I had made of few comments during the last “illuminating” Seeker’s Cafe Session on Electricity that may not have been easily understood. So, to make my own thought clear to myself at least, I wrote the essay below. What I was trying to say was how I connected electricity with technology, and technology with the diminishment of Being. No doubt my perspective will change over time but here it is for now. No need to comment – it is just a simple offering.
I brought up Gurdjieff’s mention of a car setting a speed record (The Tales p 709) and the futility of it because I interpret what he writes to mean that no matter what speed we achieve, (speed and efficiency defining what we take to be technology or “technique” as defined by Jacques Ellul), this won’t change our Being. Worse still, he writes that “the whole of… contemporary culture tends only to increase the speed of this machine…maleficent just for themselves.” To me, interpreting it on the literal level, Gurdjieff is pointing out the maleficent effects of technology on the growth or diminishment of our Being by using the automobile as a typical example of such a technology.
Further, in the context of where he brings up setting the speed record, Beelzebub imagines that in the future, the spread of the use of the automobile will desecrate sacred places, like creating places for parking cars “on the spot” where Jesus was buried. Certainly, this desecration of sacred places must be part of his critique of technology, not just the automobile, again, thinking about this on the literal level only, which is of course only an aspect of what he is saying in this section from the chapter “Religion”. Nevertheless, here is the section somewhat in context:
“This is quite enough to show me and to convince me with my whole being what will eventually become of this Jerusalem, now that they have opened there their famous university, and moreover, for Jewish youth.
“I already see in my mind’s eye that before many of their years have passed, there will be on the spot where the planetary body of the Divine Jesus was buried, a place for parking contemporary cars, that is, a parking place for those machines which for contemporary beings were just the marvel needed to drive them crazy.
“Furthermore, not only have these sacrilegious beings gradually distorted for their egoistic and political aims the teachings of this Divine Teacher, but they have now begun to destroy even the memory of it.
“But there! That also has long been in the style of your favourites.
“In this connection I may say that the whole of what is called contemporary civilization there tends only to increase the speed of this machine invented by them and maleficent for themselves.
“And indeed, in the last etherogram I received about the three-brained beings of that ill-fated planet, I was informed among other things that a ‘record’ speed of this machine had already been established there of 325 miles an hour.
“Of course, such a ‘record’ will only lead to this, that the already sufficiently trifling size of their ill-fated planet will become, even in their bobtailed being picturings of reality, completely trifling.
“Well, the LORD CREATOR be with them my boy!
“Whatever speed they may attain with this ‘machine’ of theirs, all the same, if they remain as they are, not only they themselves but even their thought will never go any further than their atmosphere.”
pp 708 – 709
Further, in Meetings with Remarkable Men (pages 15 and 16), Gurdjieff draws on the automobile to illustrate the declining value of the fruits of modern culture in his example of the “Conversation of the Two Sparrows”. The gist of the story is that “in the old days,” when carriages would pass, the horse manure would yield food for the birds, but today’s automobiles only produce “nauseous drops of burned oil.” Recall the truth spoken by JGB (if I remember the gist correctly) that an ameba had a higher Being than a Rolls Royce because an ameba is alive. Even horse shit is food for something, unlike the “droppings” of automobiles which are not only dead but toxic to life.
Coincidently, Nicholas Blincoe accidentally combines aspects of both of these stories (sacred spaces and the “fruits” of car culture), when he writes, in From Bethlehem: Biography of a Town, “When I first visited Bethlehem in 1993, Manger Square was a wide, dirty parking lot, paved with crumbling asphalt that would collect the oil drips from the visiting tourist coaches.” The story also suggests the prescience of Gurdjieff’s thought, but as usual, I digress…
This story of the “Conversation of the Two Sparrows” is used as a metaphor to illustrate the low quality of modern literature and as a means to compare the East and the West since Gurdjieff goes on to write of the superiority of the Being of seeming ignorant Asiatics compared to modern Europeans.
“(T)hat among all the present-day inhabitants.. of Asia..isolated from the effects of modern civilization, feeling has reached a much higher level of development than among any of the inhabitants of Europe. And since feeling is the foundation of common sense, these Asiatics people, in spite of having less general knowledge, have a more correct notion of any object they observe than those belonging to the tzimuss of contemporary civilization.”
Also in connection with the distinction between modern culture and people from less technologically advanced cultures, on pages 17 and 18, Gurdjieff writes that because Asiatic people are not as removed from Mother Nature, they consequently feel and instinctively sense reality more objectively, thus being better able to “cognize their own individuality, which alone leads to what we call “remembering oneself” – that absolutely necessary factor in the process of self-perfecting.” He goes on to blame journalism, a requirement of contemporary civilization, for separating the thinking function from people’s “…individuality, and thereby conscience, with was occasionally awakened in them…” Here we are brought back to the question of active mentation.
Today, with the universality of technology and worldwide spread of modern western culture, represented literally and metaphorically by the word “electricity” there seems less and less distinction between the East (being closer to Mother Nature) and the West (being urbanized and industrialized) as Gurdjieff describes. Perhaps it was this growing influence of contemporary European culture that Gurdjieff was describing in the example of the Martian King (representing the East) who detected that the intensity of the possibility of active mentation was diminishing among the beings of his planet and that Beelzebub discovered was caused by the influence of three-brained beings on the earth using electricity.
All this aside, the deeper symbolic “esoteric” interpretation of electricity seems more what was being discussed than the “exoteric” interpretation that I’m adding to the mix.
I would agree that sometimes we are guessing at what he meant but by speculating that meanings existing on multiple series or levels, the literal the metaphorical and the symbolic, or exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric, we ourselves are engaging in the being-partkdolg-duty that is necessary to increase the possibility of active mentation, the basis of the question of the King of Mars. Certainly, the current malaise of western culture is due in part to the diminishing ability to find meaning in a world we’ve come to sense lacks purpose. It therefore should come as no surprise that culturally we’ve substituted the personal for the objective and found refuge in subjective identity politics, to give but one example of this diminishment of being able to sense the world we live in.
Despite the certainty that the deeper meaning of “electricity” is more the point of the chapter than my ramblings, I found it reassuring to find this reference from Gurdjieff and the Women of the Rope (pp 161 – 162)
[Near Vichy on the road there was a new lighting system]
KANARI: You say in your book such use of electricity is a bad thing. Yet more and more is used.
GURDJIEFF: The more they use, the greater will be the catastrophe.
[Note: I’d be pleased if this posting led people to Jaques Ellul’s ideas. He warned about the autonomous nature of technology or as he meant it technique, which he defined as the totality of methods rationally derived for the maximum efficiency in every field of activity. The problem is that once you’ve arrived at a more efficient method or technique, you can’t go back to an inefficient technique or one that wasn’t rationally derived, hence it is predisposed to becoming autonomous.
This is a link to a documentary on his ideas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOCtu-rXfPk]