According to Greek mythology, Silenus was the adviser and tutor of the god Dionysos. One day when Silenus had had too much to drink (as usual), he got lost in the gardens of Midas, king of Phrygia. Midas found him there and brought him to his castle, where he treated Silenus with the greatest respect and care. Wishing to reward Midas for his hospitality, Dionysos offered to grant him whatever he wished. Midas didn’t hesitate: he asked for the power to turn everything he touched into gold. And his wish was granted. But Midas got more than he bargained for: the gift worked so well that everything he touched turned to gold – including his food and his beloved daughter! Horrified, Midas begged Dionysos to rescind his gift, and the compassionate god instructed him to bathe in the Pactolus River, where the wish would be washed away. And ever since, the river has been filled with flecks of gold.
The myth of Midas can give us insight into the dangers of our own desires. For centuries we have begged Dionysos to make us masters over nature, and just as with Midas, he has granted our wish. Thanks to his gift, we have made our world ever more efficient, produced ever more powerful machines, expanded our cities without limit. But in the process we have become masters of disenchantment, robbing everything we touch of its soul and turning all into servants of our new god, Efficiency. The beloved has been demoted to a “partner”, the friend to a “contact”, the caress to “therapeutic touch”. The landscape is now an “infrastructure,” the home an object of speculation – and even the laughter that once distinguished us as human has become reduced to a medical treatment.
Philosophers have given a name to this way of looking at and thinking about the world: “instrumental rationality.” But in its obsession with finding the most efficient means to its ends, it has rendered us numb and estranged us from the life it has allowed us to master. It is thus the chief obstacle we must overcome in our quest for belonging.