What happened when the US last introduced tariffs? – Dominic Rushe.

Anyone?

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot were reviled for a bill blamed for triggering the Great Depression. Will Trump follow their lead?

America inches towards a potential trade war over steel prices, can Donald Trump hear whispering voices?

Alone in the Oval Office in the wee dark hours, illuminated by the glow of his Twitter app, does he feel the sudden chill flowing from those freshly hung gold drapes? It is the shades of Smoot and Hawley.

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot have haunted Congress since the 1930s when they were the architects of the Smoot Hawley tariff bill, among the most decried pieces of legislation in US history and a bill blamed by some for not only for triggering the Great Depression but also contributing to the start of the second world war.

Pilloried even in their own time, their bloodied names have been brought out like Jacob Marley’s ghost every time America has taken a protectionist turn on trade policy. And America has certainly taken a protectionist turn.

Successful presidents including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have campaigned on the perils of free trade only to drop the rhetoric once installed in the White House. Trump called Mexicans “rapists” on the campaign trail. And China? “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are,” Trump said.

As commander in chief he has shown no signs of softening and this week took major action announcing steel imports would face a 25% tariff and aluminium 10%.

Canada and the EU said they would bring forward their own countermeasures. Mexico, China and Brazil have also said they are considering retaliatory steps.

Trump doesn’t seem worried. “Trade wars are good,” he tweeted even as the usually friendly Wall Street Journal thundered that “Trump’s tariff folly ”is the “biggest policy blunder of his Presidency”.

It is not his first protectionist move. In his first days in office the president has vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest trade deal in a generation, said he will review the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a deal he has called “the worst in history”, and had his visit with Mexico’s president cancelled over his plans to make them pay for a border wall.

Free traders may have become complacent after hearing tough talk on trade from so many presidential candidates on the campaign trail only to watch them furiously back pedal when they get into ofhce, said Dartmouth professor and trade expert Douglas Irwin. “Unfortunately that pattern may have been broken,” he says. “It looks like we have to take Trump literally and seriously about his threats on trade.”

Not since Herbert Hoover has a US president been so down on free trade. And Hoover was the man who signed off on Smoot and Hawley’s bill.

Hawley, an Oregon congressman and a professor a history and economics, became a stock figure in the textbooks of his successors thanks to his partnership with the lean, patrician figure of Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle known as the “sugar senator” for his protectionist stance towards Utah’s sugar beet industry.

Before he was shackled to Hawley for eternity Smoot was more famous for his Mormonism and his abhorrence of bawdy books, a disgust that inspired the immortal headline “Smoot Smites Smut” after he attacked the importation of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Robert Burns’ more risque poems and similar texts as “worse than opium I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”

But it was imports of another kind that secured Smoot and Hawley’s place in infamy.

The US economy was doing well in the 1920s as the consumer society was being born to the sound of jazz. The Tariff Act began life largely as a politically motivated response to appease the agricultural lobby that had fallen behind as American workers, and money, consolidated in the cities.

Foreign demand for US produce had soared during the first world war, and farm prices doubled between 1915 and 1918. A wave of land speculation followed and farmers took on debt as they looked to expand production. By the early 1920s farmers had found themselves heavily in debt and squeezed by tightening monetary policy and an unexpected collapse in commodity prices.

Nearly a quarter of the American labor force was then employed on the land, and Congress could not ignore heartland America. Cheap foreign imports and their toll on the domestic market became a hot issue in the 1928 election. Even bananas weren’t safe. Irwin quotes one critic in his book Peddling Protectionism: Smoot Hawley and the Great Depression: “The enormous imports of cheap bananas into the United States tend to curtail the domestic consumption of fresh fruits produced in the United States.”

Hoover won in a landslide against Albert E Smith, an out of touch New Yorker who didn’t appeal to middle America, and soon after promised to pass “limited” tariff reforms.

Hawley started the bill but with Smoot behind him it metastasized as lobby groups shoehorned their products into the bill, eventually proposing higher tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

Siren voices warned of dire consequences. Henry Ford reportedly told Hoover the bill was “an economic stupidity”.

Critics of the tariffs were being aided and abetted by “internationalists” willing to “betray American interests”, said Smoot. Reports claiming the bill would harm the US economy were decried as fake news. Republican Frank Crowther, dismissed press criticism as “demagoguery and untruth, scandalous untruth”.

In October 1929 as the Senate debated the tariff bill the stock market crashed. When the bill finally made it to Hoover’s desk in June 1930 it had morphed from his original “limited” plan to the “highest rates ever known”, according to a New York Times editorial.

The extent to which Smoot and Hawley were to blame for the coming Great Depression is still a matter of debate. “Ask a thousand economists and you will get a thousand and five answers,” said Charles Geisst, professor of economics at Manhattan College and author of Wall Street: A History.

What is apparent is that the bill sparked international outrage and a backlash. Canada and Europe reacted with a wave of protectionist tariffs that deepened a global depression that presaged the rise of Hitler and the second world war. A myriad other factors contributed to the Depression, and to the second world war, but inarguably one consequence of Smoot Hawley in the US was that never again would a sitting US president be so avowedly anti trade. Until today.

Franklin D Roosevelt swept into power in 1933 and for the first time the president was granted the authority to undertake trade negotiations to reduce foreign barriers on US exports in exchange for lower US tariffs.

The backlash against Smoot and Hawley continued to the present day. The average tariff on dutiable imports was 45% in 1930; by 2010 it was 5%.

The lessons of Smoot Hawley used to be taught in high schools. Presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan have enlisted the unhappy duo when facing off with free trade critics. “I have been around long enough to remember that when we did that once before in this century, something called Smoot Hawley, we lived through a nightmare,” Reagan, who came of age during the Great Depression, said in 1984.

They even got a mention in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when actor Ben Stein’s teacher bores his class with it. “I don’t think the current generation are taught it. It’s in the past and we are more interested in the future.”

But that might be about to change. “The main lesson is that you have to worry about what other countries do. Countries will retaliate,” said Irwin. “When Congress was considering Smoot Hawley in the 1930s they didn’t consider what other countries might do in reaction. They thought other countries would remain passive. But other countries don’t remain passive.”

The consequences of a trade war today are far worse than in the 1930s. Exports of goods and services account for about 13% of US gross domestic product (GDP) the broadest measure of an economy. It was roughly 5% back in 1920.

“The US is much more engaged in trade, it’s much more a part of the fabric of the country, than it was in the 1920s and 1930s. That means the ripple effects are widespread. Many more industries will be hit by it and the scope for foreign retaliation, which in the case of Smoot Hawley was quite limited, is going to be much more widespread if a trade war was to start.”

“When you start talking about withdrawing from trade agreements or imposing tariffs of 35%, if you are doing that as a protectionist measure, that would be blowing up the system.”

That the promise of “blowing up the system” got Trump elected may be why the ghosts of Smoot and Hawley are once again walking the halls of Congress.

The Guardian

TRUE DEATH. What happens to your brain in the last minutes before you die?

Dr Rajiv Parti, a California-based anaesthesiologist, has allegedly ventured into the afterlife by mistake but says his journey and near-death experience had him float into a realm on the cusp of heaven and hell.

A wave of electrical activity in our brains called “spreading depression” appears to mark the final moment before death, researchers have found. Experts examining brain activity in dying patients observed a flurry of activity that appears to precede the fatal shutdown of our most vital organ.

The finding suggests that consciousness may still be present for many minutes after the rest of the body has stopped showing signs of life, raising the possibility that for up to five minutes, the process of the brain shutting down could be reversed, according to the Daily Mail.

A team of neurologists, including from the Charité-Universitatsmedizin Berlin, continuously monitored electrical signals in the brains of nine people as they died.

Each of the patients from Berlin, Germany, and Cincinnati, Ohio had received fatal brain injuries and had “do not resuscitate” orders.

Experts hoped that, by implanting electrodes in the brains of their test subjects, they could uncover the mechanisms and timing of events during the process of dying. They found that even five minutes after a person’s heart stops beating their brain cells, or neurons, may still function. But a wave of “spreading depression” marked the moment that these neurons shut down before their final, irreversible death.

In a written statement lead author Dr Jens Dreier of Universitatsmedizin Berlin said: ”After circulatory arrest, spreading depolarisation marks the loss of stored electrochemical energy in brain cells and the onset of toxic processes that eventually lead to death. “Importantly, it is reversible up to a point when the circulation is restored.”

Cells die when blood stops flowing, depriving them of the oxygen they need as fuel to function. When this happens, brain cells draw on energy reserves for a few minutes before they shut down completely. This happens when the mechanisms that neurons use to keep ions separated start to fail.

Experts examining brain activity in dying patients observed a flurry of activity that appears to precede the fatal shutdown of our most vital organ. Ions are electrically charged particles formed when atoms lose or gain electrons. The breakdown of the barriers between these particles releases a massive amount of electrochemical energy into the brain as neurons frantically attempt to draw in fuel.

This process, known as spreading depolarisation or spreading depression, is marked by hyperactivity in the neurons, followed by a sudden silence.

However, this silence only marks the final countdown to death and may be reversed for a period, researchers found. Exactly how long this remains the case is still open to debate.

A final ”wave” of spreading depression seems to mark the point at which neurons have fired for the last time, although the research team warned that this may still be an unreliable marker for true death.

“The chemical changes that lead to death begin with depolarisation,” Dr Jed Hartings of the University of University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine and a member of the research team told Newsweek. “We’ve never had a method to diagnose brain death, and we don’t have a way to be certain when all capacity for awareness is lost.”

While the study doesn’t have a direct effect on patient care today, it may lead to improved diagnostic and treatment procedures in the future. The findings may be helpful for developing strategies for dealing with cardiac arrest and stroke that complement efforts to re-establish circulation.

They may also inform the debate on organ donation after cardio death, where death is declared between two and 10 minutes after The full findings were published in the joumal Annals of Neurology.

WHAT DOES DYING FEEL LIKE?

Scientists reported in October 2017 that they had discovered a person’s consciousness continues to work after the body has stopped showing signs of life.

That means they may be aware oftheir own death and there is evidence to suggest someone who has died may even hear their own death being announced by medics.

A team from New York University Langone School of Medicine investigated the topic through twin studies in Europe and the US of people who have suffered cardiac arrest and ”come back” to life, in the largest study of its kind.

Study author Dr Sam Parnia told Live Science: “They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them.”

He said these recollections were then verified by medical and nursing staff who reported their patients, who were technically dead, could remember details of what they were saying.

Doctors define death based on when the heart no longer beats, which then immediately cuts off blood supply to the brain. Once that happens, blood no longer circulates to the brain, which means brain function halts almost instantaneously. You lose all your brain stem reflexes, including your gag reflex and your pupil reflex.

The brain’s cerebral cortex, which is responsible for thinking and processing information from the five senses, also instantly flatlines. This means that within two to 20 seconds, no brainwaves will be detected on an electric monitor.

This sparks a chain reaction of cellular processes that will result in the death of brain cells.

However this can take hours after the heart has stopped, researchers said.

NZ Herald

Adults in the room. My battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment – Yanis Varoufakis.

What happens when you take on the establishment? In this blistering, personal account, world-famous economist Yanis Varoufakis blows the lid on Europe’s hidden agenda and exposes what actually goes on in its corridors of power.


Varoufakis sparked one of the most spectacular and controversial battles in recent political history when, as finance minister of Greece, he attempted to re-negotiate his country’s relationship with the EU. Despite the mass support of the Greek people and the simple logic of his arguments, he succeeded only in provoking the fury of Europe’s political, financial and media elite. But the true story of what happened is almost entirely unknown not least because so much of the EU’s real business takes place behind closed doors.

In this fearless account, Varoufakis reveals all: an extraordinary tale of brinkmanship, hypocrisy, collusion and betrayal that will shake the deep establishment to its foundations.

As is now clear, the same policies that required the tragic and brutal suppression of Greece’s democratic uprising have led directly to authoritarianism, populist revolt and instability throughout the Western world.

Adults In The Room is an urgent wake-up call to renew European democracy before it is too late.

Yanis Varoufakis is the former finance minister of Greece and now the figurehead of an international grassroots movement, DiEM25, campaigning for the revival of democracy in Europe. He speaks to audiences of thousands worldwide and is the author of the international bestseller And the Weak Suffer What They Must? Born in Athens in 1961, he was for many years a professor of economics in Britain, Australia and the USA before he entered government. He is currently Professor of Economics at the University of Athens.

*

A Note on Quoted Speech

In a book of this nature, in which so much depends on who said what to whom, I have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of quoted speech. To this end, l have been able to draw on audio recordings that I made on my phone, as well as on notes I made at the time, of many of the official meetings and conversations that appear in this book. Where my own recordings or notes are unavailable, I have relied on memory and, where possible, the corroboration of other witnesses.

The reader should note that many of the discussions reported in this book took place in Greek. This includes all conversations that occurred with my staff at the finance ministry, in parliament, on the streets of Athens, with the prime minister, in cabinet, and between my partner Danae and me. Necessarily, l have translated those conversations into English.

The only discussions I report that took place in neither Greek nor English were those I had with Michel Sapin, the French finance minister. Indeed, Mr Sapin was the only member of the Eurogroup not to address the meetings in English. Either we communicated through translators or, quite often, he would address me in French and I would reply in English, our grasp of the other’s language being good enough to carry on those conversations.

In every instance I have confined my account strictly to exchanges that are in the public interest and have therefore included only those that shed important light on events that affected the lives of millions.

Preface

My previous book, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability, offered an historical explanation of why Europe is now in the process, decades in the making, of losing its integrity and forfeiting its soul. Just as l was finishing it in January 2015 I became finance minister of Greece and found myself thrust into the belly of the beast I had been writing about. By accepting the position of finance minister of a chronically indebted European country in the midst of a tumultuous clash with its creditors, Europe’s most powerful governments and institutions, I witnessed first hand the particular circumstances and immediate causes of our continent’s descent into a morass from which it may not escape for a long, long while.

This new book tells that story. It could be described as the story of an academic who became a government minister for a while before turning whistle-blower. Or as a kissand-tell memoir featuring powerful personages such as Angela Merkel, Mario Draghi, Wolfgang Schauble, Christine Lagarde, Emmanuel Macron, George Osborne and Barack Obama. Or as the tale of a small bankrupt country taking on the Goliaths of Europe in order to escape from debtors’ prison before suffering a crushing if fairly honourable defeat. But none of these descriptions convey my real motivation for writing this book.

Shortly after the ruthless suppression of Greece’s rebellion in 2015, also known as the Greek Spring or the Athens Spring, the leftwing party Podemos lost its momentum in Spain; no doubt many potential voters feared a fate similar to ours at the hands of a ferocious EU. Having observed the EU’s callous disregard for democracy in Greece, many supporters of the Labour Party in Britain then went on to vote for Brexit. Brexit boosted Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s triumph blew fresh wind into the sails of xenophobic nationalists throughout Europe and the world.

Vladimir Putin must be rubbing his eyes in disbelief at the way the West has been undermining itself so fabulously.

The story in this book is not only symbolic of what Europe, Britain and the United States are becoming; it also provides real insights into how and why our polities and social economies have fractured. As the so-called liberal establishment protests at the fake news of the insurgent alt-right, it is salutary to be reminded that in 2015 this same establishment launched a ferociously effective campaign of truth-reversal and character assassination against the pro-European, democratically elected government of a small country in Europe.

But as useful as I hope insights such as this may be, my motivation for writing this book goes deeper. Beneath the specific events that I experienced, I recognised a universal story, the story of what happens when human beings find themselves at the mercy of cruel circumstances that have been generated by an inhuman, mostly unseen network of power relations.

This is why there are no ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ in this book. Instead, it is populated by people doing their best, as they understand it, under conditions not of their choosing. Each of the persons I encountered and write about in these pages believed they were acting appropriately, but, taken together, their acts produced misfortune on a continental scale. Is this not the stuff of authentic tragedy? Is this not what makes the tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare resonate with us today, hundreds of years after the events they relate became old news?

At one point Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, remarked in a state of exasperation that to resolve the drama we needed ‘adults in the room’. She was right. There was a dearth of adults in many of the rooms where this drama unfolded.

As characters, though, they fell into two categories: the banal and the fascinating. The banal went about their business ticking boxes on sheets of instructions handed down to them by their masters. In many cases though, their masters, politicians such as Wolfgang Schauble and functionaries like Christine Lagarde and Mario Draghi were different. They had the ability to reflect on themselves and their role in the drama, and this ability to enter into dialogues with themselves made them fascinatingly susceptible to the trap of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Indeed, watching Greece’s creditors at work was like watching a version of Macbeth unfold in the land of Oedipus. Just as the father of Oedipus, King Laius of Thebes, unwittingly brought about his own murder because he believed the prophecy that he would be killed by his son, so too did the smartest and most powerful players in this drama bring about their own doom because they feared the prophecy that foretold it. Keenly aware of how easily power could slip through their fingers, Greece’s creditors were frequently overpowered by insecurity. Fearing that Greece’s undeclared bankruptcy might cause them to lose political control over Europe, they imposed policies on that country that gradually undermined their political control, not just over Greece but over Europe.

At some point, like Macbeth, sensing their power mutate into insufferable powerlessness, they felt compelled to do their worst. There were moments I could almost hear them say

I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er. Strange things I have in head, that will to hand; Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.

Macbeth, iii. iv.

An account by any one of the protagonists in a cut-throat drama such as this cannot escape bias nor the desire for vindication. So, in order to be as fair and impartial as possible, I have tried to see their actions and my own through the lens of an authentic ancient Greek or Shakespearean tragedy in which characters, neither good nor bad, are overtaken by the unintended consequences of their conception of what they ought to do. I suspect that l have come closer to succeeding in this task in the case of those people whom I found fascinating and rather less so in the case of those whose banality numbed my senses. For this I find it hard to apologize, not least because to present them otherwise would be to diminish the historical accuracy of this account.

PART ONE

Winters of our discontent

Introduction

The only colour piercing the dimness of the hotel bar was the amber liquid flickering in the glass before him. As I approached, he raised his eyes to greet me with a nod before staring back down into his tumbler of whiskey. I sank onto the plush sofa, exhausted.

On cue, his familiar voice sounded imposingly morose. ‘Yanis,’ he said, ‘you made a big mistake.’

In the deep of a spring night a gentleness descends on Washington, DC that is unimaginable during the day. As the politicos, the lobbyists and the hangers-on melt away, the air empties of tension and the bars are abandoned to the few with no reason to be up at dawn and to the even fewer whose burdens trump sleep. That night, as on the previous eighty-one nights, or indeed the eighty-one nights that were to follow, I was one of the latter.

It had taken me fifteen minutes to walk, shrouded in darkness, from 700 19th Street NW, the International Monetary Fund’s building, to the hotel bar where l was to meet him. I had never imagined that a short solitary stroll in nondescript DC could be so restorative. The prospect of meeting the great man added to my sense of relief: after fifteen hours across the table from powerful people too banal or too frightened to speak their minds, l was about to meet a figure of great influence in Washington and beyond, a man no one can accuse of either banality or timidity.

All that changed with his acerbic opening statement, made more chilling by the dim light and shifting shadows.

Faking steeliness, I replied, ‘And what mistake was that, Larry?’

‘You won the election!’ came his answer.

It was 16 April 2015, the very middle of my brief tenure as finance minister of Greece. Less than six months earlier I had been living the life of an academic, teaching at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin while on leave from the University of Athens. But in January my life had changed utterly when l was elected a member of the Greek parliament. I had made only one campaign promise: that I would do everything I could to rescue my country from the debt bondage and crushing austerity being imposed on it by its European neighbours and the IMF. It was that promise that had brought me to this city and with the assistance of my close team member Elena Paraniti, who had brokered the meeting and accompanied me that night to this bar.

Smiling at his dry humour and to hide my trepidation, my immediate thought was, Is this how he intends to stiffen my resolve against an empire of foes? I took solace from the recollection that the seventy-first secretary of the United States Treasury and twenty-seventh president of Harvard is not known for his soothing style.

Determined to delay the serious business ahead of us a few moments more, I signalled to the bartender for a whiskey of my own and said, ‘Before you tell me about my “mistake”, let me say, Larry, how important your messages of support and advice have been in the past weeks. I am truly grateful. Especially as for years I have been referring to you as the Prince of Darkness.’

Unperturbed, Larry Summers replied, ‘At least you called me a prince. l have been called worse.’

For the next couple of hours the conversation turned serious. We talked about technical issues: debt swaps, fiscal policy, market reforms, ‘bad’ banks. On the political front he warned me that I was losing the propaganda war and that the ‘Europeans’, as he called Europe’s powers that be, were out to get me. He suggested, and I agreed, that any new deal for my long-suffering country should be one that Germany’s chancellor could present to her voters as her idea, her personal legacy.

Things were proceeding better than I had hoped, with broad agreement on everything that mattered. It was no mean feat to secure the support of the formidable Larry Summers in the struggle against the powerful institutions, governments and media conglomerates demanding my government’s surrender and my head on a silver platter. Finally, after agreeing our next steps, and before the combined effects of fatigue and alcohol forced us to call it a night, Summers looked at me intensely and asked a question so well rehearsed that I suspected he had used it to test others before me.

‘There are two kinds of politicians,’ he said: ‘insiders and outsiders. The outsiders prioritize their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions. The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule: never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do. Their reward? Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes.’ With that Summers arrived at his question. ‘So, Yanis,’ he said, ‘which of the two are you?’

Instinct urged me to respond with a single word; instead I used quite a few.

‘By character I am a natural outsider,’ I began, ‘but,’ I hastened to add, ‘I am prepared to strangle my character if it would help strike a new deal for Greece that gets our people out of debt prison. Have no doubt about this, Larry: I shall behave like a natural insider for as long as it takes to get a viable agreement on the table for Greece, indeed for Europe. But if the insiders I am dealing with prove unwilling to release Greece from its eternal debt bondage, I will not hesitate to turn whistleblower on them to return to the outside, which is my natural habitat anyway.’

‘Fair enough,’ he said after a thoughtful pause.

We stood up to leave. The heavens had opened while we were talking. As I saw him to a taxi, the downpour soaked my spring clothes in seconds. With his taxi speeding away, I had the opportunity to realize a wild dream of mine, one that had kept me going during the interminable meetings of the previous days and weeks: to walk alone, unnoticed, in the rain.

Powering through the watery curtain in pristine solitude, I took stock of the encounter. Summers was an ally, albeit a reluctant one. He had no time for my government’s left-wing politics, but he understood that our defeat was not in America’s interest. He knew that the eurozone’s economic policies were not just atrocious for Greece but terrible for Europe and, by extension, for the United States too. And he knew that Greece was merely the laboratory where these failed policies were being tested and developed before their implementation everywhere across Europe.

This is why Summers offered a helping hand. We spoke the same economic language, despite different political ideologies, and had no difficulty reaching a quick agreement on what our aims and tactics ought to be. Nevertheless, my answer had clearly bothered him, even if he did not show it. He would have got into his taxi a much happier man, I felt, had I demonstrated some interest in becoming an insider. As this book’s publication confirms, that was never likely to happen.

Back at my hotel, getting dry and with two hours to go before the alarm clock would summon me back to the front line, I pondered a great anxiety: how would my comrades back home, the inner circle of our government, answer Summers’s question in their hearts? On that night l was determined to believe that they would answer it as I had done.

Less than two weeks later I began to have my first real doubts.

Super black boxes

Yiorgos Chatzis went missing on 29 August 2012. He was last sighted at the social security office in the small northern Greek town of Siatista, where he was told that his monthly disability allowance of €280 had been suspended. Eyewitnesses reported that he did not utter a word of complaint. ‘He seemed stunned and remained speechless,’ a newspaper said. Soon after, he used his mobile phone for the last time to call his wife. No one was at home, so he left a message: ‘I feel useless. I have nothing to offer you any more. Look after the children.’ A few days later his body was found in a remote wooded area, suspended by the neck over a cliff, his mobile phone lying on the ground nearby.

The wave of suicides triggered by the great Greek depression had caught the attention of the international press a few months earlier after Dimitris Christoulas, a seventy-seven-year-old retired pharmacist, shot himself dead by a tree in the middle of Athens’s Syntagma Square, leaving behind a heart-wrenching political manifesto against austerity. Once upon a time the silent, dignified grief of Christoulas’s and Chatzis’s loved ones would have shamed into silence even the most hardened bailiff, except that in Bailoutistan, my satirical term for post-2010 Greece, our bailiffs keep their distance from their victims, barricading themselves in five-star hotels, whizzing around in motorcades and steadying their occasionally flagging nerves with baseless statistical projections of economic recovery.

During that same year, 2012, three long years before Larry Summers was to lecture me on insiders and outsiders, my partner Danae Stratou presented an art installation at a downtown Athens gallery. She called it, It is time to open the black boxes! The work comprised one hundred black metal boxes laid out geometrically on the floor. Each contained a word selected by Danae from the thousands that Athenians had contributed through social media in response to her question, ‘In a single word, what are you most afraid of, or what is the one thing you want to preserve?’

Danae’s idea was that unlike, say, the black box of a downed aircraft, these boxes would be opened before it was too late. The word that Athenians had chosen more than any other was not jobs, pensions or savings. What they feared losing most was dignity. The island of Crete, whose inhabitants are renowned for their pride, experienced the highest number of suicides once the crisis hit. When a depression deepens and the grapes of wrath grow ‘heavy for the vintage’, it is the loss of dignity that brings on the greatest despair.

In the catalogue entry I wrote for the exhibition I drew a comparison with another kind of black box. In engineering terms, I wrote, a black box is a device or system whose inner workings are opaque to us but whose capacity to turn inputs into outputs we understand and use fluently. A mobile phone, for instance, reliably converts finger movements into a telephone call or the arrival of a taxi, but to most of us, though not to electrical engineers, what goes on within a smartphone is a mystery. As philosophers have noted, other people’s minds are the quintessential black boxes: ultimately we can have no idea of precisely what goes on inside another’s head. (During the 162 days that this book chronicles I often caught myself wishing that the people around me, my comrades-in-arms in particular, were less like black boxes in this regard.)

But then there are what I called ‘super black boxes’, whose size and import is so great that even those who created and control them cannot fully understand their inner workings: for example, financial derivatives whose effects are not truly understood even by the financial engineers who designed them, global banks and multinational corporations whose activities are seldom grasped by their CEOs, and of course governments and supranational institutions like the International Monetary Fund, led by politicians and influential bureaucrats who may be in office but are rarely in power. They too convert inputs money, debt, taxes, votes into outputs profit, more complicated forms of debt, reductions in welfare payments, health and education policies. The difference between these super black boxes and the humble smartphone or even other humans is that while most of us have barely any control over their inputs, their outputs shape all our lives.

This difference is encapsulated in a single word: power. Not the type of power associated with electricity or the crushing force of the ocean’s waves, but another, subtler, more sinister power: the power held by the ‘insiders’ that Larry Summers referred to but which he feared I would not have the disposition to embrace, the power of hidden information.

During and after my ministry days people constantly asked me, ‘What did the IMF want from Greece? Did those who resisted debt relief do so because of some illicit hidden agenda? Were they working on behalf of corporations interested in plundering Greece’s infrastructure its airports, seaside resorts, telephone companies and so on?’ If only matters were that straightforward.

When a large-scale crisis hits, it is tempting to attribute it to a conspiracy between the powerful. Images spring to mind of smoke-filled rooms with cunning men (and the occasional woman) plotting how to profit at the expense of the common good and the weak. These images are, however, delusions. If our sharply diminished circumstances can be blamed on a conspiracy, then it is one whose members do not even know that they are part of it. That which feels to many like a conspiracy of the powerful is simply the emergent property of any network of super black boxes.

The keys to such power networks are exclusion and opacity. Recall the ‘Greed is great’ ethos of Wall Street and the City of London in the years before the 2008 implosion. Many decent bank employees were worried sick by what they were observing and doing. But when they got their hands on evidence or information foreshadowing terrible developments, they faced Summers’s dilemma: leak it to outsiders and become irrelevant; keep it to themselves and become complicit; or embrace their power by exchanging it for other information held by someone else in the know, resulting in an impromptu two-person alliance that turbocharges both individuals’ power within the broader network of insiders. As further sensitive information is exchanged, this two-person alliance forges links with other such alliances. The result is a network of power within other pre-existing networks, involving participants who conspire de facto without being conscious conspirators.

Whenever a politician in the know gives a journalist an exclusive in exchange for a particular spin that is in the politician’s interest, the journalist is appended, however unconsciously, to a network of insiders. Whenever a journalist refuses to slant their story in the politician’s favour, they risk losing a valuable source and being excluded from that network. This is how networks of power control the flow of information: through co-opting outsiders and excluding those who refuse to play ball. They evolve organically and are guided by a supraintentional drive that no individual can control, not even the president of the United States, the CEO of Barclays or those manning the pivotal nodes in the IMF or national governments.

Once caught in this web of power it takes an heroic disposition to turn whistle-blower, especially when one cannot hear oneself think amid the cacophony of so much money-making. And those few who do break ranks end up like shooting stars, quickly forgotten by a distracted world.

Fascinatingly, many insiders, especially those only loosely attached to the network, are oblivious to the web that they reinforce, courtesy of having relatively few contacts with it. Similarly, those embedded in the very heart of the network are usually too far inside to notice that there is an outside at all. Rare are those astute enough to notice the black box when they live and work inside one. Larry Summers is one such rare insider. His question to me was in fact an invocation to reject the lure of the outside. Underpinning his belief system was the conviction that the world can only be made better from within the black box.

But this was where, I thought, he was very wrong.

Theseus before the labyrinth

Before 2008, while the super black boxes functioned stably, we lived in a world that seemed balanced and self-healing. Those were the times when the British chancellor Gordon Brown was celebrating the end of ‘boom and bust’ and the soon-to-be-chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke was heralding the Great Moderation. Of course it was all an illusion generated by the super black boxes whose function no one understood, especially not the insiders running them. And then, in 2008, they broke down spectacularly, generating our generation’s 1929, not to mention little Greece’s fall.

It is my view that the 2008 financial crisis, which is still with us almost a decade later, is due to the terminal breakdown of the world’s super black boxes of the networks of power, the conspiracies without conspirators, that fashion our lives. Summers’s blind faith that the remedies to this crisis will spring from those same broken down networks, through the normal operations of insiders, struck me even at the time as touchingly naive. Perhaps that is not surprising. After all, three years earlier I had written in Danae’s catalogue that ‘opening these super black boxes has now become a prerequisite to the survival of decency, of whole strata of our fellow humans, of our planet even. Put simply, we have run out of excuses. It is, therefore, time to open the black boxes!’ But in real terms, what would this entail?

First, we need to acquire a readiness to recognize that we may very well, each one of us, already be a node in the network; an ignorant de facto conspirator. Secondly, and this is the genius of Wikileaks, if we can get inside the network, like Theseus entering the labyrinth, and disrupt the information flow; if we can put the fear of uncontrollable information leaking in the mind of as many of its members as possible, then the unaccountable, malfunctioning networks of power will collapse under their own weight and irrelevance. Thirdly, by resisting any tendency to substitute old closed networks with new ones.

By the time I entered that Washington bar three years later I had tempered my stance. My priority was not to leak information to outsiders but to do whatever it took to get Greece out of debtors’ prison. If that meant pretending to be an insider, so be it. But the instant the price of admission to the insiders’ circle became acceptance of Greece’s permanent incarceration, I would leave. Laying down an Ariadne’s thread inside the insiders’ labyrinth and being ready to follow it to the exit is, I believe, a prerequisite for the dignity on which the Greek people’s happiness relies.

The day after my meeting with Larry Summers I met Jack Lew, the incumbent US Treasury secretary. After our meeting at the Treasury, an official seeing me out startled me with a friendly aside: ‘Minister, I feel the urge to warn you that within a week you will face a character assassination campaign emanating from Brussels.’ Larry’s pep talk about the importance of staying inside the proverbial tent, along with his warning that we were losing the media war, suddenly came into sharp focus.

Of course, it was no great surprise. Insiders, I had written in 2012, would react aggressively to anyone who dared open up their super black box to the outsiders’ gaze: ‘None of this will be easy. The networks will respond violently, as they are already doing. They will turn more authoritarian, more closed, more fragmented. They will become increasingly preoccupied with their own “security” and monopoly of information, less trusting of common people.

The following chapters relate the networks’ violent reaction to my stubborn refusal to trade Greece’s emancipation for a privileged spot inside one of their black boxes.

Sign here!

It all boiled down to one small doodle on a piece of paper whether I was prepared to sign on the dotted line of a fresh bailout loan agreement that would push Greece further into its labyrinthine jail of debt.

The reason why my signature mattered so much was that, curiously, it is not presidents or prime ministers of fallen countries that sign bailout loan agreements with the IMF or with the European Union. That poisoned privilege falls to the hapless finance minister. It is why it was crucial to Greece’s creditors that I be bent to their will, that I should be co-opted or, failing that, crushed and replaced by a more pliant successor. Had I signed, another outsider would have turned insider and praise would have been heaped upon me. The torrent of foul adjectives directed at me by the international press, arriving right on cue only a little more than a week after that Washington visit, just as the US official had warned me it would, would never have descended onto my head. I would have been ‘responsible’, a ‘trustworthy partner’, a ‘reformed maverick’ who had put his nation’s interests above his ‘narcissism’.

Judging by his expression as we walked out of the hotel and into the pouring rain, Larry Summers seemed to understand. He understood that the ‘Europeans’ were not interested in an honourable deal with me or with the Greek government. He understood that, in the end, I would be pressurised inordinately to sign a surrender document as the price of becoming a bona fide insider. He understood that l was not willing to do this. And he believed that this would be a pity, for me at least.

For my part I understood that he wanted to help me secure a viable deal. I understood too that he would do what he could to help us, provided it did not violate his golden rule: insiders never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders do or say. What I was not sure about was whether he would ever understand why there was no chance in heaven or hell for that matter that I would sign a non-viable new bailout loan agreement. It would have taken too long to explain my reasons, but even if there had been time I feared that our backgrounds were too different for my explanation to make any sense to him.

My explanation, had I offered it, would have come in the form of a story or two.

The first would have probably begun inside an Athenian police station in the autumn of 1946, when Greece was on the brink of a communist insurgency and the second phase of its catastrophic civil war. A twenty-year-old chemistry student at Athens University named Yiorgos had been arrested by the secret police, roughed up and left in a cold cell for a few hours until a higher-ranking officer took him to his office ostensibly to apologize. I am sorry for the rough treatment, he said. You are a good boy and did not deserve this. But you know these are treacherous times and my men are on edge.

Forgive them. Just sign this and off you go. With my apologies.

The police officer seemed sincere and Yiorgos was relieved that his earlier ordeal at the hands of the thugs was at an end. But then, as he read the typewritten statement the officer was asking him to sign, a cold chill ran down his spine. The page read, I hereby denounce, truly and in all sincerity, communism, those who promote it, and their various fellow travellers.

Trembling with fear, he put the pen down, summoned all the gentleness that his mother Anna had instilled in him over the years, and said, Sir, I am no Buddhist but I would never sign a state document denouncing Buddhism. I am not a Muslim but I do not think the state has the right to ask me to denounce Islam. Similarly, I am not a communist but I see no reason why I should be asked to denounce communism.

Yiorgos’s civil liberty argument stood no chance. Sign or look forward to systematic torture and indefinite detention the choice is yours! shouted the enraged officer. The officer’s ire was based on perfectly reasonable expectations. Yiorgos had all the makings of a good boy, a natural insider. He had been born in Cairo to a middle-class family within the large Greek community, itself embedded in a cosmopolitan European enclave of French, Italian and British expats, and raised alongside sophisticated Armenians, Jews and Arabs. French was spoken at home, courtesy of his mother, Greek at school, English at work, Arabic on the street and Italian at the opera.

At the age of twenty, determined to connect with his roots, Yiorgos had given up a cushy job in a Cairo bank and moved to Greece to study chemistry. He had arrived in Athens in January 1945 on the ship Corinthia only a month after the conclusion of the first phase of Greece’s civil war, the first episode of the Cold War. A fragile détente was in the air, and so it had seemed reasonable to Yiorgos when student activists of both the Left and the Right had approached him as a compromise candidate for president of his school’s students’ association.

Shortly after his election, however, the university authorities had increased tuition fees at a time when students wallowed in absolute poverty. Yiorgos had paid the dean a visit, arguing as best as he could against the fee hike. As he left, secret policemen had manhandled him down the school’s marble steps and into a waiting van. and he had ended up with a choice that makes Summers’s dilemma seem like a walk in the park.

Given the young man’s bourgeois background, the police had every expectation that Yiorgos would either sign gladly or break quickly once torture began. However, with every beating Yiorgos felt less able to sign, end the pain and go home. As a result, he ended up in a variety of cells and prison camps that he could have escaped at any point simply by putting his signature on a single sheet of paper. Four years later, a shadow of his former self, Yiorgos emerged from prison into a grim society that neither knew of his peculiar choice nor really cared.

Meanwhile, during the period of Yiorgos’s incarceration, a young woman four years his junior had become the first female student to gain admittance to the University of Athens Chemistry School, despite their best efforts to keep her out. Eleni, for that was her name, began university as a rebellious proto-feminist but nevertheless felt a powerful dislike for the Left: during the years of the Nazi occupation she had been abducted as a very young girl by left-wing partisans who mistook her for a relative of a Nazi collaborator. Upon enrolling at the University of Athens, a fascist organization called X recruited her on the strength of her anticommunist feelings. Her first and, as it would turn out, her last mission for them was to follow a fellow chemistry student who had just been released from the prison camps.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of how I came about. For Yiorgos is my father, and Eleni, who ended up a leading member of the 1970s feminist movement, was my mother. Blessed with this history, signing on the dotted line in return for the mercy shown to insiders was never on the cards for me. Would Larry Summers have understood? I don’t think so.

Not for me

The other story is as follows. I met Lambros in the Athens apartment I share with Danae a week or so before the January 2015 election that brought me to office. It was a mild winter’s day, the campaign was in full swing, and I had agreed to give an interview to lrene, a Spanish journalist. She came to the apartment accompanied by a photographer and by Lambros, an Athens-based Greek-Spanish translator. On that occasion Lambros’s services were unnecessary as lrene and I talked in English. But he stayed, watching and listening intensely. After the interview, as Irene and the photographer were packing up their gear and heading for the door, Lambros approached me. He shook my hand, refusing to let go while addressing me with the concentration of a man whose life depends on getting his message across: ‘I hope you did not notice it from my appearance. I do my best to cover it up, but in fact I am a homeless person.’ He then told me his story as briefly as he could.

Lambros used to have a flat, a job teaching foreign languages and a family. In 2010, when the Greek economy tanked, he lost his job, and when they were evicted from their flat he lost his family. For the past year he had lived on the street. His only income came from providing translation services to visiting foreign journalists drawn to Athens by yet another demonstration in Syntagma Square which turned ugly and thus newsworthy. His greatest concern was finding a few euros to recharge his cheap mobile phone so that the foreign news crews could contact him.

Feeling he needed to wrap up his soliloquy, he rushed to the one thing he wanted from me:

I want to implore you to promise me something. l know you will win the election. I talk to people on the street and there is no doubt that you will. Please, when you win, when you are in office, remember those people. Do something for them. Not for me! I am finished. Those of us whom the crisis felled, we cannot come back. It is too late for us. But, please, please do something for those who are still on the verge. Who are clinging by their fingernails. Who have not fallen yet. Do it for them. Don’t let them fall. Don’t turn your back to them. Don’t sign what they give you like the previous ones did. Swear that you won’t. Do you swear?

‘I swear,’ was my two-word answer to him.

A week later I was taking my oath of office as the country’s finance minister. During the months that followed, every time my resolve weakened I had only to think back to that moment. Lambros will never know of his influence during the bleakest hours of those 162 days.

Bailoutistan

By early 2010, some five years before I took office, the Greek state was bankrupt. A few months later the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the Greek government organized the world’s greatest bankruptcy cover-up. How do you cover up a bankruptcy? By throwing good money after bad. And who financed this cover-up? Common people, ‘outsiders’ from all over the globe.

The rescue deal, as the cover-up was euphemistically known, was signed and sealed in early May 2010. The European Union and the IMF extended to the broke Greek government around €110 billion, the largest loan in history. Simultaneously a group of enforcers known as the troika so called because they represent three institutions: the European Commission (EC), which is the EU’s executive body, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was dispatched to Athens to impose measures guaranteed to reduce Greece’s national income and place most of the burden of the debt upon the weakest Greeks. A bright eight-year-old would have known that this couldn’t end well. Forcing new loans upon the bankrupt on condition that they shrink their income is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.

Greece was never bailed out. With their ‘rescue’ loan and their troika of bailiffs enthusiastically slashing incomes, the EU and lMF effectively condemned Greece to a modern version of the Dickensian debtors’ prison and then threw away the key.

Debtors’ prisons were ultimately abandoned because, despite their cruelty, they neither deterred the accumulation of new bad debts nor helped creditors get their money back. For capitalism to advance in the nineteenth century, the absurd notion that all debts are sacred had to be ditched and replaced with the notion of limited liability. After all, if all debts are guaranteed, why should lenders lend responsibly? And why should some debts carry a higher interest rate than other debts, reflecting the higher risk of going bad?

Bankruptcy and debt write-downs became for capitalism what hell had always been for Christian dogma unpleasant yet essential but curiously bankruptcy denial was revived in the twenty-first century to deal with the Greek state’s insolvency. Why? Did the EU and the IMF not realize what they were doing?

They knew exactly what they were doing. Despite their meticulous propaganda, in which they insisted that they were trying to save Greece, to grant the Greek people a second chance, to help reform Greece’s chronically crooked state and so on, the world’s most powerful institutions and governments were under no illusions. They appreciated that you could squeeze blood out of a stone more easily than make a bankrupt entity repay its loans by lending it more money, especially if you shrink its income as part of the deal. They could see that the troika, even if it managed to confiscate the fallen state’s silverware, would fail to recoup the money used to refinance Greece’s public debt. They knew that the celebrated ‘rescue’ or ‘bailout’ package was nothing more than a one-way ticket to debtors’ prison.

How do I know that they knew? Because they told me.

Prisoners of their own device

As finance minister five years later, I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. From top IMF officials, from Germany’s finance minister, from leading figures in the ECB and the European Commission they all admitted, each in their own way, that it was true: they had dealt Greece an impossible hand. But having done so, they could see no way back.

Less than a month after my election, on 11 February 2015, in one of those spirit-numbing, windowless, neon-lit meeting rooms that litter the EU’s Brussels buildings, I found myself sitting opposite Christine Lagarde, the lMF’s managing director, France’s ex-finance minister and a former Washington-based high-flying lawyer. She had waltzed into the building earlier that day in a glamorous leather jacket, making me look drab and conventionally attired. This being our first encounter, we chatted amicably in the corridor before moving into the meeting room for the serious discussion.

Behind closed doors, with a couple of aides on each side, the conversation turned serious but remained just as friendly. She afforded me the opportunity to present my basic analysis of the causes and nature of the Greek situation as well as my proposals for dealing with it, and nodded in agreement for much of the time. We seemed to share a common language and were both keen to establish a good rapport. At the meeting’s end, walking towards the door, we got a chance for a short, relaxed but telling téte-a-téte. Taking her cue from the points I had made, Christine seconded my appeals for debt relief and lower tax rates as prerequisites for a Greek recovery. Then she addressed me with calm and gentle honesty: You are of course right, Yanis. These targets that they insist on can’t work. But, you must understand that we have put too much into this programme. We cannot go back on it. Your credibility depends on accepting and working within this programme.

So, there I had it. The head of the IMF was telling the finance minister of a bankrupt government that the policies imposed upon his country couldn’t work. Not that it would be hard to make them work. Not that the probability of them working was low. No, she was acknowledging that, come hell or high water, they couldn’t work.

With every meeting, especially with the troika’s smarter and less insecure officials, the impression grew on me that this was not a simple tale of us versus them, good versus bad. Rather, an authentic drama was afoot reminiscent of a play by Aeschylus or Shakespeare in which powerful schemers end up caught in a trap of their own making. In the real-life drama I was witnessing, Summers’s sacred rule of insiders kicked in the moment they recognized their powerlessness. The hatches were battened down, official denial prevailed, and the consequences of the tragic impasse they’d created were left to unfold on autopilot, imprisoning them yet further in a situation they detested for weakening their hold over events.

Because they, the heads of the IMF, of the EU, of the German and French governments, had invested inordinate political capital in a programme that deepened Greece’s bankruptcy, spread untold misery and led our young to emigrate in droves, there was no alternative: the people of Greece would simply have to continue to suffer.

As for me, the political upstart, my credibility depended on accepting these policies, which insiders knew would fail, and helping to sell them to the outsiders who had elected me on the precise basis that I would break with those same failed policies.

It’s hard to explain, but not once did I feel animosity towards Christine Lagarde. I found her intelligent, cordial, respectful. My view of humanity would not be thrown into turmoil were it to be shown that she actually had a strong preference for a humane Greek deal. But that is not relevant. As a leading insider, her top priority was the preservation of the insiders’ political capital and the minimization of any challenge to their collective authority.

Yet credibility, like spending, comes with tradeoffs. Every purchase means an alternative opportunity lost. Boosting my standing with Christine and the other figures of power meant sacrificing my credibility with Lambros, the homeless interpreter who had sworn me to the cause of those people who, unlike him, had not yet been drowned in the torrent of bankruptcy ravaging our land. This trade-off never came close to becoming a personal dilemma. And the powers that be realized this early on, making my removal from the scene essential.

A little more than a year later, in the run-up to the UK referendum on 23 June 2016, I was travelling across Britain giving speeches in support of a radical remain platform, the argument that the UK ought to stay within the EU to oppose this EU, to save it from collapse and to reform it. It was a tough sell. Convincing Britain’s outsiders to vote remain was proving an uphill struggle, especially in England’s north, because even my own supporters in Britain, women and men closer in spirit and position to Lambros than to Christine, were telling me they felt compelled to deliver a drubbing to the global establishment. One evening I heard on the BBC that Christine Lagarde had joined the heads of the world’s other top financial institutions (the World Bank, the OECD, the ECB, the Bank of England and so on) to warn Britain’s outsiders against the lure of Brexit. I immediately texted Danae from Leeds, where l was speaking that night, ‘With such allies, who needs Brexiteers?’

Brexit won because the insiders went beyond the pale. After decades of treating people like me as credible in proportion to our readiness to betray the outsiders who had voted for us, they still confused outsiders with people who gave a damn about their counsel. Up and down America, in Britain, in France and in Germany everywhere the insiders are feeling their authority slip away. Prisoners of their own device, slaves to the Summers dilemma, they are condemned, like Macbeth, to add error upon error until they realize that their crown no longer symbolizes the power they have but the power that has slipped away. In the few months I spent dealing with them, I caught glimpses of that tragic realization.

It was the (French and German) banks, stupid!

Friends and journalists often ask me to describe the worst aspect of my negotiations with Greece’s creditors. Not being able to shout from the rooftops what the high and mighty were telling me in private was certainly frustrating, but worse was dealing with creditors who did not really want their money back. Negotiating with them, trying to reason with them, was like negotiating a peace treaty with generals hell-bent on continuing a war safe in the knowledge that they, their sons and their daughters are out of harm’s way.

What was the nature of that war? Why did Greece’s creditors behave as if they did not want their money back? What led them to devise the trap in which they now found themselves? The riddle can be answered in seconds if one takes a look at the state of France’s and Germany’s banks after 2008.

Greece’s endemic underdevelopment, mismanagement and corruption explain its permanent economic weakness. But its recent insolvency is due to the fundamental design faults of the EU and its monetary union, the euro.

The EU began as a cartel of big business limiting competition between central European heavy industries and securing export markets for them in peripheral countries such as Italy and, later, Greece. The deficits of countries like Greece were the reflection of the surpluses of countries like Germany. While the drachma devalued, these deficits were kept in check. But when it was replaced by the euro, loans from German and French banks propelled Greek deficits into the stratosphere.

The Credit Crunch of 2008 that followed Wall Street’s collapse bankrupted Europe’s bankers who ceased all lending by 2009. Unable to roll over its debts, Greece fell into its insolvency hole later that year.

Suddenly three French banks faced losses from peripheral debt at least twice the size of the French economy. Numbers provided by the Bank of International Settlements reveal a truly scary picture: for every thirty euros they were exposed to, they had access to only one. This meant that if only 3 per cent of that exposure went bad that is, if €106 billion of the loans they had given to the periphery’s governments, households and firms could not be repaid then France’s top three banks would need a French government bailout.

The same three French banks’ loans to the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese governments alone came to 34 per cent of France’s total economy, €627 billion to be exact. For good measure, these banks had in previous years also lent up to €102 billion to the Greek state. If the Greek government could not meet its repayments, money men around the globe would get spooked and stop lending to the Portuguese, possibly to the Italian and Spanish states as well, fearing that they would be the next to go into arrears.

Unable to refinance their combined debt of nearly €1.76 trillion at affordable interest rates, the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese governments would be hard pressed to service their loans to France’s top three banks, leaving a black hole in their books. Overnight, France’s main banks would be facing a loss of 19 per cent of their ‘assets’ when a mere 3 per cent loss would make them insolvent.

To plug that gap the French government would need a cool €562 billion overnight. But unlike the United States federal government, which can shift such losses to its central bank (the Fed), France had dismantled its central bank in 2000 when it joined the common currency and had to rely instead on the kindness of Europe’s shared central bank, the European Central Bank. Alas, the ECB was created with an express prohibition: no shifting of Graeco-Latin bad debts, private or public, onto the ECB’s books. Full stop. That had been Germany’s condition for sharing its cherished Deutschmark with Europe’s riff-raff, renaming it the euro.

It’s not hard to imagine the panic enveloping President Sarkozy of France and his finance minister, Christine Lagarde, as they realized that they might have to conjure up €562 billion from thin air. And it’s not difficult to picture the angst of one of Lagarde’s predecessors in France’s finance ministry, the notorious Dominic Strauss-Kahn, who was then managing director of the IMF and intent on using that position to launch his campaign for France’s presidency in two years’ time.

France’s top officials knew that Greece’s bankruptcy would force the French state to borrow six times its total annual tax revenues just to hand it over to three idiotic banks.

It was simply impossible. Had the markets caught a whiff that this was on the cards, interest rates on France’s own public debt would have been propelled into the stratosphere, and in seconds €1.29 trillion of French government debt would have gone bad. In a country which had given up its capacity to print banknotes the only remaining means of generating money from nothing that would mean destitution, which in turn would bring down the whole of the European Union, its common currency, everything.

In Germany, meanwhile, the chancellor’s predicament was no less taxing. In 2008, as banks in Wall Street and the City of London crumbled, Angela Merkel was still fostering her image as the tight-fisted, financially prudent Iron Chancellor. Pointing a moralizing finger at the Anglosphere’s profligate bankers, she made headlines in a speech she gave in Stuttgart when she suggested that America’s bankers should have consulted a Swabian housewife, who would have taught them a thing or two about managing their finances. Imagine her horror when, shortly afterwards, she received a barrage of anxious phone calls from her finance ministry, her central bank, her own economic advisers, all of them conveying an unfathomable message:

“Chancellor, our banks are bust too! To keep the ATMs going, we need an injection of €406 billion of those Swabian housewives’ money by yesterday!”

It was the definition of political poison. How could she appear in front of those same members of parliament whom she had for years lectured on the virtues of penny-pinching when it came to hospitals, schools, infrastructure, social security, the environment, to implore them to write such a colossal cheque to bankers who until seconds before had been swimming in rivers of cash? Necessity being the mother of enforced humbleness, Chancellor Merkel took a deep breath, entered the splendid Norman Foster designed federal parliament in Berlin known as the Bundestag, conveyed to her dumbfounded parliamentarians the bad news and left with the requested cheque. At least it’s done, she must have thought. Except that it wasn’t. A few months later another barrage of phone calls demanded a similar number of billions for the same banks.

Why did Deutsche Bank, Finanzbank and the other Frankfurt-based towers of financial incompetence need more? Because the €406 billion cheque they had received from Mrs Merkel in 2009 was barely enough to cover their trades in USbased toxic derivatives. It was certainly not enough to cover what they had lent to the governments of Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece a total of €477 billion, of which a hefty €102 billion had been lent to Athens. lf Greece lost its capacity to meet its repayments? German banks faced another loss that would require of Mrs Merkel another cheque for anything between €340 billion and €406 billion, but consummate politician that she is, the chancellor knew she would be committing political suicide were she to return to the Bundestag to request such an amount.

Between them, the leaders of France and Germany had a stake of around €1 trillion in not allowing the Greek government to tell the truth; that is, to confess to its bankruptcy.

Yet they still had to find a way to bail out their bankers a second time without telling their parliaments that this was what they were doing. As Jean-Claude Juncker, then prime minister of Luxembourg and later president of the European Commission, once said, ‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie.’

After a few weeks they figured out their fib: they would portray the second bailout of their banks as an act of solidarity with the profligate and lazy Greeks, who while unworthy and intolerable were still members of the European family and would therefore have to be rescued. Conveniently, this necessitated providing them with a further gargantuan loan with which to pay off their French and German creditors, the failing banks.

There was, however, a technical hitch that would have to be overcome first: the clause in the eurozone’s founding treaty that banned the financing of government debt by the EU. How could they get round it? The conundrum was solved by a typical Brussels fudge, that unappetizing dish that the Europeans, especially the British, have learned to loathe.

First, the new loans would not be European but international, courtesy of cutting the IMF into the deal. To do this would require the IMF to bend its most sacred rule: never lend to a bankrupt government before its debt has had a ‘haircut’, been restructured. But the lMF’s then managing director, Dominic Strauss-Kahn, desperate to save the banks of the nation he planned to lead two years down the track, was on hand to persuade the IMF’s internal bureaucracy to turn a blind eye. With the IMF on board, Europeans could be told that it was the international community, not just the EU, lending to the Greeks for the higher purpose of underpinning the global financial system. Perish the thought that this was an EU bailout for an EU member state, let alone for German and French banks!

Second, the largest portion of the loans, to be sourced in Europe, would not come from the EU per se; they would be packaged as a series of bilateral loans that is to say, from Germany to Greece, from Ireland to Greece, from Slovenia to Greece, and so on with each bilateral loan of a size reflecting the lender’s relative economic strength, a curious application of Karl Marx’s maxim ‘from each according to his capacity to each according to his need’.

So, of every €1000 handed over to Athens to be passed on to the French and German banks, Germany would guarantee €270, France €200, with the remaining €530 guaranteed by the smaller and poorer countries.

This was the beauty of the Greek bailout, at least for France and Germany: it dumped most of the burden of bailing out the French and German banks onto taxpayers from nations even poorer than Greece, such as Portugal and Slovakia. They, together with unsuspecting taxpayers from the lMF’s co-funders such as Brazil and Indonesia, would be forced to wire money to the Paris and Frankfurt banks.

Unaware of the fact that they were actually paying for the mistakes of French and German bankers, the Slovaks and the Finns, like the Germans and the French, believed they were having to shoulder another country’s debts. Thus, in the name of solidarity with the insufferable Greeks, the Franco-German axis planted the seeds of loathing between proud peoples.

From Operation Offload to bankruptocracy

As soon as the bailout loans gushed into the Greek finance ministry, ‘Operation Offload’ began: the process of immediately siphoning the money off back to the French and German banks. By October 2011, the German banks’ exposure to Greek public debt had been reduced by a whopping €27.8 billion to €91.4 billion. Five months later, by March 2012, it was down to less than €795 million. Meanwhile the French banks were offloading even faster: by September 2011 they had unburdened themselves of €63.6 billion of Greek government bonds, before totally eliminating them from their books in December 2012. The operation was thus completed within less than two years. This was what the Greek bailout had been all about.

Were Christine Lagarde, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel naive enough to expect the bankrupt Greek state to return this money with interest? Of course not. They saw it precisely as it was: a cynical transfer of losses from the books of the FrancoGerman banks to the shoulders of Europe’s weakest taxpayers. And therein lies the rub:

The EU creditors I negotiated with did not prioritize getting their money back because, in reality, it wasn’t their money. Socialists, Margaret Thatcher liked to say, are bound to make a mess of finance because at some point they run out of other people’s money. How would the iron Lady have felt if she’d known that her dictum would prove so fitting a description of her own self-proclaimed disciples, the neoliberal apparatchiks managing Greece’s bankruptcy? Did their Greek bailout amount to anything other than the socialization of the French and German banks’ losses, paid for with other people’s money?

In my book The Global Minotaur, which I was writing in 2010 while Greece was imploding, I argued that free-market capitalist ideology expired in 2008, seventeen years after communism kicked the bucket.

Before 2008 free-market enthusiasts portrayed capitalism as a Darwinian jungle that selects for success among heroic entrepreneurs. But in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, the Darwinian natural selection process was stood on its head: the more insolvent a banker was, especially in Europe, the greater his chances of appropriating large chunks of income from everyone else: from the hard-working, the innovative, the poor and of course the politically powerless.

Bankruptocracy is the name I gave to this novel regime.

Most Europeans like to think that American bankruptocracy is worse than its European cousin, thanks to the power of Wall Street and the infamous revolving door between the US banks and the US government. They are very, very wrong. Europe’s banks were managed so atrociously in the years preceding 2008 that the inane bankers of Wall Street almost look good by comparison. When the crisis hit, the banks of France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK had exposure in excess of $30 trillion, more than twice the United States national income, eight times the national income of Germany, and almost three times the national incomes of Britain, Germany, France and Holland put together.

A Greek bankruptcy in 2010 would have immediately necessitated a bank bailout by the German, French, Dutch and British governments amounting to approximately $10,000 per child, woman and man living in those four countries. By comparison, a similar market turn against Wall Street would have required a relatively tiny bailout of no more than $258 per US citizen.

If Wall Street deserved the wrath of the American public, Europe’s banks deserved 38.8 times that wrath.

But that’s not all. Washington could park Wall Street’s bad assets on the Federal Reserve’s books and leave them there until either they started performing again or were eventually forgotten, to be discovered by the archaeologists of the future. Put simply, Americans did not need to pay even that relatively measly $258 per head out of their taxes. But in Europe, where countries like France and Greece had given up their central banks in 2000 and the ECB was banned from absorbing bad debts, the cash needed to bail out the banks had to be taken from the citizenry.

If you have ever wondered why Europe’s establishment is so much keener on austerity than America’s or Japan’s, this is why. It is because the ECB is not allowed to bury the banks’ sins in its own books, meaning European governments have no choice but to fund bank bailouts through benefits cuts and tax hikes.

Was Greek’s unholy treatment a conspiracy? If so, it was one without conscious conspirators, at least at the outset. Christine Lagarde and her ilk never set out to found Europe’s bankruptocracy. When the French banks faced certain death, what choice did she have as France’s finance minister, alongside her European counterparts and the IMF, but to do whatever it took to save them even if this entailed lying to nineteen European parliaments at once about the purpose of the Greek loans? But having lied once and on such a grand scale, they were soon forced to compound the deceit in an attempt to hide it beneath fresh layers of subterfuge. Coming clean would have been professional suicide. Before they knew it, bankruptocracy had enveloped them too, just as surely as it had enveloped Europe’s outsiders.

This is what Christine was signalling to me when she confided that ‘they’ had invested too much in the failed Greek programme to go back on it. She might as well have used Lady Macbeth’s more graceful words: ‘What’s done cannot be undone.’

‘National traitor’ the origins of a quaint charge

My career as ‘national traitor’ has its roots in December 2006. In a public debate organized by a former prime minister’s think tank I was asked to comment on the 2007 Greek national budget. Looking at the figures, something compelled me to dismiss them as the pathetic window-dressing exercise that they were:

“Today we are threatened by the bubble in American real estate and in the derivatives market If this bubble bursts, and it is certain it will, no reduction in interest rates is going to energize investment in this country to take up the slack, and so none of this budget’s figures will have a leg to stand on. The question is not whether this will happen but how quickly it will result in our next Great Depression.”

My fellow panellists, who included two former finance ministers, looked at me the way one looks at an inconvenient fool.

Over the next two years I would encounter that look time and again. Even after Lehman Brothers went belly up, Wall Street crumpled, the credit crunch hit and a great recession engulfed the West, Greece’s elites were living in a bubble of self-deluded bliss. At dinner parties, in academic seminars, at art galleries they would harp on about Greece’s invulnerability to the ‘Anglo disease’, secure in the conviction that our banks were sufficiently conservative and the Greek economy fully insulated from the storm.

In pointing out that nothing could have been further from the truth I sounded a jarring dissonance, but it would only get worse.

In reality, states never repay their debt. They roll it over, meaning they defer repayment endlessly, paying only the interest on the loans. As long as they can keep doing this, they remain solvent.

It helps to think of public debt as a hole in the ground next to a mountain representing the nation’s total income. Day by day the hole gets steadily deeper as interest accrues on the debt, even if the state does not borrow more. But during the good times, as the economy grows, the income mountain is steadily getting taller. As long as the mountain rises faster than the debt hole deepens, the extra income added to the mountain’s summit can be shovelled into the adjacent hole, keeping its depth stable and the state solvent. Insolvency beckons when the economy stops growing or starts to contract: recession then eats into a country’s income mountain, doing nothing to slow the pace at which the debt hole continues to grow. At this point alarmed money men will demand higher interest rates on their loans as the price for continuing to refinance the state, but increased rates operate like overzealous excavators, digging yet faster and making the debt hole even deeper.

*

from

Adults in the room. My battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment

by Yanis Varoufakis

get it at Amazon.com

The New Keynesian fiscal rules that mislead British Labour – Bill Mitchell.

The British Labour Party is currently leading the Tories in the latest YouGov opinion polls (February 19-20, Tories 40 per cent (and declining), Labour 42 per cent (and rising). They should be further in front, given the disarray of the Conservatives as they try to negotiate within their own party something remotely acceptable about Brexit.

When there is this degree of political capital available, in this case for the Labour Party, a party should use it to redefine policy agendas that have gone awry. To build a narrative that will advance their cause for the future decades.

British Labour has a chance to break out of its recent Blairite neoliberal past and present a truly progressive manifesto to the British people that will force the Tories to move closer to the centre and squeeze the extreme right-wing elements.

In part, under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Labour is making progressive noises on a number of fronts. But ultimately, where it really matters, the macroeconomic narrative, they are remaining firmly neoliberal and this will blight their chances of pursuing a truly progressive agenda.

One of the glaring mistakes the Labour Party has made is to accept advice from neoliberal economists (so-called New Keynesians) who have instilled in them a need for fiscal rules. This is an analysis of the sort of advice that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are getting and why they should ignore it.

l have written about fiscal rules in the past. There is only one fiscal rule that a progressive government should adhere to and I outlined that in this blog post The full employment fiscal deficit condition (April 13, 2011).

See also the suite of blog posts Fiscal sustainability 101 Part 1 Fiscal sustainability 101 Part 2 Fiscal sustainability 101 Part 3 to learn how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) constructs the concept of fiscal sustainability.

The discussion in those blog posts rejects fiscal rules that are defined exclusively in terms of financial ratios, the type that the neoliberals use to reduce the scope of government and bias policy towards austerity and elevated levels of labour underutilisation.

I wrote about the madness in the British Labour Party signing up to neoliberal ’fiscal rules’ in this blog post, British Labour Party is mad to sign up to the ’Charter of Budget Responsibility’ (September 28, 2015).

One discussion paper that seems to have influenced the Shadow Chancellor in entering these type of neoliberal agreements was published on May 20, 2014 as Discussion Paper No. 429 from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The NIESR paper Issues in the Design of Fiscal Policy Rules was written by Jonathan Portes (who is the Director of the NIESR) and an Oxford academic, Simon Wren-Lewis.

l have noticed that SWL seems to get involved with vituperative exchanges with Twitter participants who challenge him on matters relating to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). He seems to think it is smart to label people, who refuse to accept his New Keynesian blather on Twitter, as being plain dumb.

SWL was a member of Labour’s economic advisory committee that John McDonnell formed after becoming the Shadow Chancellor. He later fell out with Corbyn it seems and urged the Party to dump Corbyn as leader and install Owen Smith instead.

On July 26, 2016, he wrote that “What seems totally clear to me is that given recent events a Corbyn-led party cannot win in 2020, or even come close.”

Well that prediction might still be relevant in 2020, but the last national election outcome, where Corbyn went close (even with many of the Blairites in his own party whiteanting him) suggested that SWL hasn’t much grip on reality.

Anyway, we digress.

In their discussion of issues that arise in the design of fiscal rules, Portes and SWL fail to mention the concept of full employment in the NIESR article. Their discussion is pitched entirely in terms of ‘financial ratios’.

It is hard to see that the general public will be enamoured with a government that delivers a target fiscal deficit (for example) but at the expense of elevated levels of unemployment and poverty. Fiscal policy has to relate to things that matter.

The belief (assertion) that by running fiscal surpluses or getting a public debt below some threshold will automatically deliver prosperity (jobs for all, growing real wages, first-class public services, etc) is one of the greatest con jobs that mainstream economists have foisted upon us. Fiscal policy has to relate to targets that matter like jobs, wages growth, and the like.

Depending on what the external and the private domestic sectors are doing (with respect to spending and saving), a fiscal deficit of 10 per cent of GDP might be appropriate just as a fiscal deficit of 2 per cent, or even a fiscal surplus of 4 per cent. Context matters not some particular ratio.

As an aside, the NIESR was a foremost Keynesian research group after being founded in 1938, as the academy was embracing the rejection of neoclassical thinking (which has morphed into the modern day neoliberalism) and recognising the positive role that government fiscal policy could play.

lts capacity to engage in quantitative research to support policy was valuable.

In more recent times, it has declined and is part of the neoliberal misinformation machine. The Keynesian roots has become New Keynesian, which eliminates all the meaningful insights of the original.

I have been asked by a lot of people to comment on the NIESR paper (cited above) and I have been reluctant to do so, given how flawed it is.

But given it has been so influential in framing the way in which the British Labour Party hierarchy thinks about macroeconomics, l have decided to consider it. It is hard to discuss the paper though in non-technical terms accessible to my broad readership, given the way it is framed. So at times, this essay will disappear into jargon. Not much though. I am trying to bring the message as fairly and simply as I can, so as to demonstrate the stupidity of the analysis but not be unfair (misrepresent) the authors.

Generally, the NIESR paper falls into the realm of what I call fake knowledge.

The simple response is that it spends several pages outlining the theory of optimal debt and fiscal policy then admits such a thesis “undeveloped”.

Not to be discouraged by the inability of the ‘optimal theory’ to say anything definitive about the real world, the authors, then proceed to draw conclusions from the theory anyway, which just amount to standard assertions.

Wren-Lewis just should stick to Twitter. He seems to like that. It would save us the time reading the other stuff. in effect, the substantive conclusions from the paper have no basis in theory and could have been tweets.

Let me explain why.

The motivation of the authors is to discuss what might be a “simple rule to guide fiscal policymakers”.

They point out that central bankers have used the “Taylor rule for monetary policy”, which is a simplification in itself. But I won’t get bogged down in discussing whether decision-making in central banks has or had become so mechanistic. It has not been but that is another story.

Mainstream monetary economists certainly teach students that central banks operate in the mechanistic way described by the Taylor rule, which is just a formula the textbooks claim is used to set interest rates.

But then these characters also teach students that central banks can control the money supply, that the money multiplier is responsible for determining how the monetary base scales up into the broad money supply, that expanding bank reserves will allow banks to make loans more easily, that expanding bank reserves is inflationary and al st of the litany of lies.

None of the central propostions that are taught to macroeconomics students in this regard are valid. They are fake knowledge, a stylised world of how these neoliberal economists want to imagine the real world works because they can then derive their desired policy regimes from it.

In the real world central banks and commercial banks do not function in this way.

Some of these monetary myths spill over into the analysis presented by Portes and SWL, which I will indicate presently.

Their motivation is to “search for such a rule” that might apply to fiscal policy, although they conclude at the outset that “one single simple rule to guide fiscal policy may never be found”.

They surmise that this is because:

1. “basic theory suggests that fiscal policy actions should be very different when monetary policy is constrained in a fundamental way. They cite the case of the so-called zero lower bound” as constraining fiscal policy options. In fact, no such constraint exists. Whether interest rates are zero or something else, the currency-issuing government has the same capacities and options.

There is no evidence that monetary policy suddenly becomes effective as a counter-stabilising tool at some positive target policy rate and should be preferred over fiscal policy.

The authors also suggest that the exchange rate regime will constrain fiscal policy. This is correct, which is why Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) theorists argue against pegged arrangements, they reduce the sovereignty of the government.

If a nation pegs its exchange rate then it strictly loses its sovereignty because the central bank has to conduct monetary policy with a view of stabilising the external value of the currency, which then limits the flexibility of domestic policy.

That is why the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system collapsed in August 1971. It biased nations running external deficits towards elevated levels of unemployment and crippling interest rates, which proved to be politically unsustainable.

2. Portes and SWL then say: “The second reason why a fiscal equivalent of a Taylor rule may be elusive also reflects national differences, but in this case differences in political structure.”

Here we get the bizarre notion introduced that theory describes an “optimal policy” but that ”there may be a trade-off between rules that mimic optimal policy, and rules that are effective in countering deficit bias” because politicians cannot be trusted to exhibit the ‘correct’ degree of austerity and instead become drunk on net spending (their concept of a “deficit bias”).

These ‘deficit drunk’ governments are labelled “non benevolent” because they allegedly trash the future of our children. Heard that one before? Sure you have, along with ‘governments running out of money’, ‘tipping points’, etc. To solve the problem of these ‘deficit drunk’ governments, Portes and SWL think technocratic constraints are needed to prevent governments responding to the desires of the population as represented by their mandate.

Of course, imposing technocratic constraints against a democratically elected government has become a major characteristic of the neoliberal era. Portes and SWL fit right in with that trend.

All this is part of the ‘depoliticisation’ trend that has seen elected governments shed political responsibility for key decisions that have damaged the well-being of the vast majority of people in their nations by appealing to ‘external’ authorities.

The ‘we had to do it, we had no choice’ ruse, the ‘Dennis Healey, we had to borrow from the IMF because we were running out of money‘ ruse, the ‘we need to outsource fiscal policy to economic experts because politicians just want votes’ ruse.

These external authorities might be so-called independent central banks (even though they are not independent see later), the IMF, and fiscal boards (such as the Office of Budget Responsibility in the UK).

We examine that trend in our new book Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017)

Further, the term ‘deficit bias’ is loaded. Portes and SWI would claim that continuous fiscal deficits illustrate this bias. However, in most nations, such continuity is necessary to support the saving desires of the non-government sector, while sustaining full employment.

There would be no ‘bias’ there. Just responsible fiscal practice. I will discuss that in more detail presently. Refer back to the blog post The full employment fiscal deficit condition.

Further, the so-called New Keynesian ‘optimum‘ is unlikely to have any relevance for the well-being of the population, and, in particular, the most disadvantaged citizens in society.

The standard New Keynesian ‘model’ didn’t even have unemployment in it.

If you understand the dominant New Keynesian framework, which has become the basis for a new consensus emerging among orthodox macroeconomists like Portes and SWL, then you will know the following.

1. The basic New Keynesian approach has three equations which in themselves are problematic. They claim authority based on the microfoundations that are alleged to represent rigourous optimising behaviour by all agents (people, firms, etc) captured by the model structure.

2. Because the ‘optimal’ theory, specified in the basic structure (Calvo pricing, rational expectations, intertemporal utility maximising behaviour by consumers, who face a trade-off between consumption and leisure, etc) cannot say anything much about real world data, the empirical models are modified (adjustment lags are added, etc). As a result ad hocery enters the applied domain where substantive results that are meant to apply to policy are generated.

3. But it is virtually impossible to builds these ‘modifications’ into their theoretical models from the first principles (intertermporal optimisation, etc) that they start with.

4. Which means that like most of the mainstream body of theory the claim to micro-founded ‘rigour’ is unsustainable once they respond to real world anomalies (of their theory) with ad hoc (non rigourous) tack ons.

5. The results they end up producing in empirical papers are not ‘derivable’ from first-order, microfounded principles at all. Their claim to theoretical rigour fails, At the end of the process there is no rigour at all. It becomes a false authority that they hide behind to justify their assertions.

The Portes-SWL paper is no exception.

Further, the ’Great Moderation’ was considered a move closer to the New Keynesian utopia (‘the business cycle’ was declared ‘dead’, for example).

Yet all we witnessed during this period in the 1990s and up to the onset of the GFC, was the redistribution of national income capital as real wages failed to keep pace with productivity growth, increased inequality and private debt, elevated levels of unemployment, the emergence of underemployment, and the dynamics being put in place which manifested as the GFC.

And, the burden of the GFC was not borne by the banksters or the top-end-of-town. Their criminality largely escaped unscathed while millions of workers lost their jobs and many became impoverished.

The belief that one can derive ‘optimal’ rules from a New Keynesian model that have any relevance to people or the world we live in is another characteristic of the neoliberal era. My profession basically went from bad to worse over this period.

However, none of that reality discourages Portes and SWL, who begin their analytical section by outlining this so-called New Keynesian “Optimal debt policy”.

Two propositions enter immediately:

1. taxes impose costs in terms of social welfare because they “are distortionary”. This means that they prevent people from making ‘optimal’ decisions.

The microeconomic theory these authors rely on claims that tax distortions include workers not working hard enough because the imposition of taxes create incentives for them to take more leisure.

This is a body of theory that also says unemployment is a choice workers make when the real wage (after tax) is so high that they prefer to take leisure instead of working. No problem, the workers are ‘optimising real income’ by being unemployed leisure is part of this ‘real’ income measure in these models.

If you thought that sounded like nonsense then you are right. Quits do not behave countercyclically, which would be required if unemployment was a choice made by workers.

Further, the research evidence suggests that the imposition of taxes does not alter the desire of workers to offer hours off work in any significant way.

For a start, most workers do not have continuous (hours) choices available to them. They work 40 hours (or whatever) or not at all.

But this is a digression.

Further what about carbon taxes and other similar taxes, which, even in the mainstream theory, correct market failure and enhance efficiency?

2. Then we read the “government would like to minimise these costs [from the taxes] but they need taxes to pay for government spending and any interest on debt.

Which is an absolute lie in terms of the intrinsic nature of a monetary system where the national government issues its own currency.

It is a convenient lie because they rely on it to derive the results in their paper. They also need this ‘optimality’ smokescreen to persuade politicians to take the results seriously as if their ‘assumptions’ are, in reality, natural constraints on governments.

The lie also implicitly biases the reader to accepting the ‘lower’ taxes are better than higher taxes, a proposition that depends on other assumptions they choose not to disclose because they are smart enough to know that that would push the discussion into the ideological domain and these characters want us to pretend that economics is ‘value free’ and everything they are writing is derivable from ‘optimal’ theory.

One of the first lectures an economics student is forced to endure contains assertions that there is a divide between what mainstream economists call ‘positive’ economics (value free) and ‘normative’ statements (value laden).

Mainstream theory holds itself out as being ‘positive’ and then blames dysfunctional outcomes on the ‘normative’ interventions of policy makers, who choose to depart from the ‘optimal’ world of positive economics.

If you thought this was an elaborate joke played on the students then you would be correct.

And in terms of the above, the correct statement would be that governments impose voluntary constraints on themselves, engineered by conservative ideologues. They have created accounting processes that ‘account‘ for tax receipts into, say Account A, which they then ‘account’ for their spending from. A sort of administrative fiction to give the impression that the tax receipts provide the wherewithal for government spending.

But anyone knows that these institutional practices can be altered by the government whenever they choose (unless they are embedded in constitutions and then it takes more time).

The reality is that unlike the assertion on of Portes and SWL (which drive their overall results):

Governments do not need taxes to pay for government spending. That is an ideological constraint designed to limit spending. Intrinsically, a sovereign government is never revenue constrained because it is the monopoly issuer of the currency.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tells us that taxation serves to create real resource space (idle non-government productive resources), which governments can then bring into productive use to fulfill its elected socio-economic mandate. That taxation reduces the inflation risk of such spending but does not ‘fund’ it.

The fact is that a currency-issuing government can purchase anything that is for sale in its own currency including all idle labour.

MMT also recognises other roles for taxation such as taxes on bads designed to divert consumers or producers away from these goods and services. But that is another story.

Further, a government never needs to issue debt to ‘fund’ deficits.

That is another institutional practice that carries over from the fixed-exchange rate, gold standard days. It is no longer necessary and an understanding of MMT leads one to realise it is largely an exercise in the provision of corporate welfare that should be abandoned.

The point is that if you build ‘economic models’ based on these voluntary constraints, as if they are intrinsic constraints, then the results turn out radically different to the outcomes of an analytical exercise where you assume, correctly, that the government does not need taxes to ‘fund’ spending or to issue debt to fund deficits. Then the mainstream results largely collapse.

I suspect the authors in question implicitly know this. If they don’t then you can draw your own conclusions.

*

The paper I am using to represent the New Keynesian approach has, by all indications, been somewhat influential in the formation of the macroeconomic approach currently being espoused by the British Labour Party. In that sense, the critique aims to disabuse the Labour politicians and their apparatchiks of building policy options based on fake economic knowledge, and, instead, embrace the principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which provides an accurate depiction of how the monetary system actually operates and the policy options for a currency-issuing government such as in Britain, and the likely consequences of deploying these options.

The one major lesson that comes out is that the New Keynesian approach is an elaborate fraud. It plays around with so-called ‘optimising’ models asserting human behaviour that no other social scientist believes remotely captures the essence of human decision-making, and then derives conclusions from these models that are claimed to apply to the world we live in. Prior to the GFC, these ‘models’ didn’t even consider the financial sector.

The fact is that nothing of value in terms of specifying what a government should do can be gleaned from a New Keynesian approach. It is barren.

Above, we noted that one discussion paper that seems to have influenced the Shadow British Chancellor was published on May 20, 2014 as Discussion Paper No. 429 from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The NIESR paper Issues in the Design of Fiscal Policy Rules was written by Jonathan Portes (who at the time of writing was the Director of the NIESR before he was ‘let go’) and an Oxford academic, Simon Wren-Lewis.

Here I begin by examining the way that the authors try to use the New Keynesian theory as an authority for specific policy conclusions, which they essentially admit (not in those words) cannot, in fact, be derived from the ‘optimal’ theory.

To specify what they call the ‘optimal’ state, Portes and SWL write out some simple mathematical expressions and note: that the government must satisfy its budget constraint (there is no default), and we ignore financing through printing money.

It is interesting that in defending the New Keynesian position against say Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), proponents make a claim for superiority based on their mathematical reasoning and the apparent absence of such optimising mathematics in MMT.

When useful, MMT uses formal language (mathematics) sparingly. Mostly, propositions can be established without resort to mathematics, which avoids creating a wall of comprehension that most people cannot break down.

Further, there is nothing sophisticated about the mathematics that New Keynesians use. It is just simple calculus really, the sort that I learned as an undergraduate studying mathematics. Hardcore mathematicians laugh at the way economists deploy these tools and parade them as if they are generating something deep and meaningful.

We move on.

Note that while the imposition of taxes is deemed a “cost” by Portes and SWL (discussed in earlier), their ‘model’ doesn’t allow the interest payments on the debt to be a ‘beneflt’. They are silent on that. Conveniently so.

Anyway, the equation they write out which captures the constrained optimisation process is claimed to be an ex ante financial constraint, akin to the financial constraints facing a household that must earn income, borrow, reduce savings or sell assets in order to spend.

As we know, the ‘household budget analogy’ applied to a currency-issuing government is wrong at the most elemental level.

Nothing relating to the experience of a household (the currency user) is relevant to assessing the capacities of or the choices available to such a government (currency issuer).

Further, why do they ignore “financing through printing money”? Not that “printing money” is a term that could be associated with the real world practice of government spending anyway.

They ignore it because it would not allow them to generate the results they desire.

The reality is that these so-called ‘budget constraints’ do not depict real ex ante financial constraints. They are, at best, ex post accounting statements, meaning they have to add up. There is nothing much more about them than that.

They may also reflect current institutional practice which is a political rather than an intrinsic financial artifact.

But, if the authors were to be stock-flow (accounting) consistent (which most mainstream models are not meaning they deliberately leave things out and that flows do not accumulate properly into the corresponding stocks), then they would have to include the change in bank reserves arising from central bank monetary operations associated with fiscal policy (for example, crediting banks accounts on behalf of the government).

But those operations are absent in their approach, which means their analysis is incomplete in an accounting sense. Conveniently so.

Of course, one of the glaring omissions of the New Keynesian models that people learned about after the GFC was that they didn’t even have a financial sector embedded in their basic structure. But that is also another story again.

The upshot of Portes and SWL’s mathematical gymnastics, simple though they are, is that the ‘optimal’ fiscal policy requires “tax smoothing”, so that:

if for a period government spending has to be unusually high (classically a war, but also perhaps because of a recession or natural disaster), it would be wrong to try and match this higher spending with higher tax rates. Instead taxes should only be raised by a small amount, with debt increasing instead, but taxes should stay high after government spending has come back down, to at least pay the interest on the extra debt and perhaps also to bring debt back down again.

So, they are saying:

1. Taxes are necessary to fund government spending but temporary deficits (to cope with wars or deep recessions) should be funded by debt.

2. When economic activity improves, there should be a primary fiscal surplus (”taxes at least pay the interest on the extra debt”) and spending should be cut to allow that outcome.

3. Public debt should be a target policy variable (the lower the better) but in the short-term is a “shock absorber to avoid sharp movements in taxes or government spending”.

4. This is a ‘deficit dove’ construction. We will have austerity but it will be delayed.

The questions one needs to ask is under what conditions would a primary surplus be a responsible state for a government to achieve? Portes and SWL want the primary surpluses to be a target goal for government. But such a target is unlikely to be a desirable state.

Remember, a primary fiscal balance is the difference between government spending and taxation flows less payments on outstanding public debt.

One could imagine a situation where a government would sensibly run a primary surplus or even an overall fiscal surplus (inclusive of interest payments on public debt) if it was accompanied by a robust external surplus, which was pumping net spending in the economy and financing the desire of the private domestic sector to save overall.

Then a fiscal surplus would be required to prevent inflationary pressures from emerging. But it would also be consistent with full employment, the provision of first-class public services, and the fulfillment of the overall saving desires by the private domestic sector. Think Norway.

That is not remotely descriptive of where the UK (or most nearly all nations) are at or have been at in recent decades.

The absurdity of the reasoning that arises from the sort of economic framework that Portes and SWL deploy is illustrated when they start tinkering with the parameters of the ‘model’ to see what transpires.

The exercise is trivial. The model has some equations with parameters that link the variables that describe the equation structures. The parameters are conceptual but to get certain results one has to make assumptions about their values (at the most basic level whether they are positive or negative or above or below unity, etc).

Then one muses about what specific assumptions imply for the results.

One such tinkering by Portes and SWL generates an interpretation that taxes:

gradually fall to zero. How can this happen, given that the government has spending to finance? The answer is that debt gradually declines to zero, and then the government starts to build up assets. Eventually it has enough assets that it can finance all its spending from the interest on those assets, and so taxes can be completely eliminated.

Which then raises the question of how the government gets access to any of the real resources that are available for productive use in the society.

If taxes are zero, why would people offer their labour (and other resources) for the public use? And, how will government make non-inflationary real resource space in order for them to spend (command real resources from the non-government sector)?

But discussing those issues will take us away from the main focus.

In essence, none of their mathematical ‘cases’ (the scenarios they defined with differing parameter values) can be established in reality. This is a common problem of this sort of economic reasoning.

What happens next? They ditch the ‘optimal’ results derived from the calculus and start making stuff up asserting their ‘priors’.

So as not to spoil their story, the authors just assert that “there are two reasons for believing that policy should aim to steadily reduce debt in normal times” even if the ‘optimal’ condition indicates the opposite.

First, they introduce the standard argument that “shocks may be asymmetric” with “large negative shock”(s) not being offset in the other direction.

This is a sort of ‘war chest’ argument. That a government will not be able to respond fully in a major downturn if it starts with high levels of public debt.

Why? It will not be attractive to bond investors, it will run out of money, etc.

Tell that to Japan! Fake knowledge.

Second, they write that:

large negative shocks like a financial crisis might mean that we enter a liquidity trap, so that fiscal expansion is required to assist monetary policy, while large positive shocks could be dealt with by monetary rather than fiscal contraction. There is no equivalent upper bound for interest rates, so prudent policy would reduce debt in normal times to make room for the liquidity trap possibility.

This is the standard mainstream claim that monetary policy is the more effective counter-stabilising (and preferred) policy, except in a deep recession when interest rates are cut to zero and have no further room to fall.

So to counter that ineffectiveness when rates are zero, fiscal policy has to be used. But, in general, monetary policy should be prioritised.

But then the same assertion follows. So that fiscal policy can be on standby for those times when interest rates are zero, the government should have low levels of outstanding debt.

Why? The same argument. It will not be able to fund a new fiscal stimulus if it hasn’t eliminated the impacts from a previous stimulus exercise.

That is a plain lie.

The authors just assert that the capacity of a government to net spend is inversely related to the current stock of outstanding debt.

Why? No reason can be derived from their ‘optimal’ models to justify that assertion.

And, again, tell that to Japan!

The post-GFC period has demonstrated that ’monetary policy’ is not a very effective counter-stabilising tool. Governments that used fiscal policy aggressively in the GFC resumed growth much more quickly than those that didn’t. The stimulatory effects of monetary policy are, at best, ambiguous.

Further, the truth is that the capacity of the government to spend is in no way constrained by its past fiscal stance whether it be surplus, balance or deficit.

A surplus today does not mean that the government is better placed to run a deficit tomorrow. It can always run a deficit if the non-government spending and saving decisions push it that way.

The same goes for outstanding debt, which under current institutional arrangements, will be influenced by the shifts in the flows that make up fiscal policy.

But the level of debt doesn’t constrain or alter the government’s ability to net spend.

The authors might claim that bond markets will rebel and stop funding the deficits. Even if the recipients of this corporate welfare decided to cut off their noses to spite their faces and stopped buying the debt that would not alter the government’s capacity to spend.

First, if it persisted in the unnecessary practice of issuing debt, it could instruct the central bank to set the yield and buy all the debt that the private bond markets didn’t want at that (low to zero) yield. Including all of it!

In other words, the government can always play the private bond markets out of the game if it chooses. Even in the Eurozone, where the Member States are not sovereign, the ECB has demonstrated it can set yields at whatever level it chooses. It can drive yields on long-term public debt into the negative! Who would have thought? No New Keynesian that is for sure. They think deficits ‘crowd out’ private investment spending via higher rates (see below).

Second, the government can also alter a rule or two or change legislation that embodies these voluntary accounting constraints that I noted earlier. That is the right of the legislature and beyond the power of bond markets!

In another one of their musings about parameter values, Portes and SWL tell us that:

there is an additional reason why it might be desirable to eliminate government debt completely, and that is because it crowds out productive capital. In simple overlapping generation models, agents save to fund their retirement, and this determines the size of the capital stock. If agents have an alternative means of saving, which is to invest in government debt, then this debt displaces productive capital.

Really now!

Again, the authors are just rehearsing the standard and deeply flawed mainstream macroeconomic theory, which has the loanable funds model of financial markets embedded.

According to this specious approach, savings are finite and investment competes for the scarce resources. The ‘interest rate’ on loans then brings the two into balance.

The logic then says if there is a shift in the investment demand outwards (capturing in this instance the entry of the government bond to compete with corporate bonds), then the interest rate has to rise to ration off the higher demand for loans, given the finite supply (savings). Wrong at the most elemental level.

First, savings are not finite. They rise with income and if net public spending increases (rising deficit) then national income will rise and so will saving.

Second, and more importantly, real world banks do not remotely operate in a loanable funds way. They will generally extend loans to creditworthy borrowers. This lending is not reserve constrained. Banks do no wait around for depositors to drop their cash off, which they can then on lend.

Loans create deposits (liquidity). Not the other way around, as is assumed by the ‘crowding out’ argument which these authors introduce to their analysis.

So even if the government is selling debt to the non-government sector, the banks still have the capacity (under our current system) to increase private investment.

Further, there is the standard ideological assertion that public spending is ‘less efficient’ (unproductive) compared to “productive capital” (private investment).

The research evidence doesn’t support that assertion. it is just a made up claim to justify privatisation and cuts to government activities.

It has been used to justify the handing out of millions of dollars of public funds to investment bankers, lawyers, accountants etc to sell off public assets at well below market prices to grasping private investors.

We have a long record now of how disastrous most of these selloffs have been from the perspective of the quality, scope and affordability of services that were previously provided by the state.

The next furphy that Portes and SWL introduce is the intergenerational equity argument aka government debt imposes burdens on our grand kids claim.

They claim that lower debt will mean that “Future generations will enjoy a world with lower distortionary taxes, while the current generation will bear the cost of achieving that goal.”

Again, this conclusion follows their assumption that taxes pay back the debt so deficits today force future generations to incur higher costs.

Refer to the previous discussion of the actual role of taxes in a flat monetary system.

The reality is that each generation chooses its own tax and public spending profile via the political process. The way in which intergenerational inequities occur is via real resource utilisation.

We can kill the planet and the kids will then miss out. Alternativelv. we can ensure the kids get access to first-class public infrastructure (education, health, recreation, etc) and have jobs to go to when they develop their skills and knowledge.

Then the kids benefit from today’s fiscal deficits.

But after all of their tinkering with mathematical coefficients (which I have only skimmed here), the authors admit that the “analysis of the optimum long run target for government debt is undeveloped” but:

the case for aiming for a gradual reduction in debt levels seems to be reasonably strong in practice, particularly given the currently high levels of debt in most countries

In other words, the mathematical reasoning leads to nothing definitive so we will just assert things anyway.

It helps economists like this gain promotion as academics and other status that they might enjoy such as picking up ’Inside Job’ type commissions and misrepresenting ideological reports as independent research.

Remember Mishkin in Iceland?

Please read my blog Universities should operate in an ethical and socially responsible manner for more discussion on this point.

I make that comment generally rather than specifically about the authors (Portes and SWL) in question. I don’t know what they do on the side.

So, after all that, what have Portes and SWL to fall back on? Not much. Assertion based on false assumptions.

That doesn’t stop them though.

In Section 3, they still claim ‘authority’ from the discussion on optimal fiscal rules to make the following assertion:

It follows from the previous section that a welfaremaximising government would in general be expected to follow fiscal policies which broadly satisfied the following conditions: a gently declining path of debt over the medium term, but with blips in response to shocks broadly stable tax rates and recurrent government consumption.

Noting it doesn’t follow at all from any results about “welfaremaximising” behaviour that they present. The simple optimising model presented, by the authors’ own admission, is “undeveloped” and incapable of any definitive result.

The results that they claim were derived from the “previous section” are assertions.

But their point is clear. They claim that OECD governments (in general) have not followed these rules and instead the public debt ratios have “steadily increased since the 1970s”, which is evidence of what they call “deficit bias”.

Their claim then is that for various reasons, governments have been acting contrary to “welfare-maximising” behaviour meaning they are acting badly.

Simple isn’t it. Make up a benchmark using flawed assumptions that you know does not apply in the real world. Then label any departures from that fantasy world ‘bad’ and QED, you can then claim in the ‘real world’ that the government is behaving badly.

However, one can contest the benchmark.

If public debt is such an issue, why is the 10-year bond yield for Japanese government bonds at 0.058 per cent (at the time of writing) and why did ‘investors’ pay the Japanese government for the privilege of buying that debt (negative yields) at certain times last year?

Moreover, why are ‘investors’ agreeing to negative yields on all government bond maturities from 1-Year to 8-Years at present.

Further, back in the 1990s, the financial commentators and mainstream macroeconomists were claiming the outstanding Japanese government debt was the mother of all ticking time bombs and they have used this scare tactic long and hard for decades across all nations.

I recall reading some commentator claiming long ago Japan was facing the “mother of all debt-bunnies”, whatever that meant. I guess the ‘bunnies’ hopped away somewhere.

I have gone back through the records I keep and found regular references over the last 27 years to the impending insolvency of Japan because it is violating the economists’ notion of welfare maximising’ debt behaviour.

Across the Pacific, the US was apparently “near to insolvency” on Thursday, September 26, 1940.

Here is an Associated Press story from The Portsmouth Times (Ohio), which was headlines in the New York Times on the same day.

The story quotes one Robert M. Hanes, who at the time was the President of the American Bankers’ Association:

“The evangelists of the new social order are undermining the confidence of the American people in political and economic freedom.

It is a matter of grave concern that we have come to accept deficit financing as a permanent fiscal policy. We not only proceed from year to year on an unbalanced federal budget, but we have permitted the compounding of the federal debt to a huge total which threatens the entire country.

Unless we put an end to deficit financing, to profligate spending, and to indifference to the nature and extent of government borrowing, we shall surely take the road to dictatorship.

By subtle propaganda, special pleading and similar devious device The American people are being persuaded to surrender more and more of their independence to the direction and control of government. This is an evil that feeds on itself.

Deficits and borrowings call for continually larger taxation, which must be met by private enterprise.”

We can find similar remarks throughout history. And, yet, nothing happens. I guess you can cut the Americans some slack such is their penchant for OTT way of doing things.

The point is these economic models that claim public debt should be minimised to prevent costly tax burdens are pie-in-the-neoliberaI-sky sort of stuff.

Further, higher public debt to GDP ratios means that the nongovernment sector has more risk free debt as a proportion of GDP than previously and corresponding income flows.

OUR SUPEREGO. Soul without Shame. A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within – Byron Brown.

We all want to be free and happy. Many of us believe that we can attain these qualities through external success, and so we tend to see our obstacles as out there in the world, in people and situations. When we recognize that the promise of fulfillment and what stands in its way are both within us, we begin the inner journey.

It is a journey into our own consciousness and experience, a path of discovery and realization of the inner riches of human potentiality. Even though it is a thrilling adventure, the inner journey, as with any real adventure, is not an easy one, for it is full of challenges and difficulties, obstacles and barriers.

The inner obstacles have been known and discussed for thousands of years by many of the wisdom teachings and teachers. However, some of these primary obstacles could not be understood in a precise and detailed manner until the development of modern depth psychology. Now with this understanding the inner journey is assisted in ways not possible in previous times. One of these obstacles to inner work and spiritual realization is the painful and difficult one of the inner critic, the coercive agency within us that criticizes, judges, compares, condemns, blames, and attacks us and others mercilessly and constantly.

Depth psychology has demonstrated that we always develop a part of our selves to take the role of inner conscience, traditionally referred to as the superego. But this ego structure of conscience is built mostly through identification with the judging, critical, blaming, and punishing attitudes in the environment we grow up in. It becomes a harsh judge and a cruel source of punishment, instead of being the light of true conscience. It tends to develop into a rigid part of our mind that embodies inflexible rules and commandments, impermeable to understanding and deaf to reality.

The superego becomes one of the main sources of inner suffering, through low self-esteem, guilt, shame, devaluation, and self-recrimination.

It acts whenever it recognizes in our experience of ourselves, or in the perception of others, something of which it does not approve. Besides the pervasive suffering it causes in our experience, the rigidity and judgment of the inner critic make it difficult for us to go deeply into ourselves. This is because we are attacked by it every time we uncover something of which it disapproves. So in the inner journey, we either unnecessarily suffer, or to avoid this suffering we veer away from parts of our own experience. In both cases, our inner work becomes difficult and limited, and frequently comes to a halt.

Because of the greater understanding of the genesis and structure of the inner critic available in modern depth psychology, we can now deal with it more effectively than ever before. We can recognize it for what it is, address it in ways that liberate us from its cruel inner attacks, and henceforth journey inwards with greater freedom and more enjoyment of the thrill of discovery.

This book is unique in providing the reader with the understanding and methodology to do just that.

In very clear and available language, it details how to recognize the inner critic and how to effectively deal with it. Byron Brown’s presentation is useful for any individual who wishes to be free from the inner suffering and coercion of this ancient foe of our humanity, but it is specifically directed to those individuals interested and engaged in the inner journey toward realization and enlightenment.

Byron has been a student of mine for many years, and a teacher with considerable experience in the Diamond Approach to the inner journey. He has expressed his own understanding of how to work with the judge, culled from many years of his own inner work, and his work with students and groups, in a way that reveals its roots in the actual essential states of inner realization. As a result, this book is not only a study of the inner critic and how to deal with it, but a clear presentation of how this work can be done in a way that actually helps reveal our true and spiritual nature. In other words, it demonstrates how the work on the inner critic can become a path toward realizing true conscience, the essential conscience of which the inner critic is merely a limited imitation.

Byron has also succeeded in demonstrating how the work with the inner critic and the arising of inner spiritual states are related, and how they contribute to and support each other. His extensive understanding of the subject matter derives not only from his own inner work and work with students in the Ridhwan School, but also from the many classes he developed and taught, devoted specifically to working with the inner critic.

I believe the reader will find this book a unique opportunity to deal with an age-old problem, with intelligence and efficiency. The application of its knowledge will contribute significantly to one’s inner development.

A. H. Almaas

Preface

During the many years l have been teaching people how to work with self-criticism, I have witnessed a great deal of suffering resulting directly from the negative ways people treat themselves. I have also seen their surprise and concern as they come to recognize how serious this situation is. Perhaps most important, I see their hunger for a sense of personal integrity based on compassion and understanding rather than a belief in deficiency based on self-blame.

There is nothing more poignant and heartwrenching than to witness a friend treat himself badly out of a well-intentioned desire to do the best thing. It is painful to see his self-punishment, to recognize its inappropriateness, and to know you are helpless to stop it. You are helpless because the friend sees his actions as the logical and necessary outcome of who he is. Even when he recognizes the pain and struggle caused by the self-blame, he is not necessarily any closer to stopping it from happening.

You might see that he believes he is responsible for something he is not and want him to recognize that. You may try to talk to this friend about it or give him books to read. But these things will have little lasting impact on his internal world unless they awaken his hunger to know himself beyond his hopes and fears.

To challenge your own patterns of self-judgment is an equally difficult task. Simply to recognize how harsh and intolerant you can be toward yourself is uncomfortable enough. But to expose and explore this part of yourself also means questioning basic assumptions about your upbringing and the society in which you live. This may mean setting personal priorities counter to those held by friends, family, and colleagues, something that is hard to do alone.

For this reason, you can benefit greatly from doing inner critic work with like-minded souls in workshops or ongoing groups. You see that you are not alone in your patterns of self-blame, and you receive external support for challenging these patterns. Working with others can counteract the isolation that you fear will come as you begin questioning the standards of those around you as well as your own expectations.

For those who do not have the opportunity to be in a group that supports this focus, working with the inner critic can be a lonely and often discouraging process. A book can give some background, suggest ways of working, and offer some guidelines, but it cannot replace the personal contact of other people or the feedback of a teacher or therapist.

This book presents a perspective that frees you from the pervasive orientation of self-improvement, an approach that often reinforces rather than liberates you from the suffering of self-blame. I hope it will offer support for your own growth by validating the importance of challenging self-judgment on the path to selfunderstanding.

Byron Brown

Introduction

This book introduces you to the lifelong process of disengaging from self-judgment and, through and beyond that work, to knowing yourself as a living soul. Specifically, it will lead you on an experiential process of unraveling the judgment in your inner life. The abundant information here is not arranged as a theoretical treatise but as an interactive process and a practical guide to help free you from self-attack. Throughout the book, personal examples from individuals and from my work with students are included to illustrate the principles presented, as well as exercises and practices to encourage discovery of your own understanding of the material. The knowledge offered will have little impact unless you actively explore its relevance to your own experience.

Working with the judge and discovering the truth is a journey of liberation. As you come to recognize that you are in a prison guarded by the judge, you appreciate the soul’s powerful longing for freedom.

Every external form of bondage in human history reflects the psychic confinement of the soul resulting from ignorance and unquestioned beliefs. You are a slave to your own ideas of who you are and how you need to be.

The ability to defend against the judge’s attacks and disengage from its activity offers you the possibility of discovering who you are independent of ideas. Actively standing up for the truth of your experience breaks the habitual patterns of your familiar identity. Where expectations and standards ruled, there can be openness and allowing. Fear of retribution can give way to self-trust and curiosity. From hopelessness and defeat can arise acceptance and confidence. And confinement and tension can be transformed into spaciousness and ease.

A Journey of Truth

And truth guides the journey. In combination with the grounding and practicality of your personal will, truth acts as an objective conscience for action in the world. One of the original functions of the judge was to act as your conscience. The judge learned standards of right and wrong from parents and society. Then, by using guilt and shame, it helped you as a child to behave and act appropriately according to that moral code. Unfortunately, this process suppressed your spontaneity, aliveness, and instinctual power in order to make you socialized and acceptable. You needed the judge’s firm support and direction as you developed your own ability to perceive, evaluate, and understand.

However, the outcome of that development was not grounded in your true nature. As an adult, you have continued to rely on the judge’s internalized standards of right and wrong. Only true maturation can replace the judge with a living conscience. This capacity of the soul depends on the recognition of your essential nature and the development of your ability to be authentically yourself.

Disengaging from the judge thus serves two functions:

To free you from the confinement of old, limiting patterns and beliefs and, at the same time,

To demand that you actively practice living in a way that eliminates the need for the judge.

You cannot simply throw off a structure that has defined and supported you unless you have something more effective with which to replace it. You must learn to function, interact, and make choices freed from the standards of the judge, which means living in alignment with the truth and reality of your own life at the present time. This creates a living conscience that is not based on rules. Such a conscience allows the fullness of your living soul to express itself. This happens when you have transformed the self-centeredness of instinctual impulses, the selfdestruction of compulsive patterns, and the rigidity of internalized authority. This is not a small task. It is the work of learning to be a responsible, mature human being. You cannot plan how to do it, you cannot only read about how to do it, you cannot simply follow someone else’s instructions. You must learn how to live spontaneously by recognizing and following the guidance of what you know to be true.

A Journey of Recovery

Working with the judge is a journey of recovery. Disengaging helps free you from the harsh oppression of the judge and also accelerates your movement into experiencing the aliveness of the soul. This is the doorway to recovery of your soul nature. You have the opportunity to recover a fresh and dynamic aliveness at the heart of your life. And aliveness means the presence of passion and spontaneity, two qualities noticeably absent in the world of judgment. It also means the experience of yourself as a life source. Life flows from and through you, taking on both familiar and unfamiliar forms. The soul’s aliveness is the sense of something conscious and unpredictable, awake and mysterious.

My desire is to support you to be directly in contact with your own lived experience without the judge as intermediary. The central practice in this process is to return to your experience of yourself in this moment. As you learn to know yourself each moment with curiosity and openness, you allow the process of self-discovery to open new doors. You find your own natural resources that have gone unrecognized because of the judge’s controlling influence. When you actively disengage, you begin to recognize what is called presence as a ground of support for being who you are from moment to moment. You are offered tastes of being a soul that is alive, dynamic, and immediate, a soul that is open, changing, and responding, but also a soul that is rooted in the reality of the truth.

The various flavors of presence arise to enrich your experience: Awareness wakes you up to the ever-changing elements of each day, and personal will brings you back to your direct experience of what is true at the present time. Acceptance encourages vulnerability to the ups and downs of your inner world, and strength gives you the courage to expand your boundaries and go beyond what you think is possible. Joy and curiosity help you appreciate and celebrate the mystery of you and your world, while compassion tenderizes you as it allows contact with the fullness of your heart, including its pain, grief, and longing. Spaciousness transforms the anxiety about lack into the allowing of openness, and value offers sweetness and satisfaction to your soul as you learn to appreciate your true nature. Peace stills the inner activity that undermines the quietness and simplicity of being yourself, allowing the truth of you and your life to be more apparent.

The soul’s journey does not take you away from the physical, emotional, and social realities of your life. It is not about otherworldly experiences. Recovery of the soul enriches the life you have by bringing in the dimension of presence and its qualities, the invisible essence of what it means to be alive. Spirituality is the heart of human life, the subtle dimension of being a soul. It gives your experience fullness and immediacy so that you feel more in contact with each moment as you live each day.

How This Book Is Structured

This book addresses the human dilemma of the soul through answering two questions:

What is this soul that you have lost touch with, and what prevents you from recognizing it?

These two questions are basic to all spiritual work, and answering them can be approached in many ways. Here, we look at the barrier by working with selfjudgment and how it blocks you from knowing yourself as soul. We explore the soul itself by focusing on some of its essential aspects that have largely been disowned or forgotten.

The following pages present a step-by-step method for confronting self-judgment. You will learn to recognize the presence of the judge, notice its effect on you, discover how it functions, explore how you support its activity, uncover its motivation, and most important, find ways to free yourself from its influence. This process is necessary for you to have the freedom to discover who you are beneath the myriad beliefs you have accumulated about yourself over the years.

The information in the book is presented in an order most useful for working on your own: gradually developing the awareness and skills to support a true and effective defense against self-judgment. If you were working with the ongoing support of a teacher or group, the presentation of the material might have a different emphasis.

The first half of the book focuses on understanding judgment and how it affects you. The second half moves you into taking steps to defend against the activity of self-judgment. Twelve chapters address the judge process, each one concluding with a summary of its significant points and one or more exercises for supporting you in pursuing the work on your own.

The second focus of this book is the reconnection with your soul, the forgotten potential of who you truly are. Complementary to the work on the judge is the process of rediscovering inherent qualities of your true nature that you lost touch with as you grew up, in particular those relevant to freeing you from self-judgment.

Traditional spiritual work tends to focus on aspects of your nature considered spiritual (meaning beyond worldly life), such as universal love, self-realization, transcendent unity, ultimate emptiness, or spiritual insight. These are important for knowing the deeper dimensions of human experience. However, you have other essential qualities, often overlooked, that are more relevant for life in the world.

Working with the judge is a particularly down to earth affair and needs the support of more basic, familiar soul qualities, freed from beliefs and personal history.

In the soul chapters, you are invited to contact the clear simplicity of awareness, the energetic expansion of strength, the solid reliability of will, and the gentle warmth of compassion. These qualities and others provide a contrast to the experience of yourself supported by the inner critic and at the same time give you access to inner resources for challenging its power. Each quality presented has a particular relevance for an aspect of your work with the judge. The soul quality chapters alternate with the judge chapters, and each contains a practice to help you reconnect with that quality.

These two dimensions, dealing with the judge and contacting soul qualities, mutually support and reinforce each other.

Seeing through the judge’s attitudes and beliefs allows you to observe yourself and your experience with fresh eyes and begin to recognize your deeper soul nature. You make space to know yourself in a different way. At the same time, directly sensing an aspect of your true nature provides a vivid and definite alternative to the reactive nature of self-judgment.

In addition, a story that follows a young couple, Frank and Sue, as they live through one Saturday together threads through the book. Their day is told in short episodes on the page just before the opening of each successive chapter. Every episode touches on the material in that chapter and helps place the subject matter of the book in the context of real life. When a judgment is arising in the characters’ minds or in their own words, it is generally preceded by the symbol * to help you learn to recognize the prevalence and variation of this element of both inner and outer activity. When Frank or Sue is engaged in inner dialogue, whether a judgment or not, the words are in italics. You may find it useful to reread an episode after you finish reading the chapter it precedes.

The Beginning of a Process

This is a lifelong journey of discovering the truth in your life as you liberate your soul. Recognizing, appreciating, and disengaging from your judge is a vital way of ensuring that it becomes your journey. This book is only a beginning, but it will provide a useful foundation for opening the prison door and stepping into the heart of life.

NOTE TO THE READER

This book speaks to more than just your mind. It is addressed to your soul. At different times, the material will resonate in your body or your heart or in your very being. The chapters are packed with information, insights, and inquiries. It is not light reading. This is a book to work through slowly, allowing it to stimulate you, unsettle you, move you. Take it in small bites so you can absorb the tastes and textures. Go away and come back. Stop and reread.

As you read, you will find yourself responding to the ideas that are relevant to where you are in your own journey. You will draw from what is presented the nourishment you need at the moment for your own development. This means that much of what you read will pass into your mind and out again without any significant impact. This is natural. However, it also means that you can come back to any part of this book in one month, six months, or a year and you will resonate with material that was not important for you the first time.

I particularly recommend that as you read, you pay attention to your body and your energy. Notice how they are affected by your reading. If you become aware of having a hard time concentrating or feeling restless, stop and take a break. Perhaps something has struck home and stirred a physical or an emotional response. When one part of you is strongly affected, it can prevent you from taking in any more. The focus of this book on connecting with your experience in the moment makes it ideal for learning to track yourself in this way.

Making space for your responses to the process of reading will create a greater impact and also allow the material to nourish and awaken more aspects of your soul.

Do not expect instantaneous change or development; be patient with yourself as you respect your soul’s need to go at its own pace. Integrating into your life the various elements of this self-discovery process can take many years. The exercises and practices in this book are designed to expose you to different dimensions of inner experience in a gradual way. The resulting effect is cumulative: each facet of the work is reinforced by all the others.

1 THE SOUL PERSPECTIVE

A DAY WITH FRANK AND SUE

Sue was awoken by Frank returning to bed from the bathroom. It took quite a while before she finally acknowledged that she couldn’t go back to sleep. He, meanwhile, seemed to have fallen asleep right away. The clock radio was glowing 3:30 when Sue twisted her head to the left and opened her eyes. She remembered too late what she had heard on the radio from some sleep expert: you should never look at the time when you wake up in the middle of the night because that seems to make it harder to go back to sleep. This reminded her of how often recently she had been waking up in the middle of the night. Fortunately, this time it was Saturday and she didn’t have to get up early, but she was frustrated with herself and dreaded lying awake for the rest of the night.

* So what has been your problem lately anyway, Sue? You didn’t used to have difficulty sleeping. Something’s wrong here. You know you are eating too late, and you are getting into that bad habit of black tea after dinner. I think it must have something to do with either lack of exercise or being anxious about my work. I will have to get some of that melatonin at the vitamin store tomorrow . . .

As her mind continued working, Sue was getting more and more unsettled in her body. She could feel the heaviness of sleep still in her system, and her eyes were aching. A sense of low-grade agitation was developing in her limbs, as though a subtle current of energy had been turned on and she could no longer relax. She desperately longed to shut it off and drop back into sleep.

With some effort, Sue stopped her mental obsessing and focused her attention on her arms and legs and began controlled breathing to try to relax. At first, she felt more tension than relaxation from trying to concentrate. Then, as she continued, the outline of her body slowly transformed into a vivid presence charged with a slightly prickly energy. This shifted into a pulsing flow moving through her; it was both soothing and enlivening. And then for a moment, Sue experienced herself floating in the middle of a dark, spacious field with a vibrant perimeter. She was feeling herself in an immediate and unfamiliar way, when suddenly a familiar voice broke in:

* But you’re supposed to be going to sleep!

The internal voice brought her back to being Sue lying in bed not sleeping. Where had she been? Not asleep but not anyplace familiar. She found herself yawning as she puzzled over what had just happened. Sue turned over, pulled up the covers, and was soon fast asleep.

YOU ARE A SOUL. And if you allow it, your life can become a journey of unfolding for your soul. The fact is, you do not recognize yourself as soul. You do not know the source of your own aliveness. You are not aware of the potential for freedom and responsiveness that is your true nature. In order to see your inner critic in a proper perspective, in relation to the totality of who you are, you must have some sense of being a soul. What does that mean?

What Is the Soul?

Whenever people say the word I, they generally are referring to a person who was born of certain parents, has a certain history, and acts and behaves in certain familiar ways. This is often referred to as the ego or personality.

The soul, in fact, is the true “I.” It is the present-moment experience of yourself as the agent in your life, the sense of a livingness that is here now. Can you say what you are if you don’t refer to who you have been?

The soul is the you who experiences your life, the one who perceives, acts, learns, and changes. It is not the body that was born many years ago; it is not the self-image of a person who has particular skills and capacities; and it is not the mind that thinks and worries about everything that happens. The soul includes all of these, but as the experiencer, it is more fundamental and less defined than any of them. Who is it that experiences being an ego, being a body, or being a mind? Who at this very minute is reading these words? Can you define who or what that is? This I call the soul.

All aspects of your experience emerge out of your soul. Not only is the soul the experiencer, it is also what is experienced and the locus of your experience. In other words, your soul is what underlies and unifies every part of you and your experience. The deep longing to be whole, to feel integrated, to be yourself without division, is a longing to experience the soul.

The closer you are to sensing your own immediate aliveness, the closer you are to soul. The soul is the substance of living consciousness. To feel it is to recognize the miraculous and mysterious quality of what you are, a flowing presence, dynamic, alive, and ever-changing. To feel you are a soul is to know the unboundedness of life. The soul extends beyond the usual boundaries and categories of the human mind, beyond the familiar notion of a human life. It is not limited by history, concepts, or the physical body. It defies exact definition or analysis. As such, the soul is better felt, sensed, and known in the heart than it is through the structures and perceptions of the mind.

Have you ever wished for ease and spontaneity in your heart? Have you ever felt limited by the idea of having to be or act a particular way? If so, imagine what sense of yourself would allow spontaneity, ease, and freedom. Who would you be, and how would you feel? You are imagining a fundamental quality of your soul nature.

The nature of the soul is pure consciousness, experienced as a field of awareness in relation to physical reality. This field of awareness contains your mind and your body without being bounded by either.

Normally, you experience yourself as a physical body that has a mind with awareness as one of its capacities. But your soul is more like an expanse of awareness particles condensed in your location into a solid physical presence known as a body. And these awareness particles permeate every cell, sensation, and thought you have. The most external expression of your consciousness or soul is your body, which brings your awareness into intimate contact with the physical world as you know it. How different it would be to experience your whole body made out of this consciousness with your awareness consciously inhabiting and living through every cell in your body!

The Presence of the Soul

To be in touch with your actual consciousness, which is the substance of your soul, is to be aware of your existence in each moment, to be aware of presence. Presence means the sense of immediate existence or being. And presence is a primary quality of the soul. You cannot be aware of your own soul nature unless you are present to your own experience, unless you know your reality as it exists right now. Presence is your direct knowingness of being alive in the present moment. That knowingness is not an idea or a thought but an actual felt awareness. It is what gives your body its felt sense. The soul’s presence is substantial without being physical, and that substance gives the physical body a sense of living fullness.

Presence is to the soul what wetness is to water: one is an inseparable quality of the other. However, if you only look at water or only touch it with rubber gloves, you may not know that water is wet. Similarly, the presence of the soul cannot be erased or separated out, but it can go unrecognized if you are not in touch with it. Ignorance of the presence of your own soul is a deep and painful loss that stirs the longing to know yourself more intimately. This longing may be expressed as the search for meaning and truth, the desire for self-realization, or the pursuit of freedom and liberation. All are fulfilled through experiencing the living presence of the soul, the true nature of who you are.

The soul’s presence comes in many subtle but distinct flavors that underlie the richness of life. These are the basic elements of human existence, such as strength, clarity, compassion, joy, love, intelligence, value, will, acceptance, and vulnerability. These essential aspects make up your true nature, that in you which is innate or God-given and not dependent on your parents, your appearance, your behavior, or your achievements.

*

from

Soul without Shame. A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within

by Byron Brown

get it at Amazon.com

CPTPP IS MORE CORPORATE WELFARE! Why “Free Trade” Agreements Serve Corporations First – Jack Gao * WHAT DO TRADE AGREEMENTS REALLY DO? – Dani Rodrik.

Far from spreading benefits across the economy, agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership enrich individual corporations by design, at the expense of workers and national economies.

There’s a general sense today that globalization is not working well. Workers in developed countries complain that jobs are moving abroad as inequality worsens; developing countries open up markets only to find themselves subject to the vagaries of international capital and business interests; and almost all national governments feel an erosion of the scope and potency of domestic policies. In a new paper, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik examines what role trade, and in particular trade agreements, have played in fostering globalization’s discontents.

On the surface, it would seem that trade agreements would simply lower barriers to commerce. The traditional economic textbook contends that these pacts make trade “freer” among nations by eliminating obstacles and preventing mutually harmful actions countries may take in their absence. As a result, the theory goes, prices may come down, nations can import a variety of different goods, and domestic employment may increase.

However, as Rodrik notes, that is not what trade agreements of the past few decades appear to be doing. He contends that economists see trade in general as a positive, but have disengaged from the ways in which trade agreements play out in reality:

“The label ‘Free trade agreements’ does not do a very good job of describing what recent proposed agreements like the Trans-Pacijic Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and numerous other regional and bilateral trade agreements actually do”.

Given their blind spots, economists share the blame for confusion about what real-world impacts these agreements have. For example, as mainstream economic reasoning has it, when left to their own devices, countries may have the tendency to erect what is called “optimal tariff” in order to manipulate their terms of trade, the international prices they face, to their advantage. Doing so, the reasoning goes, would eventually leave all parties worse off: Nations tend to retaliate against tariffs, and cooperative agreement breaks down as nations race to impose them on one another. Thus a trade agreement that commits countries to free trade could keep domestic protectionists at bay and improve overall welfare.

This and other similar lines of reasoning have become part of conventional wisdom among economists and has stood unchallenged for decades. This theory misses the mark, according to Rodrik:

”The tendency to associate ‘free trade agreements’ all too closely with ‘free trade’ may have the result of the act that the new (and often problematic) beyond the bordor features of these agreements have not yet made their mark on the collective unconsciousness of economists.”

So what do recent trade agreements do and what do they have to do with widespread dissatisfaction with globalization?

Instead of eliminating trade barriers such as import duties and quotas, contemporary trade agreements have become a lot more expansive in the list of issues they tackle, according to Rodrik. They commonly cover issues such as labor standards, patent rules, investor-state dispute settlements, and the harmonization of standards that boost corporate profits at the expense of broader wellbeing. Not only do these elements of “free trade” agreements go beyond what most trade models were set up to analyze; they also occupy domains of public welfare about which most economists have chosen to remain mute.

Take regulatory harmonization for example. Economists contend that harmonizing regulations, that is eliminating differences in domestic regulations between countries, could reduce transaction costs and facilitate trade across national borders. Whether for labor standards, patent rules, or environmental regulations, harmonized rules can make it easier for businesses to produce and sell in foreign markets.

But while in theory better labor and environmental standards may improve social welfare in host countries, in practice “free trade” agreements don’t accomplish this, and can in fact have the opposite effect.

That’s because the pacts increasingly reflect first and foremost corporate interests, as multinationals have muscled their way into a central role in negotiations. Multinational corporations are not concerned that, depending on national circumstances and consumer preferences, there may be good reasons regulations differ across borders. So it’s not surprising that trade agreements that change the rules governing domestic economic life risk undermining the welfare of ordinary citizens.

Recent trade agreements have added another feature called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedure, which gives a foreign corporation the right to sue a host country government in a special arbitration tribunal. This issue came to public attention when the cigarette maker Philip Morris challenged (and lost to) the Australian government over the nation’s plain packaging laws, which prohibit cigarette companies from including branding on packaging. Inadequate legal protection and risk of appropriation may be a legitimate concern for foreign businesses, particularly in developing countries. But we can justifiably suspect that a large number of these cases are really about clearing the way for business expansion abroad, as in the Philip Morris case.

The logical next question to ask is how these issues made their way into trade agreement design and negotiations to begin with.

Here, Rodrik provides evidence that, as noted above, multinational corporations inserted themselves into the trade negotiation process, packaging such factors as patent rules as trade issues, in intensive lobbying efforts backed by campaign donations, and in public relations campaigns, in order to serve their special interests.

Rather than enlarging the economic possibilities of countries involved, trade agreement negotiations of this type often disrupt the lives of those in the middle and at the bottom, while showering benefits on the top and offering miniscule gains economy-wide.

And often it is the multinational corporations and financial institutions that stand to gain at the most at the expense of workers and national economies.

Rodrik, a Commissioner on lNET’s Commission on Global Economic Transformation, argues that there are still legitimate issues that modern trade agreement negotiations should tackle, including the global competition to set proper corporate tax rates. However, the absence of groups representing these issues in the negotiation process have put them far down on the agenda.

A closer look at what modern trade agreements do and don’t do makes clear that they have in recent years taken on a variety of issues that reach beyond the traditional theories of free trade, and in many cases, domains of national governance. Economists would do well to think twice about what interests they’re advancing before continuing to promote what looks like class warfare in the name of “free trade.”

Jack Gao, Program Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking

Institute For New Economic Thinking

WHAT DO TRADE AGREEMENTS REALLY DO?

Dani Rodrik, John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University Cambridge.

Revised February 2018.

As trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization, they have become more difficult to fit into received economic theory. Nevertheless, most economists continue to regard trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) favorably. The default view seems to be that these arrangements get us closer to free trade by reducing transaction costs associated with regulatory differences or explicit protectionism.

An alternative perspective is:

Trade agreements are the result of rent seeking, self interested behavior on the part of politically well connected firms international banks, pharmaceutical companies, multinational firms.

They may result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. But they are as likely to produce purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of “freer trade.”

The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago asked its panel of economics experts, made up of leading professors of economics around the country, to respond to two statements on international trade in its March 2012 survey.

The first statement focused on attitudes towards the general concept of free trade: ”Freer trade improves productive efficiency and offers consumers better choices, and in the long run these gains are much larger than any effects on employment.”

The second statement honed in specifically on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): “On average, citizens of the US. have been better off with the North American Free Trade Agreement than they would have been if the trade rules for the U.S., Canada and Mexico prior to NAFTA had remained in place.”

The experts could choose among a range of options, from “strongly agree” to ”strongly disagree.”

There was near unanimous support for the first statement on free trade. Of the 37 economists who answered, 35 picked “strongly agree” or “agree.” Two answered “uncertain” and none disagreed. The second question on NAFTA produced a virtually identical response. Once again, noone disagreed and only two economists picked “uncertain.” The only difference was that there was one less vote for “strongly agree”.

The consensus in favor of the general statement supporting free trade is not a surprise. Economists disagree about a lot of things, but the superiority of free trade over protection is not controversial. The principle of comparative advantage and the case for the gains from trade are crown jewels of the economics profession. So the nearly unanimous support for free trade in principle is understandable.

But the almost identical level of enthusiasm expressed for the North American Free trade Agreement, that is, for a text that runs into nearly 2,000 pages, negotiated by three governments under pressures from lobbies and special interests, and shaped by a mix of political, economic, and foreign policy objectives, is more curious.

The economists must have been aware that trade agreements, like free trade itself, create winners and losers. But how did they weight the gains and losses to reach a judgement that US citizens would be better off ”on average”? Did it not matter who gained and lost, whether they were rich or poor to begin with, or whether the gains and losses would be diffuse or concentrated? What if the likely redistribution was large compared to the efficiency gains?

What did they assume about the likely compensation for the losers, or did it not matter at all? And would their evaluation be any different if they knew that recent research suggests NAFTA produced minute net efficiency gains for the US economy while severely depressing wages of those groups and communities most directly affected by Mexican competition?

Perhaps the experts viewed distributional questions as secondary in view of the overall gains from trade. After all, opening up to trade is analogous to technological progress. In both cases, the economic pie expands while some groups are left behind. We did not ban automobiles or light bulbs because coachmen and candle makers would lose their jobs.

So why restrict trade? As the experts in this survey contemplated whether US citizens would be better off ”on average” as a result of NAFTA, it seems plausible that they viewed questions about the practical details or the distributional questions of NAFTA as secondary in view of the overall gains from trade.

This tendency to view trade agreements as an example of efficiency enhancing policies that may nevertheless leave some people behind would be more justifiable if recent trade agreements were simply about eliminating restrictions on trade such as import tariffs and quotas. In fact:

The label “free trade agreements” does not do a very good job of describing what recent proposed agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and numerous other regional and bilateral trade agreements actually do.

Contemporary trade agreements go much beyond traditional trade restrictions at the border. They cover regulatory standards, health and safety rules, investment, banking and finance, intellectual property, labor, the environment, and many other subjects besides. They reach well beyond national borders and seek deep integration among nations rather than shallow integration, to use Robert Lawrence’s (1996) helpful distinction.

According to one tabulation, 76 percent of existing preferential trade agreements covered at least some aspect of investment (such as free capital mobility) by 2011; 61 percent covered intellectual property rights protection; and 46 percent covered environmental regulations (Limao 2016).

To illustrate the changing nature of trade agreements, compare US trade agreements with two small nations, Israel and Singapore, signed two decades apart. The US Israel Free Trade Agreement, which went into force in 1985, was the first bilateral trade agreement the US concluded in the postwar period. It is quite a short agreement less than 8,000 words in length. It contains 22 articles and three annexes, the bulk of which are devoted to free trade issues such as tariffs, agricultural restrictions, import licensing, and rules of origin.

The US Singapore Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 2004 and is nearly ten times as long, taking up 70,000 words. It contains 20 chapters (each with many articles), more than a dozen annexes, and multiple side letters. Of its 20 chapters, only seven cover conventional trade topics. Other chapters deal with behind the border topics such anti competitive business conduct, electronic commerce, labor, the environment, investment rules, financial services, and intellectual property rights.

Intellectual property rights take up a third of a page (81 words) in the 1985 US Israel agreement. They occupy 23 pages (8,737 words) plus two side letters in the 2004 US Singapore agreement.

Taking these new features into account requires economists to rethink their default attitudes toward trade agreements, and the politics behind them.

This paper offers a starting point toward the reconsideration that is needed. I will argue that economists‘ conflation of free trade with trade agreements is rooted in an implicit political economy perspective that views import competing interests as the most powerful and dominant architect of trade policy.

Under this perspective, protectionists on the import side are the main villain of the story. Trade agreements, when successfully ratified, serve to counter their influence and get us closer to a welfare optimum by reducing the protectionism (or harmful regulations) that these special interests desire. In particular, they prevent beggar thy neighbor and beggar thyself policies that would result in the absence of trade agreements. In achieving these ends, governments may be assisted by other special interests those with a stake in expanding exports and market access abroad. But the latter play an essentially useful role, since they are merely a counterweight to the protectionist lobbies.

There is an alternative political economy perspective, one that reverses the presumption about which set of special interests hold the upper hand in trade policy. In this second view, trade agreements are shaped largely by rent seeking, self interested behavior on the export side.

Rather than rein in protectionists, they empower another set of special interests and politically well connected firms, such as international banks, pharmaceutical companies, and multinational corporations.

They may result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. But they are as likely to produce welfare reducing, or purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of free trade.

When trade agreements were largely about import tariffs and quotas that is before the 1980s the second scenario may not have been particularly likely. But with trade agreements increasingly focusing on domestic rules and regulations, we can no longer say the same.

Taking these new features into account requires us to cast trade agreements, and the politics behind them, in quite a different light.

Free Trade versus Free Trade Agreements

Basic trade theory suggests that free trade is the optimal policy for an economy, provided compensatory policies can be implemented and adverse interactions with market failures can be addressed through complementary policies. The only exception is that a large country may be able to manipulate its terms of trade at the expense of its trade partners. The latter motive provides a rationale for countries to enter in trade agreements, preventing mutually harmful trade protectionism.

Economists have long known that real world trade agreements are difficult to understand from the lens of “optimal tariff” theory. And as trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization (patent rules, health and safety regulations, labor standards, investment investor courts, etc.), they have become harder and harder to fit into received economic theory.

International agreements in such new areas produce economic consequences that are far more ambiguous than is the case of lowering traditional border barriers. They may well generate increases in the volume of trade and cross border investment. Nevertheless their welfare and efficiency impacts are fundamentally uncertain.

Here, I will sketch the issues that arise in four areas that have become common in modern trade agreements: trade-related intellectual property rights, rules about cross border capital flows, investor state dispute settlement procedures, and harmonization of regulatory standards.

Intellectual property rights

Consider first patents and copyrights (so-called “trade-related intellectual property rights” or TRIPs). TRIPs entered the lexicon of trade during the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, which were completed in 1994. The US has pushed for progressively tighter rules (called TRIPs plus) in subsequent regional and bilateral trade agreements. Typically TRIPs pit advanced countries against developing countries, with the former demanding stronger and lengthier monopoly restrictions for their firms in the latter’s markets.

Freer trade is supposed to be win win, with both parties benefiting. But in TRIPs, the advanced countries’ gains are largely the developing countries’ losses. Consumers in the developing nations pay higher prices for pharmaceuticals and other research intensive products and the advanced countries’ firms reap higher monopoly rents.

One needs to assume an implausibly high elasticity of global innovation to developing countries’ patents to compensate for what is in effect a pure transfer of rents from poor to rich countries. That is why many ardent proponents of free trade were opposed to the incorporation of TRIPs in the Uruguay Round.

Nonetheless, TRIPs rules have not been dropped, and in fact expand with each new FTA. Thanks to subsequent trade agreements, intellectual property protection has become broader and stronger, and much of the flexibility afforded to individual countries under the original WTO agreement has been eliminated.

Cross border capital flows

Second, consider restrictions on nations’ ability to manage cross border capital flows. Starting with its bilateral trade agreements with Singapore and Chile in 2003, the US government has sought and obtained agreements that enforce open capital accounts as a rule. These agreements make it difficult for signatories to manage cross border capital flows, including in short term financial instruments. In many recent US trade agreements such restrictions apply even in times of macroeconomic and financial crisis. This has raised eyebrows even at the International Monetary Fund.

Paradoxically, capital account liberalization has become a norm in trade agreements just as professional opinion among economists was becoming more skeptical about the wisdom of free capital flows. The frequency and severity of financial crises associated with financial globalization have led many experts to believe that direct restrictions on the capital account have a second best role to complement prudential regulation and, possibly, provide temporary breathing space during moments of extreme financial stress.

The IMF itself, once at the vanguard of the push for capital account liberalization, has officially revised its stance on capital controls. It now acknowledges a useful role for them where more direct remedies for underlying macroeconomic and financial imbalances are not available. Yet investment and financial services provisions in many FTAs run blithely against this new consensus among economists.

ISDS (Investor State Dispute settlement)

A third area where trade agreements include provisions of questionable merit is so called “investor state dispute settlement procedures” (ISDS). These provisions have been imported into trade agreements from bilateral investment treaties (BIT). They are an anomaly in that they enable foreign investors, and they alone, to sue host governments in special arbitration tribunals and to seek monetary damages for regulatory, tax, and other policy changes that reduce their profits. Foreign investors (and their governments) see ISDS as protection against expropriation, but in practice arbitration tribunals interpret the protections provided more broadly than under, say, domestic US law.

Developing countries traditionally have signed on to ISDS in the expectation that it would compensate for their weak legal regimes and help attract direct foreign investment. But ISDS also suffers from its own problems: it operates outside accepted legal regimes, gives arbitrators too much power, does not follow or set precedents, and allows no appeal.

Whatever the merits of ISDS for developing nations. it is more difficult to justify its inclusion in trade agreements among advanced countries with well functioning legal systems (e.g. the prospective Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and European countries).

Harmonization of regulatory standards

Finally, consider the pursuit of the harmonization of regulatory standards that lies at the center of today’s trade agreements. The justification for harmonization is that eliminating regulatory differences among nations reduces the transaction costs associated with doing business across borders. Taking this line of argument one step further, proponents sometimes label regulatory standards that are more demanding than those at home as “non tariff barriers.” And there is little question that governments sometimes do deploy regulations to favor domestic producers over foreign ones.

But often these differences reflect dissimilar consumer preferences or divergent regulatory styles. European bans on GMOs and hormone fed beef, for example, are rooted not in protectionist motives the same bans apply to domestic producers as well but in pressures from consumer groups at home. The US government, for its part, considers them as protectionist barriers, and dispute settlement panels of the World Trade Organization have often agreed.

The trouble is that unlike in the case of tariffs and quotas, there is no natural benchmark that allows us to judge whether a regulatory standard is excessive or protectionist. Different national assessments of risk safety, environmental, health and varying conceptions of how business should relate to its stakeholders employees, suppliers, consumers, local communities will produce different standards, none obviously superior to others. In the language of economics, regulatory standards are public goods over which different nations have different preferences.

An optimal international arrangement would trade off the benefits of expanding market integration (by reducing regulatory diversity) against the costs of excessive harmonization. But in general we have only a hazy ideas where that optimal point may lie, which in any case will vary across different policy domains. Perhaps regulators and trade negotiators do their job properly and assess the costs and benents appropriately, safeguarding room for diversity. Perhaps not.

Regardless, it is curious that economists tend to be nearly unanimous in their view that trade agreements are a good thing. Despite not knowing much about the details, they must believe such agreements regularly strike the right balance in all these areas of ambiguity.‘

Is it that none of these complications matter as long as the agreement is called a “Free Trade Agreement”?

The tendency to associate “free trade agreements” all too closely with “free trade” may be the result of the fact that the new (and often problematic) beyond the border features of these agreements have not yet made their mark on the collective unconsciousness of economists.

But I suspect it is also the result of a certain implicit, hand waving kind of political economy analysis. In this perspective, protectionist interests are the dominant influence in the determination of trade and other policies. Hence, in the absence of trade agreements barriers to trade are too high and there is too little trade. Trade agreements are in turn a mechanism through which protectionist interests can be neutralized. The specific details of the agreement do not matter much as long as trade creating interests are empowered to offset the otherwise dominant protectionist influences. In other words, trade agreements must move us in a desirable direction because they are a counterweight to protectionists.

This is a valid inference as long as the argument’s premise is correct, namely that on balance trade agreements empower the special interests more closely aligned with good economic performance. But what if they empower the wrong special interests instead, the investors, banks, and multinational enterprises seeking to increase rents at the expense of the general interest?

When trade agreements are mostly about tariffs and quotas, there is an easy way to tell the difference. The presence of high tariffs ex ante and tariff reduction ex post are prima facie evidence that protectionists were the dominant influence before the agreement and that they were countervailed through the agreement. But this intuition does not carry over to trade agreements on domestic rules, regulations, and standards since we do not readily know where the efficient benchmark is. A trade agreement captured by an alternative set of special interests may make things worse just as easily as it makes them better. Such an agreement can move us away from the efficient outcome, even if it takes the guise of a free trade agreement and expands the volume of trade and investment.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of rent seeking by firms that favor trade agreements. But to put this evidence in context, let us first examine why countries sign trade agreements in the first place.

The Logic of Trade Agreements

When economists teach the gains from trade, they emphasize that free trade is good for each nation on its own. (What it means to say “good for the nation” in the presence of losers as well as gainers is, if course, a thorny issue, but I will leave that aside, in keeping with the standard treatments). Ricardo’s (1817) demonstration of the principle of comparative advantage: free trade expands a nation’s consumption possibilities frontier even if it has an absolute productivity advantage in producing every good remains one of our profession’s most significant intellectual achievements. A direct implication is that countries should want to have free trade regardless of what their trade partners do.

Responding to another country‘s protectionism by raising one’s own trade barriers is tantamount to cutting off the nose to spite the face.

If this insight were the end of the story, the presence (and proliferation) of trade agreements would be a mystifying puzzle. What is the point of signing agreements with other countries to do what is in your national interest in the first place? A possible answer was provided early on by Harry Johnson (1953). Countries that are “large” in world markets have the incentive to exploit their market power. An import tariff restricts home demand for other countries’ exports and drives down the world price of the imported good. A Nash equilibrium among large countries would be inefficient, as each country would be imposing its own, positive “optimal” tariffs. Correspondingly, a trade agreement that enforced free trade could leave all the countries better off.

Even if the logic of this argument is accepted, the question remains of why a free trade agreement is needed, such as the World Trade Organization or NAFTA. After all, a free trade equilibrium can be achieved through cooperation in a repeated interaction game. In addition, one can ask whether a formal agreement on its own can prevent opportunistic behavior on the part of sovereign nations. Nonetheless, the motive to manipulate the terms of trade provides a valid economic motive for countries to commit themselves to free trade by signing on to trade agreements.

However, this theory does not sit well with the fact that actual policy makers do not seem very concerned about the terms of trade when they negotiate trade agreements. They tend to care more about the volume of trade: they like it when their exports grow, but not so much when their imports expand. Effectively, nations trade market access: more of your imports in return for more of my exports. Moreover, these preferences do not seem to be grounded in the effects that trade volumes have on world market prices. it is true that home policies that lower import demand tend to reduce their world market prices, and hence improve the terms of trade. But on the export side, general government practice consists of boosting export supply, through export subsidies, credits, and other assistance, rather than reducing it. This has the effect of lowering export prices on world markets. and hence worsening the terms of trade.

Also, if trade agreements are really about curbing terms of trade manipulation, what do we make of the prohibition on export subsidies in the WTO? When a government resorts to export subsidies, it worsens its own terms of trade and confers economic benefits on other nations. If it does so nevertheless, it must be for non economic or special interest reasons. Regardless, there would be no reason for trade agreements to prohibit their use. As Grossman (2016) notes, ”the literature offers no compelling reason why trade agreements should outlaw export subsidies in a trading environment characterized by perfectly competitive markets.”

Trade policy practitioners worry little about international terms of trade spillovers. Instead, they tend to justify trade agreements by reference to the politics of trade policy at home: Trade agreements are what enable governments to say “no” to domestic import competing interests. Absent trade agreements, this argument goes, governments are too easily tempted to do the easy thing and provide import protection when faced with short term political pressures.

A number of academic papers conceptualize this argument in the form of a time inconsistency problem (for example, Staiger and Tabellini, 1987; Maggi and Rodriguez Clare, 1998). In this framework, the government knows that free trade is the best policy in the long run. But it faces short term political pressures to respond to organized interest groups. Forward looking workers and capitalists understand the difference between the government’s ex ante and ex post incentives and behave accordingly. In particular, they make their sectoral allocation decisions so as to ensure the government provides them with trade protection ex post. In these settings, trade agreements are a commitment device for governments to withstand political pressure from future protectionists. As Grossman (2016) notes, we may question whether there is not an easier way of purchasing such commitment than negotiating very complicated deals with multiple partners over many years. Nevertheless, the view that trade agreements serve to neutralize protectionist special interests is very widely held.

This commitment, or lock-in argument is analogous to the familiar case for policy delegation in other areas with dynamic inconsistency, such as monetary policy (justifying an independent central bank) or business regulation (justifying autonomous regulatory agencies). In any of these settings, the validity of the policy conclusion depends critically on the specification of the game that is being played between the government and special interests.

When there is a genuine time consistency problem, everyone is better off with precommitment or delegation (save, possibly for the lobbyists and special interests). When protectionists show up at the government’s door, the government says: “sorry, I‘d love to help you out, but the trade agreement will not let me do it.” This is the good kind of delegation and external discipline.

Now consider a different setting. Here, the government fears not its future self, but its future opponents: the opposition party (or parties). The latter may have different views on economic policy, and if victorious in the next election, the opposition may well choose to shift course. In this situation, an incumbent government enters an international agreement to tie the hands of its opponents. From the standpoint of social welfare, this strategy has much less to recommend itself. The future government may have better or worse ideas about government policy, and it is not clear that restricting what it can do in the future is a win win outcome. This government too will present its case in traditional delegation terms. But what it is really doing is to ensure the permanence of partisan policies.a

Now suppose further that the current government is captured by special interests-but by exporter lobbies instead of import competing lobbies. In this case, the government’s objectives are explicitly redistributive, to transfer rents from the rest of society to a special interest. But unlike in the usual model, the rent seekers are not the traditional protectionists. They are pharmaceutical companies seeking tighter patent rules, financial institutions that want to limit ability of countries to manage capital flows, or multinational companies that seek special tribunals to enforce claims against host governments. In this setting, trade agreements serve to empower special interests, rather than rein them in.

Whose Interests Do Trade Agreements Serve?

With traditional trade agreements, which focused on reducing tariff and non tariff barriers to trade, it was relatively easy to figure out which of these different models approximated reality better.

Consider for example the GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade) rounds of multilateral trade negotiations, before the World Trade Organization was established in 1995. Tariff levels were high after World War II, and negotiations were largely about bringing them down. Few other issues were discussed beyond tariffs and other explicit barriers at the border. The fact that tariffs were high to begin with is prima facie evidence that protectionist interests had the upper hand in the political equilibrium ex ante. The fact that trade agreements succeeded in lowering tariffs is evidence that such agreements served to counteract those protectionist interests ex post. In other words, the trade agreements as political commitment story worked pretty well. It suggests that these agreements were moving the economies of the negotiating parties broadly in the right direction.

With post-1995 trade agreements, matters are no longer so simple.

Tariffs and explicit barriers to trade have dropped considerably, and many new areas of negotiation have opened up in which there is typically no efficient “free trade” benchmark analogous to the role that zero duties play in the context of tariffs. Do Vietnam’s capital account regulations, say, or patent rules serve the country’s economic development well or poorly? Are European Union food safety regulations closely aligned with European consumers’ risk preferences or do they privilege producer interests too much? Does US jurisprudence provide adequate protections for foreign investors, or not? To be sure, domestic regulations and product standards can be enacted for protectionist purposes simply to keep competing imports out. But they can be also used to serve developmental, social, or other deserving goals.

If countries have gotten the balance wrong in these and other areas, can we be at all sure that trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will move their policies closer to the social optimum and not further away? Can the dispute settlement process provided by such trade agreements draw the appropriate distinctions in practice between pure protectionism and legitimate regulatory divergence?

It is hard to provide a definite answer to these questions. What is clear is that we cannot simply look at whether agreements are trade creating or not and evaluate them on that basis. It is all too easy to come up with examples where too much regulatory harmonization in the name of reducing transaction costs to trade leaves at least one of the negotiating parties worse off. The case of tightening intellectual property rights in developing countries, mentioned earlier, is a prominent example. Erosion of consumer protections in high standard countries may likewise expand trade, but it will not leave importing countries better off. It is similarly easy to see that agreements that privilege investors or corporations over other interests (e.g., labor or the environment) can end up producing largely redistributive consequences with few efficiency gains. That is a widespread fear among opponents of investor courts for example.

Potential trade offs arise in all of these areas: regulatory harmonization may spur trade, but it could also prevent regulations from reflecting domestic preferences. A proper negotiating process would take both sides of the ledger into account.

The texts of trade agreements pay plenty of lip service to economic and social goals beyond trade. However, these are fundamentallym deals. They are not negotiations on public health, regulatory experimentation, promoting structural change and industrialization in developing nations, or protecting labor standards in the advanced economies.

It would not be surprising if the process were captured by trade interests. Nor should it be unexpected that the success of the agreements are typically gauged by the volume of trade they create.

We could gain further insight into specific outcomes by looking at the actual process through which trade agreements are negotiated. However, such negotiations are typically secret a feature that draws the ire of labor, public interest groups, and many politicians.

During the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, for example, only two copies of the text were made available in special reading rooms to US congressmen and their staff with special security clearances. And they could be prosecuted if they revealed the contents to the public.

The ostensible reason for secrecy is to facilitate the back and forth dealing needed to produce compromise. But from the perspective of broader social welfare, secrecy is a mixed blessing. It may promote quicker bargains. But it also tends to bias the results against interests not present in the negotiation. Business is rarely far from the actual negotiations. In fact, it is commonplace for business lobbyists to wait just outside the negotiation room and influence the outcome in real time (for example, see the account of NAFTA negotiations in Smith 2015).

TRIPS

One of the better known and most instructive cases is the story of trade related intellectual property rights, or TRlPs. The inclusion of TRIPs in the 1994 agreement that established the World Trade Organization was a landmark event. As Devereaux et al. (2006, p. 42) write:

”after seven years of negotiating, industries that rely on copyrights, patents, and trademarks received more protection than anyone had believed possible at the outset of the talks.“

Business interests had been pushing since at least the 1970s to get the US government to enforce patent and copyright protections abroad. The conventional international forum for discussion of such issues was the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

However, US firms regarded WIPO as an ineffective UN agency dominated by developing countries. A coalition made up of agrochemical companies like Monsanto, trademark-based companies such as Levi Strauss and Samsonite, pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, and computer companies such as iBM effectively redefined TRIPs as a trade issue. They managed to engineer what political scientists call “forum shifting,” moving the focus of international negotiation from WlPO to what would eventually become the World Trade Organization.

US firms coordinated with their counterparts in Europe and Japan to develop minimum standards on which they would agree. These standards would in turn significantly shape the final agreement that emerged from the Uruguay Round.

The shift in forums from the World Intellectual Property Organization to the World Trade Organization was a brilliant strategic move for business.

It ensured that commercial considerations would dominate and outweigh other goals, such as implications for economic development and public health. But TRIPs was only the beginning. Following their success with using the Uruguay Round to pursue their goals for protection of intellectual property, pharmaceutical and other companies engaged in what Sell (2011) calls “vertical” forum shifting, that is, pushing for and obtaining further protections in specific free trade agreements. The United States had much greater bargaining leverage vis a vis individual developing nations in bilateral or regional trade agreements.

Once a precedent had been set in the WTO talks, it was now possible to go considerably beyond TRIPs. Pharmaceutical companies were able to obtain test data exclusivity (preventing generics providers to use the same data in their own licensing applications), a prohibition on parallel imports (of original products, but by others than the patent holders), severe restrictions on compulsory licensing requirements by host governments, and automatic patent term extensions.

The Trans Pacific Partnership, the latest of these agreements, has such broad protection of intellectual property that even the head of the World Health Organization has spoken out against it, blaming interference by “powerful economic operators”.

The influence of special interests is rarely exercised through the naked application of power, do this, or else! Instead, these groups get their way by convincing policymakers and the broader public that certain of their goals also further the public interest. The success of TRIPs had to do in no small part with the framing of the issue in terms that gave it broad legitimacy and appeal. Thus, what might have been more accurately called monopoly rents were transformed into ”property rights.”

Then firms abroad who imitated and reverse engineered technologies of the more advanced countries became engaged in “piracy,” even though this is a time honored practice by technologically lagging countries, including today’s developed countries in their own time. Many of Boston’s original textile mill owners “stole” their designs from Lancashire, taking elaborate steps to evade British intellectual property rights protections.

With some hand waving, preserving the monopoly of US film studios, pharmaceutical companies, and fashion houses turned into a fundamental issue of free trade.

Pro trade business interests are known to have played a significant role in the expansion of trade agreements into other new areas beyond intellectual property. For example, the push to include services in multilateral trade negotiations took place at the behest of American firms.

Services differ from trade in goods insofar they often require changes in domestic regulations. Financial services is a good example. As Marchetti and Mavroidis (2011, p. 692) write:

”It was the US financial services sectors that first argued systematically in favor of a trade round that would include a chapter on liberalization of trade in services.”

A key role was played by the Coalition of Service Industries, a trade group representing US service industries, which focused its energies on the right of establishment of financial and insurance companies in foreign countries:

“The CSI gathered data, organized conferences, engaged in extensive public lecturing, and heavily lobbied the US government to this effect”.

The heads of Citibank and American Express each headed key advisory groups organized by the US Trade Representative in the run up to the Uruguay Round agreement in 1994. American Express was especially active, with its executives building up a domestic lobby, establishing links with other service industry lobbies around the world, and exerting influence on US policy through direct participation in negotiations with other countries.

Interestingly, this lobbying to expand markets abroad in services has not done much to nullify service protectionism in the US itself, unlike in the traditional account of what trade agreements do.

For example, one of the most blatant forms of US protectionism is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act, which prevents foreign ships to serve domestic shipping lines. The objective of the law is to maintain a strong US shipbuilding industry and merchant marine, ostensibly for national security purposes. But the protectionist intent and consequences are clear. lt has remained untouched in all the trade agreements the US has negotiated, including the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Business lobbies

As trade agreements move into these new areas, the role of business lobbies changes as well. Governments have to rely on knowledge and expertise from businesses to negotiate complex regulatory changes. Hence, business lobbies become partners and collaborators for the trade negotiators: they help define the issue, provide information and expertise, and mobilize support from other business groups transnationally.

As Woll and Artigas (2007) put it: “Unlike the exchange model assumed in the traditional economic models, firms do not just exchange votes or money to lobby against regulation. Rather, they offer expertise and political support in exchange for access to the elaboration of specific stakes.”

Business lobbies also become much more intimately involved in the actual trade negotiations, sometimes forming a larger part of the delegation than the actual government representatives.

A rough idea of who actually lobbies for trade agreements can be obtained from data collected by the Sunlight Foundation for the Trans Pacific Partnership. Their analysis is based on public lobbying reports issued by corporations and industry associations, and whether the TPP is mentioned by name in those reports. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical manufacturing firms and PhRMA (the industry association) dominate the list. Others that stand out are auto manufacturers, milk and dairy producers, textiles and fabrics firms, information technology firms, and the entertainment industry. Labor unions such as United Steelworkers and AFL CIO, which are traditionally associated with protectionist motives, tend to lag behind these industry based groups.

Business interests exert influence also through their presence in the various trade advisory committees that are set up in the course of trade negotiations. Such committees are in principle made up of a wide range of all the stakeholders, including labor groups and environmental nongovernment organizations who may have a negative view of conventional trade agreements.

But business representatives and trade associations are by far the dominant group, making up more than 80 percent of the membership of such committees during the negotiation of Trans Pacific Partnership.

Systematic studies of how interest groups on different sides of trade agreements shape the negotiations are rare, given the lack of transparency of the process. However, one analysis of Swedish lobbies takes advantage of the fact that Sweden has a far reaching freedom of information clause in its constitution, which enabled Ronnback (2015) to access all the documents behind trade policy formulation in the country during the Uruguay Round. As Ronnback points out, the commonly maintained assumption in the literature on the political economy of trade is that the process is influenced overwhelmingly by import competing, protectionist interests. Trade agreements are signed in these interests, not because of them.

But Ronnback found that the approach pursued by the Swedish government in the trade negotiations was not only in line with special interest lobbying. but it was largely shaped by it. The interest groups that played the determining role in the consultative process were in favor of expanding trade. But the interests of these groups were not in tariffs per se. which were already low. Instead their demand was “to broaden the scope of the agenda of the GATT, by including issues such as trade in services, investment measures and public tender agreements”.

In other words, industry lobbies pushed for deep integration measures beyond the standard free trade policies.

Ronnback’s (2015) study also documents how trade negotiations can help special interests coordinate across national borders. Apparently Swedish businesses initially did not show much awareness or interest in intellectual property rights. But as the United States pushed harder on TRIPs in the negotiations, the issue rose in prominence among Swedish interest groups. As Ronnback puts it:

”It seems as if the interest groups only realized the potential for economic rents that the trade negotiations could offer quite slowly, as the negotiations progressed. As soon as the Swedish interest groups realized this potential, however, they did not hesitate to act and make demands on the government.”

As individual corporations such as Astra as well as the Pharmaceutical Industry Association took up the cause, Sweden’s government followed suit. By the late 1980s, any doubts the Swedish government may have harbored about the wisdom of including TRIPs in the Uruguay Round seems to have vanished. in the years leading to the final agreement, the intellectual property issue came to be “described as among the most important for the Swedish interests”.

The dog that does not bark

Finally, the influence of special interests also shows up in the dog that does not bark:

Potential areas of negotiation with high social returns that are left out of the trade agenda.

One such area that touches directly the interests of large firms is global tax and subsidy competition. In a world with mobile capital, governments are tempted to offer better terms to globally mobile corporations in order to compete for investment. This results in a sub optimal Nash equilibrium with larger transfers to corporations and their shareholders than is globally desirable.

In practice, the effects show up in two areas: investment subsidies (in the form of tax holidays and other sweeteners) and reductions in corporate tax rates.

In View of the obvious cross border externalities, enacting global disciplines on tax and subsidy competition would make excellent economic sense. Yet trade agreements have never touched on this issue. They are replete with restrictions on what home governments can do to impose obligations on foreign investors. But they do not prevent these governments from wasting tax dollars and enriching corporations in a harmful race to the bottom.

Ammunition to the Barbarians?

When I recently gave a talk arguing that economists underplay some of the adverse consequences of advanced globalization, an economist in the audience took me to task: Don’t you worry, he asked, that your arguments will be used (or abused) by populists and protectionists to further their own interests? it is a reaction that reminds me of a response from a distinguished economist more than two decades ago to my 1997 monograph Has Globalization Gone Too Far? All your arguments are fine, he told me, but they will give “ammunition to the barbarians.”

The objection is instructive insofar as it lays bare the implicit political economy understanding with which economists tend to approach public discussions of trade policy. In this perspective, the serious threats to sensible trade policy nearly always come from the import protectionists, and trade agreement mainly offset the influence of the protectionists.

But as trade agreements have evolved and gone beyond import tariffs and quotas into regulatory rules and harmonization, intellectual property, health and safety rules, labor standards, investment measures, investor state dispute settlement procedures, and others they have become harder and harder to fit into received economic theory.

Why do many economists presume that it is more dangerous to express skepticism in public about these rules than it is to cheerlead? In other words, why do they think that there are barbarians only on one side of the issue?

I have presented an alternative perspective in this paper. Rather than neutralizing the protectionists, trade agreements may empower a different set of rent seeking interests and politically well connected firms international banks, pharmaceutical companies, and multinational firms. They may serve to internationalize the influence of these powerful domestic interests.

Trade agreements could still result in freer, mutually beneficial trade, through exchange of market access. They could result in the global upgrading of regulations and standards, for labor, say, or the environment. But they could also produce purely redistributive outcomes under the guise of ”freer trade.”

As trade agreements become less about tariffs and non tariff barriers at the border and more about domestic rules and regulations, economists might do well to worry more about the latter possibility. They may even adopt a stance of rebuttable prejudice against these new type trade deals, a prejudice which should be overturned only with demonstrable evidence of their benefits.

Dani Rodrik

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

NEW ZEALAND HAS THE WORST RECORDED RATE OF FAMILY VIOLENCE IN THE ‘DEVELOPED’ WORLD!

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 www.womensrefuge.org.nz.

It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz.

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: www.justice.govt.nz family-justice/domesticviolence.

National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz.

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

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.

BBC

***

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.

***

Introduction

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.’

One

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.

***

from

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

by Ben Coates

get it at Amazon.com

“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

Abstract:

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.”

Pdf

*

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.

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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

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

Richard Yonck.

INTRODUCTION

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.

A FUTURIST VIEW

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.

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PART ONE

THE ROAD TO AFFECTIVE COMPUTING

THE DAWN OF EMOTIONAL MACHINES

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.

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HOW EMOTION BOOTSTRAPPED THE FIRST TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION

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.

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from

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

by Richard Yonck

get it at Amazon.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Introduction

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

*

Preface

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.

*

CHAPTER 1

“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.

*

from

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

by Sue Klebold

get it at Amazon.com

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 dot.com 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 dot.com 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.

World Socialist Website

The progressive case for replacing the welfare state with Basic Income – Scott Santens.

It appears some establishment voices have picked up on a way of opposing the idea of the monthly citizen dividend of about $1,000 per month, known as universal basic income (UBI), in a way that successfully leaves some progressively minded people afraid.

The fear inspired is that those with the greatest need may be left worse off with UBI compared to the existing status quo of more than 100 government programs that currently comprise the U.S. safety net that UBI has the potential to entirely or mostly replace.

The argument goes that because we currently target money to those in need, by spreading out existing revenue to everyone instead, those currently targeted would necessarily receive less money, and thus would be worse off. Consequently, the end result of basic income could be theoretically regressive in nature by reducing the benefits of the poor and transferring that revenue instead to the middle classes and the rich.

Obviously a bad idea, right?

This new argument has been made most notably by the White House’s own chief economic adviser, Jason Furman, perhaps after himself reading the words of Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

The problem is that those who make this particular argument are building somewhat of a straw man, not only because of the blanket assumptions they are making around a very specific tax-neutral design, but also because they aren’t publicly acknowledging just how poorly our present means-tested programs are targeted by virtue of their applied conditions, and just how unequal one dollar can be to one dollar, however counterintuitive that may seem.

Assuming things work as we think they work is exactly one of the biggest obstacles we’ve always had to improving anything.

Basically, this particular argument would only make sense if we in no way altered our tax system to achieve UBI, and if our programs worked as we assume they work because that’s how they should work. The problem is they don’t work that way.

Assuming things work as we think they work is exactly one of the biggest obstacles we’ve always had to improving anything, because to fix something we first need to understand it’s broken. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, guess what? Our safety net is broken, and it’s broken at such a fundamental level, there’s no fixing it, because it is by design.

A net full of holes must be replaced by a floor free of holes and that floor is unconditional basic income.

Nothing but net holes

In the United States today, on average, just about one in four families living underneath the federal poverty line receives what most call welfare, which is actually known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. It gets worse. Because states are actually just written checks to give out as they please in the form of “block grants,” there are states where far fewer than one in four impoverished families receive cash assistance.

In Oklahoma, seven out of 100 families living in poverty receives TANF. In Wyoming, merely one in 100 of those living in poverty receives TANF.

Where does the money go instead?

It goes to educate the children of those earning over six figures.

It goes to programs trying to convince women to get married.

And it goes directly to state government treasuries so they can cut taxes on the rich.

The fact is that cash welfare, as it exists today, is not given to the overwhelming majority of those living in poverty who need it.

Single adults without children know this better than anyone. They even have their own moniker: ABAWDs (Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents). ABAWDs have the lone distinction of being the only demographic in the U.S. to be literally taxed into poverty, all 7.5 million of them. Because they earn income and because they do not have the child necessary to qualify for virtually any assistance — even the earned income tax credit (EITC), which is meant as a boost for low-income workers through the tax code — those earning enough to be above the federal poverty line can end up beneath the poverty line after paying taxes. And those already beneath the poverty line are pushed even deeper, effectively punished for being childless and working.

Combine all of those without dependents with all of those with dependents but without sufficient income to qualify for EITC and living in states averse to cash assistance, and the reality is that tens of millions of adults and children fall straight through the net purportedly designed to catch them. Any net is mostly nothing but holes, and nowhere is that more true than in the United States.

Assumption: Everyone living beneath the poverty line receives cash assistance.

Observation: Most don’t.

The same is true of housing assistance. There is a belief that poor people galore are sitting on easy street with affordable living conditions, where housing vouchers are given away like Halloween candy to anyone with a hand out.

The truth is that 24 percent of those who qualify for housing assistance get it, and getting it can mean years of waiting on lists. Here in New Orleans, where I live, the wait list is opened about every seven years or so, and when it is, tens of thousands apply despite fewer than 1,000 people becoming new recipients of vouchers each year.

Additionally, vouchers are not at all “just like cash.” Cash is accepted in payment by all landlords everywhere. Section 8 vouchers, meanwhile, are accepted only by those who choose to accept them, which is few and far between, and certainly not in what are considered to be “high opportunity” neighborhoods. This is true even of “supervouchers” that are specifically designed for that purpose.

Assumption: Everyone living in poverty receives housing assistance.

Observation: Most don’t.

Food stamps, too, are not given to everyone living under the poverty line. About one-quarter of those living in poverty get no government food assistance, and of those who do, a third of them still need to visit food banks for added assistance because the amount given is nowhere close to being sufficient to get people through each month.

Estimates point to food stamps lasting on average about three weeks of every month. Worse yet, food stamps can even have harsh time limits (e.g. three months of SNAP every three years), growing restrictions on how they can be used (sorry, no seafood allowed) and work requirements (30 hours per week).

This is food we’re talking about. Why should any bureaucrat ever exist between the most basic human need of all — the need to eat — and access to food?

Assumption: Everyone living in poverty receives food assistance.

Observation: Some may temporarily, but the amount is insufficient and full of costly strings.

However, one of the best examples of all the vast differences between the assumption and the observation of how government benefits work is how we target those with disabilities. It has been estimated that 22 percent of adults in the U.S. have some form of disability. At the same time, 4.6 percent of adults age 18-64 in the U.S. are receiving disability income. So again, about one-quarter of those we say we should be targeting actually receive anything, while the bulk get nothing.

It’s not just apples and oranges. It’s rotten apples and ripe oranges.The absolute worst thing though, and what too few people seem to know, is that when it comes to disability income, you are essentially not even allowed to earn additional income. If you’re on SSDI and earn one dollar over $1,090 in a month, you are dropped from the program and lose 100 percent of your benefit. That is the steepest of “benefit cliffs” and it’s the equivalent of taxing those with disabilities at rates far greater than 100 percent as a reward for their labor. It’s also the exact opposite of a basic income that is never taken away.

It is this clawback of means-tested benefits with the earning of income that is possibly the single greatest flaw of all targeted assistance, and also the single most ignored detail when people defend the current system over the introduction of a basic income that would replace it.

Simply put, $1,000 per month in welfare is not at all the same thing as $1,000 per month in basic income. It’s not just apples and oranges. It’s rotten apples and ripe oranges.

With welfare, because it is targeted and therefore withdrawn as income is earned, people on welfare are effectively punished for working. Their total incomes don’t really increase with employment. Welfare functions in many ways as a ceiling.

With basic income, because it is unconditional and therefore never withdrawn as income is earned, people with basic incomes are always rewarded for working. Their total incomes always increase with any amount of employment. Basic income therefore functions as a floor.

Do you see the difference?

So when someone says the details matter when it comes to the idea of basic income and suggests the possibility that it could be regressive, and even increase inequality by taking money being targeted at the poor and giving it to the non-poor, understand that the details of the details matter even more than just the details.

Basic income is not some regressive conspiracy of the Silicon Valley elite to create a neo-serfdom. The regressive argument operates on the myth that for every four people living under the poverty line, four people get an amount of assistance that lifts them far above the poverty line, and that $1 of welfare is exactly equivalent to $1 in basic income.

The basic income argument operates on the reality that for every four people living under the poverty line, only about one person gets an amount of assistance that does more to trap them in poverty than to lift them out of it, and that $1 of welfare is worth far less than $1 of basic income.

It’s really important to understand this, so let’s zoom in a bit on a worst-case scenario. Let’s assume we replace all of our programs targeted at the poor with UBI, including even Medicaid (which I don’t recommend unless we replace it with universal healthcare instead), and that we provide the UBI to adults only, with nothing for kids (something else I don’t recommend).

Using an example of a single parent with two kids within the current system, we could regressively replace around $45,000 of benefits (if we also eliminate child care, which is yet another detail I don’t recommend) with $12,000 in cash. That is a worst-design scenario and totally regressive right? No. It’s actually partially regressive and mostly progressive.

Although true that one in four would be worse off in such an inferior UBI design, it’s also true that three of four would be far better off because they would no longer receive little to nothing. As an oversimplified example for the sake of clarity, that means instead of the distribution across four adults being $45,000/$0/$0/$0, it would be $12,000/$12,000/$12,000/$12,000. That is more progressive as a whole than it is regressive, and inequality is reduced overall, not increased, because the total at the bottom went from $45,000 across four people to $48,000 across four people. And that is for basically the worst possible, most unrealistic of UBI designs.

But again, those numbers cannot be compared dollar for dollar. Welfare dollars disappear with work and basic income dollars are kept with work. That same parent receiving $45,000 for nothing, if they got a job paying $30,000 right now would receive $20,000 in benefits. That would be a gain of $30,000 combined with a loss of $25,000. That’s a gain of $5,000 for a $30,000 job, or in other words, an income tax of 83 percent. Who else is taxed at 83 percent? No one. In fact, the richest are taxed the least because their income, which isn’t derived from work, is special. It’s simply capital gains, which is taxed at 20 percent.

Does this sound like a just and equitable system? Or does it sound more like a racist meat-grinder?

Even more troubling, welfare dollars themselves are not equivalent to each other. Despite it being against the law to vary welfare dollars along racial lines, that’s exactly what we do. How? It’s again due to the nature of block grants for states. When Bill Clinton signed his welfare reform into law, he agreed to write checks to the states and let them handle how they dish out welfare. As a result, just five years after welfare was reformed into what it is today, 63 percent of those in the programs with the least-harsh conditions were white and 11 percent were black, while 63 percent of those in the programs with the most-harsh conditions were black and 29 percent were white.

In other words, a dollar in welfare has about three to five times as many strings for someone who is black than someone who is white. These strings absolutely affect end results. Joe Soss, co-author of Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race describes his findings thusly:

“The stringency of the rules matter tremendously for outcomes. The tougher the rules — and the more frequently people are punished for breaking them — the worse the outcomes are for people after they finish the program. In fact, in the toughest programs, people actually end up in worse shape after they get through them than they were before they got the benefits to begin with. And remember, they were in such a bad situation that they had to turn to a welfare program that’s been so stigmatized that pretty much everyone wants to avoid it. We also found that people who go through the toughest programs learn lessons about government that lead them to retreat from participating in politics. They become less likely to make their voices heard, and less likely to participate in elections and community organizations.”

Does this sound like a just and equitable system? Or does it sound more like a racist meat-grinder?

The bare naked truth of our present welfare system is a racially biased, overly paternalistic, unnecessarily controlling, grossly exclusionary system of punishment and blame that limits opportunity and taxes working beneficiaries more than any other worker in any income tax bracket.

It doesn’t abolish poverty. It helps sustain it. And this is the system establishment voices wish to improve upon in piecemeal fashion, possibly because they’re not the ones being chewed up and spit out by it, or even neglected by it entirely.

However, even if all of the above is clearly understood, there is one absolutely vital thing remaining to understand about basic income that cannot be replicated in any other way, by any other means.

Because basic income lacks conditions and is paid regardless of work, it provides recipients the power to refuse to work. This is the real fear of those who worry a basic income will result in people working less, but it is also its greatest strength.

The ability to say no to an employer provides people the bargaining power and the choice to determine how they work, where they work, for how much and for how long. No other policy does that. A minimum wage certainly doesn’t. Wage subsidies certainly don’t. Without basic income, the labor market is coercive, and that means people accept what they can get. With basic income, wages for low-demand jobs must go up and/or hours must go down in order to attract people with incomes independent of work to do them, or those same jobs must be automated to be performed by machines instead, whichever is cheaper.

A basic income is most simply a minimum income floor. It’s a new starting point above the poverty level instead of below it. There will still be jobs for people to earn additional income and those jobs can pay more if people hate doing them. Additionally, considering a potential future where there’s half as much employment, that also means just as many can be employed if we all work half as much so as to better share the remaining employment. And with the increased bargaining power basic income provides, that can also mean getting paid more for less work.

Basic income is not some regressive conspiracy of the Silicon Valley elite to create a neo-serfdom where the entire population only earns a maximum of $12,000 per year. That is the exact opposite of how it works. With basic income, $12,000 becomes the new absolute minimum for everyone and no one is a serf because everyone’s basic needs are covered. Poverty is eliminated. Inequality is reduced.

Additionally, everyone is free to earn any additional income, and on their terms. For the first time, everyone will have the individual negotiating power to dictate terms to employers that must be met. People who have this fundamental power are those who can then make further desired changes in the economy, in their businesses, in their governments and in their lives.

So you tell me. Would you prefer conditional welfare nets or would you prefer an unconditional basic income floor? Because one of these options is a relic of history, and the other is a road to the future.

Ending America’s Disastrous Role in Syria – Jeffrey D. Sachs.

America’s official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

That is understandable, because US efforts are in blatant violation of international law, which bars UN member states from supporting military action to overthrow other members’ governments.

Much of the carnage that has ravaged Syria during the past seven years is due to the actions of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. Now, faced with an alarming risk of a renewed escalation of fighting, it’s time for the United Nations Security Council to step in to end the bloodshed, based on a new framework agreed by the Council’s permanent members.

Here are the basics.

In 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring, the US government, in conjunction with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel, decided to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even though overthrowing another country’s government amounts to a blatant violation of international law. We know that in 2012, if not earlier, President Barack Obama authorized the CIA to work with America’s allies in providing support to rebel forces composed of disaffected Syrians as well as non-Syrian fighters. US policymakers evidently expected Assad to fall quickly, as had occurred with the governments of Tunisia and Egypt in the early months of the Arab Spring.

The Assad regime is led by the minority Alawi Shia sect in a country where Alawites account for just 10% of the population, Sunni Muslims account for 75%, Christians make up 10%, and 5% are others, including Druze. The regional powers behind Assad’s regime include Iran and Russia, which has a naval base on Syria’s Mediterranean coastline.

Whereas America’s goal in seeking to topple Assad was mainly to undercut Iranian and Russian influence, Turkey’s motive was to expand its influence in former Ottoman lands and, more recently, to counter Kurdish ambitions for territorial autonomy, if not statehood, in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia wanted to undermine Iran’s influence in Syria while expanding its own, while Israel, too, aimed to counter Iran, which threatens Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria near the Golan Heights, and Hamas in Gaza. Qatar, meanwhile, wanted to bring a Sunni Islamist regime to power.

The armed groups supported by the US and allies since 2011 were assembled under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, there was no single army, but rather competing armed groups with distinct backers, ideologies, and goals. The fighters ranged from dissident Syrians and autonomy-seeking Kurds to Sunni jihadists backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

While vast resources were devoted to overthrowing Assad, the effort ultimately failed, but not before causing massive bloodshed and displacing millions of Syrians. Many fled to Europe, fomenting Europe’s refugee crisis and a surge in political support for Europe’s anti-immigrant extreme right.

There were four main reasons for the failure to overthrow Assad. First, Assad’s regime had backing among not only Alawites, but also Syrian Christians and other minorities who feared a repressive Sunni Islamist regime. Second, the US-led coalition was countered by Iran and Russia. Third, when a splinter group of jihadists split away to form the Islamic State (ISIS), the US diverted significant resources to defeating it, rather than to toppling Assad. Finally, the anti-Assad forces have been deeply and chronically divided; for example, Turkey is in open conflict with the Kurdish fighters backed by the US.

All of these reasons for failure remain valid today. The war is at a stalemate. Only the bloodshed continues.

America’s official narrative has sought to conceal the scale and calamitous consequences of US efforts in defiance of international law and the UN Charter to overthrow Assad. While the US vehemently complains about Russian and Iranian influence in Syria, America and its allies have repeatedly violated Syrian sovereignty. The US government mischaracterizes the war as a civil war among Syrians, rather than a proxy war involving the US, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar.

In July 2017, US President Donald Trump announced the end of CIA support for the Syrian rebels. In practice, though, US engagement continues, though now it is apparently aimed more at weakening Assad than overthrowing him.

As part of America’s continued war-making, the Pentagon announced in December that US forces would remain indefinitely in Syria, ostensibly to support anti-Assad rebel forces in areas captured from ISIS, and of course without the assent of the Syrian government.

The war is in fact at risk of a new round of escalation. When Assad’s regime recently attacked anti-Assad rebels, the US coalition launched airstrikes that killed around 100 Syrian troops and an unknown number of Russian fighters. Following this show of force, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis disingenuously stated that, “Obviously, we are not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war.” In addition, Israel recently attacked Iranian positions in Syria.

The US and its allies should face reality and accept the persistence of Assad’s regime, despicable as it may be. The UN Security Council, backed by the US, Russia, and the other major powers, should step in with peacekeepers to restore Syrian sovereignty and urgent public services, while blocking attempts at vengeance by the Assad regime against former rebels or their civilian supporters.

Yes, the Assad regime would remain in power, and Iran and Russia would maintain their influence in Syria. But the US official delusion that America can call the shots in Syria by choosing who rules, and with which allies, would end. It’s long past time for a far more realistic approach, in which the Security Council pushes Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Israel into a pragmatic peace that ends the bloodshed and allows the Syrian people to resume their lives and livelihoods.

*

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.

Memes, Sat Feb 17, 2018.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. The Stress Response System – Robert M. Sapolsky.

A primer about stress, stress related disease, and the mechanisms of coping with stress.

Preface

Perhaps you’re reading this while browsing in a bookstore. If so, glance over at the guy down the aisle when he’s not looking, the one pretending to be engrossed in the Stephen Hawking book. Take a good look at him. He’s probably not missing fingers from leprosy, or covered with smallpox scars, or shivering with malaria. Instead, he probably appears perfectly healthy, which is to say he has the same diseases that most of us have, cholesterol levels that are high for an ape, hearing that has become far less acute than in a hunter-gatherer of his age, a tendency to dampen his tension with Valium.

We in our Western society now tend to get different diseases than we used to. But what’s more important, we tend to get different kinds of diseases now, with very different causes and consequences. A millennium ago, a young hunter-gatherer inadvertently would eat a reedbuck riddled with anthrax and the consequences are clear, she’s dead a few days later. Now, the control of something else. Attention turned to the pituitary gland, sitting just underneath the brain. It was known that when the pituitary was damaged or diseased, hormonea young lawyer unthinkingly decides that red meat, fried foods, and a couple of beers per dinner constitute a desirable diet, and the consequences are anything but clear-a halfcentury later, maybe he’s crippled with cardiovascular disease, or maybe he’s taking bike trips with his grandkids. Which outcome occurs depends on some obvious nuts-and-bolts factors, like what his liver does with cholesterol, what levels of certain enzymes are in his fat cells, whether he has any congenital weaknesses in the walls of his blood vessels.

But the outcome will also depend heavily on such surprising factors as his personality, the amount of emotional stress he experiences over the years, whether he has someone’s shoulder to cry on when those stressors occur.

There has been a revolution in medicine concerning how we think about the diseases that now afflict us. It involves recognizing the interactions between the body and the mind, the ways in which emotions and personality can have a tremendous impact on the functioning and health of virtually every cell in the body. It is about the role of stress in making some of us more vulnerable to disease, the ways in which some of us cope with stressors, and the critical notion that you cannot really understand a disease in vacuo, but rather only in the context of the person suffering from that disease.

This is the subject of my book. I begin by trying to clarify the meaning of the nebulous concept of stress and to teach, with a minimum of pain, how various hormones and parts of the brain are mobilized in response to stress. I then focus on the links between stress and increased risk for certain types of disease, going, chapter by chapter, through the effects of stress on the circulatory system, on energy storage, on growth, reproduction, the immune system, and so on. Next I describe how the aging process may be influenced by the amount of stress experienced over a lifetime. I then examine the link between stress and the most common and arguably most crippling of psychiatric disorders, major depression. As part of updating the material for this third edition, l have added two new chapters: one on the interactions between stress and sleep, and one on what stress has to do with addiction. In addition, of the chapters that appeared in the previous edition, I rewrote about a third to half of the material.

Some of the news in this book is grim, sustained or repeated stress can disrupt our bodies in seemingly endless ways. Yet most of us are not incapacitated by stress-related disease. Instead, we cope, both physiologically and psychologically, and some of us are spectacularly successful at it. For the reader who has held on until the end, the final chapter reviews what is known about stress management and how some of its principles can be applied to our everyday lives. There is much to be optimistic about.

I believe that everyone can benefit from some of these ideas and can be excited by the science on which they are based. Science provides us with some of the most elegant, stimulating puzzles that life has to offer. It throws some of the most provocative ideas into our arenas of moral debate. Occasionally, it improves our lives. I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means that you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.

Thus I think that any science book for nonscientists should attempt to convey that excitement, to make the subject interesting and accessible even to those who would normally not be caught dead near the subject. That has been a particular goal of mine in this book. Often, it has meant simplifying complex ideas, and as a counterbalance to this, I include copious references at the end of the book, often with annotations concerning controversies and sularge body of evidence suggests that stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we so often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions. btleties about material presented in the main text. These references are an excellent entrée for those readers who want something more detailed on the subject.

I am particularly grateful to the handful of people-friends, collaborators, colleagues, and eX-teachers-who, who took time out of their immensely busy schedules to read chapters. I shudder to think of the errors and distortions that would have remained had they not tactfully told me I didn’t know what I was writing about. I thank them all sincerely.

A number of people were instrumental in getting this book off the ground and into its final shape. Much of the material in these pages was developed in continuing medical education lectures. These were presented under the auspices of the institute for Cortext Research and Development, and its director, Will Gordon, who gave me much freedom and support in exploring this material.

I thank you all, and look forward to working with you in the future.

This book has been, for the most part, a pleasure to write and I think it reflects one of the things in my life for which I am most grateful, that I take so much joy in the science that is both my vocation and avocation. I thank the mentors who taught me to do science and, even more so, taught me to enjoy science.

Michelle Pearl, Serena Spudich, and Paul Stasi have wandered the basements of archival libraries, called strangers all over the world with questions, distilled arcane articles into coherency. In the line of duty, they have sought out drawings of opera castrati, the daily menu at Japanese American internment camps, the causes of voodoo death, and the history of firing squads. All of their research was done with spectacular competence, speed, and humor. I am fairly certain this book could not have been completed without their help and am absolutely certain its writing would have been much less enjoyable. And finally, I thank my agent, Katinka Matson, and my editor, Robin Dennis, who have been just terrific to work with. I look forward to many more years of collaborations ahead.

Parts of the book describe work carried out in my own laboratory, and these studies have been made possible by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, the Klingenstein Fund, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Adler Foundation. The African fieldwork described herein has been made possible by the longstanding generosity of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Finally, l heartily thank the MacArthur Foundation for supporting all aspects of my work.

Finally, as will be obvious, this book cites the work of a tremendous number of scientists.

Contemporary lab science is typically carried out by large teams of people. Throughout the book, i refer to the work of “Jane Doe” or “John Smith” for the sake of brevity-it, it is almost always the case that such work was carried out by Doe or Smith along with a band of junior colleagues.

There is a tradition among stress physiologists who dedicate their books to their spouses or significant others, an unwritten rule that you are supposed to incorporate something cutesy about stress in the dedication. So, to Madge, who attenuates my stressors; for Arturo, the source of my eustress; for my wife who, over the course of the last umpteen years, has put up with my stress-induced hypertension, ulcerative colitis, loss of libido, and displaced aggression. I will forgo that style in the actual dedication of this book to my wife, as l have something simpler to say.

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1 Why don’t zebras get ulcers?

It’s two o’clock in the morning and you’re lying in bed. You have something immensely important and challenging to do that next day, a critical meeting, a presentation, an exam. You have to get a decent night’s rest, but you’re still wide awake. You try different strategies for relaxing, take deep, slow breaths, try to imagine restful mountain scenery, but instead you keep thinking that unless you fall asleep in the next minute, your career is finished. Thus you lie there, more tense by the second.

If you do this on a regular basis, somewhere around two-thirty, when you’re really getting clammy, an entirely new, disruptive chain of thought will no doubt intrude. Suddenly, amid all your other worries, you begin to contemplate that nonspecific pain you’ve been having in your side, that sense of exhaustion lately, that frequent headache. The realization hits you-I’m sick, fatally sick! Oh, why didn’t I recognize the symptoms, why did I have to deny it, why didn’t I go to the doctor?

When it’s two-thirty on those mornings, I always have a brain tumor. These are very useful for that sort of terror, because you can attribute every conceivable nonspecific symptom to a brain tumor and justify your panic. Perhaps you do, too; or maybe you lie there thinking that you have cancer, or an ulcer, or that you’ve just had a stroke.

Even though I don’t know you, I feel confident in predicting that you don’t lie there thinking, “I just know it; l have leprosy.” True? You are exceedingly unlikely to obsess about getting a serious case of dysentery if it starts pouring. And few of us lie there feeling convinced that our bodies are teeming with intestinal parasites or liver flukes.

Of course not. Our nights are not filled with worries about scarlet fever, malaria, or bubonic plague. Cholera doesn’t run rampant through our communities; river blindness, black water fever, and elephantiasis are third world exotica. Few female readers will die in childbirth, and even fewer of those reading this page are likely to be malnourished.

Thanks to revolutionary advances in medicine and public health, our patterns of disease have changed, and we are no longer kept awake at night worrying about infectious diseases (except, of course, AIDS or tuberculosis) or the diseases of poor nutrition or hygiene. As a measure of this, consider the leading causes of death in the United States in 1900: pneumonia, tuberculosis, and influenza (and, if you were young, female, and inclined toward risk taking, childbirth). When is the last time you heard of scads of people dying of the flu? Yet the flu, in 1918 alone, killed many times more people than throughout the course of that most barbaric of conflicts, WWar 1.

Influenza pandemic, 1918.

Our current patterns of disease would be unrecognizable to our great-grandparents or, for that matter, to most mammals. Put succinctly, we get different diseases and are likely to die in different ways from most of our ancestors (or from most humans currently living in the less privileged areas of this planet). Our nights are filled with worries about a different class of diseases; we are now living well enough and long enough to slowly fall apart.

The diseases that plague us now are ones of slow accumulation of damage, heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disorders. While none of these diseases is particularly pleasant, they certainly mark a big improvement over succumbing at age twenty after a week of sepsis or dengue fever. Along with this relatively recent shift in the patterns of disease have come changes in the way we perceive the disease process. We have come to recognize the vastly complex intertwining of our biology and our emotions, the endless ways in which our personalities, feelings, and thoughts both reflect and influence the events in our bodies. One of the most interesting manifestations of this recognition is understanding that extreme emotional disturbances can adversely affect us. Put in the parlance with which we have grown familiar, stress can make us sick, and a critical shift in medicine has been the recognition that many of the damaging diseases of slow accumulation can be either caused or made far worse by stress.

In some respects this is nothing new. Centuries ago, sensitive clinicians intuitively recognized the role of individual differences in vulnerability to disease. Two individuals could get the same disease, yet the courses of their illness could be quite different and in vague, subjective ways might reflect the personal characteristics of the individuals. Or a clinician might have sensed that certain types of people were more likely to contract certain types of disease.

But since the twentieth century, the addition of rigorous science to these vague clinical perceptions has made stress physiology, the study of how the body responds to stressful events-a real discipline. As a result, there is now an extraordinary amount of physiological, biochemical, and molecular information available as to how all sorts of intangibles in our lives can affect very real bodily events. These intangibles can include emotional turmoil, psychological characteristics, our position in society, and how our society treats people of that position. And they can influence medical issues such as whether cholesterol gums up our blood vessels or is safely cleared from the circulation, whether our fat cells stop listening to insulin and plunge us into diabetes, whether neurons in our brain will survive five minutes without oxygen during a cardiac arrest.

This book is a primer about stress, stress related disease, and the mechanisms of coping with stress.

How is it that our bodies can adapt to some stressful emergencies, while other ones make us sick? Why are some of us especially vulnerable to stress-related diseases, and what does that have to do with our personalities? How can purely psychological turmoil make us sick? What might stress have to do with our vulnerability to depression, the speed at which we age, or how well our memories work? What do our patterns of stress-related diseases have to do with where we stand on the rungs of society’s ladder?

Finally, how can we increase the effectiveness with which we cope with the stressful world that surrounds us?

Some Initial Concepts

Perhaps the best way to begin is by making a mental list of the sorts of things we find stressful. No doubt you would immediately come up with some obvious examples traffic, deadlines, family relationships, money worries.

But what if I said, “You’re thinking like a speciocentric human. Think like a zebra for a second.” Suddenly, new items might appear at the top of your list, serious physical injury, predators, starvation. The need for that prompting illustrates something critical, you and l are more likely to get an ulcer than a zebra is. For animals like zebras, the most upsetting things in life are acute physical crises. You are that zebra, a lion has just leapt out and ripped your stomach open, you’ve managed to get away, and now you have to spend the next hour evading the lion as it continues to stalk you. Or, perhaps just as stressfully, you are that lion, half-starved, and you had better be able to sprint across the savanna at top speed and grab something to eat or you won’t survive. These are extremely stressful events, and they demand immediate physiological adaptations if you are going to live. Your body’s responses are brilliantly adapted for handling this sort of emergency.

An organism can also be plagued by chronic physical challenges. The locusts have eaten your crops, and for the next six months, you have to wander a dozen miles a day to get enough food. Drought, famine, parasites, that sort of unpleasantness, not the sort of experience we have often, but central events in the lives of nonwesternized humans and most other mammals. The body’s stress-responses are reasonably good at handling these sustained disasters.

Critical to this book is a third category of ways to get upset, psychological and social disruptions. Regardless of how poorly we are getting along with a family member or how incensed we are about losing a parking spot, we rarely settle that sort of thing with a fistfight. Likewise, it is a rare event when we have to stalk and personally wrestle down our dinner.

Essentially, we humans live well enough and long enough, and are smart enough, to generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads.

How many hippos worry about whether Social Security is going to last as long as they will, or what they are going to say on a first date? Viewed from the perspective of the evolution of the animal kingdom, sustained psychological stress is a recent invention, mostly limited to humans and other social primates. We can experience wildly strong emotions (provoking our bodies into an accompanying uproar) linked to mere thoughts? Two people can sit facing each other, doing nothing more physically strenuous than moving little pieces of wood now and then, yet this can be an emotionally taxing event: chess grand masters, during their tournaments, can place metabolic demands on their bodies that begin to approach those of athletes during the peak of a competitive event.

Or a person can do nothing more exciting than sign a piece of paper: if she has just signed the order to fire a hated rival after months of plotting and maneuvering, her physiological responses might be shockingly similar to those of a savanna baboon who has just lunged and slashed the face of a competitor. And if someone spends months on end twisting his innards in anxiety, anger, and tension over some emotional problem, this might very well lead to illness.

This is the critical point of this book: if you are that zebra running for your life, or that lion sprinting for your meal, your body’s physiological response mechanisms are superbly adapted for dealing with such short-term physical emergencies.

For the vast majority of beasts on this planet, stress is about a short-term crisis, after which it’s either over with or you’re over with.

When we sit around and worry about stressful things, we turn on the same physiological responses, but they are potentially a disaster when provoked chronically. A large body of evidence suggests that stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we so often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions.

This difference between the ways that we get stressed and the ways a zebra does lets us begin to wrestle with some definitions. To start, I must call forth a concept that you were tortured with in ninth-grade biology and hopefully have not had to think about since-homeostasis. Ah, that dimly remembered concept, the idea that the body has an ideal level of oxygen that it needs, an ideal degree of acidity, an ideal temperature, and so on. All these different variables are maintained in homeostatic balance, the state in which all sorts of physiological measures are being kept at the optimal level. The brain, it has been noted, has evolved to seek homeostasis.

This allows us to generate some simple initial working definitions that would suffice for a zebra or a lion. A stressor is anything in the outside world that knocks you out of homeostatic balance, and the stress-response is what your body does to reestablish homeostasis.

But when we consider ourselves and our human propensity to worry ourselves sick, we have to expand on the notion of stressors merely being things that knock you out of homeostatic balance. A stressor can also be the anticipation of that happening. Sometimes we are smart enough to see things coming and, based only on anticipation, can turn on a stress-response as robust as if the event had actually occurred.

Some aspects of anticipatory stress are not unique to humans whether, you are a human surrounded by a bunch of thugs in a deserted subway station or a zebra face to face with a lion, your heart is probably racing, even though nothing physically damaging has occurred (yet). But unlike less cognitively sophisticated species, we can turn on the stress-response by thinking about potential stressors that may throw us out of homeostatic balance far in the future. For example, think of the African farmer watching a swarm of locusts descend on his crops. He has eaten an adequate breakfast and is not suffering the homeostatic imbalance of starving, but that farmer will still be undergoing a stress-response. Zebras and lions may see trouble coming in the next minute and mobilize a stress-response in anticipation, but they can’t get stressed about events far in the future.

And sometimes we humans can be stressed by things that simply make no sense to zebras or lions. It is not a general mammalian trait to become anxious about mortgages or the Internal Revenue Service, about public speaking or fears of what you will say in a job interview, about the inevitability of death. Our human experience is replete with psychological stressors, a far cry from the physical world of hunger, injury, blood loss, or temperature extremes. When we activate the stress-response out of fear of something that turns out to be real, we congratulate ourselves that this cognitive skill allows us to mobilize our defenses early. And these anticipatory defenses can be quite protective, in that a lot of what the stress-response is about is preparative. But when we get into a physiological uproar and activate the stress-response for no reason at all, or over something we cannot do anything about, we call it things like “anxiety,” “neurosis, paranoia,” or “needless hostility.”

Thus, the stress-response can be mobilized not only in response to physical or psychological insults, but also in expectation of them. It is this generality of the stress-response that is the most surprising, a physiological system activated not only by all sorts of physical disasters but by just thinking about them as well. This generality was first appreciated about sixty-five years ago by one of the godfathers of stress physiology, Hans Selye. To be only a bit facetious, stress physiology exists as a discipline because this man was both a very insightful scientist and lame at handling lab rats.

In the 1930s, Selye was just beginning his work in endocrinology, the study of hormonal communication in the body. Naturally, as a young, unheard-of assistant professor, he was fishing around for something with which to start his research career. A biochemist down the hall had just isolated some sort of extract from the ovary, and colleagues were wondering what this ovarian extract did to the body. So Selye obtained some of the stuff from the biochemist and set about studying its effects. He attempted to inject his rats daily, but apparently not with a great display of dexterity. Selye would try to inject the rats, miss them, drop them, spend half the morning chasing the rats around the room or vice versa, flailing with a broom to get them out from behind the sink, and so on. At the end of a number of months of this, Selye examined the rats and discovered something extraordinary: the rats had peptic ulcers, greatly enlarged adrenal glands (the source of two important stress hormones), and shrunken immune tissues. He was delighted; he had discovered the effects of the mysterious ovarian extract.

Being a good scientist, he ran a control group: rats injected daily with saline alone, instead of the ovarian extract. And, thus, every day they too were injected, dropped, chased, and chased back. At the end, lo and behold, the control rats had the same peptic ulcers, enlarged adrenal glands, and atrophy of tissues of the immune system.

Now, your average budding scientist at this point might throw up his or her hands and furtively apply to business school. But Selye, instead, reasoned through what he had observed. The physiological changes couldn’t be due to the ovarian extract after all, since the same changes occurred in both the control and the experimental groups. What did the two groups of rats have in common? Selye reasoned that it was his less than trauma free injections. Perhaps, he thought, these changes in the rats’ bodies were some sort of nonspecific responses of the body to generic unpleasantness. To test this idea, he put some rats on the roof of the research building in the winter, others down in the boiler room. Still others were exposed to forced exercise, or to surgical procedures. In all cases, he found increased incidences of peptic ulcers, adrenal enlargement, and atrophy of immune tissues.

We know now exactly what Selye was observing. He had just discovered the tip of the iceberg of stress-related disease. Legend (mostly promulgated by Selye himself) has it that Selye was the person who, searching for a way to describe the nonspecificity of the unpleasantness to which the rats were responding, borrowed a term from physics and proclaimed that the rats were undergoing “stress.” In fact, by the 1920s the term had already been introduced to medicine in roughly the sense that we understand it today by a physiologist named Walter Cannon. What Selye did was to formalize the concept with two ideas:

1. The body has a surprisingly similar set of responses (which he called the general adaptation syndrome, but which we now call the stress-response) to a broad array of stressors.

2. If stressors go on for too long, they can make you sick.

Appropriate Concept of Allostasis

The homeostasis concept has been modified in recent years in work originated by Peter Sterling and Joseph Eyer of the University of Pennsylvania and extended by Bruce McEwen of Rockefeller University. They have produced a new framework that I steadfastly tried to ignore at first and have now succumbed to, because it brilliantly modernizes the homeostasis concept in a way that works even better in making sense of stress (although not all folks in my business have embraced it, using “old wine in a new bottle” imagery).

The original conception of homeostasis was grounded in two ideas. First, there is a single optimal level, number, amount for any given measure in the body. But that can’t be true, after all, the ideal blood pressure when you’re sleeping is likely to be different than when you’re ski jumping. What’s ideal under basal conditions is different than during stress, something central to allostatic thinking. (The field uses this Zen-ish sound bite about how allostasis is about “constancy through change.” I’m not completely sure I understand what that means, but it always elicits meaningful and reinforcing nods when I toss it out in a lecture.)

The second idea in homeostasis is that you reach that ideal set point through some local regulatory mechanism, whereas allostasis recognizes that any given set point can be regulated in a zillion different ways, each with its own consequences. Thus, suppose there’s a water shortage in California. Homeostatic solution: mandate smaller toilet tanks; Allostatic solutions: smaller toilet tanks, convince people to conserve water, buy rice from Southeast Asia instead of doing water-intensive farming in a semi-arid state. Or suppose there’s a water shortage in your body. Homeostatic solution: kidneys are the ones that figure this out, tighten things up there, produce less urine for water conservation. Allostatic solutions: brain figures this out, tells the kidneys to do their thing, sends signals to withdraw water from parts of your body where it easily evaporates (skin, mouth, nose), makes you feel thirsty. Homeostasis is about tinkering with this valve or that gizmo. Allostasis is about the brain coordinating body-wide changes, often including changes in behavior.

A final feature of allostatic thinking dovetails beautifully with thinking about stressed humans. The body doesn’t pull off all this regulatory complexity only to correct some set point that has gone awry. It can also make allostatic changes in anticipation of a set point that is likely to go awry. And thus we hark back to the critical point of a few pages backwards, don’t get stressed being chased by predators. We activate the stressresponse in anticipation of challenges, and typically those challenges are the purely psychological and social tumult that would make no sense to a zebra. We’ll be returning repeatedly to what allostasis has to say about stress-related disease.

What Your Body Does to Adapt To an Acute Stressor

Within this expanded framework, a stressor can be defined as anything that throws your body out of allostatic balance and the stress-response is your body’s attempt to restore allostasis. The secretion of certain hormones, the inhibition of others, the activation of particular parts of the nervous system, and so on. And regardless of the stressor, injured, starving, too hot, too cold, or psychologically stressed, you turn on the same stress-response.

It is this generality that is puzzling. If you are trained in physiology, it makes no sense at first glance. ln physiology, one is typically taught that specific challenges to the body trigger specific responses and adaptations. Warming a body causes sweating and dilation of blood vessels in the skin. Chilling a body causes just the opposite, constriction of those vessels and shivering. Being too hot seems to be a very specific and different physiological challenge from being too cold, and it would seem logical that the body’s responses to these two very different states should be extremely different. Instead, what kind of crazy bodily system is this that is turned on whether you are too hot or too cold, whether you are the zebra, the lion, or a terrified adolescent going to a high school dance? Why should your body have such a generalized and stereotypical stress-response, regardless of the predicament you find yourself in?

When you think about it, it actually makes sense, given the adaptations brought about by the stress-response. If you’re some bacterium stressed by food shortage, you go into a suspended, dormant state. But if you’re a starving lion, you’re going to have to run after someone. If you’re some plant stressed by someone intent on eating you, you stick poisonous chemicals in your leaves. But if you’re a zebra being chased by that lion, you have to run for it.

For us vertebrates, the core of the stress-response is built around the fact that your muscles are going to work like crazy. And thus the muscles need energy, right now, in the most readily utilizable form, rather than stored away somewhere in your fat cells for some building project next spring. One of the hallmarks of the stress-response is the rapid mobilization of energy from storage sites and the inhibition of further storage. Glucose and the simplest forms of proteins and fats come pouring out of your fat cells, liver, and muscles, all to stoke whichever muscles are struggling to save your neck.

If your body has mobilized all that glucose, it also needs to deliver it to the critical muscles as rapidly as possible. Heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate increase, all to transport nutrients and oxygen at greater rates.

Equally logical is another feature of the stress response. During an emergency, it makes sense that your body halts long-term, expensive building projects. If there is a tornado bearing down on the house, this isn’t the day to repaint the garage. Hold off on the long-term projects until you know there is a long term. Thus, during stress, digestion is inhibited-there isn’t enough time to derive the energetic benefits of the slow process of digestion, so why waste energy on it? You have better things to do than digest breakfast when you are trying to avoid being someone’s lunch. The same thing goes for growth and reproduction, both expensive, optimistic things to be doing with your body (especially if you are female). If the lion’s on your tail, two steps behind you, worry about ovulating or growing antlers or making sperm some other time. During stress, growth and tissue repair is curtailed, sexual drive decreases in both sexes; females are less likely to ovulate or to carry pregnancies to term, while males begin to have trouble with erections and secrete less testosterone.

Along with these changes, immunity is also inhibited. The immune system, which defends against infections and illness, is ideal for spotting the tumor cell that will kill you in a year, or making enough antibodies to protect you in a few weeks, but is it really needed this instant? The logic here appears to be the same, look for tumors some other time; expend the energy more wisely now. (As we will see, there are some major problems with this idea that the immune system is suppressed during stress in order to save energy. But that idea will suffice for the moment.)

Another feature of the stress-response becomes apparent during times of extreme physical pain. With sufficiently sustained stress, our perception of pain can become blunted. It’s the middle of a battle; soldiers are storming a stronghold with wild abandon. A soldier is shot, grievously injured, and the man doesn’t even notice it. He’ll see blood on his clothes and worry that one of his buddies near him has been wounded, or he’ll wonder why his innards feel numb. As the battle fades, someone will point with amazement at his injury-didn’t it hurt like hell? It didn’t. Such stress-induced analgesia is highly adaptive and well documented. If you are that zebra and your innards are dragging in the dust, you still have to escape. Now would not be a particularly clever time to go into shock from extreme pain.

Finally, during stress, shifts occur in cognitive and sensory skills. Suddenly certain aspects of memory improve, which is always helpful if you’re trying to figure out how to get out of an emergency (Has this happened before? Is there a good hiding place?). Moreover, your senses become sharper. Think about watching a terrifying movie on television, on the edge of your seat at the tensest part. The slightest noise, a creaking door, and you nearly jump out of your skin. Better memory, sharper detection of sensations-all quite adaptive and helpful.

Collectively, the stress-response is ideally adapted for that zebra or lion. Energy is mobilized and delivered to the tissues that need them; longterm building and repair projects are deferred until the disaster has passed. Pain is blunted, cognition sharpened.

Walter Cannon, the physiologist who, at the beginning of the century, paved the way for much of Selye’s work and is generally considered the other godfather of the field, concentrated on the adaptive aspect of the stress-response in dealing with emergencies such as these. He formulated the well-known “fight-or-flight” syndrome to describe the stress-response, and he viewed it in a very positive light. His books, with titles such as The Wisdom of the Body, were suffused with a pleasing optimism about the ability of the body to weather all sorts of stressors.

Yet stressful events can sometimes make us sick. Why?

Selye, with his ulcerated rats, wrestled with this puzzle and came up with an answer that was sufficiently wrong that it is generally thought to have cost him a Nobel Prize for all his other work.

He developed a three-part view of how the stress response worked. In the initial (alarm) stage a stressor is noted; metaphorical alarms go off in your head, telling you that you are hemorrhaging, too cold, low on blood sugar, or whatever.

The second stage (adaptation, or resistance) comes with the successful mobilization of the stressresponse system and the reattainment of allostatic balance.

It is with prolonged stress that one enters the third stage, which Selye termed “exhaustion,” where stress-related diseases emerge. Selye believed that one becomes sick at that point because stores of the hormones secreted during the stress-response are depleted. Like an army that runs out of ammunition, suddenly we have no defenses left against the threatening stressor.

It is very rare, however, as we will see, that any of the crucial hormones are actually depleted during even the most sustained of stressors. The army does not run out of bullets. Instead, the body spends so much on the defense budget that it neglects education and health care and social services (okay, so I may have a hidden agenda here).

It is not so much that the stress-response runs out, but rather, with sufficient activation, that the stress-response can become more damaging than the stressor itself, especially when the stress is purely psychological. This is a critical concept, because it underlies the emergence of much stress-related disease.

That the stress-response itself can become harmful makes a certain sense when you examine the things that occur in reaction to stress. They are generally shortsighted, inefficient, and pennywise and dollar-foolish, but they are the sorts of costly things your body has to do to respond effectively in an emergency. And if you experience every day as an emergency, you will pay the price.

If you constantly mobilize energy at the cost of energy storage, you will never store any surplus energy. You will fatigue more rapidly, and your risk of developing a form of diabetes will even increase. The consequences of chronically activating your cardiovascular system are similarly damaging: if your blood pressure rises to 180/100 when you are sprinting away from a lion, you are being adaptive, but if it is 180/100 every time you see the mess in your teenager’s bedroom, you could be heading for a cardiovascular disaster.

If you constantly turn off long-term building projects, nothing is ever repaired. For paradoxical reasons that will be explained in later chapters, you become more at risk for peptic ulcers. In kids, growth can be inhibited to the point of a rare but recognized pediatric endocrine disorder, stress dwarfism, and in adults, repair and remodeling of bone and other tissues can be disrupted. If you are constantly under stress, a variety of reproductive disorders may ensue. In females, menstrual cycles can become irregular or cease entirely; in males, sperm count and testosterone levels may decline. In both sexes, interest in sexual behavior decreases.

But that is only the start of your problems in response to chronic or repeated stressors. If you suppress immune function too long and too much, you are now more likely to fall victim to a number of infectious diseases, and be less capable of combating them once you have them.

Finally, the same systems of the brain that function more cleverly during stress can also be damaged by one class of hormones secreted during stress. As will be discussed, this may have something to do with how rapidly our brains lose cells during aging, and how much memory loss occurs with old age.

All of this is pretty grim. In the face of repeated stressors, we may be able to precariously reattain allostasis, but it doesn’t come cheap, and the efforts to reestablish that balance will eventually wear us down.

Here’s a way to think about it: the “two elephants on a seesaw” model of stressrelated disease. Put two little kids on a seesaw, and they can pretty readily balance themselves on it. This is allostatic balance when nothing stressful is going on, with the children representing the low levels of the various stress hormones that will be presented in coming chapters. In contrast, the torrents of those same stress hormones released by a stressor can be thought of as two massive elephants on the seesaw. With great effort, they can balance themselves as well. But if you constantly try to balance a seesaw with two elephants instead of two little kids, all sorts of problems will emerge:

– First, the enormous potential energies of the two elephants are consumed balancing the seesaw, instead of being able to do something more useful, like mowing the lawn or paying the bills. This is equivalent to diverting energy from various long-term building projects in order to solve short-term stressful emergencies.

– By using two elephants to do the job, damage will occur just because of how large, lumbering, and unsubtle elephants are. They squash the flowers in the process of entering the playground, they strew leftovers and garbage all over the place from the frequent snacks they must eat while balancing the seesaw, they wear out the seesaw faster, and so on. This is equivalent to a pattern of stress-related disease that will run through many of the subsequent chapters: it is hard to fix one major problem in the body without knocking something else out of balance (the very essence of allostasis spreading across systems throughout the body). Thus, you may be able to solve one bit of imbalance brought on during stress by using your elephants (your massive levels of various stress hormones), but such great quantities of those hormones can make a mess of something else in the process. And a long history of doing this produces wear and tear throughout the body, termed allostatic load.

– A final, subtle problem: when two elephants are balanced on a seesaw, it’s tough for them to get off. Either one hops off and the other comes crashing to the ground, or there’s the extremely delicate task of coordinating their delicate, lithe leaps at the same time. This is a metaphor for another theme that will run through subsequent chapters, sometimes stress-related disease can arise from turning off the stress response too slowly, or turning off the different components of the stress response at different speeds. When the secretion rate of one of the hormones of the stress response returns to normal yet another of the hormones is still being secreted like mad, it can be the equivalent of one elephant suddenly being left alone on the seesaw, crashing to earth?

The preceding pages should allow you to begin to appreciate the two punch lines of this book:

The first is that if you plan to get stressed like a normal mammal, dealing with an acute physical challenge, and you cannot appropriately turn on the stress-response, you’re in big trouble. To see this, all you have to do is examine someone who cannot activate the stress-response. As will be explained in the coming chapters, two critical classes of hormones are secreted during stress. In one disorder, Addison’s disease, you are unable to secrete one class of these hormones.

In another, called Shy-Drager syndrome, it is the secretion of the second class of hormones that is impaired. People with Addison’s disease or Shy Drager syndrome are not more at risk for cancer or diabetes or any other such disorders of slow accumulation of damage. However, people with untreated Addison’s disease, when faced with a major stressor such as a car accident or an infectious illness, fall into an “Addisonian” crisis, where their blood pressure drops, they cannot maintain circulation, they go into shock. In Shy-Drager syndrome, it is hard enough simply to stand up, let alone go sprinting after a zebra for dinner-mere standing causes a severe drop in blood pressure, involuntary twitching and rippling of muscles, dizziness, all sorts of unpleasantness.

These two diseases teach something important, namely, that you need the stress-response during physical challenges. Addison’s and Shy-Drager represent catastrophic failures of turning on the stress-response. In coming chapters, I will discuss some disorders that involve subtler undersecretion of stress hormones. These include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, a subtype of depression, critically ill patients, and possibly individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

That first punch line is obviously critical, especially for the zebra who occasionally has to run for its life. But the second punch line is far more relevant to us, sitting frustrated in traffic jams, worrying about expenses, mulling over tense interactions with colleagues. If you repeatedly turn on the stress-response, or if you cannot turn off the stress-response at the end of a stressful event, the stress-response can eventually become damaging.

A large percentage of what we think of when we talk about stress related diseases are disorders of excessive stress-responses.

A few important qualifications are necessary concerning that last statement, which is one of the central ideas of this book. On a superficial level, the message it imparts might seem to be that stressors make you sick or, as emphasized in the last few pages, that chronic or repeated stressors make you sick. It is actually more accurate to say that chronic or repeated stressors can potentially make you sick or can increase your risk of being sick. Stressors, even if massive, repetitive, or chronic in nature, do not automatically lead to illness. And the theme of the last section of this book is to make sense of why some people develop stress-related diseases more readily than others, despite the same stressor.

An additional point should be emphasized. To state that “chronic or repeated stressors can increase your risk of being sick” is actually incorrect, but in a subtle way that will initially seem like semantic nit-picking. It is never really the case that stress makes you sick, or even increases your risk of being sick. Stress increases your risk of getting diseases that make you sick, or if you have such a disease, stress increases the risk of your defenses being overwhelmed by the disease. This distinction is important in a few ways.

First, by putting more steps between a stressor and getting sick, there are more explanations for individual differences, why only some people wind up actually getting sick. Moreover, by clarifying the progression between stressors and illness, it becomes easier to design ways to intervene in the process.

Finally, it begins to explain why the stress concept often seems so suspect or slippery to many medical practitioners, clinical medicine is traditionally quite good at being able to make statements like “You feel sick because you have disease X,” but is usually quite bad at being able to explain why you got disease X in the first place. Thus, medical practitioners often say, in effect, “You feel sick because you have disease X, not because of some nonsense having to do with stress; however, this ignores the stressors’ role in bringing about or worsening the disease in the first place.

With this framework in mind, we can now begin the task of understanding the individual steps in this system. Chapter 2 introduces the hormones and brain systems involved in the stress response: which ones are activated during stress, which ones are inhibited? This leads the way to chapters 3 through 10, which examine the individual systems of your body that are affected.

How do those hormones enhance cardiovascular tone during stress, and how does chronic stress cause heart disease? How do those hormones and neural systems mobilize energy during stress, and how does too much stress cause energetic diseases (chapter 4)?

Chapter 11 examines the interactions between stress and sleep, focusing on the vicious circle of how stress can disrupt sleep and how sleep deprivation is a stressor.

Chapter 12 examines the role of stress in the aging process and the disturbing recent findings that sustained exposure to certain of the hormones secreted during stress may actually accelerate the aging of the brain. As will be seen, these processes are often more complicated and subtle than they may seem from the simple picture presented in this chapter.

Chapter 13 ushers in a topic obviously of central importance to understanding our own propensity toward stress-related disease: why is psychological stress stressful? This serves as a prelude to the remaining chapters.

Chapter 14. reviews major depression, a horrible psychiatric malady that afflicts vast numbers of us and is often closely related to psychological stress.

Chaptrr 15 discusses what personality differences have to do with individual differences in patterns of stress-related disease. This is the world of anxiety disorders and Type A-ness, plus some surprises about unexpected links between personality and the stress-response.

Chapter 16 considers a puzzling issue that lurks throughout reading this book, sometimes stress feels good, good enough that we’ll pay good money to be stressed by a scary movie or roller-coaster ride. Thus, the chapter considers when stress is a good thing, and the interactions between the sense of pleasure that can be triggered by some stressors and the process of addiction.

Chapter 17 focuses above the level of the individual, looking at what your place in society, and the type of society in which you live, has to do with patterns of stress-related disease. If you plan to go no further, here’s one of the punch lines of that chapter:

If you want to increase your chances of avoiding stress-related diseases, make sure you don’t inadvertently allow yourself to be born poor.

In many ways, the ground to be covered up to the final chapter is all bad news, as we are regaled with the evidence about new and unlikely parts of our bodies and minds that are made miserable by stress.

The final chapter is meant to give some hope. Given the same external stressors, certain bodies and certain psyches deal with stress better than others. What are those folks doing right, and what can the rest of us learn from them? We’ll look at the main principles of stress management and some surprising and exciting realms in which they have been applied with stunning success. While the intervening chapters document our numerous vulnerabilities to stress-related disease, the final chapter shows that we have an enormous potential to protect ourselves from many of them. Most certainly, all is not lost.

*

2 Glands, Gooseflesh, and Hormones

In order to begin the process of learning how stress can make us sick, there is something about the workings of the brain that we have to appreciate. It is perhaps best illustrated in the following rather technical paragraph from an early investigator in the field:

As she melted small and wonderful in his arms, she became infinitely desirable to him, all his blood vessels seemed to scald with intense yet tender desire, for her, for her softness, for the penetrating beauty of her in his arms, passing into his blood. And softly, with that marvelous swoon-like caress of his hand in pure soft desire, softly he stroked the silky slope of her loins, down, down between her soft, warm buttocks, coming nearer and nearer to the very quick of her. And she felt him like a flame of desire, yet tender, and she felt herself melting in the flame. She let herself go. She felt his penis risen against her with silent amazing force and assertion, and she let herself go to him. She yielded with a quiver that was like death, she went all open to him.

Now think about this. If D. H. Lawrence is to your taste, there may be some interesting changes occurring in your body. You haven’t just run up a flight of stairs, but maybe your heart is beating faster. The temperature has not changed in the room, but you may have just activated a sweat gland or two. And even though certain rather sensitive parts of your body are not being overtly stimulated by touch, you are suddenly very aware of them.

You sit in your chair not moving a muscle, and simply think a thought, a thought having to do with feeling angry or sad or euphoric or lustful, and suddenly your pancreas secretes some hormone. Your pancreas? How did you manage to do that with your pancreas? You don’t even know where your pancreas is. Your liver is making an enzyme that wasn’t there before, your spleen is text-messaging something to your thymus gland, blood flow in little capillaries in your ankles has just changed. All from thinking a thought.

We all understand intellectually that the brain can regulate functions throughout the rest of the body, but it is still surprising to be reminded of how far-reaching those effects can be. The purpose of this chapter is to learn a bit about the lines of communication between the brain and elsewhere, in order to see which sites are activated and which are quieted when you are sitting in your chair and feeling severely stressed.

This is a prerequisite for seeing how the stressresponse can save your neck during a sprint across the savanna, but make you sick during months of worry.

Stress and the Autonomic Nervous System

Outline of some of the effects of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems on various organs and glands.

The principal way in which your brain can tell the rest of the body what to do is to send messages through the nerves that branch from your brain down your spine and out to the periphery of your body. One dimension of this communication system is pretty straightforward and familiar. The voluntary nervous system is a conscious one. You decide to move a muscle and it happens. This part of the nervous system allows you to shake hands or fill out your tax forms or do a polka.

It is another branch of the nervous system that projects to organs besides skeletal muscle, and this part controls the other interesting things your body does, blushing, getting gooseflesh, having an orgasm. In general, we have less control over what our brain says to our sweat glands, for example, than to our thigh muscles. (The workings of this automatic nervous system are not entirely out of our control, however; biofeedback, for example, consists of learning to alter this automatic function consciously. Potty training is another example of us gaining mastery. On a more mundane level, we are doing the same thing when we repress a loud burp during a wedding ceremony. The set of nerve projections to places like sweat glands carry messages that are relatively involuntary and automatic.

It is thus termed the autonomic nervous system, and it has everything to do with your response to stress. One half of this system is activated in response to stress, one half is suppressed. The half of the autonomic nervous system that is turned on is called the sympathetic nervous system. Originating in the brain, sympathetic projections exit your spine and branch out to nearly every organ, every blood vessel, and every sweat gland in your body. They even project to the scads of tiny little muscles attached to hairs on your body. If you are truly terrified by something and activate those projections, your hair stands on end; gooseflesh results when the parts of your body are activated where those muscles exist but lack hairs attached to them.

The sympathetic nervous system kicks into action during emergencies, or what you think are emergencies. It helps mediate vigilance, arousal, activation, mobilization. To generations of firstyear medical students, it is described through the obligatory lame joke about the sympathetic nervous system mediating the four F’s of behavior -flight, fight, fright, and sex. It is the archetypal system that is turned on at times when life gets exciting or alarming, such as during stress. The nerve endings of this system release adrenaline. When someone jumps out from behind a door and startles you, it’s your sympathetic nervous system releasing adrenaline that causes your stomach to clutch. Sympathetic nerve endings also release the closely related substance noradrenaline. (Adrenaline and noradrenaline are actually British designations; the American terms, which will be used from now on, are epinephrine and norepinephrine.)

Epinephrine is secreted as a result of the actions of the sympathetic nerve endings in your adrenal glands (located just above your kidneys); norepinephrine is secreted by all the other sympathetic nerve endings throughout the body. These are the chemical messengers that kick various organs into gear, within seconds.

The other half of the autonomic nervous system plays an opposing role. This parasympathetic component mediates calm, vegetative activities everything but the four F’s. If you are a growing kid and you have gone to sleep, your parasympathetic system is activated. It promotes growth, energy storage, and other optimistic processes. Have a huge meal, sit there bloated and happily drowsy, and the parasympathetic is going like gangbusters. Sprint for your life across the savanna, gasping and trying to control the panic, and you’ve turned the parasympathetic component down.

Thus, the autonomic system works in opposition: sympathetic and parasympathetic projections from the brain course their way out to a particular organ where, when activated, they bring about opposite results. The sympathetic system speeds up the heart; the parasympathetic system slows it down. The sympathetic system diverts blood flow to your muscles; the parasympathetic does the opposite. It’s no surprise that it would be a disaster if both branches were very active at the same time, kind of like putting your foot on the gas and brake simultaneously. Lots of safety features exist to make sure that does not happen. For example, the parts of the brain that activate one of the two branches typicaliy inhibit the other.

Your Brain: The Real Master Gland

The neural route represented by the sympathetic system is a first means by which the brain can mobilize waves of activity in response to a stressor. There is another way as well-through the secretion of hormones.

If a neuron (a cell of the nervous system) secretes a chemical messenger that travels a thousandth of an inch and causes the next cell in line (typically, another neuron) to do something different, that messenger is called a neurotransmitter. Thus, when the sympathetic nerve endings in your heart secrete norepinephrine, which causes heart muscle to work differently, norepinephrine is playing a neurotransmitter role. If a neuron (or any cell) secretes a messenger that, instead, percolates into the bloodstream and affects events far and wide, that messenger is a hormone. All sorts of glands secrete hormones; the secretion of some of them is turned on during stress, and the secretion of others is turned off.

What does the brain have to do with all of these glands secreting hormones? People used to think, “Nothing.”

The assumption was that the peripheral glands of the body, your pancreas, your adrenal, your ovaries, your testes, and so on, in some mysterious way “knew” what they were doing, had “minds of their own.” They would “decide” when to secrete their messengers, without directions from any other organ. This erroneous idea gave rise to a rather silly fad during the early part of the twentieth century. Scientists noted that men’s sexual drive declined with age, and assumed that this occurs because the testicles of aging men secrete less male sex hormone, testosterone. (Actually, no one knew about the hormone testosterone at the time; they just referred to mysterious “male factors” in the testes. And in fact, testosterone levels do not plummet with age. Instead, the decline is moderate and highly variable from one male to the next, and even a decline in testosterone to perhaps 10 percent of normal levels does not have much of an effect on sexual behavior.)

Making another leap, they then ascribed aging to diminishing sexual drive, to lower levels of male factors. (One may then wonder why females, without testes, manage to grow old, but the female half of the population didn’t figure much in these ideas back then.) How, then, to reverse aging? Give the aging males some testicular extracts.

Soon, aged, monied gentlemen were checking into impeccable Swiss sanitariums and getting injected daily in their rears with testicular extracts from dogs, from roosters, from monkeys. You could even go out to the stockyards of the sanitarium and pick out the goat of your choicejust like picking lobsters in a restaurant (and more than one gentleman arrived for his appointment with his own prized animal in tow).

This soon led to an offshoot of such “rejuvenation therapy,” namely, “organotherapy”, the grafting of little bits of testes themselves. Thus was born the “monkey gland” craze, the term gland being used because journalists were forbidden to print the racy word testes. Captains of industry, heads of state, at least one pope, all signed up. And in the aftermath of the carnage of World War I, there was such a shortage of young men and such a surfeit of marriages of younger women to older men, that therapy of this sort seemed pretty important.

Advertisement, New York Therapeutic Review, 1893.

Naturally, the problem was that it didn’t work. There wasn’t any testosterone in the testicular extracts-patients would be injected with a waterbased extract, and testosterone does not go into solution in water. And the smidgens of organs that were transplanted would die almost immediately, with the scar tissue being mistaken for a healthy graft. And even if they didn’t die, they still wouldn’t work, if aging testes are secreting less testosterone, it is not because the testes are failing, but because another organ (stay tuned) is no longer telling them to do so. Put in a brand-new set of testes and they should fail also, for lack of a stimulatory signal. But not a problem. Nearly everyone reported wondrous results anyway. If you’re paying a fortune for painful daily injections of extracts of some beast’s testicles, there’s a certain incentive to decide you feel like a young bull. One big placebo effect.

With time, scientists figured out that the testes and other peripheral hormone-secreting glands were not autonomous, but were under the control of something else. Attention turned to the pituitary gland, sitting just underneath the brain. It was known that when the pituitary was damaged or diseased, hormone secretion throughout the body became disordered. In the early part of the century, careful experiments showed that a peripheral gland releases its hormone only if the pituitary first releases a hormone that kicks that gland into action.

The pituitary contains a whole array of hormones that run the show throughout the rest of the body; it is the pituitary that actually knows the game plan and regulates what all the other glands do. This realization gave rise to the memorable cliché that the pituitary is the master gland of the body.

This understanding was disseminated far and wide, mostly in the Reader’s Digest, which ran the “I Am Joe’s” series of articles (“I Am Joe’s Pancreas,” “I Am Joe’s Shinbone,” “I Am Joe’s Ovaries,” and so on). By the third paragraph of “I Am Joe’s Pituitary,” out comes that master gland business. By the 1950s, however, scientists were already learning that the pituitary wasn’t the master gland after all.

The simplest evidence was that if you removed the pituitary from a body and put it in a small bowl filled with pituitary nutrients, the gland would act abnormally. Various hormones that it would normally secrete were no longer secreted. Sure, you might say, remove any organ and throw it in some nutrient soup and it isn’t going to be good for much of anything. But, interestingly, while this “explanted” pituitary stopped secreting certain hormones, it secreted others at immensely high rates. It wasn’t just that the pituitary was traumatized and had shut down. It was acting erratically because, it turned out, the pituitary didn’t really have the whole hormonal game plan. It would normally be following orders from the brain, and there was no brain on hand in that small bowl to give directions.

The evidence for this was relatively easy to obtain. Destroy the part of the brain right near the pituitary and the pituitary stops secreting some hormones and secretes too much of others. This tells you that the brain controls certain pituitary hormones by stimulating their release and controls others by inhibiting them.

The problem was to figure out how the brain did this. By all logic, you would look for nerves to project from the brain to the pituitary (like the nerve projections to the heart and elsewhere), and for the brain to release neurotransmitters that called the shots. But no one could find these projections.

In 1944, the physiologist Geoffrey Harris proposed that the brain was also a hormonal gland, that it released hormones that traveled to the pituitary and directed the pituitary’s actions. in principle, this was not a crazy idea; a quarter-century before, one of the godfathers of the field, Ernst Scharrer, had shown that some other hormones, thought to originate from a peripheral gland, were actually made in the brain. Nevertheless, lots of scientists thought Harris’s idea was bonkers. You can get hormones from peripheral glands like ovaries, testes, pancreas-but, but your brain oozing hormones? Preposterous! This seemed not only scientifically implausible but somehow also an unseemly and indecorous thing for your brain to be doing, as opposed to writing sonnets.

Two scientists, Roger Guillemin and Andrew Schally, began looking for these brain hormones. This was a stupendously difficult task. The brain communicates with the pituitary by a minuscule circulatory system, only slightly larger than the period at the end of this sentence. You couldn’t search for these hypothetical brain “releasing hormones” and “inhibiting hormones” in the general circulation of blood; if the hormones existed, by the time they reached the voluminous general circulation, they would be diluted beyond detection. Instead, you would have to search in the tiny bits of tissue at the base of the brain containing those blood vessels going from the brain to the pituitary.

Not a trivial task, but these two scientists were up to it. They were highly motivated by the abstract intellectual puzzle of these hormones, by their potential clinical applications, by the acclaim waiting at the end of this scientific rainbow. Plus, the two of them loathed each other, which invigorated the quest. Initially, in the late 1950s, Guillemin and Schally collaborated in the search for these brain hormones. Perhaps one tired evening over the test tube rack, one of them dissed the other in some way, the actual events have sunk into historical obscurity; in any case a notorious animosity resulted, one enshrined in the annals of science at least on a par with the Greeks versus the Trojans, maybe even with Coke versus Pepsi. Guillemin and Schally went their separate ways, each intent on being the first to isolate the putative brain hormones.

How do you isolate a hormone that may not exist or that, even if it does, occurs in tiny amounts in a minuscule circulation system to which you can’t gain access? Both Guillemin and Schally hit on the same strategy. They started collecting animal brains from slaughterhouses. Cut out the part at the base of the brain, near the pituitary. Throw a bunch of those in a blender, pour the resulting brain mash into a giant test tube filled with chemicals that purify the mash, collect the droplets that come out the other end. Then inject those droplets into a rat and see if the rat’s pituitary changes its pattern of hormone release. If it does, maybe those brain droplets contain one of those imagined releasing or inhibiting hormones. Try to purify what’s in the droplets, figure out its chemical structure, make an artificial version of it, and see if that regulates pituitary function. Pretty straightforward in theory. But it took them years.

One factor in this Augean task was the scale. There was at best a minuscule amount of these hormones in any one brain, so the scientists wound up dealing with thousands of brains at a time. The great slaughterhouse war was on. Truckloads of pig or sheep brains were collected; chemists poured cauldrons of brain into monumental chemical-separation columns, while others pondered the thimblefuls of liquid that dribbled out the bottom, purifying it further in the next column and the next…. But it wasn’t just mindless assembly-line work. New types of chemistry had to be invented, completely novel ways of testing the effects in the living body of hormones that might or might not actually exist. An enormously difficult scientific problem, made worse by the fact that lots of influential people in the field believed these hormones were fictions and that these two guys were wasting a lot of time and money.

Guillemin and Schally pioneered a whole new corporate approach to doing science. One of our clichés is the lone scientist, sitting there at two in the morning, trying to figure out the meaning of a result. Here there were whole teams of chemists, biochemists, physiologists, and so on, coordinated into isolating these putative hormones.

And it worked. A “mere” fourteen years into the venture, the chemical structure of the first releasing hormone was published; Two years after that, in 1971, Schally got there with the sequence for the next hypothalamic hormone, and Guillemin published two months later. Guillemin took the next round in 1972, beating Schally to the next hormone by a solid three years. Everyone was delighted, the by-then deceased Geoffrey Harris was proved correct, and Guillemin and Schally got the Nobel Prize in 1976.

One of them, urbane and knowing what would sound right, proclaimed that he was motivated only by science and the impulse to help mankind; he noted how stimulating and productive his interactions with his co-winner had been. The other, less polished but more honest, said the competition was all that drove him for decades and described his relationship with his co-winner as “many years of vicious attacks and bitter retaliation.”

The master gland

So hooray for Guillemin and Schally; the brain turned out to be the master gland. It is now recognized that the base of the brain, the hypothalamus, contains a huge array of those releasing and inhibiting hormones, which instruct the pituitary, which in turn regulates the secretions of the peripheral glands. In some cases, the brain triggers the release of pituitary hormone X through the action of a single releasing hormone. Sometimes it halts the release of pituitary hormone Y by releasing a single inhibiting hormone. In some cases, a pituitary hormone is controlled by the coordination of both a releasing and an inhibiting hormone from the brain-dual control. To make matters worse, in some cases (for example, the miserably confusing system that I study) there is a whole array of hypothalamic hormones that collectively regulate the pituitary, some as releasers, others as inhibitors.

Hormones of the Stress-Response

As the master gland, the brain can experience or think of something stressful and activate components of the stress-response hormonally. Some of the hypothalamus-pituitary-peripheral gland links are activated during stress, some inhibited.

Two hormones vital to the stress-response, as already noted, are epinephrine and norepinephrine, released by the sympathetic nervous system. Another important class of hormones in the response to stress are called glucocorticoids. By the end of this book you will be astonishingly informed about glucocorticoid trivia, since I am in love with these hormones.

Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones. (Steroid is used to describe the general chemical structure of five classes of hormones: androgens, the famed “anabolic” steroids like testosterone that get you thrown out of the Olympics, estrogens, progestins, mineralocorticoids, and glucocorticoids.) Secreted by the adrenal gland, they often act, as we will see, in ways similar to epinephrine. Epinephrine acts within seconds; glucocorticoids back this activity up over the course of minutes or hours.

Outline of the control of glucocorticoid secretion. A stressor is sensed or anticipated in the brain, triggering the release of CRH (and related hormones) by the hypothalamus. These hormones enter the private circulatory system linking the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary, causing the release of ACTH by the anterior pituitary. ACTH enters the general circulation and triggers the release of glucocorticoids by the adrenal gland.

Because the adrenal gland is basically witless, glucocorticoid release must ultimately be under the control of the hormones of the brain. When something stressful happens or you think a stressful thought, the hypothalamus secretes an array of releasing hormones into the hypothalamic-pituitary circulatory system that gets the ball rolling.

The principal such releaser is called CRH (corticotropin releasing hormone), while a variety of more minor players synergize with CRHF Within fifteen seconds or so, CRH triggers the pituitary to release the hormone ACTH (also known as corticotropin). After ACTH is released into the bloodstream, it reaches the adrenal gland and, within a few minutes, triggers glucocorticoid release. Together, glucocorticoids and the secretions of the sympathetic nervous system (epinephrine and norepinephrine) account for a large percentage of what happens in your body during stress. These are the workhorses of the stress-response.

*

from

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

by Robert M. Sapolsky

get it at Amazon.com

Dear America, This weekend we will bury my niece – Abbie Youkilis MD.

Dear America,

We buried my brother, Dr. Michael Guttenberg, this past October. He was a 9/11 hero and 16 years later he died of a 9/11 related cancer. Our country came together after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to overcome evil. We fought two wars, we subjected ourselves to onerous changes in air travel security, and we willingly gave up civil liberties to give ourselves the illusion of safety.

But we are not safe.

Jaime was in the 9th grade. She was a pretty girl with the world’s best smile and her soul was sensitive and compassionate. She was intelligent and feisty and she danced with beauty and grace. She always looked out for the underdog and the bullied and she probably had been kind to the student who shot her. She planned to grow up and become a mommy and an occupational therapist.

Fred and Jen are the world’s most loving and over-protective parents but they could not protect Jaime from the sickness that has gripped our country. Unless we change, nobody can protect us. My friends and fellow citizens, your guns are not protecting you. Your guns are killing our kids.

Why is your hunting hobby more important than my niece’s life? Don’t you see that your “second amendment” rights have been twisted and distorted beyond any rational interpretation? Why should my niece have been sacrificed at the altar of your “freedoms?”

Why don’t you trust our police to protect us from crime? Don’t you realise that mental illness has been and always will be a part of the human condition and that weapons of war should not be available to those among us who dream of mayhem and death? Don’t you see the blood on all of our hands?

I don’t care that Nikolas Cruz did this. If it had not been him, it would have been some other sad sick young man. I do care that he was able to legally purchase an assault weapon. I do care that the NRA and our so-called political leaders enabled him.

I don’t care if Nikolas spends the rest of his life in jail or gets the death penalty. That will not bring back Jaime and it won’t stop your kids from being the next victims of a “versatile, customizable” deadly weapon of war. I do care that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is dismantled. I do care that our Congress and our President (need to) outlaw these technologically sophisticated tools of murder just like every other civilised country on this planet. Failure to act will make our politicians complicit in Jaime’s murder. I want them to face charges and I want them brought to justice.

My family does not want your hopes and prayers. We want your action. Join us in fighting the NRA. Join us in deposing any politician who cares more about campaign contributions than my beautiful Jaime. Join us in supporting leaders who will bravely fight for our children’s lives.

Don’t tell me not to politicise this. Jaime would want me to. This is political and now this is personal. If not now, when? If not us, who? If we don’t finally ACT, the sickness of gun violence will kill us all.

Sincerely yours,
Abbie Youkilis MD

The Mindful path to Self-Compassion. Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions – Christopher K. Germer Ph.D.

Why is it so hard to extend the same kindness to ourselves that many of us gladly offer to others?

Maybe it’s because in our conventional way of thinking in the West we tend to view compassion as a gift, and bestowing it on ourselves seems selfish or inappropriate. But the ancient wisdom of the East tells us that loving-kindness is something everyone needs and deserves, and that includes the compassion we can give to ourselves. Without it, we blame ourselves for our problems, for our inability to solve them all, for feeling pain when painful events occur-all of which usually end in our feeling even more pain.

The idea of self-compassion may seem so alien that we would not know where to begin even if we decided it might be a good capacity to develop. Modern neuroscience and psychology are just beginning to explore what meditative traditions have accepted for ages: that compassion and loving-kindness are skills-not gifts that we’re either born with or not, and each one of us, without exception, can develop and strengthen these skills and bring them into our everyday lives.

This is where The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion steps to the fore. In this book Dr. Christopher Germer lays out the architecture of this skill development: the vision of freedom compassion can offer, the essential role of self-compassion, the path to realizing it rather than just thinking about it, and the practical tools, such as mindfulness, we need to effect that transformation.

Buddhist psychological analysis regards qualities like loving-kindness as the direct antidote to fear. Whether hampered by the inhibiting fear of feeling we are not enough and could never be enough, or the raging fear that courses through us when we see no options whatsoever, or the pervasive fear we sometimes feel when we must take a next step and cannot sense how or where, in the midst of fear we suffer.

Loving-kindness and compassion, in contrast to fear, reaffirm the healing power of connection, the expansiveness of a sense of possibility, the efficacy of kindness as a catalyst for learning. Whether extended to ourselves or others, the intertwined forces of loving-kindness and compassion are the basis for wise, powerful, sometimes gentle, and sometimes fierce actions that can really make a difference, in our own lives and those of others. The true development of self-compassion is the basis for fearlessness, generosity, inclusion, and a sustained loving-kindness and compassion for others.

Whether you have already begun to seek relief from suffering through meditative traditions like mindfulness or you are simply open to anything that might free you from chronic emotional pain and mental rumination, this book will serve as an inspiring road-map.

In the following pages you will find a scientific review, an educational manual, and a practical step-by-step guide to developing greater loving-kindness and self-compassion every day.

SHARON SALZBERG

Insight Meditation Society, Barre, Massachusetts.

*

Introduction

Life is tough. Despite our best intentions, things go wrong, sometimes very wrong. Ninety percent of us get married, full of hope and optimism, yet 40% of marriages and in divorce. We struggle to meet the demands of daily life, only to find ourselves needing care for stress-related problems like high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, or a weakened immune system.

How do we typically react when things fall apart? More often than not, we feel ashamed and become self-critical: “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I cope?” “Why me?” Perhaps we go on a mission to fix ourselves, adding insult to injury. Sometimes we go after others. Rather than giving ourselves a break, we seem to find the path of greatest resistance.

Yet no matter how hard we try to avoid emotional pain, it follows us everywhere. Difficult emotions-shame, anger, loneliness, fear, despair, confusion, arrive like clockwork at our door. They come when things don’t go according to our expectations, when we’re separated from loved ones, and as a part of ordinary sickness, old age, and death. It’s just not possible to avoid feeling bad.

But we can learn to deal with misery and distress in a new, healthier way. Instead of greeting difficult emotions by fighting hard against them, we can bear witness to our own pain and respond with kindness and understanding. That’s self-compassion, taking care of ourselves just as we’d treat someone we love dearly.

If you’re used to beating yourself up during periods of sadness or loneliness, if you hide from the world when you make a mistake, or if you obsess over how you could have prevented the mistake to begin with, self-compassion may seem like a radical idea. But why should you deny yourself the same tenderness and warmth you extend to others who are suffering?

When we fight emotional pain, we get trapped in it. Difficult emotions become destructive and break down the mind, body, and spirit. Feelings get stuck, frozen in time, and we get stuck in them. The happiness we long for in relationships seems to elude us. Satisfaction at work lies just beyond our reach. We drag ourselves through the day, arguing with our physical aches and pains. Usually we’re not aware just how many of these trials have their root in how we relate to the inevitable discomfort of life.

Change comes naturally when we open ourselves to emotional pain with uncommon kindness. Instead of blaming, criticizing, and trying to fix ourselves (or someone else, or the whole world) when things go wrong and we feel bad, we can start with self-acceptance. Compassion first! This simple shift can make a tremendous difference in your life.

Imagine that your partner just criticized you for yelling at your daughter. This hurts your feelings and leads to an argument. Perhaps you felt misunderstood, disrespected, unloved, or unlovable? Maybe you didn’t use the right words to describe how you felt, but more likely your partner was being too angry or defensive to hear what you had to say. Now imagine that you took a deep breath and said the following to yourself before the argument: “More than anything, I want to be a good parent. It’s so painful to me when l yell at my child. I love my daughter more than anything in the world, but sometimes I just lose it. I’m only human, I guess. May I learn to forgive myself for my mistakes, and may we find a way to live together in peace.” Can you feel the difference?

A moment of self-compassion like this can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life. Freeing yourself from the trap of destructive thoughts and emotions through self-compassion can boost your self-esteem from the inside out, reduce depression and anxiety, and even help you stick to your diet. And the benefits aren’t just personal. Self-compassion is the foundation of compassion for others.

It makes sense, doesn’t it, that we won’t be able to empathize with others if we can’t tolerate the same feelings, despair, fear, failure, shame-occurring within ourselves? And how can we pay the slightest attention to others when we’re absorbed in our own internal struggles? When our problems become workable again, we can extend kindness to others, which can only help improve relationships and enhance our overall contentment and satisfaction with life.

Self-compassion is really the most natural thing in the world. Think about it for a minute. If you cut your finger, you’ll want to clean it, bandage it, and help it heal. That’s innate self-compassion. But where does self-compassion go when our emotional well-being is at stake?

What’s effective for survival against a saber-tooth tiger doesn’t seem to work in emotional life.

We instinctively go to battle against unpleasant emotions as if they were external foes, and fighting them inside only makes matters worse. Resist anxiety and it can turn into full-blown panic. Suppress grief and chronic depression may develop. Struggling to fall asleep can keep you awake all night long.

When we’re caught up in our pain, we also go to war against ourselves. The body protects itself against danger through fight, flight, or freeze (staying frozen in place), but when we’re challenged emotionally, these reactions become an unholy trinity of selfcriticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption. A healing alternative is to cultivate a new relationship with ourselves described by research psychologist Kristin Neff as self-kindness, a sense of connection with the rest of humanity, and balanced awareness. That’s self-compassion.

In this book you’ll discover how to bring self-compassion to your emotional life when you need it most-when you’re dying of shame, when you grind your teeth in rage or fear, or when you’re too fragile to face yet another family gathering. Self-compassion is giving yourself the love you need by boosting your innate wish to be happy and free from suffering.

Dealing with emotional pain without making it worse is the essence of Buddhist psychology. The ideas in this book draw from that tradition, particularly those concepts and practices that have been validated by modern science. What you’ll read is essentially old wine in new bottles, ancient insights in modern psychological idiom. You don’t have to believe in anything to make the practices work for you, you can be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a scientist, or a skeptic. The best approach is to be open-minded, experimental, and flexible.

Clinical scientists discovered meditation in the 1970s, and it’s now one of the the most thoroughly researched of all psychotherapy methods . Over the past 15 years, research has focused primarily on mindfulness, or “ awareness of present experience, with acceptance.” Mindfulness is considered an underlying factor in effective psychotherapy and emotional healing in general. When therapy goes well, patients (or clients) develop an accepting attitude toward whatever they’re experiencing in the therapy room, fear, anger, sadness, joy, relief, boredom, love, and this benevolent attitude gets transferred to daily life. A special bonus of mindfulness is that it can be practiced at home in the form of meditation.

Mindfulness tends to focus on the experience of a person, usually a sensation, thought, or feeling. But what do we do when the experiencer is overcome with emotion, perhaps with shame or self-doubt? When that happens, we don’t just feel bad, we feel we are bad. We can become so rattled that it’s hard to pay attention to anything at all. What do we do when we’re alone in the middle of the night, twisting the sheets around us in bed, sleep medication isn’t working, and therapy is a week away? Mostly we need a good friend with a compassionate heart. If one isn’t immediately available, we can still give kindness to ourselves, self-compassion.

I encountered self-compassion from two directions, one professional and one personal. I’ve practiced psychotherapy for 30 years with patients ranging from the worried well to those overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or trauma. I also worked in a public hospital with people suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses. Over the years, I’ve witnessed the power of compassion, how it opens the heart like a flower, revealing and healing hidden sorrow.

After therapy, however, some patients feel like they’re walking into a void with the voice of the therapist trailing far behind. I wondered, “What can people do between sessions to feel less vulnerable and alone?” Sometimes I asked myself, “Is there any way to make the therapy experience rub off more quickly-to make it portable?” Selfcompassion seems to hold that promise for many people.

Personally, I was raised by a devout Christian mother and a father who spent 9 years in India during early adulthood, mostly interned by the British during World War II because he was a German citizen. There my father met a mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer, who later escaped the internment camp and traveled across the Himalayan mountains to Tibet to became the 14th Dalai Lama’s English tutor. As a child, my mother read me magical tales of India, so it seemed natural to go there myself after I graduated from college. From 1976 to 1977, I traveled the length and breadth of India, visiting saints, sages, and shamans, and I learned Buddhist meditation in a cave in Sri Lanka. Thus began a lifelong interest in meditation and over a dozen return trips to India.

I currently practice meditation in the insight meditation tradition found in the American centers established by Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield. Those rich and nuanced teachings inform this entire book, and any unwarranted deviation from them is my responsibility alone. I also owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to my colleagues at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, with whom I’ve been in monthly conversation for almost 25 years, and to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who introduced the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and compassion into modern health care. My other teachers are my patients, who have generously offered their life stories to give substance to the concepts and practices that follow. They made this a labor of love. Their names and other details have been changed to ensure confidentiality, and some clinical vignettes are composites of a few individuals.

This book is divided into three parts, and the chapters build on one another.

Part I, Discovering Self-Compassion, shows you how to develop mindfulness and describes precisely what we mean and don’t mean by self-compassion.

Part II, Practicing Loving Kindness, gives in-depth instruction in one particular self-compassion practice-loving-kindness meditation, to serve as a foundation for a compassionate way of life.

Part III, Customizing Self-Compassion, offers tips for adjusting the practice to your particular personality and circumstances and shows you how to achieve maximum benefit from the practice.

Finally, in the appendices, you’ll find additional self-compassion exercises and resources for further reading and more intensive practice.

This book will not be a lot of work. The hard work is actually behind you-fighting and resisting difficult feelings, blaming yourself for them and their causes. You’ll actually learn to work less. It’s an “un-selfhelp book.” Instead of beginning with the notion that something about you is broken and needs to be fixed, I hope to show you how to respond to emotional pain in a new, more compassionate, and loving way. I recommend you try the exercises for 30 days and see how it goes. You might notice yourself feeling lighter and happier, but that will simply be a by-product of accepting yourself just as you are.

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Part I

Discovering Self-compassion

Being kind to yourself

The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain. ALLEN GINSBERG, poet

I’m afraid of what you’re about to tell “me, ’cause it probably won’t work!” Michelle blurted out, fully expecting to be disappointed by what I had to say. Michelle had just finished telling me about her years of struggle with shyness, and I was taking a deep breath.

Michelle struck me as an exceptionally bright and conscientious person. She had read many books on overcoming shyness and tried therapy four times. She didn’t want to be let down again. She’d recently received an MBA from a prestigious university and gotten a job as a consultant to large firms in the area. The main problem for Michelle was blushing. She believed it signaled to others that she wasn’t competent and that they shouldn’t trust what she had to say. The more she worried about blushing, the more she actually blushed in front of others. Her new job was an important career opportunity, and Michelle didn’t want to blow it.

I assured Michelle that she was right: whatever I suggested wouldn’t work. That’s not because she was a lost cause, far from it, but rather because all well-intentioned strategies are destined to fail. It’s not the fault of the techniques, nor is it the fault of the person who wants to feel better. The problem lies in our motivation and in a misunderstanding of how the mind works.

As Michelle knew only too well from her years of struggle, a lot of what we do to not feel bad is likely to make us feel worse. It’s like that thought experiment: “Try not to think about pink elephants the kind that are very large and very pink.” Once an idea is planted in our minds, it’s strengthened every time we try not to think about it. Sigmund Freud summed up the problem by saying there’s “no negation” in the unconscious mind . Similarly, whatever we throw at our distress to make it go away relaxation techniques, blocking our thoughts, positive affirmations, will ultimately disappoint, and we’ll have no choice but to set off to find another option to feel better.

While we were discussing these matters, Michelle began to weep gently. I wasn’t sure whether she was feeling more disheartened or in some way the truth of her experience was being articulated. She told me that even her prayers were going unanswered. We talked about two types of prayers: the kind where we want God to make bad things go away and the kind where we surrender “Let go and let God.” Michelle said it had never occurred to her to surrender her troubles to God. That wasn’t her style.

Gradually we came around to what could be done for Michelle that might actually decrease her anxiety and blushing, not deep breathing, not pinching herself, not drinking cold water, not pretending to be unflappable. Since Michelle wasn’t the kind of person to relax her efforts, she needed to find something entirely different. Michelle recognized that her anxiety decreased the more she accepted it, and it increased the less she accepted it. Hence, it made sense to Michelle to dedicate herself to a life of accepting anxiety and the fact that she was simply an anxious person. Our therapy was to be measured not by how often she blushed, but by how accepting she was of her blushing. That was a radical new idea for Michelle. She left our first session elated, if a bit perplexed.

She sent me an e-mail during the following week, happily announcing that “it worked.” Since we hadn’t discussed any new practices, I wasn’t sure what Michelle meant. Later I learned that she had begun saying to herself “just scared, just scared” whenever she noticed she was anxious. Labeling her fear seemed to take Michelle’s mind off how flushed her face felt, and she was able to chat briefly with colleagues in the lunchroom without incident, for example. She was relieved to feel more like “a scared person getting lunch” than like a “weak, overly sensitive, ridiculous person who didn’t know what she was talking about.” I marveled at how Michelle had taken the concept of “acceptance” and invented a useful technique in such a short time.

At our next meeting, however, Michelle was discouraged again. Her forays into the lunchroom once again became a battle against the blush. Her original wish to “stop looking anxious” reasserted itself. Acceptance had begun to “work” for Michelle, but she’d let go of her newfound commitment to cultivate acceptance. She mistakenly believed she’d found a clever bypass to her problem.

Unfortunately, we can’t trick ourselves. There was a part of Michelle that was saying, “I’m practicing acceptance in order to reduce anxiety.” But that’s not acceptance. Within modern psychology, acceptance means to embrace whatever arises within us, moment to moment, just as it is. Sometimes it’s a feeling we like; sometimes it’s a bad feeling. We naturally want to continue the good feelings and stop the bad ones, but setting out with that goal doesn’t work. The only answer to our problems is to first have our problems, fully and completely, whatever they may be. Michelle was hoping to skip that part.

This story has a happy ending, which was reached slowly over the course of 2 years. Michelle discovered how to live in accord with her sensitive nervous system. Relapses reliably occurred when Michelle tried not to blush, but she hardly blushed at all when she was ready to let blushing take its course. As Michelle made her peace with blushing, she found she could apply the same principles to other stress symptoms that inevitably arose during her day, tension in her chest, headaches, heart palpitations and her life became much easier.

This is a book about how we can benefit by turning toward our emotional pain. That’s a tall order. Any thinking person is likely to ask, “Why would I want to do that?” In this chapter, you’ll see why it’s often the best thing to do. The rest of the book will show you how to accomplish this improbable task. First you’ll learn how to bring mindful awareness to what’s bothering you. Then you’ll discover how to bring kindness to yourself, especially when you’re feeling really bad. That combination, mindfulness and self-compassion can transform even the worst times of our lives.

TURNING TOWARD THE PAIN

From the moment of our birth, we’re on a quest for happiness. It may take no more than mother’s milk to satisfy us in the first days of our lives, but our needs and desires multiply as we age. By adulthood, most of us don’t expect to be happy unless we have a nice family, a good job, excellent health, lots of money, and the love and admiration of others.

But pain still strikes even under the best of circumstances. Billionaire Howard Hughes found himself desperate and alone at the moment of his death. And our circumstances inevitably change; one person’s marriage may fall apart, another may have a child with a developmental disability, and yet another may lose everything in a flood. People differ from one another in the amount of suffering they endure over a lifetime, or in the type of suffering, but none of us gets off without any. Pain and suffering are common threads that unite all of humanity.

Pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we’d like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. For example, if a car accident lands someone in a wheelchair for life, the first year is usually the toughest. As we learn to adapt, we typically return to our former level of happiness. We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are.

The Hedonic Treadmill

In 1971, Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell proposed that we’re on a pleasure-seeking treadmill, vainly trying to achieve happiness by seeking what’s just around the corner, a better relationship, an easier job, a nicer car. The problem is that our nervous systems quickly adapt to anything familiar. Once you get a nice new car, how long do you enjoy it before thinking about renovating your home? Studies show that most lottery winners are ultimately no happier than nonwinners, and paraplegics usually become as content as people who can walk. For better or worse, we adapt to both good and bad life events. This general adaptation theory has held up empirically for decades, with some recent modifications that you will read about in Qhapter 5.

When we’re on the hedonic treadmill for too long, though, it can lead to exhaustion and disease. In his immensely entertaining and informative book on the causes and consequences of stress, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky describes how animals are perfectly adapted to respond to physical crises. Consider a zebra running from a lion that wants to rip out its stomach; when the danger passes, the zebra goes back to grazing peacefully. But what do humans do? We anticipate danger lurking around the corner. Sapolsky asks, “ How many hippos worry about whether Social Security is going to last as long as they will, or what they are going to say on a first date?” Our bodies react to psychological threats the same way they react to physical threats, and a sense of constant danger raises our overall stress level and the risk of heart disease, immune dysfunction, depression, colitis, chronic pain, memory impairment, sexual problems, and much more.

The exact mechanism by which psychological stress leads to disease is unclear, but preliminary evidence shows that it may be related to your telomems DNA protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes. Cells age-they stop dividing-when they lose their telo-meric DNA. Life stress has been shown to shorten the telomeres in the immune system, and fewer immune cells can lead to disease and shorten your lifespan.

Most of us believe that our happiness depends on the external circumstances of our lives. Therefore, we spend our lives on a treadmill, continually arranging to have pleasure and avoid pain. When we experience pleasure, we grasp for more of it. When we experience pain, we avoid it. Both of these reactions are instinctive, but they’re not successful strategies for emotional wellbeing.

The problem with pleasure seeking is that the pleasure will end at some point and we’ll become disappointed: we fall out of love, our bellies become full, our friends go home.

The problem with avoiding pain is that it’s just not possible to do, and it often gets worse with our increased efforts to try. For example, eating to reduce stress can cause obesity, and working excessively to overcome low self-esteem can land you in the grave.

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from

The Mindful path to Self-Compassion. Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions

by Christopher K. Germer Ph.D.

get it at Amazon.com

TED Talk. Self-Compassion vs Self-esteem – Dr Kristin Neff.

In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations.

People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on).

This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.

“How do we get off this treadmill? This constant need to feel better than others so that we can feel good about ourselves?

That’s where self-compassion comes in.
Self-compassion in not a way of judging ourselves positively.
Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly.
Embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all.
To treat ourselves like we treat a good friend with encouragement, empathy, patience, understanding, love and gentleness.

If we stop to think about how we treat ourselves, especially on a bad day, we are often harsher and more cruel to ourselves in the language we use.
We say things to ourselves that we would never say to someone we cared about.
We say things to ourselves that we probably even wouldn’t say to someone we didn’t like very much.

We are often our own worst enemies”.

As robots take our jobs, we need something else. I know what that is – George Monbiot.

It’s untenable to let salaried work define us. In the future, what we do for society unpaid should be at least as important.

Why bother designing robots when you can reduce human beings to machines? Last week, Amazon acquired a patent for a wristband that can track the hand movements of workers. If this technology is developed, it could grant companies almost total control over their workforce.

Last month the Guardian interviewed a young man called Aaron Callaway, who works nights in an Amazon warehouse. He has to place 250 items an hour into particular carts. His work, he says, is so repetitive, antisocial and alienating that: “I feel like I’ve lost who I was. My main interaction is with the robots.” And this is before the wristbands have been deployed.

I see the terrible story of Don Lane, the DPD driver who collapsed and died from diabetes, as another instance of the same dehumanisation. After being fined £150 by the company for taking a day off to see his doctor, this “self-employed contractor” (who worked full-time for the company and wore its uniform) felt he could no longer keep his hospital appointments. As the philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues, in the gig economy, “every individual is master and slave in one… class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself.” Everything work offered during the social democratic era – economic security, a sense of belonging, social life, a political focus – has been stripped away: alienation is now almost complete. Digital Taylorism, splitting interesting jobs into tasks of mind-robbing monotony, threatens to degrade almost every form of labour. Workers are reduced to the crash-test dummies of the post-industrial age. The robots have arrived, and you are one of them.

So where do we find identity, meaning and purpose, a sense of autonomy, pride and utility? The answer, for many people, is volunteering. Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the NHS, and I’ve realised that there are two national health systems in this country: the official one, performing daily miracles, and the voluntary network that supports it.

Everywhere I look, there are notices posted by people helping at the hospital, running support groups for other patients, raising money for research and equipment. Without this support, I suspect the official system would fall apart. And so would many of the patients. Some fascinating research papers suggest that positive interactions with other people promote physical healing, reduce physical pain, and minimise anxiety and stress for patients about to have an operation. Support groups save lives. So do those who raise money for treatment and research.

Last week I spoke to two remarkable volunteers. Jeanne Chattoe started fundraising for Against Breast Cancer after her sister was diagnosed with the disease. Until that point, she had lived a quiet life, bringing up her children and working in her sister’s luggage shop. She soon discovered powers she never knew she possessed. Before long, she started organising an annual fashion show that over 13 years raised almost £400,000. Then, lying awake one night, she had a great idea: why not decorate her home town pink once a year, recruiting the whole community to the cause? Witney in the Pink has now been running for 17 years, and all the shops participate: even the butchers dye their uniforms pink. The event raises at least £6,000 a year.

“It’s changed my whole life,” Jeanne told me. “I eat, live and breathe against breast cancer … I don’t know what I would have done without fundraising. Probably nothing. It’s given me a purpose.” She acquired so much expertise organising these events that in 2009 Against Breast Cancer appointed her chair of its trustees, a position she still holds today.

After his transplant, Kieran Sandwell donated his old heart to the British Heart Foundation. Then he began thinking about how he could support its work. He told me he had “been on the work treadmill where I’ve not enjoyed my job for years, wondering what I’m doing”. He set off to walk the entire coastline of the UK, to raise money and awareness. He now has 2,800 miles behind him and 2,000 ahead. “I’ve discovered that you can actually put your mind to anything … whatever I come across in my life, I can probably cope with it. Nothing fazes me now.”

Like Jeanne, he has unlocked unexpected powers. “I didn’t know I had in me the ability just to be able to talk to anyone.” His trek has also ignited a love of nature. “I seem to have created this fluffy bubble: what happens to me every day is wonderful… I want to try to show people that there’s a better life out there.” For Jeanne and Kieran, volunteering has given them what work once promised: meaning, purpose, place, community. This, surely, is where hope lies.

So here’s my outrageous proposal: replace careers advice with volunteering advice. I’ve argued before that much of the careers advice offered by schools and universities is worse than useless, shoving students headfirst into the machine, reinforcing the seductive power of life-destroying corporations. In fairness to the advisers, their job is becoming almost impossible anyway: the entire infrastructure of employment seems designed to eliminate fulfilling and fascinating work.

But while there is little chance of finding jobs that match students’ hopes and personalities and engage their capabilities, there is every chance of connecting them with good opportunities to volunteer. Perhaps it is time we saw volunteering as central to our identities and work as peripheral: something we have to do, but which no longer defines us. I would love to hear people reply, when asked what they do: “I volunteer at the food bank and run marathons. In my time off, I work for money.”

And there’s a side-effect. The world has been wrecked by people seeking status through their work. In many professions – such as fossil fuel energy companies, weapons manufacture, banking, advertising – your prestige rises with the harm you do. The greater your destruction of other people’s lives, the greater your contribution to shareholder value. But when you volunteer, the respect you gain rises with the good you do.

We should keep fighting for better jobs and better working conditions. But the battle against workplace technology is an unequal one. The real economic struggle now is for the redistribution of wealth generated by labour and machines, through universal basic income, the revival of the commons and other such policies. Until we achieve this, most people will have to take whatever work is on offer. But we cannot let it own us.

The Guardian

Look at me: why attention-seeking is the defining need of our times – Leo Benedictus.

The urge to belong is universal. So would a better understanding of it help tackle loneliness – and explain why stalkers, spree killers and jihadists turn their pain on others?

There is a famous Jewish mother joke. You’ve heard it before. Question: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: “Ah no, I’ll just sit in the dark. Don’t worry about me.” It’s funny, at least the first time, because people do behave like this. “Hey, over here!” they shout. “Ignore me! Ignore me!”

Everyone needs attention, like we need to eat. This is not controversial, nor is it hard to understand. But the idea must be slippery, because it will not stick. If we could keep in mind that people need attention, it would change the way we see almost everything they do, from art to crime, from romance to terrorism. And we must. Facebook alone harvests and sells the attention of 1.4 billion people every day. That’s about a fifth of the world. This alarms some people, and it is a big change. But we can’t know what to make of it until we understand what people need attention for.

Attention is other people thinking about you, and if there were ever humans who didn’t need it, they are now extinct. “Attention is one of the most valuable resources in existence for social animals,” says Dr Geoff MacDonald, a psychologist at the University of Toronto with an interest in human connection. “It was literally a matter of life and death. The people who didn’t feel good around others, or didn’t feel bad when they were separated from others, wouldn’t have the motivation to do the things that are required to pass their genes down the generations.”

Specifically, people have been shown to need a type of attention that psychologists call belonging. Abraham Maslow put belonging into his famous hierarchy of needs in 1943. In 1995, Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary concluded in their paper The Need to Belong that the available research did indeed show that everyone has a “strong desire to form and maintain interpersonal attachments”. In particular, they identified that belonging means getting positive attention from people who know you well.

This isn’t hard to understand either. Someone who thinks well of you is more likely to cooperate with you. Or even mate with you, if you’re lucky. But their opinion only really counts if they’ve spent a lot of time with you, because that makes their idea of who you are more accurate, and only accurate approval is secure. “If you feel like you’re accepted for false reasons then that’s bound to create anxiety,” MacDonald says.

People who feel they don’t belong suffer terribly, and experience health problems comparable to smoking or obesity. They are the 18% of British adults who reported always (4%) or often (14%) feeling lonely, in a study published last year by the British Red Cross and Co-op. There are more lonely people in Britain than live in London. The problem is now obvious enough for the government to appoint a so-called “minister of loneliness”, Tracey Crouch.

The word loneliness is a good description of the feeling, but not its cause, which in reality has little to do with being alone. According to the report, just 22% of people who live alone feel lonely always or often, not much more than the 18% national average. Among 16-to-24-year-olds, on the other hand, the proportion is 32%. This shouldn’t be surprising. “Generally, loneliness seems to be a matter more of a lack of intimate connections than of a lack of social contact,” Baumeister and Leary wrote. Lonely people lack attention that is positive and accurate, in short.

So why don’t they ask for more? Because attention can be harvested only from the minds of other people, and high-quality attention won’t come by force. “In anthropological terms, it’s a gift economy,” says Dr Amy Pollard of the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), a charity that campaigns on loneliness. “You’re creating bonds of reciprocity, which is where the belonging comes from.” This means you only have as much high-quality attention as people want to give you. And asking for more – attention-seeking – is a signal that, in your case, they don’t want to give much. This isn’t fair. Nor is it reliable. (People can misjudge you.) But the idea that lonely people don’t deserve attention comes to us instinctively, as when we see an empty restaurant with a busy one next door.

Some lonely people themselves conclude that they aren’t worthy of attention, and withdraw from the world still further. Others search for a feeling of belonging, not always in the best way. Seek positive attention too openly and you get called “narcissist”. Seek attention from your family with great displays of wanting to be ignored, and they’ll put you in a Jewish mother joke. There are many ways of asking without asking, if we are prepared to notice. Why, for instance, is it taboo to suggest that people who self-harm, or have anorexia, might want attention? Is that not a source of pain worth taking seriously?

One way to seek attention is to do something that gets lots of it – art, politics, crime, journalism maybe – but that seems to have another purpose. The purpose matters. Otherwise you risk the special scorn reserved for people who are “famous for being famous”.

When Jamie Jewitt entered Love Island on ITV2 last July, he was depressed. A successful model based in New York, he had returned to Essex to live with his parents, then did nothing for years. His family all but forced him to join the show, aged 27, in the hope that it would shake him from his torpor.

In modelling, Jewitt explains over coffee, Instagram is non-negotiable. “You wouldn’t get work,” he says, “if you didn’t get a following.” In practice, this is quite easy for a model to do: just feed the public appetite for carefully posed and manipulated “snapshots”. Over time Jewitt gathered 13,000 followers. He enjoyed their compliments and exchanged messages with some. It was almost friendship. “You tell yourself you’re getting the real thing,” he says, “but it’s so hard to tell the difference.” He found he’d switch between bursts of activity and guilty silences. “I felt like a hypocrite, like a sellout. It was a big part of why I got unhappy. You feel isolated, but you don’t know why.”

When arriving on Love Island, all contestants must surrender their phones. Inside, there are no TVs, no iPads, no contact at all with the outside. “You have to talk to people,” Jewitt says. “Get to know them, make friends.” What we never saw on Love Island were the hours upon hours of intense conversation. “On mine and Camilla [Thurlow]’s dates, all we’d talk about was books,” Jewitt recalls, “and none of that made it! People don’t want to hear that crap, do they?”

It’s funny that it took a reality show to make Jewitt live authentically again. “After two days I would wake up in the morning feeling so relieved,” he says. “It was unbelievable. A fresh start. The sad thing was I could have done it at any point on the outside.” Today he and Thurlow are still together, and the islanders remain close friends.

Now Jewitt has 801,000 Instagram followers, and mostly promotes good causes. These posts aren’t popular. “When I post about the things I care about, I lose close to a thousand followers,” he says. So far he has lost around 20,000 since his peak after Love Island, and has come to take a strange pleasure in the process. “I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he says, “because I want the people who follow me to know who I am, and like who I am. I’m trying to depict a more real version of myself.”

Social media is bewitching because there’s time to lie, not like in real life. The opportunity for positive attention is enormous, but accuracy is the price. “When you present a curated version of yourself to the world, any approval that you get is not for your full and whole self,” MacDonald says. As Jewitt found out, this corrodes your feeling of belonging.

We don’t know yet whether social media makes people lonely. Even if it does, we should remember that it is also useful to keep real friendships going. But an MHF survey last month found that 30% of young Scots say social media makes them feel isolated. The 2015 Pisa schools report showed a dramatic fall across the developed world since 2012 in the number of children who would say that “I make friends easily at school”. By a small margin, those who use the internet the most were also most likely (17%) to say that they felt lonely – although we don’t know which was causing which, if either. We also don’t know how much of their time online was spent on social media.

Even if offline time is good for you, it can be stressful, which might make people hide behind their screens. “I always say to my students,” MacDonald says, “‘If only in real life we had a backspace button.’ But no. Once you say something, it’s out there. You don’t get that kind of control.” Until recently, in other words, most of us were simply too socially clumsy to avoid being ourselves.

For some people, usually those who had a hard time growing up, this stress can be unbearable. A fixed belief that you aren’t worth liking creates a loneliness and craving for attention that they struggle to satisfy. If desperate enough, they may even force other people to notice them, preferring to be hated than ignored. These people are unhappy, and can be dangerous. They commit crimes of attention.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of stalker. “One is the intimacy-seeking stalker,” says Dr Brian Spitzberg, a leading authority on stalking behaviour at San Diego State University. “They are trying to get back to a person who has rejected them in some way.” Often these people used to be in a relationship with their victim, the end of which they cannot accept. “They are enveloped by the sense that this is the right person for them. They feel injured and rejected … but underlying that is a desire for the attention they think they deserve.”

The other type he calls “public figure stalkers”, who usually do not know their victim personally, but pester them in order to achieve a goal of some kind. “There is something they want done that they perceive public figures aren’t doing,” Spitzberg says. “Some of them simply want someone in an authoritative position to pay attention to their voice.”

Loneliness is common among stalkers. (One of them narrates my novel, for which this article is in part a bid for attention.) However, attention is not often considered to be their motive. What a stalker wants seems obvious: to be part of their victim’s life. Their behaviour is irrational; it only makes the victim reject them even more, but the stalker either insists that the woman (about three-quarters of the time) will change her mind, or persists in a spirit of revenge. And he does become part of the victim’s life, of course. A big part.

After a firm rejection, the approach most experts recommend is to ignore the stalker. They work on the basis, as Spitzberg puts it, that “any kind of attention is still attention”. With this in mind, stalking behaviour seems half-rational in someone who is desperate for a feeling of belonging. Certainly most stalkers are not mentally ill in a way that a psychiatrist would recognise. According to Spitzberg, only 30-50% of all stalkings that become criminal cases can be traced to some kind of diagnosable disorder. Among intimacy-seeking stalkers, it’s even less. “Most intimacy-seeking stalking is something that almost anyone is capable of,” Spitzberg says, “if they meet the wrong person under the wrong circumstances.”

Sadly, some people feel not just ignored by their ex, but ostracised by the whole world. For them, life with almost no attention is sheer torture. A recent workplace study in Canada found that ostracism was worse than the negative attention of being bullied. The work of Professor Kip Williams at Purdue University in Indiana shows how ostracism causes pain, and can lead to antisocial behaviour. Another Mark Leary study shows it is a key factor in school shootings.

Like stalking, this is a crime that seems utterly irrational. Usually it suffices to say that the killer was angry, perhaps just insane. They are always lonely. Spree killers are fond of leaving documents that explain their feelings. Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech, 2007) claimed he was bullied, which baffled those who knew him. Elliot Rodger (Isla Vista, 2014): “I felt depressed because I wanted sex yet I felt unworthy of it”. Often a grotesque spirit of belonging exists between them. Vester Flanagan (Moneta, 2015) was a fan of Cho (“That’s my boy, right there”). Matti Junahi Saari (Kauhajoki, 2008) and Pekka-Eric Auvinen (Jokela High School, 2007) swapped videos on YouTube. Auvinen quoted the manifesto of “the martyrs Dylan [Klebold] and Eric [Harris]” (Columbine, 1999), who also inspired Todd Cameron-Smith (Alberta, 1999), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook, 2012) and everyone else. Needless to say, if they hadn’t killed anyone, we would have paid less attention to their feelings.

There was a time when spree killing almost did not exist. Guns existed. So did bombs and knives and vans. So did violent and disturbed people. Indeed the world is now generally less violent than it used to be. Yet spree killings grow more frequent. A study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that mass shootings in the US in which at least four people died occurred, on average, once every 200 days between 1982 and 2011. Then once every 64 days between 2011 and 2014. Eighteen of the 30 deadliest mass shootings in the US since 1949 have occurred in the past 10 years, including all of the worst five.

What else can we call these but crimes of attention, made possible by new media? Filmed on camcorders, then on phones. Seen live around the world. Stored on Wikipedia and YouTube for posterity. Where would you have found a copy of a killer’s manifesto in 1990, let alone a video? The truth is that if you want the world’s attention badly enough, you can have it tomorrow. It is easy. Before the internet, it was not.

Jihadists love to leave speeches too, but theirs claim grander motives. Their killing sprees, they say, are part of a plan to reach paradise and bring about the triumph of their beliefs. Yet many of them hardly live with the piety they die for. Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London tube bombers, had a secret girlfriend. Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked the kosher supermarket in Paris, kept paedophile material on his computer. According to Demos interviews with 62 former jihadists in 2010, they “had a simpler, shallower conception of Islam than [nonviolent] radicals”. Does it seem likely that they were forced into violence by their devotion to scripture? Or is it more plausible that their violence, which obsesses the world, feeds a craving for attention that they clothe in phoney zealotry?

It is hard to imagine crimes of attention disappearing, but admitting that’s what they are should help. Perhaps then we’ll stop rewarding criminal behaviour with so much of the attention that it seeks. There are other simple solutions to our attention crisis. Ideas like the Big Lunch, or the MHF’s “Tea and Talk” events may improve access to high-quality attention by helping people get to know each other better. Eventually the moment may come when we are officially urged to get a minimum dose of offline conversation every week, like exercise or our five-a-day. When we talk more freely about our attention-seeking, maybe then at last we’ll get the attention we need.

*

Leo Benedictus is an award-winning Guardian features writer. He was born in London in 1975, and studied English at Oxford University.

The Guardian

Evolutionary Psychology

What Is Evolutionary Psychology?

Our bodies evolved over eons, slowly calibrating to the African savanna on which 98 percent of our ancestors lived and died. So, too, did our brains. Evolutionary psychology postulates that the mind is shaped by pressure to survive and reproduce.

We jealously guard romantic partners and cherish our closest relatives above all others, lest we fail to pass on our genes.

We easily acquire language, which is critical for cooperation and hence survival. Evolutionary psychology acknowledges these forces but stresses the ultimate (and largely unconscious) gene’s eye view of behavior.

Psychology Today

***

Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological structure from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations – that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection in human evolution. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Some evolutionary psychologists apply the same thinking to psychology, arguing that the modularity of mind is similar to that of the body and with different modular adaptations serving different functions. Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that it is not simply a subdiscipline of psychology but that evolutionary theory can provide a foundational, metatheoretical framework that integrates the entire field of psychology in the same way evolution has for biology.

Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations including the abilities to infer others’ emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, and cooperate with others. They report successful tests of theoretical predictions related to such topics as infanticide, intelligence, marriage patterns, promiscuity, perception of beauty, bride price, and parental investment.

The theories and findings of evolutionary psychology have applications in many fields, including economics, environment, health, law, management, psychiatry, politics, and literature.

Criticism of evolutionary psychology involves questions of testability, cognitive and evolutionary assumptions (such as modular functioning of the brain, and large uncertainty about the ancestral environment), importance of non-genetic and non-adaptive explanations, as well as political and ethical issues due to interpretations of research results.

Principles

Evolutionary psychology is an approach that views human nature as the product of a universal set of evolved psychological adaptations to recurring problems in the ancestral environment. Proponents suggest that it seeks to integrate psychology into the other natural sciences, rooting it in the organizing theory of biology (evolutionary theory), and thus understanding psychology as a branch of biology. Anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides note:

“Evolutionary psychology is the long-forestalled scientific attempt to assemble out of the disjointed, fragmentary, and mutually contradictory human disciplines a single, logically integrated research framework for the psychological, social, and behavioral sciences – a framework that not only incorporates the evolutionary sciences on a full and equal basis, but that systematically works out all of the revisions in existing belief and research practice that such a synthesis requires.”

Just as human physiology and evolutionary physiology have worked to identify physical adaptations of the body that represent “human physiological nature,” the purpose of evolutionary psychology is to identify evolved emotional and cognitive adaptations that represent “human psychological nature.” According to Steven Pinker, it is “not a single theory but a large set of hypotheses” and a term that “has also come to refer to a particular way of applying evolutionary theory to the mind, with an emphasis on adaptation, gene-level selection, and modularity.” Evolutionary psychology adopts an understanding of the mind that is based on the computational theory of mind. It describes mental processes as computational operations, so that, for example, a fear response is described as arising from a neurological computation that inputs the perceptional data, e.g. a visual image of a spider, and outputs the appropriate reaction, e.g. fear of possibly dangerous animals.

While philosophers have generally considered the human mind to include broad faculties, such as reason and lust, evolutionary psychologists describe evolved psychological mechanisms as narrowly focused to deal with specific issues, such as catching cheaters or choosing mates. The discipline views the human brain as comprising many functional mechanisms, called psychological adaptations or evolved cognitive mechanisms or cognitive modules, designed by the process of natural selection. Examples include language-acquisition modules, incest-avoidance mechanisms, cheater-detection mechanisms, intelligence and sex-specific mating preferences, foraging mechanisms, alliance-tracking mechanisms, agent-detection mechanisms, and others. Some mechanisms, termed domain-specific, deal with recurrent adaptive problems over the course of human evolutionary history. Domain-general mechanisms, on the other hand, are proposed to deal with evolutionary novelty.

Evolutionary psychology has roots in cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology but also draws on behavioral ecology, artificial intelligence, genetics, ethology, anthropology, archaeology, biology, and zoology. It is closely linked to sociobiology, but there are key differences between them including the emphasis on domain-specific rather than domain-general mechanisms, the relevance of measures of current fitness, the importance of mismatch theory, and psychology rather than behavior. Most of what is now labeled as sociobiological research is now confined to the field of behavioral ecology.

Nikolaas Tinbergen’s four categories of questions can help to clarify the distinctions between several different, but complementary, types of explanations. Evolutionary psychology focuses primarily on the “why?” questions, while traditional psychology focuses on the “how?” questions.

Premises

Evolutionary psychology is founded on several core premises.

The brain is an information processing device, and it produces behavior in response to external and internal inputs.
The brain’s adaptive mechanisms were shaped by natural and sexual selection.
Different neural mechanisms are specialized for solving problems in humanity’s evolutionary past.

The brain has evolved specialized neural mechanisms that were designed for solving problems that recurred over deep evolutionary time, giving modern humans stone-age minds. This is now being challenged by Cecilia Heyes.
Most contents and processes of the brain are unconscious; and most mental problems that seem easy to solve are actually extremely difficult problems that are solved unconsciously by complicated neural mechanisms.

Human psychology consists of many specialized mechanisms, each sensitive to different classes of information or inputs. These mechanisms combine to produce manifest behavior.

History of Evolutionary Psychology

The history of evolutionary psychology began with Charles Darwin, who said that humans have social instincts that evolved by natural selection.
Darwin’s work inspired later psychologists such as William James and Sigmund Freud but for most of the 20th century psychologists focused more on behaviorism and proximate explanations for human behavior.

E.O. Wilson’s landmark 1975 book, Sociobiology, synthesized recent theoretical advances in evolutionary theory to explain social behavior in animals, including humans.
Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby popularized the term “evolutionary psychology” in their 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture.

Like sociobiology before it, evolutionary psychology has been embroiled in controversy, but evolutionary psychologists see their field as gaining increased acceptance overall.

After his seminal work in developing theories of natural selection, Charles Darwin devoted much of his final years to the study of animal emotions and psychology.
He wrote two books; The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex in 1871 and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872 that dealt with topics related to evolutionary psychology.
He introduced the concepts of sexual selection to explain the presence of animal structures that seemed unrelated to survival, such as the peacock’s tail. He also introduced theories concerning group selection and kin selection to explain altruism.
Darwin pondered why humans and animals were often generous to their group members. Darwin felt that acts of generosity decreased the fitness of generous individuals. This fact contradicted natural selection which favored the fittest individual.
Darwin concluded that while generosity decreased the fitness of individuals, generosity would increase the fitness of a group. In this case, altruism arose due to competition between groups.

The following quote, from Darwin’s Origin of Species, is often interpreted by evolutionary psychologists as indication of his foreshadowing the emergence of the field:

“In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation.”
Charles Darwin 1859
The Origin of Species, p.488

Darwin’s theory inspired William James’s functionalist approach to psychology. At the core of his theory was a system of “instincts.” James wrote that humans had many instincts, even more than other animals. These instincts, he said, could be overridden by experience and by each other, as many of the instincts were actually in conflict with each other.

In their Evolutionary Psychology Primer Tooby and Cosmides make note of James’ perspective, and also quote him:

“We do not realize that ‘normal’ behavior needs to be explained at all. This “instinct blindness” makes the study of psychology difficult. To get past this problem, James suggested that we try to make the “natural seem strange”:

William James “It takes…a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange, so far as to ask for the why of any instinctive human act. To the metaphysician alone can such questions occur as: Why do we smile, when pleased, and not scowl? Why are we unable to talk to a crowd as we talk to a single friend? Why does a particular maiden turn our wits so upside-down? The common man can only say, Of course we smile, of course our heart palpitates at the sight of the crowd, of course we love the maiden, that beautiful soul clad in that perfect form, so palpably and flagrantly made for all eternity to be loved!
And so, probably, does each animal feel about the particular things it tends to do in the presence of particular objects. … To the lion it is the lioness which is made to be loved; to the bear, the she-bear. To the broody hen the notion would probably seem monstrous that there should be a creature in the world to whom a nestful of eggs was not the utterly fascinating and precious and never-to-be-too-much-sat-upon object which it is to her.
Thus we may be sure that, however mysterious some animals’ instincts may appear to us, our instincts will appear no less mysterious to them. (William James, 1890)”

“In our view, William James was right about evolutionary psychology. Making the natural seem strange is unnatural — it requires the twisted outlook seen, for example, in Gary Larson cartoons. Yet it is a pivotal part of the enterprise. Many psychologists avoid the study of natural competences, thinking that there is nothing there to be explained.”

According to Noam Chomsky, perhaps Anarchist thinker Peter Kropotkin could be credited as having founded evolutionary psychology, when in his 1902 book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution he argued that the human instinct for cooperation and mutual aid could be seen as stemming from evolutionary adaption.

William McDougall made a reference to “evolutionary psychology” in his 1919 book An Introduction to Social Psychology: “It is only a comparative and evolutionary psychology that can provide the needed basis (for psychology); and this could not be created before the work of Darwin had convinced men of the continuity of human with animal evolution as regards all bodily characters, and had prepared the way for the quickly following recognition of the similar continuity of man’s mental evolution with that of the animal world.”

While Darwin’s theories on natural selection gained acceptance in the early part of the 20th century, his theories on evolutionary psychology were largely ignored. Only after the second world war, in the 1950s, did interest increase in the systematic study of animal behavior. It was during this period that the modern field of ethology emerged. Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen were pioneers in developing the theoretical framework for ethology for which they would receive a Nobel prize in 1973.

Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape attempted to frame human behavior in the context of evolution, but his explanations failed to convince academics because they were based on a teleological (goal-oriented) understanding of evolution. For example, he said that the pair bond evolved so that men who were out hunting could trust that their mates back home were not having sex with other men.

Sociobiology

In 1975, E.O. Wilson built upon the works of Lorenz and Tinbergen by combining studies of animal behavior, social behavior and evolutionary theory in his book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Wilson included a chapter on human behavior. Wilson’s application of evolutionary analysis to human behavior caused bitter debate.

With the publication of Sociobiology, evolutionary thinking for the first time had an identifiable presence in the field of psychology. E.O. Wilson argues that the field of evolutionary psychology is essentially the same as “human sociobiology”.

Edward H. Hagen writes in The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology that sociobiology is, despite the public controversy regarding the applications to humans, “one of the scientific triumphs of the twentieth century.” “Sociobiology is now part of the core research and curriculum of virtually all biology departments, and it is a foundation of the work of almost all field biologists” Sociobiological research on nonhuman organisms has increased dramatically and appears continuously in the world’s top scientific journals such as Nature and Science. The more general term behavioral ecology is commonly used as substitute for the term sociobiology in order to avoid the public controversy.

Modern use of the term “evolutionary psychology”

The term evolutionary psychology was used by American biologist Michael Ghiselin in a 1973 article published in the journal Science. Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby popularized the term “evolutionary psychology” in their 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture.

In contrast to sociobiology and behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology emphasizes that organisms are “adaptation executors” rather than “fitness maximizers.” In other words, organisms have emotional, motivational and cognitive adaptations that generally increased inclusive fitness in the past but may not do so in the present. This distinction may explain some maladaptive behaviors that are the result of “fitness lags” between ancestral and modern environments. For example, our ancestrally developed desires for fat, sugar and salt often lead to health problems in modern environment where these are readily available in large quantities.

Also, in contrast to sociobiology and behavioral ecology (which mostly study non-human animal behavior), rather than focus primarily on overt behavior, EP attempts to identify underlying psychological adaptations (including emotional, motivational and cognitive mechanisms), and how these mechanisms interact with the developmental and current environmental influences to produce behavior.

Before 1990, introductory psychology textbooks scarcely mentioned Darwin. In the 1990s, evolutionary psychology was treated as a fringe theory, and evolutionary psychologists depicted themselves as an embattled minority. Coverage in psychology textbooks was largely hostile. According to evolutionary psychologists, current coverage in psychology textbooks is usually neutral or balanced.

The presence that evolutionary theory holds in psychology has been steadily increasing. According to its proponents, evolutionary psychology now occupies a central place in psychological science.

Theoretical foundations of evolutionary psychology

The theoretical foundations of evolutionary psychology are the general and specific scientific theories that explain the ultimate origins of psychological traits in terms of evolution. These theories originated with Charles Darwin’s work, including his speculations about the evolutionary origins of social instincts in humans. Modern evolutionary psychology, however, is possible only because of advances in evolutionary theory in the 20th century.

Evolutionary psychologists say that natural selection has provided humans with many psychological adaptations, in much the same way that it generated humans’ anatomical and physiological adaptations. As with adaptations in general, psychological adaptations are said to be specialized for the environment in which an organism evolved, the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA. Sexual selection provides organisms with adaptations related to mating. For male mammals, which have a relatively fast reproduction rate, sexual selection leads to adaptations that help them compete for females. For female mammals, with a relatively slow reproduction rate, sexual selection leads to choosiness, which helps females select higher quality mates. Charles Darwin described both natural selection and sexual selection, but he relied on group selection to explain the evolution of self-sacrificing behavior. Group selection is a weak explanation because in any group the less self-sacrificing animals will be more likely to survive and the group will become less self-sacrificing.

In 1964, William D. Hamilton proposed inclusive fitness theory, emphasizing a “gene’s-eye” view of evolution. Hamilton noted that individuals can increase the replication of their genes into the next generation by helping close relatives with whom they share genes survive and reproduce. According to “Hamilton’s rule”, a self-sacrificing behavior can evolve if it helps close relatives so much that it more than compensates for the individual animal’s sacrifice. Inclusive fitness theory resolved the issue of how “altruism” evolved. Other theories also help explain the evolution of altruistic behavior, including evolutionary game theory, tit-for-tat reciprocity, and generalized reciprocity. These theories not only help explain the development of altruistic behavior but also account for hostility toward cheaters (individuals that take advantage of others’ altruism).

Several mid-level evolutionary theories inform evolutionary psychology. The r/K selection theory proposes that some species prosper by having many offspring while others follow the strategy of having fewer offspring but investing much more in each one. Humans follow the second strategy. Parental investment theory explains how parents invest more or less in individual offspring based on how successful those offspring are likely to be, and thus how much they might improve the parents’ inclusive fitness. According to the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, parents in good conditions tend to invest more in sons (who are best able to take advantage of good conditions), while parents in poor conditions tend to invest more in daughters (who are best able to have successful offspring even in poor conditions). According to life history theory, animals evolve life histories to match their environments, determining details such as age at first reproduction and number of offspring. Dual inheritance theory posits that genes and human culture have interacted, with genes affecting the development of culture and culture, in turn, affecting human evolution on a genetic level (see also the Baldwin effect).

Critics of evolutionary psychology have sometimes challenged its theoretical underpinnings, saying that humans never developed powerful social instincts through natural selection and that the hypotheses of evolutionary psychologists are merely just-so-stories.

General Evolutionary Theory

Evolutionary psychology primarily uses the theories of natural selection, sexual selection, and inclusive fitness to explain the evolution of psychological adaptations.

Evolutionary psychology is sometimes seen not simply as a subdiscipline of psychology but as a metatheoretical framework in which the entire field of psychology can be examined.

Natural selection

Evolutionary psychologists consider Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection to be important to an understanding of psychology. Natural selection occurs because individual organisms who are genetically better suited to the current environment leave more descendants, and their genes spread through the population, thus explaining why organisms fit their environments so closely. This process is slow and cumulative, with new traits layered over older traits. The advantages created by natural selection are known as adaptations. Evolutionary psychologists say that animals, just as they evolve physical adaptations, evolve psychological adaptations.

Evolutionary psychologists emphasize that natural selection mostly generates specialized adaptations, which are more efficient than general adaptations. They point out that natural selection operates slowly, and that adaptations are sometimes out of date when the environment changes rapidly. In the case of humans, evolutionary psychologists say that much of human nature was shaped during the stone age and may not match the contemporary environment.

Sexual selection

Sexual selection favors traits that provide mating advantages, such as the peacock’s tail, even if these same traits are usually hindrances. Evolutionary psychologists point out that, unlike natural selection, sexual selection typically leads to the evolution of sex differences. Sex differences typically make reproduction faster for one sex and slower for the other, in which case mates are relatively scarce for the faster sex. Sexual selection favors traits that increase the number of mates for the fast sex and the quality of mates for the slow sex. For mammals, the female has the slower reproduction rate. Males typically evolve either traits to help them fight other males or traits to impress females. Females typically evolve greater abilities to discern the qualities of males, such as choosiness in mating.

Inclusive fitness

Inclusive fitness theory, proposed by William D. Hamilton, emphasized a “gene’s-eye” view of evolution. Hamilton noted that what evolution ultimately selects are genes, not groups or species. From this perspective, individuals can increase the replication of their genes into the next generation not only directly via reproduction, by also indirectly helping close relatives with whom they share genes survive and reproduce. General evolutionary theory, in its modern form, is essentially inclusive fitness theory.

Inclusive fitness theory resolved the issue of how “altruism” evolved. The dominant, pre-Hamiltonian view was that altruism evolved via group selection: the notion that altruism evolved for the benefit of the group. The problem with this was that if one organism in a group incurred any fitness costs on itself for the benefit of others in the group, (i.e. acted “altruistically”), then that organism would reduce its own ability to survive and/or reproduce, therefore reducing its chances of passing on its altruistic traits.

Furthermore, the organism that benefited from that altruistic act and only acted on behalf of its own fitness would increase its own chance of survival and/or reproduction, thus increasing its chances of passing on its “selfish” traits. Inclusive fitness resolved “the problem of altruism” by demonstrating that altruism can evolve via kin selection as expressed in Hamilton’s rule:

cost < relatedness × benefit

In other words, altruism can evolve as long as the fitness cost of the altruistic act on the part of the actor is less than the degree of genetic relatedness of the recipient times the fitness benefit to that recipient. This perspective reflects what is referred to as the gene-centered view of evolution and demonstrates that group selection is a very weak selective force.

Middle-level evolutionary theories

Middle-level evolutionary theories are consistent with general evolutionary theory, but focus on certain domains of functioning (Buss, 2011) Specific evolutionary psychology hypotheses may be derivative from a mid-level theory (Buss, 2011). Three very important middle-level evolutionary theories were contributed by Robert Trivers as well as Robert MacArthur and E. O. Wilson

The theory of parent-offspring conflict rests on the fact that even though a parent and his/her offspring are 50% genetically related, they are also 50% genetically different. All things being equal, a parent would want to allocate their resources equally amongst their offspring, while each offspring may want a little more for themselves. Furthermore, an offspring may want a little more resources from the parent than the parent is willing to give. In essence, parent-offspring conflict refers to a conflict of adaptive interests between parent and offspring. However, if all things are not equal, a parent may engage in discriminative investment towards one sex or the other, depending on the parent’s condition.

The Trivers–Willard hypothesis, which proposes that parents will invest more in the sex that gives them the greatest reproductive payoff (grandchildren) with increasing or marginal investment. Females are the heavier parental investors in our species. Because of that, females have a better chance of reproducing at least once in comparison to males, but males in good condition have a better chance of producing high numbers of offspring than do females in good condition. Thus, according to the Trivers–Willard hypothesis, parents in good condition are predicted to favor investment in sons, and parents in poor condition are predicted to favor investment in daughters.

r/K selection theory, which, in ecology, relates to the selection of traits in organisms that allow success in particular environments. r-selected species, i.e., species in unstable or unpredictable environments, produce many offspring, each of which is unlikely to survive to adulthood.
By contrast, K-selected species, i.e., species in stable or predictable environments, invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a better chance of surviving to adulthood.

Life history theory posits that the schedule and duration of key events in an organism’s lifetime are shaped by natural selection to produce the largest possible number of surviving offspring.
For any given individual, available resources in any particular environment are finite. Time, effort, and energy used for one purpose diminishes the time, effort, and energy available for another.
Examples of some major life history characteristics include: age at first reproductive event, reproductive lifespan and aging, and number and size of offspring.
Variations in these characteristics reflect different allocations of an individual’s resources (i.e., time, effort, and energy expenditure) to competing life functions.
For example, attachment theory proposes that caregiver attentiveness in early childhood can determine later adult attachment style. Also, Jay Belsky and others have found evidence that if the father is absent from the home, girls reach first menstruation earlier and also have more short term sexual relationships as women.

Evolved psychological mechanisms

Evolutionary psychology is based on the hypothesis that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore has evolved by natural selection.
Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst a species, and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction.

Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand psychological mechanisms by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might have served over the course of evolutionary history.
These might include abilities to infer others’ emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, cooperate with others and follow leaders. Consistent with the theory of natural selection, evolutionary psychology sees humans as often in conflict with others, including mates and relatives.
For instance, a mother may wish to wean her offspring from breastfeeding earlier than does her infant, which frees up the mother to invest in additional offspring.
Evolutionary psychology also recognizes the role of kin selection and reciprocity in evolving prosocial traits such as altruism.
Like chimpanzees and bonobos, humans have subtle and flexible social instincts, allowing them to form extended families, lifelong friendships, and political alliances.
In studies testing theoretical predictions, evolutionary psychologists have made modest findings on topics such as infanticide, intelligence, marriage patterns, promiscuity, perception of beauty, bride price and parental investment.

Historical topics

Proponents of evolutionary psychology in the 1990s made some explorations in historical events, but the response from historical experts was highly negative and there has been little effort to continue that line of research.
Historian Lynn Hunt says that the historians complained that the researchers:

“have read the wrong studies, misinterpreted the results of experiments, or worse yet, turned to neuroscience looking for a universalizing, anti-representational and anti-intentional ontology to bolster their claims”

Hunt states that, “the few attempts to build up a subfield of psychohistory collapsed under the weight of its presuppositions.” She concludes that as of 2014 the “‘iron curtain’ between historians and psychology…remains standing.”

Products of evolution: adaptations, exaptations, byproducts, and random variation

Not all traits of organisms are evolutionary adaptations. As noted in the table below, traits may also be exaptations, byproducts of adaptations (sometimes called “spandrels”), or random variation between individuals.

Psychological adaptations are hypothesized to be innate or relatively easy to learn, and to manifest in cultures worldwide. For example, the ability of toddlers to learn a language with virtually no training is likely to be a psychological adaptation.
On the other hand, ancestral humans did not read or write, thus today, learning to read and write require extensive training, and presumably represent byproducts of cognitive processing that use psychological adaptations designed for other functions.
However, variations in manifest behavior can result from universal mechanisms interacting with different local environments. For example, Caucasians who move from a northern climate to the equator will have darker skin. The mechanisms regulating their pigmentation do not change; rather the input to those mechanisms change, resulting in different output.

One of the tasks of evolutionary psychology is to identify which psychological traits are likely to be adaptations, byproducts or random variation.
George C. Williams suggested that an “adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should only be used where it is really necessary.”
As noted by Williams and others, adaptations can be identified by their improbable complexity, species universality, and adaptive functionality.

Obligate and facultative adaptations

A question that may be asked about an adaptation is whether it is generally obligate (relatively robust in the face of typical environmental variation) or facultative (sensitive to typical environmental variation).
The sweet taste of sugar and the pain of hitting one’s knee against concrete are the result of fairly obligate psychological adaptations; typical environmental variability during development does not much affect their operation.
By contrast, facultative adaptations are somewhat like “if-then” statements. For example, adult attachment style seems particularly sensitive to early childhood experiences. As adults, the propensity to develop close, trusting bonds with others is dependent on whether early childhood caregivers could be trusted to provide reliable assistance and attention.
The adaptation for skin to tan is conditional to exposure to sunlight; this is an example of another facultative adaptation. When a psychological adaptation is facultative, evolutionary psychologists concern themselves with how developmental and environmental inputs influence the expression of the adaptation.

Cultural universals

Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations.[5] Cultural universals include behaviors related to language, cognition, social roles, gender roles, and technology.
Evolved psychological adaptations (such as the ability to learn a language) interact with cultural inputs to produce specific behaviors (e.g., the specific language learned).
Basic gender differences, such as greater eagerness for sex among men and greater coyness among women, are explained as sexually dimorphic psychological adaptations that reflect the different reproductive strategies of males and females.
Evolutionary psychologists contrast their approach to what they term the “standard social science model,” according to which the mind is a general-purpose cognition device shaped almost entirely by culture.

Environment of evolutionary adaptedness

Evolutionary psychology argues that to properly understand the functions of the brain, one must understand the properties of the environment in which the brain evolved. That environment is often referred to as the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness”.

The idea of an environment of evolutionary adaptedness was first explored as a part of attachment theory by John Bowlby.
This is the environment to which a particular evolved mechanism is adapted. More specifically, the environment of evolutionary adaptedness is defined as the set of historically recurring selection pressures that formed a given adaptation, as well as those aspects of the environment that were necessary for the proper development and functioning of the adaptation.

Humans, comprising the genus Homo, appeared between 1.5 and 2.5 million years ago, a time that roughly coincides with the start of the Pleistocene 2.6 million years ago. Because the Pleistocene ended a mere 12,000 years ago, most human adaptations either newly evolved during the Pleistocene, or were maintained by stabilizing selection during the Pleistocene. Evolutionary psychology therefore proposes that the majority of human psychological mechanisms are adapted to reproductive problems frequently encountered in Pleistocene environments.
In broad terms, these problems include those of growth, development, differentiation, maintenance, mating, parenting, and social relationships.

The environment of evolutionary adaptedness is significantly different from modern society.
The ancestors of modern humans lived in smaller groups, had more cohesive cultures, and had more stable and rich contexts for identity and meaning.
Researchers look to existing hunter-gatherer societies for clues as to how hunter-gatherers lived in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness.
Unfortunately, the few surviving hunter-gatherer societies are different from each other, and they have been pushed out of the best land and into harsh environments, so it is not clear how closely they reflect ancestral culture.

Evolutionary psychologists sometimes look to chimpanzees, bonobos, and other great apes for insight into human ancestral behavior. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá argue that evolutionary psychologists have overemphasized the similarity of humans and chimps, which are more violent, while underestimating the similarity of humans and bonobos, which are more peaceful.

Mismatches

Since an organism’s adaptations were suited to its ancestral environment, a new and different environment can create a mismatch. Because humans are mostly adapted to Pleistocene environments, psychological mechanisms sometimes exhibit “mismatches” to the modern environment.
One example is the fact that although about 10,000 people are killed with guns in the US annually, whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless learn to fear spiders and snakes about as easily as they do a pointed gun, and more easily than an unpointed gun, rabbits or flowers.
A potential explanation is that spiders and snakes were a threat to human ancestors throughout the Pleistocene, whereas guns (and rabbits and flowers) were not. There is thus a mismatch between humans’ evolved fear-learning psychology and the modern environment.

This mismatch also shows up in the phenomena of the supernormal stimulus, a stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which the response evolved.
The term was coined by Niko Tinbergen to refer to non-human animal behavior, but psychologist Deirdre Barrett said that supernormal stimulation governs the behavior of humans as powerfully as that of other animals. She explained junk food as an exaggerated stimulus to cravings for salt, sugar, and fats, and she says that television is an exaggeration of social cues of laughter, smiling faces and attention-grabbing action.
Magazine centerfolds and double cheeseburgers pull instincts intended for an EEA where breast development was a sign of health, youth and fertility in a prospective mate, and fat was a rare and vital nutrient.
The psychologist Mark van Vugt recently argued that modern organizational leadership is a mismatch. His argument is that humans are not adapted to work in large, anonymous bureaucratic structures with formal hierarchies. The human mind still responds to personalized, charismatic leadership primarily in the context of informal, egalitarian settings. Hence the dissatisfaction and alienation that many employees experience. Salaries, bonuses and other privileges exploit instincts for relative status, which attract particularly males to senior executive positions.

Evolutionary psychology and culture

Evolutionary psychology has traditionally focused on individual-level behaviors, determined by species-typical psychological adaptations. Considerable work, though, has been done on how these adaptations shape and, ultimately govern, culture (Tooby and Cosmides, 1989).
Tooby and Cosmides (1989) argued that the mind consists of many domain-specific psychological adaptations, some of which may constrain what cultural material is learned or taught.
As opposed to a domain-general cultural acquisition program, where an individual passively receives culturally-transmitted material from the group, Tooby and Cosmides (1989), among others, argue that: “the psyche evolved to generate adaptive rather than repetitive behavior, and hence critically analyzes the behavior of those surrounding it in highly structured and patterned ways, to be used as a rich (but by no means the only) source of information out of which to construct a ‘private culture’ or individually tailored adaptive system; in consequence, this system may or may not mirror the behavior of others in any given respect.” (Tooby and Cosmides 1989).

Epidemiological culture

The Epidemiology of representations, or cultural epidemiology, is a broad framework for understanding cultural phenomena by investigating the distribution of mental representations in and through populations.
The theory of cultural epidemiology was largely developed by Dan Sperber to study society and cultures. The theory has implications for psychology and anthropology. Mental representations are transferred from person to person through cognitive causal chains. Sperber (2001) identified three different, yet interrelated, cognitive causal chains.
A cognitive causal chain (CCC) links a perception to an evolved, domain-specific response or process. For example:

“On October 31, at 7:30 p.m., Mrs. Jones’s doorbell rings. Mrs. Jones hears the doorbell, and assumes that there is somebody at the door. She remembers it is Halloween: she enjoyed receiving treats as a child, and now, as an adult, she enjoys giving them. She guesses that there must be children at the door ready to trick-or-treat, and that, if she opens, she will be able to give them the candies she has bought for the occasion. Mrs. Jones decides to open the door, and does so.”

Social Cognitive Causal Chains (SCCC) are inter-individual CCCs. Here, a CCC is used as an act of communication between people (i.e. the mental representation is shared between multiple people). Elaborating on the previous example:

“On October 31, at 7:30 p.m., Mrs. Jones’s doorbell rings. Mrs. Jones hears the doorbell, and assumes that there is somebody at the door. She remembers it is Halloween: she enjoyed receiving treats as a child, and now, as an adult, she enjoys giving them. She guesses that there must be children at the door ready to trick-or-treat, and that, if she opens, she will be able to give them the candies she has bought for the occasion. Mrs. Jones decides to open the door, and does so.”

Cultural Cognitive Causal Chains (CCCCs) are those SCCCs which are shared and reproduced widely among a population.

The stability and longevity of these representations relies on their relevance and domain-specificity. This separates the epidemiology of representations from other evolutionary accounts of cultural transmission, namely memetics.

Evolutionary psychology and cultural evolution

Evolutionary psychological accounts of culture, especially cultural epidemiology, may seem at odds with other disciplines in psychology and anthropology, especially research in cultural evolution (e.g. Boyd and Richerson, 1985, 2005).

Cultural evolution, the domain of research focused on how culture changes through time due to different individual transmission mechanisms and population-level effects, often uses models derived from population genetics, in which agents are passive recipients of cultural traits (e.g. Bentley et al., 2004).

While evolutionary psychology has focused on how behavior may result from species-typical psychological programs which led to greater fitness in ancestral environments, this work has been criticized for neglecting how behavior may be shaped by culturally transmitted information. In contrast to genetic programs, cultural evolution investigates how culture itself may evolve (Mesoudi, 2009).
Gene-culture coevolution studies how culture and genetic evolution influence each other, ultimately shaping behavior, as well. Cultural evolution and evolutionary psychology may not be as disparate as one may think, though. Rather than a passive receptacle of cultural material, Boyd and Richerson (1985, 2005) suggest that our minds consist of psychological mechanisms which direct our attention to and imitate cultural traits depending on the frequency of that trait, the content of it, who carries it, etc. In this way, cultural evolution may be viewed as a particular kind of “scaling up” from the individual-level processes to population-level ones.

In neither account of culture is the mind a blank slate or empty bin for cultural material (Tooby and Cosmides, 1992). Some evolutionary psychologists have suggested that culturally-transmitted culture may pass through a number of lenses and filters shaped by natural selection to catch fitness-relevant information and behaviors; these filters may change due to local environmental conditions, sex, and other factors (Gangestad et al., 2006).
Boyer (2000) argued that evolutionary psychology, and anthropology in general, should investigate how these cognitive predispositions to cultural material affect their representation in following generations.
This research program may help to unify the two fields (Boyer, 2000). Others have suggested that evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology, and cultural evolution all fit nicely with each other, ultimately answering different questions on human behavioral diversity; gene-culture coevolution may be at odds with other research programs though by placing more emphasis on socially-learned behavior and its influence on human evolution (Brown et al., 2011)

Evolutionary psychology and human behavioral ecology

Human Behavioral Ecology (HBE) studies how ecology and social factors shape human behavioral variability. A key assumption of human behavioral ecology is that individuals will act in response to environmental factors in ways that enhance their fitness.
While both HBE and evolutionary psychology are both concerned with fitness benefits and natural selection, HBE is not typically concerned with mechanisms or how humans display adaptive behaviors in novel environments.

If the human mind took its present form and evolved in the African Pleistocene, why should one expect to behave adaptively in the present and in so many new environments?
Human Behavioral Ecologists may respond by stating that humans evolved as ecological generalists and display a wide range of variable behaviors to maximize fitness.
Where cooperation and food-sharing among extant hunter-gatherers may be seen as the result of kin-selection psychological mechanisms by an evolutionary psychologist, a human behavioral ecologist may attribute this behavior to optimal risk-reduction strategies and reciprocal altruism.

For Human Behavioral Ecology, cultural behaviors should tend towards optimality (i.e. higher fitness) in their current environment. For evolutionary psychology, cultural behaviors are the result of psychological mechanisms which were selected for in ancestral environments.

Evoked and transmitted culture

The difference between cultural behaviors acquired through selective transmission mechanisms and behaviors resulting from psychological adaptations has resulted in some researchers differentiating between evoked and transmitted culture (Tooby and Cosmides, 1992).

Evoked cultural behaviors are those that are the outputs of shared psychological mechanisms in response to local environmental cues Fessler et al., 2015).

Transmitted cultural behaviors are those behaviors which are learned from one’s social group, regardless of environment.

As such, investigating evoked culture may well rest in the domain of evolutionary psychology and transmitted culture studied by culture evolution, social psychology, and other disciplines.
Differentiating between the two is more difficult than it may appear, however. For example, given the level of cross-cultural variation in human societies, variation between any two cultures may result from separate histories and cultural evolutionary pathways or different evoked cultures, based on different local environmental cues, while uniformity across cultures could result from convergent cultural evolution or similarly functioning psychological adaptations (Fessler et al., 2015).
Specifically, if two cultures exhibit similar behaviors to avoid pathogens, can one differentiate between either the two groups independently inventing similar behaviors or the groups displaying the same underlying psychological adaptation for pathogen avoidance?

As well, the issue of behavioral variation and transmitted culture may be seen as a major point of contention between evolutionary psychology and other disciplines, especially gene-culture coevolution. Evolutionary psychology and human behavioral ecology both admit to cultural transmission as a source of behavioral variation but do not see it as an evolutionary process or its potential to have significantly affected human evolution.

Gene-culture coevolution would argue that culture traits may have altered genetic change and selection pressures, ultimately affecting cognition. However, as Brown et al. (2011) states:”Whether human behavioural ecologists and evolutionary psychologists are willing to accommodate the idea that some portion of human behavioural diversity could result from genetic differences that have arisen via selection pressures imposed by socially transmitted behaviour remains to be seen.”

While this may difficult, some evolutionary psychologists, such as Gangestad, Haselton, and Buss (2006) have argued that the future of the discipline rests on unifying transmitted and evoked culture. In order to do so, the authors suggest that a more comprehensive definition of culture needs to be developed since different cultural phenomena need different kinds of analysis to investigate their effects.
As they state, “Culture, however, is not a “thing” with singularity; it’s an umbrella concept subsuming a collection of extraordinarily varied phenomena, each of which requires scientific analysis” (Gangestad et al., 2006), the issues of behavioral variation through evoked or transmitted culture must rest on empirical evidence.

Psychology, culture, and human evolution

While most researchers would accept the notion that psychological adaptations, shaped by natural selection, underlie culture, some would stress the strength of cultural behaviors on shaping selection pressures (Boyd and Richerson, 2005) or emphasize cultural niche construction (Laland et al., 2000).
Still others have argued for a kind of cognitive niche construction, where culture changes the selection pressures on cognition, resulting in emergent psychological modules (e.g. Wheeler and Clark, 2008).
Wheeler and Clark (2008) have named this interplay between genes, culture, and embodiment the “triple helix.” The authors suggest that self-created environmental structures and reliance on culturally-transmitted information selected for cognitive modules for continual bootstrapping and increases in computational complexity. Their argument relies on cognitive niche construction, where culturally-learned behaviors create a space for new feedback cycles. By shaping the physical space around oneself, for example, the culturally-transmitted practice transform problem solving for new forms of thought.

The feedback cycle, as they and others argue, will alter selection pressures for cognitive developmental programs which bolster these abilities. As they state, “Triple helix models of mind recognize the role of genetic biases in sculpting key developmental trajectories, and the resulting space both for strong forms of genetically specified cognitive modularity and for weaker forms of emergent modularity resulting from trajectories marked by multiple bouts of culturally scaffolded experience and the self- selection of environments” (Wheeler and Clark, 2008.
Other authors have suggested that borrowing methods of dynamical systems analysis may help unravel this tangled web of genes, cognition, and culture (Kenrick et al., 2003). The answers to these type of questions have impacts on anthropology, social psychology, and other behavioral sciences (Mesoudi, 2009).

Wikipedia

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The Buddhist Schools: Theravada and Mahayana * Mahayana Buddhism – Gaurav Manandhar * Facts and Details.

The different forms of Buddhism can be understood by becoming familiar with the two major schools that arose out of the Buddha’s basic teachings:

BuddhaNet

The two major schools of Buddhism, Theravada and the Mahayana, are to be understood as different expressions of the same teaching of the historical Buddha. Because, in fact, they agree upon and practice the core teachings of the Buddha’s Dharma. And while there was a schism after the first council on the death of the Buddha, it was largely over the monastic rules and academic points such as whether an enlightened person could lapse or not.

Time, culture and customs in the countries in Asia which adopted the Buddha-dharma have more to do with the apparent differences, as you will not find any animosity between the two major schools, other than that created by healthy debate on the expression of and the implementation of the Buddha’s Teachings.

Theravada (The Teachings of the Elders)

In the Buddhist countries of southern Asia, there never arose any serious differences on the fundamentals of Buddhism. All these countries – Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, have accepted the principles of the Theravada school and any differences there might be between the various schools is restricted to minor matters.

The earliest available teachings of the Buddha are to be found in Pali literature and belongs to the school of the Theravadins, who may be called the most orthodox school of Buddhism.

This school admits the human characteristics of the Buddha, and is characterised by a psychological understanding of human nature; and emphasises a meditative approach to the transformation of consciousness.

The teaching of the Buddha according to this school is very plain. He asks us to ‘abstain from all kinds of evil, to accumulate all that is good and to purify our mind’.
These can be accomplished by The Three Trainings: the development of ethical conduct, meditation and insight-wisdom.

The philosophy of this school is straight forward. All worldly phenomena are subject to three characteristics – they are impermanent and transient; unsatisfactory and that there is nothing in them which can be called one’s own, nothing substantial, nothing permanent.

All compounded things are made up of two elements – the non-material part, the material part. They are further described as consisting of nothing but five constituent groups, namely the material quality, and the four non-material qualities – sensations, perception, mental formatives and lastly consciousness.
When an individual thus understands the true nature of things, she/he finds nothing substantial in the world.

Through this understanding, there is neither indulgence in the pleasures of senses or self-mortification, following the Middle Path the practitioner lives according to the Noble Eightfold Path which consist of Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Occupation, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. She/he realises that all worldly suffering is caused by craving and that it is possible to bring suffering to an end by following the Noble Eight Fold Path.

When that perfected state of insight is reached, i.e.Nibanna, that person is a ‘worthy person’ an Arhat. The life of the Arhat is the ideal of the followers of this school, ‘a life where all (future) birth is at an end, where the holy life is fully achieved, where all that has to be done has been done, and there is no more returning to the worldly life’.

Mahayana (The Great Vehicle)

The Mahayana is more of an umbrella body for a great variety of schools, from the Tantra school (the secret teaching of Yoga) well represented in Tibet and Nepal to the Pure Land sect, whose essential teaching is that salvation can be attained only through absolute trust in the saving power of Amitabha, longing to be reborn in his paradise through his grace, which are found in China, Korea and Japan.

Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, of China and Japan, are meditation schools. According to these schools, to look inward and not to look outwards is the only way to achieve enlightenment, which to the human mind is ultimately the same as Buddhahood. In this system, the emphasis is upon ‘intuition’, its peculiarity being that it has no words in which to express itself at all, so it does this in symbols and images. In the course of time this system developed its philosophy of intuition to such a degree that it remains unique to this day.

It is generally accepted, that what we know today as the Mahayana arose from the Mahasanghikas sect who were the earliest seceders, and the forerunners of the Mahayana. They took up the cause of their new sect with zeal and enthusiasm and in a few decades grew remarkably in power and popularity. They adapted the existing monastic rules and thus revolutionised the Buddhist Order of Monks. Moreover, they made alterations in the arrangements and interpretation of the Sutra (Discourses) and the Vinaya (Rules) texts. And they rejected certain portions of the canon which had been accepted in the First Council.

According to it, the Buddhas are lokottara (supramundane) and are connected only externally with the worldly life. This conception of the Buddha contributed much to the growth of the Mahayana philosophy.

Mahayana Buddhism is divided into two systems of thought: the Madhyamika and the Yogacara.

The Madhyamikas were so called on account of the emphasis they laid on the middle view. Here, the middle path, stands for the non-acceptance of the two views concerning existence and nonexistence, eternity and non eternity, self and non-self. In short, it advocates neither the theory of reality nor that of the unreality of the world, but merely of relativity. It is, however, to be noted that the Middle Path propounded at Sarnath by the Buddha had an ethical meaning, while that of the Madhyamikas is a metaphysical concept.

The Yogacara School is another important branch of the Mahayana. It was so called because it emphasised the practice of yoga (meditation) as the most effective method for the attainment of the highest truth (Bodhi). All the ten stages of spiritual progress of Bodhisattvahood have to be passed through before Bodhi can be attained.

The ideal of the Mahayana school, therefore, is that of the Bodhisattva, a person who delays his or her own enlightenment in order to compassionately assist all other beings and ultimately attains to the highest Bodhi.

Three Essentials In Practising the Teaching of the Buddha

1. Faith and Determination

2. Loving Kindness and Compassion

3. Wisdom

The philosophy expounded by the Buddha is very profound and broad. It is so broad and profound that sometimes ordinary people have difficulties in finding a right entrance into it. They do not know where to start. However, this does not imply that the Buddha’s Teachings are confusing or disorganised. On the contrary, Buddhism has very logical, well-reasoned and practical principles.

Wise men in the past commented that all the methods taught by the Buddha, whether the expedient or ultimate paths, serve the sole purpose of leading one to Buddhahood.

– Whether it is the path that leads one away from evil, and towards the right aspirations (the principle of the Five Vehicles)
– or the path that leads to disentanglement from worldly desires and to freedom (the principle of the Three Vehicles);
– or the path that turns one away from the practice of the Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas and redirects one to Mahayana thought (the principle of the one Vehicle);

The Buddha explained the paths to enlightenment in all these various ways for the benefit of sentient beings in all their corresponding variety. It is for this great reason that the Buddha appeared in this world.

From the stand point of one who wants to learn about Buddhism, it is important to understand that all the methods taught by the Buddha are in fact processes in the Bodhisattva’s practice. They are the Bodhi paths that lead to Buddhahood. Due to the differing conditions, causes, times and places into which we were born, the best ways towards Bodhi (Enlightenment) may differ for each of us. But if we try to seek the truth of nature through the various methods we will realise that there are no great differences in the teachings of the Buddha.

Three themes characterize all the teachings and encompass them as one coherent whole. These themes are as applicable to the practice of “One Vehicle” as they are to the “Three vehicles” and “Five vehicles”.

Thus, we call these themes the
“The Three Essentials in Practising the Teaching of the Buddha”.

1.1 The Three Essentials of Practice Defined

What are these Three Essentials of Practice?
As stated in the Sutra of Great Prajna they are;
– “To maintain mindfulness of supreme Bodhi (the mind of enlightenment),
– to centre oneself on compassion, and
– to learn the skilful means of emptiness (the wisdom of non-grasping or subtle intangibility)”.

The Great Prajna Sutra emphasizes the all-inclusive practice of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva must learn all methods of practice, (which are in fact nothing more than the ways of cultivating goodness and wisdom). All these methods should comply with the Three Essentials, which are their foundation.

The ultimate aim of all practices is to attain perfection in these three virtues. Thus, these themes are in fact the heart of practising the Bodhisattva way. As the ancients said, “If we did not find the right direction of practice we would be wandering blindly around the eight thousand methods and teachings taught by the Buddha, just like walking in the darkness. If we could find the right direction of practice, the twelve