15th March 2010: Breaking the Taboo on Targeting Civilians

Morning meeting: get people face-to-face on sensitive issues, avoid escalation by email, and remove roadblocks. Some interesting anecdotes on what really happens on an overseas consultancy.

Late afternoon meeting over tea and donuts with collaborator Ben Eltham in Melbourne’s Nicholas Building. Discussion: EMI’s troubles; how ERA will affect two articles we are working on; Australian academic and zine maven Anna Poletti; why journal workshops have bad percolator coffee; sick buildings; and the psychological impact of glass desks in offices.

Evening: PhD ‘background research’ viewing the first episode of Gwynne Dyer‘s mid-1980s series ‘War’: archival footage of World War I nationalist mania, the Western Front trenches, machine guns, German zeppelin raids, and World War II aerial bombings, ending in the Trinity nuclear test and Hiroshima. The nationalist mania, and generals’ decision that led to the sacrifice of 60,000 English in one day to German machine guns and no-man’s land, are examples of George Gurdjieff‘s ‘terror of the situation’.

An insight whilst viewing Dyer’s series: the Napoleonic innovation of national conscripts and total war, and German air-raids, broke the taboo on targeting civilians. Prior to this, 19th century Russian anarchists usually targeted police and political leaders. After this, many groups acted on the taboo, for different reasons: anti-colonialist and nationalist revolutions, radicalisation in the shadow of the Vietnam War and other conflicts, strategic tactics such as during hijack negotiations, and religiously motivated violence. This hypothesis appears to be a close fit to David Rapoport‘s waves thesis and to Mark Juergensmeyer‘s research program. Is this testable using the Correlates of War data-sets?

Four Books on Heidegger, Gurdjieff and Aletheia

Heidegger, Martin (1996/1927) Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit.Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Staumbaugh’s 1996 translation is clearer to read than Macquarrie and Robinson’s 1962 original, although it is helpful to have both for comparison. Sein und Zeit influenced existentialist, phenomenological, deconstruction and hermeneutic philosophy, and spans a bridge to pivotal later work by Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method), Alain Badiou (Being and Event; Logic of Worlds), and Paul Ricoeur (Time and Narrative).

This opens up some potential ‘correspondences’ to compare Heidegger and Gurdjieff’s philosophies worth further exploration. Sein und Zeit may be Heidegger’s ‘legominism’; Heidegger’s hermeneutic method an attempt to recover the ‘I’; Dasein an awareness of Time as Gurdjieff’s ‘Merciless Heropass’; and Heidegger’s ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ broadly similar to Gurdjieff’s ‘Way of Golgotha’ (during the First World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution), in that both are death-aware orientations to personal conscience. Heidegger’s perspectives in Sein und Zeit about angst, falling into inauthenticity, and tradition’s role in cultural transmission are similar to Gurdjieff’s arguments. Finally, Sein und Zeit is about Aletheia in the sense of ‘unconcealment’ of being-in-life.

Faye, Emmanuel (2009) Heidegger:The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935. Trans. Michael B. Smith. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Faye’s book ignited controversy during its 2005 publication in France. Smith’s translation has done so again, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Faye makes three main arguments. (1) Heidegger embraced Nazi metaphysics in the late 1920s before he became Rector of Freiburg University, and this influence is clear in his 1933-35 seminars. (2) Heidegger’s Nazism has influenced hermeneutics, postmodernists, and radical ecologists, who may be susceptible to proto-N. ideas. (3) Heidegger’s political beliefs mean that he should be banished as a philosopher from university courses, and censored in libraries.

For many reviewers, Faye’s contribution has been to highlight the archival sources in (1), although others claim Faye has misrepresented Heidegger’s ideas to advance his arguments. (2) and (3) have ignited the debate: Who has Heidegger influenced over time, and to what effect? Under what conditions can knowledge creation be separated from its sociopolitical contexts, particularly when these contexts may change? What should be the fate of philosophers who may be brilliant in one sphere, but taint their reputation in other areas? Is it possible to be influenced subtly by ‘evil’ ideas, and how would we be ethically self-aware enough to know?

Faye’s book is best read as an ‘active exercise’ with these issues in mind, issues that highlight Lethe as the opposite of Aletheia: how knowledge may be de-manifested, fragmented or (willfully) forgotten over time. A comparison of Heiddeger’s period as Rector of Freiburg University with Gurdjieff’s Paris groups raises some intriguing questions about Aletheia and ethical self-awareness in the midst of revolution, war and societal conflict. On the Paris groups, see the Gurdjieff group transcripts in William Patrick Patterson’s Voices in the Dark: Esoteric, Occult, & Secular Voices in Nazi-Occupied Paris (Fairfax CA: Arete Communications, 2000).

De Salzmann, Jeanne. (2010) The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. Boston: Shambhala Press.

De Salzmann (1889-1990) was the closest pupil of Gurdjieff’s during his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleu, and during the later Paris period in World War II. She was pivotal to the Gurdjieff Foundation, to the transmission of the Movements, and to Peter Brook’s film adaptation of Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979). Her publicly available writings have a directness of presence that differs from most other sources, the exceptions being Uspenskii’s In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, 1949) and John Pentland’s Exchanges Within (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1997). This book compiled from De Salmann’s 40 years of private notes promises to be a watershed moment in the Gurdjieff Work.

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H. (2009) Gurdjieff and Hypnosis: A Hermeneutic Study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robert Fripp’s DGM diary for 3rd February 2010 alerted me to Tamdgidi’s study, which has an introductory essay by noted Gurdjieff Work scholar J. Walter Driscoll. Tamdgidi contends that Gurdjieff’s expertise as a hypnotist is essential to understand his relationship with students, and the deep structure of his books, especially the ‘legominism’ Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (New York: Harcourt, 1950). In doing so, Tamdgidi demonstrates the methodological value of hermeneutics to interpret Gurdjieff’s texts and to reconstruct the hints and ‘fragments’ into a coherent whole. This book reveals some of the ‘mesoteric’ ideas on the transcultural sources of Gurdjieff’s cosmology, the appropriate use of friction in the teacher-student relationship, and the hypnotic structure of many occult ideas. Tamdgidi’s analysis however has some broader implications about the performative nature of Uttering a Word, and why the Task and Curse of a Magus involves a paradigmatic shift or conceptual distance.

19th February 2010: On ‘Questions to Consider’ in Don Webb’s ‘Concerning Words’

Don Webb’s Edred.net essay ‘Concerning Words’ (publicly released 16th February 2010) synthesizes two decades of reflection on several initiatory, metaphysical and cosmological philosophies, drawing on Plato, Chaldean theurgy, Crowleyan Thelema and Setian metaphysics. His focus is on the core Words that encapsulate these philosophies, the equivalent in these traditions of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’ used in philosophy of science to describe conceptual revolutions.


Such Words have two key aspects for Webb: (i) ‘they are a label for a group or constellation of ideas’ that can be grasped by individuals, groups and movements, and (ii) they are performative or a speech act–Webb uses the term ‘magical act’ for a Setian and Gild audience. Thus, apart from the religious and metaphysical systems he discusses, Webb observes that Words can also describe a way to think about religious and sociopolitical philosophies such as ‘Agape’, ‘Communism’, ‘Democracy’, ‘Racism’ or ‘Capitalism’–and perhaps by extension to comprehend the past decade’s debates about ‘Caliphate’ or ‘Jihad’. There are seeds here of what could be a rigorous evaluation framework.


The essay has specific meanings for Webb’s main audience. For instance, he uses the honorific ‘Prince of Darkness’ both to describe the Egyptian god Set as an independent metaphysical entity, and as a symbol of the human ability to conceptualize new horizons and then to bring them into being–with both positive and negative aspects. However, Webb makes observations that may have relevance to a broader audience and to scholars from different perspectives: ‘Words are not the property of the human who Utters them’ or ‘The Utterance of a Law does not bring any new thing into being, but brings an anticipatory Awareness of that thing.’ In doing so, he challenges the assumptions held by many adherents who would ascribe a Word solely to a specific guru or individual.


At the essay close, Webb poses nine ‘Questions to Consider’ as a teaching tool. Below is a personal analysis, which attempts to clarify the definitions and categories for non-Setian readers. To do so, I have slightly reworded Webb’s nine ‘Questions to Consider’, in some cases to broaden their scope, so compare with Webb’s original formulation.


1. Definitions of a Word


1a. Independent Existence and Well-formed Definition tests:

Does the Word exist–conceptually and ontologically–as an independent Idea that is differentiated from precursors and other metaphysical philosophies? (DW’s Q8). This raises various other questions: What ontological and cosmological assumptions does the Word suggest? What ‘boundary conditions’ arise? What are the criterion to differentiate a Word from its precursors? What happens when a competing metaphysical philosophy ‘interprets’ or ‘takes’ a Word?


1b. Descriptive and Meta-model tests:


How is the Word descriptive? Are there examples you can inductively infer from myth and history, or deduce observationally from people? (DW’s Q1). My rewording leaves open whether or not this leads to ‘individual success or failure’, whereas Webb’s original wording
would isolate ‘successful’ cases–I feel ‘double loop’ learning from cases of ‘failure’ or ‘mutation’ can be just as valuable. Abductive, inductive and deductive logics may all be used.


1c. Communicability test:

Can you communicate a Word’s metaphysical core in plain, everyday language? (DW’s Q6). This raises various other questions: Who are the intended and unintended audiences of the communication? How does a different medium affect the reception of a Word’s message? If there was no School as a (sustainable) organizational form, how would a Word be communicated? What happens when a Word fails to be communicated, and dies?


2. Knowledge Base


2a. Knowledge Base – Organisational Alignment test.


Does the Word resonate with and expand the Knowledge Base? (DQ’s Q4). Is it aligned with the host organization? Two reasons apart from personality conflicts are suggested here for the history of schisms in (so-called) initiatory organizations: (i) a change to the Knowledge Base core that differs from a periphery; and (ii) a Word that challenges the form, boundaries and the custodianship/governance functions of the host organization. This may be a failure of communicability (1c), a failure of apprehension or diffusion (1b), or the perceived Need for a new organizational form that triggers an institutional power conflict. (1a).


2b. Knowledge Base – Temporal Matrices test.


Can you Understand, broadly and deeply, how the Word relates to and compares with other metaphysical philosophies? (DW’s Q7). This Understanding may be both diachronic (evolving through time) and synchronic (the present). Aleister Crowley’s ‘Curse of the Magus’, like Kuhn’s ‘gestalt-switch’ between different paradigms, is in part because definition (1a) can dramatically change temporal awareness (2b), which leads to communicability and diffusion problems (1c and 1b). Herein lies the metaphysical justification usually posited for a School’s existence as a non-Hobbesian initiatory environment.


3. Personal Axiology

3a. Core Self and Personal Philosophy tests.


Does the Word bring metaphysical clarity and significance to your life? (DW’s Q5). Is it immediately graspable, but refine-able over a lifetime? (DW’s Q3). This is the apprehension and reception of the Word into the core self (1a, 1b, and 2b). In part, this is the goal, practice and life-orientation of ethics, axiology and metaphysical philosophy. For individuals, it may be a sign that apprehension (1a), induction (1b), and temporal reorientation (2b) have occurred. This is one function of ‘conversion’ in religious belief systems, and more subtly, one potential role the Daimon might play in Platonic, Jungian and Thelemic metaphysics. In psychology, it may be found in the work of Roberto Assagioli, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, Viktor Frankl, and James Hillman, amongst others. For Teachers it may suggest successful transmission (1c), and organizational alignment (2a). This is the generative source of forms/kata in martial arts, personal conceptualizations of methodologies, and of Teacher-Student transmission in Zen and other traditions.


3b. Praxis test.


How is the Word prescriptive? Is it an injunctive that offers guidance and self-volition? Does it clarify actions you Need to take in your life? (DW Q2). This is the extension of the aligned, core self to the world (3a). This is perceived in George Gurdjieff’s ‘Way of Golgotha’ in revolutionary Russia, Aleister Crowley’s mountain climbing, and in Michael A. Aquino’s decision to recast the Order of the Trapezoid at Wewelsburg in terms of the Grail quest. It is also the focus of guidebooks like Julius Evola’s Ride the Tiger (1961), Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising (1982) or manuals on Method acting, consciousness studies, hypnosis and
neuro-linguistic programming–provided you do the exercises. This is the observable manifestation of self-initiatory work over a career (1b and 1c). It is also perhaps the best defense against Stephen Edred Flowers’ ‘occultizoid nincompoop’.


3c. Resonance test.


Does the Word resonate deeply with your life, emotions, embodied cognition and actions? (DW Q9).This is the extension of the Word as a life-anchor, through time, despite Hazard and the Law of Accident. At an individual level, it is strengthened through clarity, focus, and aligned action (3a and 3b). It empowers the individual to communicate (1c), and via their deeds, for the School to survive as a viable organizational form (2a), through time (2b). In part, this is George Gurdjieff’s ‘three lines of work’: for individual, for group, and for School or tradition.

1st December 2008: Two Examples of Waking Sleep

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.