Friday, February 11, 2011

Twilight Selves: Cannibalism, Werewolves and Identity. Part #1

By Mr. VI

“We now see ... wolfpack behaviours (on markets), and if we will not stop these packs, even if it is self-inflicted weakness, they will tear the weaker countries apart,” Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg 9th May 2010

Economics, politics, sociology and philosophy; history and diplomacy. All these involve study of narratives, both the past and the present, in order to predict and if possible control the environment. That which is controlled is in a sense rendered stable and coherent, it is fixated like an insect in amber; integrity is preserved and the body politic is kept intact. The meaning extracted from mythic narratives provides reference, often an origin point – a kind of social genealogy which specifically situates the community at large within time itself.

It is the idea of control and bodily integrity which generates a shadow; an uncontrolled, amorphous idea of insatiable hunger; an enemy which devours all those things which enable the maintenance of the status quo. As can be seen by the quote at the beginning of this piece, the old metaphors still hold evocative power – with the economic upheavals of the early years of the 21st century, the wolves are once again to blame; their greed has supposedly placed the right thinking folk in a great deal of trouble. What is this terror then? This fear of another form of life, of existence, which somehow exists outside the norm, and is unnatural enough to evoke such a violent response? Or to frame it another way, in terms of myth, why is the monster a recurring theme, its unspeakable hunger something that arises again and again, irrespective of time and place?

So runs the introduction to an essay of mine in Immanence of Myth. Like any good editor, James has to impose limits on writers, both for coherency and reasons of space. Understandably, it's difficult to cover a whole line of thought in a few thousand words, and fortunately we have the extra space of this blog to examine things in more detail. Thus, this is the first in a short series of explicitly connected posts by myself (and the other contributors if they feel so moved) on the implications of cannibalism and the wolf-pack in relation to levels of self-hood. We've discussed the cannibal as an exterior entity, as an auslander – the malign stranger; what then of those wolves in the board-room etc, curled at the heart of the status quo itself?

As Welsh horror writer Arthur Machen puts it:

'[W]e lead two lives, and the half of our soul is madness, and half heaven is lit by a black sun. I say I am a man, but who is the other that hides in me?'

And lest we think the discussion of wolves and predators is purely theoretical, this article dated 7th February 2011 from Britain's Daily Mail on a so-called 'super-pack' of four hundred wolves killing horses should put that to rest.

As the article states - emphasis mine:
“Dr Valerius Geist, a wildlife behaviour expert, said the harsh Siberian winter - where temperatures plummet to minus 49C - had killed off the animal's usual prey.

He said: 'It is unusual for wolves to gather in such numbers of hunt large animal like horses.

'However, the population of their usual prey, rabbits, has decreased this year due to lack of food, so wolves have had to change their habits.
'Wolves are very careful to choose the most nutritious food source easiest obtained without danger - which in this case happens to be horses. "They will start tackling dangerous prey when they run out of non-dangerous prey.'”

The whole metaphor of a ravenous, insatiable wolf with great big teeth – all the better to eat you with, my dear – is predicated on the idea that the creatures will kill and eat anything; nothing can stop that hunger. In actuality, they hunt easy prey, and this in itself is the true root of the terror. Easy prey is vulnerable prey, defenceless or otherwise weak.

The sick, the disabled, the old and the very young; these are perfect prey for the wolves, and to devour them is to commit an act which is beyond the pale of society - pale being a pointed stick which serves as marker or boundary, as in impale or fence paling.

This violation of the social order is an act of violence against it by those beyond the boundary.

Where does this idea of violence fit within the status quo? Suppose we posit that in fact, the actuality of the situation is more complex; the function of the metaphor is to provide a descriptor for those whom the rules of a culture of scarcity do not apply.

In my previous post, I suggested that scarcity is essentially what gives rise to the notion of power, and conversely, that of weakness. It is manipulation of scarcity that drives demand, and those that can provide are valued and feted over those who cannot.

All we need to do is view the recent banking crisis to see how quickly the dichotomy is revealed. The individuals who ran the Western world's financial system were once economic giants moving millions and fuelling the globalization machine which has brought us wonders undreamt by our great-grandparents.

Now they are abruptly wolves, preying on the weak and the vulnerable, ruining lives and wiping out life-savings. Supposedly violating the trust of investors, they are said to have committed an act of violence against those who trusted them.

Yet, the ease with which they moved through the world, their wealth and power, is still desirable. If anything, the rage occurs because the act of violence is sublimated as theft. The perceived removal of power breeds anger - the loss of the signifier of power highlights the division between have and have not.

This increases desire - again scarcity tightens the knot. That same desire leads to increased occurrences of 'wolfish' behaviour. In time, scarcity renders us all wolves, but the lone wolf stands little chance against a pack. A pack is able to hunt prey that would be dangerous to a single individual.

In a pack therefore, the danger quotient falls, increasing yield. Thus, the individuals are perceived to be more powerful both in and of themselves as well, as members of the pack. Again, it is desirable to become part of the group.

The larger a pack, the greater the risk of internal conflict - only under extreme conditions can necessity overwhelm dominance, and this is not always enough. Thus often, multiple packs or groups evolve, each with an exclusive set of identifiers and protocols. This creates an inclusive and exclusive division, an inner and an outer within the larger group.

Do those within the in-body view those outside as like themselves, or has the very act of assumption of identifiers induced a sense of difference? As an elite evolves, it separates itself from the larger body, becoming a law unto itself. Could we argue that this sense of difference and identity is a primary root of almost all idealogical conflict?

These levels of identity-within-identity raise interesting questions about the very idea of cannibalism itself. If cannibalism is the consumption of one's own kind, then what of the consumption of those who are not of the same kind?

Since the metaphor of consumption also implies incorporation, it follows that those within the body necessarily utilise those without. The co-option and capture of the external to maintain and enhance the body can easily be seen in the actions of say, large corporations or the enslavement of the enemy and the conquered. On the microcosmic scale, we ingest external entities and re-purpose them for our own bodies.

Mythologically speaking, if one is elevated to the post-scarcity of godhood, what happens to one's humanity? What happens when a group of individuals are able to communicate in their own jargon, their own secret language; sub-prime mortgages, exchange-rates, currency fluctuations, hedge-funds?

All these are occult, beyond the ken of those not inculcated or initiated into the mysteries of finance; the virtual trading of ideas and potentials is as esoteric as the Greek Magical Papyri, and yet these hidden spells influence the lives of billions.
By these secret ways, they render the act of utilization of easily accessible resources into a cryptic thing, only performable by those properly trained and operating within their particular framework.

In the next post in the series, I'll show how analysis of a given mythic construct may yield the keys you need to subvert the apparent duality between the monstrously strange cannibal which inspires such horror, and the pillar of the community who has wealth, power and respect.

But for now, consider this: What secret codes and magic spells do you know, that others don't? What runes and arcane operational knowledge do you possess by which you effect your daily life?

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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