Ignorance and Punishment

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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

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

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

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

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

Settling Disputes - The Lost Art

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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

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

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

Another mechanism of dispute settlement involves the application of the law. This mechanism also relies (ultimately) on enforcement (therefore, on force). But it maintains the semblance of objectivity and unbiased treatment of the contestants. It does so by relegating both functions - of legislating and of adjudication - to third, uninterested parties. Bu this misses the crucial point. The problem is not "who makes the laws" or "who administers them". The problem is "how are the laws applied". If a bias exists, if a party is favoured it is at the stage of administering justice and the impartiality of the arbitrator (the judge) does not guarantee a fair outcome. The results of trials have been shown to depend greatly on the social and economic standing of the disputants, on the social background and ethnic affiliation of the judge. Above all : the more money a party is - the more the court is tilted in its favour. The laws of procedure are such that wealthy applicants (represented by wealthy lawyers) are more likely to win. The substantive law contains preferences : ethnic, economic, ideological, historical, social and so on. Applying the law to the settlement of disputes is tantamount to applying force to them. The difference is in style, rather than in substance. When law enforcement agencies get involved - even this minor stylistic difference tends to evaporate.

Perhaps a better system would have been the application of the principles of justice to disputes - had people been able to agree what they were. Justice is an element in the legal system, but it is "tainted" by ulterior considerations (social, etc.) In its purified form it reflects impartiality of administering principles of settlement - as well as impartiality of forming, or of formulating them. The application of just principles is entrusted to non-professional people, who are thought to possess or to embody justice ("just" or "honest" people). The system of application is not encumbered by laws of procedure and the parties have no built-in advantages. Arbitration processes are middle-ground between principles of law and principles of justice.

Both the law and justice tend, as a minimal condition, to preserve wealth. In many cases they tend to increase it. No "right" distribution is guaranteed by either system - but, at least, no destruction of wealth is possible. The reason is the principle of consent. Embedded in both systems is the implicit agreement to abide by the rules, to accept final judgements, to succumb to legal instructions, not to use force to try and enforce unfavourable outcomes. A revolution is, of course, possible, or, on a smaller scale, a violation of a decision or a judgement rendered by a competent, commonly accepted court. But, then, we are dealing with the application of the principle of force, rather than of law or justice.

An even stronger statement of law and justice is logic. Not logic in the commonsensical rendition of it - rather, the laws of nature. By "logic" we mean the immutable ways in which the world is governed, in which forces are channelled, under which circumstances arise or subside. The laws of nature should (and in many respects) do underlie all the human systems of law and order. This is the meaning of "natural justice" in the most profound sense of the phrase.

The Criticism of the Absent

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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

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

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

Coping with Danger

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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

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

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

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

Lies People Tell

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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

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

  1. The Empathic Lie – is a lie told with the intention of sparing someone's feelings. It is a face saving lie – but someone else's face. It is designed to prevent a loss of social status, the onslaught of social sanctions, the process of judgement involved in both. It is a derivative o our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes – that is, to empathize. It is intended to spare OUR feelings, which are bound to turn more and more unpleasant the more we sympathize with the social-mental predicament of the person lied to. The reverse, brutal honesty, at all costs and in all circumstances – is a form of sadistic impulse. The lie achieves its goal only if the recipient cooperates, does not actively seek the truth out and acquiescently participates in the mini-drama unfolding in his honour.
  2. The Egocentric Lie – is a lie intended to further the well being of the liar. This can be achieved in one of two ways. The lie can help the liar to achieve his goals (a Goal Seeking Lie) or to avoid embarrassment, humiliation, social sanctions, judgement, criticism and, in general, unpleasant experiences related to social standing (a Face Saving Lie). The Goal Seeking Lie is useful only when considering the liar as an individual, independent unit. The Face Saving type is instrumental only in social situations. We can use the terms : Individualistic Lie and Social Lie respectively.

  3. The Narcissistic Lie – is separated from his brethren by its breadth and recursiveness. It is all-pervasive, ubiquitous, ever recurring, all encompassing, entangled and intertwined with all the elements of the liar's life and personality. Moreover, it is a lie of whose nature the liar is not aware and he is convinced of its truth. But the people surrounding the Narcissist liar notice the lie. The Narcissist-liar is rather like a hunchback without a mirror. He does not believe in the reality of his own hump. It seems that where the liar does not believe his own lies – he succeeds in convincing his victims rather effectively. When he does believe in his own inventions – he fails miserably at trapping his fellow men. Much more about the False Self (the lie that underlies the personality of the Narcissist) in “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited” and the FAQ section thereof.

Remarks about Love and Misogyny

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

From a correspondence:

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

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

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