Shanghai, Nov. 11
An individual who read today's Facebook post about the recent US election made the following comments about the post on someone else's timeline.
“This arrogant, ignorant piece is all about Lee van laer’s little world. He wouldn’t recognize the sly man if he met him, much less the Work. He is too puffed up with himself to see others. Van Laer imagines here an emotional narrative that says nothing real about what the American people are and wish for or why they chose to elect this president. Van Laer doesn’t even bother to get simple facts right. Lord Pentland once remarked to a very lost member of a group, “The work is for trance-formation.” He noted at another time, “Gurdjieff fashioned his teaching so dumb people can’t really distort anything.”
This last remark is interesting. It may well be true; and if so, it is good news for the critic. He must be very smart indeed!
Years ago, I used to receive very similar destructive comments from people when I allowed comments in this space. They all generally sound about the same, so much so it’s surprising. Every person who posts such drivel imagines themselves to be special in a good way; whereas the opposite is so evidently true to anyone who has acquired proper reading skills.
I will confess that in my own eyes, if this was the kind of individual the Gurdjieff work actually produces or was even intended to produce, I would resign from it immediately and make every human effort to oppose its propagation and even its very existence, for I would see it as a dire threat to the spiritual integrity and goodness of all mankind.
Fortunately, my 30+ years of direct day-by-day experience working with many people who knew Gurdjieff, Lord Pentland, and Mme. Salzman personally have led me to firmly believe that this is NOT the kind of individual the Gurdjieff work hopes to produce; so I breathe a sigh of relief on that point. I don’t have to quit just yet.
Nonetheless any such personal attack certainly deserves a bit of further examination. The man intends to hurt me; and this is not a right attitude at all.
The writer, interestingly, appears to be a person of British (!) nationality who appears to think he knows a very great deal more about American politics than I—a sixty one year old American resident and citizen— know. He may; perhaps he is a professional politician, which might explain the overall tone of his comments. If so, he is perforce excused; the man cannot help himself, and lies beyond the help of others as well.
For my own part I know little about the British people and their political system and can’t presume to say much about what they may wish for. Perhaps the British have very excellent. yet absolutely secret, teskooanos with which they are observing we Americans. Who knows?
In any event, what I found helpful about the comments—and yes, they are in some ways mildly helpful, one must take the good one can get and extract it from the bad— is, first, his reference to my “little world.”
Everyone’s world is in fact quite small. This bracing invective is a good reminder of that. I’m indeed limited by the scope of my own Being—my Yezidi circle. No matter how large I think my thinking is, it's only ever a set of tiny events that take place within my own event horizon. The important thing here, I think, is to know that for myself.
In light of this incontrovertible fact, the writer delivers his critique in an atmosphere of dense irony which apparently escapes him: he, too, is writing from his own little world—as must we all. I won’t presume to judge the exact size of his own world, small or large, but from the negativity and outrage it conveys, I suspect it may be an alarming world to live in, even if it is huge—as I hear for example hell is.
He scores again, early on. I am indeed also too puffed up with myself. I have lived with this all my life. What an ace he is! For a brief, slightly painful moment, I admire his aim.
In point of fact we are ALL too puffed up with ourselves, which is a part of the human condition that preceded from the collapse of the original, sinless universe as a result of the chootboglitantical disaster. I won’t digress more on that here (there are other essays) but there you are.
I appreciate his reminder, but on reflection the point is, one must admit, yet another rhetorical one. His aim may be excellent, but he's only shooting fish in a barrel. One wonders of what real use it is to “accuse” me of being in a state we all share. Although it isn't intentional, he deftly helps prove this point himself; it's puffed up with the full fury of a caged sparrow.
He’s now done it twice... let us see... let us see where we go next.
The next damning flaw: I “imagine an emotional narrative.”
Well, that too is true. So does he—his argument is once again undoubtedly a reflexive one—and yet I can find no sound principles of condemnation in it, so we will let it stand.
Let us pause here for a deep breath and consider his skills. It’s something of a feat to pack this many reflexive arguments into such a tight little piece, but the writer has done so with apparent ease, implying he has considerable expertise in this area. There are more positives to be found: repeatedly accusing another of exhibiting qualities we all share, while exhibiting them one’s self, allows for an admirable ease of presentation, no matter how low the standard may be.
My post, he goes on to report, “says nothing real about the American people and what they wish for.”
Well, he has stumbled a good bit here. One might be tempted to help pull his feet out of his mouth if one weren't upset with him. This is clearly untrue; it pretty clearly and definitely says the American people wish for a different president, which the popular vote absolutely demonstrated. One can’t be sure how he has managed to miss this; it suggests either a severe attention deficit or some other tragic and perhaps even congenital conceptual challenge. We should definitely extend sympathy and leniency on this point, since his words are so clearly heartfelt.
He then claims I have not even got simple facts right, without citing any of the facts he takes issue with. I rather suspect he has not got any real examples to offer, as is often the case with such tirades, but there you are. Accusations of this kind without explanation are in my experience rather useless, but they do help distinguish people who have actual critical minds from those who just believe they do, despite often decisive evidence to the contrary.
We reach here a sad, but by now inevitable, conclusion.
His aim, we discover, is simply to belittle me and my writing, and nothing more. How he manages to conflate this with any spiritually valid motive whatsoever remains a mystery on a scale up there with dark matter, but there you are.
He goes on to wrap up his condemnation of both my spiritual and ordinary intelligence (he has covered all the bases, our villain!) by citing Gurdjieff and Pentland as authorities. The action, in this case, is something like the effect one might get if Goebbels started quoting Kierkegaard, but what of it. It's still exactly the type of flourish one ought to end with, don't you think?.
Here's my point.
The idea that one has the right to belittle other people’s spiritual experience and understanding in such a way has gained currency in some dark and, in my opinion, utterly horrid corners of the Gurdjieff work. I’ve encountered it more than once before. The delusional nature of such attitudes ought to speak for itself, but weak people sometimes mistake it for a sign of authority or strength.
I would fain counsel:
beware of any and all individuals who behave as though contemptuous and intentional attacks on a person's personal spiritual work—whether public or private— is acceptable.
It is not and never will be.
Nonetheless, it is a good thing that this gentleman has chosen to get out there and make his world known, whatever huge size it may be. We certainly need to know precisely who others are and what they are all about before we decide whether or not to work with them... or even serve them tea.
I have thus supported his effort and thanked him for it. Perhaps he'll grow. I wish it for him; the good news is that there is ample overhead available in his case.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.