The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems, takes the myth of the Labors of Hercules and compares the twelve seemingly impossible tasks and solutions performed by Hercules to twelve modern problems and their solutions. The forthcoming book is written and illustrated by Michael E. Arth, a 2020 candidate for President of the United States. The solutions comprise his campaign platform. Read Introduction.
The sneaky and slippery Nemean lion, with claws that can cut anything, has a cave with two entrances. Hercules uses its own claws to slay it. This is our two party system using winner-take-all elections to keep them in power and fight off any other parties.
Solution: We can defeat the forced binary choice through electoral reform that will end private campaign financing, the Electoral College, and having to vote for the lessor of two evils.
For every head that Hercules cuts off the Hydra, two more replace it. For every person who dies, two and half people are born. The one and half extra people are born in Africa and Asia where overpopulation keeps them poor and in desperate straits. It's also terrible for the planet.
Solution: Bring the world’s population into balance through drastically increased family planning efforts in high birth rate countries, economic change, education, and advocacy for women. Recognize that excess migration, global warming, overconsumption, violent conflict, poverty and many other problems are exacerbated by overpopulation.
Hercules caught Artemis’ deer with the the golden coat and golden antlers. The pursuit of the golden hind and her capture is symbolic of how a well regulated society is necessary for the fair distribution of riches, including food, shelter, meaningful work, education, health care, opportunity, dignity, self-respect, and the resources held in common.
Solution: Make capitalism work for everyone through equitable rule of law and progressive taxation. Establish a guaranteed minimum income, Medicare for All, free education. Large corporations must be chartered to benefit all shareholders.
Hercules captures a fierce wild boar that had been terrorizing people. Poor people, especially non-white minorities, are being terrorized by a fierce "war on drugs" that has caused the US to have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Solution: End Prohibition. Legalize, regulate, and tax drugs. Offer free treatment. Expunge the record of non-violent drug offenders who were arrested for simple possession.
Hercules diverted a river through a stable where cattle were kept, washing the waste into the sea. This labor is both symbolic and literal. The world's cattle produce huge amounts polluting waste, and methane, which is a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2. Eating beef is a very inefficient way to feed people.
Solution: Reduce beef production through taxation. Clean up the environment. Stop human population growth. Reduce greenhouse gases through conservation, and transition more quickly to zero emissions fuels.
In the reeds of the Stymphalian marsh lived a flock of rapacious birds that would often rise up in a murmuration that looked like a dark, shape-shifting monster. The birds would swoop down with malicious focus to devour plants, animals and humans alike. Hercules created a terrible din with some bronze rattles and it caused the birds to hover in a disorganized mass. He filled the sky with arrows that killed most. The rest flew off, never to return. The Stymphalian birds are symbolic of how our laws are being reorganized in a maliciously focused manner by private interests for their own benefit.
Solution: Rewrite the laws of the land to benefit everyone. Have large corporations become "benefit corporations" (similar to before 1982) that require them to take into account all the stakeholders, not just the stockholders and CEOs. Make prison about rehabilitation instead of retribution. Have reasonable and democratically supported gun regulation. More carrot and less stick abroad. Take the profit of war and beware of the Military Industrial Complex.
There was a dangerous and unpredictable bull with long, sharp horns that no one knew what to do with. Hercules knocked it out, trussed it, released it, and captured it several times before he finally gave up and just slaughtered it.
The once proud bull now stands as a sculpture in Manhattan’s Financial District. After Wall Street took down the economy in 2008, someone installed a bronze statue of a defiant young girl facing down the bull. Tourists now take pictures of themselves underneath its brass balls.
Solution: People are finally standing up to Wall Street, and now we need to regulate the markets, the tax system, and the currency for the benefit of all. Measures should include a financial transactions tax, and the strong possibility of switching to a full-reserve banking system where the Treasury spends money into existence instead of having private banks lend it into existence. With an incentive, Iceland can test the concept first.
Hercules tamed the proliferating, rapacious, human-eating mares owned by the Thracian King Diomedes. After slaying Diomedes he fed the king to his own horses. In modern times, mechanical horses, assembled from products made all over the world, have replaced horses of flesh, blood and bone. These slavish, mindless beasts, wrapped in metal skin, which pollute the air and ruin the landscape, now outweigh all humans on Earth. The human-killing Mustangs, Broncos, Colts, Pintos, and other vehicles with horsepower fueled by gasoline, will be destroyed and recycled. The safe new cars, in diminished numbers, will be electric powered, shared, and autonomous. Virtually all energy for all applications should be supplied, by direct and indirect sustainable means, from the sun.
Hercules was ordered by King Erystheus, at the request of his daughter Admete, to steal the golden belt of the Amazonian Queen, Hippolyta and give it to her. Hercules sailed to the Amazonian queendom. Hippolyta took a fancy to Hercules and was ready to give him the belt as a token of her love. Hera, Heracles’ evil step-mother disguised herself as an Amazonian warrior and spread the rumor that Hercules was going to abduct their queen and rape her. When the Amazons attacked, Hercules thought it was an ambush, killed Hippolyta, grabbed her belt, and sailed back to present the belt to Admete.
The myth is all about the intrigues between the sexes involving jealousy, thievery, treachery, rape, murder, power originating from the days when men ruled over women, and powerful men ruled over everyone. All of these intrigues still exist, and are often bound up with an imbalance of power, as well as discrimination or prejudice based on a person’s sex or gender. Women did not even get the vote in the US until 1920, and Saudi Arabia didn’t grant women the right to vote until 2011. Honor killings, genital mutilation, gendercide, child marriage, war rape, abuse, wage inequality, and high birth rates associated with the low status of women all still exist in the world.
Solution: The many solutions can be summed up by saying we would all be better off with equality of the sexes and international policies that raise the status of women everywhere.
Hercules created the Pillars of Hercules by smashing through the land bridge in the western Mediterranean and pushing apart Europe and Africa. He sailed across the Atlantic to one of the islands in the Hesperides where he slay a giant named Geryon who was conjoined triplets on a single pair of legs. The monstrous trinity all spoke together as one person, and tended red cattle. He can be seen as a stand-in for the Great Mother/Triple Goddess who has been demonized into a monster that cannot own red cattle or anything else. This was why Hercules felt justified to murder Geryon, his herder, and his dog, and steal his possessions. At the same time, cattle—especially blood red ones— were symbols of the Earth Mother and sacred to the goddess Hera. In general, the purpose of bloody sacrifice was to feed the destructive blood lust of the Nature Goddess, who gives in birth what she destroys in death. The sacrifice Geryon would have twice the hoodoo because the cattle were already the color of blood even before their throats were slit.
The Pillars of Hercules also have symbolic importance in this story. At a time when the natural world was seen as something to be both feared and subdued, this pair of geologic features were seen as sentinels to protect humans from the Great Unknown. As a part of nature, the body was a vessel fashioned by the gods and imbued with a life force that could be withdrawn at any time by its creators.
Solution: Universal Health Care, will replace the ruthless, capricious, outrageously expensive, private business model with care based on the traditional female qualities of nurturance, caring, compassion, and love. Medicare for All will take down the three-headed monster consisting of 1. Bureaucratic waste and misery related to medical staff dealing with angry clients and insurance companies focused on profit. 2. The huge burden and expense that insurance and the lack thereof places on the majority of Americans. 3. Overly expensive pharmaceutical drugs.
Hercules returned to the trinity of islands in the Hesperides archipelago. Three maidens lived simultaneously in a transcendental garden that was on all three islands at once, much like the triune qualities of the triple goddess or the later version that became the male Trinity, representing body, soul, and spirit. The paradisiacal garden in the Hesperides correlates to the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian idea of Paradise. In Genesis, the serpent is coiled around the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and offers Eve a bite of the apple, promising her eternal life.
In the garden in the Hesperades was a tree with three golden apples watched over by three maidens. The goddess Hera had ordered Ladon, a serpent who never slept, to guard over the fruit in the garden. As with the staff of Aesclepius, the caduceus, and the staff of Moses, the snake and celestial tree mythology are nearly ubiquitous among cultures where the constellation Draco could be seen coiling around the pole star. The earliest known representation of this symbol is over 5,100 years old and depicts Wadjet, the Egyptian cobra god, coiled around a papyrus stem. The double helix of snakes around the pole of the caduceus goes back to the 4,000-year-old Sumerian fertility god, Ningizzida.
Hercules has to use his demi-god status to enter the transcendental garden in order to obtain the golden apples. He finds Atlas holding up the sky and offers to take over for a spell if Atlas will get him the apples. After Atlas performs this chore, Hercules complains about the position of the sky on his back and tricks Atlas into taking back the burden. This myth was probably derived from the unseen celestial axis of the sky that connects the Earth to an invisible point in the celestial vault that itself traces the precession of the equinoxes over 29,920 years. This wobble of the Earth’s axis was noted by Hipparchus in 129 BCE.
The problem today is with religious people who take their myths literally on faith. There are thousands of different religious views and they aren't based on facts or shared reality. This is a recipe for conflict, and indeed history is replete with wars fought over religious beliefs.
Solution: Everyone can believe what they want, even if there's no evidence for it, but our institutions should be based on our shared experience of reality. Laws should not be based on religion, other than the guarantees afforded by the First Amendment. Transpersonal experiences involving religious or mystical feelings, or entheogens used in the pursuit of such experiences, should be respected where they don’t infringe on the freedom of others.
The last labor was the most dangerous of all because it involved a perilous journey into the Underworld, which is outside the linear bounds of time, beyond Earth, and even beyond life itself. To reach the miasmal sump, guarded by a fiendish hellhound named Cerberus, Hercules would have to cross five treacherous rivers. The Styx, the “river of hate” that formed the boundary between the Earth and the Underworld, wound around Hades nine times, which represented the three manifestations of the Dark Trinity. It was the nine encirclements of the River Styx that inspired Dante Alighieri in the Middle Ages to write in his Inferno of the nine circles of Hell. The Phelgethon, running parallel to the Styx, was known to the Greeks as a river of fire. Dante later called it a river of blood where the souls were boiled. The Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, while Cocytus was the river of lamentation that flowed into Acheron, the river of woe. The dead had to pay a grim reaper by the name of Charon for the privilege of crossing the Acheron lest they be shoved into an effluvium of rotting corpses.
Cerberus was a huge, black dog with three heads that never slept. One head could see the past, another the present, and the third one the future. Each of the heads had a loathsome coiffure consisting of live snakes that collected knowledge of all three aspects of time. It was very tricky indeed to fool the Hound of Hades and Hercules’ job was made even harder by being ordered to capture Cerberus without weapons and without hurting a single snake on any of its three heads. Hercules swallowed his pride and sought help from Hermes and Athena, and he participated in a psychedelic initiation known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. Hercules learned to overcome his fear and pay incredibly close attention by Hercules is able to capture Cerebus by having him touch the aconitum flower, a poisonous plant that messed with Cerebus’ prognosticative abilities and was able to bind him up using chains made of diamonds.
This myth correlates to the hardest and potentially most dangerous task humans have ever faced. The speed at which computers operate and the associated information technology has doubled every two years for at least 65 years, and we are now in the steepest part of the exponential curve. Artificial Intelligence is already meeting with a large degree of fear and trepidation, as witnessed by the plethora of science fiction films and books about intelligent machines breaking out of human control. Science fiction is rapidly becoming fact and the path we choose and the way we travel that path will determine whether our story ends in apocalypse or utopia. The next paradigm in computer evolution is quantum computing, and quantum computers are already being built inside of isolation chambers 180 times colder than interstellar space. We already know that quantum biology occurs at room temperature in bird navigation, photosynthesis and in the microtubules in the neurons of the human brain, and it is now proposed that it may be involved in consciousness. Quantum computing has recently been demonstrated using pure silicon, as well as in diamonds (like those in the chain that held Cerberus.)
Solution: It is time to pay close attention because we probably won't get a second chance to get it right. Cyberwar is already a fact, and it could easily lead to the hell of World War III. Developing AI as a standalone competitor to humans might also be disastrous for humans—especially if AI develops a mind of its own and decides that humans are a threat. This would be another kind of Hades.
Faced with two existential threats, we should deliberative and speedily choose a third way that allows us to break out of the chrysalis of technology into a world of mutually beneficial symbiosis. This means seeking the cooperative global development of AI in a way that will benefit all of us, while keeping us all involved in the process. This will also mean eventually merging with our technology on a high level. We can begin this process by developing public policy wikis like LOGOS and UNICE that serve to transparently organize facts and reason to aid in governance. AI will eventually be able to summarize the wisdom of the crowd and speak to us in our language in any image we choose. Later still, we may participate with direct brain interfaces that allow us work together at computer speed while still retaining our individuality.