Someone once remarked that times of historical transition are about as comfortable as sitting on the edge of a razor. I think we’re all feeling that way right now as the state of chaos (or the Kali Yuga, if you prefer) intensifies. Our responses to this are rather key to the question — the suspense — of whether we will survive it or not… or even how and in what way we will survive it.

We might, however reluctantly, welcome total disintegration as the prelude to a new integration or a New Age as Lewis Mumford seems to have done (or Nietzsche, or William Blake) — as “dancing through the Apocalypse” as someone once described it. A New Genesis, as it were. Even a “New Renaissance”. But there are other forces, demonic in nature, just as eager to provoke chaos for other purposes: forces like the ones that drove Alexandre Bissonnette to murder six people in prayer at a mosque in Quebec City; forces that drove Dylan Roof to murder nine African-American congregants in prayer in South Carolina; forces that drove the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik to murder 77 kids. They are the same forces that move ISIS or al-Shabaab, for that matter — with one purpose: to provoke and incite chaos. Terrorism, of whatever colour or stripe, provokes chaos in order to harvest certain political opportunities that chaos brings with it.

Chaos and civil strife serves the political purposes of the provocateurs of the so-called “alt-right” just as well. It’s a double-game frequently played by theocracies or priestly castes: first, make the people sick with sin, then offer yourselves (as the deserving “righteous”, as the “pure”) as the cure. This is what lay behind the Buddha’s criticism of the Brahmans. This is what lay behind Jesus’ condemnation of “the Pharisees and scribes” of his day also. And when Nietzsche pointed it out about “Christendom” also (or William Blake before him), he was saying no more than what both the Buddha and Jesus had said — that despite their pretenses to the coutrary, the Brahmans and the Pharisees served the forces of darkness, as much as Dostoyevsky’s famous “Grand Inquisitor“.

The provocateur is, then, a kind of Trickster figure — a Mephistophelian character. Trump and his motley crew are like Mephistophelian characters, who, I am sure are just as familiar with “Thriving on Chaos” as others are. Deliberately provoking chaos —  civil and social strife — serves the purpose of resorting to even more draconian measures of “law & order” which allows the ruling power to hold itself out as the cure — to consolidate its power even further — to “make the trains run on time”, as was stated of Hitler and Mussolini also. If you saw the movie V for Vendetta, the role of the provocateur is pretty well described there.

Trump is Provocateur-in-Chief. I’m not so sure that his erratic and inflammatory rhetoric and actions don’t have a more sinister intent to them — to justify a more draconian seizure of power in the name of “law & order”, which he himself completely disregards. The duplicity seems strategic — inflame social strife, then hold oneself out as the only “strong man” able to contain and control the chaos thus generated. Thus our responses to provocation become rather important, for actions like resistance through civil disobedience, non-compliance and non-cooperation, protest, and so on may serve Trump’s ends very well.

It becomes an awkward situation, one which was actually referred to obliquely in an article on Hannah Arendt in today’s Guardian entitled “Totalitarianism in the Age of Trump“.  (If there’s one thing, so far, positive that has emerged from Trump’s provocations it is that George Orwell and Hannah Arendt are current again). Arendt also, apparently, noted the how protest can have the unintended consequence of serving the provocateur’s ends and purposes.

In such a situation, merely impulsive reactions to such provocations isn’t the wisest of recourses. But neither is compliance with “executive orders” or pernicious laws that are arbitrary, inhumane, un-democratic, or unconstitutional. While protest might feel cathartic, it might also end up feeding the beast of a nascent totalitarianism. It’s happening elsewhere today, where the collectively frightened flock erects a cult of personality around a new “Good Shepherd” who will secure them from enemies inside and enemies outside.

Under the circumstances, the best rule of thumb for countering the provocateur seems to be Gebser’s rule — to know when to let happen and to know when to make happen. There doesn’t seem to be any “guidelines” or programme for this. It’s situational — a matter, perhaps, of intuition.

The answer, though, probably lies in the myths, and that this is largely, I think, what Gebser is pointing us towards for guidance — the stories. The Trickster figure (or Mephistophelian figure) is ubiquitous in the myths and usually there are two scenarios: one where the Trickster’s tricks backfire on him and become self-defeating, and another where the human or other animal outwits and outfoxes the Trickster. There are many books written about Trickster, and a responsible political strategy to counter the provocateur may well be found in the maps provided by the great stories. But one has to have a pretty good understanding of Trickster’s mentality, — of his strengths and weaknesses — in order to know when to let Trickster act to defeat himself, and when to act to defeat Trickster’s intents.

Nietzsche’s familiar maxim that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” very much applies to the encounter with Trickster, which can be fatal for those who don’t recognise Trickster or know his wiles. This is another reason why the stories were (and remain) so important — they taught people how to recognise Trickster, and provided a map, or model, for action — for how to respond to that encounter without succumbing to Trickster’s provocations and wiliness.

There is great wisdom in the great stories. I suggest you familiarise yourselves with them — and especially, given the present circumstances, with Trickster.Ultimately, Trickster is a blundering fool. But typically he causes havoc and mayhem before his own “great reckoning”.  Ironic reversal (or unintended consequence) is very often the outcome of Trickster’s tricks.






12 responses to “Provocateur-In-Chief”

  1. mikemackd says :

    I agree with David’s assessment, but also agree with John Pilger that “the United States is not run by a President. It is run by a massive national security machine” [14:20] and that “the imposition of power on people’s lives is the issue today” [24:13] The times refer to

    Obama was put up as “candidate” because he fitted Zbigniew Brzezinski’s recipe for what was required at the time. Trump’s cabinet appointments should point us in the direction of which part of the national security machine let him in.

  2. mikemackd says :

    in 1970, Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book “Between Two Ages; America’s Role in the Technetronic Era” warned of a society “dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values … [with] almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities”, and the people would be “within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities exploiting the latest communications techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason … The traditionally democratic American society could, because of its fascination with technical efficiency, become an extremely controlled society, and its humane and individualistic qualities would thereby be lost … Such an outcome … would represent a profoundly pessimistic answer to the question whether American liberal democracy can assimilate and give philosophical meaning to the revolution it is undergoing” (page 97).

    Well, the NSC and other wings of The Machine internationally have now delivered that profoundly pessimistic answer, not just to the USA but everywhere, including, presumably, here. Somewhere along the line Brzezinski must have thought, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. If so, it would seem Obama was just one such of those “magnetic and attractive personalities” employed to “manipulate emotions and control reason”.

    All the while dropping some 26,000 bombs on 7 countries, causing massive refugee crises. Clearly, the USA far prefers to bomb innocents than to shelter refugees from those same bombs.

    Trump is not the only trickster, or even the best one. They are legion.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    You know dear colleagues with all my respect to the peers language of he said, they said ,we said and I said and all the phrases and ideas associated with them and that there is no other forces working in this vast active cosmos save the humans. Sorry colleague but I can not go along with that vision which describes our cosmos as a reinless ruleless cosmos and that certain types of humans( the white man burden) are the only forces that dictate the pro and con of this cosmos. A sick vision that has driven our world to this mess, the vision, the new president of the so-called, the domineering force in the world wants to revisit irrespective of the difference in time, in space and new players. Energy precedes matters that is why all religions address the spiritual sickness and not the physical sickness which is an automatic extensions of the spiritual sickness. God is a system of concepts, both negative and positive and humans are warned not to play with the negative and leave the positive. We are living in a time where the the divine concepts going to be active. As there is human computer There is a divine computer that incorporates everything including the human computer , a computer that misses nothing and falsifies nothing and has promised to show the humans the truth of his words. The march of discoveries are his signs in that context. All artists and visionaries feel the impact of his energy through their artistic products, the products that entice the onlookers to look deeper in things, because nothing in the cosmos is misplaced including its imperfection. As the Sufis say perfection will be misplaced if there is no imperfection. The sufis have also their pattern dynamic they use, in their journey to him, their first flying orbit that they ride, is the circle whose center is the divine energetic harmonics which emanates his basic seven attributes to the circumference, that of.. life, knowledge, will, the ability to execute, speech , his generous sustainability and his acoustical balancing scales as platforms for the operation of the cosmos including the humans. There is no knowledge without life as there is no will without knowledge, etc etc. Each of these seven attributes form new centers, emanate their basic seven concepts on their circumferences, that are used by the seeker in his journey. The numbers of the concepts emanating from the center of the circle are not limited to the seven basic concepts but they may be expanded, depending on the imaginative strength of the seeker and his rhythmical practices and the response of the one, being sought, who knows the seeker honest intention and truthful devotion to know his god and nothing else.. It is a mutual journey, god down to the seeker and the seeker up to god and the meeting ground is called the abode of merging the particular soul with the spirit whole, the harmonious wave radiation origin that give forms to everything both in the physical and non-physical. The second circle is the circle of life where everything start there. The basic concepts of the life circle are birth, growth, death, polarity, pairs, repetition, alternation, circulation, relation and empathy. All the concepts and their extensions are like rowing boat to be ridden by the seeker in the river leading to him. The river that starts from him and returns to him and that is what we mean when we say, he is the first and he is the last. The road to him contains many journeys , each journey, has its own operating concepts distributed on the circumference of the circle concerned, representing the road stations to him. The Sufis know how they tone their alphabetical vibrational formations to be in line with the divine harmonious sound radiations to ignite the epistemological divine rain in their arid landscape It is a question of knowing the divine force and work to shorten the distance you have created through your obliviousness because he is always with you. At the end I want to translate some verses which remind the humans about the source of their knowledge and his command imposed on them to read, it go like this. Read oh human,
    Read in the name of your god
    read his general creation
    and read your own creation
    Read in the name of the one who have created everything
    the generous one who taught the human what he knows not
    Taught him with pen what he is oblivious of.
    alas the human is in a state of excess and denial
    forgetting the cycle of his birth and the death
    and his final return to him.

    • mikemackd says :

      Dear abdulmonem

      I do not understand how what we are discussing could be interpreted in the manner you have above. We are not speaking of a white mans burden, but of all persons’ burdens. We are not speaking only of humans, but communicating as humans to one another concerning the cosmos.

      Moreover, we are not talking either / or. Are you assuming that you know, and we do not? If so, on what grounds to you judge us so? As you say, it is a mutual journey, but I do not see the mutuality as simply between the particular soul and the spirit whole, but the community as well, the community of humanity and of all sentient creatures: of life.

      I have practised no religion, but studied them all, including Sufism, for over 40 years now, and meditated twice a day for three-quarters of that period. I have found belief to be unnecessary with the arrival of faith. More and more of late, free from religions and their bindings, I have come to realise the depth of Jesus’s sayings and parables. One saying was, “judge not, less you be judged”. Are you judging us here?

      Here is a parable from Jesus, as to why we discuss as we do:

      Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

      “The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

      “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

      “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

      “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

      “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

      “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

      “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.’

      “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (NIV, Matthew 25:14-30)

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you dear Mike, I like to start with some maxims from our intercultural human joint heritage in this connected cosmos of ours, where past cannot be separated from the present or the future, one continuum.
    If you find nothing now and here, you might as well list yourself in the registrar of the abode of the dead.
    If you do not make love with the divine now and here you will deprive yourself of his love here before the there.
    We are guests in the divine house, so we have to be considerate in how we enjoy his hospitality and how to express our gratitude.
    You have to fine tune your rhythmic beats to his harmonics in order to appreciate his effective presence.
    When the human heart becomes kneadable in the water of the divine love, the bell of ecstasy will start ringing and the sight of the all becomes apparent, then the slaver of the heart will shine as it gets exposed to his primordial luminosity.
    Do not fall in a state of chronic sadness when you see the ugliness of some, but rejoice in your light and point the way to the light that they may see their darkness
    The divine energy is pervasive and the last round is always to the truth that is Him.
    Faith is a realm of taste not of thoughts, but knowledge often time enhances the grade of faith when its seed is already well planted in the heart.

    Everybody’s business is nobody’s business that is why the religious responsibility is put on certain shoulders across the human history. No one can deny the pivotal role of the Israelite in our human history so also the Christian or the Muslim or other groups whose influence is now apparent in so many western quarters. We are in a time where the humans become mature enough to handle that responsibility, irrespective of its labels secular or otherwise. I am not in a position to judge, or any other humans that is why the Quran keeps repeating that God is the only judge and He will settle your differences. All we can do is pointing to the right way according to our understanding and advice each other and be patient while waiting for the unfolding of the divine event that sets things free in the path of truth. God program is a long term program that encompasses all human life and the humans are asked to transform themselves in the path of truth and justice during the time available to them and not busy themselves with accumulating things for this life, forgetting the main errand of accumulating honest deeds. God’s words is one package and humans are not free to take some and leave some, because omitting any word will leads to imbalance, as we are noticing from our unbalanced situation, as a result of omitting from the human vocabularies the concept of the day after and the divine judgment. In light of that responsibility my comment is made without any egoistic claims but my nakedness under the watch of God. Yes, it is an open cosmos where humans are capable to formulate their stand in front of this wide cosmos and the one behind. The only thing I am saying is that there is a central force behind all the forces we are dealing with that demands, our awareness and reckoning in order to benefit from it before we depart to meet the one that we did not recognize during our short human journey.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Excellent article. Thanks. Brought to mind the Pied Piper of Hamelin — perhaps a most appropriate form of the Trickster today. It’s also uncanny how the “creepy clown” craze predated Trump’s rise to power too.

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