Scene In Passing: Trickster on the loose; hides silver lining

Trickster is trampling on community in small but significant ways here.

Loki, the Norse Trickster, must be on the loose in Carson City. Coyote, the Native American version, seems vocal and active through elected officials at times. Hermes, antiquity’s Trickster, is toying with local psyches.

If you take into account the last local election and latest meeting of the Board of Supervisors, you see these Tricksters at work. Just look askance and do a rain dance, a sun dance or a political prance around the block. Community politics and government are two sides of the same coin, so it’s always a good idea to play it cool and keep communication lines open. But Trickster in his many guises seems to disagree.

Trickster makes governing into politicking and vice versa, people into friends one day and enemies the next, life into an internal civil war for each of us and an external battle collectively, all mostly in the name of mischief. Trickster, an archetypal character, is defined by Paul Radin, anthropologist, this way:

“Trickster is at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes others and who is always duped himself...He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both. He possesses no values, moral or social...yet through his actions all values come into being.” The shape shifter Trickster, in other words, is a Machiavellian court jester inside us. Saying “the devil made me do it” is a cop-out.

Lewis Hyde, author of “Trickster Makes the World,” picks up the thread: “We may well hope our actions carry no moral ambiguity, but pretending that is the case when it isn’t does not lead to greater clarity about right and wrong; it more likely leads to unconscious cruelty masked by inflated righteousness.”

Suffice to say, in part, the above is about Supervisor Jim Shirk’s election advertisement throwing incumbents/board colleagues John McKenna and Karen Abowd under the bus by endorsing their challengers last year (Abowd escaped), then feigning outrage when board colleagues denied him in this year’s first meeting committee assignments he wanted. He still sits on the Airport Authority, but that slot wasn’t up.

Shirk wants us to believe they isolated him. He must bear responsibility for his role in the fiasco, but so must his four colleagues.

Suffice to say, for the other part, majority members politically played into his voice-of-the-downtrodden-and-ignored-among-us story line, though it’s mostly hooey. Quietly blaring their icy cold shoulder further frazzled a bad situation by branding him persona non grata. A half century watching politics tells me it isn’t surprising, but is problematic.

Squabbling for spoils and leverage takes two sides. It’s counterproductive. But there’s a saving grace in democracy, the worst political system except for all the rest. Democracy purges and regenerates. A 20th century Trickster who actually lived among us made that clear. Columnist H.L. Mencken knew elected officials must face death and...the voters. As he put it: “Time stays, we go.”

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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