Jesus goes into the desert to wrestle with Satan and his soul for 40 days and 40 nights. Buddha disappears into the jungle for 5 years to find himself by releasing his ego. Mohammad retreats into the cave to transcribe the Word of God; Arjuna listens attentively as Krishna recounts him with stories of courage beyond worldly fear. For millennia, our primary “Hero’s Journeys” have involved one person delving into the depths of their own being, always in solitude, and returning with the sacred key. But in the modern world of Instagram, Constant Contact, and Buzzfeed, is the Hero’s Journey still relevant?
The ancient myth of the hero is predicated on the notion that people have some primordial inner ‘space’ that contains the way (the Tao). The problem, it seems, is not that we need to ‘learn’ the way but we need to remove the obstacles that obscure it from us. From the threshold guardians at the gates of Eden to the delusions of Buddhism, from the Veil of Maya in Hinduism to Jungian psychology, every mythology has its own description of what blocks our path — and its own prescription for how to unblock it. But the central precept is the same: we are born with infinite depths, and our struggle is to delve as deeply as possible into our own souls/consciousnesses in order to reveal this eternal aspect, our Divine Selves.
But finding inner depth, historically, requires solitude, meditation, disconnection from worldly affairs — outer quiet in order to dive deeply into the inner “ocean of wisdom,” as many Buddhist philosophers call it. So is inner depth dead in our hyper-connected, always-on world? Or do we need to revise our myths?
Humans are social creatures, evolved from tribal primates (who do not play well with other tribes) to trans-cultural UpWorkers who collaborate across continents, languages, and religious barriers. Tribalism is dead, and pan-cultural humanism is our current religion. And with the increasing speed and fluency of connection and communication, it is now easier to have a Twitter debate with a stranger on the other side of the world than it is to have a three-hour philosophical conversation with your best friend. We started as tribal primates, evolved into a single species of interconnected human beings, and are now evolving into… bees?
We attribute no mythology to bees. There is no Bee Buddha, or Bee Jesus. Bees do not appear to move as individuals but as a hive. So, too, do modern humans’ revelations seem to occur as emergent properties. Who ‘decides’ that a meme should become popular? Who ‘decrees’ that a particular religion, or style of music, or social media platform should become the next big thing? No one. Everyone. And for all the Trumps of the world, living in an archaic “Queen Bee” world of their own delusion, there are millions of hyper-connected human bees who know that the future is no longer about the self-other or slave-master relationship, but about the increasing hyper-connectivity of ideas, technology, and opinions.
In this world of human bees, there is no time or space to ‘disconnect.’ Other than sleep, we must remain always connected in order for the system to function. And so our options appear to be: reject the inevitable transpersonalism of the current cultural trajectory and retreat into a world of archaic myths, or else develop new myths of people as selfless bees, nodes in a great network, a collective human consciousness wherein our roles are that of individual neurons instead of individual brains. In this new world, there are no great leaders or wise (wo)men. No enlightened beings, no queen bees. No Trumps, no Jesuses, and no Buddhas. It is a sort of techno-communism, a confirmation of Marx’s fantasy that communal consciousness would allow us to “do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner… without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” We are all dilettantes now, using 10% of our brains, never committing to anything, feeding our input and instincts back into the system, trusting that our ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and intuitive responses will aggregate to form something better, and wiser, than the sum of its parts. And perhaps we’re right. We don’t know how neurons connect to form a mind; similarly, we don’t know how humans connect to form communities ‘smarter’ than any one individual. We don’t need a hero anymore — we need a system to worship.