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Vol. 16, No. 4, 2017
 
     
 
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TURNING INTO OUR OPPOSITES

by
ROBERT J. LEWIS

___________________________________

I smile when I’m angry,
I cheat and I lie,
I do what I have to do,
To get by.
Leonard Cohen

In my end is my beginning.
In succession houses rise and fall.
T.S. Eliot

Introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung in 1949, the chat-friendly term enantiodromia describes the tendency of things, over time, to turn into their opposite. Examples abound, some in our faces: Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, erstwhile believer in democracy (Ataturk) morphs into an autocrat/despot; good people turn bad and vice versa. In everyday life we are always running into people who pretend to feel what they don’t, who offer opinions they don’t subscribe to, or who concoct outright lies, but eventually,

“vice . . . yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
we first endure . . . then embrace,”

under the pressure of circumstance and repetition, they come to feel what they didn’t mean, and believe what were once lies. We ask out loud how often can a moral person act immorally and still be judged moral? Is the true measure of the man his speech (best intentions) or deeds, done and undone?

When an actor, either on stage or in front of the camera, is acting, it is self-evident that he is not being his real self. He is acting because he gets paid for it and probably enjoys what he’s doing + perquisites. Since we know that the acting is staged for our entertainment, we don’t think anything of it.

However it is another matter when someone is caught or perceived to be acting in real life, feigning an opinion or feeling he doesn’t privately endorse, or pretending to be somebody that he isn’t. Such persons are routinely accused of being phony, insincere, inauthentic, meaning we reflexively, judgmentally refuse the reasons that might justify the behaviour – and, as predicted by the well trodden path of least resistance, the matter is settled.

The great temptation to act or be insincere in real life is perceived gain and advantage. Pretending to share the same feelings and values as the woman you court, the bank manager you solicit for a loan, significantly increases the likelihood of winning the favours of the woman and the bank’s money. The person who is unable to act in those same situations will in all likelihood fare worse than the better actor. Since we would all rather have than have not, be happy than not, are there not very practical reasons ‘not to be’ ourselves if it results in greater having and happiness?

In a life and death situation, the person who, principles aside, is unable to act may pay the ultimate price. If X, a member of a persecuted minority, is able to convince the majority that he subscribes to their belief system, he survives. The bad actor perishes. And this is precisely what nature intends and rewards. Which means lying, dissimulating, being inauthentic, disingenuous, fickle and phony are behaviours or poses that are more often than not handsomely rewarded in the real world, and yet the above monikers are pejorative, employed with the aim of shaming the accused.

So what are we to do when on the one hand we are encouraged to seek out and cultivate our authentic selves, while on the other hand we are rewarded when faking our feelings or pretending to be somebody we are not – a dichotomy that leaves us caught between a rock and a better place?

That politicians are routinely accused of dissimulation is to completely miss the point. Whether the power and privilege that come with high office are put in the service of the electorate they have been chosen to serve, or the elected official is driven by personal ambition – power for its own sake, a bigger bank account, membership in the yacht club -- lying or telling the truth is one and the same since they are both means to an end, which is consistent with nature’s purpose. If I’m being ‘justly’ accused of a crime that will result in lengthy incarceration and destitution for my wife and children, but am able to persuade the authorities of my innocence, I am neither lying nor telling the truth but doing what is necessary to take care of my family.

Our fascination with actors has less to do with their remarkable skills and more with the powers they wield, their uncanny ability to adjust and deliver what is required of them in whatever situation they find themselves. “Being an actor is about changing who you are,” says Will Smith, whose net worth is $250 million. Since the gifted actor can play whatever role is asked of him, both on and off the screen, who wouldn’t in their right mind refuse such a gift? Wouldn’t we all rather be liked than not, be respected than not, and if acting – that is not being ourselves – is the means to that end, why should we allow ourselves to be held hostage to the time-honoured “to thine own self be true” tyranny? High-minded philosophy would have us believe that meaningful existence and being a phony or having a series of selves are incompatible.

The chameleonic character of Zelig, the ingratiating titular figure in the 1983 Woody Allen film, is able to mimic and win the favours of everyone he meets, but decides to undergo therapy because he feels that he has no center, no fixed self, and is inauthentic even though not being himself allows him to exceed beyond all expectation.

The mirror to and of the world that is Leonard Zelig argues that there comes a point in time when a phony, who is never himself but succeeds in life by every measurable index, deserves to be judged as authentic. Since he naturally or by choice has no fixed center or self, his real self is the aggregate of the many selves he projects to accommodate whatever situation he finds himself in. In the many faces and disguises he wears like a second skin, he becomes the sum of all men for all seasons, an exemplar of the genetic principle that diversity is the best answer to adversity?

If in his initial misrepresentations, he was perceived and rightfully judged as inauthentic, it must be taken into account that consequent to choosing not to be himself he was able to significantly improve his lot. As self-made (a strictly human prerogative) and willfully everything to everyone (extrovert or introvert as required), and in consideration of consistently positive outcomes, he has earned his badge of authenticity even though he is the opposite of what he once was. The implications are devastating for those on death row, a number of whom, over time, grow into their opposites.

When it comes to rendering judgment, we, as a species, are incurably quick on the draw. A good friend introduces his new wife and in seconds we are ticking off the categories. The same holds true with the unregenerate phony upon whom we reflexively heap our accusation and scorn when he properly deserves to be regaled as an object of universal envy and mimicked in every way for his uncanny ability to spontaneously adapt to whatever the weather holds in store. As someone with no fixed address, he is nature’s most marvelous creation and natural selection’s favourite son.

That more and more actors are entering the political arena should come as no surprise since saying what isn’t meant is the stock in trade of the actor whose gift is such that he actually means it as he says it: the tears are real. We believe in our politicians because they are believable. The supreme power of the politician lies in the many selves he is able to project which allows him to expeditiously translate his incontinent wanting into humungous having (power).

The unchanging constant in our preoccupation with self-hood and self-actualization is change, just as the truth of all human endeavor is a quantum construct, which makes happiness and what constitutes meaningful life moving targets to which we must be constantly adjusted, which is why, over the course of a lifetime, once fiercely held views or positions, when allowed, often morph into their opposite.

If it’s a law of life that there are no absolutes in life, we must hold those who honour and defend them -- by precluding debate and freedom of choice in themselves and others – responsible for the human carnage that ensues when opinion is tendered as hard and fast truth, and unconditional loyalty to a position or group is confused for virtue.

 

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also by Robert J. Lewis:
Broken Feather's Last Stand

Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
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
1-800-Philosophy
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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034

 

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