Saturday, June 2, 2012

Antaeus: Keep your Feet on the Ground

Hercules and Antaeus by Gregorio De Ferrari
As the story goes, Antaeus, a half giant, would challenge those who passed him to a wrestling match. He would kill his challengers and save their skulls. It's what you did when you were the half-giant son of Poseidon and Gaia.

Of course he wasn't just saving those skulls for posterity. He was planning on using them to build a temple in honor of his father, Poseidon. Perhaps it was a father's day present. We'll never know for sure. Antaeus never got to build that temple. Hercules came around one day and challenged Antaeus to a fight. He was perplexed that he could not win. Every time he threw Antaeus down to the ground he would become reinvigorated, rise up, and continue to fight.

After several rounds Hercules caught on to Antaeus' super power. Every time he returned to ground, he was healed by his mother (mother earth, Gaia). Catching onto this, Hercules flexed some serious muscle and held the half-giant up into the air, squeezed Antaeus in a bear hug, and ended his skull collecting days.

I'd not heard about the story of Antaeus prior to this evening. I've been doing a little light reading of Erich Fromm's essays on "What does it Mean to be Human" and came across this quote:
Man is not bound to be sheep. In fact, inasmuch as he is not an animal man has an interest in being related to and conscious of reality, to touch the earth with his feet, as in the Greek legend of Antaeus; man is stronger the more fully he is in touch with reality.
I lingered on the quote for a little bit and looked up the story of Antaeus. As it ends up, this skull crushing half-giant offers some important commentary on modern day dilemmas. Have you turned on the television lately and watched the news? Have you read a newspaper? With a presidential election coming, our media is fired up with competing descriptions of reality. None of those descriptions, of course, are particularly reflective of anything resembling reality.

Back to Fromm to scoop up another quote:
As long as he is only sheep and his reality is essentially nothing but the fiction built up by his society for more convenient manipulation of men and things, he is weak as a man. Any change in the social pattern threatens him with intense insecurity and even madness because his whole relationship with reality is mediated by the fictitious reality that is presented to him as real. The more he can grasp reality on his own and not only as a datum with which society provides him, the more secure he feels because the less completely dependent he is on consensus and hence the less threatened by social change.
Presidential elections remind us we are in a period of intense social change. Our fictitious foundations of reality become battle grounds where forces of change (generally the left) battle against the forces of stability (generally the right). Where our political system becomes deficient and dangerous is that both sides become agents that advertise increasingly slick depictions of a fictive reality.

We no loner seem to want to help people keep their own feet on the ground. I'm thinking Hercules made a big mistake by lifting Antaeus up off the ground and crushing him to death. We seem to have forgotten that the heart of a well rounded education requires us to learn to stand on the ground and use   critical thinking skills--the ability to take in information from the world around us, analyze that information, and come to reasoned conclusions in a disciplined way. No. Not much of that. What we actually have is an abundance of irrational thinking that is based on a deep need for those in power to demand the other to be a state of submission and dependence.

Back to Fromm, one last time:
The process of increasing awareness is nothing but the process of awakening, of opening one's eyes and seeing what is in front of oneself. Awareness means doing away with illusions and, to the degree that this is accomplished it is a process of liberation.
So I ask you this: what are you going to do today to dispel the illusions and bring forth a little more liberation? What are you going to do to stand on the ground today?

Curious about Erich Fromm? I've gathered several videos which capture the essence of what he offered the world. Click here to explore those videos at your leisure.

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