8. The letter G. This symbolism which we call "G" (one of the oddest names a symbol ever had) would, if a sufficient number of Masons were to think it through, assist us Americans to solve our greatest national problem in this middle portion of the Twentieth Century. It may be quixotic to attempt to show how this would be true in only three or four paragraphs, but it never harms one to be quixotic in a good cause. During the Nineteenth Century from about the time of Jackson's Administration (it was a continental divide in our history) until the present we Americans have devoted the larger part of our work to inventing, to the physical sciences, to manufacturing, and we have done so with an enthusiasm which is now infecting the whole world. These things we have thus worked at belong, nearly all of them, to matter-metals, soil, sand, clay, wood, electricity, steam, etc., etc., therefore in our work we have shown ourselves to have a great love for matter, and a great faith in it. Yet at the same time we have in our religion, our arts, our ethics, our talk, our literature insisted that we do not believe in matter, or like it. This dichotomy, or schism, runs straight through the middle of our national life, in a chasm deeper and far more bridgeless than the Grand Canyon, dividing us against ourselves. It is, to repeat, our biggest problem.
The "G" hangs on the wall above the Master's Station; it is therefore a Masonic symbol, and as we use it is wholly and exclusively so, and it is one of the most important symbols we haveKlein described it as the "one great symbol." It stands for geometry, not for geometry in general, or in the large, or in the abstract, but geometry as used by Freemasons, as they have come to know and to understand it in their centuries of work; the unqualified statement that it stands for geometry is not correct, and must be altered to read "it stands for geometry as geometry is known and used in Freemasonry."
Freemasons learned in the earliest period of their history that geometry consists of a number of the properties and attributes which belong to matter. "Wherever there is anything at all, matter is there." It is eternal, in the sense that it belongs to the nature of things; and though it is of a different kind from man, or from plants and animals, or from God there can nowhere be work, thought, love, plants, animals, religion, or anything else unless something of matter is there. It in itself is such that always many material things are coming into existence everywhere; these things differ greatly among themselves but in each and all of them are some attributes or properties which they have in common, which everywhere among material things are self-same, invariable and invariably to be expected; they are the attributes and properties not of this or that material thing but of matter itself.
It is at this point that we find geometry. Material things themselves, objects, or forces, or energies, or space, or time, etc., etc., have in themselves, and not from being acted on from without, a way of breaking into planes (as crystals do), or of splitting along straight lines, or of falling into the shapes of globes and spheres (as rain does), or of moving in lines - curves, circles. They move at angles to each other, or lie parallel to each other, they fall toward the earth vertically, in them are countless points, frames of reference, perpendiculars, etc., etc. - thus, a single raindrop exhibits a whole geometry in itself, for it enspheres itself in a globular drop, falls in a straight line, strikes the plane surface of a pool, sends out a ripple in the form of a circle, falls along the lines of motion, in a moment of time, at a certain place in space, and the line of its fall is at right angles to the plane of the pool upon which it falls, and in the frame of reference (which is the event as a whole) the drop itself is a point which has a position.
The Operative Freemasons did not begin as abstract geometers working with definitions in the form of words and with drawn diagrams to represent the properties and attributes; they began as workmen in stone and erected structures of stone, and they found out the rules and principles of geometry for themselves as they went along, and found them from the stones. They therefore began their geometry in the full knowledge that it consists of certain of the properties and attributes of matter. Since they did they never fell into the superstitious delusion into which so many theologians and philosophers were to fall, that Matter is "materialistic," is something sensuous, gross, or "low," or is somehow the foe of the spirit and the enemy of the mind. To them Matter had a meaning the exact opposite of "materialism"; for they found that through their understanding of the geometric attributes and properties of Matter they could use and incorporate material things in everything spiritual, moral, social, religious. They proved this in their cathedrals and churches, which were material structures and yet for that very reason are awesome, beautiful, full of speech, instinct with thought, and were, in the words which Matthew Arnold used of poetry, "the friends and aiders of those who would live in the spirit." All these things which the Freemasons learned about matter, and which are as a whole symbolized by the letter G, were true then, are true now, will be true forever. There is neither need nor excuse for us to set up any opposition between matter and spirit, or body and mind, or science and religion, or machinery and culture, or money and morals, there is no need for us to cut our national life into two opposing schisms with work and industry and trade on the one side, and religion, morality, and art on the other.
9. The Ashlars. Ritualists of a century or a century and a half ago fastened on the two Ashlars the names Imperfect and Perfect; this was a misfortune because it has misled our symbologists into writing many pages on the idea of perfection and many times as many pages on the idea of a cube, neither of which has any connection with the Ashlar symbolism. Ashlar, as we learn from many of the old Fabric Rolls, was a Medieval builder's name for a stone; the symbolism represents the contrast between a stone on which no work had been done with the same stone on which work had been completed (one stone, not two, is denoted by the symbolism). In its state before any work is done it is not Imperfect, which would imply that work had been done on it but that the work had been faulty; a more correct name would be Rough Ashlar, or even Unworked Ashlar. When a stone was finished for use in a wall in such a way that one surface, or two opposite surfaces, could be made flush with the face of the wall, it was called a perpend ashlar - perhaps some old writer or monitorialist misread this word for "perfect." When a Candidate comes through the Inner Door at the beginning of the First Degree he is a Rough Ashlar; at the end of the Third Degree he is a finished product, ready for his place in the wall, which means ready for membership; his value for Freemasonry is measured by the amount of work done upon him during that period.
It may strike our ears as something harsh, or even as a piece of gaucherie in print, to liken a man to a stone, or to say that work is done on him, but it is only the language that shocks us, because if we will consider the matter we shall soon see that the idea has escaped our attention not because it has been too exceptional to see but has been too familiar to see. If we look for it, we can see it everywhere. A boy of six, before he has started to school, is a rough ashlar; by the time he graduates from school he is a perpend ashlar; during those twelve intervening years a whole succession of teachers have worked upon him, at a cost of two or three thousand dollars (or more) to tax-payers, and unless that work has been botched or the boy had nothing in him, his money value (to the community and to himself) is many times what it would have been had those teachers not worked upon him - and how easy for them to fall into the way of speech where they instructively talk of "pounding it in," or "driving it into him," or "nailing him down" I It has been work, for him and for them both. To school, to teach, to instruct, to train, to drill, to direct a man, to polish him, to coach him, to initiate him, to "tell" him, etc., etc., each and every one of those is a way of working on a man; work cannot be done by men until work has been done on them, and economists estimate that it comprises one-third of the total amount of the work done by any nation, and that men thus worked on represent a full half of the wealth of it, and that if none of this work on men were done any nation would go bankrupt in a few years' time.
10. The Ruffians. Work does not go on in a passive or neutral frame-work. It is not like a play in which floors and walls of the theater are not among the actors. A man works in the midst of things which are dynamic in themselves, they move, they are in motion, they change, they grow or shrink, they have forces and energies in them, and if they are plants and animals they will act as if they had minds of their own; also, as is so often forgotten, a man works with or on other men, and there is never anything neutral or passive about them. Meanwhile around every man at work is the world itself, and it has a character of its own, is wholly positive and dynamic, and filled with processes and forces which men cannot regulate, and no matter how hard or wisely men may work, or how harmoniously they work in cooperation with each other, there is "never any telling when the world will break in"; a war, or a drouth, or a business panic, or a pestilence, or a storm, or an earthquake may break down or destroy in one day what it has taken a man a life-time to make.
Our newspapers, magazines, popular books, movies, and radio with their spinsterish ideas and starved vocabularies always discuss work in the terms of what they call "labor problems," or "the labor question" (as if labor were the only form of work!), and they take these so-called "problems" to be disagreements and conflicts among workingmen themselves, or as between workingmen and employers; and they assume that if the men "on both sides" would arbitrate, or would sit together in conference, or would "talk out their differences," or compromise on their conflicting demands, "labor troubles" would cease. According to this description of the world of work "misunderstandings" are the Ruffians. There is also, and alongside the above, the more pessimistic picture of the world of work as torn in two by a necessary and inevitable "class struggle," one class is at war with another; it is a sort of Zoroastrian economics, and even its language is, for it is always reminiscent of John Milton's picture of the wars in heaven in his Paradise Lost, the most Zoroastrian book in English literature. "To be at work is to be at war"; if that doctrine is accepted then the association of men together in the arts, professions, and callings for purposes of unity, brotherhood, fraternalism is Utopian, it "is not realistic." According to these two theories the Ruffians are either misunderstandings or class struggles; if so, it is too bad for the theories, because in the light of the whole history of men at work in the world, throughout historic times, both theories are extraordinarily unreal and untrue.
If men who work carry on their work in association with each other it is because work itself, most of it, cannot be done by one man, but only by many men working in one body. They do not associate in order to avoid "misunderstandings" or in order to carry on a labor war, but because the nature of work itself compels them to associate. One of the most curious facts in the worldwide history of fraternities, gilds, unions, associations is the recurrence among outsiders, the almost inevitable recurrence, of the notion that men form these associations because they like each other, or love each other, or wish to be brothers to each other. If they are normal men they will be friends when associated together, but they would be friends anyhow, and they do not form associations of men at work in order to be friends. They form them because they are compelled to, and have to form them whether or no, because without them they could not work, and therefore could not live, because to work demands association. As for differences, discussions, and conflicts among men at work, they may be private and personal, and if so are no more eradicable inside an association than outside; but even if men could not get along harmoniously, or even if they disliked each other, it would not matter, because they must work together or they will starve, and it is this hard, bleak fact, as cold as an iceberg and as hard as a rock, which is the reason for associations, unions, fraternities, and not any set of Utopian aspirations. It is as Carlyle said: "Ye shall be brethren or ye shall not eat." But even if there were more of those personal conflicts among men at work they would account for only a few of the foes and enemies, they would not count for one Ruffian in the Three. That which occasions the most destructive, which is the really dangerous enemy or at least the largest danger, is the breaking in of forces, and influences, and disruptions from outside. To repeat, the world breaks in.
The Rite of HA.·. is the perfect picture of this breaking in and breaking up. On one day thousands of craftsmen were peaceably at work, there were no misunderstandings, there was no class struggle; the next day they were brought to a halt and all work ceased; it was as if the ground had suddenly been cut from under them. Crime and death broke in, and neither one has anything to do with work, nor did the workmen invite them in. They came in of themselves. It was a tragedy; there is nowhere any suggestion that this was not a real tragedy, nor that its loss was afterwards made up. What did the Craftsmen do? They hunted down the Ruffians and destroyed them, they then pulled themselves together, and reorganized themselves, and accepted their loss, and went back to work. It is a picture of men at work the world over.
11. Circumambulation. From a position immediately within the Inner Door a man is conducted on a progress which ultimately brings him around to his starting point. The name of this ceremonial progress is Circumambulation but it is not used in its original or etymologic sense of walking about in a circle but rather in its looser sense of a journey outward, and about, and a return. This progress continues in an odd manner which is stiff, and almost mechanical, as if it were a robot moving and not a man; there are advances in straight lines, turnings at right angles, swerving about a pivot in a curve, a passing from one station to another, and the words which are occasionally said sound like voices out of the night, and use unfamiliar phrases; Masons without number have commented on this feeling of something archaic, or even antique, as if some rite or ceremony had wandered down out of the Ancient World.
We Modern men are "smitten with the superstition of being busy" above any generation before and make a great clatter about our way of making a living because we no longer live on or next door to our place of work but must spend enough time going to and from work to earn a second living. We are the busiest people who have ever lived and yet we give almost no thought to work itself; where a hundred of us have clear ideas about sports, politics, religion, machinery only one of us has ideas about work; the result is that we are not observant of the things belonging to work, and fail to see what goes on under our eyes every day of the year. One of these things which we overlook is that every good workman has good form.
A man working in a machine shop must go from one machine to another, or if he works in an office goes from one desk to another, or if he is a farmer goes from his house to the barn and then to the fields; the instances in which men in any of the forms of work must thus move, or go, or travel are literally innumerable. When thus going and moving and progressing, if they are normal men, and if they are not obstructed by obstacles which they cannot remove, they walk in lines as straight as possible, and make turns at as nearly a right angle as possible, and move in curves as near to the curve of a circle as possible, and they do so for the same and obvious reason that no man is willing to waste a lot of useless steps, or time, or energy. As said above in this chapter, there is a geometry in the nature of things, and Form in work is nothing other than action in accordance with that geometry. Instead of these movements taken in Form (Circumambulation) being queer or odd or archaic they are the opposite; if when at work a man went wandering about, aimlessly, with no sense of direction, that would be questionable, wasteful and odd.
This is true also of the movements, motions, and actions of the body, of the eyes, the head, the hands, the feet, standing or sitting, the using of tools, the handling of materials, looking, listening, turning, starting, stopping; awkwardness and ungainliness are nothing other than a man's failure to move himself according to the geometry which is in his own body. The famous masters of sports, baseball players, golfers, billiard players, riders, swimmers know what Form is - it is the hallmark of the expert. It is equally the hallmark in every form of work; any master craftsman in any gild, or art, or calling has a smoothness of motion and movement, a deftness, a lightness of touch, a complete economy of effort, and does not wander about like an idling boy, or loll about like a loafer, or follow his whims, or go by guess, or blunder into things, or scrape through difficulties, or scamp the finish of his work.
12. The Master of Masons. The Operative Freemason was untroubled in his mind on the subject of work. He knew that to be a man is to be a worker. Unless he quarreled with life he did not quarrel with work - to hate or dread or evade work was atheism in practice. His feeling about it was religious in the true and universal sense of the word, because he knew that while he was holding his tools in his hands it was his own life that he was holding, and the lives of his wife and children. From everlasting to everlasting a man is such that a man must pass the world through his own hands to make it over and to transform it or lie cannot continue to be a man. For the same reason he did not quarrel with the how in work; there is in the nature of things one best way, and one only, by which anything can be done, and he accepted those ways, or hows (the knowledge of how is what we call understanding), as religiously as he accepted work itself. Therefore if one of the commonest of these hows was for him to work in a body of men he did not fight the fact; and if in a body of men a certain number must be told off from among the other workmen to give the signal when to begin, and when to stop, where to go, who made plans, and gave orders, he gave no thought to the fact because he knew that superintendency, management, direction, oversight are in the nature of work as much as sawing or hammering; and lie knew that these managers or superintendents were brother workmen, neither more nor less than other workmen. The function of management was in the nature of work, not outside it.
We on the other hand have fallen into the
fundamental blunder of separating out the functions of management
and administration from work itself and also from the body of
workmen in an attempt to make it something apart - if our own
world of work is shattered, if we are in a bedlam, if we are racked
by "labor troubles," if we have strikes, and booms,
and panics the fault of it is in this unspeakable folly about
management over and above any other cause. A Master of Masons
superintended a body of men who in intelligence, skill, knowledge,
and also in fame outranked any other men in the world at the time,
and supervised a building far more difficult to construct and
many times as important and costly as any skyscraper in the new
world, yet he also was a working craftsman, had been an apprentice
for many years, had worked as one craftsman among others, worked
for wages, was under the same rules and regulations as others
- he was not above, or outside, the body of men, but was himself
a member of it. But the great ambition of a modern master, or
superintendent, or manager, often seems to be to get as far away
from the work as possible, to have the least possible hand in
it, and if the workmen organize themselves into associations and
unions he does not become a member but goes off and joins with
others of his ilk in association and unions of his own; a dichotomy,
a schism, a chasm splits in two the world of work, and it is no
wonder that these two unnatural divisions are always in conflict
with each other.
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