How Can a Cocoon in a Story Symbolize the Metamorphosis in our Consumer Society?
Adolescence is a period of transformation, not unlike a chrysalis changing into a butterfly. If you have never seen this process, it can be painstakingly difficult to watch. The butterfly gradually breaks free of his cocoon, pulling and pushing, stretching and contracting for what seems like an eternity before he finally emerges. If a benevolent onlooker decides to help the process along, the butterfly will likely die, because it is only through the struggle of metamorphosis that he gains the strength to survive on his own.
Donna Volpitta, Ed.D The Adolescent Metamorphosis
Symbolism is using a word or object to represent a real thing or an abstract idea. The symbol of a cocoon in this story represents the process from which persons, places and consumer-driven actions finally emerge.
This symbol appeared as a real object on one of my walks in the forest. There it hung a small cylindrical shape wrapped in a fuzzy grey blanket attached by a small foot to a twig. Inside a life cycle was unfolding in preparation for adulthood to survive in the world around it … from a caterpillar into a butterfly or a moth.
One of the most truly amazing occurrences of nature is complete metamorphosis when one creature can completely change into a different creature. It begins with eggs that hatch into larvae or caterpillars which then transform into a pupa. The pupa hardens its protective covering or builds its cocoon as its home to hibernate until it can emerge as an adult. It can get out by cutting its way out, or secreting a liquid that softens the cocoon enough to break through the walls.
Cocoons are made by moth caterpillars from rather sticky strands of silk that are emitted from glands near their mouths that are woven into external cocoons depending on their species… very loose and open, or strong, tightly woven ones.
Butterflies, with very few exceptions, don’t spin cocoons; instead, their pupae form a chrysalis of hardened protein for protection as they begin their transformation.
But here is what is truly amazing about Nature’s handiwork … a complicated insect recycling process kept as simple as possible. The caterpillar body breaks down, digesting itself from the inside out! The same juices used to digest food as a larva are now used to break down its own body into imaginal or stem cells. These cells are undifferentiated cells which means they can become any type of cell as they are put back together to form a new body and function.
Metamorphosis is one way that nature has to transition from young pupae to adult stages and survival. That day looking at the cocoon attached to the branch, I wondered what kind of metamorphosis young people go through as they change into adults. For the butterfly, the process takes about 7–10 days. For humans, it takes about 10–15 years.
Obviously, this is a volume unto itself; socially, physically, and emotionally. But my main concern is what kinds of cocoons have to be produced in order to survive in our society grounded as it is in the consumer world. What kinds of differentiation forces have to happen inside to transform the rites of innocent childhood to interactive responsible adulthood in a new world?
Consumerism is defined as a society in which people often buy new goods, especially goods that they do not need, and in which a high value is placed on owning many things.
Today many young people are growing their cocoons branching out on a Social Media environment where comparison to objective standards and acquisition of popular trends have high rankings to be a somebody. So much communication is already adult orientated to dress, talk, brag or ‘like’ a certain way to get rewards.The normal social rites of passage are replaced with peer relationships moderated by mass media technology and hyperbole. What juices feed their minds or bodies? What frames their changes to survive as their best potential adult for self or others?
The tragedy is that the adolescent brain runs on emotional amygdala reactions because the logical, deductive part of the frontal brain doesn’t develop until early 20’s. I believe, teenagers, especially teen girls, are manipulated unfairly to value selfish commerce through big business, profits, sales, brands, competitiveness and could probably transition to an adulthood where money, fame, and material possessions will determine status or mental well-being. Their short cocoon home is not to be for contemplative self-discovery of their interests and abilities but wrapped up within layers of Mega Malls and social media manipulation before maturity. Perhaps society is already reaping these Instagram butterflies and TikTok moths.
Where are the values of co-operation, diversity, equality and succession? Where are the values to respect the environment within Nature’s finite bio-systems?
Let’s compare consumerism in the natural world.
In the natural world a consumer is an organism with one job … to find food and eat for energy. There are 4 types of consumers; herbivores (plant eaters), carnivores (meat eaters), omnivores (plant and animal eaters), and detritivores (decomposers).
These consumers live in an organized ecosystem that can best transfer food from one organism to the next. Their role is to balance the food chain to keep plant and animal populations at a reasonable number. Extreme redundancy of any kind results in deprivation and suffering. If the food supply chain is broken, the ecosystem is disrupted, and the consumer web becomes nonfunctional. Air quality, water and even climate change are all affected.
The Big Picture question is food for thought. WHAT IF nature can set an example for people to consume more fairly and efficiently? Here are some possible actions to start new habits for young people as they metamorphose into lifelong survival:
- Buy into basic necessities like whole foods not processed cans or bottles. Avoid excessive manufacturing products based on high energy and pollution.
- Limit your clothing and accessory necessities to pioneer basics for a week and repeat.
- Determine your status by how much less you have in order to be sufficient and celebrate it on social media.
- Do not power your brain to run on material possessions, branding or self-ego. Find your worth in making chains of helpful hands even across the internet.
- Make your opinions and decisions as independently as you wish. Do what’s right for you, not what others tell you to do.
Questions and comments are welcome and always appreciated.
Note the little orange cocoons waking up in a complex modern world…
What reasons do you have to to change your consumer habits?
“First, what value did they find in nature’s bio-systems starting with the worms and the bees? Or would their value systems be based on their business ‘Mega Plants’ in order to supply their ‘Mega Malls’ in competition with or even elimination of nature’s cycles? Or would their private and public technology create their own bio-systems to be more important and eradicate nature’s ecosystems? How would the giant money network, like a cavernous spider, determine their actions? Would the wonders and systems on Earth lose out to broken chains, contaminated environments and artificial food webs because Nature could not speak in tongues and her voice was not heard?