A Neurotic in an Exotic Land; The Adventures of Professor Lucas

Here you will find some related writings (generally not as funny as the book) and a little info about the author, as well as an excerpt from the book.
The photo above should have been the book's cover!--and it
should be turned around!

All rights reserved.

Although some of the items I've now posted differ in their mood and style from the book itself, I am posting them here anyway because they date from roughly the time period in which the book was written--and, I believe they share a certain ambience with it. (note added 14 March 2010)

Friday, November 5, 2010

pre-publication version

(For Chapter One of the novel, or for the missing half of Chapter Four Please See the ARCHIVE for October--on the right side of this page..)

This is a pre-publication version of an article scheduled to appear in "Think; Philosophy for Everyone", a publication of Cambridge University Press. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=THI

Citation or quotation should make use of the published version.

to appear in Think

The Difficulty of Understanding

Mark J. Lovas

Adam Smith, discussed the emotions of sympathy and empathy in his book The theory of moral sentiments, and thought they were the glue that holds society together. We are able to experience these emotions precisely because our emotions of love, of anger, of sadness, of fear are universal, based on inherited systems of the limbic system; we share them with each other… A strong argument can be made that morality is based on such empathetic emotions.

Keith Oatley, Emotions; A Brief History, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004) p. 97

If emotions such as sympathy are to play the role Oatley envisages for them, they cannot be condescending; they must be based on some real understanding. This is an essay about the difficulty of understanding, and, consequently, the difficulty of sympathy. So, it is a challenge to any philosopher who seeks to understand morality by assigning a strong role to the emotions.

In what sense would or might universal emotions ground ethics? If well educated or properly socialized individuals share the same emotional reactions to the same action, then there would be a common ground for discussion and argument about what should be done. One would also expect a degree of regularity in the actions people took in response to a given situation.

However, the thesis being broached should contain an important qualification. The basic ways of responding, or the basic emotional reactions are shared. One might ask, however, whether emotions do not nevertheless vary between individuals. Are not some people more readily excitable and others calmer? You and I don’t have to love the same things or the same persons. Even if the fundamental ways in which we respond to a given situation are the same, where is the guarantee that we share positive and negative evaluations? What we like we move towards. What we hate we move away from. Surely some people love what I hate?

What if two people disagree about what is important, and their disagreement emerges unexpectedly? What if I lay primary stress on the autonomy of individuals, while you value intimacy? The linguist Anna Wierzbicka (Cross-Cultural Pragmatics, Second Edition; Mouton de Gruyter: London and Berlin 2003) has suggested that English speakers differ with Russian or Polish speakers on precisely these points. English speakers with our generic ‘you’ also favor a more generalized friendliness. For Polish-born Wierzbicka, English, lacking the two forms of ‘you’ common in other languages, fails to provide its speakers with a ready device to mark developing levels of intimacy.

I cannot do justice now to the details and complexities of Wierzbicka’s analysis, but let us think, for a moment, about the contrast between the values of intimacy and autonomy. With the stress on autonomy comes a notion of private space, something which can be violated, something we all want and have a right to. Wierzbicka illustrates this difference via a contrast between styles of leave taking: a lengthy process with the effusive insistence that the guest stay, versus a more abrupt and factual departure. Respecting someone’s autonomy, we accept their desire to leave. A culture which values intimacy creates lengthy partings with the formulaic, ‘Do you have to go?’, or the insistent ‘Stay longer!’.

Wierzbicka’s account raises many questions. In virtue of sharing a language, speakers share certain ways of negotiation in social space, pre-packaged chunks of behavior—how to begin or end conversations, how to come and go from a visit, and countless other ways of behaving. Yet we acquire these routines at an early age, in an unquestioning way. We might never become aware of them, or we may only become aware of them when we have moved to another country, or when speakers of another language come to visit us. This challenges our status as free people and self-knowers. An important part of how we relate to other people is acquired thoughtlessly, and without prior evaluation.

As an adult, once one becomes aware of a difference, one can think about it and evaluate it. Wierzbicka reports that at one point she consciously decided that she would not give up all of her Polish ways in favor of Anglo ones. In particular she could not join in the custom of small talk or the custom of asking “How are you?” without expecting a real answer. So, according to the picture of freedom as choosing between options, in making that decision she became freer—even if she chose to continue what she had previously done without awareness. Apart from introducing the idea of freedom, one might ask: was she better for having learned that English-speakers differ from Poles? If one is going to stick with the customs of childhood anyway, what is the point of recognizing that other people have different habits?

Is it a kind of achievement to recognize that others—others, who, I suppose, one respects and may even have affection for--have had a different childhood, and thus have come to structure their worlds differently? But, is this something positive when one continues to behave in the same way? Can the mere difference in one’s thinking itself be a sort of achievement? Perhaps, it undermines a certain naïve certainty. Perhaps it means a kind of tolerance.

But what of people who have not reached Wierzbicka’s level of awareness? Are their choices less free? People today move around the world all the time. We are faced with cultural difference both because we move and because others have moved to our homelands.

A generalized sympathy alone is not going to overcome the potential conflicts Wierzbicka is highlighting. On the contrary, other emotions come into play when two people with different routines of conversation or parting meet. The characteristic expression of a discovery here is the phrase ‘How rude!’. So, from this point of view, emotions are not the basic level where we find human universals—unless we speak of a universal reaction of hostility or discomfort in the face of a different culture.

I may, on the whole, sympathize with a friend, but fail to see that in a particular case, we differ because I value privacy where he or she values intimacy. In my relations to the friend there will be a mixture of incomprehension and good will. How far can the good will carry us? The case of different styles of leave-taking involves habits which are largely not conscious. What of our conscious thoughts and judgments?

I must not know what another person is thinking in order to sympathize with them—though that can be a source of sympathy. However, it seems wrong to suppose that another person thinks a thought, a proposition with a determinate content, and that I grasp exactly the same proposition. For an example, let the thought contain a demonstrative: ‘That was unfair’. I may know an action was unfair, and the immediacy with which I grasp its unfairness naturally leads us to say that I saw that it was unfair. Perhaps I see that the person who has experienced the unfairness equally well recognizes its unfairness. So there is a common point of reference for us: the unfairness of that act.

Sometimes our ability to feel sympathy is possible because we share a context and a judgment about what happened in it: we both saw the act and saw that it was unjust. Both of us being sufficiently sensitive to what was going on, there were no questions about whether we were responding to an indication of injustice which might, in another context, have been overridden. There is a kind of variability of the connections here which is a necessary feature of the very abstractness and undefinability of moral notions.

This variability might equally be spoken of in terms of infinity or creativity. Normally, I prefer to be kind, but, perhaps, with some friends or some students, if I am kind, then they will not understand the importance of some issue. So, on that occasion I must adopt a different posture, perhaps I must be stern. And my sternness will not be anger, though some might think it to be. My sternness might well be, with that particular person, on that particular occasion, just what is needed to do my duty by the person, and so to act fairly or justly.

And what happens if two thinkers fail to be present at the same time, in the same situation, and so fail to share a context? I must represent to you, my audience, sufficient details to allow you to come to see what I saw when I was in the context. That does not require that you come to the injustice of what was done through exactly the same path as I did. My words do not reproduce a second event of the same sort. They focus your mind upon salient features of the original event.

But is there mutual or common or universal salience? The features we care most about are abstract, hence can be reached from countless paths. Can I actually communicate to you what happened in the fullest sense so that you agree with me, so that your agreeing is substantial? You do not merely nod your head in order to move the conversation forward or because you are my friend, but because my account seems reasonable to you: you find it plausible that A did this to B, and you honestly believe that A’s doing this was a bad thing.

Here is a sort of doubt: not everything that I am in the habit of finding salient need be salient for you. We can perfectly well say as a matter of theory: two virtuous individuals will both recognize that something is bad. However, this ignores questions of variety and diversity. I make an assumption that some might challenge. I assume an important part of moral evaluation involves our emotions. In deciding what to do, I try to imagine how my actions will impact upon other people. I don’t wish to cause a friend needless embarrassment. I don’t wish to offend someone. But there is a question of emotional indeterminacy. One and the same event can be classified differently. There are psychologists who claim that neither facial expressions nor physiological reactions correspond in a one-to-one fashion with emotion terms of ordinary English. This places them at odds with psychologists and the philosophers influenced by them who suppose that universality is to be found in physiology or facial expressions. It also raises the question, as the psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett has stressed, of why we are so sure that our emotion terms fit. (“Solving the Emotion Paradox”, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 206, Vol. 10, pp. 20-46.) Barrett herself introduces language to explain how we do it, but that solution itself will imply a degree of indeterminacy or miscommunication when people of different language backgrounds meet.

In the UK and the USA people appeal to the categories of privacy, private space, invasion of privacy. They can use these categories to explain what people do: ‘She moved away from the man on the park bench because he was too close. He was invading her privacy.’

If the linguists Aneta Pavlenko ( ‘Emotions and the body in Russian and English’, Pragmatics and Cognition Vol. 10 (2002) , pp. 207-241) and Anna Wierzbicka are to be believed, Poles and Russians don’t appeal to privacy in explaining or justifying behavior. They place a higher value upon other sorts of relationships between people. Where Anglo-America culture places a stress upon the value of autonomy and independence, where Polish culture prefers intimacy and cordiality. Perhaps the clearest expression of this difference is in the Anglo-American ideal of emotional neutrality, something which Pavlenko and Wierzbicka agree is lacking in Russian culture, which likes unrestrained public expressions of emotion.

If we grant that this difference is real, are we thereby committed to skepticism about the objectivity of morality? Do these views assume or imply moral relativism? The short answer is that the recognition of cultural differences is not identical with moral relativism. No one is saying that the Russians do what is ‘right for them’, and that Americans do what is ‘right for them’. However, our linguists do claim that there are differences in what is valued, differences in the role of emotion, differences in the importance given to the open display of emotions.

It might help to consider an example inspired by the research of Aneta Pavlenko. Here are two different reasons:

(A) I want to be left alone with my emotions.

(B) I want to be left alone because I have a right to privacy.

With (A) goes a further thought:

(A1) People need sometimes to give in to their emotions.

With (B) goes a further thought:

(B1) Everyone has a right to privacy. There are some things we need to do away from the public eye.

Now, here is a question. What difference does it make if we are avoiding the public eye or simply giving in to our emotions? It is not simply one situation or one particular explanation that is different. The difference is a broad one influencing a host of thoughts and a host of individual actions and every relationship. The difference is a fundamental one.

Even more troublesome from the standpoint of universality, if our linguists are right, then one culture can lack a concept that another has. Poles and Russians and many others don’t have the Anglo concept of privacy. We lack a Russian concept which Pavlenko attempts to capture with the phrase ‘soul space’. (However, we shouldn’t think, that ‘soul space’ is identical with ‘privacy’. They just happen to play a similar role as a reason in the example above.)

A quick response is to say that all such complex concepts can be de-composed into simple units, and that such units are universal, and so comprehensible to us. The problem however is Humpty Dumpty’s: all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put the concept back together again once we‘ve taken it apart.

The Anglo perception is not of a world with a special place for exemption from the public view. It is the default setting in our Anglo conceptual scheme. To add it on as an extra is a distortion.

What is at issue here? Is it a question of privileging one’s own way of viewing things? As if I must be right when I say I feel this way? That is not the issue. I am not claiming that particular individuals have error-free access to their own emotions and thoughts. Nor am I claiming that if a given language contains certain categories that those categories must correspond to a deep, metaphysical reality. On the contrary, it seems clear from history that people can have false categories—e.g., ‘witch’ or ‘phlogiston’.

The point is that speakers of different languages can differ about what is important—and that the difference might be invisible. Had Wierzbicka never moved to Australia and started to ask questions about why people reacted to her as they did, she would never have recognized her habits.

Wierzbicka claims that Polish speakers value a certain intimacy, whereas English speakers value non-interference. This is a real difference, and if we attempt to parse Polish behavior by saying it is just like what we Anglo-Americans do/feel, only more so, we distort both what Polish speakers think and feel, and we miss a chance to notice that they really do live different lives. Culture makes a difference to how people live.

There is as well a sort of compromise position: With respect to these matters, you always win something and lose something. Or, there are always opportunity costs. Maybe that is illusory. Just maybe, when we do the right thing, there really was no other possibility—and no real possibility was missed. That is, in fact, I think a consequence of taking seriously the idea that there are moral facts and that there is moral knowledge. At a less grandiose and abstract level, maybe the Poles and Russians have noticed something that English-speakers tend to miss. Maybe they’ve developed a way of relating that is better. How would one know?

Perhaps there is a sort of subconscious argument here: If doing the right thing means not missing a possibility, and if I’ve never thought of a world without privacy, then I’ve missed a possibility, and maybe, just maybe I’ve been in someway wrong? But, surely I couldn’t be wrong about that!

The question of simple ideas is a question of understanding. Can I understand the other culture? I wanted to insist that simple paraphrases fail to capture the original thought. If the Japanese have a special way of relating to intimates and have given it a name, we cannot understand it simply by saying that it is like our friendship only more so. Why do I insist of keeping things together? I hinted at my reason above: it runs the risk of a sort of emotional imperialism or condescension. ‘Oh it’s just like our desire for intimacy, but more intense.’ But, No, it’s not as if there were some switch that was moved forms setting “8” to setting “12”. That is a misrepresentation of the difference. Perhaps an analogy can serve: contemporary dance is not simply classical ballet with looser rules about where the arms, shoulders, and torso can be located; it is a different style of dance, with different expressive possibilities.

Earlier we saw that Keith Oatley claimed emotions such as sympathy are central to morality. Oatley, a psychologist and novelist, has been inspired by the novelist George Eliot. Now, I would like to shift gears and consider just a bit of what George Eliot has to say about the emotions.

George Eliot wrote of the importance of living a life ‘… vivid and intense enough to have created a wide fellow-feeling with all that is human.’ (The Mill on the Floss, Oxford UP: Oxford and New York; 1860/1996, p. 498) This does not seem to be the Anglo view that our linguists find among Americans and English. Eliot is saying that if we have had an intense and vivid emotional life we become capable of expanded sympathy. In fact, one of the central tragedies of The Mill on the Floss is Tom’s incapacity to share the feelings of his sister, Maggie.

And now we are near a quite pretty suggestion. Earlier I seemed to be skeptical about the universality of emotion because I accepted the claim that different cultures might place different values on emotions or value different emotions, and that this difference might be reflected in language. Yet, now we see that a difference in language is not needed to produce an emotional and moral gap, a failure of human understanding.

Tom lacks the emotional capacities needed to understand his sister. And, to make the point more dramatic, we might say: it’s not just the psychopath who fails to feel what one would need to in order to act rightly. Tom is a character who satisfies certain social standards of respectability and is praised by his community, but he is often cruel to his sister. Moreover, it is Maggie’s moral and emotional depth which makes her a target of community criticism. Like Tom, Maggie’s community is, for the most part, simply incapable of accepting the complexity of her character. Toward the novel’s end, after hearing Maggie’s story, Dr. Kenn advises her,

The people who are the most incapable of a conscientious struggle such as yours, are precisely those who are likely to shrink from you; because they will not believe in your struggle. (The Mill on the Floss, p. 496)

Here in her narrator’s voice, Eliot describes how Maggie responds to Tom’s words:

There was a terrible cutting truth in Tom’s words--that hard rind of truth which is discerned by unimaginative, unsympathetic minds. (p. 393)

And here on the same page are Maggie’s thoughts about Tom:

… she said inwardly that he was narrow and unjust, that he was below feeling those mental needs which, were often the source of the wrong-doing or absurdity that made her life a planless riddle to him.

If we return to my earlier example, where two people can agree that something is unfair, the very schematic account I proposed there seems hollow. Maggie and her brother Tom might well agree that many things were wrong or bad, yet the grounds of their judgments would be different. For Tom there is the powerful force of public reputation. For Maggie there is always something like a primary ground of emotional sympathy. Maggie and Tom’s father goes bankrupt. For Tom this brings shame. For Maggie, there are fewer thoughts about how this will influence her life than there is sympathy for her father.

So too, if we recall Wierzbicka’s account of the Anglo mind, we can see Tom as the sort of person who will care about privacy in a formal way, while Maggie will be in need of a space where she can experience her emotions. That suggestion turns things around once more; even two people who share the same language and have shared childhood can be emotionally separated. Maggie’s emotional life looks more Russian than Anglo-American. Her misfortune is that her brother is closer to Wierzbicka’s portrait of an Anglo.

Can we draw any conclusions? No language or culture, and, indeed, one might add (though we have not discussed this point) not even the most creative and competent of teachers or mentors can give us some form of automatic and privileged insight. Your language may require you to notice some things and not others. But making a life for one’s self that is just and happy is so complicated a process that no matter what one’s initial endowment, there will be dangerous decision-points where the initial advantages come to seem quite trivial.

In Maggie’s case, she was condemned by people who, like her brother Tom, lacked imagination and sympathy. To see Maggie’s tragedy as solely or primarily due to some excess in her character is to ignore the role played by the community. Eliot knew well the power of community judgment:

Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them. (Middlemarch. Oxford: Oxford UP,1871/1996) p. 9)

We have touched on the ways in which language and culture can create difficulties or complications which hinder understanding. I have also suggested that people who share a culture and early childhood experiences may yet differ in the emotions they feel in ways that matter for moral judgment. Maggie is closer to moral reality than Tom. Her greater sensitivity brings with it a perception of what is important which Tom lacks.

Perhaps, too, we can derive another moral. If emotions matter to morality, it is not merely because they are universal and serve as a kind of foundation. There is as well a question of the depth or quality of emotion. George Eliot thought that art must enlarge one’s capacity for sympathy, or it would be worthless.

Mother Nature may have endowed us with the emotions which make morality possible, but their final destiny lies in cultural institutions which can develop those energetic creatures in diverse directions. That insight can already be found in Plato. What is new in the contemporary thinkers I have mentioned is an appreciation for the surprising granularity of the social or cultural. Society influences the individual not merely at the level of macro-institutions such as schools and political systems, but equally at the micro level of parting rituals and small talk.

Monday, October 18, 2010


If you are looking for the first chapter of the book (or the missing half chapter) please keep looking. They are here; you only need to scroll down....

This note is only of interest to anyone who might happen to be wondering about disappeared links.....

I have removed some non-functioning links. All were leading to the Journal of Mundane Behavior. I don't know if it's gone completely out of existence, or if it is to be found within the gated communities of for-pay journals that only universities can afford to pay for.....
If it ever comes back for free, I'll restore the links.
I wonder how much writing of quality is actually available for free on the web, and how much of it is only available if you pay outrageous prices......but the actual percentage doesn't matter, there's just too much good stuff that is not free.......Jeez Loueeez, it's not as if the web were created with public money, right? I mean the falsely named but publicly funded DOD (accurately D of War) built the damn internet, didn't they?

Talking about absurdities, an article I wrote a few years back (22 July 2009 is the online publication date) that appeared in"Think" is being sold online for $45!!! I'm sure not getting the money!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

in passing....

apparently it passed by so quickly that I forgot it....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

dead links

If you are looking for an excerpt from the book, please keep looking. This is a message about dead links.

I apologize for the dead links. They correspond to four things I had written which appeared in the "Journal of Mundane Behavior",
which is now defunct.
I had hoped JMB might come back on line, or that I might find the advertised writings. Thus far, unfortunately, neither has JMB returned nor have I found the missing essays. I do have a copy of "American Optimism Meets Slavic Fatalism" in PDF form as part of the entire JMB issue. But I don't know how to make that available here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

the Moloch of the market and publishing

On self-publishing my novel:

Recently I found myself adding a comment at “On Fiction” about some unpleasant experiences I had while trying to find a publisher for ‘A Neurotic in an Exotic Land.”

I was very disappointed when Keith Oatley seemed to write it all off as a case of forgivable human frailties. I have the greatest respect for Oatley and especially his book “Best Laid Plans”, but in this case I was very disappointed.

It is true that I was unable to supply the full details of my experience, but I couldn’t help but wishing I could employ the Slovak verb “bagatelizovat meaning to trivialize.

I think of this now because I recently came across a piece of writing by the Sociologist Loïc Wacquant which exactly made the point I should have liked to make at “On Fiction'

I quote from an interview with Wacquant titled “Critical Thought as Solvent of Doxa


(itself worth reading)

Context: Waquant is describing how critical thought must oppose

…the crushing of everything by the Moloch of the market, starting with the crushing of thought and all forms of cultural expression now threatened with violent death by the profit imperative and the unbridled pursuit of marketing success: consider that Mrs. Hillary Clinton received a seven-million dollar advance and the CEO of General Electric Jack Welsh got nine million for two execrable books that will be written by ghost writers in which the one will recount her life as First Lady and the other his experiences as a high-flying corporate tycoon, and that Amazon.com will sell barges of them before they are even printed, while talented writers, poets, and young researchers are unable to find houses willing to publish them for the sole reason that all editors must now raise their annual profit rates in line with those of the television and movie industries within which they have been integrated by the large cultural conglomerates.”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Small Correction: Part One of Two

This note has little to do with the novel, but I want to make this point public somewhere.
If you just want to see an excerpt from the book, please keep looking elsewhere at this site.

When I was living in Slovakia I published an article ("American Optimism Meets Slavic Fatalism") in the "Journal of Mundane Behavior" (Volume 2, No.3, October 2001). That used to be a free on-line journal. It seems to have gone off line.
A while back, I discovered that I had been mis-cited--both my name and my citizenship had been changed, and (more disturbing) the content of what I had written was trivialized.

Here (in green) is a quotation from an article which appeared in the "International Business and Economics Research Journal" in February 2008 (link below):

Mark Locus, an Eastern European, writes in 2001 to warn against viewing Slavic people, “according to stereotype – as fatalists.” Locus defines fatalism as the view that a choice can not affect an outcome. He distinguishes those choices an eastern European might make that do change outcomes from those that cannot change outcomes. We would observe that since the end of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europeans increasingly find their choices do affect outcomes and that Slavic fatalism has faded, evolving to a growing optimism.

Mark "Locus"! Who is Mark Locus? I am not Mark "Locus" but Mark Lovas. So, why do I say they are referring to an article I wrote? If you check their bibliography, you will find no one in the bibliography named "Locus", but my name appears, and they cite my article in JMB.

In addition to getting my name wrong, they jumped to the conclusion that I am "Eastern European". But, I am neither European nor Eastern European. I am American--a citizen of the United States. At the time I wrote the article, I was employed by an American university located in Bratislava, but I am American not Eastern European, and several Americans were working there at the time. You do not have to be an Eastern European to be employed by an Eastern European university.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.cluteinstitute-onlinejournals.com/PDFs/672.pdf

The article had three authors, none of whom apparently could be bothered to pay attention to insignificant details like the name of an author they were citing, but who were able to imagine that said author was "an Eastern European"--yes, that's right an Eastern European born in Rahway, New Jersey, USA... (Frankly "Locus" is just plain Latin, and "Lovas" is plainly not--it is Hungarian or Slovak in origin; but perhaps the authors didn't know that; so the mistake might indicate a broader lack of knowledge.) Even more seriously, they did not do a good job of summarizing what I had said.

They not only attributed to me a totally trivial view--the sort of triviality one would hardly think requires a scholarly reference: the wholly anodyne remark that one shouldn't stereotype people because they are "Slavic"! (That's the sort of generality one expects to hear from a nursery school teacher, not from someone engaged into a serious cultural inquiry) -- they also managed to distort and mangle what I did say. I distinguished three sorts of fatalism: fatalism simpliciter, and (borrowing a distinction from Dan Dennett) two variants--global and local fatalism. (I did not put it exactly that way in the article, but it is clear to anyone who reads the article that this is what I was doing.)

You can be fatalistic about some things and not others. I suggested that Slovaks might be fatalistic about politics--and rightly so--while not being fatalistic about taking care of their gardens. The "definition" (sic) which the authors attribute to me threatens to make fatalism always and everywhere bad, to be avoided--precisely opposite to the point I was making.

Here is the explanation of "fatalism" which I gave in the article:

Anyway, what exactly is Fatalism?....Among professional philosophers fatalism is a position that (for the most part—I mention an exception below) nobody seriously defends or advocates. For most philosophers since Aristotle, it has been a sort of limiting position in discussions of free will and human agency: if you get to that conclusion, you’ve made a mistake and need to start over again. In brief, it is the view that human choices, decisions, deliberation, have no point—they don’t affect the outcome one way or another.

(added emphasis)

And here is their summary of what I was saying: (Again I assume by "Locus" they actually mean "Lovas"--i.e. the author of these words because there is no "Locus" in their bibliography.)

"Locus defines fatalism as the view that a choice can not affect an outcome. [added emphasis]"

They do an excellent job of defining "fatalism" in an ambiguous way--thus destroying the distinction I was after. Notice the ambiguity: A choice cannot affect an outcome. VERSUS No choice can affect an outcome. "A choice cannot affect an outcome" invites the question: WHICH CHOICE?

Fatalism, a view not very popular with philosophers, is the view that all choices are inefficacious.

If I bend over backwards to be charitable, I could interpret what they have written as follows: when they said "a choice" they meant "any choice." After all, there are sentences in English where "a+noun" involves the universal quantifier: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle". (So, here "a" means "any" or "all".) Nonetheless, in expressing a view or position, it is part of the real work involved to choose words that escape ambiguity insofar as that is possible--and this is precisely what our trio have not done. It appears they are trying to pack the distinction I drew into the definition, and they they try to correct the ambiguity with their next line, which states a truism: some choices by Eastern Europeans are efficacious, some not. (Did they need me to tell them that?)

They write in a vague way that blurs over the very distinction I was making-- and that is reminiscent of the sort of error one might find in an undergraduate philosophy paper. The idea that a specific choice cannot affect an out come--"a choice"--is LOCAL fatalism. It is exactly NOT what I defined fatalism as. (Look above.) So, it would appear that what they've tried to do is to blur the distinction I was drawing. But, since I thought the distinction was worth drawing in the first place, I can hardly appreciate their attempt to undo the work I had done.

Does this matter? Why does it matter? SEE PART TWO

A Small Correction: Part Two

Why, you may well ask, does the distinction even matter?

My original point was that when Americans label Slavic people as "fatalists" they (the Americans) were confused. They were failing to distinguish local and global fatalism.

Maybe global fatalism is unreasonable; but local fatalisms are part of the essence of rationality.

Dennett's example to illustrate the distinction involved someone who slipped on the ice and was about to fall--for that brief period before s/he hit the ground, no choice could change their downward path.

And, let's be clear about a further issue. The three authors rather blandly assume that with the coming of capitalism to "Eastern" Europe, people have more efficacious choices.

On my analysis, people in Eastern Europe were always rational agents who knew where to spend their energies. The confused ones were the visiting Americans who regarded them as fatalists (fatalists simpliciter); and I even suggested that optimistic Americans might suffer from their own sort of cultural blindness when it came to evaluating their own culture....

To summarize the errors:

1. My name was either misspelled or changed--depending on your interpretation.

2. A hypothetical (but erroneous) ethnic identity was attributed to me.

3. What I said was mis-represented in two ways: a. A distinction I drew was blurred.,

b. My actual view was dumbed down in a way that trivializes it.

Of course there is a difference (objectively speaking) between choices that make a difference and those that don't make a difference. (That hardly needs a scholarly citation.) The more interesting point which I made was that Slovaks and Czechs know the difference. (And even that isn't terribly interesting when I make it out of context.--But it is quite different than what the authors attribute to me.)


Arsen M. Djatej, Robert H. S. Sarikas, David L. Senteney, "An Investigation of the Comparative Accuracy and Bias of Equity Securities Analysts East and West European Firms Earnings Forecasts", International Business and Economics Research Journal, February 2008, Volume 7, Number 2, accessed 8 August 2010. www.cluteinstitute-onlinejournals.com/PDFs/672.pdf

Daniel C. Dennett, Elbow Room; The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, MIT 1984

Mark Lovas, "American Optimism Meets Slavic Fatalism", The Journal of Mundane Behavior, Volume 2, Issue 3, (2001), pp. 355-377.


Now that capitalism is in global crisis, all of us who don't belong to the capitalist class seem to have fewer and fewer choices.


Oh yes, the above-mentioned authors might like to know that the word "Eastern" has a negative connotation for some audiences. And, as the Czechs like to say, to travel from Prague to Vienna, you have to go east....

And Another Thing...

About their actual article: It is amazing (to say the least) that they follow the practice (which they describe as standard practice) of referring to "Eastern Europeans" as "Russians"!!

It is as if the Berlin Wall never fell, and culturally the Czech, Slovaks, and Hungarians (among others) continued to be in the sphere of Russia.

But the real topic of their essay is risk and over-confidence (which they describe as "optimism"). The Eastern Europeans who interest them--equity security firm analysts--make overly optimistic predictions--overly optimistic as compared to their colleagues in the west of Europe.

There is something laughable about this--the authors' confidence that the former members of the Warsaw Pact will now have truly efficacious decision-making powers-- presumably because capitalism has come to their lands--as if workplace democracy were not essentially antagonistic to capitalism and essential to true freedom, and as if choosing from fifteen different shampoos were the height of human freedom!

Yet,the whole business is ludicrous in light of the current economic depression, and the fact a group of economists in the UK recently wrote a letter to the Queen of England where they blamed the whole thing on a failure to accurately assess risk!!! I.e., a failure on the part of Westerners....Who is over-confident now?


The capitalist emperor really has no clothes...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

health care and paperwork....

While living in Slovakia, I was seriously ill and required hospitalization.

At the time, as far as I recall, I did not fill out very many forms. I did, however, have a small plastic card which indicated that I was part of the state system of health care.

Recently, I have been living in the USA with my eighty-something parents. They frequently visit doctors, and, on every visit without exception, are asked to fill out forms, and are provided legalistic documents for their signature.

That demand upon their time stands in sharp contrast to the paperwork free spending which
went on in Iraq at the beginning of the occupation. (I do not mean to suggest that anything has changed today; but the link below is to an article written five years ago.)

I am attaching a link to provide the details:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Among my many adventures in the Slovak Republic was my year-long battle with the managers of a certain Slovak international school, during which my fondness
for the term "fascism" provoked intense criticism.

What I learned was that "fascism" had a very specific meaning for my audience.

But I think it's something of a reductio if such a general term is limited in scope
to only one period of time. You don't want simply to refer to some event
as a bare particular, but surely the interest in the thing is what properties it has
what laws of nature are involved and such!--and especially the goodness and badness involved!

To be sure, it's also absurd when every bad person is described as a "Hitler".

Along these lines, I am now re-discovering that "Bolshevism" is a term
more prominent for UK speakers of English than for me.

I say that because I just read Andrew Cockburn remarking that the UK had to let up its ban on food imports to Germany after World War One--"for fear of promoting Bolshevism"

(LRB 22 July 2010 Andrew Cockburn, "Worth It")

I was once accused of being a Bolshevik by someone at the "Guardian" newspaper.
After my "Letter from Bratislava" had been published (you can find the letter in the archives of this blog), I complained at the delay before I received my check.
My correspondent at the Guardian described me as a "Bolshevik" when I complained.

Absurd really. There should be a precise term for this sort of falsification.

When someone says something true, conjure up visions of a vivid sort of violent
injustice, and destruction of all social order.... hmmmm...... something like
capitalism and capitalists.....

So, according to this lose use, capitalists too are... bosheviks?

("Bolshevik" doesn't belong to my active vocabulary, and I am not a participant in UK culture, and since email is such a dry medium, I might be missing the possibility that my correspondent was joking. But look! See here! All my life I have been paying in advance for certain services (like using the Internet now), but I have only been paid after I had made my contribution....So, to me, that suggests something rotten. I have to pay first for what I get. but I am paid later, and sometimes late for what I give. THAT IS NOT FUNNY!

An Afterthought:

Surely, someone is thinking: What about credit!? You could borrow money! But borrowing money is altogether different. An employer gets to benefit from my effort and my schooling without paying me up front, and retains power over me in the form of various forms of control. I have no similar power over a bank that loans me money.
But even if I could borrow without interest, I don't like the idea of adding the banker
as a middleman.

More generally, credit, in the real world, puts power in the hands of those who least deserve it. I know very well there is a fairy tale about how banks spread money around like manure, but it's just not reality. A more detailed and scholarly objection to credit as an institution (because it is an institution which increases undeserved privilege and power) can be found in the economist Robin Hahnel's book, "The ABC's of Political Economy". (Pluto Press 2002) In brief, credit markets allow individuals to increase personal wealth out of proportion to effort or sacrifice.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dead Links

I have just noticed that there are some dead links here--all to the
Journal of Mundane Behavior.

This happened once before, but the JMB eventually came back.

If it doesn't re-appear, I should be able to find the advertised articles
and post them at this cite.

So, check back in either case if you are interested.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I don't usually write poetry, but I used to. This is a poem from about the same
period as "The Crimes of Capitalism"--also found at this blog.

It represents a wholly different mood from the book, and, even the other pieces at
this blog. It is, in a way, unfinished; but I can't do anything with it now.

Angel Metro Station in Winter

Hundreds of souls fly madly through your caverns.
Crammed inside gleaming metal boxes.
So many souls: old, young, indifferent to my plight.
I can't stop staring.
I am looking for an answer to a question I cannot quite put into words.

I stand on the platform and look for a sign that love is possible
even now in this cold.
It would be a consolation for the tricks you have played on me,
But, no, you don't give away anything to anyone.

I am not this flesh and not these bones.
My soul hovers somewhere above the city.
Watching my predicament with no special interest.
I who am not on an island somewhere in the sun.

Your go-between used to comfort me,
but now she has found other work,
and no one has answered my help wanted sign.

March 2001


Anyone who happened to buy the book should know that in the process of
uploading it, I forgot to include the second half of Chapter Six.

The GOOD NEWS is that it is available at this blog.

The explanation is that prior to uploading the book I had moved the book
from one computer to another and I had myself moved quickly without
adequate preparation from one country to another.

Apologies again, and I hope the book is amusing despite this error.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

About the Blog

This blog supplements the book of the same name. In earlier posts you
will find an excerpt from the book.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Some words about the book....

Recently, I have been much impressed by Keith Oatley's on-line magazine together with a blog--"On Fiction". (I'm not sure if that's quite how he would describe it.)

And Keith has just published a new novel. I was impressed by his clear statement of his goals in writing the book. Inspired, I shall try to be honest about my own small comic novel, "A Neurotic in an Exotic Land".

My first goal was not to achieve a poetic truth, but to be funny or amusing. Along the way I did find myself attempting to achieve some realism in conversation. However, the book was intended to be mainly plot-driven, and I do not think there is any depth psychology in the drawing of the main characters. Not that I wanted them to be featureless and flat, but it was intended to be a sort of comedy.

I do hope, though one can never be sure, that it does give something of the flavor of the life of a North American living in Central Europe. That does not make the book a piece of sociology or anthropology, but I did write it after living for six years in Bratislava,
and it is inevitable that I drew upon people and places I knew there. In the end, however, since I wanted it to be funny, everything is a bit exaggerated.

I hope someday to write a book which will have some of the values that this book lacks...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

About the Blog

All of the contents of this blog are copyright (c) by Mark J. Lovas, the author of the book--a short, comic novel.

The purpose of this blog is to provide information about my book,

"A Neurotic in an Exotic Land; The Adventures of Professor Lucas",

available at Wordclay: www.wordclay.com

In this book an American philosophy professor, Louis Lucas, travels to Bratislava to attend a wedding. He meets a variety of people, and gets mixed up with the mafia--hence the word "adventures" in the sub-title. Lucas also encounters some lovely ladies who, it seems, are more in control of things than he is.

The picture you see above is regrettably rotated to the wrong angle. I hope to fix it in the future.

The picture was taken on the main square of Bratislava (capital of the Slovak Republic) in 1996. The square was being reconstructed. If you know Bratislava, Roland Fountain would be to the left. The building you see in the photo today contains a coffee shop (Cafe Meyer if my memory is working and nothing has changed since I've been there) as well as the Japanese Embassy.

Several chapters of the book take place in Bratislava.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Crimes of Capitalism

The Crimes of Capitalism

Or, What I learned while working at the Caledonian School.

with apologies to Allen Ginsberg

(c) Copyright by Mark J. Lovas

Dedication: Last year when I was living in Prague, one bright spot amid a year of lies, deception, and double-dealing was reading the graffiti on the wall of a wholly forgettable (tourist-free) pub near Florenz metro station. Somebody had scrawled, “The Crimes of Capitalism in this country are awful.” Thinking of how Czech newspapers are filled with the stock phrase “the crimes of socialism/communism/totalitarianism” and the interpretation usually placed upon that phrase, I felt that the person who wrote those words is a hero. I dedicate this poem to him (it was on the inside door of a men’s restroom) and to all those attending the Global Street Party in Prague in September 2000.

The Crimes of Capitalism are Breathtaking!

The Crimes of Capitalism are Uncountable!

The Crimes of Capitalism Cannot be Forgiven!

--Not even if we heap the skulls of the forgotten victims one upon the other,

and built of them a New Capitalist Temple.

The Crimes of Capitalism are Knocking at Your door.

The Crimes of Capitalism are Hiding under your Bed!

The Crimes of Capitalism are selling cigarettes to frightened old women who love Vladimir Meciar.

The Crimes of Capitalism made me want to be a Poet.

The Crimes of Capitalism made me walk in my sleep.

The Crimes of Capitalism sent the daughters of the Ukraine to work in Czech brothels.

No one knows whether the Crimes of Capitalism are giving you Brain Cancer at this very moment.

And No One is likely to find out because all of the research is being done by the companies who sell Brain Cancer.

The Crimes of Capitalism told us that the poor are lazy and that the rich are the new aristocracy who must be worshipped no matter what the cost.

The Crimes of Capitalism have taken away your children and replaced them with video games.

Ivana the Terrible is a Crime of Capitalism.

The Managerial Class is a Crime of Capitalism.

The Merciless Hyperbole of Language Factory Promotional Literature is a Capitalist Crime!

America’s We-Don’t-Care-About-The-Poor Health Care System is a Crime of Capitalism.

George Bush is a Crime of Capitalism no matter what his full name is.

I marvel in wonder at the Crimes of Capitalism.

You cannot keep the Crimes of Capitalism from Happening.

Only Poetry can Stop the Crimes of Capitalism.

Only Poetry Can Save the Managerial Class.

I didn’t want to Save Anyone.

I wanted to buy my way out of here,

But Instead I was Bought and Sold.

And Now I can’t Stop Myself from Asking

When America will Wake Up and see that greed is not a new Religion,

And Who is Gonna Tell Them,

That Ticket Checkers in the Budapest Metro know only one word of English,

--and that word is PUNISHMENT.

--Mark Lovas, Bratislava, July 25, 2000