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How to Count Coup Like a Genius

Updated on January 21, 2014

“No redemption can be found in the avoidance of difficult issues. Redemption comes only after we have moved through the horrors of our present situation to the better world that lies beyond it. By confronting the problem as courageously as we can and at the same time presenting alternatives, our barriers to clarity, including our false hopes, may crumble to reveal previously unseen possibilities.” -Derrick Jensen

“To be human is necessarily to be a vulnerable risk-taker; to be a courageous human is to be good at it.” -Jonathan Lear

Modern Man has become a blur of inert but reflective activity. The problem is that he has become narcissistic, lost in his own reflection. Like Kierkegaard once surmised, “Reflection is a snare in which one is caught, but, once the “leap” of enthusiasm has been taken, the relation is a different one and it becomes a noose which drags one into eternity.” Counting coup is our leap of enthusiasm. In order to relieve ourselves of the “snare” of narcissism we must first journey through our own unconscious, but, more particularly, down a path that will challenge us and bring enthusiasm into our lives. If we can plant our coup-stick without destroying ourselves, we will have arrived at a place where we can discover eternity, and maybe even discover the power to mold our own destiny.

The concept of counting coup is a Native American act of courage referring to the winning of prestige in battle. A person wins prestige by uncommon acts of bravery in the face of an enemy. Danger and risk is required to count coup and it can be recorded by touching an enemy in battle and then escaping unharmed. Typically a coup stick was used to “touch” the enemy, but coup could still be counted by touching the enemy with a hand or bow. As far as counting coup like a genius is concerned, it is an intellectual/imaginative gambit, where we hold our metaphorical coup stick warningly over the enemy: our pampered, inert, narcissistic post-modern egos.

As it stands, Modern Man's inertia is our inertia. Over time we have seen nature wither and die all around us. The world has been looted, driven back, and poisoned, over and over again. But what may not be apparent is the nature that has withered and died within us. The two are connected. We have driven back our animal nature and subjugated our native-heart in favor of civility and domestication. Thus have we severed our vital connection to the natural world. Counting coup is a direct response to this inner dying, and an indirect response to the outer dying rampant all around us.

When we count coup on inertia, narcissism, and extremism, we do it so that vitality, courageous action, and diversity can shine through; so that we can, like Thoreau said, “live deliberately.” Counting coup is our method, our metaphor, for recovering the way of our instinctive psychic nature. Symbolically, our coup-stick represents ruthless positive action over empty negative inertia. Through its personification in the Self-interrogator archetype, we are able to discern the ways of our deepest, wildest nature. The coup-stick is a symbol for heroism, despite, and even in spite of, the powers-that-be. Hopefully, with its power, we can find the courage to bare our teeth and growl at the slothful, coercive, and self-destructive nature of our civilization.

This is all metaphorical of course, but it is not a metaphor that is void of reason. Like Piero Ferrucci said, “By coaching our unconscious, we also discover a potentiality for countless transformations.” We use these transformations to heal ourselves directly, and to indirectly heal our immediate surroundings. We transform many times in a single lifetime, both psychically and physically, and through these transformations the world itself changes. Almost magically, reality takes on new shapes when we embrace and learn from our transformations. When we are imprisoned we do not, or cannot, embrace these changes and they become dark, unhealthy shadows deep within our unconscious, eating away at us. We embrace these transformations through mythology, through poetry, through sustainable spirituality. Like Anais Nin once ingeniously opined, “There are many ways to be free. One of them is to transcend reality by imagination, as I try to do.”

Counting coup is our imaginative act of transcending reality so that we can discover new, more prolific ways to be free; ways that un-stifle or de-imprison our creativity, and thus our ability to live as free healthy individuals within an otherwise egocentric world.

In a world where the vital link between human-nature and mother-nature has been cut, we are faced with puppets masquerading as people and blind somnambulists with wads of money for brains and possessive fists for hearts. But here's the thing, it's not their fault. They were raised in a society that is hell-bent on destroying the world, and then disguising it as production. It's not their fault they were conditioned to be cogs in a machine disguised as noble citizens. It's not their fault that they were raised cutoff from mother-nature, and thus cutoff from their souls. It's not their fault that their psyches' have been suppressed and stuffed down into the furthest reaches of their unconscious, where it festers and eats away at them.

Humankind started from an unconscious state, the Id, interconnected with nature and the community. The development of consciousness, the Ego, over the last million years is a great burden just as much as it is a great power. The continued evolution of consciousness inevitably calls for greater responsibility. The problem is that we have, so far, not been responsible with that power. Counting coup on Ego is a heroic act of responsibility. It is a chastening of sorts, a metanoia, a melting down of psychic energies so that a new, healthier, more adaptive energy can emerge. Like Jung said, “What is needed is to call a halt to the fatal dissociation that exists between mans’ higher and lower being; instead, we must unite conscious man with primitive man.” And so our counting coup on Ego is a very heroic wake-up call. It wakes up our unconscious primitive and introduces him to our conscious civilian.

When humankind learned about individual consciousness, or ego-consciousness, the seed of dissociation was planted into the psyche. Ego-consciousness became all at once the highest evolution and the greatest depravity of humankind. This terribly beautiful seed has since grown into an intelligent, but extremely desperate, aspect of the human condition. It has severed us from the source, crippled us into non-instinctual creatures that fumble dumbly about in a world of heartless man-made hierarchies. This loss of instinct is a tragedy so atrocious that civilized man has suppressed it deeply within. It is beyond his reconnecting, so far removed is he from the cycles of nature. It is so far beyond him that he simply ignores it and focuses instead upon all the technologies that his ego-consciousness has gained him. As flimsy, abstract and superficial as they are, they are all that he has to distract him from himself.

Counting coup on our Ego is an act that puts us in a place where we can accept the nature/psyche aspect of our consciousness; a place where our unconscious is realized as the foundation for a healthy relationship with ourselves, each other, and the environment. When we can realize this then we are free to be Ego. We are free to be the Eternal Human dwelling in the dark eternity of primordial time, discerning and diagnosing the cosmos with the awareness of being connected to all things. This requires a melting together of psyche and nature, conscious and unconscious, masculine and feminine, finitude and infinity. Here, we are individuated as opposed to individual, and the whole is within us, indistinguishable from nature and psyche.

Small and hidden are the doors to primordial consciousness, the doors to perception. The entrance is barred and guarded by countless fears, doubts, and negative cultural cliches that have been handed down from traditionally unhealthy lifestyles. But they are there waiting to be opened up by each one of us. The only key required to opening this door is courage, and a willingness to give birth to ourselves over and over again. Counting coup on Ego is just such an act of courage. If we can devote ourselves to this task, the truth will not be withheld from us. The discovery of our unique authenticity will be revealed, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. But nobody ever said the journey would be easy. Nobody ever said it wouldn't hurt like hell. And if they did they were lying, plain and simple.

Like The Dread Pirate Roberts says to the Princess in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”


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