Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No. 1, 2018
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
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Jordan Adler
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Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
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Barbara Ehrenreich
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Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

to party or



The cortex killer who awoke before dawn,
he put his roots on.
Min Jorrison

In one of his remarkable journeys without maps, the marvelous travel writer Norman Lewis (A Goddess in the Stones), finds himself in the outback of Orissa -- a hop, step and a trek south of the state of Bengal (eastern India). A privileged guest/observer of three small and isolated tribes, he is fascinated by their highly unorthodox (eccentric) social and sexual relationships. For example, among the Khondh, the adolescents are encouraged to have a variety of sexual relationships before marriage while women enjoy the same social status as men, and can initiate divorce. Children born out of wedlock are not considered illegitimate.

In Koya country, the women are the main providers; they choose their mates and prefer men who are five to ten years younger than themselves. Sound familiar? The Bonda women, unlike their sari-draped counterparts, strut about semi-naked, using elaborate jewelry schemes to both show off and cover their ‘fully intact’ private parts (snipping verboten).

What impressed Lewis even more than their hospitality and sufficiency was their egalitarian nature, which of course runs contrary to everything we know about India: its systematic subjugation of women, including, to this day, the contentious custom of bride burning when groom and dowry numbers aren’t on the same page.

Anthropologists and historians hypothesize that due to their isolation, these tribes (and others in the region) never came under the influence of India’s set-in-stone caste system, which Nehru belatedly abolished in 1949.

So much for anomalies and deviations from the norm. What the Khondhi, Koya and Bonda share in common with all other tribes and peoples on the planet (from the least developed to the most advanced) is a love of alcohol, fermented from whatever vegetation is available in a given location and season. At the slightest pretext (secular or religious occasions are all one and the same), the rice or flour ferment is brought out, and men and women and in some cases adolescents enthusiastically drink themselves into a stupour. It’s as if getting smashed is the capstone or end goal of all purposeful activity. It’s the much anticipated reward that jerks the mind to attention, around which all sacred and profane rites and customs are institutionalized. Next to the leader and huntsmen, those responsible for the supply of alcohol are the tribe’s most esteemed members.

What we learn from science of the effects of alcohol on the brain is as straight forward as a stiff double at the end of the long day. Our tripartite brain is comprised of the cerebral or neocortex, where thought processing and consciousness are located, as well as the inhibitory centers; along with the older and more established mammalian and reptilian brains. The first effect of alcohol and/or drugs is to shut down or short circuit the neocortex, which, by default, leaves the mammalian brain in charge. So when someone is accused of behaving like an animal when he is under the influence, there is more than an element of truth in the assertion in the sense that the human part of his brain, the neocortex, has been temporarily decommissioned.

We only have to observe the behaviour of our pets (dogs, cats, hamsters,) to understand how the mammalian brain works and our universal attraction to that state of mind(lessness). Animals have zero understanding of right or wrong, of time passing (mortality). They (blissfully) exhibit a total absence of self-consciousness regarding bodily functions. The Beatles’ confessional “Why Don’t We Do It on the Road” is both a celebration of and pining for the freedoms that are particular to the animal world.

Partaking, even in moderation, of substances that by design dull the brain, force the conclusion that most of us, however temporarily, prefer to be under the influence of the non-human part of our brain. Given the ubiquity of the preference and the astonishing number of substances that have been invented to ensure easy access to the mammalian brain, an objective observer must wonder what is it about being human that so many, on a regular basis, must escape from? In our current century, opioid use and abuse have reached epidemic proportions.

Based on empirical observation, the goal of every altered state of consciousness is the desire to escape self-consciousness, the judgment of the other, to render nugatory the existence of the other. Since individuals vary in nature and physical constitution (thin-skinned/thick-skinned, cerebretonic/viscerotonic), the type and quantity of drug or drink required to alter consciousness will vary from one person to the next. In certain situations, lifestyle differences predict the frequency and need to rendez-vous with the mammalian brain: men and women in law and order or fighting in wars, perforce, recourse drugs and alcohol more than retired choristers. However varied the cultural differences, the aggregate of evidence overwhelmingly suggests that as it concerns our evolution as a species, we are not yet equipped to deal with the implications of self-consciousness, even among tribes for whom self-consciousness is not nearly the issue as it is in the developed world.

That said, there are significant exceptions whose sober voices deserve to be heard if not held in the highest regard. Whether by nature or act of will, there are men and women for whom any dulling of the brain constitutes a crime against self-consciousness, of being-in-the-world. They deem the act of getting high -- irrespective of the legitimacy of the occasion (wedding, baptism) -- as a betrayal of the highest order of purpose and telus of human consciousness, without which there can be no contemplation of or meditation on the mystery and miracle of existence. Self-consciousness alone vouchsafes our humanity. Carving out and defending human values against the tide of mammalian nihilism is the unstated mandate of the exceptionally sober-minded whose bright light has been reduced to a mere flicker on a distant horizon by the immoral majority who have shown themselves, in their boisterous, feral conceit, to be categorically unfit and unable . . .

To see a world in a grain of sand
And hold heaven in a wild flower

With few exceptions, it seems that self-consciousness is a weight we are not equipped to carry for any extended period of time. Which is why everybody likes to party, the preferred activity that provides the ways and means for parting ways with self-consciousness. From the Latin, partire, which means to share, and later, from the French, partir, which means to leave, the English meaning of ‘to party’ combines the Latin and French usages: a party is both sharing and a leaving behind of a state of mind. With a little help from our friends with whom we share the exact same goal, we get high in order to revert to animal consciousness, a mental state that is synonymous with being indifferent to the judgment of the other. High-minded, self-righteous rhetoric notwithstanding, the purpose of every party is one and the same: to trade one state of mind (human) for another (animal). A party without neocortical inhibiters (alcohol and/or drugs) is a meeting or seminar.

In defense of the multitude for whom neocortical consciousness offers few consolations and is marked by extended periods of unhappiness, reversion to animal consciousness, if not an admirable rejoinder, is surely as natural as it is human since human beings, from the cave days to the present, have found everlasting comfort there. Perhaps best said by the hard-drinking Scottish, poet Robbie Burns in his ode "To A Mouse":

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee
But Och, I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward tho' I cannot see
I guess 'an fear!

Suffice to say, the much extolled state of being ‘high on life’ is a reach significantly beyond the grasp of the species in its present state of development.


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also by Robert J. Lewis:
Comedy - Constant Craving
Becoming Our Opposites
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
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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