Clever Insincerity

Clever Insincerity (n)/klĕv-r in-sin-sĕhri-tē/

1) Lies (n), lying (n)

2) “School’s” justification for misinformation told to protect and proliferate its own covert aim as follows: keep students desperate, dependent, and insecure in order to continue to generate income for Sharon Gans, current leader and widow of Alex Horn, former leader of a fake Fourth Way school in New York, Boston, and Copenhagen. (n)

“School” employs Clever Insincerity early and often when sincere seekers stumble upon the group.  “School’s” doctrine justifies it with the teaching that “all people lie almost constantly” both by what we say and by what we don’t say.  The difference, we were told, is in the aim behind it.  Sleeping people lie out of self-interest and self-will.  People who want to awaken are cleverly insincere in service to a higher aim.

When recruiting me, Lisa spun “school” as casual. “People come and go,” she said, “they take breaks and come back.” She didn’t say that teachers kick people out and then allow them re-entry if they express sufficient remorse. She omitted the required stellar attendance, $350/monthly “tuition”, lack of graduation date, the dress code, holiday season requirements, and the fact that expenses and demands expand over time.

I bought it and signed on, obviously; but moments of clarity would strike me in class at times: when demands started piling, when certain students revealed decades of attendance, when “teachers” turned a humiliating spot light on some poor slob’s “essence flaw” in front of the whole “class.”  Yes, at these times, my internal rebels started rumbling.  I realized that Lisa had blatantly lied.  Yet, just as quickly, I justified her lies. “After all,” I told myself, “where would I be without ‘school’ and all of its ‘help’?”  I would not have pursued this ‘teaching’ had she been forthright about the demands, the humiliations, the unspoken lifelong commitment. I would have thought it was … well … a cult.” If recruiters told potential students the truth, no one would sign on, many sleepwalking souls would lose their chance to awaken!, and Sharon would not be living at the Park Plaza.

The longer one is in “school”, the more Clever Insincerity comes into play. I could write an endless and endlessly boring book, citing examples. I’ll stick to a few:

  • “School” tells its newest recruits that “the work” is an “oral teaching” and omits the original source — Russian philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff. Thus, all of its “younger students” have no knowledge of the myriad of published books and online resources that explore his philosophies. Early in my school tenure, my “sustainer” told me, “You won’t find these ideas anywhere else. You are lucky!”  You can imagine how angry I was when I discovered Gurdjieff, the multiple Wikipedia entries, the Gurdjieff Society, and ordered Gurdjieff’s book Meetings With Remarkable Men from Amazon.com for less than $5.
  • The Boston branch nods towards an unnamed and exclusive lineage, insinuating connections to a remarkable cast: Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Michelangelo, Mozart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ and more. It neglects to mention its New York headquarters, Sharon Gans, and its true roots – a 1970s California cult poised as the Theater of All Possibilities; it neglects to name the theater’s charismatic and sociopathic founder, Alex Horn and the slew of damning investigative articles published detailing his Strange School.
  • “School’s” most clever use of Clever Insincerity may be its “non-fraternization policy”: we were not to acknowledge each other outside the gates. We were to become part of “the invisible world,” fanning out as men and women “working on themselves, evolving in a devolving world, spreading fine vibrations,” blah, blah, blah.  We separated “the work” from “life” by honoring it as sacred knowledge, handed down to us from evolved “teachers”.  We absorbed the message that Clever Insincerity” is thus justified; it protects “school” and its “sacred knowledge”from those who would destroy it.
    Imagine our surprise when some of us left “school” and discovered that the sacred knowledge consists of Sharon’s matchmaking, relationship-destroying, and children-damaging machine. It is likely that our silence also protected tax evasion, money laundering, and who knows what else. Certainly Mr. Horn had a reputation for perpetrating physical and sexual abuse. Some say he encouraged this violence within the ranks; some say the abuse continues today. I have never witnessed such acts – I certainly did witness emotional and intellectual bullying. Had we school plebs “fraternized” outside the hallowed halls, we may well have compared notes, begun to question inconsistencies and called them on their shit.

As “school’s” super secret demands and activities increase, “students” will find a corresponding increase in lies told to friends and family. These lies devour time and energy, compounding the time and energy demands “school” already hoists on its devotees. Eventually, “students” who were driven to join “school” by an urge to seek truth, begin to dedicate their lives to a fabrication that they don’t even know exists; they assume they aren’t evolved sufficiently and trust that their “evolved teachers” know and see things that are beyond them. Inevitably, they become unbearably uncomfortable with the lies that isolate them from spouses, children, siblings, friends, etc.

Predictably, “students” bring this struggle up in class and ask for “help”. In response “teachers” offer “Clever Insincerity” as a sacred idea; these “efforts” are not exactly lies, they say, but necessary protection for private and privileged knowledge. After all, not everyone can be in a school, and many would be threatened by the super-secret-sacred Work. The exclusive presentation seduced us. We saw our participation in “The Work” as critical efforts to elevate and save a society careening towards destruction.  Like Lisa, and my sustainer, Karyn, eventually “school’s” truth-seekers find themselves committing acts of Clever Insincerity and justifying them as efforts toward “school’s” secret higher calling and our own personal evolution.  Over time, “students” become cogs in “school’s” propaganda-spouting machine. Their lives become devoured by super-secret, mission-critical activities: planning parties, creating presentations and recruiting tuition-paying students.

Initially, my lies were mainly those of omission. Friends would wonder vaguely why I was so busy and unavailable to them. For the first couple of years, I said that I was in a never-ending tai chi teacher-training program. I didn’t lie to my husband, though.  Even before we were married, he knew that every Tuesday and Thursday, I would be attending these exclusive and secret meetings and initially he supported me. We used to laugh about it and refer to “school” as “Tuesday/Thursday Thing”, or simply “Thing”. When “thing” threw me into full Christmas party planning and throwing, I told him about the big party; otherwise it would have looked like I was having an affair – what with the late nights and insistent critical and shadowy phone calls. And even though he knew what I was doing, we still fought almost every holiday season.

But when “school” tagged me for the “3rd line of work”, otherwise known as recruitment, I found myself telling full-fledged lies: I would say,  “I’m meeting Phyllis for coffee” instead of confessing, “I’m off to save lost souls”, or “I have a super-secret, mission-critical, “school”-recruitment-strategy meeting.” This set up an internal conflict: The “good student” in me justified these deceptions as a peace-keeping tool while making aims to make the world a better place, but the deceptions poked at my rebels, who whispered, “How can lying to your husband really be an act of higher calling?”

Given time, and the insidious brainwashing, many a sincere seeker becomes quite adept at “Clever Insincerity” even as each wrestles with the internal conflict. School justifies this conflict as a friction that is necessary for personal evolution; thus loyal devotees endure the ever growing “friction” that becomes their lives and “school” remains, surviving the investigative newspaper articles, a subsequent cross-country re-location, and a growing list of enraged “ex-students”. Amazingly, this “truth-seeking” institution still stands on an infrastructure of smoke and mirrors after more than 4 decades.

Perhaps you are in “school” right now, newly recruited and wondering, “What is this?  What do I make of this idea of Clever Insincerity?” Allow me to respond: “School” is a cult. Clever Insincerity is a euphemism for lying. And, if it is truth you are seeking, within “school’s” walls you will only find unspoken agendas fueled by deception.