Monday, May 03, 2010

america's chief weaknesses

Gurdjieff Journal | He saw our existence as "feverish" and that we had developed a strange and destructive love. He reported through the redeemed Beelzebub, his fictional persona in the First Series, that our predominant urge, or chief weakness, was our "love of 'dollar business' and of dollars themselves."(2) In the chapter "Beelzebub in America," he speaks of our Americanisms, two in particular being especially detrimental: the media, whose "conscience," he says, "is completely atrophied"(3); and advertising, which he calls a "maleficent invention." He goes to the heart of the matter with a saying of Mullah Nassr Eddin's—"that man will become a friend of the cloven-hoofed who perfects himself to such Reason and such being that he can make an elephant out of a fly."(4)

But it is our passion for food and sex that Gurdjieff warned will be our undoing. Our strange and destructive eating habits—the canned and processed foods of his day (to say nothing of the frozen and genetically altered foods and microwaved meals of ours). Our abnormality with food will be the cause of digestive disorders that will weaken our constitution; while sex—in objective reality "the most sacred of all sacred Divine sacraments"—which we use for titillation and worse, will lead to impotence. He illustrated this with his tale of Beelzebub visiting Chicago and being taken to a "story party" by a man whom Gurdjieff refers to as "the amiable and obliging Mr. Bellybutton." All the guests he found "exceedingly gay and very 'merry.'" They were telling "funny stories" which Beelzebub would have found amusing "if it had not been for one 'feature'...their 'ambiguity' and 'obscenity.'" The next evening Mr. Bellybutton escorted him to a "petting party" where a young woman he had never met stroked his neck. For the following evening Mr. Bellybutton proposed a "'swimming party' where young people bathe together but of course all dressed in special costumes." Seeing Beelzebub's disinterest in such 'tame affairs,' Mr. Bellybutton—who is now spoken of "as the obliging and exceedingly 'amiable' Mr. Bellybutton,"(5)— offered to take him to something "more substantial."

If these digestive and sexual disorders were allowed to proliferate throughout society, Gurdjieff foresaw America being destroyed as czarist Russia had been. "The process of the destruction of the large community 'monarchic Russia,'" he wrote, "proceeded in consequence of the abnormalities of, so to say, the Reason of the power-possessing beings there,(6) whereas the process of the destruction of this community America will proceed in consequence of organic abnormalities. In other words, the 'death' of the first community came from, as they say, the 'mind' whereas the death of the second community will come from the 'stomach and sex' of its beings....it is precisely these two functionings necessary to their common presence, which are now both going in the direction of complete atrophy; and moreover, at a highly accelerated tempo."

Not judging, allowing everyone "to do their thing," came out of the Timothy Leary-Alan Ginsburg 1960s drug culture. Taking drugs to increase vibration, users entered what Gurdjieff calls the higher emotional or higher mental center. The problem was—never having worked on themselves and thus purified their vibration by their own conscious labors and intentional sufferings—their egos subtly skewered and distorted the experience. They unconsciously projected their own ego-laden values and assorted psychic maladies onto the higher reality. In a word: they personalized the impersonal. As Gurdjieff would say, imagination was created in higher centers.(9)

As the drug wore off, the drug takers "came down," returned to their original heavier vibration, and scorned the denser, more causal level of everyday existence as being "phony," "hypocritical," and the like. Taking the world to be one (which it is, and isn't) they didn't see they were applying the knowledge and ideas of a higher level to a lower. What were once direct impressions of the higher level were deflected into the argot and acting out of half-remembered ideas. Hence, the flowering of the idea that it wasn't cool to judge anyone. This, along with the equally delusive idea of 'equality,' and assorted other utopian ideas put America on the fast track to societal insanity. The Mr. Bellybuttons of the day did their free love dance and society passively followed.

However, the impetus for the foregoing having been given long before, Beelzebub could warn that the sex center and the power center—"the two chief motors of their existence thus deviated retrogressively"—were both moving in a "direction of complete atrophy; and moreover, at a highly accelerated tempo." (And this, remember, was in the context of 1924–1949) He pointed out the Mr. Bellybuttons already among us, those exceedingly amiable and obliging bastard-guides to the animal realm, who make everything so easy, so nice, so respectable, so fun. And he spoke of a law "according to which one must always and in everything guard just against the initial impetus, because on acquiring momentum, it becomes a force...." This initial impetus was given and accepted long ago and now the question, as it is for virtually every area of American life, is how to get off Mr. Bellybutton's stairway to hell. The answer, individual and societal, can only begin to be understood by working to be present to the state of things that, unfortunately, is. Only by the fearless facing of that can we come to a courage of presence that is in life but certainly not of it.