Sunday, 31 August 2008
Suicide and deliberate self harm are among the most common manifestations of psychiatric illness, often being their first presentation in the accident and emergency department. Indeed DSH is the most common reason why women under the age of 65 years attend hospital in the UK, and the second most common for men of the same age group, after ischaemic heart disease.
Now this is incredible, and an even more major concern arises with the terrible prognosis following deliberate self harm – 1% will commit suicide in the next year, and 10% will commit suicide in the next 10 years after a DSH attempt. About a quarter of those successful at committing suicide attend hospital in the year prior. Thus the deep importance of early hospital intervention when a patient with overdose presents.
Over 90% of cases of DSH involve drug overdose and the rest are mostly self-injury of some sort.
It is impossible to predict who is going to successfully commit suicide and who isn’t; this reminds me of the he novel, ‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides:
“In the novel, the narrator describes the reactions of several teenaged boys to the suicides of five sisters. The boys keep a collection of the dead girls' belongings, repeatedly sifting through them in a vain attempt to understand their deaths…In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn't name.” (Eugenides 1993, 246)”.
However, there are two common factors among all of those who commit suicide, or at high risk of suicide. Firstly, the fact that “clinicians have always known to be true... (That) people who die by suicide do not want to die. They simply want to end the pain. If there were another way to end the pain, they would choose it”. Geo Stone put it thus:
“Thousands of books have attempted to answer the question of why people kill themselves. To summarize their findings in three words: to stop pain. Sometimes this pain is physical, as in chronic or terminal illness; more often it is emotional, caused by a myriad of problems. In any case, suicide is not a random or senseless act, but an effective, if extreme, solution.”
Secondly, is that fact that they are invariably irrational and sad, and there is definitely a connection between the two – the sadder you are, the more irrational you can become. And the more irrational you are the sadder you can become.
Combined, these two factors constitute what I have mentioned in the very first chapter of this work – that suicidal people (and those with suicidal tendencies) have lost a sense of purpose in life. They have lost the answer to that, the deepest of all philosophical questions - what is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of humanity? What is the meaning of it all.
They are not to blame for this. This is related to the crisis of modern civilisation. Alexis Carrel put it this way in his, ‘Reflections on Life’:
“Modern society has been preoccupied with material values. It has neglected fundamental human problems, which are both material and spiritual. Not only has it not brought us happiness but it has shown itself incapable of preventing our deterioration. The conquest of health is not enough. We must also bring about in every individual the finest development of his hereditary power and of his personality, for the quality of life is more important than life itself”.
A contemporary psychiatrist, Dr. Victor Frankl also made the following testimony about his practice:
“More and more of our patients are crowding out our clinics and consulting rooms complaining of an inner emptiness, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives.”
The American philosopher James Christian explains:
“Modern humans are caught in an ‘existential vacuum’…We are struck with the total meaninglessness of our lives. Increasingly we find nothing worth living for. There is an inner emptiness within us all. We can understand this spiritual void, for it has two sources that have emerged since we began to be human beings. The first was the loss of our instincts, that set of instructions that we, along with all the other animals, carried embedded in our very natures. That was an ancient loss. A more recent trauma to our souls happened when we lost the binding myths and traditions that secured our behaviour. Modern man is therefore lost, Frankl writes, “for no instinct tells him what to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; soon he will not know what to do””.
That indeed is the most difficult of questions. Why live. Why continue in the face of all the pain that pervades all of life.
It is clear that it is not the events themselves that occur to people’s lives that determine their wish for suicide. If that were the case, then all great men and women, who faced tragedies or very difficult times, would have implemented it. Indeed, many have contemplated it. But very few actually did it. To give an extreme examples, Victor Frankl, a victim of the Holocaust, did not commit suicide, despite being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, where he ““found himself stripped to naked existence”, (having) lost all his immediate family except his sister; they had either died in the camps or been sent to the gas ovens…(he) lost everything a human normally values in life – possessions, loved ones, hope, self-esteem, ideals – and (faced) at any moment starvation, pain, and even extermination”. Instead he lived to the grand old age of 92, and spent his life teaching people about the meaning of life, and how to live it. He found a purpose in life, and taught that, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” James Christian elaborates:
“If a human life has meaning at all, then there must be meaning in all of it, including especially one’s suffering and dying. This is a very private journey that each person must undertake for himself. No one can tell another what that purpose is, or how to find it. And when the answer is finally found, it must be accepted and lived. If one succeeds in giving his suffering meaning, then one will continue to grow no matter what happens. Frankl liked to quote Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how””.
Another great man who considered suicide when young was the great Bertrand Russell, who when young became very isolated, and was “rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief,” to the extent that he used to go alone in his youth, to “a footpath leading across fields to New Southgate…to watch the sunset and contemplate suicide”. He did not, because he “wished to know more of mathematics” (Russell, ‘Autobiography’, p.36-38). He too lived to the grand old age of 97, contributing to the worlds of mathematics, philosophy and many other topics in his time.
Alas, the exhilarating pace of modern life allows for minimal time for contemplation, or even the ability to contemplate. The instincts of man and the demands of everyday living take priority, for without them, life becomes impossible. When faced with a ‘tragedy’ related to them, man is blown away in a state of shock. Because he or she often does not have the answer to the question, “can life continue beyond this? Should life continue beyond this?” the possibility of suicide raises itself strongly. Ill-equipped with prophylaxis against suicide, and pro-life advice, it becomes almost a necessity.
And herein lays the greatest problem. The atheist or agnostic, who has no predetermined purpose in life, who has to rely on his or her own judgements and ability to devise a meaning for their life, who has not found a deeper meaning of his or her own life by the time of a great tragedy, is at the highest risk of suicide. There is no doubt about it.
And what is worst, is that he or she can never provide a solution to the problem of suicide, the problem Albert Camus described as the “one truly serious philosophical problem”. This is because the atheist (or agnostic, which I regard as a synonym) has no higher purpose in life. To him, the world has no meaning except the meaning they impart to it themselves. Bertrand Russell, the agnostic, put it this way:
“I do not think that life in general has any purpose. It just happened. But individual human beings have purposes, and there is nothing in agnosticism to cause them to abandon these purposes.”
A contemporary writer, David Hren, writes:
“Atheists think that purpose in life is subjective and not dependent on what a god has decided. An atheist may think there is no purpose to their life. That life just is. However, many atheists believe that their purpose is what they make of it: without the need of a god to provide a purpose.”
The latter proceeds to say, “Many atheists live a purposeful life. They decide what they think gives meaning to life, and they pursue those goals. They try to make their lives count, not by wishing for eternal life, but by having an influence on other people who will live on. For example, an atheist may dedicate his life to political reform, in the hope of leaving his mark on history”, as if atheist societies and other societies neglectful of God are the ultimate examples of altruism and humanity.
He then proceeds to talk about answer the question, "So how do atheists find comfort in time of danger?", saying, “There are many ways of obtaining comfort (for an atheist): Your family and friends, pets, food and drink, music, television, literature, arts and entertainment, sports or exercise, meditation, psychotherapy, drugs and work”. I am yet to read a more superficial answer than that. What if one does not have a family, or friends, or pets, or cannot afford food and drink, or listen to music, or watch television or the other forms of entertainment he mentions. What if work is making one suicidal?
Geo Stone, author of the once best selling, ‘Suicide and Attempted Suicide’ brilliantly put the reason why people commit suicide as follows:
“Thousands of books have attempted to answer the question of why people kill themselves. To summarize their findings in three words: to stop pain”.
The atheist commits suicide with belief in two things – firstly, the belief that life has no meaning beyond that which we impart to it ourselves, which by necessity, is transitory. Secondly, that the pain which one became suicidal for would end completely with the act.
The true theist, with a wholehearted belief in God cannot commit suicide, because he or she believes that life has a predetermined meaning, independent of us. It is the worship of God. To the Christian, this is a belief embodied in many verse of the Bible, such as Colossians (1:16), "All things were created by him and for him." and Isaiah (43:21), “The people which I formed for Myself, that they might tell of My praise”. To the Muslims, two similar verses embody that belief, “I have created not the jinn and men except that they should worship Me” (51:56-58) and, “So glorify the praises of your Lord and be of those who prostrate themselves (to Him). And worship your Lord until there comes unto you the Hour that is certain (i.e., death)” (15:98-99).
The belief in God, and in this duty of man – which is to worship Him, is the only 100% effective prophylaxis against suicide. It spares man from ‘worship’ of desire, which is essentially what every one who commits himself or herself to something other than God does:
“O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God's claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!” (4:135).
“Have you seen him who takes his desires for his god? Will you then be a protector over him?” (25:43).
With attachment to the most beautiful, eternal One, man is spared allegiance to all transient things, for how could man desire anything more than that.
With a true belief in God, there would be no romantic suicides, none of that, "My life is not worth living without him”, a sentiment most celebrated among the young, as in Romeo and Juliet, though nowadays it is more common to find the cause of death not the death of a loved one but separation because one partner left. As I said before, I am yet to see, in my medical practice a man or woman who has attempted to commit suicide for a reason other than a relationship breakdown or difficulty. Here is one real life example:
“I was really upset and depressed. My life just seemed to be in total chaos. My boyfriend just dumped me flat, and he said he loved the other girl and didn't love me at all. My parents and I also just got into another fight again about some really dumb things, so I just went into my room and closed the door. There was this bottle of sleeping pills my mother was using, and I had them with me. I sat and stared at it for a long time, weighing out the good and the bad things in my life. The bad things came out ahead. I poured some of the pills in my hand, and figured ten or fifteen ought to be enough to do it. Those pills... they all looked so innocent and peaceful, like they couldn't do much to hurt anyone. Well, I put them in my mouth and held them there for a long time, wondering if I should or shouldn't. I took a glass of water and swallowed. At first nothing happened, and then they all hit me at once. The room started to blur and spin, small sounds were going on in my head. The last thing I remembered was trying to move and not being able to. I woke up in the hospital. They were pumping out my stomach—one of the worst things you can have done to you. My mother came into the room, and she apologized for the fight we had.”
There would be no political suicides in the manner of the Hamas or the Japanese Kamikazes, for allegiance cannot be for a nation, but only to the Eternal One, who says clearly, "And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you" (4:29). The same verse applies to those who are commit euthanasia, to alleviate pain and suffering due to disease.
There would also be no guilt related suicides. This is because God, the only One who matters, is forgiving, saying:
“O you servants of Mine who have transgressed against your own selves! Despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives all sins - for, verily, He alone is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!’” (39:53).
He or she might have done the worst sins, but He is the most kind and forgiving. Not having cultural approval or recognition could be extremely painful. There can be no doubt about that. This is how William James described it as follows:
"No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met 'cut us dead', and acted as if we were non-existing things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would be fore long well up in us, from which the cruellest bodily torture would be a relief."
Apparently, because of guilt, not so long ago, “the president of a Japanese company whose food product had accidentally poisoned some people killed himself as an acknowledgment of responsibility for his company's mistake”. In 1986, about 275 Japanese directors committed suicide for similar reasons. Of course, this is not a common reason for committing suicide in Europe or America.
Belief in God is belief in the eternal one. And with attachment to this most beautiful idea comes belief in eternal bliss, that all pain and agony is transient, that all will end well. It tells us that pain and agony are meaningful, and is merely a test. The Quran makes this no clear in so many places:
“He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed, and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving”(67:2).
“And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give glad tidings to the steadfast. Who say, when a misfortune striketh them: Lo! We belong to God and Unto Him we are returning. Such are they on whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided” (2:155-7).
"God puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. After a difficulty, God will soon grant relief" (65:7)
“And, behold, with every hardship comes ease: Verily, with every hardship comes ease! Hence, when thou art freed [from distress], remain steadfast, and unto thy Sustainer turn with love” (94:5-8).
Similarly, with this belief in eternal bliss, there is a belief in eternal pain. Leo Tolstoy used this argument well in an essay devoted to the subject, an extract of which follows:
“The question can only be as to whether it is reasonable and moral (the reasonable and moral always coincide) to kill oneself. No, it is unreasonable; as unreasonable as to cut off the shoots of a plant which one wishes to destroy; it will not die, but will merely grow irregularly..
Life is indestructible; it is beyond time and space, therefore death can only change its form, arrest its manifestation in this world. But having arrested it in this world, I, first, do not know whether its manifestation in another world will be more pleasant to me; and, secondly, I deprive myself of the possibility of experiencing and acquiring by my ego all that could be acquired in this world.
Besides this, and above all, it is unreasonable because by arresting my life owing to its apparent unpleasantness, I hereby show that I have a perverted idea of the object of my life, assuming that its object is my pleasure - whereas its objects, on the other hand, personal perfection, and on the other, the service of that work which is being accomplished by the whole life of the Universe.
It is for the same reason that suicide is also immoral. Life in its entirety, and the possibility of living until natural death, have been given to man only on the condition that he serve the life of the Universe. But, having profited by life so long as it was pleasant, he refuses to serve the Universe as soon as life becomes unpleasant: whereas, in all probability, his service commenced precisely when life began to appear unpleasant. All work appears at first unpleasant.
In the Optin Monastery, for more than thirty years, there lay on the floor a monk smitten with paralysis, who had the use of his left hand only. The doctors said that he was sure to suffer much, but not only did he refrain from complaining of his position, but incessantly making the sign of the cross, and looking at the ikons, he smilingly expressed his gratitude to God and joy in that spark of life which flickered in him. Tens of thousands of visitors came to see him, and it is difficult to imagine all the good which flowed into the world through this man, though deprived of the possibility of any activity. Certainly he did more good than thousands and thousands of healthy people who imagine that in various institutions they are serving the world.
While there is life in man, he can perfect himself and serve the Universe. But he can serve the Universe only be perfecting himself, and perfect himself only by serving the Universe.”
With belief in God, people have a subconscious fear of Him. They do not need to reason about a purpose of life, because it has already been reasoned out for them. He or she therefore simply cannot commit suicide.
But if belief in God is such an effective prophylactic mechanism against suicide, then how is it that several God-believing philosophers believed in the permissibility of suicide. The likes of Voltaire, believed in the permissibility of suicide, saying, “Why should the suicide of a general be contrary to Christianity when killing in war is not”, a man who “defended suicide on the grounds of extreme necessity and pointed out that if suicide is a wrong against society then the homicide of war was far more harmful”, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who romanticised suicide, and who possibly died after a suicide (according to Russell, “his last years were spent in Paris in great poverty, and when he died suicide was suspected”), and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who “having experienced suicidal thoughts himself was also ready to condone it”. How do we explain this?
In addition, if one looks at the list of countries with the highest suicide rates in the world, ones sees quite a few countries where the official religion is not atheism, but Christianity. The highest rate of suicide is that of Lithuania, followed Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Slovenia and Hungary. All these nations have a predominantly Christian population. Lithuania’s population in 79% Roman Catholic, while Protestant and Orthodox Lithuanians constitute another 7%. The majority of Belarusians are Orthodox. Only 16% of Russians are atheists, with the majority professing Orthodox Christianity.
The answer to this question lies in the fact that these people have a distorted view of God and religion. Many early Christians for instance, were actually not opposed to suicide, for example, the Donatists and the Catharists. Geo Stone elaborates:
“Early Christianity was strongly attracted toward suicide, perhaps because the act was often indistinguishable from martyrdom, and, "even the death of Jesus was regarded by Tertullian, one of the most fiery of the early Fathers, as a kind of suicide. He pointed out, and Origenb [another major early Christian theologian] agreed, that He voluntarily gave up the ghost, since it was unthinkable that the Godhead should be at the mercy of the flesh." While early Christianity accepted suicide, it condemned killing others through warfare, in self-defense, and by capital punishment. After all, Jesus had taught nonviolence: "Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.... I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This was taken seriously by the early church fathers, for example, Tertullian, who asked, "Can it be lawful to handle the sword, when the Lord himself has declared that he who uses the sword shall perish by it?"”
William E. Phipps, a professor of religion and philosophy at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia also expresses the same idea, using a specific example:
“In early Christianity, suicide was sometimes regarded as a virtuous act. Eusebius, in his account of martyrs at Antioch (Ecclesiastical History, Book 8, chapter 12), tells of a mother who taught her two beautiful unmarried daughters to regard rape as the most dreadful thing that could happen to them. Eventually the mother and daughters were captured by a band of lustful soldiers. On realizing their plight, they modestly requested to be excused for a minute. They then threw themselves into a nearby river and drowned”
It was only later, at around St. Augustine’s time, that Christianity changed its beliefs. How a religion that regards itself as truthful can change itself so dramatically over what is really a short space of time, I do not know. In any case, the reason for the higher prevalence of suicide in those nations may be due to this confusion.
The other reason for the higher prevalence of suicide in those nations may be in the residual impact of many long years of state atheism that was endorsed by the communist doctrines. All of Lithuania, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan (and Latvia and Ukraine are not far behind either) were parts of the former USSR, the Marxist nation that believed after its founder, Vladimir Lenin, that:
“Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.”
It is clear that only solid religion, without contradiction, is the only thing can protect someone against suicide. This, in my opinion, can only be the religion of ‘submission to God’ (Islam) or ‘deism’. And indeed, deists believe, with Muslims that:
“Suicide is a huge mistake….suicide should never be thought of as an option. It breaks the contract that was made with the Deity prior to the person's incarnation in this lifetime. It causes horrendous suffering, in most cases, among the family members that are left behind. Worst of all, it is a step backward for the deceased person on his or her path of spiritual evolution”.
Christianity is a weak faith, and cannot withstand even the mildest intellectual assault. Japan has a high suicide rate, something pointed out recently very vividly by Leo Lewis in an article in ‘The Times’ (June 19, 2008), ‘Japan gripped by suicide epidemic’. The Japanese are generally Godless, with atheist Buddhism and Shintoism common.
Voltaire, Rousseau and Goethe were all opposed to religion. Voltaire, as his biographers state, “could best be described as a deist who believed in an impersonal, possibly amoral, God. He did not believe in an afterlife, miracles, or revelation.” Rousseau, his contemporary also had similar tendencies, as did most of the men of the Enlightenment. As for Goethe, who did have a belief in an afterlife, the basis for his belief was not religion, but as he expresses somewhere that “he simply could not conceive of himself as not existing”. This is twisting life and religion in accordance with one’s wishes and desires, and failing to confront the truth, the truth that even a simple peasant knew, as Miguel de Unamuno describes in his ‘Tragic Sense of Life’:
“Talking to a peasant one day, I proposed to him the hypothesis that there might indeed be a God who governs heaven and earth, a Consciousness of the Universe, but that for all that the soul of every man may not be immortal in the traditional and concrete sense. He replied: "Then wherefore God?" So answered, in the secret tribunal of their consciousness, the man Kant and the man James. Only in their capacity as professors they were compelled to justify rationally an attitude in itself so little rational. Which does not mean, of course, that the attitude is absurd”.
It is for this reason that God did not simply say belief in Him alone is enough to get to paradise, but belief in the afterlife (and of course, good actions)is just as important:
“Lo! Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabaeans, and Christians - Whosoever believeth in God and the Last Day and doeth right - there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. (5:69)”
“Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans - whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and doeth right - surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve (2:62)”
It will be seen that all those philosophers who believed in the permissibility of suicide did not believe in God (and therefore religion). The great David Hume, for instance, writing in his posthumously published essay, ‘On Suicide’, says:
“Has not every one, of consequence, the free disposal of his own life? And may he not lawfully employ that power with which nature has endowed him? In order to destroy the evidence of this conclusion, we must shew a reason why this particular cafe is excepted; is it because human life is of such great importance, that 'tis a presumption for human prudence to dispose of it? But the life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster. And were it of ever so great importance, the order of human nature has actually submitted it to human prudence, and reduced us to a necessity, in every incident, of determining concerning it. -- Were the disposal of human life so much reserved as the peculiar province of the Almighty, that it were an encroachment on his right, for men to dispose of their own lives; it would be equally criminal to act for the preservation of life as for its destruction. If I turn aside a stone which is falling upon my head, I disturb the course of nature, and I invade the peculiar province of the Almighty, by lengthening out my life beyond the period which by the general laws of matter and motion he had assigned it.”
Of no importance than that of an oyster! This same pro-suicidal philosophy was advocated later by John Stuart Mill, the father of Utilitarianism, who believed that the individual is the best guardian of his or her own interests:
“Mill uses the example of a man about to cross a broken bridge: we can forcibly stop him and warn him of the danger he faces if he continues but ultimately we should not prevent him from crossing the bridge; for only he knows the worth of his life balanced against the danger of crossing the bridge. Thus, if an individual views their life as unlivable it would appear well within their rights to end it.”
The same goes for Arthur Schopenhauer, the father of philosophical pessimism, who stated:
“They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice... that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.”
The view of his successor, Friedrich Nietzsche is a bit more complicated. Then again, one can find almost anything in his works. In his work, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, he remarks that, “The thought of suicide is a great source of comfort: with it a calm passage is to be made across many a bad night”. However, one gets the impression overall that this man, the Champion of the Ubermensch, the Superman, would not want to concede defeat in life. He would then be the first of the anti-suicide atheists. Thomas Szasz, a pro-suicide philosopher and professor of psychiatry who is most renowned for his widely different view of psychiatric illness, wrote about him in his “Fatal Freedom: The Ethics and Politics of Suicide”:
“Nietzsche's teaching is all in the other direction. He urges, not surrender, but battle; not flight, but war to the end. His curse falls upon those "preachers of death" who counsel "an abandonment of life" - whether this abandonment be partial, as in asceticism, or actual, as in suicide. And yet Zarathustra sings the song of "free death" and says that the higher man must learn "to die at the right time." Herein an inconsistency appears, but it is on the surface only. Schopenhauer regards suicide as a means of escape, Nietzsche sees in it as a means of good riddance. It is time to die, says Zarathustra, when the purpose of life ceases to be attainable - when the fighter breaks his sword arm or falls into his enemy's hands. And it is time to die, too, when the purpose of life is attained - when the fighter triumphs and sees before him no more worlds to conquer. "He who hath a goal and an heir wisheth death to come at the right time for goal and heir." One who has "waxed too old for victories," one who is "yellow and wrinkled," one with a "toothless mouth" - for such an one a certain and speedy death. The earth has no room for cumberers and pensioners”
I conclude saying what is obvious, that a happy person will not commit suicide. A rational person will not commit suicide. A person with a sense of purpose in life will not commit suicide. Yet, every 40 seconds in this world, someone commits suicide. It can be concluded that because we are living in the saddest, most irrational of ages, the age of purposelessness, the only cure for the disease that is suicide is in bringing people back to a sense of purpose in life, to happiness, to rationality.
And that means a return to God, and a belief in an afterlife. Only God imparts true meaning to life. If one knows his or her sole purpose on earth is to worship the Everlasting God, then all that is transient takes an infinitesimal significance compared to that great purpose. Be it separation from a husband, wife or partner, the death of a loved one, or anything else. Given, one would be sad at those events, but the sadness cannot possibly overwhelm the desire to please God and attain that great goal, that of wholehearted worship.
RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDE
There are a number of well established risk factors which should be borne in mind with every patient who presents with deliberate self harm. These are remembered as SAD PERSONS:
Age > 45 / Alone
Depression or other psychiatric illness
Excess ethanol or other drug abuse
Rational thinking loss (including psychosis)
Social support lacking (including religious, divorced, widowed, unemployed, isolation)
Organized plan (e.g. suicide note, well thought out)
Sickness (e.g. chronic pain) / Stated future intent to DSH
About 90% of cases involve drug overdose (e.g. paracetamol) and 10% involve self-injury (e.g. self-laceration of forearms/wrists).
The most common drugs taken are paracetamol, aspirin and other NSAIDs, as well as benzodiazepines and antidepressants, with alcohol in most instances. In younger individuals, ingestion of household items (e.g. bleach and solvents) is common.
Just a few words about those overdoses – the liver, as I mentioned before, is a quite magnificent organ, capable of withstanding much assault. But in the face of a sudden assault of 12 g of paracetamol (that’s 24 tablets– six times more than the maximal allowed intake) or 21 g of aspirin (that’s 70 tablets (300 mg)) – that’s 69 more tablets than recommended), the liver (as well as the kidneys) gives up. God has gifted the human being with just enough glutathione to protect the liver. Alas, with some cases of suicide, this may not be enough.
Paracetamol is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and upper small bowel and is metabolised by conjugation in the liver. Hepatic necrosis occurs due to the toxicity of an alkylating metabolite that is normally removed by conjugation with glutathione; glutathione is rapidly depleted with overdose and may already be low in starvation, alcoholics and, possibly, HIV disease, thus predisposing these groups to an increased risk of toxicity. Toxicity is usually asymptomatic for 1–2 days although laboratory assessment of liver function may become abnormal after 18h. Hepatic failure, if manifest, develops after 2–7 days, an earlier onset being associated with more severe toxicity.
The most important aspect of taking a history of a suicidal patient, once the patient is stabilised is to ask the following questions:
Who – who was with you at the time? A collateral history can be very useful, especially if the patient is drunk, drowsy or upset.
When – this is vital especially in paracetamol overdose; we check INR and paracetamol levels at least 4 hours after the event; it is unreliable before this.
Where – if patient was hiding away in a place where no one else may notice, it is considered a high suicide risk.
How – how much was taken? How did they take the drug (orally or through other routes)? With aspirin, the toxicity ranges from mild (with 150 mg a kg) to severe (>500 mg a kg). With paracetamol, 150 mg a kilogram may be fatal (or 12 g in adults).
What – what else did they take? Often patients take these things with alcohol. Ask specifically about this; hypoglycaemia resulting from alcohol and paracetamol induced hepatotoxicity could be fatal – a blood glucose (BM would do) is vital in all cases of paracetamol overdose.
Why – why did they do it & do they regret it
Assess suicide risk and do a psychiatric history if you can – the very basics are asking for symptoms of psychiatric disease, e.g. depression, psychosis.
Take the rest of the history as usual – PMH, DH, FH, SH, ROS
In the unconscious patient, a history from friends or relatives is helpful, and the diagnosis can often be inferred from tablet bottles or a suicide note brought by ambulance attendants.
This aims to look for features of injury and look for signs of drug toxicity. The first thing is to look at the patient and do a general examination. Often they may be acutely unwell, or in the case of a paracetamol overdose, which takes a while to cause damage, deceptively well. A toxic dose of any drugs will cause a reduced GCS. As we explained before, consciousness, the most advanced property of man, is dependent on the integrity of all other fundamental physiological functions. The ability to maintain a normal airway, breathing and circulation, and the ability to maintain temperature, acid-base, glucose homeostasis, and to spare the brain the possibility of irritation by toxins; these are the prerequisites for consciousness. Hence, there are many possible mechanisms for a reduced GCS in poisoning attempts:
Respiratory depression – caused by opiates and benzodiazepines; an action worsened in the latter by concomitant alcohol, which acts via the same GABA receptors.
Respiratory stimulation – tachypnea can occur in poisoning due to direct respiratory centre stimulation, for instance by aspirin and salicylates, or aspiration pneumonia secondary to vomiting. It is important to nurse the patient in the semi prone position, and possibly insert an NG tube, to stop aspiration.
3. Hypertension – with cocaine and other stimulants such as amphetamines
Hypotension - all CNS depressants can depress blood pressure, such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, alcohol). In addition, all drugs that cause a severe tachycardia may diminish cardiac output (see next).
Tachycardia with stimulants, TCAs, salbutamol and quinine.
Bradycardia – with beta blockers and other antiarrhythmics
Hypothermia - alcohol, opioid, antipsychotics (due to antihistaminergic effect) and barbiturates
Hyperthermia – with ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine and other stimulants.
Acidosis or alkalosis – this may be due to alcohol, ethylene glycol, methanol, paracetamol, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Initially, salicylates such as aspirin cause a respiratory alkalosis, but then they cause a metabolic acidosis. This can also be mediated by causing renal failure or hepatic failure.
Hypoglycaemia – this may be caused by insulin and other anti-diabetics, as well as alcohol, salicylates and paracetamol. Salbutamol can also cause it.
Hyperglycaemia – may be caused by excess theophyllines (tea with sugar).
Thus regular observations are necessary; the ABG becomes part of general observations, as it gives both the acid-base balance and the blood sugar.
The patient may show features of JACCOL; he may be jaundiced (usually later on in paracetamol poisoning), cyanosed with opiate or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Then the patient is examined fully; chronic liver disease signs may point to a long history of alcohol abuse. Look at the eyes; remember you get ‘fat’ (dilated) pupils in stimulant overdose (amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, antidepressants, antipsychotics) and constricted pupils in opiate overdose. Opiates depress everything. Remember; MorPHINE: Fine. AmPHETamine: Fat:
Morphine overdose: pupils constricted (fine).
Amphetamine overdose: pupils dilated (fat).
The following diagram illustrates some common clinical features of some types of poisoning:
Investigations in cases of drug overdose must include a toxicology screen – which routinely includes paracetamol and salicylate levels. Other blood or urine tests are indicated by the possibility of other drugs ingestion and index of suspicion. Other blood tests include FBC, glucose, LFTs, U&Es and clotting. Use TOXBASE to guide.
Manage as you would any emergency if the patient is unstable, using ABCDEFG & MOVE. The subsequent management involves consulting TOXBASE and 5A:
Admit – if necessary use the MHA
Activated charcoal (reduce absorption) – use 50 g with water for paracetamol and salicylates, if presented within an hour of ingestion. Repeat every 4 hours if certain other drugs, e.g. theophyllines, digoxin, phenytoin.
Alkaline diuresis (severe NSAID overdose) (or other methods of increasing elimination, e.g. haemodialysis, haemofiltration)
Antidote – this depends on the toxin; only a few antidotes are available:
Assessment (full psychiatric)
With paracetamol poisoning, the mainstay of management is N-acetylcysteine, which acts to restore hepatic glutathione levels by increasing intracellular cysteine levels.
What is interesting to know about N-acetylcysteine, which is an extremely useful drug when used appropriately and within the correct time, is that it is using already endogenous mechanisms of protection. Here he is again, the physician not doing anything out of the ordinary, but exploiting what already is, what God has already bestowed man.
Glutathione is synthesized from three amino acids in a two-step process, beginning with the combination of glutamic acid and cysteine and ending with the addition of glycine. The liver (and lungs) are the primary sites of glutathione synthesis. Glycine and glutamic acid are plentiful in cells, so it is the availability of cysteine that controls the synthesis of glutathione.
A liver specialist centre should be consulted if the patient has any of the following features:
Clotting impairment (INR >3 on day 2 or >4 thereafter)
Oliguria or renal impairment
Acidosis (arterial pH < 7.3)
Guidelines for liver transplantation are:
Arterial pH <7.3
PT >100, INR >6.5
Creatinine >300μmol /l
Grade 3–4 encephalopathy
High lactate levels (>3.5mmol/l at 4 and 12h) and low factor V levels are also associated with a poor outcome if not transplanted. If at 48 hours, the INR is normal, the patient may go home.
Other ways of poisoning treatment are demonstrated below:
Note that the frequency of repetitive DSH may be reduced by depot neuroleptics. Establish good rapport with the patient and follow up on a regular basis by:
I conclude with a short comment on a discussion of ‘Prevention of Poisoning’ given byu the author of the toxicology chapter in the wonderful popular medical textbook, ‘Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine’. He states that, “Preventing poisoning in the first place is much better than treating it, and a number of important measures have been taken to achieve this”. He then gives methods such as:
Addition of 'Bitrex' and other bittering agents to household products Prevents significant quantities being ingested as it tastes very bitter
Adding the antidote to the toxin, e.g. combination tablets of methionine and paracetamol Hepatic-protective glutathione remains replete and hepatocellular injury is prevented
Child-resistant containers Reduce chance of ingestion by children
Secure location, e.g. locked cupboard Reduces access
Hazard warning labels Warn of potential toxicity, routes of exposure and appropriate protective equipment
Education Warning on safe storage and handling of chemicals and drugs
Supervision The key to reduced exposure for children
Legislation, e.g. Health and Safety regulations Safeguards for the use of dangerous chemicals make a safer workplace
Little does he know of the perfect prophylaxis, belief in God and the last day, and the purpose of life – the worship of God and the service of humanity. But I do not blame Him, for who will listen to him in this age of madness. While it is true, as Voltaire said, that, “Not that suicide always comes from madness”, the prevention of suicide will never occur in the face of world madness.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
It is often forgotten that the greatest achievements of humanity were attained by men who preferred solitude to socialization. Almost all the great prophets discovered God by means of solitude, by escaping society and social norms, and immersing themselves in deep thought. Didn’t the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) try “to uncover the mysteries of creation, of life and death, of good and evil, and to find order out of chaos (by solitude)…. Solitude became a passion for him, and every year he would retire to the cave for the whole month of Ramadan to meditate?”, and wasn’t it when he was “on one of these occasions, when he was 40 years of age, when Muhammad received the call. One night, while lying absorbed in his thoughts in the solitude of the cave, Muhammad was commanded by a mighty voice to go forth and preach”? Islam is a product of God’s grace and the Prophet’s solitude.
Was it not in the solitude of night that the Prophet Abraham (PBUH) discovered God, as outlined in the Quran, “Thus did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might be of those possessing certainty. When the night grew dark upon him he beheld a star. He said: This is my Lord. But when it set, he said: I love not things that set. And when he saw the moon uprising, he exclaimed: This is my Lord. But when it set, he said: Unless my Lord guide me, I surely shall become one of the folk who are astray. And when he saw the sun uprising, he cried: This is my Lord! This is greater! And when it set he exclaimed: O my people! Lo! I am free from all that ye associate (with Him). Lo! I have turned my face toward Him Who created the heavens and the earth, as one by nature upright, and I am not of the idolaters” (6:75-79).
Indeed, it is partly this depiction of solitude as an abnormal attitude by the majority of Western society that has led to a decline in creativity and the products of solitary genius, in virtually everything in life. Group activities, and being a team player, are the most important things in modern society. Individual genius is most often disregarded unless it is rebuilt, remoulded and then incorporated in and utilized by a team.
This is why a player like David Ginola, one of the most magnificent footballers I have ever seen, “considered by many in English Football as one of the best wingers of all time due to his "magical" touch on the ball and his ability to get past players from any type of position and then manage to score a goal”, played just 17 times for France. It is because of a team mistake in a World Cup qualifier with Bulgaria in 1994, when with the match poised at 1-1, “Ginola lost possession instead of holding onto the ball and the move resulted in Emil Kostadinov scoring a surprise winner to knock France out. The French manager Gerard Houllier blamed Ginola for the defeat. Aimé Jacquet (France’s subsequent manager) did not select Ginola for any major tournaments. Ginola played his last match for the national team in 1995.” It is partly this disdain for individual genius and its oppression by team work, the desire for managers to have players with physical prowess and team work capabilities rather than creative flair and individuality that has ruined football for many of us. That is why teams like Italy and Greece, two teams that completely lack individual genius (or suppress it so well – no one can deny that Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero are blessed with great football brains) won the last World Cup and European Championship respectively, and why a team like Argentina, which is blessed with flair and individual genius in nearly every single department, has not won anything since 1993.
That is also why nearly all Nobel Prizes for physics, the mother of all sciences, since 1970, have been awarded to two or more people, who often collaborated to reach a conclusion. It is only in 1971, 1982, 1985 and 1992 that the prize was awarded to one person.
This emphasis on team work is seen everywhere. A 2003 American national representative survey, “revealed that Americans think that 'being a team player' was the most important factor in getting ahead in the workplace. This was ranked higher than several factors, including 'merit and performance', 'leadership skills', 'intelligence', 'making money for the organization' and 'long hours'.” The famous ‘Bristol Inquiry’, concluded with a section entitled, ‘A culture of teamwork’, saying, “Teamwork is of crucial importance in its own right; its continued development will serve to break down the tribal barriers referred to earlier. Collaboration between professionals is the core of what we mean by teamwork. Many healthcare professionals will believe that they have always worked in teams, such that there is nothing new here. In the past, the `team', more often than not, consisted of individuals from only one group of professionals, with the most senior person being in charge and the rest following, like it or not. Such historical arrangements may have suited administrative convenience or the niceties of professional etiquette but they did not necessarily suit the patient. Teamwork as a means of serving the patients implies a multi-professional team and a sharing of responsibility. The team leader may not necessarily be the most senior member of the group and, crucially, may not be a clinician, if the circumstances are such that some other professional should take the lead. Leadership is based on ability and function in the context, rather than some title or professional qualification. Moreover, teams must cross the boundaries of profession and discipline. We note the efforts on the part of professional bodies to promote multi-professional teamwork. The GMC, for example, in January 2000 issued guidance on teamwork in medicine. It is, however, a sign of how much things need to change, and singularly ironic, that such advice about professions working together is issued by a single professional group. Multi-professional teamwork needs multi-professional guidance and multi-professional leadership. Teamwork is the collective collaborative effort of all those concerned with the care of the patient. Patients do not belong to any one professional; they are the responsibility of all who take care of them. We conclude as we began. The culture of healthcare, which so critically affects all other aspects of the service which patients receive, must develop and change. Fundamentally, this will be achieved through education, through learning new ways to work and through forging new links within and between professional groups. It is instructive to recall the words of Professor Lucian Leape during one of our seminars: `Culture is not amorphous, nor immutable; we are not powerless to change it. It is in some respects no more than the sum of the actions and attitudes of many individuals. Thus, if in some crucial areas of practice we can change the rules, the regulations and incentives, behaviour and, ultimately, attitudes will follow.' We agree. We now turn to a consideration of what the patient is entitled to expect from a changed NHS. We begin with respect and honesty”.
Indeed, it is partly for this reason, the lack of individual genius and flair, that medicine has lost much of its vigor and attraction. Humans are attracted by flashes of individual genius and flair, and I have seen very little of this in hospital medicine. I have seen a few doctors and surgeons who have amazed me with their knowledge, and the way it is suddenly recalled, almost on demand, and with effortless ease, and made me think, ‘Wow!’ But that is very rare. It is often their personalities and individual charisma that we, and their patients, find most attractive and fall prey to.
Western society (which of course extends into most of the rest of the world today) has killed ‘the Genius’. Its very flourishment and abundance of comforts and leisure is the reason for life within it becoming so boring, tedious and dull. I remember coming across an article that tried to explain the football genius of Diego Maradona, saying, “With no money for food, accommodation or travel, they would have to rely on their football skills and street smarts to hustle their way across the world”. It is only struggle, pain, and deprivation that brings out the best in mankind.
It seems some degree of suffering is essential for all sorts of human progress. It seems that the world’s very imperfections are the reason for the very progress in most fields of human endeavor. I remember writing an essay a few years ago on the history of vascular surgery, where I highlighted that, “Analysts of the human adventure have long regarded pain and death as among the most powerful stimuli to scientific and medical creativity. In ‘The World As I See It’, the great Albert Einstein stated his belief that, “Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain”. The late Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, famed for her work on the stages of death, once stated that, “For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death”. The inevitability of death brings out all that is best out of the potentially creative minds that contemplate it – for it drives them to accomplish tasks that outlast their lives, in an attempt to defy mortality. Death is especially significant as a creative force in medicine and surgery, partly because it is a central issue in both, and that reduction in mortality is one of their fundamental tasks. War acts as a creative force for medicine and surgery because of its large-foci of mortality, and during its many moments of desperation, it provides ample opportunity for experimentation.”
ON EURO 2008
I have enjoyed this tournament. The reason is simple - no England. With England present, all the media attention is on them, the half time break will be spent interviewing their players who are due their game next week, and pundits analysing their chances. Without England, there is none of this rubbish, the hopes of the English are not with their team, and they do not have this fear of losing that they always have and ruins the spectacle for them. So they are more happy, and with happiness comes joy at watching these tournaments.
Does everyone notice how the commentators and pundits are trying to bring England into every single game. Perrotta and Kazim Kazim (why don't they call him as he is called on the screen) are 'good' because their father or mather are British, Cristiano Ronaldo is 'the best player in the world' because he is playing in the best league in the world (he is not, and I feel like hitting him everytime he goes up to take one of those lame freekicks, spreading his legs apart, sticking his knob up, and taking a deep breathe in as if he is going to blow into a spirometer), Ballack is the best player on the pitch because of his performances for Chelsea (apart from a free kick and a header, what has he done, really. To say he is the best German player is saying nothing). The worst was David Pleat comparing Pavilechenko (or whatever his name is) to that great legend of the English game - Teddy Sheringham. I mean, comparisons are meant to be with classic players aren't they!
But England not being there has been a blessing. It goes to show that they are a poor team, although now with Capello controlling them - he will turn them into a new Italy. For me, a manager has to be from the same country as the players - because a football team is a reflection of the manager's ideas, tactics and decisions. Great national football teams, never hire foreign coaches. Imagine Brasil being led by an Italian, or Argentina led by a German. It is pathetic. There is something called national pride. If a nation has no national pride, they ought not be called a nation, and should play in that thing they call the Champions League (where even a team placed fourth in a league can win the tournament..it's all business and economics). It makes no sense that a great national team is managed by a foreigner. Where does the heart of Guus Hiddink lie when Holland play Russia, or Sven Goran Eriksson when Sweden play England. I know where it lies. In their pockets and on their next pay cheque. There is no loyalty in these people.
And the following comments by Joao Havelange expose the team fully. If Maradona did the hand of God (followed by the greatest goal ever I hasten to add), then this is what the former FIFA president had to say:
There you go guys - the 1966 World Cup was fixed. That World Cup should have been won by Portugal - anyone who saw highlights of that World Cup (the first colour broadcast) will see how incredible they were with Eusebio leading them.
I must say, apart from the most overrated team in the world not being there, it has been the most enjoyable tournament I have watched since Euro 92 - when Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard, and Bergkamp played for Holland, and USA 1994 (Maradona's last tournament, Baggio was there, Romario, Stoichkov, Hagi, Baresi) (the absence of England being the common denominator with USA 1994). There have been no good individual players (there is a big hoo ha about Arshavin, but he's nothing extraordinary), but some incredible teams. The Turks! What can I say, team of the tournament. They amazed us all didn't they, even against Germany. Perhaps even most of all against the lucky Germans! How could they do what they did! The Croats played some nice football, and so did the Russians. The Dutch played some wicked counter attacking football. And the Spanish - what can I say, very impressive indeed. It goes to show that getting rid of your veterans Moussier Domenech is the way forward. No Raul. No Guti. Ok, yes Aragones still needs a Brazilian to anchor the midfield, like the Turks (there are seven Brazilian players in Euro 2008). And he needs the Italians to flop on a penalty or two. But they are good.
Ah the Italians. What can I say. They have not played a decent game of football to my mind since USA 94, the game against Spain then sticks out in my memory - does anyone remember Signori's great pass and Baggio's lucky finish. Spain could have won that game if Salinas did not miss an open goal. But it was Italy's last good performance. They played ok against Bulgaria in the semis, and the final against Brasil is the only one in World Cup history to end goalless. That says it all. Since then, does anyone remember Italy playing a decent game. I certainly can't.
The problem with Italy is that, although they always had excellent flair players (Vialli, Signori, Baggio, Giannini, even Donadoni himself), and still have them - Del Piero, Totti, Pirlo and Giovinco stick out in my mind, they actually pride themselves in the creation of Catennacio, which in today's terms is synonymous with negative football, with a hyperdefensive attitude to football. It is football stripped of all joy - whether individual or team-related. When was the last time you saw an Italian smile on a pitch. They prefer the Shoaibs (AKA Gattusos), Aquilanis and De Rossis to those players. For them football is a business to be won by any means. It is digusting. And them winning the World Cup last time was a big blow to attacking football, and Cannavaro winning the 2006 best player award was an equally great blow - it should have gone to Zidane, if only for the way he destroyed Brasil in the quarter finals - the greatest individual performance I have seen since Maradona's days. Even his penalty and that headbutt in the final was extraordinary.
And for Donadoni to say 'Donadoni: One Penalty Got Me Sacked' is pathetic, but even more pathetic is his stubborness, saying in his post-sack interview:
“In these two years I believe that Italy has done something positive, and the last match can not delete this.
“I never felt alone and I would do everything all over again. I am satisfied with what the players have done, they gave their maximum, and it was a wonderful experience.”
Donadoni’s Italy record was 23 matches played, 13 wins, five draws and five defeats"
Is that a decent record, or an insane manager of 4 time World Cup winners. The Italians did not lose because of a penalty miss. They lost because they are mediocre. And because, when you have a tall striker without a football brain you will not score. As Kevin Keegan put it once, "If you don't score, you can't win a match". Thank you Kevin, another example of the retards that ITV brings to the TV (I think he doesn't come anymore though).
Which brings me nicely to one of the few other things that I dislike about football these days - other than the lack of creative genius (at the end of this email there is a small article I wrote on this topic in my spare time) and negative international football. TV. I always dread it when I know a game is broadcast on ITV. Shit pundits like David Pleat ("The Germans are completely engrossed in undesirable defensive footballing behaviour-patterns only when certain prerequisites, not satisfied except in a small percentage of actual cases, have, through some fortuitous incidence of favourable circumstances, chanced to play a team more attacking than they, like the team we have on order today, the Turks" (a statement that could have come out of hismouth before yesterday - he overcomplicates everything that guy), Andy Townsend (he drives me mad that guy), and the other quality football legends they bring - Dietmar Hamann, Boudweijin Zenden, Gary Neville - it kills me to see these faces.
Equally as annoying though, is seeing Alan Shearer. You just feel like smacking the guys. Before I thought it was just his celebrations that were dry. But no, his 'pundetry' if that's what you call it, is equally as lame, so full of cliches, so much rubbish comes out of that mouth its unbelievable. Even his attempts at originality are so comical - 'I like the way the Dutch celebrate, shows their togetherness'.
Kiss my a**.
I think Hansen and O'Neill must be loving it to have someone so dull in between them. It makes them look better, even though Hansen for me has lost his spark. But still, BBC any day. Desailly talks a lot of sense in the time that ITV devote for quality commercials like Bet365 (what is that guy doing!) and advertising beer. Don't you just hate how just before the national anthems there is a commercial break, and straight after there is a commercial break. I swear if it were up to ITV they would put a commercial in the middle of the match. "Oh, and Klose is through on goal, he's past the keeper, and - we'll show you what happens afterward after the break. Stay with us."
These guys have got the best job in the world. They are earning bucks for sitting on their arses watching football or telly. How good is that - sitting chatting rubbish on TV, drawing small circles on the screen (or in the case of Shearer, big circles) and getting paid for it.
Football is an industry. Gone is the love of the game for the sake of itself. Rupert Murdoch, commercialism, and satellite television, business men (or thieves) with no love for the game - like Mohammed Al-Fayed (of Fulham) (since when did Egyptians know anything about football) and Roman Abramovich have ruined the beautiful game. It is full of corruption (especially in Italy) and lots of evil. Even someone like Martin O'Neill is merely a mask - I like the guy, and think he is decent, but someone looking at his presence deeply will see that he is there, with his intelligent looks and glasses, to give the football that is being broadcast for commercial reasons an air of intelligence. It is not the beautiful game anymore. It is the ugly business.
Is there anything more laughable than having, in a European international tournament, so many Brasilians, who are prepared to sell out their own country for a country that gives them a passport because they are half decent footballers not yet recruited by their country (reminds me of Qatar in the last Olympics giving Qatari passports to Iranian wrestlers and weight lifters so that they represent them. They are recruiting Brasilian footballers now). It is all business. And World Cup winners needing to go through qualifiers now! I would love it if Sepp Platter decides one day to say the hosts have to qualify. And, with all the racism that Israel exhibits on a daily basis, it is kept in FIFA while South Africa were refused membership because of the Apartheid until 1992). If Platini and Platter really cared about racism, should they not consider that. That's why its all an act (all that crap about 'Against Racism' is just bollocks. Does it make sense that Aragones, who is famed for his Negro de Mierda incident wear an 'anti-racism' shirt (he's 70 - he's not going to change his mind now and think black people are angels, for those good hearted lot who think he might have changed his opinion):
"That took place in 2004 and was captured by a documentary crew. At a training session, Aragones said to Jose Antonio Reyes, in reference to Reyes' Arsenal team-mate Henry, "Tell that black shit: 'I'm better than you'," and then a phrase that, although apparently common in Spain, translated as "I shit on his prostitute mother". It was compounded by greater outrage when it appeared that the Spanish were fairly nonplussed about the incident. Under international pressure, the Spanish football federation eventually fined Aragones £2,000".
So football is an act, a business, a mafia, full of racism and dull, unintelligent people. I am slowly disliking the sport. But I like a few things about it at the moment still and I will keep watching it until they stop.
Seeing the dull corrupt Italians collapse as they did. Seeing the blatant falsehood of the astrology as in the case of Domenech ('Leo needs to play with Taurus in defence etc') which many Arab monkeys I know still believe in and read avidly (we are becoming so superstiitious). The national anthems (I am in love with the Russian national anthem. And of course the German and Italian ones are the best). Seeing teams like Turkey who play with their heart and soul - that was a real delight, a heroic team.
But it was yet again, a tournament lacking heroes. Gone are the days of the legends. We are not in the age of individual heroes anymore. Teams, maybe. Individuals, definitely not.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
If there was one medical speciality that can be called the speciality of extremes – it must be neurology. Perhaps no other subject is as loved, or as dreaded by medical students and doctors in equal measure. Either you love it or you hate it. Neurologists are either extremely admired, especially for their clinical acumen and sharpness. Or detested, especially because they appear to many outsiders to be doing nothing but waste NHS resources and not actually curing anybody. ‘Neurologists know everything and do nothing’ is almost a cliché heard daily in hospital doctors’ messes. Or as put by Dr. John Larkin in his recent hit ‘Cynical Acumen’:
“Neurologists differ from the rest of us. Even their motto is different. Instead of Primum non Nocere (‘first do no harm’) they have Primum Nihil Facere (‘first do no..thing’). But at least they compensate by having extra mottoes…Secundum Nihil Facere..Tertium Nihil Facere” (1)
But nothing can be further from the truth, as anyone under the care of a neurologist will testify. The child whose progress in school is hampered by his petit mal epilepsy, who suddenly gets better on commencing anticonvulsant medication. The young lady with intractable migraines who is suddenly relieved of their nauseating attacks through the neurologist’s prescription. The young gentleman with Parkinson’s disease who is suddenly brought to life with anti-Parkinsonian medications. Those who say neurologists do nothing have probably not thought of these things.
Although we cannot deny that neurologists do not cure anybody, we can say the same of every other medical specialty. i have emphasised this point in a previous essay. Since when did endocrinologists cure diabetes? Or the rheumatologists remedy rheumatoid arthritis? Or gastroenterologists heal inflammatory bowel disease? Or respiratory physicians reverse COPD? Or cardiologists cure heart failure? Why should this ‘non-curing’ label be the first thing in the mind of most people only when they think of neurologists, when other specialists are as blameworthy? The only true healers in the medical world are the surgeons, as I have mentioned before.
And even if disorders are untreatable, it is no good to regard their encompassing specialty as futile. To quote a popular neurology textbook:
“Even when no therapy is possible, neurologic diagnosis is more than an intellectual pastime. The first step in the scientific study of a disease process is its identification in the living patient. Until that is achieved, it is impossible to apply adequately the “master method of controlled experiment”. The clinical method of neurology thus serves to the physician, in the practical diagnosis and treatment of a patient’s condition, and the clinical scientist, in the search for the mechanisms and cause of disease” (2)
Neurology is one of the youngest of clinical specialties, and part of its attraction is that, although a great deal has indeed been learnt about the nervous system, the only system by virtue of which we have become the supreme creatures of the earth, there is still so much to learn and discover about it and its disorders. A massive explosion in neuroscience research has been going on for the last three decades - supported by advances in molecular biology and genetics - and will probably continue for many decades, maybe even centuries. For the brain remains a most mysterious organ. Neurology can only advance forward with all these discoveries.
The other big attraction of neurology is that, in spite of possessing some of the most advanced diagnostic tests and procedures; it remains essentially a clinical field, where “clinical skills remain more important than in most specialties. For example, the prime diagnostic criteria remain clinical in disorders such as epilepsy and migraine” (3). Dr McDonald Critchley, a prominent neurologist was once asked while on a tour of the United States what impact CT scans will have on clinical neurology; will history and physical examination be thrown out of the window? His response was both poetic and prophetic: "CT scanning will take away the shadows of neurology, but the music will still remain." The history and physical examination combine to give, in the hands of the expert a ‘mind-bogglingly precise’ diagnosis. Two most valuable quotes are worth mention here – one from the aforementioned book by John Larkin, the other from the distilled wisdom of the great Henry George Miller (4).
“There is a doctrine – well regarded in cognoscenti circles – that examination of a patient tells you where the problem is, while taking the history tells you the pathogenesis behind the problem. When it comes to neurology, this view is spot on.” (Larkin)
“The peculiar charm of neurology lies in fact in the satisfaction implicit in its logical structure; and perhaps even more in the essentially clinical nature of the discipline..The physical signs of a neurological disorder are for the most part unequivocal: the pathognomonic significance of the extensor plantar response is inevitably more clear-cut that that of the basal rale or the suspicion of ankle oedema” (Miller)
Perhaps the importance of clinical diagnosis was best illustrated by the large study conducted by Chimowitz et al in the early 1990s, which showed that investigations failed to clarify the diagnosis in more than half of the selected patients (5). I hasten to add that there is another doctrine in neurology; that “a second examination is the most helpful diagnostic test in a difficult neurologic case” (6).
Finally, to one with even the most modest philosophical inclinations, the history of philosophy is full of reflections on the nature of mind, perception, and behaviour. (“Je pense, donc je suis (I think, therefore I am)”, remarked Rene Descartes in what is said to be the foundation stone of modern philosophy). The only way that philosophers can find the answers to these questions is by studying neurology.
But, I hear you ask, isn’t that the province of neuroscience? Isn’t neuroscience defined as “the multidisciplinary bodies of science that analyse the nervous system to understand the biological basis of behaviour” (7)? Shouldn’t the interests of the philosopher therefore not be in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, rather than neurology?
The answer to this question is that, neurology is special in being one of the few medical specialties that has contributed more to the basic sciences than it has taken from them, particularly to neuroanatomy. The first paragraph in a foreword to one textbook of neuroanatomy states the following, “(Medical students) must acquire a core of fundamental knowledge of neuroanatomy, without which it would be impossible for any doctor to be able to interpret the symptoms and signs of dysfunction of the nervous system in such a way as to construct a differential diagnosis which then leads in turn to a planned programme of investigation and treatment” (8) I actually believe the reverse to be true. Let me elaborate.
In most other specialities, knowledge of anatomy of an organ can lead to reasonable predictions as to its underlying function. For example, the heart is part muscle, hence its pumping function, part pericardium – for lubrication and protection; it has valves to control the inflow and outflow of blood. Knowledge that the stomach has glandular columnar epithelium helps us predict it has a secretory function; it has an underlying muscularis to propel the food into the small intestine, and two sphincters to control the flow of food from the oesophagus, and into the small intestine. The lung has empty alveoli, made of simple squamous epithelium, that store oxygen and pass it on by simple diffusion to nearby capillaries. This is called the “principle of complementarity of structure and function”. It is present and true of most organs, but not the brain.
The gross anatomy of the brain reveals very surprisingly, a pretty homogenous, un-aesthetic, dull organ, “about two good fistfuls of pinkish gray tissues, wrinkled like a walnut, and somewhat the consistency of cold oatmeal” (9). We cannot make many predictions from knowledge of its anatomy. (“Who could have foretold, from the structure of the brain, that wine could derange its functions”, remarked Hippocrates). Historically, it is knowledge of the symptoms and signs of neurological disease that gave birth to functional anatomy of the brain – the only true anatomy; for what is anatomy but a boring, lifeless set of descriptions if we did not know the function of what it was describing? Although neurological disorders can kill, they can be said to bring neuroanatomy to life (tongue in cheek).
The study of disease is often the biggest contributor to understanding normal function. Indeed, some philosophers and theologians believe that disease exists so that we can appreciate the blessings of normal function. I cannot help but quote two of the biggest giants of medicine in this context: firstly, the great Charles Horace Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, from a statement he made to the American College of Surgeons at the turn of the century; and secondly, the greatest medical writer of our time, Arthur Clifton Guyton, from the introduction to one of his fine physiology books.
“Disease at times creates experiments that physiology completely fails to duplicate, and the wise physiologist can obtain clues to the resolution of many problems by studying the sick” (10) (Mayo)
“A small but important part of this text presents not only knowledge that has come from basic experiments in animals, but also knowledge that has come from human experiments, especially unplanned experiments caused by disease. Literally thousands of human experiments proceed each day in the fields of high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, gastrointestinal disturbances, respiratory disease, and so forth. The physiology of these abnormalities is discussed briefly, partly because study of the diseases themselves can be enlightening, but even more because they give important insights into basic physiological concepts” (11) (Guyton)
This cannot be said to be true for any field as much as it is for neuroanatomy and neurophysiology – in short, the neurosciences. It is mainly through learning about the diseases of the nervous system that we have come to understand what the role of the different areas of the brain is. There is thus an inherent source of intellectual satisfaction within neurology. The deeply personal quest to understanding what makes us, US, begins, and ends, with neurology. “It is not our guts or our liver that has created sapiens..it is the human brain..At long last not only neurologists but the rest of us are realising it is the most extraordinary development of all. Liver, spleen, heart and guts are all intriguing, but cannot hold a candle to the brain. It is the most important thing on Earth, for good or ill” concludes one popular book on the brain (12).
So far from doing nothing, the neurologist, besides what we have discussed above about his clinical role, is also the biggest contributor amongst medical professionals to understanding ourselves. And in that, he (and increasingly she) may be regarded as a most valuable contributor to intellectual medicine, if not practical medicine. With progress in neuroscience and neuropathology, the adventurous tendencies of the neurologists of today, manifest to anyone who has worked with them in their request for the most exotic, expensive and extreme investigations, will decline, to the benefit of the neurologist, the patient patient, and the nation's economy.
1. Larkin J. Cynical Acumen – The Anarchic Guide To Clinical Medicine. Radcliffe Publishing, Oxford, 2005
2. Adams R & Victor M. Principles of neurology. 6th edition. McGraw Hill, New York, 1997
3. Ward C, Eccles S, eds. So you want to be a brain surgeon? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997
4. Miller H G. The charm of neurology. British Clinical Journal. Oct 1974, pp.435-7.
5. Chimowitz MI, Logigian EL, Caplan LR..The accuracy of bedside neurological diagnoses. Ann Neurol. 1990 Jul;28(1):78-85
6. Adams R & Victor M. Principles of neurology. 6th edition. McGraw Hill, New York, 1997
7. Squire L R.et al (2003) Fundamental Neuroscience. 2nd edition. San Diego, Calif.
8. Wilkinson JL. Neuroanatomy for Medical Students.3rd ed. Oxford. Butterworth Heinemann. 1998
9. Marieb, E. N. (1989). Human anatomy and physiology. Redwood City, Calif.: Benjamin Cummings Pub. Co.
10. Mayo C H. Speech given to the Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, Boston, October 9, 1928.
11. Guyton, Arthur C. Basic Human Physiology: Normal Function and Mechanisms of Disease, W.B. Saunders Co, 1998
12. Smith A. The Mind. Pelican Publishers, Middlesex, 1985.
 The first recorded instance of this statement being said is in the Archives of the great French neurosurgeon Clovis Vincent; having won the gold medal at Salpetriere, he was asked whether he would like to work for the great George Widal . He replied, “Oh, no, they say you are too much of a rabbit doctor. I want to get a job where I can learn something of general medicine, the neurologists just talk and do nothing.”
 The reverse is not true however; “I do not think therefore I do not exist”. In this context, I once came across a joke that goes: Descartes is sitting in a bar, having a drink. The bartender asks him if he would like another. "I think not," he says, and vanishes(!)
Arthur Clifton Guyton
Former chairman Department of Physiology and Biophysics University of Mississippi and author of the Textbook of Medical Physiology (b Oxford, Mississippi, 1919; q Harvard 1943), was killed in a car crash in Mississippi on 3 April 2003.
Arthur Guyton was regarded by some as the person who had the greatest impact on medical education of all time. What made Guyton stand out from many other medical authors was his ability to highlight the wonder of it all—something that is all too lacking in modern day medical student curriculums. But this was hardly surprising from a man who regarded the human body as the "most beautiful field of knowledge" in the world. Every paragraph of his 1064 page Textbook of Medical Physiology illustrates this wonder and his great passion for the subject.
Guyton was a true scientific thinker who taught us not to accept things at face value. This is well illustrated in the following excerpt from the Textbook of Medical Physiology on the pathogenesis of tumours. Most medical textbooks discuss this topic in the same way, referring to facts and figures about oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes, cell cycle, and apoptosis. This is important, but for that extra bit of enlightenment and originality, one must refer to Guyton. What is it that causes the altered genes? When one realises that many trillions of new cells are formed each year in humans, this question probably is better asked in the following form: why is it that all of us do not develop literally millions or billions of mutant cancerous cells?
The answer is the incredible precision with which DNA chromosomal strands are replicated in each cell before mitosis can take place and also because the proofreading process cuts and repairs any abnormal strand before the mitotic process is allowed to proceed. Rather than discuss the failure of the human body to tackle cancers, Guyton twists the question around, demonstrating a thankfulness for health.
Guyton was a great example of the wondering type and one of the few writers who constantly asked "why?" Before Guyton, medical students had to rely on difficult and dense books for learning physiology. As he himself described, "Virtually all textbooks of medical physiology were well over 1000 pages and usually in very small print, making it very difficult for the medical students to read and study these books in a way that they could emphasise in their own minds the basic principles of physiology rather than great multitudes of indecipherable details . . . It was almost impossible to have significant discussion in class because all the students’ intent drive was directed toward the cryptic notes, not toward thinking through basic mechanisms of physiological principles."
It is hardly surprising then that Guyton’s textbook has been the world’s bestselling physiology textbook since it was first published in the 1950s. Until publication of the ninth edition, it was written solely by Guyton. The book is now into its 10th edition.
Doctors and patients are indebted to Guyton for his explanations of the pathophysiology of many cardiovascular disorders. As Professor Wallace Conerly has said, "Everything we know about high blood pressure and many of the drugs we use to treat it, all we know about the treatment of congestive heart failure is because of Arthur Guyton."
Guyton’s many discoveries in cardiovascular medicine, his myriad of academic honours and achievements, and his excellent textbooks are enough to place anyone on a list of great scientists. But for all his achievements to be made from the confines of a wheelchair makes them even more awe inspiring. In 1946, as a surgical intern in Boston, Guyton contracted polio, which left his right leg and shoulder paralysed. He was forced to give up his ambition of becoming a neurosurgeon and turn to his other great passion—physiology. His disability did not prove a barrier to his productivity; throughout his life Guyton was an innovator in developing aids for people with disabilities.
Guyton had 10 children, all of whom are doctors, and several of whom are pioneers in their fields. His eldest son, David, is a professor of ophthalmology at John Hopkins; Guyton also leaves three other professors—of surgery, medicine, and anaesthesiology. One family member is preparing documentation for a family listing in the Guinness Book of Records.
His wife, Ruth Weigle Guyton, died on 10 April 2003 from injuries sustained in the crash that also killed her husband.
Monday, 25 August 2008
Now – as I near the eve of my 28th birthday, I have to think of what I wish to achieve in life, and reveal what exactly I wish to live for.
For the moment, the most important thing in my life is the pleasure of my parents. They have endured so much suffering over the years that I think it is time they had a moment of happiness….I can at least try to lighten the burden on them. That would indeed make my life worthwhile.
Very important too is the fact that I proceed smoothly in my career and be good at it, and show a dedication to my tutors and patients. I hope I will become a good GP, and thankfully, many of those who have seen my manner with patients and my attitude towards work feel that I will.
But my long term goals, are to dedicate myself to my few passions, which remain the same, and continue the love of reading and writing that I have had for so long, and to publish a few books. I wish to philosophize about as many things as I possibly could, for there is no joy quite like that of rational analysis and the synthetic constructive thoughts that follow. The joy I get out of that is so immense, and I cannot describe it.
I am at my happiest when I am alone, left to my own privacy, thinking and reflecting on my own thoughts, and reading and reflecting on the things I see and read, and writing what I feel I need to say on the subject. My biggest challenge in life will be to balance out the social implications of a good family life with the deep desires for solitude that it tends to override.
As I said above, the happiness of my parents is paramount to my own happiness, and my parents, like all other decent parents, wish to see me married. I too wish to have a nice family, and a decent partner, who can understand me, and be supportive of my goals, as I am of hers. But there are certain obstacles to this other than finding a good wife.
The major obstacle is my very personality. Even if I were to remedy everything that has caused, or could potentially cause a degree of sadness, to my life, I do not wish to override my love of solitude. While it is regarded as a defect by many, I remain convinced that it is a good thing – provided it is not taken to an extreme. Anything taken to an extreme is bound to become a problem. Marriage and family will mean a virtual death sentence to the solitude conducive for the thinking life.
If I had to state my greatest ambition, it is to become a recognized writer, with a fresh philosophical approach. I wish to use my few skills in the spread of that most beautiful of all messages, the message that God is, that He shines in every beautiful thing on earth, and that He is the only one worthy of worship, being high and above all else.
The great problem with this is that, most great writers and men, in the worlds of literature, art, philosophy and science had failed marriages (sometimes multiple marriages) or remained bachelors. This is a very sad, but very important fact, which the following study shows.
Let us begin with Leo Tolstoy, widely regarded as the greatest novelist of all time (even by the Encyclopedia Brittanica). While it is widely believed that “Tolstoy's marriage is one of the two most important landmarks in his life, the other being his conversion. Once he entertained a passionate and hopeless aspiration after that whole and unreflecting "natural" state which he found among the peasants, and especially among the Cossacks in whose villages he had lived in the Caucasus. His marriage gave him an escape from unrelenting self-questioning. It was the gate towards a more stable and lasting "natural state". Family life, and an unreasoning acceptance of and submission to the life to which he was born, now became his religion”, and he wrote his great novel, ‘Anna Karenina’ “as a defense of marriage as the most important foundation of society. When it was published, most critics said it was inferior to War and Peace, but it is now considered one of the greatest novels ever written”, it is important to realize that his wife was almost a girl when he married her (just turned 18) and 16 years his junior – he had witnessed her grow up, though she proved an ideal wife and mother and mistress of the house – bearing him twelve children, and “served as a loyal secretary, copying and editing all of his manuscripts by hand. She copied the sprawling manuscript for ‘War and Peace’ (1868) four times. It was his masterpiece. It is no wonder that he “often claimed that marriage was the best thing that had ever happened to him”. He was also a very sexually active man in his youth, and suffered gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases. It was a marriage that I think was driven by a huge element and burden of guilt; and it is well known that “Tolstoy's sense of guilt was as great as his appetite”. As one ‘Time’ review of a recent biography of his puts it, “Neither dressing like a fop nor training on horizontal bars brought the shy Count success with fashionable ladies. He took refuge in boorishness and brothels..When he joined the army as a cadet at 23, serving in the Caucasus, he congratulated himself one day on exorcising the evils of vice, especially gambling. In the next entry he recorded that "on the same day I was so carried away that I lost [850 rubles]. Now I shall restrain myself and live prudently. I went to Chervlyonnaya, got drunk there, and slept with a woman. All this is very bad and troubles me deeply." It is clear that a relationship like Tolstoy’s is not possible in this day and age. And I regard it as somewhat inappropriate to marry a girl so much younger and so young herself – marriage would stunt her development, and she would be regarded much like a tool – which seems to be how Tolstoy treated her. If find also, in Tolstoy’s belief in his old age that “all sexual intercourse is wicked, even in marriage and with a view to offspring”, a rather unbelievable supposition.
As for his compatriot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great author of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ and ‘Crime and Punishment’ married twice. His first wife was the widow Marya Dmitrievna Isaeva, with whom he returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 following four years in a Siberian prison sentence and while serving another four years of compulsory military service. He described this first marriage as very unhappy. It ended with his wife's death, but had been an emotional seesaw, "We were unhappy together … but we could not cease to love one another," he wrote. "The more unhappy we were, the more we became attached to each other."
His second marriage in 1867 was Tolstoyan – in that his wife was much younger than him (he was 46 and Anna Snitkin was his 22-year old stenographer) but it brought Dostoevsky professional and emotional stability. She “tolerated his compulsive gambling, managed his career, and nursed him through depression and epilepsy, and … only after marrying her did he produce his greatest works.” Thus, both of them were not ideal marriages – despite their outward appearance.
Thus Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky share having had previous relationships prior to their ‘stable marriage’ (in Tolstoy it was in the brothel, in Dostoyevsky it was in military service with his first wife). Their marriages can hardly be regarded as ideal or fair.
And while the Great Russian novelists married women much younger, William Shakespeare, the greatest of English writers, married a women eight years his senior. Anne Hathaway when 26, while he was just 18. And it is famous for have been a ‘shotgun wedding’; Shakespeare had impregnated her when he was still under the age of consent (21 years old), “It is apparent that Anne Hathaway became pregnant prior to marriage which would have no doubt caused a scandal for both of the families. Not an auspicious start for a marriage or a perfect choice of a wife for the son of an ambitious family. William Shakespeare's father John, in particular, would not have been pleased at the detrimental effect that the gossip would have had on his own social standing in Stratford. A hasty affair would have been arranged.”
I know very little about the details of this marriage otherwise, but it is interesting to know that the recent film ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (which “won a number of Academy Awards in 1998, including Best Picture, Best Actress (for Gwyneth Paltrow) and Best Supporting Actress (for Judi Dench). It was the first comedy to win the Best Picture award since Annie Hall (1977) and no comedy has won the award since”) portray his marriage in a negative light, “depicting the marriage as a cold and loveless bond that Shakespeare must escape to find love in London.” However it is generally agreed that the “film makes no pretense at historical accuracy”. But it is clear that Shakespeare’s marriage was a rushed one, and was uncharacteristic of his highly reflective self. It is not something that we can or should aspire to today.
Charles Dickens, who is arguably the greatest of English novelists, failed in his first love, who he met when he was 17, when he became a court stenographer. Maria Beadnell is believed to be the model for the character Dora in ‘David Copperfield’. However, despite the affinity between them, Maria's parents disapproved and effectively ended the relationship when they sent her to school in Paris.
He married another lady, Catherine Thompson Hogarth, the daughter of George Hogarth, editor of the ‘Evening Chronicle’. But he separated from his wife in 1858, following 22 years of marriage, at a time when “divorce was almost unthinkable, particularly for someone as famous as he was, and so he continued to maintain her in a house for the next 20 years until she died. Although they appeared to be initially happy together, Catherine did not seem to share quite the same boundless energy for life which Dickens had. Nevertheless, her job of looking after their ten children, the pressure of living with a world-famous novelist, and keeping house for him, certainly did not help. An indication of his marital dissatisfaction may be seen when, in 1855, he went to meet his first love, Maria Beadnell. Maria was by this time married as well, but seemed to have fallen short of Dickens's romantic memory of her.”
However, something that Dickens did portray well in ‘David Copperfield’ was the marriage of Dr. Strong and Annie Strong which aimed “to show that although two people may be unequal in age or experience, they can be equal in the love”.
Jane Austen never married; however despite this, her great psychological insight made her make a few interesting remarks regarding it – such as (in ‘Pride and Prejudice’), "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”, and “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance”.
Victor Hugo, one of the greatest of French novelists, married a woman who his mother did not approve of, “Against his mother's wishes, young Victor fell in love and became secretly engaged to his childhood friend Adèle Foucher (1803-1868). Unusually close to his mother, it was only after her death in 1821 that he felt free to marry Adèle (in 1822).”
As for his equally great compatriot Honore de Balzac, he married very late – in fact only 6 months before his death at the age of 51; I am sure no one would like to emulate that. He failed in his first and only love, “the object of my sweetest dreams, Ewelina Hańska, whom he met following her criticism of one of his articles, and began a fifteen-year correspondence between them. Despite her perceived affection, he wed a man twenty years older than herself - Wacław Hański, a wealthy Polish landowner living in Kiev, a marriage of convenience to preserve her family's fortune. It was only when Wacław Hański died in 1841, that “his widow and her admirer finally had the chance to pursue their affections. Competing with the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, Balzac visited her in St. Petersburg in 1843 and impressed himself on her heart. After a series of economic setbacks, health problems, and prohibitions from the Tsar, the couple was finally able to wed. On March 14, 1850, with Balzac's health in serious decline, they drove from their home in Wierzchownia to a church in Berdyczów and were married. The ten-hour journey to and from the ceremony took a toll on both husband and wife: her feet were too swollen to walk, and he endured severe heart trouble. In late April the newly married couple set off for Paris. His health deteriorated on the way, and Ewelina wrote to her daughter about Balzac being "in a state of extreme weakness" and "sweating profusely". They arrived in the French capital on 20 May, his fifty-first birthday. Balzac's monument at Cimetière du Père-LachaiseFive months after his wedding, on August 18, Balzac died.”
Although Balzac had written two treatises on marriage (much before his marriage): ‘Physiologie du Marriage’ and ‘Scènes de la Vie Conjugale’, it is generally agreed that, “These works suffered from a lack of first-hand knowledge; Saintsbury points out that (he) cannot talk of [marriage] with much authority." Nevertheless, a great statement of his sticks in mind, “Marriage must incessantly contend with a monster that devours everything: familiarity.”
George Bernard Shaw, the only man to have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Oscar, seems to have been a relatively happy man in his marriage (indeed it is felt that he would have “refused his Nobel Prize outright, because he had no desire for public honors, but accepted it at his wife's behest: she considered it a tribute to Ireland”. He wrote a long essay entitled, ‘Getting Married’ (1908) which I am very intrigued to read. His insights into marriage were penetrating, saying, “Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity”, and “Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a bloodsucker, a hypocrite and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy!”.
So finally, here we have it, a happily married novelist, who married the lady he loved, who supported him and was with him all the way. Wonderful – but for one problem, the following, “Charlotte Payne-Townshend (1859-1943) was a wealthy Anglo-Irish woman, member of the Fabian Society and dedicated to the struggle for women's rights. She married George Bernard Shaw in 1898 after nursing him through an illness…She resolved to have no children and abstained from sex completely throughout the marriage, although she often stripped nude for her husband”. It is an unnatural marriage, that defeats one of its purposes. Thus it is not one to emulate.
Moving on to the Bernard Shaw of the Arab world, Naguib Mahfouz, a man who like Shaw, wrote novels, plays, short stories, essays and articles on a wide variety of subjects, and was likewise awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988 and died, like Shaw as a near centenarian. Both died at 94 years.
Mahfouz remained a bachelor until the age of 43, and it is suspected that the reason for this is that he “laboured under his conviction that marriage with its numerous restrictions and limitations would hamper his literary future. In 1954, he married an Egyptian woman, with whom he had two girls”. He presented several views of marriage in many of the works that I read of him. If we go through the four key men in his ‘Cairo Trilogy’ – we see that all had unideal marriages or failed to marry because of parental interference. Sayyid Ahmad Abdel Jawad was a patriarch full of contradictions – and one can hardly regard a marriage as an ideal one if it were founded on such an attitude. He also married twice, and his elder son Yasin was the result of that first relationship – it is unclear whether he was married or not. He is well described in a review as follows – hardly modern marriage material:
“The authoritative control of the individual members of this Cairene family is Mr. Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who immediately upon marriage to Amina, tells her, “All I ask of you is to obey me. Don’t force me to discipline you”, setting the tone for patriarchal dominion that was to instill fear in all of his family members, while earning him the utmost respect as the authority in charge. He “demanded blind obedience from his sons” and angrily reminded his son Kamal that “manners are better than learning”. Ironically, his children “could not imagine that any other man in the world could equal [their father’s] power, dignity, or wealth.” Additionally, “everyone in the household loved the man to the point of worship [although for his son Kamal, the youngest,] that love remained a hidden jewel, locked up inside him by fear and terror”. Hower reminds us that al-Sayyid Ahmad “is a tyrant who has forbidden his wife to go outside the walls of the house for 25 years” and after discovering his son Fahmy has a love interest for the next-door neighbor, “he could not imagine that the world of the emotions had infiltrated the atmosphere of his home, which he vigilantly strove to keep one of stern purity and immaculate innocence”. In grave contrast to his role of family tyrant, the complex figure of the father, Mr. Ahmad al-Sayyed, whose life is “composed of a diversity of mutually contradictory elements, wavering between piety and depravity,” spends his evenings in the brothels drinking and laughing to his heart’s content while his family struggles to find unity among themselves. The kind of reform that comes into question with this patriarchal master is one that must be addressed personally. Can he continue to live the double standard to which the reader witnesses? Will this contradictory life style ultimately chisel away his family and friends’ reverence bestowed on him? Perhaps Mahfouz does not intend to answer this for the reader; however, becomes obvious that this novel is more than a family saga. Hower tells us that it is “the story of the awakening of an entire generation to the social and political realities of the 20thcentury.” Interestingly, this Arab novel embraces the characters’ continued faith in Islam, which must evolve in new ways to preserve the cultural identity of a people being overwhelmed by foreign, secular ideologies”. As a result, the insight into the role of religion in the characters’ lives will go a long way toward demystifying Western readers’ views of the Middle East”
Yasin married first following a lustful craving after his maid (portrayed so well in chapter 41 of the first part of his trilogy, ‘Palace Walk’) to one his father’s friend’s daughters – a girl he knew nothing about, “Yasin takes after his father, and more than makes up for any new-found discretion and reserve on the part of the old man. Yasin disappoints his family by marrying neighbour-girl Maryam (Fahmy's love interest) -- but not before he engages in a truly shocking affair. Again, marriage isn't enough for his restless stirrings, and he winds up divorcing Maryam and marrying yet again -- even more unsuitably. His escapades go so far that he is nearly exiled to the distant countryside by his government employer, saved from that horrible fate only by his father's contacts and help”.
His second son Fahmy failed to marry his first and only love owing to his father’s interference, and died not much later on a political demonstration. His third son, Kamal, on whom it is widely believed Mahfouz portrayed himself, also failed in his desire for marriage, and remained single all throughout the trilogy, “Among the profoundest pains is that of unrequited love. Kamal has a close group of friends with whom he spends much of his time, and he falls passionately in love with one of their sisters, Aïda. She, however, winds up with another. It is the one great love of Kamal's life, and after this he also begins drink alcohol (though in more moderation than his father and older brother), and begins to regularly seeks relief with a woman in the pleasure-district.”
Other 20th century writers who had failed marriages are H G Wells, the founder of science fiction, and Isaac Asimov, who also married twice.
In 1891 H G Wells, “married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells, but left her in 1894 for one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins, whom he married in 1895. He had two sons by Amy: George Philip (known as 'Gip') in 1901 and Frank Richard in 1903. During his marriage to Amy, Wells had liaisons with a number of women, including the American birth-control activist and eugenicist Margaret Sanger and novelist Elizabeth von Arnim. In 1909 he had a daughter, Anna-Jane, with the writer Amber Reeves, whose parents, William and Maud Pember Reeves, he had met through the Fabian Society; and in 1914, a son, Anthony West, by the novelist and feminist Rebecca West, twenty-six years his junior. In spite of Amy Catherine's knowledge of some of these affairs, she remained married to Wells until her death in 1927.Wells also had liaisons with Odette Keun and Moura Budberg. "I was never a great amorist," Wells wrote in Experiment in Autobiography (1934), "though I have loved several people very deeply."
As for Isaac Asimov, the most prolific author of the 20th century and indeed of all time, he failed in his first marriage,which last thirty years, divorced and married again. His biographers believe that, “To some extent, Asimov's personal life may have exacerbated his impression of the female gender. Asimov's first marriage was less than ideal. While he genuinely loved his wife, he never felt that she returned the sentiment. Asimov admitted in his later years that he may have married her too quickly due in part to her resemblance in his mind to a much-adored movie star and in part to his family's expectations. Gertrude smokes, which bothered Isaac immensely. And she consistently maintained that Isaac should spend less time on his writing career and more time with his family. The arguments grew in tandem with Asimov's literary success, to the point where he finally developed a very one-sided perspective on his wife.
Asimov's relationship to his second wife, Janet, was a much more positive influence even before they were married. The attraction between them was apparent almost immediately, though they refused to act on it for ethical reasons for decades after they met. Janet was unfailingly supportive of Asimov's career. She began by assisting him as a secretary, mail handler, and liason with editors and publicists.
As Asimov spent increasing time under Janet's professional stewardship, his perspective on women gradually changed. At the same time, Asimov watched as his daughter Robyn grew into a beautiful and intelligent woman who was also quietly supportive of her father's career. Asimov's happy and loving second marriage to Janet cemented the gradual change in his gender perspective.
When he finally returned to science fiction writing in the 1980s, Asimov was able to incorporate rich female characters with much greater success. He did so in part by using Janet and Robyn as early models for his descriptions of women's mental and emotional charictaristics”.
From Asimov, we thus learn that marriage is best secured by a fair period of silent acquaintance of the other person’s merits and qualities, followed by a period of silent admiration. It was, by all accounts a happy marriage.
Moving on to the world of art – we note that Beethoven never married as, “The women who attracted Beethoven were unattainable because they were either married or aristocratic”. He was engaged briefly to Giulietta Guiccardi, but her father was the main obstacle to their marriage. Mozart, on the other hand did marry, but against his father’s wishes. Having informed his father of his marriage plans, Leopold Mozart (his father) “was enraged. He was always against his son's acquaintance with the Webers. Wolfgang thinks his father is being unfair about the whole matter, and leaves Salzburg for Vienna to be married. On August 4th, 1782 Mozart marries the six-year younger sister of Aloysia in St. Stephen's Cathedral. Leopold Mozart refuses his son's invitation to the wedding, as does Aloysia”.
As for Johann Sebastian Bach, widely regarded as the third of the golden trio of classical German music, he married twice – firstly his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, on October 17, 1707. After she died suddenly on July 7, 1720, Bach met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a young soprano. They married on December 11, 1721. Like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, there was a major age difference between them, but “despite the age difference (she was 17 years his junior), the couple seem to have had a very happy marriage. Anna supported Johann's composing (many final scores are in her hand) while he encouraged her singing. Together they had 13 children.”
From what I understand of Bach’s life, he was a very devout Christian, and this reflects in his music, much of which is used in Churches to this day. Perhaps that is a clue to the ingredients necessary for a happy and stable marriage. We will see later that this may be the case.
PAINTING AND SCULPTURE
Let us move on to the world of painting and sculpture. It is widely known that the Leonardo da Vinci (“the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant girl, Caterina”, who is “considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived”) never married, and it appears that he had no close relationships with women except for Isabella d'Este. There is much speculation that he was homosexual in orientation. Indeed, such is the belief of Serge Bramly, writing in his ‘Leonardo: Discovering the Life of Leonardo Da Vinci’ (1991), "Yet while no definite proof exists of Leonardo's homosexuality, there are plenty of indications, in his drawings as well as in his writings, that he was attracted to males, and, as Freud puts it, 'doubtful whether he ever embraced a woman with love’…There is no record of any woman in his life -- not even a female friendship. On the other hand, he was soon surrounding himself with a constantly renewed court of remarkably beautiful young men.". Michael White, another biographer made the same conclusion, thoughwith greater certainty, in ‘Leonardo, The First Scientist’ (2000), "He [Leonardo] was a homosexual vegetarian born out of wedlock who received very little formal education and was excluded by birthright from almost all professions."
His compatriot Michelangelo also never married and had no children. According to his biographers, “His relationship with women was troubled and we have little information about the people he loved. The only bond rich in spirituality and religiosity was with Vittoria Colonna, whom he met and frequented in Rome and with whom he kept up a correspondence after she left the city. During his middle years, he had a contradictory relationship with Tommaso Cavalieri, for whom he had a great love, though he was not always reciprocated. It was not easy for Michelangelo to combine religious spirituality with homosexuality. The beautiful poems he wrote to Cavalieri, underling both his tormented love and his fear of divine judgment, exemplify his restless soul's suffering”. The above two biographies of Leonardo also detail these beliefs. About Michelangelo, Bramly writes, he was, "A homosexual, he was torn between his passions and his religion." (p. 344). Michael White, in describing Leonardo da Vinci's relationship with Lorenzo de Medici, writes, "Lorenzo was heterosexual, later described by Machiavelli as "incredibly given to the pleasures of Venus". Leonardo was homosexual with a very public sodomy trial behind him. However, it is certain the different sexual tastes of the two men would not have been a major factor in the progress of their relationship. After all, Lorenzo actively encouraged at least one other homosexual artist, Michelangelo, giving him a string of commissions and even opening his homes to him, treating him almost as a social equal." (p.83-84).
Rembrandt, short for Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history, was only married for eight years, although it seems to have been a happy marriage. Until her death in 1642 Saskia van Uylenborch, a beautiful, fair-haired Frisian maiden of good connections “was the center of his life and art, and lives for us in many a canvas as well as in her own portraits. On her the painter lavished his magical power, painting her as the Queen Artemisia or Bathsheba, and as the wife of Samson - always proud of her long fair locks, and covering her with pearls and gold as precious in their play of color as those of the Indies”. However, he followed this up with acts of mischief, including, in the late 1640s, a relationship with the much younger Hendrickje Stoffels, “who had initially been his maid. In 1654 they had a daughter, Cornelia, bringing Hendrickje a summons from the Reformed church to answer the charge "that she had committed the acts of a whore with Rembrandt the painter". She admitted this and was banned from receiving communion. Rembrandt was not summoned to appear for the Church council because he was not a member of the Reformed church”. This caused him a great deal of distress. Can one ensure this kind of thing does not happen? It is probably fair to say that religion is has a pragmatic function here – a religious person is equipped with the prophylaxis against relationships outside of marriage.
Like his great Italian predecessors, Vincent Van Gogh, the other great Dutch painter, never married, although unlike them, he did have a couple of attempts at love, “In the summer of 1881 Van Gogh fell in love with his widowed cousin, Kee Vos, but was rejected. He became upset and resentful. This led to a violent quarrel with his father on Christmas, and he moved in with an alcoholic prostitute for a year. In 1884 Van Gogh had a romance with a neighbor's daughter, who shared his interest in art, but their marriage was opposed by both families. This and the death of his father in March of 1885 caused depression”. Things deteriorated so much for him; he began drinking, visiting prostitutes and became profoundly psychotic. Everyone knows he committed suicide. He is certainly not an example to follow with regards to interpersonal relationships.
Finally an example of a 20th century painter – Pablo Picasso stands as the most prominent. His married life was marred by the fact that, “He maintained a number of mistresses in addition to his wife or primary partner. Picasso was married twice and had four children by three women. In the summer of 1918, Picasso married Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina with Sergei Diaghilev’s troupe, for whom Picasso was designing a ballet, Parade, in Rome; and they spent their honeymoon in the villa near Biarritz of the glamorous Chilean art patron Eugenia Errázuriz. Khokhlova introduced Picasso to high society, formal dinner parties, and all the social niceties attendant on the life of the rich in 1920s Paris. The two had a son, Paulo, who would grow up to be a dissolute motorcycle racer and chauffeur to his father. Khokhlova’s insistence on social propriety clashed with Picasso’s bohemian tendencies and the two lived in a state of constant conflict. During the same period that Picasso collaborated with Diaghilev’s troup, he and Igor Stravinsky collaborated on Pulcinella in 1920. Picasso took the opportunity to make several sketches of the composer. In 1927 Picasso met 17 year old Marie-Thérèse Walter and began a secret affair with her. Picasso’s marriage to Khokhlova soon ended in separation rather than divorce, as French law required an even division of property in the case of divorce, and Picasso did not want Khokhlova to have half his wealth. The two remained legally married until Khokhlova’s death in 1955. Picasso carried on a long-standing affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter and fathered a daughter, Maia, with her. Marie-Thérèse lived in the vain hope that Picasso would one day marry her, and hanged herself four years after Picasso’s death.”
I do not know if there is some subconscious dislike that I have to painters and sculptors – but alas I have never had the ability to appreciate paintings and statues the way others do. I certainly do not wish to emulate their relationships to others in any way.
THE ACTING WORLD
Moving on to the acting world, I am relatively unfamiliar with American and English actors and actresses, but am very knowledgeable about the Arab acting and music world – and for some reason there is a great degree of overlap between the two in the Arab world that we do not find in the West, or at least to no where near the same extent.
Most Arab actors and actresses have been through several marriages, and divorce, although very few (and I really cannot think of any) have never married. Only a few have had very stable relationships. On the other hand, there are many Arab singers who did not marry.
Each one of the following household names of the Arab cinema have been through the above. Probably the most popular of them was Farid Shawqi – who died nearly ten years ago. He went through four marriages, and three divorces. Mahmood Morsy, who to me was the greatest of all Arab actors (having studied philosophy in Alexandria University), also married and divorced the actress Samiha Ayoub. The late Ahmad Zaki was married to and divorced the actress Hala Foad. Foad Al-Mohandis married and divorced the actress Shwekar. Mahmood Abdel Aziz divorced his first wife (whose name I cannot recall) and married the TV presenter Boosy Shalabi a few years ago; whom he divorced and remarried not so long ago. Noor El-Sherif, the envy of so many actors for the long term stability of his relationship with the actress Boosy, divorced her over two years ago. Omar El-Sherif also married, and divorced Faten Hamama, the greatest of all Arab actresses (‘Sayyidat Al-Shasha Al-Arabia’). Youssef Shaaban married and divorced the actress Laila Taher. Jamil Rateb married, got him sterilized having agreed with his wife that they did not want any children, and divorced her later. Perhaps that is one argument against sterilization as a form of contraception.
As for the most prominent actresses – all of them without exception have been through a failed marriage – by which I mean divorce. Yosra, Nadia El-Guindi, Nabila Obeid, Raghda, Sherihan, Nelly, Najwa Foad, Dina, Fifi Abdo, and others.
As for singers – everyone knows that Abdel Halim and Farid El-Atrashe never married, the latter nearly always being called ‘Wahid’ – the lonely one in his movies. Fairuz separated from Assi Rahbani in 1979, a key year in her life. The famous Asmahan, despite her young age (she died aged 26) married four times! She married her cousin, Prince Hassan El-Atrash, in 1933, and gave birth to a daughter, Camellia, a marriage that ended in divorce four years later. After that “she returned to Cairo and resumed her singing career, where she married the director Ahmed Baderkhan, but they were soon divorced. In 1941 she went back to Syria and re-married her cousin Hassan for a short time. Finally, she married the director Ahmed Salem.”
As for Om Kalthum, it is well known that she had an intense personal relationship with Sharif Sabri Pasha, one of the uncles of King Farouk in the 1940s; she was reportedly devastated when the king forbade their planned marriage.
In 1955, aged 51, she married a dermatologist named Hassen El Hafnaoui, “taking care to include a clause in the marriage contract that would allow her to initiate a divorce if necessary”. The author of the Wikipaedia article on her makes a point that “the couple had no children”, presumably he is not aware that the menopause starts at that age! In any case, Om Kalthum is a perfect example of another singer who sacrificed family life for the sake of her career – a common finding among many successful women.
PHILOSOPHERS AND RELIGIOUS FIGURES
Moving in from the world of art to the world of philosophy, it is indeed very difficult to note many examples of philosophers who were happy with their marriages. It is rare to find a genuinely happy philosopher anyway (thinking about the world’s ills too much brings a lot of sadness – indeed life is cruel, and has so many deficiencies – if it were a perfect world, with justice, fairness and beauty, would there be a need for an afterlife. I think not). H L Mencken is not too mistaken when he says that, “There’s no record in human history of a happy philosopher”. Those happy with marriage are even fewer. Nevertheless, their marriages and their philosophies can teach us a lot about marriage.
Let us begin with Socrates, the man who famously said, “By all means marry: If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher”, the man who married Xanthipe, a lady “who was likely much younger than the philosopher, perhaps by as much as forty years”. There are stories of her being very aggressive with her husband, who said “he married Xanthipe to prove that a philosopher can endure all things”. One of the most fascinating stories about this aggression is that, “When Socrates reached his 50s, he went into marriage and took a wife, Xanthippe. She was known to be very hot tempered and nag. He was no ideal husband. He would leave home every morning without fail and return home sometimes quite late. At the end of every month, there was not any pay check. Story had it that once he was discussing ideas and thoughts in his house with his friends. They were discussing non stop the whole day until his wife, Xanthippe was so fed up and scolded them. She even chases them out of the house. Once outside the house, they continue discussing until the middle of the night. Xanthippe finally could not take it. She took a pail of water and poured it unto them. The philosopher, soaking wet said “You know my friend, after the thunder, there will always come the rain.”
One of the greatest things that Socrates’ marriage teaches is explained in full by one article that I wish to quote almost fully here. It needs no further comment:
“In the following conversation with Antisthenes, as recorded by Xenophon, Socrates reveals what may have been one of his "keys to a successful marriage":
Antisthenes: ". . . why don't you train Xanthippe instead of having a wife who is of all living women - and I believe of all that ever have been or will be - the most difficult to get on with?"
Socrates: "Because I notice that people who want to become good horsemen keep not the most docile horses but ones that are high-spirited, because they think that they can control these, they will easily manage any other horses. In the same way, since I wish to deal and associate with people, I have provided myself with this wife, because I'm quite sure that, if I can put up with her, I shall find it easy to get on with any other human being."
This explanation was felt to be not far off the mark. This is especially interesting to us because of how dramatically it contrasts with what seems to be most folks' view of marriage nowadays.
Many individuals nowadays seem to spend a great deal of time dating, which is considered to be a search for "The One," or that perfect other person they are fated to be with.
Once the other person-who-is-believed-to-be-The-One is found and married, it is often still very much a trial basis: if, for example, a wife nags too much, puts on too much weight, or even becomes boring or ages naturally, or any thousands of other variations, it can be considered grounds for divorce. Similarly, if men stay out too late with their buddies, don't make enough money, or any other infinite reasons appear less-than-perfect, their wives may consider these reasons for packing the bags and hiring the lawyers.
The hidden assumption that underlies relationships like these goes something like "Since you are supposed to make me happy, and you're not, I'm leaving."
Socrates, on the other hand, had a completely different view on the matter: instead of demanding that Xanthippe conform to become be the perfect embodiment of his own desires . . . he worked on perfecting himself.
Since he was "working on himself" - perfecting his own character (is anybody interested in this nowadays? Has anybody even ever heard of it?) - he understood that strengthening oneself requires challenges, in the same way that strengthening muscules requires lifting weights. He considered marriage, then, as a kind of "psychological gymnasium" which gave him plenty of opportunities for working on himself.
In this sense, then Socrates didn't treat marriage as a playground, but as a training-arena or boot-camp; his wife wasn't supposed to meekly submit to him or obey him, but to challenge him and make him stronger; he didn't demand that the other person in his relationship make him happy, but instead seemed to treat all of his experiences - the fights, misunderstandings, scoldings, tantrums, and everything else that probably took place within the marriage - as opportunities to learn from and become stronger.”
His pupil Plato, famed for the concept of Platonic love, never married, and indeed many biographers felt that he was a homosexual. While I think this view is unlikely, I find it difficult to refute it, especially in view of the fact that he never married.
In any case, Plato’s totalitarian philosophy is not a place to go to for advice on marriage; it well and truly negates the fundamental and most important aspect of our existence – freedom. As Bertrand Russell explains:
“Plato believed that friends, should have all things in common, including women and children, "These women shall be, without exception, the common wives of these men, and no one shall have a wife of his own."
He admits that this presents difficulties, but thinks them not insuperable. First of all, girls are to have exactly the same education as boys, learning music, gymnastics, and the art of war along with the boys. Women are to have complete equality with men in all respects. "The same education which makes a man a good guardian will make a woman a good guardian; for their original nature is the same." No doubt there are differences between men and women, but they have nothing to do with politics. Some women are philosophic, and suitable as guardians; some are warlike, and could make good soldiers.
The legislator, having selected the guardians, some men and some women, will ordain that they shall all share common houses and common meals. Marriage, as we know it, will be radically transformed. At certain festivals, brides and bridegrooms, in such numbers as are required to keep the population constant, will be brought together, by lot, as they will be taught to believe; but in fact the rulers of the city will manipulate the lots on eugenic principles. They will arrange that the best sires shall have the most children. All children will be taken away from their parents at birth, and great care will be taken that no parents shall know who are their children, and no children shall know who are their parents. Deformed children, and children of inferior parents, "will be put away in some mysterious unknown place, as they ought to be." Children arising from unions not sanctioned by the State are to be considered illegitimate. Mothers are to be between twenty and forty, fathers between twenty-five and fifty-five. Outside these ages, intercourse is to be free, but abortion or infanticide is to be compulsory. In the "marriages" arranged by the State, the people concerned have no voice; they are to be actuated by the thought of their duty to the State, not by any of those common emotions that the banished poets used to celebrate.
Since no one knows who his parents are, he is to call every one "father" whose age is such that he might be his father, and similarly as regards "mother" and "brother" and "sister." (This sort of thing happens among some savages, and used to puzzle missionaries.) There is to be no marriage between a "father" and "daughter" or "mother" and "son"; in general, but not absolutely, marriages of "brother" and "sister" are to be prevented. (I think if Plato had thought this out more carefully he would have found that he had prohibited all marriages, except the "brother-sister" marriages which he regards as rare exceptions.)
It is supposed that the sentiments at present attached to the words "father," "mother," "son," and "daughter" will still attach to them under Plato's new arrangements; a young man, for instance, will not strike an old man, because he might be striking his father. The advantage sought is, of course, to minimize private possessive emotions, and so remove obstacles to the domination of public spirit, as well as to acquiescence in the absence of private property. It was largely motives of a similar kind that led to the celibacy of the clergy.”
Plato also felt, as expressed in his ‘Timaeus’, that man is “the highest of animals, is generated by the gods; the other species originate from him by a process of corruption and degeneration. First, certain men—the cowards and villains—degenerate into women. Those who are lacking wisdom degenerate step by step into the lower animals.” These opinions can hardly be taken seriously in this day and age.
As for his pupil Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander the Great, we hear equally controversial views. He teaches that “children should be conceived in winter, when the wind is in the north; that there must be a careful avoidance of indecency, because "shameful words lead to shameful acts," and that obscenity is never to be tolerated except in temples, where the law permits even ribaldry. People should not marry too young, because, if they do, the children will be weak and female, the wives will become wanton, and the husbands stunted in their growth. The right age for marriage is thirty-seven in men, eighteen in women”.
It is clear, aside from these bizarre views, that, Russell is correct in saying that there is not much in what Aristotle has to say about the topic “that could be of any practical use to a statesman of the present day, but there is a great deal that throws light on the conflicts of parties in different parts of the Hellenic world”.
His views on women were largely influenced by Plato, as Popper explains:
“Aristotle’s thought is entirely dominated by Plato’s. Somewhat grudgingly, he followed his great teacher as closely as his temperament permitted, not only in his general political outlook but practically everywhere. So he endorsed, and systematized, Plato’s naturalistic theory of slavery: ‘Some men are by nature free, and others slaves; and for the latter, slavery is fitting as well as just ... A man who is by nature not his own, but another’s, is by nature a slave ... Hellenes do not like to call themselves slaves, but confine this term to barbarians ... The slave is totally devoid of any faculty of reasoning’, while free women have just a very little of it.”
Nevertheless, Aristotle married twice, although it is unclear what his relationships were like (I remember a brilliant statement by Russell, “Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement” – where he aims to criticism Aristotle unscientific attitude!) Plato and Aristotle were the most important philosophical influences on Christianity. In any case the Christian view of marriage is almost equally abhorrent and focused entirely as a way of preventing ‘illicit’ sexual intercourse. St. Paul felt that being unmarried, as he was, is a good thing, but, as he advises:
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:8–9)”.
Russell exposed this opinion fully in his Nobel Prize winning book, ‘Marriage and Morals’:
“Christianity, and more particularly St. Paul, introduced an entirely novel view of marriage, that it existed not primarily for the procreation of children, but to prevent the sin of fornication.... (I Cor. vii. 1-9.) St. Paul makes no mention whatever of children; the biological purpose of marriage appears to him wholly unimportant. This is quite natural, since he imagined that the Second Coming was imminent and that the world would soon come to an end. At the Second Coming men were to be divided into sheep and goats, and the only thing of real importance was to find oneself among the sheep on that occasion. St. Paul holds that sexual intercourse, even in marriage, is something of a handicap in the attempt to win salvation (I Cor. vii. 32-4). Nevertheless it is possible for married people to be saved, but fornication is deadly sin, and the unrepentant fornicator is sure to find himself among the goats. I remember once being advised by a doctor to abandon the practice of smoking, and he said that I should find it easier if, whenever the desire came upon me, I proceeded to suck an acid drop. It is in this spirit that St. Paul recommends marriage. He does not suggest that it is quite as pleasant as fornication, but he thinks it may enable the weaker brethren to withstand temptation; he does not suggest for a moment that there may be any positive good in marriage, or that affection between husband and wife may be a beautiful and desirable thing, nor does he take the slightest interest in the family; fornication holds the center of the stage in his thoughts, and the whole of his sexual ethics is arranged with reference to it. It is just as if one where to maintain that the sole reason for baking bread is to prevent people from stealing cake. (M.M.p44-47.”
He elaborates on this further a few pages later on in the book:
“The Catholic Church has not remained so unbiological as St. Paul and the hermits of the baid. From St. Paul one gathers that marriage is to be regarded solely as a more or less legitimate outlet for lust. One would not gather from his words that he would have any objection to birth control: on the contrary, one would be led to suppose that he would regard as dangerous the periods of continence involved in pregnancy and childbirth. The Church has taken a different view. Marriage in the orthodox Christian doctrine has two purposes: one. that recognized by St. Paul, the other, the procreation of children. The consequence has been to make sexual morality even more difficult than it was made by St. Paul. Not only is sexual intercourse only legitimate within marriage, but even between husband and wife it becomes a sin unless it is hoped that it will lead to pregnancy. The desire for legitimate offspring is, in fact, according to the Catholic Church, the only motive which can justify sexual intercourse. But this motive always justifies it, no matter what cruelty may accompany it. If the wife hates sexual intercourse, if she is likely to die of another pregnancy, if the child is likely to be diseased or insane, if there is not enough money to prevent the utmost extreme of misery, that does not prevent the man from being justified in insisting on his conjugal rights, provided only that he hopes to beget a child”. (M.M.p52/3).
I hasten to add that the Christian apologists who try to make the Christian opinion attractive have failed miserably in doing so. Matt Slick, writing in the journal of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry last year wrote the following:
“Marriage is a sacred institution established by God for the primary purpose of bringing Him glory. Its main purpose is not, as some think, to procreate, or to have companionship, or to fulfill sexual needs. No. Its primary purpose is to bring glory and honor to God. It is only in marriage that we are able to carry out the commission of God to replenish the earth and to subdue it. This commission by God can only be properly accomplished in marriage where the husband and wife, in faithful, covenantal relationship, purpose to glorify God by having children, training them in the ways of the Lord, and sending them out into the world. This is what marriage is for”.
What a narrow minded unattractive look at the whole thing. How different is this to the Quranic perspective on marriage, which regards that, "And of His signs is this: He created for you mates from yourself that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, therein indeed are portents for folk who reflect". (Quran 30:21). The Quran also says, “The men and women of the believers are friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong, and perform prayer and give the alms, and obey God and His messenger. They are the people on whom God will have mercy. God is Almighty, All-Wise” (9:71).
According to Imam Al-Ghazali, “there are five benefits of marriage – to have children, to control sexual passion, to find peace of mind, to increase divine service, and to get rewards of duties to families”. Regarding the last two points, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi made the following elaboration:
“Marriage is the sole means of establishing a family, the nucleus of society. No respectable human society could ever exist, if not based on the family. Shaded by the close relations of motherhood, fatherhood as well as parent-child and siblings relations, warm feelings of love, altruism, mercy, care and cooperation are instilled in a Muslim.
Social relations are bolstered with the aid of marriage, whereby scope of family expands including his in-laws and his children’s aunts and uncles. That way feelings of amity, love and social closeness extend to include more and more people. Allah meant relations by marriage to be just as strong as kinship relations. Allah, Exalted be He, says, (And He it is Who hath created man from water, and hath appointed for him kindred by blood and kindred by marriage; for thy Lord is ever Powerful.) (Al-Furqan: 54)
Marriage matures a man’s character through the responsibilities he has to shoulder, as a husband and a father, and similarly matures a woman's character through the responsibilities she has to shoulder, as a wife and a mother. As we have just explained, many men refrain from marriage simply because they wish to live as grown-up children with no ties to bind them, no house to unite them or responsibilities they are to undertake. Such people are not fit to live; they are good for nothing. Marriage is thus a strong commitment and a shared responsibility between a man and a woman since their first day together.
Allah, Exalted be He, says, (And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.) (Al-Baqarah 2: 228) (Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath men the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.) (An-Nisa’ 4: 34)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "Everyone of you is a guardian and responsible for those in his charge; the man, in his home, is a guardian and responsible for his household; the woman, concerning her husband's property, is a guardian and responsible for what she is entrusted with." (Agreed upon hadith) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said, "Man would be committing a huge sin if he were to ruin whomever he supports." (Reported by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Al-Hakim and Al-Bayhaqi on the authority of Ibn `Umar) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) further noted, “Allah shall ask every guardian about what he has been entrusted with, whether he preserved or ruined it.” (Reported by An-Nasa’i and Ibn Hibban on the authority of Anas) He (peace and blessings be upon him) also said, "One's spouse is entitled to certain rights.” (Agreed upon Hadith, reported on the authority of Ibn `Umar)
Having got married, a man can focus on perfecting his work, reassured that there is someone back home who disposes of his affairs, preserves his money and takes care of his children. He can thus do his job properly. This stands in sharp contrast to another whose mind is preoccupied and who is torn apart between his work and home, his job and the burden of securing his food and clothes back home.”
The last words of Imam Al-Ghazali in the section devoted to the benefit of marriage in his classic, ‘The Revival of the Religious Sciences’ are extremely valuable. Having looked at the advantages and disadvantages of marriage, he makes the following conclusion – which is extremely well balanced and informative:
“This is the sum total of disadvantages and advantages. To judge that a person is absolutely better off [by] being married or single falls short of taking into consideration all these matters. Rather, such advantages and disadvantages can be considered a precept and a criterion against which the novice should measure himself. If the disadvantages [of marriage] are nonexistent in his case and the benefits are all present, that is, if he has lawfully gained possessions, good character, and earnest pursuit of religion, marriage would not distract him from God; if he [the novice] is, nevertheless, a young man in need of appeasing his sexual desire, if he is a bachelor in need of someone to take care of his house, and if he needs fortification through family associations, then marriage is unquestionably better for him even though its [primary] aim is to produce offspring. If the advantages are refuted and the disadvantages are brought together, being celibate is preferable for him; but if the two are equal, which is most likely, it is necessary to weigh on just scales the extent to which the advantages contribute to the promotion of his religion and the extent to which the disadvantages detract from it. If it appears that one group outweighs the other, it should be acted upon. For the most obvious advantages are procreation and appeasing desire, while the most obvious disadvantages are the need for unlawful gain and distraction from
God. Let us assume that these matters are comparable in importance: We would then conclude that if a man is not troubled by sexual desire, if the benefit of his marriage lies in the endeavor to obtain an offspring, and if the evils of his marriage lie in the necessity to gain unlawfully and to be distracted from God then celibacy is preferable. There is no advantage in whatever distracts one from God or in earning unlawful gain.
The matter of offspring cannot compensate for the absence of these two considerations, [because] marriage for the purpose of obtaining an offspring is illusory and this constitutes a consummate deficiency in religion. To preserve his own life and to, guard it from destruction is more important than seeking to produce an offspring; that is a gain, and religion is an investment. For in the corruption of religion lies the loss of the hereafter and the dissipation of the investment. Such a benefit cannot counteract either of those two disadvantages. However, if to the matter of the offspring is added the need to appease desire, which results from one's yearning for marriage, then one might consider marriage. If the reins of righteousness are not strengthened in his mind, and if he fears committing fornication, then marriage is preferable for him because he is hesitant between committing fornication and attaining unlawful gain; earning unlawful gain is the lesser of the two disadvantages. If he trusts himself not to commit fornication, and is unable at the same time to avert the eye from what is unlawful, then abstaining from marriage is preferable. For, to look [lustfully] is unlawful and to earn gain in an improper way is unlawful. Seeking gain takes place continually and in it lies his [ultimate] ruin and the ruin of his family, while looking takes place occasionally and this pertains to him [and does not involve his relations] and passes away quickly. Looking constitutes adultery by the eyes but, if not rectified by relief, is easier to forgive than eating forbidden fruit, unless it is feared that looking should end in the defiance of relief, thus entailing the threat of affliction.
If this be the case, then we are confronted with the third situation: that is, to have the strength to avert the eyes but not to ward off thoughts distracting the heart; here it is preferable to abstain from marriage because the [evil] deeds of the heart are easier to forgive. Emptying the heart for the sake of worship is desirable; [besides] the act of worship is precluded by unlawful gain, consuming it [gain], and feeding it to others. Thus it is necessary to weigh these disadvantages against the advantages and to judge accordingly. Whoever becomes aware of this will not find it difficult to comprehend what we have transmitted from the righteous forefathers, namely encouragement of marriage in certain situations and in others discouragement therefrom inasmuch as this is dependent upon circumstances.
If you should ask, “Which is better for someone who is safeguarded from the disadvantages [of marriage], seclusion for the worship of God or marriage?” I would reply: Combine the two, because marriage is a contract and does not preclude seclusion for the worship of God; rather, it pertains to the need for lawful gain. If he is able to earn lawful gain, then marriage is also better, because it is feasible for him during the night and the rest [that is, the unoccupied portion] of the day to be in seclusion for worship; persistence in worship without relaxation is not feasible. If it be assumed that earning a livelihood preoccupies his whole time to the extent that he has none left other than that prescribed-sleeping, eating, and performing the necessaries and if he is one of those who do not pursue the hereafter except through the supererogatory prayer, pilgrimage, or similar physical activities, then marriage is better for him. For earning lawful gain, supporting a family, seeking to obtain offspring, and tolerating the manners of women constitute forms of worship whose merits do not fall short of supererogatory acts of worship. If he should worship by means of knowledge, meditation, and the path of esotericism, and should lawful gain complicate that, then abstaining from marriage is preferable.
Should you ask, “Why then did Jesus* abstain from marriage in spite of its virtue? And if it is preferable to free oneself for the worship of God, why then did our Prophet* take on numerous wives?” Know ye, then, that it is preferable to combine the two in the case of one who is able, whose desire is strong, and whose ambition is high, because no preoccupation can distract him from God.
Our Messenger* armed himself with strength and combined the virtue of worship and that of marriage. In spite of his nine women, 14' he still dedicated himself to God. For him, the satisfaction of the sexual need was not an obstacle. At the same time, those who are preoccupied with worldly needs are not constrained in their affairs by the fulfilling of natural needs; outwardly, they perform that which is necessary, but their hearts are preoccupied with solitude not unmindful of their important duties. The Messenger* of God, because of his elevated status, was not deterred by the dictates of this world from the presence of the heart with God. He used to receive revelation (wahy) while he was in his wife's bed.”' If this is true in the case of someone else, it is not inconceivable that irrigation canals can be altered by what cannot alter the mighty ocean; in other words, one cannot compare others unto him [that is, the Prophet].”' As for Jesus,* he armed himself with resolutions and not strength; he took precautions, for perhaps his state was such that preoccupation with a family could have affected it, or made it difficult to seek lawful gain, or made marriage and seclusion for worship irreconcilable. Thus he preferred to devote himself to worship. For they [prophets] are more aware [than others] of the secrets of their states, of the precepts of their times regarding virtuous gain, of the manners of women, of the calamities of marriage upon the marrier, and of the benefits he [that is, the marrier] has therein. No matter how different the circumstances are, in some cases it is preferable to marry and in others to abstain. We should deem the deeds of the prophets as preferable in all cases -and God knows best.”
Thus marriage is neither compulsory, nor the lesser of two evils, nor forbidden. It is this very well balanced look at things that make the Quran and Islam most attractive to the thinking rational mind. In addition, the Quran’s acceptance of intermarriage is also a grea example of its beliefs; and of course we all know that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) set the greatest example in this. As Qaradawi explains:
“Islam has made marriage to Jewish or Christian women lawful for Muslim men, for they are Ahl al-Kitab, that is, People of the Book, or people whose tradition is based upon a divinely revealed Scripture. Although they have distorted and altered it, they do possess a religion of divine origin, and hence Islam has made some exceptions in dealing with them. The Qur'an says: ...And the food of those who were given the Scripture (before you) is permitted to you and your food is permitted to them. And (lawful to you in marriage are) chaste women from the Believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture before you, when you give them their due cowers, desiring chastity, not lewdness or secret intrigues....(5:6: (5) )
Tolerance of such a degree is a characteristic of Islam which is hardly to be found among other faiths and nations. Despite the fact that Islam takes the People of the Book to task for their unbelief and error, it permits the Muslim to marry a Christian or Jewish woman who may, as his consort, the mistress of his house, the mother of his children, the source of his repose, and his companion for life, retain her own faith—all this, while the Qur'an says concerning marriage and its mystique, "And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell with them in tranquility, and He has put love and mercy between you....(30:21)”
How different is this to Judaism where intermarriage is forbidden completely:
“Orthodox Judaism strictly forbids interfaith marriage as well as any sexual intercourse with a member of a different faith. Secular intermarriage is seen as a deliberate rejection of Judaism, and an intermarried person is effectively cut off from most of the Orthodox community. However, some Chabad-Lubavitch and Modern Orthodox Jews do reach out to intermarried Jews.
Conservative Judaism rejects intermarriages as being a violation of halakha, and as causing severe demographic harm to the Jewish people. Conservative rabbis are not allowed to perform intermarriages. However, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism has a more nuanced understanding of this issue than does Orthodoxy. The Conservative movement has stated:
In the past, intermarriage...was viewed as an act of rebellion, a rejection of Judaism. Jews who intermarried were essentially excommunicated. But now, intermarriage is often the result of living in an open society....If our children end up marrying non-Jews, we should not reject them. We should continue to give our love and by that retain a measure of influence in their lives, Jewishly and otherwise. Life consists of constant growth and our adult children may yet reach a stage when Judaism has new meaning for them. However, the marriage between a Jew and non-Jew is not a celebration for the Jewish community. We therefore reach out to the couple with the hope that the non-Jewish partner will move closer to Judaism and ultimately choose to convert. Since we know that over 70 percent of children of intermarried couples are not being raised as Jews...we want to encourage the Jewish partner to maintain his/her Jewish identity, and raise their children as Jews (Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, Statement on Intermarriage. Adopted on March 7, 1995)”
It is for this reason that I am not going to discuss the Jewish viewpoint on marriage any further.
Ideally I ought to compare and contrast the views of the three Abrahamic faiths on women here – but space does not merit it here. Let us simply have faith that God wishes what is best for all members of the human race – men and women. I, hasten to add that, being a Muslim, I do not believe in the widely believed ‘Islamic’ teaching that “Woman was created from a rib. She will never be straightforward and consistent for you in any way. If you enjoy her (or your relationship with her), you will do so in spite of her crookedness. If you try to straighten her, you will break her, and her breaking is her divorce” (reported in ‘Sahih Muslim’). The following is a perfect example of the intellectual dishonesty of some Muslim scholars – in this instance the Saudi Muhammad Ali Al-Hashimi:
“This description given by the Prophet (S.A.W.) eloquently describes the reality and nature of woman. She will not remain consistent in the way her husband may wish, but the Muslim husband must understand that this is her nature, the way she has been created. He should not try to straighten her in the way he is convinced is correct, but he should respect her unique feminine nature and accept her the way Allah (S.W.T.) made her, complete with the “crookedness” that means that she will not be as he wishes in some aspects. If he insists on straightening her and molding her to his wishes, it will be like trying to straighten a bent rib: it will break in his hands, and the breaking of a woman is divorce (i.e., the matter will end in divorce)”.
Note how Hashimi, in a typical apologetic fashion, says ‘in some aspects’, while the Hadith is absolute (my highlighting). Note also how he strips women of any separate identity or ability to think – expecting them to be completely subservient to men. Is this in any way close to the respect for human dignity and freedom of thought that God endorses in the Qur’an?
I also do not believe that the Prophet, whom I picture as the fairest, most respectful, and ideal human being to have graced the planet to have said: “Your right over them (women) is that they should not entertain at your hearth anyone (or commit adultery with), and not to allow into your home anyone whom you dislike, and their right over you is that you should feed and clothe them well.”
Hashimi proceeds to say, “This is good advice, in which every sincere Muslim husband recognizes the wisdom of the Prophet (S.A.W.) in defining the rights and duties of husband and wife in a framework of mercy and compassion towards women which leaves no room for even thinking of oppressing or harming one’s wife.” Rather, I believe it seems to picture women more like sheep, than an individual thinking, and reflective human being. It is not short of pathetic to think that traditional Islam, with these views on women, to be considered as fair and humane to woman. It is not, whereas true Islam, as in submission to God alone (rather than the teachings of the Prophet as relayed to us by others) is.
I do not believe that, “The woman who dies and with whom the husband is satisfied will go to paradise” (what happened to good actions and belief in God and the Afterlife) , or that, “A wife should never refuse herself to her husband even if it is on the saddle of a camel”, or that “Hellfire appeared to me in a dream and I noticed that it was above all peopled with women who had been ungrateful. "Was it toward God that they were ungrateful?" They had not shown any gratitude toward their husbands for all they had received from them. Even when all your life you have showered a woman with your largesse she will still find something petty to reproach you with one day, saying, "You have never done anything for me."”
I do not believe, based on what I know of him, or how I picture him, as the greatest of men, that he said, “If I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone else, I would have ordered the woman to prostrate to her husband”, or as Hashimi very proudly exclaims, “he said that the husband’s satisfaction with her would be a cause of her entering Paradise”. What happened to belief in God and good actions if, “Any woman who dies, and her husband is pleased with her, will enter Paradise.” (Bukhari and Muslim)! How dare someone say that the Prophet said, “The woman is not permitted to fast when her husband is present, without his permission, or to invite anyone into his house without his permission.” (Bukhari and Muslim) or that “he assured the defiant, rebellious woman that the angels would heap curses upon her until she goes back to her husband, saying, “If a woman stays away from her husband’s bed, the angels will curse her until morning.” (Bukhari and Muslim)”.
What nonsense is this? How can anyone believe a religion that portrays these ideas to be true, or even appealing, to the non-Muslim women. Impossible! But it is important to realize that these are the ideas of tradition. They are not related in any way to the truth of the Qur’an., its humanity and justice.
I am in utter agreement with thinkers like Mohammed Shahroor who believe that, “The people of the Middle East (Arab-Islamic States) have lived for centuries under political oppression, and they still do. Women have also been subject to political and social oppression sustained by the traditional understanding of Islamic legacy”. I also believe that, because accepting the Qur’anic principle of the equality of men and women (with regards to humanity and not roles) means giving up systems of male privilege, many Muslim men would not open to that truthful understanding. People have a tendency to cherish tradition, to cherish what their elders said. This is something that is elaborated upon in the Quran in many places. Hence the antipathy to a different, truer understanding of womanhood. Muslims are generally too enmeshed in this veil of tradition to see the truth of the Qur’an’s teachings. I believe wholeheartedly that, "To accept the authority of any group and then to resign oneself to its misreadings of Islam not only makes one complicit in the continued abuse of Islam and the abuse of women in the name of Islam, but it also means losing the battle over meaning without even fighting it". Only in this truer understanding of God (I would not worship a God who endorsed the abuse of half his human creation, for that means He is not God) and His teachings, are practices like those of the Al-Saud family stopped, where “Saudi women face severe discrimination in many aspects of their lives, including education, employment, and the justice system and are clearly regarded as inferior to men. Although they make up 70% of those enrolled in universities, women make up just 5% of the workforce in Saudi Arabia, the lowest proportion in the world. The treatment of women has been referred to as "gender apartheid”. How far are their teachings from true Islam that teaches about the equality and kind treatment of women, saying, “O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of the dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good” (4:19), and several other humane stories which I shall look at in an essay I aim to write to clarify the issue, for it is an extremely important subject.
Before moving on to the modern philosophers, I would like to (since we are going through some religious opinions on marriage at present) discuss the case of St. Augustine – one of the four major ‘doctors of the Church’. His ideas on marriage cannot be taken seriously, for they are driven, like Tolstoy, by guilt over certain aspects of his youth. He was, as Russell described, “in youth very far from a pattern of virtue” and “Like Tolstoy, he was obsessed, in his later years, by a sense of sin, which made his life stern and his philosophy inhuman”.
For instance this is what happened when he first considered marriage in his youth:
“The time came when he and his mother thought he ought to begin to think of marrying. He became engaged to a girl of whom she approved, and it was held necessary that he should break with his mistress. "My mistress," he says, "being torn from my side as a hindrance to my marriage, my heart which clave unto her was torn and wounded and bleeding. And she returned to Africa [Augustine was at this time in Milan], vowing unto Thee never to know any other man, leaving with me my son by her." As, however, the marriage could not take place for two years, owing to the girl's youth, he took meanwhile another mistress, less official and less acknowledged. His conscience increasingly troubled him, and he used to pray: "Give me chastity and continence, only not yet."At last, before the time had come for his marriage, religion won a complete victory, and he dedicated the rest of his life to celibacy.”
St. Augustine “shared the asceticism common among Christian and pagan intellectuals of his time. In particular sexual activity, and therefore marriage, would not fit well with philosophy”. I cannot regard this kind of attitude as acceptable, especially in view of the fact that I regard philosophy so highly, and the continuation of the human race more so.
Moving on, we see that Rene Descartes, it founder (a man greatly influence by Al-Gazzali “never married, but he had a natural daughter who died at the age of five; this was, he said, the greatest sorrow of his life”. The reason for his not marrying was, according to Eric Temple Bell:
“Possibly his reason for never marrying may have been, as he informed one expectant lady, that he preferred truth to beauty; but it seems more probable that he was too shrewd to mortgage his tranquility and repose to some fat, rich, Dutch widow. Descartes was only moderately well off, but he knew when he had enough. For this he has been called cold and selfish. It seems juster to say that he knew where he was going and that he realized the importance of his goal. Temperate and abstemious in his habits, he was not mean, never inflicting on his household the Spartan regimen he occasionally prescribed for himself. His servants adored him, and he interested himself in their welfare long after they had left his service. The boy who was with him at his death was inconsolable for days at the loss of his master. All this does not sound like selfishness”
With Benedict Spinoza we see how “the noblest and most lovable of all the great philosophers…(who) ethically is supreme” came to marry based on a very mutual respect for the two partners:
“As concerning marriage, it is certain that this is in harmony with reason, if the desire for physical union be not engendered solely by bodily beauty, but also by the desire to beget children and to train them up wisely; and moreover, if the love of both, to wit, of the man and of the woman, is not caused by bodily beauty only, but also by freedom of soul." ( Spinoza, Ethics, ch. IV, appendix, XX.)
He never married however, and died young, aged 45, after being excommunicated by the Jewish community.
And like the other two ‘Great Rationalists’, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz never married, although it is known that he was actively involved in them, being a political figure too. Apparently, “When any young lady at the court of Hanover married, he used to give her what he called a "wedding present," consisting of useful maxims, ending up with the advice not to give up washing now that she had secured a husband. History does not record whether the brides were grateful”. Apparently, “he had considered it at the age of fifty; but the person he had in mind asked for time to reflect. This gave Leibniz time to reflect, too, and so he never married”. It is sad that the man described by Russell as was “one of the supreme intellects of all time”, and by Eric Temple Bell, as the ‘Master of all Trades’, “Jack of all trades, master of none’ has its spectacular exceptions like any other folk proverb, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is one of them…Universal genius can be applied to Leibniz without hyperbole, as it cannot to Newton”, died in such disgrace, “He died in Hanover in 1716 embittered by ill health, plagued with gout, under secret surveillance, neglected, and almost all his works unpublished. His death was not much noted by the academies of which he was a member”. One may suppose that if he married, and lived happily with a companion, he wouldn’t have suffered that ill fate.
Moving on the Empiricists, we see that John Locke, the physician-philosopher never married or had children, and also David Hume who “as a bachelor led a "peripatetic life." At Scotland with his family he enjoyed a "sophisticated, gregarious and bucolic intellectual life.” It is unclear why both remained bachelors, although considering the intensity of their systems of thought, that may be the obvious reason – complete dedication to the world of thought. Both clearly reflected on the issue; Locke writing that “Marriage is a contract between two free, equal, consenting adults. The contract includes access to each other’s bodies. Hence, there can be no forced access to another’s body, i.e. rape, within marriage. If it can be proven that bodily harm has been done, one might be able to argue that the marriage contract does not allow for doing bodily harm”. In an essay, ‘Of Love and Marriage’, which “first appeared as essay 6 in EMP (Vol. 1, 1741)… Hume points out the fundamental source of tension in marriage: desire for security vs. desire for immediate pleasure. Hume makes his point by extending Aristophanes' allegory in Plato's Symposium.”
As for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher and Hume’s biggest opponent, and the founder of the Romantic philosophical movement, it is known that he never married, although he had a long affair with Thérèse Lavasseur who worked as a seamstress, who “was made fun of by many of those around here, and it was Rousseau's defence of her that led to friendship. He believed she had a 'pure and innocent heart'. They were soon living together (and they were to stay together, never officially married, until he died). She couldn't read well, nor write, or add up - and Rousseau tried unsuccessfully over the years to teach her. According to his Confessions, Thérèse bore five children - all of whom were given to foundling homes (the first in 1746). Voltaire later scurrilously claimed that Rousseau had dumped them on the doorstep of the orphanage. In fact the picture was rather more complex. Rousseau had argued the children would get a better upbringing in such an institution than he could offer. They would not have to put up with the deviousness of 'high society'. Furthermore, he claimed he lacked the money to bring them up properly. There was also the question of his and Thérèse's capacity to cope with child-rearing. Last, there is also some question as to whether all or any of the children were his (for example, Thérèse had an affair with James Boswell whilst he stayed with Rousseau).”
Voltaire, like Rousseau also never married; he instead “had a succession of mistresses, a not uncommon practice in his day”. He had a skeptical outlook regarding it, saying that “Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly” and “God created sex. Priests created marriage."
Neither of them give reasons for their attitude. But it is clear they did not regard it very highly. Moving on Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, we see that he too never married, something pointed out by Bertrand Russell, who wondered, “The Encyclopedia Britannica remarks that "as he never married, he kept the habits of his studious youth to old age." I wonder whether the author of this article was a bachelor or a married man.”
It is suspected that, “Given his views of sex, perhaps he felt marriage would entail acts that would do him dishonor and lower him below the level of animals.” He certainly reflected on the issue, although his idea of marriage is rather deficient, "In Rechtslehre...Kant defines marriage s "the union of two persons of different sexes for lifelong possession of each other's sexual attributes"”.
Enter then, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who broke this cycle of bachelorhood, and at the age of 41, on the 16th of September 1811 married Marie von Tucher (twenty-two years his junior) of Nuremberg, “She brought her husband no fortune, but the marriage was entirely happy. The husband kept a careful record of income and expenditure. His income amounted at Nuremberg to 1500 gulden (130) and a house; at Heidelberg, as professor, he received about the same sum; at Berlin about 3000 thalers (L300). Two sons were born to them; the elder, Karl, became eminent as a historian. The younger, Immanuel, was born on the 24th of September 1816. Hegel's letters to his wife, written during his solitary holiday tours to Vienna, the Netherlands and Paris, breathe of kindly and happy affection.”
I find Hegel an incredibly difficult philosopher to understand, and Russell once again is absolutely right in saying, “he is, I should say, the hardest to understand of all the great philosophers”. Nevertheless, I must say his ideas on marriage are among the easiest ones to understand.
He believed that, “Marriage, and especially monogamy, is one of the absolute principles on which the ethical life of a community depends”, and that, “Marriage is thus an ethical bond, not reducible to a means of procreation or satisfaction of individuals' sexual passions. Hegel's justification of monogamy, his opposition to arranged marriage, his rejection of the Kantian model of marriage as a civil contract between persons are all predicated on his view of marriage as an ethical institution”.
Nevertheless, his beliefs in the importance of marriage did not deter him from relationships prior to his marriage, and indeed the fathering of an illegitimate son, Ludwig, who was to live with the Hegels later.
After Hegel, it is usually Arthur Schopenhauer who is discussed in standard histories of philosophy. He restarted the tradition of great philosophers not marrying; he “never married, had no affairs with women of his own class, and was incapable of establishing what might be considered a normal relationship with a woman. Yet he was ready to exploit maids and other women in lesser roles who could gratify his baser will”
This is often explained by “his childhood and youth, which was traumatic. His father was a wealthy, cosmopolitan, cultured but very gloomy merchant, who was emotionally distant from the young Arthur. His mother was worse. She strongly disliked her own children. Both Arthur and his younger sister Adele would today be classified as victims of emotional and perhaps physical child abuse.”
So it is no surprise that his successor Friedrich Nietzsche was equally antagonistic towards women, and his opinions are therefore not very valuable towards an understanding of marriage. He may be regarded as a misogynist:
“He is never tired of inveighing against women. In his pseudoprophetical book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, he says that women are not, as yet, capable of friendship; they are still cats, or birds, or at best cows. "Man shall be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior. All else is folly." The recreation of the warrior is to be of a peculiar sort if one may trust his most emphatic aphorism on this subject: "Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip."
He is not always quite so fierce, though always equally contemptuous. In the Will to Power he says: "We take pleasure in woman as in a perhaps daintier, more delicate, and more ethereal kind of creature. What a treat it is to meet creatures who have only dancing and nonsense and finery in their minds! They have always been the delight of every tense and profound male soul." However, even these graces are only to be found in women so long as they are kept in order by manly men; as soon as they achieve any independence they become intolerable. "Woman has so much cause for shame; in woman there is so much pedantry, superficiality, schoolmasterliness, petty presumption, unbridledness, and indiscretion concealed . . . which has really been best restrained and dominated hitherto by the fear of man." So he says in Beyond Good and Evil, where he adds that we should think of women as property, as Orientals do. The whole of his abuse of women is offered as self-evident truth; it is not backed up by evidence from history or from his own experience, which, so far as women were concerned, was almost confined to his sister”.
Russell explained this attitude by saying that it is “an objectification of his own emotion towards them, which is obviously one of fear."Forget not thy whip"--but nine women out of ten would get the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women, and soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks”.
Anyone semi-well versed with the life of Nietzsche may challenge this last statement, stating that "The fact that Nietzsche did have syphilis may be regarded as proved (as certainly as anything of the kind can be proved)" or, as the philosopher Walter Kaufmann put it, “All we can say is, that Nietzsche very probably contracted syphilis. One thing that is puzzling about”. Kaufmann believes that Nietzsche acquired syphilis while on service in the Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871 as a medical orderly. Because syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection, Nietzsche’s beliefs are often explained as being borne out of guilt.
Herein lays the value of medical biography and systemic analysis of the medical stories of these philosophers life. Many recent publications disprove this idea, which is certainly not proved without a doubt. Leonard Sax writing a review in the ‘Journal of Medical Biography’ (Volume 11 February 2003), “When examined closely, every aspect of the syphilis hypothesis fails. In my view, there is no convincing evidence that Nietzsche ever had any form of syphilis. The time course of Nietzsche’s illness is incompatible with even the most extraordinary presentation of syphilis. The details of Nietzsche’s clinical presentation are inconsistent with syphilis. Other diagnoses are more plausible”. This is certainly more consistent with his demeanour and philosophy.
As for Karl Marx, he advocated a totalitarian system that involved "Abolition of the family”. One person reviewed this belief as follows, “Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists." As well they should. It is a disgusting concept! Karl Marx believed that the family structure was inherently exploitative; with capitalists treating their wives and children as property and bequeathing their accumulated assets to their children (he saw the concept of inheritance as a horrible evil). His solution? Children should be raised by the state, marriage and inheritance should be eliminated, and noncommital sex should be the only form of relationship. The man was a lunatic, and most people don't even have any idea how extreme and unrealistic some of his views were, because they've never bothered to read his Manifesto”.
Considering these beliefs, it becomes somewhat surprising to know that Marx had a deeply affectionate relationship with his wife, who, “even though she came from a wealthy family, she stood by Karl’s side throughout their life in poverty. In the end of almost every month she had to mortgage her china, from her family, or her tablecloths”. It is well known that, “During the first half of the 1850s the Marx family lived in poverty and constant fear of creditors in a three room flat on Dean Street in Soho, London. Marx and Jenny already had four children and three more were to follow. Of these only three survived to adulthood. Marx's major source of income at this time was Engels, who was drawing a steadily increasing income from the family business in Manchester. This was supplemented by weekly articles written as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. Inheritances from one of Jenny's uncles and her mother who died in 1856 allowed the family to move to somewhat more salubrious lodgings at 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Town a new suburb on the then-outskirts of London. Marx generally lived a hand-to-mouth existence, forever at the limits of his resources, although this did extend to some spending on relatively bourgeois luxuries, which he felt were necessities for his wife and children given their social status and the mores of the time.”
The deeply affectionate relationship was described by his daughter Elaenor Marx:
Karl was a young man of seventeen when he became engaged to Jenny. For them, too, the path of true love was not a smooth one. It is easy to understand that Karl's parents opposed the engagement of a young man of his age ... The earnestness with which Karl assures his father of his love in spite of certain contradictions is explained by the rather stormy scenes his engagement had caused in the home. My father used to say that at that time he had been a really ferocious Roland. But the question was soon settled and shortly before or after his eighteenth birthday the betrothal was formally recognised. Seven years Karl waited for his beautiful Jenny, but "they seemed but so many days to him, because he loved her so much".
On 19 June 1843 they were wedded. Having played together as children and become engaged as a young man and girl, the couple went hand in hand through the battle of life.
And what a battle! Years of bitter pressing need and, still worse, years of brutal suspicion, infamous calumny and icy indifference. But through all that, in unhappiness and happiness, the two lifelong friends and lovers never faltered, never doubted: they were faithful unto death. And death has not separated them.
His whole life long Marx not only loved his wife, he was in love with her. Before me is a love letter the passionate, youthful ardour of which would suggest it was written by an eighteen-year-old. Marx wrote it in 1856, after Jenny had borne him six children. Called to Trier by the death of his mother in 1863, he wrote from there saying he had made "daily pilgrimages to the old house of the Westphalens (in Roemerstrasse) that interests me more than the whole of Roman antiquity because it reminds me of my happy youth and once held my dearest treasure. Besides, I am askcd daily on all sides about the former 'most beautiful girl in Trier' and 'Queen of the ball'. It is damned pleasing for a man to find his wife lives on in the imagination of a whole city as a delightful princess..."
As for my hero Bertrand Russell, it is views on marriage and sex, and his negative ideas of God and religion that I find him at his weakest. He married four times, and was not a very decent man in his relationships, having numerous affairs.
He confessed in his ‘Autobiography’ that, “My most profound feelings have remained always solitary and have found in human beings no companionship. The sea, the stars, the night wind in waste places, mean more to me than even the human beings I love best, and I am conscious that human affection is to me at bottom an attempt to escape from the vain search for God” (p.261).
His most famous biographer Ray Monk felt that, “To research the personal aspects of Russell's life is to plough through a long trail of emotional wreckage that includes broken-hearted lovers, embittered ex-wives, a son who felt destroyed by his father, and grandchildren who have preserved throughout their lives a passionate hatred for him”
He came to believe, following his first marriage that, “Ever since my marriage, my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues, and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless . . . in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that”. This led to the collapse of his relationship as explained above. One of his biographers elaborates, “The flippant cleverness, on which his marriage had hitherto been based, was gone. In its place he tried, with grim determination, to put the deeper emotional concerns he had just discovered. Alys was not at all happy with this change and, after a year of trying, their marriage fell apart. They did not, however, divorce – Alys threatened to kill herself if Bertie left her – but the foundation on which their life together was based had been destroyed. Ironically, Russell, by his efforts to speak to the ‘core of loneliness’ in each person, had plunged them both into a worse loneliness than they could well have imagined. Thus, during the years in which he did his greatest work in philosophy, Russell’s personal life was unrelievedly bleak and grim. In the end, he escaped the emotional prison he had created – Alys never did, she remained devoted to him until her death.”
Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901, when Russell as he says, “went out bicycling one afternoon, and suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, I realised that I no longer loved Alys. I had had no idea until this moment that my love for her was even lessening…I did not at once tell her that I no longer loved her, but of course she pereceived something was amiss…I told her that I no longer wished to share a room, and in the end I confessed that my love was dead. I justified this attitude to her, as well as to myself, by criticisms of her character” (p.150-1). They finally divorced in 1921, after a lengthy period of separation. During this period, Russell had passionate (and often simultaneous) affairs with many women. In short, he was not a great family man.
His ideas on marriage and women are expressed in many places, but most prominently in his book, ‘Marriage and Morals’ (1929) where he “expressed his opinion that sex between a man and woman who are not married to each other is not necessarily immoral if they truly love one another, and advocated "trial marriages" or "companionate marriage," formalised relationships whereby young people could legitimately have sexual intercourse without being expected to remain married in the long term or to have children
Russell also advocated open sex education and open access to contraception, and also “advocated easy divorce, but only if the marriage had produced no children — Russell's view was that parents should remain married but tolerant of each other's sexual infidelity, if they had children. This reflected his life at the time — his second wife Dora was openly having an affair, and would soon become pregnant by another man, but Russell was keen for their children John and Kate to have a "normal" family life.”
Russell was also accepting of homosexuality, something I cannot agree with in the slightest. As explained on the ‘Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association’ website, “Humanist support for gay rights in the UK dates back to the 1950s. The process for homosexual law reform began in 1954 with the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee, and in 1958 the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) was set up. There followed a supportive letter published in The Times which was signed by the well-known Humanist philosophers Professor A. J. Ayer and Bertrand Russell, and writers J. B. Priestley and Angus Wilson (later a vice-president of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association). Professor Ayer became President of the HLRS and Antony Grey (a GALHA member) its Secretary. Largely as a result of the efforts of the HLRS, the Sexual Offences Act introduced in 1967 legalised homosexual acts in private by men over the age of 21 but, important though this reform was, it was very limited, and a campaign for complete legal equality, in which GALHA plays a part, continues”. He may have been an influence in this context on Ludwig Wittgenstein, his most famous and brilliant pupil. Although the great Austrian philosopher was “involved in a relationship with Marguerite Respinger (a young Swiss woman he had met as a friend of the family), his plans to marry her were broken off in 1931 and he never married. Most of his romantic attachments were to young men. There is considerable debate over how active Wittgenstein's homosexual life was, inspired by W. W. Bartley's claim to have found evidence of not only active homosexuality but in particular several casual liaisons with young men in the Wiener Prater park during his time in Vienna. Bartley published his claims in a biography of Wittgenstein in 1973, claiming to have his information from "confidential reports from... friends" of Wittgenstein, whom he declined to name, and to have discovered two coded notebooks unknown to Wittgenstein's executors that detailed the visits to the Prater. Wittgenstein's estate and other biographers disputed Bartley's claims and asked him to produce the sources that he claims. What has become clear, at least, is that Wittgenstein had several long-term homoerotic attachments, including an infatuation with his friend David Pinsent and long-term relationships during his years in Cambridge with Francis Skinner and Ben Richards.”
However, I would agree with those who believe that is more probable that “his sexual life was very limited as he believed that sex, and physical proximity in general, only serve to undermine true love.”
Jean-Paul Sartre is the final philosopher we will discuss here, and his relationship with Simone de Bouvoir is well known. He never married her: “"What we have," he said early on to De Beauvoir, "is an essential love; but it is a good idea for us also to experience contingent love affairs." Recording Sartre's proposal, De Beauvoir writes: "We were two of a kind, and our relationship would endure as long as we did: but it could not make up entirely for the fleeting riches to be had from encounters with different people."”. His “physical ugliness in no way impeded his startling success with women. But it might be possible that he was compensating for a mental condition that he knew to be crippling. He might have known that he was debarred by nature from telling the truth for long about anything that mattered, because telling the truth was something that ordinary men did, and his urge to be extraordinary was, for him, more of a motive force than merely to see the world as it was. This perversity—and he was perverse, whether he realized it or not—made him the most conspicuous single example in the 20th century of a fully qualified intellectual aiding and abetting the opponents of civilization”. He had numerous affairs throughout his life. I must say, the more and more I learn about Sartre’s life and philosophy, the more repulsive I find him.
Thus we can see from this survey of most great Western philosophers that they have generally been a failure in their relationships, and none of them succeeded in their married life, if they married that is. As for modern Arab philosophers, my favourite is the Egyptian Mustafa Mahmood, who also failed in his marriages, “His first marriage in 1961 was not successful, though from it, he was endowed with a girl and a boy, Amal and Adham. The marriage ended in 1973. His second marriage in 1983 was also unsuccessful and ended in 1987. The reason behind these divorces was the passion of writing that controlled his life, his preoccupation with his work and finally his isolation. Yet both of them were to be blamed. As soon as the second marriage had ended, he devoted himself totally to his mission and his goal, working as a Muslim scholar, a writer, and a thinker. At last, he was satisfied with this as his fate. Since then, he is residing in a small apartment attached to the mosque that he had built as a part of the Islamic Center in Al Dukki, carrying out his regular work. From his point of view, successful and prosperous work is to give treatment for all the physical and psychological diseases. The ability to convene between work and innovation is the most favored gift bestowed upon mankind from Allah.”
Let us now move on to a few scientists, with one or more great scientists from every century since Galileo, who was born in 1564 (with William Shakespeare) and died in 1642, the year of Isaac Newton’s birth. He can be legitimately regarded as the first scientist, as the ‘Father of Modern Science’, we see that, although he was a devout Roman Catholic, he “fathered three children out of wedlock with Marina Gamba. They had two daughters, Virginia in 1600 and Livia in 1601, and one son, Vincenzio, in 1606. Because of their illegitimate birth, their father considered the girls unmarriageable. Their only worthy alternative was the religious life. Both girls were sent to the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri and remained there for the rest of their lives. Virginia took the name Maria Celeste upon entering the convent. She died on April 2, 1634, and is buried with Galileo at the Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze. Livia took the name Sister Arcangela and was ill for most of her life. Vincenzio was later legitimized and married Sestilia Bocchineri”.
Moving on to Isaac Newton, he too never married, but he did not do so, it is felt, simply because of his studies. As explained by E.T. Bell:
“Newton began his schooling in the village schools and was later sent to The King's School, Grantham, where he became the top student in the school. At King's, he lodged with the local apothecary, William Clarke and eventually became engaged to the apothecary's stepdaughter, Anne Storer, before he went off to the University of Cambridge at the age of 19. As Newton became engrossed in his studies, the romance cooled and Miss Storer married someone else. It is said he kept a warm memory of this love, but Newton had no other recorded "sweet-hearts" and never married.”
It is generally believed by experts from Oxford and Cambridge Universities that “Newton exhibited three key symptoms of high functioning Aspergers (HFA) syndrome: obsessive interests, difficulty in social relationships, and problems communicating. Newton seems like a classic case. He hardly spoke, was so engrossed in his work that he often forgot to eat, and was lukewarm or bad-tempered with the few friends he had. If no one turned up to his lectures, he gave them anyway, talking to an empty room. He had a nervous breakdown at 50, brought on by depression and paranoia.” This may be of great relevance to me.
Moving on to the greatest theoretical scientist of the 19th century, James Clerk Maxwell, we see a huge contrast to his predecessor ‘great’(Newton) and his successor ‘great’ (Einstein). Probably he is one of only two great mathematicians or scientists who may have something positive to show about marriage (the other being Leonhard Euler). In 1858, he married his wife Katherine, who was seven years Maxwell's senior (one of a few famous people I know who married ladies older than them. The most famous of course is the prophet Muhammad). One of Maxwell's biographers “described their married life as "one of unexampled devotion"”. Another of his biographers, J. G. Crowther wrote of his compassion and self-sacrificing attitude as follows, “During the last years of his life, his wife was an invalid. He nursed her personally with the most assiduous care…. When the earlier symptoms of his own fatal disease became evident to himself, he told no one of them for along time. As he grew worse and suffered severe pain he never complained, except that he would not be able to continue to nurse his sick wife.”
Another wrote, “There was a single-heartedness to Maxwell, a depth of unity in his life as a whole, a unity of his nature. He exhibited not only scientific industriousness, but also basic poetic feeling and imagination. He was profoundly sincere. At the same time he had an overflowing humor; there was elasticity in his step, a sparkle in his eye. He was an avid reader, particularly of English literature. It was said there was "not a single subject on which he cannot talk and talk well." He had a retentive memory and a facility for versification. His marriage to Katherine M. Dewar, daughter of the Principal of Marischal, was a happy one; together they read the English classics. He was devoted to her; his dying glance was fixed on her-a sort of mystical marriage. He rode with her; he walked with his dog. He had a tenderness for all living things.” In many ways, this reminds me of the great Prophet. Maxwell was, despite his genius, and incredible intellectual burden, a man full of love. If there is one scientist I would like to emulate, it is him. I think a great deal of this inner beauty has to do with Maxwell’s devoutness and love of God.
The other great scientist of the 19th century was Michael Faraday, arguably the greatest experimental scientist of all time. He too was a married man, but his marriage was of an entirely different type to most others we hear about. It is almost a challenge of sorts. As one of his biographers says:
“Michael Faraday was so dedicated to his work and the search for scientific truth that he had no time for thoughts of women or marriage. He even wrote some lines about marriage …
What is the pest and plague of human life?
And what is the curse that often brings a wife?
One of Faraday's church friends, Edward Barnard, gleefully told his sister Sarah about Faraday's anti-love poem. Whether she took this as a challenge we shall never know, but she very rapidly made a great impression on Faraday. Michael was a good looking and successful young man. Sarah was a warm, charming attractive young woman. It was not long before Faraday was pursuing her with all the energy he had previously given to his work. Fortunately both Sarah and her family liked Michael - indeed Sarah's feelings went well beyond mere liking! On 12 June 1821 Sarah Barnard and Michael Faraday were married, a partnership of deep love and affection which was to last throughout their lives.
They shared and enjoyed Michael's years of success, but they had one personal sadness to deal with. They both loved children and the company of young people, but it became clear they were never going to be able to have a child of their own. Sarah poured much of her maternal feelings into looking after her absent-minded husband and various of their nieces spent most of their childhood with their beloved aunt and uncle.”
But what about Einstein. He too married a lady older than him by about four years, but it is well known that he and his future wife Mileva Marić had a daughter, Lieserl Einstein, born in early 1902, before they were married on January 6, 1903 (although “Einstein's (Jewish) mother had objected to the match because she had a prejudice against Serbs and thought Marić "too old" and "physically defective."”, and he had numerous affairs while he was married, most famously in 1912 when he had a new math collaborator, Marcel Grossman and a “new lover, his cousin, Elsa Loewenthal. On his 34th birthday, he got a card from Elsa. That evening, Mileva was absent from a party.” In a letter in 1914, Albert Eisntein “delivered a long list of rules to Mileva, with commands such as, "you must answer me at once when I speak to you"” (so much for speaking politely and respectfully to your wife). After his second child Hans was born, according to one visitor, “their house was a mess. Einstein tried to help, but his heart wasn't in it. He would carry the baby while trying to write his equations on a pad.”
After he divorced his first wife, in 1919, “Einstein felt free to marry Elsa. His main attraction to her was her cooking. He also felt grateful to her because she had taken care of him when he was ill with stomach problems. There was no passion between them. Nevertheless, they were married on June 2, 1919, three and a half months after his divorce from Mileva. Einstein was 40 and Elsa was 43. Their marriage seems to have been platonic. Although some of Einstein's friends criticized Elsa's eagerness for fame, she was receptive of her husband's importance and was able to create a nice environment for Einstein to work in. Her efficiency in running the household made Einstein's life much easier. As happened during his marriage to Mileva, problems developed because of Einstein's flirting with other women. He was very famous, and women all over the world were attracted to him”.
Einstein therefore was a failure with regards to married and family life. This may have to do something with his Aspergerian personality.
Perhaps one of the finest examples of a scientist’s marriage in the 20th century is that of the Curies. It was based and nurtured on love based on a common goal – scientific success and search for truth:
“When Marie and Pierre met, neither was looking for romantic attachments. Marie’s memories of the Kazimierz affair were still painful, and Pierre had not recovered from the tragic death of a girl he had loved since childhood. Science had become a priesthood for him, and marriage had not seemed possible. When he was twenty-two, he wrote in his diary, “Women, much more than men, love life for life’s sake. Women of genius are rare. . . . [When] we give all our thoughts to some work which removes us from those immediately about us, it is with women that we have to struggle, and the struggle is nearly always an unequal one. For in the name of life and nature they seek to lead us back.” But in Marie Sklodowska, Pierre Curie found the rarity, a “woman of genius,” someone with extraordinary talent, and as consecrated as he was to a life in science. He softened his position on love and marriage, and set out to win the slightly overwhelmed Marie. Later he told her that it was the only time in his life that he acted without hesitation.
It was a troubling dilemma for Marie. If she accepted Pierre and a permanent life in France, it meant for her “abandoning my country and my family.” She left Paris in doubt in the summer of 1894 and returned to Poland. Pierre wrote letters spinning his hopes and begging her to return in October. “It would be a beautiful thing,” he wrote, “a thing I dare not hope, if we could spend our life near each other hypnotized by our dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream.” Marie returned in the fall with her doubts dispelled. Marie and Pierre were married in July 1895 at the town hall in Sceaux, a suburb of Paris where Pierre’s parents lived. The wedding party then walked to the Curie family home, where the reception was held. “It was a beautiful day,” writes Marie Curie’s most recent biographer, Susan Quinn, “and the garden was overflowing with the irises and roses of late July. Marie’s father and sister Helena had come from Warsaw. And of course Marie’s sister Bronia was there, along with Kazimierz [Dluski], mixing with the more numerous members of the Curie family. It was, Helena remembers, a ‘joyous atmosphere.’”
Even the quadriplegia of Stephen Hawking did not spare him the torment of divorce; and he went through that twice, “Jane Hawking, née Wilde, Hawking’s first wife, with whom he had three children, cared for him until 1991 when the couple separated, reportedly due to the pressures of fame and his increasing disability. Hawking married his nurse, Elaine Mason (who was also the previous wife of David Mason, designer of the first version of Hawking’s talking computer), in 1995. In October 2006, Hawking filed for divorce” – this, as far as I know, has not yet been granted.
Moving finally to great mathematicians, we notice a very interesting feature – not common to great philosophers or scientists. It is that they generally led happy married lives. This is something attested to by Eric Temple Bell in the introduction to his brilliant book, ‘Men of Mathematics’:
“Another characteristic calls for mention here, as several writers (some from Hollywood) have asked that it be treated - the sex life of great mathematicians. In particular these inquirers wish to know how many of the great mathematicians have been perverts - a somewhat indelicate question possibly, but legitimate enough to merit a serious answer in these times of preoccupation with such topics. None. Some lived celibate lives, usually on account of economic disabilities, but the majority were happily married and brought up their children in a civilized, intelligent manner”.
Bell includes in his book a number of men who I wouldn’t regard as pure mathematicians – since they were deeply engrossed and contributed to other studies. These include Descrates, Newton and Leibniz, all of whom we already discussed.
So if we ignore these three, and perhaps also Blaise Pascal, who also never married but can be classified as more of a Christian theologian than a mathematician, and look at most of the other men in Bell’s book – we see this recurring theme of stability. Pierre de Fermat, famous for Fermat’s Last Theorem, married and raised three children; the name of his wife is unknown. He married at about the age of 29, “once (he) had established himself in a career with a steady source of income”. Leonhard Euler, the most prolific of all mathematicians (‘Analysis Incarnate’) also married once his income became stable, and he led a happy family life as the following extract shows, “With the improvement in his finances that came with the mathematics professorship, Euler could afford to marry, and he took as his wife Katharina Gsell, the daughter of a Swiss painter whom Peter the Great had invited to his court. He and Katharina had 13 children in their 40 years together. Although only five of those children survived to adulthood, they managed to produce a large number of grandchildren—26 were alive at the time of Euler’s death. Family life seems to have suited the great mathematician. Euler boasted that he could write mathematical papers with an infant on his knee—a claim that would be impressive even for a writer who traded only in words”.
He married his second wife, Katarina’s half sister, after she died, and remained with her until he died. He is an example of a very stable man, and once again, the key in his success seems to be his religious attitude to life – Euler trained initially to become a theologian and was a very deeply religious man, as I explain elsewhere.
His contemporary Joseph Lagrange, the ‘lofty pyramid of the mathematical sciences’ also married only once he was financially stable. The story of his marriage is recounted by Eric Temple Bell and other biographers. Apparently, “When d’Alembert wrote to congratulate Lagrange on his first marriage and the happiness he was certain to derive from it, Lagrange responded that he had no taste for marriage, and would have avoided it altogether if not for his need of a nurse and housekeeper to provide him with the quiet conveniences necessary for a life of research.”
He married his cousin Vittoria Conti, and wrote to the mathematician d'Alembert, “My wife, who is one of my cousins and who even lived for a long time with my family, is a very good housewife and has no pretensions at all”. He too seemed to be happily married, until “the wife declined in a lingering illness. Lagrange gave up his sleep to nurse her himself and was heart broken when she died”. Like Euler, he married again, It and his second wife, Renee-Francoise-Adelaide Le Monnie, was the daughter of one his colleagues, and was with him until he died.
His contemporary and work rival Marquis Laplace also married, although his wife, Marie-Charlotte de Courty de Romanges, was 20 years younger than the 39 year old Laplace when they married. They had two children.
Like Euler and Lagrange, the ‘Prince of Mathematicians’ Karl Friedrich Gauss married twice, and like Fermat and most others, it is mainly because of his increase in wealth, due to the fact that “the Duke of Brunswick increased the young man’s pension and made it possible for him to marry”. He was delighted when he married Johanna Ostoff in 1805. He expressed his happiness in the following words to his friend Wolfgang Bolyai three days after he became engaged, “Life stands still before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant colours”. It was a marriage that lasted only for four years, as his wife died after the birth of his third child, Louis. He never recovered from her loss, but married again (Johanna’s best friend) the following year for the sake of his children. When his second wife died in 1831 after a long illness, his daughter Therese, took over the household and cared for him until his death. There is a famous story about Gauss that when, according to Isaac Asimov, he was once interrupted in the middle of a problem and told that his wife was dying. He is purported to have said, "Tell her to wait a moment till I'm done." This anecdote is briefly discussed by Waldo Dunnington in ‘Gauss, Titan of Science’ who suggests that “it is an apocryphal story”. It is unlikely to have occurred considered the affection that he had for his wives.
The next greatest mathematician after Gauss is probably Bernhard Riemann, who only married late, at the age of 36. As described by Eric Temple Bell, “His material affairs having improved considerably with his appointment to the full professorship, Riemann was in a position to marry…His wife, Elise Koch, was a friend of his sisters.” Unfortunately, “Barely a month after his marriage, Riemann fell ill in July 1962 with pleurisy. An incomplete recovery ended in consumption”. He is known to have loved his wife, and had one daughter from her, who was three by the time he died because of consumption (tuberculosis).
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Henri Poincare, the last universalist (who died in 1912) was the greatest mathematician – and he too was happily married to Poulain d'Andecy, and together they had four children, while at the turn of the twentieth, the greatest is possibly Andrew Wiles, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem, is married to Nada Canaan Wiles, and he enjoyed her full support “while holed up in his attic for seven years proving Fermat's Last Theorem”.
The men of mathematics therefore seem to be the most stable bunch. The same picture of stability is depicted in ‘Women in Mathematics: The Addition of Difference’ by Claudia Henrion.
As for physicians, I really do not know about the lives of many great physicians. But it seems that, “Doctors, police officers, and firefighters have a higher risk of divorce than other professionals, but divorce in the military is the highest of all. Research shows that 20 percent of all marriages fall apart within two years when one spouse is on active duty.” In a book devoted to the subject, we read, “A review of the literature suggests that doctors have more than their fair share of marital unhappiness….Descriptions of the frustrated, loyal, uncomplaining doctor's wife are especially eloquent.” Apparently, in a longitudinal prospective study, Vaillant et al (1972) found much more discord in physicians' marriages than in those of matched controls. In addition, “Nearly half the doctors in their sample had an unstable marriage; many had considered divorce or had unsatisfying sexual relations…. The incidence of divorce was greatest among psychiatrists and orthopaedic surgeons…. Studies by Garvey and Tuason (1979) and by Rose and Rosow (1972) reveal that divorce is less common than average among physicians. Physician couples are apparently willing to tolerate more marital tension that most…. The average amount of time spent with patients in a medical specialty was inversely related with its divorce rate….Specialists seeing fewer patients, such as pathologists, and preventive medicine specialists, tended to have more stable marriages…Female doctors were at least 40% more prone to divorce than men, and black physicians nearly 70% more likely to divorce than their white colleagues….Divorce rates among physicians have been reported to be 10% to 20% higher than those in the general population. Furthermore, those couples that include a physician who remain married reported marriages that are more unhappy. Much has been written about the "medical marriage," and some problems have been reported as widespread among physicians' marriages. For many years in pre-med college, medical school, and residency, physicians focus on getting through the next hurdle. They may postpone the pleasures of life that others enjoy. It has been hypothesized that this psychology of postponement may be related to compulsive traits. In particular, the compulsive personality traits that are widely heralded as being key ingredients in professional success may have the unwanted consequence of leading to more distant relationships. Many physicians place work above all else, and it has been speculated that this may serve the purpose for them of helping to avoid intimacy, thus placing strain on intimate relationships.”
Perhaps the best way to get a stable marriage then, is to either, marry a mathematician, is marrying a mathematician, or perhaps restarting one’s career and become a mathematician! Alternatively, there is the simpler option of not aspiring for greatness – there are many happy men and women out there who never aspired for greatness. Greatness comes at a price – and in many cases, unless a mathematician is involved, it comes at the price of a happy marriage.
One wonders why mathematicians have such a small divorce rate, and seem to be among the happiest in their marriages than other professionals. I do not have a reason for this, but one can speculate that, the woman or man, on marrying a mathematician, knows that they are marrying someone who is devoted to ‘other worldliness’ – the world of number. They know with this, that their partner needs a special atmosphere of calm at home to function, for the creation of mathematics has no time or place, and their thoughts are always going to be occupied with their subject (to a small or large extent, depending on their degree of freedom). That may explain their small divorce rate – in a full understanding of the needs of their job.
But why are mathematicians married in the first place! Who would want to marry a person preoccupied with another world? I think one answer lies in the fact that they are full of love of beauty, making them great romantics, like the greatest poets and artists. However, the beauty they deal with is the highest sort of beauty – which addresses the intellect directly, and does not appeal to the lower instincts of man. It is the beauty of a great intellect, and a great intellectual pursuit, which may make mathematicians, despite their well known absent mindedness and messiness, quite attractive. It is the attractiveness of a great intellect, single minded in its great pursuits. I can imagine it to be a great pleasure to support someone in their pursuit of such eternal truths as mathematical theories are (or seem to be [which of course, as we have known since Godel, they aren’t]). As explained by a French mathematician, "The life of a mathematician is dominated by an insatiable curiosity, a desire bordering on passion to solve the problems he is studying, which can cut him off completely from the realities around him. The absent mindedness or eccentricity of famous mathematicians comes simply from this".
Mathematicians are also among the least demanding of all professionals. All that they need to function is a thinking mind, pen, paper and a wastebasket. (I remember coming across a great joke - A physics professor comes to his dean and says: "We need another million dollars to upgrade our particle accelerator". Dean moans: "Why can't you guys be like folks from math department? - they only need a pen, a paper, and a waste basket". The professor replies: "Did you mean folks from philosophy department? - they only need a pen and a paper"). There may be something attractive in someone so undemanding, and so elevated over the simple, temporary pleasures of life, which they forego for the sake of their great intellectual pursuit, which is so close to being divine. It is not surprising that mathematicians, out of all specialists, have the greatest percentage of believers in God. As I explained in another essay:
“My own feeling is that perhaps the intersection between mathematics and the divine is the magnificent precision of the creation, the like of mathematical theorems and solutions. Perhaps it is because mathematicians, who are trained in the understanding of abstract ideas, are more likely to hold on to a belief in – if God may be described thus – an Abstract Being. Perhaps it is because mathematicians are the ones who are daily using arguably the highest faculty of the human mind, mathematical reasoning. I am personally of the opinion that mathematical thought is superior to all other forms of thought – not just because it is so precise, which it is. It is chiefly because mathematical proofs are eternal, whereas scientific theories are not. The proof of Pythagoras’ theorem or the infinity of prime numbers for example will never be invalidated. This is unlike scientific theory – which may change with time. We now know Newtonian physics, for example, is not applicable to the subatomic world, and we need the ideas of quantum physics for that. Before the advent of quantum mechanics, matter was thought to be pretty much solid with no space. How little did we know, with the realization that the majority of matter is just empty space!? Before Einstein, energy and matter were thought to be two distinct things, and light was simply a set of waves. With his theory of relativity, and its devastating proof in the ruins of Hiroshima, all this was ended, and we think of light as part particulate, part wave. Another reason for my belief is because of what Eugene Wigner described as ‘The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics’. This is the ability of mathematics, seemingly a product of the human mind, to be applied with such great effectiveness to the natural world. How can mathematics make predictions about nature? This is a mystery that has dumbfounded everyone, but it has led some to make statements like this, “I learned to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics.” ,“This result is too beautiful to be false; it is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment.”, and finally, “If one is working from the point of view of getting beauty into one's equations, one is on a sure line of progress.” All of these are the words of Paul Dirac, one of my mathematical heroes, a Nobel Prize winner who many feel had a greater mind than that of Einstein – quite a statement to make. Mathematics is one of the greatest of human endeavours, and no one has described it in more mystical terms than Bertrand Russell, “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.”Perhaps it is because of this supreme beauty that mathematicians have a greater affinity to God than most. Is it not reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “God is beautiful, and He loves beauty”?”
Of course, it is self explanatory why marriage rates are highest among the traditionally religious people (marriage being a religious injunction in Islam and Judaism) and divorce least among them (being regarded as “the most detestable of all things permitted”). But putting these traditionalists aside, we can probably see that being religious – in the sense of devotion to beauty and higher ideals – is a key to success in all marriages. That may be one reason why Maxwell, Euler, and others like them had successful marriages. They were extremely passionate men, who, if they were not directly engaged with their studies, devoted themselves to the love of their wives and families. They were men full of love, which extended to the creation and to other human beings – especially their companions in the struggle for the search for beauty. Indeed, it is not for no reason that it is reported that the Prophet said, “Scientists are the successors of the prophets”, those who reflect on verses like the following, “Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and (in) the difference of night and day are tokens (of His Sovereignty) for men of understanding. Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire” (3:192-193).
The decision to marry is clearly going to be a very difficult one. I am a man full of passion, and the desire for companionship is a biological one. The question is – would I ever find someone who is able to fulfill that not unimportant biological role, yet support my intellectual pursuits.
The great problem that I face is that I am a philosopher at heart, and as we saw, Socrates was mainly right – there is no such thing as a happily married philosopher, or if they exist, they are a very rare specimen of mankind. I am continuously thinking and reflecting, and never give my mind a true break. My greatest happiness lies in solitude, reading, researching, analyzing and synthesizing, and eventually writing. The delight I get out of finding and reading a good book, or understanding a beautiful idea, is unmatched by anything else that happens in my life.
I do wish to marry, to find a person whom I could shower with love, who would also be devoted to my ideals. But is that even possible I wonder? It will be very difficult, but only time will tell if I will find her or not.
The difficulty lies in the fact that I am eccentric. I have to admit it. Most of my opinions are different to most of those I meet, and I fear expressing them because I fear being treated as an eccentric. I do not fear being eccentric in opinion (following Bertrand Russell’s great advice, “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once regarded as eccentric”) but fear being treated differently. Will I find a lady who will accept my eccentricity the way it is? It will be very difficult, if not impossible….But only time will tell.
 As exposed by Said Aburish, “To (Ibn Saud) a woman was no more than a combination of a source of pleasure and a breeding machine, an exchangeable commodity, and his response to a complaint about keeping his harem in a windowless basement was to state that ‘windows let lovers in’…Ibn Saud turned sex into an instrument of policy…He confided …that he had had several hundred virgins and he was in a habit of deflowering young girls then giving them away as presents”. For more, see Aburish, ‘The House of Saud’ (2001).