Author: Noam Shpancer

Money Laundering for the Soul: The Unbearable Ease of Moral Self-Exoneration

Perhaps it was the recent steady trickle of headlines reporting banned refugees, gunned down immigrants, and desecrated graveyards that got me thinking about the human ability to do onto others what we would not at all want others to do onto us; the facility with which we come to hurt others in ways that a short time earlier would have seemed inconceivable, and will no doubt seem so again in the not-far future; our ability to suspend our moral principles and ignore — or worse yet, inflict — cruel conduct that is in clear violation of the moral principles we claim to espouse. We do this with surprising ease, often basing sustained bouts of deliberate nastiness on nebulous reasoning. To quote the writer Loren Eisley, humans “kill for shadowy ideas more ferociously than other creatures kill for food.” And we do it with relish. As the British philosopher Jonathan Glover has noted, “Our species’ fascination and preoccupation with inflicting brutality on itself, the sheer innovative effort dedicated to the task, and the visceral thrill of …

The Truth About Propaganda

“If you can’t find the sucker at the poker table,” goes the saying, “you’re it.” Extrapolating that axiom to the present political moment, we may say: “If you don’t hear much about propaganda, that’s what you’re hearing.” The term propaganda has its origins in the 17th century efforts of the Catholic Church to propagate its views and stem the rise of Protestantism. It has gone through various permutations since. By the time Hitler was dead and the Cold War underway, the word had lost its Godly associations and became a pejorative, connoting mostly the self-serving lies of nefarious tyrannical regimes. Yet propaganda properly understood is non-discriminating, inclusive with regard to its users, contents, and ends. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines propaganda as: “The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” Propaganda, in other words, is manipulative persuasion in the service of an agenda. The word itself doesn’t imply truth or falsehood in the content or pass judgment on the agenda. Understood as such, …

Forget de Botton’s Advice — Why Lower Expectations Won’t Help Your Marriage

The philosopher Alain de Botton recently published a provocative article in the NYT titled, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, in which he argues that current marriages are ailing under the burden of unrealistic expectations. According to de Botton the historical “marriage of reason,” motivated by pragmatic concerns such as tribal alliances, asset protection and the like, was generally miserable, which is why our current “marriage of feeling” system has been so readily and uncritically embraced. The marriage of feeling, in de Botton’s view, comprises our effort to “recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood.” Unfortunately our early love objects — our parents — were often hurtful, insensitive, or distracted. Thus as grown-ups we often pick troubled partners who match our early templates. Lacking self-awareness, we nonetheless delude ourselves that we know who we are and what we need to be happy, and that a perfect partner is out there for us. Intoxicated by the euphoria of new love, we blithely neglect to investigate our partners thoroughly, preferring …