Arts &
Arts Culture Analysis
Vol. 23, No.3, 2024
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Robert J. Lewis
Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
Contributing Editors
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
Photographer Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque
Emanuel Pordes

Past Contributors
Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Charles Tayler
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




Robert J. Lewis has been editing  Arts & Opinion since 2002.  

Man is tormented by no greater anxiety
than to find someone quickly
to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom
with which the ill-fated creature is born.

Fyodor Dostoievsky

It would be a mistake to conclude that  easy money alone is what attracts people to gangs and  criminal organizations.  Deciding to live outside the law, to engage in activities that are violent and often lethal, showing utter disregard for the rights of one's fellow human beings, their persons and property, forces the conclusion that a significant, albeit small percentage of people, in every country in the world,  feel unwhole, unaccomplished and alien to the laws and customs in the modern, civilized world.

Britannica defines civilized as "marked by well-organized laws and rules about how people behave with each other." Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and its Discontents, argues that the restrictions imposed by civilization run contrary to human nature and render modern man neurotic.

The outlaw is attracted to the outlaw way of life, or a lifestyle that is a throwback to a more primitive era, because it is more consonant with his nature, or, more generally, to human nature.

Often, very early in life, due to poor parenting or lacking one or both parents, the impressionable would-be-outlaw discovers that he is unable to abide by the rules of civilized society and gradually comes to regard his instinctive self as inviolable,  the value of which is vouchsafed through a willingness to live on the wrong side of the law and the consequences thereof.  However unconsciously, he finds himself at war against the constrictive values espoused by the civilized world.  Be as it may that as a member of a gang or criminal organization he is stigmatized as a loser, someone who is unable to succeed playing by the rules of a civilized society,  he values his primitive self over the person society would make of him, and through no sleight of mind he goes to bed comfortable in his skin and likes what he sees when he wakes up in the morning and looks into the mirror. 

His chosen way of life inoculates him against the constricting effects of civilized society and we avoid him at all costs because if we mess with him he will not be deterred by laws designed to protect us.  What we rightfully fear in him who is a law unto himself is precisely what nourishes and sustains him, all of which provides for his well-being and self-esteem.  That he confuses being feared for respect is one of the quantum effects of his skewed perspective.  Among his underlings he is respected and obeyed  just as he respects and obeys his betters.   He quickly comes to discover that the neat and tidy outlaw hierarchy offers certainties and distributions that once enjoyed cannot be refused.  He is convinced that he knows who he is and what his purpose is in life.

The call or incitement to join an outlaw organization is the first effect of an inner calling that obliges him to honour and respect his gut feeling about himself, which is the first condition of self-respect.

Living under the constant threat of legal and lethal confrontation, the outlaw, at huge personal risk, is willing to pay the highest price for the sake of authenticity, of being true to his undivided, natural self.  That he is condemned to life-long derision, exclusion and public execration and a long history of unflattering cinema (The Godfather, Good Fellows) is but a small price to pay for the privilege of living approximately as his primal predecessors lived in the state of nature.  The outlaw unconsciously gravitates towards the clarity and efficacy of natural law as a means of barricading himself against the encroachment of civilization and its lymphatic effects.

Prior to Freud, Jean Jacques Rousseau, in The Social Contract (1762),  pronounced, "Man is born free but  everywhere is in chains." Rousseau was referring to modern man who, for the sake of a more orderly and secure existence, forwent the happiness and freedom he experienced in the state of nature. The chains in Rousseau’s opening salvo accuse our systems of governance which, with our consent, restrain our desires and behaviour. As Rousseau would have it, we are free to choose to be less free.

That every nation and society in the world breeds its outlaws speaks to how unnatural are the restrictions imposed by civilization.  One could argue that it is the outlaw's bad luck to be born in especially today's rigorously formalized world.  These die-herds hearken back to an earlier era when the strongman, the alphaman, ruled like a despot, when brute strength was accorded the highest value, when men were men and the woman's lot was to raise children and offer succour to her man.

The outlaw life speaks to those for whom the civilized order is foreign to their natures, for whom the template of the modern world is unable to provide for their basic needs.   And for the worldwide outlaw societies of "Good Fellows," for whom being wicked and getting whacked is part of the outlaw package, the risk is more than offset by the rewards, which are equally metaphysical as material.

Set-in-stone hierarchical structures provide numerous satisfactions which satisfy the imperatives of human nature.  It should be noted that for those for whom being on the right side of the law is non-negotiable, the military life, its structure and regimentations, offers many of the same satisfactions as the outlaw life.    Both military man and outlaw know  where they stand in respect to their lessers and betters.  With all major and minor life decisions coming from the top down, they are relieved of the anxiety attendant to decision making and the stress associated with the competitiveness that prefigures man's hierarchical nature.   Life is reduced to command and obey, success and failure.   The relief and gratification of being disburdened from taking responsibility for his life are such that  the outlaw or soldier is willing to put his life on the line for the peace of mind that comes from having no mind, of being the raw material of the world's godfathers and top guns.  In Latin American gangs, life expectancy is 20 years old.

According to GIobal Initiatives Index, 83% of the world's population (5.5 billion people) are "living in conditions of high criminality."  The Guardian reports that Mexican cartels are the 5th largest employer in the country.  The mafia has 250,000 affiliates worldwide and generates 100 billion in illicit revenue.

Based on worldwide incarceration indices, the outlaw is a stark reminder that, as it concerns the territorial imperative and man's hierarchical nature, Homo sapiens is essentially an animal, and there is only so much that can be asked of him with respect to asking him to ignore or flout  his nature, which is precisely what civilization asks.  

Perhaps the crisis of modernity owes to man's unwillingness to recognize his nature. Instead, he is compelled by the rule of law and custom to abide by ideals that wither thin in the crucible of human experience. Man is essentially a bellicose, envious, avaricious (see The Seven Deadly Sins) creature against which best intentions have proven to be no match;  that when all has been said and written in the blood impacted pages of human history, mind has not been able to tame the beast within.

In the West, the real clash of civilizations is taking place where the radical right and radical left are selling  what they believe is the correct version of who we are as human beings.  The former is conservative, nationalistic, traditionalist, laissez-faire and isolationist, while the radical left are liberal, inclusive, relativist, distributive, and friendly to multiculturalism, gender and environmental  issues.  Trying to thread one's way between these extremes has proven to be such a hazardous undertaking that we are presently witnessing what the poet W.B. Yeats foresaw:

     . . . Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

Which isn't to say that, if the positions advocated by the radical right are presently more in line with human nature, we simply lay back and hand over the reigns.  However, there is a case to be made that the radical left has lost sight of the very real limitations of human willing, and to such an extent that it hasn't been able to identify, much less address, the broken relationship between freedom and human nature.

It could very well be that man's best hope is to come to terms with his animal nature and the insufficiency of mind to alter his basic constitution and disposition.

Thanks to the Internet where every digitally-hip smart-ass can be his own mafia boss, the world's outlaw population is increasing exponentially, and to the first effect that our once sacred institutions are no longer inviolable. Banks, aerospace, water supply, electrical grids and national defense are under constant cyber threat and it's only a matter of time before anonymous gangs of digital outlaws, who are as near impossible to track down as dark matter,  undermine those bedrock values upon which a civilized society depends. 

So we ask: What kind of new world order will convince the outlaw to give up his way of life? Man has thus far invested everything in the civilization paradigm, and remains convinced, despite the accusing headlines, that he can refuse  his animal nature.

In our eloquently worded constitutions and jurisprudence, we discover and exult in the best of what man can be, and are perhaps prone to confuse what we read and are taught with who we really are.  It is surely beyond disputation that man has not been able to live up to the magnificent goals and ideals he has laid out.  Democracies are under threat everywhere, from both without and within.

If man is to address and expeditiously respond to the existential crisis that faces the species, he must  finally stand himself in front of the mirror and hold himself there until he is able to find a workable compromise between his ideals and his largely intractable nature.

There can be no solving of any problem prior to identifying it as such.

The problem the world must solve is man.


also by Robert J. Lewis:


Exploring the Universe
How Free Are We?
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










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


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