Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No. 6, 2018
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Chris Barry
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
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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
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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





If it hasn’t yet happened on your watch, you can be sure it will, and very likely on multiple occasions; and depending on the thinness or thickness of your one and only epidermis, you’ll never be quite the same.

It’s more likely to occur when circumstance finds you outside your comfort zone, while travelling for example, on a business trip, or in any environment that puts you in contact with people you don’t or hardly know. You are particularly vulnerable if you are alone and lonely, and looking to satisfy the basic human need of connecting with another human being.

The modus operandi is almost embarrassingly predictable. A polite stranger finds a pretext to offer assistance or requires it himself, which leads to a casual exchange of nothing of importance before the smooth operator (code for ingratiating interloper, usually male) begins to inquire about your situation, what brings you to his neck of the woods, what you do in life; and over the course of perhaps several hours the seeds of a relationship begin to grow roots, as you happily preside over the gradual satisfying of your hunger to bond with another human being. During the initial getting–to-know-you period, you are alert and sensitive to the multitude of signs and signals that are being sent out and received, wanting to be sure that before you commit emotionally, the bonding process is two-way, that you are both on the same page as it concerns the critical developmental stage.

When you rudely discover that the preternaturally considerate and obliging stranger is not and was never interested in entering into any kind of personal relationship, but was exploiting your vulnerability to bond in order to extract a favour (usually sexual or business related), you are hurt and disappointed in both the outcome and yourself for not identifying the correct signals. If this is already a repeat of past experience, it might be the back breaker that makes you decide that enough is enough, that in order to guard against future unwanted manipulation-exploitation of your highly valued feelings, from this day on you will command yourself, against your better nature, to be reflexively suspicious of any encounter with seemingly well-intended strangers, doubting your ability to distinguish between the actor and the authentic person – a sad state of affairs that forces you to suppress the most basic of human emotions – the DNA-driven desire (need) to bond.

Existential philosophy begins with the pre-supposition that being is being-in-the-world with-others.

The singer/poet Leonard Cohen writes, “there are children in the morning, they are leaning out for love, they will lean that way forever.” For our entire lives we are those children leaning out for love and affection, and when we discover we have been tricked and sold again, it’s as if the most precious part of us has been ripped out of our being and left for dying.

In the existential after-math of the meltdown, we become equal opportunity prosecutors. We accuse ourselves for failing to properly assess the true nature of the encounter, of failing to sniff out the deliberate dissimulation, and we are quick to lock up for life the conniving perpetrator in the Despicable Human Being category for having exploited our goodness, our adult innocence for a selfish end.

Oscar Wilde, for whom the ends – beauty and pleasure -- justify the means in his most famous creation, Dorian Gray, dryly notes: “What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities,” We at once chuckle and cringe at the witticism because it forces us to concede that the truth that inheres in the general category of these one-sided, life-altering encounters, upon closer inspection, is more nuanced than the straight forward good and evil, right and wrong binaries -- in especially the daily conduct of our lives in a mostly unjust, iniquitous world – but for the privileged few.

If we are to lay bare the truth of the encounter in all its facets, the first among the concessions we begrudgingly make to the person who has taken advantage of our naiveté is to allow for his highly probably material want. In the many economically disadvantaged regions of the world, the offending party is merely one of among the faceless multitudes unable to provide the basic necessities of life for his immediate family. How should we judge the man whose well has dried up and an arbitrary contract (a border on a map) prevents him from accessing a nearby source of water? The man who carries in his thoughts the suffering of his family for lack of food and shelter will of necessity shrink to a vanishing point the sum of his moral convictions and the laws of the land into one clear objective: to get from one day to the next. He will be judged by those in his care and will judge himself on his performance. And it’s all one and the same whether he finds temporary work, becomes a thief or a confidence man to make the frazzled ends of his life meet not at the end of the rainbow but in the deep of the hole where the circumstance of his birth -- climate and politics -- has deposited him. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dow Industrial, where our halcyon days over the course of a lifetime are exponentially easier than his, we will surely grant that if the shoe were on the other foot we would walk the same path.
However, experience also informs us that not every confidence man is cut from the same coarse cloth, and our reaction will vary accordingly. We should not be expected to look past the snake charmer whose narrow purpose is to entice us to visit his carpet shop, jewelry outlet, or 5-star resto, who is already rich and wants to get richer, who enjoys exploiting the emotional vulnerability of others to satisfy an incontinent lust for power and control? Of these types, there is only one proper response: to know them by their category in order to sidestep them before they attempt to step down on us.

The more difficult challenge is to identify those persons in whom poorly understood, vague promptings are operating, such that the offender, after the fact, is at once baffled and shamed by his own uncharacteristically opprobrious conduct. A man, heir to a colonial past, may unwittingly prey on another’s emotional vulnerability to right (code for avenge) perceived historical wrongs as part of an obscure healing process. An adult serial abuser may be unaware of being abused as a child and the vicious circle in which he is ensnared – often for life. In these cases, the child is indeed the “father of the man” but whose childhood has been stolen.

There comes a time in life when most of us learn that life isn’t fair, and that far too many people are hurting in the world. An arguably significant percentage of us are subconsciously driven to hurt back, which is why, the instinct notwithstanding, suffering the effects of an accumulation of negative encounters, we find ourselves reflexively refusing our predisposition to bond.

It is only very recent in human history that we find ourselves in the conduct of our daily lives embedded in the midst of strangers, whose pasts and predilections are completely unknown. When we were living in tribes, and later hamlets and small villages, everyone was known to everyone else. The notion of preying on someone’s bonding instincts for personal gain didn’t exist as we know it in our time. If today, bonding with strangers is an occupational hazard, it is because the risks of a negative outcome are more likely than the rewards. The frigid demeanor we project to the world, the carapace the history of our negative experiences makes us grow is a cynical reminder that the heart is too fragile a thing to subject to a roll of the dice.

What all emotionally exploitive relationships share are the gains and losses to be accounted for and the hard lessons to be learned. The fraudster or confidence man who is caught in the act rudely learns that he must improve his performance if he wishes to procure the advantage he seeks, while the victim will be more circumspect and judicious in all future encounters with strangers.

The big loser is the bonding process itself that is left dangling over an existential void, while the legions of the disabused swell their ranks. How many of us count among the jaded-for-lifers, of necessity having to restrict our circle of contacts to only those we know and trust. How do we resolve the dichotomy that obliges us to suppress the best and most beautiful part of ourselves in order to be ourselves?

If the iniquitous distribution of the world’s wealth is to an uncertain extent responsible for producing the mindset that says exploiting someone’s predisposition to bond is fair game in an unfair world, we may one day decide that a more equitable sharing of our material advantage is the best way to save the world from the growing cynicism that prevails in our encounters with “the other.”


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also by Robert J. Lewis:
Oscar Wilde and the Birth of Cool
The Big
Deconstructing Skin Colour
To Party - Parting Ways with Consciousness
Comedy - Constant Craving
Choosing Gender
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.
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