Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author
In examining the root of the word pornography, we discover that it comes from a Greek root combining the words for prostitute and write, hence, writing about prostitution.
Yet prostitute itself comes from a root that simply means “exposed publicly, offered for sale.” So most properly put, pornography is not about sex, but about being too public. At least sexual pornography has a certain honesty to it, because it is willing to look shamelessly on the animals we really are. Personal pornography, that is, the ostentatious display of one’s ego- activities for all to see, is perhaps more disgusting and dishonest—yet our media-obsession celebrates it with a level of aggression hitherto unmatched by any other society. The Internet has made unwitting pornographers of almost all of us.
Obviously, there are some activities that can be public without being pornographic — but those activities are activities that relate to honorable behavior, respect for others, love of one’s neighbor and of God, and so on. The celebration of hatred and violence, of divisiveness and cults of personality, are all worse forms of pornography than the sexual form, yet they are not just widely tolerated — they have become the status quo. Perhaps this gives you an inkling of why Gurdjieff hated journalists so much.
Of course we are speaking here of the external matters in the way society is formed, and that is not quite my point, so let me get back to it. No matter what context we find ourselves in—even in small groups with a few people—putting the most intimate details of our innermost spiritual life on display is just not how things ought to be done. Once again, my teachers, Henry and Betty Brown, set the standard for that.
One needs to quietly much of what takes place within oneself in relationship to one’s spiritual practice and inner quest and not share it too much with others. As Epictetus said, when at a banquet, one should never tell others how they ought to eat, but instead attend to eating properly in the way one ought to eat oneself. Real Being is taught by example, not instruction.
It is, furthermore, a messy task. It involves a great deal of inner suffering and direct forgiveness of others. This kind of work has to be done quietly as well, because the pain of forgiveness is worthless if it is not suffered alone.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.