So how do power, playfulness, war, and the amoral stance of the Trickster intersect? Western civilization, in its drive to build empire, needed a morality of absolutes. If I want my army to kill the soldiers in your army, I must make a convincing argument that my army represents good, and yours, evil. So my soldiers will want to kill yours. Good will triumph over evil, or so goes my propaganda and a colluding church—God is on our side.
But in order to execute this charade, I cannot afford to have a powerful but amoral Trickster god running around, having fun, and refusing to accept my morality doctrine, my pretense of power. Thus, in Western society Trickster was bound, from Loki to Till Eulenspiegel, from French fairy tales to King Lear’s Fool. Human consciousness cannot expel the Trickster archetype, but empire-builders confine and make Trickster into the court jester, the fool, or even the devil: able to speak truth to power but disarmed and constrained from pranking power into full collapse.
Until World War I. At the onset of one of the stupidest and bloodiest adventures of Western empires, the greatest artists of Europe rebelled and broke loose from their chains: “We will be your fools and court jesters no more. We present the art of absurdity and reflect back its epitome, the slaughters taking place in the trenches of this meaningless war.” Thus emerged dada, as much an antiwar as an art movement. Conscripting into action Alfred Jarry’s exposures of military madness. Attempting to pirate a battleship. Submitting a urinal into an art competition. Proposing a world at peace. And disrupting whatever attempts power made at normalizing war. dada was Trickster’s 20th century jailbreak.
Amoral Trickster in fact leads us to the genesis of morality—let’s play and have fun, and war is the least fun activity in the world. Thus, to be antiwar is to make a first step into a refreshed morality. Pacifism liberates the Trickster, questions power and authority. As the stench and smoke of war clears, in moments free from conflict, we peer into the possibility of a playful world at peace.
Will passive acceptance of 21st century forms of war, power and manipulation—implied, inferred, online and in the streets—lead to some version of the dystopias that currently drench popular culture? Or can we discern between the subtle powers of branding, of mediated and alienated pleasure, of war conducted virtually—and the exhilaration of authentic original play? Tricksterism’s challenge to disarm power is ongoing and may fail. But if we exult in the possibilities of minimized power and maximized fun, we just might stumble and frolic our way beyond power and to the threshold of the Play Society.