Early Twentieth Century luminary Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff used an term called idiotism, an interesting concept. What is idiotism then? Let us first look at this subject without derision — or succumbing to the giddy enjoyment of mocking others — and fully admit to our own particular quality of idiotism. All of us have qualities of idiotism to balance our beauty and brilliance; idiotism is universal in humans. And each of us also has our own particular ‘idiot dance’ — or neurotic display. I propose we regard the beauty of that, which might, paradoxically, make us more compassionate towards others afflicted with the same idiotism. It’s good to get in touch with the universal inner idiot.
One of the most pervasive forms of social media idiotism these days is what I will call ‘spiritual idiotism’. This idiotism is particularly hard to palate, because it so often comes in a nice ‘package’ of dolphins and deities and an explosion positive psychology. We could call this: spiritual positivism and it abounds on the social networks as legions of facebook gurus. It sounds like science but it’s not, it sounds like its religion but it’s not, it sounds like a lot of things … but it lacks a certain substance. Many well meaning, and even brilliant, people — are practitioners of this kind of idiotism. Often such people are quite charismatic and appear on television.
In Chinese medicine it is seen that charisma is a poison. This ‘all to human’ need for confirmation makes people drown in rushes of ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ and ‘wows’ in large numbers. Negative charisma is like Gollum’s ring: it weakens one gradually over time, and distorts us spiritually and physically. We can see this in certain movie stars and politicians, whose apparent ‘beauty’ or ‘power’ becomes monstrous over time. The point is: in time the idiot is revealed.
Idiotism occurs when ‘personality’ trumps substance, ‘effect’ trumps depth and vision — and today we may given birth to the global idiot. It’s interesting that the word ‘trump’ pops up as a verb here: a very good example of negative charismatic idiotism in full bloom. But political idiotism is pretty obvious: less obvious is spiritual idiotism, which is more subtle. Spiritual idiotism is materialism hidden: it is a philosophy that ardently believes that the material ego is ‘all that there is’. To reify, to believe in the solidity of time, space and experience is the idiocy of humans par excellence.
But what to do with the global idiot you may ask? I propose we understand our own idiotism wholeheartedly first. He will not away through forceful effort no matter how much outrage we express — he cannot be converted though violence. Of course we would like to murder the ego monster at the helm, and giddily project all our anger and fear into that one. But we also tend to direct that same violence inwardly, towards the idiot in ourselves; we keep him hidden at all costs, especially from ourselves. Through denial we feed the idiot, and he gets bigger and stronger and more colourfully outrageous.
Gurdjieff had the best solution: instead of repressing the idiot, give him a kind of protective circle to do his dance. The idiot needs to be contained so can’t do damage, he needs to to be made part of the dance. Without the idiot, the dance would be uninteresting: like Shakespeare’s fool he has the function of dramatic foil and contrast.
To conclude, let us make use of our idiotism in whatever way we can: to connect with our own inner idiotism, to use the idiotism as power as a talisman against becoming spiritual idiots, or any other kind of idiots. If we put the idiot in the light of our inner genius the two can become one glorious and strange being.