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  • Writer's pictureJeric Te

Modern Civilization: A Reflection on G.I. Gurdjieff's Insight

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a renowned spiritual teacher, often challenged conventional perspectives with his profound insights into human nature and society. One of his striking assertions, “Modern civilization is based on violence and slavery and fine words,” provides a stark critique of contemporary society. This statement, rich with layers of meaning, invites us to reflect deeply on the foundations of our civilization and our roles within it.


The Underpinnings of Modern Civilization

Violence as a Foundation

Violence, in Gurdjieff’s view, is not merely physical aggression but also psychological and structural. Our modern civilization, despite its advancements and veneer of sophistication, is marred by various forms of violence:

  • Physical Violence: Wars, conflicts, and criminal activities continue to plague societies worldwide.

  • Psychological Violence: Emotional abuse, mental manipulation, and the pervasive stress of modern life inflict invisible wounds on individuals.

  • Structural Violence: Inequities in social, economic, and political systems create environments where certain groups are systematically disadvantaged.

This multifaceted violence sustains power dynamics and maintains control over populations, often under the guise of progress and development.


Slavery in Modern Forms

While traditional slavery may be largely abolished, modern forms of slavery persist:

  • Economic Slavery: Many individuals are trapped in cycles of poverty and debt, working under exploitative conditions with little hope of escape.

  • Corporate Slavery: The relentless demands of corporate culture often result in long hours, high stress, and diminished quality of life, effectively binding employees to their jobs.

  • Technological Slavery: Our dependency on technology, while offering convenience, also leads to a loss of autonomy and privacy, as well as the manipulation of behavior through digital platforms.


These forms of modern slavery highlight the subtle ways in which freedom is curtailed, even in ostensibly free societies.


The Deception of Fine Words

Gurdjieff’s mention of “fine words” points to the rhetoric used to mask the underlying violence and slavery. Politicians, leaders, and institutions often employ eloquent language to:

  • Justify Actions: Wars are fought under the banners of freedom and democracy, while economic exploitation is rationalized as progress and development.

  • Pacify the Masses: Promises of a better future, equality, and justice are frequently used to placate populations, even when tangible improvements are absent.

  • Maintain Control: Ideologies and narratives are crafted to shape public perception and maintain the status quo, ensuring that power structures remain unchallenged.


This manipulation of language creates a disconnect between reality and perception, making it difficult for individuals to discern the true nature of their circumstances.


Gurdjieff’s Call to Awareness

Gurdjieff’s critique is not merely an indictment but a call to awareness and action. He urges us to:

  • Recognize the Reality: Acknowledge the underlying violence and slavery that pervade modern civilization, and understand how fine words are used to obscure this reality.

  • Seek True Freedom: Strive for genuine autonomy by breaking free from the psychological, economic, and technological chains that bind us.

  • Embrace Conscious Living: Live with greater awareness and intentionality, making choices that align with our true values rather than succumbing to societal pressures.


Moving Forward

To move beyond the constraints identified by Gurdjieff, we must cultivate a deeper understanding of our world and our place within it. This involves:

  • Education and Critical Thinking: Developing the ability to critically analyze information and question prevailing narratives.

  • Community and Solidarity: Building supportive communities that prioritize collective well-being over individual gain.

  • Personal Growth and Self-Reflection: Engaging in continuous self-exploration to uncover our true desires and aspirations, free from external influences.


By embracing these principles, we can begin to transform modern civilization into one that is truly free and just, transcending the limitations of violence, slavery, and deceptive rhetoric.


G.I. Gurdjieff’s insights challenge us to look beyond the surface of modern civilization and confront the uncomfortable truths that lie beneath. It is only through this conscious examination that we can hope to create a world that genuinely reflects the ideals of freedom, equality, and harmony.



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