Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No. 4, 2016
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Louis René Beres
Lynda Renée
Nick Catalano
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
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Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
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Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




A man is always prey to his truths.
Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them.
Albert Camus

A lie can travel half way around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Mark Twain

When we look into the mirror, why do we refuse to see what is there? Why can’t we bear to learn the truth about ourselves? Or to the bleeding heart of the matter, why do we have so much difficulty dealing with negative truths, some of which arrive with such force they take our breath away, and in extreme instances take possession of us, leaving us no peace during the day and even in sleep. It seems that no matter how small or incidental the clipped criticism, the oblique rebuke, we cringe when we hear the truth spoken about ourselves – even if we have already privately acknowledged that we are parsimonious, overbearing, envious, self-righteous, vainglorious and vindictive.

The truthers, as it concerns everyone other than their higher-than-holy selves, insist we are better prepared to deal with the many curves life throws at us in direct proportion to the number of truths we have at our disposal. “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened,” observes Lao Tzu.

So why the reflexive resistance to the hard facts as they relate to self-knowledge? Since the truth, sung and spoken, is supposed to set us free, why is man everywhere apparently happier in chains, preferring to drag after him the dead weight of his delusions, or be slowed down by the heavy armour he wears to protect himself from the cathartic effects of being exposed to truth. Albert Einstein held that, “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” And go beyond, he did – at the speed of light.

When after a remark that cuts to the quick and rudely reminds us that familiarity breeds contempt, we become privy to an object lesson that the truth shall not cease from waging an undeclared war against its many enemies: the white lie, the euphemism, the circumlocution, the politically correct palliative, especially when delivered with love and compassion: a parent desiring and willing what is best for a child, a coach wanting to bring out the best in his athlete.

The good news (in theory), which is bad news in practice, is that most of us are equidistant -- "just a shout away" -- from the source, meaning we need look no farther than to our immediate family or blood-line for the truth: in our formative years from a mother and father, an older brother and sister, and then between husband and wife, perhaps a best friend, an ever widening gyre that explains why every family harbours an unspecific measure of dysfunctionality. As beneficial as the truth is hyped to be, most relationships either suffer under or cannot survive especially repeated exposure to negative truths.

As outrageous as it must seem, are we forced to conclude that natural selection has favoured a species that shirks, turns away from and even hides from the truth (self-knowledge), that man would rather be lied to, deceived than learn about himself? How do we square this species-specific disinclination with the self-evident proposition that we are more likely to survive and succeed in life if we acknowledge our limitations, flaws and faiblesses, that being self-aware is manifestly an advantage that knows no eclipse? But instead, when the truth is spoken, we duck and counter, scapegoating the messenger upon whom we heap our resentment; and sometimes even punish for his forthrightness -- an all too familiar scenario that suggests, with a friendly nodding-off to Freud, that the pleasure principle takes precedent over any negative truth.

Pain avoidance models, psychological no less than physical, predict that we will seek out the white lie, the comforting falsehood because we would rather feel good than (k)not, despite the empirically observable fact that we are much more likely to succeed in our endeavors if we perceive the truth for what it is, that the individual who has come to terms with the full gamut of his limitations and defects is more likely to make better choices and achieve better outcomes than his self-unaware counterpart.

Since negative truths, especially in accumulation, can lead to negative self-esteem and depression, which impair the immune system, which in turn impact negatively on one’s productive life as well as personal relations, most of us, at the behest of the pleasure principle, will seek out 'only' feel-good criticism, even if it is manifestly baseless. But the lie can only travel so far before breaking down. Nature sees to that in the world of measurable outputs and consequences, the lie will eventually get ensnared in its own subterfuge. If a friend, unwilling to rock the boat of friendship, assures me that I am an invaluable asset to the team, when, because of my lack of discipline I am not, the results will show in the win and loss columns. However, if at a team meeting the truth is told to my face and I am subsequently shamed, (pained, embarrassed), I will naturally want to relieve the pain, and as a first consequence I will practice harder and play better, which will translate into the team’s better performance, and provide a boost in satisfaction to all those involved in the result.

As it concerns our uneasy relationship with negative truth and desire to be self-aware, we must distinguish between truths that are fixed and those we can modify. Since there is nothing to be done about a physical defect that is brought to my attention, being reminded of it, especially in the public domain, not only serves no purpose but reveals more of the messenger than his message. However, as it concerns negative truths where there is always the option of responding in kind, they should be welcomed, despite the initial hurt, because the lie, however well intended, will produce no improvement, and we will suffer the want of pleasure that goes hand in hand with self-improvement.

In certain relationships, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, it is all too common that in the course of a life-time an individual never learns of certain truths that are essential for his development. But nature sees to it, however elliptically, that the individual, in the privacy of his thoughts, is provided the means to access those essential truths. He merely has to examine the objects of his envy to discover truths that would otherwise remain hidden. If X envies the compliments and praise a better teacher receives, he is already confessing to a deficiency in himself, and as a consequence, may become motivated to relieve the envy and attendant hurt by taking concrete steps to improve his teaching skills. This outcome is consistent with the notion that recognizing truth (seeing reality) as it pertains to the self is directly related to success and fitness, which is consistent with evolution’s first purpose. In other words we can choose to stew and stagnate in our envy (remain in pain) or use the emotion to better ourselves, the result of which confers pleasure.

As the pleasure principle predicts and whose rewards we cannot refuse, in the spirit of pain avoidance there will always remain truths about ourselves we would rather not confront -- most of them of very little consequence. If I don’t want to know that my neighbour, with whom I have minimal contact, doesn’t particularly like or respect me, it’s no big deal if I don’t acknowledge these truths. However, if I convince myself that I’m an excellent teacher, when I’m not, and will lose my job if I don’t improve, through the ingenious mechanism of the corrective dream I will confront the mood and atmosphere of the truth I’ve been avoiding in my waking life.

Using symbols, or a disguised or parallel environment or situation, a dream will dupe me into confronting my inadequacy. It is winter, under heavy snow, in the middle of nowhere, and I am unable to repair my car, which threatens the lives of my wife and children. Upon waking, even if I have forgotten the details of the dream, I will register discomfort and distress, perhaps enough so to motivate me to question the dream and connect it to my performance deficit. If I remain in denial, the dreaming mechanism sees to it that the urgent message gets a better hearing by way of the nightmare from which I will rudely awaken, with its stark details fresh in my mind. If this fails to impact, the nightmare will become a recurring nightmare, until I either act on it or crash in my waking life. In this same vein, all children experience nightmares as they reluctantly relinquish their fantasy life and begin to interact with the real world. The nightmare is nature’s last stand against the lie, and the individual’s last chance to relieve himself of the pain of the lie he is living.

That the truth must hurt is the necessary means to the fugitive end of self-awareness, without which life promises to be one long day’s journey into one dark alley after another -- until the last alley from which there is no exit.



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also by Robert J. Lewis:
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene














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