Philosophical Fragments 3

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Go to Philosophical Fragments 1, 2, and my Blog


I.               Interdiscplinarity

II.            Living Languages

III.         Life’s Lessons

IV.          Body Odors

V.             We Are All For Sale

VI.          Free Speech in Times of Pandemic

VII.       Reductionism vs. Holism

VIII.    Luxury Brands

IX.          Inexplicable Profligacy

X.             American Power

XI.          The Body

XII.       Wave of Entitlement

XIII.    Public Intellectuals

XIV.    Three Authors

XV.       Ingredients of Success

XVI.    Way to Extinction

XVII. The Fairer Sex

XVIII.      Narcissism: Antidote to Narcissism

XIX.    Giving Up

XX.       Three Toxic Threats


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I.               Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinarity - borrowing concepts and tools from one field of study or practice to enrich another and contribute to it - is either derided or hyped in academic circles. In my experience, being exposed to a variety of disciplines is invaluable.

Consider my recent tribulations:

I am in the throes of developing a new approach to advertising, sales, and marketing, based on Behavioral Economics and Behavioral Finance.

Conventional economics is founded on wildly unrealistic assumptions regarding human nature and, by extension, the conduct of human institutions.

One of them is that firms seek to maximize profits and productivity. Having managed and owned many firms and having spent two decades as advisor to firms on 4 continents, I can attest that this is unmitigated nonsense.

Firms seek to optimize - not maximize - profits, they adopt the path of least resistance. And as far as productivity: it depends on how fierce the competition is. Absent competition, there is no incentive to increase it.

I was wracking my brain on how to capture the essence of the real conduct and choices of the firm. And then it occurred to me: The GOOD ENOUGH firm! It is a phrase I shamelessly modelled after Winnicott's good enough mother (in his book, "Playing and Reality"). Firms invariably settle on being good enough, until they are rattled by an external shock.

So, my access to both domains - economics and psychology - fostered the kind of synergy that I needed to obtain a breakthrough. It works!



II.            Living Languages


To preserve a language as a LIVING LANGUAGE, the following conditions must be met:

1. An academy of language to set standards and preserve linguistic knowledge

2. A corpus of words codified in works of reference such as dictionaries and thesauri

3. A population which speaks the language and shares the same cultural and historical space

4. Literature and media which make use of the language as a primary resource

5. Constant innovation and neologization (creation of new words) in slang and in various disciplines like technology.



III.         Life’s Lessons


I have learned three solid facts - life-saving lessons - in 25 years of work in the burgeoning field of psychology:

1. Action not only implies and indicates intention - but proves its existence. Actions are always choices and are the only data accessible to us. States of mind are self-reported and unreliable to the point of being useless. Psychodynamics are inferred. But actions are indisputable and the golden standard: they teach us what people actually meant and planned to do, alone or with others.

Even when under the influence of massive amounts of alcohol or other substances, executive functions and decision-making processes are intact. People make conscious choices when they are inebriated very much as they do when they are sober.

Moreover: inaction is a form of action. It involves choice and resolve. Procrastination simply means that the person elects to not act. It demonstrates reluctance, aversion, or fear. It is a protracted act.

2. The second lesson I have learned is: "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck - better treat it as a duck. Who cares if it really is a duck?" If someone habitually abuses you, withholds, hurts you, or is being cruel to you - better assume that he hates your guts. Whether he actually does loathe you or does not is immaterial: put distance between the two of you.

3. Finally: a bad weather only friend is a bad friend. Someone who craves to learn every last detail solely about your defeats and failures, depression and life's ineluctable catastrophes is turned on by your misery. Such a "buddy" is equally likely to envy your successes and try to stymie your growth, pull you down, and tear you apart.



IV.          Body Odors


Do you stink? Are your body odors overpowering and nauseating?

1. Ask someone you trust to be truthful if you smell noxious and from which precincts of your body

2. Inhale the wafting aroma of hot coffee for 3 minutes and then smell all parts of your body, your clothing, and your shoes.

Coffee resets the smell buds in the nose: it "reboots" the nose.

3. Newborns react strongly to body odors. Because they cannot fully see in the first few months, they compensate with a much stronger sense of smell. If a baby does not protest strongly when held, it means the person holding the baby in her arms is possessed of a good smell.

4. Finally, women find some female body odors offensive even as men find these smells attractive and arousing. Similarly, women get turned on by male perspiration and by other scents that men find objectionable.



V.             We Are All For Sale


There is no difference between prostitutes, laborers, and, say, professors: all three are selling time-limited rights to access portions of their anatomies (vaginas, muscles, or brains)

leasing of body parts ("labor") to third parties ("employers") accelerated after the agricultural and industrial revolutions, both of which engendered great needs for hired hands

Nowadays, the branding, packaging, sale, and distribution of such corporeal and intellectual rights are vastly different: technology has elevated personal autonomy and has empowered individual, self-employed service providers. But the principle is still the same: we all peddle bits and pieces of our lives and bodies in return for food, shelter, and entertainment.

Modern Civilization is a Death Cult. Our civilization - West and East - is a Thanatic death cult: in consumerism and materialism, we worship the inanimate and cathect (emotionally invest) in it and we dysempathically objectify people and treat them as dispensable and interchangeable.



VI.          Free Speech in Times of Pandemic


Freedoms of speech and press are as curtailed and threatened in the ostensibly liberal West as they are in the authoritarian East - but in different ways.

Outright censorship exists even in countries like Israel. My sister acted as the army's Chief Censor for many years. Some countries firewall and filter the Web ("sovereign Internets"). But there are other, equally potent ways, to stifle free expression. There are laws on the books of countries such as the United Kingdom that prohibit "malicious communication": any text or visual that "distress" or "offend" someone! Privacy laws prohibit intrusive prurient snooping but also legitimate investigative journalism. Whistleblowers pay a dear price if they dare: ask Assange. These all have chilling effects on the unbridled exchange of information.

But possibly the greatest threat is political correctness: the strictures against any speech that is sexist, racist, ageist, antisemitic, or targets any minority group - as well as the suppression of any frank discussion of sexual practices. A lot of totally legitimate research is outlawed this way.


We are living in an age of total politics, akin to total war: the entire population is involved via vast networks of corrupt and venal patronage

Switzerland is the only largely apolitical exception: a prosperous, well-governed, Athenian haven in a world of sleazy, bigotted, ignorant, parvenu and fatuous demagogues, more concerned solely with entertaining the brainless masses and with ruthless self-enrichment and self-preservation


VII.       Reductionism vs. Holism


Albert Einstein wrote this quote. He represented the holistic school in physics. Holism has been battling reductionism in all human affairs: are we merely the sum of our parts?

Consider even sex. A partner's bodily organs - genitalia, a mouth - can be deployed for pleasure as mere masturbatory aides. Or they can stand for the delectable and irresistible entirety of a loved one. Identical mechanical experiences gain two radically disparate meanings, depending on whether the state of mind is reductionist (casual romp with a stranger) or holistic (love making with a significant other). One can even transition between the two states with the same person as the relationship deepens.

Or dinner. With a work colleague, the shallow focus would be on a sliver of life (professional, gossip, or a one night stand). This is reductionism. A romantic date would involve so much more! Holism in action: deeper resonant emotions, compounded expectations, values and beliefs, long-term goals. The entire person, in all his or her dimensions.

Or a conversation. Language or speech can be used to convey little and only factually - or to touch the soul. Reductionism, holism.

Modern science and medicine are utterly reductionist, concerned with fleeting moribund leaves in a dense and infinite forest. Missing and ignoring the big picture in favour of minutiae has been leading our species astray for centuries now, at least since Descartes.

The absence of polymaths and Renaissance men is a symptom of a malaise of intellectual sterility. The synergy afforded by true interdisciplinarity had become a lost art. Aesthetics and fecundity are sacrificed at the altar or efficacy and recursivity.



VIII.    Luxury Brands


High-end, luxury brands have to adapt and get embedded in a mix of products and services in this post-apocalyptic world.

Immediately after the lockdown restrictions are lifted, people with means will spoil themselves and compensate by purchasing expensive brands and services. But this will be a passing and brief phase.

The economic crisis which is already upon us and the attendant uncertainty are historically unprecedented. They will force people to either cut back on non-essential consumption and search for cheaper substitutes. Past experience teaches us that everyone tend to economize, except the super rich who splurge with carpe diem abandon.

Businesses of all sorts will have to adapt by offering services either digitally or at the client's homes ("takeaway"), emphasizing medical safety and de-emphasizing luxury brands and exorbitantly priced services in favor of less high-end alternatives.

The key demand will be for EDUCATION, especially delivered online or digitally, but also in small classes or one on one.

Businesses should make available a MIX of high-end brands, VIP services, mid-range brands, and generic but good products and services. Service quality and special, tailored offerings will be far more important than brands.

Even in the devastated business landscape of tomorrow, clients will always value a personal touch, a good word, a luxury or homely ambience, specialty services, sales and discounts, comfort and ease of service, and home delivery.



IX.          Inexplicable Profligacy


Among other things, economists study the lifelong decisions of individuals to spend money they earn, invest it, or save it (delay the gratification of consumption). The theoretical rational agent spreads his income over the horizon of his life expectancy, making use of the productive years to both consume wisely and create a nest egg for him and for his dependants.

In reality, people are all over the place, expending their scarce resources irrationally, not saving as much as they should (borrowing is a form of negative savings), and not mindful of the growing structural instability of the modern workplace and the not so new normal.

One reason for these inexplicable choices is a cognitive dissonance between the certainty of our demise and our planning for a future of immortality. All of us, young and old alike - even the retired and the terminally ill - act as though we are going to live forever even as we realize and accept that death await us all. We deny our mortality and ephemeral transience. We make children to extend our useful economic lives and to provide us with a delusion of continuance beyond the grave.

More here:



X.             American Power


In his new book, "Exercise of Power", former Secretary of Defense of the USA and the youngest chief of the CIA ever, Robert Gates laments the decline in American power worldwide. He attributes this process to America's over-reliance on projected and deterrent military might at the expense of all other soft power options: diplomacy, culture, international development and humanitarian aid, and other options. Many of these alternatives were literally dismantled even as military budgets ballooned inexorably and explosively.

But Gates fails to realize that this is merely one aspect of the
brutalization of American policies, institutions, and discourse. Internally, there has been a marked and revolutionary shift to heavily militarized policing at the expense of social, educational, welfare, and mental health services. Now, at the behest of ever more belligerent and confrontational authorities, the army itself is getting directly involved in domestic politics.



XI.          The Body


The body is an aging map of bulging scars and a topography of tactile memories.

Different intimate partners dwelled on different patches, caressed and toyed with extremities, appendages, and crevices. By touching these spots in one's body, their presence is evoked, hauntingly luminous and loving.

Ancient wounds, long crusted over, reify adventures not forgotten and battles never won. An entire biography encased in delicate skin, a piece of history trapped, the ephemeral fossils of the corporeal.

We carry our bodies like a burden, a vade mecum, a cry. And one day we shed them and we and everyone encoded in their cells is no more.



XII.       Wave of Entitlement


Lately, a wave of entitlement is sweeping across the globe: minorities, real and self-styled, are demanding rights and actions consistent with those rights. Entitlement is a diagnostic criterion for Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM.


The problem is that someone's rights are another person's obligations: rights instantly give rise to commensurate duties of others.


Everyone is entitled to negative rights: to NOT be killed, incarcerated for no reason, muzzled, robbed, or maimed, for example.


But no one is entitled to positive rights. No one has the right to housing, food, sex, education, access ramps, moneymaking, healthcare, honest dealings, good governance, retirement benefits, decent habitation, clean air, decent burial, objective news, or anything else whatsoever.


Positive rights are coercive because they appropriate one person's resources - time, money, health - to cater to another person's need. Even in principle, there could never be a rigorous justification to such expropriation and redistribution.


Skin color, year of birth, disability, type of genitalia are all irrelevant in the proper calculus of rights. Only two factors are relevant: one's humanity (the fount of negative rights) and the utilitarian greater good.



XIII.    Public Intellectuals


Defy the Absurd!

LIFE can LAUGH at us -

But only WE can SMILE back!


Our Public "Intellectuals": Avarice, Malice, Grandiosity

"The vibrant world of private empathy has been replaced by faceless state largesse. Pity, mercy, the elation of giving? They're all tax deductible. And generally speaking, it is a sorry sight. It's the demise of empathy.

We have been warning against this for ages and no one would listen. And no one would listen because the ethos of money, the ethos of power, the ethos of manipulating other people to obtain desirable goals and preferable outcomes - it's taken over.

public intellectuals who tell you how to live your lives, how to become better people - they're not telling you how to become BETTER people. They're teaching you how to become more EFFICIENT people - very often at the expense of others.

I'm sorry. I can't think of a single public intellectual who is not narcissistic, psychopathic, self-centered, egotistical, labile, dysregulated, sadistic to some extent...and all of them are telling you - all of them are teaching you - NOT how to develop empathy, compassion, and care, and love towards your fellow beings, but how to make maximal use of your natural endowments and to fake and to lie and to pretend - so as to obtain and to extricate whatever you can from others.

In other words, the view of public intellectuals today is that the world is a win-lose situation. And, in this sense, I'm terribly sorry to say that I can't see any difference in principle between Donald Trump's jungle, Darwinian view of the world and any public intellectual I know. They're all saying the same. But some of them are saying it in a highfalutin way - and some of them in a pub with a pint kind of way. But they are all saying the same: It's eat or be eaten, kill or be killed, manipulate or be manipulated. Don't be the sucker! Get ahead! Make the most!

And the hell with others."

Taken from



XIV.    Three authors on empathy, love, and fear


"The simple fact is that when faced with a living, breathing opponent instead of a target, a significant majority of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in which they fire over their enemy's heads."


On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman


"Agape is more than romantic love, agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theo¬logians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not be¬cause he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him. And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said 'love your enemies.'"


A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.


"The short answer to why Americans harbor so many misbegotten fears is that immense power and money await those who tap into our moral insecurities and supply us with symbolic substitutes."


The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner


XV.       Ingredients of Success


According to Harvard Business School and autobiographical testimonials by the rich and mighty, successful people have these four elements in common:


1. Luck: being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. By far the most important factor and determinant of making it.


2. The ability to identify opportunities, almost instinctually and intuitively: what do people want but lack, need but miss, offer but unable to sell, manifest, or produce. Most importantly: to identify correctly what lurks beyond people's awareness and consciousness and to render such content overt and much sought after.


3. The impulsive proclivity to take immediate action to capitalize on opportunities, almost recklessly, careful analysis and risks be damned.


4. Self-love: to persevere in the pursuit of one's best self-interests in the face of hurdles and haters and critics and doubters. To not engage in self-defeating, self-destructive, or self-trashing behaviors.



XVI.    Way to Extinction


Three Risks: On the Way to Extinction

Three witches of Macbeth push us inexorably to extinction:

The pursuit of meaning

The addiction to hope

The aversion to risk

Will lead our species to extinction



XVII. The Fairer Sex


Women have been called "The Fairer Sex" for good reason: their beauty inspired and motivated, soothed and aroused, and made the world both a more bearable and hopeful place.

By preserving this pulchritude and enhancing it, a woman cherishes her feminine essence and buttresses her wellbeing: the external and the internal are inextricably intertwined in our gender.

We should all - men and women - seek to maintain and improve this temple, the body: it is a marvel of creation, a sacred deposit, and a message we convey to others.

In beauty salons and clinics throughout the world, day in and day out, workers are dedicated to this mission of feminine aesthetics and resulting happiness.

Using the latest technologies, in depth education and training, as well as leading industry brands, the best among these establishments offer a complete and holistic solution to all your needs in this sphere.



XVIII.       Subscribe to my new YouTube channel: Nothingness: Antidote to Narcissism


Nothingness is not about being a nobody and doing nothing.

It is about choosing to be human, not a lobster.

It is about putting firm boundaries between you and the world.

It is about choosing happiness - not dominance.

It is accomplishing from within, not from without.

It is about not letting others regulate your emotions, moods, and thinking.

It is about being an authentic YOU.


To see how far we have deteriorated as a civilization, how atomized and alienated we had become, how extinct solidarity and empathy are, here is an excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” (a semi-autobiographical narrative of the bubonic plague in 17th century London):

“A near view of death would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another and that (it) is chiefly to our easy situation in life and our putting these things far from us that our breaches are fomented, ill blood continued ... Another plague year would reconcile all these differences, a close conversing with Death or with diseases that threaten Death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us and bring us to see with differing eyes”.


We used to have an intimate relationship with death, with our inevitable departure from the world. Demise was as much a part of life as birth: we did not exist before we were born and, at some point, we will cease to exist again.

No one wanted to die prematurely - but no one made life itself an extended exercise in evading the inevitable. We ventured gently into the night, grateful for having had the chance and gift of spending some time in this incomparable theme part called “reality”.

The great 17th century essayist, Michel de Montaigne, wrote:

“Let us rid death of its strangeness, come to know it, get used to it. Let us have nothing on our minds as often as death. At every moment let us picture it in our imagination in all its aspects ... It is uncertain where death awaits us - let us await it everywhere. Premeditation of death is premeditation of freedom ... He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. Knowing how to die frees us from all subjection and constraint.”


XIX.     Giving Up


Divorce is a good exit strategy out of an abusive relationship.

But the problem is that people use it as a first - not last - resort. Whenever things get even trivially tough - they bail out rather than try harder.

Nowadays, people give up owing to DIFFICULTIES - not to ABUSE. They MISLABEL difficulties as “abuse” in order to justify their lack of perseverance.

Our civilization relies on disposable and replaceable products - and we treat each other the same way.

The modern concept of a romantic dyad based on infatuation causes people to renounce reality in favor of fantasy and so they idealize their partners. This inevitably leads to disillusionment and breakup.

The misguided concept of a love-based marriage (romantic love) changed the way we select mates.

It is a modern phenomenon. Previous generations were transactional and saw each other in a realistic light. The mass media - cinema and romantic literature, especially - taught us to idealize our intimate partners in any and all ways.

Many studies have shown that people in marriages that were arranged or subject to matchmaking grew to love and respect each other. Basing mate selection mostly on lustful sex and on attraction got humanity into the relationship mess we have now.


Intimate relationships entail the experiencing, triggering, and display of one's vulnerabilities. Many find this integral and critical component of intimacy frightening or distasteful.

Being vulnerable is childlike and, therefore, could be a wonderful feeling: excitement and relief in equal measures. To cast aside all masks is to liberating. To finally be 100% you is exhilarating. To be accepted as you truly are is to be loved.

The disclosure of one's "weaknesses", fault lines, and deficiencies gives rise to anxiety only when you don't trust the other party, when you are worried that he might disparage the newly gained information, reject you, or, much worse, leverage your openness, wounds, and needs to his advantage.


Compensatory personal boundaries are rigid, hypervigilant, aggressive (often defiant), and excessive (disproportional). They are intended to compensate for the lack of enforced boundaries in any one or more other areas of life.

Thus, if an individual has no boundaries in his private life, acts as a people pleasing doormat, and is subject to all manner of disrespectful abuse by his "nearest" and "dearest" - he is likely to be a tyrant in the workplace, keen to spot transgressions and slights where there are none, acting entitled and temperamental, and insisting on perfection or unthinking obeisance to his every whim.

This implies the existence of a "law of conservation of personal boundaries". One's very identity depends on such fortified demarcations in at least one realm of one's being, functional existence, and day to day operations.


XX.        Three Toxic Threats


There are three toxic threats to one’s individual freedoms and authentic being: hope, love, and success.

Hope is a counterfactual and delusional reaction to despair and meaninglessness. It fosters expectations that are invariably thwarted. Its companions and successors are depression, frustration, and aggression. Nothing is more pernicious and insidious than hope.

Love is the pathological attempt to counter existential and profound loneliness via an idealized, largely narcissistic narrative projected onto one’s partner. It invariably ends in heartbreak and devastation because it is inherently contrived and because it involves numerous practices which runs counter to the pursuit of liberty and happiness.

Success is society’s way of harnessing individual energies and gifts at the service of the collective and its elites. It is slavery in all but name.

The rational, sane person avoids this venomous, identity-eradicating trio. He lives free in the fullest sense of the word: free of the future and its intimations (hope), free of all others (love), and free of any organizing principles (success).

Whenever this Nietzschean Superman is threatened by hope, love, or success - he rebels and recoils and is gone, having left everything and everyone behind as so many discarded shackles.



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