Think of an antelope herd grazing on savannah land. The grass is tender; it stopped raining only a few days before. The antelopes chomp, regurgitate and gossip. All of a sudden, the wind changes direction and a smell reaches their nostrils…Danger!
Before they know, a cheetah tears through the tall grass and charges them. A cheetah can attain speeds up to 100 kph in a few seconds.
All of them start to run but one, which overindulged a bit, lingers one second. The cheetah chases it, reaches it, jumps on it and…
The antelope falls. It is not dead, but it feels nothing, it is “frozen”.
This situation is described by the ethologists as “tonic immobility”.
There are no cheetahs and antelopes in Greece, but you may have seen something similar when you drive on a rural road. If a rabbit is caught in the headlights, it will “freeze”, as if it is waiting for its death.
When facing danger, all animals, man included, usually fight or flee. If they deem that it is likely to win they attack, if not then they flee.
The third case, that is ”freezing”, occurs when they face a formidable enemy and realize that they can’t escape.
Tonic immobility serves two purposes:
If the hunter omits to make sure that the victim is dead (even though cheetahs are not prone to do so), then as they carry them to a quite place to have their lunch or as they check out if a stronger predator is lurking, the victim may seize the chance and attempt to escape.
But even if the cheetah tucks promptly into the antelope, this freezing offers a painless death, since the mechanisms of pain are suppressed.
This psychic disconnection has been described by a man who became prey to a lion.
David Livingstone, the famous explorer of the Dark Continent came once face-to-face with king of the jungle (no, it was not Tarzan). The feline attacked him, caught him by the shoulder and shook him “as a terrier dog does a rat”. He adds: “The shock caused a dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain, nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening”.
Livingston survived to tell the tale how he experienced depersonalization. Granted, there are few people who survived the attack of a lion, but there are many similar stories from veterans of war.
Soldiers who lost a limb or sustained a through and through wound from a projectile or fragment, report a situation of depersonalization similar to the explorer.
The veteran of Vietnam John K. says:
I heard the explosion of the mortar bomb and I fell on the ground. I was lucky, I thought, that I wasn’t hurt. Then I saw, as if I were in a movie, the nurse rushing towards me. He was all business with my legs and I saw his clothes turning red with my blood. I found it strange and I looked down…and I saw that I had no legs…but I wasn’t feeling any pain, it was as if I were someone else…”
George Orwell narration is along the same lines when he was wounded in Spain:
“Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the center of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all round me, and I felt a tremendous shock-no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shriveled up to nothing”.
Latest researches showed that the absence of pain is due to β-Endorphin, an hormone produced by the brain and it is 50 times more powerful than morphine.
Peter Levine, doctor, biologist and psychologist, specialized in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), names this state “medusa complex”.
Just like anyone who would gaze the mythical Medusa would turn to stone, similarly an animal (or a man) will freeze in the face of an unexpected and crushing experience.
If we attempt to depict the Greek society in animal terms, we could use the “Medusa complex” as an instrument in order to comprehend its reaction to the crushing experience of the financial collapse.
Greece, as an antelope, regurgitated carefree the tender grass watered by the rain of joining the euro.
When the cheetah of neoliberalism charged, she was too fat and fool to flee, it was too late to escape.
If she stood her ground together with the other antelopes and gnus to confront the carnivore, the latter would be deterred and retreat. But rarely herbivores do so.
After all, she was convinced that any reaction or resistance would be futile and pointless. This is not far-fetched, since the antelope is unable to stand up to a feline on her own, like a small nation that is in disadvantageous position when it is suddenly attacked by much stronger countries and organizations.
After the shock of the attack, along with the acquired (fuelled by the media) helplessness, the trapped animal froze.
This reaction yields two possibilities:
Either she will be eaten while feeling no pain or she will wait for a chance to run away.
The Greek society has pinned its hopes on this immobility, which is usually accompanied by mottos like “think positive”, “keep calm”, “I mind my own business” and so on.
It remains inert, hoping to escape when the predator is distracted (and prays for a war somewhere far away).
It won’t fight, it won’t react. In essence, it experiences a depersonalization as if what is happening is happening to someone else, as if everything is just a bad dream that will soon be over and the growth will come back out of the blue, bringing back the tender grass to keep on munching.
From the predator’s side, the Shock Doctrine that Naomi Klein coined is the perfect approach to render its prey defenseless.
It has no time to regroup its thoughts, to react or collaborate with others. It is a certainty that the prey will resign itself to be devoured, holding out some futile hope that the hunter will show mercy.
Instead of a nation, we could also liken each antelope to an individual man and we can picture the whole herd as the Greek society.
When the feline attacked, the antelopes did not unite to chase it away, instead they took to their heels, leaving the weak behind.
The model that dictates “only the strong survives”, advocated by the neoliberals themselves, seems to be on the lips of every carnivore. Some will become food for the others.
But there is a major difference between the cheetahs and neoliberalism: the latter can’t get its fill. Taking down only one, is not enough.
Cheetah simply wants to feed itself. Man desires to dominate.
Dominance is achieved by spreading the fear, social corrosion, civil clashes and generalized turbulence.
I am going to show you a potential way out of the “Medusa complex” by telling you a real story.
In 1976 in Chowchilla, California 26 children were abducted in their school bus. The kidnappers took them to a quarry and put them into a “hole”, a buried moving box truck.
The children and the driver were trapped for about 16 hours until they found a way to escape, all of them unscathed.
Physical-wise speaking, because mentally they paid the price. The psychologists that treated them diagnosed that all of them suffered from “long-term serious effects on the psychological, medical and social functionality”. All except one, the 14-year old Bob Barklay. What happened? Why didn’t Bob show symptoms of PSTD?
As we said, the children were trapped under tones of ground. When one of them leaned on a wooden pole, the ceiling gave way and the ground began pouring into their hole, like an hourglass.
Most children were petrified, waiting for the end to come. Others, all they did was to scream.
Then Bob set off digging. He pulled off to bring back to its senses another child and help him out. Finally, thanks to Bob’s initiative, they dug a small tunnel and got out of there before they were buried alive.
What rendered Bob immune to the Medusa Complex and the ensuing PSTD was the fact that he leaped into action. He reacted, he tried, and thanks to his mobilization everyone got off safe.
‘Action is the antidote to despair’ Joan Baez used to say. This is the only way out for the antelope: to react.
On an international level, the salvation lies on the coalition of all the herbivorous, the weak links, the pigs, against the voracious predators.
As long as everyone cares only about their own skin, the predator will be stronger. The Medusa Complex works usually in favour of the attackers; rarely the victims.
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Translated by Alexandros Mantas