Forming Opinions en Mass

In Plato’s Gorgias, the character of Socrates poses a serious challenge to the possibility of a craft of rhetoric as a craft of speaking about anything. His claim is that the craft one uses when speaking about a subject is the same craft by which one understands the subject. Rhetoric is therefore redundant and dangerous. It is redundant because one does not need anything above and beyond the understanding of a craft to speak about the craft . It is dangerous because it enables one to pretend understanding of a craft, falsely persuade others that they now understand that craft, and encourage speakers to seek pleasure in the audience rather than understanding. Modern journalism contains many of the same properties of Ancient rhetoric. It too claims to be a craft of speaking about anything.

The debate begins with Socrates asking Gorgias what the craft of rhetoric is. Gorgias responds by saying that it is the greatest of all crafts. Of course, Socrates is unsatisfied with this answer, so he asks of what rhetoric is a craft. Gorgias claims that it is the craft that uses only speech, not manual labour. Here is where Socrates catches Gorgias. He points out mathematics and astronomy use only words, and they are the crafts used when speaking about numbers and stars. The deeper claim here is that the craft used when speaking about a subject is the same as the craft used when understanding the subject.

Gorgias concedes Socrates’ claim that astronomy is the craft used when speaking knowledgeably about a subject. Gorgias attempts two separate parries here. The first is that he says that rhetoric enables the speaker to speak about a craft persuasively even without understanding it. He gives the example of helping his brother, a doctor, persuade a recalcitrant patient to undergo treatment. He boasts that, even though neither he nor the patient know medicine, he was able to speak more persuasively than the doctor. Perhaps realising he has conceded something rather shameful sounding, he then attempts a second argument. He argues that rhetoric’s specific area of expertise is the just and the unjust. This is its proper subject, as there is no other craft associated with the just and the unjust as there is with stars, and it is the topic on which rhetors spend much of their time speaking.

The conversation breaks down here, as Gorgias believes everyone knows what justice is and Socrates believes it is a specialised craft. When Gorgias’s young pupil, Polus, takes over, Socrates really lets him have it (Socrates here is the most caustic and agressive he appears in any Platonic dialogue; the nastiness here is striking). Socrates bluntly claims that rhetoric is not a craft and that rhetoric is to politics what pastry baking is to medicine. When doctors speak about medicine using their medical knowledge, they know about their subject and seek to impart at least some of that knowledge to their hearers. Rhetoric allows the ignorant to persuade the ignorant, or, at best, allows the knowledgeable to persuade the ignorant without actually making them any less ignorant. How do they do so? They do so by appealing to their emotions and, moreover, by pandering to their emotions. They try to associate their desired conclusion with positive emotions while trying to associate what they are trying to argue against with negative emotions. As such, they merely have a knack for creating pleasure in their hearers at the right things, like pastry bakers pretending to be doctors, hawking their wares as medicine while only selling what is pleasant.

Let us return, then, to journalism. Journalism has many features similar to rhetoric. Newspapers and television speak about any subject they believe will be of interest to the audience, and uses the same people to do so. Many of the people involved are trained in journalism, and not in the specific topics they discuss. Is it then even plausible to believe that journalists have expertise in every subject they discuss? Even in those cases where they may do so or they are quoting experts, are they imparting understanding to the audiences or just (true) opinions? A quick look at today’s front section of the National Post speaks about military strategy, trade agreements, engineering, medicine, meteorology and flying helicopters. However, the authors of these articles are neither generals, economists, engineers, doctors, meteorologists nor pilots. If they do not understand the craft they are speaking of, no one can learn anything about the craft from them either.

Journalists do, however, focus on a specific type of subject, much as Gorgias did when his hand was forced over expertise. They will focus on politics, the area of the just and the unjust. A reader should ask, then, what specific qualifications journalism gives journalists to speak about the just and the unjust. Are they, for instance, special experts on what contitutes human happiness and how to provide it? Do they know how to distribute goods appropriately? Have they worked through hours of humiliating and painful dialectic in order to carefully draw moral distinctions? Have they given any serious study to politics or to ethics at all, or do they assume that justice and injustice are things that everyone knows? Instead, journalists have no special expertise to speak about justice and injustice, except that they know how to speak persuasively. This persuasion, like all persuasion, functions by giving emotional pleasure and associating it with the desired object. It is, as Socrates said, a form of pastry baking.

If this sounds a little caustic, I apologise. It is hard to reflect Socrates’ argument without reflecting his tone. However, his claim is an utterly devastating one concerning how we form opinions. Without actually understanding a subject, we are easy prey to those who would help us form our opinions using our emotions. As a result, there will always be emotional pastry bakers out there pretending to be doctors. In Socrates’ time, it was the rhetors, and in our time, it is the journalists.

D Bader

Sociable media are media that enhance communication and the formation of social ties among people. Such media are not new – letter writing can be traced back thousands of years – but the advent of the computer has brought about an immense number of new forms.
 
Researchers in this field look at how existing technologies are used, how they affect the relationships among the people using them, and how they transform society. They also design new technologies, drawing from fields such as cognitive science, sociology and urban design to create systems that better support social interaction. They examine the ways social cues are communicated in the real and the virtual world, discover the limits imposed upon on-line communities by their mediated nature, and explore directions that virtual societies can take that are impossible for physical ones. The goal is to understand and improve the social aspects of mediated communication.

Mediated communication is any communication in which the participants communicate via some sort of medium, such as written letters, telephone calls, email, etc. This is in contrast to unmediated, face-to-face communication in which the participants are in direct contact with each other. In unmediated communication, social cues are communicated through words, tone of voice, gesture, clothing, facial expression, proximity, etc. These cues provide information about a person’s age, race, social class, and gender, they reveal emotional state, and they help to choreograph the interaction. In mediated communication, some or most of these cues are absent, and other cues, nonexistent in the unmediated world, may be present. The social information that participants can assess about each other varies greatly from one medium to another. Participants might not know with whom they are speaking or how large is their audience – or they might have access to a detailed history of their partners’ interactions or to the assessments others have made about them. They may be communicating in real time (synchronously) or over intervals ranging from seconds to days; the response to a message thus might be an immediate emotional reaction or a well-thought out reply.

The sociable media approach to evaluating media differs from the traditional, information theoretic approach. With the latter approach the key measurement of a medium is the amount of information, measured in bits, that a particular channel can carry and the goal is higher capacity and efficiency. The sociable approach is more subjective and context dependent. For example, given a sufficiently high bandwidth channel, one might think that videoconferencing, in which many thousands of bits are transmitted per second, would be clearly preferable to text interaction, a much lower bandwidth medium. Yet while more information is transmitted by video, it is not clear, from a sociable perspective, which is better. Is it important to know what the participants look like? Or is it preferable that their ages, race, weight, etc. not be known? Is the interaction the focus of everyone’s attention, or is it a peripheral activity, one carried out while attending to other tasks?

The sociable perspective also helps us to understand how social information is encoded in a message. At first glance, the text of the message might appear to be its sole source of information. Yet there are other important social cues to found. They are in the style of writing – whether formal or informal, in standard English or in prose peppered with emoticons, acronyms and abbreviations. They are in the recipient list, for one can copy others on a message, invisibly as co-conspirators or openly as witnesses. They are in the timing of replies, whether response was immediate or days or weeks later. The study of sociable media involves the evaluation and interpretation of the social nuances and affordances of different media in different situations.

The roots of sociable media reach back about 4000 years. Although the earliest known clay tablets are administrative records, archeologists have found plaques bearing personal correspondence dating as far back as 2000 BC. Throughout most of this history, letters (i.e., messages written on physical objects which are conveyed from sender to receiver) have been the dominant form of sociable media. Letter writing has sustained friendship and initiated romances over great distances. Historical accounts of brides being courted across the Atlantic attest to the ability of this medium to convey an impression of the character, personality and emotional intensity of the writer. Mediated spoken communication became possible only in the late 19th century with the invention of the telephone, but since then conversing at a distance has quickly become an indispensable part of daily social life. Visual images have long been an important, if infrequent, medium for social communication (Henry VIII married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, on the basis of Hans Holbein’s portrait of her). The development of inexpensive film and cameras and more recently, the ability to easily send images electronically, are making transmitted images an increasingly common yet still evolving form of social communication.

The advent of computer-mediated communication has made possible many new forms of sociable media. The computer brings a great deal of design freedom, allowing many aspects of the medium, such as whether it is ephemeral or persistent, named or anonymous, to be intentionally designed, rather than being technologically determined. Email, online chats, newsgroups, simulation games, weblogs, virtual reality conferencing are but a few of the existing computer-based sociable media, and many more are yet to be invented.

Sociability is an essential part of human nature. We live and thrive in cooperative groups. Social interaction helps us form relationships and coalitions, evaluate status, discourage free-riders, and enforce local norms. Much of our conversation is social, either in topic (as when discussing other’s actions) or form (as in the status messages encoded in tone of voice and grammar). Yet the importance of sociability is often unrecognized. Information exchange is often assumed to the primary purpose of language and conversations in which no explicit knowledge is imparted are judged a waste of time. Yet in any conversation, no matter how seemingly pointless, the participants are exchanging social information, subtly encoded.

Communication technologies are not necessarily designed for sociability. They are often developed within the context of engineering and business, domains that prize efficiency and utility. Yet people, being highly social, quickly find social uses for any communication medium. The history of communication technologies illustrates both the commercial world’s under-estimation of the importance of social communication and people’s alacrity at adapting media for social purposes. The telephone was initially marketed as a business tool; it was several decades before its social use for residential customers was fully recognized as an essential component of the business. The early plans for networked computers did not envision their social potential, but the system’s early users developed email within two years of the initial connection. The web was initially conceived as an academic publishing tool, yet personal homepages with pictures, anecdotes, and links to one’s friends appeared almost as soon as an accessible web browser was available. Today, there is growing awareness of the importance of the social uses of media and much more effort is being made to create deliberately sociable media.

Designing new sociable media involves understanding the features that affect how they can be used. There are many of these, but among the most important are rhythm, format, bandwidth, permanence and identification. Email, for example, is typically asynchronous, text-based, low-bandwidth, persistent, with a wide range in the participants’ identifications. An online game, for comparison, might be synchronous, graphical, medium-bandwidth, ephemeral and anonymous.

Rhythm (asynchronous or synchronous): The rhythm of the medium – whether it is synchronous or asynchronous – describes how quickly messages are exchanged with it.

With synchronous media, the participants communicate at the same time. Face to face conversations are synchronous, as are phone calls, and some computer-based media such as chat. The participants must be available at the same time, providing a sense of co-presence: even if they are physically far from each other.

With asynchronous media, the participants communicate independently. Email and written letters are asynchronous. The time it takes to send a message ranges from seconds in the case of email, to a day to several weeks for letters (longer in the pre-air-transport past). Participants in an asynchronous discussion are able to compose their messages more carefully. They do not need to be available at the same time, though this also means they do not have the sense of presence that users of synchronous media have
The rhythm of a conversation – how quickly each participant responds, the length of each utterance or message, etc. – is itself expressive. Responding to an email within a few seconds conveys a different message than waiting days or weeks to answer. Rhythm is also roughly correlated with formality, with asynchronous media often used more formally.
The speed at which a medium can convey a message affects the type of information that is exchanged and the communication style. As communication frequency increases, messages become more informal and intimate. This is true even within the same medium – rapidly exchanged papers notes are more informal than a letter with weeks of travel to its destination. Written letters, which at their fastest are still slower than computational media, are relatively formal, with conventional greetings and closings and a body with at least nominal content. Email is usually more informal, with features of both written and oral language; its users may omit greetings and sometimes send messages conversationally, in a series of rapid exchanges. Instant messages are very informal, with many features of oral communication, including a greater use of non-verbal expressions, such as emoticons (punctuation-like markings that indicate the emotional intent of the writer, e.g. 🙁 meaning sad or 😉 meaning winking, to indicate. that one was being humorous or ironic) and other representations of embodied action.

Format (text, voice, images, etc.): Messages can be sent in a variety of formats, including text, sounds, images, and programs. Some social information requires particular formats. To know what someone looks like requires an image, to see their gestures and expressions requires a moving image. One can create a list of participants using text, but to present their relationships in a more complex non-linear order requires graphics. A medium may translate the format of the message: a textual email that is ordinarily perceived visually, as written text, may be presented as spoken words by a text-to-speech synthesizer. Most of our experience with mediated communication focuses on the verbal, whether written or spoken. We are just beginning to explore the potential of communicating within graphical environments, to experiment with sending interactive experiences.

Bandwidth (from high to low): Bandwidth is the amount of information that a channel can convey. Low bandwidth media require sending relatively few bits per message and take less time to transmit, an especially important feature when using a slow connection. Text is low-bandwidth, while sound and video are high. The connection between the information bandwidth of the medium – how much information, in the mathematical sense, is sent – and the social bandwidth of the medium – how much social and expressive information is sent – is not simply linear. Text, which is very low bandwidth, can be a very expressive and effective form of communication. Going from voice only communication (i.e. the telephone) to image and voice (i.e. the videophone) greatly increases the number of bits conveyed, but does not necessarily make for a better social medium.

The bandwidth of network connections has been steadily increasing, but so has the size of the material people want to send. Compression is the process of making a message smaller, without losing important information. What is “important” may vary from application to application. For sociable media, maintaining the integrity of social cues is paramount. With video communication, for example, there may not be sufficient bandwidth to both send detailed images and to send them without delays. Experiments have shown that it is preferable to reduce image detail to maintain the timing of the sequences; this keeps the image will in sync with the voice and ensures that gestures and glances are seen as they are made, an important rhythm since the perceived timing of these expressive actions affects their meaning.

Permanence (persistent or ephemeral): Media can be persistent or ephemeral. Any physical medium is persistent, as are all asynchronous media, since they must be stored in some form. Other media can be made persistent – a phone call is normally ephemeral, but if it is recorded it is persistant.
Persistent conversations among multiple participants are a new phenomena which became feasible on a large scale only with the advent of the computer. In their various formulations (private mailing lists, public newsgroups, bulletin boards, etc.) they enable a large number of people, often initially strangers, to converse about almost any imaginable topic. They have become one of the most popular forms of online social interaction, and their role in reshaping society – in redefining how we establish social ties, where we gather information, how we form opinions – is still developing.

The permanence of a medium has important privacy implications. Upon delivery, an ephemeral message is gone, except in the participants’ memory. It cannot be subsequently conveyed to others except by creating a new message telling about it. A persistent message, however, can be conveyed to others who were not privy to the original conversation. For many years, participants in online newsgroups (large asynchronous online conversations) assumed that their discussions were ephemeral, for they disappeared from most servers after a few weeks. Yet these discussions had been archived and with the advent of web-based search engines, were made publicly available, along with the search tools to easily find all the posts ever made by an individual. The privacy issues here are not only the reading of postings by people other than the intended audience, but also the reading of them outside of their original context.

Identity (named, pseudonymous, anonymous).

Identity is at the core of all social interactions. We care about how others perceive us and devote considerable energy to conveying our own identity. Our perception of other’s identity is an essential context for understanding their words and actions, for knowing what sort of behavior to expect from them and how to act towards them, and to understand what their role in our lives might be.

Identity plays a key role in virtual communities. In communication, which is the primary activity, knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction. Yet in the disembodied world of the virtual community, identity is also ambiguous. Many of the basic cues about personality and social role we are accustomed to in the physical world are absent. Some claim that the ability to establish an independent and disembodied identity is one of the most valuable aspects of on-line culture – that it allows people to explore roles and relationships that would otherwise be closed to them. Others claim that anonymity encourages irresponsible, hostile behavior – and that an anonymous community is an oxymoron.
The relationship between an on-line persona and a physical self is handled differently in various on-line environments, often because of interface decisions built into the system technology. Some systems make it impossible to trace a participant’s real-life name; others try to ensure that messages are ascribed to their author’s physical being – and the cultures that evolve are strikingly different.

In the physical world, we typically know something about the identity of a person with whom we are speaking. Even if we do not know their name, we can detect cues about their age, race, gender, affiliations, etc. in their clothing, voice and face. Online, this is not necessarily so. Participants in a online forum may be anonymous, their real names unknown, with no tie even to an online persona. They may pseudonymous, their real names unknown, but with a persistent record of their actions available. Or they may be named, their real names and identity known and verified. Anonymous communication allows people to talk freely about topics that they might otherwise be afraid to discuss, such as personal health issues or political criticism. Yet anonymity also allows disruptive and anti-social behavior to flourish. Pseudonymous communication, in which a person participates in online interactions using a persistent persona, allows for the establishment of reputation. To the extent that the person behind the persona values this reputation, it encourages responsible behavior. Indeed, it has been posited that one of the benefits of the online world is the possibility of creating communities in which the participants do not know each other’s race, age or gender, and where identity is instead primarily based on one’s history of behavior.

People now have numerous ways to communicate, including traditional letters, telephone calls, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing. They can participate in mediated games or search online for tennis partners, childcare providers and potential lifetime mates. Communication media are becoming ubiquitous, meaning they exist everywhere. We are rapidly approaching the time when, for millions of people, mediated sociability will be with them at all times, no matter where they are or what they are doing. The challenge for the field of sociable media is not simply to invent ever newer ways of communicating, but also to understand the social implications of ubiquitous and omnipresent communication media..

One significant change is the increasing emphasis on subjective and social concepts of place and distance, over the purely physical. Communication media are by definition technologies that allow people to communicate between distant locations – thus, they have always played a role in reducing the significance of physical distance. More recent technologies have accelerated this reduction, both in quantity, by making communication faster across ever greater distances, and in quality, by transmitting immediate presence through synchronous media. While a synchronous media such as letters transmit information from one place to a distant one, synchronous media create a virtual space, a shared non-physical environment in which the interaction occurs. We have seen this for many years with the telephone and the effect has become more apparent with the advent of mobile phones. Mobile phone users may move through a physical space but their attention and reactions are occurring in the virtual space of their conversation. A new 
phenomenon is the sending of presence information without an accompanying message. There are systems that show when their users are logged in, how long they have been idle. Users of these systems receive a continuous flow of information about their distant friends, colleagues, or family members, shifting the center of awareness from the physical to the mediated world.

Spatial metaphors have always been part of our concepts of relationship – we have close friends, distant relatives. Social technologies are making this metaphor literal, as we move towards a time the concepts of place and distance will be increasingly based on personal relationships rather than physical location. Are you alone when chatting online from an empty apartment? When none of your friends are online, though you are in a crowded café? What happens to local ties as associations are increasingly formed based on affinity and common interests, rather than physical proximity? The implications of this change, both for the social and physical realm, are many.

Another significant change is the number of people we with whom we keep in contact. It is much less costly (in money, time and effort) to maintain personal ties via email than by paying personal visits. One challenge this brings to the field of sociable media is to build tools to help people manage this complex personal social world. Not only are we in touch with more people, but we have fewer cues with which to remember them. When we meet someone in the physical world, we see their face and hear their voice, we see them within a spatial context that helps provide us with a well-defined memory. Online, we may see little of the person (perhaps just an email address) , and encounter them in a social setting (such as a discussion board) with few if any visual memory cues. Designers of new social technologies are developing ways to help people keep track of these relationships by creating visualizations of social information, such as a person’s interaction history, the contents of one’s email archive, the network of connections in a virtual community, etc.

The network’s ability to connect us with more and more people may be infinite, but our attention is not. Are these large numbers of weaker ties replacing or supplementing stronger ties? Are we replacing stronger ties with a greater number of weaker ties? If the former, social theories suggest that we may be moving to a world where people have greater access to ideas, information, and opportunists, due to the wider range of people with whom they are in contact, but also to a world where social support is weaker and people’s sense of responsibility for each other is diminished. The goal for the observer of sociable media is to understand the implications of media as they are built; for the designer, it is understand what sort of world he or she hopes to foster, to learn from these observations and create new technologies that lead to this goal.

Sociable Media, Judith Donath

Being Sexy – Intellect, Relationships, Social Dynamics

I often shock people around me when they deliberate on issues related to social and world dynamics. I argue that the main driver of one-world dynamics is increasingly relationships and fashions (and psychological and social ramifications thereof) and not religion, abstract beliefs, ethics, or social injustice. I see the latter as effects and not as primary causes – for me there is sufficient and adequate academic research and experience to support this thesis. I argue that our evolution has greatly handicapped modern society. We have tools to excite and titillate us, we have tools to control our bodies over short time spans, and yet we have the psychology and the linguistic dexterity of our stone age ancestors. The main drivers, I submit, are not intellect and some grand world vision (perhaps they never were), but a simple issue related to being ‘sexy’ – it is the grandest accolade of the neoliberal globalised consumer society. Indeed, I see issues related to psychology of leadership in the same vain. We are given politicians and leaders not on the basis of their exceptional humanity, vision or thoughts but by the size of their purse and the image that their parasitic spin-doctors can create for them. We have already elaborated on this research in previous articles, and no doubt we’ll return to this topic again. For the purpose of this post, I’ll reproduce some recent articles written with a feminism perspective, that I think touch on related issues.

 

Feminine intellect vs. ‘slut chic’  (Dotty Burns)

“I think; therefore I am.” Profound philosophical statements such as this are not the kind of things that are coming out of the mouths of American female icons these days. Objects of popular admiration such as Paris Hilton or Jessica Simpson are more likely to quote a child’s cartoon character. Based upon my observation, the raunch-culture that these two celebrities represent has become increasingly appealing to an absurd degree.

Every time I catch a glimpse of MTV or open the latest issue of Marie Claire, I become immediately overwhelmed with an array of pop-tarts and ebullient models whose careers are based on the exploitation of their bodies as well as their stupidity.

Not every aspect of popular culture that is intended to appeal to women nowadays is anti-intellectual, but the onrush of superficial celebrities who represent nothing but vulgar materialism has increased to a sickening extreme. As a woman in her early 20s, I am appalled that senseless trends and unscrupulous women appeal to the age group I associate myself with.

This is not the testimony of a radical feminist; although, I do believe in protesting against the tactless pop-tarts that adorn the covers of most contemporary magazines, I embrace femininity as much as any other all-American girl. The bulging cosmetic purse in my backpack, and the back-issues of Vogue in my bookcase are not the normal archetypes associated with your average femi-Nazi. I do not necessarily believe in the common gender ideology of feminism. I simply wish to uphold the intellectual liberation aspect of feminism.

Having attended a modern-day beauty school where I acquired an education in “slut chic” rather than in actual cosmetology as I had originally intended I cannot emphasize enough the importance of feminine intellectualism.

I spent day after tedious day trimming the gray manes of nagging housewives, and applying gobs of stark-bright colors to the faces of classmates whose daily conversation couldn’t extend beyond that of their insane vanity or their moronic sexual indiscretions. I found myself lost in a superficial and meaningless existence.

Of course, upon joining the institution, I did not possess extreme notions about beauty culture that is essentially a prequisite of a college of cosmetology. As a naive 18-year-old girl who has always adamantly subscribed to beauty trends, I eagerly entered the school with the intention of using the vocational training to fund my ultimate goal of earning a college degree. However, the whole endeavor was such a disappointment that I couldn’t imagine working in the industry even though I had already graduated. I became so disillusioned about the beauty industry that I began to see working as a cosmetologist as emotionally damaging as selling my body on the street.

According to writer Betty Freidan, who wrote the pro-feminist novel “The Feminine Mystique,” women are suffering from a type of epidemic. Freidan’s theory, aptly titled ” the problem that has no name,” dictates that because of the idealized image of women, as well as other contributing factors, women are prisoners of their own minds.

Freidan’s observations have allowed me to realize that there is a movement against the mind-set and culture that is defining every modern woman.

We’ll leave the asylum of beauty that I attended to house the absolute conformist of the superficial lifestyle. In the meantime, I am abhorred to see ideals of a thoughtless raunch-culture infesting regions of mainstream culture and society.

 

Intellect, talent and character? Young women these days just aspire to be ‘sexy’,  Rosie Boycott (Daily Mail)

Being “sexy” has become the most important accolade a teenager can aspire to, outdoing intelligence, success at school and character. This, at least, is the view of American author Carol Liebau, whose new book Prude: How The Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls has just been published in Britain.
 
Liebau brings heavyweight credentials to her mission. She’s the first female editor of the Harvard Law Review, and as such, she’s cracked another glass ceiling on the road to female equality. She also happens to be incredibly attractive into the bargain: this is no old-fashioned blue stocking attacking a generation out of envy for a life which had passed her by. Her book, I believe, is a timely wakeup call to us all. “Girls are being led to believe that they’re in control when it comes to sexual relationships,” Liebau says.
“But they’re actually living in a profoundly anti-feminist landscape where girls compete for attention on the basis of how much they’re prepared to do sexually for boys.”

Even much of the so-called “good” advice aimed at girls is bad, insists Liebau. Sexual education in schools starts with the assumption that all teenagers are having sex, and does little to encourage abstinence. She goes on to quote Sharon Stone and some of the most laughably bad advice ever given to teenagers. Stone, it appears, encourages teenagers who feel pressured to have sex to offer oral sex instead, since it’s safer. “Young people talk to me about what to do if they’re being pressed for sex,” she says. “I tell them what I believe . . . if you’re in a situation where you cannot get out of sex, offer oral sex.”
But it is not just Stone who dishes out bad advice. Liebau also blames celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears for the phenomenon.

Looking at Hilton’s websites, which feature films and photographs of her in provocative and dominant poses, the message she sends out is clear: Young women are being taught to believe that “sexy” equates to empowerment and that only through promiscuity and sexual aggression will they achieve their peers’ admiration.
Dr Michele Elliott, director of the children’s charity Kidscape, told me that what is going on is rushing the sexual development of children to the point where it is dangerous. “Girls as young as five or six are wearing thongs that say ‘Eye Candy’ and T- shirts which say ‘So many boys, so little time’,” she says. “You can buy pole-dancing kits for kids, and I’ve known parents who take their children to beauty salons for make- overs.”Children are told about looking stylish on a first date, or given advice about diets. We’re raising a generation who believe this is what they should be aspiring to.”

Two years ago, I made a documentary about women and age, in which I spoke to women in their 50s who were being made redundant from their jobs. The same wasn’t happening to men of equivalent age and status. Their problems stemmed from fading looks in a culture which all too often prizes beauty above ability. It was depressing, but not as bad as an interview I also conducted with a group of pretty 11-year-olds in West London. They all wore make-up and trendy clothes and said they’d be happy to have plastic surgery. It was, they said, more important to them to be good looking than it was to be clever, helpful or talented. Looks, they believed, were the passport to success. They all spoke of having boyfriends, and their nods, winks and giggles indicated to me that while they might not yet be having full-blown sex, this was certainly not long in the future.

Carol Liebau believes this sudden drop in the age at which girls have sex is the most noteworthy aspect of the sexual revolution. She quotes a report at San Diego University that analysed 530 studies of sexual behaviour spanning five decades and involved 250,000 young people. From 1943 to 1999 the average age of girls losing their virginity dropped from 19 to 15. During the same period, the number of sexually active women under the age of 20 rose from 13 per cent to 47 per cent. And between 1969 and 1993, the percentage of female teenagers and young adults having oral sex skyrocketed from 42 to 71 per cent.

But perhaps the most dramatic phenomenon was the revolution in young women’s beliefs about pre-marital sex. Only 12 per cent approved of it in 1943. By 1999, 73 per cent did. Liebau notes: “Baby-boomers first had sex when they were in college. Today’s young women lose their virginity when they’re still at school.” And it’s not only an American problem. A recent Unicef survey of 21 countries found that British children were most likely to have had sex before the age of 15. Sexually transmitted infections in Britain have risen by 63 per cent in a decade, with HIV and gonorrhoea close to record levels. “There exists a status quo in which almost everything seems focused on what’s going on below the waist,” argues Liebau.

Typing the word sexy into Google, I found a staggering 22,800,000 entries versus just over 4,000,000 for the word clever. Clothes are marketed to make you look “sexy”; food is “sexy”, as are cars, cameras, and certain kinds of table lamps.
 
Even Gordon Brown is not immune. On June 15, 2004, the BBC business programme heralded his achievement of becoming the UK’s longest continuously serving Chancellor with the words: “But never mind that: he’s a brooding malcontent who oozes sex appeal.” Checking further into our politicians revealed that “sex and David Cameron” yielded 458,000 entries. From all of this, just one message emerges. Sex is everywhere. Everyone is doing it. That’s the way it is.
Sex has become just another commodity, something to drop into your day between a visit to the manicurist or a trip to the supermarket. The very real psychological, emotional and physical impact on young girls of having too much too soon is being ignored.
 
By relentlessly emphasising sex and beauty, the standards by which young women have traditionally been valued – their character, intellect or skills – are being eroded. Our increasingly sexual society also affects the way young girls look at being mothers. Of course, unwed mothers were treated deplorably in the past, but today’s almost universal acceptance of pre-marital sex has effectively sanctioned a life-changing decision that can have a severely detrimental impact on a young unwed mother and her child.

The psychological and spiritual costs to young girls living in a sex-saturated society can’t be calculated in physical or economic terms alone. Giving “too much, too soon” has been associated with an increased risk of suicide and a much greater incidence of depression. How ironic that in so many other ways young women have never had it so good. Their professional options are virtually limitless. There are more female medical and law students than male ones. In school, girls out-perform boys. They start reading earlier.
 
They live longer, are less likely to commit crimes or become victims of them. Even that last bastion, pay scales, was toppled earlier this year when a survey from the private banking group Investec revealed that 39 per cent of women who work full-time and have partners believe that they earn more than their men. Translated into numbers, that means that 1.8 million women in full-time work across the country earn more than their partners.

But as barriers to female professional advancement have fallen, so too have many of the traditional social conventions that protected girls. When I was a teenager (and indeed, until I was in my late 20s) if a boyfriend came to stay at my parents’ house, he always had to sleep in the spare room.Too many of us, it seems, have forgotten that those well-worn customs (requiring a boy to meet a girl’s parents before a first date, for example) are, in fact, a way of protecting a daughter and being actively involved in her development.

From the boy’s side, turning up in the living room to meet the parents – however embarrassing – signaled a readiness to assume responsibility for the daughter of the house. Such customs sent out signals not only of sexual restraint, but also of a proper respect for women. Many of the customs that today are dismissed as limiting and restrictive were actually very empowering, because they offered women a way to resist unwelcome sexual advances (“I can’t – my parents expect me home by midnight”) without having to look prudish or frigid. Nowadays, girls who resist a boy’s advances are no longer backed up by a social consensus which honours their right to say “no”, their right to be chaste.

Parents themselves have fallen foul of the fashion which seems to dictate that everyone should be allowed to do what they want, when they want. And, as a result, everything around today’s young girls conspires to push them towards sex, sending the implacable message that the sexually inexperienced are uncool, abnormal or hopelessly undesirable.
And as society has changed, so too have role models. Where once younger people looked up to leaders in their communities for their inspiration, now they look to celebrities such as Paris Hilton and take their cues from her and her like.

Since Paris’s main message seems to be one of “just do it”, those who don’t want to are inevitably left looking hopelessly out of touch with the rest of society. And what this has created, it seems to me, is a world where men are freely able to exploit women and get away with it.Take the current crop of teenage men’s magazines: most are openly hostile to women, seeing them as nothing more than sex objects for the delight of macho men.
 
Yet women willingly send in their (half-naked) photos to be pored over by thousands of insecure young men who are only too anxious to return to a world where men did rule the roost and women were merely chattels.Thirty five years ago, when I co-founded Spare Rib – one of the earliest feminist magazines – the debate about female sexuality was one of the trickiest the feminists encountered. Like my co-founder, Marsha Rowe, I’d been working on an underground magazine at the end of the 1960s. The underground Press had an ambivalent attitude towards women. To refuse to sleep with someone was both old-fashioned and hypocritical in a culture which promoted free love. Marsha and I both felt uncomfortable. How could real liberation – the right to work, to achieve, to earn the same as men – be equated with having to have sex with someone you didn’t necessarily love? It didn’t. And that conviction was one of the impetuses which kicked the magazine into life. The same is true today, where overtly raunchy sex is the new chic among today’s teenagers, seen as a further step along the road to liberation.
 
Sexuality is a wonderful part of being human, but it is one that should not be treated lightly, or as a commodity devoid of emotional power. It’s high time that grown-ups started taking an interest in what their children get up to: benign neglect may be considered a “liberated” way to rear our children, but in the end it is our daughters who will pay the price.

 

Evolution of Love

continued from yesterday

Our closest primate cousins, the chimpanzees, lack exclusive sexual bonds. Most mating takes place within the narrow window of female estrus. When a female chimpanzee is in heat, a variety of physiological changes take place. Her genitals become swollen and pink for four to six days. The swellings peak just before ovulation when she is most likely to conceive. She emits pheromonal signals, hormone-saturated substances that males find especially attractive, sometimes driving them into a sexual frenzy. Sarah Hrdy of the University of California at Davis notes that males sometimes touch the vagina of the estrous female, gathering her secretions on their fingers to smell or taste. Males use these signals to monitor the female’s reproductive state.

A male chimpanzee’s position in the social hierarchy strongly determines his sexual access to estrous females. Among the chimpanzees at a large zoo colony in Arnham, the Netherlands, for example, the dominant male achieves as many as 75 percent of the matings with estrous females. The relationships between male and female chimps are complex and can extend over time, but chimps do not form the long-term committed relationships that most humans desire.

Men and women have always depended on each other for survival and reproduction. Love was not invented a few hundred years ago by European poets, contrary to conventional wisdom in this century. Love is a human universal, occurring in societies ranging from the !Kung San of Botswana to the Ache of Paraguay. In my study of 10,041 individuals from 37 different cultures, men and women rated love as the single most important quality in selecting a spouse. Across the globe, people sing love songs and pine for lost lovers. They elope with loved ones against the wishes of parents. They recount personal tales of anguish, longing, and unrequited love. And they narrate great love stories of romantic entanglements down through the generations. The German writer Herman Hesse summed it up best: Life is “the struggle for position and the search for love.” Love is the universal human emotion that bonds the sexes, the evolutionary meeting ground where men and women lay down their arms.

The universal existence of love, however, poses a puzzle. From an evolutionary perspective, no single decision is more important than the choice of a mate. That single fork in the road determines one’s ultimate reproductive fate. More than in any other domain, therefore, we expect evolution to produce supremely rational mechanisms of mate choice, rational in the sense that they lead to wise decisions rather than impetuous mistakes. How could a blind passion like love — a form of dementia that consumes the mind, crowds out all other thoughts, creates emotional dependency, and produces a delusional idealization of a partner — possibly evolve to solve a problem that might be better solved by cool rationality?

To penetrate this mystery, we must start with the scientific evidence for mate preferences. Worldwide, from the coastal dwelling Australians to the South African Zulu, women desire qualities such as ambition, industriousness, intelligence, dependability, creativity, exciting personality, and sense of humor — characteristics that augur well for a man’s success in acquiring resources and achieving status. Given the tremendous investment women undertake to produce a single child, the nine months of costly internal fertilization and gestation, it is perfectly reasonable for women to want men who can invest in return. A woman’s children will survive and thrive better if she selects a resourceful man. Children suffer when their mothers choose “slackers.” Men, in contrast, place a greater premium on qualities linked with fertility, such as a woman’s youth, health, and physical appearance — clear skin, smooth skin, bright eyes, full lips, symmetrical features, and a slim waist. These preferences are also perfectly sensible. We descended from ancestral mothers and fathers who chose fertile and resourceful partners. Those who failed to choose on these bases risked reproductive oblivion.

Although these rational desires set minimum thresholds on who qualifies as an acceptable mate, rationality profoundly fails to predict the final choice of a mate. As the psychologist Steven Pinker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology observes, “Murmuring that your lover’s looks, earning power, and IQ meet your minimal standards would probably kill the romantic mood, even if statistically true. The way to a person’s heart is to declare the opposite — that you’re in love because you can’t help it.”

One key to the mystery of love is found in the psychology of commitment. If a partner chooses you for rational reasons, he or she might leave you for the same rational reasons: finding someone slightly more desirable on all of the “rational” criteria. But if the person is blinded by an uncontrollable love that cannot be helped and cannot be chosen, a love for only you and no other, then commitment will not waver when you are in sickness rather than in health, when you are poorer rather than richer. Love overrides rationality. It’s the emotion that ensures that you won’t leave when someone slightly more desirable comes along or when a perfect “10” moves in next door. It ensures that a partner will stick by you through the struggles of survival and the hazards of childbirth.

Love, however, has a tragic side. The stories of great lovers of the past, in fiction and in history, are often marked by disaster. Juliet died of poison. Romeo chose to kill himself rather than live without her. Love suicides have pervaded Japanese culture for centuries, a final vindication of the intensity of a person’s commitment. When parents and society conspire to keep lovers apart, lovers sometimes tie themselves together and jump off a cliff or hurl themselves into a well. The most perilous side of love, however, comes not from a folie à deux, but from a folie à un — the demonic possession that consumes a person when love is not reciprocated. Unrequited love is the foundation for fatal attraction.

Consider the case of John W. Hinckley, Jr., who scrawled a final letter to the actress Jodie Foster on March 30, 1981, shortly before attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan:

 

 

Dear Jodie:      

There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason I am writing you this letter now.

As you well know by now I love you very much. Over the past seven months I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me…I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you…

Jodie, I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you…I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I’ve got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing this for your sake! By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodie, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historic deed, to gain your respect and love.

I love you forever.

John Hinckley

 

Cases as extreme as John Hinckley are rare, but the experience of unrequited love is quite common. In one recent survey, 95 percent of men and women indicated that, by the age of 25, they had experienced unrequited love at least once, either as a would-be lover whose passions were rejected or as the object of someone’s unwanted desires. Only one person in 20 has never experienced unrequited love of any kind.      

Although unrequited love is a perilous passion, producing fatal attractions and unwanted stalking, the dogged persistence it produces sometimes pays off. One of the great love stories in history is that of Nicholas and Alexandra. Nicholas inherited the Russian throne at the end of the 19th century. During his adolescence his parents started looking for a suitable mate for him. At age 16, contrary to his parent’s wishes, he became obsessed with Alexandra, a beautiful princess then living in England with her grandmother, Queen Victoria. Despite parental objections, cultural chasms, and a separation spanning thousands of miles, Nicholas was determined to capture Alexandra’s love. Alexandra, however, found him a bit dull and did not relish the thought of moving to the harsh climate of Moscow. She spurned his advances. In 1892, Nicholas turned 24 and, having loved Alexandra for nearly eight years, resolved to make one final effort to win her heart. Given this state of mind, he was devastated when she wrote saying that she had definitely decided not to wed him. She asked him not to contact her again. All seemed lost.

Nicholas left his beloved Moscow immediately. He traveled across Europe, suffering rough terrain and treacherous weather in the journey to London. Although exhausted from travel, Nicholas immediately began to persue Alexandra with great passion. After two months, she finally relented and agreed to marry him. The young couple thus became man and wife, rulers of the Russian empire.

Although Nicholas’s love was initially unrequited, their marriage proved a joyful one. Diary entries from each revealed sublime happiness, the great joy of their union, and the depth of their love for each other. They produced five children. Nicholas so enjoyed spending time with Alexandra and their children that the Russian empire apparently suffered from his neglect. When forced to be apart, they pined for each other, wrote often, and endured great psychological pain until their reunions. Their mutual love lasted throughout their lives, until the Russian Revolution brought down the czarist rule and they were executed. They died on the same day, their lifelong love never having diminished. Had Nicholas given up when initially spurned, their great love would have been lost forever.

The same passion that led John Hinckley to pursue Jodie Foster with desperate measures led Nicholas to succeed in turning an unrequited obsession into lifelong love. In retrospect, one seems irrational and unbalanced, the other logical and normal. One we call pathological, the other a love story. But what if Hinckley had succeeded in winning Jodie Foster’s love and Nicholas had failed in his quest for Alexandra? Love is a dangerous passion that cuts both ways. There’s a rationality to the irrationality.

Once humans evolved love, the bonds they created required protection. It would be extraordinarily unlikely that evolution would fail to defend these fragile and fruitful unions against interlopers. In the insect world, there is a species known as the “lovebug.” Male lovebugs venture out in a swarm of other males each morning in search of a chance to mate with a female. When one succeeds, the couple departs from the swarm and glides to the ground to copulate. Because other males sometimes attempt to copulate with her, even after the pair has begun mating, the couple maintains a continuous copulatory embrace for as long as three days, hence the nickname “the lovebug.” This strategy guards the union against outside intruders.

In humans, guarding a bond must last more than days, months, or even years because love can last a lifetime. The dangerous emotion of jealousy evolved to fill this void. Love and jealousy are intertwined passions. They depend on each other and feed on each other. But just as the prolonged embrace of the lovebug tells us that their bonds can be threatened, the power of jealousy reveals the ever-present possibility that our love bonds can be broken. The centrality of jealousy in human love reveals a hidden side of our desires, one that we typically go to great lengths to conceal — a passion for other partners.

Hidden Desires

 

 

One Sunday morning William burst into the living room and said, “Dad! Mom! I have some great news for you! I’m getting married to the most beautiful girl in town. She lives a block away and her name is Susan.” After dinner, William’s dad took him aside. “Son, I have to talk with you. Your mother and I have been married 30 years. She’s a wonderful wife, but has never offered much excitement in the bedroom, so I used to fool around with women a lot. Susan is actually your half-sister, and I’m afraid you can’t marry her.”      

William was heartbroken. After eight months he eventually started dating again. A year later he came home and proudly announced, “Dianne said yes! We’re getting married in June.” Again, his father insisted on a private conversation and broke the sad news. “Dianne is your half-sister too, William. I’m awfully sorry about this.”

William was furious. He finally decided to go to his mother with the news. “Dad has done so much harm. I guess I’m never going to get married,” he complained. “Every time I fall in love, Dad tells me the girl is my half-sister.”

His mother just shook her head. “Don’t pay any attention to what he says, dear. He’s not really your father.”

 

 

We find this story funny not simply because the ending carries a surprise. It’s amusing because the mother ultimately gets payback for the “father’s” philandering. Cuckolds are universal objects of laughter and derision, and a constant source of engaging tales from the tragedy of William Shakespeare’s Othello to the middle-class marital dramas portrayed in the novels of John Updike.      

To understand the origins of sexual passion we must introduce a disturbing difference between the sexes. Everyday observation tells us that men are more promiscuously inclined than women. “Men found to desire more sex partners than women desire” would be no more likely to make the headlines than “Dog bites man.” But scientific verification is always useful, since common sense, which tells us that the earth is flat, sometimes turns out to be wrong. Science, in this case, has verified the everyday knowledge that men do display a greater passion for playing around. In one of our recent studies of more than 1,000 men and women, men reported desiring eight sex partners over the next three years, whereas women reported desiring only one or two. In another study, men were four times more likely than women to say that they have imagined having sex with 1,000 or more partners.

Observing that men and women differ, however, is not the same as explaining why they differ. There are compelling evolutionary reasons for the fact that this difference in desire for sexual variety is universal, found not just in cultures saturated with media images of seductive models, not just among Hugh Hefner’s generation of Playboy readers, and not just in studies conducted by male scientists. To explain this desire, we must introduce another key fact about human reproductive biology.

To produce a single child, women bear the burdens and pleasures of nine months of pregnancy — an obligatory form of parental investment that men cannot share. Men, to produce the same child, need only devote a few hours, a few minutes, or even a few seconds. Wide is the gulf between men and women in the effort needed to bring forth new life. Over time, therefore, a strategy of casual mating proved to be more reproductively successful for men than for women. Men who succeeded in the arms of many women out-reproduced men who succeeded with fewer. An ancestral woman, in contrast, could have had sex with hundreds of partners in the course of a single year and still have produced only a single child. Unless a woman’s regular partner proved to be infertile, additional sex partners did not translate into additional children. As a consequence, men evolved a more powerful craving for sex with a variety of women.

This sex difference in desire creates an intriguing puzzle. Sexual encounters require two people. Mathematically, the number of heterosexual encounters must be identical for the sexes. Men cannot satisfy their lust for sex partners without willing women. Indeed, men’s passion for multiple partners could never have evolved unless there were some women who shared that desire. Is casual sex a recent phenomenon, perhaps created by the widespread prevalence of birth control devices that liberated women from the previous risks of pregnancy? Or did ancestral women do it too?

Three scientific clues, when taken together, provide a compelling answer. Men’s sexual jealousy provides the first clue, the ominous passion that led us to this mystery. If ancestral women were naturally inclined to be flawlessly faithful, men would have had no evolutionary catalyst for jealousy. Men’s jealousy is an evolutionary response to something alarming: the threat of a loved one’s infidelity. The intensity of men’s jealousy provides a psychological clue that betrays women’s desire for men other than their regular partners.

Second, affairs are known in all cultures, including tribal societies, pointing to the universal prevalence of infidelity. Prevalence rates vary from culture to culture (high in Sweden and low in China), but affairs occur everywhere. Sexual infidelity causes divorce worldwide more than any other marital violation, being closely rivaled only by the infertility of the union. The fact that women have affairs in cultures from the Tiwi of northern Australia to the suburbs of Los Angeles reveals that some women refuse to limit themselves to a single partner despite men’s attempts to control them and despite the risk of divorce if discovered.

A third line of evidence comes from new research on human sperm competition. Sperm competition occurs when the sperm from two different men inhabit a woman’s reproductive tract at the same time. Human sperm remain viable within the woman’s tract for up to seven days, not merely one or two days as scientists previously believed. Indeed, my colleagues have discovered hundreds of “crypts” recessed within the vaginal walls of women in which they store a man’s sperm and then release it several days later to enter a marathon race to her egg. If a woman has sex with two men within the course of a week, sperm competition can ensue, as the sperm from different men scramble and battle for the prize of fertilizing the egg. Research on sperm competition reveals that men’s sperm volume, relative to their body weight, is twice that which occurs in primate species known to be monogamous, a clue that hints at a long evolutionary history of human sperm competition.

Human sperm, moreover, come in different “morphs,” or shapes, designed for different functions. Most common are the “egg getters,” the standard government-issue sperm with conical heads and sinewy tails designed for swimming speed — the Mark Spitzes of the sperm world. But a substantial minority of sperm have coiled tails. These so-called kamikaze sperm are poorly designed for swimming speed. But that’s not their function. When the sperm from two different men are mixed in the laboratory, kamikaze sperm wrap themselves around the egg getters and destroy them, committing suicide in the process. These physiological clues reveal a long evolutionary history in which men battled with other men, literally within the woman’s reproductive tract, for access to the vital egg needed for transporting their genes into the next generation. Without a long history of sperm competition, evolution would have favored neither the magnitude of human sperm volume nor the specialized sperm shapes designed for battle.

All these clues — the universality of infidelity, men’s sexual jealousy, and the hallmarks of sperm competition — point to a disturbing answer to the question of ancestral women’s sexual strategies. They reveal the persistent expression of women’s passion for men other than their husbands, a phenomenon that must have occurred repeatedly over the long course of human evolution. Modern women have inherited this passion from their ancestral mothers.

Why Women Have Affairs

Because scientists have focused primarily on the obvious reproductive benefits of men’s desire for sexual variety, the potential benefits to women of short-term sexual passion languished for years unstudied. The puzzle is compounded by the fact that a woman’s infatuation with another man comes laden with danger. An unfaithful woman, if discovered, risks damage to her social reputation, the loss of her partner’s commitment, physical injury, and occasionally death at the hands of a jealous man. Undoubtedly, many women weigh these risks, and choose not to act on their sexual desires. The benefits to women who do act on their passion for other men, given the possibility of catastrophic costs, must be perceived as sufficiently great to make it worth the risk.

For the past seven years, Heidi Greiling and I have been studying why women have affairs. Our lab has focused on the benefits that are so alluring that women from all walks of life are willing to take great risks to pursue sex and love outside of marriage. Our research centered on three questions: What benefits do women reap from affairs? What circumstances are most likely to drive a woman into another man’s arms? And which women are most prone to affairs?

Historically, women may have benefited from an affair in countless ways. The first and most obvious benefit comes from the direct resources that an affair partner may provide. A few expensive dinners may not seem like much today, but an extra supply of meat from the hunt would have made the difference between starving and surviving during ancestral winters when the land lay bare, or between merely surviving and robustly thriving during more plentiful times.

Women also can benefit from affairs in the currency of quality genes. The puzzle of the peacock’s tail provided the telltale clue to this benefit. A peahen’s preference for peacocks with brilliant plumage may signal selection for genes for good health. When peacocks carry a high load of parasites, their diminished health is revealed in duller displays. By selecting for luminescence, peahens secure good genes for health that benefit their offspring. Research by Steve Gangestad and Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico reveals that women may be choosing affair partners with especially healthy genes. Women who have sex with different men can also produce more genetically diverse children, providing a sort of “hedge” against environmental change.

Although genetic and resource benefits may flow to women who express their hidden sexual side, our studies uncovered one benefit that overshadowed the others in importance, a benefit we call “mate insurance.” During ancestral times, disease, warfare, and food shortages made survival a precarious proposition. The odds were not trivial that a husband would succumb to a disease, become debilitated by a parasite, or incur injury during a risky hunt or a tribal battle. The paleontological and cross-cultural records reveal this clue — the skulls and skeletons show injuries mostly on males. A woman’s husband, in short, stood a significant chance of suffering a debilitating or lethal wound.

Ancestral women who failed to have mate insurance, a backup replacement in the event that something happened to her regular partner, would have suffered greatly compared to women who cultivated potential replacements. Modern women have inherited the desires of their ancestral mothers for replacement mates. In the words of one woman in our study, “Men are like soup — you always want to have one on the back burner.” Mate insurance provides a safeguard against reasonable risks of losing a partner.

And mate insurance remains relevant today, even though we’ve conquered many of the hazards that felled our forebears. American divorce rates now approach 67 percent for those currently getting married, up from the mere 50 percent figure that alarmed many over the past two decades. Remarriage is rapidly becoming the norm. The Dangerous Passion explores how women’s desire for additional partners is ancestral wisdom that, however alarming to husbands, continues to serve a critical insurance function for women today.

Urges of Ovulation

Women’s attraction to lovers has another mysterious ingredient: the puzzle of concealed ovulation. Unlike chimpanzees, women’s genitals do not become engorged when they ovulate. Women have “lost estrus” and engage in sex throughout their ovulatory cycle. Conventional scientific wisdom has declared that a woman’s ovulation is cryptic, concealed even from the woman herself. But have the urges associated with ovulation totally vanished?

In the most extensive study of ovulation and women’s sexuality, several thousand married women were asked to record their sexual desires every day for a period of twenty-four months. The methods were crude but straightforward: women simply placed an X on the recording sheet on each day that they experienced sexual desire. Basal body temperature was recorded to determine the phase of the menstrual cycle. These thousands of data points yielded a startling pattern. On the first day of a woman’s period, practically no women reported experiencing sexual desire. The numbers rose dramatically across the ovarian cycle, peaking precisely at the point of maximum fertility, and then declining rapidly during the luteal phase after ovulation. Women, of course, can experience sexual desire at any phase of their cycle. Nonetheless, they are five times more likely to experience sexual desire when they are ovulating than when they are not.

Women sometimes act on their passions. A recent survey of 1,152 women, many of whom were having affairs, revealed a startling finding. Women who stray tend to time their sexual liaisons with their affair partners to coincide with the peak of their sexual desire, when they are most likely to conceive. Sex with husbands, in sharp contrast, is more likely to occur when women are not ovulating, a strategy that may be aimed at keeping a man rather than conceiving with him. None of this is conscious, of course. Women do not think “I’ll try to time sex with my affair partner when I’m ovulating so that I’ll bear his child and not my husband’s.” Psychologically, women simply experience sexual desire more when they are ovulating, and if they have an affair partner, have urges to have sex with him during this phase. Ovulation may seem concealed to outside observers, but women appear to act on the impulses that spring from it. And when that desire for men other than their husbands occurs, it’s difficult for most men to tell when their mates are straying or may be likely to stray. I call this the signal detection problem.

The Signal Detection Problem

Across cultures, people have affairs that are specifically designed to avoid detection. In Arizona, one motel marquee boasts that it is the “No-Tell Motel.” In states across America, you can rent some hotel rooms at an hourly rate. The woman returning from a business trip does not make her brief fling on the road the first topic of conversation. The husband who conceals his finances from his wife may be funneling resources to support a mistress on the side.

Spouses experience a signal detection problem. Consider camping in the woods at night and hearing a sound somewhere in the dark. Was that the sound of a twig snapping, merely the wind blowing, or the unfamiliar night sounds playing tricks on your ears? Assuming that you have correctly detected the signal as a twig snap, the possible causes of this event are many, but they are not infinite. It could be a rock that somehow got dislodged. But it could also be a dangerous animal or a hostile human. The signal detection problem is not merely about picking up accurate signals in the face of an uncertain and ambiguous welter of information. It is also about making correct inferences about the cause of the signal.

Since sexual infidelities are almost invariably secret, the signals they might emit are intentionally muted. An unfamiliar scent, the purchase of a sharp new jacket, the running of a yellow light, a new interest in Beethoven or the Beastie Boys, an unexplained absence — all of these can be signals, but they can originate from many causes other than infidelity. The jealous person experiences an elevated sensitivity to signals of infidelity: “He may see a red flush on his wife’s cheek, she may appear to be standing awkwardly, or sitting sideways on a chair, she has put on a clean dress, there is a cigarette-end in the fireplace…the jealous man sees a handkerchief on the floor, a wet cloth in the bathroom, newspapers in a ditch, and attaches to all the same import.”

Consider the case of a European psychiatrist who counseled many couples referred to him in which one of the spouses experienced “morbid jealousy.” Most cases were husbands who had delusions that their wives were sexually unfaithful, and these delusions destroyed the fabric of trust required for harmonious marriage. Because he believed that extreme jealousy was a psychiatric illness that could not be cured, his most common recommendation was that the couples separate or divorce. Many couples followed his recommendations. Because he was keenly interested in the subsequent fate of his patients, he routinely contacted them after a number of months had passed. To his astonishment, he discovered that many of the wives of his patients had subsequently become sexually involved with the very men about whom their husbands had been jealous! Some of these women actually married the men who were the objects of their husbands’ suspicions. In many cases, the husbands must have been sensing signs of infidelity. But because the wives proclaimed innocence and declared that their husbands’ jealousy was irrational, the husbands ended up believing that the problem was in their heads. The problem of signal detection is how to identify and correctly interpret a partner’s betrayal in an uncertain social world containing a chaos of conflicting clues.

Jealousy is often triggered by circumstances that signal a real threat to a relationship, such as differences in the desirability of the partners, as illustrated by the following case. The man was 35 years old, working as a foreman, when he was referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with “morbid jealousy.” He had married at age 20 to a woman of 16 whom he deeply loved. During their first two years of marriage, he was stationed in military service in England. During this two-year separation, he received several anonymous letters saying that his wife was carrying on an affair. When he returned to America to rejoin her, he questioned her intensely about the allegations, but she denied them. Their own sexual relations proved disappointing. He became obsessed with the earlier time in their marriage, repeatedly accused his wife of infidelity, and hit her from time to time, especially after a bout of drinking. He tried to strangle her twice, and several times he threatened to kill himself.

He openly admitted his problems to the psychiatrist: “I’m so jealous that when I see anyone near her I want to hurt her. I have always loved her but do not think she has returned my affection. This jealousy is something I feel in my stomach and when it comes out of me there is nothing I can do about it. That is why I behave so madly….My wife is always telling me that other men are stronger and can beat me….I’m not a big chap or a handsome chap but my wife is so pretty and I don’t think I come up to her high standards.” In other words, he perceived a difference in their level of desirability; she was attractive and alluring, and he saw himself as beneath her. When the psychiatrist questioned the wife in private, she admitted to meeting and having an affair with a married man. The affair was carried on in secret, and throughout the duration of her affair she insisted that her husband’s jealousy was delusional. The affair began roughly one year before the husband was referred to the psychiatrist to treat “his problem.”

Differences in desirability — when an “8” is married to a “10” — can heighten sensitivity to signals of infidelity in the partner who has fewer outside mating options. Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues at the University of Hawaii discovered that the more desirable partner in the couple in fact is more likely to stray. Those who have been in relationships with both more attractive and less attractive partners have an acute awareness of how jealousy is attuned to these differences. These differences represent one among many signs of actual or impending infidelity explored in depth later in the book.

Emotional Wisdom

Jealousy is necessary because of the real threat of sexual treachery. In a hazardous world where rivals lurk, partners harbor passions for other people, and infidelity threatens to destroy what could have been a lifelong love, it would be surprising if evolution had not forged elaborate defenses to detect and fend off these threats. Exposing these threats, and the psycho-logical arms we have to combat them, is a first step toward comprehending the wisdom of passions that sometimes seem so destructive.

The Dangerous Passion takes us on a journey through the rationality of these seemingly irrational emotions, examining the fundamental desires of what men and women want, and why these longings so often produce conflict.

Chapter 2 introduces the jealousy paradox — why an emotion that evolved to protect love can rip a relationship apart. It explores the evolution of conflict between men and women, why painful emotions are necessary in resolving conflicts, and why men and women are locked in a never-ending spiral of love and strife.

Chapter 3 focuses on why men and women differ in their underlying psychology of jealousy. It reveals that men and women are neither unisex equivalents nor aliens from different planets. When it comes to adaptive problems that differ for men and women, passions diverge; for adaptive problems that are the same, their emotions joyfully commingle.

Chapter 4, “The Othello Syndrome,” investigates seemingly bizarre clinical cases in which a jealous person becomes untethered, resulting in delusional suspicions about a partner’s infidelity. We explore why our minds are designed not merely to pick up on infidelities that have already occurred, but also to detect circumstances that signal an increased likelihood that a partner will stray in the future.

Chapter 5 delves into the frightening abuses produced by the dangerous passion — battering, stalking, and killing — and identifies when women are most vulnerable to these violations.Although I call jealousy the dangerous passion, it cannot be disentangled from the risky cravings that men and women harbor for other lovers.

Chapter 6 examines the qualities of relationships that make a person susceptible to infidelity, the personality characteristics that predict who’s likely to cheat, and why some people unwittingly drive their partners into the arms of a paramour.

Chapter 7 explores why women have affairs, and why modern women have inherited from their ancestral mothers a roving eye.

Chapter 8 identifies the strategies we use to cope with jealousy and infidelity and why some therapeutic efforts to eradicate jealousy are often misguided.

The final chapter reveals the positive uses of jealousy for enhancing sexual passion and life-long love, and examines how we can harness emotional wisdom to enrich our relationships.

(C) David M. Buss All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-684-85081-8

 

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Jealousy in Love and Sex

Why do men and women cheat on each other? How do men really feel when their partners have sex with other men? What worries women more — men who turn to other women for love or men who simply want sexual variety in their lives? Can the jealousy husbands and wives or couples experience over real or imagined infidelities be cured? Should it be?

In this surprising and engaging exploration of men’s and women’s darker passions, David Buss, acclaimed author of The Evolution of Desire, reveals that both men and women are actually designed for jealousy. Drawing on experiments, surveys, and interviews conducted in thirty-seven countries on six continents, as well as insights from recent discoveries in biology, anthropology, and psychology, Buss discovers that the evolutionary origins of our sexual desires still shape our passions today.

According to Buss, more men than women want to have sex with multiple partners. Furthermore, women who cheat on their husbands do so when they are most likely to conceive, but have sex with their spouses when they are least likely to conceive. These findings show that evolutionary tendencies to acquire better genes through different partners still lurk beneath modern sexual behavior. To counteract these desires to stray — and to strengthen the bonds between partners — jealousy evolved as an early detection system of infidelity in the ancient and mysterious ritual of mating.

Buss takes us on a fascinating journey through many cultures, from pre-historic to the present, to show the profound evolutionary effect jealousy has had on all of us. Only with a healthy balance of jealousy and trust can we be certain of a mate’s commitment, devotion, and true love.

 

Jealousy is not only inbred in human nature, but it is the most basic, all-pervasive emotion which touches man in all aspects of every human relationship. 

— Boris Sokoloff, 1947, Jealousy: A Psychological Study

Every human alive is an evolutionary success story. If any of our ancestors had failed to survive an ice age, a drought, a predator, or a plague, they would not be our ancestors. If any had failed to cooperate with at least some others in the group or dropped below a minimal position in the social hierarchy, they would have met certain death by being cast out from the group. If even one had failed to succeed in choosing, courting, and keeping a mate, the previously inviolate chain of descent would have irreparably broken, and we would not be alive to tell the tale. Each of us owes our existence to thousands of generations of successful ancestors. As their descendants, we have inherited the passions that led to their success — passions that drive us, often blindly, through a lifelong journey in the struggle for survival, the pursuit of position, and the search for relationships. 

We usually think of passion as restricted to sex or love, the burning embrace or constant craving. But it has a broader meaning, referring to the drives and emotional fires that propel us in our quests through life. They sometimes glow quietly, but at other times they burst into full flame. They range from tranquil devotion to violent eruption. Their expression yields life’s deepest joys, but also the cruelest suffering. And although we commonly think of passion as a force opposed to reason and rationality, something to be tamed or overcome, passions when properly understood have a crystalline logic, precise purpose, and supreme sensibility.

The drives that stir us out of bed at dawn and hurl us headlong into our daily struggles have two sides. On the positive side, passions inspire us to achieve life’s goals. They impel us to satisfy our desire for sex, our yearning for prestige, and our quest for love. The dazzling plays of Shakespeare, the mezmerizing art of Georgia O’Keeffe, and the brilliant inventions of Thomas Edison would not exist if passion had not stirred them from repose and impelled creation. Without passion, we would lie listless in bed, for there would be no motivation to do anything at all.

But passions carry a darker, more sinister side. The same passions that inspire us with love can lead to the disastrous choice of a mate, the desperation of unrequited obsession, or the terror of stalking. Jealousy can keep a couple committed or drive a man to savagely beat his wife. An attraction to a neighbor’s spouse can generate intoxicating sexual euphoria while destroying two marriages. The yearning for prestige can produce exhilarating peaks of power while evoking the corrosive envy of a rival and a fall from a greater height. The Dangerous Passion explores both the destructive and triumphant sides of human desires.

Together with many colleagues, my research over the past decade has centered on exploring the nature, origins, and consequences of the passions of men and women, with a special focus on jealousy, infidelity, love, sex, and status. Our goal has been to seek a deeper understanding of what makes men and women tick, the desires that drive people to heights of success or depths of despair, and the evolved mechanisms of mind that define who we are. This book illuminates the dark side of sexual treachery, the mysterious puzzle of romantic love, and the central role of jealousy in our intimate relationships.

Some argue that these mysteries should be left alone, pristine and untrammeled, shielded from the harsh glare of scientific scrutiny. But is the woman who has her freedom and sense of safety crushed by a jealous husband better off unequipped with the knowledge of how to prevent her torment? Is the man obsessed by unrequited love better off failing to understand the underlying reasons for his rejection? Ignorance may sometimes be bliss, but it can also cause needless anguish. My hope is that revealing the underlying logic of dangerous passions will be intellectually illuminating, provide one path for understanding the distress we experience at the hands of our lovers and rivals, and just possibly improve in some small measure the tools for coping with the untamed demons in our lives.

At the center of The Dangerous Passion is an exploration of a hazardous region of human sexuality — the desires people experience for those who are not their regular partners and the jealous shield designed to combat its treacherous consequences.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Think of a committed romantic relationship that you have now, or that you had in the past. Now imagine that your romantic partner becomes interested in someone else. What would upset or distress you more: (a) discovering that your partner is forming a deep emotional attachment, confiding and sharing confidences with another? or (b) discovering that your partner is enjoying passionate sex with the other person, trying out different sexual positions you had only dreamed about? Both scenarios are distressing, of course, but which one is more distressing? If you are like the majority of women we surveyed recently in the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Zimbabwe, you will find the emotional infidelity more upsetting. The answer seems obvious, at least to women. The majority of men, however, find the prospect of a partner’s sexual infidelity more agonizing. The gulf between the sexes in emotional reactions to infidelity reveals something profound about human mating strategies.

The explanation for sex differences in jealousy lies deep in the evolutionary past of the human species. Consider first a fundamental sex difference in our reproductive biology: fertilization takes place inside women’s bodies, not men’s. Now, internal female fertilization is not universal in the biological world. In some species, such as the Mormon crickets, fertilization occurs internally within the male. The female takes her egg and literally implants it within the male, who then incubates it until birth. In other species, fertilization occurs externally to both sexes. The female salmon, for example, drops her collection of eggs after swimming upstream. The male follows and deposits his sperm on top, and then they die, having fulfilled the only mission in life that evolution gave them. But humans are not like salmon. Nor are we like Mormon crickets. In all 4,000 species of mammals, of which we are one, and in all 257 species of primates, of which we are also one, fertilization occurs internally within the female, not the male. This posed a grave problem for ancestral men — the problem of uncertainty in paternity.

From an ancestral man’s perspective, the single most damaging form of infidelity his partner could commit, in the currency of reproduction, would have been a sexual infidelity. A woman’s sexual infidelity jeopardizes a man’s confidence that he is the genetic father of her children. A cuckolded man risks investing years, or even decades, in another man’s children. Lost would be all the effort he expended in selecting and attracting his partner. Moreover, he would lose his partner’s labors, now channeled to a rival’s children rather than his own.

Women, on the other hand, have always been 100 percent sure that they are the mothers of their children (internal fertilization guarantees that their children are genetically their own). No woman ever gave birth and, watching the child emerge from her womb, wondered whether the child was really hers. One African culture captures this sex difference with a phrase more telling than any technical summary: “Mama’s baby, papa’s maybe.” Biology has granted women a confidence in genetic parenthood that no man can share with absolute certainty.

Our ancestral mothers confronted a different problem, the loss of a partner’s commitment to a rival woman and her children. Because emotional involvement is the most reliable signal of this disastrous loss, women key in on cues to a partner’s feelings for other women. A husband’s one-night sexual stand is agonizing, of course, but most women want to know: “Do you love her?” Most women find a singular lapse in fidelity without emotional involvement easier to forgive than the nightmare of another woman capturing her partner’s tenderness, time, and affection. We evolved from ancestral mothers whose jealousy erupted at signals of the loss of love, mothers who acted to ensure the man’s commitment.

But who cares who fathers a child or where a man’s commitments get channeled? Shouldn’t we love all children equally? Perhaps in some utopian future, we might, but that is not how the human mind is designed. Husbands in our evolutionary past who failed to care whether a wife succumbed to sex with other men and wives who remained stoic when confronted with their husband’s emotional infidelity may be admirable in a certain light. Perhaps these self-possessed men and women were more mature. Some theories, in fact, propose that jealousy is an immature emotion, a sign of insecurity, neurosis, or flawed character. Nonjealous men and women, however, are not our ancestors, having been left in the evolutionary dust by rivals with different passionate sensibilities. We all come from a long lineage of ancestors who possessed the dangerous passion.

Jealousy, according to this theory, is an adaptation. An adaptation, in the parlance of evolutionary psychology, is an evolved solution to a recurrent problem of survival or reproduction. Humans, for example, have evolved food preferences for sugar, fat, and protein that are adaptive solutions to the survival problem of food selection. We have evolved specialized fears of snakes, spiders, and strangers that are adaptive solutions to ancestral problems inflicted by dangerous species, including ourselves. We have evolved specialized preferences for certain qualities in potential mates, which helped to solve the problems posed by reproduction. Adaptations, in short, exist in modern humans today because they helped our ancestors to combat all of the many “hostile forces of nature,” enabling them to successfully survive and reproduce. Adaptations are coping devices passed down over millennia because they worked — not perfectly, of course, but they helped ancestral humans to struggle through the evolutionary bottlenecks of survival and reproduction.

Jealousy, according to this perspective, is not a sign of immaturity, but rather a supremely important passion that helped our ancestors, and most likely continues to help us today, to cope with a host of real reproductive threats. Jealousy, for example, motivates us to ward off rivals with verbal threats and cold primate stares. It drives us to keep partners from straying with tactics such as escalating vigilance or showering a partner with affection. And it communicates commitment to a partner who may be wavering, serving an important purpose in the maintenance of love. Sexual jealousy is often a successful, although sometimes explosive, solution to persistent predicaments that each one of our ancestors was forced to confront.

We are typically not conscious of these reproductive quandaries. Nor are we usually aware of the evolutionary logic that led to this dangerous passion. A man does not think, “Oh, if my wife has sex with someone else, then my certainty that I’m the genetic father will be jeopardized, and this will endanger the replication of my genes; I’m really mad.” Or if his partner takes birth-control pills, “Well, because Joan is taking the pill, it doesn’t really matter whether she has sex with other men; after all, my certainty in paternity is secure.” Nor does a woman think, “It’s really upsetting that Dennis is in love with that other woman; this jeopardizes my hold on his emotional commitments to me and my children, and hence hurts my reproductive success.” Instead, jealousy is a blind passion, just as our hunger for sweets and craving for companionship are blind. Jealousy is emotional wisdom, not consciously articulated, passed down to us over millions of years by our successful forebears. One goal of The Dangerous Passion is to bring to the surface the deep roots of the inherited emotional wisdom we possess.

The Othello Syndrome

Despite its value for people past and present, jealousy is an emotion that exposes partners to extreme danger. The dark side of jealousy causes men to explode violently to reduce the odds that their partners will stray. Women seeking refuge at shelters for battered women almost invariably report that their husbands seethe with jealousy. In one study of battered women, many of whom required medical attention, the typical woman reported that her husband “tries to limit my contact with friends and family” (the tactic of concealment), “insists on knowing where I am at all times” (the tactic of vigilance), and “calls me names to put me down and make me feel bad about myself” (the tactic of undermining self-esteem). Jealousy is the leading cause of spousal battering, but it’s even worse than that. Men’s jealousy puts women at risk of being killed.

Consider the following remarks made to police by a 31-year-old man who stabbed his 20-year-old wife to death, after they had been reunited following a six-month separation.

 

Then she said that since she came back in April she had fucked this other man about ten times. I told her how can you talk about love and marriage and you been fucking this other man. I was really mad. I went to the kitchen and got the knife. I went back to our room and asked: Were you serious when you told me that? She said yes. We fought on the bed, I was stabbing her. Her grand-father came up and tried to take the knife out of my hand. I told him to go and call the cops for me. I don’t know why I killed the woman, I loved her. 

 

Jealousy can be emotional acid that corrodes marriages, undermines self-esteem, triggers battering, and leads to the ultimate crime of murder. Despite its dangerous manifestations, jealousy helped to solve a critical reproductive quandary for ancestral men. Jealous men were more likely to preserve their valuable commitments for their own children rather than squandering them on the children of their rivals. As descendants of a long line of men who acted to ensure their paternity, modern men carry with them the dangerous passion that led to their forebears’ reproductive success. 

A professional couple therapist I know related to me the following story. A young couple, Joan and Richard, came to her with a complaint of irrational jealousy. Without provocation, Richard would burst into jealous tirades and accuse Joan of sleeping with another man. His uncontrollable jealousy was destroying their marriage. Richard and Joan both agreed on this point. Could the therapist help cure Richard of irrational jealousy? A common practice in couple therapy is to have at least one session with each member of the couple individually. The first question the therapist posed to Joan during this individual interview was: Are you having an affair? She burst into tears and confessed that, indeed, she had been carrying on an affair for the past six months. Richard’s jealousy, it turned out, had not been irrational after all. He had been picking up on subtle cues of his wife’s infidelity that triggered his jealousy. Since he trusted Joan and she had assured him of her fidelity, however, he believed that his jealousy had been irrational. In a sense, Richard had failed to listen to his internal emotional whisperings. He came to the wrong conclusion because he overrode his feelings with “rationality.”

This episode gave me the first hint that jealousy represented a form of ancestral wisdom that can have useful as well as destructive consequences. Despite the possible hazards of conducting research on jealousy, its potency convinced me that it could not be ignored by science. In surveys we discovered that nearly all men and women have experienced at least one episode of intense jealousy. Thirty-one percent say that their personal jealousy has sometimes been difficult to control. And among those who admit to being jealous, 38 percent say that their jealousy has led them to want to hurt someone.

Extreme jealousy has been given many names — the Othello syndrome, morbid jealousy, psychotic jealousy, pathological jealousy, conjugal paranoia, and erotic jealousy syndrome. Jealousy, of course, can be pathological. It can destroy previously harmonious relationships, rendering them hellish nightmares of daily existence. Trust slowly built from years of mutual reliance can be torn asunder in a crashing moment. As we will explore in a later chapter, jealousy leads more women to flee in terror to shelters than any other cause. A full 13 percent of all homicides are spousal murders, and jealousy is overwhelmingly the leading cause.

But destruction does not necessarily equal pathology. The pathological aspect of extreme jealousy, according to the mainstream wisdom, is not the jealousy itself. It is the delusion that a loved one has committed an infidelity when none has occurred. The rage itself upon the actual discovery of an infidelity is something people everywhere intuitively understand. In Texas until 1974, a husband who killed a wife and her lover when he caught them in flagrante delicto was not judged a criminal. In fact, the law held that a “reasonable man” would respond to such extreme provocation with acts of violence. Similar laws have been on the books worldwide. Extreme rage upon discovering a wife naked in the arms of another man is something that people everywhere find intuitively comprehensible. Criminal acts that would normally receive harsh prison sentences routinely get reduced when the victim’s infidelity is the extenuating circumstance.

The view of jealousy as pathological ignores a profound fact about an important defense designed to combat a real threat. Jealousy is not always a reaction to an infidelity that has already been discovered. It can be an anticipatory response, a preemptive strike to prevent an infidelity that might occur. Labeling jealousy as pathological simply because a spouse has not yet strayed ignores the fact that jealousy can head off an infidelity that might be lurking on the horizon of a relationship.

Excessive jealousy can be extraordinarily destructive. But moderate jealousy, not an excess or an absence, signals commitment. This book explores both sides of this double-edged defense mechanism.

To understand the power of this extraordinary emotion, we must trace it to its origin, long before capitalism, long before agriculture and cash economies, long before writing and recorded history, and long before humans fanned out and colonized every habitable continent. We must trace its roots to the evolution of one of the most unusual adaptations in primate history, yet one that we take so much for granted that its existence is hardly questioned: the emergence of long-term love.

continued tomorrow….

(C) David M. Buss All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-684-85081-8

Objectivity and Ethics

Some philosophers, including the present writer, accept what I call the rational model. According to this model, we should accept (or reject) a statement solely based on evidence. Insofar, intuition, gut feelings, the pronouncements of horoscopes, gurus, or of deities, and the like, dont count as bases for accepting or rejecting statements. Evidence for a statement consists of statements that support the given statement. We present evidence in good arguments. A statement is what we assert typically by means of a declarative sentence. Statements are the bearers of truth and falsity. They are what is true or false, although we commonly extend the usage to items that take statements as their contents, such as beliefs, opinions, judgments, ideas, and the like. Evidence is, thus, the sole determiner of what we accept as true and reject as false on the rational model. A good argument is valid, sound, or inductively strong. You can see that evidence comes in varieties and degrees of strength. A discussion of the criteria for an arguments goodness belongs in another setting.

When we think of outstanding users of the rational model, science immediately comes to mind. We tend to think of science as a cut-and-dried affair, consisting of statements whose truth evidence completely determines. Thats what makes science objective and certain, we think. The rational model comes into play most dramatically to resolve scientific disputes, such as over the correct explanation of combustion its not the release of phlogiston but the combination with oxygen; and the correct location of the earth its not at the center of the universe but in orbit around a minor star nowhere near the center of the universe, supposing the universe had a center. But can we use the rational model in ethical matters? If we could, we would view ethics as being just as objective and certain as science.

Unfortunately, for those who like smooth views of things, the view of science just described is not wholly accurate: it ignores the histories of the sciences. Luck, uncertainties, wild guesses, foolish pronouncements, even mystical insights, and often painful groping after truth constitute an integral part of the histories of the sciences, as do heated debates and controversies that, while ongoing, seem to have no end in sight. Scientists once disputed over the divisibility of atoms; early failed to distinguish between atoms and molecules; disputed over the existence of an élan vital that allegedly distinguishes living from nonliving things; and pondered the mysteries of an orgonic psycho -sexual energy supposedly capable of concentration in orgone boxes. Nothing has changed. Today, psychologists dispute about whether heredity, environment, or choice determines homosexuality; cognitive scientists debate the possibility of creating human intelligence artificially; and physicists dispute over the structure of matter, for example, whether the fundamental entities are stringlike. Heres what Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, has to say about string theory:

Im particularly annoyed with my friends, the string theorists, because they cannot say anything about the physical world. Some of them are convinced in the uniqueness and beauty, and therefore truth, of their theory, and since it is unique and true it obviously includes a description of the entire physical world. It does not seem to them to be necessary to do any experiments to prove such selfevident truth; to they begin to attack the value of experiments from this end — a highly theoretical, abstract, mathematical end . . . 1

The sciences have products: the statements at the moment largely confirmed by evidence and widely accepted by scientists. They also have histories: the ways that scientists generated the products. We come to the view of science as an objective, cut-and-dried affair consisting of certainties only by looking at the current products of the sciences and ignoring their histories. This is the view of science as a solid thing, rather like an unfinished building made up of solid parts, like Lego® construction pieces, that scientists discover and fit into place.

For those of us who consider both sciences products and its history, however, science looks a lot less solidmore like a moving cloud teased by winds: at the center, comparative stability, however temporary; at the periphery, shifting, changing patterns, and always movement, and nobody can predict what will happen, what the eventual pattern will be. Heres Glashow, again:

Standard theory [i.e., current physics] tells us that we shall see standard things. We shall see the sorts of jets and other curious phenomena that we see at lower energies, simply extrapolated to higher energies. We will be able to test the theory of quantum chromodynamics and the electroweak theory better. But our standard theory predicts standard results. What the real theory — the theory that is not todays standard theory — says, we simply dont know. Therell be new forces perhaps, therell be new particles, therell be things that have been variously called glints, or other strange names, by some of my theoretical colleagues. We cant predict exactly what theyll be. . . . Or perhaps therell be something else that I cant tell you, because it is, after all, a surprise. Thats the name of the game. 2

The center of science consists of statements largely confirmed by existing evidence and widely accepted by scientists; its periphery consists of ongoing research, hypotheses, sometimes conflicting hypotheses, some evidence, but often conflicting evidence, and sometimes a lack of evidence. But, as in any cloud, the center can change: what once was the center can later become part of the periphery or disappear altogether. Even sciences center thus has no immunity from change as evidence grows. Newtons physics constituted the center of science for around two hundred years, to be replacedat least at the center – – by relativity theory, in the early twentieth century. Nor is relativity theory immune from change, either. Likening nature to mystery books and scientists to their mystery-solving readers, Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld note that:

This great mystery story is still unsolved. We cannot even be sure that it has a final solution. . . . in spite of all the volumes read and understood we are far from a complete solution, if, indeed, such a thing exists at all. At every stage we try to find an explanation consistent with the clews already discovered. Tentatively accepted theories have explained many of the facts, but no general solution compatible with all known clews has yet been evolved. Very often a seemingly perfect theory has proved inadequate in the light of further reading. New facts appear contradicting the theory or unexplained by it. The more we read, the more fully do we appreciate the perfect construction of the book, even though a complete solution seems to recede as we advance. 3

In science, evidence has the last word: no scientific statement is sacrosanct; no scientific theory is sacred. Thats why the sciences count as among the more successful usersnot the only ones or necessarily the best onesof the rational model. Those who believe that ethics lacks objectivity use the view of science as an objective, cutand- dried affair consisting of certainties to contrast with ethics. They point to the many ethical problems, such as about the rightness or wrongness of abortion, or of euthanasia, that seem mired in never-ending disputes. Ethics, they argue, cant be like science, because problems about the truth or falsity of scientific statements dont become mired in never-ending disputes. Evidence solves the scientific problems once and for all. If we cant use evidence as the basis for accepting or rejecting ethical utterancesand we cantthen ethics cant be objective. Thus, they reject the rational model for ethics and use this as the basis for denying objectivity to ethics.

However, as you just read, plenty of scientific statements have been exactly like currently contentious ethical utterances, for example, the statement that the earth orbits the sun. In 1633, the Inquisition tried and punished Galileo Galilei for advocating the view that the earth orbits the sun. Rene Descartes suppressed his work, Le Monde, on learning of Galileos fate. It wasnt until 1983 that the Catholic Church laid its dispute with Galileo to resta dispute that lasted for over three hundred years. Currently, the statement that human beings evolved through natural selection from more primitive creatures, expressed (in so many words) by Charles Darwin in 1859, continues to be disputed. There are individuals today who believe that the theory of evolution, as applied to human beings at least, is utter rubbish. Compare that to the current turmoil over the morality of abortion. Only those who attend to the products of science and ignore its history could make the mistake of supposing that scientific statements cant be the subjects of disputeseven quite acrimonious disputesthat never seem to end. The stage in a scientific statements history determines whether it is uncontentious. Scientific statements and ethical utterances can equally be capable of being the subjects of disputes, so ethical utterances cant differ from scientific statements in this way.

But in the case of scientific statementsthe argument continueswe come to final decisions to accept them as true or reject them as false, and this does not happen in the case of ethical utterances. Thus, although scientific disputes may seem never-ending, they do end, whereas ethical disputes never end. However, this just isnt so. Most people accept the ethical utterances in List A as true:

List A: Murdering newborn babies is morally wrong. Owning human beings is morally wrong. We should not torture human beings for fun.

Murdering newborn babies is morally wrong. Owning human beings is morally wrong. We should not torture human beings for fun.Whereas, most people reject the ethical utterances in List B as false:

List B: Murder for fun or profit is morally acceptable. It is morally right to exploit weak and helpless human beings. We should use pre-teenage children as workers in the most dangerous jobs. We have come to final decisions about them.

Murder for fun or profit is morally acceptable. It is morally right to exploit weak and helpless human beings. We should use pre-teenage children as workers in the most dangerous jobs. We have come to final decisions about them.You shouldnt read anything into the fact that we write that most people accept the utterances in List A and reject those in List B. The same sort of thing holds for scientific statements: most people accept the statements at the center of science. Theres no such thing as a statement that everybody accepts even that sine qua non of rationality, the law of noncontradiction. We can choose to reject even the law of noncontradiction, for we assume that were free to choose our beliefs and actions, including our actions in choosing how to believe. That means that we can choose to disbelieve the law of noncontradiction. The rational model is a philosophical model of how we choose beliefs, not a psychological one: were not discussing the case in which someone cant control his/her behavior, including his/her choices of beliefs, quite the contrary. We can sometimes be rational, other times irrational, and we can choose each of these sorts of behaviors. Of course, if we choose to disbelieve the law of noncontradiction, were choosing to behave quite irrationally. Our model of rational belief acquisition requires that we assume this freedom to choose. If were not free in this way, then were just like falling rocks, planets, amoebas, frogs, and treesnot behaving on the basis of beliefs, but interacting with our environment on the basis of scientific laws. In which case, this whole discussion makes no sense. The stage of an ethical utterances history determines whether its acceptable to most people. Scientific statements and ethical utterances can be equally capable of being accepted by most people. Consequently, this cant be a way that ethical utterances differ from scientific statements.

Moreover, notice that whether or not a statement is acceptable to many people cant be what makes for a statements truth. Many people have found plenty of nonsense, including utter falsities, to be quite acceptable. Consider the patent falsity that women differ from men in that the former cant reason as well as the latter, or even that women, unlike men, cant reason at all. Lets grant that some scientific statements have been the subjects of disputes and that some ethical utterances have wide acceptance. Even so, science still looks different from ethics to those who reject the objectivity of ethics. They argue that we cant decide to accept (or reject) an ethical utterance, like Abortion is morally right, in the way that we can decide to accept (or reject) a scientific statement, like Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. In the case of the scientific statementthey argueevidence decides the matter, but theres no such thing as evidence in the case of the ethical utterance, so whether we accept or reject an ethical utterance is just a matter of mere opinion or how we feel about things. But recall how we construe evidence: evidence consists of statements that support a given statement, presented in one or more good arguments. Now consider the utterances in Set A:

SET A Whatever is irreplaceable has value. The life of a human being is irreplaceable. So the life of a human being has value. A human life has a greater value than anything else. The wanton destruction of things that have value is immoral, so the illegal, premeditated taking of a human life is immoral. Since the value of a human life is far greater than the value of money, murder for profit has to be morally unacceptable.

Whatever is irreplaceable has value. The life of a human being is irreplaceable. So the life of a human being has value. A human life has a greater value than anything else. The wanton destruction of things that have value is immoral, so the illegal, premeditated taking of a human life is immoral. Since the value of a human life is far greater than the value of money, murder for profit has to be morally unacceptable.Set A consists of utterances that attempt to present evidence in favor of the ethical utterance that murder for profit is morally unacceptable. Unless were prepared to accept that such behavior always fails, that no instance in which we attempt to present evidence in favor of an ethical utterance can succeed, we have to accept that the utterances of Set A genuinely constitute evidence in favor of an ethical utterance.

Well, some philosophers do argue that no instance in which we attempt to present evidence in favor of an ethical utterance can succeed. But, then, theyll have to explain how we can be so utterly deluded as to suppose otherwise. For, it is undeniable that we think that we do: we engage in presentations of ethical evidence all the time and we accept ethical utterances on the basis of such presentations all the time even ethical relativists argue for moral positions. Moreover, this sort of behavior leads us to success more often than not: ethical reasoning leading to ethical behavior works. Whereas, on the contrary, not engaging in this sort of behavior leads us to failure more often than not. To accept mass delusion in the ethical sphere thus goes against the facts about how we live. We therefore accept that we can present evidence in favor of an ethical utterance.

Notice that whether such presentations convince or fail to convince skirts the issue: they dont try to convince, but to demonstrate truth. Notoriously, demonstrations of truth can fail to convince; and we can be convinced of utter falsities you know that by now, if you didnt before you read this paper. To suppose otherwise is to confuse logic with rhetorica very common confusion.

Return to the utterances in Lists A and B, as well as those in Set A. Weve been calling them utterances, instead of statements, because some people who reject the objectivity of ethics deny that there are any ethical statements and we didnt want to prejudge the issue.4 But now we see how odd this really is. The utterances look, for all the world, like statements. They sure function like statements. Calling those of List A true and those of List B false doesnt seem contrary to the facts, inappropriate, odd, or mysteriousnor a violation of any linguistic or logical rule. It also doesnt seem contrary to the facts, inappropriate, odd, or mysteriousnor a violation of any linguistic or logical ruleto call the utterances in Set A statements. Isnt it true that murdering someone for profit is immoral? And if its not true, then what is it? Morally correct? But why is it morally correct? Because its acceptable to most of us? But why is that? Because its true? Set A consists of statements provided as evidence for the truth of the statement that murder for profit is morally unacceptable. If they succeed and we accept the statement that murder for profit is morally unacceptable as true on their basis, then we do so on the basis of evidence. In this respect, the statements of science and those of ethics are exactly on par.

Does the evidence for a scientific statement differ in kind from the evidence for an ethical statement? You will note that some of the statements of Set A express value judgments, such as The life of a human has value, and Human life has greater value than anything else. But some legitimate scientific statements, used by science to provide evidence, also express value judgments, such as The hypothesis that combustion consists of the chemical combination of oxygen with other substances is good, and The hypothesis that combustion consists of the chemical combination of oxygen with other substances is better than the phlogiston hypothesis. To be sure, the bulk of scientific statements dont express value judgments, and, in the end, this makes for a real distinction between science and ethics. But, then, some statements, used by ethics to provide evidence, dont express values. Consider, Murder is the illegal, premeditated destruction of a human life a legality; and The process that leads to the creation of a human fetus begins with the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm a fact. It follows that scientific evidence and ethical evidence dont differ in that ethical evidence expresses value judgments but scientific evidence does not. In any case, raising alleged differences between scientific evidence and ethical evidence assumes the point at issue, which is whether we can present evidence in favor of an ethical utterance. However different from scientific evidence ethical evidence may be, it is nonetheless evidence.

Those who claim that the statements of science differ from ethical utterances because evidence decides the truth or falsity of the former, but theres no such thing as evidence for (or against) an ethical utterance, construe evidence in a very peculiar way. We should reject this construal. Common practices, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, tell us something quite different. Just consider our statements in Set A. Inasmuch as we can present evidence in favor of the truth of ethical statements, we accept the rational model for ethics: we can use the rational model to solve problems in ethics. This makes ethics just as objective as science, on this score. The person who argues for the objectivity of science and against the objectivity of ethics on the grounds that we cant use evidence as the basis for accepting or rejecting ethical utterances, but we can do so in the case of scientific statements, makes an error. And, after all, we show why our ethical beliefs are true all the time. So, is it really so odd to suppose that we can do so?

You should be aware that some people try to use real or perceived similarities between ethics and science, like some of those youve just been reading, to turn the tables on science. They argue skeptically against the objectivity of science. But, as Steven Weinberg, physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize, writes:

Among skeptics outside the sciences, there are those multiculturalists who dont so much disagree with the standard cosmological theory as avoid the question of its objective truth. They see modern science as an expression of Western civilization; it works for us, but the belief that the Milky Way is a river in the sky worked for the Mayans, and the belief that the Milky Way is a great canoe rowed by a one-legged paddler worked for the early peoples of the Amazon basin, so who can say that one belief is better than another? I can. 5

By comparing ethics with science, we havent been arguing against the objectivity of science, of course, quite the contrary. Weve been showing that ethics and science are equally objective, not that science and ethics are equally subjective. (I do not know whether Weinberg would agree with our position.) To be sure, ever since the positivists, philosophers tend to distinguish between facts and values. But so do we. We just dont think that the differences between facts and values make values subjective. Like science, ethics has a center and a periphery. The ethical center consists of statementslike those in List Alargely confirmed by existing evidence and accepted by most people. The periphery consists of ongoing research, statements whose truth has not been established, conflicting statements, some evidence, but often conflicting evidence, and sometimes a lack of evidence. The truth of a statement like, Abortion is immoral, has not been established by evidence and neither has the truth of Abortion is moral, and these statements conflict with each other. Not that plenty of people on both sides arent convinced of the truth of their side, but thats a matter of rhetoric and psychology, not logic. Those who focus on currently contentious ethical statements, and ignore ethical statements whose truth is well established, to reject objecti vity and the rational model for ethics, ignore evidence that would show their position to be false. To do so knowingly is to behave irrationally. We behave irrationally when we knowingly accept a self-contradiction as true; or knowingly accept a belief as true (or reject a belief as false) on the basis of a fallacy; or knowingly accept a belief as true (or reject a belief as false) despite evidence to the contrary, that is, despite having evidence that shows the belief to be false (or shows the belief to be true).

Now theres a fear, and quite a legitimate one, at the heart of the rejection of ethical objectivity. Human history overflows with cases of persons, and groups of persons, attempting to impose their ethical beliefs on others, often by force, and sometimes succeeding. There can be no doubt that there have been, and continue to be, moral fascists. And they have all claimed objectivity for their ethics as a basis for their behavior. Fearing ethical fascism, some people tend to fear ethical objectivity, which they identify with moral fascism. But does ethical objectivity entail moral fascism?

The ethical objectivist claims that one set of ethical principles applies to everyone, regardless of time, place, or the circumstance that a person, or group of persons, has beliefs. We may not know what those principles are, of course, but thats a matter for the evidence to decide. From the ethical objectivists claim, it follows that everyones ethical beliefs are not equally good. Some ethical beliefs are better than others: the true ones are better than the false ones. And the true ones deserve more respect than the false ones. But, from the ethical objectivists claim, it does not follow that the true ethical beliefs ought to be imposed on others.

According to the ethical objectivist, persons have an equal right to believe ethically as we choose. The ethical objectivist must believe this because, otherwise, s/he has to accept that others can legitimately try to impose their ethical beliefs on him/her, and, possibly, succeed. But, if so, then the ethical objectivist wouldnt have the right to accept the true ethical beliefs, if they differed from the imposed ones. Insofar, s/he could be forced to accept immoral beliefs, and this wont do. It follows that the ethical objectivist must be tolerant of another persons ethical beliefs, however wrong s/he may think that they are, because s/he respects that persons right to have those beliefs; and the ethical objectivist has to oppose moral fascism because, otherwise, s/he cant hold that persons have an equal right to believe ethically as we choose. For the ethical objectivist, the evidence justifies us in counting, as moral principles: the equality of our right to our ethical beliefs, tolerance for divergent ethical beliefs, and opposition to moral fascism.

Touted for its moral tolerance, ethical relativism stands opposed to ethical objectivism, which it views as intolerant. But can the ethical relativist consistently lay claim to tolerance, respect for divergent ethical beliefs, and opposition to ethical fascism as the ethical objectivist can? No. The relativist believes that everyonesor every groups (I suppress this qualification, in the sequel) — ethical beliefs are equally good. Consequently, if I believed that ethical intolerance is moral, that respect for other persons ethical beliefs is wrong, and that its quite alright, ethically, to try to change other peoples ethical beliefs, if they conflict with mine, the ethical relativist has to accept that Im rightand would have to sanction my actions that were consistent with these beliefs. Whither tolerance and opposition to moral fascism? Of course, if you believe that tolerance is morally good and that ethical fascism must be opposed, morally, then the relativist also has to accept that youre right. Thats just another of the ethical relativists problems.

For the ethical objectivist, tolerance and respect for others ethical beliefs is a matter of equality of rights. The fear of ethical objectivity on the grounds that it entails ethical fascism is quite misplaced.

1 Sheldon Glashow, in P.C.W. Davies and J. Brown, eds., Superstrings: A theory of Everything? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 182.

2 Sheldon Glashow, in Davies and Brown, eds., Superstrings, 188.

3 Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta (New York: A Clarion Book, Simon and Schuster, 1938), 4-5.

4 According to them, because such utterances look like statements, and appear to function like statements, but really have no truth-values, they cant really be statements, they constitute pseudo-statements.

5 Steven Weinberg, Before the Big Bang, The New York Review of Books, Volume XLIV, Number 10, (January 12, 1997), pp. 16-20. P. 20.

Rationality, Objectivity, and Ethics by Lorne A. Smith (lornes@earthlink.net)

Social Engineering & Commodification of Global Culture

Recently, with globalisation, liberalisation, with changing relationship between genders, the resurgence of fundamentalism almost as a convulsive by-product of the shrinking space for cultures to exist in sheltered isolation, I thought we’d look briefly at the commoditisation of global culture. We have touched on a similar article recently. What spurred me on to this aspect was the need to understand some of the political and social dynamics of changing world order, the potential for emergence of new world powers, and possibly devise some tests as to see whether we are really an open society or whether we are living in a culture that is fashioned by a hidden elite.

Social engineering can be used as a means to achieve a wide variety of different results, as illustrated by the different governments and other organizations that have employed it. Social engineering is a concept in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviour on a large scale, whether by governments, large multi-nationals, clandestine special-interest groups, or private groups. In the political arena the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered “social engineering” to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, suicide, littering, fraud and rape are all policies aimed at discouraging perceived undesirable behaviors. In British jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behaviour is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. The most effective way for “social engineering” is through mass media and especially audio-visual broadcasting. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries.

In practice, whether any specific policy is labeled as “social engineering” is often a question of intent. The term is most often employed by the political right as an accusation against anyone who propose to use law, tax policy, or other kinds of state influence to change existing power relationships: for instance, between men and women, or between different ethnic groups. Political conservatives in many countries accuse their opponents of social engineering through the promotion of politcal correctness, insofar as it may change social attitudes by defining “acceptable” and “unacceptable” language or acts.

In his classic political science book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume I, Karl Popper examined the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society. In this respect, he made a crucial distinction between the principles of democratic social reconstruction (called ‘piecemeal social engineering’) and ‘Utopian social engineering’

“the piecemeal engineer will adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good.” For him, the difference between ‘piecemeal social engineering’ and ‘Utopian social engineering’ is “the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which, if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering. It is the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment, and a method whose advocacy may easily become a means of continually postponing action until a later date, when conditions are more favorable. And it is also the difference between the only method of improving matters which has so far been really successful, at any time, and in any place, and a method which, wherever it has been tried, has led only to the use of violence in place of reason, and if not to its own abandonment, at any rate to that of its original blueprint”

What is Neoliberalism?

1979 was a hallmark year for the destiny of the contemporary Global Order. That was the year of a new modus-operandi: a way of controlling the world as have never been seen, a year in which Margaret Thatcher, the prime-minister of Great Britain implemented a Socioeconomic construct that embraced Economic Social-Darwinism, ousting classical theories of nation-state economics.

According to French Economic analyst Pierre Bourdieu (1998), ‘the neoliberal utopia tends to embody itself in the reality of a kind of infernal machine, whose necessity imposes itself even upon the rulers. They want independent central banks. And they preach the subordination of nation-states to the requirements of economic freedom for the masters of the economy, with the suppression of any regulation of any market, beginning with the labour market, the prohibition of deficits and inflation, the general privatization of public services, and the reduction of public and social expenses’ (p36).

Tracing its conceptual pre-natal origins to Friedrich von Hayek, an Austrian Philosopher-Economist, it sprouted ‘from a tiny embryo at the University of Chicago’ (George, 1999) developing into an expansive doctrinal network of internationally dispersed foundations, institutes, research centers, and academia whose sway today frame the World Order Agenda: the basis of the Washington Consensus.

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime-minister, and a disciple of Hayek, developed this proliferating doctrine into a social and economic program, the justification for whose arbitration she coined under the acronym TINA: There Is No Alternative.

Since then, Neoliberalism has become an intercontinental alliance, forged under the auspices of a historically burgeoning agenda whose traces could be tracked through the joint movements and inclinations of the European banking order, social theorists, and political scientists and luminaries.

Today, its deliberately orchestrated effect on culture is as profound as it is subversive, as compelling as it is timely to examine.

Neoliberalism Globalization as a Cultural Phenomena

Though based on theoretical and economic models, Neoliberalism is a profoundly subtle but deeply transforming Cultural Phenomena. The theoretical and economic surefootedness of neoliberalism lies in its wanton perpetuation and acceptance as a cultural form, perpetrating its doctrine through cunning principles and technologies of Bio-Power.

As Jim McGuigan, an acclaimed sociologist, expresses ‘Theoritical critique of neo-liberal thought and practice is necessary but what captures my attention most, as a culture analyst rather than a political economist, is the command of neo-liberalism over popular consciousness and everyday life’ (2004).

Free trade zones open themselves up to the deluge of millions of products and services and a good proportion of them are cultural, though in a sense not understood hundred years ago.’When all forms of communication become commodities, then culture, the stuff of communications, inevitably becomes a commodity as well. And that is what’s happening. Culture-the shared experiences that give meaning to human life- is being pulled inexorably into the media marketplace, where it is being revamped along commercial lines’ (Rifkin, 2000: 140).

The Culture of Neoliberalism is a brand name culture and the careful bio-political manipulation of these ingredients of human consumption define a transformation of Culture that creates new sanctions on who buys what, who views what, who eats what, leading to an anaesthetized normalization of the human psyche.

‘Psychologist Robert J. Lifton calls this new generation ‘protean’ human beings’they expect to get their software for free but are willing to pay for services and upgrades. They live in a world of seven-second sound bites, have short attention spans, and are less reflective and more spontaneous. In fact, their lives are far more temporary and mobile and less grounded than their parents’.

‘While they are less able to compose a written sentence, they are better able to process electronic data. They are less analytical and more emotive. They think of Disney World and Club Med as the ‘real thing,’ regard the shopping mall as the public square, and equate consumer sovereignty with democracy. They spend as much time with fictional characters on television, film, and in cyberspace as they do with peers in real time’ (Rifkin 2000: 187).

.Further, ‘These protean men and women are less interested in history but are obsessed with style and fashion’Customs, conventions, and traditions, on the other hand, are virtually nonexistent in their fast-paced, ever changing environment’ (Rifkin 2000: 187).Neoliberal Normalizaiton

The eradication of a national, traditional, and spiritual consciousness is critical and part and parcel to the Neoliberalization of the World Order. Insomuch on the surface it is not a bad idea as it destroys nationalism, rigid mores, and religious mandates. However, Neoliberalism intends to replace those old hearth values with new Corporate ones, creating an essential global bourgeoisie that it normalizes through a double speak, selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy.

Neoliberal influence in the media is deeply instilled and resonates concomitantly with not only a Washington Consensus, but also a Mass broadcast consensus, a Hollywood Consensus, and a European Union Consensus. It has systematically organized the structuralization of a carefully engineered rhetoric through a school of policy experts whose messages by the virtue of sheer repetition creates a widespread ‘normalizing’ of the masses, creating the ingredients for a new bourgeoisie.

Pierre Bourdieu with the aid of Loic Wacquant (2001) identifies two types of these experts. ‘First there is ‘the expert’ proper employed in ministries, company headquarters and think tanks whose task is to come up with technical justifications and scenarios for neo-liberal policy decisions that are actually made on ideological rather than spuriously technical grounds.’Second, ‘there is the communication consultant to the prince’, who is not only your run-of the-mill spin-doctor but a much grander type as well. The consultant may be a ‘defector from the academic world entered into the service of the dominant, whose mission is to give an academic veneer to the political projects of the new state and business nobility (p5).

with the aid of identifies two types of these experts. (p5).‘Bourdieu and Wacquant argue that what they call ‘New Liberal Speak’ is a ‘new planetary vulgate’. Certain words are repeated continually, such as ‘globalisation’, ‘flexibility’, ‘governance’, ‘employability’, ‘underclass’, ‘exclusion’, words that are difficult for any of us to avoid using. Other words are not so speakable in polite company, indeed virtually unspeakable, such as ‘class’, ‘exploitation’, ‘domination’ and ‘inequality’ (McGuigan, 2004).

(McGuigan, 2004).Further this Normalization is systematically institutionalized through Socialized Primary and to a greater degree Secondary Public Education, which by the virtue of its ‘factory-production’ setup, becomes a pliable technology of bio-power, its administrators and board of directors obeying Neoliberal systemization, transacting the crucial implementation in exchange for self-preservation.

According to McGuigan (2004) We are witnessing the neo-liberalisation of the public sector itself, not only in cultural institutions in the narrow sense but also in areas such as education’ (p7).

Public Education becomes a highly charged incubator for creating the new consumer, the new citizen, and the new liberal. It becomes a playground, a museum, a repository, and a carnival for brand marketing, its apparatuses of ‘education’ become conventions for a predictable and no-alternative lifestyle based on SAT and Advanced Placement exams produced by independent contractors such as the ‘College Board’.

The process could be summed up as a ‘Bottom-Line-thinking Education Service’ bent on the socialization of the Corporate world and the neoliberal doctrine through viral marketing, rule mandates, ‘legal’ norms, fundamentally anti-introspective, and inherently obedience based, carefully sustained through a psychologically brutal and conniving double speak called ‘Individuality’ and extended through pseudo-ideas promoting ‘Equality’, ‘Tolerance’, ‘Diversity’, and ‘Positive discrimination’.
Cultural Capitalism

The agenda of free-trade is inherently an agenda of ‘Cultural Capitalism’. Using shells of old cultures and vestiges of marginally extant tradition as familiar icons and anti-icons, creating a set of customized ‘diverse’ and ‘international’ homogenously inspired products aimed to generate maximum profit and address a fundamental consumption based solidarity sugarcoated and sold as ‘Equality’, ‘Diversity’ and of course, ‘Globalization’. This is Cultural Capitalism. According to Jeremy Rifkin (2000), (‘Cultural production is beginning to eclipse physical production in world commerce and trade’ (p8); ‘This is the era of cultural capitalism’ McGuigan 2004).

‘By Cultural Capitalism, Rifkin does not just mean the priority of an information and service economy over an industrial economy, he means the commercialization of experience itself’ (McGuigan 2004). All economy and culture are coming closer to the prototype cultural industry of Hollywood, dealing in dreams and meanings. In this ‘Weightless economy’the physical economy is shrinking (Rifkin 2000: 30).

(McGuigan 2004). All economy and culture are coming closer to the prototype cultural industry of Hollywood, dealing in dreams and meanings. In this ‘Weightless economy’the physical economy is shrinking (Rifkin 2000: 30).Additionally, the gatekeeping function of the new Culture Capitalists creates a widespread commercialization of a few brand genres keeping out a larger output of local innovation and originality through high barriers to entry, making these virtually imperceptible and financially bankrupt in the deluge of cultural systemization, hyper-marketing, and iconization of a few select artists.

Pierre Bourdieu observes ‘And yet the world is there, with the immediately visible effects of the implementation of the great neoliberal utopia: not only the poverty of an increasingly large segment of the most economically advanced societies, the extraordinary growth in income differences, the progressive disappearance of autonomous universes of cultural production, such as film, publishing, etc. through the intrusive imposition of commercial values’ (p37).

observes (p37).The implications are decidedly, what McGuigan calls, ‘sinister’. ‘The goal of cultural capitalism is to commodify human relationships tout court, catching them young, cultivating and servicing their every need, deploying something called R (relationship) technologies. As Rifkin (2000: 171) says, ‘Marketing is the means by which the whole of the cultural commons is mined for valuable potential culture meanings that can be transformed by the arts into commodifiable experiences, purchasable in the economy’. Further on, he observes, ‘The culture, like nature, can be mined to exhaustion’ (p247).

The Final Question of Sustainability

Neoliberal Globalization is becoming unsustainable. The pressures being put on the psychological and social constructs of Societies and Communities, and inequity between extant generations, the strange and artificial complexities convoluting the norms of human relationships and exchanges, are gradually intensifying creating both repressed and expressed discontent worldwide.
‘Globus’, a Globalization think tank and policy guild based in Netherlands with Neoliberal underpinnings, even revealed in its December 1999 Berlin Conference on 21st. Century Social Dynamics: Towards the Creative Society , ‘‘ it is of paramount importance to gain legitimacy for this action (corporate globalization) in the world’s civil society directly, via public opinion. It is difficult to give shape and substance to democracy on the international level. Relying on propaganda is risky because it can only produce support for a limited period of time. We can increase the involvement of the public by informing them honestly and by listening carefully to the signals coming from citizens and NGOs’ (p6).

Globalization has become so far reaching and the Corporate doctrine so pervasive that it affects every aspect of life. It has ceased to be pure theory and has become a causality in on itself. The scope of influence is so large in its penetration, its rejection can also be equally expansive, beginning with community advocacy, resource sharing; and burgeoning into larger, more tangible awareness as the inevitable Economic and Social destabilization sets in.

Globus itself posits ‘ Indeed, people have already started to counter-react against effects of primary globalisation: 1. People react against the globalisation of American images and values by stressing their own roots and local identity. 2. People react against the primacy of technology and economy by (re)exploring emotions and spiritual values. 3. People react against universal materialism by stressing non-materialist values. 4. People react against the pooling of governance capacity on the supranational scale by demanding decentralization and decisions nearby 5. People react with fear against alienation caused by the further abstraction inherent in globalisation 6. People react against insecurity by looking for scapegoats, by demanding ‘protection from the terrifying foreign’- be they foreign refugrees, foreign cultures, foreign products or foreign investors. 7. People react against ecological degradation by formulating alternative values and action programmes in the sustainable development paradigm.’ (p9)

This highly charged lifestyle has a rate of quick burnout, and destroys the fundamental solicitude required by human beings to meaningfully process experiences. The generation born after 1980 shows the excruciating signs of wear and tear, the psychological world of ‘options’ taking an immense toll on experiential metabolism. Suicide rates, codification of all forms of communication have created a frightening apathy. Creating virtual slaves out of an entire generation brainwashed through the last iota of perception to be model servants within the new machine.

Jeremy Rifkin (2000) comments, ‘If the capitalist system continues to absorb large parts of the cultural realm into its sphere in the form of commodified cultural products, productions, and experiences, the risk is very real that the culture will atrophy to the point where it can no longer produce enough social capital and thus support an economy’ (p245).

comments, (p245).Ironically the only thing that allows Neoliberal Globalization to continue is the vestiges of the old order, the exploitation and re-ornamentation of previous norms, expected to seamlessly blend into the manifestation of the doctrinal new world order.

Pierre Bourdieu (1998) observes, ‘..in reality what keeps the social order from dissolving into chaos, despite the growing volume of the endangered population, is the continuity or survival of those very institutions and representatives of the old order that is in the process of being dismantled, and all the work of all of the categories of social workers, as well as the forms of social solidarity, familiar or otherwise’ (p38).

observes, (p38).In the words of Globus (1999) ‘ community sustainability’ sustaining human communities as valuable systems in their own right. This involves maintaining or enhancing the community’s economic and socio-cultural well-being, its cohesiveness, and the long-term health of the relevant human systems’ (p13)

Alternatives in Sustainability: The Other New World Order

The sustainability of Globalization would necessarily then posit a systemic restructuring of Society along traditional lines, in the sense, promoting order instead of so called ‘normalization’, reason instead of so called ‘spontaneity’. As a cultural phenomena Neoliberalism has eviscerated binding community ties, alienated filial bonds, distorted the capacity to perceive by engineering a mechanized and deliberately repressive public education generating an unprecedented well of apathy and ineptitude.

The sustainability of Globalization would require dismantling these ‘relevant human systems’, especially Education, into a school of disciplined enlightened meritocracy, whose model, discipline, and compassion would shape and further human systems across regions, and the most successful models of such leadership create franchises across the world, promoting Cultural cognizance, resource integration, and Common resolve.

The Culture of the Community is at the very heart of this new sustainability. This culture would be one that combines the choicest attributes of human tradition with a sweeping eye towards a vigorous and long-term modernity. The physical architecture of suburban planning must reflect the vision of the new architects, one of marble and Plexiglas, Classical and Modern. A refining of cultural alternatives in the areas of dining, cinema, and society must craft metropolitan presence within the comfort of a familiar suburbia.

The media that exists currently to bombard the masses with ‘seven second news bites’ about urban molestations, rapes, clichUand rehearsed ‘political news commentary’, and soft-porn must be governed and slowly eschewed out of its effete content and replaced with innovative programs representing enthusiastic depictions of genuine cultural multiplicity, popularization of research, and a use of language that makes introspection (which still exists in plenty, merely commodified and repressed) a passionate and constructive outlet for making discoveries, rediscoveries, and innovating.

This call for a New Novus Ordo Seclorum must be answered by a breed of highly efficient, brilliantly cultivated, meticulously educated, and intense body of enlightened leaders without ideologies or religion, handpicked from the current generation pool, who would through specializations in banking, finance, media, policy, government, and entrepreneurship resources systematically create footholds in strategic human systems and control sectors guiding the destiny of this era under a new bold flagship.
As with the so called ‘Neoliberal Revolution’ which before 1979 was widely laughed at as ‘Utopia’, this too, it may be surmised, be a palpable Social model in a matter of time.

References

Bourdieu, P.& L. Wacquant, 2001. NewLiberal Speak- notes on the new planetary vulgate, Radical Philosophy 105, January-February, pp 2-5.

Bourdieu, P. (1998). The essence of neoliberalism. Le Monde Diplomatique

C. f. (1999, Dec 6). Primary globalisation, secondary globalisation, and the sustainable development paradigm-opposing forces in the 21st. century. Globus, Retrieved Nov 27, 2005, from http://www.tilburguniversity.nl/globus/.

Gamble, A., 1994 [1988], The Free Economy and the Strong State- The Politics of Thatcherism, London: Macmillan.

Gamble, A., 2001, Neoliberalism, Capital and Class 75, pp127-134

George, Susan. “A Short History of Neo-Liberalism: Twenty Years of Elite Economics and Emerging Opportunities for Structural Change.” Conference on Economic Sovereignty in a Globalising World. , Bangkok. 24 Mar 1999.

McGuigan, J., 1997, Cultural populism revisited, Golding, P. & M. Ferguson, eds., Cultural Studies in Question, London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage, pp 138-54
McGuigan, J. 2003, The Social construction of a cultural disaster- new labour’s millennium experience, Cultural Studies 17.6 pp 669-690

Parts from Neoliberalism Globalization and The Commodification of Global Culture by Alexander Rai

Human Rights and Sentimentality

In a report from the former Bosnia some fifteen years ago1, David Rieff said “To the Serbs, the Muslims are no longer human… Muslim prisoners, lying on the ground in rows, awaiting interrogation, were driven over by a Serb guard in a small delivery van”. This theme of dehumanization recurs when Rieff says

A Muslim man in Bosanski Petrovac… [was] forced to bite off the penis of a fellow-Muslim… If you say that a man is not human, but the man looks like you and the only way to identify this devil is to make him drop his trousers – Muslim men are circumcised and Serb men are not – it is probably only a short step, psychologically, to cutting off his prick… There has never been a campaign of ethnic cleansing from which sexual sadism has gone missing.

The moral to be drawn from Rieff’s stories is that Serbian murderers and rapists do not think of themselves as violating human rights. For they are not doing these things to fellow human beings, but to Muslims. They are not being inhuman, but rather are discriminating between the true humans and the pseudohumans. They are making the same sort of distinction as the Crusaders made between humans and infidel dogs, and the Black Muslims make between humans and blue-eyed devils. The founder of my university was able both to own slaves and to think it self-evident that all men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. He had convinced himself that the consciousness of Blacks, like that of animals, “participate[s] more of sensation than reflection”2. Like the Serbs, Mr. Jefferson did not think of himself as violating human rights.

The Serbs take themselves to be acting in the interests of true humanity by purifying the world of pseudohumanity. In this respect, their self-image resembles that of moral philosophers who hope to cleanse the world of prejudice and superstition. This cleansing will permit us to rise above our animality by becoming, for the first time, wholly rational and thus wholly human. The Serbs, the moralists, Jefferson, and the Black Muslims all use the term “men” to mean “people like us”. They think the line between humans and animals is not simply the line between featherless bipeds and all others. They think the line divides some featherless bipeds from others: There are animals walking about in humanoid form. We and those like us are paradigm cases of humanity, but those too different from us in behavior or custom are, at best, borderline cases. As Clifford Geertz puts it, “Men’s most importunate claims to humanity are cast in the accents of group pride”3.

We in the safe, rich, democracies feel about the Serbian torturers and rapists as they feel about their Muslim victims: They are more like animals than like us. But we are not doing anything to help the Muslim women who are being gang raped or the Muslim men who are being castrated, any more than we did anything in the thirties when the Nazis were amusing themselves by torturing Jews. Here in the safe countries we find ourselves saying things like “That’s how things have always been in the Balkans”, suggesting that, unlike us, those people are used to being raped and castrated. The contempt we always feel for losers – Jews in the thirties, Muslims now – combines with our disgust at the winners’ behavior to produce the semiconscious attitude: “a plague on both your houses”. We think of the Serbs or the Nazis as animals, because ravenous beasts of prey are animals. We think of the Muslims or the Jews being herded into concentration camps as animals, because cattle are animals. Neither sort of animal is very much like us, and there seems no point in human beings getting involved in quarrels between animals.

The human-animal distinction, however, is only one of the three main ways in which we paradigmatic humans distinguish ourselves from borderline cases. A second is by invoking the distinction between adults and children. Ignorant and superstitious people, we say, are like children; they will attain true humanity only if raised up by proper education. If they seem incapable of absorbing such education, that shows they are not really the same kind of being as we educable people are. Blacks, the whites in the United States and in South Africa used to say, are like children. That is why it is appropriate to address Black males, of whatever age, as “boy”. Women, men used to say, are permanently childlike; it is therefore appropriate to spend no money on their education, and to refuse them access to power.

When it comes to women, however, there are simpler ways of excluding them from true humanity: for example, using “man” as a synonym of “human being”. As feminists have pointed out, such usages reinforce the average male’s thankfulness that he was not born a woman, as well as his fear of the ultimate degradation: feminization. The extent of the latter fear is evidenced by the particular sort of sexual sadism Rieff describes. His point that such sadism is never absent from attempts to purify the species or cleanse the territory confirms Catharine MacKinnon’s claim that, for most men, being a woman does not count as a way of being human. Being a nonmale is the third main way of being nonhuman. There are several ways of being nonmale. One is to be born without a penis; another is to have one’s penis cut or bitten off; a third is to have been penetrated by a penis. Many men who have been raped are convinced that their manhood, and thus their humanity, has been taken away. Like racists who discover they have Jewish or Black ancestry, they may commit suicide out of sheer shame, shame at no longer being the kind of featherless biped that counts as human.

Philosophers have tried to clear this mess up by spelling out what all and only the featherless bipeds have in common, thereby explaining what is essential to being human. Plato argued that there is a big difference between us and the animals, a difference worthy of respect and cultivation. He thought that human beings have a special added ingredient which puts them in a different ontological category than the brutes. Respect for this ingredient provides a reason for people to be nice to each other. Anti-Platonists like Nietzsche reply that attempts to get people to stop murdering, raping, and castrating each other are, in the long run, doomed to fail – for the real truth about human nature is that we are a uniquely nasty and dangerous kind of animal. When contemporary admirers of Plato claim that all featherless bipeds – even the stupid and childlike, even the women, even the sodomized – have the same inalienable rights, admirers of Nietzsche reply that the very idea of “inalienable human rights” is, like the idea of a special added ingredient, a laughably feeble attempt by the weaker members of the species to fend off the stronger.

As I see it, one important intellectual advance made in our century is the steady decline in interest in the quarrel between Plato and Nietzsche. There is a growing willingness to neglect the question “What is our nature?” and to substitute the question “What can we make of ourselves?”. We are much less inclined than our ancestors were to take “theories of human nature” seriously, much less inclined to take ontology or history as a guide to life. We have come to see that the only lesson of either history or anthropology is our extraordinary malleability. We are coming to think of ourselves as the flexible, protean, self-shaping, animal rather than as the rational animal or the cruel animal.

One of the shapes we have recently assumed is that of a human rights culture. I borrow the term “human rights culture” from the Argentinian jurist and philosopher Eduardo Rabossi. In an article called “Human Rights Naturalized”, Rabossi argues that philosophers should think of this culture as a new, welcome fact of the post-Holocaust world. They should stop trying to get behind or beneath this fact, stop trying to detect and defend its so-called “philosophical presuppositions”. On Rabossi’s view, philosophers like Alan Gewirth are wrong to argue that human rights cannot depend on historical facts. “My basic point”, Rabossi says, is that “the world has changed, that the human rights phenomenon renders human rights foundationalism outmoded and irrelevant”4.

Rabossi’s claim that human rights foundationalism is outmoded seems to me both true and important; it will be my principal topic in this lecture. I shall be enlarging on, and defending, Rabossi’s claim that the question whether human beings really have the rights enumerated in the Helsinki Declaration is not worth raising. In particular, I shall be defending the claim that nothing relevant to moral choice separates human beings from animals except historically contingent facts of the world, cultural facts.

This claim is sometimes called “cultural relativism” by those who indignantly reject it. One reason they reject it is that such relativism seems to them incompatible with the fact that our human rights culture, the culture with which we in this democracy identify ourselves, is morally superior to other cultures. I quite agree that ours is morally superior, but I do not think this superiority counts in favor of the existence of a universal human nature. It would only do so if we assumed that a moral claim is ill-founded if not backed up by knowledge of a distinctively human attribute. But it is not clear why “respect for human dignity” – our sense that the differences between Serb and Muslim, Christian and infidel, gay and straight, male and female should not matter – must presuppose the existence of any such attribute.

Traditionally, the name of the shared human attribute which supposedly “grounds” morality is “rationality”. Cultural relativism is associated with irrationalism because it denies the existence of morally relevant transcultural facts. To agree with Rabossi one must, indeed, be irrationalist in that sense. But one need not be irrationalist in the sense of ceasing to make one’s web of belief as coherent, and as perspicuously structured, as possible. Philosophers like myself, who think of rationality as simply the attempt at such coherence, agree with Rabossi that foundationalist projects are outmoded. We see our task as a matter of making our own culture – the human rights culture – more self-conscious and more powerful, rather than of demonstrating its superiority to other cultures by an appeal to something transcultural.

We think that the most philosophy can hope to do is summarize our culturally influenced intuitions about the right thing to do in various situations. The summary is effected by formulating a generalization from which these intuitions can be deduced, with the help of noncontroversial lemmas. That generalization is not supposed to ground our intuitions, but rather to summarize them. John Rawls’s “Difference Principle” and the U.S. Supreme Court’s construction, in recent decades, of a constitutional “right to privacy” are examples of this kind of summary. We see the formulation of such summarizing generalizations as increasing the predictability, and thus the power and efficiency, of our institutions, thereby heightening the sense of shared moral identity which brings us together in a moral community.

Foundationalist philosophers, such as Plato, Aquinas, and Kant, have hoped to provide independent support for such summarizing generalizations. They would like to infer these generalizations from further premises, premises capable of being known to be true independently of the truth of the moral intuitions which have been summarized. Such premises are supposed to justify our intuitions, by providing premises from which the content of those intuitions can be deduced. I shall lump all such premises together under the label “claims to knowledge about the nature of human beings”. In this broad sense, claims to know that our moral intuitions are recollections of the Form of the Good, or that we are the disobedient children of a loving God, or that human beings differ from other kinds of animals by having dignity rather than mere value, are all claims about human nature. So are such counterclaims as that human beings are merely vehicles for selfish genes, or merely eruptions of the will to power.

To claim such knowledge is to claim to know something which, though not itself a moral intuition, can correct moral intuitions. It is essential to this idea of moral knowledge that a whole community might come to know that most of their most salient intuitions about the right thing to do were wrong. But now suppose we ask: Is there this sort of knowledge? What kind of question is that? On the traditional view, it is a philosophical question, belonging to a branch of epistemology known as “metaethics”. But on the pragmatist view which I favor, it is a question of efficiency, of how best to grab hold of history – how best to bring about the utopia sketched by the Enlightenment. If the activities of those who attempt to achieve this sort of knowledge seem of little use in actualizing this utopia, that is a reason to think there is no such knowledge. If it seems that most of the work of changing moral intuitions is being done by manipulating our feelings rather than increasing our knowledge, that will be a reason to think that there is no knowledge of the sort which philosophers like Plato, Aquinas, and Kant hoped to acquire.

This pragmatist argument against the Platonist has the same form as an argument for cutting off payment to the priests who are performing purportedly war-winning sacrifices – an argument which says that all the real work of winning the war seems to be getting done by the generals and admirals, not to mention the foot soldiers. The argument does not say: Since there seem to be no gods, there is probably no need to support the priests. It says instead: Since there is apparently no need to support the priests, there probably are no gods. We pragmatists argue from the fact that the emergence of the human rights culture seems to owe nothing to increased moral knowledge, and everything to hearing sad and sentimental stories, to the conclusion that there is probably no knowledge of the sort Plato envisaged. We go on to argue: Since no useful work seems to be done by insisting on a purportedly ahistorical human nature, there probably is no such nature, or at least nothing in that nature that is relevant to our moral choices.

In short, my doubts about the effectiveness of appeals to moral knowledge are doubts about causal efficacy, not about epistemic status. My doubts have nothing to do with any of the theoretical questions discussed under the heading of “metaethics”, questions about the relation between facts and values, or between reason and passion, or between the cognitive and the noncognitive, or between descriptive statements and action-guiding statements. Nor do they have anything to do with questions about realism and antirealism. The difference between the moral realist and the moral antirealist seems to pragmatists to be a difference which makes no practical difference. Further, such metaethical questions presuppose the Platonic distinction between inquiry which aims at efficient problem-solving and inquiry which aims at a goal called “truth for its own sake”. That distinction collapses if one follows Dewey in thinking of all inquiry – in physics as well as in ethics – as practical problem-solving, or if one follows Peirce in seeing every belief as action-guiding5.

Even after the priests have been pensioned off, however, the memories of certain priests may still be cherished by the community – especially the memories of their prophecies. We remain profoundly grateful to philosophers like Plato and Kant, not because they discovered truths but because they prophesied cosmopolitan utopias – utopias most of whose details they may have got wrong, but utopias we might never have struggled to reach had we not heard their prophecies. As long as our ability to know, and in particular to discuss the question “What is man?” seemed the most important thing about us human beings, people like Plato and Kant accompanied utopian prophecies with claims to know something deep and important – something about the parts of the soul, or the transcendental status of the common moral consciousness. But this ability, and those questions, have, in the course of the last two hundred years, come to seem much less important. Rabossi summarizes this cultural sea change in his claim that human rights foundationalism is outmoded. In the remainder of this lecture, I shall take up the questions: Why has knowledge become much less important to our self-image than it was two hundred years ago? Why does the attempt to found culture on nature, and moral obligation on knowledge of transcultural universals, seem so much less important to us than it seemed in the Enlightenment? Why is there so little resonance, and so little point, in asking whether human beings in fact have the rights listed in the Helsinki Declaration? Why, in short, has moral philosophy become such an inconspicuous part of our culture?

A simple answer is that between Kant’s time and ours Darwin argued most of the intellectuals out of the view that human beings contain a special added ingredient. He convinced most of us that we were exceptionally talented animals, animals clever enough to take charge of our own future evolution. I think this answer is right as far as it goes, but it leads to a further question: Why did Darwin succeed, relatively speaking, so very easily? Why did he not cause the creative philosophical ferment caused by Galileo and Newton?

The revival by the New Science of the seventeenth century of a Democritean-Lucretian corpuscularian picture of nature scared Kant into inventing transcendental philosophy, inventing a brand-new kind of knowledge, which could demote the corpuscularian world picture to the status of “appearance”. Kant’s example encouraged the idea that the philosopher, as an expert on the nature and limits of knowledge, can serve as supreme cultural arbiter1. By the time of Darwin, however, this idea was already beginning to seem quaint. The historicism which dominated the intellectual world of the early nineteenth century had created an antiessentialist mood. So when Darwin came along, he fitted into the evolutionary niche which Herder and Hegel had begun to colonize. Intellectuals who populate this niche look to the future rather than to eternity. They prefer new ideas about how change can be effected to stable criteria for determining the desirability of change. They are the ones who think both Plato and Nietzsche outmoded.

The best explanation of both Darwin’s relatively easy triumph, and our own increasing willingness to substitute hope for knowledge, is that the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw, among the Europeans and Americans, an extraordinary increase in wealth, literacy, and leisure. This increase made possible an unprecedented acceleration in the rate of moral progress. Such events as the French Revolution and the ending of the trans-Atlantic slave trade prompted nineteenth-century intellectuals in the rich democracies to say: It is enough for us to know that we live in an age in which human beings can make things much better for ourselves7. We do not need to dig behind this historical fact to nonhistorical facts about what we really are.

In the two centuries since the French Revolution, we have learned that human beings are far more malleable than Plato or Kant had dreamed. The more we are impressed by this malleability, the less interested we become in questions about our ahistorical nature. The more we see a chance to recreate ourselves, the more we read Darwin not as offering one more theory about what we really are but as providing reasons why we need not ask what we really are. Nowadays, to say that we are clever animals is not to say something philosophical and pessimistic but something political and hopeful, namely: If we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming. This sets aside Kant’s question “What is Man?” and substitutes the question “What sort of world can we prepare for our great-grandchildren?”.

The question “What is Man?” in the sense of “What is the deep ahistorical nature of human beings?” owed its popularity to the standard answer to that question: We are the rational animal, the one which can know as well as merely feel. The residual popularity of this answer accounts for the residual popularity of Kant’s astonishing claim that sentimentality has nothing to do with morality, that there is something distinctively and transculturally human called “the sense of moral obligation” which has nothing to do with love, friendship, trust, or social solidarity. As long as we believe that, people like Rabossi are going to have a tough time convincing us that human rights foundationalism is an outmoded project.

To overcome this idea of a sui generis sense of moral obligation, it would help to stop answering the question “What makes us different from the other animals?” by saying “We can know, and they can merely feel”. We should substitute “We can feel for each other to a much greater extent than they can”. This substitution would let us disentangle Christ’s suggestion that love matters more than knowledge from the neo-Platonic suggestion that knowledge of the truth will make us free. For as long as we think that there is an ahistorical power which makes for righteousness – a power called truth, or rationality – we shall not be able to put foundationalism behind us.

The best, and probably the only, argument for putting foundationalism behind us is the one I have already suggested: It would be more efficient to do so, because it would let us concentrate our energies on manipulating sentiments, on sentimental education. That sort of education sufficiently acquaints people of different kinds with one another so that they are less tempted to think of those different from themselves as only quasi-human. The goal of this manipulation of sentiment is to expand the reference of the terms “our kind of people” and “people like us”.

All I can do to supplement this argument from increased efficiency is to offer a suggestion about how Plato managed to convince us that knowledge of universal truths mattered as much as he thought it did. Plato thought that the philosopher’s task was to answer questions like “Why should I be moral? Why is it rational to be moral? Why is it in my interest to be moral? Why is it in the interest of human beings as such to be moral?”. He thought this because he believed the best way to deal with people like Thrasymachus and Callicles was to demonstrate to them that they had an interest of which they were unaware, an interest in being rational, in acquiring self-knowledge. Plato thereby saddled us with a distinction between the true and the false self. That distinction was, by the time of Kant, transmuted into a distinction between categorical, rigid, moral obligation and flexible, empirically determinable, self-interest. Contemporary moral philosophy is still lumbered with this opposition between self-interest and morality, an opposition which makes it hard to realize that my pride in being a part of the human rights culture is no more external to my self than my desire for financial success.

It would have been better if Plato had decided, as Aristotle was to decide, that there was nothing much to be done with people like Thrasymachus and Callicles, and that the problem was how to avoid having children who would be like Thrasymachus and Callicles. By insisting that he could reeducate people who had matured without acquiring appropriate moral sentiments by invoking a higher power than sentiment, the power of reason, Plato got moral philosophy off on the wrong foot. He led moral philosophers to concentrate on the rather rare figure of the psychopath, the person who has no concern for any human being other than himself. Moral philosophy has systematically neglected the much more common case: the person whose treatment of a rather narrow range of featherless bipeds is morally impeccable, but who remains indifferent to the suffering of those outside this range, the ones he or she thinks of as pseudohumans8.

Plato set things up so that moral philosophers think they have failed unless they convince the rational egotist that he should not be an egotist – convince him by telling him about his true, unfortunately neglected, self. But the rational egotist is not the problem. The problem is the gallant and honorable Serb who sees Muslims as circumcised dogs. It is the brave soldier and good comrade who loves and is loved by his mates, but who thinks of women as dangerous, malevolent whores and bitches.

Plato thought that the way to get people to be nicer to each other was to point out what they all had in common – rationality. But it does little good to point out, to the people I have just described, that many Muslims and women are good at mathematics or engineering or jurisprudence. Resentful young Nazi toughs were quite aware that many Jews were clever and learned, but this only added to the pleasure they took in beating them up. Nor does it do much good to get such people to read Kant, and agree that one should not treat rational agents simply as means. For everything turns on who counts as a fellow human being, as a rational agent in the only relevant sense – the sense in which rational agency is synonomous with membership in our moral community.

For most white people, until very recently, most Black people did not so count. For most Christians, up until the seventeenth century or so, most heathen did not so count. For the Nazis, Jews did not so count. For most males in countries in which the average annual income is under four thousand dollars, most females still do not so count. Whenever tribal and national rivalries become important, members of rival tribes and nations will not so count. Kant’s account of the respect due to rational agents tells you that you should extend the respect you feel for people like yourself to all featherless bipeds. This is an excellent suggestion, a good formula for secularizing the Christian doctrine of the brotherhood of man. But it has never been backed up by an argument based on neutral premises, and it never will be. Outside the circle of post-Enlightenment European culture, the circle of relatively safe and secure people who have been manipulating each others’ sentiments for two hundred years, most people are simply unable to understand why membership in a biological species is supposed to suffice for membership in a moral community. This is not because they are insufficiently rational. It is, typically, because they live in a world in which it would be just too risky – indeed, would often be insanely dangerous – to let one’s sense of moral community stretch beyond one’s family, clan, or tribe.

To get whites to be nicer to Blacks, males to females, Serbs to Muslims, or straights to gays, to help our species link up into what Rabossi calls a “planetary community” dominated by a culture of human rights, it is of no use whatever to say, with Kant: Notice that what you have in common, your humanity, is more important than these trivial differences. For the people we are trying to convince will rejoin that they notice nothing of the sort. Such people are morally offended by the suggestion that they should treat someone who is not kin as if he were a brother, or a nigger as if he were white, or a queer as if he were normal, or an infidel as if she were a believer. They are offended by the suggestion that they treat people whom they do not think of as human as if they were human. When utilitarians tell them that all pleasures and pains felt by members of our biological species are equally relevant to moral deliberation, or when Kantians tell them that the ability to engage in such deliberation is sufficient for membership in the moral community, they are incredulous. They rejoin that these philosophers seem oblivious to blatantly obvious moral distinctions, distinctions any decent person will draw.

This rejoinder is not just a rhetorical device, nor is it in any way irrational. It is heartfelt. The identity of these people, the people whom we should like to convince to join our Eurocentric human rights culture, is bound up with their sense of who they are not. Most people – especially people relatively untouched by the European Enlightenment – simply do not think of themselves as, first and foremost, a human being. Instead, they think of themselves as being a certain good sort of human being – a sort defined by explicit opposition to a particularly bad sort. It is crucial for their sense of who they are that they are not an infidel, not a queer, not a woman, not an untouchable. Just insofar as they are impoverished, and as their lives are perpetually at risk, they have little else than pride in not being what they are not to sustain their self-respect. Starting with the days when the term “human being” was synonomous with “member of our tribe”, we have always thought of human beings in terms of paradigm members of the species. We have contrasted us, the real humans, with rudimentary, or perverted, or deformed examples of humanity.

We Eurocentric intellectuals like to suggest that we, the paradigm humans, have overcome this primitive parochialism by using that paradigmatic human faculty, reason. So we say that failure to concur with us is due to “prejudice”. Our use of these terms in this way may make us nod in agreement when Colin McGinn tells us, in the introduction to his recent book9, that learning to tell right from wrong is not as hard as learning French. The only obstacles to agreeing with his moral views, McGinn explains, are “prejudice, vested interest and laziness”.

One can see what McGinn means: If, like many of us, you teach students who have been brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust, brought up believing that prejudice against racial or religious groups is a terrible thing, it is not very hard to convert them to standard liberal views about abortion, gay rights, and the like. You may even get them to stop eating animals. All you have to do is convince them that all the arguments on the other side appeal to “morally irrelevant” considerations. You do this by manipulating their sentiments in such a way that they imagine themselves in the shoes of the despised and oppressed. Such students are already so nice that they are eager to define their identity in nonexclusionary terms. The only people they have trouble being nice to are the ones they consider irrational – the religious fundamentalist, the smirking rapist, or the swaggering skinhead.

Producing generations of nice, tolerant, well-off, secure, other-respecting students of this sort in all parts of the world is just what is needed – indeed all that is needed – to achieve an Enlightenment utopia. The more youngsters like this we can raise, the stronger and more global our human rights culture will become. But it is not a good idea to encourage these students to label “irrational” the intolerant people they have trouble tolerating. For that Platonic-Kantian epithet suggests that, with only a little more effort, the good and rational part of these other people’s souls could have triumphed over the bad and irrational part. It suggests that we good people know something these bad people do not know, and that it is probably their own silly fault that they do not know it. All they have to do, after all, is to think a little harder, be a little more self-conscious, a little more rational.

But the bad people’s beliefs are not more or less “irrational” than the belief that race, religion, gender, and sexual preference are all morally irrelevant – that these are all trumped by membership in the biological species. As used by moral philosophers like McGinn, the term “irrational behavior” means no more than “behavior of which we disapprove so strongly that our spade is turned when asked why we disapprove of it”. It would be better to teach our students that these bad people are no less rational, no less clearheaded, no more prejudiced, than we good people who respect otherness. The bad people’s problem is that they were not so lucky in the circumstances of their upbringing as we were. Instead of treating as irrational all those people out there who are trying to find and kill Salman Rushdie, we should treat them as deprived.

Foundationalists think of these people as deprived of truth, of moral knowledge. But it would be better – more specific, more suggestive of possible remedies – to think of them as deprived of two more concrete things: security and sympathy. By “security” I mean conditions of life sufficiently risk-free as to make one’s difference from others inessential to one’s self-respect, one’s sense of worth. These conditions have been enjoyed by Americans and Europeans – the people who dreamed up the human rights culture – much more than they have been enjoyed by anyone else. By “sympathy” I mean the sort of reaction that the Athenians had more of after seeing Aeschylus’ The Persians than before, the sort that white Americans had more of after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin than before, the sort that we have more of after watching TV programs about the genocide in Bosnia. Security and sympathy go together, for the same reasons that peace and economic productivity go together. The tougher things are, the more you have to be afraid of, the more dangerous your situation, the less you can afford the time or effort to think about what things might be like for people with whom you do not immediately identify. Sentimental education only works on people who can relax long enough to listen.

If Rabossi and I are right in thinking human rights foundationalism outmoded, then Hume is a better advisor than Kant about how we intellectuals can hasten the coming of the Enlightenment utopia for which both men yearned. Among contemporary philosophers, the best advisor seems to me to be Annette Baier. Baier describes Hume as “the woman’s moral philosopher” because Hume held that “corrected (sometimes rule-corrected) sympathy, not law-discerning reason, is the fundamental moral capacity”10. Baier would like us to get rid of both the Platonic idea that we have a true self, and the Kantian idea that it is rational to be moral. In aid of this project, she suggests that we think of “trust” rather than “obligation” as the fundamental moral notion. This substitution would mean thinking of the spread of the human rights culture not as a matter of our becoming more aware of the requirements of the moral law, but rather as what Baier calls “a progress of sentiments”11. This progress consists in an increasing ability to see the similarities between ourselves and people very unlike us as outweighing the differences. It is the result of what I have been calling “sentimental education”. The relevant similarities are not a matter of sharing a deep true self which instantiates true humanity, but are such little, superficial, similarities as cherishing our parents and our children – similarities that do not interestingly distinguish us from many nonhuman animals.

To accept Baier’s suggestions, however, we should have to overcome our sense that sentiment is too weak a force, and that something stronger is required. This idea that reason is “stronger” than sentiment, that only an insistence on the unconditionality of moral obligation has the power to change human beings for the better, is very persistent. I think that this persistence is due mainly to a semiconscious realization that, if we hand our hopes for moral progress over to sentiment, we are in effect handing them over to condescension. For we shall be relying on those who have the power to change things – people like the rich New England abolitionists, or rich bleeding hearts like Robert Owen and Friedrich Engels – rather than on something that has power over them. We shall have to accept the fact that the fate of the women of Bosnia depends on whether TV journalists manage to do for them what Harriet Beecher Stowe did for black slaves, whether these journalists can make us, the audience back in the safe countries, feel that these women are more like us, more like real human beings, than we had realized.

To rely on the suggestions of sentiment rather than on the commands of reason is to think of powerful people gradually ceasing to oppress others, or ceasing to countenance the oppression of others, out of mere niceness, rather than out of obedience to the moral law. But it is revolting to think that our only hope for a decent society consists in softening the self-satisfied hearts of a leisure class. We want moral progress to burst up from below, rather than waiting patiently upon condescension from the top. The residual popularity of Kantian ideas of “unconditional moral obligation” – obligation imposed by deep ahistorical noncontingent forces – seems to me almost entirely due to our abhorrence for the idea that the people on top hold the future in their hands, that everything depends on them, that there is nothing more powerful to which we can appeal against them.

Like everyone else, I too should prefer a bottom-up way of achieving utopia, a quick reversal of fortune which will make the last first. But I do not think this is how utopia will in fact come into being. Nor do I think that our preference for this way lends any support to the idea that the Enlightenment project lies in the depths of every human soul. So why does this preference make us resist the thought that sentimentality may be the best weapon we have? I think Nietzsche gave the right answer to this question: We resist out of resentment. We resent the idea that we shall have to wait for the strong to turn their piggy little eyes to the suffering of the weak. We desperately hope that there is something stronger and more powerful that will hurt the strong if they do not – if not a vengeful God, then a vengeful aroused proletariat, or, at least, a vengeful superego, or, at the very least, the offended majesty of Kant’s tribunal of pure practical reason. The desperate hope for a noncontingent and powerful ally is, according to Nietzsche, the common core of Platonism, of religious insistence on divine omnipotence, and of Kantian moral philosophy12.

Nietzsche was, I think, right on the button when he offered this diagnosis. What Santayana called “supernaturalism”, the confusion of ideals and power, is all that lies behind the Kantian claim that it is not only nicer, but more rational, to include strangers within our moral community than to exclude them from it. If we agree with Nietzsche and Santayana on this point, however, we do not thereby acquire any reason to turn our backs on the Enlightenment project, as Nietzsche did. Nor do we acquire any reason to be sardonically pessimistic about the chances of this project, in the manner of admirers of Nietzsche like Santayana, Ortega, Heidegger, Strauss, and Foucault.

For even though Nietzsche was absolutely right to see Kant’s insistence on unconditionality as an expression of resentment, he was absolutely wrong to treat Christianity, and the age of the democratic revolutions, as signs of human degeneration. He and Kant, alas, shared something with each other which neither shared with Harriet Beecher Stowe – something which Iris Murdoch has called “dryness” and which Jacques Derrida has called “phallogocentrism”. The common element in the thought of both men was a desire for purity. This sort of purity consists in being not only autonomous, in command of oneself, but also in having the kind of self-conscious self-sufficiency which Sartre describes as the perfect synthesis of the in-itself and the for-itself. This synthesis could only be attained, Sartre pointed out, if one could rid oneself of everything sticky, slimy, wet, sentimental, and womanish.

Although this desire for virile purity links Plato to Kant, the desire to bring as many different kinds of people as possible into a cosmopolis links Kant to Stowe. Kant is, in the history of moral thinking, a transitional stage between the hopeless attempt to convict Thrasymachus of irrationality and the hopeful attempt to see every new featherless biped who comes along as one of us. Kant’s mistake was to think that the only way to have a modest, damped-down, nonfanatical version of Christian brotherhood after letting go of the Christian faith was to revive the themes of pre-Christian philosophical thought. He wanted to make knowledge of a core self do what can be done only by the continual refreshment and re-creation of the self, through interaction with selves as unlike itself as possible.

Kant performed the sort of awkward balancing act required in transitional periods. His project mediated between a dying rationalist tradition and a vision of a new, democratic world, the world of what Rabossi calls “the human rights phenomenon”. With the advent of this phenomenon, Kant’s balancing act has become outmoded and irrelevant. We are now in a good position to put aside the last vestiges of the ideas that human beings are distinguished by the capacity to know rather than by the capacities for friendship and intermarriage, distinguished by rigorous rationality rather than by flexible sentimentality. If we do so, we shall have dropped the idea that assured knowledge of a truth about what we have in common is a prerequisite for moral education, as well as the idea of a specifically moral motivation. If we do all these things, we shall see Kant’s Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals as a placeholder for Uncle Tom’s Cabin – a concession to the expectations of an intellectual epoch in which the quest for quasi-scientific knowledge seemed the only possible response to religious exclusionism13.

Unfortunately, many philosophers, especially in the English-speaking world, are still trying to hold on to the Platonic insistence that the principal duty of human beings is to know. That insistence was the lifeline to which Kant and Hegel thought we had to cling14. Just as German philosophers in the period between Kant and Hegel saw themselves as saving “reason” from Hume, many English-speaking philosophers now see themselves saving reason from Derrida. But with the wisdom of hindsight, and with Baier’s help, we have learned to read Hume not as a dangerously frivolous iconoclast but as the wettest, most flexible, least phallogocentric thinker of the Enlightenment. Someday, I suspect, our descendants may wish that Derrida’s contemporaries had been able to read him not as a frivolous iconoclast, but rather as a sentimental educator, another of “the women’s moral philosophers”15.

If one follows Baier’s advice one will not see it as the moral educator’s task to answer the rational egotist’s question “Why should I be moral?” but rather to answer the much more frequently posed question “Why should I care about a stranger, a person who is no kin to me, a person whose habits I find disgusting?”. The traditional answer to the latter question is “Because kinship and custom are morally irrelevant, irrelevant to the obligations imposed by the recognition of membership in the same species”. This has never been very convincing, since it begs the question at issue: whether mere species membership is, in fact, a sufficient surrogate for closer kinship. Furthermore, that answer leaves one wide open to Nietzsche’s discomfiting rejoinder: That universalistic notion, Nietzsche will sneer, would only have crossed the mind of a slave – or, perhaps, the mind of an intellectual, a priest whose self-esteem and livelihood both depend on getting the rest of us to accept a sacred, unarguable, unchallengeable paradox.

A better sort of answer is the sort of long, sad, sentimental story which begins “Because this is what it is like to be in her situation – to be far from home, among strangers”, or “Because she might become your daughter-in-law”, or “Because her mother would grieve for her”. Such stories, repeated and varied over the centuries, have induced us, the rich, safe, powerful, people, to tolerate, and even to cherish, powerless people – people whose appearance or habits or beliefs at first seemed an insult to our own moral identity, our sense of the limits of permissible human variation.

To people who, like Plato and Kant, believe in a philosophically ascertainable truth about what it is to be a human being, the good work remains incomplete as long as we have not answered the question “Yes, but am I under a moral obligation to her?”. To people like Hume and Baier, it is a mark of intellectual immaturity to raise that question. But we shall go on asking that question as long as we agree with Plato that it is our ability to know that makes us human.

Plato wrote quite a long time ago, in a time when we intellectuals had to pretend to be successors to the priests, had to pretend to know something rather esoteric. Hume did his best to josh us out of that pretense. Baier, who seems to me both the most original and the most useful of contemporary moral philosophers, is still trying to josh us out of it. I think Baier may eventually succeed, for she has the history of the last two hundred years of moral progress on her side. These two centuries are most easily understood not as a period of deepening understanding of the nature of rationality or of morality, but rather as one in which there occurred an astonishingly rapid progress of sentiments, in which it has become much easier for us to be moved to action by sad and sentimental stories.

This progress has brought us to a moment in human history in which it is plausible for Rabossi to say that the human rights phenomenon is a “fact of the world”. This phenomenon may be just a blip. But it may mark the beginning of a time in which gang rape brings forth as strong a response when it happens to women as when it happens to men, or when it happens to foreigners as when it happens to people like us.

1. “Letter from Bosnia”, New Yorker, November 23, 1992, 82-95.

2. “Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labor. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect must be disposed to sleep of course”. Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia”, Writings, ed. Lipscomb and Bergh (Washington, D.C.: 1905),1:194.

3. Geertz, “Thick Description” in his The Interpretation of Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 22.

4. Rabossi also says that he does not wish to question “the idea of a rational foundation of morality”. I am not sure why he does not. Rabossi may perhaps mean that in the past – for example, at the time of Kant – this idea still made a kind of sense, but it makes sense no longer. That, at any rate, is my own view. Kant wrote in a period when the only alternative to religion seemed to be something like science. In such a period, inventing a pseudoscience called “the system of transcendental philosophy” – setting the stage for the show-stopping climax in which one pulls moral obligation out of a transcendental hat – might plausibly seem the only way of saving morality from the hedonists on one side and the priests on the other.

5. The present state of metaethical discussion is admirably summarized in Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, “Toward Fin de Siècle Ethics: Some Trends”, The Philosophical Review 101 (1992): 115-89. This comprehensive and judicious article takes for granted that there is a problem about “vindicating the objectivity of morality” (127), that there is an interesting question as to whether morals is “cognitive” or “non-cognitive”, that we need to figure out whether we have a “cognitive capacity” to detect moral properties (148), and that these matters can be dealt with ahistorically.

When these authors consider historicist writers such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Bernard Williams, they conclude that they are “[meta]théoriciens malgré eux” who share the authors’ own “desire to understand morality, its preconditions and its prospects” (183). They make little effort to come to terms with suggestions that there may be no ahistorical entity called “morality” to be understood. The final paragraph of the paper does suggest that it might be helpful if moral philosophers knew more anthropology, or psychology, or history. But the penultimate paragraph makes clear that, with or without such assists, “contemporary metaethics moves ahead, and positions gain in complexity and sophistication”.

It is instructive, I think, to compare this article with Annette Baier’s “Some Thoughts On How We Moral Philosophers Live Now”, The Monist 67 (1984): 490. Baier suggests that moral philosophers should “at least occasionally, like Socrates, consider why the rest of society should not merely tolerate but subsidize our activity”. She goes on to ask, “Is the large proportional increase of professional philosophers and moral philosophers a good thing, morally speaking? Even if it scarcely amounts to a plague of gadflies, it may amount to a nuisance of owls”. The kind of metaphilosophical and historical self-consciousness and self-doubt displayed by Baier seems to me badly needed, but it is conspicuously absent in Philosophy in Review (the centennial issue of The Philosophical Review in which “Toward Fin de Siècle Ethics” appears). The contributors to this issue are convinced that the increasing sophistication of a philosophical subdiscipline is enough to demonstrate its social utility, and are entirely unimpressed by murmurs of “decadent scholasticism”.

6. Fichte’s Vocation of Man is a useful reminder of the need that was felt, circa 1800, for a cognitive discipline called philosophy that would rescue utopian hope from natural science. It is hard to think of an analogous book written in reaction to Darwin. Those who couldn’t stand what Darwin was saying tended to go straight back past the Enlightenment to traditional religious faith. The unsubtle, unphilosophical opposition, in nineteenth-century Britain and France, between science and faith suggests that most intellectuals had become unable to believe that philosophy might produce some sort of superknowledge, knowledge that might trump the results of physical and biological inquiry.

7. Some contemporary intellectuals, especially in France and Germany, take it as obvious that the Holocaust made it clear that the hopes for human freedom which arose in the nineteenth century are obsolete – that at the end of the twentieth century we postmodernists know that the Enlightenment project is doomed. But even these intellectuals, in their less preachy and sententious moments, do their best to further that project. So they should, for nobody has come up with a better one. It does not diminish the memory of the Holocaust to say that our response to it should not be a claim to have gained a new understanding of human nature or of human history, but rather a willingness to pick ourselves up and try again.

8. Nietzsche was right to remind us that “these same men who, amongst themselves, are so strictly constrained by custom, worship, ritual gratitude and by mutual surveillance and jealousy, who are so resourceful in consideration, tenderness, loyalty, pride and friendship, when once they step outside their circle become little better than uncaged beasts of prey”. The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Golffing (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956), 174.

9. Colin McGinn, Moral Literacy: or, How to Do the Right Thing (London: Duckworth, 1992), 16.

10. Baier, “Hume, the Women’s Moral Theorist?”, in Eva Kittay and Diana Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1987), 40.

11. Baier’s book on Hume is entitled A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Hume’s Treatise (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991). Baier’s view of the inadequacy of most attempts by contemporary moral philosophers to break with Kant comes out most clearly when she characterizes Allan Gibbard (in his book Wise Choices, Apt Feelings) as focusing “on the feelings that a patriarchal religion has bequeathed to us”, and says that “Hume would judge Gibbard to be, as a moral philosopher, basically a divine disguised as a fellow expressivist” (312).

12. Nietzsche’s diagnosis is reinforced by Elizabeth Anscombe’s famous argument that atheists are not entitled to the term “moral obligation”.

13. See Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 17901860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), for a treatment of the sentimental novel that chimes with the point I am trying to make here. In her chapter on Stowe, Tompkins says that she is asking the reader “to set aside some familiar categories for evaluating fiction – stylistic intricacy, psychological subtlety, epistemological complexity – and to see the sentimental novel not as an artifice of eternity answerable to certain formal criteria and to certain psychological and philosophical concerns, but as a political enterprise, halfway between sermon and social theory, that both codifies and attempts to mold the values of its time” (126).

The contrast that Tompkins draws between authors like Stowe and “male authors such as Thoreau, Whitman and Melville, who are celebrated as models of intellectual daring and honesty” (124), parallels the contrast I tried to draw between public utility and private perfection in my Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989). I see Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Moby Dick as equally brilliant achievements, achievements that we should not attempt to rank hierarchically, because they serve such different purposes. Arguing about which is the better novel is like arguing about which is the superior philosophical treatise: Mill’s On Liberty or Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

14. Technically, of course, Kant denied knowledge in order to make room for moral faith. But what is transcendental moral philosophy if not the assurance that the noncognitive imperative delivered via the common moral consciousness shows the existence of a “fact of reason” – a fact about what it is to be a human being, a rational agent, a being that is something more than a bundle of spatio-temporal determinations? Kant was never able to explain how transcendental knowledge could be knowledge, but he was never able to give up the attempt to claim such knowledge.

On the German project of defending reason against Hume, see Fred Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy From Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).

15. I have discussed the relation between Derrida and feminism in “Deconstruction; Ideology and Feminism: A Pragmatist View”, forthcoming in Hypatia, and also in my reply to Alexander Nehamas in Lire Rorty (Paris: éclat, 1992). Richard Bernstein is, I think, basically right in reading Derrida as a moralist, even though Thomas McCarthy is also right in saying that “deconstruction” is of no political use.

Richard Rorty, Belgrade Circle Journal.

The essence of neoliberalism

Over the next set of articles (and iterations thereof) we want to cover the structure of financial and world markets, models of democracy, and look at rationality of such endeavours so as to try to make some sense of world dynamics. We welcome articles and comments from all those who want to contribute to this dialogue, debate, and understanding in the context of rationality. 

As the dominant discourse would have it, the economic world is a pure and perfect order, implacably unrolling the logic of its predictable consequences, and prompt to repress all violations by the sanctions that it inflicts, either automatically or —more unusually — through the intermediary of its armed extensions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the policies they impose: reducing labour costs, reducing public expenditures and making work more flexible. Is the dominant discourse right? What if, in reality, this economic order were no more than the implementation of a utopia – the utopia of neoliberalism – thus converted into a political problem? One that, with the aid of the economic theory that it proclaims, succeeds in conceiving of itself as the scientific description of reality?

This tutelary theory is a pure mathematical fiction. From the start it has been founded on a formidable abstraction. For, in the name of a narrow and strict conception of rationality as individual rationality, it brackets the economic and social conditions of rational orientations and the economic and social structures that are the condition of their application.

To give the measure of this omission, it is enough to think just of the educational system. Education is never taken account of as such at a time when it plays a determining role in the production of goods and services as in the production of the producers themselves. From this sort of original sin, inscribed in the Walrasian myth (1) of “pure theory”, flow all of the deficiencies and faults of the discipline of economics and the fatal obstinacy with which it attaches itself to the arbitrary opposition which it induces, through its mere existence, between a properly economic logic, based on competition and efficiency, and social logic, which is subject to the rule of fairness.

That said, this “theory” that is desocialised and dehistoricised at its roots has, today more than ever, the means of making itself true and empirically verifiable. In effect, neoliberal discourse is not just one discourse among many. Rather, it is a “strong discourse” – the way psychiatric discourse is in an asylum, in Erving Goffman’s analysis (2). It is so strong and so hard to combat only because it has on its side all of the forces of a world of relations of forces, a world that it contributes to making what it is. It does this most notably by orienting the economic choices of those who dominate economic relationships. It thus adds its own symbolic force to these relations of forces. In the name of this scientific programme, converted into a plan of political action, an immense political project is underway, although its status as such is denied because it appears to be purely negative. This project aims to create the conditions under which the “theory” can be realised and can function: a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives.

The movement toward the neoliberal utopia of a pure and perfect market is made possible by the politics of financial deregulation. And it is achieved through the transformative and, it must be said, destructive action of all of the political measures (of which the most recent is the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), designed to protect foreign corporations and their investments from national states) that aim to call into question any and all collective structures that could serve as an obstacle to the logic of the pure market: the nation, whose space to manoeuvre continually decreases; work groups, for example through the individualisation of salaries and of careers as a function of individual competences, with the consequent atomisation of workers; collectives for the defence of the rights of workers, unions, associations, cooperatives; even the family, which loses part of its control over consumption through the constitution of markets by age groups.

The neoliberal programme draws its social power from the political and economic power of those whose interests it expresses: stockholders, financial operators, industrialists, conservative or social-democratic politicians who have been converted to the reassuring layoffs of laisser-faire, high-level financial officials eager to impose policies advocating their own extinction because, unlike the managers of firms, they run no risk of having eventually to pay the consequences. Neoliberalism tends on the whole to favour severing the economy from social realities and thereby constructing, in reality, an economic system conforming to its description in pure theory, that is a sort of logical machine that presents itself as a chain of constraints regulating economic agents.

The globalisation of financial markets, when joined with the progress of information technology, ensures an unprecedented mobility of capital. It gives investors concerned with the short-term profitability of their investments the possibility of permanently comparing the profitability of the largest corporations and, in consequence, penalising these firms’ relative setbacks. Subjected to this permanent threat, the corporations themselves have to adjust more and more rapidly to the exigencies of the markets, under penalty of “losing the market’s confidence”, as they say, as well as the support of their stockholders. The latter, anxious to obtain short-term profits, are more and more able to impose their will on managers, using financial directorates to establish the rules under which managers operate and to shape their policies regarding hiring, employment, and wages.

Thus the absolute reign of flexibility is established, with employees being hiring on fixed-term contracts or on a temporary basis and repeated corporate restructurings and, within the firm itself, competition among autonomous divisions as well as among teams forced to perform multiple functions. Finally, this competition is extended to individuals themselves, through the individualisation of the wage relationship: establishment of individual performance objectives, individual performance evaluations, permanent evaluation, individual salary increases or granting of bonuses as a function of competence and of individual merit; individualised career paths; strategies of “delegating responsibility” tending to ensure the self-exploitation of staff who, simple wage labourers in relations of strong hierarchical dependence, are at the same time held responsible for their sales, their products, their branch, their store, etc. as though they were independent contractors. This pressure toward “self-control” extends workers’ “involvement” according to the techniques of “participative management” considerably beyond management level. All of these are techniques of rational domination that impose over-involvement in work (and not only among management) and work under emergency or high-stress conditions. And they converge to weaken or abolish collective standards or solidarities (3).

In this way, a Darwinian world emerges – it is the struggle of all against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress. Without a doubt, the practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so completely without the complicity of all of the precarious arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy, even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The condition of the “harmonious” functioning of the individualist micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed.

This structural violence also weighs on what is called the labour contract (wisely rationalised and rendered unreal by the “theory of contracts”). Organisational discourse has never talked as much of trust, co-operation, loyalty, and organisational culture as in an era when adherence to the organisation is obtained at each moment by eliminating all temporal guarantees of employment (three-quarters of hires are for fixed duration, the proportion of temporary employees keeps rising, employment “at will” and the right to fire an individual tend to be freed from any restriction).

Thus we see how the neoliberal utopia tends to embody itself in the reality of a kind of infernal machine, whose necessity imposes itself even upon the rulers. Like the Marxism of an earlier time, with which, in this regard, it has much in common, this utopia evokes powerful belief – the free trade faith – not only among those who live off it, such as financiers, the owners and managers of large corporations, etc., but also among those, such as high-level government officials and politicians, who derive their justification for existing from it. For they sanctify the power of markets in the name of economic efficiency, which requires the elimination of administrative or political barriers capable of inconveniencing the owners of capital in their individual quest for the maximisation of individual profit, which has been turned into a model of rationality. They want independent central banks. And they preach the subordination of nation-states to the requirements of economic freedom for the masters of the economy, with the suppression of any regulation of any market, beginning with the labour market, the prohibition of deficits and inflation, the general privatisation of public services, and the reduction of public and social expenses.

Economists may not necessarily share the economic and social interests of the true believers and may have a variety of individual psychic states regarding the economic and social effects of the utopia which they cloak with mathematical reason. Nevertheless, they have enough specific interests in the field of economic science to contribute decisively to the production and reproduction of belief in the neoliberal utopia. Separated from the realities of the economic and social world by their existence and above all by their intellectual formation, which is most frequently purely abstract, bookish, and theoretical, they are particularly inclined to confuse the things of logic with the logic of things.

These economists trust models that they almost never have occasion to submit to the test of experimental verification and are led to look down upon the results of the other historical sciences, in which they do not recognise the purity and crystalline transparency of their mathematical games, whose true necessity and profound complexity they are often incapable of understanding. They participate and collaborate in a formidable economic and social change. Even if some of its consequences horrify them (they can join the socialist party and give learned counsel to its representatives in the power structure), it cannot displease them because, at the risk of a few failures, imputable to what they sometimes call “speculative bubbles”, it tends to give reality to the ultra-logical utopia (ultra-logical like certain forms of insanity) to which they consecrate their lives.

And yet the world is there, with the immediately visible effects of the implementation of the great neoliberal utopia: not only the poverty of an increasingly large segment of the most economically advanced societies, the extraordinary growth in income differences, the progressive disappearance of autonomous universes of cultural production, such as film, publishing, etc. through the intrusive imposition of commercial values, but also and above all two major trends. First is the destruction of all the collective institutions capable of counteracting the effects of the infernal machine, primarily those of the state, repository of all of the universal values associated with the idea of the public realm. Second is the imposition everywhere, in the upper spheres of the economy and the state as at the heart of corporations, of that sort of moral Darwinism that, with the cult of the winner, schooled in higher mathematics and bungee jumping, institutes the struggle of all against all and cynicism as the norm of all action and behaviour.

Can it be expected that the extraordinary mass of suffering produced by this sort of political-economic regime will one day serve as the starting point of a movement capable of stopping the race to the abyss? Indeed, we are faced here with an extraordinary paradox. The obstacles encountered on the way to realising the new order of the lone, but free individual are held today to be imputable to rigidities and vestiges. All direct and conscious intervention of whatever kind, at least when it comes from the state, is discredited in advance and thus condemned to efface itself for the benefit of a pure and anonymous mechanism, the market, whose nature as a site where interests are exercised is forgotten. But in reality, what keeps the social order from dissolving into chaos, despite the growing volume of the endangered population, is the continuity or survival of those very institutions and representatives of the old order that is in the process of being dismantled, and all the work of all of the categories of social workers, as well as all the forms of social solidarity, familial or otherwise.

The transition to “liberalism” takes place in an imperceptible manner, like continental drift, thus hiding its effects from view. Its most terrible consequences are those of the long term. These effects themselves are concealed, paradoxically, by the resistance to which this transition is currently giving rise among those who defend the old order by drawing on the resources it contained, on old solidarities, on reserves of social capital that protect an entire portion of the present social order from falling into anomie. This social capital is fated to wither away – although not in the short run – if it is not renewed and reproduced.

But these same forces of “conservation”, which it is too easy to treat as conservative, are also, from another point of view, forces of resistance to the establishment of the new order and can become subversive forces. If there is still cause for some hope, it is that forces still exist, both in state institutions and in the orientations of social actors (notably individuals and groups most attached to these institutions, those with a tradition of civil and public service) that, under the appearance of simply defending an order that has disappeared and its corresponding “privileges” (which is what they will immediately be accused of), will be able to resist the challenge only by working to invent and construct a new social order. One that will not have as its only law the pursuit of egoistic interests and the individual passion for profit and that will make room for collectives oriented toward the rational pursuit of ends collectively arrived at and collectively ratified.

How could we not make a special place among these collectives, associations, unions, and parties for the state: the nation-state, or better yet the supranational state – a European state on the way toward a world state – capable of effectively controlling and taxing the profits earned in the financial markets and, above of all, of counteracting the destructive impact that the latter have on the labour market. This could be done with the aid of labour unions by organising the elaboration and defence of the public interest. Like it or not, the public interest will never emerge, even at the cost of a few mathematical errors, from the vision of accountants (in an earlier period one would have said of “shopkeepers”) that the new belief system presents as the supreme form of human accomplishment.

UTOPIA OF ENDLESS EXPLOITATION: The essence of neoliberalism. What is neoliberalism? A programme for destroying collective structures which may impede the pure market logic. Pierre Bourdieu

 

Truth in Ethics

Controversies, such as the Freedom of Speech debate at the Oxford Union, always brings people back as to what is truth, what are ethics, and whether they relate to each other in any critical manner. To this extent, we have, on The European Rationalist, written and reference a number of previous articles on the subject: How Could I Be Wrong? How Wrong Could I Be?; Delusions, Beliefs; Theism, Atheism, and RationalityScience and Truth; etc. At the level of general public debate we begin to think of issues such as to whether free speech (and consequently as to what we believe and why we believe it) has an envelope beyond which it becomes unacceptable to the current norms and metrics. The only problem is who decides – the media barons, big business, religious groups, powerful minorities?

I came across the book True to Life, and found a quite good review by Kieran Setiya of it that I think is worth reading to start off with.  

In True to Life, Michael Lynch sets out to defend “four truisms about truth”: truth is objective, a “cognitive good”, a worthy goal of inquiry, and something valuable in itself. On the back cover, Nussbaum says that the book “performs a major public service”.  

The argument of the book is intricate, though it is presented with an enviably light touch. It begins with the platitude that a belief is correct if and only if its object is a true proposition; deduces that, if p is true, it is good to believe p, other things being equal; interprets this as final or non-instrumental value; and concludes that truth is itself a normative property, and, given Moore’s “open question argument”, an irreducible one: “If truth matters, reductive naturalism is false.”

In a different context, it would be interesting to engage with these steps, each of which is controversial. Here, my focus is rhetorical. Who is Lynch writing for, and what are his chances of convincing them?

I think he cannot be writing for the post-modernist “enemies of truth” alleged to inhabit our English Departments. They will rightly feel that they are not taken seriously here. There is no mention of Derrida, and only a page or two on Foucault. In any case, the whole operation will seem to them naïvely unhistorical. To engage with them, one has to sink, or rise, to their level – as in Literature Against Itself.

Perhaps the aim of the book is prophylactic: it is meant to forestall the attractions of subjectivism and the cynical equation of truth with power. But if this is his persuasive task, Lynch has adopted an unfortunate strategy. Arguing that one cannot accept the value of truth without Moorean non-naturalism is bad salesmanship, even if is sound. It is not just the post-modern crowd who cannot stomach Principia Ethica: most philosophers find its commitments incredible.

The effect of True to Life, if it carries conviction, will thus be to enmire the truisms about truth in a swamp of metaphysics, to retrench the suspicion that those who believe in the possibility and the value of objective truth inhabit a Platonic jungle. As I said, that might be so – I haven’t tried to engage with Lynch’s arguments – but it would be terrible news. This truth might be one of those we do better not to believe.

Neurology and Law

Imagine this futuristic courtroom scene. The defence barrister stands up, and pointing to his client in the dock, makes this plea: “The case against Mr X must be dismissed. He cannot be held responsible for smashing Mr Y’s face into a pulp. He is not guilty, it was his brain that did it. Blame not Mr X, but his overactive amygdala.”

The legal profession in America is taking an increasing interest in neuroscience. There is a flourishing academic discipline of “neurolaw” and neurolawyers are penetrating the legal system. Vanderbilt University recently opened a $27 million neuroimaging centre and hopes to enrol students in a programme in the law and neuroscience. In the courts, as in the trial of serial rapist and murderer Bobby Joe Long, brain-scan evidence is being invoked in support of pleas of diminished responsibility. The idea is abroad that developments in neuroscience – in particular the observation of activity in the living brain, using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging – have shown us that we are not as free, or as accountable for our actions, as we traditionally thought.

Defence lawyers are licking their lips at the possibility of (to use law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s succinct phrase) placing “the brain on the stand” to take the rap on behalf of the client. Though they failed to cut much ice in Long’s case, arguments that blame lies not with the defendant but with his overactive amygdala (supposedly responsible for aggressive emotions) or his underactive frontal lobes (supposedly responsible for inhibiting the expression of such emotions) are being deployed with increasing frequency. If our brains are in charge, and bad behaviour is due to them, our attitude to criminal responsibility, to punishment (the balance between rehabilitation and retribution) and to preventive detention of individuals thought to have criminal tendencies may all have to change.

Before we invest millions in “neurolaw” centres, however, we need to remind ourselves that observations of brain activity in the laboratory can explain very few things about us. We have no neural explanation for: sensations; the differences between sensations; the way our consciousness coheres at any particular time and over time; our relationship to an explicit past and an explicit future; our sense of being a self; and our awareness of other people as having minds like ourselves. All of these are involved in ordinary, waking behaviour. The confident assertion that “his brain made him do it”, except in well-attested cases – such as the automatisms associated with certain forms of epilepsy or the disinhibited behaviour that may follow severe brain injury – therefore goes beyond our current knowledge or understanding.

Those who blame the brain should be challenged as to why they stop at the brain when they seek the causes of bad behaviour. Since the brain is a physical object, it is wired into nature at large. “My brain made me do it” must mean (ultimately) that “The Big Bang” made me do it. Neuro-determinism quickly slides into determinism tout court.

And there is a contradiction built into the plea of neuromitigation. The claim “my brain made me do it” suggests that I am not my brain; even that my brain is some kind of alien force. One of the founding notions of neurolaw, however, is that the person is the brain. If I were my brain, then “My brain made me do it” would boil down to “I made me do it” and that would hardly get me off the hook. And yet, if I am not identical with my brain, why should a brain make me do anything? Why should this impersonal bit of matter single me out?

The brain is, of course, the final common pathway of all actions. You can’t do much without a brain. Decapitation is, in most instances, associated with a decline in IQ.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between events that owe their origin to the stand-alone brain – for example the twitching associated with an epileptic fit – and actions that do not. While we do not hold someone responsible for an epileptic fit, we do hold them responsible for driving against medical advice and causing a fatal crash. The global excuse “my brain made me do it” would reduce life to a condition of status epilepticus.

In practice, most brain-blamers are not prepared to deny everyone’s responsibility for anything and everything. While the brain is blamed for actions that attract moral disapprobation or legal sanction, people do not normally pass responsibility on to their brains for good actions or for neutral actions such as pouring a cup of tea or just getting up for a stretch after a long sit down. When asked why he is defending a particular client, a barrister is unlikely to say: “My brain made me do it, your honour.” This pick-and-mix neuro-determinism is grounds for treating a plea of “neuro-mitigation” with caution.

So we still retain the distinction between events such as epileptic fits that can be attributed to brain activity and those that we attribute to persons who are more than mere neural activity. Deciding on the boundaries of our responsibility for events in which we are implicated cannot be handed over to neuroscientists examining the activity of the isolated brain in the laboratory. As Stephen Morse, a professor of law, has reminded us, it is people, not brains, who commit crimes and “neuroscience . . . can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused responsibility for their actions”. That moral, legal question must be answered not in laboratories but in courtrooms and legislatures.

Meanwhile, the neuromitigation of blame has to be treated with suspicion except in those instances where there is unambiguous evidence of grossly abnormal brain function or abnormal mental function due to clearcut illness that may have its origin in brain disease. Our knowledge of the relationship between brain and consciousness, brain and self, and brain and agency is so weak and so conceptually confused that the appeal to neuroscience in the law courts, the police station or anywhere else is premature and usually inappropriate. And, I would suggest, it will remain both premature and inappropriate. Neurolaw is just another branch of neuromythology.

 

Why blame me? It was all my brain’s fault
The dubious rise of ‘neurolaw’ Raymond Tallis

The Times Oct 24, 2007