Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anonymous trickster collectives

Ubiwar has a fascinating post on an Al Qaeda that resembles an anonymous trickster-bandit collective. It comes across to me as a synthesis of Hobsbawm's thoughts on Bandits as evil to the majority and heroes to minority subcultures and Hyde's thoughts on trickster archetypes as dastardly world changers who don't fit any particular social category.

I wrote about trickster archetypes in war a fair while back but I'll reiterate what my thoughts were at the time. Tricksters archetypes from mythology function in an environment of chaos, trickery, and surprise. Some theorists of war, such as Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Edward Luttwak, have come up with similar definitions. Clausewitz would say "Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult." Tzu would say "All warfare is based on deception," and Luttwak's definition is based on paraconsistent logic and logical contradictions similar to the Roman proverb "If you want peace, prepare for war." So you have friction, deception, and paradox as key aspects of war. It would seem that tricksters would thrive in such an environment (that is if there were such a collective archetype, which might be fodder for another post).

So it seems that terrorists, insurgents, guerrillas, what ever you want to call each particular type, resemble a loosely-coupled collective of modern day Lokis and Pucks that wage terrible mischief and inflame chaos on the battlefield or the rear echelons of society.

The thoughts on the Ubiwar post also reminded me of John Boyd's metaphor of trying to become an "unsolvable cryptogram" in war. George Hansen wrote something similar in his book "The Trickster and the Paranormal," which is a history of deceptive practices that are associated with the paranormal e.g. fraudulent fortune tellers and deception as the basis for magic and illusion. He states:

The trickster is a character type found in mythology, folklore, and literature the world over; tricksters appear as animals, humans, and gods. They have a number of common characteristics, and some of their most salient qualities are disruption, unrestrained sexuality, disorder, and nonconformity to the establishment. They are typically male. Tricksters often deceive larger and more powerful beings who would thwart them; they may be endearingly clever or disgustingly stupid—both cultural heroes and selfish buffoons. Like much of mythology, their stories appear irrational and are difficult to decipher into logical coherence. They have often puzzled scholars.
Anyway, I highly recommend the Ubiwar post and his associated links.


Ortho said...

M├╝nzenberg, this is an interesting post. I'm surprised no one has commented.

The trickster becomes increasingly powerful each day. As you know, Virilio argues that with the Internet, information proliferates and the speed with which information circulates, accelerates. The proliferation and acceleration of information blurs boundaries between "fact" and "fiction," "the real" and "the illusion" (The Information Bomb) In a world of uncertain meaning, in a world of 5th-generation warfare, the trickster is posed to become a God. said...

Great follow-up to my post, Mr M. In the same vein, it's always amused me that the ODNI chose to name their investigation into terrorist use of virtual avatar worlds Operation Reynard - the archetypal medieval trickster, incarnate as a fox.

subadei said...

It'd be interesting to get the mainstream to view non-state actors like al qaeda in an offhanded fashion, as tricksters. More effectively, Hansen's "disgustingly stupid" sort. It might lighten the load on the rear echelons of society, as you put it. An effective info op for western states would be to present terrorists as bumbling idiots, too stupid to even coexist in any given society. Instead most are led to believe that AQ (or Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.) are threats on par with stadium sized meteors.

subadei said...


"In a world of uncertain meaning, in a world of 5th-generation warfare, the trickster is posed to become a God."

Well said.

Justin Boland said...

This was excellent brainfood -- I'm especially thankful for the concept of "Paraconsistent Logic," which was wholly new to me.

M├╝nzenberg said...

Thanks for the comments chaps. I'll respond more indepth to you each individually in the coming days. My brain is fried at the moment.

Chris said...

Late to the party, as ever. Can we start a list?

Loki, Hanuman, Satan (in the book of Job) and Pan; from our literature: Puck, and perhaps even Ariel, whose words seem particularly apposite these days:

"Hell is empty, and all the devils are here".

subadei said...

Chris, thanks much for the comment and great quote. A Trickster list? Intriguing.