Tangled Webs

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.”
— Sir Walter Scott, “Marmion”, Canto VI, XVII

Perceive/Deceive, the foundations of humanity’s evolution; the root of the Yin/Yang, Darkness and Light.  An evolutionary arms race, each side leveraging transient advantage; sometimes observation wins, sometimes obfuscation, manipulation or chicanery.

What must it have felt like to be the first organism to be able to detect a stimulus and move away from (or toward) it because it promised a better future? What a power “to perceive” and act. Self-determination! Suddenly, your offspring were surviving.  You dominated the landscape.

When, then, did organisms evolve the capacity to notice other organisms perceiving?  What was the moment a being realized that one could achieve results by manufacturing perceptions, playing on belief, enticing action?   What prototypic trickster jiggled the grass, scaring his brother away from a fresh kill, instilling fear of the lion both know exists, only to swoop in to steal the brother’s rightful feast?

Duplicity achieved the same result as hunting skill.  And the rest is history.  Literally, all of it, truth and knowledge ebbing and flowing in and out of sight, veiled by monk robes, revealed by printing presses.  Revealed by cameras that never lie, defeated by Photoshops that do nothing else.  Victors reaping the spoils of scientific observation and reason; other victors reaping the spoils of claiming to represent science, reaping what belief sowed.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank,… There is grandeur in this view of life…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved, and are being evolved.”   — Charles Darwin, “On the Origin of Species”

“…when first we practice to deceive”

…manipulating those who perceive, enticing people to believe, an unearned fortune to retrieve, “I’ll have your ass, you bloody thieves!”

New guillotines, new necks to cleave.