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 The moral law of the Heavenly God-Father Archetype in the Anthropocentric Landscape is superseded by a supramorality and an amorality.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.

“Trickster God is Universal”

THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE – or Trickster God, otherwise known in the West as the Greek God Hermes – is universal. Trickster is found in the mythologies of many peoples. Like Hecate – whose cult probably spread from Anatolia into Greece and who is associated with Hermes – Trickster is the quintessential master of boundaries and transitions. He brings both good luck and bad, both profit and loss. He is the patron of both travellers and thieves. Like Hecate, Trickster is the guide of souls to the underworld and the messenger of the gods. He surprises mundane reality with the unexpected and miraculous. In traditional primal cultures, Trickster emerges under the dominance of the Earth Mother.[i] Combs and Holland point out:

“The trickster god is universal. He is known to the Native American peoples as Ictinike, Coyote, Rabbit and others; he is Maui to the Polynesian Islanders; Loki to the old Germanic tribes of Europe; and Krishna in the sacred mythology of India. Best known to most of us in the West is the Greek god Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.”[ii]

However, the Trickster God is not confined just to traditional primal cultures – today he is well and truly at home in the Technological/Materialist Landscape.

Trickster is at Home Today

AS JUNG STATES, the Trickster appears par excellence in modern man:

“He is a forerunner of the saviour, and like him, God, man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine beingwhose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconscious.”[iii]

While Hermes the Greek God is not reducible to the Trickster; in the West, the Trickster is frequently associated with Hermes – for example ‘Trickster Hermes’ and ‘Hermes the Trickster’. Combs and Holland argue that the Trickster God is universal:

“Best known to us in the West is the Greek God Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.”[iv]

The Trickster, like Hermes and Hecate, is also specifically associated with liminality[v] – thresholds, or the point beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.

Above all the Trickster is fun. In the Technological/Materialist Landscape we are all imbued with the Trickster and ‘his’ exploits – both angelic and devilish. We partake in his exuberance, ambitions, boundary exploration, trickery, games, sleights-of-hand, personas, commercial success, communications expertise, technological genius, liminality and in his shadow-side – if not in actuality then in fantasy. We both applaud him and are appalled by him. We live vicariously through the Trickster and his shadow via entertainment – films, video games and the mass communications of television, internet, texting, smart phones, magazines and books.

Today we are imbued with the Trickster. For those whose ‘focus of perception’ is primarily the Technological/Materialist Landscape, the symbolic correspondence between the individual’s inner life and the outer world has many of the characteristics inherent in the Trickster Archetype. When “an individual’s inner life corresponds in a symbolic way to the outer objective world, the two are connected by meaning”.[vi] In other words the inner life connected by symbolic meaning to the outer world is an indication of the governance of an archetype. As Combes and Holland state:

“The themes carried by archetypes are universal: they are neither wholly internal nor wholly external but are woven into the deepest fabric of the cosmos. This notion is supported by Jung’s idea that archetypes have their origins in the unus mundus, or “one world”, which is at the foundation of the psyche and the objective, physical world. Bohm’s concept of the holographic universe offers similar possibilities. It follows, then, that myths as expressions of archetypes might be expected to portray certain aspects of the object world as well as depicting psychological realities. Indeed many of the Greek Gods represent aspects of reality that overarch both the inner worlds of human experience and the external worlds of nature and society.”[vii]

[i] See for example Paul Radin, The Trickster – A Study in American Indian Mythology, with commentaries by Karl Kerenyi and C.G. Jung (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).

[ii] Alan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[iii] C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980),142-3. (Note: The internet throws up almost 13,000 associations between Trickster and Hermes).

[iv] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[v] George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal (Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2001).

[vi] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990),  97.

[vii] Ibid, 79.