“Envy is a frenzy that cannot endure the fact that other people possess anything.”
—François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
Back in 2013, a blogger called “The Last Psychiatrist” stated that he was writing a book “of and about porn.”
A year later, he stopped updating his website and seemingly disappeared.
I discovered his work a little after that. I saw The Last Psychiatrist referenced several times on Slate Star Codex. Other writers and smart people described him as a genius.
He was adamant about his anonymity, at one point saying:
“I'm thankful to those who defend me, and I'm not surprised by those who hate me, but either way you are missing the point. I don't matter. It's debatable whether my ideas matter, but for sure they matter much more than I do.”
In 2021, seven years after he’d last updated his blog, The Last Psychiatrist released two books under the pseudonym Edward Teach, M.D.
-Sadly, Porn (1000~ pages)
-Watch What You Hear: Penelope’s Dream of Twenty Geese (114 pages)
Here is how the twentieth-century Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin described the experience of reading the seventeenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico:
“The reader tends to be buffeted, bewildered and exhausted; no idea is properly presented or developed or organised into a coherent structure. It is a very punishing style.”
Still, Berlin acknowledged that Vico’s ideas were brilliant and full of “turbulent vitality.”
That was what came to mind as I read Sadly, Porn.
For example, the book is designed so that many of the key points come in footnotes that comprise entire essays.
Any meaning you pull out from Sadly, Porn is hard-won.
But, to the extent I managed to, it was a fascinating experience.
In On War, the nineteenth-century Prussian general and strategist Carl von Clausewitz opens the book by promising to avoid “nonsense” and to communicate the lessons he has learned “in compressed form, like small nuggets of pure metal.”
But that’s not what his book turned out to be.
The Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has described On War as “not so much nuggets as an immense dripping net of entangled octopi…what [Oxford historian] Sir Michael Howard has called Clausewitz’s ‘infuriating incoherence.’”
“Infuriating incoherence” might describe Sadly, Porn.
Edward Teach opens the book by stating:
“I have avoided the use of jargon…I’ve tried to make this book as simple as possible.”
This was less than fully honest.
Halfway through the book, in a dialogue with the reader, Teach writes:
“Most of you should not read this book…I did everything I could to exclude everyone…‘But I can’t follow your book, why can't you write more clearly?’ I typed it, what the hell more do you want? I would have published this in 4pt font if I could.”
“‘Will this book help me learn more about myself?’ Ugh. The whole earth is sick of your search for knowledge. In here you will not find explanations, I am not offering you information, this is an attempt to destroy the wisdom of the wise and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent.”
He explains the circumstances in which he wrote the book:
“I had to write it in a car during stolen time in the middle of the woods or night, and eventually it took a global pandemeconium for me to Philip K. Dick the book during a manic week off just to get what you see here.”
Throughout Sadly, Porn, I kept thinking about what my former professor wrote about Clausewitz’s net of entangled octopi.
Some of my interpretations here might be wrong, but here goes.
Envy and Ledgers
“The envious man does not so much want to have what is possessed by others as yearn for a state of affairs in which no one would enjoy the coveted object or style of life.”
—Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior (Helmut Schoeck)
I’ll communicate my understanding of Teach’s ideas and claims to the best of my ability.
But I won’t be able to discuss his evidence for them. Mostly because he provides no evidence.
Sadly, Porn contains analyses, references, and allusions pertaining to:
-The History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides)
-Oedipus Rex (Sophocles)
-Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
-A made-up movie called “AfFIRMative ASSent” (that’s how it’s spelled in the book)
-The Interpretation of Dreams (Freud)
-Various biblical stories
-Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
-The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
And a bunch of other books, movies, and TV shows.
He spends page after page analyzing the meaning of the children’s book The Giving Tree, the 1938 novel Rebecca, and Fifty Shades of Grey, among other texts. I’m not going to discuss most of that. There’s just too much.
The man has range.
He is not kind to the reader.
The very first footnote of Sadly, Porn contains an allusion to a passage from Thucydides:
“I could have written you tidings more cheering than these, but none more profitable; for you should be well-informed of our circumstances if you are to take the right steps. Moreover I know your dispositions; you like to hear pleasant things, but afterwards lay the fault on those who tell you them if they are falsified by the event; therefore I think it safer to speak the truth.”
Much of the book is about how our psychological defenses prevent us from understanding our motives.
What do you get out of porn?
Typical answers are: sexual pleasure, the simulation of intimacy, distraction, relief from boredom, and so on.
But Teach says this is the wrong question. Asking what you get out of porn is a defense from the real question, which is actually, “What is porn getting you out of?”
A common belief is that people turn to porn because they can’t find sex or intimacy in real life.
Teach turns this logic on its head: people don’t want sex or intimacy in real life.
The idea is that while porn is usually thought of as a means to orgasm, this is actually a lie people tell themselves. Porn is in fact a means to deprive someone else of pleasure.
Teach writes from the perspective of a married man who uses porn rather than have sex with his wife:
“Why should she get the house and your income and also satisfaction from you? Is she satisfying you? Doesn't seem fair, the ledger is unbalanced. If some random woman wants to have sex with you, of course you'll try and satisfy her—that's a fair trade, tit for fat. But the women in your life—'you know what I mean’—scheme to get the ledger unbalanced in their favor. So the rage gets masked as a sexual fantasy and you imagine that she can only get full satisfaction with other people—which means, in real life she isn't satisfied. Ledger balanced. Her fantasy orgasms show you just how very much she is deprived of by staying with you in real life, and it makes you cum so hard.”
This passage, in my view, is the key to understanding the book’s core themes. I had to drop my preconceived views to grasp the point Teach is trying to make.
As someone more inclined toward evolutionary psychology rather than psychoanalysis, I’d say wanting to put more effort into satisfying a random person as opposed to one’s long-term partner is consistent with evolutionary principles.
A long-term partner is already committed. So, in plain terms, this means you don’t have to put in as much effort to win them over. You already have. But with a new partner, you have to persuade them to like you, and see you again, so naturally you’d put in more effort.
As the evolutionary psychology professor Geoffrey Miller has written in The Mating Mind, a man’s “motivational system has evolved to deploy his courtship effort where it makes a difference to his reproductive success—mainly by focusing it where it improves his rate of sexual intercourse…Frustratingly, a woman may find that the greater the sexual commitment she displays the less her man speaks.”
In fact, this is one reason why men who speak so much early in the courtship process often become less loquacious once the relationship is established. Miller writes, “Of course, if an established partner suspends sexual relations, or threatens to have an affair, evolution would favor motivations that produce a temporary resurgence of verbal courtship until the danger has passed.” If a man who has grown aloof senses his partner growing distant, this may reignite his verbal courtship motivations.
Teach would probably read something like that, or anything from evo psych, and react with laughter. He’d respond that it is a defense against acknowledging what we are really trying to do: deprive others to keep our mental ledger balanced.
His explanation of the cuckoldry fantasy: You already deprive your wife of love. So you conjure the fantasy in which she appears satisfied by someone else. Now, (in your mind) she is happy. This gives you the excuse to treat her poorly by depriving her of love.
Believing the cuckoldry fantasy makes you a wimp is the defense against your true motive: depriving her.
The term “ledger” appears twice in that passage and dozens more times throughout the book.
The idea is that people keep a mental account of how much they (imagine they) have done for others and how much (they imagine) others have done for them.
It is powered by envy.
As the book puts it, “In the ledger of envy, your gain isn’t reliably someone’s loss, but their gain is always your loss and your loss is always someone’s gain.”
So from the point of view of a married man who feels he has given his wife so much, and feels that she has given him comparatively little in return, he turns to porn rather than have sex with her.
Which is where the cuckoldry fantasy comes in.
The book contains a bizarre erotica short story, written by Teach himself, about a married couple who runs into the husband’s coworker, who is his rival at work. The wife then teases the husband’s rival and then gives him a lap dance while the husband watches with pleasure.
This scene came out of nowhere and it only makes sense in the context of the entire book.
Essentially, the married man is pleased that two people he secretly resented are simultaneously being deprived of pleasure: Both his wife and his rival are enjoying the lap dance, but both are unable to do what they really want, which is to have sex. The longer the teasing, the more deprived they both feel, and the more enjoyment the husband gets.
Teach says that the aim of the cuckold fantasy is to imagine that your romantic partner is deprived of satisfaction.
A man imagines his wife is being pleased by another man, which is evidence that he himself is not pleasing her. This, in turn, is what gets him off: the fact that she is happy with someone other than him. This means she is unhappy with him.
The knowledge of his wife’s deprivation in real life is the real payoff of the cuckoldry fantasy, not her being pleased by another man.
His desire to deprive her is motivated by the feeling of the ledger being unbalanced. The man feels deprived, and therefore he has to deprive her (at least in his own mind) to rebalance the ledger.
But why does the man (according to the book) feel that his wife has deprived him?
Because he sees her as she is, not as others see her.
The book makes a distinction between sexualized fantasy versus mundane reality by invoking two archetypes: the econ major and the sorority girl.
Of course, an econ major can be in a sorority. But the book states “She can only be a fantasy if she stops being an econ major” and instead becomes a sorority girl.
And if you do fulfill your fantasy by being with a sorority girl, and eventually marry her, the excitement wanes as you discover she is just an econ major. Even if she really is/was a sorority girl.
Others see her as a sorority girl, they see an idealized image of her. They don’t see the mundane reality that you see, of her as an econ major. Thus, you feel deprived that only others get access to this idealized fantasy version of her.
You restore balance to the ledger by depriving her (and others) in subtle and devious ways.
In evolutionary biology, there’s a concept called the “Coolidge Effect.” After a male has sex with a female, the longer they are together, the more time he needs between sessions. But if introduced to a new female, the male refractory period is curtailed because they are aroused by novelty. The possibility of impregnating a new female stimulates the male into action.
Again, Teach would brush this evolutionary idea aside. (I actually think his psychoanalytic ideas can co-exist alongside some evo psych ideas. They just work at different levels of analysis).
The book instead claims something else is going on. A guy sees a woman and projects all these ideas and fantasies and preconceived notions of who she is. Then they sleep together, and he learns more about her. He no longer sees her in the way he did when they first met. But he realizes others see her that way. The book states, “It’s bad enough he can’t get his fantasy from the woman he loves, but worse is that, logically, everyone else can get it from her except you.”
He sees her as the proverbial “econ major” but feels deprived because other see her as a “sorority girl.”
Teach writes, “Even if your wish for a sorority girl is fulfilled she will quickly become an econ major—while (you perceive) she remains a sorority girl to everyone else.”
So he is envious that others see her that way. To get back at her, he withdraws sexual interest and uses porn. And envisions cuckold fantasies of her being satisfied by someone other than himself, which is arousing because that implies she lacks satisfaction in real life.
Teach says this also explains why some men react with fury upon hearing about their partner’s previous sexual experiences with other men:
“Her past always sounds more sexual not because she is now less sexual, but because he doesn't hear the past as continuity, the stories of the past are about someone else, before he turned her into an econ major and later a wife. The underlying problem that can't be solved is that therefore the real her, had she been left to her own desires, was the one in the past. That he has no access to, that only everyone else does.”
At first, I was skeptical of this logic.
Surely no one actually thinks this way. Not even unconsciously.
Shortly after reading that passage in the book, though, I came across a New York Times essay titled “Marriage Requires Amnesia.”
Look at that subtitle.
The author of the piece describes her marriage, and her growing disdain for her husband. She writes:
“After 15 years of marriage, you start to see your mate clearly, free of your own projections and misperceptions. This is not necessarily a good thing. This is not an illusion; it’s clarity. Until Bill has enough coffee, he lies in a jumble on the couch, listening to the coffee maker, waiting for it to usher him from the land of the undead. He is exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, almost sentient but not quite. Other times I experience Bill as a very handsome professor, a leader among men, a visionary who has big ideas about the future of science education in America. This is clarity. I see Bill with a scorching clarity that pains me.”
This person is frustrated by the mismatch between the image of her husband and the reality of him. Everyone else gets to see a leader among men, but she sees a smelly, inert heap.
And characterizes him with contempt in the most prominent newspaper in the U.S.
I read that essay. Then I thought, maybe Sadly, Porn is not an insane book.
But damn is it dark.
Teach interprets the biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel using the book’s logic of envy and deprivation.
Nebuchadnezzar was a king who had a dream, and then forgot what it was.
Daniel told him he knew what the dream was: Nebuchadnezzar dreamed that his kingdom would fall. It would be replaced by another, and another, and another, until finally all earthly kingdoms would crumble, and would be replaced by God's everlasting kingdom.
The King is so overjoyed by Daniel's insight that he falls to his knees and praises him.
Teach’s interpretation: Nebuchadnezzar believes he is rejoicing because Daniel’s interpretation suggests that the king is paving the way for the Kingdom of God. An acceptable interpretation.
But Nebuchadnezzar’s real wish, forbidden wish, is that he wants his kingdom to fail after he dies. The thought of his lazy sons or wives enjoying his kingdom after he is no longer around repulses him. He wants to deprive them of that satisfaction.
This is also how American parents view their children:
“Conventional wisdom says American society is hyperanxious about the growth and safety of children, but the subordinate clause is a lie. Children aren't fragile, they are a direct psychological threat. This doesn't mean that people don't like them or won't break their backs to send them to college, it means that they parent in a way that prevents the kids from manifesting as a threat to their identity, i.e. prevents them from growing up into their replacement…it is impossible to form the idea that they will turn into adults that will replace us while we are alive. This is both individually (your kids) and collectively (the coming generation). In fact, we believe we will be increasingly relevant in the world as time goes on, not less so, in exactly the opposite way that the young conceive of us.”
The book also analyzes the biblical story of Wise King Solomon’s dilemma.
Two women claim to be the mother of a baby. Solomon is believed to be both wise and powerful.
The fake mother believes he is powerful but not wise (otherwise she wouldn’t try to fool him).
The real mother believes he is powerful but might not be wise (she is worried the fake mother will fool him).
After King Solomon declares that the baby would be cut in two, each woman to receive half, the fake mother is pleased. She says that if she can’t have the baby, then neither of them can.
But the real mother begs him, “Give the baby to her, just don’t kill him!”
And you know the rest: King Solomon believes her to be the true mother, reasoning that only the real mother would give up her baby to save its life.
But Teach correctly says that it’s not true that only the real mother would give up her baby to save it. However, it is true that while both women claim to want the baby, only one of them is satisfied by depriving the other—either by taking the baby from her or having it killed.
In other words: Getting the baby is not satisfying. Depriving the other woman is satisfying. But she needs a defense against that. “Wanting the baby” is a pretext for depriving the other woman.
Plus, her defense has an added benefit: Solomon was going to be the one responsible for killing the baby. She’s off the hook. She can say “It’s not my fault the baby died, it was caused by—some other omnipotent entity.”
This is the logic of envy: Getting an other to deprive your rivals, while you continue believing yourself to be a good person.
Most people want their envy-driven conflicts to be settled by what Teach calls “some other omnipotent entity.” As a result, the only people who have true agency in such a system tend to be dark triad types.
As a kid, I remember teachers would sometimes say “It doesn’t matter who started the fight, everyone is responsible.”
Some kids heard that and thought, “Okay, I have to avoid fights at all costs.”
Other kids thought, “Okay, I can punch anyone in the face and it’s not totally my fault.”
The former would avoid fights, get beat up, and run to teachers after the fact for help. The latter didn’t care about the rules and would scrap with anyone.
Because of how we have structured our society and raised kids, Teach claims, most people now feel powerless. They want an omnipotent entity to act for them. Which means only a small number of extreme personality types who have no inhibitions will act on their own.
The book contains a lengthy discussion of “affirmative consent,” an idea popular among the educated classes. Proponents of affirmative consent believe that nonverbal consent is inadequate, and that each person involved (but primarily women) must explicitly and enthusiastically consent to her desire to take part in sex. Some actually refer to the idea as “enthusiastic consent.”
“There's no doubt that affirmative consent may make an overzealous penis think twice before penetrating, and in this sense they are perhaps a necessary protection for defenseless women. But it's not for defenseless women, affirmative consent has a much more tyrannical purpose… Ask-- well, anyone-- to define affirmative consent, and they will 100% confirm that affirmative consent requires explicit verbal consent, i.e. and not merely e.g.: ‘Yes.’ No. It doesn’t…the radical policy of ‘affirmative consent’ is pretty much taken directly from 1980s porn: acting like she wants it.”
He suggests that the whole idea of affirmative consent is the pornographization of intimacy.
In his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, the psychologist Roy Baumeister observes that many sexual sadists aren’t just satisfied with sex. They need to hear their partner “squeal.” They derive pleasure from using power to elicit screams from their partner. The victim’s cries serve as validation of their own being, their importance, their power.
“Of all the disorders of the soul, envy is the only one no one confesses to.”
—Plutarch (A.D. 46-120)
There is an extended discussion of what motivates Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Imagine a mother who is secretly feeding her child Mr. Clean to make him sick.
One popular understanding—the objective, nonjudgmental understanding—is that she poisons her child because she wants attention. Specifically, attention for being a “great mother,” someone who takes care of her sick child.
But Teach claims there is a distinction between wanting and enjoying.
Sure, she wants attention for being a great mother. But that is the defense, the lie she tells herself, against what she really enjoys, which is, you guessed it, depriving others.
If the mom merely wanted attention and enjoyed attention, then she would just poison herself. So what really brings her enjoyment?
It isn’t sadism. She doesn’t beat the child. And if the child was truly ill with cancer or something, she wouldn’t enjoy the child’s suffering from that, either.
Teach claims that in reality, her satisfaction comes from depriving the child of what he needs to be satisfied: her. Her enjoyment comes from his deprivation of her being a good mother.
She deliberately prevents the child from enjoying her. She wants him to want her, but she does not want him to be satisfied by her. If he were satisfied, then the ledger would not be balanced. All she does is give, and what’s the child ever done for her?
The mother is envious of the child: of his desirability, happiness, ease. “And the more noble the child’s struggle,” the book states, “the more he can stay happy in the face of all these terrible medical issues, the more Mr. Clean he’s getting. That’s what she resents, and what gives her satisfaction to deprive him of.”
A key quote from the book:
"There is more satisfaction in depriving someone of something than in getting something for oneself, which is not satisfying at all.”
The mother also derives satisfaction from depriving the doctors, too. She believes they want to think of her as a devoted mother, so she tricks them into thinking that’s who she is.
“The easy mistake,” Teach writes, “is to think that she tricks them only to get them to like her, but that isn’t the payoff: she derives enjoyment out of playing that role for them and also knowing that it is a lie—knowing that she is depriving them of their ideal woman.”
For her, the payoff isn’t in successfully tricking the doctors into thinking she is a good mom. Rather, the payoff is in getting them to think she is a good mom, but depriving them (in her own mind) by not actually being one.
But she cannot want what brings her enjoyment. So she wants to be thought of as a devoted mom even though that isn’t what she really enjoys. Wanting the identity of good mother saves her from the anxiety of understanding what she enjoys: depriving her child, depriving the doctors, depriving others.
The book states:
“There is a crucial psychological difference between repressing the question of what you are and repressing the answer of what you are.”
The mother does not repress the question of what she is (she would just say: a good mother). She represses the answer (what she would never say: a monster who wants to deprive others).
All of this “deprivation” is in her head, of course.
But this whole scenario of the mother and child is, I think, an extended metaphor for how Teach believes people treat all of their relationships.
Teach claims you play these mind games with yourself to believe you are depriving others in order to balance the ledger.
The book’s claims about envy and ledgers reminded me of a scene from The Sopranos.
The infamous “happy wanderer” scene.
Tony Soprano describes his barely-contained rage at the sight of another person’s happiness. His immediate, visceral impulse: to murder him.
The man’s happiness is a reminder of Tony’s unhappiness. In Tony’s mind, the man is depriving Tony by having something Tony doesn’t have. So to balance the ledger, Tony imagines ripping the man’s throat out.
Knowledge as a Defense Against Impotence
“Some people keep asking for more information and what they’re trying to do is drive uncertainty to zero so that there’s really not a question on the right course of action because you know everything. But you can’t do that. It’s not achievable. So they become hesitant. They become tentative, and they become focused on getting more and more information to ratchet the uncertainty out of the situation and they don’t act.”
—General Stanley McChrystal (Ret.)
Another key message of the book is the incompatibility of omnipotence and omniscience.
Power versus knowledge.
Acting versus knowing.
Teach states that knowledge is a defense against having to act.
The book states that “what shapes a person’s character isn’t his internal state, nor the sum total of his past experiences—though something like trauma may be relevant if it is used as something to overcome—character is formed by action only, and only in response to conflict. Literally nothing else matters.”
From the book:
“An entity can be omnipotent or it can be omniscient but the problem of sociology and theology is that psychologically it cannot be both.”
Teach repeatedly stresses how people have chosen knowledge over power, or have given their power to “some other omnipotent entity” to make their choices for them.
Which reminded me of a recent study.
Researchers presented participants with hypothetical scenarios. Some participants received “better news” in which they would have the choice to have surgery or “worse news” in which doctors strongly recommended surgery.
Researchers found that the more difficult participants found the decision, the more likely they were to prefer the “worse news” option that took away their personal choice.
In March 2019, doctors told Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corey Knebel that it was his call whether to end his baseball season early to repair a torn ligament in his elbow. Knebel said during a press conference, “It sucked that it was my decision. I hated that. I really wish the doctor would have just said, ‘Here is what we’re doing.’” He wanted some other omnipotent entity to choose for him.
Teach makes two claims:
-People don’t want power, they want knowledge
-People who have no power retreat into knowledge
Here’s an example of the latter from the book:
“[Parents] celebrate their own impotence as long as they feel like they know what everyone else is doing. Instead of telling our 13 year old daughters not to put themselves online, we pretend it's inevitable and maturely permit it—‘I trust her’-- only to use it as a way of monitoring them.”
This reminds me of parents who let their kids drink and get high at home. “If they’re going to do it, they might as well do it where I can see them.” Sometimes when I heard that, I silently thought, do you really think this is the only place he’s doing this?
Omniscience vs. omnipotence is illustrated in two modern updates of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Disney’s The Lion King and the recent (and excellent) The Northman directed by Robert Eggers.
In The Lion King, Simba sees his father killed and runs away. He doesn’t want to go back and confront his uncle. Paralyzed with guilt, he (thinks he has) knowledge but no power. Nala, and then visions of his father in the sky (“some other omnipotent entity”), persuade Simba to return. Only when he learns the truth about his father’s death can he act. Simba prizes knowledge.
In The Northman, Amleth sees his father killed and runs away. But he grows up devoted to vengeance against his uncle at all costs. Full of resolve, he has power but no knowledge. When he grows up, his mother reveals something that changes the understanding of what happened to his father. Amleth is briefly stunned, but chooses to avenge his father’s death anyway. Amleth prizes action.
In his review of Sadly, Porn, Scott Alexander stated that whenever Teach wrote “you,” addressing the reader of his book, Alexander mentally substituted this with “hypothetically maximally unvirtuous person.”
I mentally substituted “you” with “vulnerable narcissist,” or “you at your most vulnerably narcissistic moments.”
Teach used to write a lot about narcissism back in his blogging days as The Last Psychiatrist.
In The New Science of Narcissism, the personality psychologist W. Keith Campbell describes two kinds of narcissists:
1. Grandiose narcissists: Dominant, extraverted, overconfident, exploitative, egotistical, low emotional distress. This is the version of narcissism people tend to be most familiar with.
2. Vulnerable narcissists: Self-centered, introverted, defensive, resentful, high emotional distress. Psychologists call them “hidden” narcissists because they don’t self-promote the way the grandiose types do.
Compared with grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists are more susceptible to narcissistic injury.
Narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist feels that their hidden, “true self” has been revealed—insecure, envious, deceitful, manipulative—they resent having a mirror held up to them. When their self-image is questioned—they react with rage.
Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists hold high opinions of themselves and believe they deserve special treatment.
Grandiose narcissists enjoy any kind of attention. Their positive self-image is resistant to criticism. They always think they’re amazing no matter what people say.
In contrast, vulnerable narcissists have mixed feelings about seeking attention. They are overly excited at the prospect of positive feedback. But excessively sensitive to negative feedback. They have a high opinion of themselves, though this opinion can be thwarted if the external world does not validate it.
Both types of narcissists tend to be exploitative and see themselves as superior in some way.
Compared to grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists are more sensitive to insults, ruminate more about perceived unfairness, and report more anger when they do not receive what they think they deserve. Although vulnerable narcissists require external feedback to maintain their sense of self, they are often dissatisfied with the feedback they receive.
They repeatedly feel hurt that others do not recognize the extraordinary extent of their supposed suffering or acknowledge their specialness as a result of that suffering.
Thus, vulnerable narcissists must balance the ledger and take revenge.
The typical grandiose narcissist is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. You can spot him a mile away.
But the vulnerable narcissist is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They often fabricate a series of constructed personae that mask their emptiness, in the service of extracting social, sexual, or material rewards from their environments.
Still, they are extremely attentive to others. But only to the extent that such attention is directed at themselves. Their capacity for empathy is compromised due to their envy, self-denigration, and extreme self-preoccupation. Unlike grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists are capable of guilt, often caused by awareness of their shallowness and lack of concern for others.
Grandiose narcissists desire omnipotence more than omniscience.
Vulnerable narcissists seek omniscience in the absence of omnipotence.
Vulnerable narcissists experience a sense of mastery and control by getting satisfaction from self-pitying feelings of being wronged.
This gives them permission to seek revenge, or as Teach might say, balance the ledger.
Teach: “Your problem is envy, not greed, and when you claim to care about others you should check to see if it’s not in order to deprive someone else. Because it is.”
As an aside, he claims that if someone convinced the rich to willingly part with 50% of their wealth, you would not be satisfied. It wouldn’t count. But if someone took 10% of their wealth over their protests, then you would be satisfied. That counts.
Teach claims that men believe that when women are drunk, their real desires come out. And women believe that when men are drunk, they become a different man.
Therefore, if both are drunk, the real her slept with a different man.
He thinks he’s sleeping with the real her, which means all those other times she was pretending to be someone else.
And the real her slept with a different man.
Which means, in his mind, the ledger must be balanced.
These are the kind of mind games Teach says you have with yourself.
Interestingly, research indicates that although vulnerable narcissists have grandiose fantasies, they are usually not expressed or acted upon. Their narcissistic pursuits are performed on a fantasy level, imagining themselves to be doing great things while accomplishing nothing in the real world.
These types of narcissists suffer from shame because of their strong wish to exhibit themselves, and guilt because of their awareness of their inability to care for other people. But they don’t change and start caring or at least pretend to care. Teach might say that the guilt is the excuse they need to then deprive others of their care.
“How dare you make me feel like I’m inadequate for treating you poorly. That serves as evidence that I was right to treat you that way.”
Vulnerable narcissists hide their aspirations and often appear modest and uninterested in social success. They react with shame or rage when their lofty ambitions are revealed and feel anxious when their exhibitionistic desires are exposed.
They are preoccupied with fantasies of glory and fame, and believe they can only be understood by high-status people.
Still, their awareness of their gap between their ambitions and their inability to act causes intense self-criticism. It evokes deep feelings of inferiority and shame. And even if a vulnerable narcissist has in fact accomplished great things, they are often unable to appreciate their own achievements.
Vulnerable narcissists frequently experience fury when they see a grandiose narcissist. “How dare they act on their desires while I cannot.”
They use fear and guilt-trips as a means to manipulate others.
While grandiose narcissists are less likely than average to experience envy (probably because they think they’re already great, no need to envy anyone else) vulnerable narcissists are far more likely than average to experience envy.
As the psychologist Jonathan Shedler has written, “It is not sufficient for the malignant narcissist to feel important and special; it is necessary for someone else to be demeaned and vanquished...Other people are used and discarded without remorse...disastrous outcomes are always someone else's fault.”
In an intriguing post on the difference between narcissism and psychopathy, The Last Psychiatrist wrote:
“Both feel aggression, but the narcissist takes that aggression and makes it a part of who he is: I am aggressive, I am an aggressor. The psychopath lacks a properly defined ego. He's not an aggressor; aggression is simply an as needed tool, a means to an end. For the narcissist, violence is a volitional expression of rage, or the response to a narcissistic injury. If he doesn't get the affirmation he needs; if something threatens his identity, then he attacks. The psychopath is utilitarian: I needed a burger, you had it, so I stabbed you in the throat. Whatever. As bad as that sounds, here's the narcissist's discourse on the same crime: I needed a burger, you had it, so I stabbed you in the throat. But wait, that's not the whole story, listen, what I did was justified because...”
“Narcissists appear to have emotions—they cry, laugh, feel your pain, etc—but none of this is real. They don't feel it. They're crying at the funeral, for sure, but on the inside they're wondering why it doesn't hurt as much as they think it should…A narcissist is a psychopath who has assimilated the emotions of the character he is playing...The reason a psychopath kills is because he is bad. The reason a narcissist kills is so that no one finds out he is bad.”
Psychopaths (and grandiose narcissists) favor power.
Vulnerable narcissists favor status.
A psychopath would rather hold a relatively less prestigious but high-powered position (e.g., prime minister).
A vulnerable narcissist would rather be the ceremonial head of state (monarch). Validation and recognition minus actual power. In fact, a vulnerable narcissist would willingly give up their power in order to have status.
In my conversation with Ethan Strauss on his House of Strauss podcast, Ethan stated that the most interesting writers today tend to be on the right. Or at least not on the left.
As I read Sadly, Porn, I remembered something.
A couple years ago someone sent me a recording of a talk on narcissism Edward Teach delivered in 2008 at a psychiatry conference. In that talk he described himself as “a pretty hardcore republican” which is unusual nowadays for physicians in general, and extremely uncommon for psychiatrists in particular.
In his book, he writes:
“I know the standard conservative complaint is about pervasive liberal bias in academia, but you bow ties are silly, you’re looking at it the wrong way: better there than at General Dynamics. Or do you really want the person who teaches “Imperialism, Colonialism, Genocide” working at the Department of Defense? Give them the unattainable goal of tenure to work for and the unreadable journal to write for and they become invisible.”
No they do not. I arrived at Yale in the fall of 2015 and observed major student protests. Many people believed that would be isolated on campuses, and that such ideas would never take hold in the “real world.” Well. Here we are. I suppose it’s possible, though, that without the dream of an academic job, things would be worse. The philosophy professor Michael Huemer has said that academia functions as an “intellectual ghetto” which safely houses intellectuals and prevents them from inflicting too much damage on the real world.
But Teach also has some unique opinions for a self-described Republican.
In one of his earlier blog posts he describes how the hidden purpose of SSI is to medicalize poor people in order to transfer money to them. He writes:
“What you should be asking is why, if society has decided to give the poor a stipend of $600/month, does it do this through the medical establishment and not as a traditional social policy? And the answer is very simple: you, America, would go bananas if poor people got money for nothing, you can barely stand it when they get it for a disability.”
Which could be interpreted as a veiled argument for a universal basic income.
On this point, though, he has written:
“But no one would stand for it. You, we, I, everyone, will gladly pay more in taxes or plunge deeper into galactic sized debt to not see the reality that some will get money just because, so that we can lie to ourselves that the ‘disability system’ isn't supposed to be used this way, they are gaming it. The problem is not economics, the problem is psychology. You're paying extra for the deniability. Is it worth it?”
Teach uses the term “the system,” a lot.
This is how he once defined it:
“I realize that ‘the system’ is a nebulous…so I’m going to try and define it. I want an ipad, but I can’t afford the $10000 it would cost to make it in America AND generate to Apple the same nominal profit of $300/ipad, so then the ipad has to be made in China with cheaper labor. So while one can say, ‘the consumer wants an ipad,’ and ‘Apple wants $300 in profit per ipad’ the sum of those wants is ‘the system’: ‘The system wants cheap Chinese labor.’ The system doesn’t want it because it’s awesome, it wants it because it added up the wants. To be clear, the fact that ipad consumers don’t ‘want’ cheap Chinese labor is irrelevant. All of their choices want cheap Chinese labor. You can say the same about renewable energies, something that everyone says they ‘want,’ yet all of their choices sum up to the system’s want: the system wants to protect the oil industry. The CEO of ExxonMobil isn’t to blame, you are.”
I generally took this idea to be a critique of capitalism, and more specifically a critique of consumerism. Every minute you spend not producing or consuming is a minute the system has lost.
True love means satisfaction derived from something other than working or consuming. The system doesn’t want this.
Sadly, Porn suggests that the reason “the system” still allows porn to exist is because it helps to destroy love. When you use porn, you’re plugged in, you’re consuming. Or at least you’re on the machine that is used to consume.
The obliteration of love was a recurring theme on The Last Psychiatrist blog:
“Love is dying, the system is killing it. The only acceptable portrayal of fulfilled love is with vampires and BDSM billionaires, not because those men are great but because there's no worry you'll meet one, enjoy your little fantasy.”
While porn poses no threat to the system’s authority, love does.
This is also why the system “also hates—not ignores or dismisses, but hates—religion. ‘That’s crazy, the system totally supports these religious nuts!’ Yes: it makes sure you see they’re nuts.”
Religion provides meaning from something other than producing or consuming. So the system doesn’t want it.
Teach also places much of the blame for the erosion of love at the feet of men, for refusing to believe women are truly capable of love. This has fueled mutually-reinforcing resentment.
Women had already long been suspicious of men’s capacity to love.
Once it went both ways, all bets were off.
“’I don't care how much money you make or what you look like, I love you.’ Remember how we used to roll our eyes at women when they said that? Great news: they got the message.”
Teach says that as belief in love was cratering, suddenly there arose a great wellspring of support for gay rights. The reason is, he says, is that this was how people validated love’s existence, a way for them to quell their doubts. “If we allow them to love, therefore love exists.”
Social Media and Depriving the Other
“It is an age-old notion, of which several examples may be found in antiquity, that the only reason for treating oneself to something is to make others envious, to show them that one is bigger and better than they are—superior, in fact. Thus the object as such, its cost and its usefulness are all quite irrelevant compared with its owner’s motives.”
—Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior (Helmut Schoeck)
Why do people carefully post photos of themselves looking like they are having the time of their lives on social media?
Teach says the main reason is to deprive the viewer. The fun images in the photos are a necessary defensive addition after the fact, to make it appear that the motivating force is happiness or excitement. No so, according to the book. “It’s resentment, rage.”
Our lives, at least as we portray them on social media, are now under constant scrutiny by everyone on the planet.
And we can scrutinize other people’s manicured images of themselves as well.
For example, when Twitter was new, people joked that it was a website where celebrities told people what they were having for lunch.
When Instagram was new, people joked that it was an app for people to take pictures of their food.
“I just wanted to share my experience!”
But the viewer doesn’t get to eat the food. So what was the goal?
Sadly, Porn says it is to deprive others. To inspire envy in them.
“Look where I am. Look what I’m eating. Look who I’m with. See how much better it is than where you are, what you’re eating, and who you’re with. I get to be here and you don’t.”
I doubt this kind of thought consciously surfaces in your mind. People post things because it makes them feel good to get all those likes and comments.
My view is that to the extent that what he is claiming is true, the actual good feelings come from winning the positional status game, not about depriving others.
But Teach says the deprivation and the envy of others are the payoffs, not the status boost for oneself.
So you wind up in a twisted place where what you value in life is based entirely on what strangers envy.
What you really want, the book says, is not to desire things but to be desired. To be found attractive in theory, to the camera, to the audience. And you measure this desire by how envious others feel of you.
Similarly, W. Keith Campbell writes The New Science of Narcissism:
“Sex is all about desirability and success for narcissists...Sex relates to social power, not intimacy. Because sex is about the self for narcissists...the sex itself isn't the goal, but the fact that the narcissist is desirable.”
Social media creates this cycle: You see something that makes you feel envious. You feel your relative status has been thwarted. As a consequence, you post something yourself to make someone else feel that way.
Teach suggests private experiences are more authentic than those we choose to share. And that sharing our experiences online is a defense against the fact that we are unable to enjoy the experience unless we elicit envy in others.
From the book:
“Private people are the most private about what they enjoy-- their pain, their happiness, their fantasies; because other people might try to deprive her of her enjoyment by telling her how it is supposed to be enjoyed…It's an important philosophical question whether inner experience can be communicated, but it's an easy psychological question whether inner experience should be communicated: no. Not unless you're trying to understand it from someone else's perspective, or get rid of it.”
“Because we've lost the ability to enjoy our experiences, we pursue what others would want, but secretly derive compensation out of making other people jealous…since the only thing you can enjoy is the deprivation of others, therefore none of your experiences are sufficiently satisfying.”
My guess is Teach would not enjoy my inserting references to empirical research alongside his claims, but hey, this is my review of his weird book.
So I’ll note that his belief is supported by a 2018 study. Researchers asked hundreds of students at the University of Pennsylvania to chronicle their vacation experience with photos.
Those who voluntarily shared their photos on social media enjoyed their experience 8 percent less than those who kept the photos for their own memories.
The researchers suggest that this happened because sharing the photos online created pressure to show oneself a positive light, which is bad for happiness.
This is a dark book, but is just enough levity interspersed to keep it from being totally bleak:
“Your conscience isn’t cruel, you are cruel, you enjoy the deprivation of others, and if you can’t stab them you’ll cut your own wrists just deep enough to satisfy a feeling—the feeling of what it’s like to hurt someone. ‘I don’t enjoy it, I do it to punish myself, to feel pain.’ Why not try some math homework. ‘That’s not funny.’ I’m not joking. Punish yourself? Look around: how many other people have you caused to suffer because of your self-punishment.”
Teach also outlines the logic of envy, appearing to riff from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, a famous speech from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.
Pericles in the late 5th century BC:
“The friend of the dead who knows the facts is likely to think that the words of the speaker fall short of his knowledge and of his wishes; another who is not so well informed, when he hears of anything which surpasses his own powers, will be envious and will suspect exaggeration. Mankind are tolerant of the praises of others so long as each hearer thinks that he can do as well or nearly as well himself, but, when the speaker rises above him, jealousy is aroused and he begins to be incredulous.”
Edward Teach in 2021:
“It's hard to speak fairly about any man; even if you do, it's harder to get people to believe it; because people who know of his success will think it weak praise, and people who don't know them will be lead by envy to suspect exaggeration if they hear anything above their own nature. You can endure to hear others praised as long as you can persuade yourself you could have done some of what you heard. Past this point, envy comes in and declares it is false. Haters hate not because they're jealous but because they are told by an authority that they are required to recognize this person's greatness in an unfair competition they were not even allowed to compete in, which if they weren’t so blind with rage would realize they didn’t really want to compete in anyway.”
I noted how many allusions and references to classical texts Teach makes in his book.
I also noticed a subtle nod to Machiavelli.
In The Prince, Machiavelli describes his reading routine:
“When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered in mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.”
The first time I read this, I understood instantly. Books do help to still internal storms and soothe, or at least distract from, unsettled pain.
Edward Teach writes that he reads in his car during lunch, presumably during a break from work:
“Moving to the passenger seat, I got into my private space where I have my books, eat the food that alone is mine, and for a little while I feel no boredom and forget my troubles, I read, I write, I drink a lot of coffee, and every day I do a little math.”
I was more than a little proud to have recognized these allusions to Pericles and Machiavelli.
Crowdsourcing the Superego
Teach in his blogging days developed the concept of “crowdsourcing the superego.”
The idea is that when some people make poor choices and seek to subdue their guilt, they broadcast their harmful actions far and wide. Some will ridicule you for your actions. Others will sympathize.
Crowdsourcing the superego means to ignore the haters, heed the sympathizers, and feel absolved of your misdeeds. When you’ve done something you regret, you can crowdsource your superego by paying attention only to responses you want to hear. And tactically overlook people who condemn you for what you’ve done.
As The Last Psychiatrist/Teach puts it:
“This is how narcissism eradicates guilt: it rewrites the story, or as the po-mo mofos say, ‘offer a competing narrative’…taking solace in the pockets of support that inevitably arise. Everyone is famous to 15 people, and that's just enough people to help you sleep at night. It is, in effect, crowdsourcing the superego, and when that expression catches on remember where you first heard it. Then remember why you heard it. And then don't do it.”
In the book, Teach provides the example of a man who is secretly cheating on his wife who comes to you for advice about what to do:
“It doesn’t matter what you are going to say, he’s not going to hear it. It only matters what you don’t say…why did he pick you to judge him? ‘You’re smart, you’re a straight shooter, you really understand people, I trust your intuition,’ says the fox. I don’t think for a second he is lying to you: he in fact believes he is there to get your advice, but he selected you because he knows you won’t express disapproval. He doesn’t know this with his brain, which is too occupied with the day’s haul of political soundbites, but he knows it.
The book continues:
“For this man…not hearing disapproval is the same as approval. You, the straight shooter, cosigned his lunacy. ‘Cosigned? He's a jerk!’ That's not what you told him, you told him information, you hid behind “objectivity”, this will be hard on the kids, this will be a hard divorce, this new chick seems young/old/clingy/bananas; but at no point did you, could you, say what you later said to your actual confidants: that he's a terrible, immature person for doing this, worse for his self-serving rationalizations, and he should probably cut his own brake line so at least his kids get the insurance. You didn't tell him that. What he heard was your unconditional support.”
“’It isn't really my place to judge.’ And so we come to it, the ostrich defense amidst the shards of broken mirrors. He wouldn't solicit your judgment unless you were a judge…And he thinks he can fool you… the very fact that he selected you as his confidant shows implicitly how little he values you and how much he thinks he is better than you.”
Back in 2013, TLP/Teach wrote:
“If a street hustler challenges you to a game of 3 card monte you don't need to bother to play, just hand him the money, not because you're going to lose but because you owe him for the insight: he selected you. Whatever he saw in you everyone sees in you.”
If someone has committed a misdeed and comes to you for advice about what to do, then (according to Teach) they (and everyone else) view you as a mark. Someone who will absolve them of their guilt.
You think you have knowledge about him (insight into his character), but no power over him (you think he’s going to do what he wants regardless). He thinks you have power over him (he came to you to render judgment), but no knowledge of him (he thinks he has fooled you into believing he’s actually a good person).
Apparently, there is a cliché (at least according to the book) about men visiting their ex-girlfriends to help them manage their anxieties or absolve them in some way. I’ve never heard of this but maybe it’s more common than I realize.
“Ladies, if 20 years later an old BF comes back looking all existential and searching for answers that he says only you can give because you’re wise and you’re a straight shooter, I recommend a shotgun or going for the throat.”
I didn’t know where else to put these excerpts but thought they were interesting.
1. Years ago, there was a silly “psychopath test” that was going around online.
While at the funeral of her own mother, a woman met a guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing, so much her dream guy she believed him to be, that she fell in love with him then and there. A few days later, the girl killed her own sister. Why did the woman kill her sister?
If the person replies “She was hoping the guy would come to her sister's funeral” then this is supposedly evidence of psychopathy.
It’s not a real psychopath test, btw.
Teach plays around with this story to illustrate his point about how you play mind games with yourself to obtain what you truly desire: the deprivation of others. He claims that the woman used her attraction to the man as a defense in order to fulfill her true desire, which was to kill her sister.
2. Another excerpt (Teach commenting on Sex and the City) that didn’t quite fit anywhere else:
“Carrie has a problem that is not evident in the show because it is obfuscated by voiceovers: she wants to be loved for being a kind of woman, which means the guy she wants must want that kind of woman; which means he will also want the other ten thousand Manolo models. But if he falls in love with her, then something else about her satisfied him, which means she's not that kind of woman anymore. Whereas before he caused her to be that kind of a woman by desiring her, by falling in love with her he took that away from her. Now she’s someone else. The only way she can continue to be that kind of woman is to ensure no man is ever completely satisfied.”
In dialogue with the reader, Teach writes, “‘I can’t seem to find the right person.’ Then your strategy succeeded.”
Following the book’s logic: Carrie wants to be wanted for being a sorority girl, but as soon as a man falls for her, she resents him for depriving her of her desired image (because he now sees her as an econ major). To balance the ledger, she deprives him.
3. Teach doesn’t discuss hookup culture, but he does include this aside on “pathological monogamy”:
“What does it mean to be pathologically monogamous? It is hiding in plain sight. By loving only one person at a time, you inoculate yourself from dependency on everyone else except that person. Then you put a block between you and your ‘love’, so that you cannot become dependent on them either; and if they become 100% dependent on you, well, you win and you can cash out.”
Depriving the other.
4. He also claims that daddy issues are used in a similar vein. The conventional notion is that a woman wants a relationship but her struggles with her father interfere with her desire to find love. Not so, the book says. Rather, she doesn’t want to give her partners the satisfaction of her love, and she uses daddy issues as a pretext to conceal her true motive (from herself and others): depriving the other.
5. Teach claims that the reason real nude photographs are treated as more taboo/shocking than online/digital nudes is because digital nudes had to be made acceptable so that the system could benefit from them. Not just money, but clicks, and views. Open your phone to look at a nude, and then you stay a while and open a few other apps. A digital nude keeps you plugged in, which is profitable for the system. But a polaroid doesn’t. This is also why if you privately participate in unusual or extreme sexual activities, people think there’s something off about you. But if you are a public participant, e.g., in porn or speak openly about your sex life in a forum where audiences hear about it, and thus the system profits from you, then you are cleared of all charges.
“A private woman-- a woman who enjoys her privacy, or, at the very least, whose enjoyment is not diminished by being private-- cannot be allowed to exist. A deliberately private woman is much more of a threat to society today than what 200 years ago a deliberately childless woman was, but in the exact same way. Such a woman-- especially if she is desirable, i.e. is thought to have power-- for whom being public should be so fulfilling and obvious, yet she rejects it-- she causes other women, and men, to question if privacy might be valuable-- enhancing-- if they shouldn’t also be private.”
Privacy is the enemy of profit for the system.
6. On the media: “The press appears inconsistent, harshly judging one politician for cheating while the same media will refer to another's cheating as ‘nothing to do with his job performance’. You think that reveals a political bias-- because that’s what more media has told you, but it’s a cover. Their judgments don't need to be consistent. Only that they consistently be the ones you turn to for judgment.”
7. The book claims Brave New World is more relevant to our times than 1984.
8. The obsession with rational-sounding reasons is contributing to the obliteration of love. Why do you love him? “He’s funny, nice, handsome, etc.” But lots of people have those qualities. The magic of love is that we don’t know exactly what is behind it. People don’t want the reasons for love to be explained. But today, we are preoccupied with reasons. Why do you love her? You can’t just say “I just do” anymore. So you start dissecting her to provide rational-sounding reasons, which makes you view her as a commodity, which then undermines your love for her.
8. On marriage: “What prevents women from acting…‘modern marriage’-- it limits their options, it constrains them, it forces them to give up so much of their potential enjoyment. This is a very telling criticism, because it is exactly what men have long said about marriage. When two opposing groups both use the exact same argument you can be sure there is a third party benefiting from the conflict. That would be an interesting discussion to have. Don't worry, no one will have it, too much is at stake. They want the problem to be marriage.”
9. One of the book’s less topsy-turvy and more straightforwardly plausible ideas is that you have been taught to devalue any honorable behavior that comes from obligation, convention, or expectation because it didn’t come from “you.”
So a mother loving her biological child isn’t “really” love. She’s just doing what was expected of her. But a woman adopting children from a poor country is clearly going above and beyond. Because she didn’t “have” to. So people believe this to be “real” love.
If it’s expected of you, it doesn’t count.
10. He sort of makes the case for studying the liberal arts, claiming that studying subjects like ancient history crosses gender/class/educational lines and also reliably excludes the lazy.
In dialogue with the reader: “‘You're so stupid. This is America, as long as I bring in the $$$ no one's going to care what I've read.’ I hope you who said this are young, I hope there's still time: they are lying to you. Yes they told you this and yes they will hire you and yes you may get rich-- but you will have no power, you will be excluded from it, this is why they told you that.”
11. “Being a hypocrite in the information age carries a high risk you get found out as a phony, and so professional hypocrites get someone else to do the performing for them, like a publicist or a host introducing you to the podium, “this woman is perfect,” so when the threesome pic one day surfaces, you can say, ‘I never said I was perfect.’”
He goes on to write that the post-modern way to be a hypocrite, favored by politicians is to make it obvious that it’s all a performance for a specific demographic. Then you will say “He just has to say that to get elected.”
But the real purpose of this form of hypocrisy is not to pander to morons, but to get you, a supposedly smart person, to forfeit the importance of truth.
12. People misunderstand dreams. People believe that dreams contain symbols that are intended to convey information to the dreamer. But actually, the symbols in dreams are the consequences of your unconscious attempting to hide information from you.
The Sopranos is one of the few shows that got it right.
During Tony’s fever dreams, he unconsciously suspects his best friend Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero is working for the FBI. Tony knows this means he will have to kill him, but he doesn’t want to. He tries to conceal this knowledge from himself.
In Tony’s dream, Pussy appears as a fish. Why is this?
One possibility is that Pussy appears as a fish because of his nickname. Tony would gladly accept this interpretation. He would hope that it’s true. But another possibility for why his friend is a fish is that Tony knows he must kill him (hence he will be “sleeping with the fishes”) which Tony doesn’t want to do.
In other words, Tony’s dream isn’t trying to send him a message (“you must kill your friend”), it’s trying to obscure the message (“your friend’s silly nickname made you dream of him as a fish”).
Inability to Fantasize (Porn as a Solution)
Teach outright rejects the idea that porn use is due to addiction:
“The critique that men watch porn and then get turned off to real women is so old it was printed in pamphlets and the porn was in paint, the modern innovation is to support it with every self-serving defense in academic neuroscience-- satiety, novelty seeking, conditioning, addiction. It sounds informative, but tellingly you can't connect with these concepts except through jargon. You copied your way to a B- in high school biology but now you've weaponized science to defend your resentment.”
People weaponizing knowledge in the service of ulterior motives is not unheard of.
So besides resentment, what other reasons does Teach give for why people use porn?
To circumvent having to produce your own fantasies that you are desirable, because such fantasies are too painful/unrealistic.
“You need to rethink how you use porn, stop listening to people who hate you, stop listening to people who want to parlay about its meaning, or lack of meaning, damn to the depths whatever man what thought of meaning. So much of the satisfaction-- not interest, not pleasure, but satisfaction-- of watching porn is not just from seeing the sex act, nor a laziness to pursue sex, but from not having to generate the fantasy. Not as ‘an escape from reality’-- if anything, reality sex is becoming much more like a staging of porn-- but an escape from fantasy in to reality. If fantasizing is daydreaming-- a semi-conscious elaboration of the unconscious-- then avoiding fantasy is a way to avoid the terrible truth that we will never get our wish fulfillment-- it is a way of not ever wondering what our wish fulfillment might look like, and the sad reason for this is that our wish fulfillment doesn't actually contain us-- it's impossible.”
He's saying that a major payoff of porn is that it allows you to bypass the difficult work of creating a fantasy in your mind. Of being strong, powerful, desirable, attractive, and so on. Avoiding this fantasy also avoids the accompanying anxiety that you will never be good enough.
“Go ask out a girl you actually like. No? At least go fantasize about that girl. No? You'd prefer someone else to create a fantasy about a different girl and passively watch the results? You're free to choose that, I guess.”
Porn gets you out of trying to conjure up a scenario in which an attractive person would actually want to have sex with you. It gets you out of having to change, even in your imagination, into a more desirable/interesting/attractive person. And that’s why you love it.
The book claims that all media is like this. Movies, TV, journalism, video games, and so on. You no longer have to produce your own fantasies, which might have inspired action. According to Teach, action can only come from your own fantasies.
But now, you consume manufactured fantasies you did not produce. Which means you’ll never take action.
“Men regularly whisper what women wonder out loud: why do the most desirable women have the least devoted boyfriends? ... it’s evident that these men aren’t invested, everyone easily leaving his woman to the mercy of greater numbers. Intercourse happens only with fear, so every man husbands his girlfriend just enough to make due, making no plans and planting no seeds, because you don’t know when some other bull will inevitably invade and carry her away…‘Why commit? She’ll just end up cheating anyway.’ … But because of this they never show any ability, either for wealth or achievement or anything else. The most desirable of the women are always the most susceptible to these turnovers of boyfriends.”
The idea is: what is the minimum amount of commitment you must give without true devotion? Without ever tying yourself to someone? How do you love without loving, so that if/when you lose him/her, you lose as little as possible? We are only on this journey for a little while, our paths might someday diverge, lets enjoy it while we can without taking it too seriously. People who have optimized this strategy never fully involve themselves.
These questions, self-searching, looking into the mirror, all of it is masturbation.
“‘Why do I watch porn instead of loving my wife? Is it some past trauma/lust/something else?’ Well, now you can spend time thinking about the answer to this question instead of loving your wife. Know thyself and see what it leads to: the man who masturbates to porn can say he’s ‘no longer horny for’ ‘no longer attracted to’ his wife which is to say he no longer has to be attracted to her, he doesn’t have to try. The porn frees him from commitment, the porn gives him relief from needing to act, he no longer has to love.”
You don’t want to commit, because this would require change. Teach claims change is the most terrifying thing. Much of human thought and behavior is in the unconscious service of maintaining the status quo. And then you dine on your defenses to protect your image of yourself.
So instead of loving someone, which would require you to change yourself, you withhold your love and commit as little as possible.
This was already occurring before porn. And people are secretly relieved that porn arose in order to give them something to blame for this problem.
Saying porn is ruining relationships is a psychological defense from the fact that people are incapable of love because they are terrified of change.
What is to be done?
People ask: Why am I not happy? Not: How can I help to make others happy?
Teach tells you his book will help you “work through what you want and how you want.”
“‘So I can have more satisfying relationships?’ No. So you don’t destroy everyone else.”
Men would rather believe themselves to be weak and pathetic than become the person their partners could depend on for satisfaction and love. “Why should she be satisfied by you?” Teach rhetorically asks. “After all—she hasn’t satisfied you.”
The book isn’t to make you happier. It’s to help make everyone else around you less miserable.
Asking what your actions mean is a defense. Ask instead: what do your actions get you out of? What do they allow you to do?
One of Teach’s most interesting challenges to the reader:
Describe yourself: your traits, qualities, both good and bad.
Do not use the word ‘am.’
His message in the book: “If you live your life with a ledger your bottom line will always sum to rage.”
So what can you do?
The Last Psychiatrist provides an answer in a post from 2009:
“No one ever asks me, ever, ‘I think I’m a narcissist, and I’m worried I’m hurting my family.’ If that was what they asked, I would tell them them change is within grasp. But…’I feel like I am playing a part, that I’m in a role. It doesn’t feel real.’ Instead of trying to stop playing a role – again, a move whose aim is your happiness – try playing a different role whose aim is someone else’s happiness. Why not play the part of the happy husband of three kids? Why not pretend to be devoted to your family to the exclusion of other things? Why not play the part of the man who isn’t tempted to sleep with the woman at the airport bar? ‘But that’s dishonest, I’d be lying to myself.’ Your kids will not know to ask: so?”
Philosophy professor Michael Huemer once wrote a fascinating post titled “Great Philosophers Are Bad Philosophers.”
Huemer observes that as an undergrad, he read Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and many other greats and noticed they were “bad at logic, committing fallacies and non sequiturs.”
This led him to ask: “Were these really the best philosophers humanity had produced?”
He then realized, “These were not the best philosophers…They were merely the greatest philosophers.”
The best philosophers are good at saying true things based on logic and reason. The greatest philosophers said things that lead to unique insights, intense discussion, or careful reflection.
Is Sadly, Porn the best book? No.
Is it a well-written book? No.
But it is the most interesting and outrageous book I’ve read in a long time.
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One thing I learned a long time ago is that whenever someone says "This is what people are like" what they really mean is "this is what I am like."
Men who say "all men are pigs" is saying "I am a pig"
Women who say "Women cannot be trusted" are really saying "I cannot be trusted" (RUN!)
People protect themselves with the smokescreen of "everybody" or "people".
Every claim Ed Teach makes in his book about his fellow human beings is actually a revelation of who he is, not of who everybody else is.
And as for his claim that "No one ever asks, 'Am I the narcissist who's hurting my family?'" then he is either a liar or has had very limited social experience.
There are plenty of neurotic people, myself very much included, who think they are always the one at fault. If I read about sociopaths I worry that I am a sociopath; if I read about narcissists, I worry that I am a narcissist.
And I am constantly worried about being a bad mother, even though my son insists I gave him a very happy childhood and that he is happy with himself and his upbringing (when he says that I worry that he is just saying that to placate me because he knows I am actually a narcissist who can't handle criticism from anyone but myself).
This Ed Teach sounds like quite the creep (so does the woman who felt a bizarre need to tell the world she hates her husband - I hope he dumps her).
Anyway, thank you for reading this book so the rest of us won't have to.
What a fantastic post. Well done.