“Raven … was thought of as the transformer, the trickster. He was the being that changed things—sometimes quite by accident, sometimes on purpose.”Christian White, Haida Artist
Before Raven, the world was covered in darkness. “When he arrives in this world to distribute the fish and edible berries, he finds the people distressed by this endless night. He’s distressed, too—after all, how will he feed himself if it’s always dark? Remembering that there was light in the heaven from which he has come, Raven resolves to return and steal it. Putting on his raven skin, he flies upward until he finds the hole in the sky. Entering it, he takes off his raven skin and goes to sit by a spring near the house of the chief of heaven. There he waits until the chiefs daughter comes to fetch water, whereupon Raven changes himself into a leaf from a cedar tree; the girl swallows him when she drinks the water. She becomes pregnant and bears a child. Her family is delighted; they wash the boy regularly and soon he has grown enough to crawl around the lodge. But all the time he cries. As he crawls he cries out, “Hama, hama!” and the great chief becomes troubled. He summons his wise men to help him quiet the child. One of them understands that the child wants the box that hangs on the wall of the chiefs lodge, the box where daylight is kept. They put it on the floor by the fire and the child stops crying. He rolls the Daylight-Box around the house for several days, occasionally carrying it to the door. One day, when the people have more or less forgotten about him, he shoulders the box and makes a dash for the hole in the sky. The family gives chase but before they can catch him he slips on his raven skin and flies down to the earth. There he breaks the box and now, thanks to Raven the thief, we have daylight in this world.” Hyde, Lewis, H. (2017). Trickster Makes This World. p. 47.
Since humans tell stories, they tell stories about tricksters. Along the North Pacific coast the trickster Raven is a thief of water and daylight. On the island of Japan, a trickster released the arts of agriculture. A more recent story of a trickster is “The Joker”. He tells us all the things we are afraid of are true about ourselves.
Transformation needs tricksters. Transformation isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of our heart and our soul. Transformation is who we are and what we do and what we need. Trickesters transform. Everyone is sort of a trickster.
In case you are wondering, a trickster is someone who:
Sustainability needs boldness. In times of stability the center of a society is conventional. Dense with rules, norms, taboos. The periphery is marginalized. The liveliness and durability of society requires that people uncover and disrupt the very things they are based on, that they move into the periphery. The beginning of successful transformation is therefore small acts of creative transgression. It must be transgressive because in order to shift we need to challenge: we have to do something counter – cultural. And it has to be creative, rather than merely disruptive, because it appeals to the society’s deeper values, to its better self. The transformation we need is distinct from mere political and administrative transformation. Because politics primarily makes rules and administration primarily enforces rules. What we need is to find creative ways to transgress those rules. A trickster doesn’t follow rules. She is a boundary – crosser, while at the same time she creates boundaries. Boundary creation and boundary crossing are related to one another. The boundary is where the trickster is. Drawing the line. Overstepping it. The Trickster is the creative who makes sure that the world is in motion, mixing things up if they become stuck, restoring order.
Human needs are complex, fluid and dynamic, often contradictory. The default psychological protection against complexity is neurotic defence. We deal with complexity by withdrawing from the world and hence not dealing with it at all. Tricksters by contrast, embrace the world. A trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence. Of doubleness and duplicity. Of contradiction and paradox. She embodies and enacts our experience where good and evil are intertwined. There is no good or evil, yet she is responsible for both. She has no ethics of her own, yet through her actions ethics come into being.
Is a Hybrid
There is no one Truth. What is more true is that there are multiple truths. Transformation towards a sustainable world, demands embracing multiple perspectives, disciplines and knowledge. No one has the one true answer, rather the answer emerges through a multitude. The truth is the combination of subjective experience and the dynamic interplay between being and its context. Hence, what we think of as an individual, neatly walled off from the world as a separate fixed identity, is better thought of as ‘autopoiesis’ ( self – creation). The autopoieses or transindividual or hybrid is an emergent consequence of intentional interactions between inherently meaning-seeking creatures and their social context. A trickster is a hybrid. She has fluency in her being, without losing her authenticity. She recognizes that all knowledge is local, coloured and framed by context and is able to respond to that.
Travels the Road of Spirit and Fact
“Transformation needs rational decision making, based on data”. So they say. Psychological research in behavioral economists likes gathering clean data. Clean of distortions due to human interests, subjectivity or context. With that, it is conducted using methods that exclude what makes human life meaningful and understandable. Human beings do not live, learn and grow in a relational vacuum. They are rational AND emotional. Who judges if our decisions are irrational anyways? A trickster engages with her existential reality by moving in-between the spiritual and the factual. Comfortable with herself, she thrives on complexities and ambiguities.
Reveals what is Repressed in our Individual and Collective Psyche
The difference between genes and memes (e.g., beliefs, ideas, cultural practices) is that the latter are communicated. Therefore, the survival of memes, does not necessarily mean that they carry some actual benefit (reproductive or otherwise) on individuals or groups. It is quite possible for people to hold on to ideas and social norms that diminish their own and the planet’s well-being. Current social norms are unhealthy for people and planet. Yet, we hold on. We are living in the ‘interregnum’: the old rules are discredited but the new order has yet to emerge. Whenever we oppose, we can sense a slight uneasiness in others. It’s like the person who stops drinking and awkwardly sits in a bar with her buddy whom she has been drinking with for years. She holds up a mirror, without having to say anything. A trickster is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity and boldness to challenge the status quo. The trickster brings attention to whatever is repressed in our individual or collective psyche.
There is a distinction between defensive and creative ethics. Creative ethics is about doing the right thing in a specific circumstance. Sam Harris writes “Don’t lose your Queen is almost always worth following. But it admits of exceptions: sometimes sacrificing your Queen is a brilliant thing to do; occasionally, it is the only thing you can do. It remains a fact, however, that from any position in a game of chess there will be a range of objectively good moves and objectively bad ones”. Creative ethics then, is based on acknowledging the uniqueness of every situation, in the moment. It is creative in the sense that a decision must be created rather than computed. It is risky in that the individual must take personal responsibility for their judgment and behaviour. We won’t find global norms and rules that can be applied to any situation, there will be unique situations in which we have to apply unique ways of being. Rigidity is not going to solve our problems. A trickster operates on a strong moral framework that is concerned with suffering and realising potential, yet she is not scared to adapt that framework if the situation requires it. She might lie or steel. But she is not a “run-of-the-mill liar and thief” (Hyde, 2017). For her, it’s not about getting away with something or to get rich, but it’s about disturbing the established norms and to open the road to possible new ones.
A new world is created in action. It’s impossible to learn without action. It’s impossible to learn, without direct experience. A trickster takes action.
Go be one.