Philosophical Fragments 2

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Go to Philosophical Fragments 1, 3, and my Blog

I. Ignorance and Punishment

II. Resolving Disputes - The Lost Art

III. The Criticism of the Absent

IV. Coping with Danger

V. Lies People Tell

VI. Remarks about Love and Misogyny

VII. Decriminalizing Drugs

VIII. Purging vs. Co-opting Tyrants

IX. Why do We Celebrate Birthdays

X. Dark Corners of Cosmology

XI. Dancing as an Evolutionary Strategy

XII. Reclaiming Time

XIII. Religion and Warfare

XIV. Embassies are NOT Sovereign Territory

XV. Client and Satellite States

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I. Ignorance and Punishment

The fact that one is ignorant of the law does not a sufficient defence in a court of law make. Ignorance is no protection against punishment. The adult is presumed to know all the laws. This presumption is knowingly and clearly false. So why is it made in the first place?

There are many types of laws. If a person is not aware of the existence of gravitation, he will still obey it and fall to the ground from a tall building. This is a law of nature and, indeed, ignorance serves as no protection and cannot shield one from its effects and applicability. But human laws cannot be assumed to have he same power. They are culture-dependent, history-dependent, related to needs and priorities of the community of humans to which they apply. A law that is dependent and derivative is also contingent. No one can be reasonably expected to have intimate (or even passing) acquaintance with all things contingent. A special learning process, directed at the contingency must be effectuated to secure such knowledge.

Perhaps human laws reflect some in-built natural truth, discernible by all conscious, intelligent observers? Some of them give out such an impression. "Thou shalt not murder", for instance. But this makes none of them less contingent. That all human cultures throughout history obtained the same thinking regarding murder – does not bestow upon the human prohibition a privileged nomic status. In other words, no law is endowed with the status of a law of nature just by virtue of the broad agreement between humans who support it. There is no power in numbers, in this respect. A law of nature is not a statistically determined "event". At least, ideally, it should not be.

Another argument is that a person should be guided by a sense of right and wrong. This inner guide, also known as the conscience or the super-ego, is the result of social and psychological processes collectively known as "socialization". But socialization itself is contingent, in the sense that we have described. It cannot serve as a rigorous, objective benchmark. Itself a product of cultural accumulation and conditioning, it should be no more self evident than the very laws with which it tries to imbue the persons to whom it is applied.

Still, laws are made public. They are accessible to anyone who cares to get acquainted with them. Or so, theoretically. Actually, it is inaccessible to the illiterate, to those who have not assimilated the legal jargon, or to the poor. Even if laws were uniformly accessible to all – their interpretation would not have been. In many legal systems, precedents and court decisions are an integral part of the law. Really, there is no such thing as a perfect law. Laws evolve, grow, are replaced by others, which better reflect mores and beliefs, values and fears, in general the public psychology as mediated by the legislators. This is why a class of professionals has arisen, who make it their main business to keep up with the legal evolution and revolutions. Not many can afford the services of these law-yers. In this respect, many do not have ample access to the latest (and relevant) versions of the law. Nor would it be true to say that there is no convincing way to pierce one's mind in order to ascertain whether he did know the law in advance or not. We all use stereotypes and estimates in our daily contacts with others. There is no reason to refrain from doing so only in this particular case. If an illiterate, poor person broke a law – it could safely be assumed that he did not know, a-priori, that he was doing so. Assuming otherwise would lead to falsity, something the law is supposed to try and avoid. It is, therefore, not an operational problem.

II. Resolving Disputes - The Lost Art

Wherever interests meet - they tend to clash. Disputes are an inevitable and inseparable part of commercial life. Mankind invented many ways to settle disputes. Each way relies on a different underlying principle. Generally speaking, there are four such principles: justice, law, logic and force.

Disputes can be resolved by resorting to force. One party can force the other to accept his opinion and to comply by his conditions and demands. Obeisance should not be confused with acceptance. The coerced party is likely to at least sabotage the interests of the coercing one. In due time, a mutiny is more likely than not. Force is always met by force, as Newton discovered.

This revolution and counter-revolution has a devastating effect on wealth formation. The use of force does ensure that the distribution of wealth will be skewed and biased in favour of the forceful party. But the cake to be divided grows smaller and smaller, wealth diminishes and, in due course, there is almost nothing left to fight over.

Another mechanism of dispute resolution involves the application of the law. This mechanism also relies (ultimately) on enforcement (therefore, on force). But it maintains the semblance of objectivity and the fair (unbiased) treatment of the contestants ("level playing field" and the "rule of Law"). It does so by relegating both functions - of legislating and of adjudication - to third, uninterested parties.

But this misses the crucial point. The problem is not "who makes the laws" or "who administers them". The problem is "how are the laws applied". If a bias exists, if a party is favoured, it is at the stage of administering justice. The personal integrity of the arbitrator (the judge) at this stage does not guarantee a fair outcome.

Empirically, the results of trials have been shown to depend greatly on the ethnic identity and social and economic standing of the disputants as well as on the social background and ethnic affiliation of the judge. Above all: the more money a party to a trial has - the more the court is tilted in his or her favour.

The laws of procedure are such that wealthy applicants (represented by wealthy lawyers) are more likely to win. The substantive law contains preferences: ethnic, economic, ideological, historical, social and so on. Applying such substantive law to the settlement of disputes is tantamount to the application of force. The difference is in style, rather than in substance. When law enforcement agencies get involved - even this minor distinction tends to blur.

Perhaps a better system would be the application of the principles of justice to disputes - had people been able to agree what these are. Justice is an element in the legal system, but it is "tainted" by ulterior and overriding considerations (social, economic, etc.)

In its purified form justice is associated with an impartial administration of impartial principles of dispute resolution. The promulgation and application of just principles is entrusted to people who are thought to possess or to reify justice ("just" or "honest" people). The system is not encumbered by laws of procedure and the parties have no built-in advantages. Arbitration is an example of a justice-based dispute resolution system.

Both the law and the principles of justice tend to preserve accumulated wealth and, therefore, the social order. In many cases they tend to help to increase it. No "right" or "just" distribution is guaranteed by either system - but, at least, the destruction of wealth is avoided.

This achievement is based on the principle of consent. Embedded in both systems is the implicit agreement to abide by the rules, to accept final judgments, to succumb to legal instructions, and not to use force to try to ensure favorable outcomes. A revolution is, of course, always an option. One can always ignore or violate decisions or judgments rendered by competent, commonly accepted courts. But, in these cases, we are merely back to dealing with the application of the principle of force, rather than of law or justice.

Then there is logic. Not in its commonsensical rendition - but in the form of natural laws. By "logic" we mean the immutable ways in which the world is governed, in which forces are channeled, under which circumstances arise or subside. Natural Law should (and in many respects) does underlie all the human systems of law and order. This is the meaning of "natural justice" in the most profound sense of the phrase.

All human societies belong to either of these four categories. Indeed, a civilization can easily be summed up and judged by its adherence to one or the other of these systems and principles of dispute resolution. It is when Mankind backtracks and slides from system of Law or Justice to Force-based solutions that the end is nigh.

III. The Criticism of the Absent

That which does not exist - cannot be criticized. We can pass muster only on that which exists. When we say "this is missing" - we really mean to say: "there is something that IS NOT in this, which IS." Absence is discernible only against the background of existence. Criticism is aimed at changing. In other words, it relates to what is missing. But it is no mere sentence, or proposition. It is an assertion. It is goal-oriented. It strives to alter that which exists with regards to its quantity, its quality, its functions, or its program / vision. All these parameters of change cannot relate to absolute absence. They emanate from the existence of an entity. Something must exist as a precondition. Only then can criticism be aired: "(In that which exists), the quantity, quality, or functions are wrong, lacking, altogether missing".

The common error - that we criticize the absent - is the outcome of the use made of an ideal. We compare that which exists with a Platonic Idea or Form (which, according to modern thinking, does not REALLY exist). We feel that the criticism is the product not of the process of comparison - but of these ideal Ideas or Forms. Since they do not exist - the thing criticized is felt not to exist, either.

But why do we assign the critical act and its outcomes not to the real - but to the ideal? Because the ideal is judged to be preferable, superior, a criterion of measurement, a yardstick of perfection. Naturally, we will be inclined to regard it as the source, rather than as the by-product, or as the finished product (let alone as the raw material) of the critical process. To refute this intuitive assignment is easy: criticism is always quantitative. At the least, it can always be translated into quantitative measures, or expressed in quantitative-propositions. This is a trait of the real - never of the ideal. That which emanates from the ideal is not likely to be quantitative. Therefore, criticism must be seen to be the outcome of the interaction between the real and the ideal - rather than as the absolute emanation from either.

IV. Coping with Danger

When we, mobile organisms, are confronted with danger, we move. Coping with danger is one of the defining characteristics and determinants of life: how we cope with danger defines and determines us, that is: forms part of our identity.

To move is to change our identity. This is composed of spatial-temporal parameters (co-ordinates) and of intrinsic parameters. No being is sufficiently defined without designating its locus in space-time. Where we are and when we are is as important as what we are made of, or what are our internal processes. Changing the values of our space time parameters is really tantamount to changing ourselves, to altering our definition sufficiently to confound the source of danger.

Mobile organisms, therefore, resort to changing their space-time determinants as a means towards the end of changing their identity. This is not to say that their intrinsic parameters remain unchanged. Hormonal discharges, neural conductivity, biochemical reactions – all acquire new values. But these are secondary reactions. The dominant pattern of reaction is flight (spatial-temporal), rather than fright (intrinsic).

The repertoire of static organisms (plants, for instance) is rather more limited. Their ability to alter the values of their space-time co-ordinates is very narrow. They can get away from aridity by extending their roots. They can spread spores all over. But their main body is constrained and cannot change location. This is why it is reasonable to expect that immobile organisms will resort to changing the values of their intrinsic parameters when faced with danger. We could reasonably expect them to change their chemical reactions, the compounds that they contain, other electrical and chemical parameters, hormones, enzymes, catalysts – anything intrinsic and which does not depend on space and time.

V. Lies People Tell

All people lie some of the time. They use words to convey their lies while their body language usually gives them away. This is curious. Why did evolution prefer this self defeating strategy? The answer lies in the causes of the phenomenon.

We lie for three main reasons and these give rise to three categories of lies:

  1. The Empathic Lie – is a lie told with the intention of sparing someone's feelings. It is a face saving lie – but someone else's face. It is designed to prevent a loss of social status, the onslaught of social sanctions, the process of judgment involved in both. It is a derivative of our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes – that is, to empathize. It is intended to spare OUR feelings, which are bound to turn more and more unpleasant the more we sympathize with the social-mental predicament of the person being lied to. The lie achieves its goal only if the recipient cooperates, does not actively seek out the truth and acquiescently participates in the mini-drama unfolding in his or her honour. The reverse, brutal honesty, at all costs and in all circumstances – is a form of sadistic impulse.

What constitutes "brutal honesty" and how can we set it apart from mere, oft-commended honesty?

Brutal honesty is:

1. Gratuitous (there is really no need to be honest)

2. Aggressive. You can say the same thing is many ways. Abrasiveness is not an essential part of honesty.

3. Repeated despite the obvious discomfort of the listener(s).

4. With the intent of causing pain or harm and with a clear enjoyment in inflicting them.

  1. The Egocentric Lie – is a lie intended to further the well being of the liar. This can be achieved in one of two ways. The lie can help the liar to achieve his goals (a Goal Seeking Lie) or to avoid embarrassment, humiliation, social sanctions, judgement, criticism and, in general, unpleasant experiences related to social standing (a Face Saving Lie). The Goal Seeking Lie is useful only when considering the liar as an individual, independent unit. The Face Saving type is instrumental only in social situations. We can use the terms: Individualistic Lie and Social Lie respectively.
  1. The Narcissistic Lie – is separated from his brethren by its breadth and recursiveness. It is all-pervasive, ubiquitous, ever recurring, all encompassing, entangled and intertwined with all the elements of the liar's life and personality. Moreover, it is a lie of whose nature the liar is not aware and he is convinced of its truth. But the people surrounding the Narcissist liar notice the lie. The Narcissist-liar is rather like a hunchback without a mirror. He does not believe in the reality of his own hump. It seems that where the liar does not believe his own lies – he succeeds in convincing his victims rather effectively. When he does believe in his own inventions – he fails miserably at trapping his fellow men. Much more about the False Self (the lie that underlies the personality of the Narcissist) in "Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited" and the FAQ section thereof.

VI. Remarks about Love and Misogyny

From a correspondence:

"I think that there is a schism between men and women. I am sorry but I am neo-Weiningerian. I fear women and loathe them viscerally - while, in the abstract, I recognize that they are members of the human species and eligible to the same rights as men do. Still, the biological, biochemical and psychological differences between us (men versus women) are so profound - that I think that a good case can be made in favour of a theory which will assign them to another (perhaps even more advanced) species. I am heterosexual, so it has nothing to do with sexual preferences. Also I know that what I have to say will alienate and anger you. Still, I believe - as does Dr. Grey - that cross-gender communication is all but impossible. We are separated by biology, by history, by culture, by chemistry, by genetics, in short: by too much. Where we see cruelty they see communication, where we see communication they see indifference, where we see a future they see a threat, where we see a threat they see an opportunity, where we see stagnation they see security and where we see safety they see death, where we get excited they get alarmed, where we get alarmed they get bored, we love with our senses, they love with their wombs and mind, they tend to replicate, we tend to assimilate, they are Trojan horses, we are dumb Herculeses, they succumb in order to triumph, we triumph in order to succumb.

And I see no difference between the three terms that you all used. "Love", "cruelty" and "impotence" are to me three sides of the same coin. We love in order to overcome our (perceived) impotence. We burden our love with impossible dreams: to become children again. We want to be unconditionally loved and omnipotent. No wonder love invariably ends in disappointment and disillusionment. It can never fulfil our inflated expectations. This is when we become cruel. We avenge our paradise lost. We inflict upon our lover the hell that he or she fostered in us. We do so impotently because we still love, even as we fervently hate (Freudian ambivalence). Thus we always love cruelly, impotently and desperately, the desperation of the doomed."

VII. Decriminalizing Drugs

The decriminalization of drugs is a tangled issue involving many separate moral/ethical and practical strands which can, probably, be summarized thus:

Whose body is it anyway? Where do "I" start and the government begins? What gives the state the right to intervene in decisions pertaining only to my self and countervene them?


The government exercises similar "rights" in other cases (abortion, military conscription, sex)

Is the government the optimal moral agent, the best or the right arbiter, as far as drug abuse is concerned?


For instance, governments collaborate with the illicit drug trade when it fits their realpolitik purposes.

Is substance abuse a PERSONAL or a SOCIAL choice? Can one LIMIT the implications, repercussions and outcomes of one's choices in general and of the choice to abuse drugs, in particular? If the drug abuser in effect makes decisions for others, too - does it justify the intervention of the state? Is the state the agent of society, is it the ONLY agent of society and is it the RIGHT agent of society in the case of drug abuse?

What is the difference (in rigorous philosophical principle) between legal and illegal substances? Is it something in the NATURE of the substances? In the USAGE and what follows? In the structure of SOCIETY? Is it a moral fashion?


Does scientific research support or refute common myths and ethos regarding drugs and their abuse?

Is scientific research INFLUENCED by the current anti-drugs crusade and hype? Are certain facts suppressed and certain subjects left unexplored?

Should drugs be decriminalized for certain purposes (e.g., marijuana and glaucoma)? If so, where should the line be drawn and by whom?


Recreational drugs sometimes alleviate depression. Should this use be permitted?

VIII. Purging vs. Co-opting Tyrants

History teaches us that there are two types of tyrants. Those who preserve the structures and forces that carry them to power - and those who, once they have attained their goal of unbridled domination, seek to destroy the organizations and people they had used to get to where they are.

Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Josip Broz Tito are examples of co-opting tyrants. Though Hitler was forced to liquidate the rebellious SA in 1934, he kept the Nazi party intact and virtually unchanged until the end. He surrounded himself with fanatic (and self-serving) loyalists and the composition of his retinue remained the same throughout the life of his regime. The concept of Alte Kampfer (veteran fighter) was hallowed and the mythology of Nazism extolled loyalty and community (Gemeinschaft) above opportunistic expedience and conspiratorial paranoia.

Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao are prime specimen of the purging tyrant. Stalin spent the better part of 30 years eliminating not only the opposition - but the entire Leninist-Bolshevik political party that brought him to power in the first place. He then proceeded to cold-bloodedly exterminate close to 20 million professionals, intellectuals, army officers, and other achievers and leaders on whose toil and talents his alleged successes rested.

Co-opting tyrants consolidate their power by continually expanding the base of their supporters and the concomitant networks of patronage. They encourage blind obedience (the Fuehrerprinzip) and devotion. They thrive on personal interaction with sycophants and adulators. They foster a cult-like shared psychosis in their adherents.

Purging tyrants consolidate their power by removing all independent thinkers and achievers from the scene, re-writing history in a self-aggrandizing manner, and then raising a new generation of ambitious, young acolytes who know only the tyrant and his reign and regard both as a force of nature. They rule through terror and encourage paranoia on all levels. They foster the atomization of society in a form of micromanaged application of the tried and true rule of "divide et impera".

IX. Why do We Celebrate Birthdays

Why do we celebrate birthdays? What is it that we are toasting? Is it the fact that we have survived another year against many odds? Are we marking the progress we have made, our cumulative achievements and possessions? Is a birthday the expression of hope sprung eternal to live another year?

None of the above, it would seem.

If it is the past year that we are commemorating, would we still drink to it if we were to receive some bad news about our health and imminent demise? Not likely. But why? What is the relevance of information about the future (our own looming death) when one is celebrating the past? The past is immutable. No future event can vitiate the fact that we have made it through another 12 months of struggle. Then why not celebrate this fact?

Because it is not the past that is foremost on our minds. Our birthdays are about the future, not about the past. We are celebrating having arrived so far because such successful resilience allows us to continue forward. We proclaim our potential to further enjoy the gifts of life. Birthdays are expressions of unbridled, blind faith in our own suspended mortality.

But, if this were true, surely as we grow older we have less and less cause to celebrate. What reason do octogenarians have to drink to another year if that gift is far from guaranteed? Life offers diminishing returns: the longer you are invested, the less likely you are to reap the dividenda of survival. Indeed, based on actuary tables, it becomes increasingly less rational to celebrate one's future the older one gets.

Thus, we are forced into the conclusion that birthdays are about self-delusionally defying death. Birthdays are about preserving the illusion of immortality. Birthdays are forms of acting out our magical thinking. By celebrating our existence, we bestow on ourselves protective charms against the meaninglessness and arbitrariness of a cold, impersonal, and often hostile universe.

And, more often than not, it works. Happy birthday!

X. Dark Corners of Cosmology

When we look out to the Cosmos, we survey an inventory of all the objects – stars, galaxies, and, now, planets – that had ever existed. Owing to the limited speed of light, our telescopes peer not only out to space but back in time as well. There is no way of knowing whether what we see still exists. Example: light from the binary star Alpha-Centaury requires 4.4 years to reach us. Thus, at any given moment we can ascertain that it had existed 4.4 years ago. Had it exploded 1 year ago, we would still count it as among the living for the next 3.4 years. Thus, the disciplines of cosmology and astrophysics are knowingly based on outdated information. We cannot vouch for any important measurement: the distribution of matter in the Universe, for instance, or even the total mass and energy of the Cosmos.

This all-pervasive uncertainty led scientists to invent Dark Matter and Dark Energy to account for the behaviour of matter-clumps in the Universe and for the accelerating recession of the farthest galaxies, respectively. Yet, these postulated entities rely on observational data that may no longer be valid. Other explanations may account for the receding galaxies: (1) That the speed of light is constant only locally; or that (2) it is an observational effect owing to a particular gravitational lensing; or that (3) the topology of the Cosmos may be such that it makes far objects appear farther at an accelerating rate.

More traditionally, though, the recent “discovery” (rather, postulation) of dark energy seems to restore entropy on the scale of the entire Universe. Actually, the traits of dark energy (homogeneity, isotropy, a lack of interaction with other forms of energy and matter, infinitesimal density, negative pressure) suggest that dark energy, the Cosmological Constant (Lambda) and quintessence fields are merely other names for entropy and are not related to vacuum energy.

Thus, a Big Rip, or Big Chill as the outcome of cosmic acceleration would merely be the culmination of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is definitely true for our local supercluster. Dark energy also compensates for the entropy gap (between actual cosmic entropy and maximum potential cosmic entropy which grows as the Universe expands): it transforms the whole Universe into a single black hole with an infinite cosmic event horizon.

This thermodynamic slant also agrees with superstring theories:

As a universe tunnels through the landscape (of string theory), from (mathematically modelled) "hill" to "valley", it retains (conserves) the entire information regarding the volume of (mathematically modelled) "space" (or of the space-like volume) of the portion of the landscape that it has traversed. These data are holographically encoded and can be fully captured by specifying the information regarding the universe's (lightlike) boundary (e.g., its gravitational horizon).

As the universe's entropy grows (and energy density falls), it "decays" and its inflation stops. This event determines its nature (its physical constants and laws of Nature). Eternal inflation is, therefore, a feature of the entire landscape of string theory, not of any single "place" or space-time (universe) within it.

Note of caution:

What is interpreted to imply the existence of multiple universes may be merely an artefact, enumerating all the ways that a four-dimensional surface can be folded, using supersymmetric formalism.

But what about singularities, black holes, and other anomalies?

String theory, which is supposed to incorporate quantum gravity, should offer insights regarding black holes. String theories make use of the General Relativity Theory (GRT) formalism and add to it specific matter fields. Thus, many classical black hole solutions satisfy string equations of motion. In an effort to preserve some supersymmetry, superstring theory has devised its own black hole solutions (with D-branes, or "black branes", as the description of certain supersymmetric black holes). A match was even found between types of supersymmetric black holes and supergravity including greybody factors (frequency dependent corrections). String theorists have derived most of Hawking's (and Bekenstein's) work regarding the entropy of black holes from string theories.

This led to novel ways of thinking about strings. What if "open" strings were really closed ones with one part "hidden" behind a black brane? What if intersecting black branes wrapped around seven curled dimensions gave rise to black holes? The vanishing masses of black branes delineate a cosmological evolutionary tree: from a universe with one topology to another, with another topology. Our world may be the "default" universe on the path of least resistance and minimum energy from one universe to another.

It would appear that spacetime itself may be the anomaly!

The particles with half integer spins predicted by supersymmetry are nowhere to be found. Either supersymmetry is a wrong idea or the particles are too heavy (or too something) to be detected by us with our current equipment. The latter (particles too heavy) is possible only if supersymmetry has broken down (which is almost the same as saying that it is wrong). Had it existed, it would probably have encompassed gravity (as does the General Theory of Relativity) in the form of "supergravity". The non-supersymmetric equivalent of supergravity can be gravity as we know it. In terms of particles, supersymmetry in an 11-dimensional universe talks about a supersymmetric gravitino and a spin 2 graviton.

Supersymmetric supergravity was supplanted by 10-dimensional superstring theory because it could not account for handedness in nature (i.e., the preference of left or right in spin direction and in other physical phenomena) and for many quantum effects. From there it was a short - and inevitable - way to membrane theories. Branes with "p" dimensions moved in worldvolumes with p+1 dimensions and wrapped around curled dimensions to produce strings. Strings are, therefore, the equivalents of branes. To be more precise, strongly interacting (10-dimensional) strings are the dual equivalent of weakly interacting five-branes (solitons) (Duff, Scientific American, February 1998). Later, a duality between solitonic and fundamental strings in 6 dimensions (the other 4 curled and the five-brane wrapped around them) was established and then dualities between strings from the 5 string theories. Duff's "duality of dualities" states that the T-duality of a solitonic string is the S-duality of the fundamental string and vice versa. In other words, what appears as the charge of one object can also be construed as the inversion of the length of another (and, hence, the size of the dimension). All these insights - pulled together by Witten - led to M Theory in 11 dimensions. Later on, matrix theories replaced traditional coordinates in space time with non-commutable matrices. In other words, in an effort to rigorously define M Theory (that is, merge quantum physics with gravity), space time itself has been "sacrificed" or "quantum theorized".

XI. Dancing as an Evolutionary Strategy

Dances are thinly disguised simulations of sex acts. But there’s more to dancing than bawdy ribaldry. The sweaty proximity allows the partners to exchange an enormous amount of information about their respective bodies: from joint suppleness, through spatial orientation and coordination, and down to the fine details of their immunological systems (such as the major histocompatibility complex MHC) carried by their body odours. In this sense, dancing aids and abets the forces of natural selection and eugenic breeding. Indeed, in many 16th and 17th century textbooks dancing is grouped with hunting, fighting, wrestling, and running.

In times past, the dance-hall was the only venue open to prospective partners to gather such fitness data. Indeed, there is reason to believe that dancing was consciously invented and designed to do precisely that. Capriol, a protagonist in Thoinot Arbeau’s dance manual “Orchesography”, complains: “(W)ithout knowledge of dancing, I could not please the damsels.” Arbeau himself is nothing if not brutally explicit:

“Dancing is practised to reveal whether lovers are in good health and sound of limb, after which they are permitted to kiss their mistresses in order that they may touch and savour one another, thus to ascertain if they are shapely or emit an unpleasant odour as of bad meat.”

Arbeau and dance masters such as Caroso actually named dances to reflect the underlying amorous, matchmaking process. Inevitably, Puritans and other spoilsports targeted the practice and its purveyors repeatedly in both England and its overseas colonies.

But dancing, as a form of health-enhancing strenuous exercise, also serves to perpetuate the species. This aspect of dancing was especially important when and where women’s movements were restricted by tradition, social mores, and religion: allowed to indulge in dances, even with their own sex, women have thus secured a modicum of sanatory locomotion.

Nowadays, dancing is often thought of as a couple’s activity. But, this is a recent development. Until the nineteenth century, dancing was a social act and the vast majority of dances involved frequently switched multiple partners, as demanded by ballroom etiquette. Thus, dancing and saltation yielded social cohesion; increased social interaction; and enhanced the opportunities for mating and cooperation.

XII. Reclaiming Time

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

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

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

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

XIII. Religion and Warfare

The two founts of human progress are institutional religion and warfare. The first gave us the clock and plastic arts, among many other contributions. The latter bestowed on us explosives, the race to space, and the Internet to name its most recent advances. No wonder the two have been inextricably entwined throughout history, both ancient and modern.

XIV. Embassies: NOT Sovereign Territory (Brussels Morning)


Israel bombed a structure that served the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Though not strictly within the compound of the Embassy, it was widely known as an outpost of Iranian diplomacy in Syria. Iran threatened to retaliate against an Israeli representation.


Ecuador’s police stormed the Mexican Embassy in order to arrest a former vice-president accused of corruption who was granted asylum by Mexico only hours before.


The cherished – almost sacred – principle of the protection of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel seems to be going the way of the dodo. This impression has partly to do with the myths that surround diplomatic immunity and inviolability.


Articles 21-25 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), state:


Article 21
1. The receiving State shall either facilitate the acquisition on its territory, in accordance with its laws, by the sending State of premises necessary for its mission or assist the latter in obtaining accommodation in some other way.
2. It shall also, where necessary, assist missions in obtaining suitable accommodation for their members.


Article 22
1. The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

2. The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

3. The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.


Article 23
1. The sending State and the head of the mission shall be exempt from all national, regional or municipal dues and taxes in respect of the premises of the mission, whether owned or leased, other than such as represent payment for specific services rendered.

2. The exemption from taxation referred to in this article shall not apply to such dues and taxes payable under the law of the receiving State by persons contracting with the sending State or the head of the mission.


Article 24
The archives and documents of the mission shall be inviolable at any time and wherever they may be.


Article 25
The receiving State shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the mission.


The language is clear: the Embassy is not sovereign territory and not extraterritorial. It just enjoys certain legal exemptions, that’s all.


Are these concessions revocable if the Mission gets involved in espionage or criminal activities? Probably so. But granting political asylum to a refugee is not the same as harboring a fugitive from justice. Mexico is right to have severed its diplomatic relations with Ecuador.


What about holding meetings on the premises to discuss and plan future acts of terrorism? Here the legal picture gets murkier.


At issue is the right of self-defense of the violating country as well as the principle that spaces immune to military action such as hospitals and consulates lose their special protections when they are being abused by terrorists and criminals. In short: Israel may have had a right to blow up the building and the conspirators within it.


XV. Client and satellite States (Brussels Morning)


The fraying relationships between Ukraine and Israel and their ostensible ally, he United States, brough to a sharp focus an age-old conundrum.


From time immemorial, small countries acted as clients and satellites of bigger ones. Regional and global superpowers insisted on establishing spheres of influence to protect their citizens and safeguard their interests. Even the nascent USA promulgated the Monroe Doctrine to make sure that Europe does not interfere in hemispheric affairs in the Americas.


Client states fulfill several important functions and render services to their hegemonic patrons:


1. They engage in proxy wars with proxies of other powers;


2. They serve as buffer zones for the hinterlands of the regional or superpowers;


3. They act as testing grounds for new weapon systems, tactics, and strategies;


4. They provide the colonial power, empire, or sponsor state with raw materials and cannon fodder (soldiers);


5. They carry out secret “dirty” operations - including in cyberspace - on behalf of the regional or superpower in order to afford the latter plausible deniability;


6. They gather intelligence and share it with the hegemonic state.


In return, the bigger members of these asymmetrical alliances guarantee the safety and territorial integrity of their client states, supply weapons and military training as well as economic loans, and share intelligence.


They also intervene diplomatically to shield their client states from the impacts of sanctions and other steps taken by their adversaries.


Small polities have always shopped around for protection. Egypt has pivoted from the USA to the USSR in the 1950s and back to the USA in the 1970s, for example. So did Israel, albeit in the opposite direction: from the Communist East to the capitalistic West.


In a multipolar world, the leverage and bargaining power of small countries are increasing. But so does the aggression of regional potentates. We are in for an unusually turbulent period in human history, as state actors are attempting to settle on a new, workable equilibrium.


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