THIS IS EVERYONE’S ISSUE! Teen family violence survivor: I made it out, but other kids don’t.


Domestic violence thrives in darkness and secrecy. If no one asks about it and no one talks about it, nothing changes. Join Light It Orange to shine a light on domestic violence and be part of the solution. @Shine

To the world he was an assistant principal, sports coach, loving husband, dedicated father. But behind closed doors he was a monster beating, belittling, berating and bullying his wife and children every day.

“He was really, really abusive to us mentally, emotionally and physically,” his 18-year-old son told the Weekend Herald. “He always put us down, he was always controlling, he would always use violence.”

The teen spoke out about his abusive upbringing because he wants to raise awareness about family violence and let people know what it’s like for kids growing up in volatile and fear-filled homes.

“He’d be the best dad in the world in front of people, but as soon as they left, he’d be back to himself and treated us horribly.”

More than 90,000 Kiwi children are exposed to family violence each year. That’s one in 12 of our young people either witnessing or being subjected to violence or abuse in their own homes, where they should be safe and protected from harm.

Every five-and-a-half weeks in New Zealand a child is killed by a family member.

The stats are horrific, and this year specialist domestic violence prevention charity Shine is focusing on the plight of our young people in its annual Light It Orange appeal.

The 18-year-old and his mother and siblings turned to Shine about five years ago after all hell broke loose in their home one night.

During a violent altercation between his parents, his sister called police. His father was taken away, and never returned to the family home. His abuse continued and does to this day. He stalks his family, driving past the house at all hours to remind them that he is still there. But court orders prevent him going any closer to them.

The 18-year-old was hit daily, for any reason, and was constantly trying to find ways to win his father’s love. “Dad always told me that no one cared about my thoughts or feelings. He always told me I was too short and too fat. He made fun of everything I did. He used to tell my little sister that she was a mistake, that she should never have been born. Dad was quite cruel… I never felt safe, I felt very scared, I didn’t know what was goingto happen, who was goin to get hurt.”

His mother and siblings were also subjected to daily abuse. The teen grew up thinking that was normal. After all, his father was an upstanding and respected member of the community so surely he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“I would go to my friends’ places and see how their dads treated them, and I’d think ‘why doesn’t his dad hit him or tell him he’s stupid? When he would fight with my mum he would tell me to stay away, otherwise he’d hit me as well. I was sure that if I tried to stop him, what was happening to my mum would get worse or something bad would happen to me.”

Life was confusing, exhausting for the teen. “I could never please him, I blamed myself for a long time because I was never able to fulfil his wishes. When he left it was like a huge weight of relief came off me.”

The teen, who is now at university and living in a violence and abuse-free home with his mum, brother and sister, spoke out about his life to help others understand how serious family violence is in New Zealand.

“I think people are extremely naive about it. I wanted to speak up so people know what kids see and hear. I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to make it out but other kids don’t. This is something that is happening every day.”

Shine’s Light It Orange national appeal runs for a week from Saturday, March 3.

During the week hundreds of Kiwi schools, workplaces, clubs, businesses, and individuals have fundraisers to help the charity with all donations helping kids and running the free domestic abuse helpline that operates 365 days a year.

Shine spokeswoman Holly Carrington said people who think they don’t know anyone who’s experienced family violence need to understand that they probably do.

“Family violence is an epidemic. With one in three women experiencing it in their lifetime and so many children being affected, it’s likely that someone you know has been hurt, scared or abused by a partner or family member.

Shine helps victims get safe and stay safe. Our services help children know how to deal with these difficult situations by helping them create an age-appropriate safety plan for the next dangerous or violence episode, and we help them to understand that the violence is not their fault.”

Carrington said the most important thing was for New Zealanders to realise this is everyone’s issue. The more we look out for each other and our children, the more we talk to each other and offer support, the less power abusers have and the stronger our communities become.”

Funds raised through Light It Orange in Auckland will support Shine’s work with children who are traumatised by family violence.

Outside Auckland, donations will fund Shine’s free domestic abuse helpline, which is available to adults and children experiencing abuse, or to anyone who suspects a friend, family member, colleague or neighbour needs help.

For more information on Shine’s Light It Orange appeal, including how to get your workplace, school or group involved, click here.

Light It Orange the facts

According to police and support agencies, New Zealand has the worst recorded rate of family violence in the developed world.

In 2016 police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence, an increase of more than 8000 on 2015.

One in three women in New Zealand will experience abuse in her lifetime, and the majority of those women will have children.

Shine has advice on its website for what to do if you know or suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence, whether that person is an adult or a child.

If you’re in danger now:

Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.

Run outside and head for where there are other people.

Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.

Take the children with you.

Don’t stop to get anything else.

If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay.

Where to go for help or more information:

Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843

It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450

Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584 Ministry of Justice: family-justice/domesticviolence.

National Network of Stopping Violence:

White Ribbon: Aimingto to eliminate men’s violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

How to hide your visit

If you are reading this information on the Herald website and you’re worried that someone using the same computer will find out what you’ve been looking at, you can follow the steps at the link here to hide your visit. Each of the websites above also have a section that outlines this process.

Cover My Tracks

NZ Herald

“If other people don’t like that, it’s their fault for getting offended.” Where Dutch directness comes from – Olga Mecking * Why the Dutch are Different. A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands – Ben Coates.

Straightforwardness is so intrinsic in Dutch society that there’s even a Dutch word for it: ‘bespreekbaarheid’ (speakability) that everything can and should be talked about.

I’d only been living in Amsterdam for a year when we met my husband’s friends in one of the many cafes and bars in the city’s famous Vondelpark.

We chose our seats and waited, but the waiter was nowhere to be seen. When he finally materialised, seemingly out of nowhere, he didn’t ask ‘What would you like to order’, or ‘What can I get you?’. He said ‘What do you want?’. Maybe it was the fact that he’d said it in English, or maybe he was just having a bad day, but I was shocked nonetheless.

My Dutch teacher later explained that the Dutch are very direct and nowhere are they so direct as they are in Amsterdam.

Ben Coates, who wrote Why the Dutch Are Different, moved to the Netherlands from Great Britain eight years ago. He recalls similar experiences, specifically one situation when he got a haircut and a friend immediately pointed out that it didn’t suit him at all.

“I think the Netherlands are a place where… no-one is going to pretend. For example, when you say something in a business meeting that is not a very smart suggestion, people will always point it out,” he said.

To Coates, the differences between his native Britain and the Netherlands were immediately noticeable. In Great Britain, he says, people tend to communicate and behave in a way that minimises offense to other people.

“You don’t talk too loudly on the train because it’s not too nice for the people in your compartment; you don’t play your music too loud in your apartment because it’s not so nice for your neighbours; there is this constant calibrating of your own behaviour,” Coates explained. But in the Netherlands, there is “the sense that people have the right to say whatever they want and be as direct as they want. And if other people don’t like that, it’s their fault for getting offended.”

To many foreigners, this give-it-to you-straight mentality can come across as inconsiderate, perhaps even arrogant. One time, I found myself at the supermarket staring with disbelief at the groceries that had spilled out of my hands onto the floor. Within seconds, I was surrounded by no fewer than 10 Dutch people, all of them giving me advice on what to do. But not one lifted a finger. To me, the situation was obvious: I needed help immediately. But the Dutch saw it differently: unless I specifically asked for help, it probably wasn’t necessary.

“We think truthfulness goes before empathy”

“Others may think that we don’t have empathy. Maybe that is so because we think truthfulness goes before empathy,” explained Eleonore Breukel, an interculturalist who trains people to communicate better in multicultural environments.

In the end, it all comes down to differences in communication patterns, said Breukel, who is Dutch but has lived all over the world. She believes the Dutch tendency to be very direct has to do with straightforwardness, which in turn is connected to the historical prevalence of Calvinism in the Netherlands (even though, according to Dutch News, the vast majority of Dutch people don’t associate with any religion today).

After the start of the Reformation in the 16th Century, Calvinism spread to France, Scotland and the Netherlands. But it only had noticeable impact in the latter, where it coincided with the fight for independence against Catholic Spain, which ruled over the Netherlands from 1556 to 1581.

In 1573, the Dutch prince William the Silent (called Willem van Oranje in Dutch), the founder of the Royal House of Orange that rules the Netherlands today, converted from Catholicism to Calvinism and united the country behind him. As a result, the Calvinist religion had a large impact on national identity because the Dutch associated Catholicism with Spanish oppression.

From that moment on, “Calvinism dictated the individual responsibility for moral salvage from the sinful world through introspection, total honesty, soberness, rejection of ‘pleasure’ as well as the ‘enjoyment’ of wealth,” writes Breukel in an article on Dutch business culture published on her website.

This straightforwardness is so intrinsic in Dutch society that there’s even a Dutch word for it: bespreekbaarheid (speakability) that everything can and should be talked about; there are no taboo topics.

In fact, directness and the idea of transparency that goes with it is a highly desirable trait to the Dutch. Many of the older houses in the Netherlands have big windows, allowing visitors if they so wish to peep inside.

“There is a totally different concept of privacy,” Coates said, noting the tendency of the Dutch people to discuss intimate topics in public.

“You sit in a restaurant with a friend and they will happily, in a room full of strangers, talk quite loudly about their medical problems or their parents’ divorce or their love life. They see no reason to keep it a secret.”

There is a totally different concept of privacy

In fact, from an outside point of view, it seems that every topic, no matter how difficult, should be up for debate. The Netherlands is unique in the way it treats treats topics such as prostitution, drugs and euthanasia. The latter is fully legalised but highly controlled, while the Red-Light District is a famous part of Amsterdam. While marijuana is no longer entirely legal, authorities have a so-called tolerance policy where coffee shops are not prosecuted for selling it.

But Breukel disagrees with the premise that the Dutch don’t have taboo topics. “We don’t discuss salaries, we don’t discuss pensions. Anything to do with luxury. We don’t talk about how beautiful our house is. We don’t discuss how big our car is,” she added.

Moreover, she said that the Dutch don’t want to acknowledge anything that might hint at inequality or power relationships. This is because of the socalled poldermodel, the Dutch practice of policymaking by consensus between government, employers and trade unions. The word ‘polder’ refers to pieces of land reclaimed from the sea. According to The Economist, to make the building of polders possible and to guard the country from the everpresent threat from the sea, the Dutch had to cooperate and work well together. This seeped down to family life where children’s voices count almost as much as those of the parents.

“We have an egalitarian culture. And in that egalitarian culture, we don’t want to make a difference between the boss and the employee,” Breukel said. In other words, there are rules of behaviour that everyone has to follow, and that, again, is visible in language. Proverbs such as ‘Doe maar normaal, dan ben je al gek genoeg’ (just be normal, that’s already crazy enough) or ‘Steekje hoofd niet boven het maaiveld uit’ (don’t put your head above the ground) are there to remind us that we are all the same.

As for me, I am learning to communicate better in the direct, Dutch way. Breukel advised me to start with the subject for example, ‘I would like an appointment’ instead of listing all the reasons why I should see the doctor. I’ve also learned to ask for help, instead of expecting it to be offered. And although I may complain about Dutch directness, I’m grateful to live in a country that allows me to be just that.



Why the Dutch are Different, A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands

Ben Coates

The Queen had resigned, and it was the new King’s first day at work. Amsterdam was ablaze with colour, the city’s narrow brick streets flooded with an estimated one million people celebrating the inauguration of the first King of the Netherlands in more than a hundred years. The concentric canals were gridlocked with small boats, many of them in danger of sinking under the weight of the scores of people drinking and dancing on board.

It was April 2013 and the Dutch capital had been hit by a serious outbreak of what the locals called oranjekoorts, or ‘orange fever’, a non-fatal disease whose chief symptom was the urge to cover oneself from head to toe in bright orange clothing. The choice of colour was a tribute to the Royal House of Orange, itself named after the small French town of Orange over which its members had once ruled. Orange banners floated from the windows of the slender canal houses, orange bunting spanned the crooked alleyways and orange balloons hung from the tilting iron lampposts. The cobbled floor was littered with discarded orange wigs, hats and miniature flags. Babies wore orange face paint and a barking dog sported an orange hat, coat and miniature feather boa.

Wearing an orange T-shirt emblazoned ‘IK HOU VAN HOLLAND’ (‘I love Holland’), an orange top hat and orange sunglasses, I felt I hadn’t really made enough of an effort.

In Dam Square, site of the dam on the river Amstel that gave the city its name, some 25,000 people had gathered to watch the retiring Queen Beatrix hand the family business to her son, the new King Willem Alexander. At one end of the square, the six-storey Royal Palace was draped with Dutch tricolour flags, the golden railings of its first-floor balcony laced with orange flowers.

In front of the palace was a vast crowd of well-wishers, many of them dressed in orange fur-trimmed capes and inflatable crowns. Necks craning and cameras held high, they strained for a view of the minor royals and celebrities walking to the palace from the ancient Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) where the King had just been formally approved by the Dutch parliament. The UK’s Prince Charles sweated his way across the cobbles under a mass of gold braid and medals; Ghana’s Kofi Annan grinned and waved to the cheering crowd.

Queen Beatrix had announced her intention to step down a few months previously, after thirty-three years on the throne. It was, she said, time for the crown to pass to ‘a new generation’. Now, appearing on the palace balcony above the square, the nation’s kindly grandmother looked close to tears. ‘Some moments ago I abdicated from the throne,’ she told the tangoed masses in Dutch, a light breeze ruffling her dark purple dress. ‘I am happy and grateful to introduce you to your new King, Willem-Alexander.’

The national anthem began to play, and the former Queen stood back from the balcony. The new King stepped forward, ruddy as a farmer in his dark suit and pale tie, flanked by his wife Maxima, an Argentinian beauty who had shaken off her past as a junta leader’s daughter to win millions of Dutch hearts. Next to the royal couple stood their three cherubic daughters, visibly nervous but as pretty as Disney princesses in their matching yellow dresses. They waved to the tangerine crowd, and applause rippled through the city like thunder.

My own journey to Dam Square had begun some three years previously, more than five thousand miles away in the Caribbean. Until 2010, I had worked in London as a kind of low-rent political hitman, crafting snide talking points and tubthumping speeches for ambitious politicians, skilfully misrepresenting opponents and raking over expense claims to force the resignation of otherwise competent cabinet ministers. It was the kind of job that guaranteed invitations to cocktail parties and impressed girls in bars, and I didn’t like it at all.

When a national election and coalition agreement put my jubilant former colleagues in power, I found myself faced with a choice. I could either angle for work carrying a minister’s bags around expensively catered international summits, or I could submit to the lucrative PowerPoint grind of a corporate lobbying job. After mulling over my options for an afternoon, I did what any sensible person would: I booked a one-way flight to Cuba.

By September that year, I was on a battered forty foot sailing boat off the coast of Belize, in possession of little more than an oaky tan and the kind of beard that guaranteed a strip search at airports. The vessel’s dreadlocked crew were more interested in listening to reggae than in actually sailing anywhere, and time had collapsed into a blissfully monotonous cycle of drinking rum punch, swimming with turtles and broiling gently in the sun. The House of Commons seemed a long way away.

The few other passengers on board included a pair of sunburned English girls celebrating their graduation and making plans to save the world, and four sunburned Dutch cousins with backpacks, boisterous and over-friendly in the way that tall people released from a small country usually were. Bored of the rum and the turtles, I struck up a conversation with the only girl in the Dutch group, a skinny blonde with salty hair, a starfish-patterned bikini and eyes the colour of the sea. We discussed nothing memorable, but when she disembarked that evening I somehow convinced her to leave behind her email address, scrawled on the back of a Cubana Airlines ticket stub.

Several months passed in a haze of beer, beaches and bus rides, and I had all but forgotten about the girl on the boat until a series of agitated messages from my bank indicated it was time to find a new job. Unfortunately, the plane carrying me back to Heathrow met with a sudden snowstorm and was diverted to Amsterdam. With all flights cancelled, an unkind security guard kicked me out of Schiphol airport and I trudged through thick snow to a series of hotels, each overcrowded with other stranded passengers. Shivering in a T-shirt and cotton trousers better suited to Caribbean climes, l was seriously contemplating sleeping in a subway station when I remembered that I did, in fact, know someone who lived in the Netherlands. Kneeling by a frozen canal, I dug a sun-bleached ticket stub from the bottom of my backpack and sent a message to the skinny girl asking if she’d like to meet for dinner.

She invited me round to her place in Rotterdam that evening, and I never left.



Almost Dutch

Rotterdam is not a beautiful city. A sprawling industrial conurbation of some 600,000 people, the Netherland’s second largest metropolis has none of the canals, cobbles or picturesque bridges of its more famous rival, Amsterdam, and as such is rarely troubled by tourists. However, much to my surprise, it soon began to feel like home. Literally hours after walking out of the airport in the snow, I found myself living in a tall, crooked townhouse, on a tree-lined street between a canal, a tram stop and a bar selling tiny glasses of Heineken. My Caribbean suntan swiftly faded, and my long beard joined my tattered beach clothes in a rubbish bin on the rain-soaked balcony. By the time the snow melted, my belongings had already arrived in the post from England, and l was eating bright green erwtensoep (pea soup) with gusto. The skinny girl a feisty, fiercely intelligent Rotterdammer with a pretty smile showed no signs of kicking me out, and I began the slow process of integrating into Dutch society.

One of the first things to figure out was what to call my new home. Even the Dutch themselves couldn’t quite decide, referring to their country as either Holland or Nederland (the Netherlands) interchangeably. Consulting a heavy book in the library, though, I learned that strictly speaking the country was actually called ‘The Kingdom of the Netherlands’. Just as the United Kingdom included Wales, Scotland and assorted overseas territories, the Kingdom of the Netherlands included both the main territory in Europe, the Netherlands and three colonial relics in the Caribbean: the islands of Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten. (Three other specks in the Caribbean Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba also had the status of ‘special municipalities’.)

The European part of the Kingdom could therefore be termed simply ‘the Netherlands’, but to label it ‘Holland’ was wrong, as that name referred only to the country’s two most populous provinces: North Holland and South Holland. Calling the whole country ‘Holland’ was therefore rather like calling the whole of the United Kingdom ‘England’ a common mistake, but a mistake nevertheless. So the country was ‘the Netherlands’, and the people who lived there were Dutch, and spoke Dutch, a language that sounded to an outsider like a drunk man gargling soup.

Next were the bikes. In Britain, bicycles are sporting accessories used only by children, the fit or the foolhardy. In the Netherlands, though, a third of the country ride one as their main mode of transport. Within a few weeks I had bought two: a sturdy shopping bike with handlebars like a Frenchman’s moustache, and then a lean white racing bike that weighed perhaps a fifth as much as the first one.

A few weeks later came what the Dutch called a snorfiets, or miniature motor-scooter, an absurd little machine the same colour as a fire engine and almost as noisy. Helmets are optional, and the miles of flat, traffic-free cycle lanes are perfect for wobbling home after a few too many Heinekens.

Thirdly, unfortunately, I had to get a job. The generosity of the Dutch welfare system made it tempting to stay in bed, but sadly I soon found gainful employment, an incredibly lucrative but boring position with a major Anglo-Dutch company, sending emails from a cubicle in The Hague and trying to understand the curious habits of my Dutch colleagues.

Finally came the language. Nearly all Dutch people speak perfect English, thanks to an excellent education and a population small enough to mean it isn’t worth dubbing American films and television programmes into the local language.

However, outside of Amsterdam it is relatively rare to hear English spoken in the street, and I quickly became frustrated at being unable to follow conversations, read menus or tell the difference between alcoholfree beer and real beer in the supermarket. Dutch friends provided a crash course in key phrases every Englishman abroad should know: ‘Mag ik een biertje’ (can I have a beer); ‘Je bent mooi’ (you are beautiful); ‘Ik heb het niet gedaan, ik wil een advocaat’ (I didn’t do it, I want a lawyer). When this vocabulary proved insufficient I took a few lessons with a private tutor, a kind, curly-haired woman who’d broken her hip in a cycling accident and was consigned to a Hitchcockian convalescence watching the birds through her rear window. We never studied as such, but gossiped in a mixture of Dutch and English, and I quickly reached a level where I could understand almost everything people said and stammer my way through a reply.

Reading was harder, though, and I battled my way through picture books belonging to a Dutch friend’s eighteen-month-old daughter. Miffy (Nijntje) was fun, but The Very Hungry Caterpillar was beyond me.

Out in public I still regularly made mistakes, such as the time when instead of asking someone whether she was cold, I accidentally called her something else beginning with ‘c’.

Surprisingly quickly, the Netherlands began to feel like home. I learned how to cycle while holding an open umbrella, how to slip slimy pickled herrings down my throat in one vinegary gulp, and how to pronounce words like ‘genoeg’ and ‘hottentottententententoonstelling’. However, there was still much about the country that was deeply confusing.

For a tiny nation, smaller than Togo or Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands has had a huge influence on the world. The Dutch ruled over an empire stretching from the Caribbean to East Asia, founded the city of New York, discovered Australia, played the world’s best football and produced some of the finest art and architecture in Europe. Everywhere one goes in the world, one can always find Dutch people.

A country half the size of Scotland, with a population of just seventeen million or so, claims to have invented the DVD, the dialysis machine, the tape recorder, the CD, the energy-saving lightbulb, the pendulum clock, the speed camera, golf, the microscope, the telescope and the doughnut.

The Netherlands has been, and still is, a kind of hidden superpower. Yet to many outsiders including me it remained a land defined entirely by clichés: clogs and canals, tulips and windmills, bikes and dikes, pot and prostitutes.

Bookshelves in the leafy English village where I grew up groaned under the weight of volumes about Italian cuisine or the difficulties of assimilating in rural France, but when it came to the gastronomically and climatically challenged Netherlands, most people were completely uninformed.

Those well versed in the history of the Berlin Wall or the French Resistance often knew nothing about swathes of Dutch history: the vast land bridge that once connected the Netherlands to England; the famine that devastated the country in the 1940s; the Catholic traditions of the carnival-loving south; the long battle for independence from Spain; the bloody wars against the English navy; the engineering marvel of the Delta Project; the poisonous politics of the Dutch far right.

The millions of tourists who visit each year rarely leave Amsterdam, and many expats manage to live in the country for years without speaking a single word of Dutch.

Like Canada or Sweden, the Netherlands is a place about which everyone knows a little, but no one knows very much.

As my own ties to the country deepened, I was determined to learn more. In 2013 I set out on a series of journeys through my adopted country. Some were many miles long, while others were confined to a single city or even building, but each aimed to understand a different aspect of the Netherlands’ culture and history the battle against the rising tides, the ‘Golden Age’ of empire, the Second World War, the effects of immigration, the liberal approach to drugs and prostitution and how these shaped the Dutch themselves.

This book is the story of those journeys. In the course of undertaking them I not only saw the new King inaugurated in Amsterdam, but dressed as a tiger for Easter, got drunk in a world-famous art gallery, had a picnic in a concentration camp, found Noah’s Ark near the North Sea and watched small children put on blackface before Christmas.

I even broke the habit of a lifetime and went to a football match. I learned why the Dutch are always cleaning their windows, why prostitutes pay income tax, and why the Netherlands are not quite as liberal as they seem.

Some things, however, remained a mystery. Chief among these was where the Netherlands was heading. During my first few months in the country, I often thought the Dutch had built something close to a perfect society. They live in one of the richest countries in Europe but work the fewest hours, with profitable multinational companies and excellent public services to boot. Compared to their British counterparts, the average Dutch person works an hour a day less but is about twenty per cent wealthier. Violent crime is almost unheard of and even major cities are bucolic, with little of the stress, pettiness and grime that plague places like London.

With memories of my daily commute to Westminster fading fast, I cycled slowly to the office, worked a few hours a day and had my bank account replenished with an unspendable torrent of euros every month with special extra pay cheques provided to cover the cost of Christmas and summer holidays.

Despite drinking dozens of cups of coffee a day, the Dutch are relaxed about almost everything. Working on weekends is unheard of, while suits and ties are reserved for weddings and funerals only. (For a job interview, a clean T-shirt will suffice.)

The Netherlands often seemed a charmingly timewarped place, with children playing safely in the streets at night, road-sweepers using wooden witches’ brooms, and teenagers rollerblading in the park while listening to Michael Jackson. Wandering the canals of Delft or watching the royals wave from their balcony in Amsterdam, it was easy to agree with the German poet Heinrich Heine, who allegedly said that if a war ever broke out he would head straight for the Netherlands, because ‘everything happens fifty years later there’.

Over time, though, it became clear that my initial impressions of peace and prosperity were not entirely accurate. Although there was much in the Netherlands to admire, there were also some things to be concerned about.

For centuries the country had benefited from its exposure to the outside world. Its geographical position and long seaboard helped it get rich from trade, while its overseas empire funded the development of cities like Amsterdam and artists like Rembrandt. The Dutch people’s outward-looking, internationalist attitude had given them a place on the world stage that it was hard to imagine being rivalled by, say, Finland, or Montenegro.

However, in recent years, exposure to outside forces had also created challenges. A journalist from the New York Times had described how ‘the Dutch tend to be a little world-weary these days. The past 35 years of Dutch history is the story of innocence lost,’ he wrote. ‘The noxious malaise that has long been eating at the vitals of most of industrialised Europe seems finally to have reached the Netherlands, taking much of the bounce out of this quiet, bustling nation as the stout-hearted Dutch got their first taste of domestic terrorism, racial extremism, corporate scandal and massive unemployment.’ That was in 1976.

Since then, the sense of uncertainty had only intensified. The economic crisis had hit the Netherlands hard, climate change had threatened the country’s watery borders, and immigration had caused tensions in many communities. Perhaps most strikingly of all, many former liberals now thought the whole Dutch social experiment had gone too far. The country’s famously permissive approach to tricky social issues had been questioned, and sacred cows like legal drug use and prostitution sacrificed.

In the teenage years of the twenty-first century, one of Europe’s smallest countries seemed to be a microcosm for the challenges facing the continent at large.

Would the Netherlands be able to maintain its traditional freedoms, or were the good times over? No one seemed entirely sure, but as Amsterdam erupted in orange, the country was determined to defy the doomsayers.

In their laidback, pragmatic, untheatrical way, the Dutch were responding to change just as they always had: with drinking and dancing and a quiet determination to maintain their unique outlook on life. For now, the country remained an island in time: arguably the most tolerant, peaceful and prosperous corner of a generally turbulent world.

‘We’ll keep making the wrong decisions,’ a friend told me, ‘and we’ll keep enjoying the consequences.’


Water, Water, Everywhere

Windmills, Climate Change and the Battle against the Tides

One night, Johan dreamed it was going to rain. In his dream, it rained for forty days and forty nights. The sea rose, the rivers flooded, and still the rain kept falling. People raced for higher ground, searching for tall trees and mountaintops where they could survive the deluge, but it was no use. The waters kept rising and the whole world was drowned. When Johan awoke, he decided to build an ark.

Some two decades later, the completed ark floated in a dock off the River Maas in Dordrecht, an ancient cathedral city some fifteen miles southeast of Rotterdam.

Approaching on foot from the train station one grey February morning, I had expected something smaller and, strangely, did not notice the ark until it was right above me: a vast wooden box of overlapping, honey-coloured pine that towered over the weedy wasteland around it. As high as a fivestorey building, the ark looked exactly like those I’d seen in illustrated bibles as a child, with a bowed profile and a squat cabin on the top. The high sides were studded with portholes and hatches, from which plastic animals peered out at the empty car park: a black-and-white cow at one window, a gloomy-looking horse at another. More oversized toys gazed down from the open top deck, including a life-sized plastic giraffe at the stern and an elephant at the bow. On the murky water below, a single live swan bobbed serenely like a bath toy; waiting, perhaps, to be offered a place on board.

Of all the places in the world where a modern-day disciple might choose to build an ark, the Netherlands was perhaps the most logical. With more than a quarter of the country lying below mean sea level, canals, rivers and lakes were almost as common as trees. Even a short walk or drive would involve crossing countless bridges, and even the most modest homes could be fronted by open water. More than three thousand miles of waterway were used to transport everything from cars to cows, and many towns retained the names of the water features on which they were originally based, such as Amsterdam’s dam on the River Amstel.

‘The Netherlands isn’t below sea level,’ a Dutchman on a ferry once told me. ‘The sea is above Netherlands level.’

Mark Twain was supposed to have said that any investor seeking profit should buy land, as it wasn’t being made any more. In most countries that would be sound advice, but in the Netherlands the opposite is true. Huge swathes of the country consist of land reclaimed from the sea, including the entire province of Flevoland. While England and Belgium are rough patchworks of fields and forests, the Netherlands is a man-made chessboard of straight lines and sharp corners.

‘God created the world,’ as one popular saying goes, ‘but the Dutch created the Netherlands.’

Unsurprisingly, the endless battle to stay dry has had a profound effect on the country’s history and culture. After living there for a while, I came to realise that almost every distinctive feature or cliché about the Netherlands was, in some way, a result of the country’s unique relationship with water: from the windmills that were used to pump fields dry, to the flatness of the land that was left behind, to the bicycles that travelled easily across the smooth terrain. Bricks paved roads built on dangerously soft ground; tulips thrived in the silty reclaimed soil; cows grew fat on rich, moist grass; glasses of milk and beer were safe to drink when clean water was in short supply; people grew tall from drinking all the milk; and thick wooden clogs kept farmers’ feet dry when trudging through boggy fields. Almost everything that an outsider might think of as typically Dutch could be attributed to the country’s ongoing battle against the tides.

The omnipresence of water had also, I came to see, had a profound effect on the Dutch themselves. Earthy and honest, with nothing to hide, the Dutch people I met were as dependable and unexotic as the landscape in which they lived. Having worked together to build a country the way others might build a house, they also had a deeply ingrained belief in the need for hard work and order, equality and cooperation. To begin to understand the Dutch, therefore, I had to understand their relationship with water. And a journey along one of the Netherlands’ largest rivers, from Noah’s Ark through my adopted home city of Rotterdam and on to the North Sea, seemed like a good place to start.

Into the Ark

I walked along a narrow jetty, pushed open a wooden swing door and entered the ark. Inside, a young Dutch woman in a Noah’s Ark fleece jacket sat behind a pine reception desk in a pine reception area. I bought a ticket €12.50 for eternal salvation, paid with a credit card and the receptionist pointed out animal footprints painted on the rough wooden floor, leading away from the counter and into the belly of the ship. ‘Volg de voetstappen,’ she explained. ‘Follow the footprints.’

I did as I was told and soon reached a series of nativity-style displays nestled in the curves of the hull, each housing doeeyed plastic animals waiting for the waters to subside. Next to them, recovering in bed from his frenzied carpentering, was Noah, his grey beard cascading over a grubby smock, dead plastic eyes staring at a splintery ceiling. On the wall was an enlarged page from a Dutch bible: ‘The flood continued forty days upon the earth and all flesh died that moved upon the earth Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.’ The whole place smelled like IKEA.

The ark had opened in 2012, some twenty years after the Dutch creationist and amateur prophet Johan Huibers had his apocalyptic dream. A well-off building contractor sporting a Mario Brothers moustache, Huibers had become convinced that the Netherlands would be submerged in an Old Testament-style flood. In 2005 he built a half-size replica of Noah’s Ark, followed by the full-size replica in which I now stood. Three years in the making, it reportedly cost well over a million euros to build. Huibers told reporters he hoped to offset the costs by taking thousands of passengers on a tour of London during the 2012 Olympic Games, but those plans were scuppered when British authorities refused the vessel permission to visit, understandably concerned that a huge floating wood pile filled with people and candles might present something of a fire hazard.

According to its creator, the scale of the vessel followed the instructions laid out in the Book of Genesis. However, some concessions to modernity had been made, unable to identify the ‘gopher wood’ stipulated in the Bible, Huibers had resorted to building a Scandinavian pine skin over the metal hulls of several old barges that had been welded together. In a more serious break with tradition, rather than two specimens of each living creature, the ark included only a handful of small farmyard animals, outnumbered by plastic 200 animals. Perhaps for this reason, visitors were not exactly flooding in. Newspapers had reported a recent spike in interest in the ark when an apocalyptic cult claimed the end of the world was nigh, but when I arrived the queue to board the ark was not long. In fact, it was non-existent, and the car park outside was nearly empty.

Passing the plastic Noah, I walked deeper into the ship, ascending a series of wooden ramps and walkways through the maze of animal pens and cabins that filled the belly of the ship. Most of the pens were empty, but some contained live rabbits that were scratching their way through a dusty carpet of straw. A black plastic monkey swung from the rafters overhead, and a pair of plastic rhinos thrust their horns menacingly in the direction of the ostriches and dodos. Elsewhere, a six-packed plastic Adam with a shaggy brown wig and amorphous genitals was ignoring a terribly sexy Eve, her generous breasts obscured by long blonde hair and a carefully placed plastic flamingo. Posters on the wall offered a creationist view of world history, implying that the Grand Canyon had been created by the same deluge that sent Noah to sea.

Ascending the sloping walkways, I soon reached the top deck, where an empty café offered rookworst (sausage) sandwiches but no alcohol. Outside was a panoramic view of the river Maas curving towards the steeples of Dordrecht city centre. Milky grey and as flat as a table top, the river isn’t much to look at, but is in fact one of the continent’s most important arteries, one main channel of what geographers catchily refer to as the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. Roughly 600 miles long, the Maas (or Meuse in French) flows north through France, Belgium and the Netherlands before bending westwards and joining a dense web of other rivers on their way to the sea, including the Lek and the Waal and what Lord Byron called ‘the wide and winding Rhine’.

Before leaving home, I had tried to follow the course of the rivers on maps online, but quickly gave up it was like trying to track the path of a single thread through a knitted jumper. Suffice to say that should they wish, a boat owner in Dordrecht could in theory sail upriver not only to Dutch cities such as Maastricht, but on to Strasburg, Mainz, Cologne and even Basel. Going in the opposite direction, the river carries traffic from Dordrecht to Rotterdam before reaching the sea at several points along the Dutch coast, most notably at Hoek van Holland, from where ferries continued the journey across the Channel to Essex.

Although not widely known outside northern Europe, the Maas is mentioned in the first verse of the German national anthem (‘We stand together as brother, from the Maas to the Memel’). The river even gave its name to a dinosaur: the Mosasaur, an alligator-like creature whose existence helped disprove the previously accepted theory that it was impossible for any animal to become extinct. The Maas is the lifeblood of the southern Netherlands, and I intended to make my way along it.

Dizzy from the smell of pine, I decided i had seen enough of the ark. I retraced my steps, resisted the temptation to buy stuffed toy animals from the woman at the reception desk, and disembarked. I had nearly an hour to spare before the ferry would depart for Rotterdam, and was happy to have the chance to explore Dordrecht, a city I had never visited before.

Dordrecht: A Smiling City

Just as Parisians must tire of fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, and Egyptians yawn at the sight of pyramids at sunset, a couple of years in the Netherlands had made me rather blasé about pretty little towns with historic churches and canals. Dordrecht, however, was undeniably charming: a warren of spindly old buildings tilting over rust-coloured brick streets dusted with fallen leaves. ‘Dordrecht, a place so beautiful, tomb of my cherished illusions,’ a lovesick Proust once called it. For Alexandre Dumas, it was ‘a smiling city’.

On a wintry weekday morning, the streets were quiet but the city felt quietly prosperous, unsullied by the tour groups and stag parties that blighted towns further north. Cyclists rattled over bumpy cobbled streets, weaving between shoppers carrying plastic bags filled with bread and potatoes. As in many Dutch towns, water was omnipresent. Around almost every corner came another small harbour, tucked between tall warehouses and houses lined up like books on a shelf. The city seemed like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing, the gaps filled with spillover from the river.



Why the Dutch are Different, A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands

by Ben Coates

get it at

“It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.” Prisoners of the American Dream – Stefanie Stantcheva.

With inequality increasing, many around the world might assume that Americans would want to close the income gap by instituting a more progressive system of redistribution. But the opposite is true: Americans’ perceptions of privilege, opportunity, and social mobility contrast markedly with views elsewhere.

Given worsening economic inequality in the United States, many observers might assume that Americans would want to reduce income differences by instituting a more progressive tax system. That assumption would be wrong because, in December, the US Congress passed a sweeping tax bill that will, at least in the short term, disproportionately benefit higher-income households.

Despite their country’s mounting income gap, Americans’ support for redistribution has, according to the General Social Survey, remained flat for decades. Perhaps John Steinbeck got it right when he supposedly said that:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

For those who believe that a society should offer its members equal opportunity, and that anyone who works hard can climb higher on the socioeconomic ladder, redistribution is unnecessary and unfair. After all, equal opportunists argue, if everyone begins at the same starting point, a bad outcome must be due to an individual’s own missteps.

This view approximates that of a majority of Americans. According to the World Values Survey, 70% of Americans believe that the poor can make it out of poverty on their own. This contrasts sharply with attitudes in Europe, where only 35% believe the same thing. Put another way:

Most Europeans consider the poor unfortunate, while most Americans consider them indolent.

This may be one reason why European countries support more generous and costlier welfare transfers than the US.

Americans have deep-seated, optimistic views about social mobility, opinions that are rooted in US history and bolstered by narratives of rags-to-riches immigrants. But today, Americans’ beliefs about social mobility are based more on myth than on fact.

According to survey research that colleagues and I recently conducted and analyzed, Americans estimate that among children in the lowest income bracket, 12% will make it to the top bracket by the time they retire. Americans also believe that with hard work, only 22% of children in poverty today will remain there as adults.

The actual numbers are 8% and 33%, respectively. In other words, Americans overestimate upward social mobility and underestimate the likelihood of remaining stuck in poverty for generations. They also believe that if everyone worked hard, the American Dream of self-made success would hew closer to reality.

European respondents are more pessimistic about mobility: unlike Americans, they overestimate the odds of remaining in poverty. For example, French, Italian, and British respondents said, respectively, that 35%, 34%, and 38% of low-income children will remain poor, when the reality is that 29%, 27%, and 31% will.

Views about social mobility are not uniform across the political spectrum or across geographic regions. In both the US and Europe, for example, people who call themselves “conservative” on matters of economic policy believe that there are equal opportunities for all children, and that the free-market economy in their country is fair.

The opposite holds true for those who call themselves economically “liberal.” These people favor government intervention, because they believe that, left to their own devices, markets will not ensure fairness, and may even generate more inequality.

An even more striking pattern is that Americans are overly optimistic about social mobility in parts of the country where actual mobility is low including the southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In these states, respondents believe that mobility is more than two times greater than it is. By contrast, respondents underestimate social mobility in northern states including Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington where it is higher.

As part of our study, we shared data on social stratification in Europe and America with our participants. We found that selfidentified liberals and conservatives interpreted this information differently. When shown pessimistic information about mobility, for example, liberals became even more supportive of redistributive policies, such as public education and universal health care.

Conservatives, by contrast, remained unmoved. While they acknowledged that low social mobility is economically limiting, they remained as averse to government intervention and redistribution as they were before we shared the data with them.

Part of the reason for conservatives’ reaction, I believe, is mistrust. Many conservatives hold government in deep disdain; only 17% of conservative voters in the US and Europe say they can trust their country’s political leaders. The share of conservatives with an overall negative view of government was 80%; among liberals, it was closer to 50%. Moreover, a high percentage of conservatives say the best way to reduce inequality is to lower taxes on businesses and people.

But suspicion of government may also stem from a belief that political systems are rigged, and that politicians can’t or won’t improve things because they have become “captured” by entrenched interests, mired in legislative stalemate, or stymied by bureaucracy. In short:

When conservatives learn that social mobility is lower than they thought, they believe government is the problem, not the solution.

As J.D. Vance noted in his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, many on the American right now believe that “it’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

We may be so polarized in the US and Europe that, even after receiving the same information, we respond in opposite ways. The left will want more government, and the right will want less. Clearly, reality is not so neat. But what is clear is that people’s views about social mobility have as much to do with ideology and geography as with their circumstances.


Stefanie Stantcheva is a professor of economics at Harvard University.

Project Syndicate


Research Paper

Intergenerational Mobility and Support for Redistribution


Using new cross-country survey and experimental data, we investigate how beliefs about intergenerational mobility affect preferences for redistribution in France, Italy, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Americans are more optimistic than Europeans about social mobility. Our randomized treatment shows pessimistic information about mobility and increases support for redistribution, mostly for “equality of opportunity” policies.

We find a strong political polarization. Left-wing respondents are more pessimistic about mobility, their preferences for redistribution are correlated with their mobility perceptions, and they support more redistribution after seeing pessimistic information. None of these apply to right-wing respondents, possibly because they see the government as a “problem” and not as the “solution.”



Stefanie Stantcheva is an associate professor in Economics. Her research focuses on the optimal design of the tax system, taking into account important labor market features, social preferences, and long-term effects such as human capital acquisition and innovation by people and firms. She is also interested in the empirical effects of taxation on inequality, top incomes, migration, human capital, and innovation.

She received her Ph.D. in Economics from MIT in 2014 and was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows 2014-2016.

William James’s Revolutionary 1884 Theory of How Our Bodies Affect Our Feelings – Maria Popova * What is an Emotion? – William James (1884).

Wat is an Emotion?

William James’s Revolutionary 1884 Theory of How Our Bodies Affect Our Feelings.

by Maria Popova

“Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in her masterfull treatise on the intelligence of emotions, ”they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.” But the emotions and the intellect are just two parts of our creaturely trifecta of experience. The third, which can’t be disentwined from the other two and which is in constant dynamic dialogue with them, is the physical reality of the body.

More than a century before Nussbaum, the trailblazing psychologist William James (1842-1910) who shaped our understanding of the psychology of habit made a revolutionary case for “how much our mental life is knit up with our corporeal frame” in an 1884 essay titled “What is an Emotion? ” included in The Heart of William James.

Long before scientists came to demonstrate how our emotions affect our bodies, James argued that the relationship is bidirectional and that while “bodily disturbances” are conventionally considered byproducts or expressions of the so-called standard emotions “surprise, curiosity, rapture, fear, anger, lust, greed, and the like” these corporeal reverberations are actually the raw material of the emotion itself.

James writes:

“Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression.

My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.

Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations must first be interposed between, and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colourless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we could not actually feel afraid or angry”.

The subtleties of our body language and physical instinct, James argues, are in concordance with the subtleties of our emotional experience:

“No shade of emotion, however slight, should be without a bodily reverberation as unique, when taken in its totality, as is the mental mood itself. The immense number of parts modified in each emotion is what makes it so difficult for us to reproduce in cold blood the total and integral expression of any one of them. Our whole cubic capacity is sensibly alive; and each morsel of it contributes its pulsations of feeling, dim or sharp, pleasant, painful, or dubious, to that sense of personality that every one of us unfailingly carries with him.”

Pointing out that we’re each familiar with the bodily experience of emotional states the instinctual furrowing of the brow when troubled, the lump in the throat when anxious James delivers the central point of his theory:

“If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no “mind-stuff” out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains.

Can one fancy the state of rage and picture no ebullition of it in the chest, no flushing of the face, no dilatation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead limp muscles, calm breathing, and a placid face? The present writer, for one, certainly cannot. The rage is as completely evaporated as the sensation of its socalled manifestations, and the only thing that can possibly be supposed to take its place is some coldblooded and dispassionate judicial sentence, confined entirely to the intellectual realm, to the effect that a certain person or persons merit chastisement for their sins.

In like manner of grief: what would it be without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more. Every passion in turn tells the same story. A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity, without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more. Every passion in turn tells the same story. A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity.”

It’s only in the past decade, more than a century after James developed his theory, that Western scientists have come to study this relationship through the field of embodied condition. But millennia-old Eastern traditions are built upon a foundational understanding of this osmotic interplay of flesh and feeling.

Ancient mind-body practices like vipassana meditation are so effective because, in bringing us back into our bodies, they decondition our mental spinning and make us better able to simply observe our emotions as we experience them rather than being wound up and dominated by them.

Noting that his theory “grew out of fragmentary introspective observations,” James offers an empirical testament from his own interior life:

“The more closely I scrutinise my states, the more persuaded I become, that whatever moods, affections, and passions I have, are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes we ordinarily call their expression or consequence; and the more it seems to me that if I were to become corporeally anaesthetic, I should be excluded from the life of the affections, harsh and tender alike, and drag out an existence of merely cognitive or intellectual form.”

He notes that the purely cognitive experience of things is “more allied to a judgment of right than to anything else” for instance, analyzing a symphony’s composition rather than letting the music, in the immortal words of Oliver Sacks, “pierce the heart directly.” Curiously, James argues that intellectual mastery of a specific domain blunts one’s ability to feel these physiological aesthetic ripples of emotion:

“Where long familiarity with a certain class of effects has blunted emotional sensibility thereto as much as it has sharpened the taste and judgment, we do get the intellectual emotion, if such it can be called, pure and undefiled. And the dryness of it, the paleness, the absence of all glow, as it may exist in a thoroughly expert critic’s mind, not only shows us what an altogether different thing it is from the “standard” emotions we considered first, but makes us suspect that almost the entire difference lies in the fact that the bodily sounding-board, vibrating in the one case, is in the other mute. “Not so very bad” is, in a person of consummate taste, apt to be the highest limit of approving expression.”

The great physicist Richard Feynman, of course, vehemently disagreed. But James certainly had a point: I once knew a hard scientist, in every sense of the word, who very, much embodied this withering of the expansive warmth of aesthetic appreciation in the grip of the cold intellect. On one occasion, she sent me a photograph from an autumn hike, depicting hills of trees covered in beautiful foliage at sunset. “Not bad,” she wrote.

James considers the interplay of these two faculties:

” In every art, in every science, there is the keen perception of certain relations being right or not, and there is the emotional flush and thrill consequent thereupon. And these are two things, not one. In the former of them it is that experts and masters are at home. The latter accompaniments are bodily commotions that they may hardly feel, but that may be experienced in their fulness by Crétins and Philistines in whom the critical judgment is at its lowest ebb. The “marvels” of Science, about which so much edifying popular literature is written, are apt to be “caviare” to the men in the laboratories. Cognition and emotion are parted even in this last retreat, who shall say that their antagonism may not just be one phase of the world-old struggle known as that between the spirit and the flesh? a struggle in which it seems pretty certain that neither party will definitively drive the other off the field”.

The essay, like every piece collected in The Heart of William James, is a magnificent read in its entirety. Complement it with James on choosing purpose over profit and the psychology of the second wind, then revisit immunologist Esther Sternberg on how our emotions affect our susceptibility to burnout and disease and Rilke on the relationship between the body and the soul.


According to James, only after we experience the physiological response do we interpret it cognitively and ascribe to it a particular emotion. Based on this, a cognitive recognition and categorization of a specific emotion occurs following an endocrine-generated physiological response.
Richard Yonck


What is an Emotion? William James (1884)

First published in Mind 9,188-205.

The physiologists who, during the past few years, have been so industriously exploring the functions of the brain, have limited their attempts at explanation to its cognitive and volitional performances. Dividing the brain into sensorial and motor centres, they have found their division to be exactly paralleled by the analysis made by empirical psychology, of the perceptive and volitional parts of the mind into their simplest elements.

But the aesthetic sphere of the mind, its longings, its pleasures and pains, and its emotions, have been so ignored in all these researches that one is tempted to suppose that if either Dr. Ferrier or Dr. Munk were asked for a theory in brain-terms of the latter mental facts, they might both reply, either that they had as yet bestowed no thought upon the subject, or that they had found it so difficult to make distinct hypotheses, that the matter lay for them among the problems of the future, only to be taken up after the simpler ones of the present should have been definitively solved.

And yet it is even now certain that of two things concerning the emotions, one must be true. Either separate and special centres, affected to them alone, are their brain-seat, or else they correspond to processes occurring in the motor and sensory centres, already assigned, or in others like them, not yet mapped out.

If the former be the case we must deny the current view, and hold the cortex to be something more than the surface of “projection” for every sensitive spot and every muscle in the body. If the latter be the case, we must ask whether the emotional “process” in the sensory or motor centre be an altogether peculiar one, or whether it resembles the ordinary perceptive processes of which those centres are already recognised to be the seat.

The purpose of the following pages is to show that the last alternative comes nearest to the truth, and that the emotional brain-processes no only resemble the ordinary sensorial brain-processes, but in very truth are nothing but such processes variously combined. The main result of this will be to simplify our notions of the possible complications of brain-physiology, and to make us see that we have already a brain-scheme in our hands whose applications are much wider than its authors dreamed.

But although this seems to be the chief result of the arguments I am to urge, I should say that they were not originally framed for the sake of any such result. They grew out of fragmentary introspective observations, and it was only when these had already combined into a theory that the thought of the simplification the theory might bring to cerebral physiology occurred to me, and made it seem more important than before.

I should say first of all that the only emotions I propose expressly to consider here are those that have a distinct bodily expression. That there are feelings of pleasure and displeasure, of interest and excitement, bound up with mental operations, but having no obvious bodily expression for their consequence, would, I suppose, be held true by most readers. Certain arrangements of sounds, of lines, of colours, are agreeable, and others the reverse, without the degree of the feeling being sufficient to quicken the pulse or breathing, or to prompt to movements of either the body or the face. Certain sequences of ideas charm us as much as others tire us. It is a real intellectual delight to get a problem solved, and a real intellectual torment to have to leave it unfinished.

The first set of examples, the sounds, lines, and colours, are either bodily sensations, or the images of such. The second set seem to depend on processes in the ideational centres exclusively. Taken together, they appear to prove that there are pleasures and pains inherent in certain forms of nerve-action as such, wherever that action occur. The case of these feelings we will at present leave entirely aside, and confine our attention to the more complicated cases in which a wave of bodily disturbance of some kind accompanies the perception of the interesting sights or sounds, or the passage of the exciting train of ideas. Surprise, curiosity, rapture, fear, anger, lust, greed, and the like, become then the names of the mental states with which the person is possessed. The bodily disturbances are said to be the “manifestation” of these several emotions, their “expression” or “natural language”; and these emotions themselves, being so strongly characterized both from within and without, may be called the standard emotions.

Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression.

My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.

Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations must first be interposed between, and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colourless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we could not actually feel afraid or angry.

Stated in this crude way, the hypothesis is pretty sure to meet with immediate disbelief. And yet neither many nor far-fetched considerations are required to mitigate its paradoxical character, and possibly to produce conviction of its truth.

To begin with, readers of the Journal do not need to be reminded that the nervous system of every living thing is but a bundle of predispositions to react in particular ways upon the contact of particular features of the environment. As surely as the hermitcrab’s abdomen presupposes the existence of empty whelk-shells somewhere to be found, so surely do the hound’s olfactories imply the existence, on the one hand, of deer’s or foxes’ feet, and on the other, the tendency to follow up their tracks.

The neural machinery is but a hyphen between determinate arrangements of matter ourtside the body and determinate impulses to inhibition or discharge within its organs.

When the hen sees a white oval object on the ground, she cannot leave it; she must keep upon it and return to it, until at last its transformation into a little mass of moving chirping down elicits from her machinery an entirely new set of performances. The love of man for woman, or of the human mother for her babe, our wrath at snakes and our fear of precipices, may all be described similarly, as instances of the way in which peculiarly conformed pieces of the world’s furniture will fatally call forth most particular mental and bodily reactions, in advance of, and often in direct opposition to, the verdict of our deliberate reason concerning them. The labours of Darwin and his successors are only just beginning to reveal the universal parasitism of each creature upon other special things, and the way in which each creature brings the signature of its special relations stampted on its nervous system with it upon the scene.

Every living creature is in fact a sort of lock, whose wards and springs presuppose special forms of key, which keys however are not born attached to the locks, but are sure to be found in the world near by as life goes on. And the locks are indifferent to any but their own keys. The egg fails to fascinate the hound, the bird does not fear the precipice, the snake waxes not wroth at his kind, the deer cares nothing for the woman or the human babe.

Those who wish for a full development of this point of view, should read Schneider’s Der Thierische Wille no other book shows how accurately anticipatory are the actions of animals, of the specific features of the environment in which they are to live.

Now among these nervous anticipations are of course to be reckoned the emotions, so far as these may be called forth directly by the perception of certain facts. In advance of all experience of elephants no child can but be frightened if he suddenly find one trumpeting and charging upon him. No woman can see a handsome little naked baby without delight, no man in the wilderness see a human form in the distance without excitement and curiosity. I said I should consider these emotions only so far as they have bodily movements of some sort for their accompaniments. But my first point is to show that their bodily accompaniments are much more far-reaching and complicated than we ordinarily suppose.

In the earlier books on Expression, written mostly from the artistic point of view, the signs of emotion visible from without were the only ones taken account of. Sir Charles Bell’s celebrated Anatomy of Expression noticed the respiratory changes; and Bain’s and Darwin’s treatises went more thoroughly still into the study of the visceral factors involved, changes in the functioning of glands and muscles, and in that of the circulatory apparatus. But not even a Darwin has exhaustively enumerated all the bodily affections characteristic of any one of the standard emotions. More and more, as physiology advances, we begin to discern how almost infinitely numerous and subtle they must be.

The researches of Mosso with the plethysmograph have shown that not only the heart, but the entire circulatory system, forms a sort of sounding-board, which every change of our consciousness, however slight, may make reverberate. Hardly a sensation comes to us without sending waves of alternate constriction and dilatation down the arteries of our arms. The bloodvessels of the abdomen act reciprocally with those of the more outward parts. The bladder and bowels, the glands of the mouth, throat, and skin, and the liver, are known to be affected gravely in certain severe emotions, and are unquestionably affected transiently when the emotions are of a lighter sort.

That the heart-beats and the rhythm of breathing play a leading part in all emotions whatsoever, is a matter too notorious for proof.

And what is really equally prominent, but less likely to be admitted until special attention is drawn to the fact, is the continuous co-operation of the voluntary muscles in our emotional states. Even when no change of outward attitude is produced, their inward tension alters to suit each varying mood, and is felt as a difference of tone or of strain. In depression the flexors tend to prevail; in elation or belligerent excitement the extensors take the lead. And the various permutations and combinations of which these organic activities are susceptible, make it abstractly possible that no shade of emotion, however slight, should be without a bodily reverberation as unique, when taken in its totality, as is the mental mood itself.

The immense number of parts modified in each emotion is what makes it so difficult for us to reproduce in cold blood the total and integral expression of any one of them. We may catch the trick with the voluntary muscles, but fail with the skin, glands, heart, and other viscera. Just as an artificially imitated sneeze lacks something of the reality, so the attempt to imitate an emotion in the absence of its normal instigating cause is apt to be rather “hollow”.

The next thing to be noticed is this, that every one of the bodily changes, whatsoever it be, is felt acutely or obscurely, the moment it occurs. If the reader has never paid attention to this matter, he will be both interested and astonished to learn how many different local bodily feelings he can detect in himself as characteristic of his various emotional moods. It would be perhaps too much to expect him to arrest the tide of any strong gust of passion for the sake of any such curious analysis as this; but he can observe more tranquil states, and that may be assumed here to be true of the greater which is shown to be true of the less.

Our whole cubic capacity is sensibly alive; and each morsel of it contributes its pulsations of feeling, dim or sharp, pleasant, painful, or dubious, to that sense of personality that every one of us unfailingly carries with him. It is surprisingly what little items give accent to these complexes of sensibility.

When worried by any slight trouble, one may find that the focus of one’s bodily consciousness is the contraction, often quite inconsiderable, of the eyes and brows. When momentarily embarrassed it is something in the pharynx that compels either a swallow, a clearing of the throat, or a slight cough; and so on for as many more instances as might be named.

Our concern here being with the general view rather than with the details, I will not linger to discuss these but, assuming the point admitted that every change that occurs must be felt, I will pass on.


I now proceed to urge the vital point of my whole theory, which is this.

If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no “mind-stuff” out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains.

It is true, that although most people, when asked say that their introspection verifies this statement, some persist in saying theirs does not. Many cannot be made to understand the question. When you beg them to imagine away every feeling of laughter and of tendency to laugh from their consciousness of the ludicrousness of an object, and then to tell you what the feeling of its ludicrousness would be like, whether it be anything more than the perception that the object belongs to the class “funny,” they persist in replying that the thing proposed is a physical impossibility, and that they always must laugh, if they see a funny object. Of course the task proposed is not the practical one of seeing a ludicrous object and annihilating one’s tendency to laugh. It is the purely speculative one of subtracting certain elements of feeling from an emotional state supposed to exist in its fulness, and saying what the residual elements are. I cannot help thinking that all who rightly apprehend this problem will agree with the proposition above laid down.

What kind of an emotion of fear would be left, if the feelings neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible to think. Can one fancy the state of rage and picture no ebullition of it in the chest, no flushing of the face, no dilatation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead limp muscles, calm breathing, and a placid face? The present writer, for one, certainly cannot.

The rage is as completely evaporated as the sensation of its so-called manifestations, and the only thing that can possibly be supposed to take its place is some cold-blooded and dispassionate judicial sentence, conlined entirely to the intellectual realm, to the effect that a certain person or persons merit chastisement for their sins. In like manner of grief: what would it be without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breast-bone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing more.

Every passion in turn tells the same story. A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity.

I do not say that it is a contradiction in the nature of things, or that pure spirits are necessarily condemned to cold intellectual lives; but I say that for us, emotion dissociated from all bodily feeling is inconceivable. The more closely I scrutinise my states, the more persuaded I become, that whatever moods, affections, and passions Ihave, are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes we ordinarily call their expression or consequence; and the more it seems to me that if I were to become corporeally anaesthetic, I should be excluded from the life of the affections, harsh and tender alike, and drag out an existence of merely cognitive or intellectual form. Such an existence, although it seems to have been the ideal of ancient sages, is too apathetic to be keenly sought after by those born after the revival of the worship of sensibility, a few generations ago.

But if the emotion is nothing but the feeling of the reflex bodily effects of what we call its “objects,” effects due to the connate adaptation of the nervous system to that object, we seem immediately faced by this objection: most of the objects of civilised men’s emotions are things to which it would be preposterous to suppose their nervous systems connately adapted. Most occasions of shame and many insults are purely conventional, and vary with the social environment. The same is true of many matters of dread and of desire, and of many occasions of melancholy and regret. In these cases, at least, it would seem that the ideas of shame, desire, regret, &c., must first have been attached by education and association to these conventional objects before the bodily changes could possibly be awakened. And if in these cases the bodily changes follow the ideas, instead of giving rise to them, why not then in all cases?

To discuss thoroughly this objection would carry us deep into the study of purely intellectual Aesthetics. A few words must here suffice. We will say nothing of the argument‘s failure to distinguish between the idea of an emotion and the emotion itself. We will only recall the well-known evolutionary principle that when a certain power has once been fixed in an animal by virtue of its utility in presence of certain features of the environment, it may turn out to be useful in presence of other features of the environment that had originally nothing to do with either producing or preserving it. A nervous tendency to discharge being once there, all sorts of unforeseen things may pull the trigger and let loose the effects. That among these things should be conventionalities of man’s contriving is a matter of no psychological consequence whatever. The most important part of my environment is my fellow-man. The consciousness of his attitude towards me is the perception that normally unlocks most of my

The consciousness of his attitude towards me is the perception that normally unlocks most of my shames and indignations and fears. The extraordinary sensitiveness of this consciousness is shown by the bodily modifications wrought in us by the awareness that our fellow-man is noticing us at all. No one can walk across the platform at a public meeting with just the same muscular innervation he uses to walk across his room at home. No one can give a message to such a meeting without organic excitement. “Stage-fright” is only the extreme degree of that wholly irrational personal self-consciousness which every one gets in some measure, as soon as he feels the eyes of a number of strangers fixed upon him, even though he be inwardly convinced that their feeling towards him is of no practical account.

This being so, it is not surprising that the additional persuasion that my fellow-man’s attitude means either well or ill for me, should awaken stronger emotions still. In primitive societies ”Well” may mean handing me a piece of beef, and “Ill” may mean aiming a blow at my skull. in our “cultured age,” “Ill” may mean cutting me in the street, and “Well,” giving me an honorary degree. What the action itself may be is quite insignificant, so long as I can perceive in it intent or animus. It is the emotion-arousing perception; and may give rise to as strong bodily convulsions in me, a civilised man experiencing the treatment of an artificial society, as in any savage prisoner of war, learning whether his captors are about to eat him or to make him a member of their tribe.

But now, this objection disposed of, there arises a more general doubt. Is there any evidence, it may be asked, for the assumption that particular perceptions 0’0 produce widespread bodily effects by a sort of immediate physical influence, antecedent to the arousal of an emotion or emotional idea?

The only possible reply is, that there is most assuredly such evidence. In listening to poetry, drama, or heroic narrative, we are often surprised at the cutaneous shiver which like a sudden wave flows over us, and at the heart-swelling and the lachrymal effusion that unexpectedly catch us at intervals. In listening to music, the same is even more strikingly true. If we abruptly see a dark moving form in the woods, our heart stops beating, and we catch our breath instantly and before any articulate idea of danger can arise. If our friend goes near to the edge of a precipice, we get the well-known feeling of “alloverishness,” and we shrink back, although we positively know him to be safe, and have no distinct imagination of his fall. The writer well remembers his astonishment, when a boy of seven or eight, at fainting when he saw a horse bled. The blood was in a bucket, with a stick in it, and, if memory does not deceive him, he stirred it round and saw it drip from the stick with no feeling save that of childish curiosity. Suddenly the world grew black before his eyes, his ears began to buzz, and he knew no more. He had never heard of the sight of blood producing faintness or sickness, and he had so little repugnance to it, and so little apprehension of any other sort of danger from it, that even at that tender age, as he well remembers, he could not help wondering how the mere physical presence of a pailful of crimson fluid occasion in him such formidable bodily effects.

Imagine two steel knife-blades with their keen edges crossing each other at rightangles, and moving too and fro. Our whole nervous organisation is “on-edge” at the thought; and yet what emotion can be there except the unpleasant nervous feeling itself, or the dread that more of it may come?

The entire fund and capital of the emotion here is the senseless bodily effect the blades immediately arouse. This case is typical of a class: where an ideal emotion seems to precede the bodily symptoms, it is often nothing but a representation of the symptoms themselves. One who has already fainted at the sight of blood may witness the preparations for a surgical operation with uncontrollable heart-sinking and anxiety. He anticipates certain feelings, and the anticipation precipitates their arrival. I am told of a case of morbid terror, of which the subject confessed that what possessed her seemed, more than anything, to be the fear of fear itself. In the various forms of what Professor Bain calls “tender emotion,” although the appropriate object must usually be directly contemplated before the emotion can be aroused, yet sometimes thinking of the symptoms of the emotion itself may have the same effect. In sentimental natures, the thought of “yearning” will produce real “yearning”. And, not to speak of coarser examples, a mother’s imagination of the caresses she bestows on her child may arouse a spasm of parental longing.

In such cases as these, we see plainly how the emotion both begins and ends with what we call its effects or manifestations. It has no mental status except as either the presented feeling, or the idea, of the manifestations; which latter thus constitute its entire material, its sum and substance, and its stock-in-trade. And these cases ought to make us see how in all cases the feeling of the manifestations may play a much deeper part in the constitution of the emotion than we are wont to suppose.

If our theory be true, a necessary corollary of it ought to be that any voluntary arousal of the socalled manifestations of a special emotion ought to give us the emotion itself. Of course in the majority of emotions, this test is inapplicable; for many of the manifestations are in organs over which we have no volitional control. Still, within the limits in which it can be verified, experience fully corroborates this test. Everyone knows how panic is increased by flight, and how the giving way to the symptoms of grief or anger increases those passions themselves. Each fit of sobbing makes the sorrow more acute, and calls forth another fit stronger still, until at last repose only ensues with lassitude and with the apparent exhaustion of the machinery. ln rage, it is notorious how we “work ourselves up” to a climax by repeated outbreaks of expression. Refuse to express a passion, and it dies. Count ten before venting your anger, and it occasion seems ridiculous.

Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. There is no more valuable precept in moral education than this, as all who have experience know: if we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward moi/ons of those contrary dispositions we prefer to cultivate. The reward of persistency will infallibly come, in the fading out of the sullenness or depression, and the advent of real cheerfulness and kindliness in their stead. Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart and kindliness in their stead. Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it do not gradually thaw!

The only exception to this are apparent, not real. The great emotional expressiveness and mobility of certain persons often lead us to say “They would feel more if they talked less”. And in another class of persons, the explosive energy with which passion manifests itself on critical occasions, seems correlated with the way in which they bottle it up during the intervals. But these are only eccentric types of character, and within each type the law of the last paragraph prevails.

The sentimentalist is so constructed that “gushing” is his or her normal mode of expression. Putting a stopper on the “gush” will only to a limited extent cause more “real” activities to take its place; in the main it will simply produce listlessness. On the other hand the ponderous and bilious “slumbering volcano,” let him repress the expression of his passions as he will, will find them expire if they get no vent at all; whilst if the rare occasions multiply which he deems worthy of their outbreak, he will find them grow in intensity as life proceeds.

I feel persuaded there is no real exception to the law. The formidable effects of suppressed tears might be mentioned, and the calming results of speaking out your mind when angry and having done with it. But these are also but specious wanderings from the rule. Every perceptions must lead to some nervous result. If this be the normal emotional expression, it soon expends itself, and in the natural course of things a calm succeeds. But if the normal issue be blocked from any cause, the currents may under certain circumstances invade other tracts, and there work different and worse effects. Thus vengeful brooding may replace a burst of indignation; a dry heat may consume the frame of one who fain would weep, or he may, as Dante says, turn to stone within; and then tears or a storming-fit may bring a grateful relief. When we teach children to repress their emotions, it is not that they may feel more, quite the reverse.

It is that they may think more; for to a certain extent whatever nerve-currents are diverted from the regions below, must swell the activity of the thought-tracts of the brain.

The last great argument in favour of the priority of the bodily symptoms to the felt emotion, is the ease with which we formulate by its means pathological cases and normal cases under a common scheme. In every asylum we find examples of absolutely unmotived fear, anger, melancholy, or conceit; and others of an equally unmotived apathy which persists in spite of the best of outward reasons why it should give way. In the former cases we must suppose the nervous machinery to be so “labile” in some one emotional direction, that almost every stimulus, however inappropriate, will cause it to upset in that way, and as a consequence to engender the particular complex of feelings of which the psychic body of the emotion consists.

Thus, to take one special instance, if inability to draw deep breath, fluttering of the heart, and that peculiar epigastric change felt as “precordial anxiety,” with an irresistible tendency to take a somewhat crouching attitude and to sit still, and with perhaps other visceral processes not now known, all spontaneously occur together in a certain person; his feeling of their combination is the emotion of dread, and he is the victim of what is known as morbid fear. A friend who has had occasional attacks of this most distressing of all maladies, tells me that in his case the whole drama seems to centre about the region of the heart and respiratory apparatus, that his main effort during the attacks is to get control of his inspirations and to slow his heart, and that the moment he attains to breathing deeply and to holding himself erect, the dread, ipso facto, seems to depart.

The account given to Brachet by one of his own patients of her opposite condition, that of emotional insensibility, has been often quoted, and deserves to be quoted again:

“I still continue (she says) to suffer constantly; l have not a moment of comfort, and no human sensations. Surrounded by all that can render life happy and agreeable, still to me the faculty of enjoyment and of feeling is wanting both have become physical impossibilities. In everything, even in the most tender caresses of my children, I find only bitterness. I cover them with kisses, but there is something between their lips and mine; and this horrid something is between me and all the enjoyments of life. My existence is incomplete. The functions and acts of ordinary life, it is true, still remain to me; but in every one of them there is something wanting, to wit, the feeling which is proper to them, and the pleasure which follows them…

Each of my senses, each part of my proper self, is as itwere separated from me and can no longer afford me any feeling; this impossibilityseems to depend upon a void which I feel in the front of my head, and tobe due to the diminution of the sensibility over the whole surface of mybody, for it seems to me that I never actually reach the objects whichI touch…I feel well enough the changes of temperature on my skin, but Ino longer experience the internal feeling of the air when I breathe

All this would be a small matter enough, but for its frightful result, which is that of the impossibility of any other kind of feeling and of any sort of enjoyment, although I experience a need and desire of them that render my life an incomprehensible torture. Every function, every action of my life remains, but deprived of the feeling that belongs to it, of the enjoyment that sort of enjoyment, although I experience a need and desire of them that render my life an incomprehensible torture. Every function, every action of my life remains, but deprived of the feeling that belongs to it, of the enjoyment that should follow it. My feet are cold, I warm them, but gain no pleasure from the warmth. I recognise the taste of all I eat, without getting any pleasure from it….My children are growing handsome and healthy, everyone tells me so, I see it myself, but the delight, the inward comfort I ought to feel, I fail to get. Music has lost all charm for me, I used to love it dearly. My daughter plays very well, but for me it is mere noise. That lively interest which a year ago made me hear a delicious concert in the smallest air their fingers played-that thrill, that general vibration which made me shed such tender tears,all that exists no more”.

Other victims describe themselves as closed in walls of ice or covered with an india-rubber integument, through which no impression penetrates to the sealed-up sensibility.

If our hypothesis is true, it makes us realise more deeply than ever how much our mental life is knit up with our corporeal frame, in the strictest sense of the term. Rapture, love, ambition, indignation, and pride, considered as feelings, are fruits of the same soil with the grossest bodily sensations of pleasure and of pain. But it was said at the outset that this would be affirmed only of what we then agreed to call the “standard” emotions; and that those inward sensibilities that appeared devoid at first sight of bodily results should be left out of our account. We had better, before closing, say a word or two about these latter feelings.

They are, the reader will remember, the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic feelings. Concords of sounds, of colours, of lines, logical consistencies, teleological fitnesses, affect us with a pleasure that seems ingrained in the very form of the representation itself, and to borrow nothing from any reverberation surging up from the parts below the brain. The Herbartian psychologists have tried to distinguish feelings due to the form in which ideas may be arranged. A geometrical demonstration may be as “pretty,” and an act of justice as “neat” as a drawing or a tune, although the prettiness and neatness seem here to be a pure matter of sensation, and there to have nothing to do with sensation. We have then, or some of us seem to have, genuinely cerebra/forms of pleasure and displeasure, apparently not agreeing in their mode of production with the socalled “standard” emotions we have been analysing. And it is certain that readers whom our reasons have hitherto failed to convince, will now start up at this admission, and consider that by it we give up our whole case. Since musical perceptions, since logical ideas, can immediately arouse a form of emotional feeling, they will say, is it not more natural to suppose that in the case of the so-called “standard” emotions, prompted by the presence of objects or the experience of events, the emotional feeling is equally immediate, and the bodily expression something that comes later and is added on?

But a sober scrutiny of the cases of pure cerebral emotion gives little force to this assimilation. Unless in them there actually be coupled with the intellectual feeling a bodily reverberation of some kind, unless we actually laugh at the neatness of the mechanical device, thrill at the justice of the act, or tingle at the perfection of the musical form, our mental condition is more allied to a judgment of right than to anything else. And such a judgment is rather to be classed among awarenesses of truth: it is a cognitive act. But as a matter of fact the intellectual feeling hardly ever does exist thus unaccompanied. The bodily sounding-board is at work, as careful introspection will show, far more than we usually suppose. Still, where long familiarity with a certain class of effects has blunted emotional sensibility thereto as much as it has sharpened the taste and judgment, we do get the intellectual emotion, if such it can be called, pure and undefrled. And the dryness of it, the paleness, the absence of all glow, as it may exist in a thoroughly expert critic’s mind, not only shows us what an altogether different thing it is from the “standard” emotions we considered first, but makes us suspect that almost the entire difference lies in the fact that the bodily sounding-board, vibrating in the one case, is in the other mute. “Not so very bad” is, in a person of consummate taste, apt to be the highest limit of approving expression. Rien ne me choque is said to have been Chopin’s superlative of praise of new music. A sentimental layman would feel, and ought to feel, horrified, on being admitted into such a critic’s mind, to see how cold, how thin, how void of human significance, are the motives for favour or disfavour that there prevail. The capacity to make a nice spot on the wall will outweigh a picture’s whole content; a foolish trick of words will preserve a poem; an utterly meaningless fitness of sequence in one musical composition set at naught any amount of “expressiveness” in another.

I remember seeing an English couple sit for more than an hour on a piercing February day in the Academy at Venice before the celebrated “Assumption” by Titian; and when l , after being chased from room to room by the cold, concluded to get into the sunshine as fast as possible and let the pictures go, but before leaving drew reverently near to them to learn with what superior forms of susceptibility they might be endowed, all I overheard was the woman’s voice murmuring : “What a deprecatory expression her face wears! What a self-abnegation! How unworthy she feels of the honour she is receiving!” Their honest hearts had been kept warm all the time by a glow of spurious sentiment that would have fairly made old Titian sick. Mr. Ruskin somewhere makes the (for him) terrible admission that religious people as a rule care little for pictures, and that when they do care for them they generally prefer the worst ones to the best. Yes! In every art, in every science, there is the keen perception of certain relations being right or not, and there is the emotional flush and thrill consequent thereupon. And these are two things, not one. In the former of them it is that experts and masters are at home. The latter accompaniments are bodily commotions that they may hardly feel, but that may be experienced in their fulness by Crétins and Philistines in whom the critical judgment is at its lowest ebb. The “marvels” of Science, about which so much edifying popular literature is written, are apt to be “caviare” to the men in the laboratories. Cognition and emotion are parted even in this last retreat, who shall say that their antagonism may not just be one phase of the world-old struggle known as that between the spirit and the flesh? a struggle in which it seems pretty certain that neither party will definitively drive the other off the field.

To return to our starting point, the physiology of the brain. If we suppose its cortex to contain centres for the perception of changes in each special sense-organ, in each portion of the skin, in each muscle, each joint, and each viscus, and to contain absolutely nothing else, we still have a scheme perfectly capable of representing the process of the emotions. An object falls on a sense-organ and is apperceived by the appropriate cortical centre; or else the latter, excited in some other way, gives rise to an idea of the same object. Quick as a flash, the reflex currents pass down through their pre-ordained channels, alter the condition of muscle, skin and viscus; and these alterations, apperceived like the original object, in as many specific portions of the cortex, combine with it in consciousness and transform it from an object-simply-apprehended into an objectemotionally-felt. No new principles have to be invoked, nothing is postulated beyond the ordinary reflex circuit, and the topical centres admitted in one shape or another by all to exist.

It must be confessed that a crucial test of the truth of the hypothesis is quite as hard to obtain as its decisive refutation. A case of complete internal and external corporeal anaesthesia, without motor alteration or alteration of intelligence except emotional apathy, would afford, if not a crucial test, at least a strong presumption, in favour of the truth of the view we have set forth; whilst the persistence of strong emotional feeling in such a case would completely overthrow our case. Hysterical anaesthesias seem never to be complete enough to cover the ground. Complete anaesthesias from organic disease, on the other hand, are excessibely rare. In the famous case of Remigius Leims, no mention is made by the reporters of his emotional condition, a circumstance which by itself affords no presumption that it was normal, since as a rule nothing ever was noticed without a pre-existing question in the mind. Dr. Georg Winter has recently described a case somewhat similar, and in reply to a question, kindly writes to me as follows:

“The case has been for a year and a half entirely removed from my observation. But so far as I am able to state, the man was characterised by a certain mental inertia and indolence. He was tranquil, and had on the whole the temperament of a phlegmatic. He was not irritable, not quarrelsome, went quietly about his farm-work, and left the care of his business and housekeeping to other people. In short, he gave one the impression of a placid countryman, who has no interests beyond his work.” Dr. Winter adds that in studying the case he paid no particular attention to the man’s psychic condition, as this seemed nebensächlich to his main purpose. I should add that the form of my question to Dr. Winter could give him no clue as to the kind of answer I expected.

Of course, this case proves nothing, but it is to be hoped that asylum-physicians and nervous specialists may begin methodically to study the relation between anaesthesia and emotional apathy. If the hypothesis here suggested is ever to be definitively confirmed or disproved it seems as if it must be by them, for they alone have the data in their hands.

Ps. By an unpardonable forgetfulness at the time of despatching my MS. to the Editor, I ignored the existence of the extraordinary case of total anaesthesia published by Professor Strijmpell in Ziemssen’s Deutsches Archiv für klinische Medicin xxii., 321, of which Ihad nevertheless read reports at the time of its publication. [Cf. firstreport of the case in Mind X., 263, translated from Pflüger’s Archives. Ed.] I believe that it constitutes the only remaining case of the sort in medical literature, so that with is our survey is complete. On referring to the original, which is important in many connexions, I found that the patient, a shoemaker’s apprentice of 15, entirely anaesthetic, inside and out, with the exception of one eye and one ear, had shown shame on the occasion of soiling his bed, and grief when a formerly favourite dish was set before him, at the thought that he could no longer taste its flavour. As Dr. Striimpell seemed however to have paid no special attention to his psychic states, so far as these are matter for our theory, I wrote to him in a few words what the essence of the theory was, and asked him to say whether he felt sure the grief and shame mentioned were real feelings in the boy’s mind, or only the reflex manifestations provoked by certain perceptions, manifestations that an outside observer might note, but to which the boy himself might be insensible.

Dr. Strijmpell has sent me a very obliging reply, of which I translate the most important passage.

“I must indeed confess that l naturally failed to institute with my Anoesthetiker observations as special as the sense of your theory would require. Nevertheless I think I can decidedly make the statement, that he was by no means completely lacking in emotional affections. In addition to the feelings of grief and shame mentioned in my paper, I recall distinctly that he showed ef, angec and frequently quarrelled with the hospital attendants. He also manifested fear lest I should punish him.

In short, I do not think that my case speaks exactly in favour of your theory. On the other hand, I will not affirm that it positively refutes your theory. For my case was certainly one of a very centrally conditioned anaesthesia (perception-anaesthesia, like that of hysterics) and therefore the conduction of outward impressions may in him have been undisturbed.”

I confess that I do not see the relevancy of the last consideration, and this makes me suspect that my own letter was too briefly or obscurely expressed to put my correspondent fully in possession of my own thought. For his reply still makes no explicit reference to anything but the outward manifestations of emotion in the boy. Is it not at least conceivable that, just as a stranger, brought into the boy’s presence for the first time, and seeing him eat and drink and satisfy other natural necessities, would suppose him to have the feelings of hunger, thirst, until informed by the boy himself that he did all these things with no feeling at all but that of sight and sound-is it not, I say, at least possible, that Dr. Strijmpell, addressing no direct introspective questions to his patient, and the patient not being of a class from which one could expect voluntary revelations of that sort, should have similarly omitted to discriminate between a feeling and its habitual motor accompaniment, and erroneously taken the latter as proof that the former was there? Such a mistake is of course possible, and I must therefore repeat Dr. Striimpell’s own words, that his case does not yet refute my theory. Should a similar case recur, it ought to be interrogated as to the inward emotional state that co-existed with the outward expressions of shame, anger. And if it then turned out that the patient recognised explicitly the same mood of feeling known under those names in his former normal state, my theory would of course fall. It is, however, to me incredible that the patient should have an identical feeling, for the dropping out of the organic sounding-board would necessarily diminish its volume in some way. The teacher of Dr. Striimpell’s patient found a mental deficiency in him during his anaesthesia, that may possibly have been due to the consequences resulting to his general intellectual vivacity from the subtraction of so important a mass of feelings, even though they were not the whole of his emotional life. Whoever wishes to extract from the next case of total anaesthesia the maximum of knowledge about the emotions, will have to interrogate the patient with some such notion as that of my article in his mind. We can define the pure psychic emotions far better by starting from such an hypothesis and modifying it in the way of restriction and subtraction, than by having no definite hypothesis at all. Thus will the publication of my article have been justified, even thought the theory it advocates, rigorously taken, be erroneous.

The best thing I can say for it is, that in writing it, I have almost persuaded myself it may be true.


EMOTION AI, Artificial Emotional Intelligence and Affective Computing – Richard Yonck.

The Coming Era of Emotional Machines

Emotion AI is growing rapidly and will bring many changes to our society.

You have a report deadline in 20 minutes and your software keeps incorrectly reformatting your document. Or you’re driving along when another car cuts you off at the intersection. Or another car cuts you off at the intersection. Or you’re upset at your boss and decide to finally tell him how you really feel about him in an email.

Wouldn’t it be great if technology could detect your feelings and step in to fix the problem, prevent you from doing something dangerous, or pointed out the benefits of holding onto your job?

Welcome to the world of affective computing, otherwise known as artificial emotional intelligence, or Emotion AI.

Rapidly being incorporated into everything from market research testing to automotive interfaces to chatbots and social robotics, this is a branch of Al that will continue to rapidly grow over the next few decades. According to research group Markets and Markets, they expect the global affective computing market to grow from $12.20 Billion in 2016 to $53.98 Billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.7%.

For decades we have become increasingly dependent on our computers and other devices to perform tasks and make our lives easier. Along the way, these have not only improved in performance but have gained some degree of intelligence, as well as artificial technology to become highly capable at some tasks, such as pattern recognition, there remain many ways our systems continue to come up short. But having a better sense of the user’s state of mind would go a long way to knowing what the user wants, even before they know it themselves.

Needless to say, while new technology such as this has huge potential for improving our lives, there are also many ways it could be turned to negative uses. As explored in my book, Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence, this field probably brings as many risks as it does opportunities. Emotionally aware systems and robots will find many roles in healthcare, education, autism detection and therapy, politics, law enforcement, the military and more. Yet each will bring challenges as well. Issues of privacy, emotional manipulation and self-determination will definitely come into play.

As these systems become increasingly accurate and ubiquitous throughout our environment, the challenges and the stakes will rise. anticipating these and acting to mitigate the negative repercussions will be our best course to ensuring a safe and more ethical future.

Psychology Today


Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence

Richard Yonck.


Emotion. It’s as central to who you are as your body and your intellect. While most of us know emotion when we see or experience it, many questions remain about what it is, how it functions, and even why it exists in the first place. What’s known for certain is that without it, you would not be the person you are today.

Now we find ourselves entering an astonishing new era, an era in which we are beginning to imbue our technologies with the ability to read, interpret, replicate, and potentially even experience emotions themselves. This is being made possible by a relatively new branch of artificial intelligence known as affective computing. A powerful and remarkable technology, affective computing is destined to transform our lives and our world over the coming decades.

To some this may all sound like science fiction, while to others it is simply another example of the relentless march of progress. Either way, we are growing closer to our technology than ever before. Ultimately this will lead to our devices becoming our assistants, our friends and companions, and yes, possibly even our lovers. In the course of it all, we may even see the dream (or nightmare) of truly intelligent machines come true.

From the moment culture and toolmaking began, the history and evolution of humanity and technology have been deeply intertwined. Neither humans nor machines would be anywhere close to what we are today without the immediate and ongoing aid of the other. This is an inextricable trend that, with luck, will continue for our world’s remaining lifespan and beyond.

This technological evolution is being driven by social and economic forces that mimic some of the processes of natural selection, though certainly not all of them. In an effort to attain competitive advantage, humans use technologies (including machines, institutions, and culture). In turn, these pass through a series of filters that determine a given technology’s fitness within its overall environment. That environment, which blends society’s physical, social, economic, and political realities, decides the success of each new development, even as it is modified and supported by every further advance.

Though natural and technological evolution share some similarities, one way they differ is in the exponential nature of technological change. While biology evolves at a relatively steady, linear pace that is dictated by factors such as metabolism, replication rates, and the frequency of nucleotide mutation, technological evolution functions within multiple positive feedback loops that actually accelerate its development. Though this acceleration is not completely constant and typically levels off for any single domain or paradigm, over time and across the entire technological landscape, the trend results in a net positive increase in knowledge and capabilities. Because of this, technology and all it makes possible advances at an ever-increasing exponential rate, far outpacing the changes seen in the biological world over the same period.

One of the consequences of all of this progress is that it generates a need to create increasingly sophisticated user interfaces that allow us to control and interact with our many new devices and technologies. This is certainly borne out in my own experience developing interfaces for computer applications over many years. As technology theorist Brenda Laurel observed, “The greater the difference between the two entities, the greater the need for a well-designed interface.” As a result, one ongoing trend is that we continue to develop interfaces that are increasingly “natural” to use, integrating them ever more closely with our lives and our bodies, our hearts, and our minds.

Heart of the Machine is about some of the newest of these natural interfaces. Affective computing integrates computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive science, psychology, biometrics, and much more in order to allow us to communicate and interact with computers, robots, and other technologies via our feelings. These systems are being designed to read, interpret, replicate, and potentially even influence human emotions. Already some of these applications have moved out of the lab and into commercial use. All of this marks a new era, one in which we’re seeing the digitization of affect, a term psychologists and cognitive scientists use to refer to the display of emotion.

While this is a very significant step in our increasingly high-tech world, it isn’t an entirely unanticipated one. As you’ll see, this is a development that makes perfect sense in terms of our ongoing, evolving relationship with technology. At the same time, it’s bringing about a shift in that relationship that will have tremendous repercussions for both man and machine. The path it takes us down is far from certain. The world it could lead to may be a better place, or it might be a far worse one. Will these developments yield systems that anticipate and fulfill our every need before we’re even aware of them? Or will they give rise to machines that can be used to stealthily manipulate us as individuals, perhaps even en masse? Either way, it’s in our best interests to explore the possible futures this technology could bring about while we still have time to influence how these will ultimately manifest.

In the course of this book, multiple perspectives will be taken at different points. This is entirely intentional. When exploring the future, recognizing that it can’t truly be known or predicted is critical. One of the best ways of addressing this is to explore numerous possible future scenarios and, within reason, prepare for each. This means not only considering what happens if the technology develops as planned or not, but also whether people will embrace it or resist it. It means anticipating the short-, mid-, and long-term repercussions that may arise from it, including what would otherwise be unforeseen consequences. This futurist’s view can help us to prepare for a range of eventualities, taking a proactive approach in directing how our future develops.

Heart of the Machine is divided into three sections.

The first, “The Road to Affective Computing,” introduces our emotional world, from humanity’s earliest days up to the initial development of emotionally aware affective computers and social robots. The second section, “The Rise of the Emotional Machines,” looks at the many ways these technologies are being applied, how we’ll benefit from them, and what we should be worried about as they meet their future potential.

Finally, “The Future of Artificial Emotional Intelligence” explores the big questions about how all of this is likely to develop and the effects it will have on us as individuals and as a society. It wraps up with a number of thoughts about consciousness and superintelligence and considers how these developments may alter the balance of the human-machine relationship.

Until now, our three-million-year journey with technology has been a relatively one-sided and perpetually mute one. But how might this change once we begin interacting with machines on what for us remains such a basic level of experience? At the same time, are we priming technology for some sort of giant leap forward with these advances? lf artificial intelligence is ever to attain or exceed human levels, and perhaps even achieve consciousness in the process, will feelings and all they make possible be the spark that lights the fuse? Only time will tell, but in the meantime we’d be wise to explore the possibility.

Though this is a book about emotions and feelings, it is very much founded on science, research, and an appreciation of the evolving nature of intelligence in the universe. As we’ll explore, emotions may be not only a key aspect of our own humanity, but a crucial component for many, if not all, higher intelligences, no matter what form these may eventually take.


Futures, or “strategic foresight” as it’s sometimes known, is a field unlike any other. On any given day you’re likely to be asked, “What is a futurist?” or “What does a futurist do?” Many people have an image of a fortuneteller gazing into a crystal ball, but nothing could be further from the truth. Because ultimately, all of us are futurists.

Foresight is one of the dominant characteristics of the human species. With self-awareness and introspection came the ability to anticipate patterns and cycles in our environment, enhancing our ability to survive.

As a result, we’ve evolved a prefrontal cortex that enables us to think about the days ahead far better than any other species.

It might have begun with something like the recognition of shifting patterns in the grasslands of the Serengeti that let us know a predator lay in wait. This continued as we began to distinguish the phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the cycles of the seasons. Then it wasn’t long before we were anticipating eclipses, forecasting hurricanes, and predicting stock market crashes. We are Homo sapiens, the futurist species.

Of course, this was only the beginning. As incredible as this ability of ours is, it could only do so much in its original unstructured state. So, when the world began asking itself some very difficult and important existential questions about surviving the nuclear era, it was time to begin formalizing how we thought about the future.

Project RAND

For many, Project RAND, which began immediately after World War II, marks the beginning of the formal foresight process. Building on our existing capabilities, Project RAND sought to understand the needs and benefits of connecting military planning with R&D decisions. This allowed the military to better understand not only what its future capabilities would be, but also those of the enemy. This was critical because, being the dawn of the atomic age, there were enormous uncertainties about our future, including whether or not we would actually survive to have one.

Project RAND eventually transformed into the RAND Corporation, one of the first global policy think tanks. As the space race ramped up, interest in foresight grew, particularly in government and the military. In time, corporations began showing interest too, as was famously demonstrated by Royal Dutch Shell’s application of scenarios in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Tools and methods have continued to be developed until today, and many of the processes of foresight are used throughout our world, from corporations like lntel and Microsoft, who have in-house futurists, to smaller businesses and organizations that hire consulting futurists. Branding, product design, research and development, government planning, education administration, if it has a future, there are people who explore it. Using techniques for framing projects, scanning for and gathering information, building forecasts and scenarios, creating visions and planning and implementing them, these practitioners help identify opportunities and challenges so that we can work toward our preferred future.

This is an important aspect of foresight work: recognizing the future is not set in stone and that we all have some ability to influence how it develops.

Notice I say influence, not control. The many elements that make up the future are of a scale and complexity far too great for any of us to control. But if we recognize something about our future that we want to manifest, and we recognize it early enough, we can influence other factors that will increase its likelihood of being realized.

A great personal example would be saving for retirement. A young person who recognizes they will one day retire can start building their savings and investments early on. In doing this, they’re more likely to be financially secure in their golden years, much more so than if they’d waited until they were in their fifties or sixties before they started saving.

Many of foresight’s methods and processes have been used in the course of writing this book. Horizon scanning, surveying of experts, and trend projections are just a few of these. Scenarios are probably the most evident of these tools because they’re included throughout the book. The processes futurists use generate a lot of data, which often doesn’t convey what’s important to us as people. But telling stories does, because we’ve been storytellers from the very beginning. Stories help us relate to new knowledge and to each other. This is what a scenario does: it takes all of that data and transforms it into a more personal form that is easier for us to digest.

Forecasts are more generally included because in many respects they’re not that valuable. Some people think studying the future is about making predictions, which really isn’t the case. Knowing whether an event will happen in 2023 or 2026 is of limited value compared with the act of anticipating the event at all and then deciding what we’re going to do about it. Speculating about who’s going to win a horse race or the World Cup is for gamblers, not for futurists.

In many respects, a futurist explores the future the way a historian explores history, inferring a whole picture or pattern from fragments of clues. While it may be tempting to ask how there can be clues to something that hasn’t even happened yet, recall that every future is founded upon the past and present, and that these are laden with signals and indicators of what’s to come.

So read on and learn about this future age of artificial emotional intelligence, because all too soon, it will be part of our present as well.





Menlo Park, California-March 3, 2032 7:06 am

It’s a damp spring morning as Abigail is gently roused from slumber by Mandy, her personal digital assistant. Sensors in the bed inform Mandy exactly where Abigail is in her sleep cycle, allowing it to coordinate with her work schedule and wake her at the optimum time. Given the morning’s gray skies and Abigail’s Iess-than-cheery mood when she went to bed the night before, Mandy opts to waken her with a recorded dawn chorus of sparrows and goldfinches.

Abigail stretches and sits up on the edge of the bed, feeling for her slippers with her feet. “Mmm, morning already?” she mutters.

“You slept seven hours and nineteen minutes with minimal interruption,” Mandy informs her with a pleasant, algorithmically defined lilt via the room’s concealed speaker system. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Good,” Abigail replies blinking. “Great, actually.”

It’s a pleasantry. Mandy didn’t really need to ask or to hear its owner’s response. The digital assistant had already analyzed Abigail’s posture, energy levels, expression, and vocal tone using its many remote sensors, assessing that her mood is much improved from the prior evening.

It’s a routine morning for the young woman and her technology. The two have been together for a long time. Many years before, when she was still a teen, Abigail named her assistant Mandy. Of course, back then the software was also several versions less sophisticated than it is today, so in a sense they’ve grown up together. During that time, Mandy has become increasingly familiar with Abigail’s work habits, behavioral patterns, moods, preferences, and various other idiosyncrasies. In many ways, it knows Abigail better than any person ever could.

Mandy proceeds to tell Abigail about the weather and traffic conditions, her morning work schedule, and a few of the more juicy items rising to the top of her social media stream as she gets ready for her day.

“Mandy,” Abigail asks as she brushes her hair, “do you have everything organized for today’s board meeting?”

The personal assistant has already anticipated the question and consulted Abigail’s calendar and biometric historical data before making all the needed preparations for her meeting with her board of directors. As the CEO of AAT, Applied Affective Technologies, Abigail and her company are at the forefront of human-machine relations. “Everyone’s received their copies of the meeting agenda. Your notes and 3D presentation are finalized. Jeremy has the breakfast catering covered. And I picked out your clothes for the day: the Nina Ricci set.”

“Didn’t I wear that recently?”

Mandy responds without hesitation. “My records show you last wore it over two months ago for a similarly important meeting. It made you feel confident and empowered, and none of today’s attendees has seen it on you before.”

“Perfect!” Abigail beams. “Mandy, what would I do without you?”

What indeed?

Though this scenario may sound like something from a science fiction novel, in fact it’s a relatively reasonable extrapolation of where technology could be fifteen years from now. Already, voice recognition and synthesis, the real-time measurement of personal biometrics, and artificially intelligent scheduling systems are becoming an increasing part of our daily lives. Given continuing improvements in computing power, as well as advances in other relevant technologies, in a mere decade these tools will be far more advanced than they are today.

However, the truly transformational changes described here will come from a branch of computer science that is still very much in its nascent stages, still early enough that many people have yet to even hear about it.

It’s called affective computing, and it deals with the development of systems and devices that interact with our feelings.

More specifically, affective computing involves the recognition, interpretation, replication, and potentially the manipulation of human emotions by computers and social robots.

This rapidly developing field has the potential to radically change the way we interact with our computers and other devices. Increasingly, systems and controls will be able to alter their operations and behavior according to our emotional responses and other nonverbal cues. By doing this, our technology will become increasingly intuitive to use, addressing not only our explicit commands but our unspoken needs as well. In the pages that follow, we will explore just what this new era could mean for our technologies and for ourselves.

We are all emotional machines. Centuries of research into anatomy, biology, neurology, and numerous other fields has consistently revealed that nearly all of what we are follows a predictable set of physical processes. These mechanistically driven rules make it possible for us to move, to eat, to grow, to procreate. Within an extremely small range of genetic variation, we are all essentially copies of those who came before us, destined to produce generation after generation of nearly identical cookie-cutter reproductions of ourselves well into the future.

Of course, we know this is far from the true reality of the human experience. Though these deterministic forces define us up to a point, we exist in far greater depth and dimension than can be explained by any mere set of stimuli and responses. This is foremost because we are emotional beings. That the dreams, hopes, fears, and desires of each and every one of us are so unique while remaining so universal is largely due to our emotional experience of the world. If this were not so, identical twins who grow up together would have all but identical personalities. Instead, they begin with certain shared genetically influenced traits and behaviors and over time diverge from there. While all humanity shares nearly identical biology, chemical processes, and modes of sensory input, it is our feelings, our emotional interpretations of and responses to the world we experience that makes all of us on this planet, all 107 billion people who have ever lived, truly unique from one another.

There are easily hundreds, if not thousands, of theories about emotions, what they are, why they exist, and how they came about, and there is no way for a book such as this to begin to introduce or address them all. Nor does this book claim to know which, if any, of these is the One True Theory, in part because, in all likelihood, there is none. It’s been said repeatedly by neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers that there are nearly as many theories of emotion as there are theorists.

Emotion is an incredibly complex aspect of the human condition and mind, second only perhaps to the mystery of consciousness itself. What is important is to recognize its depth and complexity without attempting to oversimplify either its mechanisms or purpose.

Emotions are one of the most fundamental components of the human experience. Yet, as central as they are to our lives, we continue to find it a challenge to define or even to account for them. In many respects, we seem to have our greatest insights about feelings and emotions in their absence or when they go awry. Despite the many theories that exist, all we know with certainty is that they are essential in making us who we are, and that without them we would be but pale imitations of ourselves.

So what might this mean as we enter an era in which our machines, our computers, robots, and other devices, become increasingly capable of interacting with our emotions? How will it change our relationship with our technologies and with each other? How will it alter technology itself? Perhaps most importantly:

If emotion has evolved in humans and certain other animals because it affords us some benefit, might it convey a similar benefit in the future development of artificial intelligence?

For reasons that will be explored in the coming chapters, affective computing is a very natural progression in our ongoing efforts to build technologies that operate increasingly on human terms, rather than the other way around. As a result, this branch of artificial intelligence will come to be incorporated to one degree or another nearly everywhere in our lives. At the same time, just like almost every other form of artificial intelligence that has been developed and commercialized, affective computing will eventually fade into the scenery, an overlooked, underappreciated feature that we will quickly take all too much for granted because it will be ubiquitous.

Consider the possibilities. Rooms that alter lighting and music based on your mood. Toys that engage young minds with natural emotional responses. Computer programs that notice your frustration over a task and alter their manner of assistance. Email that makes you pause before sending that overly inflammatory message. The scenarios are virtually endless.

But it’s a rare technology that doesn’t have unintended consequences or that is used exclusively as its inventors anticipated. Affective computing will be no different. It doesn’t take a huge leap of foresight to anticipate that this technology will also inevitably be applied and abused in ways that clearly aren’t a benefit to the majority of society. As this book will explore, like so many other technologies, affective computing will come to be seen as a double edged sword, one that is capable of working for us while also having the capacity to do us considerable harm.

Amidst all of this radical progress, there is yet another story to be told. In many respects, affective computing represents a milestone in the long evolution of technology and our relationship to it. It’s a story millions of years in the making and one that may be approaching a critical juncture, one that could well determine not only the future of technology, but of the human race.

But first, let’s examine a question that is no doubt on many people’s minds:

“Why would anyone want to do this? Why design devices that understand our feelings?”

As we’ll see in the next chapter, it’s a very natural, perhaps even inevitable step on a journey that began over three million years ago.



Gona, Afar, Ethiopia, 3. 39 million years ago

In a verdant gorge, a tiny hirsute figure squats over a small pile of stones. Cupping one of these, a modest piece of chert, in her curled hand, she repeatedly hits the side of it with a second rock, a rounded piece of granite. Every few strikes, a flake flies from the chert, leaving behind it a concave depression. As the young woman works the stone, the previously amorphous mineral slowly takes shape, acquiring a sharp edge as the result of the laborious process.

The work is half ritual, half legacy, a skill handed down from parent to child for untold generations. The end product, a small cutting tool, is capable of being firmly grasped and used to scrape meat from bones, ensuring that critical, life-sustaining morsels of food do not go to waste.

1961 Paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and his family look for early hominid remains at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania with their three dogs in attendance.

Here in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, our Paleolithic ancestor is engaged in one of humanity’s very earliest technologies. While her exact species remains unknown to us, she is certainly a bipedal hominid that preceded Homo habilis, the species long renowned in our text books as “handy man, the tool maker.” Perhaps she is Kenyanthropus platyops or the slightly larger Australopithecus afarensis. She is small by our standards: about three and a half feet tall and relatively slender. Her brain case is also meager compared with our own, averaging around 400 cubic centimeters, less than a third of our 1,350 cubic centimeters. But then that’s hardly a fair comparison. When judged against earlier branches of our family tree, this hominid, this early human, is a mental giant. She puts that prowess to good use, fashioning tools that set her species apart from all that have come before.

While these stone tools might seem simple from today’s perspective, at the time they were a tremendous leap forward, improving our ancestors’ ability to obtain nutrition and to protect themselves from competitors and predators. These tools allowed them to slay beasts far more powerful than themselves and to scrape meat from bones. In turn, this altered their diet, providing much more regular access to the proteins and fats that would in time support further brain development.

Making these tools required a knowledge and skill that combined our ancestors’ considerably greater brain power with the manual dexterity granted by their opposable thumbs.

But perhaps most important of all was developing the ability to communicate the knowledge of stone tool making, knapping, as it’s now known, which allowed this technology to be passed down from generation to generation. This is all the more amazing because these hominids didn’t rely on verbal language so much as on emotion, expressiveness, and other forms of nonverbal communication.

Many cognitive and evolutionary factors needed to come together to make the development and transmission of this knowledge possible. The techniques of knapping were not simple or easy to learn, yet they were essential to our survival and eventual growth as a species. As a result, those traits that promoted its continuation and development would have been selected for, whether genetic or behavioral.

This represents something quite incredible in our history, because this is the moment when we truly became a technological species.

This is when humanity and technology first set forth on their long journey together. As we will see, emotion was there from the very beginning, making all of it possible. The coevolution that followed allowed each of us to grow in ways we never could have without the aid of the other.

It’s easy to dismiss tools and machines as “dumb” matter, but of course this is from the perspective of human intelligence. After all, we did have a billion, year head start, beginning from simple single-cell life. But over time, technology has become increasingly intelligent and capable until today, when it can actually best us on a number of fronts. Additionally, it’s done this in a relative eyeblink of time, because as we’ll discuss later, technology progresses exponentially relative to our own linear evolution.

Which brings us back to an important question: Was knapping really technology? Absolutely. There should be no doubt that the ability to forge these stone tools was the cutting-edge technology of its day. (A bad pun, but certainly an apt one.) Knapping was incredibly useful, so useful it was carried on for over three million years. After all, these hominids’ lives had literally come to depend on it. During this time, change and improvement of the techniques used to form the tools was ponderously slow, at least in part because experimentation would have been deemed very costly, if not outright wasteful. Local supplies of chert-a fine, grained sedimentary rock-were limited. Analysis of human settlements and the local fossil record show that the supply of chert was exhausted several times in different regions of Africa and in several cases presumably had to be carried in from areas where it was more plentiful.

Based on fossil records, it took more than a million years, perhaps seventy thousand generations, to go from simple single edges to beautifully flaked tools with as many as a hundred facets. But while advancement of this technology was slow, one truly crucial factor was the ability to share and transmit the process. Knapping didn’t die out with the passing of a singular exemplary mind or Paleolithic genius of its era. Because this technology was so successful, because it gave its users a competitive edge, this knowledge was meticulously passed down through the generations, allowing it to slowly morph into ever more complex forms and applications.

The image of our hominid ancestors shaping stone tools has been with us for decades. Beginning in the 1930s, Louis and Mary Leakey excavated thousands of stone tools and flakes at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, leading to these being dubbed Oldowan tools, a term now generally used to reference the oldest style of flaked stone. These tools were later estimated to be around 1.7 million years old and were likely made by Paranthropus boisei or perhaps Homo habilis.

However, more recent findings have pushed the date of our oldest tool-using ancestors back considerably further. In the early 1990s, another Paleolithic settlement north of Olduvai along East Africa’s Great Rift Valley turned out to have even older stone tools and fragments. In 1992 and 1993, Rutgers University paleoanthropologists digging in the Afar region of Ethiopia excavated 2,600 sharpedged flakes and flake fragments. Using radiometric dating and magnetostratigraphy, researchers dated the fragments to having been made more than 2.6 million years ago, making them remnants of the oldest known tools ever produced.

Of course, direct evidence isn’t always available when you’re on the trail of something millions of years old. This was the case when, in 2010, paleoanthropologists found animal bones in the same region bearing marks consistent with stone-inflicted scrapes and cuts. The two fossilized bones, a femur and a rib from two different species of ungulates, indicated a methodical use of tools to efficiently remove their meat. Scans dated the bones at approximately 3.39 million years old, pushing back evidence of the oldest tool user by another 800,000 years. If this is accurate, then the location and age suggest the tools would have been used, and therefore made, by Australopithecus afarensis or possibly the flatter-faced Kenyanthropus platyops. However, because the evidence was indirect, many experts disputed its validity, generating considerable controversy over the claim that such sophisticated tools had been produced so much earlier than previously thought.

Then, in 2015, researchers reported that stone flakes, cores, and anvils had been found in Kenya, some one thousand kilometers from Olduvai, which were conclusively dated to 3.3 million years BCE. (BCE is a standard scientific abbreviation for Before the Common Era.) In coming years, other discoveries may well push the origins of human tool making even further back, but for now we can say fairly certainly that knapping has been one of our longestlived technologies.

So here we have evidence that one of our earliest technologies was accurately transmitted generation after generation for more than three million years. This would be impressive enough in its own right, but there’s another factor to consider: How did our ancestors do this with such consistency when language didn’t yet exist?

No one knows exactly when language began. Even the era when we started to use true syntactic language is difficult to pinpoint, not least because spoken words don’t leave physical traces the way fossils and stone tools do. From Darwin’s own beliefs that the ability to use language evolved, to Chomsky’s anti, evolutionary Strong Minimalist Thesis, to Pinker’s neo-Darwinist stance, there is considerable disagreement as to the origins of language. However, for the purpose of this book, we’ll make a few assumptions that at least some of our capacity for language was driven and shaped by natural selection.

Despite our desire to anthropomorphize our world, other primates and animals do not have true combinatorial language. While many use hoots, cries, and calls, these are only declarative or emotive in nature and at best indicate a current status or situation. Most of these sounds cannot be combined or rearranged to produce different meanings, and even when they can, as is the case with some songbirds and cetaceans, the meaning of the constituent units is not retained. Additionally, animal calls have no means of indicating negation, irony, or a past or future condition. In short, animal language isn’t truly equivalent to our own.

Our nearest cousins, genetically speaking, are generally considered to be the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus). For a long time, evolutionary biologists have said that our last common ancestor (or LCA) the ancestor species we most recently shared with these chimps, existed about six million years ago. This is estimated based on the rate specific segments of DNA mutate. In human beings, this overall mutation rate is currently estimated at about thirty mutations per offspring. Recently however, the rate of this molecular clock for chimpanzees has been reassessed as faster than was once thought. If this is accurate, then it’s been reestimated that chimps and humans last shared a common ancestor, perhaps the now extinct homininae species Sanelanthropus-approximately thirteen million years ago.

Of course, the difference of a single gene does not a new species make. It’s estimated that a sufficient number of mutations needed to give rise to a distinctly new primate species, such as Ardipethicus, wouldn’t have accumulated until ten to seven million years ago. Nevertheless, it’s a significant amount of time.

Can we pinpoint when in this vast span of time the origins of human language appeared? It’s generally accepted that Australopithecines’s capacity for vocal communication wasn’t all that different from chimpanzees and other primates. In fact, many evolutionary biologists would say that our vocal tract wasn’t structurally suited to the sounds of modern speech until our hyoid bone evolved with its specific shape and in its specific location. This, along with our precisely shaped larynx, is believed to have allowed us to begin forming complex phoneme, based sounds (unlike our chimpanzee relatives) sometime between 200,000 and 250,000 years ago. In recent years there has been some suggestion that Neanderthals may have also had the capacity for speech. Either way, it was long after Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus boisei, and Homo habilis had all disappeared from Earth.



Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence

by Richard Yonck

get it at

A Mother’s Reckoning. Living in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy – Sue Klebold.

To all who feel alone, hopeless, and desperate, even in the arms of those who love them.


On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

Since then, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.

All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.


About the author

Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999 who killed 13 people before ending their own lives, a tragedy that saddened and galvanized the nation. She has spent the last 15 years excavating every detail of her family life, and trying to understand the crucial intersection between mental health problems and violence. Instead of becoming paralyzed by her grief and remorse, she has become a passionate and effective agent working tirelessly to advance mental health awareness and intervention.


Klebold family photo, Christmas 1991. From I to r: me, Byron, Dylan, and Tom.


And must I, indeed, Pain, live with you
All through my life? – sharing my fire, my bed,
Sharing-oh, worst of all things! – the same head?
And, when I feed myself, feeding you, too?
Edna St. Vincent Millay

We have consistently blamed parents for the apparent defects of their children. The eighteenth-century theory of imaginationism held that children had deformities because of their mothers’ unexpressed lascivious longings. In the twentieth century, homosexuality was said to be caused by overbearing mothers and passive fathers; schizophrenia reflected the parents’ unconscious wish that their child did not exist; and autism was the result of “refrigerator mothers,” whose coldness doomed their children to a fortress of silence.

We’ve now realized that such complex and overdetermined conditions are not the result of parental attitude or behavior. We nonetheless continue to assume that if you could only get inside the households in which killers were raised, you’d see the parents’ errors writ large.

The perception of children as tractable has been a hallmark of social justice; it has led us to seek rehabilitation for juveniles rather than simply punishment. According to this logic, a bad adult may be irrecoverably bad, but a bad kid is only a reflection of negative influences, the product of pliable nurture rather than immutable nature. There can be truth in that pleasant optimism, but to go from there to presuming parental culpability is a gross injustice.

We cling to the notion that crime is the parents’ fault for two primary reasons. First, it is clear that severe abuse and neglect can trigger aberrant behavior in vulnerable people. Poor parenting can push such children toward substance abuse, gang membership, domestic violence, and thievery. Attachment disorders are frequent in victims of childhood cruelty; so is a repetition compulsion that drives them to recapitulate the aggression they have known. Some parents damage their children, but that does not mean that all troubled children have incompetent parents. In particular, extreme, irrational crimes are not usually triggered by anything the parents have done; they come out of an illogic too profound to be instigated by trauma.

Second, and far more powerfully, we want to believe that parents create criminals because in supposing that, we reassure ourselves that in our own house, where we are not doing such wrong things, we do not risk this calamity. I am aware of this delusion because it was mine.

When I met Tom and Sue Klebold for the first time on February 19, 2005, I imagined that I would soon identify their flaws. I was working on a book, Far from the Tree, about parents and their challenging offspring, and I thought these parents would be emblematic of erroneous parenting. l never imagined they had egged their child on to heinous acts, but I did think that their story would illuminate innumerable, clear mistakes. I didn’t want to like the Klebolds, because the cost of liking them would be an acknowledgment that what happened wasn’t their fault, and if it wasn’t their fault, none of us is safe. Alas, I liked them very much indeed. So I came away thinking that the psychopathy behind the Columbine massacre could emerge in anyone’s household. It would be impossible to predict or recognize; like a tsunami, it would make a mockery of all our preparations.

In Sue Klebold’s telling, she was an ordinary suburban mother before Columbine. I didn’t know her then, but in the wake of that tragedy, she found the strength to extract wisdom from her devastation. To sustain your love in these circumstances is an act of courage. Her generosity in friendship, her lively gift for affection, and her capacity for attention, all of which I’ve been privileged to know, render the tragedy more bewildering.

I started off thinking that the Klebolds should have disavowed their child, but I ended up understanding that it took far more steel to deplore what he had done yet be unflagging in their love. Sue’s passion for her son is evident in every one of these griefstricken pages, and her book is a testament to complexity.

She argues that good people do bad things, that all of us are morally confused, and that doing something terrible does not erase other acts and motives.

The ultimate message of this book is terrifying: you may not know your own children, and, worse yet, your children may be unknowable to you. The stranger you fear may be your own son or daughter.

“We read our children fairy tales and teach them that there are good guys and bad guys,” Sue said to me when l was writing Far from the Tree. “I would never do that now. I would say that every one of us has the capacity to be good and the capacity to make poor choices. If you love someone, you have to love both the good and the bad in them.”

At the time of Columbine, Sue worked in the same building as a parole office and had felt alienated and frightened getting on the elevator with ex-convicts. After the tragedy, she saw them differently. “I felt that they were just like my son. That they were just people who, for some reason, had made an awful choice and were thrown into a terrible, despairing situation. When I hear about terrorists in the news, I think, ‘That’s somebody’s kid.’ Columbine made me feel more connected to mankind than anything else possibly could have.” Bereavement can give its dupes great compassion.

Two kinds of crime upset us more than any others: crimes in which children are the victims, and crimes in which children are the perpetrators. In the first case, we mourn the innocent; in the second, our misapprehension that children are innocent. School shootings are the most appalling crimes of all, because they involve both problems, and among school shootings Columbine remains something of a gold standard, the ultimate exemplar to which all others are indebted.

The extreme selfimportance tinged with sadism, the randomness of the attack, and the scale of the advance planning have made Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold heroes to a large community of causeless young rebels, while they are hailed by most people as psychologically damaged and by some religious communities as icons of Satanism. The boys’ motives and purposes have been analyzed time and again by people who want to protect their children from such assaults. The most dauntless parents also wonder how to be certain that their children are incapable of committing such crimes. Better the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t know, says the adage, and Columbine was above all an ambush of unknowability, of horror hidden in plain sight.

It has been impossible to see the killers clearly. We live in a society of blame, and some of the victims’ families were relentless in their demand for impossible “answers” that were being kept “hidden.” The best evidence that the parents didn’t know is the surety that if they had, they’d have done something.

Jefferson County magistrate John DeVita said of the two boys, “What’s mind-boggling is the amount of deception. The ease of their deception. The coolness of their deception.”

Most parents think they know their children better than they do; children who don’t want to be known can keep their inner lives very private. The victims’ families’ lawsuits were predicated on the dubious principles that human nature is knowable, that interior logic can be monitored, and that tragedies follow predictable patterns. They have sought some missing information that would change what happened. Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, “Evil is not an appearance,” adding that “knowing its causes does not dispel it.” Sartre seems not to have been read very much in the Denver suburbs.

Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other’s necessary condition. Dylan’s depressiveness would not have turned into murderousness without Harris’s leadership, but something in Eric might have lost motivation without the thrill of dragging Dylan down with him. Eric’s malice is shocking, Dylan’s acquiescence, equally so.

Dylan wrote, “Thinking of suicide gives me hope that i’ll be in my place wherever I go after this life, that I’ll finally not be at war with myself, the world, the universe, my mind, body, everywhere, everything is at PEACE, me, my soul (existence).” He described his own, “eternal suffering in infinite directions through infinite realities.” The most common word in his journals is love.

Eric wrote, “how dare you think that l and you are part of the same species when we are sooooooooo different. you aren’t human, you are a robot and if you pissed me off in the past, you will die if I see you.” His journal describes how in some imagined collegiate future he would have tricked girls to come to his room and raped them. Then, “I want to tear a throat out with my own teeth like a pop can. I want to grab some weak little freshman and just tear them apart like a fucking wolf, strangle them, squish their head, rip off their jaw, break their arms in half, show them who is god.” Eric was a failed Hitler; Dylan was a failed Holden Caulfield.

Sue Klebold emphasizes the suicidal element in her son’s death. Karl Menninger, who has written extensively on suicide, said that it requires the coincidence of “the wish to kill, the wish to be killed, and the wish to die.” The wish to kill is not always directed outward, but it is an essential piece of the puzzle. Eric Harris wanted to kill and Dylan Klebold wanted to die, and both thought their experience contained seeds of the divine; both wrote of how the massacre would make them into gods. Their combination of grandiosity and ineptitude contains echoes of ordinary adolescence.

In the commons at Columbine High School, toward the end of the spree, a witness hiding in the cafeteria heard one of the killers say, “Today the world’s going to come to an end. Today’s the day we die.” This is an infantile conflation of the self with the other.

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The man who kills a man kills a man. The man who kills himself kills all men. As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.”

Advocates for the mentally ill point out that most crime is not committed by people with mental illnesses, and that most people with mental illnesses do not commit crimes. What does it mean to consider Columbine as the product of minds that were not mentally ill? There are many crimes that people resist either because they know they’d get in trouble or because they have learned moral standards. Most people have seen things they’d like to steal. Most people have felt an occasional flash of murderous rage toward someone with whom they are intimate. But the reasons for not killing kids you barely know at school and holding the place hostage is not that you fear punishment or grapple with received morality; it’s that the whole idea never crosses healthy minds.

Though he was depressed, Dylan did not have schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar illness, or any other condition that fits the neat parameters of psychiatric diagnosis.

The existence of disordered thinking does not mitigate the malevolence of Dylan’s acts. Part of the nobility of this book is that it doesn’t try to render what he did into sense. Sue Klebold’s refusal to blame the bullies, the school, or her son’s biochemistry reflects her ultimate determination that one must simply accept what can never be explained away. She does not try to elucidate the permanently confused borderline between evil and disease.

Immediately after the massacre, a carpenter from Chicago came to Littleton and erected fifteen crosses-one for each victim, including Dylan and Eric. Many people piled flowers at Eric’s and Dylan’s crosses just as they did at the others. Brian Rohrbough, father of one of the victims, removed Harris’s and Klebold’s markers.

“You don’t cheapen what Christ did for us by honoring murderers with crosses,” he said. “There’s nowhere in the Bible that says to forgive an unrepentant murderer. You don’t repent, you don’t forgive them that’s what the Bible says.”

There is obviously scope for revising this interpretation of Christian doctrine, but Rohrbough’s assertion hinges on the mistaken notion that mourning the deaths of the killers is tantamount to forgiveness, and that forgiveness conceals the horror of what was done. Sue Klebold does not seek or even imagine forgiveness for her son. She explains that she didn’t know what was happening, but she doesn’t exonerate herself; she presents her not knowing as a betrayal of her son and the world. The death of someone who has committed a great crime may be for the best, but any dead child is some parent’s vanquished hope. This mournful book is Sue’s act of vicarious repentance. Hatred does not obliterate love. Indeed, the two are in constant fellowship.

Sue told me at our first meeting about the moment on April 20, 1999, when she learned what was happening at Columbine High School. “While every other mother in Littleton was praying that her child was safe, I had to pray that mine would die before he hurt anyone else,” she said. “I thought if this was really happening and he survived, he would go into the criminal justice system and be executed, and I couldn’t bear to lose him twice. I gave the hardest prayer I ever made, that he would kill himself, because then at least I would know that he wanted to die, and I wouldn’t be left with all the questions I’d have if he got caught by a police bullet. Maybe I was right, but I’ve spent so many hours regretting that prayer: I wished for my son to kill himself, and he did.”

At the end of that weekend, I asked Tom and Sue what they would want to ask Dylan if he were in the room with us, Tom said, “I’d ask him what the hell he was thinking and what the hell he thought he was doing!” Sue looked down at the floor for a minute before saying quietly, “I would ask him to forgive me, for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head, for not being able to help him, for not being the person that he could confide in.”

When I reminded her of this conversation five years later, she said, “When it first happened, I used to wish that I had never had children, that I had never married. lf Tom and I hadn’t crossed paths at Ohio State, Dylan wouldn’t have existed and this terrible thing wouldn’t have happened. But over time, I’ve come to feel that, for myself, I am glad I had kids and glad I had the kids I did, because the love for them, even at the price of this pain, has been the single greatest joy of my life. When I say that, I am speaking of my own pain, and not of the pain of other people. But I accept my own pain; life is full of suffering, and this is mine. I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born. But I believe it would not have been better for me.”

We tend to lose someone all at once, but Sue’s loss came in repeated waves: the loss of the boy himself; the loss of her image of him; the loss of her defenses against recognizing his darkest self; the loss of her identity as something other than the mother of a killer; and the loss of the fundamental belief that life is subject to logic, that if you do things right you can forestall certain grim outcomes. Comparative grief is not a fruitful measurement, and it would be wrong to say that Sue Klebold’s was the most shattering of all the losses in Littleton. But she is stuck with the impossibility of disentangling the pain of finding she had never known her son from the pain of knowing what devastation he caused others. She fights the sadness of a dead child, the sadness of the other dead children, and the sadness of having failed to bring up a happy child who makes the world better.

It’s a heady experience to have young children and be able to fix the little problems they bring to you; it’s a terrible loss when they start to have problems beyond your ability to resolve. That universal disappointment is presented here on a vastly inflated scale. Sue Klebold describes her natural impulse to please people, and makes it clear that writing has required a disavowal of that predilection. Her book is a tribute to Dylan without being an excuse, and a moving call to action for mental health advocacy and research. Moral, determined, and dignified, Sue Klebold has arrived at an impenetrable aloneness. No one else has had this experience. To some degree, it has made Sue unknowable, just as Dylan was. In writing of her experience, she has chosen a kind of public unknowability.

Ovid delivered a famous injunction to “welcome this pain, for you will learn from it.” But there is little choice about such pain; you do not have the option of not welcoming it. You can express displeasure at its arrival, but you cannot ask it to leave the house. Sue Klebold has never complained of being a victim, but her narrative echoes that of Job, who says, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?” And then, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was i quiet; yet trouble came.” And finally, “Though I speak, my grief is not assuaged.”

Sue Klebold’s book narrates her Job-like descent into an incomprehensible hell, her divorce from safety. Perhaps most impressively, her book acknowledges that speech cannot assuage such grief. She doesn’t even try. This book is not a cathartic document intended to make her feel better. It is only a narrative of acceptance and of fight, of harnessing her torment in hopes of sparing others pain like hers, like her son’s, and like his victims’.

Andrew Solomon



ON APRIL 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold armed themselves with guns and explosives and walked into Columbine High School. They killed twelve students and a teacher, and wounded twenty-four others, before taking their own lives. It was the worst school shooting in history.

Dylan Klebold was my son.

I would give my life to reverse what happened that day. In fact, I would gladly give my own in exchange for just one of the lives that was lost. Yet I know that such a trade is impossible. Nothing I will ever be able to do or say can possibly atone for the massacre.

Sixteen years have passed since that terrible day, and l have dedicated them to understanding what is still incomprehensible to me, how a promising boy’s life could have escalated into such a disaster, and on my watch. I have interrogated experts as well as our family, Dylan’s friends, and, most of all, myself. What did I miss, and how could I have missed it? I have scoured my daily journals. l have analyzed our family life with the ferocity of a forensic scientist, turning over mundane events and exchanges in search of the clues I missed.

What should I have seen? What could I have done differently?

My quest for answers began as a purely personal mission, a primal need to know as strong as the shame and horror and grief that overwhelmed me. But I have come to see that the fragments I hold offer clues to a puzzle many are desperate to solve. The hope that what I have learned may help has led me to the difficult but necessary step of going public with my story.

There is a world between where I stand now and the view I had before Columbine, when our family life looked like that of a typical suburban American family. In more than a decade of searching through the wreckage, my eyes have opened, not only to those things once hidden to me about Dylan and the events leading up to that day, but also to the realization that these insights have implications that extend far beyond Columbine.

I’ll never know whether I could have prevented my son’s terrible role in the carnage that unfolded that day, but I have come to see things I wish I had done differently. These are small things, threads in the larger tapestry of a normal family’s life. Because if anyone had peeked inside our lives before Columbine, I believe that what they would have seen, even with the tightest zoom lens, was thoroughly ordinary, no different from the lives unfolding in countless homes across the country.

Tom and I were loving, attentive, and engaged parents, and Dylan was an enthusiastic, affectionate child. This wasn’t a kid we worried and prayed over, hoping he would eventually find his way and lead a productive life. We called him “The Sunshine Boy”, not just because of his halo of blond hair, but because everything seemed to come easily to him. I was grateful to be Dylan’s mother, and loved him with my whole heart and soul.

The ordinariness of our lives before Columbine will perhaps be the hardest thing for people to understand about my story. For me, it is also the most important. Our home life was not difficult or fraught. Our youngest child was not a handful, let alone someone we (or others who knew him) would have imagined to be a risk to himself or to anyone else. I wish many things had been different, but, most of all, I wish I had known it was possible for everything to seem fine with my son when it was not.

When it comes to brain health issues, many of our children are as vulnerable today as children a hundred years ago were to infectious diseases. Far too often, as in our case, their susceptibility goes undetected. Whether a child flames out in a horrifying scenario, or whether their potential for happiness and productivity merely fizzles, this situation can be as confounding as it is heartbreaking. If we do not wake up to these vulnerabilities, the terrible toll will continue to rise. And that toll will be counted not just in tragedies such as Columbine or Virginia Tech or Newtown or Charleston, but in countless quieter, slow-burning tragedies playing out every day in the family lives of our coworkers, friends, and loved ones.

There is perhaps no harder truth for a parent to bear, but it is one that no parent on earth knows better than I do, and it is this: love is not enough.

My love for Dylan, though infinite, did not keep Dylan safe, nor did it save the thirteen people killed at Columbine High School, or the many others injured and traumatized. I missed subtle signs of psychological deterioration that, had I noticed, might have made a difference for Dylan and his victims, all the difference in the world.

By telling my story as faithfully as possible, even when it is unflattering to me, I hope to shine a light that will help other parents see past the faces their children present, so that they can get them help if it is needed.

Many of my own friends and colleagues have changed their parenting styles as a result of knowing our story. In some instances, their interventions have had dramatic results, as when a former colleague noticed that her thirteen-year-old daughter seemed slightly withdrawn. With Dylan in mind, she pressed (and pressed, and pressed). Eventually, her daughter broke down and confessed that a stranger had raped her while she was sneaking out to see a friend. The girl was deeply depressed and ashamed and afraid, and she was seriously considering taking her own life.

My colleague was able to help her child because she noticed subtle changes, and kept asking. I take heart in knowing that my colleague effected a happier ending for her daughter’s story because she knew ours, and I believe only good can come from widening the circle of people who know it.

It is not easy for me to come forward, but if the understanding and insights l have gained in the terrible crucible of Columbine can help, then I have a moral imperative to share them. Speaking out is frightening, but it is also the right thing to do. The list of things I would have done differently if I had known more is long. Those are my failures. But what I have learned implies the need for a broader call to action, a comprehensive overview of what should be in place to stop not only tragedies like the one committed by my son but the hidden suffering of any child.

I began writing about the experience of Columbine almost from the moment it happened, because writing about my son’s cruel behavior and his suicide was one of the ways I coped with the tragedy. I never made a conscious decision to write. I kept writing just as I kept breathing.

Deciding what to do with the words I had put down on paper came much later. Initially, I didn’t think I had the inner strength to publish my thoughts about Dylan and our family. I was terrified that sharing my personal account would cause members of the community as well as my own loved ones to relive the shattering experience of the Columbine shootings. I didn’t want the hate mail and the media circus to begin all over again, because I didn’t think that any of us could withstand it a second time.

It wasn’t until years after the incident that I secured a publisher, and the manuscript was completed. As I inched toward the inevitable day when A Mother’s Reckoning would be released to the public and I would have to make media appearances to support the book, I felt like a rabbit ready to bolt across an open field.

In the end, I was able to take that step because the messages I hoped to convey were a matter of life and death. I felt a responsibility to educate parents and families about what happened, and why. I believed that hearing what Dylan had gone through might be beneficial to others, especially those who are struggling with lethal thoughts, or who find themselves or their loved ones trapped in a cycle of hopelessness.

If anyone close to Dylan had been able to grasp that he was experiencing a health crisis that impaired his judgement, compelled him to fixate on violence, misled him to dehumanize others, and enabled him to kill his schoolmates and a teacher before killing himself, we could have intervened, and gotten him the help he needed to move beyond the period of crisis.

In the years since the Columbine tragedy, the world has changed and people are more willing to consider that behavioral health is part of health. Since the tragedy l have witnessed significant changes in mental health care, school policy, active shooter responses, and suicide prevention. More and more people recognize that we don’t lose our bearings because we’re bad people. Persistent thoughts of death and suicide are symptoms of pathology, not of flawed character.

When A Mother’s Reckoning came out, l was surprised and grateful for the heartfelt, positive response from readers and from the media. My deepest fear that the book would regenerate a firestorm of anger and pain and reopen the wounds of April 1999 did not materialize. The message I most often hear from readers is, “Thank you for sharing your story.” A number of parents have told me that they see their own children in a new light, and are listening to them more carefully. Some have gone on to say they think every parent should read the book. Others shared with me their own struggles with suicidal thinking. The book, they said, made them see for the first time how devastating their deaths would be to those who loved them. The voices I hear are part of the growing demand for improved care and treatment for those who experience disordered thinking, addictions, behavioral disabilities, and other brain health concerns.

And there was another, unexpected blessing from the book’s publication: it led several more survivors of the Columbine tragedy to contact me. I feel privileged to have had a chance to meet them, and humbled by their grace and generosity. In the immediate wake of Columbine, I could only dream that one day it would be possible for me to encounter one of Dylan’s victims or one of their family members and exchange a heartfelt hug. This has finally come to pass and I am overcome with gratitude.

Since the book’s release, I have cut back on most of my local volunteer commitments and focused more on participation at the national level. I have spoken at events designed to educate school personnel, medical practitioners, and journalists. One thing that surprised me about the book’s release was the interest in it shown by readers all over the world. At the time of publication, I had no idea that the difficult subject matter would be of interest outside the United States. But to date, the book has been translated into almost a dozen languages, including Hungarian, Italian, Dutch, German, French, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian. The global level of interest is a testament to the pervasive concerns people are having about mental wellness.

Another privilege for which I am grateful is the opportunity to donate my share of book profits to organizations dedicated to suicide prevention, evidence-based programs, and brain health research. I never would have been able to make these gifts to deserving organizations had I not published the book.

One thing that has not changed during years of continual soul-searching about Columbine is the way I feel about Dylan. My abiding love for him was the force that kept me writing and alive. It is what keeps me focused on the causes that I support. I carry him in my heart every waking moment and in dreams when I sleep. I like to imagine that he has walked with me through the long, heart-rending process of telling our story together. I will never stop wishing that I knew then what I know now, so I would have been better equipped to help him when he needed me. So many would have been spared if I had.



“There’s Been a Shooting at Columbine High School”

APRIL 20, 1999, 12:05 P.M.

I was in my office in downtown Denver, getting ready to leave for a meeting about college scholarships for students with disabilities, when I noticed the red message light on my desk phone flashing.

I checked, on the off chance my meeting had been canceled, but the message was from my husband, Tom, his voice tight, ragged, urgent.

“Susan-this is an emergency! Call me back immediately!”

He didn’t say anything more. He didn’t have to: I knew just from the sound of his voice that something had happened to one of our boys.

It felt as if it took hours for my shaking fingers to dial our home phone number. Panic crashed over me like a wave; my heart pounded in my ears. Our youngest son, Dylan, was at school; his older brother, Byron, was at work. Had there been an accident?

Tom picked up and immediately yelled: “Listen to the television!” But I couldn’t make out any distinct words. It terrified me that whatever had happened was big enough to be on TV. My fear, seconds earlier, of a car wreck suddenly seemed tame. Were we at war? Was the country under attack?

“What’s happening?” I screamed into the receiver. There was only static and indecipherable television noise on the other end. Tom came back on the line, finally, but my ordinarily steadfast husband sounded like a madman. The scrambled words pouring out of him in staccato bursts made no sense: “gunman shooter school.”

I struggled to understand what Tom was telling me: Nate, Dylan’s best friend, had called Tom’s home office minutes before to ask, “Is Dylan home?” A call like that in the middle of the school day would have been alarming enough, but the reason for Nate’s call was every parent’s worst nightmare come to life: gunmen were shooting at people at Columbine High School, where Dylan was a senior.

There was more: Nate had said the shooters had been wearing black trench coats, like the one we’d bought for Dylan.



A Mother’s Reckoning. Living in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy

by Sue Klebold

get it at

Marx’s analysis of the laws of capital and the share market crisis – Nick Beams.

Down through the years one of the most persistent attacks on Karl Marx by the high priests of bourgeois economics, the ideological guardians of the profit system, has been his contention that, in the final analysis, capitalism depends on the impoverishment of the working class. History, they maintain, has proven otherwise and refuted Marx. While there have been periods of crisis, and rapid and even prolonged falls in the living standards of the masses, in the long run the profit system has served to uplift them and will continue to do so into the indefinite future, whatever fluctuations it may undergo.

Moreover, there is no possible alternative because the market system is not a historically developed mode of production, which came into being at one point and is therefore destined to pass away like earlier modes of production before it, slavery and feudalism. Rather, it is rooted in the laws of nature itself and is necessary and therefore eternal. In other words, despite some imperfections, which may give rise to problems at certain points, all is really for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

In feudal times, the high priests of the Church, who played the key role in sustaining and sanctifying the ruling classes of their day, maintained that when crises arose this was not a product of the social system but an “act of God,” a punishment for the sins of man deriving from his fall.

While there have been enormous advances in social and political thought since then—a product of the Enlightenment and the vast advances in the scientific understanding—the modus operandi of the present day “high priests” of capitalist economy, the bourgeois economists and pundits, is not altogether different from their predecessors.

When confronted with economic crises and their persistence, they maintain that these are not a product of the inexorable workings of the capitalist system itself, but arise from “market imperfections” or some external, unforeseen or accidental event. That is, they proceed, as Marx put it, on the basis that so long as capitalism acts according to the textbooks—the modern day scriptures used to justify the present socio-economic order—crises are not endemic to the system.

The events of the past two weeks, with the largest fall in markets since the crisis of 2008, raising the spectre of an even bigger disaster than that of a decade ago, have provided a damning exposure of this entire ideological framework.

Before going into a deeper analysis of the underlying driving forces and the inherent and irresolvable contradictions of which these events are an expression, let us begin with one undeniable economic fact.

In the decade since the eruption of the global financial crisis of 2008, none of the underlying contradictions that exploded to the surface has been resolved. At the same time, the immediate and ongoing consequences of the breakdown have been the reduction of the living standards of billions of people, while creating unprecedented wealth for a capitalist oligarchy occupying the heights of society. Or as Marx put it, the accumulation of wealth at one pole, amid poverty, misery and degradation at the other.

Whatever the immediate outcome, the financial turmoil of the past days has established, as an undeniable reality, the continuing threat of a meltdown of the capitalist economy. It hangs like a sword of Damocles over the working masses of the world, destined to fall, if not in this crisis, then in others to come.

Moreover, one of the most striking features of the latest crisis, is that it was not sparked by the immediate threat of recession but by news that economic growth was enjoying an uptick—the best period of synchronised global growth since 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund. Most significantly, it was triggered by data showing that wages in the US experienced their largest annual rise since 2009.

Most of what passed for analysis in the bourgeois media did little better than the tweet forthcoming from the very limited intelligence of US President Donald Trump. He noted: “In the ‘old days,’ when good news was reported the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake and we have so much good (great) news about the economy!”

Trump’s “analysis” omitted a central feature of the market rise over the past nine years. It has not taken place on the basis of “good news” but in a period of the lowest growth in any “recovery” in the post-World War II period. It has been sustained only by the continued inflow of ultra-cheap money from the US Federal Reserve and other major central banks.

Lawrence Summers, former treasury secretary in the Clinton administration and now Harvard professor of economics, was slightly more insightful. “This is not yet a major earthquake,” he wrote. “Whether it’s an early tremor or a random fluctuation remains to be seen. I’m nervous and will stay nervous. [It is] far from clear that good growth and stable finance are compatible.”

Summers is at least vaguely aware that in the present situation there is something deeply troubling for the capitalist class for which he speaks. The very measures undertaken in response to the last crisis, supposedly aimed at restoring economic health and growth, may in fact have created the conditions for another financial disaster as growth begins to rise.

The tendency of the rate of profit to fall

To analyse the present situation, it is necessary to leave the sphere of bourgeois economics—based on the premise that there are no inherent and objective contradictions in the profit system—and probe its historical development on the basis of the laws of motion of the capitalist economy uncovered by Marx.

The ongoing turmoil in financial markets, beginning with the Wall Street crash of October 1987, must be analysed on the basis of one of the most important contradictions of the capitalist economy explained by Marx. That is the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

This tendency was noted by the foremost representatives of English classical political economy—Adam Smith and David Ricardo—who preceded Marx in the period when the bourgeoisie was a rising and progressive class.

While Smith and Ricardo found the tendency of the rate of profit to fall deeply disturbing, especially the latter because of its implications for the long-term future of the capitalist economy, they were unable to give any scientific explanation for it. That was provided by Marx, beginning with his uncovering of the secret of surplus value.

While Smith and Ricardo had the notion that the origin of surplus value was the labour of the developing working class, its actual source always remained a mystery to Marx’s predecessors. How was it possible, they cudgelled their brains, on the basis of the laws of commodity exchange in the market, where equivalents exchange for equivalents, for a surplus to arise and for this surplus to be appropriated by capital?

Marx’s solution consisted in his probing of the most important commodity exchange in capitalist economy, that between capital and labour. He showed that the commodity which the worker sold to the capitalist was not, as had been previously maintained, his or her labour, but labour power, the capacity to work.

Like every other commodity in the market, labour power’s value was determined by the value of the commodities needed to reproduce it—in this case, the value of the commodities needed to sustain the individual worker and his or her family to ensure the continued supply of wage workers.

Surplus value arose from the difference between the value created by the worker in the course of the working day through the production process, and the value of the commodity, labour power, that the worker sold to capital through the wage contract.

The raw materials and machinery used up in the production process did not add new value, but passed on to the final product the value they already embodied.

Yet the analysis was not yet complete. The rate of profit had to be explained. This rate was not determined at the level of the individual capitalist firm, but at the level of the capitalist economy as a whole. It was given by the ratio of the total surplus value extracted from the working class to the total capital outlaid—the expenditure on labour power plus the expenditure on the means of production, raw materials and machinery.

The tendency of the rate of profit to fall arose not from some external factor, Marx showed, but from a contradiction at the very heart of this process.

The development of capitalist production led to the expansion of the productive forces and the use of ever-larger amounts of raw materials and machinery in the production process. As a result, expenditure on materials and machinery tended to comprise an increasing proportion of the total capital laid out. But this increased expenditure on what Marx called constant capital, as opposed to the expenditure on labour power, or variable capital, did not give rise to additional or surplus value.

Because the rate of profit was determined by the ratio of total surplus value to the total mass of capital—constant and variable—employed, there was an inherent tendency for it to decline.

Now, as Marx clearly identified, there were countervailing factors. These included: the increased exploitation of the working class in order to widen the difference between the value of labour power and the value created by the worker in the course of the working day; the lowering of wages to below the value of labour power, enforced through the creation of unemployment and a surplus working population; the cheapening of the costs of raw materials and machinery, so reducing the total value of capital on which the rate of profit was calculated; and the expansion of foreign trade.

But while these countervailing factors lessened the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and at times could operate very powerfully—even lifting the profit rate—the basic tendency continually reasserted itself.

Marx characterised the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as the most important law of political economy, above all from an historical point of view. This was because, on the one hand, it drove capital to develop the productive forces in an attempt to overcome its effects, while, on the other, it was the source of the continually recurring crises that beset the capitalist mode of production.

Marx’s critics and the end of the post-war boom

With the development of the post-war capitalist boom, extending from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Marx’s law, it was claimed, had been refuted by historical events. As had been seen in the case of the German revisionist Eduard Bernstein at the end of the 19th century, the attack on Marx’s analysis came from those who claimed to be his followers, but insisted it needed to be revised and updated.

The assault on Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was at the centre of one of the most influential books of the late 1960s, Monopoly Capital, written by the “independent” Marxist economist Paul Sweezy in co-authorship with Paul Baran in the midst of the post-war boom.

Sweezy, the founder of the journal Monthly Review, had already cast considerable doubt on the validity of Marx’s law in his first book, The Theory of Capitalist Development, published in 1941. He now maintained that Marx had developed the law under conditions of competition in the 19th century and that in 20th century monopoly capitalism it no longer applied, if it ever had.

Sweezy maintained that the key question confronting capital was not the insufficient extraction of surplus value relative to the ever-growing mass of capital—the issue to which Marx’s law had pointed—but the reverse. Monopoly capital created an increased mass of surplus value that had to be continually “absorbed.”

A key aspect of Sweezy’s theory, flowing directly from his economic analysis, was that in the advanced capitalist countries, dominated by monopolies, the working class was no longer a revolutionary force. The vehicle for socialist revolution, he claimed, was now the masses in the so-called Third World countries, striving for national liberation.

Monopoly Capital is no longer widely read but it continues to exert an influence. David Harvey, for example, adheres to much of Sweezy’s economic analysis, as well as his insistence on the non-revolutionary role of the working class.

However, as so often happens, Sweezy’s “refutation” of Marx came right at the point when developments in the capitalist economy were confirming Marx’s scientific insights. Earlier, Bernstein had maintained that the Marxist analysis of the inevitable breakdown of capitalism was rendered a fiction by the boom beginning in the late 1890s. The collapse of Bernstein’s prognosis came just 14 years after its elaboration, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

In Sweezy’s case, his refutation was almost instantaneous. The publication of Monopoly Capital in 1966 came at a point when profit rates in the advanced capitalist economies were starting to turn down. This led to mounting economic problems and the rise of class tensions that were soon to produce potentially revolutionary struggles by the working class from 1968 to 1975.

Starting with the May–June 1968 general strike in France, the largest and most extended in history, and including the 1969 hot autumn in Italy, the 1974 miners’ strike that brought down the Tory government in Britain, the revolutionary situation in Chile (1970–73) and the upheavals in the US, to name just some of the events, world capitalism was shaken to its foundations.

With the direct collaboration of the Stalinist, social democratic and trade union apparatuses, which betrayed these struggles, the capitalist classes were able to bring the situation under control and maintain their rule.

However, the underlying economic problems of the US and other major capitalist economies, rooted in declining profit rates, remained. Having kept themselves in the saddle, the ruling classes undertook a massive offensive against the working class, coupled with a restructuring the world economy.

The global counter-offensive was initiated in the US under Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who put in place a high-interest rate regime. Its purpose was two-fold: to wipe out unprofitable sections of industry and force a major industrial restructure, and eliminate the large industrial complexes that were the centres of militant working class struggles in an earlier period. The Volcker purge had vast global ramifications, leading in 1982–83 to the most serious global recession since the Great Depression.

The decade of the 1980s was characterised by major class battles, of which the mass sacking of US air traffic controllers in 1981 by Reagan and the state violence unleashed by the Thatcher Tory government against the British miners’ strike in 1984–85 were two of the most prominent. The decade also saw a fundamental transformation in the role of the trade unions. From organisations that had fought for limited gains by the working class, they betrayed all of its struggles as they became the chief enforcers of the program of pro-market, capitalist restructuring.

The attack on the social position of the working class—aimed at increasing the extraction of surplus value to counter the fall in the rate of profit—was accompanied by a reorganisation of production, through downsizing and globalisation to take advantage of cheaper sources of labour.

The growth of financial speculation

Crucial to this restructuring was the freeing of financial capital from the restrictions and regulations that were set in place following the disastrous experiences of the 1930s. The growing operations of finance, through the issuing of so-called junk bonds and other measures, were central to hostile takeovers, downsizing and mergers and acquisitions that transformed the organisation of capitalist production.

At the same time, the pressure on profit rates, as Marx predicted, resulted in a turn by capital to operations in the financial markets and speculative ventures as a means of profit accumulation.

This process led to financial storms by the end of the 1980s, with the eruption of the savings and loans debacle and the October 1987 share market crash, in which the Dow plunged by more than 22 percent in a single day.

The response of the incoming Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, represented a major turning point. He committed the central bank to the provision of liquidity to the financial markets in what became known as the “Greenspan put.” In effect, the Fed became the guarantor to the financial markets, reversing previous policy.

While the October 1987 crash was the most severe one-day fall in history—a position it retains to this day—it did not lead to a broader crisis in the economy as a whole.

This was because the onslaught against the working class in the US and the first wave of globalisation, marked by the transfer of large areas of industrial production to the cheaper-labour countries of East Asia, the “Asian Tigers,” was beginning to lift the rate of profit.

This was reinforced after 1991 with the liquidation of the Soviet Union and the consequent abandonment by countries such as India of their nationally-regulated development programs and the increasing turn to the free market.

Most significant was the restoration of capitalism in China and its opening up to global corporations. China, which became a source of cheap labour production in the 1980s through the establishment of special economic zones, opened up still further. The Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989 was the signal by the Chinese Communist Party regime that it stood ready, by whatever means necessary, to ensure the exploitation of the Chinese working class by global capital.

In the first period of the Clinton presidency, beginning in 1993, the US economy enjoyed rising profit rates as a result of the boost provided by the exploitation of cheaper labour, paid as little as one thirtieth of US wages.

However, the basic tendency identified by Marx began to reassert itself from around 1997, when the average US profit rate began to turn down. As a result, the accumulation of profits by financial means, which had grown by leaps and bounds in the 1990s, became increasingly vulnerable.

By 1996, Greenspan pointed to what he called “irrational exuberance,” expressed in the tendency of stock prices to become ever-more divorced from the real economy. This warning, however, came to nothing. Greenspan, responding to the dictates and demands of finance capital, turned more openly to the provision of cheap money for speculation.

The Asian financial crisis of 1997–98 was a significant turning point. It produced a depression in South-East Asia equivalent in scope to that of the 1930s in the advanced capitalist countries, but Clinton dismissed it as a mere “glitch” on the road to globalisation.

That was followed by the 1998 collapse of the US investment fund Long Term Capital Management, which had to be wound up in an operation conducted by the New York Federal Reserve, lest its demise brought down the whole financial system.

The bubble was then getting under way as the Fed provided ever-cheaper money. And at the behest of the financial markets, the last remnants of the regulatory mechanisms controlling their predatory operations, put in place as a result of the 1930s depression, were scrapped with the Clinton administration’s 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

The 2001 collapse of Enron revealed the dubious practices and outright criminality that increasingly marked the speculative financial bubble. Enron had pioneered new accounting practices in which profit was decided in advance to meet market expectations and then the accounts were manipulated to show the desired result.

Following the collapse of the tech and bubble, finance capital turned to the development of new methods for speculative profit accumulation, again facilitated with cheap money from the Fed. It developed highly complex and arcane financial derivatives, centred on the sub-prime mortgage market, but extending well beyond it. Goldman Sachs, among others, was a key player. It issued new products that it knew would eventually fail, but made money in the meantime by financing both sides of the deals.

The 2008 global financial crisis

In April 2007, the then chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, dismissed the possibility that the growing signs of problems with sub-prime mortgages could impact the broader market because these products only amounted to a $50 billion operation.

However, when the crisis erupted, it engulfed the entire financial system, threatening to bring down the insurance giant AIG following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. This was because the methods employed in the sub-prime market were not “rogue” activities but typical of the financial markets as a whole.

The response of the Fed and other central banks to the 2008 crisis marked another decisive turning point. No longer was it a question of stepping in to rescue a failed individual firm. Massive intervention was required to prop up the US and global financial system as a whole.

The lowering of interest rates to historic lows—in some cases to negative levels—and the injection of trillions of dollars into the financial system did not overcome the contradictions manifested in speculation—the expression of the laws of the capitalist mode of production laid bare by Marx—but exacerbated them.

The rise and rise of financial wealth accumulation in the decade following the 2008 crisis is not the outcome of growth in the real economy. In fact, the “recovery” since 2009 has been the weakest in the post-war period, and marked by the fall of investment in the real economy to historic lows and a decline in productivity.

After the Lehman crisis, finance capital responded to the blowing up of its previous mechanisms for profit accumulation via speculation by creating new ones. One of these, exchange traded notes based on “shorting” the volatility index, or Vix—that is, betting on continued market calm, has now resulted in the most significant turbulence since the 2008 crash.

However, these new forms of speculation are only a trigger. The broader significance of the recent volatility and whatever else eventuates—no one is sure that the storm has passed—is that it was provoked by the prospect of faster growth and a push by the working class for higher wages following decades of the suppression of the class struggle.

Economic events have once again confirmed the essential conclusion of Marx’s analysis of the laws of motion of the capitalist economy. Whatever its ups and downs and even periods of long upturn, the accumulation of profit—the essential driving force of capitalism—is, in the final analysis, based on the ongoing suppression of the working class and its impoverishment.

The lie, which forms the basis of all bourgeois economics, that somehow the growth of capitalist economy can, at least in the long run, provide the road to advancement for the mass of humanity, the working class, the producers of all wealth, has been exposed. It has been laid bare by the fact that signs of economic growth and a growing movement of workers against the decline in living standards have raised the prospect of a new financial disaster, even more serious than that of a decade ago.

Marx’s analysis of the laws of motion of capital—laws which express themselves, as he put it, in the same way that the law of gravity asserts itself when a house collapses around our ears—far from being refuted or rendered outdated, have been confirmed by living events.

This analysis, and Marx’s central conclusion that the working class has to take conscious control of the very wealth it has produced, must become its guiding perspective in the struggles now unfolding.

This historic task does not arise out of an abstract theoretical construct. In opposition to all the nostrums of bourgeois economy, which are self-serving justifications of the capitalist system, Marx’s analysis is a scientific elaboration of the objective tendencies and inherent logic of capitalist development.

This logic, which assumes ever-more explosive forms, now poses directly before the international working class the necessity, if humanity is to avert a catastrophe and advance, to fight in every struggle for a perspective based on the overthrow of the reactionary and historically-outmoded profit system. That is the essential meaning of the latest round of turmoil on the financial markets.

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