Metis, Bie and Kerdos: Some Thoughts On Defeating Terrorism

Maybe it’s the presence of Talos in the comments section, or maybe it’s the arrival of the Athens Olympics on my personal horizon, but something this morning is carrying me back to the world of the Greeks, and to some early ideas of how best to secure objectives in the face of adversity.

First metis and bie:

What Does Metis Mean?

The history of the word goes back more than 28 centuries to the time of Homer around, 850BC. To the ancient Greeks, metis represented a particular type of cunning intelligence used if success was to be won in the most diverse fields of action. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Odysseus is the hero most commonly associated with metis. The most famous strategem (metis) is the Trojan Horse, by which the Greeks finally managed to conquer Troy. This is a good example of metis for it represents a solution to a problem not resolvable by conventional means.

Metis is often contrasted with the word, bie, which means brute force. All through the Iliad, the big question is, will Troy fall by metis or bie – by wiliness or brute strength? The answer is by metis.

In the intellectual world of the Greek philosopher, there was a radical dichotomy between being and becoming, between the intelligible and the sensible. On the one hand there is the sphere of being, of the one, the unchanging, of the limited, of true and definite knowledge; on the other hand, the sphere of becoming, of the multiple, the unstable and the unlimited, of oblique and changeable opinion. Metis is characterised by the way it operates by continuously oscillating between the two opposite poles. Within a changing reality with limitless possibilities, a person with metis can achieve.

So metis is a type if intelligence and of thought, a way of knowing; it implies a complex but coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, forethought, resourcefulness, vigilance, pragmatism, opportunism and the wisdom of experience.

When art and science unite, extra possibilities and opportunities are made resulting in innovation that can be driven by creativity. Metis is about finding elegant solutions to difficult problems instead of relying on brute force.

Now are you with me? What is lacking in our war with terrorism today, and all too often woefully lacking, is the component of metis. It is as if 2,000 years or more of history did not lie behind us, as if we had to learn every day anew the painful lessons of yesterday. Why am I saying this now? Well look what happened in Spain yesterday, what is happening today, and what will happen in the elections tomorrow.
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Eta And The Spanish Elections

As someone who lives and works in Barcelona (capital of Catalonia, and formal definition in the eyes of the local nationalists of being Catalan), it is really rather frustrating to find that about the only time we make it to the European headlines (apart, of course, from when Bar?a wants to buy some world famous footballer like Beckham) is when one of the players in the greater-Spanish political arena – in this case Eta – wants to exploit some situation or other here to its own advantage. Outside of this context (and with, of course, the honourable exception of George Orwell) Catalonia is little heard of, and even less understood.
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