The Sly Way




Crazy Russians

The Russian mathematician, journalist and ‘Fourth Way’ philosopher Peter D. Ouspensky (1878–1947) is largely ignored and seldom taken seriously today by intellectuals. One might say that Ouspensky’s contributions to the ‘Crazy Russian’ stereotype were not appreciated by his peers. His reputation was virtually ruined during his lifetime, not only because of his enthusiasm for the fashionable fourth-dimension discourse of his day and esoteric subjects as well, nor for preaching his rationalizations of the self-remembering method of his iconoclastic master, yet another black sheep, the self-remembered mystic and lover of distilled spirits, G.I. Gurdjieff (1872-1949), but also because of his eccentric, drug-enhanced lifestyle.

Following in the relatively fresh footsteps of the Russian seer, tobacco fiend and professional charlatan, Madame Blavatsky, first Gurdjieff and then Ouspensky embarked on a nomadic, Oriental search for golden nuggets and priceless jewels of ancient wisdom, for miraculous notions and alchemical potions, a quest that contributed to their popularity among disaffected radicals of all sorts, bohemians, beatniks, and hippies. The eclectic product of their adventures was rendered absurd by its often self-contradictory assortment of ancient lore posing as modern revelation. Ouspensky’s attempt to gloss the Absurd over with rationalizations was taken to heart by persons who found some security in its mechanical or systematic aspect, hence we occasionally encounter an apparently objective or heartless system that provides for emotion in name only, an awful burnished machine that does not, however, raise consciousness to the classically harmonious realm purposed by the ‘Work’ of his fascinating master, Gurdjieff, whom Time magazine referred to as “a remarkable blend of P.T. Barnum, Rasputin, Freud, Groucho Marx, and everybody’s grandfather.”

In sum, Gurdjieff’s hard ‘Work’ was based on ancient premises and techniques that are by no means proprietary or unique to his school, but are necessarily platitudinous premises still held. And the related techniques and rituals are still practiced by modern psychologists. His therapeutic work employed music, dance, rituals, and a sort of psychological shock therapy to prepare the novice for initiation into the version of reality Gurdjieff had became acquainted with on his peregrinations.

Gurdjieff stated that his semi-biographical work, Meetings With Remarkable Men, was intended to be “prepatory instructive material for setting of the consciousness of creatures similar to myself a new world”; that is, a real world instead of an illusory world. He wrote another work, Beezlebub’s Tub, “to destroy mercilessly the beliefs and views rooted for centuries in the mind and feelings of men”, by arousing unfamiliar thoughts in their minds. Of course he employed more than words to shock his students out of their wits.

Most importantly, Gurdjieff emphasized an artificial, triadic structure of human beingness: In the name of the mind, the body, and the feeling, as One. He supposed that, IF the three centers were brought into triunal harmony, THEN a higher level or state of being-consciousness would naturally follow. Gurdjieff the mystic, by the way, was a composer and hypnotist. Although Ouspensky’s intellectual analysis of Gurdjieff’s Work tends to divorce the mind from body and feelings and exalt the rational function, Gurdjieff’s version of classical Harmony, his harmonious level of being, is an emotional state of being, at least from the perspective of modern psychology.

Modern Emotions

When a bow is pulled across a string of a musical instrument in just the right way, strife is music to the ears. When strings conflict in such a way that they insult ears sensitive to an accustomed musical system, the result is deemed inharmonious. Life itself is a sort of lover’s complaint in its war against nature, and all against all after bliss is left behind and self-consciousness gained.

What is love? Love is simply your life, said Swedenborg. So we say each life is a lover’s complaint because the individual would persist without resistance forever if only s/he could, but s/he can not. An individual with power unlimited would not be divided within nor without, and would in effect be as powerful as the projected Holy Power or Almighty so many persons worship with all their might. Hence, albeit a form of complaint, self-love is essentially life, and therein is the unity of all lives.

While militant philosophers believed strife to be the general Good from which all goods flow, and held that blood must and should be plentifully and frequently shed to improve the moral fibre of the race, others, who hankered after peace among men, abhorred strife, and they opposed to strife an altruistic love, an overarching metaphysical Love that would transcend strife and purportedly bring harmony. That is to say, harmony within, to the basic anxiety of existential complaints, which would, in turn, be orchestrated, and harmony without, in forms of loving cooperation to mutual ends. Or perhaps we would better say, in mutual admiration or mutual self-love, inasmuch as all are to love their neighbors as themselves, as absurd and repugnant as that might seem.

Wherefore we hear of “Harmony” in several languages from many philosophers who profess to hold usually three-pronged keys to an emotional state of being we might all enjoy; in a word we might call it bliss, the best emotion of emotions.

Now emotion is widely regarded as the thinking-feeling basis of morality. Modern psychology’s frequently stated tripartite analysis of emotion disintegrates the notion of integral emotion into body (feeling), mind (thinking), and behavior (acting) components. In brief, an emotion is a conscious feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness, accompanied by a biological activation and expressive behavior. Again, emotion has cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components, which have been referred to in popular terms as “centers”, namely the thinking, feeling, and acting centers. A person’s behavior communicates her emotional state, which is not always clear without corresponding context, which may include verbal communication. For instance, the facial expression of grief, crying, may be misinterpreted out of context as laughter or “crying with joy” until the context is made clear.

The modern “scientific” analysis of the mind-body organic functioning into components or parts is made for the sake of convenience, usually with an interest in understanding human behavior in order to manipulate it to profitable (“good”) ends. The emotional “centers” are not “facts.” Furthermore, the interpretation of the facts or behavioral events is necessarily value-laden; that is, the artificial divisions are to a certain extent arbitrary and based on the prejudicial social mores and personal biases of the analyst. Wherefore the serious student of psychology should always keep not only the unique identities but also the emotional integrity of analyzed subjects in mind. For instance, the limbic system, sometimes mislabeled the “emotional center”, has pathways to and from the cerebral cortex, particularly the frontal lobes involved in the interpretation and control of emotions.

The modern theory of emotion is generally optimistic and coincides in some respects to the optimism of Gurdjieff and other students of psychology. To wit: behavior, including  thinking or symbolic acting, can be so managed as to increase the happiness of humankind. Otherwise, why bother with psychology, or, for that matter, any other human art and science?

Modern psychology’s Opponent-Process theory of emotions has practical implications because the theory asserts that an opposing emotion will gradually render a strong emotion weaker. Conflicting emotions can be resolved in favor of an induced powerful or “empowering” congruency, or a “negative” emotion can be deliberately replaced by eliciting in its stead a “positive” emotion, via physical (e.g. smiling) or symbolic (e.g. visualization or positive thinking) action.

The Shacter-Singer Two-Factor theory, which is a cognitive theory, posits that emotions depend on the interpretation of arousal, which we variously label. For instance: a man yells at you; you are aroused; you label his behavior “anger,” and perhaps respond angrily. But he may not be mad at all; he may be a “loudmouth” with something else in mind. Nor should you reflect his anger if anger were in fact the case. In any case, different labels may be applied with different effects (your responses) to the same event.

The Cognitive-Appraisal theory asserts that different people may have different emotional responses to the same situation. Emotional experience depends on cognitive interpretations; therefore reinterpreting the situations can change emotions.

The James-Lange theory posits an order of functions. The standard example: we see a vicious-looking growling dog; we feel nervous; we run; and then we realize we are afraid. Therefore we suppose that, if the behavior (running) can be changed, then the emotion can be changed. Laugh, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her famous poem, and the whole world will laugh with you. We should observe that the James-Lange interpretation of the order of function mistakenly denies the fact of cognition at the very outset: the dog looks vicious and is growling viciously – perhaps the dog is not vicious at all.


Moral Psychology

Now we can see that Gurdjieff’s so called quasi-religious approach to psychology and therapy is by no means unique. The contrary claims of his postmodern followers who assert that modern psychology has ignored his contributions, are spurious and serve to bolster their egos with the belief that they possess something special that sets them and their practice apart from and superior to mainstream theory and practice.

Modern psychology’s primary directive is not to applaud certain persons and psychological cults but to recognize the general nature and operating laws, such as they might be, of the human “psyche”, however that might be defined, and, presumably, to offer some sort of therapy for human improvement, however that might be defined. Since man’s  fundamental nature has changed very little since his emergence as homo sapiens, we are not surprised to find ancient moral platitudes at the bottom of many of the theories of modern psychology and psychiatry. Only recently has the term ‘moral’ been disassociated with ‘mental’. Moral behavior implies mental choices. The moral or socially acceptable behavior of the person is tantamount. Once the drugs are dispensed with, moral or mental therapy remains applicable to “mental illness.”

Garth Wood, for one, is a modern psychologist who believes that far too many mental/moral problems are defined as diseases and treated with drugs and self-defeating psychoanalysis – e.g., dwelling too long on personal histories. A moral approach directed to present and future behavior, particularly in cases of neurosis, would be more effective, he insists, in The Myth of Neurosis.

“In reality, of course, to behave in a ‘neurotic’ way is not a disease but a misguided decision and such behavior is a function of our basic freedom to choose, of our self-determination, of our responsibility for our own lives. Perhaps in some perfect world of the psychodynamists, in which all were exposed to their teachings and methods, such freedoms would be superfluous and there would remain only well-adjusted people, their psyches working smoothly in accordance with the blueprint for some mental machine dreamed up by metaphysical conceptualists who were longer on theory than they were on common sense.”

The Happy Machine

The modern mechanical elaboration and rationalization of man’s irrational incongruities in hopes of engineering a happy machine have rendered Gurdjieff’s relatively modern psychological system heartless. Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were no doubt duly impressed by the scientific, positive, and empirical schools of the West,  and the related modes of thought elaborated during the  Enlightenment; particularly in its later phase, represented in France, for example, by the academic Ideologues, whom Thomas Jefferson in America admired and emulated so much that he eliminated the subject of Theology from his university curriculum in favor of Ideology, a subject eventually taken up in its vulgar form throughout the country as the study of political religions rather than the “logic of ideas” recently abstracted by logical positivism (philosophical assertion of the primacy of observation in assessing the truth of statements of fact, while insisting that metaphysical and subjective arguments not based on observable data are meaningless). In any case, the Occident already has the Orient, in the persons of brilliant Arabs, Persians, and Jews, to thank for recovering classical metaphysics and for developing  inductive reasoning and the rudiments of modern science.

Of course Newton’s cosmic machine and the notion that man and his society are machines as well, to which mechanical principles or laws apply that heaven on Earth might be engineered, was all the rage back then, an optimistic fashion soon to be interrupted by the Romantically inclined – often to Gothic depression. And then a mysterious, fourth dimension was brought to light, and the human mind speculated on the nature of time and space, and curiously, timespace, waveparticles, and other subjects so occultly contradictory that even the most absurd doctrines of the ancient Brahmins were seemingly  upheld by quantum physics.

But the modern mechanical man was not to be thrown out with the bathwater. No, he was to be deprogrammed of his traditional, presumably bad habits, and reprogrammed to suit the times, that he might become a well-oiled machine. The well-oiled machine is not habitually engaged by negative emotions; the well-oiled machine doesn’t squeak. Yet the truth of the matter is that a machine depends for its motion on inherent contradictions whether it squeaks or not; moreover, life is largely a form of complaint we tire of hearing.

But never mind, if we are to be happy machines, we must, first of all, know that we are machines. After Jeremy Bentham applied the Inspection Principle to prison architecture, establishing an unseen monitor in the center of the Panopticon, he thought the concept might be suitable for the conditioning of students as well – his brother had already applied it to industry in Crimea. Someone asked Bentham, “Would not men, under the rational Utilitarian regime of  the greatest happiness of the greatest number, conditioned in panopticons, become machines?” No matter, replied Bentham, they would be HAPPY machines. Now the Panopticon has been liberally introjected into everyone, in part thanks to Bentham’s disciple, J.S. Mill, and his dad. Each thoroughly socialized individual – he thinks he is free – is his own indoctrinated and inoculated warden; yet, ironically, the number of external prisons and prisoners is accelerating, as if machines cannot be very happy even when they stop squeaking – perhaps because of the necessary mechanical contradictions that make the machine work. The brick and mortar prisons,  observes an upside-down postmodern sociologist, are necessary: the visible presence or prisons causes virtually imprisoned people outside the walls, who are in virtual chains to believe they are free.

Likewise Ouspensky, reflecting further than Gurdjieff on man’s propensity for automatic or habitual behavior, discovered that we are machines subject to certain behavioral drives or centers. Yes, he imagined, we are asleep, and our waking consciousness is really  a sort of dream state; we are mired in the psychological mud, so to speak, of our  habitual modes of life. Our salvation, at least as self-conscious beings, is to wake up from our stupor and remember our selves, whatever the self may be, if it exists at all.

Many of today’s Fourth Wayers have, instead of remembering themselves, lost the selves sought for in Ouspensky’s over-rationalizations of Gurdjieff’s work. They tend to tinker with the machine for the sake of tinkering, becoming so preoccupied with the parts, with telling the difference between a screw and a bolt, that the objective of the Work, the United Emotional State of Harmony, is forgotten, as if the tinkerer or gypsy had fallen asleep at the reins, unconsciously demonstrating, as it were, the cultish tendency of psychological pseudo-scientism to get lost in classification for its own sake. The Ouspenskian machine does, by virtue of its absurdities, work to disenchant and to destroy, at least in those who love nonsense, the hated habits and traditions that provoked Gurdjieff and like creatures to search for ancient oriental lore and habitude. We are left today, in my lay opinion, with a virtual rubbish heap; but a few precious things can be found therein, providing that the vanities are submitted to the bonfire.

Mind you that Ouspensky is not entirely to blame for the tinkering. Since Gurdjieff identified the Fourth Way as the “Sly Way”,  we might suggest that Ouspensky used slight-of-hand to fulfill an ulterior motive. Once the presumably sleeping or stupefied subjects are stripped of the old habits and traditions which block the recognition of revolutionary new masters,  said masters can distract them and virtually enslave them with yet another complicated  bureaucracy. We might tax lazy people to get them to work for us so they can pay their taxes; otherwise dissident intellectuals can be preoccupied figuring out the absurd tax code. There are many ways for a sly creature to fleece the sheep.

Personal Breakdowns

It might be best not to interfere with our machinery once we know we are machines. Gurdjieff was much impressed by the wisdom of a certain dervish who noticed him methodically masticating his food in an effort to get its maximum nutritional value. Well, so much for the traditional parental command, “Chew your food!” Too much chewing will over exercise the jaw and under excercise the stomach.

“It is not necessary to masticate carefully,” said the dervish to the delighted Gurdjieff, whose main childhood game was to avoid doing things the ordinary way. “At your age it is better not to chew at all, but to swallow whole pieces, even bones if possible, to give work to your stomach.”

Likewise, for the Hatha yoga that Gurdjieff was practicing at the time. No, we are not to take a deep breath, as old wives and others say, to improve our health, for breathing is automatic, an autonomous function. Artificial breathing will damage the machine! So forget the folk wisdom, still practiced to this day with “scientific” justification, that breathing exercises will drive the lymphatic system and thus eliminate toxins, improving tissue and organs and prolonging the person’s life.

“Without the knowledge of the fundamental laws of breathing in all particulars,” said the dervish, “the practice of artificial breathing must inevitably lead, very slowly but none the less surely, to self-destruction.”

From these instances the following induction is drawn:

“If you know every small screw, every little pin of your machine, only then can you know what you must do. But if you just know a little and experiment, you risk a great deal, because the machine is very complicated. There are many tiny screws which might easily be broken by a strong shock and which cannot afterwards be bought in any shop.”

So favorably impressed was young Gurdjieff by this revelation of mechanical laws that he reverently solicited the dervish’s instructions on “how to live in order to put an end to this tormenting struggle.”

We might spin large with the dervish’s assumption, project it onto the entire population, and assume that a radical disturbance of the social machine, namely, a revolutionary overthrowing of the traditions and mores much despised by the youth, say, when Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were young, might result in the utter destruction of civilization; that is, unless the population’s consciousness is simultaneously raised through class-conscious propaganda, and a new state machine installed, totally organized and regularly oiled by party technocrats led by an intellectual dictator.

Revolutionary  Breakdowns

Several social psychologists have noted that the revolutionary breakdown of social systems has perverse results: instead of elevating people to harmonious intercourse, they become primitive and brutish.

“Revolutionary society… loses its memory… it forgets traditions, beliefs, ideas…” wrote Pitirim Sorokin in THE SOCIOLOGY OF REVOLUTION, discussing the “perversions” or abnormal behavior that ensued after revolutionary intellectuals woke up and enlightened the masses and proceeded to rid the people Russia of their bad habits.

Pitirim Sorokin was certainly aware of the effects of “waking” people up in the middle of the night and making them acutely conscious of their bad habits and mechanical behavior – he was secretary to Alexander Kerensky in 1917. The complete breakdown of the state machine that resulted from the advance in revolutionary personal consciousness had many perverse effects besides famine. For instance, you might be a beloved comrade one day and executed on the next day simply because your spectacles and belly made you look bourgeois. Or maybe it was something you said again, but it was taken in another way. Sorokin was eventually arrested by the Communists, sentenced to death, released at the last moment due to the influence of friends, and, later on, banished. He became Professor of Sociology at Harvard in 1930.

“The gray cortex grows similar to a complex telegraph and telephoning station…. Often various contradictory messages are ‘sorted’ there…. ‘Sorting and appraisement’ demands time and energy…. The more intense and serious the process of reflection and thought, the more time will it require to come to a conscious definite decision…. The influence of inhibiting factors… makes us careful….”  The extinction of habitual processes results, according to Sorokin’s mechanical model, in “primitiveness” and “simplification.” “This degradation of spiritual activity is the fundamental feature of the psychical perversion of revolutionary society and render it akin to the psychology of the savage and the animal…. When a great quantity of reflexes… grows extinct in man, his nervous apparatus begins to resemble a complicated machine in which the screws have gone slack…. Because of this, the machine begins to work all wrong….  

“The perversion of conduct provoked by the first stage of revolution renders society more primitive and brings men nearer the conduct of animals…. Every extinction of conditioned reflexes means both the rupture, the annihilation of the former communication between the world and the organism; and a simplification, a returning to primitive motives; a decentralization of activity of the cerebral matter and the whole nervous system …. The mechanism of associating and of combining perceptions and ideas in revolutionary society shows a resemblance to that of primitive society….  It is primitively chaotic, inconsistent and unstable…. Today the Girondins are termed ‘Saviors’; tomorrow – ‘Executioners of the People.’ Today certain groups fight against each other; tomorrow they embrace.”

Eventually people become exhausted: “During the second period of revolution… ‘restraining factors’ and the exhaustion of energy sets in. Society loses all will-power…. You can do what you please with it…. Dictators strike…. It is like ‘new-mown flax’ ….”  The mob becomes like children and savages, more imitative, and it is then that the masses sleep: “They have grown to be somnambulists,” Professor Sorokin concluded.

Those of us who have not experienced, because of our time and circumstances, extreme social shocks, might, out of sheer boredom, secretly long for them, just as we might unwittingly long for death, as if we were subject to some sort of death instinct that would vacate the mind and resolve the body into dust. Indeed, not only do the young often long for revolutionary change, the old, as they approach the end, believe a general apocalypse is nigh. And then there are those who would just plod on and on in the same old ruts, even against their own interest – at least as defined by others – perhaps a cloud of LSD sprayed over cities or a voluntary course of shock therapy would wake them up so they could be reengineered.

The People of Byt

Beware, however, before taking a radical course of action, for there is some merit after all in repetitious or mechanical behavior. Moderation may be the key to success. Maybe orderly reform instead of violent revolution is the way to progress. A certain social platform is needed, a place where we can safely stand on habit, and then innovate if we happen to be disposed to innovate; but we must not be pulled under into the slough of despond by that platform. Russian was backwards; its traditional society was stagnant; something had to be done to wake up the masses, the majority of whom were peasants. Ouspensky noted that a certain, “unsuccessful”  type of people, the “people of byt”, are seemingly subject to eternal repetitive behavior. The Russian word ‘byt’  is difficult to translate. It can mean a habitual lifestyle, say peasant-life, merchant-life, rut-life and so on; or, in theatrical life, the typical voice or tone, the typical bit part, and so on.

“There are, first of all, people of byt, of deeply rooted, petrified, routine life. Their lives succeed one another with the monotony of the hand of the clock moving on the dial. There can be in their lives nothing unexpected, nothing accidental, no adventures. They are born and die in the same house where their fathers and grandfathers were born and died and where their children will be born and will die. National calamities, wars, earthquakes, plagues, sometimes wipe thousands and hundreds of thousands of them from the face of the earth at one stroke. But apart from such events their whole life is strictly ordered and organized on a plan…. It is just this absoluteness of repetition that creates in them some vague consciousness of the inevitability of everything that happens, a belief in fate, fatalism and, at times, as strange sort of wisdom and calmness, in some cases passing into an ironical contempt for people who are restless, seeking for something, striving for something.”

Ironically, like other Russians of literary note, Ouspensky seems to have a certain occult admiration for this repetitious type of person, the “unsuccessful” person whose, consciousness of repetition does not lead to reform but seems to ironically save him from fate by resigning him to it. But Ouspensky is divided against himself. He seems to push the doctrine of eternal recurrence to rid himself of it, but it rolls right back on him. He was a Russian fatalist who dreamed of the New World. East looks West, West looks right back.

In effect, the People of Byt were the Russian peasants whom the nihilists and other revolutionaries idolized and whom they even ventured to live with out in the sticks in order to wake them up and overthrow the Tsar’s state machine. The peasants were certainly creatures of habit, sticks in the mud, set in their ways. The regularity familiar to farmers was reflected in their religious rituals – a regularity that is disastrously interrupted, presumably by the deity, from time to time; a deity whose arbitrary behavior is rationalized by secular authority, whose own tyranny is therefore excused. The population of peasants was very large, and the urban intellectuals’ mission to wake them up was politically motivated. But the people of Byt, like today’s proud “Rednecks”, are not easily converted from their habits. The revolutionaries were disillusioned; millions of peasants were eventually murdered or starved to death. This is the context in which Ouspensky and Gurdjieff and the like should be discussed in order to be understood.  

Stupidity and Self-Remembering

Ouspensky reiterated the fact that Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way is the Sly Way; The First Way is the way of the Stupid Fakir. The Second Way is that of the Silly Saint. The Third Way is the way of the Weak Yogi. The Fourth Way apparently consists of cunning and deceptive tactics devised to manipulate people, hopefully for their own good; for instance, towards the usual, harmonious unity desired by alienated people. During our own stage of the Age of Dissolution, we strive to perfect a Fifth Way, the competitive cult of individualism, which we might call My Way, an anarchic way that further aggravates the isolation or alienation from  unity  associated with Original Sin, the diremption or violent divorce, if you will, from the Supreme Being.

Just as one dimension after another is being discovered or invented by modern science, no doubt more ways to salvation shall be forthcoming. Indeed, until the Final Hour of the Last Day, there shall be no end to the number of ways proposed for salvation. After all, alienation is the condition of self-conscious beings, creatures who are aware of their seemingly independent existence. Human beings are exiled for life. The estranged individual would seemingly persist forever as such if he could, even against his longing for a return to unity, an urge some thinkers have identified with a death wish. Yet he has no choice in the matter, for gravity is a tyrant unto him. No matter how far he strays from his origin, the exile must return home for dissolution and reprocessing. Again, it seems that the individual wanted to perish all along the way, for, despite the cultivation of individuality necessary for survival of the species, he seeks to lose himself by identifying with broader forms of alienation. Even the rebel who tears down all the fences has nothing to declare of himself in the end, except, “I am just another cattle.”

Perhaps most stupefied of all are those discomfited messiahs who are unaware of the Absurd and the Ubiquitous Ambiguities rooted in the underlying crisis or hypo-krisis of humankind. It is all too easy to go around with a lamp in broad daylight looking for an good man, or to climb up on a pulpit and accuse everyone of sin, or to set oneself up as a prophet and cry AWAKE! in the public arena; and not recognize that the accuser, in his witless arrogance and hypocrisy, is dishonest and asleep, even more so than the rest, and that the prophetic alarms are really unenlightening, perhaps even based on self-contempt extended to hatred for the race – the race of course is not so admirable in the light of higher ideals, hence it is easy to condemn. Of course the appearance of impropriety is concealed today by the modern scientific messiah with an objective, detached, facade of concern for the race being anal-ized or mentally butchered into machined parts. Indeed, the essential ambiguity, ambivalence, and hypocrisy of human nature should be the first recognized quality recognized by the self-remembered!

By the way, what is the self to be remembered besides some happy integer in the nebulae? We can safely assume that the entity remembered should be the true self, as opposed, to the false or conditioned, mechanical self. It is an ideal self by virtue of its current non-existence, a self to be perpetually strived for. Only nothing is permanent and perfect in itself. We doubt that the self is a reconditioned paving machine. We observe that Socrates’ Know Thyself results in skepticism, and not in an assertion that man is a machine, or should be machined after he is put in charge of machines instead of subjected to them.

Self-remembering, Gurdjieff remarked in Meetings With Remarkable Men, “is to take cognizance of one’s own individuality.” He rightly complained that journalism and advertising were putting people to sleep, causing them to forget their selves. Indeed, any mention of a person besides the third person casts doubt today on the truth of the speaker – therefore the ‘I’ here is usually ‘we’  – the plurality has more authority in a democracy. But in this paper ‘we’ are presumably the elite we of meritocracy, if not aristocracy.

Four Mechanical Manifestations

Ouspensky’s notion of self-remembering depends on the objective observation of certain psychological facts, four manifestations of mechanical life that prevent us from remembering what we are. Self-remembering is an awakening, as from a dream. Since we personally identify with the four manifestations, which are presumably bad habits, self-remembering or waking up is no easy task.

Habitual Lying is the first dysfunctional manifestation identified. Liars include persons who presume they know what they do not know, or who presume they are in possession of characteristics they do not possess. Imagination is the second mechanical fault, our tendency to imagine things then believe they are true to please ourselves. Negative Emotions and Unnecessary Talking are the third and fourth malfunctions.

Most misleading of all, claimed Ouspensky, is the notion of the possession of consciousness. Only a man can know if he is conscious or not. Others cannot tell, from direct observation, whether someone else is conscious: he may be a robot for all they know. Consciousness is a matter of degree: duration, frequency, extent of penetration of the objects of consciousness – Ouspensky was convinced that most people are dozing off or sleeping. A man cannot long sustain attention to himself. He is usually unconscious of himself. Hence “self-remembering” awakens him to himself. We cannot control consciousness itself, said Ouspensky claimed, but we can control our thoughts in such a way that we remember ourselves; that is, once we become aware of the fact that we have forgotten ourselves, or are, to wit, asleep. Hence the Work proceeds with the confession, “I do not know myself, I have forgotten myself.” This self-remembering process, he says, has immediate alchemical results on the body.

Well, the honest man will probably admit that human beings are habitual liars. Of course Native Americans observed that the invading European barbarian, the Western White Man, was a liar; one tribe went so far as to name him ‘Liar’ after getting to know him. Some peoples lie more than others. We might imagine that lying would not be the practice in small groups when the everyday existence of members depends on the communication of truth. Of course a people might lie to one’s neighbors as a matter of practice if they are perceived as enemies. But to make friends for mutual safety the truth is better told on essential matters.

The Vice of Lying

We note that the famous Ten Commandments enjoins adherents from bearing false witness against neighbors and from swearing falsely; rather narrow injunctions indeed, leaving a great deal of room for the propagation of all sorts of falsehoods. When populations are civilized through conquest, the competition continues by more civil means, and much of it is deceptive, as if man and his business were corrupt at the core and in need of legal restraint lest all hell break loose again.

As for the individual, we should remember that the child discovers the freedom of his individuality, at least that of his inner life, by lying and getting away with it from time to time. Hopefully he will learn to restrain himself and do no harm, and perhaps even do a great deal of good by virtue of a sort of white lie. He may discover that lying to himself, when restrained by the reality of his circumstances, is a very good thing for him and for his civilization; that is, if there is any such thing as positive progress to be had. In a certain sense, civilization itself is based on systematic lying, of presuming that we are better than we presently are. Religion, Freud said, is an illusion. But for all its faults, we might claim, it has served humankind well over the long run, and now we have other forms or religion besides religion, so to speak; for instance our political and scientific religions.

If man is a natural born liar and it is in his natural interest to lie and to imagine that he is something that he is presently not, then Ouspensky’s lie, that man will improve himself by ridding himself of lying to himself, is not the way to go. Perhaps Ouspensky’s Sly Way would simply replace one set of lies with another.

First of all, claims Ouspensky, a man must not lie. He must know what he has. He must know that he does not possess a thing in order to make an effort to attain it. A man is not going to pay dearly for something he already has. What he does not have yet ascribes to himself, is unity, permanent ego, individuality, will, consciousness, will-power.

“The change will begin with those powers and capacities which man ascribes to himself, but which, in reality, he does not possess. This means that before man can acquire any new powers and capacities, he must actually develop in himself those qualities he thinks he possesses, and about which he has the greatest possible illusions.”

The Virtue of Lying

Well, we suffer from the underlying crisis or hypo-krisis of our fundamental nature as hypocrites: we are not yet what we want to be, what we say we are. The Greek word for actor was hypocrite; Hebrew scholars, and then Christian thinkers with a vengeance, took up the word to provoke feelings of guilt for not realizing the ideals, for not treading the ideal ways.

Ideals are, fortunately for continued progress, moving targets. To become what we would be, something better than we presently are, we act as if we are just that. Thus, in a certain sense, we lie. We stand up on our hind legs, put our head in the heavens and imagine that we are more than animals; yes, undoubtedly we are much more than that: we are gods too, obviously because of a higher or divine will, a will that we seek unity with, and perhaps we may have it at the last moment.

Thus speaks cock-eyed optimists. People subject to negative emotions may beg to disagree, and point out that history is nothing but the continued history of man’s inhumanity to man, crimes of perpetual war waged in the name of perpetual peace and the one-god, crimes against humanity made large by high technology – low morality is still the rule. Furthermore, there is nothing we can do about it: we are determined to evil, to eventually run down like a machine or self-destruct. But let us not forget what Dr. Pangloss said: men are bound to corrupt themselves for their own good; for instance, to create war machines and slay one another.

“All that was indispensable,” said the Master, “and individual misfortunes create general welfare, so the more individual misfortunes there are, the more all is well.” As for free will in the best of all possible worlds, “Freedom can subsist with absolute necessity, for it was necessary that we be free…..” In fine, said Pangloss, “The fall of man, and his curse, were necessary components of the best of all possible worlds.”

The failure to recognize the truth behind the lies of Dr. Pangloss and other optimists has subjected the race to the misery necessary for its improvement. The few who realize what is really going on will prosper. Take, for example, a contemporary optimist, Jerome Robbins, who went from rags to riches and from fat to thin, pocketing a great deal of our hard-earned money by writing such books as UNLIMITED POWER. Many of us lack unlimited power and would like to have some of it at least: Unlimited Power is the subject of much religious worship. Mr. Robbin’s has entitled one of his chapters ‘The Seven Lies of Success.’ Mr. Robbins believes in lies and knows his Pangloss well:

“Belief #1: Everything happens for a reason and a purpose, and it serves us. Belief #2: There is no such thing as failure….”

If we would succeed, we should retrace our steps, learn painful lessons, examine the possibilities, mend our ways, and so on, says Robbins. Represent your experience in a positive way, imagining that it is just another step to success – don’t dwell on your lessons as mistakes unless you want to be a loser. Everything makes good sense if positively construed according to the drift of one’s wants and wishes. We’ve heard it all before. We find nothing new here for the price of a self-help book but copyrighted twists of the old hat, including the ‘novel’ NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) approach to imagination advocated, which Gurdjieff, a masterful hypnotist, and Ouspensky, a sly fellow in his own right, would find familiar although they have never seen the trademark.

Ouspensky’s derogation of the power of imagination is absurd.  Mr. Robbins owns technique-trademarks. His redundant tautologies of ancient wisdom have done many people a lot of good; white lies are a good thing; that is precisely the point.

Robbin’s fictitious or As If approach is not to be disparaged as mere pop-psychology. It is based on the common experience of the race and has been examined and deemed useful by professional philosophers and psychologists.

“The practitioner of Moral Therapy is not so interested in ‘objective truth’ …. In the absence of hard, permanent, unalterable purposes we should encourage the individual to settle for ‘useful fictions’… basically in tune with his moral heritage. He must behave as if he has a firm goal whether it is a realistic one or not. Garth Wood THE MYTH OF NEUROSIS.

But that makes a liar of Ouspensky, who would professedly rid people of their habitual lying and illusory imagination, as well as the negative emotions without which we would have no morality whatsoever. Remember that a negative emotion is often a response to a positive ideal disappointed. S/he who completely ignores evil is good for nothing. Of course that is not to say, for example, that love will not conquer hate in the long run. Popular psychology needs a better definition of “positive”, that the so-called “negative” emotions can be recognized and worked out and turned to more productive and harmonious endeavors.

There are limits to the power of belief or the credulity of the believers. The power of blind faith has no limit because it dishonors all refutation. But belief is not faith: belief is the gradual perfection of knowledge. One may, like Hitler, come to have faith in the truth of one’s own lies, but when  lying  has destructive effects, people cease to believe in the positive value of the lies and turn on the liar. Hence Mr. Robbins deliberately and rightfully provides in advance for certain painful adjustments.  

The Wrong Word For Good Intentions

And perhaps “lying” is the wrong word for our good intentions given the ingrained negative connotations of the term. It is not that we must lie but that we are entitled to our creative illusions. Gurus are right about maya and illusion. Things appear other than they are, as illusions. At least they are real illusions, and we accordingly refrain from jumping through plate glass windows. We are not deluded or hallucinating when we have certain illusions in common, just as we all see water glistening on a dry highway on a hot day due to an unusual refraction of light. Such is the law of phenomenal life, so why not accept that fact and turn it to good account?

Since we are always something other than we might think we are, why not take the illusion in hand and intentionally conceive of and imagine ourselves as otherwise? In our search for unattainable “Reality” or “Truth”, we may create our own illusory realities, conceived ourselves as other than we are, and, by virtue of this continual division of subject from object, live in accord with the law of motion which is the law of life. Such illusionism takes  therapeutic advantage of the restless urge for progress in general, or, conversely, nothing in particular – the will to freedom – and applies certain common sense guidelines for its exercise so that the individual will have a more satisfactory or healthy life.

The Ways

G.I. Gurdjieff and Peter D. Ouspensky were remarkable characters to say the least, and their eccentric ways of life and apparently unorthodox manners of thinking captured the imaginations of inspired many thousands of people, creative and progressive people, particularly creative and progressive persons drawn from the dissident or non-traditionalist ranks of the avant-garde -several variations on the Fourth or Sly Way persist today. Indeed, it is surprising that we find scant or no mention of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky  philosophical in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Their approach was hardly novel, and some of the theorizing is rather absurd, but the same may be said of much of contemporary philosophy and psychology today once the complicated elaborations of the platitudes are dispensed with.

Moreover, professional philosophers have remarked that eclecticism is inherently mediocre and necessarily logically absurd because of its contradictory borrowings; but we think they are too proud of their systems, rendered virtually incomprehensible by self-defensive rationalizations. I think it was Hume who noted that philosophy is an elaboration of common sense; we might turn a paraphrase and say that philosophy is usually a lot of nonsense about common sense

G.I. Gurdjieff, it is said, was quite a rake, and, in my opinion, somewhat of a fool; but he was a far more fascinating character than the professor of his Fourth Way, Peter D. Ouspensky. Ouspensky was no mean thinker. Some of his observations are perspicacious. His opus makes me think but leaves me emotionally cold, as if he were himself a thinking machine over-identified with his own intellectual center.

Ouspensky, like our contemporary superstitious PMA (positive mental attitude) pop-psyche preachers, is afraid of “bad” feelings, which he equates with “negative” emotions and thoughts. He preaches control as a way of avoiding negative information, and he seems to believe the repression of negativity, whatever that might actually be, constitutes the “objectivity” he preaches. His denial of imagination is destructive.

One might say that Ouspensky was a natural born ‘liar’, in a certain sense of that term, who gave the lie to his prohibition against lying. But his Sly Way was Gurdjieff’s – if Ouspensky was entirely sincere, then Gurdjieff gave the lie to him and made a fool of him. Credulous adherents are following suit to this very day. We hope it does them a lot of good. Such are the wiles of Lady Folly, that we are amused by all this, and can positively say so without negative emotions.

The High Way

Humankind has naturally developed many different folkways over the ages. Mutual animosity, or negative emotions, if you will, reduced the number of ways and cleared broad paths to several great civilizations. Wherefore people have had good cause from time to time to yearn for the security of one peaceful way rather than the many warring ways that depend on hate-based love or hate-others self-love.

Yet people soon tire of an single or universal way and long for personal identity with certain groups and ways of thought. Of course democracy or individual freedom promised a plurality of ways, even a unique way for everyone who wanted a singular, but individualism in fact constitutes, by way of dissolution and reduction, the utter socialization of existential units, achieving an massive unity in anxious singularity – the basic anxiety is masked by optimism – the smiling face and corresponding philosophy of life denies death.  

As for the unique aspect, we can only say, in optimistic self-contradiction ala Leibniz, that we are monadically unique because we differ in the quality of our perceptions. More abstractly, we might hold that each individual, as an absurd (unity of universal and relevant particularities) concrete universal, is a unique coincidence of universal qualities. We might find objective proof of our personal variety in the consumption of a wide array of mass-produced products, whereby each one of us might represent himself as visibly unique in the quantity and quality of his personal possessions, despite his identification with his caste, status, class and so on.  For a sense of particular identity in contrast to mass society, we might all represent ourselves as hyphenated-people; for instance, as African-American or Nigerian-French, and so on; and citizens of the cosmos may be cosmopolitan and thus retain their respective nations, and so on. Indeed, the possibilities for identification with different things and thoughts and people are infinite – for instance, a new kind of anarchism has recently been identified: Anarcho-Neanderthalism.

Yet during our metaphysical ascension of the pyramid to the presiding apex or non-dimensional  vanishing point, we tend to look down our long noses on everything below, and to have faith in Nothing if not the High Way. Nothing is better than the Fourth Way or any numbered way howsoever defined – the definitions are problematic hence stand in the way. The end of everything teaches us to expect Nothing, and, in the end, to have faith in Nothing, as if Nothing is best. Nothing is better than an infinite number of ways.

That being said by way of monologue, I beg your leave to sign off here and resume my visualization and breathing exercises.



Hegel’s Hypocrisy per Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin




Hypocrisy connoisseurs will certainly enjoy Eric Voegelin’s work, On Hegel. Voegelin charges Hegel with hypocrisy, in the sense that hypocrisy is the sin of pride in contradistinction to the humble role played by virtuous Christians, including himself, the arrogant author of a book condemning another man for his arrogance. According to Voegelin, Hegel fabricated a philosophical system that was bound to be false because it was founded on his own weakness, which, of course, Hegel was well aware of because he wrote it to overcome his own sickness. In other words, Hegel tried to pull himself up by his bootstraps. He acted like god while knowing he was not god.

“Thou hypocrite!” was once a favorite expression of Christians who derived its pejorative connotation from Alexandrine Jews who used it as a synonym for hanef – a godless person. Reverend James Marsh wrote a famous discourse on the subject, published in Boston by Crocker and Brewster in 1843 as part of Marsh’s literary Remains. Marsh quoted Luke XIII: ‘For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness, shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets, shall be proclaimed on the housetops.’ Reverend Marsh wrote, “These words of our Savior were uttered in connexion with a warning, addressed to his disciples, against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In their immediate application, they were intended as a dissuasion from that conscious purpose of concealing selfish and corrupt principles under the show of respect for the law of God, by which the Pharisees were distinguished.” Thus does Reverend Marsh’s love for Jesus Christ – to whom he believes we must flee to since we cannot hide from him – based on hatred of another religious group.

In fact the Christian cult evolved from the liberal Pharisees sect whose rabbis taught, besides survival of the soul, not only the strict observation of religious law which the Christians were wont to reject in part, but also the gradual, humane reformation of that law. There would be no Christians without the Pharisees. Early Christians then turned on the Pharisees and called them hypocrites for pretending to be good, and even for actually doing good works while presumably having bad or selfish intentions; that is, for having bad faith: not believing in Jesus Christ as the one and only savior of humankind. Hence the great scapegoating injustice perpetrated against the Pharisees, rendering their name synonymous with ‘hypocrite’ as if they were all godless persons. On the other hand, Christians presumed that they were the only ones in possession of the real god, incarnated in a single man; but this was a supreme arrogance that Jews simply cannot stand for and still be Jews.

A man may think he is a god unto himself, but the sane man knows he is not god of the world or universe; every man who knows himself knows that he is limited and is not omnipotent. He who acts like a god while knowing he is not god is a hypocrite. Of course pessimistic Christians live not for this necessarily evil world but for the good world beyond, hence any attempt to bring the good order of heaven to Earth is hypocrisy. Wherefore Voegelin believes that Hegel is the typical system-building philosopher who would set himself up as a savior of the corrupt world, yet who is a hypocrite because he knows his salvation plan is built on his own sickness in the sick world, the rotten ground of the original sin of pride. Such spiritual rebellion is the product of an existentially deficient man; it aggravates the troubles of this world, making itself yet another source of the disease plaguing

Voegelin argues that, while prophets are not bound by history, philosophers are so bound. Philosophers wrongly assumed a religious role and declared that philosophy had emerged from religion to finally reveal the pristine primordial deity, ridding the world of the old evil god. In effect, such a philosopher implies that “History is an immanence of god leading up to Me, the One who will inaugurate the New Life.” He discards mysterious symbols, replacing them with “scientific” explanations of the good old mysteries; those intellectual fabrications are disguises for hypocrisy and are mistaken for knowledge by gullible and credulous people who would struggle for personal freedom from tyranny. Witness, for instance, the 1789 French Revolution, an historical example of such salvation-activism and its horrible result in anarchic freedom instead of the totalitarian outcome outlined in Rousseau’s little book that the rioting revolutionaries waved above their heads as their guide although many were illiterate and did not know a word of it.

No, says Voegelin, man is no god, he is merely a sorcerer – he can only see the directions of history, and, with the help of language, evoke its shapes, ghosts, fictions. Hegel tried to use his imagination to eclipse God’s Creation – unable to redeem himself, he created a holy book of philosophy and recommended the diabolical system therein to the world as its salvation. Therefore Hegel’s conceptual spiritualism should be replaced by unquestioning humility, voluntary suffering, repentance – by a pessimistic religious system of virtual suicide – that the individual person might be saved by his unconditional surrender to his own god and in effect to the status quo on this Earth, in order live the life of Riley in the hereafter.

The hypocrisy of all this is unavoidable, for, if hypocrisy is arrogance concealed to deceive, everyone is a hypocrite. Hence it takes a hypocrite to know one and to say – like perverse Christians who love to cast stones first yet cannot see the beam in their own eyes – “Thou Hypocrite!” Not that they all do; not that we should agree with the proposition that Christianity on the whole is the epitome of bigotry, of hate-based group love, of the most awful sin of pride, of the very apotheosis of hypocrisy.

Christianity has no monopoly on hypocrisy. Nor do the Pharisees, or the Alexandrine Jews who gave the Greek term for ‘actor’ its pejorative connotation. Judaism and Christianity are inseparable – Christianity does not have its own religion for it is unwilling to reject its Old Testament tradition with its barbaric patriarchal god, and admit that a genuine god of Love would have to be a complete Stranger to this world. Judeo-Christianity has often been debited or credited with the creation of the Western world, curse or blessing that it might be. But we might want to consider that religion did not make the man, it discovered him in his hypocrisy or underlying crisis between the real and ideal, between Earth and heaven. We find profound truths about men and women in Judaism and Christianity. We note well its revolutionary nature in the Jewish revolts against political empire; but the fiercely independent Jews would have had a virtual tribal theocracy under their messianic king; whereas we note the tendency to individualism and the multiplication of sects among Christians – this author’s favorite Christian, by the way, lives in a cave in the watershed, and calls Christian churches in the area “dens of iniquity” and “pits of vipers.”

In fact, for many Christians of all kinds, god is synonymous with freedom. Now the individual in its will to exist forever without impedance is an anarch. It would brook no resistance to its will, it would be omnipotent, it would be free from everything – absolutely free, as if it were the one and only god almighty, the supreme arbiter who has no reason to think before acting. God is the social projection of such individual freedom, a positive abstraction without any content at all, for any content would limit such a god. Above all, ‘god’ stands for the abstract unity of a group, just as the imaginary ‘I’ stands for the abstract unity of the individual divided from and confronted by the multiplicity of the world about him.

So much for omnipotent, absolutely free gods. The rest of us are free FROM something or the other. For instance, a certain strain of Christians, taking their cue from revolutionary Jews, would be free from the state. They might admit that a police force and a few public works are necessary given the original evil of humankind whose salvation by universal love will not be accomplished until the return of the god’s solitary son – the Greeks called the solitary son, who appeared as the brilliant and pure (Phoebus) Sun of Zeus, ‘Apollo’, for far-flung ‘unity.’ Throughout history Christians like everyone else have had a love/hate or ambivalent relationship with absolute states. The absolute god is an indefinite abstraction or Power whose forms cannot be maintained without the political distribution of that power; hence Christianity owes its present existence not only to its god but to absolute tyrants whose ‘might makes right methods’ were often similar to those employed by the unpredictable Terrorist Almighty of the Sky who did not let even innocent infants stand in his brutal path; the Hebrew thunder-god El, for instance, and the volcanic YHWH down south. On the other hand, with the advance of civilization, for which Christianity and Judaism does get ample credit, tyranny was curbed by the legal distribution of its own power.

With that in mind, we are not surprised by Voegelin’s attack on Hegel. Indeed, many good Christians hated Hegel with a passion, and called him a madman because his philosophy spelled absolute political tyranny, to be provided on Earth according to the systematic providence of the World Spirit. Hegel was initially a ‘liberal’ or an advocate of democratic liberty; his sympathies were with the French Revolution until its excesses caused him to violently back-pedal to the absolute state, which he conceived as the concrete embodiment of the god of the universal ethic, the nebulous Good (of course there is no etymological relationship between ‘god’ and ‘good’). For Hegel, individuals were so much dust to be ground up by the universal world mill operated by the world spirit. And whatever is here and now, is here because it ought to be as it is. Of course a few heroes or representative men are of greater moment as they help the wheel roll from China to its future in parts West; as certain Chinese Buddhists know, the Pure Land is in the West, the future into which the Sun descends – it appears that China may rule the world after California falls into the ocean.

It takes a hypocrite to know a hypocrite. As his critic Voegelin knew, Hegel himself wrote about hypocrisy from a similar perspective, that hypocrisy is the pretense of godliness, which is in itself an arrogance. Hence it would suit this occasion to provide a brief description of Hegel’s definition on hypocrisy for the hypocrisy connoisseur to savor.

In hypocrisy there is a difference between the good appearance presented by the subject and the subjective reality of his evil or selfish intent. Insofar as the subject is wholly self-interested or selfish, and conceives that he alone is a law unto himself, as if he were god almighty or the universe, he represents evil; for the particular subject in itself without any object other than itself is an empty or false universal. “On its formal side, evil is most peculiarly the individual’s own, since it is precisely his subjectivity establishing itself purely and simply for itself….” On the other hand, the moral man has the universal social good in mind and intends to conduct himself accordingly.

A hypocrite has a bad conscience when he is aware that his will conflicts with the “true”, or social, universal; yet, despite hits bad conscience, he sets himself up as pious and righteous in order to deceive others; or, he may use one good act performed as justification in his own eyes for his bad deeds; he may also justify some evil deed by finding a single good reason for it – say the recommendation of a single minister.

Hegel addresses the “empty formalism” of preaching duty alone. “Because every action explicitly calls for a particular content and a specific end, while duty as an abstraction entails nothing of the kind, the question arises: what is my duty? As an answer, nothing is available except to… strive after… one’s own welfare, and welfare in universal terms, the welfare of others…. Specific duties, however, are not contained in the definition of duty itself…. Duty itself in… self-consciousness… is inwardly related to itself alone… is abstract universality… it has identify without content, or the abstractly positive, the indeterminate…. In every end of a self-consciousness subject, there is [this empty or abstract] positive aspect necessarily present because [this general] end is what is purposed in an actual concrete action. This aspect he knows how to elicit and emphasize, and he may proceed to regard it as a duty or a fine intention. By so interpreting it, he is able to pass his action off as good in the eyes of both himself and others, despite the fact that, owing to his reflective character and his knowledge of the universal aspect of the will, he is aware of the contrast between this aspect and the essentially negative content of his action. To impose this way on others is hypocrisy; while to impose on oneself is a stage beyond hypocrisy, a stage at which subjectivity claims to be absolute.” (The Philosophy of Right)

The hypocrite’s deeds give the lie to his fine words. Even if they do not, we can accuse him of having bad intentions. Hegel, in Phenomenology of Mind, describes the psychological strategy of the hypocrite who knows his moral duty is socially determined yet takes his own individuality as the whole to which he alone has a duty. “(The particular self’s) pure self, as it is empty knowledge, is without content and without definiteness.” Yet it becomes “conscious of the opposition between what it is for itself and what it is for others, of the opposition of universality or duty and its state of being reflected into self away from the universal…. Over against this internal determination there thus stands… the universal consciousness; for this latter is is rather universality, duty, that is the essential fact, while individuality, which exists for itself and is opposed to the universal… is held to be Evil by the consciousness which thus stands by the fact of duty, because of the lack of correspondence of its internal subjective life with the universal; and since at the same time the first [empty individual or evil] consciousness declares its act to be congruency with itself, to be duty and conscientiousness, it is held by that universal consciousness to be Hypocrisy.

I think we get the picture. We see evil and good in their extremities at opposite ends of the continuum. Individual and society, particular will and universal will. With the horrors of the French Revolution in mind, Hegel favored the right-wing authoritarian end. It is no wonder that men and women pretend to be good as publicly defined. Are we all hypocrites? It seems that both Hegel and Voegelin, the critic who called Hegel a hypocrite, might agree that humans, as anti-social individuals, are originally evil. Is the man who admits he is evil and acts accordingly a hypocrite? Or is the sociopath a hypocrite?

Hegel presents the concrete state as the solution for dissolution of evil – the state is somehow provided by the World Spirit – we fear that it is a dystopian Totalitaria, a virtual prison. Voegelin would apparently have an indefinite, abstract god preside, but this personal god is the projection of the individual anarch in its original evil which both philosophers rightfully fear. In any event, may god forbid theocratic tyranny under fictitious gods. Further, we have good reason to fear the man-made calamities of the personification and deification of nations and states even more than the irregular natural wrath of the Terrorist Almighty.

We hope for a happy medium or golden mean rather than an “either good or evil” for our conversation or dialectic, that our conversant life may never end. Yet progressives may not be rid of the either/or, even if they say progress is from a lesser good to a greater good instead of from evil to good. Divided as individuals from unity by self-consciousness, we are given an underlying crisis or hypokrisis that requires decisions. We suspect that hypocrisy is the human predicament. But we do not want to water the pejorative term down and render it meaningless in its application to certain individuals who are much bigger hypocrites than others. Hypocrisy connoisseurs will appreciate the sophisticated philosophical hypocrites only in comparison to the vulgar ones in their collection.


Voegelin, Eric, HISTORY OF POLITICAL IDEAS, V.12 ON HEGEL, Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri 1997

Hegel, G.W.G., THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, transl. J.B. Baillie, London: George Allen 1949

Hegel, G.W.G, HEGEL’S PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT, transl. T.M. Knox, Oxford: Clarendon: 1942

Robinson, Jonathan, DUTY AND HYPOCRISY IN HEGEL’S PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, An essay in the real and idea, Toronto: University of Toronto

The Great Atheism Controversy in Germany

ATHEISM resurrection of reasoning.JPG
The Resurrection of Greek Reason by Darwin Leon






German philosopher, religious thinker, and political radical, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, was accused of atheism. After being appointed professor of philosophy at Jena in 1794, he had begun a series of public lectures on Sundays, from ten to eleven o’clock, much to the consternation of the clerics. A local journal declaimed on Fichte’s revolutionary politics, accusing him of subversively substituting the worship of Reason for the worship of God.

That was a very serious charge in view of the situation over in Paris, where images of the savior and saints had been pulled down in churches renamed “Temples of Truth” and replaced with effigies of Reason and Liberty and paintings of natural objects such as flowers. Atheism was in vogue there to the extent that, if a priest bothered to even mention god in church, people openly guffawed.

Fichte, however, had no such mummery or cynicism in mind, although he was enthusiastic about some of the French Revolution’s basic principles, and he had written such tracts as “Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought from the Princes of Europe and Contributions Designed to Correct the Judgement of the Public on the French Revolution.”

The formal charge brought against Fichte, for worshiping Reason on Sunday, was resolved in his favor by the university senate of the Weimar government, with the proviso that any future lectures be given at three o’clock on Sunday afternoons instead of in the mornings. No such compromise was available however, in the matter of Atheismusstreit, the great Atheism Controversy which arose out of the publication of his 1798 essay on divine governance, “On the Basis of Our Belief in the Divine Governance of the World.”

The grand duke of Weimar had a liberal respect for scholarship, yet he wanted the whole thing hushed up; nevertheless, Fichte insisted on raising a vigorous public response to the anonymous charges against him, because, he said, the matter at hand was a vital public issue concerning the most fundamental of all freedoms. After all, a public airing of both sides of the atheism controversy would expose the stupidity of the authoritarian morons. Fichte had promised that he would resign if censured by the governing authority. As it were, he was mildly rebuked, but his offer to resign was accepted and he was dismissed from his university post. His dismissal was followed by anonymous public attacks on his character. The political authorities of various regions in Germany were embarrassed by the scandal, and they, in turn, ordered the journal publishing Fichte’s purportedly atheistic views confiscated, and they forbade students from their precincts to enroll at the university in Weimar.

What did Fichte say that outraged the anonymous religious authorities? In fine, he averred that god is the “World Moral Order.” That sufficed to outrage the theists.

Fichte thought that a person truly believes in god if he does his duty “gaily and without concern,” without fear or doubts about the consequences. A true believer is not afraid of the hateful hypocrites who go about casting anonymous aspersions on someone else’s version of faith.

As for the atheist, Fichte claimed that “the true atheist… raises his own counsel above god and thus raises himself to god’s position” by concerning himself with the consequences of doing his duty. The real atheist is a religious hypocrite who is concerned with what he can get out of his religion, the selfish person who does his duty concerned only with what is in it for him. As far as Fichte was concerned, doing one’s duty is imperative and not categorical, for duties by definition must be done regardless of the consequences. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about moral imperatives; for instance, the imperative not to lie: “You must not lie,” Fichte said, “even if the world were to go to pieces as a consequence.” So one should be willing to sign his own name to his beliefs and suffer the consequences therefor.

It may appear to the reader that, if the same good works are done, then the practical effects of selfish atheism and dutiful theism are the same, leaving the question of a person’s faith in god, which is really nobody else’s business. As long as the outward observances are dutifully observed, whether or not someone believes in god or not is between her and god. As for lying, the biggest lie of all is told by those who profess the existence of god but do not really believe god exists. If only people would start telling the truth about god, nation, party, family, and person, we would embrace our common humanity, in which pessimists believe a world war might break out.

Do not worry, advised Fichte, the truth will not cause the world go to pieces. If the truth is good for anything at all, surely it will keep the world intact. “The plan of its preservation could not possibly be based on a lie,” quoth he. Obviously, if god does exist, god is not a liar. Wherefore for Fichte, the moral world order that is god does not have to be proved; rather, it is the objective ground or presumed hypostasis necessary for certitude.

Fichte was not an atheist at all in the learned opinion of many great theologians who happened to be influenced by him. He was, one might say, an ethical pantheist who believed that god’s moral order or logos was present in every individual and available to each conscientious individual. That perspective naturally led bigoted dogmatists to charge Fichte with the mortal sin of deism, for intolerant bigots insist that deists are atheists. Deism affirms the existence of god and of rewards and punishments after death, and posits that each person aided by reason can discover the few simple truths of religion. Since god gives all normal humans reason, god’s doctrines are no secret; there are no specially anointed authorities who alone are able to understand and interpret god’s word. Conscience is a private matter. The deity winds up the universe like a clock and leaves us to do our duty or not. Finally, as to the form of worship, the deist worships god with good works. Deism, incidentally, was not unique to Europe; several founding fathers of the United States of America were democratically oriented deists.

The professors of stupidity charged Fichte with “making himself God” because of his reliance on reasoning rather than their irrational objective dogma. Fichte’s moral world order, however, was not the mundane mores of the mob or crowd, but was the real moral order of a supersensible realm where duty is not done for pleasure’s sake but for its own sake. His concept of Absolute Transcendental Idealism and the Absolute Ego or “I” smacked of heresy to bigots who wanted some godly object to idolize, a god of self-hate projected somewhere out there opposed to man and nature.

An object-god, say an imagined father-god who is out there somewhere, say in an imagined heaven, and who is opposed to man and to nature, is more of devil than a god. And it is for that reason that we should also be wary of Fichte’s absolute idealism, his apparent divorce of the subject (god and man) from the object (world and society). Furthermore, his idealistic con-fusion of god and man on the subjective side is dangerous, for an idealist who thinks his personal ideals are the one and only reality may dutifully be as intolerant as the religious bigot.

Indeed, an examination elsewhere of Fichte’s patriotic German utopia reveals a totalitarian dystopia. If he had known what we now know about the consequences of that line of thinking in World War instead of World Moral Order, he would not have been so enthusiastic about his German nationalism.

On the other hand, the wild, anarchistic hand as opposed to the totalitarian, heavy hand, we might admire Fichte for his assertion of the freedom of the will, the absolute freedom of thought and expression associated with the subjective nature of individualism.

In any event, Fichte was viciously and anonymously slandered by the professors of faith for expressing his conscience. The cowardice of the professors in remaining anonymous indicts their religion of ignorance, fear and hate. A profoundly faithful person rests secure in her faith; she is not pressed to prove the existence of her god; she certainly feels no need to make anonymous personal attacks on others. Naturally those who are insecure in forced faith fear that someone else’s reasoning might pull the rug called faith from beneath them, a rug laid on the shaky ground or shifting sands of their irrational fear, hence they respond anonymously unless they have a supporting mob; they answer with hate instead of love and would disallow any song except their own, desperately strident one.

College students conducting a recent study of hate-mongering cults were surprised by the loving friendliness the hate-cult members showed towards each other and towards new recruits. They love not the god of neighborly love piety raves about, for they condemn all to hell who do not agree with them. Surely this is not the worship of the god of love so many man-hating magpies chatter about in their assemblies, in churches, in neo-fascist meeting-places, but is rather the worship of hate itself. It is in effect hate-others-based group-love, a love based on fear.

Whether or not we like Fichte’s philosophy, the Great Atheism Controversy he was involved in, even though the atheism issue has grown increasingly moot since then, raises questions pertinent to our own time.

For instance, why would someone hide their name when expressing an opinion on an abstract subject unless they are terribly ashamed of their own existence expressed in words? Why are they so ashamed of themselves? Why do so many people hide behind false identities simply to insult people? And why do so many “religious people,” anonymously or not, resort to slander and libel, just as their forbears did about Fichte’s private life and sexual philosophy? Why, indeed, does their real god seem to be Satan, slander personified?



The General Lie


The dystopia 1984 was premature: the title should have been 2084. The year 1984 has past but the spirit of 1984 is still at work in capitalism despite the failure of the national socialist and communist campaigns. But not to worry. The number of dissident intellectuals who worry about the evils of The System diminishes because their minds are being submerged, nay, are being assimilated and absorbed by the homogeneous, gelatinous gray matter, the Borgian Blob beneath the gargantuan mechanical carapace.

Who needs a liberal education or a self-education? The human race has already been systematically liberated by science and technology. We near the end of human history whose objective is freedom. WE are almost free enough to totally obey now: The System is freedom in obedience. The once adamantly independent intellectual has joined the amorphous population of irresponsible credentialed narcissists staring into the corporate pool of Echo’s tears. Credentials, indeed. The sausage-factory graduate is handed a pigskin at the commencement exercise: “Here is your brain.” With this football he or she can proceed to beg in hyphenated broken English at corporate back doors:

“Extremely well organized, detail-oriented, highly self-motivated, ambitious, career-minded team-player with a can-do attitude and excellent communication skills seeks key place on winning team. Highly energetic self-starter. Eager to hit the ground running to meet deadlines long before they arrive for cutting-edge, rapidly expanding, fast-paced company. Works best under pressure. Dynamic, multi-tasking, customer-driven, high-expectations environment preferred. Loves constant change and long hours without overtime pay. Willing to make sacrifices: integrity, conscience, family, and three chickens a week.”

What communication skills? and to what end? Never mind, just push the right sequences of buttons and everyone will get it and obey it and produce it and consume it. The hackneyed phrases of form letters no matter how inapplicable to particulars will more than suffice when ‘integration’ and not ‘integrity’ is the key word. We are racially, politically and economically integrated now. We do not worry so much about our liberty for we find virtual liberty in our freedom to choose from an amazing variety of optional dressings on goods and services mass produced by virtue of scientific management. Fascists and communists and capitalists alike loved America’s scientific management scheme. Yet the intellectual roots of modern business administration are not in America but in Europe, in the Jesuit’s educational ‘conspiracy’ hatched in monasteries and cultivated in universities and military schools.

Today’s neo-liberal masters of business administration are jesuitical monotheists devoted to the disciplined rational pursuit and compound accumulation of an overarching abstract value: money. Money is god because it gives any person no matter how honorable or dishonorable power over things and persons. It is not so much the thing as the power that is wanted. Money is worth dying for and profit is salvation. Profit is frantically sought no matter how many heart attacks one survives: we look at the fast-paced businessman and say, “He is a walking heart attack,” but he does not know his condition; if he does, he just keeps on going anyway, like that battery in the commercial. Money comes not in peace but with a sword to destroy not only the family but traditional morality with its plural values. Morality becomes a pretense as exchange value replaces it. Profitable individualism is perfected in the universal hypocrisy of This Lying World of Ours. In any event, the army of workers must be organized and managed undemocratically in order to reduce costs and increase sales so that the kept class may be kept up with unearned income – the executive officers who aspire to join the kept class are entitled to obscene salaries and perquisites whether they lose or win the battles.

No doubt with the advance of technology many benefits trickle down to obedient employees as a consequence. As a matter of fact, there exists an open dirty secret: if the furnace were allowed to go full blast and the products were broadly distributed, poverty would be eliminated forthwith. But we must not allow that to happen, because people are basically lazy and prefer to lay around all day, smoke pot, drink booze, shoot up drugs, gamble, and fornicate. In fact, they would stop working without the fear of poverty to motivate them. Civilization would soon be destroyed. Therefore a system must be maintained, a system based on the scarcity principle – if there is no real scarcity, a false scarcity must be created.

The System is painful at times, but as long as the masses are systematically preoccupied with bread and circus, with standard trash, junk, and garbage, the elite are secure in their luxurious compounds furnished with custom-made things. We are an option-rich people, therefore we are free to choose between things. The choice is between buy and buy, or consume and consume; and to have that liberating choice one must sell and sell, or produce and produce, or be born rich or otherwise come into some unearned money. The surgeon general of the United States defined mental health as leading a productive life, and recommended mind-bending prescription drugs for those who cannot stand it. As long as one goes along, one is free in his or her obedience. There is always freedom of thought and conscience, and in the creative imagination, even in prison where great libertarian tracts have been written. If one can find enough leisure in voluntary poverty or wealth, religion or art-for-art’s sake might set one virtually free.

Do we like The System? Not really. If people were allowed to pitch tents or to build lean-tos, huts and cabins wherever they liked, without paying rent or mortgage payments, the residential real estate bubble would burst – there would be no affordable housing shortage. But that cannot be. That is why the military junta of Myanmar, for example, wants everyone to live in regular Western houses instead of bamboo houses that can be built in a day if they happen to burn down because a woman is not careful smoking her cheroot – she was once the freest woman in the world, the envy of British women who visited Burma.

However, something is wrong with the the dark view of our race, especially with the allegation that humankind is a kind of sloth – that is a lie. We are not all lazy prostitutes: we do not work for the money alone or the thing that it can buy. We are not natural born bums and wicked welfare recipients. We know wealthy and poor people who love to work. We love action. We are natural born creators and builders. We cannot stop building when we should stop and be as lazy as a sloth sometimes appears to be. Moreover, men and women have built up fabulous fortunes not merely for love of money or power but because they love to be building something for people and they just cannot stop themselves; and those projects have enormously benefited our kind. So there.

On the other hand, the restlessness has gotten out of hand, and we are right to criticize it, to give ourselves a break, to take more and longer breaks from the compulsive make-work that consumes so much time in the ‘advanced’ economies of the world. Making work just to work is presently working the ruin of the physical, mental and spiritual resources of the the world, and does so in the false name of inevitable progress to a nebulous, indefinite utopia or X, but we know better, for we residents of This Lying World of Ours are hypocrites.

The utopia of our modern forefathers is here; we know it is rapidly becoming a dystopia. Yet we praise it. We put up a pretense that it is a good thing, for instance, to welcome change; to be welcome mats for somebody else’s perpetual innovation; to change for the sake of change; to upgrade everything just to keep our jobs; to spin our wheels producing superfluities just to have private crappers; – to do all this falsely, on command from the top down, in the name of individual liberty. It is the liberty of an army ant. We are just going through the motions. We have no idea where the the military-industrial complex will strike on its next pre-emptive, self-defensive campaign to save the world for its own good whether the world likes it or not. We know the generals are lying through their whitened teeth; one lies to the whole world because he has high office; the other to the American people because he wants high office. The generals know they lie, but here we go again, we prefer the lies. The general’s colleagues warn us: they say he an untrustworthy, ambitious, self-infatuated liar, but otherwise he a good general. The “otherwise” is good enough for us. Hypocrisy has become the norm, hence ‘hypocrite’ has ceased to be the epithet the Alexandrine Jews and Christians made of it.

We are uneasy. Our wealthy friends feel the malaise or malease precedent to the outbreak of mortal disease; they continue to gain weight. The much less well off know what they are afraid of and are accordingly terrified and stunted in their growth. The dogs are behaving in a peculiar fashion; Californians are are beginning to freak out; a quake impends. The world is working hard on the verge of another major heart attack. We must take a break and reflect on the meaning of hypocrisy. We must drop the false pretenses and admit that we are at an either/or crisis in human history. Either life and truth; or death and lies. No, everything is not black and white – there are gray areas. But in this case we have Truth and Lie separated by a void. The lying and spinning must stop. We must pause, rest, reflect, withdraw from the deceptive course. We are lying to ourselves and to each other. The lies we tell to protect ourselves, to give ourselves separate and important identities as individuals and as groups, have been repeated so often that they are almost believed; we know better because of the spark of light in the emptiness, yet we continue apace. Thus has lying and pretense made devils and hypocrites of us all in This Lying World of Ours. It will not be easy, but that much can be changed, and at the grass-roots level.


The Grotesque God & The Taste of Shit



Our frustrated realist, Gustave Flaubert, a romantic at heart, bitterly said that reality, meaning the way things really were from his perspective, tasted like shit. He contrived an imaginary reality to escape from his distasteful perception, a construction that Jean Paul Sartre, in his voluminous psychoanalysis of Flaubert,The Family Idiot, analyzed according to his Psychology of the Imaginary.

An artist’s job, as jazz-dance master Luigi Facciuto once averred (may he rest in peace although his motto was Never Stop Moving) is to make shit smell good: “This shit just came to me out of nowhere,” he told his dancers after he moved, “and now it’s our job to make it smell good.” Still, given the materials employed, the result has scatological implications to critics with an acute sense of smell.

Flaubert’s Imaginary was ‘romantic’ to the extent that his flight from stinking, excremental reality was an heroic adventure into another, mysterious realm of his own fashion, a monstrous, grotesque realm. There was no room for Love in that kingdom; mystery vanished accordingly, for Love a secret does not abhor. He was haunted by the odor of the ordure in his sandbox, thus was motivated to leave his sense of taste and smell behind if not the substance itself, and embrace nothing, which he idolized as Nothing.

Nothing is absolute freedom: Nothing is freer than the freedom at the bottom of Sartre’s Existence, for freedom is always freedom from something or the other. Sartre, however, would leave us a shred of something to cling to, bare existence, while Flaubert would be free of everything altogether, in the perfect Form of forms: absolute vacancy.

Sartre pointed out that Flaubert attempted to believe in and therefore feel love by neurotic or “pithiatic” means: auto-suggestion. He asks, “Is there not, however, in the very act of composition a still unreal but more immediate gratification? Yes: a gratification of the desire to desire.”

He quotes Flaubert’s letter dated February 8, 1841: “I wrote love letters for the purpose of writing, not because I love. Yet I would like to delude myself that I do: I love, I believe while writing.”

“At stake for Gustave is the credibility of language: in what form will discourse—his own discourse—be most likely to engage the pithiatic adherence of the boy? His answer is precise: writing. The reasons for this are apparent: writing seems like a passage to action, like an extemalization as well as a composition. It is not a matter of copying ‘I love you’ a hundred times; that would be a schoolboy’s punishment. You must invent love, do something original, come up with passionately authentic phrases, put yourself in the position to recognize them from the inside. This means you must imagine you are in love…. Of course, on the surface the pithiatic aspect of the enterprise is undeniable: it isn’t only a game (it is also a game), it is a successful attempt, at least as far as his pen is concerned, at autosuggestion.”

A difference between lust and love is asserted. Sublime love is a cultivated emotion, a synthesis of feeling and judgment. It is a suggestion from without, introjected and reinforced within by imitative auto-suggestion.

Flaubert was hardly devoid of passion in his youth. We think he feared for his sanity when the Sibyl raved within him at Hecate’s crossroad. He resorted to Reason—which god-fearing religious scholars have identified with Being or Logos—to quash the hysterical passion he suffered, obsessively endeavoring to restrain the Dionysian dragoness with Apollonian virtue, compelled to do so until she was incinerated and there was nothing left but the restraint itself, the blinding light said to be the mystic source of wisdom for Teiresias, Apollo’s proverbially blind sage.

The vanishing point of Flaubert’s Imaginary was death, beyond which is infinity. Flaubert named his devil Yuk, who was the living end, the licentious god of the grotesque who exposes the human world as it really is: cursed by shit and rotting corpses. Satan loved God so much that he hated man and tempted him with the finite world, which is the death of man because everything finite must have an end. The factual world is evil; in fact, there can be no truth, beauty and goodness in fact. There is not enough antiseptic in the putrid world to rid it of its rottenness. So let the facts of science be damned if its facts taken alone would damn the human spirit. Prosperity is a help but is no utopia.

A psychoanalyst characteristically takes pause to examine not only the familial details of an analysand’s biography, but he would also carefully scrutinize the character of his patient’s relationships with friends during his impressionable youth. After all, a boy’s best friend is likely to leave a lifelong impression.

Young Gustave Flaubert’s best friend happened to be Alfred Le Poittevin (1816-1848), a pessimistic philosopher and poet who lived in Rouen, who was, incidentally, Guy de Maupassant’s nephew. Their mothers were also best friends.

Alfred and Gustave, together with their friend Ernest Chevalier, shared pipes and conversation on Sundays and Thursdays, and on school holidays, they practically saw each other every day in Rouen, where they loitered in cafes, swam, rowed, and played billiards. Flaubert eventually followed Alfred to Paris to study law. In his correspondence he wrote that he and Albert sometimes conversed for six hours at a time, discussing hothouse ideals to break the boredom. The young fellows were most profoundly influenced by the Romantic reaction to materialism, with its Gothic, aristocratic, and evolutionary predilections, the philosophical movement being neo-Kantian. Alfred, already a published poet and infatuated with Goethe and Spinoza, loved poetic impersonality, which elaborates historical ideals to which the poet surrenders his personality, becoming a literary channel for traditional development.

Gustave shared many of those ideals with Alfred; for example, the traditional idea of Satan expressed in Alfred’s romantic-revolt poem by that name. Indeed, Flaubert had been fascinated by Satan ever since he had discovered Byron, who with Shelley led the so-called Satanic School; the school was credited with an attitude somewhat like that of the Goths of our day, of impious, imperious pride, unduly preoccupied with the grotesque, with monstrous horrors and lewd subject matter, a decadent demeanor that psychiatrists would soon diagnose as evidence of evolutionary degeneracy, a sort moral insanity brought to the fore by crowded civilization’s foul air and other poisons, especially alcohol—absinthe concocted from wormwood was the devil’s favorite hallucinogenic drink in France.

Ah, rebellious youth! Flaubert was imbued with the attitude that a reconciliation of reality with ideality was impossible. Ultimately, the ugliness of reality presided over by Yuk wins out, an attitude in contrast to that of the Zoroastrians, whose god representing Good runs slightly ahead of its twin god representing Evil to extinguish the negating factor in the final moment.

Alfred, intrigued by the exotic Orient, penned ‘L’Orient,’ depicting a youth weary of “the black vapors of civilization.” In ‘Heure d’ angoisse,’ a poet crushed by despair in a faithless world doubts the reality of immortality and providence. ‘Ahasverus’ embodies a longing for death and annihilation. In ‘La foi,’ the loss of faith is regretted.

Flaubert would correspond in 1851 about his gang of “young rascals,” recounting how they inhabited a “strange world” of insanity and suicide. He said hopeless love and vain philosophy had rendered him gloomy. The boys created a grotesque character which they used to satirize conventional beliefs; not only materialism but romanticism as well. In one play a boy says, “Gothic architecture is fine, it’s so inspiring!” Garcon replies, “Yes, it is fine, and the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, too, and the Draggonades, and the Edict of Nantes too!”

He expressed his disdain for the bourgeois or town merchants in his 1839 school essay, ‘Les arts et le commerce,’ pleading for art set free from bourgeois ideology. “Has not the soul, too, its needs?” The commercial obsession of historical Carthage in particular seemed “monstrous and ferocious” to him. Even art for the sake of art he thought was vain at the time.

Flaubert conceived a nihilistic mystery play in 1838 where one would come face-to-face with the infinite: ‘Smahr—an Old Mystery Play.’ The play is obviously indebted to Goethe’s Faust, not to mention the literature of Byron and Quinet.

Smahr, an anchorite, is tempted by Satan, dressed as doctor of theology. They mount winged steeds to survey the world. Satan, demonstrating the nothingness of everything that is known, summoned Flaubert’s newly created god of the grotesque, Yuk, to explain life to him along the way. Yuk was disguised as a beautiful woman, an allegory for Truth. Smahr fell in love with her, but Satan loved her too. She turned out to be Yuk, who then preoccupied himself for awhile with persuading a married woman to give herself to every comer.

Yuk demonstrated to Smahr that life is a period filled with horrors such as bodies being devoured, blood raining down, orgies and the like. Smahr naturally craves power to preside over the world as it is for his own good, but his longing fills the world with death and destruction; alas, his desire is in vain because the power he wants has destroyed the very thing he longs for.

Yuk had initially been proud of his bravery, even joyful, but his plunge into the abysmal eventually made him feel fatally crushed in his finiteness by infinitude. All his knowledge, based on doubt, had been proved false and vain, empty. Yuk, emblematic of ressentiment embodied by the living No, then cries out that he alone is eternal, not even death can defeat him:

“I am reality, I am eternity, I am the power of ridicule, the grotesque, the ugly; I am what is, what has been and what shall be…. I am a whole eternity in myself….”

As the Sun sets on the dying universe, an angel would redeem Smahr, but Satan snatches the angel away. Yuk seizes the angel and rolls with her into the abyss, literally fucking her to death.




Graphic Credit: Darwin Leon


Pythiatism Defined by Sartre’s Family Idiot







A seemingly novel kind of hysteria is ‘Doctor’ Jean Paul Sartre’s diagnosis after his multivolume analysis of Gustave Flaubert in The Family Idiot. It is not the vulgar, convulsive or paralytic, demonstrative sort of hysteria, but rather a facile, evasive hysteria due solely to capitalistic cultural persuasion and auto-suggestion; something called ‘pithiatism.’

The pithiatism he alludes to in this case is a rather metaphorical hysteria. But is not the “illness” of “mental illness,” absent a physical disease, metaphorical as well? Sartre resorts to concealing his moral disapprobation by resort to a psychoanalytic myth, letting the great realist off the hook while castigating him to no end to raise his own prestige.

We consult psychiatrist Thomas Szasz on the nature of the psychiatric demoralizing strategy: The mental illness Jean-Paul Sartre attributed Flaubert would be utterly fictitious according to his perspective laid out in ‘The Myth of Mental Illness,’ a short paper and a book by the same name. He reasserted the theme that “mental illness” does not exist except as metaphor in a later article entitled ‘Mental illness is still a myth,’ stating that:

“My critique of psychiatry is two-pronged, partly conceptual, partly moral and political. At the core of my conceptual critique lies the distinction between the literal and metaphorical use of language—with mental illness as a metaphor. At the core of my moral-political critique lies the distinction between relating to grown persons as responsible adults and as irresponsible insane persons (quasi-infants or idiots)—the former possessing free will, the latter lacking this moral attribute because of being “possessed” by mental illness. Instead of addressing these issues, my critics have concentrated on analyzing my motives and defending psychiatric slavery as benefiting the “slaves” and society alike. The reason for this impasse is that psychiatrists regard their own claims as the truths of medical science, and the claims of mental patients as the manifestations of mental diseases; whereas I regard both sets of claims as unwarranted justifications for imposing the claimants’ beliefs and behavior on others.”

“Why do we make diagnoses?” he asks.

“There are several reasons: 1) Scientific—to identify the organs or tissues affected and perhaps the cause of the illness; 2) Professional—to enlarge the scope, and thus the power and prestige, of a state-protected medical monopoly and the income of its practitioners; 3) Legal—to justify state-sanctioned coercive interventions outside of the criminal justice system; 4) Political-economic—to justify enacting and enforcing measures aimed at promoting public health and providing funds for research and treatment on projects classified as medical; 5) Personal—to enlist the support of public opinion, the media, and the legal system for bestowing special privileges (and impose special hardships) on persons diagnosed as (mentally) ill.”

Everyone has noticed the growth in the number of purportedly abnormal behaviors to be treated by the mental health monopoly over recent years, and the fact that there are always newer or better psychotropic drugs to be prescribed for the classified mental illnesses. In fact the classifications are often designed to match the specifications of the funding sources; to suit the insurance industry and the government regulators. All in all, if we examine the developing nosology set forth in the diagnostic manuals, and take note of the proliferation of subjective diagnoses made with objective pretense, and the relationship of the classifications with a developing moral code—for example, the morbid tendency of slaves to flee; neurasthenia due to the stress of industrialization; purportedly immoral homosexuality and masturbation, included and then excluded from the manuals or dismembered and tucked away in other classifications—the diagnostic manuals appear to be indexes to a fiction novel encompassing all aspects of modern life.

To wit: civilization is an incurable disease, but its symptoms can be alleviated with a proper regimen of psychotropic drug treatment and methodic counseling by licensed doctors. Further, any intelligent and sane person patient enough to study the development and current plot of this living novel (everybody is sick and needs doctors to help them) cannot help but conclude that it is not being written by scientists.

Indeed, the very proliferation of diagnoses from a few to hundreds, right down to the malingerer, the wandering fuguist with jet lag and coffee nerves destined to forget everything that occurred during his fugue, and the shy boy diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a vague position on the autism spectrum, is evidence that the good doctors do not have a scientific theory nor a clear conception of sanity. Once all the kids and adults are sorted into their respective disorders, a normal person, other than a total madman, cannot be found, but the classifications will be milked for hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

That, however, is not to say that the well intentioned therapists are not as helpful as priests or lay practitioners or witch doctors, provided that the afflicted persons believe in the psychotherapy cults. If the patients themselves are faithless, then sane people, or people who cannot tolerate misbehavior, can put disorderly people out of the way in institutions for the mentally ill.

Szasz’ critique of his profession was certainly not appreciated by his peers for it was a direct attack, questioning the motives of everyone involved in the mental illness racket, excepting perhaps, the neurologists who were looking for a causative organic link to mental anomalies. But then the “disease” would not be “mental.” “Mental illness,” on the one hand, is an euphemism intended to relieve misbehaving people from blame for their condition; on the other hand, it may deemed an insult to the dignity of the human being, whose essential difference from other animals is the ability to think.

No doubt many psychiatrists have the best of intentions; they care for their patients and would like to see them behave normally, at least to make the adjustments necessary to lead a “productive” life; that is, one that adds to the gross national product at least to the extent that others do not have to support them. But mandatory “adjustment” to the status quo disturbs people who do not want to conform or who want the status quo to change. Yes, one of the main categories in the Diagnostic Standards Manual is “adjustment disorders.”

Everyone has encountered mentally disturbed or deranged individuals; “mental illness” may be a myth, but there is definitely something wrong with them, with their behavior. They do not fit into our culture, the “irresponsible insane persons (quasi-infants or idiots),” and especially adults “possessing free will” who therefore deliberately misbehave.

In any case, “behavior” is the key word. Is the misbehavior simply immoral, a moral issue rather than a question of neurological malfunction?

“As for psychiatry, it ought to be clear that, except for the diagnoses of neurological diseases (treated by neurologists), no psychiatric diagnosis is, or can be, pathology-driven. Instead, all such diagnoses are driven by non-medical, that is, economic, personal, legal, political, or social considerations and incentives. Hence, psychiatric diagnoses point neither to anatomical or physiological lesions, nor to disease-causative agents, but allude to human behaviors and human problems.”

A critical mind, kind enough to acquit psychiatry of bad intentions, might even say the psychotherapy profession is a symptom of the sick society it wants to cure, but lacks the means to alleviate the basic anxiety terribly aggravated when philosophy, the queen of the hard and soft sciences, was reduced to positivist psychology after the so-called Supreme Being was assassinated.

So it appears that our frustrated psychiatrist, ‘Doctor’ Sartre, steeped as he was in atheistic leftist propaganda, disapproved of Flaubert’s bourgeoisie misbehavior. Poor Gustave, as it were, had been possessed, as if in Delphi, by a hysterical, Cretan pythia, a dragoness against whose viselike grip the hapless romantic struggles in bad faith for a realistic rationale. His faith is bad because he knows he cannot know himself from within or without; his ‘I’ is nothing; the reality he pursues is a negation; lacking an objective, he is condemned to fiction, to art for the sake of art.

We envision him according to Sartre’s analysis as psychically conflicted and traumatized by his dispassionate father in his passionate childhood, sitting masochistically for hours on end, hunched virtually immobile over his desk, knuckles bloodless from gripping his pen ever so rigidly, agonizingly finding just the right and fit words which will leave no evidence of his own existence behind, thus he appears to be entirely unsympathetic towards his subjects, meaning the objects he painstakingly details; and, above all, he is truthful, that is to say, cynical. The result: Madame Bovary, one of the finest novels every written, the virtual incarnation of himself, an example mimicked by many masters thereafter—such is the persuasive power of masterful suggestion.

Flaubert deserves credit for his individual willpower, which is in fact the principle concern of French Existentialism in its obedience to the ancient command Know Thyself.

Socrates has turned from stargazing to introspection back in the day, but he observed that, whatever the Truth is, it matters not whether one proceeds with the investigation from subject or object, within or without. The wisdom Socrates found was that he alone knew he was ignorant. But that is saying much for knowledge, for ignorance is not the stupidity that Flaubert gave as a prerequisite of happiness providing health and selfishness concur with stupidity. No wonder Flaubert’s reality tasted, as he said, like shit.

No wonder Socrates thought philosophy is the preparation for death. Consciousness cannot know the knower. The knower is essentially nothing; Reality is indefinite; Being is nothingness; how depressing!

Flaubert, disenchanted with the imaginative monstrosities of his youth, turned from subject to object, from the romantic vagaries or python within to the objective clarities without. He was not the social-utopia activist Sartre would have liked him to be, but he was a realistic activist in the sense that thinking and writing is symbolic activity; and his cynical depiction of bourgeois society, cynical because his depiction happened to be true, was just as liberating as Sartre’s self-involved or romantic existentialism, which was essentially a furthering of French Spiritualism or Voluntarism; not to mention Sartre’s intentional fiction wherein he was hardly loath to exhibit moral degeneracy for sake of drawing attention to scandals that everyone is “born in sin,” i.e. as an individual necessarily varying from the Good of the Whole, naturally finds fascinating.

Again it appears to us that Sartre’s psychoanalysis of Flaubert’s preoccupation amounts to a thoroughly moral condemnation of his patient, who is all too patient of a patient because he is already dead.

Sartre knew a sinner when he saw one; are we not all sinners to an extent? Sartre’s sin is in his existential individualism, of being born an individual in the first place, and then flaunting his individualism in opposition to the summum bonum or Good that society and/or its god is, ad infinitum in writing.

Flaubert tried to disappear in a fugue, to render his own pathetic existence invisible while describing the falsifications or illusions of the others. Still, the sin here, and Sartre knew this very well from existentialism’s progenitor, Soren Kierkegaard, was in being, not in existence per se; it was in being false to existence. It is the sin of being an artist who places himself beyond good and evil rather than to make a choice and live with it.

The morbid, morose, moribund person, we recall from our etymology, is morally diseased, is immoral in his deadly contradiction to the force that urges him to live forever in his differentiation by paradoxically merging with the bustling crowd, instead of falling back into the womb, which represents his own death although others may emerge from his tomb if he is not reborn.

The writer’s despairing retreat can be a very lonely one if his ego is subject to Kierkegaard’s “fatal disease.” Kierkegaard referred to the sinful existence of the artist’s existence—we would rather call it the sin of his being or form of existence instead of his existence per se, which in its contradictory individuality happens to be the original “Christian” sin, the crux from whence the twin fears, of life and death, plague humankind with anxiety.

However that may be, Kierkegaard stated: “From a Christian point of view, any poet’s existence, with his whole aesthetic existence, is a sin; the sin of writing poetry instead of living, of connecting himself with the good and evil instead of being the good and evil, that is essentially aspiring to become all these.”

The Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis celebrated the Christian sin of pride with this description of a writer’s workshop: “The fourth day I jumped out of the bed, I took the pen and I started writing… I was writing and I was so proud; I was a God who was doing what he wanted, was changing the reality, shaping it the way he wanted, mixing the truth and the lie; but it was no longer the truth and the lie, it was a soft dough that I was shaping according to my own imagination, without asking for anyone’s permission.”

In the final analysis Sartre’s novel psychoanalysis is hardly objective inasmuch as it is deliberately prejudiced by a hackneyed Marxist criticism of so-called bourgeois society, a society that Flaubert also despised and was fain to bitterly criticize, although he simulated bourgeois life for the sake of convenience, using it as a foundation for freedom.

“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” was Flaubert’s maxim.

Sartre had also been cultivated by the bourgeois culture. Indeed, he identified himself as a member of the bourgeoisie through his resistance to it.

Who would we be without those we oppose?


Normal Unhappiness of The Family Idiot




Jean Paul Sartre’s five-volume The Family Idiot portrays Gustave Flaubert, the romantic founder of French literary realism, as a victim of circumstantial suggestion and auto-suggestion living in the clutches of a figurative sort of conversion hysteria; namely, pithiatism.

In the first paragraph of Chapter Eight, ‘The Imaginary Child,’ Sartre alludes to the characteristic of pithiatism, a sort of hysteria determined by suggestion, in respect to his family idiot:

“This is Gustave as he has been constituted. Of course, any determination imprinted in an existing being is surpassed by the way he lives. In the child Flaubert, passive activity and gliding are his way living this constituted passivity; resentment is his way of living the situation assigned to him in the Flaubert family. In other words, the structures of this family are internalized as attitudes and re-externalized as actions by which the child makes himself into what others made him. Conversely, we shall find in him no behavior, as complex and elaborate as it might seem, that is not originally the surpassing of an internalized determination.”

According to Sartre’s psychoanalysis, Gustave’s being was not wholly defined by circumstances; he would have no self of his own as a mere victim of circumstances devoid of existential independence and freedom. He would be in effect a zombie or a machine unconscious of his own existence; if someone were to act like a machine we would naturally deem him psychotic not neurotic.

Naturally every human being by necessity introjects his social identity from others and projects what he has learned. Nevertheless, the individual, by virtue of its independent will to exist forever without impedance if it could, is bound to put up some resistance to the imposition of conformity, as we can see in every squalling child, and he will invariably get away with what he can get away with while accepting influences that serve his purpose. Thus he becomes his own person; a person being, to some extent, a unique composite of individual existence and social being. Every particular is a coincidence of universal qualities, no two coincidences being identical; hence the individual is somewhat unique.

As far as Sartre, a former member of the French Resistance during the war, was concerned, Flaubert did not actively affirm his existential self in the world. He just did not want to make the effort and thus in part be defined by its resistance thereto. He had what we might call a weak will—at one juncture he reflected that he was cowardly in his youth. He did not seem to know who he really was because he had not looked within; he had not conducted a painful regressive analysis of his self; instead, he avoided himself, using his literary art to paint himself out of the picture.

French Existentialism, with its struggle for freedom through individual responsibility, hails back to the introspective discovery of the self as will; that is, to French Voluntarism, for which Maine De Biran was an introspective pioneer. Biran confessed that, “Even from infancy I remember that I marveled at the sense of my existence. I was already led by instinct to look within myself in order to know how it was possible that I could be alive and be myself.”

Sartre, mentioning Flaubert’s resentment as a chosen way of living, does give young Flaubert a will of his own in his choice of style; negation or resistance to external influence constitutes the will of the individual, made manifest to us in his behavioral style. And that would leave Flaubert morally culpable for his way of life, at least as a liar.

Mind you that the pithiatic hysteric is a liar who believes in the lie; but this belief represses an otherwise nagging doubt to the so-called unconscious sector of the psyche. The forgetting of the doubt is imaginary; the belief is make-believe or bad faith inasmuch as it is not blind faith. It is a commanding hysterical performance of the kind that has made fools out of many psychoanalysts.

Sartre’s Flaubert was a paralytic writer whose acting career had been thwarted by his father, and who was self-blinded to his own existence and suitable self. That is, his neurosis prevented from being himself; that is, a comic actor instead of the serious writer he wound up being.

You see, Flaubert as a boy loved to stage little plays, and fancied himself as a playwright. Sartre, again and again, affords Flaubert’s father the brunt of the blame for Flaubert’s bad faith or inauthentic personhood; for it was his unappreciative father, whose affection he craved, who constituted the comical would-be actor as a self-contemptible family idiot who would isolate himself, withdrawing himself from his prospective audience to entertain them from afar, passively, in writing, instead of actively or directly, in person.

Otto Rank’s conclusion to his lecture, ‘The Play within Hamlet – Toward an Analysis and Dynamic Understanding of the Work,’ sheds some light on the psychology of playacting distinguished from playwriting:

“I shall attempt to pursue Shakespeare’s personal relationship to the material and to its treatment in somewhat greater depth than has previously been achieved. There can be no doubt that the great significance given in Hamlet to the dramatic art and to actors relates to Shakespeare’s professional interests and his artistic ambitions. As is well known, he also worked as an actor, sometimes playing roles he wrote. I have tried to explain this psychologically in claiming that acting is a fully valued psychic act and a more basic release for psychic states than the activity of the playwright. It is actually the actor who must complete the drama, who must do what the playwright wishes to do but, owing to psychic defenses, cannot achieve. The actor ‘experiences’ what the playwright can only ‘dream.’ If we compare this psychological formula to insights derived from the analysis of the play within the play, we find that there, too, Shakespeare has supplied an unconscious admission of how drama offered him a substitute for many things he had to renounce in life, just as for Hamlet the play replaces acts he cannot carry out due to powerful inhibitions. From the nature of drama itself, it is clear which psychic mechanism allows an actor the release, forbidden to the playwright, of blocked emotions that cannot otherwise be overcome. This is identification, taken as far as the temporary suspension of one’s own personality. In Hamlet, of course, broad use is made of identification, and in the interpretation of this drama I have often had occasion to make recourse to it.21 Our investigation shows how such identification functions as a significant component in dramatic talent; it also shows us a motive for selecting an acting career — a motive not to be underestimated. In the child’s relationship to the parents, as shown in the analysis of Hamlet, there arise certain forces that can push a personality with talent for identification, that universal artistic ability, directly into an acting career: the wish to be grown up, the wish to enact and imitate the father, to put oneself in his place — all based on the observations the child has made, though he slyly attempts to conceal this from his parents. The actor’s favorite roles offer him the opportunity truly to enact these tendencies and to allow himself to be overheard by the spectators, who have essentially become the precondition for his (portrayed) ability to carry out actions. This is the reverse of the childhood situation, which he has partially retained, while partially overcoming it through identification with the father. Thus this brief analysis of the “play within the play” extends to the entire drama Hamlet, which I believe I have made somewhat more comprehensible in its dynamic significance for the inner life of actor and spectator alike.”

Sartre cast Flaubert as an idiot and moron. Mind you that those terms may be employed without intent to insult people with mental incapacities due to neurological abnormalities and injuries. The popular word ‘idiot,’ derived from idios, meaning “one’s own,” in common parlance used to refer to a “private person” or one withdrawn from public affairs, a person or simpleton or “imbecile,” or an ignorant country bumpkin, so to speak.

As Mark Twain insultingly said, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of congress. But I repeat myself.”

And Linnaeus, as we learn from our etymological dictionary, used the term ‘morisis’ for idiocy in the sense of mental deficiency. An idiot might be a ‘moron,’ a term derived from moros, a fool. We notice that ‘morose,’ meaning gloomy, peevish, fastidious, has a similar root. A morose person is immoral, has bad manners in contrast to moral in the sense of good mores or habits.

In fine, we believe Sartre was in effect calling his favorite neurotic, Gustave Flaubert, stupid in five volumes. A neurotic is stupid inasmuch as their defensive patterns are inappropriate no matter how useful they may be.

Since “neurotic” is no longer included in the official diagnostic manual, should we insert “stupid” in its stead?

In fact, we see that “stupidity” was a word used by French alienists to indicate the form of insanity usually known as “melancholia with stupor,” and was defined by Wilhelm Griesinger, in Mental Pathology and Therapeutics (1867) as melancholia in which the patient is lost in self-contemplation.

Neurotic people have a sort of blind spot, or rather a cataract partially obstructing their cognition; they keep doing the same, useless thing over and over again, thus revealing their partiality, or insanity if they are seriously impaired. They appear to be stupid, at least in that respect. According to Sartre, Flaubert’s stupidity was in not knowing himself, of being stupid to his bona fide existence and the nature of the being that would accord with his native or existential disposition.

Flaubert himself identified stupidity with happiness: “To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.”

He was indeed unhappy yet not unsophisticated, unintelligent, or stupid in the usual sense. Perhaps we might opine that Gustave became one of the fools he had played as a child, becoming stupid to his genuine existence in the process.

But that is not clever enough for Sartre’s convoluted reflections. He claims that Gustave consumed himself.

“It would be inadequate to say that he plays the fool, that in the unreal world he becomes the imbecile he would be if he were actually afflicted with imbecility; in order to produce the analogue of the persona he represents, he becomes the fool he is. This obscure mass of agitation, terrorized incomprehension, fear, stubbornness, bad faith, and ignorance, which under the name of stupidity is the index of everyone’s alienation, is awakened and stirred up by the actor so that he might be unrealized through it as a magnificent idiot. What is he doing other than what he has always done, since a bad relationship constituted him laughable? To be sure, a dialectic operates between the character and the interpreter: the actor transforms the character to the precise extent that he is transformed by it. But these are relations between images. The role serves as an alibi: the actor sheds his persona, he believes he is evading himself in the character. But this is futile: in his befuddled alacrity to be nothing but a strange image, there is a distinct malaise and a deep antipathy, which encourages him to revile himself so that others may triumph. He is conscious, in fact, of choosing this or that disguise in order to make others laugh at him as he has always done.”

If we do not understand this, we are probably stupid idiots and damned fools ourselves at the feet of this great analyst—an admirer at Sartre’s funeral procession was quoted as saying that he did not understand what Sartre said, but he knew he was a great philosopher, and that was enough.

“Since his sincerity,” wrote Sartre, “such as it is, is rejected, and since he does not recognize his own right to feel anything until adults have given their consent, he is condemned by his father’s capricious mistrust never to determine whether he is feeling or just imagining his feelings. The deeper meaning of this personalizing revolution is that the child no longer knows whether he exists or is just pretending to exist. Given this option, Gustave unconsciously chooses anti-Cartesianism and, more obscurely, irrationality. If he manages only to produce images, isn’t he an image himself?”

So Flaubert does not exist or behave in the way Sartre wants him to exist, according to Sartre’s universal definition of existence, which is really a mode of being, a being responsible for oneself according to a Marxist psychologist’s desire. Flaubert, then, cannot help the way he is not himself, which unbeknown to him is a radical self; he is a phony, a victim of capitalist society. Therefore Flaubert is subject to a pithiatic form of neurosis.

A neurotic person is an unduly nervous one, a person who is anxious and emotional as the result of some invisible injury. He suffers from a psychic conflict between alternates, neither of which he wants to choose; say, between his ideal self, which others have propped up for him, and his real self, which he consequently despises when he falls short of the ideal. He is trapped between two hard rocks, and, in self-defense, works out an impractical compromise that condemns him to drag his cross around for the rest of his life.

Neurotic behavior seems to be an ineffective or inefficient or even absurd way of doing things to the observer; however, from the subject’s perspective, it may be a somewhat effective adaptation strategy inasmuch as it may allay his fears, for example, and make him feel that he has the world under control, or at least his behavior may manipulate others to react in a manner beneficial to him—unfortunately, it often makes matters worse, reinforcing, paradoxically, the neurosis. Still, the neurotic person is purportedly unaware of the true nature of his mental disorder.

Indeed, Sartre appears to have believed that Flaubert was neurotic, not figuratively speaking, but in the sense of mental illness, that he was mentally sickened by a sick i.e. bourgeois society. Disgusted with the self he was being, because he was unaware of his existential self, which should have been a radical self manning the barricades against the stupid bourgeoisie, Flaubert withdrew from society, isolating himself to agonizingly write Madame Bovary, featuring the fictional Emma Bovary, a haplessly romantic, hysterical woman who was incapable of loving any man; no man was perfect, leaving every candidate to fall short of her ideal. Her author would confess that “she is me.” He is the hysteric; she is his projection. She will die in the novel; he will wind up with the glory.

According to Sartre’s family idiot myth, Flaubert had not quite arrived at the state of neurosis at an early stage in his adolescence, although he was well on his way: “Looking at these passages [from Flaubert’s biographic writing],” Sartre reflects, “we are forced to acknowledge that Gustave does not intend to describe to us the tame, continually interrupted reveries of a “well-adjusted” adolescent; rather, he depicts an almost neurotic state, intentional, certainly, but outstripping his clear intention and yet suffered to the same degree that it is produced.”

Again the family patriarch is blamed for the neurosis with which Flaubert will be entailed:

“As the undisputed and shrewd head of the family, Achille-Cleophas contributed to maintaining the young man in a neurotic state that gave him a reason to sequester himself at Rouen and end his studies; in this sense, the father’s death certainly had the effect, if not of curing Gustave, at least of causing a remission of his illness. But the fundamental and archaic relationship of the child to the father (to convince him of his eminent value) was not altered; hence the remission was accompanied by a profound frustration.”

Sartre attributes neurotic behavior to mental rather than physical causes. His rhetoric explicating the mechanics of the inner conflict and its outward results differs somewhat from that of the early masters, but that is of little consequence since the mechanical hypotheses cannot be falsified; strictly speaking, psychoanalysis is not hard science but a soft art if not witchcraft.

When a patient is not able to dredge up something pertinent to her mental disorder from the unconscious, claiming that nothing is there, the doctor may assume that there is something invisible there, and a force called resistance to maintain the repression, and do his best to torture the truth out of her somehow. Who can prove that that the unconscious, that repression, that resistance and so on do not exist? It is easier to come up with something for the doctor to analyze, perhaps a random recitation of ideas from which the Delphic priest may divine the hypostatical associations suitable to his theoretical framework.

Sartre became all too familiar with war hysteria and totalitarian regimes during the war. He said that unwelcome feelings which cannot be assimilated are externalized so that a global defense can be set up against them—a total war for a final solution, a war to end all wars.

We may attribute our faults to others, the enemies, who then are subhuman enough to justify slaughtering them. (Freudians would say that repressed content is unconsciously projected onto or transferred to others).

“Stress is the name we shall give to this unity of the nonassimilable element and the global defense that the totalizing process develops against it, infected precisely to the degree that it tries to neutralize the nonassimilable. In this case, neurosis is stress as much as character disorder. Of course, this totalizing effort to defuse the contradictions or to isolate them achieves its aim only at the price of dangerous divergences, which alter the totalized whole.”

The problem with Sartre’s voluminous ideologically biased analysis of the great author whom he never knew is that Flaubert was not stupid but wise, and wisdom was at the root of his unhappiness, a wisdom that we all have an intuitive albeit inadmissible inkling of in our own “normal unhappiness,” as Freud called it. Sartre was well aware of that, so he himself was playing the fool and at great length. What else is there to do?