The Graeco-Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff argued in the early 20th century that humanity lives much of its life in a form of waking sleep. This all sounds very theoretical — Gurdjieff was the subject of one of my first four dossiers in 1998 for Disinformation and a 2001 undergraduate essay — but the right circumstances can drive his point home with clarity.
This past weekend provides two examples apart from the Mumbai siege. In the first, Jdimytai Damour an agency temp was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart sale in Long Island, New York, on Black Friday, 28th November 2008. Associated Press coverage quotes Kimberly Cribbs that customers acted like “savages”. The New York Times blamed the media for creating unrealistic expectations about Black Friday sale bargains: the catalyst for a mania. In the second, Sydney’s Glebe Coroner’s Court has held an inquest into Emma Hansen’s death: Hansen was a pedestrian accidentally killed in 2007 by learner driver Rose Deng, who is still permitted to drive by Australian authorities. Both incidents illustrate on a micro-scale Gurdjieff’s Law of Accident or Law of Hazard (“when an event happens without the lines of the events we observe”).
For two overviews of Gurdjieff’s philosophy see Richard Smoley‘s introduction to Gnosis Magazine’s special issue here and John Shirley‘s essay The Shadows of Ideas. I also recommend Shirley’s book Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Ideas (Tarcher, San Francisco, 2004) and his DVD commentary as co-scriptwriter for Alex Proyas’ dark gothic masterpiece The Crow (1994), infamous for another Law of Accident case: Brandon Lee‘s accidental death during a film stunt.