Noni Mausa on The Efnysien Effect

This post is by reader Noni Mausa…


Myths and legends are not mere entertainment — instead, they can be viewed as concentrated and abstracted wisdom, offering us insight on human nature and our problems.

Case in point: In the legendary days of pre-Christian Britain, one of the early kings was called Bran the Blessed, who held court together with his brothers and their beautiful sister Branwen.

The legend tells that two of these siblings were twins — Nysien and Efnysien. Nysien was a kindly lad, whose very presence brought harmony to any room he might enter, even if the worst of enemies were there. And his brother Efnysien was just the opposite — he would raise discord between the firmest of friends or between bride and groom.

Efnysien was a proud and savage man, and his overweening pride led him to a series of atrocities when the King of Ireland came to visit. Because of Efnysien, a war arose between the British and the Irish, leading in the end to disaster for both nations — the poisoning of the Irish land and to the death of all but seven of the British warriors.

Of course this is just a legend (one clue is the Bran the Blessed was so large that when his nation went to war he could gather the anchor ropes of his whole fleet and cross the channel dragging them behind). But legends are useful for telling us things we already know. The spirit of Efnysien is still around, powerful in its ability to drag international discourse downwards into atrocity, savagery and hatred.

The Efnysien Effect is currently finding its expression through what is being called international terrorism. So, the question facing responsible international players is, how to deal with the Efnysien Effect and avoiding their atrocities to reduce all participants to the same level of barbarism?

Atrocity unilaterally redefines the context within which the social parties will act. As such, atrocity (if you lack moral barriers to doing it) is one of the most powerful tactics, if you want to prevent concord, rational and genial interaction, and abstract planning and thought. Efnysien was completely free of scruples, to the detriment of Ireland and his own country.

However, Efnysien needed more than lack of scruples in order to have the effect that he did. In addition, he had a social position which dictated he be treated with respect. As a prince of the royal family, he could not be imprisoned, exiled, or otherwise punished. Instead, his kindly and farseeing elder brother the King offered apologies over and over again to the Irish, seeking civility and dealing generously.

What came of it according to legend was not reconciliation but disaster. the King acted with civility, and that did not work. Then the king and his nation went to war, and that did not work either — all because of his inability to deal with his royal brother.

Our modern Efnysiens have both these necessary qualities — a willingness to commit atrocity, and some sort of protection or legitimacy. Their ability to drag international relationships willy-nilly into war seems to be built into our nature as social animals. Their legitimacy, whether family, religion, nation or other, prevents us from addressing the atrocity– it destroys or neuters our nature as rational and spiritual animals.

Knowing this, the real question we face when dealing with terrorism is; how do we prevent the Efnysiens of the world from setting the agenda unilaterally?


This post was by reader Noni Mausa.