two pounds of henna

There’s a point in “The Naked Civil Servant” where Quentin Crisp, in 1939 reports:

“today war was declared, and I went out and bought two pound of henna. Life might be hard

I’m not sure if that is the exact quote, but it’s the gist of it, and it was a delightful quote from a true original, and a very brave man.

At the moment we have endless talk about war, and “declaring war”, and “not bombing Syria”, and betrayal and (from the other perspective) betrayal. I’m not stocking up on henna, or coffee, or brown nail varnish, or Iceland meals though.

You see we just had a vote in our Parliament, and after 10 hours of debate they voted, on balance, to extend air strikes against ISIL from Iraq into Syrian territory which isn’t under the control of the Syrian government. There’s a lot of discussion (which is good), and a lot of sloganeering (which is naff), and an amount of twitter storming of people who “don’t agree with my side”, which is kinda vile.

I’m glad I didn’t have a decision to make on this (as in one which was effective and for which I would take responsibility). It’s easy to have principles. Not so easy to do something helpful, or avoid yet more destructiveness through acts or omissions, when you are one of those people in such a (supposed) position. Unlike most of us, who despite our declarations and pretensions, are not.

I’m glad they deliberated extensively, and that a lot of things were publicly questioned, unlike under Tony Blair. But I have no idea what you are meant to do. Running my mouth wouldn’t be one of them though, thankfully. Nor rushing out with a plackard. But the one thing I would find a true sign of insanity is people with a sense of righteous certainty when faced with questions as were debated yesterday.

I hate war, most especially the kind that conscripts swathes of the male population. That I would curse into the ground if I could. Not a helpful response, but it is a measure of my abiding sentiments. Just never, ever.

Gurdjieff thought that war and similar outbreaks of mass violence were due to various forces playing upon humanity (not “good” and “evil” or any of that pop corn), like things that had to be discharged one way or another (at least that is one simplistic interpretation of his ideas), and that it was the duty of a conscious person to not be involved.

“There was a question about War. How to stop wars? Wars cannot be stopped. War is the result of the slavery in which men live. Strictly speaking, men are not to blame for war. War is due to cosmic forces, to planetary influences. But in men there is no resistance whatever against these influences, and there cannot be any, because men are slaves. If they were Men and were capable of ‘doing’ (had Will), they would be able to resist these influences and refrain from killing one another”

“there was a question about war ..”


“Wars are not decreasing, they are increasing and war cannot be stopped by ordinary means.  All these theories about universal peace, about peace conferences, and so on, are again simply laziness and hypocrisy. Men do not want to think about themselves, do not want to work on themselves, but think of how to make other people do what they want”


Of course maybe Gurdjieff was just crazy, but I would see an end to war. I’d rather not see a bunch of people tarting around their principles without any effective answers though. That gets wearing, as opposed to the effects of clarity or insights, which open up people’s perceptions and choices, rather than rallying them to one that has already been made. This is at best a weary road, with little room for righteousness.

Two pounds of henna. A more thoughtful response than telling people what to think.


John Hurt as Quentin Crisp in “The Naked Civil Servant” – screen capture from video



  1. I am a fan of Heraclitus who said “strife is justice” which is that through war all things come to exist, change and move. War is the “arche” or primary principle in nature. Heraclitus condemned all those who spoke of peace as ignorant, since war is universal and constant, without which nothing would come into existence.

    • strife certainly is an essential component of life, though I don’t know if it could be considered the primary principle in nature, more say than attraction is? Also, without subsisting harmonies, nature would not cohere, in order to form relationships of strife within itself. I know Crowley considered war a great and progressive force, and many of our technological advancements have indeed come as spin offs of war and the military, but still that leaves a great deal open to question, and the relationship of war to the realization of individuals is questionable, depending on who and where you are. But if we took the martial and destructive/projective *energy* of war and transformed it (in modern astrology Mars is also much concerned with desire, sex and sexuality), then I think we have something interesting.

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