“People are machines. Machines have to be blind and unconscious, they cannot be otherwise, and all their actions have to correspond to their nature. Everything happens. No one does anything. ‘Progress’ and ‘civilization,’ in the real meaning of these words, can appear only as the result of conscious efforts. They cannot appear as the result of unconscious mechanical actions. And what conscious effort can there be in machines? And if one machine is unconscious, then a hundred machines are unconscious, and so are a thousand machines, or a hundred thousand, or a million. And the unconscious activity of a million machines must necessarily result in destruction and extermination. It is precisely in unconscious involuntary manifestations that all evil lies. You do not yet understand and cannot imagine all the results of this evil. But the time will come when you will understand.” – In Search of the Miraculous – P.D. Ouspensky (quoting George Gurdjieff), p52
Here Gurdjieff is discussing why the destruction of war must be to P.D. Ouspensky, his reasoning, in short, is that Everything happens. No one does anything. Now, there are a number of specifically ‘Gurdjieffian’ reasons as to why this is, but very roughly it is because everyone is asleep. Everyone exists in a waking sleep. Of course, when you mention this to people they push back against such an idea – “How can I be asleep!? I’m conscious of all my actions!” They are lulled into a false-sense of security by their knowledge of what certain words apparently mean. To be conscious, for men of the Western world, is to supposedly have will, or to have willed the actions which happen to them. This is their average belief, so average in fact, that one can consider it the default position of the Western mind. We are in control, what we do, we do. This is a predominantly Western belief. Here’s an exercise for those of you who doubt this, those who still believe that they are truly the master of their ‘own’ mind, of their self. If one is walking from point A to B, or driving from A to B, I would ask one to try and focus their attention solely on the task at hand. If one is walking, then one should focus their attention on the process of walking itself, and primarily the feeling in their feet. If one is driving, one should focus on the position of the car and their control of the car. Now, what one will find, is that very quickly their mind wanders off. It begins to consider things, identify with things, and indulge in various fantasies. All of a sudden you will try refocus your attention to the task at hand, but you may have been ‘away’ in your fantasies and considerations for minutes at a time…where have you been? Why, you have been asleep! This is what Gurdjieff understood as ‘sleep’, a waking sleep in which one is pulled around by various unconscious mechanical actions which are driven by external events and happenings.
“There is no progress whatever. Everything is just the same as it was thousands, and tens of thousands, of years ago. The outward form changes. The essence does not change. Man remains just the same. ‘Civilized’ and ‘cultured’ people live with exactly the same interests as the most ignorant savages. Modern civilization is based on violence and slavery and fine words. But all these fine words about ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’ are merely words.” – p51
As a teacher working within the Perennial tradition, Gurdjieff’s quote here can be taken under the saying ‘Nothing new under the sun, the world repeats itself, time is a flat circle. Have it as you will, it has been noticed time and time again, that time itself is always again. And as the ‘outward form’ changes, so too does the language used to define it, language which can largely be considered synonymous with the form itself. The definition many of us have landed on with respect to what is the external catalyst of contemporary sleep is ‘modernity’. And so I hate to state it, but modernity is nothing new. As there has always been happiness, contentment and strife, there too, has always been modernity and/or sleep alongside consciousness and/or true civilization. So I would make it clear before I go further, those devices which I utilize as clarification of my piece here are nothing new in essence, but in attempting to peel away their outward form and reveal the Seed of Sleep beneath, one can begin to Work at modernity.
Let me take the contemporary cliché of criticism, social media. Many will begin to already think – ‘Yes, we know, social media bad, dopamine rush, depression…we know, we know…’ – and I can sympathize with these statements for the fact they are repeated over and over. Yet, we rarely ask why they are repeated so often. Of course the answer is because nothing has been done about the problem. Modern man does not fix his problems, he simply finds more sophisticated ways to articulate them, without ever attempting to dig to their root. The very fact such criticisms are repeated is proof in-itself that man is a mechanical being; are we not told, and do we not have knowledge in abundance of that which is bad for us? And yet we still partake without thought or action, this is mechanical insanity. We all believe to understand what social media is, but in truth we only have knowledge of it, for if one understood, truly, they would cease. We believe to get its malicious mechanics, its abusive feedback loops, the fact it promotes narcissism and solipsism, that it begets division and hatred, forms camps and borders, and at its ruthless heart, beats an artificially intelligent addiction which latches to one’s worst attributes and characteristics. In short, social media is built to use the worst of you as a means for productive-consumptive output.
Yet what are any of these traits but indulgence? We like to believe we are in control, and yet can see we are not. We indulge in the continual debasement of our attention and energy, get emotionally giddy as its squandered to the ignorant masses. We indulge in its narcistic promotion, revel in slowly becoming a greater center of attention; a center that becomes defined by various artificially created boundaries. The social media user does not post for enjoyment, they enjoy the indulgent masochism of its dopamine exhaustion, they indulge in it as they do a deep autumn depression, with an unconsciously mechanical action which draws them from their potential as a Being. Stripped to the core there is nothing new here, what is found once more is man’s lust for sleep. Behind everything modernity has to offer is the machinations which beget sleep, they are neither more intense or more complex from previous generations, for the motor of sleep evolves with its socio-cultural context. One cannot escape the possibility of sleep, only be aware of it.
When one finds themselves wishing to scream to the wind ‘Why oh why must men be this way! Why do they not pay attention!’ what one is likely beginning see is the propensity for sleep. As for the reason for war, for wearing a mask, for taking a knee, for watching TV, for that which one find themselves doing, for that which happens, sleep is the culprit. Waking-sleep, the motor of eternal modernity. When one looks around and believes nothing happens anymore. That time has somehow been lost to the wind, and that the supposed feelings and experiences they had as a child have since left, this belief is not in vain, but it is misplaced. Such a belief only makes sense if one believes in progress, if they believe that the time they are in is somehow different to other times. It is not. Nothing happens anymore because we have always been asleep, as soon as man was conscious he wished for sleep, and so sleep arrived. You are not in the belly of some whale, you are not part of some actual operation to lobotomize you.
For there are two sides to reality. One’s internal life of which you have control, and the external world of events. The weather is an external event, the way in which one reacts to and considers the weather is an internal event, if one is angry or upset at the rain, this is an action of which they are solely responsible. The same applies to all that ‘modernity’ puts on one’s plate. You might feel yourself to be drowning in a cacophonously schizophrenic clutter of noise, media and signals, but is this largely because you truly wish only to indulge in it further? As one indulges in their negative emotions, modern man indulges in his apparent plight as an alienated atomized being.
The average being of modernity is a human knee-deep in quicksand, scrambling lower and lower. Listen as you pass by to their cries, whines and complaints, watch as they roll around in the very filth they criticize, feel the energy that rises in them as they describe they fate within the – supposedly – bleak existence of consumer culture. My friends, analyze their actions as they state their hatred of the sand, as with your very own senses you witness them partaking further and further in its engulfing flux!