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Writing 1700 years ago, Neo-Platonic philosopher Plotinus asked what caused the souls to forget about God and about themselves. Today, in our 21st century, we would probably express the same question in a different way, asking what caused our minds to forget about anything we consider as transcendental and even to forget about ourselves.
We will not answer that question in this column. In fact, we will not answer it anywhere. We are not qualified to answer a question that is one of the basic questions of our culture, since the very beginning of Western Civilization and repeated afterwards almost unchanged for two and a half millennia.
Plotinus is right: something happened to us and, as a result, we forgot about our true self (whatever that may be). He is not the only one asking that question and thatâs not something asked only in ancient times. Many philosophers, artists, and creative people asked the same question, in different ways, in almost any expression of human activity.
What have we forgotten, then, when we forgot about the divine and about ourselves? Obviously, if we could answer the question we could remember what we have forgotten. But thatâs the problem: we forgot something important and then we forgot that we forgot. We are trapped inside an oblivion squared, an oblivion multiplied by itself.
According to Plotinus (Ennead 5, chapter 1), there are consequences of forgetting who we are because if we donât know who we are we canât know who others are. Because of that, Plotinus says, we respect things unworthy of respect and we canât discern reality. In other words, we are deeply disconnected from ourselves and from others.
Dr. Otto Scharmer, of MIT, talks about that disconnection and he shows we also disconnected from the future. Because we are unconnected from ourselves, Scharmer says, we are also unconnected from nature and from others and, as a result, instead of building a future, we are just perpetuating the past. As as long as we remain inside that âfield of negativityâ, our minds, hearts, and hands will remain closed.
Our separation from nature and from others is not physical, but existential. Nature is now ânatural resourcesâ, a pantry we can use and abuse as we wish. And the others are, in the words of Sarte, âhellâ. We ourselves have turned into monsters, into repugnant insect, as Kafka said. Or, as we say now, into zombies.
To say we are zombies is not an exaggeration. According a recent survey by the consulting company Aon Hewitt, and distributed by the World Economic Forum, four in ten workers in the United States (that is, several million people) are so unconnected from their jobs that they âhaunting office corridors like reanimated corpsesâ, unable to adapt to a new, ever changing reality.
The zombification of the workforce costs billions every year t and stops the future from emerging. Because we forgot that we forgot, we turned into zombies. Will we ever be able to become humans again?Â