Thinking Out Loud: The Hermit

I have tended to use my blog as a way to broadcast events in my professional life, and write the occasional thoughtspeech. However I have decided to start to write focused pieces on technology and human life and existence. I thought I would start with the theme of the Hermit and the important place withdrawal has meant for the individual.

The Hermit

The idea of withdrawal from public and private life has occupied an important place in the history of humanity. There is voluntary exile/withdrawal that might be characterised by Jesus who lived in the dessert for 40 days and 40 nights, or involuntary exile – that of Dante, and due to his political intrigues. A modern day version of this might be Edward Snowden, the US political whistle-blower who now has refuge in Moscow. Aboriginal males go ‘walkabout’ where they can wander the wilderness for up to six months in the transitory period from youth to maturity.

The hermit is a character of many narratives. The hermit character is featured in the Tarot holding a lantern. The inner light which will be revealed in the solitude is what gives the Hermit their raison d’être because if a human being seeks withdrawal and seclusion it is because they can think of no other way to achieve what they need at that moment. The devout know this and practice this through solitude.

I am surprised by how many of my friends find discomfort when without company. They start to feel agitated, lonely, depressed, and anxious. They seem to be ill at ease with solitude. There is no purpose to it for them.

In modernity there is much pressure on people to be social and to socialize, but what if those social interactions are painful? What if in socializing with others huge compromises have to be made about who you are – just to fit in. What if people do not feel connected to others when they are around them? This issue is of central interest to me that in intensely populated places loneliness is cited as a significant feeling. How it is possible that young and old people can feel so lonely when there are so many people around us? I think this comes down to failing to connect with others in modernity (I write about this in my forthcoming book on robots). Robots are imagined to help to fill these social gaps. The robots are imagined to be our friends, lovers, and companions.

I don’t think there is one-model fits all, and in life people will want to be with others and then at times to be alone. There can be huge advantages in solitude and joyousness in interactions with others. If one seeks company from the other to fill a gap, then this is inequitable. If one avoids company to reduce a pain then this is inequitable. Something is out of balance in these relations. The self is not mutually in relation with the other.

Undergoing a period of renewal in oneself can mean that one has no choice but to withdraw, to become the Hermit. When one is needing to transform it can be the only way. It’s not possible to completely withdraw from life, one will be dependent on food and shelter even if there is no human contact with others. Most of the time it is more like limited or seriously reduced interactions with others. No human being will consciously withdraw from others without good reason. We should honour those that may choose this method to help them in particular ways. On the other hand, being disconnected from others when one is desperately trying to connect with them is completely different. Sometimes the two ways of being can be easily conflated. Conscious withdrawal (taking time away for a sabbatical of sorts) and aloneness (finding little pleasure in the company of others). The feeling of wanting to connect with others but being unable is feature of modern social interactions. My studies of autism and autism and robots have helped me to learn much about these issues in different ways.

This all comes down to the questions that are at the heart of our existence- what is I and what is You? What does it mean to come into mutuality with the other without losing the I or oppressing the You?


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