Who could fit better as THE FREE LUNCH’s honorary mascot for our infodemic issue than Coyote? A bit flabbergasted? Understandable. Let me explain. I’m not talking about a normal coyote, although I—your editor in chief—have been a true fan of the species canis latrans since I first saw a coyote hunting a rabbit on an animal program when I was 7 years old. I am talking about a different and eternal Coyote.
To make clear that gods and goddesses are different from people, a long tradition of trickster deities has been part of many religious systems. Examples include the obscene Bampana of the Yolngu, the Cercopes of Greek mythology who dared to mess with Heracles, and Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
A trickster deity disturbs the monotony of a human culture concerned with solving everyday problems, making profits, or conquering worlds. Trickster deities muddle reality by swapping around its parts. This work is remarkable. Most gods and goddesses exist to make sense, to be masters of their fiefdom, to explain how various elements came to exist the way they are. Thus, they are predecessors of the monotheist super-gods, such as Yahweh, God, or Allah, which are seen more as invisible and omnipotent constructs of meaning than traditional deities who exist in the physical world.
In contrast, trickster deities are smaller sidekick gods of a nomadic lifestyle and appearance. They stand for the ever-breeding potential of “anti-sense,” which is a necessary flip side of meaning in philosophical terms. Trickster deities mock people, unpredictably change things, or turn everything upside down. They’re like annoying insects that buzz around one’s head. They’re anti-establishment because they represent the hidden and repressed knowledge that civilization is built on cruelty, oppression, and lies.
Influenced by some native North American mythologies, a famous trickster god is Coyote, who also appears as Akba Atatdia, First Scolder, or Old Man Coyote. He’s a pop star in Native American myth because he promises freedom that proves to be unattainable, forming a basis for the modernist notion of freedom. Nevertheless, he’s seen as more attractive because of that trait. What made Coyote so popular is that he was always good for a story. Most of the time, this story feels more like a pop song that you want to sing and whistle, whiling away your everyday life.
One version of a Navajo tale tells of how Coyote’s pranks ended up creating the Milky Way. This was when Black God, who was a huge amount of dark space, tried to decorate himself by putting stars he took out of his pouch all over his dark spaciness. Coyote snatched the pouch to find out how stars taste, but he didn’t like them, so he spat them back into Black God’s face. Black God took the pouch back, but it was empty of stars, and only dust fell from it on his dark spaciness. The dust that got stuck formed our galaxy.
Another story says how Coyote distracted Human Maker while he tried to make people from clay. Due to Coyote’s pestering, Human Maker’s concentration was broken, making him create people in different colors, stability, and quality. By that act, Coyote, who pranks people and his fellow deities, is important as a diversifying and humanizing factor in the technocratic machinery of the supernatural beyond. Through his productive misuse and creative misreading, he helps the world of the gods and goddesses make sense by taking things into account that otherwise wouldn’t be up for debate. In short, he’s a punk mashup of Mark Zuckerberg and Johnny Rotten.
Don’t you want to be like Coyote? Of course you do!
The world is spinning faster than ever, and we cling to an increasingly confusing explanation of where we’re heading and why. To have a better understanding of the problems we face, THE FREE LUNCH COMMISSION plans to address one topic at the time. Not only will we look at these issues, but we’ll also create action with experiments conducted by skilled minds from engineers to artists, scientists to designers.
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COYOTE POINT ART BY TAKAYLA