As humans, we dislike any limits on our way of life, our freedom of choice, and our range of options and so we rail and strain against them. However, the voice of wisdom tells us that some limits are necessary. When as a child you want to run as fast as you can and enjoy the vitality of your young body, that is a good thing. However, should you decide that in your enjoyment of limitlessness you want to race right off a cliff, not knowing or believing that there could be awful consequences, you may need someone to hold you back in order to save your young body from smashing to bloody bits on the rocks down below. This applies to so many things in our world today, most of all, our relationship to the natural environment, where human beings must learn to respect limits on our production and consumption of carbon-based energy and our usage of dangerous, poisonous chemicals, or we and the world are both going to be falling off a very steep cliff indeed.
In Norse mythology, there is an intriguing story of limits, the binding of the dangerous, demonic wolf Fenrir. As described in the text known as the Prose Edda, also known as the Snorri Edda, as it was written by the diplomat and poet Snorri Sturluson, Fenrir is one of the "trouble children" of the often-though-not-necessarily-always malevolent god Loki. From an early point in the life of young Fenrir, the gods realize that the wolfy child is trouble. They know that when he grows to full size, he will be immensely strong and dangerous, and pose a serious threat to the peace and order of the gods and the world. The gods decide they must find a way to bind Fenrir with a fetter strong enough to restrain him for all time. Lots are drawn and it falls to the brave god Tyr, a god of victory and justice, to persuade Fenrir to step into the seemingly frail rope loop that the gods have imbued with magic strength to hold the demon wolf fast. Fenrir, son of the trickster god, is not stupid, and only agrees to step into the rope circle if Tyr will put his hand into Fenrir's huge and horrible mouth as a guarantee that no trickery is involved. Tyr does this, and then loses his hand when the rope seizes Fenrir and he exacts his price by clamping down on Tyr. After this, Tyr is a one-handed god, and Fenrir is bound tight, for many ages. However, at the end of time, in the chaos of Ragnarok, he will break loose and wreak horror and havoc, finally devouring the leader of the gods and ending Odin's life.
What can we learn from this? That when a danger is great enough, a means must be found to keep it under control. If we were to say that the greatest threat to the world today is our addiction to carbon-based energy threatening life-threatening global warming, then means must be found to bring that threat under control. We must bind this Fenrir, but it will not be easy. The carbon fuel industries are as immense and powerful as the frost giants and fire demons and other ogres of the myths, and we may have to sacrifice much and suffer great pain and loss to bring them to heel. But this is our duty as guardians of the earth.
I am also moved to contemplate how so many things in our modern economy seem to revolve around promoting various kinds of addiction. These are other forms of Fenrir that we need to bind and resist. Our capitalist economy requires constant growth, with the corporate profit monster demanding endless feeding, like a young, growing Fenrir. Out of this need for limitless growth, our corporate magicians have learned to create many kinds of profitable mass addiction, because as any drug dealer knows, the best customer is the one who always needs and wants more. So how shall they addict thee? Let me count the ways....
Cigarettes...Casino gambling...Video gambling...Video games...Violent video games...E-Cigarettes (they're "e"! they're high-tech! wow, I want to try the heroin flavor!)...Junk food laced with salt, sugar, fat and chemicals...the list goes on, and on.
But one of the top prizes in the addiction competition has to go to the pharmaceutical industry. And you have to give them credit. They have really worked hard on this! They have pills to calm you down, pills to boost you up, pills to make you smarter, pills to make you sexier, pills to energize you, pills to stabilize you, pills to numb you. The government tells the young that "drugs are bad," especially ones that might help you relax and are not produced in corporate laboratories, like marijuana, or other types that might make you think thoughts that challenge the social order, like LSD, but then the children find that their school principals and psychiatrists, armed with helpful information provided by the pharmaceutical companies (aka Big Pharma, or is is Big Phenrir?) tell them that they really do need to take pills for the ADHD that keeps them from concentrating, unless they are depressed, in which case they need pills to obliterate their sorrow, and never mind the causes of that sorrow. Tinkering with brain chemistry and marketing magic in a bottle is ever so much more profitable than trying to change social conditions or provide support to people in difficult environments...
Another contender for top Wolf in the Addiction Olympics has to be the electronics industry. They really know how to make people psychologically dependent on having the latest device, the latest technology, the latest app. Do you remember ten year ago, when the consumer electronics titans were pushing the idea that you had to have a really, Really REALLY big TV in your home, or you weren't really a hip, happy, modern consumer? Well, nowadays they have flipped this around and the "in" thing is to watch your video on really, Really REALLY small screens on your favorite "smart" phone. What is so smart about watching tiny figures on a two inch screen? Never mind that! Shut up and buy Buy BUY what we tell you to. And what about Fecebook? How many times a day do the poor addicted Fece Folk have to update their profiles and share their exciting news about their cat's indigestion, the improperly buttered toast served to them at the chain restaurant, or their silly new sunglasses? What could be better for our society's well-being than people spending hours in idiotic states of distraction? After all, it is not like there were any problems outside our technological gadgets that require our urgent attention... If there was something we should do besides enjoy inane updates and endless streams of advertising, FeceBook and Gluegle would tell us, wouldn't they? After all, high tech companies know everything and care only for our welfare and the planet's well-being.
We need limits. Limits on consumption, limits on advertising, limits on carbon, limits on chemicals, limits on mindless entertainment, limits on technology that takes us away from reality. But how can we bind our multiple Fenrirs? That is something we must continue to discuss and put into action where and when we can.