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Home / Social/Political / The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems


Summary Of The Labors Of Hercules:




Hercules was given 12 seemingly impossible labors that he would have to complete before he could ascend to his Higher Self and become fully divine. We humans are also presented with at least 12 Herculean problems or "labors" that we must solve in order to realize our highest nature.

Habituation has created a sense of complacency about most of the world's most serious problems. It helps to visualize our predicament from different perspectives in order to see how maintenance of the status quo is making the problems worse. Rigid, dogmatic thinking characterizes the thinking of our leaders, and they tend to avoid issues that won't help them raise cash or get reelected.

However, since almost all of these vital issues are controversial, this creates a system where problems are not faced until the situation is dire, thus causing us to jump from one crisis to another without effectively understanding the interconnections among all the problems and solutions.

Our government will continue repeating the errors of history, and even more dangerous crises will occur as a result, unless important reforms are made.

These labors are an attempt to find a balance between public and individual rights in relation to the long-term health of the Earth and the other species that live with us upon it. Someday Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be able to determine what this formula is. Until then it is up to us to sort it out. This is my attempt, built mostly upon the labor of others who have gone before over the turbulent course of human history. It is a flawed, work-in-progress, for which I make no apologies because, after all, I am not a demi-god like Hercules.

Preparing for the coming changes will be the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. Computer theorist Ray Kurzweil projects that a PC will begin to challenge human intelligence levels in only sixteen years and will surpass a trillion human brains in 2060. Most humans are ill prepared to face the evolutionary challenge that AI will bring. It might be wise to fix our major problems now to position ourselves for the difficult birthing of our species into whatever lies ahead. It is partly for this reason that I compare our task to the 12 impossible "labors" that the half-man half-god Hercules had to perform before he could become fully divine. We humans have risen from billions of years of evolution to now be faced with Herculean tasks that precede the coming of what might be a god-like universal consciousness. This apotheosis might be the very thing that we have been striving for, or even experiencing in mystical states, but have not been able to articulate. Or it might be something quite terrible. Either way, it might be a good idea to clean house now, while we still have the chance.


Labor I: Politics (Hercules defeated the crafty Nemean Lion who lived in a cave with two entrances.) That sneaky lion is like a politician. Just when you think you know where you stand, the politician slips out the back with his corporate sponsor.

Politics is about who gets what, how, and when. No matter who gets what, there will always be someone who is not happy, but the goal should be to seek the highest common good balancing individual human rights and needs with long term sustainable policies. Political leaders should be guided to concentrate on their job instead of fundraising, strategizing, marketing and pretending to say important things while saying and doing nothing. Ineffectual, distracted, uninspiring, and corrupt, our politicians are the symptom of a poor electoral system that forces politicians to become money-grubbers. Our country was founded as a federal republic, but today it touts democracy while functioning as an oligarchy. To end rampant corruption and create a more representative and responsive government we should enact real electoral reform consisting of these essential elements:

1.     Campaign Finance Reform: We should ban private campaign financing and publicly fund all elections. We should also require candidates to publish their resume, voting record, and complete positions on all important issues in a standardized summary form (like this page), and in depth (like this web site).

2.     Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) should replace the winner-take-all system, in single member elections. Our current system allows candidates without a majority to win, and creates a spoiler problem which in order to avoid, voters must strategize their voting. With IRV, candidates rank their candidates in order of preference. In the first count, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and those votes are redistributed to the other candidates. The recounting continues automatically until one candidate has a majority. This allows for greater participation in the selection of the winner.

3.     Direct Voting should replace the Electoral College, an anachronism that allows disproportionate representation.

4.     Proportional Representation (PR) should replace single member elections for the House of Representatives by creating larger districts with more members that are elected by proportion instead of winner-take-all. This will end gerrymandering and redistricting fights. It will also vastly increase voter participation and representation. 


Other recommended changes include:

1.     Increased transparency in government, with greater public accountability over intelligence gathering.

2.     Better cooperation with the United Nations and the world community.

3.     Public scrutiny and reforms related to the relationship of the government with the military industrial complex.

4.     Public regulation of the ownership and commercialization of the media.


Labor II. Overpopulation: (Slaying of the Hydra) Hercules set out to slay the Hydra, a monster with many snake-like heads. Every time he cut off a head, two more grew to replace it.

For every people cut down by death, two and half are born, resulting in continued exponential population growth of 200,000 people every day. The U.S. is the fastest growing country among all the industrialized nations with a disproportionately large effect on global resources. The effect on the environment and all aspects of human life is devastating, and population growth compounds all our other problems. The solution to this hydra-headed mess is for the U.S. to lead a global movement to bring about Zero Population Growth (ZPG).

Birth credits could theoretically bring about ZPG immediately with the poor being the primary beneficiaries in the short term, and everyone benefiting in the long term. Vastly increased foreign aid should focus on sex education and family planning efforts, raising economic standards, the status of women, and other measures that will help slow population growth. 


LABOR III. Poverty: Hercules captures a runaway hind with golden horns that was sacred to Artemis. Artemis is one of the early symbols of an Earth Mother Goddess. The golden horns of the hind represent the wealth held in trust by the people of the Earth. This lost wealth is captured by Hercules and returned to the kingdom.

Poverty in the U.S. consists of a complex interconnection of various factors including substance abuse, overpopulation, immigration, parenting, education, resources, mental and physical health, financial skills, environment, discrimination, economic disparities, and attitude. Poverty could be a greatly alleviated with a multi-pronged approach that addresses all of these factors at once. The result would be a return of great wealth to our nation in terms of human capital.

The primary solutions are:

1.     End the War on Drugs, and the war on sex by legalizing drugs and prostitution. 

2.       Vast increase in sex and relationship counseling, family planning. Reduce average number of children to one per couple.

3.       Increase Educational Opportunities.

4.       National Health Insurance

5.       All new urban development should follow the livable, walkable New Pedestrian model with multi-use pedestrian lanes in front of homes and businesses and vehicular streets put in the rear.

6.       Guaranteed living wage that adjusts automatically for inflation.

 Labor IV. Drugs: (Capture of the Erymanthian Boar)

Drug Prohibition is a repeat performance of Alcohol Prohibition except last time we wised up and reversed it after only 13 years. This time around the government still insists that after a 35-year-long war of attrition, the Drug War can still somehow be won, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary:

1. Prisons: We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, higher even than in Stalinist Soviet Union, which is fueling a growing and costly prison industrial complex that creates more criminals.

2. Our judicial system is overworked by the creation of crimes that are nothing more than failed, moralistic attempts to protect adults from their own personal choices.

3. Hypocrisy: According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most dangerous drugs are already legal and killing 650,000 per year while, in 2000, all illegal drugs combined killed 17,000.  No overdose deaths at all were, however, associated with marijuana or psychedelic drugs. Most of the drug war is directed at marijuana, even though it is a fairly benign substance with medicinal qualities. As a crop, hemp is a remarkable plant that could provide food, fuel, clothing, and plastics, with a low impact on the environment. Henry Ford once made a car out of hemp that used hemp oil, and ran on hemp gasoline.

4. Deaths due to Drug War: Buying and using illegal drugs is more dangerous than the inherent effects would be if the drugs were regulated. For example, most heroin-related deaths result from it being cut with quinine, or because the users contract AIDS, hepatitis, or other infections from dirty needles. There are also many injuries and murders related to the drug trade.

5. Contempt for the law: There has been a pervasive breakdown in respect for the law. The lure of the forbidden creates a culture of defiance.

6. Increased role of the military or political interference in the affairs of other countries (Mexico, Columbia, and Afghanistan, to name but a few).

7. Utter failure to control drugs, even inside prison. 

8. Corruption in all branches of law enforcement. 

9. Denigration of civil liberties. (The weakening of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act in 1981 to allow military action against drug smugglers and others, the abuses of Federal Asset Forfeiture Law, the weakening of Fourth Amendment protections.) 

10. Increased health costs.

11.  Wasteful and useless Drug War expenditures in the many billions.

12. Distraction from real issues.

13. Increased Drug War related crime, violence, organized crime, gang activity, and the effect this has on all aspects of society.


The solution to this colossal and indefensible waste of effort is to end Drug Prohibition, then tax, regulate and control drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Advertising should be banned for all three. Public education, treatment, and rehabilitation should be freely available and paid for with the taxes from the substances that are causing the problems.


Labor V: Environment. (Hercules cleaned the Augean Stables, which had become filled with cattle waste).

Our global stable is also filled with pollution and waste, including actual, non-metaphorical cattle waste. The solution to that particular problem is to substitute vegetables and grains for most beef. This will not only reduce pollution and increase food capacity, but it will slow the destruction of priceless tropical rain forests that are being cleared for grazing.

Carbon Dioxide levels continue to rise every year due to industry and the burning of fossil fuels. This is causing global warming, which has a wide range of unsavory consequences.

A recently completed 2-1/2 year study by a 16-member panel appointed by President Bush concluded that the U.S. is treating the oceans like cesspools.

Time Magazine reported in 2004 that if global-warming trends continue, a million species could be extinct by 2050. This human-caused extinction event is now known as the Sixth Extinction. The last extinction wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. A study published in 2000 suggests that the Earth needs an average of ten million years to recover from a mass extinction.

The environmental problems related to human activities are too numerous to list, but this short list will cover the most important solutions.

1. Achieve Zero or Negative Population Growth (see also Labor II: Overpopulation)

2. Promote vegetarianism, organic farming, and healthy food choices (see also Labor X: Health)

3. Clean up the oceans by following the 200 recommendations of the government's own study by the United States Commission on Ocean Policy, including the ratification of the United Nations Convention on The Law of the Sea. 

4. Pursue a non-polluting and renewable energy policy (see Labor VIII: Energy)

5. Introduce sustainable economics (see Labor VII: Economics)

6. Establish Urban Growth Boundaries and build Pedestrian Villages (see Labor IX: Urbanism).


Labor VI: Justice (Hercules defeated the man-eating birds of Stymphalia).

Justice begins at home. Violence, including spanking, teaches children that violence may be used to get others to do what you want them to do. It has been well demonstrated in various cultures, such as the Native American Iroquois, and through scientific studies, that corporal punishment and harmful and unnecessary.

That injustice begets more injustice has been demonstrated throughout history. It is a lesson that our country has failed to learn, especially in the past four decades as our drug, military, and foreign policies have fostered fear, hatred, and instability around the world. Faith and fear-based fundamentalist religious interests with their rigid, authoritarian ideologies inevitably clash with other and create even greater violence, retaliation, terrorism, and abuse. 

Even our judicial system is based on winning at all costs. The U.S., with only 4.5% of the world's population has half of the world's lawyers. There are more lawyers in Los Angeles than in the entire country of Japan. This is largely because of the "adversarial" system that we inherited from England, which in turn has its roots in Middle Age justice where justice was determined in a trial by battle. Those who could afford it hired gladiators to do battle for them, and it was assumed that God favored the one who was right. This same attitude, both in our foreign policy and in our judicial system still holds sway. We think that might makes right, and that the rich should be able to buy more justice.

The Solutions are:

1. To allow justice to prevail through reforms to our electoral system (see Labor I: Politics)

2. To mitigate poverty (See Labor III: Poverty)

3. End drug prohibition and rethink the war on terrorism. War is waged by one group against another, and cannot be successfully waged on individual acts or tactics without creating widespread mayhem. The War on Drugs is expensive and as futile as the War on Terrorism. Prohibition creates high levels of lawlessness and corruption. Illegal drug sales help fund terrorism. Drug usage cannot be stopped even inside prison. Terrorism cannot be stopped even in a global police state. Frontier-style justice generally increases problems related to drugs and terrorism.

4. Legal and tort reforms: It is better to have democratically, well-thought out laws than a system where every injustice has to be endlessly litigated, with huge portions of the awards going mostly to lawyers and a few lucky individuals. This places an unfair burden on society, and encourages pocketbook contentiousness. More truth-seeking and mediation must be introduced to the system.


Labor VII. ECONOMICS: Hercules captures the Cretan Bull.  

It is not necessary to constantly strive for a bull market. We need an economically and environmentally sustainable economy. The U.S. budget should be presented to the electorate as a pie that is to be divided up, rather than in incomprehensible dollar figures. The public perception of what percentage goes to defense and how tiny the crumbs are that go to education and foreign aid would be clearly seen, for example. Our budget makers should also argue over percentages rather than sheer numbers in order to keep this perspective and automatically balance the budget. 

Income tax reform might work quite equitably and simply with a maximum 15% V.A.T. that includes all state and local taxes. More or less the same exclusions that apply to state sales tax would apply to the VAT, including groceries and housing. The balance of income tax would be taken from the top 10% of wage earning entities, corporate or individual, who would have to file income tax returns and pay a percentage of their income above a certain amount.


VIII. ENERGY: Hercules captures the Mares of Diomedes. 

We must capture the unbridled Mustangs, Broncos, and other vehicles and recapture a paradise lost: Imagine if the United States had not been directed by special interests during the energy crisis thirty years ago, and had instead chosen to achieve sustainable energy independence. Clean fuel cell technology, powered by hydrogen produced by solar energy would today be fueling our homes, factories, and vehicles. There would not be a foreign trade imbalance and our country would lead the world in alternative energy research and employment. A streamlined military would be making do just fine on half its current budget. U.S. military aid or oil revenues would not have propped up hard-line Islamic dictatorships, monarchies, and theocracies. The U.S. would not have helped fund Iraq's war against Iran. The U.S. would not have become the object of Iranian fury and accelerated the power of Islamic extremists. Kuwait would never have been invaded. The Gulf War would never have occurred. The U.S. would never have supported the Taliban, nor fought against it later. The War on Terrorism, The Patriot Act, and the Homeland Security Department would have remained unrealized Orwellian concepts. Osama Bin Laden would be living in obscurity, and the twin towers would still be standing in all their overbearing banality.   

The suppression of clean, alternative energy solutions has prolonged the world's misery for decades. Sadly, Big Oil and the military industrial complex continue to manipulate foreign and domestic energy policy. The obvious solution is to become self-sufficient as soon as possible using clean, renewable resources. What has been less obvious is that we need to change our American voting system so that it will be possible to elect wise, honest leaders who can stand up and do what is necessary.


LABOR IX. URBANISM: Hercules seizes the belt of Hippolyte.  

We should take Hippolyte's belt and turn it into a greenbelt around the cities. The public cannot afford to buy up and administer all the land that needs to be protected. Land use must be done with enlightened planning and zoning that directs growth into denser pedestrian-oriented development. The livability of a community should be more important than designing for automobiles.

I propose a "New Pedestrianism," a much more pedestrian-friendly version of what is called New Urbanism or Smart Growth. If all new large housing developments were required to be Pedestrian Villages, and Urban Growth Boundaries were established around the towns, sprawl would be brought to a screeching halt and, over time, most of our transportation-related problems would be greatly ameliorated.  

What would a Pedestrian Village look like? Streets for motor vehicles would be relegated to the rear of the housing or businesses in all developments, with pedestrian lanes required in front for pedestrians, bicyclists, Segway Human Transporters, electric scooters, wheelchairs, and the like. Houses would have big front porches and they would sit close to tree-lined front pedestrian lanes where cars are not allowed. All houses and businesses are connected with these quiet, country-like lanes. A rear street accommodates vehicular traffic and the rear-loading garages. Above the garage would be allowed a dwelling unit, which would serve as a rental, as a guesthouse, or office in home. There is a formal garden gate at the rear where people arriving by automobile can call. Community livability and cohesiveness is increased. People of all ages can move around on the quiet and beautiful walking streets in safety.


LABOR X. HEALTH: Hercules Captures the Red cattle of Geryon:  

We eat too much red meat from cattle. We do not exercise enough and two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. We have an outrageously expensive health care system that leaves a huge portion of the nation without health care. Our cities are ugly and we cannot go anywhere without getting in a car. This results in obesity that degrades the health of most people and a demolition derby involving 27 million motor vehicles, 5 million injuries, and 42,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone.  A misguided drug policy contributes to 650,000 deaths in the U.S. from legal drugs and increases the danger from illegal drugs.

If the urban and drug related issues were addressed, and preventative health issues were given higher priority, a national health insurance program could be financed for less than what taxpayers pay now. To keep costs low, most people would have to get supplemental insurance for the most expensive medical procedures, but everyone would be protected with basis coverage. Many of the additional solutions to health problems are contained in the other labors.


LABOR XI. RELIGION: Hercules captures three golden apples that grew on the tree in a paradisiacal orchard. 

The tree was coiled with a serpent and blessed by eternal spring guarded by three beautiful maidens. This Labor, the Garden of Eden story, and various other similar tales in ancient cultures of the northern hemisphere, have the same origin. The tree of life represents the central axis of the sky that was centered in the Dragon constellation around 5,000 years ago. This symbolism still survives today in the caduceus as a symbol of healing. In pre-Christian religions, the three maidens represented the triple goddess, which later became the Trinity.  Both the Hercules story and the Garden of Eden story are both mythological, but myth is, as mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say, "the lie that tells the truth."

The truth was that early humans must have stood in awe at the wonder and mystery of nature and longed to find both understanding and meaning in its unfathomable depths. But over time myths got bundled into religions that quickly calcified into dogma. Then as William James once wrote, religion became an inoculation against the real thing, and it became absolutist.

A modern example of this is the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, who issued a fatwa in 1993 declaring that according to the Koran the world is flat and that disbelievers would be punished. While we know that even Muslim astronomers were teaching Westerners about a round Earth in the second century, we do not yet know the origin of the universe. Greek mythology stated that, except for the brief time that Atlas tricked Hercules into shouldered the burden, Atlas held up the world. What was Atlas standing on? A turtle. And what was the turtle standing on? Don't worry, they were told that its turtles all the way down.

Someday the truth may replace turtles and God. There might even be a creator, but not necessarily a caring one. According to James Gardner, complexity theorist and the proponent of the Selfish Biocosm hypothesis, it may be that our universe came into existence as the result of an intelligent design by AI in a previous universe. He says that the solution to the infinite regress problem is that the universe is its own mother and created its own past.

The most reasonable response to all speculation is to be agnostic about matters unknown or presently unknowable, but retain a scientific curiosity to learn where it really is going.  Fellowship is important, and faith can move mountains, but blind faith and dogma have given us Christian suicide cults, organized religious fanaticism, theocracies, demagoguery, and worse. Most Christians would probably think that Scientology's reported cosmology involving an evil galactic alien ruler named Zenu who clustered human souls and blew them up with nuclear bombs in a volcano 75 million years ago might have sprung from a drug-induced rant by its pulp-science-fiction-writing founder. They also probably think that Muslim claims of the mortal Mohammed ascending to Heaven on a white horse from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or the reward of eternal sex with 72 virgins promised to martyrs are also preposterous.

At the same time, most Muslims and Jews cannot fathom how a man could have been the son of God, and justifiably point to the scant evidence to support even a historical Jesus, much less all the unverifiable supernatural claims that are similar to at least a half dozen earlier savior gods. The problems with dogma are not as common in Buddhism, which claims to be a philosophy rather than a religion, and in other pantheistic beliefs that claim God is everything and that all the stories are metaphors for states of consciousness. Buddhism does not even acknowledge a permanent self but rather an environment that is being continuously reinvented and reconstructed.

For example, the Dalai Lama once told Carl Sagan that Buddhism would change if it were presented with irrefutable scientific evidence that challenged a central tenet like reincarnation. Ask the same question of the pope and then contrast Buddhism to the Abrahamaic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which all jockey for a special relationship with the same father-like god/creator. All of their claims and counterclaims of absolutist and unproven assumptions are futile and dangerous.

Artificial Intelligence will radically change the role of religion during this century as the mystery is further unraveled, but until that happens it is critical that religion stay out of the way when it comes to science and politics. The origin of the word religion is the Latin word, religare, (or religio) meaning "to bind together." Hopefully the new religions will not be bound to dogma but rather based on a search for the truth, a connection to nature, and compassion. Thus we humans, whether individually or as a collective mind, or as some as yet unfathomable assemblage of consciousness, might again experience awe at the wonder and mystery of nature and long to find both understanding and meaning in its more fathomable depths.


LABOR XII: CONSENSUS: Hercules captures Cerberus, the guardian of Hades.

Capturing Cerberus symbolizes the monstrously difficult job of reaching consensus, but I hope that we do not have to go to hell and back to accomplish this labor. Admittedly, the biggest problem of all the labors may be getting enough people to agree on what the solutions are. Ethicist Peter Singer states that not choosing to give to charities until it hurts is tantamount to actually making other humans suffer and die. Unfortunately even if a much larger percentage of people gave to the world's charities it would not solve the world's problems. There is a saying, for example, that whatever your cause is it's a lost cause unless population growth is reversed.

A similar principle applies to political reform, and to some of the other labors. The best way to make a difference is to focus effort into doing the things that will leverage the most productive changes. Reducing population growth would prevent many millions from starving to death, yet the cost of family planning is a trifle compared to trying to feed the starving masses on a planet with dwindling natural resources.

Meteorologist Edward Lorenz discovered that sensitive dependence on initial conditions, a major component of his groundbreaking Chaos Theory, might allow the single flap of a butterfly's wing in Brazil to lead to a tornado in Texas. The other major component of Chaos Theory is that no matter how complex a system is the dynamics still rely upon an underlying order.

Both components are at work when it comes to the kind of change we are talking about. It is not necessary, or possible, to convince every one in this country of the wisdom of change, because the majority tends to go with the flow, even if the flow has stagnated in the backwaters of the status quo. It will take sincere and motivated individuals, who understand how everything works together, to unite their will to stir the waters.

LaborsofHercules.com will use the branching tree of the Internet to connect with individuals willing to commit even a tiny amount of time and money to make something important happen. But instead of pursuing noble but lost causes, we must focus on what will reap the greatest return in the shortest period of time.

A human idea begins with less force than the flap of a butterfly's wing. But if the ideas expressed here catch wind, stand up quick, set your wings, and come along for the ride. Are we humans the chrysalis of a self-transforming butterfly that will emerge from carbon-based flesh, or are we an evolutionary dead-end that will be extinguished like the Neanderthals, while the emerging, competing species lives on? Whatever our fate is to be, we seem to be experiencing the unfolding of an underlying order. These are exciting times! There is a quickening and edginess that comes with facing the unknown. Don't sit on the sidelines as it happens. Get involved. Ride the nascent Cosmic Internet to LaborsofHercules.com to find out what you can do to help.



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