Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 22, No. 5, 2023
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
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Louis René Beres
David Solway
Nick Catalano
Don Dewey
Chris Barry
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editor
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
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Stephen Lewis
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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





Even as I approach the gambling hall, as soon as I hear,
two rooms away, the jingle of money poured out on the table,
I almost go into convulsions.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Gambling is a principle inherent in human nature.
Edmund Burke

In Seduction, a book that bristles with insights, the philosopher Jean Baudrillard introduces the concept of 'cheating value' in the context of the wager. "Gambling's truth is to be found on the tricks it plays on value."

As a worldwide cultural constant, cheating value refers to man's seemingly preordained attraction to activities that result in a reduction of the expenditure of energy or capital normally required for the same result or outcome. If someone is contractually obliged to labour X hours per week for a salary or equivalent in trade, and if the person is willing to undergo the risks, he can decide to place a wager or undertake an activity (selling illicit drugs, sex work, gambling, smuggling, playing the stock market) that promises the possibility of cheating value, of obtaining at least the same in salary or trade without having expended the accustomed time and effort.

The expectation of satisfaction and/or enjoyment -- the pleasure principle -- is the basis of the attraction. The species reflex to cheat value often determines the choices we make which in turn reveal repeatable patterns in human behaviour. The content of a nation's ethos -- its institutions, vernacular, algorithms, leisure activities, laws and customs -- reflects the measure and manner in which cheating value operates though human endeavour.

The arc that traces the course of a human life is often shaped by the temptation and attendant risks of cheating value. As a rule that allows for many notable exceptions, the moneyed are less tempted than the impecunious.

From time immemorial, man has been seeking the ways and means to render his life less stressful in matters of security and securing the necessities of life. The path of least resistance, whose every toll-free road is an homage to cheating value, once a narrow footway through tall grass that would disappear with the first wind, has been turned into an ever-widening and deepening gorge whose layered cliff sides mark, without distinction or exception, all the ages of man in his quest to cheat value.

There hasn't been a person on the planet who hasn't at least thought of, or been tempted by it. Gambling is one of its most accepted forms and is legal in all but a handful of countries; and where it is not legal, the activity, like prostitution, persists surreptitiously or under the radar. In the computer age, the religious proscriptions against gambling have been rendered near obsolete by the proliferation of online gambling platforms. Twenty five percent of the world's 8 billion gamble at least once a year. That in 2021 more than 10 million gambling addicts worldwide sought professional help speaks to the dark side of cheating value and the heartbreak and suicides left at the table.

During the past year, globally, over 700 billion dollars were wagered, and another 500 billion unofficially -- almost half the value of the economy of Canada – and those numbers are on the rise in part because of the declining influence of religion, the breakdown of the family unit and erosion of family values, and the growing discontent among the have-nots vis-à-vis the ever-increasing wealth of the world.

Many of our leisure activities are deemed pleasurable because cheating value is built into them. What is the thrill of non-competitive downhill skiing if not to cheat value. The reward is the giddiness or high comes from being able to get from point A to B without having to expend the normal amount of time and energy to cover that same distance on a flat plane. The same thrill applies to ice skating and roller blading and the like.

That the shortest distance between two points is a straight line is a geometrical constant that begets the universal entity-artifact of the 'shortcut.' Cheating the corner, the distance marked by two vertically intersecting sidewalks, is the well-worn path that cuts a diagonal through the grass. Shortcuts are a feature of life everywhere in the world. The student, disinclined to labour through 1,400 pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace, happily breezes through 50 pages of Coles Notes. Who hasn't opted for ordering out instead of preparing a home-cooked meal? And how much easier is it to launch a cyber war compared with a conventional one? The former requires a small cadre of computer tech geniuses, the latter entire divisions of men and women and an obscene percentage of the wealth of the nation.

The mostly outlawed practice of prostitution is one of cheating value's greatest triumphs. For non-partnered men, frequenting a sex worker obviates the time-consuming and costly rites and risks of courtship and seduction that precede conventional sexual relations. Predicted by the pleasure principle and measured in dollars and assents, it's a win-win for both buyer and seller. She earns in half a day what the check-out girl earns in a week, and the client gets what he wants without having to put out for concert tickets and a candlelight dinner.

All the incremental advances in speed we take for granted are consequent to the delight derived from cheating value: kayaking is swifter than swimming; biking is faster than walking. Once a new speed threshold has been reached and becomes the new normal, the motivation to better it, that is to expend less time and energy to cover the same distance, results in a chronology, underwritten by cheating value, that traces the history of speed.

Many of our civilizational advances owe their origins to cheating value. Prior to the invention of the wheelbarrow, in the construction of a primitive family dwelling, man would call upon his arms, legs and torso to transport the materials of his future home and suffered beneath their weight. Implicit in all forms of suffering is the universal yearning to suffer less. This yearning to suffer less becomes the necessary condition to the creative leap that gives birth to the invention of the wheel and then the wheelbarrow. The fact that man is rewarded by suffering less (cheating value) assures the technological progress that marks all the ages of man.

However, caveat Homo sapiens: there may come a digital age when man will have so successfully cheated value he will be able to enjoy a life-long sedentary existence. At which point, as Marshall McLuhan cautions in Understanding Media (1964), in respect to technologies that are extensions of the body, underuse or disuse will set in motion a degenerative process that must culminate in atrophy or obsolescence. The hairy ape, now dressed to the nines, has lost most of his body hair. With the discovery of fire and cooking, rendering food easier to masticate and digest, human teeth are significantly smaller than those of his primal predecessors, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.

The stock market is a direct appeal to cheating value. Once the first offering of shares has been sold and the company has all the capital it requires, all subsequent purchases of stock are forms of gambling. To lend an air of probity and rectitude to wager culture, the share holder, with an invested interest in distinguishing himself from the common gambler, peremptorily identifies himself as an ‘investor’ to couch the brotherhood that binds all cheats who dream of cheating value. Until 1937, selling short, placing a wager on the hope that a company's share value will decrease, was banned. A reminder that, inculcated morals and ethics notwithstanding, human nature, despite the suit and tie and certificate of purchase, is calling the shots.

Lying and dissimulating are often employed to cheat value: we enhance our accomplishments to make us more attractive to or admired by others, especially in finance and affairs of the heart.

Begging your favour, all forms of begging and bribing are manifestations of cheating value. Bribing (via gifts, currency, sexual favours) facilitates obtaining a position or privilege without the merit. Despite the laws and eruption of anger and outrage upon its discovery, the persistence of corruption (accepting bribes) speaks to the incorrigibility of the impulse. Everywhere in the world there are people begging for sustenance or coin, or begging for transport (hitchhiking); getting from point A to B without having to walk the block or pay the way.

If we can agree that cheating value is for the most part an irreformable behavioural constant, is it not in our best interest to get in step with the DNA that underwrites it in order to better work with it? For all the illegal and degrading activities attendant to cheating value, the civilizational advances that every age of man has enjoyed and can’t do without argues that, however begrudgingly, we should embrace the impulse and 'beg' that it continue to play a major role in human endeavour for the indefinite future.

It is not for nothing that when we successfully cheat value the brain releases serotonin and dopamine, a sure sign that Homo sapiens is doing mostly well by it.




also by Robert J. Lewis:


Meditation on Anger
To Birth a New Religion

Entertainment Addiction

Descent into Language Barbarism
Who Owns the Moon?

Why Do We Daydream

Argument & Disagreement

Smashing the God Particle

The Decline of Reading

In Praise of Useless Activities

When Sex Became Dirty
Blood Meridian: (McCarthy): An Appreciation

Trump & Authencity

Language, Aim & Fire

One Hand Clapping: The Zen Koan Hoax

Human Nature: King of the Hill

The Trouble with Darwin
The Life & Death of Anthony Bourdain
Denying Identity and Natural Law
The Cares versus the Care-nots
Elon Musk: Brilliant but Wrong
As the Corporation Feasts, the Earth Festers
Flirting & Consequences
Breaking Bonds
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










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