... It's about us. I've steered clear of commenting on this, because I really have better things to think about than an unfaithful golfer (not a real sport, by the way), staggering though his unfaithfulness might have been. But now I find myself interested - not in Tiger, he still bores me - but in everyone who is interested in Tiger. In The Philosopher and the Wolf, I talked about how vicious we apes are, and I got a lot of flak for it. But there is no better illustration of what I was talking about than the Tiger Woods affair.

Why does anyone care? Why does anyone think it is any of their business? Hanging on every word of his show trial confession: was his contrition sincere, or wasn't it. How many of Joe and Jane Q Public had a camera stuck in their face and asked precisely this. And they all had any opinion. They all cared. Was his confession 'staged"? Well, of course it bloody was: there were cameras for God's sake. Contrary to what he said, Woods let no one down except his wife. She's the only one to whom he promised, presumably, to forsake all others. Consequently, it's the business of nobody except Woods and his wife. This fascination, this faux moral outrage, is really all about power. For a little while at least, we can look down on, and feel superior to, someone who is, so I'm told, a rather good golfer, and consequently, in this world gone mad, extraordinarily rich. The ape in us likes seeing the powerful suffer since it makes us feel better about our own little lives. Is he sincere? Let's decide he's not and make him suffer some more.

This brings me to what really puzzles me. Why does Woods cooperate? Why not simply tell everyone to f**k off and mind their own business? I can understand when some sleazy politician feels the need to confess his numerous extra-marital sins and beg for forgiveness. His livelihood rests on getting people to like him. Or at least vote for him. That's why the wronged better half usually plays ball too. But Tiger doesn't need anyone to like him - he just needs to be better at golf than they are. The sponsors won't touch Tiger now, I hear. And Elin will take vast swathes of his fortune in the divorce settlement, I'm told. But even after all of this, he'll still be rich beyond the wildest dreams of most of us (and I can have some pretty wild dreams). How much money do you actually need in a single lifetime? And, if short of a little pocket money, he can always go back to beating everyone on the golf circuit and pocketing the prize money (or at least a portion thereof established in the divorce courts). I always thought the best thing about having money - once you get above a certain threshold practically the only good reason really - is so that you don't have to give a crap what people think about you; and don't have to indulge their petty jealousies and desire to seek revenge on you for whatever is wrong in their lives. Tiger has lost the plot in more ways than one.

29 comments 29 comments ( 4358 views )

In answer to Mark's comment about missing the point of the book - oh no, I got his apriori point that the smarter you are, the meaner you can be, but it just doesn't cash out empirically.

The social insects, which I think examples like 'sphexishness' and 'foul brood' show not to be the brightest of sparks, do vile things to each other as a long feature in 'Nature' a few years ago discussed. The article begins:

"Murder, torture and imprisonment - these are the standard tools of repressive regimes. But if you imagine that human societies have a monopoly on such tactics, think again. Social insects perfected the police state long before people got in on the act." (it can be found here:

Equally, wolf mortality rates from internecine conflict versus that of smarter animals again shows that the theory doesn't match the practice, hence my attack on only using chimpanzees as an example.

However, more fundamental than that is a failure to explain exactly where one can 'stand', philosophically-speaking, in order to judge our moral concepts such as 'justice'. Calling it malicious implies a moral judgement of morality itself, which, unless it is just an empty assertion of preference, requires a detailed explanation of where this ur-morality derives from.

In all, I think Mark's stance in the book on man versus wolf has neither basis in biology nor philosophy, but, to quote Ludwig Wittgenstein in another context, " “That you are inclined in this way, I should say, is a fact of psychology.” Of course, I myself also have sufficient self-hatred (for that is the root, is it not?), to strongly sympathise with Mark's view.

No UserpicReb
" The point I was trying to make was that, in my view, based on the "vibes" I got from seeing his televised apology, his therapists (he has publicly stated he is working with therapists) are basically exploiting the situation by convincing him that his 'problem' does extends beyond his family (which I do not think it does). "

I didn't see his televised apology so I can't comment, I don't tend to watch things like that as I don't think they're my business. Oddly enough so many of you did see it though - by accident or design.

I'm not sure it's possible to get vibes off the tele, I suspect that this might be more projection than anything else, to borrow therapist speak.

But even if it's true that they convinced him of this, then I think they're right. Our actions have all kinds of consequences. His adultery will have affected himself, his wife, his children, the rest of his family, his children's future partners and families, his mistresses families, future partners and families, his lawyers, their families, his friends, his business associates, his sponsors, other sportsmen and women and their partners (he will have sown seeds of doubt about their fidelity), the rest of society as there will be many who will see his behavior as a model for their own, it's affected my life slightly in that my friend thought it showed men shouldn't have to be faithful and that women are prepared to put up with infidelity to maintain a standard of living and this has leant more weight to that belief so it's made me have less respect for my friend. So you get the picture. I think we have the right to comment on and to take an interest in that which affects us. It's not that he's famous, it's that he's a human being.

Userpicstephen haff
Wonderful! We're on the verge of having our own permanent home in the neighborhood!

No UserpicArabella
To Reb - I don't think I said anything that I wouldn't say directly to Tiger, if he were, for some peculiar reason, to ask me what I thought about the whole thing. I did not in any way intend to "undermine his motives and sanity". The point I was trying to make was that, in my view, based on the "vibes" I got from seeing his televised apology, his therapists (he has publicly stated he is working with therapists) are basically exploiting the situation by convincing him that his 'problem' does extends beyond his family (which I do not think it does).

I will admit that I would have difficulty expressing this directly to his therapists, though. I did intend to undermine their motives. :-)

UserpicMark Rowlands
My pleasure, Stephen. And I'm still planning on paying your group a visit as soon as I possibly can. M

Userpicstephen haff
Thanks, Mark, for the support.

No UserpicReb
\\\"Presumably, what you see as self-loathing is the reference to selfishness displayed by humans. I call it realism - looking around at the world. Of course this isn\\\'t the only characteristic, but it seems to be fairly salient\\\"

Well maybe we see what we\\\'re looking for. I think the way we describe others and the world around us is a reflection of our own \\\'souls\\\', we tend to see a reflection of ourselves wherever we look.

I don\\\'t see humans as any more selfish than anything else in this world, in fact considerably less so when you consider all the wonderful things they do for each other and those who can\\\'t do anything in return, which according to Mark, is the measure of real morality. I think there is a real danger here of misanthropy on the rather shaky basis that ex rugby players look less graceful than wolves when they\\\'re running!

If people on this site don\\\'t care about Tiger Woods, why are they spending so much time talking about him? In public, behind his back I might add. Speculating, undermining, gossiping, bitching? This is a real person, not an abstract concept. How would the posters here like to find themselves being discussed on the internet in this way?

If you all really believe what you\\\'re saying - that this is his private business, then respect that.

If on the other hand, you think it\\\'s all of our business (as I do) then why not show the honesty of admitting that and the courtesy of talking in a way you might if he were in the room?

UserpicMark Rowlands
Hi Pauline,

Alex the Bullfighter, as I like to think of him, missed the point of the book is quite spectacular fashion. So what if there are peacable apes. Everyone knows that. So what if wolves kill other wolves. Eveyone knows that too. My claim was that increased cognitive sophistication (in the form of a theory of mind, roughly) makes possible a certain kind of malice that would otherwise not be possible, and this malice lies at the heart of what we call justice.

Way too complicated for a bullfighter wannabe. In general, I always find it wise not to engage with people impervious to reason, and this is my last word on the matter.

All the best,


UserpicMark Rowlands
Hi Everyone,

Thanks to Stephen for sending on the address of his stillwaters website. The blog makes really good reading, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I believe several other contributors (Arabella, Claire, etc?) also have blogs which I've looked at and enjoyed. Please feel free to post details here if you like.


For what it’s worth (to digress further), I note Alexander Fiske-Hamilton has spent time in (and written about) the bullring:

and: ,

which somewhat undermines his credibility for me. No amount of reasoning can convince me that killing an animal for the purposes of “sport” or “art” (not that I can perceive bullfighting as art), or any other form of entertainment, is justifiable.

There is a hierarchy of gratuitousness where cruelty and killing is concerned and bullfighting comes fairly high on the list. I can’t get inside the head of someone who enjoys inflicting or watching suffering. Turning a blind eye to it, whilst enjoying the by-product (ie food), is of a slightly different order.

Fiske-Hamilton has also written on animal self-awareness in the context of whaling:

(Sorry, this posting probably belongs on another thread).

OK, so to prevent the appearance of a cosy love-in, I’ll make reference to a contrary review I read of Wolf, by writer Alexander Fiske-Harrison.

He says the book… “ignores the more peaceful and highly sexualised bonobo, the vegetarian and massively strong gorilla and the lonesome man of the forest, the Orang-Utan. Equally, his descriptions of lupine behaviour are highly selective.”

And shows a picture of a wolf that has evidently been circled by a pack of others for a long time: “In the centre of a snowy landscape is a single wolf, lying abjectly on the ground, around him the circling paw-prints of the other ten members of his pack. They must have circled many times for the snow is flat, and then departed, their tracks going off to where they are now resting some distance from this lone victim. The caption reads, “A pack may single out an individual ’scapegoat’ for special abuse.” For, as Peterson’s colleagues, David Mech and Luigi Boitani, wrote in their seminal compilation Wolves: Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation, “killing by other wolves is one of the commonest causes of natural wolf mortality.”’

I have no idea if the latter statement is true, but the picture is pretty sobering – and that is a fair point about the more peaceful species of ape.

Taking the notions of sycophancy and "self-loathing" separately (which presumably is what is meant). Well, maybe there is a more than usual degree of courtesy and respect displayed towards participants on this site than you might find on other discussion forums. But, then I've seen on others an undue level of abuse, with the apparent difficulty of having disagreements without personalising and without offence being taken - and with a generally more acerbic nature.

I think it's a symptom of liaising via the internet, whereby the complex signals normally exchanged during face to face interaction are absent. So, people may express either annoyance or humility and reassurance more emphatically than they otherwise would.

Speaking for myself, I do genuinely appreciate the range of contributions and find the level of debate here pretty high. I wouldn't call it sycophancy to say so.

Presumably, what you see as self-loathing is the reference to selfishness displayed by humans. I call it realism - looking around at the world. Of course this isn't the only characteristic, but it seems to be fairly salient, with sometimes severe consequences where exercised. There's always scope for self-scrutiny and improvement. We are given the wherewithal to look into ourselves, which other species aren't.

No UserpicReb
"I think his feelings were/are heartfelt, but I think some of his wording, particularly about "letting down those who have viewed me as a role model" and other references to the world outside of his family came from another source, and my instinct is that other source is the therapist(s). I think his therapists convinced him that he needed to make a public apology, in part to make it appear to him and to the world that his 'problem' is bigger than it really is, making prolonged therapy necessary.

That's my take, but I'm just a malicious ape."

Yes that is a more than usually malicious interpretation of events. Well done on undermining not only his motives, but his sanity and moral reasoning skills!

What's with all the sycophantic self-loathing that is going on on this site?

I've also had a look at Balaji's blog, and, I agree, a lot of very interesting pieces there. Will keep an eye on that one. (Unfortunately, not enough hours in the day to be attentive to everything whilst also going to work and underaking all the other routine commitments).

Userpicstephen haff
Just visited and posted a comment on Balaji's blog! I agree with Mark, it's beautiful! I had a similar experience when I got to hold a chicken in my arms and feel her trust.
I welcome any and all comments on The blog there is my synthesis of what happened at the last meeting, but I believe the ideas and questions have wide appeal.
Anyone who's anywhere near Brooklyn, New York, or globetrotters from anywhere, I invite you to join us. We read THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE WOLF and it changed our outlook and thinking in the best ways. A real, live arctic wolf even joined a meeting (photos are on the site)! We are a reading, writing, speaking, listening and thinking group for all ages (as young as 6 participate; mostly teens and 20s) in the heart of an economically desperate area. We practice compassion.
I would love to open communication among the various sites brought together by Mark. I feel we have a kinship, and it's heartening to me, in the world of TV and money.

Userpicstephen haff
Primo Levi: “Anyone who has obeyed nature by transmitting a piece of gossip experiences the explosive relief that accompanies the satisfying of a primary need.”--from "About Gossip."
Haven't yet found the whole essay. I think it supports Arabella's analysis.

Thank you so much for your kind words. I am just a novice.
200* was very very special indeed. Max send his hugs and puppy kisses to you.

UserpicMark Rowlands
Thanks Araballa for an excelent analysis. Makes my post look positively simplistic. Please ignore the cheap wind-up about golf not being a real sport. I was just interested in seeing who would take the bait. M

UserpicMark Rowlands
Thanks Balaji. Fascinating stuff. Love your blog too! The 200* was pretty special wasn't it. Never thought I'd see it in my lifetime. M

No UserpicReb
I think that good and evil are essentially socially evolved group behaviours. What is good is what is good for the pack, what is evil is what is bad for the pack. So for example, it's unpredictable violence that we deem evill (random murder), not organised violence (revenge attacks, warfare, etc). And whereas adultery used to be considered a great social evil because of the dangers it presented to the tribal, arable society, nowadays it's been redefined as an insult to an individual party (the cheated partner) - this just reflects our changing understanding of how the pack operates.

Morality is just the rational system for codifying all that.

I still believe in society rather than the individual, and that morality has wider implications than the immediately, obvious target of it.

Userpicstephen haff
Primo Levi wrote an essay about gossip, saying that people gossip because they feel powerful having and controlling the flow of information. I think that's what he said. It's been years since I read it. I think it's just called "Gossip." I will try to find it.
I wonder how widespread narcissism is.

No UserpicArabella
I'm guessing anyone who thinks golf "isn't a real sport," has never tried to hit a teeny tiny golf ball with a club face only slightly bigger than the ball on the end of a four-foot long shaft. (And yes, as Pauline points out, golf is a horrid waste of arable land.)

I digress.

The main comment I wish to make is that since reading "Philosopher and the wolf" (the first time), I keep seeing more and more evidence of the maliciousness of us humans. (I would like to cite some examples here but they've fallen out of my head at the moment.) However the frenzy around Tiger Woods was an example that had escaped me. Thanks, Mark, I needed another bit of evidence!

As for why Eldrick (aka Tiger) "cooperates," I think Pauline's point about needing the public recognition is a good one. But also, from watching his statement (yes, I watched it; not live, but I did watch it at the end of that day because, hey, I used to be a golfer and I admire the guy - as a golfer) - it struck me that he was sort of following orders, presumably from the "therapists" he is being "treated" by. I think his feelings were/are heartfelt, but I think some of his wording, particularly about "letting down those who have viewed me as a role model" and other references to the world outside of his family came from another source, and my instinct is that other source is the therapist(s). I think his therapists convinced him that he needed to make a public apology, in part to make it appear to him and to the world that his 'problem' is bigger than it really is, making prolonged therapy necessary.

That's my take, but I'm just a malicious ape.

I completely agree with what you wrote and I had the same conversation with one of my friends few weeks ago. It simply drives me nuts !!

To first part of "nuttiness" - Why do people care about when Tiger burbs, picks his nose et al ?
This is an interesting post which might shed some light.

"Fundamental attribution error" - In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dis-positional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors

So people perceive Tiger Woods as Buddha simply by the way he plays golf. Talk about biases .. we would at-least think people would use some common sense. Common sense has always been an Utopian dream.

The second part of "nuttiness" - Why do Tiger cares what others think about him?
I don't think it has anything to do with money. It's the effect of fame.
For normal people, what our immediate family and friends perceive about us, matters very much and we don't give a hoot about what strangers think (except some basic human decency). That's why the popular slogan "What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas". So if we want to do wacky things - we usually do it outside the vicinity of their social circle. If we get caught, we apologize to the people inside our social circle and usually expect them to accept our apologies .
For people like Tiger, fame creates an illusion of extended family of say about 6 billion people. So their social vicinity pretty much extends to perimeter of this planet. When they screw up and get caught, they go on TV and blah blah.... .
Mark, you wrote beautifully about the Ape inside us. I have been try to kill the Ape for a while now it ain't easy.
Just knowing all the human biases doesn't make us less susceptible them, it takes a life time of practice by a constant feedback loop to minimize the biases. In other words, the nonsense of TV will not end until people change. TV gives what they want. The feedback loop between people and TV is more lucrative and easy when compared the cognitive feedback loop.

UserpicHarry E
A couple of things that came to mind in reading this (the first being that golf can and should only really be referred to as a “sport” in inverted commas.)

It was the question of morality that interested me most. It has been raised both in this thread and in the ridiculous media circus. Comments like: A married man has a moral responsibility to his wife…a role model has a moral responsibility to his legion of fans…etc etc. I recall Mark summing up the concept of what morality is in his book “Animals Like Us” (and I’m sure in other places too, but this is the one that comes to mind) – talking about the impartial position in a hypothetical scenario and how it then relates to a moral position in the real world. I was discussing morality with a friend of mine who argued that morality is infinitely variable because it is down to each individual to justify their actions as “moral”. I don’t agree with that definition of morality. I think that “moral” as a principle, is absolute. Something either is or isn’t moral and this can be based on the impartial position argument. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world and as my cynical friend observed, morality is what we choose it to be as long as we can sleep soundly at night.

Is this, I wonder, a result of our inner ape? From an evolutionary perspective, does morality have a place in an ape world? Or do we only use it as a tool to exert power and superiority over others?

And also from an evolutionary point of view, it is in our very nature to look for weaknesses in those with power as a method of self promotion. Knocking the alpha male from his top spot to elevate your own position (and get the girl) is normal behaviour in most animal species. Is this whole media frenzy every time some celebrity or politician shows weakness just a result of our need to do this even though it will (in the world we live in) no longer affect us personally? My judging Ashley Cole as a cheating bastard unfortunately does not mean that I am any closer to marrying Cheryl Cole…or even offering to console her in her time of need.

Why does Woods cooperate? Maybe because in some way he is trying to claw back his morality. He cheated – yes, but by apologising and repenting (albeit superficially) for his transgressions, he is morally superior to someone who did what he did without apparently giving a shit.

No UserpicReb
I don''t really understand the attitude that what other people do doesn\\\'t concern the rest of us. While, I recognise the hypocrisy, inconsistancy, hysteria and darker motives behind the interest in the affairs of public figures, I think it is healthy and necessary to take an interest in what members of our pack/society do. That is, after all, the reason we have a legal system and social mores in the first place. I think the reason we focus so much on what a few individuals do is that it deflects attention away from our increasing disinterest in what more mundane people get up to. We are becoming increasingly lazy and apathetic about that and it gives us some moral self-satisfaction to say this is because it\\\'s none of our business.

Besides, infidelity is not a private affair, no more than marriage and family are private, individual affairs. When somebody marries they don\\\'t just make a promise to their partner, they make one to the state and to the witnesses, to their future children perhaps, and implicitly to the rest of society. They are the smallest political units in our social system. When they fail, inevitably it will be the rest of us who have to pick up the pieces.

Maybe I should correct the sentence: "Many people get a buzz out of being desired by others, something they wouldn't experience if they worked in the local car factory" to "... something they might not experience if they worked in the local car factory" - if you get me.

Trying to think what I can add to the above postings, both of which I agree with.

I've not had the remotest interest in the Woods affair (ehem) and didn't watch his recent display of contrition, not simply because I'm not interested in golf (the plaything of the rich and aspiring rich - with too much land devoted to it), nor because I can't become interested in the private lives of the rich and famous - unless they happen to be people who are deeply interesting, and even then, not the minutiae of their sex lives.

Money, fame and power are evidently highly attractive and act as aphrodisiacs to others (which can obviously be explained in evolutionary terms). Many people get a buzz out of being desired by others, something they wouldn't experience if they worked in the local car factory. And they just can't resist the temptation when thrust at them. As Andy says, most people aren't put to the test, so we don't know how much integrity they would have in a similar position.

Why does Woods go along with this embarrassing display if he doesn't need the sponsorship money? Well, maybe he doesn't play golf for the money alone; maybe he thrives on the adoration of the "fans", as do many in the limelight. He doesn't play golf in his back yard. Maybe he wouldn't relish playing in front of a derisive audience (should that happen). Mind you, I seem to recall Hugh Grant being caught in an uncompromising position. But, it didn't seem to do him much permanent damage.

No Userpicandy
Apologies for the brackets and speech marks above, somethin odd seems to have happened to them !!
and my spelling seems to have deserted me for the day !

No UserpicAndy
Hi Mark,

i am in complete agreement with your sentiments here excepting a couple of minor points.

We might have a nice comments section coming up now that could discuss a couple of your remarks in this piece.

The first would have to be whether golf qualifies as a \\\"real\\\" sport (i am not a golfer) or indeed what does qualify as a real sport??

Also, i agree that this is about the publics schadenfreude for poor old Tiger but it raises another question.

I think he is in this position because the money and the power and the yes men afforded to him mean\\\'t that he COULD do those things. This begs the question of how many people in a similar position may well do the same thing. Which then begs an examination of the POWER of the morality (wedding vows etc) that hold us in check. If all it takes are a few million bucks and some enablers to disable Tigers apparent morality to his wife this would seem to indicate that the moral obligation itself is fragile.

We see this fragility of morality historically all the time, i am thinking the concentration camps in central europe in the 1990\\\'s. it seems that the veneer of morality does not need to be scratched to hard to get through to the base layer.

It may also be about time?. I am sure that two hundred years ago the rich and powerful did not have their love lives under scrutiny from the great unwashed.

And anyway, multiple lovers were expected from people in positions of power then.

Finally, perhaps if the people who seem to have an unusually high interest in this story had to stop worrying about it and consider some of the bigger questions, if they had to lift their gaze from the ground, it might just be too much of a shock for them.

I might just add that i am offering no moral opinion here myself!!. And also that I am new to argueing these points, so if my arguements lack clarity then please forgive a beginner :-)

There, that should get the ball rolling !!

greetings to you :-)