Sam Vaknin [samvaknin]
What is your profession? What is your title printed on your business card?
I haven't sported a visit card for more than a decade now. Still, had I had one, it would have borne the unweildy epithet: "commentator, columnist and analyst".
Which languages do you speak, and how have you learned them?
I was born in Israel and so am fluent in Hebrew. I am equally proficient in English, though. Having a prepubescent infatuation with my teacher and living outside my homeland have helped, I guess. Finally, I get by in Macedonian. My wife hails from Skopje, you see.
How do you feel about speaking in front of an audience? What experience have you had in this arena?
I am a narcissist: I am addicted to attention (narcissistic supply). I love to speak in public and have been doing so repeatedly and rather regularly ever since I was 9 years old (as a speechmaker, lecturer, and teacher).
List any credits, publications, competitions, etc.
Web and Journalistic Activities
Author of extensive Web sites in:
– Psychology ("Malignant Self Love") - An Open Directory Cool Site for 8 years.
– Philosophy ("Philosophical Musings"),
– Economics and Geopolitics ("World in Conflict and Transition").
Owner of the Narcissistic Abuse Study Lists and the Abusive Relationships Newsletter (more than 6,000 members).
Owner of the Economies in Conflict and Transition Study List , the Toxic Relationships Study List, and the Links and Factoid Study List.
Editor of mental health disorders and Central and Eastern Europe categories in various Web directories (Open Directory, Search Europe, Mentalhelp.net).
Editor of the Personality Disorders, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse, and the Spousal (Domestic) Abuse and Violence topics on Suite 101 and Bellaonline.
Columnist and commentator in "The New Presence", United Press International (UPI), InternetContent, eBookWeb, PopMatters, Global Politician, The Analyst Network, Conservative Voice, The American Chronicle Media Group, eBookNet.org, and "Central Europe Review".
Publications and Awards
"Managing Investment Portfolios in States of Uncertainty", Limon Publishers, Tel-Aviv, 1988
"The Gambling Industry", Limon Publishers, Tel-Aviv, 1990
"Requesting My Loved One – Short Stories", Yedioth Aharonot, Tel-Aviv, 1997
"The Suffering of Being Kafka" (electronic book of Hebrew and English Short Fiction), Prague, 1998-2004
"The Macedonian Economy at a Crossroads – On the Way to a Healthier Economy" (dialogues with Nikola Gruevski), Skopje, 1998
"The Exporters' Pocketbook", Ministry of Trade, Republic of Macedonia, Skopje, 1999
"Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited", Narcissus Publications, Prague, 1999-2007 (Read excerpts - click here)
The Narcissism Series (e-books regarding relationships with abusive narcissists), Prague, 1999-2007
Personality Disorders Revisited (e-book about personality disorders), Prague, 2007
"After the Rain – How the West Lost the East", Narcissus Publications in association with Central Europe Review/CEENMI, Prague and Skopje, 2000
Winner of numerous awards, among them 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).
Hundreds of professional articles in all fields of finance and economics, and numerous articles dealing with geopolitical and political economic issues published in both print and Web periodicals in many countries.
Many appearances in the electronic media on subjects in philosophy and the sciences, and concerning economic matters.
What hobbies have you got?
Reading anywhere (books, Internet, newspapers) and on any topic
Writing (mainly non-fiction, but also fiction and poetry)
Films (2 a day and oftentimes more)
Which actor would you like to be?
John Malkovich: a perfect combination of the cerebral and the somatic:
If you were sent to a deserted island, which book, CD and film would you take with you?
If I were sent to a deserted island (deservedly, no doubt), my first priority would be my laptop, upon which reside libraries of images and sounds and texts, enough for a lifetime.
Assuming I am forced to part ways with my portable joy and pride:
BOOK Any one volume encyclopedia
CD Mozart's late symphonies (39-42)
FILM Remains of the Day
How do you find the balance between working to live and living to work?
In his book, "A Farewell to Alms" (Princeton University Press, 2007), Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, suggests that downward social mobility in England caused the Industrial Revolution in the early years of the 19th century. As the offspring of peasants died off of hunger and disease, the numerous and cosseted descendants of the British upper middle classes took over their jobs.
These newcomers infused their work and family life with the values that made their luckier forefathers wealthy and prominent. Above all, they introduced into their new environment Max Weber's Protestant work ethic: leisure is idleness, toil is good, workaholism is the best. As Clark put it:
“Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving.”
Such religious veneration of hard labor resulted in a remarkable increase in productivity that allowed Britain (and, later, its emulators the world over) to escape the Malthusian Trap. Production began to outstrip population growth.
But the pendulum seems to have swung back. Leisure is again both fashionable and desirable.
The official working week in France has being reduced to 35 hours a week (though the French are now tinkering with it). In most countries in the world, it is limited to 45 hours a week. The trend during the last century seems to be unequivocal: less work, more play.
Yet, what may be true for blue collar workers or state employees - is not necessarily so for white collar members of the liberal professions. It is not rare for these people - lawyers, accountants, consultants, managers, academics - to put in 80 hour weeks.
The phenomenon is so widespread and its social consequences so damaging that it has acquired the unflattering nickname workaholism, a combination of the words "work" and "alcoholism". Family life is disrupted, intellectual horizons narrow, the consequences to the workaholic's health are severe: fat, lack of exercise, stress - all take their lethal toll. Classified as "alpha" types, workaholics suffer three times as many heart attacks as their peers.
But what are the social and economic roots of this phenomenon?
Put succinctly, it is the outcome of the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure. This distinction between time dedicated to labour and time spent in the pursuit of one's hobbies - was so clear for thousands of years that its gradual disappearance is one of the most important and profound social changes in human history.
A host of other shifts in the character of work and domestic environments of humans converged to produce this momentous change. Arguably the most important was the increase in labour mobility and the fluid nature of the very concept of work and the workplace.
The transitions from agriculture to industry, then to services, and now to the knowledge society, increased the mobility of the workforce. A farmer is the least mobile. His means of production are fixed, his produce mostly consumed locally - especially in places which lack proper refrigeration, food preservation, and transportation.
A marginal group of people became nomad-traders. This group exploded in size with the advent of the industrial revolution. True, the bulk of the workforce was still immobile and affixed to the production floor. But raw materials and finished products travelled long distances to faraway markets. Professional services were needed and the professional manager, the lawyer, the accountant, the consultant, the trader, the broker - all emerged as both parasites feeding off the production processes and the indispensable oil on its cogs.
The protagonists of the services society were no longer geographically dependent. They rendered their services to a host of geographically distributed "employers" in a variety of ways. This trend accelerated today, with the advent of the information and knowledge revolution.
Knowledge is not geography-dependent. It is easily transferable across boundaries. It is cheaply reproduced. Its ephemeral quality gives it non-temporal and non-spatial qualities. The locations of the participants in the economic interactions of this new age are transparent and immaterial.
These trends converged with increased mobility of people, goods and data (voice, visual, textual and other). The twin revolutions of transportation and telecommunications really reduced the world to a global village. Phenomena like commuting to work and multinationals were first made possible.
Facsimile messages, electronic mail, other forms of digital data, the Internet - broke not only physical barriers but also temporal ones. Today, virtual offices are not only spatially virtual - but also temporally so. This means that workers can collaborate not only across continents but also across time zones. They can leave their work for someone else to continue in an electronic mailbox, for instance.
These technological advances precipitated the transmutation of the very concepts of "work" and "workplace". The three Aristotelian dramatic unities no longer applied. Work could be performed in different places, not simultaneously, by workers who worked part time whenever it suited them best.
Flextime and work from home replaced commuting (much more so in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but they have always been the harbingers of change). This fitted squarely into the social fragmentation which characterizes today's world: the disintegration of previously cohesive social structures, such as the nuclear (not to mention the extended) family.
All this was neatly wrapped in the ideology of individualism, presented as a private case of capitalism and liberalism. People were encouraged to feel and behave as distinct, autonomous units. The perception of individuals as islands replaced the former perception of humans as cells in an organism.
This trend was coupled with - and enhanced by - unprecedented successive multi-annual rises in productivity and increases in world trade. New management techniques, improved production technologies, innovative inventory control methods, automatization, robotization, plant modernization, telecommunications (which facilitates more efficient transfers of information), even new design concepts - all helped bring this about.
But productivity gains made humans redundant. No amount of retraining could cope with the incredible rate of technological change. The more technologically advanced the country - the higher its structural unemployment (i.e., the level of unemployment attributable to changes in the very structure of the market).
In Western Europe, it shot up from 5-6% of the workforce to 9% in one decade. One way to manage this flood of ejected humans was to cut the workweek. Another was to support a large population of unemployed. The third, more tacit, way was to legitimize leisure time. Whereas the Jewish and Protestant work ethics condemned idleness in the past - the current ethos encouraged people to contribute to the economy through "self realization", to pursue their hobbies and non-work related interests, and to express the entire range of their personality and potential.
This served to blur the historical differences between work and leisure. They are both commended now. Work, like leisure, became less and less structured and rigid. It is often pursued from home. The territorial separation between "work-place" and "home turf" was essentially eliminated.
The emotional leap was only a question of time. Historically, people went to work because they had to. What they did after work was designated as "pleasure". Now, both work and leisure were pleasurable - or torturous - or both. Some people began to enjoy their work so much that it fulfilled the functions normally reserved to leisure time. They are the workaholics. Others continued to hate work - but felt disorientated in the new, leisure-like environment. They were not taught to deal with too much free time, a lack of framework, no clear instructions what to do, when, with whom and to what end.
Socialization processes and socialization agents (the State, parents, educators, employers) were not geared - nor did they regard it as their responsibility - to train the population to cope with free time and with the baffling and dazzling variety of options on offer.
We can classify economies and markets using the work-leisure axis. Those that maintain the old distinction between (hated) work and (liberating) leisure - are doomed to perish or, at best, radically lag behind. This is because they will not have developed a class of workaholics big enough to move the economy ahead.
It takes workaholics to create, maintain and expand capitalism. As opposed to common opinion, people, mostly, do not do business because they are interested in money (the classic profit motive). They do what they do because they like the Game of Business, its twists and turns, the brainstorming, the battle of brains, subjugating markets, the ups and downs, the excitement. All this has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with psychology. True, money serves to measure success - but it is an abstract meter, akin to monopoly money. It is proof shrewdness, wit, foresight, stamina, and insight.
Workaholics identify business with pleasure. They are hedonistic and narcissistic. They are entrepreneurial. They are the managers and the businessmen and the scientists and the journalists. They are the movers, the shakers, the pushers, the energy.
Without workaholics, we would have ended up with "social" economies, with strong disincentives to work. In these economies of "collective ownership" people go to work because they have to. Their main preoccupation is how to avoid it and to sabotage the workplace. They harbour negative feelings. Slowly, they wither and die (professionally) - because no one can live long in hatred and deceit. Joy is an essential ingredient of survival.
And this is the true meaning of capitalism: the abolition of the artificial distinction between work and leisure and the pursuit of both with the same zeal and satisfaction. Above all, the (increasing) liberty to do it whenever, wherever, with whomever you choose.
Unless and until Homo East Europeansis changes his state of mind - there will be no real transition. Because transition happens in the human mind much before it takes form in reality. It is no use to dictate, to legislate, to finance, to cajole, or to bribe. It was Marx (a devout non-capitalist) who noted the causative connexion between reality (being) and consciousness. How right was he. Witness the prosperous USA and compare it to the miserable failure that was communism.
From an Interview I Granted
Question: In your article, Workaholism, Leisure and Pleasure, you describe how the line between leisure and work has blurred over time. What has allowed this to happen? What effect does this blurring have on the struggle to achieve a work-life balance?
Answer: The distinction between work and leisure times is a novelty. Even 70 years ago, people still worked 16 hours a day and, many of them, put in 7 days a week. More than 80% of the world's population still live this way. To the majority of people in the developing countries, work was and is life. They would perceive the contrast between "work" and "life" to be both artificial and perplexing. Sure, they dedicate time to their families and communities. But there is little leisure left to read, nurture one's hobbies, introspect, or attend classes.
Leisure time emerged as a social phenomenon in the twentieth century and mainly in the industrialized, rich, countries.
Workaholism - the blurring of boundaries between leisure time and time dedicated to work - is, therefore, simply harking back to the recent past. It is the inevitable outcome of a confluence of a few developments:
(1) Labour mobility increased. A farmer is attached to his land. His means of production are fixed. His markets are largely local. An industrial worker is attached to his factory. His means of production are fixed. Workers in the services or, more so, in the knowledge industries are attached only to their laptops. They are much more itinerant. They render their services to a host of geographically distributed "employers" in a variety of ways.
(2) The advent of the information and knowledge revolutions lessened the worker's dependence on a "brick and mortar" workplace and a "flesh and blood" employer. Cyberspace replaces real space and temporary or contractual work are preferred to tenure and corporate "loyalty".
Knowledge is not geography-dependent. It is portable and cheaply reproduced. The geographical locations of the participants in the economic interactions of this new age are transparent and immaterial.
(3) The mobility of goods and data (voice, visual, textual and other) increased exponentially. The twin revolutions of transportation and telecommunications reduced the world to a global village. Phenomena like commuting to work and globe-straddling multinationals were first made possible. The car, the airplane, facsimile messages, electronic mail, other forms of digital data, the Internet - demolished many physical and temporal barriers. Workers today often collaborate in virtual offices across continents and time zones. Flextime and work from home replaced commuting. The very concepts of "workplace" and "work" were rendered fluid, if not obsolete.
(4) The dissolution of the classic workplace is part of a larger and all-pervasive disintegration of other social structures, such as the nuclear family. Thus, while the choice of work-related venues and pursuits increased - the number of social alternatives to work declined.
The extended and nuclear family was denuded of most of its traditional functions. Most communities are tenuous and in constant flux. Work is the only refuge from an incoherent, fractious, and dysfunctional world. Society is anomic and work has become a route of escapism.
(5) The ideology of individualism is increasingly presented as a private case of capitalism and liberalism. People are encouraged to feel and behave as distinct, autonomous units. The metaphor of individuals as islands substituted for the perception of humans as cells in an organism. Malignant individualism replaced communitarianism. Pathological narcissism replaced self-love and empathy.
(6) The last few decades witnessed unprecedented successive rises in productivity and an expansion of world trade. New management techniques, improved production technologies, innovative inventory control methods, automatization, robotization, plant modernization, telecommunications (which facilitates more efficient transfers of information), even new design concepts - all helped bring workaholism about by placing economic values in the forefront. The Protestant work ethic ran amok. Instead of working in order to live - people began living in order to work.
Workaholics are rewarded with faster promotion and higher income. Workaholism is often - mistakenly - identified with entrepreneurship, ambition, and efficiency. Yet, really it is merely an addiction.
The absurd is that workaholism is a direct result of the culture of leisure.
As workers are made redundant by technology-driven productivity gains - they are encouraged to engage in leisure activities. Leisure substitutes for work. The historical demarcation between work and leisure is lost. Both are commended for their contribution to the economy. Work, like leisure, is less and less structured and rigid. Both work and leisure are often pursued from home and are often experienced as pleasurable.
The territorial separation between "work-place" and "home turf" is essentially eliminated.
Some people enjoy their work so much that it fulfils the functions normally reserved to leisure time. They are the workaholics. Others continue to hate work - but feel disorientated in the new leisure-rich environment. They are not taught to deal with too much free and unstructured time, with a lack of clearly delineated framework, without clear instructions as to what to do, when, with whom, and to what end.
The state, parents, educators, employers - all failed to train the population to cope with free time and with choice. Both types - the workaholic and the "normal" person baffled by too much leisure - end up sacrificing their leisure time to their work-related activities.
Alas, it takes workaholics to create, maintain and expand capitalism. People don't work or conduct business only because they are after the money. They enjoy their work or their business. They find pleasure in it. And this is the true meaning of capitalism: the abolition of the artificial distinction between work and leisure and the pursuit of both with the same zeal and satisfaction. Above all, the (increasing) liberty to do so whenever, wherever, with whomever you choose.
A simple pleasure that for you is quite big or important.
Downloading electronic books from the Internet. This simple, one-button act is a double-yummy: it quenches my hoarding instincts and, being essentially free-of-charge, it restores my sense of cosmic justice.
What do you imagine yourself doing for your retirement?
I am a narcissist. The narcissist ages without mercy and without grace. His withered body and his overwrought mind betray him all at once. He stares with incredulity and rage at cruel mirrors. He refuses to accept his growing fallibility. He rebels against his decrepitude and mediocrity. Accustomed to being awe-inspiring and the recipient of adulation - the narcissist cannot countenance his social isolation and the pathetic figure that he cuts.
The narcissist suffers from mental progeria. Subject to childhood abuse, he ages prematurely and finds himself in a time warp, constantly in the throes of a midlife crisis.
As a child prodigy, a sex symbol, a stud, a public intellectual, an actor, an idol - the narcissist was at the centre of attention, the eye of his personal twister, a black hole which sucked people's energy and resources dry and spat out with indifference their mutilated carcasses. No longer. With old age comes disillusionment. Old charms wear thin.
Having been exposed for what he is - a deceitful, treacherous, malignant egotist - the narcissist's old tricks now fail him. People are on their guard, their gullibility reduced. The narcissist - being the rigid, precariously balanced structure that he is - can't change. He reverts to old forms, re-adopts hoary habits, succumbs to erstwhile temptations. He is made a mockery by his accentuated denial of reality, by his obdurate refusal to grow up, an eternal, malformed child in the sagging body of a decaying man.
It is the fable of the grasshopper and the ant revisited.
The narcissist - the grasshopper - having relied on supercilious stratagems throughout his life - is singularly ill-adapted to life's rigors and tribulations. He feels entitled - but fails to elicit Narcissistic Supply. Wrinkled time makes child prodigies lose their magic, lovers exhaust their potency, philanderers waste their allure, and geniuses miss their touch. The longer the narcissist lives - the more average he becomes. The wider the gulf between his pretensions and his accomplishments - the more he is the object of derision and contempt.
Yet, few narcissists save for rainy days. Few bother to study a trade, or get a degree, pursue a career, maintain a business, keep their jobs, or raise functioning families, nurture their friendships, or broaden their horizons. Narcissists are perennially ill-prepared. Those who succeed in their vocation, end up bitterly alone having squandered the love of spouse, off-spring, and mates. The more gregarious and family-orientated - often flunk at work, leap from one job to another, relocate erratically, forever itinerant and peripatetic.
The contrast between his youth and prime and his dilapidated present constitutes a permanent narcissistic injury. The narcissist retreats deeper into himself to find solace. He withdraws into the penumbral universe of his grandiose fantasies. There - almost psychotic - he salves his wounds and comforts himself with trophies of his past.
A rare minority of narcissists accept their fate with fatalism or good humour. These precious few are healed mysteriously by the deepest offense to their megalomania - old age. They lose their narcissism and confront the outer world with the poise and composure that they lacked when they were captives of their own, distorted, narrative.
Such changed narcissists develop new, more realistic, expectations and hopes - commensurate with their talents, skills, accomplishments and education. Ironically, it is invariably too late. They are avoided and ignored, rendered transparent by their checkered past. They are passed over for promotion, never invited to professional or social gatherings, cold-shouldered by the media. They are snubbed and disregarded. They are never the recipients of perks, benefits, or awards. They are blamed when not blameworthy and rarely praised when deserving. They are being constantly and consistently punished for who they were. It is poetic justice in more than one way. They are being treated narcissistically by their erstwhile victims. They finally are tasting their own medicine, the bitter harvest of their wrath and arrogance.
If you were to return reincarnated, which real-life person would you like to be?
I always wanted to make a difference, to be remembered as someone whose life left the world a changed place (not necessarily a better one).
To paraphrase what Henry James' once said of Louisa May Alcott, my experience of genius is small but my admiration for it is, nevertheless, great. When I visited the "Figarohaus" in Vienna - where Mozart lived and worked for two crucial years - I experienced a great fatigue, the sort that comes with acceptance. In the presence of real genius, I slumped into a chair and listened for one listless hour to its fruits: symphonies, the divine Requiem, arias, a cornucopia.
After 48 years, all I have to show for my manic pursuits is Internet ubiquity and parroted, shallow, ersatz-"scholarship". I am a fake.
I always wanted to be a genius. Partly as a sure-fire way to secure constant Narcissistic Supply, partly as a safeguard against my own mortality. As it became progressively more evident how far I am from it and how ensconced in mediocrity - I, being a narcissist, resorted to short cuts. Ever since my fifth year I pretended to be thoroughly acquainted with issues I had no clue about. This streak of con-artistry reached a crescendo in my puberty, when I convinced a whole township (and later, my country, by co-opting the media) that I was a new Einstein. While unable to solve even the most basic mathematical equations, I was regarded by many - including world class physicists - as somewhat of an epiphanous miracle. To sustain this false pretence, I plagiarized liberally. Only 15 years later did an Israeli physicist discover the (Australian) source of my major plagiarized "studies" in advanced physics. Following this encounter with the abyss - the mortal fear of being mortifyingly exposed - I stopped plagiarizing at the age of 23 and has never done so since.
I then tried to experience genius vicariously, by making friends with acknowledged ones and by supporting up and coming intellectuals. I became this bathetic sponsor of the arts and sciences that forever name drops and attributes to himself undue influence over the creative processes and outcomes of others. I created by proxy. The (sad, I guess) irony is that, all this time, I really did have a talent (for writing). But talent was not enough - being short of genius. It is the divine that I sought, not the average. And so, I kept denying my real self in pursuit of an invented one.
As the years progressed, the charms of associating with genius waned and faded. The gap between what I wanted to become and what I have has made me bitter and cantankerous, a repulsive, alien oddity, avoided by all but the most persistent friends and acolytes. I resent being doomed to the quotidian. I rebel against being given to aspirations which have so little in common with my abilities. It is not that I recognize my limitations - I don't. I still wish to believe that had I only applied myself, had I only persevered, had I only found interest - I would have been nothing less of a Mozart or an Einstein or a Freud. It is a lie I tell myself in times of quiet despair when I realize my age and compare it to the utter lack of my accomplishments.
I keep persuading myself that many a great man reached the apex of their creativity at the age of 40, or 50, or 60. That one never knows what of one's work shall be deemed by history to have been genius. I think of Kafka, of Nietzsche, of Benjamin - the heroes of every undiscovered prodigy. But it sounds hollow. Deep inside I know the one ingredient that I miss and that they all shared: an interest in other humans, a first hand experience of being one and the fervent wish to communicate - rather than merely to impress.
Did God create the world in seven days, or do you believe in the theory of evolution?
Scientific theories are not subject to "belief" - they are subject to Popperian falsification: they yield predictions which experiments can then confirm or prove false. Your question is, therefore, meaningless. Evolution has proven itself over the last 150 years in the sense that its main predictions have yet to be falsified.
All theories - scientific or not - start with a problem. They aim to solve it by proving that what appears to be "problematic" is not. They re-state the conundrum, or introduce new data, new variables, a new classification, or new organizing principles. They incorporate the problem in a larger body of knowledge, or in a conjecture ("solution"). They explain why we thought we had an issue on our hands - and how it can be avoided, vitiated, or resolved.
Scientific theories invite constant criticism and revision. They yield new problems. They are proven erroneous and are replaced by new models which offer better explanations and a more profound sense of understanding - often by solving these new problems. From time to time, the successor theories constitute a break with everything known and done till then. These seismic convulsions are known as "paradigm shifts".
Contrary to widespread opinion - even among scientists - science is not only about "facts". It is not merely about quantifying, measuring, describing, classifying, and organizing "things" (entities). It is not even concerned with finding out the "truth". Science is about providing us with concepts, explanations, and predictions (collectively known as "theories") and thus endowing us with a sense of understanding of our world.
Scientific theories are allegorical or metaphoric. They revolve around symbols and theoretical constructs, concepts and substantive assumptions, axioms and hypotheses - most of which can never, even in principle, be computed, observed, quantified, measured, or correlated with the world "out there". By appealing to our imagination, scientific theories reveal what David Deutsch calls "the fabric of reality".
Like any other system of knowledge, science has its fanatics, heretics, and deviants.
Instrumentalists, for instance, insist that scientific theories should be concerned exclusively with predicting the outcomes of appropriately designed experiments. Their explanatory powers are of no consequence. Positivists ascribe meaning only to statements that deal with observables and observations.
Instrumentalists and positivists ignore the fact that predictions are derived from models, narratives, and organizing principles. In short: it is the theory's explanatory dimensions that determine which experiments are relevant and which are not. Forecasts - and experiments - that are not embedded in an understanding of the world (in an explanation) do not constitute science.
Granted, predictions and experiments are crucial to the growth of scientific knowledge and the winnowing out of erroneous or inadequate theories. But they are not the only mechanisms of natural selection. There are other criteria that help us decide whether to adopt and place confidence in a scientific theory or not. Is the theory aesthetic (parsimonious), logical, does it provide a reasonable explanation and, thus, does it further our understanding of the world?
David Deutsch in "The Fabric of Reality" (p. 11):
"... (I)t is hard to give a precise definition of 'explanation' or 'understanding'. Roughly speaking, they are about 'why' rather than 'what'; about the inner workings of things; about how things really are, not just how they appear to be; about what must be so, rather than what merely happens to be so; about laws of nature rather than rules of thumb. They are also about coherence, elegance, and simplicity, as opposed to arbitrariness and complexity ..."
Reductionists and emergentists ignore the existence of a hierarchy of scientific theories and meta-languages. They believe - and it is an article of faith, not of science - that complex phenomena (such as the human mind) can be reduced to simple ones (such as the physics and chemistry of the brain). Furthermore, to them the act of reduction is, in itself, an explanation and a form of pertinent understanding. Human thought, fantasy, imagination, and emotions are nothing but electric currents and spurts of chemicals in the brain, they say.
Holists, on the other hand, refuse to consider the possibility that some higher-level phenomena can, indeed, be fully reduced to base components and primitive interactions. They ignore the fact that reductionism sometimes does provide explanations and understanding. The properties of water, for instance, do spring forth from its chemical and physical composition and from the interactions between its constituent atoms and subatomic particles.
Still, there is a general agreement that scientific theories must be abstract (independent of specific time or place), intersubjectively explicit (contain detailed descriptions of the subject matter in unambiguous terms), logically rigorous (make use of logical systems shared and accepted by the practitioners in the field), empirically relevant (correspond to results of empirical research), useful (in describing and/or explaining the world), and provide typologies and predictions.
A scientific theory should resort to primitive (atomic) terminology and all its complex (derived) terms and concepts should be defined in these indivisible terms. It should offer a map unequivocally and consistently connecting operational definitions to theoretical concepts.
Operational definitions that connect to the same theoretical concept should not contradict each other (be negatively correlated). They should yield agreement on measurement conducted independently by trained experimenters. But investigation of the theory of its implication can proceed even without quantification.
Theoretical concepts need not necessarily be measurable or quantifiable or observable. But a scientific theory should afford at least four levels of quantification of its operational and theoretical definitions of concepts: nominal (labeling), ordinal (ranking), interval and ratio.
As we said, scientific theories are not confined to quantified definitions or to a classificatory apparatus. To qualify as scientific they must contain statements about relationships (mostly causal) between concepts - empirically-supported laws and/or propositions (statements derived from axioms).
Philosophers like Carl Hempel and Ernest Nagel regard a theory as scientific if it is hypothetico-deductive. To them, scientific theories are sets of inter-related laws. We know that they are inter-related because a minimum number of axioms and hypotheses yield, in an inexorable deductive sequence, everything else known in the field the theory pertains to.
Explanation is about retrodiction - using the laws to show how things happened. Prediction is using the laws to show how things will happen. Understanding is explanation and prediction combined.
William Whewell augmented this somewhat simplistic point of view with his principle of "consilience of inductions". Often, he observed, inductive explanations of disparate phenomena are unexpectedly traced to one underlying cause. This is what scientific theorizing is about - finding the common source of the apparently separate.
This omnipotent view of the scientific endeavor competes with a more modest, semantic school of philosophy of science.
Many theories - especially ones with breadth, width, and profundity, such as Darwin's theory of evolution - are not deductively integrated and are very difficult to test (falsify) conclusively. Their predictions are either scant or ambiguous.
Scientific theories, goes the semantic view, are amalgams of models of reality. These are empirically meaningful only inasmuch as they are empirically (directly and therefore semantically) applicable to a limited area. A typical scientific theory is not constructed with explanatory and predictive aims in mind. Quite the opposite: the choice of models incorporated in it dictates its ultimate success in explaining the Universe and predicting the outcomes of experiments.
Are there too many holidays in the work calendar?
Indeed, there are! This is part and parcel what I call: the demise of the work ethic.
Airplanes, missiles, and space shuttles crash due to lack of maintenance, absent-mindedness, and pure ignorance. Software support personnel, aided and abetted by Customer Relationship Management application suites, are curt (when reachable) and unhelpful. Despite expensive, state of the art supply chain management systems, retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers habitually run out of stocks of finished and semi-finished products and raw materials. People from all walks of life and at all levels of the corporate ladder skirt their responsibilities and neglect their duties.
Whatever happened to the work ethic? Where is the pride in the immaculate quality of one's labor and produce?
Both dead in the water. A series of earth-shattering social, economic, and technological trends converged to render their jobs loathsome to many - a tedious nuisance best avoided.
1. Job security is a thing of the past. Itinerancy in various McJobs reduces the incentive to invest time, effort, and resources into a position that may not be yours next week. Brutal layoffs and downsizing traumatized the workforce and produced in the typical workplace a culture of obsequiousness, blind obeisance, the suppression of independent thought and speech, and avoidance of initiative and innovation. Many offices and shop floors now resemble prisons.
2. Outsourcing and offshoring of back office (and, more recently, customer relations and research and development) functions sharply and adversely effected the quality of services from helpdesks to airline ticketing and from insurance claims processing to remote maintenance. Cultural mismatches between the (typically Western) client base and the offshore service department (usually in a developing country where labor is cheap and plenty) only exacerbated the breakdown of trust between customer and provider or supplier.
3. The populace in developed countries are addicted to leisure time. Most people regard their jobs as a necessary evil, best avoided whenever possible. Hence phenomena like the permanent temp - employees who prefer a succession of temporary assignments to holding a proper job. The media and the arts contribute to this perception of work as a drag - or a potentially dangerous addiction (when they portray raging and abusive workaholics).
4. The other side of this dismal coin is workaholism - the addiction to work. Far from valuing it, these addicts resent their dependence. The job performance of the typical workaholic leaves a lot to be desired. Workaholics are fatigued, suffer from ancillary addictions, and short attention spans. They frequently abuse substances, are narcissistic and destructively competitive (being driven, they are incapable of team work).
5. The depersonalization of manufacturing - the intermediated divorce between the artisan/worker and his client - contributed a lot to the indifference and alienation of the common industrial worker, the veritable "anonymous cog in the machine".
Not only was the link between worker and product broken - but the bond between artisan and client was severed as well. Few employees know their customers or patrons first hand. It is hard to empathize with and care about a statistic, a buyer whom you have never met and never likely to encounter. It is easy in such circumstances to feel immune to the consequences of one's negligence and apathy at work. It is impossible to be proud of what you do and to be committed to your work - if you never set eyes on either the final product or the customer! Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece, "Modern Times" captured this estrangement brilliantly.
6. Many former employees of mega-corporations abandon the rat race and establish their own businesses - small and home enterprises. Undercapitalized, understaffed, and outperformed by the competition, these fledging and amateurish outfits usually spew out shoddy products and lamentable services - only to expire within the first year of business.
7. Despite decades of advanced notice, globalization caught most firms the world over by utter surprise. Ill-prepared and fearful of the onslaught of foreign competition, companies big and small grapple with logistical nightmares, supply chain calamities, culture shocks and conflicts, and rapacious competitors. Mere survival (and opportunistic managerial plunder) replaced client satisfaction as the prime value.
8. The decline of the professional guilds on the one hand and the trade unions on the other hand greatly reduced worker self-discipline, pride, and peer-regulated quality control. Quality is monitored by third parties or compromised by being subjected to Procrustean financial constraints and concerns.
The investigation of malpractice and its punishment are now at the hand of vast and ill-informed bureaucracies, either corporate or governmental. Once malpractice is exposed and admitted to, the availability of malpractice insurance renders most sanctions unnecessary or toothless. Corporations prefer to bury mishaps and malfeasance rather than cope with and rectify them.
9. The quality of one's work, and of services and products one consumed, used to be guaranteed. One's personal idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, and problems were left at home. Work was sacred and one's sense of self-worth depended on the satisfaction of one's clients. You simply didn't let your personal life affect the standards of your output.
This strict and useful separation vanished with the rise of the malignant-narcissistic variant of individualism. It led to the emergence of idiosyncratic and fragmented standards of quality. No one knows what to expect, when, and from whom. Transacting business has become a form of psychological warfare. The customer has to rely on the goodwill of suppliers, manufacturers, and service providers - and often finds himself at their whim and mercy. "The client is always right" has gone the way of the dodo. "It's my (the supplier's or provider's) way or the highway" rules supreme.
This uncertainty is further exacerbated by the pandemic eruption of mental health disorders - 15% of the population are severely pathologized according to the latest studies. Antisocial behaviors - from outright crime to pernicious passive-aggressive sabotage - once rare in the workplace, are now abundant.
The ethos of teamwork, tempered collectivism, and collaboration for the greater good is now derided or decried. Conflict on all levels has replaced negotiated compromise and has become the prevailing narrative. Litigiousness, vigilante justice, use of force, and "getting away with it" are now extolled. Yet, conflicts lead to the misallocation of economic resources. They are non-productive and not conducive to sustaining good relations between producer or provider and consumer.
10. Moral relativism is the mirror image of rampant individualism. Social cohesion and discipline diminished, ideologies and religions crumbled, and anomic states substituted for societal order. The implicit contracts between manufacturer or service provider and customer and between employee and employer were shredded and replaced with ad-hoc negotiated operational checklists. Social decoherence is further enhanced by the anonymization and depersonalization of the modern chain of production (see point 5 above).
Nowadays, people facilely and callously abrogate their responsibilities towards their families, communities, and nations. The mushrooming rate of divorce, the decline in personal thrift, the skyrocketing number of personal bankruptcies, and the ubiquity of venality and corruption both corporate and political are examples of such dissipation. No one seems to care about anything. Why should the client or employer expect a different treatment?
11. The disintegration of the educational systems of the West made it difficult for employers to find qualified and motivated personnel. Courtesy, competence, ambition, personal responsibility, the ability to see the bigger picture (synoptic view), interpersonal aptitude, analytic and synthetic skills, not to mention numeracy, literacy, access to technology, and the sense of belonging which they foster - are all products of proper schooling.
12. Irrational beliefs, pseudo-sciences, and the occult rushed in to profitably fill the vacuum left by the crumbling education systems. These wasteful preoccupations encourage in their followers an overpowering sense of fatalistic determinism and hinder their ability to exercise judgment and initiative. The discourse of commerce and finance relies on unmitigated rationality and is, in essence, contractual. Irrationality is detrimental to the successful and happy exchange of goods and services.
23. Employers place no premium on work ethic. Workers don't get paid more or differently if they are more conscientious, or more efficient, or more friendly. In an interlinked, globalized world, customers are fungible. There are so many billions of potential clients that customer loyalty has been rendered irrelevant. Marketing, showmanship, and narcissistic bluster are far better appreciated by workplaces because they serve to attract clientele to be bilked and then discarded or ignored.
Do you think the catastrophism about climate change has been exaggerated?
Yes, I do. It borders on mass hysteria or shared psychosis.
The concept of "nature" is a romantic invention. It was spun by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century as a confabulated utopian contrast to the dystopia of urbanization and materialism. The traces of this dewy-eyed conception of the "savage" and his unmolested, unadulterated surroundings can be found in the more malignant forms of fundamentalist environmentalism.
At the other extreme are religious literalists who regard Man as the crown of creation with complete dominion over nature and the right to exploit its resources unreservedly. Similar, veiled, sentiments can be found among scientists. The Anthropic Principle, for instance, promoted by many outstanding physicists, claims that the nature of the Universe is preordained to accommodate sentient beings - namely, us humans.
Industrialists, politicians and economists have only recently begun paying lip service to sustainable development and to the environmental costs of their policies. Thus, in a way, they bridge the abyss - at least verbally - between these two diametrically opposed forms of fundamentalism. Similarly, the denizens of the West continue to indulge in rampant consumption, but now it is suffused with environmental guilt rather than driven by unadulterated hedonism.
Still, essential dissimilarities between the schools notwithstanding, the dualism of Man vs. Nature is universally acknowledged.
Modern physics - notably the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics - has abandoned the classic split between (typically human) observer and (usually inanimate) observed. Environmentalists, in contrast, have embraced this discarded worldview wholeheartedly. To them, Man is the active agent operating upon a distinct reactive or passive substrate - i.e., Nature. But, though intuitively compelling, it is a false dichotomy.
Man is, by definition, a part of Nature. His tools are natural. He interacts with the other elements of Nature and modifies it - but so do all other species. Arguably, bacteria and insects exert on Nature far more influence with farther reaching consequences than Man has ever done.
Still, the "Law of the Minimum" - that there is a limit to human population growth and that this barrier is related to the biotic and abiotic variables of the environment - is undisputed. Whatever debate there is veers between two strands of this Malthusian Weltanschauung: the utilitarian (a.k.a. anthropocentric, shallow, or technocentric) and the ethical (alternatively termed biocentric, deep, or ecocentric).
First, the Utilitarians.
Economists, for instance, tend to discuss the costs and benefits of environmental policies. Activists, on the other hand, demand that Mankind consider the "rights" of other beings and of nature as a whole in determining a least harmful course of action.
Utilitarians regard nature as a set of exhaustible and scarce resources and deal with their optimal allocation from a human point of view. Yet, they usually fail to incorporate intangibles such as the beauty of a sunset or the liberating sensation of open spaces.
"Green" accounting - adjusting the national accounts to reflect environmental data - is still in its unpromising infancy. It is complicated by the fact that ecosystems do not respect man-made borders and by the stubborn refusal of many ecological variables to succumb to numbers. To complicate things further, different nations weigh environmental problems disparately.
Despite recent attempts, such as the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF), no one knows how to define and quantify elusive concepts such as "sustainable development". Even the costs of replacing or repairing depleted resources and natural assets are difficult to determine.
Efforts to capture "quality of life" considerations in the straitjacket of the formalism of distributive justice - known as human-welfare ecology or emancipatory environmentalism - backfired. These led to derisory attempts to reverse the inexorable processes of urbanization and industrialization by introducing localized, small-scale production.
Social ecologists proffer the same prescriptions but with an anarchistic twist. The hierarchical view of nature - with Man at the pinnacle - is a reflection of social relations, they suggest. Dismantle the latter - and you get rid of the former.
The Ethicists appear to be as confounded and ludicrous as their "feet on the ground" opponents.
Biocentrists view nature as possessed of an intrinsic value, regardless of its actual or potential utility. They fail to specify, however, how this, even if true, gives rise to rights and commensurate obligations. Nor was their case aided by their association with the apocalyptic or survivalist school of environmentalism which has developed proto-fascist tendencies and is gradually being scientifically debunked.
The proponents of deep ecology radicalize the ideas of social ecology ad absurdum and postulate a transcendentalist spiritual connection with the inanimate (whatever that may be). In consequence, they refuse to intervene to counter or contain natural processes, including diseases and famine.
The politicization of environmental concerns runs the gamut from political activism to eco-terrorism. The environmental movement - whether in academe, in the media, in non-governmental organizations, or in legislature - is now comprised of a web of bureaucratic interest groups.
Like all bureaucracies, environmental organizations are out to perpetuate themselves, fight heresy and accumulate political clout and the money and perks that come with it. They are no longer a disinterested and objective party. They have a stake in apocalypse. That makes them automatically suspect.
Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", was at the receiving end of such self-serving sanctimony. A statistician, he demonstrated that the doom and gloom tendered by environmental campaigners, scholars and militants are, at best, dubious and, at worst, the outcomes of deliberate manipulation.
The situation is actually improving on many fronts, showed Lomborg: known reserves of fossil fuels and most metals are rising, agricultural production per head is surging, the number of the famished is declining, biodiversity loss is slowing as do pollution and tropical deforestation. In the long run, even in pockets of environmental degradation, in the poor and developing countries, rising incomes and the attendant drop in birth rates will likely ameliorate the situation in the long run.
Yet, both camps, the optimists and the pessimists, rely on partial, irrelevant, or, worse, manipulated data. The multiple authors of "People and Ecosystems", published by the World Resources Institute, the World Bank and the United Nations conclude: "Our knowledge of ecosystems has increased dramatically, but it simply has not kept pace with our ability to alter them."
Quoted by The Economist, Daniel Esty of Yale, the leader of an environmental project sponsored by World Economic Forum, exclaimed:
"Why hasn't anyone done careful environmental measurement before? Businessmen always say, ‘what matters gets measured'. Social scientists started quantitative measurement 30 years ago, and even political science turned to hard numbers 15 years ago. Yet look at environmental policy, and the data are lousy."
Nor is this dearth of reliable and unequivocal information likely to end soon. Even the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, supported by numerous development agencies and environmental groups, is seriously under-financed. The conspiracy-minded attribute this curious void to the self-serving designs of the apocalyptic school of environmentalism. Ignorance and fear, they point out, are among the fanatic's most useful allies. They also make for good copy.
Do you boycott brands if you learn they employ children in third-world countries or harm the environment?
Everyone knows the intimate relationship between good intentions and the road to hell.
From the comfort of their plush offices and five to six figure salaries, self-appointed NGO's often denounce child labor as their employees rush from one five star hotel to another, $3000 subnotebooks and PDA's in hand. The hairsplitting distinction made by the ILO between "child work" and "child labor" conveniently targets impoverished countries while letting its budget contributors - the developed ones - off-the-hook.
Reports regarding child labor surface periodically. Children crawling in mines, faces ashen, body deformed. The agile fingers of famished infants weaving soccer balls for their more privileged counterparts in the USA. Tiny figures huddled in sweatshops, toiling in unspeakable conditions. It is all heart-rending and it gave rise to a veritable not-so-cottage industry of activists, commentators, legal eagles, scholars, and opportunistically sympathetic politicians.
Ask the denizens of Thailand, sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, or Morocco and they will tell you how they regard this altruistic hyperactivity - with suspicion and resentment. Underneath the compelling arguments lurks an agenda of trade protectionism, they wholeheartedly believe. Stringent - and expensive - labor and environmental provisions in international treaties may well be a ploy to fend off imports based on cheap labor and the competition they wreak on well-ensconced domestic industries and their political stooges.
This is especially galling since the sanctimonious West has amassed its wealth on the broken backs of slaves and kids. The 1900 census in the USA found that 18 percent of all children - almost two million in all - were gainfully employed. The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional laws banning child labor as late as 1916. This decision was overturned only in 1941.
The GAO published a report last week in which it criticized the Labor Department for paying insufficient attention to working conditions in manufacturing and mining in the USA, where many children are still employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the number of working children between the ages of 15-17 in the USA at 3.7 million. One in 16 of these worked in factories and construction. More than 600 teens died of work-related accidents in the last ten years.
Child labor - let alone child prostitution, child soldiers, and child slavery - are phenomena best avoided. But they cannot and should not be tackled in isolation. Nor should underage labor be subjected to blanket castigation. Working in the gold mines or fisheries of the Philippines is hardly comparable to waiting on tables in a Nigerian or, for that matter, American restaurant.
There are gradations and hues of child labor. That children should not be exposed to hazardous conditions, long working hours, used as means of payment, physically punished, or serve as sex slaves is commonly agreed. That they should not help their parents plant and harvest may be more debatable.
As Miriam Wasserman observes in "Eliminating Child Labor", published in the Federal Bank of Boston's "Regional Review", second quarter of 2000, it depends on "family income, education policy, production technologies, and cultural norms." About a quarter of children under-14 throughout the world are regular workers. This statistic masks vast disparities between regions like Africa (42 percent) and Latin America (17 percent).
In many impoverished locales, child labor is all that stands between the family unit and all-pervasive, life threatening, destitution. Child labor declines markedly as income per capita grows. To deprive these bread-earners of the opportunity to lift themselves and their families incrementally above malnutrition, disease, and famine - is an apex of immoral hypocrisy.
Quoted by "The Economist", a representative of the much decried Ecuador Banana Growers Association and Ecuador's Labor Minister, summed up the dilemma neatly: "Just because they are under age doesn't mean we should reject them, they have a right to survive. You can't just say they can't work, you have to provide alternatives."
Regrettably, the debate is so laden with emotions and self-serving arguments that the facts are often overlooked.
The outcry against soccer balls stitched by children in Pakistan led to the relocation of workshops ran by Nike and Reebok. Thousands lost their jobs, including countless women and 7000 of their progeny. The average family income - anyhow meager - fell by 20 percent. Economists Drusilla Brown, Alan Deardorif, and Robert Stern observe wryly:
"While Baden Sports can quite credibly claim that their soccer balls are not sewn by children, the relocation of their production facility undoubtedly did nothing for their former child workers and their families."
Such examples abound. Manufacturers - fearing legal reprisals and "reputation risks" (naming-and-shaming by overzealous NGO's) - engage in preemptive sacking. German garment workshops fired 50,000 children in Bangladesh in 1993 in anticipation of the American never-legislated Child Labor Deterrence Act.
Quoted by Wasserstein, former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, notes:
"Stopping child labor without doing anything else could leave children worse off. If they are working out of necessity, as most are, stopping them could force them into prostitution or other employment with greater personal dangers. The most important thing is that they be in school and receive the education to help them leave poverty."
Contrary to hype, three quarters of all children work in agriculture and with their families. Less than 1 percent work in mining and another 2 percent in construction. Most of the rest work in retail outlets and services, including "personal services" - a euphemism for prostitution. UNICEF and the ILO are in the throes of establishing school networks for child laborers and providing their parents with alternative employment.
But this is a drop in the sea of neglect. Poor countries rarely proffer education on a regular basis to more than two thirds of their eligible school-age children. This is especially true in rural areas where child labor is a widespread blight. Education - especially for women - is considered an unaffordable luxury by many hard-pressed parents. In many cultures, work is still considered to be indispensable in shaping the child's morality and strength of character and in teaching him or her a trade.
"The Economist" elaborates:
"In Africa children are generally treated as mini-adults; from an early age every child will have tasks to perform in the home, such as sweeping or fetching water. It is also common to see children working in shops or on the streets. Poor families will often send a child to a richer relation as a housemaid or houseboy, in the hope that he will get an education."
A solution recently gaining steam is to provide families in poor countries with access to loans secured by the future earnings of their educated offspring. The idea - first proposed by Jean-Marie Baland of the University of Namur and James A. Robinson of the University of California at Berkeley - has now permeated the mainstream.
Even the World Bank has contributed a few studies, notably, in June, "Child Labor: The Role of Income Variability and Access to Credit Across Countries" authored by Rajeev Dehejia of the NBER and Roberta Gatti of the Bank's Development Research Group.
Abusive child labor is abhorrent and should be banned and eradicated. All other forms should be phased out gradually. Developing countries already produce millions of unemployable graduates a year - 100,000 in Morocco alone. Unemployment is rife and reaches, in certain countries - such as Macedonia - more than one third of the workforce. Children at work may be harshly treated by their supervisors but at least they are kept off the far more menacing streets. Some kids even end up with a skill and are rendered employable.
Do you defend animal experimentation for the development of medicine that can save human lives?
This question is a sub-species of the broader issue of animal rights.
According to MSNBC, in a May 2005 Senate hearing, John Lewis, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, asserted that "environmental and animal rights extremists who have turned to arson and explosives are the nation's top domestic terrorism threat ... Groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front and the Britain-based SHAC, or Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, are 'way out in front' in terms of damage and number of crimes ...". Lewis averred that " ... (t)here is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions".
MSNBC notes that "(t)he Animal Liberation Front says on its Web site that its small, autonomous groups of people take 'direct action' against animal abuse by rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through damage and destruction of property."
"Animal rights" is a catchphrase akin to "human rights". It involves, however, a few pitfalls. First, animals exist only as a concept. Otherwise, they are cuddly cats, curly dogs, cute monkeys. A rat and a puppy are both animals but our emotional reaction to them is so different that we cannot really lump them together. Moreover: what rights are we talking about? The right to life? The right to be free of pain? The right to food? Except the right to free speech – all other rights could be applied to animals.
Law professor Steven Wise, argues in his book, "Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights", for the extension to animals of legal rights accorded to infants. Many animal species exhibit awareness, cognizance and communication skills typical of human toddlers and of humans with arrested development. Yet, the latter enjoy rights denied the former.
According to Wise, there are four categories of practical autonomy - a legal standard for granting "personhood" and the rights it entails. Practical autonomy involves the ability to be desirous, to intend to fulfill and pursue one's desires, a sense of self-awareness, and self-sufficiency. Most animals, says Wise, qualify. This may be going too far. It is easier to justify the moral rights of animals than their legal rights.
But when we say "animals", what we really mean is non-human organisms. This is such a wide definition that it easily pertains to extraterrestrial aliens. Will we witness an Alien Rights movement soon? Unlikely. Thus, we are forced to narrow our field of enquiry to non-human organisms reminiscent of humans, the ones that provoke in us empathy.
Even this is way too fuzzy. Many people love snakes, for instance, and deeply empathize with them. Could we accept the assertion (avidly propounded by these people) that snakes ought to have rights – or should we consider only organisms with extremities and the ability to feel pain?
Historically, philosophers like Kant (and Descartes, Malebranche, and Aquinas) rejected the idea of animal rights. They regarded animals as the organic equivalents of machines, driven by coarse instincts, unable to experience pain (though their behavior sometimes deceives us into erroneously believing that they do).
Thus, any ethical obligation that we have towards animals is a derivative of our primary obligation towards our fellow humans (the only ones possessed of moral significance). These are called the theories of indirect moral obligations. Thus, it is wrong to torture animals only because it desensitizes us to human suffering and makes us more prone to using violence on humans. Malebranche augmented this line of thinking by "proving" that animals cannot suffer pain because they are not descended from Adam. Pain and suffering, as we all know, are the exclusive outcomes of Adam's sins.
Kant and Malebranche may have been wrong. Animals may be able to suffer and agonize. But how can we tell whether another Being is truly suffering pain or not? Through empathy. We postulate that - since that Being resembles us – it must have the same experiences and, therefore, it deserves our pity.
Yet, the principle of resemblance has many drawbacks.
One, it leads to moral relativism.
Consider this maxim from the Jewish Talmud: "Do not do unto thy friend that which you hate". An analysis of this sentence renders it less altruistic than it appears. We are encouraged to refrain from doing only those things that WE find hateful. This is the quiddity of moral relativism.
The saying implies that it is the individual who is the source of moral authority. Each and every one of us is allowed to spin his own moral system, independent of others. The Talmudic dictum establishes a privileged moral club (very similar to later day social contractarianism) comprised of oneself and one's friend(s). One is encouraged not to visit evil upon one's friends, all others seemingly excluded. Even the broadest interpretation of the word "friend" could only read: "someone like you" and substantially excludes strangers.
Two, similarity is a structural, not an essential, trait.
Empathy as a differentiating principle is structural: if X looks like me and behaves like me – then he is privileged. Moreover, similarity is not necessarily identity. Monkeys, dogs and dolphins are very much like us, both structurally and behaviorally. Even according to Wise, it is quantity (the degree of observed resemblance), not quality (identity, essence), that is used in determining whether an animal is worthy of holding rights, whether is it a morally significant person. The degree of figurative and functional likenesses decide whether one deserves to live, pain-free and happy.
The quantitative test includes the ability to communicate (manipulate vocal-verbal-written symbols within structured symbol systems). Yet, we ignore the fact that using the same symbols does not guarantee that we attach to them the same cognitive interpretations and the same emotional resonance ('private languages"). The same words, or symbols, often have different meanings.
Meaning is dependent upon historical, cultural, and personal contexts. There is no telling whether two people mean the same things when they say "red", or "sad", or "I", or "love". That another organism looks like us, behaves like us and communicates like us is no guarantee that it is - in its essence - like us. This is the subject of the famous Turing Test: there is no effective way to distinguish a machine from a human when we rely exclusively on symbol manipulation.
Consider pain once more.
To say that something does not experience pain cannot be rigorously defended. Pain is a subjective experience. There is no way to prove or to disprove that someone is or is not in pain. Here, we can rely only on the subject's reports. Moreover, even if we were to have an analgometer (pain gauge), there would have been no way to show that the phenomenon that activates the meter is one and the same for all subjects, SUBJECTIVELY, i.e., that it is experienced in the same way by all the subjects examined.
Even more basic questions regarding pain are impossible to answer: What is the connection between the piercing needle and the pain REPORTED and between these two and electrochemical patterns of activity in the brain? A correlation between these three phenomena can be established – but not their identity or the existence of a causative process. We cannot prove that the waves in the subject's brain when he reports pain – ARE that pain. Nor can we show that they CAUSED the pain, or that the pain caused them.
It is also not clear whether our moral percepts are conditioned on the objective existence of pain, on the reported existence of pain, on the purported existence of pain (whether experienced or not, whether reported or not), or on some independent laws.
If it were painless, would it be moral to torture someone? Is the very act of sticking needles into someone immoral – or is it immoral because of the pain it causes, or supposed to inflict? Are all three components (needle sticking, a sensation of pain, brain activity) morally equivalent? If so, is it as immoral to merely generate the same patterns of brain activity, without inducing any sensation of pain and without sticking needles in the subject?
If these three phenomena are not morally equivalent – why aren't they? They are, after all, different facets of the very same pain – shouldn't we condemn all of them equally? Or should one aspect of pain (the subject's report of pain) be accorded a privileged treatment and status?
Yet, the subject's report is the weakest proof of pain! It cannot be verified. And if we cling to this descriptive-behavioural-phenomenological definition of pain than animals qualify as well. They also exhibit all the behaviours normally ascribed to humans in pain and they report feeling pain (though they do tend to use a more limited and non-verbal vocabulary).
Pain is, therefore, a value judgment and the reaction to it is culturally dependent. In some cases, pain is perceived as positive and is sought. In the Aztec cultures, being chosen to be sacrificed to the Gods was a high honour. How would we judge animal rights in such historical and cultural contexts? Are there any "universal" values or does it all really depend on interpretation?
If we, humans, cannot separate the objective from the subjective and the cultural – what gives us the right or ability to decide for other organisms? We have no way of knowing whether pigs suffer pain. We cannot decide right and wrong, good and evil for those with whom we can communicate, let alone for organisms with which we fail to do even this.
Is it GENERALLY immoral to kill, to torture, to pain? The answer seems obvious and it automatically applies to animals. Is it generally immoral to destroy? Yes, it is and this answer pertains to the inanimate as well. There are exceptions: it is permissible to kill and to inflict pain in order to prevent a (quantitatively or qualitatively) greater evil, to protect life, and when no reasonable and feasible alternative is available.
The chain of food in nature is morally neutral and so are death and disease. Any act which is intended to sustain life of a higher order (and a higher order in life) – is morally positive or, at least neutral. Nature decreed so. Animals do it to other animals – though, admittedly, they optimize their consumption and avoid waste and unnecessary pain. Waste and pain are morally wrong. This is not a question of hierarchy of more or less important Beings (an outcome of the fallacy of anthropomorphizing Nature).
The distinction between what is (essentially) US – and what just looks and behaves like us (but is NOT us) is false, superfluous and superficial. Sociobiology is already blurring these lines. Quantum Mechanics has taught us that we can say nothing about what the world really IS. If things look the same and behave the same, we better assume that they are the same.
The attempt to claim that moral responsibility is reserved to the human species is self defeating. If it is so, then we definitely have a moral obligation towards the weaker and meeker. If it isn't, what right do we have to decide who shall live and who shall die (in pain)?
The increasingly shaky "fact" that species do not interbreed "proves" that species are distinct, say some. But who can deny that we share most of our genetic material with the fly and the mouse? We are not as dissimilar as we wish we were. And ever-escalating cruelty towards other species will not establish our genetic supremacy - merely our moral inferiority.
What is your opinion of the rise in popularity of plastic surgery and implants?
Narcissism, pure and simple.
We are surrounded by malignant narcissists. How come this disorder has hitherto been largely ignored? How come there is such a dearth of research and literature regarding this crucial family of pathologies? Even mental health practitioners are woefully unaware of it and unprepared to assist its victims.
The sad answer is that narcissism meshes well with our culture [see: http://samvak.tripod.com/lasch.html].
It is kind of a "background cosmic radiation", permeating every social and cultural interaction. It is hard to distinguish pathological narcissists from self-assertive, self-confident, self-promoting, eccentric, or highly individualistic persons. Hard sell, greed, envy, self-centredness, exploitativeness, diminished empathy - are all socially condoned features of Western civilization.
Our society is atomized, the outcome of individualism gone awry. It encourages narcissistic leadership and role models: http://samvak.tripod.com/15.html
Its sub-structures - institutionalized religion, political parties, civic organizations, the media, corporations - are all suffused with narcissism and pervaded by its pernicious outcomes: http://samvak.tripod.com/14.html
The very ethos of materialism and capitalism upholds certain narcissistic traits, such as reduced empathy, exploitation, a sense of entitlement, or grandiose fantasies ("vision").
Do extraterrestrials exist?
I. The Six Arguments against SETI
The various projects that comprise the 45-years old Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) raise two important issues:
(1) do Aliens exist and
(2) can we communicate with them.
If they do and we can, how come we never encountered an extraterrestrial, let alone spoken to or corresponded with one?
There are six basic explanations to this apparent conundrum and they are not mutually exclusive:
(1) That Aliens do not exist - click HERE to read the response
(2) That the technology they use is far too advanced to be detected by us and, the flip side of this hypothesis, that the technology we us is insufficiently advanced to be noticed by them - click HERE to read the response
(3) That we are looking for extraterrestrials at the wrong places - click HERE to read the response
(4) That the Aliens are life forms so different to us that we fail to recognize them as sentient beings or to communicate with them - click HERE to read the response
(5) That Aliens are trying to communicate with us but constantly fail due to a variety of hindrances, some structural and some circumstantial - click HERE to read the response
(6) That they are avoiding us because of our misconduct (example: the alleged destruction of the environment) or because of our traits (for instance, our innate belligerence) or because of ethical considerations - click HERE to read the response
Argument Number 1: Aliens do not exist (the Fermi Principle)
The assumption that life has arisen only on Earth is both counterintuitive and unlikely. Rather, it is highly probable that life is an extensive parameter of the Universe. In other words, that it is as pervasive and ubiquitous as are other generative phenomena, such as star formation.
This does not mean that extraterrestrial life and life on Earth are necessarily similar. Environmental determinism and the panspermia hypothesis are far from proven. There is no guarantee that we are not unique, as per the Rare Earth hypothesis. But the likelihood of finding life in one form or another elsewhere and everywhere in the Universe is high.
The widely-accepted mediocrity principle (Earth is a typical planet) and its reification, the controversial Drake (or Sagan) Equation usually predicts the existence of thousands of Alien civilizations - though only a vanishingly small fraction of these are likely to communicate with us.
But, if this is true, to quote Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi: "where are they?". Fermi postulated that ubiquitous technologically advanced civilizations should be detectable - yet they are not! (The Fermi Paradox).
This paucity of observational evidence may be owing to the fact that our galaxy is old. In ten billion years of its existence, the majority of Alien races are likely to have simply died out or been extinguished by various cataclysmic events. Or maybe older and presumably wiser races are not as bent as we are on acquiring colonies. Remote exploration may have supplanted material probes and physical visits to wild locales such as Earth.
Aliens exist on our very planet. The minds of newborn babies and of animals are as inaccessible to us as would be the minds of little green men and antenna-wielding adductors. Moreover, as we demonstrated in the previous chapter, even adult human beings from the same cultural background are as aliens to one another. Language is an inadequate and blunt instrument when it comes to communicating our inner worlds.
Argument Number 2: Their technology is too advanced
If Aliens really want to communicate with us, why would they use technologies that are incompatible with our level of technological progress? When we discover primitive tribes in the Amazon, do we communicate with them via e-mail or video conferencing - or do we strive to learn their language and modes of communication and emulate them to the best of our ability?
Of course there is always the possibility that we are as far removed from Alien species as ants are from us. We do not attempt to interface with insects. If the gap between us and Alien races in the galaxy is too wide, they are unlikely to want to communicate with us at all.
Argument Number 3: We are looking in all the wrong places
If life is, indeed, a defining feature (an extensive property) of our Universe, it should be anisotropically, symmetrically, and equally distributed throughout the vast expanse of space. In other words, never mind where we turn our scientific instruments, we should be able to detect life or traces of life.
Still, technological and budgetary constraints have served to dramatically narrow the scope of the search for intelligent transmissions. Vast swathes of the sky have been omitted from the research agenda as have been many spectrum frequencies. SETI scientists assume that Alien species are as concerned with efficiency as we are and, therefore, unlikely to use certain wasteful methods and frequencies to communicate with us. This assumption of interstellar scarcity is, of course, dubious.
Argument Number 4: Aliens are too alien to be recognized
Carbon-based life forms may be an aberration or the rule, no one knows. The diversionist and convergionist schools of evolution are equally speculative as are the basic assumptions of both astrobiology and xenobiology. The rest of the universe may be populated with silicon, or nitrogen-phosphorus based races or with information-waves or contain numerous, non-interacting "shadow biospheres".
Recent discoveries of extremophile unicellular organisms lend credence to the belief that life can exist almost under any circumstances and in all conditions and that the range of planetary habitability is much larger than thought.
But whatever their chemical composition, most Alien species are likely to be sentient and intelligent. Intelligence is bound to be the great equalizer and the Universal Translator in our Universe. We may fail to recognize certain extragalactic races as life-forms but we are unlikely to mistake their intelligence for a naturally occurring phenomenon. We are equipped to know other sentient intelligent species regardless of how advanced and different they are - and they are equally fitted to acknowledge us as such.
Even so, should we ever encounter them, aliens are likely to strike as as being childish and immature. Inevitably, they will find our planet strange. They will experience a learning curve (perhaps even a lengthy one). Similar to infants, they are likely to wander around, tumbling and gaping and clumsily reaching for objects, mute and possibly blinded by the light. They may be hampered by any number of things: gravity, the level of oxygen, radiation, and winds. Far from being a threat, at first they may require our assistance merely to survive the ordeal.
Argument Number 5: We are failing to communicate with Aliens
The hidden assumption underlying CETI/METI (Communication with ETI/Messaging to ETI) is that Aliens, like humans, are inclined to communicate. This may be untrue. The propensity for interpersonal communication (let alone the inter-species variety) may not be universal. Additionally, Aliens may not possess the same sense organs that we do (eyes) and may not be acquainted with our mathematics and geometry. Reality can be successfully described and captured by alternative mathematical systems and geometries.
Additionally, we often confuse complexity or orderliness with artificiality. As the example of quasars teaches us, not all regular or constant or strong or complex signals are artificial. Even the very use of language may be a uniquely human phenomenon - though most xenolinguists contest such exclusivity.
Moreover, as Wittgenstein observed, language is an essentially private affair: if a lion were to suddenly speak, we would not have understood it. Modern verificationist and referentialist linguistic theories seek to isolate the universals of language, so as to render all languages capable of translation - but they are still a long way off. Clarke's Third Law says that Alien civilizations well in advance of humanity may be deploying investigative methods and communicating in dialects undetectable even in principle by humans.
Argument Number 6: They are avoiding us
Advanced Alien civilizations may have found ways to circumvent the upper limit of the speed of light (for instance, by using wormholes). If they have and if UFO sightings are mere hoaxes and bunk (as is widely believed by most scientists), then we are back to Fermi's "where are they".
One possible answer is they are avoiding us because of our misconduct (example: the alleged destruction of the environment) or because of our traits (for instance, our innate belligerence). Or maybe the Earth is a galactic wildlife reserve or a zoo or a laboratory (the Zoo hypothesis) and the Aliens do not wish to contaminate us or subvert our natural development. This falsely assumes that all Alien civilizations operate in unison and under a single code (the Uniformity of Motive fallacy).
But how would they know to avoid contact with us? How would they know of our misdeeds and bad character?
Our earliest radio signals have traversed no more than 130 light years omnidirectionally. Out television emissions are even closer to home. What other source of information could Aliens have except our own self-incriminating transmissions? None. In other words, it is extremely unlikely that our reputation precedes us. Luckily for us, we are virtual unknowns.
As early as 1960, the implications of an encounter with an ETI were clear:
"Evidences of its existence might also be found in artifacts left on the moon or other planets. The consequences for attitudes and values are unpredictable, but would vary profoundly in different cultures and between groups within complex societies; a crucial factor would be the nature of the communication between us and the other beings. Whether or not earth would be inspired to an all-out space effort by such a discovery is moot: societies sure of their own place in the universe have disintegrated when confronted by a superior society, and others have survived even though changed. Clearly, the better we can come to understand the factors involved in responding to such crises the better prepared we may be."
(Brookins Institute - Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs, 1960)
Perhaps we should not be looking forward to the First Encounter. It may also be our last.
What do you currently have in your MP3 player?
I don't have an MP3 player. I feel sad only when I listen to music. My sadness is tinged with the decomposing sweetness of my childhood. So, sometimes, I sing or think about music and it makes me unbearably sad. I know that somewhere inside me there are whole valleys of melancholy, oceans of pain but they remain untapped because I want to live. I cannot listen to music - any music - for more than a few minutes. It is too dangerous, I cannot breathe.
But this is the exception. Otherwise, my emotional life is colourless and eventless, as rigidly blind as my disorder, as dead as me. Oh, I feel rage and hurt and inordinate humiliation and fear. These are very dominant, prevalent and recurrent hues in the canvass of my daily existence. But there is nothing except these atavistic gut reactions. There is nothing else - at least not that I am aware of.
Whatever it is that I experience as emotions - I experience in reaction to slights and injuries, real or imagined. My emotions are all reactive, not active. I feel insulted - I sulk. I feel devalued - I rage. I feel ignored - I pout. I feel humiliated - I lash out. I feel threatened - I fear. I feel adored - I bask in glory. I am virulently envious of one and all.
I can appreciate beauty but in a cerebral, cold and "mathematical" way. I have no sex drive I can think of. My emotional landscape is dim and grey, as though observed through thick mist in a particularly dreary day.
I can intelligently discuss other emotions, which I never experienced - like empathy, or love - because I make it a point to read a lot and to correspond with people who claim to experience them. Thus, I gradually formed working hypotheses as to what people feel. It is pointless to try to really understand - but at least I can better predict their behaviour than in the absence of such models.
I am not envious of people who feel. I disdain feelings and emotional people because I think that they are weak and vulnerable and I deride human weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Such derision makes me feel superior and is probably the ossified remains of a defence mechanism gone berserk. But, there it is, this is I and there is nothing I can do about it.
To all of you who talk about change - there is nothing I can do about myself. And there is nothing you can do about yourself. And there is nothing anyone can do for you, either. Psychotherapy and medications are concerned with behaviour modification - not with healing. They are concerned with proper adaptation because maladaptation is socially costly. Society defends itself against misfits by lying to them. The lie is that change and healing are possible. They are not. You are what you are. Period. Go live with it.
So, here I am. An emotional hunchback, a fossil, a human caught in amber, observing my environment with dead eyes of calcium. We shall never meet amicably because I am a predator and you are the prey. Because I do not know what it is like to be you and I do not particularly care to know. Because my disorder is as essential to me as your feelings are to you. My normal state is my very illness. I look like you, I walk the walk and talk the talk and I - and my ilk - deceive you magnificently. Not out of the cold viciousness of our hearts - but because that is the way we are.
I have emotions and they are buried in a pit down below. All of my emotions are acidulously negative, they are vitriol, the "not for internal consumption" type. I cannot feel anything, because if I open the floodgates of this cesspool of my psyche, I will drown.
And I will carry you with me.
And all the love in this world, and all the crusading women who think that they can "fix" me by doling out their saccharine compassion and revolting "understanding" and all the support and the holding environments and the textbooks - cannot change one iota in this maddening, self-imposed verdict meted out by the most insanely, obtusely, sadistically harsh judge:
What books are you currently reading?
I devour encyclopedias and other books of reference. They make me feel in control ("the world is my oyster"). They buttress my self-perception as an intellectual. They never bore me.
Right now, I am reading a compilation of legal decisions rendered in Great Britain and the Commonwealth in 1994. In the last few weeks, I have read a book about Alexander the Great, another about Hitler (a perennial interest of mine), a verbose and indecipherable French (how else?) biography of Proust, and a hack job about Jack the Ripper. In between, I gulped down thriller. I love mysteries!
Consider Dame Agatha Christie.
I am a voracious reader of the most convoluted and lexiphanic texts - yet, there is one author I prefer to most. She gives me the greatest pleasure and leaves me tranquil and craving for more when I am through devouring one of her countless tomes. A philosopher of the mundane, a scholar of death, an exquisite chronicler of decay and decadence - she is Dame Agatha Christie. I spend as much time wondering what so mesmerizes me in her pulp fiction as I do trying to decipher her deliciously contorted stratagems.
First, there is the claustrophobia. Modernity revolves around the rapid depletion of our personal spaces - from pastures and manors to cubicles and studio apartments. Christie - like Edgar Ellen Poe before her - imbues even the most confined rooms with endless opportunities for vice and malice, where countless potential scenarios can and do unfold kaleidoscopically. A Universe of plots and countervailing subplots which permeate even the most cramped of her locations. It is nothing short of consummate magic.
Then there is the realization of the ubiquity of our pathologies. In Christie's masterpieces, even the champions of good are paragons of mental illness. Hercules Poirot, the quintessential narcissist, self-grooming, haughty, and delusional. Miss Marple, a schizoid busybody, who savors neither human company, nor her inevitable encounters with an intruding world. Indeed, it is deformity that gifts these two with their eerily penetrating insights into the infirmities of others.
Then, there is the death of innocence. Dame Agatha's detective novels are quaint, set in a Ruritanian Britain that is no more and likely had never existed. Technologies make their debut: the car, the telephone, the radio, electric light. The very nature of evil is transformed from the puerile directness of the highway robber and the passion killer - to the scheming, cunning, and disguised automatism of her villains. Crime in her books is calculated, the outcome of plotting and conspiring, a confluence of unbridled and corrupted appetites and a malignant mutation of individualism. Her opus is a portrait of our age as it emerged, all bloodied and repellent, from the womb the dying Victorian era.
Christie's weapons of choice are simple - the surreptitious poison, a stealthy dagger, the cocked revolver, a hideous drowning. Some acquaintance with the sciences of Chemistry and Physics is indispensable, of course. Archeology comes third. But Christie's main concerns are human nature and morality. The riddles that she so fiendishly posits cannot be solved without taking both into account.
As Miss Marple keeps insisting throughout her numerous adventures, people are the same everywhere, regardless of their social standing, wealth, or upbringing. The foibles, motives, and likely actions of protagonists - criminals as well as victims - are inferred by Marple from character studies of her village folks back home. Human nature is immutable and universal is Christie's message.
Not so morality. Formal justice is a slippery concept, often opposed to the natural sort. Life is in shades of gray. Murders sometimes are justified, especially when they serve to rectify past wrongs or prevent a greater evil. Some victims had it coming. Crime is part of a cycle of karmic retribution. The detective's role is to restore order to a chaotic situation, to interpret reality for us (in an inevitable final chapter), and to administer true and impartial justice, not shackled by social or legalistic norms.
Thus, nothing is as it seems.
It is perhaps Christie's greatest allure. Beneath the polished, petite-bourgeois, rule-driven, surface, lurks another world, replete with demons and with angels, volcanic passions and stochastic drives, the mirrors and the mirrored, where no ratio rules and no laws obtain. Catapulted into this nightmarish, surrealistic landscape, like the survivors of a shipwreck, we wander, bedazzled, readers and detectives, heroes and villains, damsels and their lovers, doomed to await the denouement. When that moment comes, redeemed by reason, we emerge, reassured, into our reinstated, ordered, Before Christ(ie) existence.
Her novels are the substance of our dreams, woven from the fabric of our fears, an open invitation to plunge into our psyches and courageously confront the abyss. Hence Christie's irresistibility - her utter acquaintance with our deepest quiddity. Who can forgo such narcissistic pleasure? Not your columnist, for sure!
Piracy continues to grow: What will happen to the music and film
industries and culture in general?
This is a complex issue, best broken down to these questions:
Q. What do you know about people illegally downloading files over the internet?
A. I know what everyone knows from being exposed to the news media and to lawsuits filed by publishers: the phenomenon is widespread and most of the millions of exchanged files are music tracks and films (though book rip-offs are not unknown as well).
Q. Why do you think people are taking part in these electronic transactions? Does the cost of purchasing the media come into play?
A. It's a complex canvass of motivations, I guess. Many media products (especially in developing and poor countries) are overpriced in terms of the local purchasing power. Illegally downloading them is often an act of protest or defiance against what disgruntled consumers perceive as excessive profiteering. It may also be the only realistic way to gain ownership of coveted content.
The fact that everything - from text to images - is digital makes replication facile and enticing. Illegal downloading also probably confers an aura of daring and mystique on the "pirates" involved (whose life may otherwise be a lot drearier and mundane).
Additionally, these products resemble public goods in that they are nonrivalrous (the cost of extending the service or providing the good to another person is (close to) zero) and largely nonexcludable.
Most products are rivalrous (scarce) - zero sum games. Having been consumed, they are gone and are not available to others. Public goods, in contrast, are accessible to growing numbers of people without any additional marginal cost. This wide dispersion of benefits renders them unsuitable for private entrepreneurship. It is impossible to recapture the full returns they engender. As Samuelson observed, they are extreme forms of positive externalities (spillover effects).
Moreover, it is impossible to exclude anyone from enjoying the benefits of a public good, or from defraying its costs (positive and negative externalities). Neither can anyone willingly exclude himself from their remit.
Needless to emphasize that media products are not public goods at all! They only superficially resemble public goods. Still, the fact that many books, music, and some films are, indeed, in the public domain further exacerbates the consumer's confusion. "Why can I (legally) download certain books and music tracks free of charge - but not others?" - wonders the baffled surfer, who is rarely versed in the intricacies of copyright laws.
Q. Do you think this leads to a feeling of disrespect toward the various pieces of media by the person that steals it so frequently? (If I download music all the time, will I lose interest in it?)
A. I am not sure that the word "respect" is relevant here. People don't respect or disrespect music - they enjoy it, like it, or dislike it. But frequent illegal downloading of media products is, probably, the outcome of disrespect towards content intermediaries such as publishers, producers, and retail outlets. I don't know for sure because there is no research to guide us in this matter, but I would imagine that these people (wrongly) perceive content intermediaries as parasitic and avaricious.
Q. Downloading is still a widespread act today. The threats of lawsuits and legal action against downloaders hasn't stopped the problem. What, in your opinion, needs to be done to stop this behavior?
A. Law enforcement activities and lawsuits are already having an effect. But you cannot prosecute thousands of people on a regular basis without suffering a commensurate drop in popularity and a tarnished image. People do not perceive these acts as self-defense but as David vs. Goliath bullying. Sooner or later, the efficacy of such measures is bound to decline.
Media companies would do better to adopt new technologies rather than fight them. They must come forth with new business models and new venues of dissemination of content. They have to show more generosity in the management of digital rights. They have to adopt differential pricing of their products across the board, to reflect disparities in earnings and purchasing power in the global marketplace. They have to transform themselves rather than try to coerce the world into their antiquated and Procrustean ways of doing things.
Q. Psychologically speaking, is there a certain kind of person who is more likely to take part in this behavior? Do you feel that this is a generational issue?
A. I cannot but speculate. There is a dearth of data at this early stage. I would imagine that illegal downloaders are hoarders. They are into owning things rather than into using or consuming them. They are into building libraries and collections. They are young and intelligent, but not affluent. They are irreverent, rebellious, and non-conformist. They may be loners who network socially only online. Some of them love culture and its artifacts but they need not be particularly computer-savvy.
The Demise of Intellectual Property?
What sports do you play and how often?
I hate and detest sports viscerally and virulently. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because I am terrified by crowds. The mob is the antonym of civilization.
The love of - nay, addiction to - competitive and solitary sports cuts across all social-economic strata and throughout all the demographics. Whether as a passive consumer (spectator), a fan, or as a participant and practitioner, everyone enjoys one form of sport or another. Wherefrom this universal propensity?
Sports cater to multiple psychological and physiological deep-set needs. In this they are unique: no other activity responds as do sports to so many dimensions of one's person, both emotional, and physical. But, on a deeper level, sports provide more than instant gratification of primal (or base, depending on one's point of view) instincts, such as the urge to compete and to dominate.
Sports, both competitive and solitary, are morality plays. The athlete confronts other sportspersons, or nature, or his (her) own limitations. Winning or overcoming these hurdles is interpreted to be the triumph of good over evil, superior over inferior, the best over merely adequate, merit over patronage. It is a vindication of the principles of quotidian-religious morality: efforts are rewarded; determination yields achievement; quality is on top; justice is done.
The world is riven by seemingly random acts of terror; replete with inane behavior; governed by uncontrollable impulses; and devoid of meaning. Sports are rule-based. Theirs is a predictable universe where umpires largely implement impersonal, yet just principles. Sports is about how the world should have been (and, regrettably, isn't). It is a safe delusion; a comfort zone; a promise and a demonstration that humans are capable of engendering a utopia.
That is not to say that sports are sterile or irrelevant to our daily lives. On the very contrary. They are an encapsulation and a simulation of Life: they incorporate conflict and drama, teamwork and striving, personal struggle and communal strife, winning and losing. Sports foster learning in a safe environment. Better be defeated in a football match or on the tennis court than lose your life on the battlefield.
The contestants are not the only ones to benefit. From their detached, safe, and isolated perches, observers of sports games, however vicariously, enhance their trove of experiences; learn new skills; encounter manifold situations; augment their coping strategies; and personally grow and develop.
In sports, there is always a second chance, often denied us by Life and nature. No loss is permanent and crippling; no defeat is insurmountable and irreversible. Reversal is but a temporary condition, not the antechamber to annihilation. Safe in this certainty, sportsmen and spectators dare, experiment, venture out, and explore. A sense of adventure permeates all sports and, with few exceptions, it is rarely accompanied by impending doom or the exorbitant proverbial price-tag.
Nothing like sports to encourage a sense of belonging, togetherness, and we-ness. Sports involve teamwork; a meeting of minds; negotiation and bartering; strategic games; bonding; and the narcissism of small differences (when we reserve our most virulent emotions – aggression, hatred, envy – towards those who resemble us the most: the fans of the opposing team, for instance).
Sports, like other addictions, also provide their proponents and participants with an "exo-skeleton": a sense of meaning; a schedule of events; a regime of training; rites, rituals, and ceremonies; uniforms and insignia. It imbues an otherwise chaotic and purposeless life with a sense of mission and with a direction.
6. Narcissistic Gratification (Narcissistic Supply)
It takes years to become a medical doctor and decades to win a prize or award in academe. It requires intelligence, perseverance, and an inordinate amount of effort. One's status as an author or scientist reflects a potent cocktail of natural endowments and hard labour.
It is far less onerous for a sports fan to acquire and claim expertise and thus inspire awe in his listeners and gain the respect of his peers. The fan may be an utter failure in other spheres of life, but he or she can still stake a claim to adulation and admiration by virtue of their fount of sports trivia and narrative skills.
Sports therefore provide a shortcut to accomplishment and its rewards. As most sports are uncomplicated affairs, the barrier to entry is low. Sports are great equalizers: one's status outside the arena, the field, or the court is irrelevant. One's standing is really determined by one's degree of obsession.
How do you explain the rise in "fame" culture?
There is an implicit contract between a celebrity and his fans. The celebrity is obliged to "act the part", to fulfil the expectations of his admirers, not to deviate from the roles that they impose and he or she accepts. In return the fans shower the celebrity with adulation. They idolize him or her and make him or her feel omnipotent, immortal, "larger than life", omniscient, superior, and sui generis (unique).
What are the fans getting for their trouble?
Above all, the ability to vicariously share the celebrity's fabulous (and, usually, partly confabulated) existence. The celebrity becomes their "representative" in fantasyland, their extension and proxy, the reification and embodiment of their deepest desires and most secret and guilty dreams. Many celebrities are also role models or father/mother figures. Celebrities are proof that there is more to life than drab and routine. That beautiful - nay, perfect - people do exist and that they do lead charmed lives. There's hope yet - this is the celebrity's message to his fans.
The celebrity's inevitable downfall and corruption is the modern-day equivalent of the medieval morality play. This trajectory - from rags to riches and fame and back to rags or worse - proves that order and justice do prevail, that hubris invariably gets punished, and that the celebrity is no better, neither is he superior, to his fans.
But, as I said in my response to a previous question, ours is a narcissistic civilization. Celebrities either start out as narcissists, their celebrity a mere ploy to quench their thirst for adulation (narcissistic supply) - or they are rendered narcissistic by their fame.
But can narcissism be acquired or learned? Can it be provoked by certain, well-defined, situations?
Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at New York Hospital - Cornell Medical School thinks it can. He proposes to reverse the accepted chronology. According to him, pathological narcissism can be induced in adulthood by celebrity, wealth, and fame.
The "victims" - billionaire tycoons, movie stars, renowned authors, politicians, and other authority figures - develop grandiose fantasies, lose their erstwhile ability to empathize, react with rage to slights, both real and imagined and, in general, act like textbook narcissists.
But is the occurrence of Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN) inevitable and universal - or are only certain people prone to it?
It is likely that ASN is merely an amplification of earlier narcissistic conduct, traits, style, and tendencies. Celebrities with ASN already had a narcissistic personality and have acquired it long before it "erupted". Being famous, powerful, or rich only "legitimized" and conferred immunity from social sanction on the unbridled manifestation of a pre-existing disorder. Indeed, narcissists tend to gravitate to professions and settings which guarantee fame, celebrity, power, and wealth.
As Millman correctly notes, the celebrity's life is abnormal. The adulation is often justified and plentiful, the feedback biased and filtered, the criticism muted and belated, social control either lacking or excessive and vitriolic. Such vicissitudinal existence is not conducive to mental health even in the most balanced person.
The confluence of a person's narcissistic predisposition and his pathological life circumstances gives rise to ASN. Acquired Situational Narcissism borrows elements from both the classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder - ingrained and all-pervasive - and from Transient or Reactive Narcissism.
Celebrities are, therefore, unlikely to "heal" once their fame or wealth or might are gone. Instead, their basic narcissism merely changes form. It continues unabated, as insidious as ever - but modified by life's ups and downs.
In a way, all narcissistic disturbances are acquired. Patients acquire their pathological narcissism from abusive or overbearing parents, from peers, and from role models. Narcissism is a defense mechanism designed to fend off hurt and danger brought on by circumstances - such as celebrity - beyond the person's control.
Social expectations play a role as well. Celebrities try to conform to the stereotype of a creative but spoiled, self-centered, monomaniacal, and emotive individual. A tacit trade takes place. We offer the famous and the powerful all the Narcissistic Supply they crave - and they, in turn, act the consummate, fascinating albeit repulsive, narcissists.
In which city do you live? What are your favourite and least favourite things about it?
I wrote this about Skopje, Macedonia:
Frozen at an early morning hour, the stony hands of the giant, cracked clock commemorate the horror. The earthquake that struck Skopje in 1963 has shattered not only its Byzantine decor, has demolished not merely the narrow passageways of its Ottoman past, has transformed not only its Habsburgian waterfront with its baroque National Theatre. The disastrous reconstruction, supervised by a Japanese architect, has robbed it of its soul. It has become a drab and sprawling socialist metropolis replete with monumentally vainglorious buildings, now falling into decrepitude and disrepair. The influx of destitute and simpleton villagers (which more than quintupled Skopje's population) was crammed by central planners with good intentions and avaricious nature into low-quality, hi-rise slums in newly constructed "settlements".
Skopje is a city of extremes. Its winter is harsh in shades of white and grey. Its summer is naked and steamy and effulgent. It pulses throughout the year in smoke-filled, foudroyant bars and dingy coffee-houses. Polydipsic youths in migratory skeins, eager to be noted by their peers, young women on the hunt, ageing man keen to be preyed upon, suburbanites in search of recognition, gold chained mobsters surrounded by flaxen voluptuousness - the cast of the watering holes of this potholed eruption of a city.
The trash seems never to be collected here, the streets are perilously punctured, policemen often substitute for dysfunctional traffic lights. The Macedonians drive like the Italians, gesture like the Jews, dream like the Russians, are obstinate like the Serbs, desirous like the French and hospitable like the Bedouins. It is a magical concoction, coated in the subversive patience and the aggressive passivity of the long oppressed. There is the wisdom of fear itself in the eyes of the 600,000 inhabitants of this landlocked, mountain-surrounded habitat. Never certain of their future, still grappling with their identity, an air of "carpe diem" with the most solemn religiosity of the devout.
The past lives on and flows into the present seamlessly. People recount the history of every stone, recite the antecedents of every man. They grieve together, rejoice in common and envy en masse. A single organism with many heads, it offers the comforts of assimilation and solidarity and the horrors of violated privacy and bigotry. The people of this conurbation may have left the village - but it never let them go. They are the opsimaths of urbanism. Their rural roots are everywhere: in the the division of the city into tight-knit, local-patriotic "settlements". In the traditional marriages and funerals. In the scarcity of divorces despite the desperate shortage in accommodation. In the asphyxiating but oddly reassuring familiarity of faces, places, behaviour and beliefs, superstitions, dreams and nightmares. Life in a distended tempo of birth and death and in between.
Skopje has it all - wide avenues with roaring traffic, the incommodious alleys of the Old Town, the proper castle ruins (the Kale). It has a Turkish Bridge, recently renovated out of its quaintness. It has a square with Art Nouveau building in sepia hues. An incongruent digital clock atop a regal edifice displayed the minutes to the millennium - and beyond. It has been violated by American commerce in the form of three McDonald restaurants which the locals proceeded cheerfully to transform into snug affairs. Stolid Greek supermarkets do not seem to disrupt the inveterate tranquility of neighbourhood small grocers and their coruscant congeries of variegated fruits and vegetables, spilling to the pavement.
In winter, the light in Skopje is diaphanous and lambent. In summer, tis strong and all-pervasive. Like some coquettish woman, the city changes mantles of orange autumn leaves and the green foliage of summer. Its pure white heart of snow often is hardened into grey and traitorous sleet. It is a fickle mistress, now pouring rain, now drizzle, now simmering sun. The snowy mountain caps watch patiently her vicissitudes. Her inhabitants drive out to ski on slopes, to bathe in lakes, to climb to sacred sites. It gives them nothing but congestion and foul atmosphere and yet they love her dearly. The Macedonian is the peripatetic patriot - forever shuttling between his residence abroad and his true and only home. Between him and his land is an incestuous relationship, a love affair unbroken, a covenant handed down the generations. Landscapes of infancy imprinted that provoke an almost Pavolvian reaction of return.
Skopje has known many molesters. It has been traversed by every major army in European history and then by some. Occupying a vital crossroad, it is a layer cake of cultures and ethnicities. To the Macedonians, the future is always portentous, ringing with the ominousness of the past. The tension is great and palpable, a pressure cooker close to bursting. The river Vardar divides increasingly Albanian neighbourhoods (Butel, Cair, Shuto Orizari) from Macedonian (non-Muslim) ones. Albanians have also moved from the villages in the periphery encircling Skopje into hitherto "Macedonian" neighbourhoods (like Karpos and the Centre). The Romas have their own ghetto called "Shutka" (in Shuto Orizari), rumoured to be the biggest such community in Europe. The city has been also "invaded" (as its Macedonian citizens experience it) by Bosnian Muslims.
Gradually, as friction mounts, segregation increases. Macedonians move out of apartment blocks and neighbourhoods populated by Albanians. This inner migration bodes ill for future integration. There is no inter-marriage to speak of, educational facilities are ethnically-pure and the conflict in Kosovo with its attendant "Great Albania" rumblings has only exacerbated a stressed and anxious history.
It is here, above ground, that the next earthquake awaits, along the inter-ethnic fault lines. Strained to the point of snapping by a KFOR-induced culture shock, by the vituperative animosity between the coalition and opposition parties, by European-record unemployment and poverty (Albania is the poorest, by official measures) - the scene is set for an eruption. Peaceful by long and harsh conditioning, the Macedonians withdraw and nurture a siege mentality. The city is boisterous, its natives felicitously facetious, its commerce flourishing. It is transmogrified by Greek and Bulgarian investors into a Balkan business hub. But under this shimmering facade, a great furnace of resentment and frustration spews out the venom of intolerance. One impolitic move, one unkind remark, one wrong motion - and it will boil over to the detriment of one and all.
Dame Rebecca West was here, in Skopje (Skoplje, as she spelt it) about 60 years ago. She wrote:
"This (Macedonian) woman (in the Orthodox church) had suffered more than most other human beings, she and her forebears. A competent observer of this countryside has said that every single person born in it before the Great War (and quite a number who were born after it) has faced the prospect of violent death at least once in his or her life. She had been born during the calamitous end of Turkish maladministration, with its cycles of insurrection and massacre and its social chaos. If her own village had not been murdered, she had, certainly, heard of many that had and had never had any guarantee that hers would not some day share the same fate... and there was always extreme poverty. She had had far less of anything, of personal possessions, of security, of care in childbirth than any Western woman can imagine. But she had two possessions that any Western woman might envy. She had strength, the terrible stony strength of Macedonia; she was begotten and born of stocks who could mock all bullets save those which went through the heart, who could outlive the winters when they were driven into the mountains, who could survive malaria and plague, who could reach old age on a diet of bread and paprika. And cupped in her destitution as in the hollow of a boulder there are the last drops of the Byzantine tradition."
Should any territory have the right of self-determination if a majority of the population votes in favour of doing so?
The new state of Kosovo has been immediately recognized by the USA, Germany, and other major European powers. The Canadian Supreme Court made clear in its ruling in the Quebec case in 1998 that the status of statehood is not conditioned upon such recognition, but that (p. 289):
"...(T)he viability of a would-be state in the international community depends, as a practical matter, upon recognition by other states."
The constitutional law of some federal states provides for a mechanism of orderly secession. The constitutions of both the late USSR and SFRY (Yugoslavia, 1974) incorporated such provisions. In other cases - the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom come to mind - the supreme echelons of the judicial system had to step in and rule regarding the right to secession, its procedures, and mechanisms.
Again, facts on the ground determine international legitimacy. As early as 1877, in the wake of the bloodiest secessionist war of all time, the American Civil War (1861-5), the Supreme Court of the USA wrote (in William vs. Bruffy):
"The validity of (the secessionists') acts, both against the parent State and its citizens and subjects, depends entirely upon its ultimate success. If it fail (sic) to establish itself permanently, all such acts perish with it. If it succeed (sic), and become recognized, its acts from the commencement of its existence are upheld as those of an independent nation."
In "The Creation of States in International Law" (Clarendon Press, 2nd ed., 2006), James Crawford suggests that there is no internationally recognized right to secede and that secession is a "legally neutral act". Not so. As Aleksandar Pavkovic observes in his book (with contributions by Peter Radan), "Creating New States - Theory and Practice of Secession" (Ashgate, 2007), the universal legal right to self-determination encompasses the universal legal right to secede.
The Albanians in Kosovo are a "people" according to the Decisions of the Badinter Commission. But, though, they occupy a well-defined and demarcated territory, their land is within the borders of an existing State. In this strict sense, their unilateral secession does set a precedent: it goes against the territorial definition of a people as embedded in the United Nations Charter and subsequent Conventions.
Still, the general drift of international law (for instance, as interpreted by Canada's Supreme Court) is to allow that a State can be composed of several "peoples" and that its cultural-ethnic constituents have a right to self-determination. This seems to uphold the 19th century concept of a homogenous nation-state over the French model (of a civil State of all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religious creed).
Pavkovic contends that, according to principle 5 of the United Nations' General Assembly's Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance With the Charter of the United Nations, the right to territorial integrity overrides the right to self-determination.
Thus, if a State is made up of several "peoples", its right to maintain itself intact and to avoid being dismembered or impaired is paramount and prevails over the right of its constituent peoples to secede. But, the right to territorial integrity is limited to States:
"(C)onducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples ... and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed, or colour."
The words "as to race, creed, or colour" in the text supra have been replaced with the words "of any kind" (in the 1995 Declaration on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations).
Yugoslavia under Milosevic failed this test in its treatment of the Albanian minority within its borders. They were relegated to second-class citizenship, derided, blatantly and discriminated against in every turn. Thus, according to principle 5, the Kosovars had a clear right to unilaterally secede.
As early as 1972, an International Commission of Jurists wrote in a report titled "The Events in East Pakistan, 1971":
"(T)his principle (of territorial integrity) is subject to the requirement that the government does comply with the principle of equal rights and does represent the whole people without distinction. If one of the constituent peoples of a state is denied equal rights and is discriminated against ... their full right of self-determination will revive." (p. 46)
A quarter of a century later, Canada's Supreme Court concurred (Quebec, 1998):
"(T)he international law right to self-determination only generates, at best, a right to external self-determination in situations ... where a definable group is denied meaningful access to government to pursue their political, economic, social, and cultural development."
In his seminal tome, "Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Appraisal" (Cambridge University Press, 19950, Antonio Cassese neatly sums up this exception to the right to territorial integrity enjoyed by States:
"(W)hen the central authorities of a sovereign State persistently refuse to grant participatory rights to a religious or racial group, grossly and systematically trample upon their fundamental rights, and deny the possibility of reaching a peaceful settlement within the framework of the State structure ... A racial or religious group may secede ... once it is clear that all attempts to achieve internal self-determination have failed or are destined to fail." (p. 119-120)
Does a state have the right to attack or intervene in another country that has not attacked said state, if the country has committed grave injustices or crimes against humanity?
In an age of terrorism, guerilla and total warfare the medieval doctrine of Just War needs to be re-defined. Moreover, issues of legitimacy, efficacy and morality should not be confused. Legitimacy is conferred by institutions. Not all morally justified wars are, therefore, automatically legitimate. Frequently the efficient execution of a battle plan involves immoral or even illegal acts.
As international law evolves beyond the ancient percepts of sovereignty, it should incorporate new thinking about pre-emptive strikes, human rights violations as casus belli and the role and standing of international organizations, insurgents and liberation movements.
Yet, inevitably, what constitutes "justice" depends heavily on the cultural and societal contexts, narratives, mores, and values of the disputants. Thus, one cannot answer the deceivingly simple question: "Is this war a just war?" - without first asking: "According to whom? In which context? By which criteria? Based on what values? In which period in history and where?"
Being members of Western Civilization, whether by choice or by default, our understanding of what constitutes a just war is crucially founded on our shifting perceptions of the West.
Imagine a village of 220 inhabitants. It has one heavily armed police constable flanked by two lightly equipped assistants. The hamlet is beset by a bunch of ruffians who molest their own families and, at times, violently lash out at their neighbors. These delinquents mock the authorities and ignore their decisions and decrees.
Yet, the village council - the source of legitimacy - refuses to authorize the constable to apprehend the villains and dispose of them, by force of arms if need be. The elders see no imminent or present danger to their charges and are afraid of potential escalation whose evil outcomes could far outweigh anything the felons can achieve.
Incensed by this laxity, the constable - backed only by some of the inhabitants - breaks into the home of one of the more egregious thugs and expels or kills him. He claims to have acted preemptively and in self-defense, as the criminal, long in defiance of the law, was planning to attack its representatives.
Was the constable right in acting the way he did?
On the one hand, he may have saved lives and prevented a conflagration whose consequences no one could predict. On the other hand, by ignoring the edicts of the village council and the expressed will of many of the denizens, he has placed himself above the law, as its absolute interpreter and enforcer.
What is the greater danger? Turning a blind eye to the exploits of outlaws and outcasts, thus rendering them ever more daring and insolent - or acting unilaterally to counter such pariahs, thus undermining the communal legal foundation and, possibly, leading to a chaotic situation of "might is right"? In other words, when ethics and expedience conflict with legality - which should prevail?
Enter the medieval doctrine of "Just War" (justum bellum, or, more precisely jus ad bellum), propounded by Saint Augustine of Hippo (fifth century AD), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in his "Summa Theologicae", Francisco de Vitoria (1548-1617), Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in his influential tome "Jure Belli ac Pacis" ("On Rights of War and Peace", 1625), Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1704), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), and Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767).
Modern thinkers include Michael Walzer in "Just and Unjust Wars" (1977), Barrie Paskins and Michael Dockrill in "The Ethics of War" (1979), Richard Norman in "Ethics, Killing, and War" (1995), Thomas Nagel in "War and Massacre", and Elizabeth Anscombe in "War and Murder".
According to the Catholic Church's rendition of this theory, set forth by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in his Letter to President Bush on Iraq, dated September 13, 2002, going to war is justified if these conditions are met:
"The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations [is] lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."
A just war is, therefore, a last resort, all other peaceful conflict resolution options having been exhausted.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums up the doctrine thus:
"The principles of the justice of war are commonly held to be:
Having just cause (especially and, according to the United Nations Charter, exclusively, self-defense);
Being (formally) declared by a proper authority;
Possessing a right intention;
Having a reasonable chance of success;
The end being proportional to the means used."
Yet, the evolution of warfare - the invention of nuclear weapons, the propagation of total war, the ubiquity of guerrilla and national liberation movements, the emergence of global, border-hopping terrorist organizations, of totalitarian regimes, and rogue or failed states - requires these principles to be modified by adding these tenets:
That the declaring authority is a lawfully and democratically elected government.
That the declaration of war reflects the popular will.
(Extension of 3) The right intention is to act in just cause.
(Extension of 4) ... or a reasonable chance of avoiding an annihilating defeat.
(Extension of 5) That the outcomes of war are preferable to the outcomes of the preservation of peace.
Still, the doctrine of just war, conceived in Europe in eras past, is fraying at the edges. Rights and corresponding duties are ill-defined or mismatched. What is legal is not always moral and what is legitimate is not invariably legal. Political realism and quasi-religious idealism sit uncomfortably within the same conceptual framework. Norms are vague and debatable while customary law is only partially subsumed in the tradition (i.e., in treaties, conventions and other instruments, as well in the actual conduct of states).
The most contentious issue is, of course, what constitutes "just cause". Self-defense, in its narrowest sense (reaction to direct and overwhelming armed aggression), is a justified casus belli. But what about the use of force to (deontologically, consequentially, or ethically):
Prevent or ameliorate a slow-motion or permanent humanitarian crisis;
Preempt a clear and present danger of aggression ("anticipatory or preemptive self-defense" against what Grotius called "immediate danger");
Secure a safe environment for urgent and indispensable humanitarian relief operations;
Restore democracy in the attacked state ("regime change");
Restore public order in the attacked state;
Prevent human rights violations or crimes against humanity or violations of international law by the attacked state;
Keep the peace ("peacekeeping operations") and enforce compliance with international or bilateral treaties between the aggressor and the attacked state or the attacked state and a third party;
Suppress armed infiltration, indirect aggression, or civil strife aided and abetted by the attacked state;
Honor one's obligations to frameworks and treaties of collective self-defense;
Protect one's citizens or the citizens of a third party inside the attacked state;
Protect one's property or assets owned by a third party inside the attacked state;
Respond to an invitation by the authorities of the attacked state - and with their expressed consent - to militarily intervene within the territory of the attacked state;
React to offenses against the nation's honor or its economy.
Unless these issues are resolved and codified, the entire edifice of international law - and, more specifically, the law of war - is in danger of crumbling. The contemporary multilateral regime proved inadequate and unable to effectively tackle genocide (Rwanda, Bosnia), terror (in Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East), weapons of mass destruction (Iraq, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea), and tyranny (in dozens of members of the United Nations).
This feebleness inevitably led to the resurgence of "might is right" unilateralism, as practiced, for instance, by the United States in places as diverse as Grenada and Iraq. This pernicious and ominous phenomenon is coupled with contempt towards and suspicion of international organizations, treaties, institutions, undertakings, and the prevailing consensual order.
In a unipolar world, reliant on a single superpower for its security, the abrogation of the rules of the game could lead to chaotic and lethal anarchy with a multitude of "rebellions" against the emergent American Empire. International law - the formalism of "natural law" - is only one of many competing universalist and missionary value systems. Militant Islam is another. The West must adopt the former to counter the latter.
Are we witnessing the end of the American empire?
I sure hope so.
The United States is one of the last remaining land empires. That it is made the butt of opprobrium and odium is hardly surprising, or unprecedented. Empires - Rome, the British, the Ottomans - were always targeted by the disgruntled, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed and by their self-appointed delegates, the intelligentsia.
Yet, even by historical standards, America seems to be provoking blanket repulsion.
The Pew Research Center published in December 2002 a report titled "What the World Thinks in 2002". "The World", was reduced by the pollsters to 44 countries and 38,000 interviewees. Two other surveys published last year - by the German Marshall Fund and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations - largely supported Pew's findings.
The most startling and unambiguous revelation was the extent of anti-American groundswell everywhere: among America's NATO allies, in developing countries, Muslim nations and even in eastern Europe where Americans, only a decade ago, were lionized as much-adulated liberators.
Four years later, things have gotten even worse.
Between March and May 2006, Pew surveyed 16,710 people in Britain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
Only 23% of Spaniards had a positive opinion of the USA, down from 41% the year before. A similar drop was evinced in India (from 71% to 56%), Russia (from 52% o 43%), Indonesia (from 38% to 30%), and Turkey (from 23% to 12%). In Britain, America' s putative ally, support was down by one third from 2002, to 50% or so. Declines were noted in France, Germany, and Jordan, somewhat offset by marginal rises in China and Pakistan.
Two thirds of Russians and overwhelming majorities in 13 out of 15 countries regarded the conduct of the USA in Iraq as a greater threat to world peace that Iran's nuclear ambitions. The distinction formerly made between the American people and the Bush administration is also eroding. Majorities in only 7 of 14 countries had favorable views of Americans.
"People around the world embrace things American and, at the same time, decry U.S. influence on their societies. Similarly, pluralities in most of the nations surveyed complain about American unilateralism."- expounded the year 2002 Pew report.
Yet, even this "embrace of things American" is ambiguous.
Violently "independent", inanely litigious and quarrelsome, solipsistically provincial, and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites, the United States, is often perceived as trying to impose its narcissistic pseudo-culture upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold and corrupted by vacuous materialism.
Recent accounting scandals, crumbling markets, political scams, human rights violations, technological setbacks, and rising social tensions have revealed how rotten and inherently contradictory the US edifice is and how concerned are Americans with appearances rather than substance.
To religious fundamentalists, America is the Great Satan, a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah, a cesspool of immorality and spiritual decay. To many European liberals, the United states is a throwback to darker ages of religious zealotry, pernicious bigotry, virulent nationalism, and the capricious misrule of the mighty.
According to most recent surveys by Gallup, MORI, the Council for Secular Humanism, the US Census Bureau, and others - the vast majority of Americans are chauvinistic, moralizing, bible-thumping, cantankerous, and trigger-happy. About half of them believe that Satan exists - not as a metaphor, but as a real physical entity.
America has a record defense spending per head, a vertiginous rate of incarceration, among the highest numbers of legal executions and gun-related deaths. It is still engaged in atavistic debates about abortion, the role of religion, and whether to teach the theory of evolution.
According to a series of special feature articles in The Economist, America is generally well-liked in Europe, but less so than before. It is utterly detested by the Muslim street, even in "progressive" Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Everyone - Europeans and Arabs, Asians and Africans - think that "the spread of American ideas and customs is a bad thing."
Admittedly, we typically devalue most that which we have formerly idealized and idolized.
To the liberal-minded, the United States of America reified the most noble, lofty, and worthy values, ideals, and causes. It was a dream in the throes of becoming, a vision of liberty, peace, justice, prosperity, and progress. Its system, though far from flawless, was considered superior - both morally and functionally - to anything ever conceived by Man.
Such unrealistic expectations inevitably and invariably lead to disenchantment, disillusionment, bitter disappointment, seething anger, and a sense of humiliation for having been thus deluded, or, rather, self-deceived. This backlash is further exacerbated by the haughty hectoring of the ubiquitous American missionaries of the "free-market-cum-democracy" church.
Americans everywhere aggressively preach the superior virtues of their homeland. Edward K. Thompson, managing editor of "Life" (1949-1961) warned against this propensity to feign omniscience and omnipotence: "Life (the magazine) must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all, or a Peeping Tom."
Thus, America's foreign policy - i.e., its presence and actions abroad - is, by far, its foremost vulnerability.
According to the Pew study, the image of the Unites States as a benign world power slipped dramatically in the space of two years in Slovakia (down 14 percent), in Poland (-7), in the Czech Republic (-6) and even in fervently pro-Western Bulgaria (-4 percent). It rose exponentially in Ukraine (up 10 percent) and, most astoundingly, in Russia (+24 percent) - but from a very low base.
The crux may be that the USA maintains one set of sanctimonious standards at home while egregiously and nonchalantly flouting them far and wide. Hence the fervid demonstrations against its military presence in places as disparate as South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.
In January 2000, Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized ("indecent acts with a child") and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building in Kosovo, when her father went to market to do some shopping. His is by no means the most atrocious link in a long chain of brutalities inflicted by American soldiers overseas, the latest of which are taking place in Iraq. In all these cases, the perpetrators were removed from the scene to face justice - or, more often, a travesty thereof - back home.
Americans - officials, scholars, peacemakers, non-government organizations - maintain a colonial state of mind. Backward natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, their systems of governance and economies inherently inferior. The white man's burden must not be encumbered by the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence. Hence America's fierce resistance to and indefatigable obstruction of the International Criminal Court.
Opportunistic multilateralism notwithstanding, the USA still owes the poorer nations of the world close to $200 million - its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations, usually asked to mop up after an American invasion or bombing. It not only refuses to subject its soldiers to the jurisdiction of the World Criminal Court - but also its facilities to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, its military to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, and its industry to the environmental constraints of the Kyoto Protocol, the rulings of the World Trade Organization, and the rigors of global intellectual property rights.
Despite its instinctual unilateralism, the United States is never averse to exploiting multilateral institutions to its ends. It is the only shareholder with a veto power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), by now widely considered to have degenerated into a long arm of the American administration. The United Nations Security Council, raucous protestations aside, has rubber-stamped American martial exploits from Panama to Iraq.
It seems as though America uses - and thus, perforce, abuses - the international system for its own, ever changing, ends. International law is invoked by it when convenient - ignored when importune.
In short, America is a bully. It is a law unto itself and it legislates on the fly, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgates at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent and malignant mixture of supremacy and contempt.
But why is America being singled out?
In politics and even more so in geopolitics, double standards and bullying are common. Apartheid South Africa, colonial France, mainland China, post-1967 Israel - and virtually every other polity - were at one time or another characterized by both. But while these countries usually mistreated only their own subjects - the USA does so also exterritorialy.
Even as it never ceases to hector, preach, chastise, and instruct - it does not recoil from violating its own decrees and ignoring its own teachings. It is, therefore, not the USA's intrinsic nature, nor its self-perception, or social model that I find most reprehensible - but its actions, particularly its foreign policy.
America's manifest hypocrisy, its moral talk and often immoral walk, its persistent application of double standards, irks and grates. I firmly believe that it is better to face a forthright villain than a masquerading saint. It is easy to confront a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Mao, vile and bloodied, irredeemably depraved, worthy only of annihilation. The subtleties of coping with the United States are far more demanding and far less rewarding.
This self-proclaimed champion of human rights has aided and abetted countless murderous dictatorships. This alleged sponsor of free trade is the most protectionist of rich nations. This ostensible beacon of charity contributes less than 0.1% of its GDP to foreign aid (compared to Scandinavia's 0.6%, for instance). This upright proponent of international law (under whose aegis it bombed and invaded half a dozen countries this past decade alone) is in avowed opposition to crucial pillars of the international order.
Naturally, America's enemies and critics are envious of its might and wealth. They would have probably acted the same as the United States, if they only could. But America's haughtiness and obtuse refusal to engage in soul searching and house cleaning do little to ameliorate this antagonism.
To the peoples of the poor world, America is both a colonial power and a mercantilist exploiter. To further its geopolitical and economic goals from Central Asia to the Middle East, it persists in buttressing regimes with scant regard for human rights, in cahoots with venal and sometimes homicidal indigenous politicians. And it drains the developing world of its brains, its labour, and its raw materials, giving little in return.
All powers are self-interested - but America is narcissistic. It is bent on exploiting and, having exploited, on discarding. It is a global Dr. Frankenstein, spawning mutated monsters in its wake. Its "drain and dump" policies consistently boomerang to haunt it.
Both Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega - two acknowledged monsters - were aided and abetted by the CIA and the US military. America had to invade Panama to depose the latter and to molest Iraq for the second time in order to force the removal of the former.
The Kosovo Liberation Army, an American anti-Milosevic pet, provoked a civil war in Macedonia tin 2001. Osama bin-Laden, another CIA golem, restored to the USA, on September 11, 2001 some of the materiel it so generously bestowed on him in his anti-Russian days.
Normally the outcomes of expedience, the Ugly American's alliances and allegiances shift kaleidoscopically. Pakistan and Libya were transmuted from foes to allies in the fortnight prior to the Afghan campaign. Milosevic has metamorphosed from staunch ally to rabid foe in days.
This capricious inconsistency casts in grave doubt America's sincerity - and in sharp relief its unreliability and disloyalty, its short term thinking, truncated attention span, soundbite mentality, and dangerous, "black and white", simplism.
In its heartland, America is isolationist. Its denizens erroneously believe that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is an economically self-sufficient and self-contained continent. Yet, it is not what Americans trust or wish that matters to others. It is what they do. And what they do is meddle, often unilaterally, always ignorantly, sometimes forcefully.
Elsewhere, inevitable unilateralism is mitigated by inclusive cosmopolitanism. It is exacerbated by provincialism - and American decision-makers are mostly provincials, popularly elected by provincials. As opposed to Rome, or Great Britain, America is ill-suited and ill-equipped to micromanage the world.
It is too puerile, too abrasive, too arrogant and it has a lot to learn. Its refusal to acknowledge its shortcomings, its confusion of brain with brawn (i.e., money or bombs), its legalistic-litigious character, its culture of instant gratification and one-dimensional over-simplification, its heartless lack of empathy, and bloated sense of entitlement are detrimental to world peace and stability.
America is often called by others to intervene. Many initiate conflicts or prolong them with the express purpose of dragging America into the quagmire. It then is either castigated for not having responded to such calls - or reprimanded for having responded. It seems that it cannot win. Abstention and involvement alike garner it only ill-will.
But people call upon America to get involved because they know it rises to the challenge. America should make it unequivocally and unambiguously clear that - with the exception of the Americas - its sole interests rest in commerce. It should make it equally known that it will protect its citizens and defend its assets, if need be by force.
Indeed, America's - and the world's - best bet are a reversion to the Monroe and (technologically updated) Mahan doctrines. Wilson's Fourteen Points brought the USA nothing but two World Wars and a Cold War thereafter. It is time to disengage.
Do you actively or economically collaborate with any social organization, NGO, etc.?
NGOs do more evil than good.
Consider the typical NGO employees:
Their arrival portends rising local prices and a culture shock. Many of them live in plush apartments, or five star hotels, drive SUV's, sport $3000 laptops and PDA's. They earn a two figure multiple of the local average wage. They are busybodies, preachers, critics, do-gooders, and professional altruists.
Always self-appointed, they answer to no constituency. Though unelected and ignorant of local realities, they confront the democratically chosen and those who voted them into office. A few of them are enmeshed in crime and corruption. They are the non-governmental organizations, or NGO's.
Some NGO's - like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Amnesty - genuinely contribute to enhancing welfare, to the mitigation of hunger, the furtherance of human and civil rights, or the curbing of disease. Others - usually in the guise of think tanks and lobby groups - are sometimes ideologically biased, or religiously-committed and, often, at the service of special interests.
NGO's - such as the International Crisis Group - have openly interfered on behalf of the opposition in the last parliamentary elections in Macedonia. Other NGO's have done so in Belarus and Ukraine, Zimbabwe and Israel, Nigeria and Thailand, Slovakia and Hungary - and even in Western, rich, countries including the USA, Canada, Germany, and Belgium.
The encroachment on state sovereignty of international law - enshrined in numerous treaties and conventions - allows NGO's to get involved in hitherto strictly domestic affairs like corruption, civil rights, the composition of the media, the penal and civil codes, environmental policies, or the allocation of economic resources and of natural endowments, such as land and water. No field of government activity is now exempt from the glare of NGO's. They serve as self-appointed witnesses, judges, jury and executioner rolled into one.
Regardless of their persuasion or modus operandi, all NGO's are top heavy with entrenched, well-remunerated, extravagantly-perked bureaucracies. Opacity is typical of NGO's. Amnesty's rules prevent its officials from publicly discussing the inner workings of the organization - proposals, debates, opinions - until they have become officially voted into its Mandate. Thus, dissenting views rarely get an open hearing.
Contrary to their teachings, the financing of NGO's is invariably obscure and their sponsors unknown. The bulk of the income of most non-governmental organizations, even the largest ones, comes from - usually foreign - powers. Many NGO's serve as official contractors for governments.
NGO's serve as long arms of their sponsoring states - gathering intelligence, burnishing their image, and promoting their interests. There is a revolving door between the staff of NGO's and government bureaucracies the world over. The British Foreign Office finances a host of NGO's - including the fiercely "independent" Global Witness - in troubled spots, such as Angola. Many host governments accuse NGO's of - unwittingly or knowingly - serving as hotbeds of espionage.
Very few NGO's derive some of their income from public contributions and donations. The more substantial NGO's spend one tenth of their budget on PR and solicitation of charity. In a desperate bid to attract international attention, so many of them lied about their projects in the Rwanda crisis in 1994, recounts "The Economist", that the Red Cross felt compelled to draw up a ten point mandatory NGO code of ethics. A code of conduct was adopted in 1995. But the phenomenon recurred in Kosovo.
All NGO's claim to be not for profit - yet, many of them possess sizable equity portfolios and abuse their position to increase the market share of firms they own. Conflicts of interest and unethical behavior abound.
Cafedirect is a British firm committed to "fair trade" coffee. Oxfam, an NGO, embarked, three years ago, on a campaign targeted at Cafedirect's competitors, accusing them of exploiting growers by paying them a tiny fraction of the retail price of the coffee they sell. Yet, Oxfam owns 25% of Cafedirect.
Large NGO's resemble multinational corporations in structure and operation. They are hierarchical, maintain large media, government lobbying, and PR departments, head-hunt, invest proceeds in professionally-managed portfolios, compete in government tenders, and own a variety of unrelated businesses. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development owns the license for second mobile phone operator in Afghanistan - among other businesses. In this respect, NGO's are more like cults than like civic organizations.
Many NGO's promote economic causes - anti-globalization, the banning of child labor, the relaxing of intellectual property rights, or fair payment for agricultural products. Many of these causes are both worthy and sound. Alas, most NGO's lack economic expertise and inflict damage on the alleged recipients of their beneficence. NGO's are at times manipulated by - or collude with - industrial groups and political parties.
It is telling that the denizens of many developing countries suspect the West and its NGO's of promoting an agenda of trade protectionism. Stringent - and expensive - labor and environmental provisions in international treaties may well be a ploy to fend off imports based on cheap labor and the competition they wreak on well-ensconced domestic industries and their political stooges.
Take child labor - as distinct from the universally condemnable phenomena of child prostitution, child soldiering, or child slavery.
Child labor, in many destitute locales, is all that separates the family from all-pervasive, life threatening, poverty. As national income grows, child labor declines. Following the outcry provoked, in 1995, by NGO's against soccer balls stitched by children in Pakistan, both Nike and Reebok relocated their workshops and sacked countless women and 7000 children. The average family income - anyhow meager - fell by 20 percent.
This affair elicited the following wry commentary from economists Drusilla Brown, Alan Deardorif, and Robert Stern:
"While Baden Sports can quite credibly claim that their soccer balls are not sewn by children, the relocation of their production facility undoubtedly did nothing for their former child workers and their families."
This is far from being a unique case. Threatened with legal reprisals and "reputation risks" (being named-and-shamed by overzealous NGO's) - multinationals engage in preemptive sacking. More than 50,000 children in Bangladesh were let go in 1993 by German garment factories in anticipation of the American never-legislated Child Labor Deterrence Act.
Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, observed:
"Stopping child labor without doing anything else could leave children worse off. If they are working out of necessity, as most are, stopping them could force them into prostitution or other employment with greater personal dangers. The most important thing is that they be in school and receive the education to help them leave poverty."
NGO-fostered hype notwithstanding, 70% of all children work within their family unit, in agriculture. Less than 1 percent are employed in mining and another 2 percent in construction. Again contrary to NGO-proffered panaceas, education is not a solution. Millions graduate every year in developing countries - 100,000 in Morocco alone. But unemployment reaches more than one third of the workforce in places such as Macedonia.
Children at work may be harshly treated by their supervisors but at least they are kept off the far more menacing streets. Some kids even end up with a skill and are rendered employable.
"The Economist" sums up the shortsightedness, inaptitude, ignorance, and self-centeredness of NGO's neatly:
"Suppose that in the remorseless search for profit, multinationals pay sweatshop wages to their workers in developing countries. Regulation forcing them to pay higher wages is demanded... The NGOs, the reformed multinationals and enlightened rich-country governments propose tough rules on third-world factory wages, backed up by trade barriers to keep out imports from countries that do not comply. Shoppers in the West pay more - but willingly, because they know it is in a good cause. The NGOs declare another victory. The companies, having shafted their third-world competition and protected their domestic markets, count their bigger profits (higher wage costs notwithstanding). And the third-world workers displaced from locally owned factories explain to their children why the West's new deal for the victims of capitalism requires them to starve."
NGO's in places like Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Albania, and Zimbabwe have become the preferred venue for Western aid - both humanitarian and financial - development financing, and emergency relief. According to the Red Cross, more money goes through NGO's than through the World Bank. Their iron grip on food, medicine, and funds rendered them an alternative government - sometimes as venal and graft-stricken as the one they replace.
Local businessmen, politicians, academics, and even journalists form NGO's to plug into the avalanche of Western largesse. In the process, they award themselves and their relatives with salaries, perks, and preferred access to Western goods and credits. NGO's have evolved into vast networks of patronage in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
NGO's chase disasters with a relish. More than 200 of them opened shop in the aftermath of the Kosovo refugee crisis in 1999-2000. Another 50 supplanted them during the civil unrest in Macedonia a year later. Floods, elections, earthquakes, wars - constitute the cornucopia that feed the NGO's.
NGO's are proponents of Western values - women's lib, human rights, civil rights, the protection of minorities, freedom, equality. Not everyone finds this liberal menu palatable. The arrival of NGO's often provokes social polarization and cultural clashes. Traditionalists in Bangladesh, nationalists in Macedonia, religious zealots in Israel, security forces everywhere, and almost all politicians find NGO's irritating and bothersome.
The British government ploughs well over $30 million a year into "Proshika", a Bangladeshi NGO. It started as a women's education outfit and ended up as a restive and aggressive women empowerment political lobby group with budgets to rival many ministries in this impoverished, Moslem and patriarchal country.
Other NGO's - fuelled by $300 million of annual foreign infusion - evolved from humble origins to become mighty coalitions of full-time activists. NGO's like the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and the Association for Social Advancement mushroomed even as their agendas have been fully implemented and their goals exceeded. It now owns and operates 30,000 schools.
This mission creep is not unique to developing countries. As Parkinson discerned, organizations tend to self-perpetuate regardless of their proclaimed charter. Remember NATO? Human rights organizations, like Amnesty, are now attempting to incorporate in their ever-expanding remit "economic and social rights" - such as the rights to food, housing, fair wages, potable water, sanitation, and health provision. How insolvent countries are supposed to provide such munificence is conveniently overlooked.
"The Economist" reviewed a few of the more egregious cases of NGO imperialism.
Human Rights Watch lately offered this tortured argument in favor of expanding the role of human rights NGO's: "The best way to prevent famine today is to secure the right to free expression - so that misguided government policies can be brought to public attention and corrected before food shortages become acute." It blatantly ignored the fact that respect for human and political rights does not fend off natural disasters and disease. The two countries with the highest incidence of AIDS are Africa's only two true democracies - Botswana and South Africa.
The Centre for Economic and Social Rights, an American outfit, "challenges economic injustice as a violation of international human rights law". Oxfam pledges to support the "rights to a sustainable livelihood, and the rights and capacities to participate in societies and make positive changes to people's lives". In a poor attempt at emulation, the WHO published an inanely titled document - "A Human Rights Approach to Tuberculosis".
NGO's are becoming not only all-pervasive but more aggressive. In their capacity as "shareholder activists", they disrupt shareholders meetings and act to actively tarnish corporate and individual reputations. Friends of the Earth worked hard four years ago to instigate a consumer boycott against Exxon Mobil - for not investing in renewable energy resources and for ignoring global warming. No one - including other shareholders - understood their demands. But it went down well with the media, with a few celebrities, and with contributors.
As "think tanks", NGO's issue partisan and biased reports. The International Crisis Group published a rabid attack on the then incumbent government of Macedonia, days before an election, relegating the rampant corruption of its predecessors - whom it seemed to be tacitly supporting - to a few footnotes. On at least two occasions - in its reports regarding Bosnia and Zimbabwe - ICG has recommended confrontation, the imposition of sanctions, and, if all else fails, the use of force. Though the most vocal and visible, it is far from being the only NGO that advocates "just" wars.
The ICG is a repository of former heads of state and has-been politicians and is renowned (and notorious) for its prescriptive - some say meddlesome - philosophy and tactics. "The Economist" remarked sardonically: "To say (that ICG) is 'solving world crises' is to risk underestimating its ambitions, if overestimating its achievements."
NGO's have orchestrated the violent showdown during the trade talks in Seattle in 1999 and its repeat performances throughout the world. The World Bank was so intimidated by the riotous invasion of its premises in the NGO-choreographed "Fifty Years is Enough" campaign of 1994, that it now employs dozens of NGO activists and let NGO's determine many of its policies.
NGO activists have joined the armed - though mostly peaceful - rebels of the Chiapas region in Mexico. Norwegian NGO's sent members to forcibly board whaling ships. In the USA, anti-abortion activists have murdered doctors. In Britain, animal rights zealots have both assassinated experimental scientists and wrecked property.
Birth control NGO's carry out mass sterilizations in poor countries, financed by rich country governments in a bid to stem immigration. NGO's buy slaves in Sudan thus encouraging the practice of slave hunting throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Other NGO's actively collaborate with "rebel" armies - a euphemism for terrorists.
NGO's lack a synoptic view and their work often undermines efforts by international organizations such as the UNHCR and by governments. Poorly-paid local officials have to contend with crumbling budgets as the funds are diverted to rich expatriates doing the same job for a multiple of the cost and with inexhaustible hubris.
This is not conducive to happy co-existence between foreign do-gooders and indigenous governments. Sometimes NGO's seem to be an ingenious ploy to solve Western unemployment at the expense of down-trodden natives. This is a misperception driven by envy and avarice.
But it is still powerful enough to foster resentment and worse. NGO's are on the verge of provoking a ruinous backlash against them in their countries of destination. That would be a pity. Some of them are doing indispensable work. If only they were a wee more sensitive and somewhat less ostentatious. But then they wouldn't be NGO's, would they?
Interview granted to Revista Terra, Brazil, September 2005
Q. NGOs are growing quickly in Brazil due to the discredit politicians and governmental institutions face after decades of corruption, elitism etc. The young people feel they can do something concrete working as activists in a NGOs. Isn't that a good thing? What kind of dangers someone should be aware before enlisting himself as a supporter of a NGO?
A. One must clearly distinguish between NGOs in the sated, wealthy, industrialized West - and (the far more numerous) NGOs in the developing and less developed countries.
Western NGOs are the heirs to the Victorian tradition of "White Man's Burden". They are missionary and charity-orientated. They are designed to spread both aid (food, medicines, contraceptives, etc.) and Western values. They closely collaborate with Western governments and institutions against local governments and institutions. They are powerful, rich, and care less about the welfare of the indigenous population than about "universal" principles of ethical conduct.
Their counterparts in less developed and in developing countries serve as substitutes to failed or dysfunctional state institutions and services. They are rarely concerned with the furthering of any agenda and more preoccupied with the well-being of their constituents, the people.
Q. Why do you think many NGO activists are narcissists and not altruists? What are the symptoms you identify on them?
A. In both types of organizations - Western NGOs and NGOs elsewhere - there is a lot of waste and corruption, double-dealing, self-interested promotion, and, sometimes inevitably, collusion with unsavory elements of society. Both organizations attract narcissistic opportunists who regards NGOs as venues of upward social mobility and self-enrichment. Many NGOs serve as sinecures, "manpower sinks", or "employment agencies" - they provide work to people who, otherwise, are unemployable. Some NGOs are involved in political networks of patronage, nepotism, and cronyism.
Narcissists are attracted to money, power, and glamour. NGOs provide all three. The officers of many NGOs draw exorbitant salaries (compared to the average salary where the NGO operates) and enjoy a panoply of work-related perks. Some NGOs exert a lot of political influence and hold power over the lives of millions of aid recipients. NGOs and their workers are, therefore, often in the limelight and many NGO activists have become minor celebrities and frequent guests in talk shows and such. Even critics of NGOs are often interviewed by the media (laughing).
Finally, a slim minority of NGO officers and workers are simply corrupt. They collude with venal officials to enrich themselves. For instance: during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, NGO employees sold in the open market food, blankets, and medical supplies intended for the refugees.
Q. How can one choose between good and bad NGOs?
A. There are a few simple tests:
1. What part of the NGO's budget is spent on salaries and perks for the NGO's officers and employees? The less the better.
2. Which part of the budget is spent on furthering the aims of the NGO and on implementing its promulgated programs? The more the better.
3. What portion of the NGOs resources is allocated to public relations and advertising? The less the better.
4. What part of the budget is contributed by governments, directly or indirectly? The less the better.
5. What do the alleged beneficiaries of the NGO's activities think of the NGO? If the NGO is feared, resented, and hated by the local denizens, then something is wrong!
6. How many of the NGO's operatives are in the field, catering to the needs of the NGO's ostensible constituents? The more the better.
7. Does the NGO own or run commercial enterprises? If it does, it is a corrupt and compromised NGO involved in conflicts of interest.
Q. The way you describe, many NGO are already more powerful and politically influential than many governments. What kind of dangers this elicits? Do you think they are a pest that need control? What kind of control would that be?
A. The voluntary sector is now a cancerous phenomenon. NGOs interfere in domestic politics and take sides in election campaigns. They disrupt local economies to the detriment of the impoverished populace. They impose alien religious or Western values. They justify military interventions. They maintain commercial interests which compete with indigenous manufacturers. They provoke unrest in many a place. And this is a partial list.
The trouble is that, as opposed to most governments in the world, NGOs are authoritarian. They are not elected institutions. They cannot be voted down. The people have no power over them. Most NGOs are ominously and tellingly secretive about their activities and finances.
Light disinfects. The solution is to force NGOs to become both democratic and accountable. All countries and multinational organizations (such as the UN) should pass laws and sign international conventions to regulate the formation and operation of NGOs.
NGOs should be forced to democratize. Elections should be introduced on every level. All NGOs should hold "annual stakeholder meetings" and include in these gatherings representatives of the target populations of the NGOs. NGO finances should be made completely transparent and publicly accessible. New accounting standards should be developed and introduced to cope with the current pecuniary opacity and operational double-speak of NGOs.
Q. It seems that many values carried by NGO are typically modern and Western. What kind of problems this creates in more traditional and culturally different countries?
A. Big problems. The assumption that the West has the monopoly on ethical values is undisguised cultural chauvinism. This arrogance is the 21st century equivalent of the colonialism and racism of the 19th and 20th century. Local populations throughout the world resent this haughty presumption and imposition bitterly.
As you said, NGOs are proponents of modern Western values - democracy, women's lib, human rights, civil rights, the protection of minorities, freedom, equality. Not everyone finds this liberal menu palatable. The arrival of NGOs often provokes social polarization and cultural clashes.
Should consensual offenses such as drug use or prostitution be legalized?
The state has a monopoly on behaviour usually deemed criminal. It murders, kidnaps, and locks up people. Sovereignty has come to be identified with the unbridled - and exclusive - exercise of violence. The emergence of modern international law has narrowed the field of permissible conduct. A sovereign can no longer commit genocide or ethnic cleansing with impunity, for instance.
Many acts - such as the waging of aggressive war, the mistreatment of minorities, the suppression of the freedom of association - hitherto sovereign privilege, have thankfully been criminalized. Many politicians, hitherto immune to international prosecution, are no longer so. Consider Yugoslavia's Milosevic and Chile's Pinochet.
But, the irony is that a similar trend of criminalization - within national legal systems - allows governments to oppress their citizenry to an extent previously unknown. Hitherto civil torts, permissible acts, and common behaviour patterns are routinely criminalized by legislators and regulators. Precious few are decriminalized.
Consider, for instance, the criminalization in the Economic Espionage Act (1996) of the misappropriation of trade secrets and the criminalization of the violation of copyrights in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (2000) – both in the USA. These used to be civil torts. They still are in many countries. Drug use, common behaviour in England only 50 years ago – is now criminal. The list goes on.
Criminal laws pertaining to property have malignantly proliferated and pervaded every economic and private interaction. The result is a bewildering multitude of laws, regulations statutes, and acts.
The average Babylonian could have memorizes and assimilated the Hammurabic code 37 centuries ago - it was short, simple, and intuitively just.
English criminal law - partly applicable in many of its former colonies, such as India, Pakistan, Canada, and Australia - is a mishmash of overlapping and contradictory statutes - some of these hundreds of years old - and court decisions, collectively known as "case law".
Despite the publishing of a Model Penal Code in 1962 by the American Law Institute, the criminal provisions of various states within the USA often conflict. The typical American can't hope to get acquainted with even a negligible fraction of his country's fiendishly complex and hopelessly brobdignagian criminal code. Such inevitable ignorance breeds criminal behaviour - sometimes inadvertently - and transforms many upright citizens into delinquents.
In the land of the free - the USA - close to 2 million adults are behind bars and another 4.5 million are on probation, most of them on drug charges. The costs of criminalization - both financial and social - are mind boggling. According to "The Economist", America's prison system cost it $54 billion a year - disregarding the price tag of law enforcement, the judiciary, lost product, and rehabilitation.
What constitutes a crime? A clear and consistent definition has yet to transpire.
There are five types of criminal behaviour: crimes against oneself, or "victimless crimes" (such as suicide, abortion, and the consumption of drugs), crimes against others (such as murder or mugging), crimes among consenting adults (such as incest, and in certain countries, homosexuality and euthanasia), crimes against collectives (such as treason, genocide, or ethnic cleansing), and crimes against the international community and world order (such as executing prisoners of war). The last two categories often overlap.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica provides this definition of a crime: "The intentional commission of an act usually deemed socially harmful or dangerous and specifically defined, prohibited, and punishable under the criminal law."
But who decides what is socially harmful? What about acts committed unintentionally (known as "strict liability offences" in the parlance)? How can we establish intention - "mens rea", or the "guilty mind" - beyond a reasonable doubt?
A much tighter definition would be: "The commission of an act punishable under the criminal law." A crime is what the law - state law, kinship law, religious law, or any other widely accepted law - says is a crime. Legal systems and texts often conflict.
Murderous blood feuds are legitimate according to the 15th century "Qanoon", still applicable in large parts of Albania. Killing one's infant daughters and old relatives is socially condoned - though illegal - in India, China, Alaska, and parts of Africa. Genocide may have been legally sanctioned in Germany and Rwanda - but is strictly forbidden under international law.
Laws being the outcomes of compromises and power plays, there is only a tenuous connection between justice and morality. Some "crimes" are categorical imperatives. Helping the Jews in Nazi Germany was a criminal act - yet a highly moral one.
The ethical nature of some crimes depends on circumstances, timing, and cultural context. Murder is a vile deed - but assassinating Saddam Hussein may be morally commendable. Killing an embryo is a crime in some countries - but not so killing a fetus. A "status offence" is not a criminal act if committed by an adult. Mutilating the body of a live baby is heinous - but this is the essence of Jewish circumcision. In some societies, criminal guilt is collective. All Americans are held blameworthy by the Arab street for the choices and actions of their leaders. All Jews are accomplices in the "crimes" of the "Zionists".
In all societies, crime is a growth industry. Millions of professionals - judges, police officers, criminologists, psychologists, journalists, publishers, prosecutors, lawyers, social workers, probation officers, wardens, sociologists, non-governmental-organizations, weapons manufacturers, laboratory technicians, graphologists, and private detectives - derive their livelihood, parasitically, from crime. They often perpetuate models of punishment and retribution that lead to recidivism rather than to to the reintegration of criminals in society and their rehabilitation.
Organized in vocal interest groups and lobbies, they harp on the insecurities and phobias of the alienated urbanites. They consume ever growing budgets and rejoice with every new behaviour criminalized by exasperated lawmakers. In the majority of countries, the justice system is a dismal failure and law enforcement agencies are part of the problem, not its solution.
The sad truth is that many types of crime are considered by people to be normative and common behaviours and, thus, go unreported. Victim surveys and self-report studies conducted by criminologists reveal that most crimes go unreported. The protracted fad of criminalization has rendered criminal many perfectly acceptable and recurring behaviours and acts. Homosexuality, abortion, gambling, prostitution, pornography, and suicide have all been criminal offences at one time or another.
But the quintessential example of over-criminalization is drug abuse.
There is scant medical evidence that soft drugs such as cannabis or MDMA ("Ecstasy") - and even cocaine - have an irreversible effect on brain chemistry or functioning. Last month an almighty row erupted in Britain when Jon Cole, an addiction researcher at Liverpool University, claimed, to quote "The Economist" quoting the "Psychologist", that:
"Experimental evidence suggesting a link between Ecstasy use and problems such as nerve damage and brain impairment is flawed ... using this ill-substantiated cause-and-effect to tell the 'chemical generation' that they are brain damaged when they are not creates public health problems of its own."
Moreover, it is commonly accepted that alcohol abuse and nicotine abuse can be at least as harmful as the abuse of marijuana, for instance. Yet, though somewhat curbed, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are legal. In contrast, users of cocaine - only a century ago recommended by doctors as tranquilizer - face life in jail in many countries, death in others. Almost everywhere pot smokers are confronted with prison terms.
The "war on drugs" - one of the most expensive and protracted in history - has failed abysmally. Drugs are more abundant and cheaper than ever. The social costs have been staggering: the emergence of violent crime where none existed before, the destabilization of drug-producing countries, the collusion of drug traffickers with terrorists, and the death of millions - law enforcement agents, criminals, and users.
Few doubt that legalizing most drugs would have a beneficial effect. Crime empires would crumble overnight, users would be assured of the quality of the products they consume, and the addicted few would not be incarcerated or stigmatized - but rather treated and rehabilitated.
That soft, largely harmless, drugs continue to be illicit is the outcome of compounded political and economic pressures by lobby and interest groups of manufacturers of legal drugs, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the aforementioned long list of those who benefit from the status quo.
Only a popular movement can lead to the decriminalization of the more innocuous drugs. But such a crusade should be part of a larger campaign to reverse the overall tide of criminalization. Many "crimes" should revert to their erstwhile status as civil torts. Others should be wiped off the statute books altogether. Hundreds of thousands should be pardoned and allowed to reintegrate in society, unencumbered by a past of transgressions against an inane and inflationary penal code.
This, admittedly, will reduce the leverage the state has today against its citizens and its ability to intrude on their lives, preferences, privacy, and leisure. Bureaucrats and politicians may find this abhorrent. Freedom loving people should rejoice.
APPENDIX - Should Drugs be Legalized?
The decriminalization of drugs is a tangled issue involving many separate moral/ethical and practical strands which can, probably, be summarized thus:
(a) 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 contravene them?
The government exercises similar "rights" in other cases (abortion, military conscription, sex)
(b) 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.
(c) 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?
(d) 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?
(e) 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?
Note: The Rule of Law vs. Obedience to the Law
We often misconstrue the concept of the "rule of Law" and take it to mean automatic "obedience to laws". But the two are antithetical.
Laws have to earn observance and obeisance. To do so, they have to meet a series of rigorous criteria: they have to be unambiguous, fair, just, pragmatic, and equitable; they have to be applied uniformly and universally to one and all, regardless of sex, age, class, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, skin color, or opinion; they must not entrench the interests of one group or structure over others; they must not be leveraged to yield benefits to some at the expense of others; and, finally, they must accord with universal moral and ethical tenets.
Most dictatorships and tyrannies are "legal", in the strict sense of the word. The spirit of the Law and how it is implemented in reality are far more important that its letter. There are moral and, under international law, legal obligations to oppose and resist certain laws and to frustrate their execution.
Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
I wish it were so clearcut!
The issue of abortion is emotionally loaded and this often makes for poor, not thoroughly thought out arguments. The questions: "Is abortion immoral" and "Is abortion a murder" are often confused. The pregnancy (and the resulting fetus) are discussed in terms normally reserved to natural catastrophes (force majeure). At times, the embryo is compared to cancer, a thief, or an invader: after all, they are both growths, clusters of cells. The difference, of course, is that no one contracts cancer willingly (except, to some extent, smokers -–but, then they gamble, not contract).
When a woman engages in voluntary sex, does not use contraceptives and gets pregnant – one can say that she signed a contract with her fetus. A contract entails the demonstrated existence of a reasonably (and reasonable) free will. If the fulfillment of the obligations in a contract between individuals could be life-threatening – it is fair and safe to assume that no rational free will was involved. No reasonable person would sign or enter such a contract with another person (though most people would sign such contracts with society).
Judith Jarvis Thomson argued convincingly ("A Defence of Abortion") that pregnancies that are the result of forced sex (rape being a special case) or which are life threatening should or could, morally, be terminated. Using the transactional language: the contract was not entered to willingly or reasonably and, therefore, is null and void. Any actions which are intended to terminate it and to annul its consequences should be legally and morally permissible.
The same goes for a contract which was entered into against the express will of one of the parties and despite all the reasonable measures that the unwilling party adopted to prevent it. If a mother uses contraceptives in a manner intended to prevent pregnancy, it is as good as saying: " I do not want to sign this contract, I am doing my reasonable best not to sign it, if it is signed – it is contrary to my express will". There is little legal (or moral) doubt that such a contract should be voided.
Much more serious problems arise when we study the other party to these implicit agreements: the embryo. To start with, it lacks consciousness (in the sense that is needed for signing an enforceable and valid contract). Can a contract be valid even if one of the "signatories" lacks this sine qua non trait? In the absence of consciousness, there is little point in talking about free will (or rights which depend on sentience). So, is the contract not a contract at all? Does it not reflect the intentions of the parties?
The answer is in the negative. The contract between a mother and her fetus is derived from the larger Social Contract. Society – through its apparatuses – stands for the embryo the same way that it represents minors, the mentally retarded, and the insane. Society steps in – and has the recognized right and moral obligation to do so – whenever the powers of the parties to a contract (implicit or explicit) are not balanced. It protects small citizens from big monopolies, the physically weak from the thug, the tiny opposition from the mighty administration, the barely surviving radio station from the claws of the devouring state mechanism. It also has the right and obligation to intervene, intercede and represent the unconscious: this is why euthanasia is absolutely forbidden without the consent of the dying person. There is not much difference between the embryo and the comatose.
A typical contract states the rights of the parties. It assumes the existence of parties which are "moral personhoods" or "morally significant persons" – in other words, persons who are holders of rights and can demand from us to respect these rights. Contracts explicitly elaborate some of these rights and leaves others unmentioned because of the presumed existence of the Social Contract. The typical contract assumes that there is a social contract which applies to the parties to the contract and which is universally known and, therefore, implicitly incorporated in every contract. Thus, an explicit contract can deal with the property rights of a certain person, while neglecting to mention that person's rights to life, to free speech, to the enjoyment the fruits of his lawful property and, in general to a happy life.
There is little debate that the Mother is a morally significant person and that she is a rights-holder. All born humans are and, more so, all adults above a certain age. But what about the unborn fetus?
One approach is that the embryo has no rights until certain conditions are met and only upon their fulfillment is he transformed into a morally significant person ("moral agent"). Opinions differ as to what are the conditions. Rationality, or a morally meaningful and valued life are some of the oft cited criteria. The fallaciousness of this argument is easy to demonstrate: children are irrational – is this a licence to commit infanticide?
A second approach says that a person has the right to life because it desires it.
But then what about chronic depressives who wish to die – do we have the right to terminate their miserable lives? The good part of life (and, therefore, the differential and meaningful test) is in the experience itself – not in the desire to experience.
Another variant says that a person has the right to life because once his life is terminated – his experiences cease. So, how should we judge the right to life of someone who constantly endures bad experiences (and, as a result, harbors a death wish)? Should he better be "terminated"?
Having reviewed the above arguments and counter-arguments, Don Marquis goes on (in "Why Abortion is Immoral", 1989) to offer a sharper and more comprehensive criterion: terminating a life is morally wrong because a person has a future filled with value and meaning, similar to ours.
But the whole debate is unnecessary. There is no conflict between the rights of the mother and those of her fetus because there is never a conflict between parties to an agreement. By signing an agreement, the mother gave up some of her rights and limited the others. This is normal practice in contracts: they represent compromises, the optimization (and not the maximization) of the parties' rights and wishes. The rights of the fetus are an inseparable part of the contract which the mother signed voluntarily and reasonably. They are derived from the mother's behaviour. Getting willingly pregnant (or assuming the risk of getting pregnant by not using contraceptives reasonably) – is the behaviour which validates and ratifies a contract between her and the fetus. Many contracts are by behaviour, rather than by a signed piece of paper. Numerous contracts are verbal or behavioural. These contracts, though implicit, are as binding as any of their written, more explicit, brethren. Legally (and morally) the situation is crystal clear: the mother signed some of her rights away in this contract. Even if she regrets it – she cannot claim her rights back by annulling the contract unilaterally. No contract can be annulled this way – the consent of both parties is required. Many times we realize that we have entered a bad contract, but there is nothing much that we can do about it. These are the rules of the game.
Thus the two remaining questions: (a) can this specific contract (pregnancy) be annulled and, if so (b) in which circumstances – can be easily settled using modern contract law. Yes, a contract can be annulled and voided if signed under duress, involuntarily, by incompetent persons (e.g., the insane), or if one of the parties made a reasonable and full scale attempt to prevent its signature, thus expressing its clear will not to sign the contract. It is also terminated or voided if it would be unreasonable to expect one of the parties to see it through. Rape, contraception failure, life threatening situations are all such cases.
This could be argued against by saying that, in the case of economic hardship, f or instance, the damage to the mother's future is certain. True, her value- filled, meaningful future is granted – but so is the detrimental effect that the fetus will have on it, once born. This certainty cannot be balanced by the UNCERTAIN value-filled future life of the embryo. Always, preferring an uncertain good to a certain evil is morally wrong. But surely this is a quantitative matter – not a qualitative one. Certain, limited aspects of the rest of the mother's life will be adversely effected (and can be ameliorated by society's helping hand and intervention) if she does have the baby. The decision not to have it is both qualitatively and qualitatively different. It is to deprive the unborn of all the aspects of all his future life – in which he might well have experienced happiness, values, and meaning.
The questions whether the fetus is a Being or a growth of cells, conscious in any manner, or utterly unconscious, able to value his life and to want them – are all but irrelevant. He has the potential to lead a happy, meaningful, value-filled life, similar to ours, very much as a one minute old baby does. The contract between him and his mother is a service provision contract. She provides him with goods and services that he requires in order to materialize his potential. It sounds very much like many other human contracts. And this contract continue well after pregnancy has ended and birth given.
Consider education: children do not appreciate its importance or value its potential – still, it is enforced upon them because we, who are capable of those feats, want them to have the tools that they will need in order to develop their potential. In this and many other respects, the human pregnancy continues well into the fourth year of life (physiologically it continues in to the second year of life - see "Born Alien"). Should the location of the pregnancy (in uterus, in vivo) determine its future? If a mother has the right to abort at will, why should the mother be denied her right to terminate the " pregnancy" AFTER the fetus emerges and the pregnancy continues OUTSIDE her womb? Even after birth, the woman's body is the main source of food to the baby and, in any case, she has to endure physical hardship to raise the child. Why not extend the woman's ownership of her body and right to it further in time and space to the post-natal period?
Contracts to provide goods and services (always at a personal cost to the provider) are the commonest of contracts. We open a business. We sell a software application, we publish a book – we engage in helping others to materialize their potential. We should always do so willingly and reasonably – otherwise the contracts that we sign will be null and void. But to deny anyone his capacity to materialize his potential and the goods and services that he needs to do so – after a valid contract was entered into - is immoral. To refuse to provide a service or to condition it provision (Mother: " I will provide the goods and services that I agreed to provide to this fetus under this contract only if and when I benefit from such provision") is a violation of the contract and should be penalized. Admittedly, at times we have a right to choose to do the immoral (because it has not been codified as illegal) – but that does not turn it into moral.
Still, not every immoral act involving the termination of life can be classified as murder. Phenomenology is deceiving: the acts look the same (cessation of life functions, the prevention of a future). But murder is the intentional termination of the life of a human who possesses, at the moment of death, a consciousness (and, in most cases, a free will, especially the will not to die). Abortion is the intentional termination of a life which has the potential to develop into a person with consciousness and free will. Philosophically, no identity can be established between potential and actuality. The destruction of paints and cloth is not tantamount (not to say identical) to the destruction of a painting by Van Gogh, made up of these very elements. Paints and cloth are converted to a painting through the intermediacy and agency of the Painter. A cluster of cells a human makes only through the agency of Nature. Surely, the destruction of the painting materials constitutes an offence against the Painter. In the same way, the destruction of the fetus constitutes an offence against Nature. But there is no denying that in both cases, no finished product was eliminated. Naturally, this becomes less and less so (the severity of the terminating act increases) as the process of creation advances.
Classifying an abortion as murder poses numerous and insurmountable philosophical problems.
No one disputes the now common view that the main crime committed in aborting a pregnancy – is a crime against potentialities. If so, what is the philosophical difference between aborting a fetus and destroying a sperm and an egg? These two contain all the information (=all the potential) and their destruction is philosophically no less grave than the destruction of a fetus. The destruction of an egg and a sperm is even more serious philosophically: the creation of a fetus limits the set of all potentials embedded in the genetic material to the one fetus created. The egg and sperm can be compared to the famous wave function (state vector) in quantum mechanics – the represent millions of potential final states (=millions of potential embryos and lives). The fetus is the collapse of the wave function: it represents a much more limited set of potentials. If killing an embryo is murder because of the elimination of potentials – how should we consider the intentional elimination of many more potentials through masturbation and contraception?
The argument that it is difficult to say which sperm cell will impregnate the egg is not serious. Biologically, it does not matter – they all carry the same genetic content. Moreover, would this counter-argument still hold if, in future, we were be able to identify the chosen one and eliminate only it? In many religions (Catholicism) contraception is murder. In Judaism, masturbation is "the corruption of the seed" and such a serious offence that it is punishable by the strongest religious penalty: eternal ex-communication ("Karet").
If abortion is indeed murder how should we resolve the following moral dilemmas and questions (some of them patently absurd):
Is a natural abortion the equivalent of manslaughter (through negligence)?
Do habits like smoking, drug addiction, vegetarianism – infringe upon the right to life of the embryo? Do they constitute a violation of the contract?
Reductio ad absurdum: if, in the far future, research will unequivocally prove that listening to a certain kind of music or entertaining certain thoughts seriously hampers the embryonic development – should we apply censorship to the Mother?
Should force majeure clauses be introduced to the Mother-Embryo pregnancy contract? Will they give the mother the right to cancel the contract? Will the embryo have a right to terminate the contract? Should the asymmetry persist: the Mother will have no right to terminate – but the embryo will, or vice versa?
Being a rights holder, can the embryo (=the State) litigate against his Mother or Third Parties (the doctor that aborted him, someone who hit his mother and brought about a natural abortion) even after he died?
Should anyone who knows about an abortion be considered an accomplice to murder?
If abortion is murder – why punish it so mildly? Why is there a debate regarding this question? "Thou shalt not kill" is a natural law, it appears in virtually every legal system. It is easily and immediately identifiable. The fact that abortion does not "enjoy" the same legal and moral treatment says a lot.
Appendix - Arguments from the Right to Life
I. The Right to Life
It is a fundamental principle of most moral theories that all human beings have a right to life. The existence of a right implies obligations or duties of third parties towards the right-holder. One has a right AGAINST other people. The fact that one possesses a certain right - prescribes to others certain obligatory behaviours and proscribes certain acts or omissions. This Janus-like nature of rights and duties as two sides of the same ethical coin - creates great confusion. People often and easily confuse rights and their attendant duties or obligations with the morally decent, or even with the morally permissible. What one MUST do as a result of another's right - should never be confused with one SHOULD or OUGHT to do morally (in the absence of a right).
The right to life has eight distinct strains:
IA. The right to be brought to life
IB. The right to be born
IC. The right to have one's life maintained
ID. The right not to be killed
IE. The right to have one's life saved
IF. The right to save one's life (erroneously limited to the right to self-defence)
IG. The Right to terminate one's life
IH. The right to have one's life terminated
IA. The Right to be Brought to Life
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.
IB. The Right to be Born
The right to be born crystallizes at the moment of voluntary and intentional fertilization. If a woman knowingly engages in sexual intercourse for the explicit and express purpose of having a child - then the resulting fertilized egg has a right to mature and be born. Furthermore, the born child has all the rights a child has against his parents: food, shelter, emotional nourishment, education, and so on.
It is debatable whether such rights of the fetus and, later, of the child, exist if the fertilization was either involuntary (rape) or unintentional ("accidental" pregnancies). It would seem that the fetus has a right to be kept alive outside the mother's womb, if possible. But it is not clear whether it has a right to go on using the mother's body, or resources, or to burden her in any way in order to sustain its own life (see IC below).
IC. The Right to have One's Life Maintained
Does one have the right to maintain one's life and prolong them at other people's expense? Does one have the right to use other people's bodies, their property, their time, their resources and to deprive them of pleasure, comfort, material possessions, income, or any other thing?
The answer is yes and no.
No one has a right to sustain his or her life, maintain, or prolong them at another INDIVIDUAL's expense (no matter how minimal and insignificant the sacrifice required is). Still, if a contract has been signed - implicitly or explicitly - between the parties, then such a right may crystallize in the contract and create corresponding duties and obligations, moral, as well as legal.
No fetus has a right to sustain its life, maintain, or prolong them at his mother's expense (no matter how minimal and insignificant the sacrifice required of her is). Still, if she signed a contract with the fetus - by knowingly and willingly and intentionally conceiving it - such a right has crystallized and has created corresponding duties and obligations of the mother towards her fetus.
On the other hand, everyone has a right to sustain his or her life, maintain, or prolong them at SOCIETY's expense (no matter how major and significant the resources required are). Still, if a contract has been signed - implicitly or explicitly - between the parties, then the abrogation of such a right may crystallize in the contract and create corresponding duties and obligations, moral, as well as legal.
Everyone has a right to sustain his or her life, maintain, or prolong them at society's expense. Public hospitals, state pension schemes, and police forces may be required to fulfill society's obligations - but fulfill them it must, no matter how major and significant the resources are. Still, if a person volunteered to join the army and a contract has been signed between the parties, then this right has been thus abrogated and the individual assumed certain duties and obligations, including the duty or obligation to give up his or her life to society.
ID. The Right not to be Killed
Every person has the right not to be killed unjustly. What constitutes "just killing" is a matter for an ethical calculus in the framework of a social contract.
But does A's right not to be killed include the right against third parties that they refrain from enforcing the rights of other people against A? Does A's right not to be killed preclude the righting of wrongs committed by A against others - even if the righting of such wrongs means the killing of A?
Not so. There is a moral obligation to right wrongs (to restore the rights of other people). If A maintains or prolongs his life ONLY by violating the rights of others and these other people object to it - then A must be killed if that is the only way to right the wrong and re-assert their rights.
IE. The Right to have One's Life Saved
There is no such right as there is no corresponding moral obligation or duty to save a life. This "right" is a demonstration of the aforementioned muddle between the morally commendable, desirable and decent ("ought", "should") and the morally obligatory, the result of other people's rights ("must").
In some countries, the obligation to save life is legally codified. But while the law of the land may create a LEGAL right and corresponding LEGAL obligations - it does not always or necessarily create a moral or an ethical right and corresponding moral duties and obligations.
IF. The Right to Save One's Own Life
The right to self-defence is a subset of the more general and all-pervasive right to save one's own life. One has the right to take certain actions or avoid taking certain actions in order to save his or her own life.
It is generally accepted that one has the right to kill a pursuer who knowingly and intentionally intends to take one's life. It is debatable, though, whether one has the right to kill an innocent person who unknowingly and unintentionally threatens to take one's life.
IG. The Right to Terminate One's Life
See "The Murder of Oneself".
IH. The Right to Have One's Life Terminated
The right to euthanasia, to have one's life terminated at will, is restricted by numerous social, ethical, and legal rules, principles, and considerations. In a nutshell - in many countries in the West one is thought to has a right to have one's life terminated with the help of third parties if one is going to die shortly anyway and if one is going to be tormented and humiliated by great and debilitating agony for the rest of one's remaining life if not helped to die. Of course, for one's wish to be helped to die to be accommodated, one has to be in sound mind and to will one's death knowingly, intentionally, and forcefully.
II. Issues in the Calculus of Rights
IIA. The Hierarchy of Rights
All human cultures have hierarchies of rights. These hierarchies reflect cultural mores and lores and there cannot, therefore, be a universal, or eternal hierarchy.
In Western moral systems, the Right to Life supersedes all other rights (including the right to one's body, to comfort, to the avoidance of pain, to property, etc.).
Yet, this hierarchical arrangement does not help us to resolve cases in which there is a clash of EQUAL rights (for instance, the conflicting rights to life of two people). One way to decide among equally potent claims is randomly (by flipping a coin, or casting dice). Alternatively, we could add and subtract rights in a somewhat macabre arithmetic. If a mother's life is endangered by the continued existence of a fetus and assuming both of them have a right to life we can decide to kill the fetus by adding to the mother's right to life her right to her own body and thus outweighing the fetus' right to life.
IIB. The Difference between Killing and Letting Die
There is an assumed difference between killing (taking life) and letting die (not saving a life). This is supported by IE above. While there is a right not to be killed - there is no right to have one's own life saved. Thus, while there is an obligation not to kill - there is no obligation to save a life.
IIC. Killing the Innocent
Often the continued existence of an innocent person (IP) threatens to take the life of a victim (V). By "innocent" we mean "not guilty" - not responsible for killing V, not intending to kill V, and not knowing that V will be killed due to IP's actions or continued existence.
It is simple to decide to kill IP to save V if IP is going to die anyway shortly, and the remaining life of V, if saved, will be much longer than the remaining life of IP, if not killed. All other variants require a calculus of hierarchically weighted rights. (See "Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life" by Baruch A. Brody).
One form of calculus is the utilitarian theory. It calls for the maximization of utility (life, happiness, pleasure). In other words, the life, happiness, or pleasure of the many outweigh the life, happiness, or pleasure of the few. It is morally permissible to kill IP if the lives of two or more people will be saved as a result and there is no other way to save their lives. Despite strong philosophical objections to some of the premises of utilitarian theory - I agree with its practical prescriptions.
In this context - the dilemma of killing the innocent - one can also call upon the right to self defence. Does V have a right to kill IP regardless of any moral calculus of rights? Probably not. One is rarely justified in taking another's life to save one's own. But such behaviour cannot be condemned. Here we have the flip side of the confusion - understandable and perhaps inevitable behaviour (self defence) is mistaken for a MORAL RIGHT. That most V's would kill IP and that we would all sympathize with V and understand its behaviour does not mean that V had a RIGHT to kill IP. V may have had a right to kill IP - but this right is not automatic, nor is it all-encompassing.
Should homosexual couples have the same right to adopt as heterosexual couples?
This question is a politically correct version of the real concern: is homosexuality natural or (as the American Psychaitric Association insisted until the late 1980s) a mental health disorder?
Recent studies in animal sexuality serve to dispel two common myths: that sex is exclusively about reproduction and that homosexuality is an unnatural sexual preference. It now appears that sex is also about recreation as it frequently occurs out of the mating season. And same-sex copulation and bonding are common in hundreds of species, from bonobo apes to gulls.
Moreover, homosexual couples in the Animal Kingdom are prone to behaviors commonly - and erroneously - attributed only to heterosexuals. The New York Times reported in its February 7, 2004 issue about a couple of gay penguins who are desperately and recurrently seeking to incubate eggs together.
In the same article ("Love that Dare not Squeak its Name"), Bruce Bagemihl, author of the groundbreaking "Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity", defines homosexuality as "any of these behaviors between members of the same sex: long-term bonding, sexual contact, courtship displays or the rearing of young."
Still, that a certain behavior occurs in nature (is "natural") does not render it moral. Infanticide, patricide, suicide, gender bias, and substance abuse - are all to be found in various animal species. It is futile to argue for homosexuality or against it based on zoological observations. Ethics is about surpassing nature - not about emulating it.
The more perplexing question remains: what are the evolutionary and biological advantages of recreational sex and homosexuality? Surely, both entail the waste of scarce resources.
Convoluted explanations, such as the one proffered by Marlene Zuk (homosexuals contribute to the gene pool by nurturing and raising young relatives) defy common sense, experience, and the calculus of evolution. There are no field studies that show conclusively or even indicate that homosexuals tend to raise and nurture their younger relatives more that straights do.
Moreover, the arithmetic of genetics would rule out such a stratagem. If the aim of life is to pass on one's genes from one generation to the next, the homosexual would have been far better off raising his own children (who carry forward half his DNA) - rather than his nephew or niece (with whom he shares merely one quarter of his genetic material.)
What is more, though genetically-predisposed, homosexuality may be partly acquired, the outcome of environment and nurture, rather than nature.
An oft-overlooked fact is that recreational sex and homosexuality have one thing in common: they do not lead to reproduction. Homosexuality may, therefore, be a form of pleasurable sexual play. It may also enhance same-sex bonding and train the young to form cohesive, purposeful groups (the army and the boarding school come to mind).
Furthermore, homosexuality amounts to the culling of 10-15% of the gene pool in each generation. The genetic material of the homosexual is not propagated and is effectively excluded from the big roulette of life. Growers - of anything from cereals to cattle - similarly use random culling to improve their stock. As mathematical models show, such repeated mass removal of DNA from the common brew seems to optimize the species and increase its resilience and efficiency.
It is ironic to realize that homosexuality and other forms of non-reproductive, pleasure-seeking sex may be key evolutionary mechanisms and integral drivers of population dynamics. Reproduction is but one goal among many, equally important, end results. Heterosexuality is but one strategy among a few optimal solutions. Studying biology may yet lead to greater tolerance for the vast repertory of human sexual foibles, preferences, and predilections. Back to nature, in this case, may be forward to civilization.
Bagemihl, Bruce - "Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity" - St. Martin's Press, 1999
De-Waal, Frans and Lanting, Frans - "Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape" - University of California Press, 1997
De Waal, Frans - "Bonobo Sex and Society" - March 1995 issue of Scientific American, pp. 82-88
Trivers, Robert - Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected Papers - Oxford University Press, 2002
Zuk, Marlene - "Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn About Sex From Animals" - University of California Press, 2002
What is a friend?
What are friends for and how can a friendship be tested? By behaving altruistically, would be the most common answer and by sacrificing one's interests in favour of one's friends. Friendship implies the converse of egoism, both psychologically and ethically. But then we say that the dog is "man's best friend". After all, it is characterized by unconditional love, by unselfish behaviour, by sacrifice, when necessary. Isn't this the epitome of friendship? Apparently not. On the one hand, the dog's friendship seems to be unaffected by long term calculations of personal benefit. But that is not to say that it is not affected by calculations of a short-term nature. The owner, after all, looks after the dog and is the source of its subsistence and security. People – and dogs – have been known to have sacrificed their lives for less. The dog is selfish – it clings and protects what it regards to be its territory and its property (including – and especially so - the owner). Thus, the first condition, seemingly not satisfied by canine attachment is that it be reasonably unselfish.
There are, however, more important conditions:
For a real friendship to exist – at least one of the friends must be a conscious and intelligent entity, possessed of mental states. It can be an individual, or a collective of individuals, but in both cases this requirement will similarly apply.
There must be a minimal level of identical mental states between the terms of the equation of friendship. A human being cannot be friends with a tree (at least not in the fullest sense of the word).
The behaviour must not be deterministic, lest it be interpreted as instinct driven. A conscious choice must be involved. This is a very surprising conclusion: the more "reliable", the more "predictable" – the less appreciated. Someone who reacts identically to similar situations, without dedicating a first, let alone a second thought to it – his acts would be depreciated as "automatic responses".
For a pattern of behaviour to be described as "friendship", these four conditions must be met: diminished egoism, conscious and intelligent agents, identical mental states (allowing for the communication of the friendship) and non-deterministic behaviour, the result of constant decision making.
A friendship can be – and often is – tested in view of these criteria. There is a paradox underlying the very notion of testing a friendship. A real friend would never test his friend's commitment and allegiance. Anyone who puts his friend to a test (deliberately) would hardly qualify as a friend himself. But circumstances can put ALL the members of a friendship, all the individuals (two or more) in the "collective" to a test of friendship. Financial hardship encountered by someone would surely oblige his friends to assist him – even if he himself did not take the initiative and explicitly asked them to do so. It is life that tests the resilience and strength and depth of true friendships – not the friends themselves.
In all the discussions of egoism versus altruism – confusion between self-interest and self-welfare prevails. A person may be urged on to act by his self-interest, which might be detrimental to his (long-term) self-welfare. Some behaviours and actions can satisfy short-term desires, urges, wishes (in short: self-interest) – and yet be self- destructive or otherwise adversely effect the individual's future welfare. (Psychological) Egoism should, therefore, be re-defined as the active pursuit of self- welfare, not of self-interest. Only when the person caters, in a balanced manner, to both his present (self-interest) and his future (self-welfare) interests – can we call him an egoist. Otherwise, if he caters only to his immediate self-interest, seeks to fulfil his desires and disregards the future costs of his behaviour – he is an animal, not an egoist.
Joseph Butler separated the main (motivating) desire from the desire that is self- interest. The latter cannot exist without the former. A person is hungry and this is his desire. His self-interest is, therefore, to eat. But the hunger is directed at eating – not at fulfilling self-interests. Thus, hunger generates self-interest (to eat) but its object is eating. Self-interest is a second order desire that aims to satisfy first order desires (which can also motivate us directly).
This subtle distinction can be applied to disinterested behaviours, acts, which seem to lack a clear self-interest or even a first order desire. Consider why do people contribute to humanitarian causes? There is no self-interest here, even if we account for the global picture (with every possible future event in the life of the contributor). No rich American is likely to find himself starving in Somalia, the target of one such humanitarian aid mission.
But even here the Butler model can be validated. The first order desire of the donator is to avoid anxiety feelings generated by a cognitive dissonance. In the process of socialization we are all exposed to altruistic messages. They are internalized by us (some even to the extent of forming part of the almighty superego, the conscience). In parallel, we assimilate the punishment inflicted upon members of society who are not "social" enough, unwilling to contribute beyond that which is required to satisfy their self interest, selfish or egoistic, non-conformist, "too" individualistic, "too" idiosyncratic or eccentric, etc. Completely not being altruistic is "bad" and as such calls for "punishment". This no longer is an outside judgement, on a case by case basis, with the penalty inflicted by an external moral authority. This comes from the inside: the opprobrium and reproach, the guilt, the punishment (read Kafka). Such impending punishment generates anxiety whenever the person judges himself not to have been altruistically "sufficient". It is to avoid this anxiety or to quell it that a person engages in altruistic acts, the result of his social conditioning. To use the Butler scheme: the first-degree desire is to avoid the agonies of cognitive dissonance and the resulting anxiety. This can be achieved by committing acts of altruism. The second-degree desire is the self-interest to commit altruistic acts in order to satisfy the first-degree desire. No one engages in contributing to the poor because he wants them to be less poor or in famine relief because he does not want others to starve. People do these apparently selfless activities because they do not want to experience that tormenting inner voice and to suffer the acute anxiety, which accompanies it. Altruism is the name that we give to successful indoctrination. The stronger the process of socialization, the stricter the education, the more severely brought up the individual, the grimmer and more constraining his superego – the more of an altruist he is likely to be. Independent people who really feel comfortable with their selves are less likely to exhibit these behaviours.
This is the self-interest of society: altruism enhances the overall level of welfare. It redistributes resources more equitably, it tackles market failures more or less efficiently (progressive tax systems are altruistic), it reduces social pressures and stabilizes both individuals and society. Clearly, the self-interest of society is to make its members limit the pursuit of their own self-interest? There are many opinions and theories. They can be grouped into:
Those who see an inverse relation between the two: the more satisfied the self interests of the individuals comprising a society – the worse off that society will end up. What is meant by "better off" is a different issue but at least the commonsense, intuitive, meaning is clear and begs no explanation. Many religions and strands of moral absolutism espouse this view.
Those who believe that the more satisfied the self-interests of the individuals comprising a society – the better off this society will end up. These are the "hidden hand" theories. Individuals, which strive merely to maximize their utility, their happiness, their returns (profits) – find themselves inadvertently engaged in a colossal endeavour to better their society. This is mostly achieved through the dual mechanisms of market and price. Adam Smith is an example (and other schools of the dismal science).
Those who believe that a delicate balance must exist between the two types of self-interest: the private and the public. While most individuals will be unable to obtain the full satisfaction of their self-interest – it is still conceivable that they will attain most of it. On the other hand, society must not fully tread on individuals' rights to self-fulfilment, wealth accumulation and the pursuit of happiness. So, it must accept less than maximum satisfaction of its self-interest. The optimal mix exists and is, probably, of the minimax type. This is not a zero sum game and society and the individuals comprising it can maximize their worst outcomes.
The French have a saying: "Good bookkeeping – makes for a good friendship". Self-interest, altruism and the interest of society at large are not necessarily incompatible.
What will your epitaph be?
Assuming anyone would care enough to carve this on my tombstone: "Here lies someone whose self-loathing was axceeded only by the loathing he induced in others."