Award for Social Studies (1976), and the Bilateral Relations Studies Award of the American Embassy in Israel (1978), among other awards. He is Visiting Professor of Psychology, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russia (September, 2017 to present), Professor of Finance and Psychology in SIAS-CIAPS (Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies) (April, 2012 to present), a Senior Correspondent for New York Daily Sun (January, 2015 - Present), and Columnist for Allied Newspapers Group (January, 2015 - Present). He lives in Skopje, North Macedonia with his wife, Lidija Rangelovska. Here we talk about genius and insanity.
*Previous interviews listed chronologically after interview.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Delusions remain ubiquitous. Delusions in conspiracy theories found in 5G, backmasking, Big Pharma, chemtrails, free energy suppression, Holocaust denial, New World Order-ism, QAnon, and so on. Delusions formalized in cults. Delusions in religious discourse, organization, and practice. Delusions promoted in quack ‘medicine’ with acupuncture, alternative ‘medicine,’ anti-GMO movements, anti-vaccination activism, aromatherapy, chiropractory, conversion therapy, faith healing, homeopathy, naturopathy, psychic surgery, Reiki, reflexology, traditional Chinese medicine, and such. Delusions in anti-intellectualism with creation ‘science’ (e.g., the variants of Creationism and Intelligent Design), global warming denialism or even alarmism in some respects, God of the gaps-ism, ‘holy’ text literalism, homeschooling, paranormalism, quantum woo, und so weiter. Delusions in bigotries and prejudices including anti-Semitism, or racist ideologies bound to politics or religion (e.g., white supremacist KKK, black supremacist Nation of Islam, and the like). Delusions in social and political cure-alls for societies’ ills - panaceas, e.g., American commitments to the idea of every problem having a solution. Then there are those who took a permanent lift-off from terra firma and detached from reality altogether, e.g., or a case study, the person running the “Sam Vaknin Scum Antichrist” YouTube channel – an apparent idiotic crazy (read: demented screwball) person. You know the deal. We’re on the same page in the identical book here. There’s a thin line, as has been observed before, between true genius and real insanity. What factors set the distinctions between insanity, on the one hand, and genius, on the other?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin:
The problem is that both madness and genius involve the ability to reframe reality in an unexpected way (i.e., provide insight) either by gaining a synoptic or interdisciplinary vantage point – or by radically departing from hidden underlying assumptions.
The scientific method is designed to tell the two apart by applying the test of falsifiable predictions. Both madness and genius are theories of the world and of the mind and, like every other type of theory, they yield predictions which can then be tested and falsified.
Most of the predictions yielded by insanity are easily and instantly falsifiable. Most of the predictions garnered by genius hold water for long stretches of time and, even when falsified, it is only in private cases or in extreme conditions. Thus, the theories of relativity falsify Newtonian prediction only on vast scales with incredible energies.
Jacobsen: What are the easiest means by which to distinguish a genius from an insane person?
Psychopathology is rigid. It is unyielding, not amenable to learning, nauseatingly repetitive, constricting, and divorced from reality (impaired reality testing). The genius is immersed in the world even if he is a recluse, he learns and evolves all the time, his mind is kaleidoscopic and vibrant, ever expanding. Insanity is mummified, genius is life reified.
Jacobsen: Is high intelligence required for true genius?
If by intelligence you mean IQ then the answer is a resounding no. The adage about perspiration and inspiration applies. But, more importantly, genius is the ability to see familiar things in a fresh, unprecedented way. Imagination, intuition, and the ability to tell apart the critical from the tangential are the core constituents of genius – not intelligence.
What intelligence does contribute to genius is alacrity. It is a catalyst. It speeds up both the processes of theorizing and of discovery.
Jacobsen: What happens to an insane person who happens to have high intelligence too?
He is likely to construct theories that will pass for genius, especially among laymen. The intelligence of the gifted madman serves to camouflage the lack of rigor and the delusional, counterfactual content of his creations. Rather than catalyze disruptive discoveries, his intellect works overtime at the service of aggressively defending a manifestly risible sleight of hand. It is not open to any modificatory feedback from the environment. The madman’s intellect is solipsistic and moribund.
Jacobsen: What happens in the mind of a genius who slowly deteriorates into an insane person?
He visibly transitions from cognitive flexibility to defensive and hypervigilant rigidity (confirmation bias). His work becomes way more easily falsifiable, sometimes even with mere Gedankenexperiments. He repeats himself ad nauseam. He becomes grandiose (cognitively distorts reality to buttress an inflated and fantastic self-image).
Jacobsen: How do fake geniuses cover for their lack of insight, ingenuity, intelligence, etc.?
They copy and plagiarize. They imitate a real genius’s structured thinking and work. They are good at promoting themselves and getting credit where none is due. Most of these frauds are actually intelligent, but dark personalities (subclinical narcissists, subsclinical psychopa
Jacobsen: Is true genius more inborn, innate, native to the individual or more honed, refined, developed extrinsically?
We know that IQ is responsive to environmental stimuli. The analytic kind genius (IQ above 140 or 160) is by far the most studied because it is the most facilely measurable. There are no studies that rigorously link it to heredity. On balance, anecdotal evidence clearly suggests that genius is acquired and can be inculcated at an early age if the child is subjected to rigorous training and a regime of positive and negative reinforcements.
It would behoove us to make a distinction between polymath or synoptic genius and “idiot savant” type of one-track mental acuity (think “Rain Man”). The latter form definitely is neurological and, probably, with a pronounced genetic contribution.
Jacobsen: Some mental disorders, including schizophrenia, appear mostly heritable. Is it the same for various states of insanity in general?
We don’t know enough, not by a long shot. Certain mental illnesses present with structural and functional abnormalities of the brain that are very likely to be genetically coded for: schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Other mental health issues run in families, so a genetic component is indicated: Borderline Personality Disorder and psychopathy, for instance.
Jacobsen: Which five individuals seem like true geniuses in the modern world to you? I do not mean rich, famous, well-cited, and the like; even though, they may be rich, famous, or well-cited, etc., as a consequence of successful implementation of aspects of their genius.
Versatile polymaths included Einstein (of course), Richard Feynman (see my interview on Chronon Field Theory), Noam Chomsky, George Steiner (whom I had the pleasure of knowing), and Adolf Hitler (who regrettably turned his considerable gifts to the dark side).
Jacobsen: Do you consider yourself a genius?
Shoshannim: Thank you, once again, for your time and the opportunity, Prof. Vaknin.
Vaknin: OK, Shoshanim!
(News Intervention: January 28, 2022)
(News Intervention: January 30, 2022)
(News Intervention: February 2, 2022)
(News Intervention: February 11, 2022)
(News Intervention: April 30, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 21, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 24, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 26, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 28, 2022)
Previous Interviews Read by Prof. Vaknin (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 26, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 29, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 31, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: February 3, 2022)
Prof. Sam Vaknin: May 25, 2022)
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Freedom of expression is a paper right in most places of the world. It is listed in international rights documents and in national constitutions. Yet, one could ask, “What is the ‘free’ part of freedom of expression?” It depends on the society and the culture, and the person. So, to open this session, what is a proper framing of rights, responsibilities, obligations, and privileges in societies, i.e., an accurate frame or definition to ground practice of free expression?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin:
Freedom of expression, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, is a feature of individualistic societies. Where collectivism reigns, this amalgam of rights is subordinated to the greater good.
Ironically, utilitarianism inexorably leads to limitations on these freedoms intended to protect the majority against the incursions of disruptive or even destructive minorities.
Yet, even in anarchic polities, freedom of expression cannot be abused to spread panic (crying fire in a crowded theatre), life threatening misinformation (re: the COVID-19 pandemic), or to threaten the wellbeing and lives of others (e.g., virulent racism, or calls for eugenic culling, or victimization). Only anomic civilizations in decadent decline countenance such toxic speech acts.
Jacobsen: Which countries and parts of the world seem the freest regarding freedom of expression?
It is a surprisingly mixed bag including perennials like Denmark and Finland, but also surprises like Argentina and Slovakia.
But freedom – all freedoms – are on the decline everywhere, besieged by populism, profound mistrust of authority and of expertise, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, anti-liberalism (anti-“progressivism”), and the dominance of rapid dissemination technologies such as social media.
Ochlocracies (mob rule) are regaining ground all over the world, led by authoritarian, proudly ignorant, and defiantly contumacious and reactant narcissistic-psychopathic leaders.
Jacobsen: Which nations and regions of the world seem the least free regarding freedom of expression?
Again, the rankings are counterintuitive. Canada, for example, is less free than Uruguay and the USA is languishing with Peru somewhere at the bottom of the upper third.
Jacobsen: How did (and does) the internet change freedom of expression or the access to free exchange of words, ideas, and philosophies, or simply disjointed randomly emoted thoughts?
In the internet age, the distinction between raw information and knowledge (structured data) is lost. The internet is a huge dumping ground for half-baked truths, rank nonsense, misinformation, propaganda, hate speech, speculation, and outright derangement. Even where vetted and reliable information is available, it is unprocessed and out of context.
No single technology has harmed free expression more than the internet. It has created a problem of discoverability (locating quality content in a sempiternal tsunami of trash) and allowed mobs to form and to ominously suppress speech by sheer force of numbers (the cancel culture is the latest example of such transgressions).
All semblance of civilized, informed speech is now lost even in academe. Social media were deliberately constructed by engineers and turncoat psychologists to polarize aggressive speech and cement confirmation bias (silos of like-minded people in echo chambers).
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, is this net good or net bad?
Bad by a long shot.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpvv_ooqJik (The True Toxicity of Social Media)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY79nDYjW94 (Malignant Egalitarianism)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvuRmP3KP1g (The Need to Be Seen)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgjOH0kDErw (A-social Media: Fracking Mankind)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVprI6_P8GE (Plugged-in Documentary)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2rKrWNWkS0 (How to Fix Social Media)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIElARjRGTo (Social Media as the Big Eye)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NTwxAJDMTo (Metaverse: Conspiracy or Heaven?
Jacobsen: One camp will claim complete freedom of expression in social media will be a net good because the liars and defamers will be overwhelmed by more reasonable voices and evidence. Another camp thinks there should be sharp restrictions on particular types of speech, electronic communication, and so on. Those are two big ones. A third believes in outlawing social media altogether, so stringently binding or making illegal social media for some people if not most or all. It’d be similar to acquisition of a firearm in much of the world, getting a driver’s license, qualifying as a surgeon or an accountant, and such. You have commented on this. With social media, what should be done for or against freedom of expression, if anything?
Social media are utilities and should be subjected to the same regulatory oversights that other media and monopolistic utilities are under.
Additionally, owing to the addictive nature of social media, laws should be passed to restrict their use and to monitor the content posted on them.
Self-regulation is a myth on Wall Street as it is in tech valleys around the globe. Where money rears its head, morality and restraint and the public interest go out of the window.
Crowdsourced regulation is the dumbest idea ever. Majorities are forever silent and conflict-averse. Ask the misnamed Mensheviks who were actually the overwhelming majority and yielded to the equally mislabeled Bolsheviks who were more ruthless and vociferous and better mobilized.
Jacobsen: What does social media and internet use do in mild use and in chronic use to the mental health of individuals and groups?
The evidence is unequivocal (see the studies by Twenge et al.): the more extensive the exposure to screens, the longer the screentime, the higher the prevalence and incidence of anxiety and depressive disorders, especially among the young (under 25) and among seniors over 65. There is no such thing as “mild” or “moderate” use: the effects commence at the first moment of use.
Jacobsen: What do trends of expression and outcomes among users of social media tell us about individual psychology and mass psychology, and social media in general?
By far the biggest problem social media use has fostered is what I call “malignant egalitarianism”.
Malignant egalitarianism is threatening our existence as a species. Until about 10 years ago, people - even narcissists - had role models they sought to learn from and emulate and ideals which they aspired to.
Today, everyone - never mind how unintelligent, ignorant, or unaccomplished - claim superiority or at least equality to everyone else.
Armed with egalitarian equal access technology like social media, everyone virulently detest and seek to destroy or reduce to their level their betters and that which they cannot attain or equal.
Pathological envy (egged on by instruments of relative
positioning such as “likes”) had fully substituted for learning and
self-improvement. Experts, scholars, and intellectuals are scorned and
threatened. Everyone is an instant polymath and an ersatz da Vinci.
But, this is just one of many vile side effects and byproducts of social media. Watch my videos on the topic (see links above).
Jacobsen: How will the Metaverse, and associated developments, in the 2030s affect relations between people?
Is the Metaverse the ultimate dystopia, an escape from reality, or the promised technological heaven? I summarized my views in this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NTwxAJDMTo
Jacobsen: If the goal is mental health for most people most of the time, what are the most efficacious policies and laws for governments to enact, and for individuals and families to practice, regarding social media and the right to freedom of expression?
Limit usage time (clocks embedded in the app will terminate use after 2 hours);
Only real life friends and acquaintances would be allowed to become online friends;
Identity verification would be mandatory for various types of content;
Introduce an accreditation system for experts, gurus, and coaches online;
ScholarTube for vetted, evidence-based knowledge provided by real-life academics or experts;
Curation of most content prior to its release (the contemporary Wikipedia model as distinct from the original crowdsourcing mess).
More here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2rKrWNWkS0 (How to Fix Social Media)
Shoshannim: Thank you, Dr. Shmuel.
Vaknin: You are always welcome, shoshanim!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Misogyny and misandry, what defines them?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin:
Misogyny and misandry are forms of inverted gender dysphoria, actually. It is hatred, resentment, and revulsion brought on by the opposite sex. It encompasses all aspects and dimensions of the hate figure and in this sense, it is akin to racism.
Jacobsen: Historically, how have misogyny and misandry manifested in partnerships, in individual social settings, and in cultures at large?
Misogyny has been the patriarchal organizing principles of all societies from the agricultural revolution to this very day. It permeated all institutions, from the family to the Church to the state.
Misogyny was mainly intended to restrict the freedoms of women in order to prevent them from procreating extradyadically and thus secure the intergenerational transfer of wealth to the male’s rightful offspring.
Misandry is the reaction of some waves of feminism in the past 150 years or so. It is visceral and bitter, but not nearly as organized and institutionalized as misogyny.
Recently both are on the increase.
Jacobsen: As you note in several productions, there are obvious cases of a ‘rollback’ of women’s rights in the United States through murmurings of repeals of Roe v Wade and in state legislatures, in Russia with the (re-)legalization – in a manner of speaking – of domestic abuse, in Afghanistan with women confined to the home, in Ethiopia with sexual violence (by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces), in Turkey via withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, and in online hate groups comprised of resentful, bitter, anomic, hopeless, potentially mentally ill, batches of men in MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), Black Pillers, Red Pillers, Incels (Involuntary Celibates), generic male supremacists, PUAs (Pick Up Artists), MRM men (Men’s Rights Movement), TFLers (True Forced Loners), and so on. These men, young and old alike, seem composed of anomie, despair, and porcelain, transmogrified into contempt for the Other. Do these seem like a disunified variegated 'wave' of anti-women sentiments and acts by men online and offline around the world?
Some men are fighting back against what they perceive to be the ominous usurpation of rights and powers by women. They are also aghast at the way women have appropriated stereotypical male behaviors, such as promiscuity.
The counter-movement started off in disparate groups but now has coalesced into an agenda that is promoted by lawmakers all over the world. The backlash is fierce. Men are still the gatekeepers in most countries in the world. This doesn’t bode well for women. Legal rights and access to services such as healthcare and educations are being rolled back and freedoms are curtailed.
Women are bound to be radicalized by such counter-reform. They are likely to become way more militant and masculinized. They are shunning men in growing numbers and resorting to male substitutes even when it comes to procreation: donor sperm and IVF.
Jacobsen: What seems like the psychology of the men with the authority to impose these ‘rollbacks’ in legislation and socio-cultural life?
This is a state of panic, both moral and operational. Inter-gender morality was imposed by men in order to preserve the “purity” of women and their role as domestic comforters-in-chief. As power shifted from men to women, this ideal has been shattered.
Moreover, women emulate aggressive, ambitious men. In multiple studies, women described themselves in exclusively masculine terms. They have been taking away men’s jobs for well over a hundred years now. They are way more educated than men so men feel absolutely threatened, very much like a species going extinct.
Men who react adversely to the ascendance of women and the emergence of a unigender world via legislation and politics are anxious, sociosexually restricted, narcissistic (but not psychopathic), insecure, and, in some cases, with a conflicted sexual and gender identity.
Jacobsen: What seems like the psychology of the men in these international, disparate online groups, who even create their own lingo, patois?
These are rabid misogynists who have created an ideology around their deep-seated, irrational, and pathological hatred. They have primitive defenses, are highly narcissistic and even psychopathic, and tend to externalize aggression. They tend to hold grudges and grievances, ruminate and fixate, and be vengeful and hypervigilant.
Jacobsen: You agree with First Wave Feminism and Second Wave Feminism, and disagree with Third Wave Feminism and Fourth Wave Feminism. What defines them?
First and second wave feminisms (in plural: there are many schools) were focused on leveling the playing field and fighting abusive and exploitative practices such as prostitution and pornography.
Starting with the suffragettes, they focused on the franchise (the right to vote), equal wages, access (to healthcare, education, the workplace, daycare), revising the dress code (“rational dress”), the right to own and dispose of property, and converting marriage from indentured bondage to an intimate, hopefully lifelong equal partnership.
The third wave was a psychopathic outgrowth. While claiming to be inclusive and permissive, it was a defiant and reckless attempt to “empower” women by eliminating all boundaries, conventions, and mores of any kind in all fields of life.
What women have garnered from the confluence of the three waves is that they should make their careers the pivot of their lives, avoid meaningful, committed relationships with men, and pursue sex as a pastime with any man.
Ironically, the third wave played right into the hands of predatory men (“players”) who took advantage of the newfangled promiscuity while assiduously avoiding any hint of commitment or investment. Third wave feminists internalized the male gaze (“internalized oppression”) and pride themselves on being “sluts”.
The fourth wave of feminism is focused on real problems such as sexual harassment, rape, and body shaming as well as intersectionality (discrimination of women who belong to more than one minority). In many ways, it is an offshoot of second wave feminism.
Jacobsen: Even within these four waves of feminism, what seem like the most laudable portions and the most contemptible parts of each?
First, second, and fourth wave feminisms are legitimate movements which have improved and strengthened societies around the world by integrating women in the social and economic fabrics of their milieus.
The third wave was utterly destructive. It hijacked the feminist message and precipitated the gender wars which are threatening to undo the accomplishments of the first and second waves.
Moreover: corporate interested coopted the messaging of the third wave to encourage women to remain single and promiscuous in order to encourage their participation in the labor force and thus convert them into consumers.
Jacobsen: Since history cannot be rewritten in actuality, though can be erased and rewritten in records, what might Fifth Wave Feminism incorporate as lessons from the previous four to correct course from the clear antipathy between the sexes – maintaining the proper equalitarian victories and jettisoning the improper inegalitarian losses?
Feminism needs to fight the patriarchy and its discriminatory practices – not men. It needs to recognize that men and women are equal, but not identical. It needs to encourage women to adopt boundaried sexuality and the formation of intimate partnerships, cohabitation households, and families with men (or women, if they are so inclined). It needs to expose the way business and the third wave end up disempowering women like never before.
Jacobsen: How can science on sex and gender clarify the fact from the fiction, as the sea floor of these waves – so to speak? Something to set limits on conversation based on reality in contrast to discourses entirely in the realm of fantasy.
I dealt with this at length in the interview I gave you about gender wars https://www.newsintervention.com/prof-sam-vaknin-on-the-gender-wars/
Jacobsen: How might such a fifth wave grounded in science inform international human rights discourse, national legislation, sociocultural lives, families, and individual self-identification?
Women are not a minority. Numerically, they are a majority. Their situation is reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa and needs to be tackled with the same tools: nonviolent resistance; truth and reconciliation; a peaceful and consensual transfer of power; an integrated society with no discrimination or subterfuge; equal rights and obligations while recognizing the uniqueness of each constituency.
Shoshanim: Thanks much, Prof. Samuel.
Vaknin: You are very welcome. May we both live to see the day men and women love each other the way they should.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What defines victimization? What defines a real victim in contrast to a fake victim?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin: Victimization involves the denial of the self-determination, identity, self-actualization, rights, and boundaries of a person without their express consent and collaboration.
Jacobsen: What makes victim identity movements, in fact, movements?
Vaknin: When victimhood becomes an organizing and explanatory (hermeneutic) principle, a determinant of the victim’s identity, and a socially binding force centred around grievances; prosocial or communal grandiosity; entitlement; conspiracism (paranoid or persecutory delusions); aggressive engagement or, on the other end of the spectrum, schizoid withdrawal; dysempathy; defiance (reactance); and contumaciousness (rejection of expertise and authority) – we have on our hands a victim identity movement.
No one is a victim. We may end up being victimized – but it doesn’t render us victims for life, it doesn’t brand us.
Jacobsen: Some studies in British Columbia, as you have noted, found some victimhood movements have been hijacked by narcissists and psychopaths. How does this muddy the waters of the real justice movements and make them ineffectual?
Vaknin: This was not the only study to have unearthed this very disconcerting undertow. We are beginning to wake up to the reality of what Gabay et al. call (2020) Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood, TIV). “professional” or “career” victims with emphasized narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies find new homes (“pathological narcissistic spaces”) in these social justice upswells.
It makes it difficult to tell apart legitimate evidence-based grievances from entitlement-fueled manipulative and counterfactual claims.
One helpful way to distinguish the two is by noting that narcissists and psychopaths are destructive, not solutions-oriented. They thrive on negative affects such as anger and envy and are loth to invest in the routine and tedious chores attendant upon rectifying wrongs and building a better world.
More here: Victimhood Movements Hijacked by Narcissists and Psychopaths https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBpxFxMAztA
Jacobsen: What have been extreme historical cases of this going awry, as this phenomenon has been historically cyclical, including one close to ‘home’ in 2004?
Vaknin: Nazism is a victimhood movement gone awful. And, to a lesser degree the white man’s grievance movement implausibly headed by Trump is a more recent example of such subversive dynamics.
Jacobsen: What is the typical arc of development of victim movements?
The sociologist Bradley Campbell suggested that we have transitioned from a culture centred around dignity to one based on victimhood.
Learn more by reading Habermas, Fukuyama, and Foucault. All justice-seeking movements start with grievances (injustices). They decry and seek to remedy and reverse individual transgressions (eg, the narcissistic abuse online movement) or societal and cultural biases (implicit and explicit), discrimination, and suppression.
The victims organize themselves around exclusionary identity politics and intersectionality and this orientation results in grandiosity and entitlement, in other words: in growing narcissism. Increasingly more aggressive, these movements often become psychopathic (defiant and contumacious) and demonize the Other.
Left-leaning victimhood movements centre around entitlement and reparations claims on the majority, on social institutions, and on history. Right-wing movements are conspiracy-minded and avoidant, but also more violent.
Narcissists and psychopaths gravitate to such movements in order to obtain narcissistic supply, money, power, and sex. They become the public faces and the media darlings on these hapless victims, having hijacked their legitimate complaints and demands.
Jacobsen: How much of the online content on narcissism and psychopathy is garbage (worthless or worse) now?
Vaknin: About 90%. It is not only worthless (wrong), it is dangerously misleading and entrenches a lifelong self-defeating and self-aggrandizing victimhood stance even as it demonizes and mythologizes abusers.
Jacobsen: What is the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV)?
A series of two studies by Israeli scholar Gabay and others, published in 2020. The authors provided this abstract:
“In the present research, we introduce a conceptualization of the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV), which we define as an enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships. Then, in a comprehensive set of eight studies, we develop a measure for this novel personality trait, TIV, and examine its correlates, as well as its affective, cognitive, and behavioral consequences. In Part 1 (Studies 1A-1C) we establish the construct of TIV, with its four dimensions; i.e., need for recognition, moral elitism, lack of empathy, and rumination, and then assess TIV's internal consistency, stability over time, and its effect on the interpretation of ambiguous situations. In Part 2 (Studies 2A-2C) we examine TIV's convergent and discriminant validities, using several personality dimensions, and the role of attachment styles as conceptual antecedents. In Part 3 (Studies 3–4) we explore the cognitive and behavioral consequences of TIV. Specifically, we examine the relationships between TIV, negative attribution and recall biases, and the desire for revenge (Study 3), and the effects of TIV on behavioral revenge (Study 4). The findings highlight the importance of understanding, conceptualizing, and empirically testing TIV, and suggest that victimhood is a stable and meaningful personality tendency.”
Read an analysis of these studies here: “The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood: The Personality Construct and its Consequences” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886920303238):
Another interesting study:
"New research provides evidence that narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism — maladaptive personality traits known as the “Dark Triad” — are associated with overt displays of virtue and victimhood. The study suggests that people with dark personalities use these signals of “virtuous victimhood” to deceptively extract resources from others."
(“Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities“, was authored by Ekin Ok, Yi Qian, Brendan Strejcek, and Karl Aquino, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, American Psychological Association, May 2020).
Jacobsen: What are the primary signifiers of narcissists and psychopaths who have or might hijack legitimate victimhood or justice movements looking for money, power, and sex?
Ironically, these usually are prosocial or communal narcissists. They often “control from the bottom” (emotionally blackmail by being self-sacrificial). So, the infestation of victimhood activism by narcissists and psychopaths is the tip of a submerged iceberg of ersatz altruism.
Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous: they dedicate time and other resources to social justice movements and to activism, they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. It is a form of virtue signalling. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists?
The act of giving enhances the narcissist's sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one's largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.
But narcissists give for other reasons as well.
The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as a bait. He impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration. People are attracted to the narcissist's larger than life posture – only to discover his true personality traits when it is far too late. "Give a little to take a lot" – is the narcissist's creed.
This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than their "share of the profit". The narcissist feels that he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships are asymmetric and imbalanced. "She gets out of our marriage far more than I do" – is a common refrain. Or: "I do all the work around here – and they get all the perks and benefits!"
Some narcissists are compulsive givers.
To all appearances, the compulsive giver is an altruistic, empathic, and caring person. Actually, he or she is a people-pleaser and a codependent. The compulsive giver is trapped in a narrative of his own confabulation: how his nearest and dearest need him because they are poor, young, inexperienced, lacking in intelligence or good looks, and are otherwise inferior to him. Compulsive giving, therefore, involves pathological narcissism. In reality, it is the compulsive giver who coerces, cajoles, and tempts people around him to avail themselves of his services or money. He forces himself on the recipients of his ostentatious largesse and the beneficiaries of his generosity or magnanimity. He is unable to deny anyone their wishes or a requests, even when these are not explicit or expressed and are mere figments of his own neediness and grandiose imagination.
Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous -- they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists? The act of giving enhances the narcissist's sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one's largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.
People-pleasers dread conflicts and wish to avoid them (they are conflict-averse) - hence their need to believe that they are universally liked. Always pleasant, well-mannered, and civil, the conflict-averse people-pleaser is also evasive and vague, hard to pin down, sometimes obsequious and, generally, a spineless “non-entity”. These qualities are self-defeating as they tend to antagonize people rather than please them.
But conflict-aversion is only one of several psychodynamic backgrounds for the behavior known as “people-pleasing”:
1. Some people-pleasers cater to the needs and demands of others as a form of penance, or self-sacrifice;
2. Many people-pleasers are codependents and strive to gratify their nearest and dearest in order to allay their own abandonment anxiety and the ensuing intense – and, at times, life-threatening - dysphoria (“if I am nice to him, he won’t break up with me”, “if I cater to her needs, she won’t leave me”);
3. A few people-pleasers are narcissistic: pleasing people enhances their sense of omnipotence (grandiosity). They seek to control and disempower their “charges” (“she so depends on and looks up to me”). Even their pity is a form of self-aggrandizement (“only I can make her life so much better, she needs me, without me her life would be hell.”). They are misanthropic altruists and compulsive givers.
All people-pleasers use these common coping strategies:
1. Dishonesty (to avoid conflicts and unpleasant situations);
2. Manipulation (to ensure desired outcomes, such as an intimate partner’s continued presence);
3. Fostering dependence: codependent people-pleasers leverage their ostentatious helplessness and manifest weaknesses to elicit the kind of behaviours and solicit the benefits that they angle for, while narcissistic people-pleasers aim to habituate their targets by bribing them with gifts, monopolizing their time, and isolating them socially;
4. Infantilization: displaying childish behaviours to gratify the emotional needs of over-protective, possessive, paranoid, narcissistic, and codependent individuals in the people-pleaser’s milieu;
5. Self-punishment, self-defeat, and self-sacrifice to signal self-annulment in the pursuit of people-pleasing.
Jacobsen: What, historically speaking, can be done to combat these Cluster B bad behaviours connected to some social movements?
As the grievances of these movements are addressed, they become a part of the establishment. This is when the hard work begins: the labors of writing laws, regulatory oversight, politics, negotiations and compromise, and the tedium of perseverance and routine.
These newfangled demands on the psychological and logistical resources of the movement and its adherents drive narcissists and psychopaths away: they are unaccustomed to and reject the hard slog and the often Sisyphean undertakings of public policy.
Shoshanim: Thanks so much for the time and opportunity, Prof. V.
Shoshanim’s Shoshanim: V for Victim or V for Vaknin? Just kidding. Thank you for suffering me yet again!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What differentiates intuitions from gut feelings if at all?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin: Gut feeling is immediate and nebulous. Intuition takes longer to form and feels more precise, incisive, and certain.
Jacobsen: How much of knowledge is filtered, processed, and prefabricated non-consciously and then presented to a conscious arena/awareness for decision-making?
There are three types of intuition.
Intuition is supposed to be a form of direct access. Yet, direct access to what? Does it access directly "intuitions" (abstract objects, akin to numbers or properties - see "Bestowed Existence")? Are intuitions the objects of the mental act of Intuition? Perhaps intuition is the mind's way of interacting directly with Platonic ideals or Phenomenological "essences"? By "directly" I mean without the intellectual mediation of a manipulated symbol system, and without the benefits of inference, observation, experience, or reason.
Kant thought that both (Euclidean) space and time are intuited. In other words, he thought that the senses interact with our (transcendental) intuitions to produce synthetic a-priori knowledge. The raw data obtained by our senses -our sensa or sensory experience - presuppose intuition. One could argue that intuition is independent of our senses. Thus, these intuitions (call them "eidetic intuitions") would not be the result of sensory data, or of calculation, or of the processing and manipulation of same. Kant's "Erscheiung" (Sic!) - the "phenomenon", or "appearance" of an object to the senses - is actually a kind of sense-intuition later processed by the categories of substance and cause. As opposed to the phenomenon, the "nuomenon" (thing in itself) is not subject to these categories.
Descartes' "I (think therefore I) am" is an immediate and indubitable innate intuition from which his metaphysical system is derived. Descartes' work in this respect is reminiscent of Gnosticism in which the intuition of the mystery of the self leads to revelation.
Bergson described a kind of instinctual empathic intuition which penetrates objects and persons, identifies with them and, in this way, derives knowledge about the absolutes - "duration" (the essence of all living things) and "élan vital" (the creative life force). He wrote: "(Intuition is an) instinct that has become disinterested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting upon its object and of enlarging it indefinitely." Thus, to him, science (the use of symbols by our intelligence to describe reality) is the falsification of reality. Only art, based on intuition, unhindered by mediating thought, not warped by symbols - provides one with access to reality.
Spinoza's and Bergson's intuited knowledge of the world as an interconnected whole is also an "eidetic intuition".
Spinoza thought that intuitive knowledge is superior to both empirical (sense) knowledge and scientific (reasoning) knowledge. It unites the mind with the Infinite Being and reveals to it an orderly, holistic, Universe.
Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Otto discussed the religious experience of the "numinous" (God, or the spiritual power) as a kind of intuitive, pre-lingual, and immediate feeling.
Croce distinguished "concept" (representation or classification) from "intuition" (expression of the individuality of an objet d'art). Aesthetic interest is intuitive. Art, according to Croce and Collingwood, should be mainly concerned with expression (i.e., with intuition) as an end unto itself, unconcerned with other ends (e.g., expressing certain states of mind).
Eidetic intuitions are also similar to "paramartha satya" (the "ultimate truth") in the Madhyamika school of Buddhist thought. The ultimate truth cannot be expressed verbally and is beyond empirical (and illusory) phenomena. Eastern thought (e.g. Zen Buddhism) uses intuition (or experience) to study reality in a non-dualistic manner.
IB. Emergent Intuitions
A second type of intuition is the "emergent intuition". Subjectively, the intuiting person has the impression of a "shortcut" or even a "short circuiting" of his usually linear thought processes often based on trial and error. This type of intuition feels "magical", a quantum leap from premise to conclusion, the parsimonious selection of the useful and the workable from a myriad possibilities. Intuition, in other words, is rather like a dreamlike truncated thought process, the subjective equivalent of a wormhole in Cosmology. It is often preceded by periods of frustration, dead ends, failures, and blind alleys in one's work.
Artists - especially performing artists (like musicians) - often describe their interpretation of an artwork (e.g., a musical piece) in terms of this type of intuition. Many mathematicians and physicists (following a kind of Pythagorean tradition) use emergent intuitions in solving general nonlinear equations (by guessing the approximants) or partial differential equations.
Henri Poincaret insisted (in a presentation to the Psychological Society of Paris, 1901) that even simple mathematical operations require an "intuition of mathematical order" without which no creativity in mathematics is possible. He described how some of his creative work occurred to him out of the blue and without any preparation, the result of emergent intuitions.
These intuitions had "the characteristics of brevity, suddenness and immediate certainty... Most striking at first is this appearance of sudden illumination, a manifest sign of long, unconscious prior work. The role of this unconscious work in mathematical invention appears to me incontestable, and traces of it would be found in other cases where it is less evident."
Subjectively, emergent intuitions are indistinguishable from insights. Yet insight is more "cognitive" and structured and concerned with objective learning and knowledge. It is a novel reaction or solution, based on already acquired responses and skills, to new stimuli and challenges. Still, a strong emotional (e.g., aesthetic) correlate usually exists in both insight and emergent intuition.
Intuition and insight are strong elements in creativity, the human response to an ever changing environment. They are shock inducers and destabilizers. Their aim is to move the organism from one established equilibrium to the next and thus better prepare it to cope with new possibilities, challenges, and experiences. Both insight and intuition are in the realm of the unconscious, the simple, and the mentally disordered. Hence the great importance of obtaining insights and integrating them in psychoanalysis - an equilibrium altering therapy.
Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (TPD) posits that angst (existentialist tension and anxiety) not only induces growth, but is a necessary condition for it. Disintegrative processes are desirable. The absence of positive disintegration results in a fixated state of "primary (not secondary) integration", without true individuality. One’s developmental potential, especially one’s overexcitabilities (abnormally strong reactions to stimuli) determine the potential for positive disintegration. Overexcitability (OE) is a heightened physiological experience of stimuli resulting from increased neuronal sensitivities.
Like Jordan Peterson, Dabrowski regards suffering – including the self-inflicted kind - as a key to both progress and healing. Personality shaping depends on socialization and on peer pressure (second factor). Strict unthinking and unwavering adherence creates robopaths (von Bertalanffy). Disintegartion requires countering social signalling and pressures which, I suggest, are mostly detected intuitively. Intuition, therefore, plays a key part in the regulation of these processes.
IC. Ideal Intuitions
The third type of intuition is the "ideal intuition". These are thoughts and feelings that precede any intellectual analysis and underlie it. Empathy may be such an intuitive mode applied to the minds of other people, yielding an intersubjective agreement. Moral ideals and rules may be such intuitions (see "Morality - a State of Mind?").
Mathematical and logical axioms and basic rules of inference ("necessary truths") may also turn out to be intuitions. These moral, mathematical, and logical self-evident conventions do not relate to the world. They are elements of the languages we use to describe the world (or of the codes that regulate our conduct in it). It follows that these a-priori languages and codes are nothing but the set of our embedded ideal intuitions. This is why we can be pretty certain that the language of mathematics is inadequate and insufficient to capture reality or even the laws of nature.
As the Rationalists realized, ideal intuitions (a class of undeniable, self-evident truths and principles) can be accessed by our intellect. Rationalism is concerned with intuitions - though only with those intuitions available to reason and intellect. Sometimes, the boundary between intuition and deductive reasoning is blurred as they both yield the same results. Moreover, intuitions can be combined to yield metaphysical or philosophical systems. Descartes applied ideal intuitions (e.g., reason) to his eidetic intuitions to yield his metaphysics. Husserl, Twardowski, even Bolzano did the same in developing the philosophical school of Phenomenology.
The a-priori nature of intuitions of the first and the third kind led thinkers, such as Adolf Lasson, to associate it with Mysticism. He called it an "intellectual vision" which leads to the "essence of things". Earlier philosophers and theologians labeled the methodical application of intuitions - the "science of the ultimates". Of course, this misses the strong emotional content of mystical experiences.
Confucius talked about fulfilling and seeking one's "human nature" (or "ren") as "the Way". This nature is not the result of learning or deliberation. It is innate. It is intuitive and, in turn, produces additional, clear intuitions ("yong") as to right and wrong, productive and destructive, good and evil. The "operation of the natural law" requires that there be no rigid codex, but only constant change guided by the central and harmonious intuition of life.
Intuition is a topic that concerned many philosophers throughout the ages.
But are intuitions really a-priori - or do they develop in response to a relatively stable reality and in interaction with it? Would we have had intuitions in a chaotic, capricious, and utterly unpredictable and disordered universe? Do intuitions emerge to counter-balance surprises?
Locke thought that intuition is a learned and cumulative response to sensation. The assumption of innate ideas is unnecessary. The mind is like a blank sheet of paper, filled gradually by experience - by the sum total of observations of external objects and of internal "reflections" (i.e., operations of the mind). Ideas (i.e., what the mind perceives in itself or in immediate objects) are triggered by the qualities of objects.
But, despite himself, Locke was also reduced to ideal (innate) intuitions. According to Locke, a colour, for instance, can be either an idea in the mind (i.e., ideal intuition) - or the quality of an object that causes this idea in the mind (i.e., that evokes the ideal intuition). Moreover, his "primary qualities" (qualities shared by all objects) come close to being eidetic intuitions.
Locke himself admits that there is no resemblance or correlation between the idea in the mind and the (secondary) qualities that provoked it. Berkeley demolished Locke's preposterous claim that there is such resemblance (or mapping) between PRIMARY qualities and the ideas that they provoke in the mind. It would seem therefore that Locke's "ideas in the mind" are in the mind irrespective and independent of the qualities that produce them. In other words, they are a-priori. Locke resorts to abstraction in order to repudiate it.
Locke himself talks about "intuitive knowledge". It is when the mind "perceives the agreement or disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves, without the intervention of any other... the knowledge of our own being we have by intuition... the mind is presently filled with the clear light of it. It is on this intuition that depends all the certainty and evidence of all our knowledge... (Knowledge is the) perception of the connection of and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy, of any of our ideas."
Knowledge is intuitive intellectual perception. Even when demonstrated (and few things, mainly ideas, can be intuited and demonstrated - relations within the physical realm cannot be grasped intuitively), each step in the demonstration is observed intuitionally. Locke's "sensitive knowledge" is also a form of intuition (known as "intuitive cognition" in the Middle Ages). It is the perceived certainty that there exist finite objects outside us. The knowledge of one's existence is an intuition as well. But both these intuitions are judgmental and rely on probabilities.
Hume denied the existence of innate ideas. According to him, all ideas are based either on sense impressions or on simpler ideas. But even Hume accepted that there are propositions known by the pure intellect (as opposed to propositions dependent on sensory input). These deal with the relations between ideas and they are (logically) necessarily true. Even though reason is used in order to prove them - they are independently true all the same because they merely reveal the meaning or information implicit in the definitions of their own terms. These propositions teach us nothing about the nature of things because they are, at bottom, self referential (equivalent to Kant's "analytic propositions").
According to Kant, our senses acquaint us with the particulars of things and thus provide us with intuitions. The faculty of understanding provided us with useful taxonomies of particulars ("concepts"). Yet, concepts without intuitions were as empty and futile as intuitions without concepts. Perceptions ("phenomena") are the composite of the sensations caused by the perceived objects and the mind's reactions to such sensations ("form"). These reactions are the product of intuition.
IID. The Absolute Idealists
Schelling suggested a featureless, undifferentiated, union of opposites as the Absolute Ideal. Intellectual intuition entails such a union of opposites (subject and object) and, thus, is immersed and assimilated by the Absolute and becomes as featureless and undifferentiated as the Absolute is.
Objective Idealists claimed that we can know ultimate (spiritual) reality by intuition (or thought) independent of the senses (the mystical argument). The mediation of words and symbol systems only distorts the "signal" and inhibits the effective application of one's intuition to the attainment of real, immutable, knowledge.
IIE. The Phenomenologists
The Phenomenological point of view is that every thing has an invariable and irreducible "essence" ("Eidos", as distinguished from contingent information about the thing). We can grasp this essence only intuitively ("Eidetic Reduction"). This process - of transcending the concrete and reaching for the essential - is independent of facts, concrete objects, or mental constructs. But it is not free from methodology ("free variation"), from factual knowledge, or from ideal intuitions. The Phenomenologist is forced to make the knowledge of facts his point of departure. He then applies a certain methodology (he varies the nature and specifications of the studied object to reveal its essence) which relies entirely on ideal intuitions (such as the rules of logic).
Phenomenology, in other words, is an Idealistic form of Rationalism. It applies reason to discover Platonic (Idealism) essences. Like Rationalism, it is not empirical (it is not based on sense data). Actually, it is anti-empirical - it "brackets" the concrete and the factual in its attempt to delve beyond appearances and into essences. It calls for the application of intuition (Anschauung) to discover essential insights (Wesenseinsichten).
"Phenomenon" in Phenomenology is that which is known by consciousness and in it. Phenomenologists regarded intuition as a "pure", direct, and primitive way of reducing clutter in reality. It is immediate and the basis of a higher level perception. A philosophical system built on intuition would, perforce, be non speculative. Hence, Phenomenology's emphasis on the study of consciousness (and intuition) rather than on the study of (deceiving) reality. It is through "Wesensschau" (the intuition of essences) that one reaches the invariant nature of things (by applying free variation techniques).
Jacobsen: Is this a large part of intuition and/or gut feelings if inclusive of the filtration, processing, and prefabrication, of information from physiology – the body – too? I do not necessarily mean extensive amounts of time – could be fractions of a second – from input to presentation to consciousness (conscious awareness).
There is no question that input from the body is crucial to the formation of intuitions. The sensa (sensory inputs) are only one part of it. Autonomous reactions – such as heartbeat or perspiration – also figure into the equation. As we try to make sense of these corporeal data, we often come up with a heuristic or a narrative and most of the time we perceive the outcomes of these attempts as gut feelings or intuitions.
Jacobsen: When something feels wrong to an individual, how is this justifiable in considering the “something” as wrong in and of itself, or wrong in interpretation of an individual (more likely than not a fallible individual)? Are there moments when these feelings of wrongness about something are themselves inaccurate - following more generally from part of the last question?
Intuition is wrong as often as right. It is a shaky foundation for decision making. But it is a reliable signal that further research and investigation are called for.
Intuition should not be confused with either emotions or cognitions. They are an amalgam of both but they are a form of anxiety reaction, a variant of hypervigilance.
Jacobsen: When someone is trying to force-fit a relationship, a friendship, a marital situation, a professional arrangement, why is this a sign of inauthenticity, a fake?
Authenticity consists of being yourself even when you adhere to social strictures, norms, and mores or when you are trying to meet expectations and obligations. Feeling good about your choice to conform and act responsibly, reliably, and predictably (ego syntony).
If the sum total of an engagement with others causes you acute discomfort (ego dystony or dissonance) – this is a sign that you are betraying yourself somehow and, therefore, being inauthentic.
Watch “Being is Slavery, Nothingness is Freedom (Sartre's "Being and Nothingness", FIRST LECTURE)”
Watch “Relationships Always Fail, Inauthentic (Sartre's "Being and Nothingness", SECOND LECTURE)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFvRcB1MOWM
Jacobsen: Grandiose claims are made all the time. Those claims too good to be true. Why are the “too good to be true” more likely to be false than true?
Splitting is an infantile psychological defense mechanism: the baby divides the world into all good and all bad. Of course, this is counterfactual: there is good and bad, right and wrong, helpful and obstructive in everything and in everyone.
So, “too good to be true” is an outcome of splitting coupled with magical thinking (the delusion that your willpower or thoughts affect reality even without any commensurate action). It is the offspring of a pathology of impaired reality testing.
Jacobsen: Why are we prone to believing things people say far more often than not, when people lie all the time in little and big ways?
This is known as the base rate fallacy. This cognitive distortion aims to resolve a cognitive dissonance: I know that people lie but I want to trust them all the time in order to feel safe.
It stems from the same pathological roots which involve grandiosity magical thinking: other people are all good and can be always trusted because I am all-powerful and immune to harm as well as all-knowing and so, I cannot be conned.
Trusting other people is the optimal strategy when you are the omniscient and omnipotent master of the Universe: investing in research and investigation would be wasteful.
Jacobsen: Should we make decisions immediately based on gut feelings and intuitions or over a reasonable amount of time making incremental, moderate changes/decisions based on increasing feedback from the processes colloquially called “gut feelings” and “intuitions”?
We should definitely listen to gut feelings and intuitions. They are telling us that something has gone awry with the way we perceive reality. This alert bears careful investigation and research.
But I would not act on my intuition or gut feeling unless and until I have delved deeper into what it is that is nagging at me.
Jacobsen: How can intuitions and gut feelings, ultimately, save us from our conscious delusions?
Intuitions and gut feelings are a poor guide in this sense because, as I said, as often as not, they turn out to have been wrong. Some intuitions are delusional!
Shoshanim: Thanks so much for the time and opportunity, Prof. Sam (Wise Gamgee).
Shoshanim’s Shoshanim: I have an intuition that you actually mean it this time!
Pathological narcissism develops as a set of complex psychological defenses against childhood abuse and trauma in all its forms, including not only “classical” maltreatment, but also idolizing the child, smothering it, parentifying it, or instrumentalizing it.
Whenever the child is not allowed to separate from the parental figures, form boundaries, and individuate (become an individual), a disorder of some kind ensues, secondary (pathological) narcissism being among the most prevalent.
In the narcissistic pathology, the child forms a paracosm ruled over by an imaginary friend who is everything the child is not: omniscient, omnipotent, perfect, brilliant, and omnipresent. In short: a godhead or divinity. The child worships the newfound ally and makes a human sacrifice to this Moloch: he offers to it his true self.
The child strikes a Faustian deal: he is endowed with a grandiose albeit fragile self-image and a fantastic self-perception, but, in return, he ceases to exist.
The narcissist outsources his ego boundary functions to the False Self and regulates his internal environment (for example: his sense of self-worth) via constant feedback from a multitude of interchangeable sources of narcissistic supply. His is a veritable hive mind.
Narcissism is the celebration, elevation, and glorification of a superior absence, a howling emptiness, the all-devouring void of a black hole with a galaxy of internal objects (introjects) swirling around it.
Narcissism is, therefore, a private religion which resembles very much primitive faiths and rites. It is a fantasy defense writ large and gone awry, having metamorphesized into a delusion. Reality testing is severely impaired and the narcissist mistakes inner representations of people with the external objects that gave rise to them.
As a growing number of people become increasingly more narcissistic and as our civilization rewards narcissism and veers towards it, the allure of the narcissism religion is growing exponentially.
It is beginning to be widely and counterfactually glamorized - even in academe - as a positive adaptation. Counterfactually because narcissism ineluctably and invariably devolves into self-defeat and self-destruction.
Narcissism is the first distributed or networked faith: every believer and practitioner (i.e., every narcissist) is a worshipper but also the god that he worships (has a godlike False Self). Every node is equipotent and self-sustaining as it seeks to consume narcissistic supply (attention, good or bad).
Like every religion before it, narcissism is fast becoming an organizing and hermeneutic (explanatory) principle. It imbues existence with meaning and direction. It is both prescriptive and proscriptive. Fueled by technologies like social media, it is spreading with more alacrity than any previous historical faith.
Pathological narcissism is also missionary: the narcissist attempts to convert potential sources of narcissistic supply and intimate partners to participate in his shared fantasy and to worship his grandiose deity, the False Self.
Everything abovesaid applies with equal rigor to narcissistic collectives. This is where the danger lurks: narcissism is aggressive and intolerant, dysempathic and exploitative. It is a death cult. It elevates objects above people. In a society of the spectacle, everyone is rendered a commodity. Materialism and consumerism are manifestations of narcissism as is malignant, ostentatious individualism.
Narcissism in collectives is indistinguishable from the individual sort: it is always adversarial and results in dismal self-defeat and self-destruction. Left unbridled and unconstrained and elevated ideologically, it can bring about Armageddon in more than one way.
The rise of narcissism is inexorable. It is comparable to climate change and to the shift in gender roles: there is no going back now. If I am right, it calls for major adaptations on multiple levels, individual, institutional, and collective:
(1) To harness the considerable energy of narcissism and channel it in socially acceptable ways (sublimate it). Prosocial and communal narcissism could spell a workable compromise, for example;
(2) To put in place checks, balances, and institutions to prevent the more destructive, insidious, and pernicious outcomes and aspects of narcissism; and
(3) To prepare the general populace to accept narcissism as a part of the landscape and Zeitgeist. This latter goal is best accomplished via technologies that would provide outlets to conforming, positive healthy narcissism and at the same time isolate users from an increasingly more narcissistic reality as much as possible. Social media and the metaverse as harbingers of these twin tasks. Atomization and self-sufficiency as well as the disintegration of social institutions are mere symptoms of this tectonic shift in what it means to be human.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We will likely encounter moments of repetition in this session, in question and response.
What is free will? What are the ways in which “will” has been defined?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin:
Free will is a useful fiction, akin to god or the afterlife: only agents with free will can be held morally responsible.
Free will comprises three conditions:
1. The ability to choose and act otherwise;
2. Having control over one’s choices and actions;
3. That the choice or act are rationally motivated.
The very concept of free will is founded on convenient delusions such as time or causation. Whereas teleology is prohibited in all sciences (we do not attribute purposeful actions to objects and animals, for example), it mysteriously permeates philosophy and more specifically the field of ethics.
Jacobsen: What are the ways in which “freedom” or “free” have been defined?
Both the external world and our internal one serve as constraints. We cannot choose or act contrary to Nature or to our individual nature. What we call “change” is merely a transition between different constrained systems. So, ostensibly, free will is a myth, there is no such thing.
But this (nomological) determinism is merely optical (compatibilism).
First: there are always other options. If someone puts a gun to your head, you are still possessed of free will: you can choose to die (in Judaism, one is instructed to choose death over certain transgressions).
But, much more importantly, in complex systems the number of probable pathways is so enormous that for all practical purposes we can never specify all or even most of them (chaos theory, quantum mechanics). So, these systems, as far as we are concerned appear to be either random (libertarianism) or subject to free will (agency).
Jacobsen: What definitions of “free”, “will”, and “free will”/“freedom of the will”, simply exist in the realm of fantasy, magical thinking?
Free will is a conscious, introspected experience of the degrees of freedom in systems (such as the brain or society). It reflects the fact that our ability to know the world is limited by our finitude and mortality. Our descriptions of reality – including psychological reality – will always be subject to uncertainty, indeterminacy, and apparent randomness.
This is a terrifying realization which produces anxiety (angst in existentialism). It implies an external locus of control (our lives are determined from the outside by forces and processes we will, in principle, never fathom).
We defend against such helplessness and lack of autonomy and agency by deceiving ourselves into believing that we are exempt from the laws of nature and can alter the ineluctable course of events.
But this is a useful bit of self-deception and should be perpetuated, for two reasons:
1. Owing to our inability to secure all the information about reality, free will feels real!
2. The concept of free will guarantees the acceptance of moral responsibility and the reactions to it: desert, blame, guilt, and restorative justice.
Jacobsen: Apart from simplistic considerations of semi-dismissal, as in it is fantasy or magical thinking, is free will a complex illusion of human perception and cognition, even a non-conscious mental trick bundled in the languages – everything: semiotics, semantics, syntax, etc. - used to speak about it, a mistake of intuition of sorts?
The BELIEF in the freedom to choose and do otherwise – regardless of whether such liberty is merely an illusion – is the foundation of human civilization, its core.
Free will is an article of FAITH. It is not a fact or a hypothesis or a theory. It has no truth value (it is not true or false). It has no ontological status, only an epistemological one.
Jacobsen: What forms of free will, if it’s to exist at all (or, indeed, not), would fit the modern scientific universes of discourse for plausibility?
None., Modern science is dichotomous: determinism vs. randomness (probability). In both approaches, there is no place for free will (the intelligibility problem). If the universe is preordained and predestined (by god) then, of course, individual agency is counterfactual. If, on the other hand, events are random, there can be no will, choice, or even action, all of which imply intentionality.
Some would say that Man converts the random into the structured, is an agent of increasing order in the universe. Humans, in this view, are AGENTS of determinism, the shapers of reality.
But this is just kicking the can down the road: we are still faced with randomness when human decisions and actions to increase order are undertaken.
Jacobsen: A bit of a longer question narrowed more within tighter philosophical and natural philosophical terms. In a prior session, you spoke on Kant, free will, nomic causation/causation by laws (of nature) versus causation resulting from free will, and a god. As has been phrased by others… “ultimately, of what is the will free?”
Every single philosopher I ever heard of grappled with the question of free will and tried to square the circle.
Ultimately, it is just a question of frame of reference and level of description. The same substance can be described as 2 atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen – or as wet, cold water. Both descriptions are valid statements about the reality of the substance - and yet they have nothing in common.
From a fine-grained point of view of the world, free will is a confabulation. But from a human being’s perspective, free will is a very useful organizing and explanatory principle. It helps to make sense of life and provide one with self-efficacious guidance.
Jacobsen: Apart from the above mentioned considerations of the arguments, switching more to a personal voice, you have a ToE in Chronon Field Theory (CFT). Does free will exist in CFT?
Moreso than in any other theory I am aware of. The Chronon Field Theory is all about Time as a field of potentialities. As some of these potentials materialize, they constitute input – but not to any deterministic process! They feed into other probable processes or events. “Choice” and “action” easily fit into this view of the world because our brains are just another such superposition.
Jacobsen: With everything, and the stance on free will, any final words of anxiety and discomfort if not anguish and torture?
I don’t do comfort. But thank you for giving me the opportunity. Every thinker whose work I have read has miserably failed in tackling the thorny topic of free will. Even the most rigorous amongst them made fools of themselves in plain view.
Don’t go there. There is a thin line separating overthinking from inanity and overanalyzing from stupidity. Don’t cross it.
Free will exists the same way Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes most definitely exist. It is real. It is a force to reckon with. It shapes our minds and lives. It exerts a huge influence on multiple spheres. What more do we need to know?
Shoshanim: Thank you, Doc.
Lily’s Lily: You are very welcome, survivor!
8. Interview about Controversial Topics (In-Sight Journal)
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I asked about the most controversial topics to you. Three came up: Incest and trauma, parents are less happy than the childless, and capitalism and consumerism resulting in atomization and loneliness. Let’s cover those in sequence, this may be a controversial session. What is the formal definition accepted among professionals of “incest” or incestuous relations, or some other variation of the idea?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin:
Incest used to be defined as any consensual or nonconsensual sex act of any kind with a close member of the family, related by blood or by marriage. Today, we also consider certain behaviors and speech acts as incestuous if they communicate sexual or emotional information and intent that are inappropriate among relatives, especially of the first degree.
In contemporary thought, incest is invariably associated with child abuse and its horrific, long-lasting, and often irreversible consequences. Incest is not such a clear-cut matter as it has been made out to be over millennia of taboo. Many participants claim to have enjoyed the act and its physical and emotional consequences. It is often the result of seduction. In some cases, two consenting and fully informed adults are involved.
Many types of relationships, which are defined as incestuous, are between genetically unrelated parties (a stepfather and a daughter), or between fictive kin or between classificatory kin (that belong to the same matriline or patriline). In certain societies (the Native American or the Chinese) it is sufficient to carry the same family name (=to belong to the same clan) and marriage is forbidden.
Some incest prohibitions relate to sexual acts - others to marriage. In some societies, incest is mandatory or prohibited, according to the social class or particular circumstances (Ugarit, Bali, Papua New Guinea, Polynesian and Melanesian islands). In others, the Royal House started a tradition of incestuous marriages, which was later imitated by lower classes (Ancient Egypt, Hawaii, Pre-Columbian Mixtec). Some societies are more tolerant of consensual incest than others (Japan, India until the 1930's, Australia).
The list is long and it serves to demonstrate the diversity of attitudes towards this most universal of taboos. Generally put, we can say that a prohibition to have sex with or marry a related person should be classified as an incest prohibition.
Perhaps the strongest feature of incest has been hitherto downplayed: that it is, essentially, an autoerotic act.
Having sex with a first-degree blood relative is like having sex with oneself. It is a Narcissistic act and like all acts Narcissistic, it involves the objectification of the partner. The incestuous Narcissist over-values and then devalues his sexual partner. He is devoid of empathy (cannot see the other's point of view or put himself in her shoes).
Jacobsen: How is incest traumatic to individuals, regardless of age, gender, or sex?
Incest often involves a power asymmetry and, therefore, implicit or explicit coercion.
Paradoxically and ironically, it is the reaction of society that transforms incest into such a disruptive phenomenon. The condemnation, the horror, the revulsion and the attendant social sanctions interfere with the internal processes and dynamics of the incestuous family. It is from society that the child learns that something is horribly wrong, that he should feel guilty, and that the offending parent is a defective role model. Psychologists, from Albert Ellis to Boris Cyrulnik have noted the critical importance of societal response and stigma in cases of both adult and childhood trauma.
As a direct result, the formation of the child's Superego is stunted and it remains infantile, ideal, sadistic, perfectionist, demanding and punishing. The child's Ego, on the other hand, is likely to be replaced by a False Ego version, whose job it is to suffer the social consequences of the hideous act.
To sum up: society's reactions in the case of incest are pathogenic and are most likely to produce a Narcissistic or a Borderline patient. Dysempathic, exploitative, emotionally labile, immature, and in eternal search for Narcissistic Supply – the child becomes a replica of his incestuous and socially-castigated parent.
If so, why did human societies develop such pathogenic responses? In other words, why is incest considered a taboo in all known human collectives and cultures? Why are incestuous liaisons treated so harshly and punitively?
Freud said that incest provokes horror because it touches upon our forbidden, ambivalent emotions towards members of our close family. This ambivalence covers both aggression towards other members (forbidden and punishable) and (sexual) attraction to them (doubly forbidden and punishable).
Edward Westermarck proffered an opposite view that the domestic proximity of the members of the family breeds sexual repulsion (the epigenetic rule known as the Westermarck effect) to counter naturally occurring genetic sexual attraction. The incest taboo simply reflects emotional and biological realities within the family rather than aiming to restrain the inbred instincts of its members, claimed Westermarck.
Though much-disputed by geneticists, some scholars maintain that the incest taboo may have been originally designed to prevent the degeneration of the genetic stock of the clan or tribe through intra-family breeding (closed endogamy). But, even if true, this no longer applies. In today's world incest rarely results in pregnancy and the transmission of genetic material. Sex today is about recreation as much as procreation.
Good contraceptives should, therefore, encourage incestuous, couples. In many other species inbreeding or straightforward incest are the norm. Finally, in most countries, incest prohibitions apply also to non-genetically-related people.
It seems, therefore, that the incest taboo was and is aimed at one thing in particular: to preserve the family unit and its proper functioning.
Incest is more than a mere manifestation of a given personality disorder or a paraphilia (incest is considered by many to be a subtype of pedophilia). It harks back to the very nature of the family. It is closely entangled with its functions and with its contribution to the development of the individual within it.
The family is an efficient venue for the transmission of accumulated property as well as information - both horizontally (among family members) and vertically (down the generations). The process of socialization largely relies on these familial mechanisms, making the family the most important agent of socialization by far.
The family is a mechanism for the allocation of genetic and material wealth. Worldly goods are passed on from one generation to the next through succession, inheritance and residence. Genetic material is handed down through the sexual act. It is the mandate of the family to increase both by accumulating property and by marrying outside the family (exogamy).
Clearly, incest prevents both. It preserves a limited genetic pool and makes an increase of material possessions through intermarriage all but impossible.
The family's roles are not merely materialistic, though.
One of the main businesses of the family is to teach to its members self control, self regulation and healthy adaptation. Family members share space and resources and siblings share the mother's emotions and attention. Similarly, the family educates its young members to master their drives and to postpone the self-gratification which attaches to acting upon them.
The incest taboo conditions children to control their erotic drive by abstaining from ingratiating themselves with members of the opposite sex within the same family. There could be little question that incest constitutes a lack of control and impedes the proper separation of impulse (or stimulus) from action.
Additionally, incest probably interferes with the defensive aspects of the family's existence. It is through the family that aggression is legitimately channeled, expressed and externalized. By imposing discipline and hierarchy on its members, the family is transformed into a cohesive and efficient war machine. It absorbs economic resources, social status and members of other families. It forms alliances and fights other clans over scarce goods, tangible and intangible.
This efficacy is undermined by incest. It is virtually impossible to maintain discipline and hierarchy in an incestuous family where some members assume sexual roles not normally theirs. Sex is an expression of power – emotional and physical. The members of the family involved in incest surrender power and assume it out of the regular flow patterns that have made the family the formidable apparatus that it is.
These new power politics weaken the family, both internally and externally. Internally, emotive reactions (such as the jealousy of other family members) and clashing authorities and responsibilities are likely to undo the delicate unit. Externally, the family is vulnerable to ostracism and more official forms of intervention and dismantling.
Finally, the family is an identity endowment mechanism. It bestows identity upon its members. Internally, the members of the family derive meaning from their position in the family tree and its "organization chart" (which conform to societal expectations and norms). Externally, through exogamy, by incorporating "strangers", the family absorbs other identities and thus enhances social solidarity (Claude Levy-Strauss) at the expense of the solidarity of the nuclear, original family.
Exogamy, as often noted, allows for the creation of extended alliances. The "identity creep" of the family is in total opposition to incest. The latter increases the solidarity and cohesiveness of the incestuous family – but at the expense of its ability to digest and absorb other identities of other family units. Incest, in other words, adversely affects social cohesion and solidarity.
Lastly, as aforementioned, incest interferes with well-established and rigid patterns of inheritance and property allocation. Such disruption is likely to have led in primitive societies to disputes and conflicts - including armed clashes and deaths. To prevent such recurrent and costly bloodshed was one of the intentions of the incest taboo.
The more primitive the society, the more strict and elaborate the set of incest prohibitions and the fiercer the reactions of society to violations. It appears that the less violent the dispute settlement methods and mechanisms in a given culture – the more lenient the attitude to incest.
The incest taboo is, therefore, a cultural trait. Protective of the efficient mechanism of the family, society sought to minimize disruption to its activities and to the clear flows of authority, responsibilities, material wealth and information horizontally and vertically.
Incest threatened to unravel this magnificent creation - the family. Alarmed by the possible consequences (internal and external feuds, a rise in the level of aggression and violence) – society introduced the taboo. It came replete with physical and emotional sanctions: stigmatization, revulsion and horror, imprisonment, the demolition of the errant and socially mutant family cell.
As long as societies revolve around the relegation of power, its sharing, its acquisition and dispensation – there will always exist an incest taboo. But in a different societal and cultural setting, it is conceivable not to have such a taboo. We can easily imagine a society where incest is extolled, taught, and practiced - and out-breeding is regarded with horror and revulsion.
The incestuous marriages among members of the royal households of Europe were intended to preserve the familial property and expand the clan's territory. They were normative, not aberrant. Marrying an outsider was considered abhorrent.
incestuous society - where incest is the norm - is conceivable even today.
Two out of many possible scenarios:
1. "The Lot Scenario"
A plague or some other natural disaster decimate the population of planet Earth. People remain alive only in isolated clusters, co-habiting only with their closest kin. Surely incestuous procreation is preferable to virtuous extermination. Incest becomes normative.
Incest is as entrenched a taboo as cannibalism. Yet, it is better to eat the flesh of your dead football team mates than perish high up on the Andes (a harrowing tale of survival recounted in the book and eponymous film, "Alive").
2. The Egyptian Scenario
Resources become so scarce that family units scramble to keep them exclusively within the clan.
Exogamy - marrying outside the clan - amounts to a unilateral transfer of scarce resources to outsiders and strangers. Incest becomes an economic imperative.
An incestuous society would be either utopian or dystopian, depending on the reader's point of view - but that it is possible is doubtless.
Jacobsen: Regarding age, gender, and sex, how is incest differentially traumatic?
The ages most reactive to incest are 7-13 and girls seem to be affected more than boys in the long term.
Jacobsen: What are the current facts on childlessness around the globe on a myriad of demographic factors?
Between 10% and 20% of women die childless, depending on the country. About 60% of people live in countries with declining populations (replacement rate under 2.1). We are now 8 billion people on the planet, but we are aging fast and we actually need fresh blood to provide the previous generations with pensions and healthcare. By current projections, the planet’s population will peak around 2080.
Jacobsen: How do individuals of all types, of reproductive age and capacity, make decisions with respect to becoming parents or not, now?
No one really knows. It is a kind of fuzzy urge, according to some. Others attribute it to sociocultural expectations. It is clear that economic and financial considerations are key determinants and predictors of procreation. Uncertainty plays a part as does the proximity to death (the baby booms after major wars).
The advent of cloning, surrogate motherhood, and the donation of gametes and sperm have shaken the traditional biological definition of parenthood to its foundations. The social roles of parents have similarly been recast by the decline of the nuclear family and the surge of alternative household formats.
Why do people become parents in the first place? Do we have a moral obligation to humanity at large, to ourselves, or to our unborn children? Hardly.
Raising children comprises equal measures of satisfaction and frustration. Parents often employ a psychological defense mechanism - known as "cognitive dissonance" - to suppress the negative aspects of parenting and to deny the unpalatable fact that raising children is time consuming, exhausting, and strains otherwise pleasurable and tranquil relationships to their limits.
Not to mention the fact that the gestational mother experiences “considerable discomfort, effort, and risk in the course of pregnancy and childbirth” (Narayan, U., and J.J. Bartkowiak (1999) Having and Raising Children: Unconventional Families, Hard Choices, and the Social Good University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, Quoted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Parenting is possibly an irrational vocation, but humanity keeps breeding and procreating. It may well be the call of nature. All living species reproduce and most of them parent. Is maternity (and paternity) proof that, beneath the ephemeral veneer of civilization, we are still merely a kind of beast, subject to the impulses and hard-wired behavior that permeate the rest of the animal kingdom?
In his seminal tome, "The Selfish Gene", Richard Dawkins suggested that we copulate in order to preserve our genetic material by embedding it in the future gene pool. Survival itself - whether in the form of DNA, or, on a higher-level, as a species - determines our parenting instinct. Breeding and nurturing the young are mere safe conduct mechanisms, handing the precious cargo of genetics down generations of "organic containers".
Yet, surely, to ignore the epistemological and emotional realities of parenthood is misleadingly reductionistic. Moreover, Dawkins commits the scientific faux-pas of teleology. Nature has no purpose "in mind", mainly because it has no mind. Things simply are, period. That genes end up being forwarded in time does not entail that Nature (or, for that matter, "God") planned it this way. Arguments from design have long - and convincingly - been refuted by countless philosophers.
Still, human beings do act intentionally. Back to square one: why bring children to the world and burden ourselves with decades of commitment to perfect strangers?
First hypothesis: offspring allow us to "delay" death. Our progeny are the medium through which our genetic material is propagated and immortalized. Additionally, by remembering us, our children "keep us alive" after physical death.
These, of course, are self-delusional, self-serving, illusions.
Our genetic material gets diluted with time. While it constitutes 50% of the first generation - it amounts to a measly 6% three generations later. If the everlastingness of one's unadulterated DNA was the paramount concern – incest would have been the norm.
As for one's enduring memory - well, do you recall or can you name your maternal or paternal great great grandfather? Of course you can't. So much for that. Intellectual feats or architectural monuments are far more potent mementos.
Still, we have been so well-indoctrinated that this misconception - that children equal immortality - yields a baby boom in each post war period. Having been existentially threatened, people multiply in the vain belief that they thus best protect their genetic heritage and their memory.
Let's study another explanation.
The utilitarian view is that one's offspring are an asset - kind of pension plan and insurance policy rolled into one. Children are still treated as a yielding property in many parts of the world. They plough fields and do menial jobs very effectively. People "hedge their bets" by bringing multiple copies of themselves to the world. Indeed, as infant mortality plunges - in the better-educated, higher income parts of the world - so does fecundity.
In the Western world, though, children have long ceased to be a profitable proposition. At present, they are more of an economic drag and a liability. Many continue to live with their parents into their thirties and consume the family's savings in college tuition, sumptuous weddings, expensive divorces, and parasitic habits. Alternatively, increasing mobility breaks families apart at an early stage. Either way, children are not longer the founts of emotional sustenance and monetary support they allegedly used to be.
How about this one then:
Procreation serves to preserve the cohesiveness of the family nucleus. It further bonds father to mother and strengthens the ties between siblings. Or is it the other way around and a cohesive and warm family is conductive to reproduction?
Both statements, alas, are false.
Stable and functional families sport far fewer children than abnormal or dysfunctional ones. Between one third and one half of all children are born in single parent or in other non-traditional, non-nuclear - typically poor and under-educated - households. In such families children are mostly born unwanted and unwelcome - the sad outcomes of accidents and mishaps, wrong fertility planning, lust gone awry and misguided turns of events.
The more sexually active people are and the less safe their desirous exploits – the more they are likely to end up with a bundle of joy (the American saccharine expression for a newborn). Many children are the results of sexual ignorance, bad timing, and a vigorous and undisciplined sexual drive among teenagers, the poor, and the less educated.
Still, there is no denying that most people want their kids and love them. They are attached to them and experience grief and bereavement when they die, depart, or are sick. Most parents find parenthood emotionally fulfilling, happiness-inducing, and highly satisfying. This pertains even to unplanned and initially unwanted new arrivals.
Could this be the missing link? Do fatherhood and motherhood revolve around self-gratification? Does it all boil down to the pleasure principle?
Childrearing may, indeed, be habit forming. Nine months of pregnancy and a host of social positive reinforcements and expectations condition the parents to do the job. Still, a living tot is nothing like the abstract concept. Babies cry, soil themselves and their environment, stink, and severely disrupt the lives of their parents. Nothing too enticing here.
One's spawns are a risky venture. So many things can and do go wrong. So few expectations, wishes, and dreams are realized. So much pain is inflicted on the parents. And then the child runs off and his procreators are left to face the "empty nest". The emotional "returns" on a child are rarely commensurate with the magnitude of the investment.
Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying: “If you eliminate the impossible, what is left - however improbable - must be the truth”. People multiply because it provides them with narcissistic supply.
A Narcissist is a person who projects a (false) image unto others and uses the interest this generates to regulate a labile and grandiose sense of self-worth. The reactions garnered by the narcissist - attention, unconditional acceptance, adulation, admiration, affirmation - are collectively known as "narcissistic supply". The narcissist objectifies people and treats them as mere instruments of gratification.
Infants go through a phase of unbridled fantasy, tyrannical behavior, and perceived omnipotence. An adult narcissist, in other words, is still stuck in his "terrible twos" and is possessed with the emotional maturity of a toddler. To some degree, we are all narcissists. Yet, as we grow, we learn to empathize and to love ourselves and others.
This edifice of maturity is severely tested by newfound parenthood.
Babies evoke in the parent the most primordial drives, protective, animalistic instincts, the desire to merge with the newborn and a sense of terror generated by such a desire (a fear of vanishing and of being assimilated). Neonates engender in their parents an emotional regression.
The parents find themselves revisiting their own childhood even as they care for the newborn. The crumbling of decades and layers of personal growth is accompanied by a resurgence of the aforementioned early infancy narcissistic defenses. Parents - especially new ones - are gradually transformed into narcissists by this encounter and find in their children the perfect sources of narcissistic supply, euphemistically known as love. Really it is a form of symbiotic codependence of both parties.
Even the most balanced, most mature, most psychodynamically stable of parents finds such a flood of narcissistic supply irresistible and addictive. It enhances his or her self-confidence, buttresses self esteem, regulates the sense of self-worth, and projects a complimentary image of the parent to himself or herself. It fast becomes indispensable, especially in the emotionally vulnerable position in which the parent finds herself, with the reawakening and repetition of all the unresolved conflicts that she had had with her own parents.
This is especially true when the parents hold the Victorian attitude that they are and should at all times appear to be infallible, impeccably virtuous, and omniscient. Later in life, the child’s discovery that these representations are false leads to a harrowing, bitter, and traumatic disillusionment coupled with recriminations and regrets aplenty – not unlike the breakups of interpersonal relationships with adult malignant narcissists.
If this theory is true, if breeding is merely about securing prime quality narcissistic supply, then the higher the self confidence, the self esteem, the self worth of the parent, the clearer and more realistic his self image, and the more abundant his other sources of narcissistic supply - the fewer children he will have. These predictions are borne out by reality.
The higher the education and the income of adults – and, consequently, the firmer their sense of self worth - the fewer children they have. Children are perceived as counter-productive: not only is their output (narcissistic supply) redundant, they hinder the parent's professional and pecuniary progress.
The more children people can economically afford – the fewer they have. This gives the lie to the Selfish Gene hypothesis. The more educated they are, the more they know about the world and about themselves, the less they seek to procreate. The more advanced the civilization, the more efforts it invests in preventing the birth of children. Contraceptives, family planning, and abortions are typical of affluent, well informed societies.
The more plentiful the narcissistic supply afforded by other sources – the lesser the emphasis on breeding. Freud described the mechanism of sublimation: the sex drive, the Eros (libido), can be "converted", "sublimated" into other activities. All the sublimatory channels - politics and art, for instance - are narcissistic and yield narcissistic supply. They render children superfluous. Creative people have fewer children than the average or none at all. This is because they are narcissistically self sufficient.
The key to our determination to have children is our wish to experience the same unconditional love that we received from our mothers, this intoxicating feeling of being adored without caveats, for what we are, with no limits, reservations, or calculations. This is the most powerful, crystallized form of narcissistic supply. It nourishes our self-love, self worth and self-confidence. It infuses us with feelings of omnipotence and omniscience. In these and other respects, parenthood is a return to infancy.
In the film “Lucy”, a distinguished scientist proposes that organisms in hostile environments opt for “immortality” while those ensconced in friendly habitats “choose” reproduction as species-wide survival strategies. The opposite is true: when the habitat is welcoming and poses no existential threats, organisms adapt by becoming “immortal” (usually via cloning.) Bacteria and viruses come to mind.
It is when the environment turns nasty and brutish – and thereby short – that life-forms engage in diversity-enhancing sexual reproduction. Parenthood is a defense mechanism and an insurance policy against the more ominous and unsavoury aspects of life, not an affirmation of its blessings. It is intended to conquer time itself, to defeat death, and to render our immanent mortality immaterial.
Judging by the panoply of pro-family policies, society feels obligated to assist parents in the tasks of parenthood and child-rearing. Parents are perceived to be society’s long arm, its agents, the conduit for its perpetuation and future preservation: genetic as well as cultural. To some extent, the institutions of marriage, family, and socialization (upbringing) are all “national” and public as much as they are private. Indeed, a substantial portion of the hitherto parental decision-making process and a good great number of heretofore domestic decisions have been expropriated by the state: from vaccines to education.
Do we have a moral obligation to become parents? Some would say: yes. There are three types of arguments to support such a contention:
(i) We owe it to humanity at large to propagate the species or to society to provide manpower for future tasks
(ii) We owe it to ourselves to realize our full potential as human beings and as males or females by becoming parents
(iii) We owe it to our unborn children to give them life.
The first two arguments are easy to dispense with. We have a minimal moral obligation to humanity and society and that is to conduct ourselves so as not to harm others. All other ethical edicts are either derivative or spurious. Similarly, we have a minimal moral obligation to ourselves and that is to be happy (while not harming others). If bringing children to the world makes us happy, all for the better. If we would rather not procreate, it is perfectly within our rights not to do so.
But what about the third argument?
Only living people have rights. There is a debate whether an egg is a living person, but there can be no doubt that it exists. Its rights - whatever they are - derive from the fact that it exists and that it has the potential to develop life. The right to be brought to life (the right to become or to be) pertains to a yet non-alive entity and, therefore, is null and void. Had this right existed, it would have implied an obligation or duty to give life to the unborn and the not yet conceived. No such duty or obligation exist.
Jacobsen: If taking the broader concept of eudaimonia or generalized wellbeing as the evaluative criteria, how do parents do worse than the childless?
Parents idealize their children in order to survive the childrearing ordeal. But the drain on resources – emotional, physical, and financial - is very substantial. Parents often do sacrifice themselves and their lives for their children. Having children restricts mobility, impacts career choice, constricts socializaing, and otherwise has an adverse impact on the parental quality of life.
Numerous studies clearly show that childless people are happier and more self-actualized than parents are.
Jacobsen: How do consumerism and capitalism play off one another?
Capitalism is an ideology that serves to justify free markets. It is ostensibly comprised of meritocracy, level playing field (rule of law), and frictionless markets with few market failures.
But capitalism is founded on permanent growth fueled by consumption and the investment required to meet its demands. This is where the paradigm fails as it conflicts head on with scarcity.
Jacobsen: What do consumerism and capitalism replace in the lives of individuals in countries largely beholden to the ideologies?
Consumer goods are love substitutes. Shopping sprees are retail therapy. Consumers are interpellated by advertising and made to equate consumption with happiness.
Consumer goods serve multiple psychological and social needs: relative positioning (as status symbols), anxiolytics (possessing goods reduces anxiety because it is perceived as enhancing self-efficacy and agency), grandiosity-buttressing, and self-soothing, to mention just a few.
Jacobsen: Eventually, how do consumerism and capitalism lead to atomization and loneliness?
They do. Money and the things money can buy displace the pleasure offered by the company or sex of others. We also tend to objectify and commoditize other people, convert them into consumer goods, in effect: we use them and discard them or replace them with newer versions.
This leads to atomization, alienation, and malignant, solipsistic self-sufficiency.
Jacobsen: Why are these three topics the most controversial, in your opinion?
Because we tend to deny them, sweep them under the carpet. Incest is way more widespread than we pretend. Consumerism has uprooted human relations and yet we worship it and its idols, the entrepreneurs. Parenting sucks: one third of mothers suffer from post-partum depression and yet we keep lying to ourselves that the parenting model requires no tinkering (for example by implementing collective care such as in the kibbutzim of yore).
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Prof. Vaknin.
Vaknin: Always much obliged, Scott.
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