Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, Google Scholar) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited (Amazon) and After the Rain: How the West Lost the East (Amazon) as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He was Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International (February, 2001 – April, 2003), CEO of Narcissus Publications (April, 1997 – April 2013), Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician (January, 2011 -), a columnist for PopMatters, eBookWeb, Bellaonline, and Central Europe Review, an editor for The Open Directory and Suite101 (Categories: Mental Health and Central East Europe), and a contributor to Middle East Times, a contributing writer to The American Chronicle Media Group, Columnist and Analyst for Nova Makedonija, Fokus, and Kapital, Founding Analyst of The Analyst Network, former president of the Israeli chapter of the Unification Church‘s Professors for World Peace Academy, and served in the Israeli Defense Forces (1979-1982). He has been awarded Israel’s Council of Culture and Art Prize for Maiden Prose (1997), The Rotary Club Award for Social Studies (1976), and the Bilateral Relations Studies Award of the American Embassy in Israel (1978), among other awards. He is Visiting Professor of Psychology, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russia (September, 2017 to present), Professor of Finance and Psychology in SIAS-CIAPS (Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies) (April, 2012 to present), a Senior Correspondent for New York Daily Sun (January, 2015 – Present), and Columnist for Allied Newspapers Group (January, 2015 – Present). He lives in Skopje, North Macedonia with his wife, Lidija Rangelovska. Here we talk about freedom of expression.
*Previous interviews listed chronologically after interview.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Freedom of expression is a paper right in most places of the world. It is listed in international rights documents and in national constitutions. Yet, one could ask, “What is the ‘free’ part of freedom of expression?” It depends on the society and the culture, and the person. So, to open this session, what is a proper framing of rights, responsibilities, obligations, and privileges in societies, i.e., an accurate frame or definition to ground practice of free expression?
Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin: Freedom of expression, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, is a feature of individualistic societies. Where collectivism reigns, this amalgam of rights is subordinated to the greater good.
Ironically, utilitarianism inexorably leads to limitations on these freedoms intended to protect the majority against the incursions of disruptive or even destructive minorities.
Yet, even in anarchic polities, freedom of expression cannot be abused to spread panic (crying fire in a crowded theatre), life threatening misinformation (re: the COVID-19 pandemic), or to threaten the wellbeing and lives of others (e.g., virulent racism, or calls for eugenic culling, or victimization). Only anomic civilizations in decadent decline countenance such toxic speech acts.
Jacobsen: Which countries and parts of the world seem the freest regarding freedom of expression?
Vaknin: It is a surprisingly mixed bag including perennials like Denmark and Finland, but also surprises like Argentina and Slovakia.
But freedom – all freedoms – are on the decline everywhere, besieged by populism, profound mistrust of authority and of expertise, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, anti-liberalism (anti-“progressivism”), and the dominance of rapid dissemination technologies such as social media.
Ochlocracies (mob rule) are regaining ground all over the world, led by authoritarian, proudly ignorant, and defiantly contumacious and reactant narcissistic-psychopathic leaders.
Jacobsen: Which nations and regions of the world seem the least free regarding freedom of expression?
Vaknin: Again, the rankings are counterintuitive. Canada, for example, is less free than Uruguay and the USA is languishing with Peru somewhere at the bottom of the upper third.
Jacobsen: How did (and does) the internet change freedom of expression or the access to free exchange of words, ideas, and philosophies, or simply disjointed randomly emoted thoughts?
Vaknin: In the internet age, the distinction between raw information and knowledge (structured data) is lost. The internet is a huge dumping ground for half-baked truths, rank nonsense, misinformation, propaganda, hate speech, speculation, and outright derangement. Even where vetted and reliable information is available, it is unprocessed and out of context.
No single technology has harmed free expression more than the internet. It has created a problem of discoverability (locating quality content in a sempiternal tsunami of trash) and allowed mobs to form and to ominously suppress speech by sheer force of numbers (the cancel culture is the latest example of such transgressions).
All semblance of civilized, informed speech is now lost even in academe. Social media were deliberately constructed by engineers and turncoat psychologists to polarize aggressive speech and cement confirmation bias (silos of like-minded people in echo chambers).
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, is this net good or net bad?
Vaknin: Bad by a long shot.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpvv_ooqJik (The True Toxicity of Social Media)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY79nDYjW94 (Malignant Egalitarianism)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvuRmP3KP1g (The Need to Be Seen)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgjOH0kDErw (A-social Media: Fracking Mankind)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVprI6_P8GE (Plugged-in Documentary)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2rKrWNWkS0 (How to Fix Social Media)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIElARjRGTo (Social Media as the Big Eye)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NTwxAJDMTo (Metaverse: Conspiracy or Heaven?)
Jacobsen: One camp will claim complete freedom of expression in social media will be a net good because the liars and defamers will be overwhelmed by more reasonable voices and evidence. Another camp thinks there should be sharp restrictions on particular types of speech, electronic communication, and so on. Those are two big ones. A third believes in outlawing social media altogether, so stringently binding or making illegal social media for some people if not most or all. It’d be similar to acquisition of a firearm in much of the world, getting a driver’s license, qualifying as a surgeon or an accountant, and such. You have commented on this. With social media, what should be done for or against freedom of expression, if anything?
Vaknin: Social media are utilities and should be subjected to the same regulatory oversights that other media and monopolistic utilities are under.
Additionally, owing to the addictive nature of social media, laws should be passed to restrict their use and to monitor the content posted on them.
Self-regulation is a myth on Wall Street as it is in tech valleys around the globe. Where money rears its head, morality and restraint and the public interest go out of the window.
Crowdsourced regulation is the dumbest idea ever. Majorities are forever silent and conflict-averse. Ask the misnamed Mensheviks who were actually the overwhelming majority and yielded to the equally mislabeled Bolsheviks who were more ruthless and vociferous and better mobilized.
Jacobsen: What does social media and internet use do in mild use and in chronic use to the mental health of individuals and groups?
Vaknin: The evidence is unequivocal (see the studies by Twenge et al.): the more extensive the exposure to screens, the longer the screentime, the higher the prevalence and incidence of anxiety and depressive disorders, especially among the young (under 25) and among seniors over 65. There is no such thing as “mild” or “moderate” use: the effects commence at the first moment of use.
Jacobsen: What do trends of expression and outcomes among users of social media tell us about individual psychology and mass psychology, and social media in general?
Vaknin: By far the biggest problem social media use has fostered is what I call “malignant egalitarianism”.
Malignant egalitarianism is threatening our existence as a species. Until about 10 years ago, people – even narcissists – had role models they sought to learn from and emulate and ideals which they aspired to.
Today, everyone – never mind how unintelligent, ignorant, or unaccomplished – claim superiority or at least equality to everyone else.
Armed with egalitarian equal access technology like social media, everyone virulently detest and seek to destroy or reduce to their level their betters and that which they cannot attain or equal.
Pathological envy (egged on by instruments of relative positioning such as “likes”) had fully substituted for learning and self-improvement. Experts, scholars, and intellectuals are scorned and threatened. Everyone is an instant polymath and an ersatz da Vinci.
But, this is just one of many vile side effects and byproducts of social media. Watch my videos on the topic (see links above).
Jacobsen: How will the Metaverse, and associated developments, in the 2030s affect relations between people?
Vaknin: Is the Metaverse the ultimate dystopia, an escape from reality, or the promised technological heaven? I summarized my views in this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NTwxAJDMTo.
Jacobsen: If the goal is mental health for most people most of the time, what are the most efficacious policies and laws for governments to enact, and for individuals and families to practice, regarding social media and the right to freedom of expression?
Vaknin: Limit usage time (clocks embedded in the app will terminate use after 2 hours);
Only real life friends and acquaintances would be allowed to become online friends;
Identity verification would be mandatory for various types of content;
Introduce an accreditation system for experts, gurus, and coaches online;
ScholarTube for vetted, evidence-based knowledge provided by real-life academics or experts;
Curation of most content prior to its release (the contemporary Wikipedia model as distinct from the original crowdsourcing mess).
More here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2rKrWNWkS0 (How to Fix Social Media)
Shoshanim: Thank you, Dr. Shmuel.
Vaknin: You are always welcome, shoshanim!
Previous Electronic ‘Print’ Interviews (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)
(News Intervention: January 28, 2022)
(News Intervention: January 30, 2022)
(News Intervention: February 2, 2022)
(News Intervention: February 11, 2022)
(News Intervention: April 30, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 21, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 24, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 26, 2022)
(News Intervention: May 28, 2022)
(News Intervention: June 1, 2022)
Previous Interviews Read by Prof. Vaknin (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 26, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 29, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 31, 2022)
(Prof. Sam Vaknin: February 3, 2022)
Prof. Sam Vaknin: May 25, 2022)
Image Credit: Sam Vaknin.