Man is the New Trickster God

MAN IS THE NEW TRICKSTER GOD and he plays at the edges of mind and matter, super-nature and the supernatural. Davis argues:

“The powerful aura that today’s advanced technologies cast does not derive solely from their novelty or their mystifying complexity; it also derives from their literal realization of the virtual projects willed by the wizards and alchemists of an earlier age. Magic is technology’s unconscious, its own arational spell. Our modern technological world is not nature, but augmented nature, super-nature, and the more intensely we probe its mutant edge of mind and matter, the more our disenchanted productions will find themselves wrestling with the rhetoric of the supernatural.”[i]

Old phantasms and metaphysical longings have not simply disappeared. The New Jerusalem, the futuristic image of heaven on earth is the myth of progress – hence via reason, science and technology we can perfect ourselves and society. This is the “secular offspring of Christianity’s millennialist drive”.[ii] As Davis notes “Technology is neither a devil nor an angel. But neither is it simply a ‘tool’, a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature. Technology is a trickster”.[iii]

Thus is man the sorcerer, techno-wizard, magus and string-pulling master behind technology – with its images of soul, redemption, the demonic, the magical, the transcendent, the hypnotic and the alive. This is the new Trickster God.

Supramorality and Amorality

THE NEW ‘MORALITY’ in the Technological/Materialist Landscape is embodied by the Trickster Archetype. The moral law of the Heavenly God-Father Archetype in the Anthropocentric Landscape is superseded by a supramorality and an amorality. As Anthony Stevens has pointed out, traditional patriarchal values of law and order, discipline, self-control, responsibility, courage, patriotism, loyalty, obligation, authority and command are now seen as inimical to freedom and creativity.[iv]

In this new landscape agonies are seldom felt for – obedience to the God-Father’s law, perfectionism, sin, shame, guilt, divine and/or final judgment, entrance to heaven or hell.

In fact many would light-heartedly profess to prefer hell as more interesting than the traditional view of heaven. The conventional morality of monotheistic religion and the Heavenly God-Father’s Church, Synagogue or Mosque is no longer unquestioned.

THE MATURE CORPORATE CULTURE exemplifies the pervasive Trickster Archetype, within the Technological/Materialist Landscape and the Trickster amorality and ‘religion’. This is despite tricky public relations which would have us believe that corporations behave morally. The corporate executive is often frank, playful and sometimes gleeful, showing a full cognisance of his duplicity and Tricksterish amorality. Joel Bakan illustrates Trickster amorality and ‘religion’:

“I’m sucking on Satan’s pecker” is how Chris Hooper, a highly successful television ad director and voice-over artist, describes his work for the likes of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and other major corporations. Hooper says his job is to create “images that are trying to sell products to people that they don’t really need” which “encourage very sophomoric behavior, irresponsible, hedonistic, egotistical, narcissistic behavior.”[v]

Steve Kline, a communications expert who specializes in children’s culture states: “We are ‘producing kids as consumers’ … and becoming less good at creating ‘competent citizens…good, moral and virtuous human beings’.”[vi] And Marc Barry, who has worked for a quarter of the Fortune 500 companies and is a corporate competitive intelligence expert, self-described as “Essentially I am a spy” – comments that “There’s so much trickery and deception in my job that I don’t really want it in my private life”:

At work, Barry says, he is a predator engaged in morally dubious tasks. Corporations hire him to get information from other corporations: trade secrets, marketing plans, or whatever else might be useful to them. In his work, he lies, deceives, exploits, and cheats… For Barry, a regular day at the office is filled with venal actions and moral turpitude.[vii]

Anita roddick, the late founder of the Body Shop, shares the view that the corporate world is amoral and a “religion of maximizing profits. However, Roddick fought it and regretted it:

Roddick blames the “religion of maximizing profits” for business’s amorality, for forcing otherwise decent people to do indecent things: “Because it has to maximize its profits… everything is legitimate in the pursuit of that goal, everything… So using child labor or sweatshop labor or despoiling the environment… is legitimate in the maximizing of profit.[viii]

Robert Hare points out that executives acting as corporate operatives display many attitudes and actions which can be characterized as psychopathic.[ix] It goes without saying that the psychopathic characteristics of the corporation and its executives are also the worst, amoral characteristics of the Trickster.

A pragmatic, human-based morality, rather than a purportedly ‘divinely’ inspired law, guides man and woman in the Technological/Materialist Landscape. Where individuals do operate on a principled, altruistic, selfless level of moral development, it is because they choose this level of operation, not because they are compelled to by an external religious authority decreeing it.

Thus is ‘man’ finally superman and his/her morality, for better or worse, is often a supramorality and an amorality founded on individual freedom and creativity.

Personas and Masks – “We are what we Consume”

SEEMING-OVER-BEING; personas, masks, play, simulation, stimulation, entertainment, consumption, sensation, power, manipulation, trickery and the World of I-It are all features of the Trickster Archetype and the Technological/Materialist Landscape and characterise a supramorality and an amorality.

As a case in point ‘Seeming over being’ is found in the phenomenon of marketing over talent. Marketing, advertising and consumption are characteristic of the corporate Technological/Materialist Landscape. They affect the individual’s sense of self – and one could argue morality and spirituality – which becomes Trickster-like and fluid according to the products consumed. As Robert Sack notes:

“We consumers, and the commodities and places we consume, are major forces shaping modern landscape”.”[x]

Furthermore, as “places become ‘consumed’, they lose much of their former uniqueness. Commercialization makes them appear like other places”.[xi]

Sense of self is appealed to more and more through advertising, marketing and acts of consumption. People are presented with the power of the product to help them distinguish themselves from others. Advertisements segment the sense of self: “A multitude of products can represent the entire self or even its tiniest part”.[xii]

Advertising enables the individual, through their consumption of products, to create personas and masks: We are what we consume. Sack argues that consumption, as a symbolic system, is most like old fashioned magic and ritual. “Both advertising and magic/ritual impute powers to objects. Both claim these powers can be tapped by individuals if they are undertaking prescribed actions”.[xiii] Magic and power is the realm of the Trickster, thus:

“Consumption undoes contexts to create contexts, undoes social relations to create social relations, and undoes meaning to create meaning. The segmentation of context and the isolation of self makes the complex and personal experiences and meanings of modern life difficult to share.”[xiv]

The consumer becomes the consumed. The self is manipulated by the products consumed for stimulation, simulation, sensation and entertainment. Personas, masks, play, ‘seeming over being’ may be fun for a while but can lead to skepticism and are often curiously unsatisfying in the end. Superficiality, alienation and fragmentation of self are the downside.

Corporations use “branding” or personas “to create unique and attractive personalities for themselves”.[xv] They may even claim to have a ‘soul’. Again, there is evidence with corporate life of ‘magic’, transformation, seeming, personifications or personas, artificial bonding and the scope for sleight of hand, manipulation of consumers, employees and regulators. These are all characteristics of the Trickster. As for advertising, Sack argues:

“Its rhetoric of indirection, its capacity for change, its brevity, its ability to make a pattern when absolutely none existed before, all help to make advertising applicable to anything, even to things such as conservation and gay liberation, that are not strictly items of the market place. But once it embraces these issues, advertising’s structure transforms their meanings. They too become like commodities; they too become segmented and abstracted from context. As advertising works, it creates its own skepticism. Many know that the claims of ads are not really true.”[xvi]

This underside crisis of meaning and loss of identity is not just a characteristic of the world of consumption, marketing and advertising, in short the materialist landscape; it is also a characteristic of the technological landscape. Michael Heim notes sadly:

“We begin as voyeurs and end by abandoning our identity to the fascinating systems we tend. The tasks beckoning us to the network make us forget our elemental loss in the process… So entrancing are these symbols that we forget ourselves, forget where we are. We forget ourselves as we evolve into our fabricated worlds.”[xvii]

[i] Davis (1999) Techgnosis, 38.
[ii] Ibid, 22.
[iii] Ibid, 9.
[iv] Stevens (1982) Archetype, 121.
[v] Joel Bakan (2004) The Corporation, 125-126.
[vi] Ibid, 127.
[vii] Ibid, 53-54.
[viii] Ibid, 35.
[ix] Ibid, 56-57 Note: a definition of “psychopathic” is an antisocial personality characterised by the failure to develop any sense of moral responsibility and the capability of performing violent or antisocial acts.
[x] Robert D. Sack, ‘The Consumer’s World: Place as Context’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol.78 (1988), 659.
[xi] Ibid, 661.
[xii] Ibid, 657.
[xiii] Ibid, 659.
[xiv] Ibid, 658.
[xv] Bakan (2004) The Corporation, 26.
[xvi] Sack (1988) ‘The Consumer’s World’, 659.
[xvii] Michael Heim, The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (Oxford University Press, 1993), 79-80.

Corporations – Bigger than the Church

THE CHURCH, in other times, has had its functions taken over by the modern corporate. Joel Bakan argues:

“Today, corporations govern our lives. They determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work, and what we do. We are inescapably surrounded by their culture, iconography, and ideology. And like the church and the monarchy in other times, they posture as infallible and omnipotent, glorifying themselves in imposing buildings and elaborate displays. Increasingly, corporations dictate the decisions of their supposed overseers in government and control domains of society once firmly embedded within the public sphere.”[i]

While Trickster characteristics imbue the materialist market landscape, as we shall see, Trickster is also inherent in the technological landscape which informs and increasingly directs the materialist landscape. Technological innovations have profoundly enabled and enhanced the corporate world’s mobility and portability through communications and transportation. Large jets, new shipping container techniques, integrated rail and track networks have increased speed and efficiency in the transportation of goods and services. Long-distance phone networks, fax, telex and internet mean that corporations can outsource and produce goods and services speedily at substantially lower costs.

[i] Joel Bakan The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2004), 5.