The Hydra’s Heads: “Separation”

Concerning the nature of the Hydra: mytholigical swamp monster with many heads, which grow back in even greater numbers when severed. It therefore stands for any problem that can not be contained on the one hand, but also for a number of smaller problems which have a common reason underneath the surface, on the other. It seems to me, we’re facing a magnificent specimen without realizing …

In all the discussions about the state of affairs, about just what might have gotten so out of control, and how to fix it, we remain stuck in petty thinking. We discuss the consequences of our collective blindness as if they were the basic problem. Of course it is no wonder that we hardly make any headway, because no matter what bit of trouble you choose to examine more closely:

They are all possible only because something is wrong with ourselves. And as long as we do not deal with it, ten new problems keep growing wherever we believe to have solved one – just as in Jason’s unsolvable monster mission. What is the true form of our monster underneath the water’s surface?

We are dissatisfied on a deep level, because we are distracted from ourselves and our true needs. We do not live our lives the way we evolved for, and the resulting frustration becomes blurred because we hardly have time to contemplate and our opinions are so heavily influenced from outside. That sounds exaggerated? Let us look at how most of us – people in the metropolitan areas – live.

The monster’s first head – SEPARATION

Divide and conquer, said the Romans. If you want to weaken people, you only need to break them up into many small groups. Whether it’s intended or has simply developed that way matters little – in any event, we have to change course together.

For, safe for a few robust happy natures and those lucky enough to determine their own life’s course freely, we are all of us isolated, sick, and divided, because we are surrounded by nothing but – perceived – coldness, alienation and hostility.

To make it worse, or at least harder to fix, most of us are not even aware we’re lonely – after all we don’t know any different. Let’s compare the following list with the picture of a small tribal community, be it nomadic or settled, going about their daily business. The life we evolved for and were leading up to a few moments ago on the evolutionary time scale.

Now, we needn’t return to primitive lifestyles to find happiness, just having our true needs met – one of which is a sense of belonging and company – will do. Here are some examples:

There are hardly any free meeting areas on the street

… and practically no way to go out in the cold season without having to spend money. Social interaction and joint activities usually require effort and expenses. People in the lowest income groups are effected in particular, statistics unsurprisingly show that poorer persons are often subject to social and cultural exclusion.

In particular, any stay-at-home or even single parent of small children is isolated and sometimes frustrated to the point of despair. True municipal houses of encounter are needed in order not to exclude the increasingly numerous people in precarious situations from social interaction.

Parents and children are constantly put in opposition

Parents are forced to make their children do (completely superfluous and even contra-productive) homework every day, to drag them out of bed much too early, robbing them of the sleep ever so important to a growing organisms, and to drive them to haste and performance. Children and Teens often suffer from symptoms similar to classical jet-lag as a result.

On TV (which is where most children get their values), parents are never portrayed as understanding or even wiser and more experienced than the children, but are generally merely the cause of frustration and grief. The characters in numerous sitcoms casually insult one another on a regular basis, which is portrayed as funny by means of canned laughter. This may be harmless comedy to a grown-up, but what the children see makes their idea of normality.

The toy industry, in turn, uses psychologically orchestrated commercials to target children, getting them to insist that their parents buy them expensive things (this is called “nag factor” in marketing jargon). The fact that commercials have our blessing to selectively cause discord tells us all we need to know about our priorities.

Contact between the generations is minimized

Since many of us are imprisoned and separated in our individual boxes of variable size, elderly and immobile people along with those looking after them, are isolated. There is no place at the fire or in front of the hut, where everybody passes by and one is not exluded from village life. Moreover, and sadly so, many from the previous generations are so deeply broken that one can hardly live with them.

The way out, depending on one’s means, is either paid-for home nursing or a retirement home. This is certainly not to give anybody a hard time about this decision – rather, my criticism is aimed at the fact that the options offered are neither good for those concerned, nor for society as a whole. There have been projects exploring the idea of connecting geriatric care and kindergarden, for instance. In this way, both the passing on of life experience and the patient’s sense of purpose are facilitated. To me, this looks like a step in the right direction.

The separation of a society into young and old is a relatively new development. Without constant exchange between the generations, a society lacks in solidarity, empathy and knowledge and is robbed of parts of its identity.

Whole population groups are placed in opposition

Men and women, old and young, right and left, LGTB and straight, natives and foreigners, smokers and non-smokers, vegans and meat eatersl apple- or android users … the list of mostly elevated trifles is endless. The media loves dramatic confrontation, the effects of this constant overemphasis on opposites are deep fragmentation and isolation. We distrust each other, we fear each other, we work against each other rather than working together.

We are separated from nature

Many are completely unfamiliar with the rhythms of plants, animals and seasons. We do not know which native plants are edible. Many children have no idea where their food comes from, which is grown on trees or under the earth, or just what schnitzels are made from. No wonder our protest against disposable products and environmental toxins is so weak…

We have no awareness that we need an intact nature. Another sad example of this condition is the fact that children can name plenty of corporate logos with ease, but fail at the task of connecting pictures of leaves to the correct (commonplace) plants.

We are cut off from a core element of the human psyche and culture

… the feeling for emergence and passing away, cycles and processes, beginning and ending. Life and death have become decontextualized; separated as if they had nothing to do with each other. We have lost all mythical or spirituall view on the matter. And I’m not talking about the need to tell ourselves pretty tales for consolation – on the contrary, our westerner’s fear of death is what makes them attractive in the first place.

Rather, it is about seeing death as part of life about leaving this world surrounded by family, instead of sterile rooms. We know bodies only as horror monsters or murder victims from television and usually do not get to say goodbye to a passed loved one. Respect for life also suffers, as can be recognized easily from the practices of the meat industry or the skyrocketing business with war machinery. Kindness, thankfulness and appreciation of life are giving way to the “laws” of economics.

Everything, from fashion to values, comes in matching sets and cheaper by the dozen

One is not a critical citizen who learns from the past and tries to find the kernel of truth in various ideologies. Nor does one carefully listen to all sides and then make a judgment in the knowledge that no edifice of ideas is ever built exclusively on lies, nor does any ideology fail to add untruths. But no, you are Marxist, Ultra, Feminist, Hipster and or whathaveyou, complete with the matching outfit and music taste.

We do not just allow ourselves to be sorted into stereotypes, we even leap into the neat little boxes of our free will

In this manner, we not only limit our own thoughts, we also fail to listen to one another inthe erroneous believe that we know a person’s complete mindset, just because something they say or wear fits one of the boxes we sort people into.

This list is far from being perfect or complete, while on the other hand it all boils down to the same principle of separation. This Article is not yet about details, the purpose of this series is to arouse a sense of where our society has its blind spots and to convey the need to make a very serious stocktaking in our minds and environment. Most of the listed phenomena appear to us to be perfectly normal, perhaps even inevitable or necessary, but they are not.

We live completely differently than we have ever done before, and are not prepared for it evolutionarily. Now that the technical means are there to give us everything in abundance, it is time for a great step:

We have to separate the chaff from the wheat, to question mechanisms, developments and traditions and to face our own nature. The resources of anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology, neurology and statistics, as well as the entire knowledge of historiography, are at our disposal. And even all these disciplines must be questioned, their old errors be thrown.

We need to identify what poisons us collectively, what developments have undesirable side effects, and how our sense of adequacy has suffered. We need a society that allows our strengths to flourish and while taking our weaknesses into account, trying out new ideas from administration to energy generation, from upbringing to education down to medicine and nutrition … without the flaw of ideology which has repeatedly (And each time unsuccessfully) attempted to dictate how we are supposed to be.

We are social beings, perhaps the only animal species able to choose to resist their instincts, yet all who attempt to suppress them permanently, will find that eventually something’s gotta give. We need the freedom to be authentic, then there is no fury present to be used by manipulators from any side. We need a society that awakens the best in us (instead of trying to implant it from outside), so that we can grow together. Only then will we have enough sense of responsibility to overcome the age of war, environmental destruction and human coldness together.

The next article will be about another of the monster’s heads: the ever rising pressure on every one of us… pressure to conform, achieve and make haste – and its consequences for all of us.


Image Title Author License
growth Serena Nebo CC BY-SA 4.0
hercules_and_the_hydra_of_lerna_lacma_65-37-9 Nicolo Van Aelst (Flanders, 1527-1612), Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555-1630) CC0 1.0