In ancient Greece the balance of the natural order was represented by the Arcadian nymph Nicostrate or Themis. She personified not only earthly unity, but also the intrinsic balance of the great universe itself. You have no doubt seen her image with the balancing scales because it has been adopted by our legal profession. It was Themis’ statue that fundamentalist Attorney General John Ashcroft deemed obscene and had covered over at the Justice Department.
The Greeks believed that when the natural order was violated the forces of righteous anger (Nemesis) and shame (Aidos) rose to right wrongs and reweave the web that had been trampled. The Greeks saw the interplay of these forces inherent in human behavior and believed that they also moved nature toward balance.
Themis was often shown with a wheel representing the wholeness of the universe, the ceaseless process of change and the interconnectedness of all things. In time she became associated with the principles of fundamental morality, right and justice that brings civilized man into harmony with the rest of the universe.
To the Greeks, Aidos the butterfly was the quality of reverence for life that encourages us to do no wrong. It also encompasses the natural shame we feel when we witness injustice. In her book on illness and healing, Kat Duff wrote:
Originally shame carried a sense of the sacredness, of the great Mystery that infuses all life, instilling a healthy respect, reverence, and humility. It served to remind humans so prone to hubris, that we are not God, and that we have made and will make mistakes. It allowed us to acknowledge our mistakes and prompted us to remedy them to the best of our abilities. To the Greek understanding, shame was the antidote for human hubris, the remedy for wrongdoing, our means of mending the web.
In the eighth century B.C. the Greek poet Hesiod predicted that there would come a time during the age of iron when people would become so depraved that Aidos and Nemesis would depart out of frustration and leave us to our own undoing. Hesiod described that time:
A father will not be in harmony with his children nor his children with him, nor guest with host, nor friend with friend, and a brother will not be loved as formerly. One will destroy the city of another. No esteem will exist for the one who is true to an oath or just or good; rather men will praise the arrogance and evil of the wicked. Justice will be might and shame will not exist . . . Then Aidos and Nemesis both will forsake mankind and go, their beautiful forms shrouded in white, from the wide earth to Olympus among the company of the gods . . . and there will be no defense against evil.
The natural connection between beings develops out of compassion, respect and understanding. Hesiod observed that when the web of those natural connections is broken, violence prevails. When the natural law of the gods is replaced by the social law of man, the ability to perceive the natural order and respond accordingly greatly diminishes. When the web is violated, our capacity to feel righteous anger and shame is lost, and the protection from evil and wrongdoing dissipates.
Since the Renaissance, the leviathan of rationality, science, industrialism and their malevolent stepchildren: materialism, greed and the lust for power have stripped Western people of their spirituality. The web of natural bonds between people and between people and nature has been not only broken, it has been trampled. Themis and the natural order that she represents has been buried alive by corporate finance, legalism, political corruption, environmental disregard and unmitigated greed. Aidos and Nemesis have forsaken humankind as Hesiod predicted and have returned to Olympus. Violence prevails. We have lost our capacity to feel righteous anger and natural shame, and have surrendered our protection from evil and wrongdoing. Hesiod prophesied accurately: today men do praise the arrogance, corruption, and evil of the “wicked.” In fact, they have gone farther than Hesiod could have possibly imagined. Carl Jung observed:
The twentieth century thus shows a devastating sense of frustration and futility in the world of the average person. It can be defined as something like this: the world is without divine direction; it is without imminent sense or inner coherence (except the purely mechanical one); it is without intrinsic responsibility. And this means that man had no reality or function in this world beyond the one that his ego had defined for himself.
Jung chose his words carefully. When he wrote of a “devastating sense of frustration and futility for ordinary people,” a keen observer of modern man was expressing a deep concern for the course of industrialized civilization.
People with axes to grind frequently criticize science and industry, and there is much to criticize, but these movements would not have become great societal megaliths without making significant contributions to our health and well being. They were, and are, expressions of the age and of the state of our consciousness. Science and industry have given us the power to do almost anything we wish. We could travel to the outer reaches of the galaxy, build great cities of unparalleled majesty, eradicate poverty and hunger, eliminate disease, provide universal education, or do a hundred other equally worthy things. These would be remarkable accomplishments, and they are within our power. Unfortunately, much of our power sits idly in concrete missile silos under the earth, absorbing an enormous portion of our financial and emotional resources. These modern temples speak volumes to our unresolved shadow and our preoccupation with fear, domination and power. It is time to begin to look inside for real meaning in life.
Even with all his accomplishments, Western man has not developed the sagacity to use his vast power with compassion and wisdom. As Jung pointed out, neither the ravages of Bubonic Plague nor the Great Smallpox epidemics could begin to compare with certain differences of political opinion that took place in 1914 and again in 1942. As Ashley Montague once commented, “An intelligence that is not humane is the most dangerous thing in the world.” Toward the end of his life, Plenty Coups, the great chief of the Crow Indians reflected on his years of dealing with white men when he observed, “They are smart, but not wise.”
To an outsider, it must seem strange that a culture that can raise enough food to feed those dying of starvation and provide medical care for the suffering, would turn its back on people because they have no money. Marlo Morgan was talking about Western values one day with a group of Australian aboriginals and the conversation came to a jolting halt when the Aboriginals learned that white men locked food in warehouses while people were starving. It was not that they disagreed; it was not their place to judge, their reaction was of dismay and disbelief. Withholding food was simply incomprehensible. To the Aborigine, food comes from nature and for a man to put himself above the natural order was to invite grave consequences. Robert Heilbroner felt great pain for the things he saw in Western man. He wrote:
When men can generally acquiesce in, even relish, the destruction of their living contemporaries, when they can regard with indifference or irritation the fate of those who live in slums, rot in prison, or starve in lands that have meaning only insofar as they are vacation resorts, why should they be expected to take the painful actions needed to prevent the destruction of future generations whose faces they will never live to see? Worse yet, will they not curse these future generations whose claims to life can be honored only by sacrificing present employments; and will they not, if it comes to a choice, condemn them to nonexistence by choosing the present over the future?
The Aborigines of Australia are deeply connected to the web of the universe and in an interesting parallel see things much as Hesiod did. They have a saying: “There are two roads, the Aboriginal road and the white fella’s road. The white fella’s road leads to destruction.” We are in the strange paradox of creating more wealth and power than any civilization in human history while generating incredible levels of stress, anger and isolation. The loss of individual dignity and the isolation and powerlessness that has been essential to the creation of industrialized civilization has deeply undercut Western man’s natural spirituality, and left his life without real meaning. Society has created incredible power for itself, but has left the individual isolated and impotent. Eric Fromm was another keen observer of Western society. He commented on modern man:
He seems to be driven by self interest but in reality his total self with all its concrete potentialities has become an instrument for the purposes of the very machine his hands have built. He keeps up the illusion of being the center of the world, and yet he is pervaded by an intense sense of insignificance and powerlessness which his ancestors once consciously felt toward God.
Modern man’s feeling of isolation and powerlessness is increased still further by the character which all his human relationships have assumed. The concrete relationship of one individual to another has lost its direct and human character and has assumed a spirit of manipulation and instrumentality. In all social and personal relations the laws of the market are the rule. It is obvious that the relations between competitors has to be based on mutual human indifference. Otherwise any one of them would be paralyzed in the fulfillment of his economic tasks – to fight each other and not to refrain from the actual economic destruction of each other if necessary.
The relationship between employer and employee is permeated by the same spirit of indifference . . . They both use each other for the pursuit of their economic interests; their relationship is one in which both are means to an end, both are instrumental to each other. It is not a relationship of two human beings who have any interest in the other outside of this mutual usefulness. The same instrumentality is the rule in the relationship between the businessman and his customer.
We are alone, living lives of isolation, holding out against a crushing society that disregards us in its dash to notoriety and wealth. The family, once the mainstay of Western civilization, exists in name only. We do not know our neighbors and have little reason to be interested in community. We have been reduced to numbers in vast computer networks that invade our privacy and tell us how valuable we are by the size of the credit line we can have. Inner city youths have no stake in society and nothing to lose by corrupting it. Our children are raised by day care, one parent and MTV. We let the older ones learn in the streets. We abdicate their schooling to a hopeless educational system to which we give pitifully little support. In Santa Fe a mother actually wrote the local newspaper complaining that the school had called to tell her that her son was ditching classes. It was, she maintained, the school’s problem. This is the state of American parentage.
On a larger scale, junk bond dealers and corporate takeover artists make snake oil salesmen of the last century pale by comparison. Corporate bosses move companies overseas when there is a better deal or looser pollution regulation. Our entertainment media of movies and television are vast wastelands of mindlessness and violence. Over three thousand studies, 85 of them major, have linked media violence to viewer aggression and depression. The industry’s response has been cosmetic. For one thing a significant part of the industry’s revenues come from foreign sales and violence is an easily translatable commodity. This is why foreigners often have such a distorted view of American society. Hollywood stars sometimes speak out on social issues, but few of them will speak out against the violence in their own industry that supports their rich lifestyles, although it deeply damages society. Oliver Stone, a movie director who has become rich and famous glorifying violence, in a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, blames this damage on the media. He says with incredible hubris, “The killers have been so idealized and so glorified by the media that the media become worse than the killers. . . The world is so violent, and we’re swamped in it in this century. I mirror that – I’m a distorting mirror, like in the circus.” Some mirror.
Our supermarket shelves are filled with artificial foods made with genetically modified ingredients and crammed with preservatives and toxic flavor enhancers. Fast food restaurants serve slabs of plastic food loaded with chemicals, and the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association firmly support them. The modern hot dog, “America’s food” that President Franklin Roosevelt proudly served to the King and Queen of England, is so loaded with chemicals that it is linked to leukemia in children. In 1960 A woman’s chances of contracting breast cancer were 1 in 20. Today that risk is 1 in 8.
We revel in our narcissism. “Notice me! Notice me!” The successful ones cry from their swimming pools, Lexuses, and designer clothing. The modern American centaur: half woman, half station wagon, sings the anthem of modern America: “Lock your house, lock your car, lock your heart.” They kneel at the three headed god of modern society: Individualism, Competition and Acquisition. Young people follow the tasteless and talentless Christine Aguilera because she has mastered the art of narcissistic self absorption. Today’s creative talents are so flat that artists are forced to rely heavily on old songs. One critic labeled the 1990′s the “Re-decade.” We have no rituals or ceremonies to encourage healthy beliefs and values. Holy Days have become holidays and have little spiritual significance.
People who are unable to be outwardly angry collapse their feelings inward into dysfunctional shame. We are like sheep, pushed around by faceless bureaucracies, lied to by manipulative politicians, poisoned by food additives and agricultural chemicals, and we take it. The descendants of the rugged pioneers who conquered a vast wilderness do not have the courage to send back a mediocre restaurant meal. Some troubled person with an assault rifle butchers children in a schoolyard or slaughters customers in a fast food restaurant, and there is no outrage. We are numb. What possible use does an ordinary citizen have with a high powered, semiautomatic assault weapon anyway? Target practice? Yet, Congress can barely scrape together the votes to control these vicious weapons of the drug trade.
The citizens of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda conduct public genocide and we do not raise a hand. A despondent U.N. Secretary General describes the West’s lack of response as “a scandal.” As tragic as the events of 9/11 were when 3,000 people were killed, during several weeks in Ruwanda over 500,000 people were massacred, and we did nothing. We didn’t even notice. Millions have died in Africa from internal strife and famine over the last few years and we pay scant attention. The Chinese Communists continue to rape the peaceful people of Tibet and we sit on our hands. The generals of Haiti, up to their noses in cocaine traffic, overthrow the democratically elected President and the demigods of peace and freedom in Washington take years to respond. Drug money talks in Washington.
We have lost the capacity to feel righteous anger and natural shame, and as the Greeks pointed out, have thus given up our natural protection from evil and wrongdoing. The innate bonds between people and between the individual and nature no longer exist. Western man has entered the state the Hindus call Mahisasura — the madness of the mind when it disconnects from God.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016