Cunning Intelligence


Cunning Intelligence

Along with the various readings of Ancient Greek thought, I’ve been plowing through two books on Cunning Intelligence: Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture by Jean-Pierre Vernant and Marcel Detienne and Society, and Cunning by Don Herzog.

Vervant and Detienne spent 10 years delving into this ancient form of wily or cunning intelligence, which as they suggest was bound to the notion (not concept) of Metis. “Metis must be tracked down… in areas which the… philosopher usually passes over in silence or mentions only with irony or with hostility so that, by contrast, he can display to its fullest advantage the way of reasoning and understanding that is required of his own profession.” (5).

Of course their speaking of Plato, Aristotle and those of the academies, etc. As for Metis what they discovered was a type of intelligence and thought, a way of knowing (not knowledge, or episteme); it implies complex but coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behavior which combine flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over a number of years. It is applied to situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting and ambiguous, situations which do not lend themselves to precise measurement or calculability. (4)

In most ways this was portrayed by Homer in his figure of Odysseus, the Trickster and wily, cunning agent of craft, skill, and technical intelligence. For those like Plato this sort of intelligence was not to gain a foothold on philosophy, but rather to be expunged, and eliminated. Plato saw it from the perspective of an elitist of the aristocratic state reason; and, saw such cunning as native to the artist and sophist. Somewhere between the deceiver and the Con Man the cunning intelligence is the technologist par excellence, the Engineer and builder of labyrinths and machines, a Daedalus. As Herzog says,

“There’s no point in trying to stipulate a definition of cunning. Definitions come at the end of the day, if at all. Anyway, dictionaries are often unhelpful. (Try looking up love or justice.) Notice, though, that cunning brings to mind crooked, shifty, slippery, elusive, evasive.”(7).

wile-e-coyote

But for most skilled laborers and craftsmen, cunning was the learned bodily truth of their lives, something that even skilled warriors, hunters, and builders knew without having to theorize it. If it’s fallen into disrepute, become the degraded farce of advertisers, Con Men, Stock Brokers, Bankers, and elite bull-shit artists everywhere – a part of the late capitalist arsenal of sophistic practices – don’t blame the Greeks. That’s another story of corruption that’s had a long and habitual learning curve of new tricks and subterfuges… but, alas, maybe there’s somethin about this type of intelligence we need. Even in our cartoons with Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner we see remnants of this old style of intelligence played out in colorful laughter. Yet, indigenous tribes across the globe still rely on this more earthy and resilient form of cunning to live, hunt, and support there worlds; and, even to fight against the encroachment of those very IMF banksters who would through cunning and deception destroy and enslave their lives…

The Philosophers would build their worlds of Being and oust Becoming from the Academy. For the Philosophers the sphere of Being, the One, the unchanging and fixed, of limited, and true and definite knowledge (episteme) was the epitome of the intelligible cosmos, – the harmonious order of the universe. While Becoming was the realm of the multiple, the unstable and unlimited,  a realm of the oblique and changeable opinion. Metis was left without a bargaining chip once Becoming had been exiled from Greek thought. Metis is characterized precisely by the way it operates by continuously oscillating between the two poles of Being and Becoming. Metis lives in a realm of forces, a realm pitted between stability and instability, the limited and unlimited, the realm of adversity and struggle. Plato would have none of this. He sought a utopia freed of struggle based on mathematical and sublime perfection of the mind based of fixed principles and axioms of Being. Metis is based on connivance, opposition, and rivalry that sought movement and becoming rather than the fixed axioms of some stable realm of abstract Being. Metis, the deceiver, the Trickster, the cunning intelligence of art and craft, the skilled worker who knows with his hands and eyes in heterogeneous movement, rather than from some distance or through some conceptual or theoretical installation. The intelligence of metis is the one who placed in the midst of things does not react, but rather knows without having to stop and reflect; rather, the becoming of metis acts and works: a doing not a being.

James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed:

“All human activities require a considerable degree of mētis, but some activities require far more. To begin with skills that require adapting to a capricious physical environment, the acquired knowledge of how to sail, fly a kite, fish, shear sheep, drive a car, or ride a bicycle relies on the capacity for mētis. Each of these skills requires hand-eye coordination that comes with practice and a capacity to “read” the waves, the wind, or the road and to make the appropriate adjustments. One powerful indication that they all require mētis is that they are exceptionally difficult to teach apart from engaging in the activity itself.”

The notion of becoming, movement, activity: metis as the temporal intelligence of the evental.


1. Jean-Pierre Vernant and Marcel Detienne Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society. University of Chicago Press (June 18, 1991)
2. Herzog, Don. Cunning. Princeton University Press (April 6, 2008)

8 thoughts on “Cunning Intelligence

  1. From a summary by David Harris of M. De Certeau’s “The Practice of Everyday Life” : ” Strategies require a subject (an enterprise or city and so on) separated from an environment. They also require a ‘proper’ place [later described as a regularized, rule governed, institutionalized location] from which to generate relations with an exterior (their competitors or clients and so on). Strategies lie behind political and economic rationality. Tactics, on the other hand, have no ‘proper’ localization, and are not strongly separated from the other. Indeed, they often take place in the territory of the other. They are opportunistic, always on the watch, and involve combining disparate elements to gain a momentary advantage.

    Lots of everyday practices are tactical in this sense. They often involve victories of the week over the strong, via ‘clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, manoeuvres…'(xix). These in turn are based on really ancient, maybe even natural survival techniques ”

    http://www.arasite.org/decwalk.htm

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link!

      Yea, I like James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed as well. “All human activities require a considerable degree of mētis, but some activities require far more. To begin with skills that require adapting to a capricious physical environment, the acquired knowledge of how to sail, fly a kite, fish, shear sheep, drive a car, or ride a bicycle relies on the capacity for mētis. Each of these skills requires hand-eye coordination that comes with practice and a capacity to “read” the waves, the wind, or the road and to make the appropriate adjustments. One powerful indication that they all require mētis is that they are exceptionally difficult to teach apart from engaging in the activity itself.”

      The sense of hand/eye coordination and “adapting to a capricious physical environment” etc. all presents that ancient survivalist way of being in a world of movement and becoming as opposed to a fixed, and stable realm or thought of Being. I think of Baudrillard’s notions of Fatal Strategy or Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History, too.

      Like

  2. “It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate; that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and within the heart. Alas, where is the guide, that fond virgin, Ariadne, to supply the simple clue that will give us courage to face the Minotaur, and the means then to find our way to freedom when the monster has been met and slain?”

    “Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, fell in love with the handsome Theseus the moment she saw him disembark from the boat that had brought the pitiful group of Athenian youths and maidens for the Minotaur. She found a way to talk with him, and declared that she would supply a means to help him back out of the labyrinth if he would promise to take her away from Crete with him and make her his wife. The pledge was given.”

    “Ariadne turned for help, then, to the crafty Daedalus, by whose art the labyrinth had been constructed and Ariadne’s mother enabled to give birth to its inhabitant. Daedalus simply presented her with a skein of linen thread, which the visiting hero might fix to the entrance and unwind as he went into the maze. It is, indeed, very little that we need! But lacking that, the adventure into the labyrinth is without hope.”

    “The little is close at hand. Most curiously, the very scientist who, in the service of the sinful king, was the brain behind the horror of labyrinth, quite as readily can serve the purposes of freedom. But the hero-heart must be at hand. For centuries Daedalis has represented the type of the artist-scientist: that curiously disinterested, almost diabolic human phenomenon, beyond the normal bounds of social judgment, dedicated to the morals not of his time but of his art. He is the hero of the way of thought – singlehearted, courageous, and full of faith that the truth, as he finds it, shall make us free.”

    “And so now we may turn to him, as did Ariadne. The flax for the linen of his thread he has gathered from the fields of the human imagination. Centuries of husbandry, decades of diligent culling, the work of numerous hearts and hands, have gone into the hackling, sorting, and spinning of this tightly twisted yarn.”

    “Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the heropath. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

    Joseph Campbell – The Hero With a Thousand Faces
    Prologue – The Monomyth

    Like

    • Yea, I remember reading that back in 69’… I think I collected most of his works back then. He influenced Star Wars mythos and George Lucas. I think they may still have his videos from Skywalker ranch … I haven’t read these works for ages…

      Like

  3. And… one can also read Balthasar Gracian’s Art of Worldy wisdom: “In your affairs, create suspense. Admiration at their novelty means respect for your success. It’s neither useful nor pleasurable to show all your cards. Not immediately revealing everything fuels anticipation, especially when a person’s elevated position means expectations are greater. It bespeaks mystery in everything and, with this very secrecy, arouses awe. Even when explaining yourself, you should avoid complete frankness, just as you shouldn’t open yourself up to everyone in all your dealings. Cautious silence is the refuge of good sense. A decision openly declared is never respected; instead, it opens the way to criticism, and if things turn out badly, you’ll be unhappy twice over. Imitate divinity’s way of doing things to keep people attentive and alert. ”

    It is interesting that this Jesuit sees God’s manner of bringing our attention to him like this but anything artful is like this, or a good toy used as a transitional object.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tricksters are perhaps the most critical immanent/transcendent shape shifting actors in this reality, the catalyzing agents of our as yet not fully formed-tested initiated character, or rehabilitated former memory purged criminal character. Character force material shaped by our choices in human drama, tragedy (failed test, study for eternal return do-over change-time test) and comedy (passed test, happy ending, become saint, avatar, bodhisattva, etc., return to bestow boons on village, become master of two worlds).

      Let’s say Tricksters don’t exist. If they don’t then life is an absurdity. Human biological organisms on an earth racing through space talking (praying) to invisible haloed bird-people (angels), animal-horned/hooved bird people (demons), and THE ONE TRUE politically correct top of the tyrant food chain invisible monotheistic spirit 3rd party to all human sexual transactions. Most humans are not death accepting, they crave meaning, and alas, there is none. This is the future of an illusion.

      Materialists seek the same invisible un-personified causal sub stratum source of existence through science, number, quantum ideas de jour, etc., and perhaps are more death accepting. Imagine if number and nihilism are Tricksters?

      And if Tricksters do exist? Wow! Now there’s an opportunity for blogging, book writing, and perhaps development of a good post-apocalyptic next extinction event income stream of living or poisoned Wormwood waters.

      My mild cynical attempt at humor does not fully mask my own craving for meaning, the Summum bonum, and the elimination of the root cancer of human suffering.

      And most of us would be lying if we said we didn’t want to be able to fly like a winged indestructible Ubermensch. Airplanes evidence the imagination and imitation of this future wish-fulfillment.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s