It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair. –Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’
I attended the Pagan Activist Conference hosted, funded, and organized by the Pantheon Foundation this weekend.
I was excited. Thrilled, actually. I was offered a “Press Pass” to attend for free, which was fucking awesome, because I couldn’t afford to attend otherwise and damn did I feel I’d be missing out. I mean, they’re “my people,” yeah?
Dammit. I wish I could report back with something warm and glowing, but with each panel I sat in, I found myself more and more depressed. The idea was great. Get a bunch of activists to talk to other activists about their causes and commonalities, share struggles and tactics and analysis. Community building at it’s best, I had thought.
Let’s Not Talk About It
The first panel was the most exciting for me: Pagan Environmental activism. Starhawk’s presence particularly thrilled me, and when it came time for questions, I asked one. Unfortunately, the answer made me feel a bit belittled and utterly alienated.
The question? How much has the commodification of American Paganism led to a divorce from Environmental issues, and how much did the Green Scare of the mid 2000’s (which caused many anti-Capitalist environmental activists to go silent) contribute to this?
The answer I received was so dismissive you would have thought I’d just said something about UFO’s and the primordial lizards who inhabit the British Monarchy. Or, perhaps, I forgot I was sitting at the children’s table. Or maybe I’d just said I wanted to have a threesome with my parents. I don’t even remember the answer that was given, because it had nothing to do with my question, but it can be heard in the videos which will be available later.
But hey! There were more panels, so I shook off my disappointment. I missed two the next morning due to throwing out my back, but I eagerly sat in on the panel about gender. That one at least touched on Capitalism a bit (lots of ‘twinkle hands’), but the moderator asked to re-state my question and the answer I received was not a response to the one I asked. Still, that was a highlight, as was Thorn’s keynote.
The phone call-in system for the conference is wonky, unfortunately. My call dropped off during the other panel I looked forward to the most, “Care and Feeding of Pagan Activists.” John Beckett had just begun to speak as my call was dropped, which was a great disappointment. Technology always disappoints me, though.
The panel which made me understand precisely why I’d become increasingly depressed at a larger narrative throughout the conference, however, was the one on building infrastructure. Each session led in with a short plug for the work of the Pantheon Foundation, the non-profit built by Sam Webster to help fund Pagan causes. The Wild Hunt, which pays me to write, is now under the Pantheon Foundation’s umbrella, so you might understand that any critiques I have about them are in essence ‘biting the hand that feeds me.”
The infrastructure panel ended up being an extended discussion of the Pantheon Foundation. The first 30 minutes or so were Sam Webster explaining how Paganism needs money. He read that (awful) poem about how “the coin is for all,” and explained to us that corporations can be bad or good, and he creates the good kind of corporations, and we need lots of money for stuff.
By the time the third panelist has finished explaining to us how to raise lots of money for things, I proposed a question which was (happily) asked in its’ entirety. I do not remember the exact wording, but it was like something like this:
“How does raising money for infrastructure cripple or mediate activist critiques of Capitalism? That is, what place for a Pagan Anti-Capitalist within this?”
The answer? Apparently, it doesn’t cripple anyone. And there’s nothing wrong with being very rich, and Capitalism has its problems, but we can work on righting those so this is a non-issue and let’s raise money!
By the time Alley Valkyrie spoke, I was overcome with such despair that I could barely take joy in her words.
Ai Vist Lo Lop
There’s an old song, in Occitan, called “Ai Vist Lo Lop (I see the wolf).” It’s a children’s song now, though like many such songs, it’s a rather despairing song about poverty. Also, in one interpretation I’ve read, it’s likely a dirge of the poor upon seeing the alliance between government, priests and landlords:“I see the wolf and the fox and the hare I see the wolf and the fox dancing All three danced around the tree… …When I see the wolf and fox and the hare there’s nothing left for us anymore.”
I’m remembering a night before I left Eugene, sitting around a fire with my lover, another lover, and Alley, drinking hot cocoa and talking very late into the night. I remember thinking that it was the last time I would feel I was understood by others, the stars wheeling overhead, the firelight reflecting off the underside of cherry and maple leaves, our talk about the problems of the world and our fierce hope crackling with joy, votives of hope rising with the sparks from those flames.
We’d talked some about this sort of thing, and also how there’s very little space for folks like us except the ones we create. Like ghosts living in the walls, or chamomile in the cracks of sidewalks, or sometimes like the three pigs fleeing the wolf, hoping eventually to find a safe place to stand and fight.
There’s very little place for those of us who want to stand and fight, to attack the wolf we’re fleeing from.
At best, a non-profit Foundation can help fund a few things that make life a little better for some people, but it cannot actually fix the problems it address because it needs Capitalism to continue. If it wants more money, it needs its funders to do very well in Capitalism so they’ll give it more money. It cannot attack the wolf, only help build more straw huts for the wolf to blow down while hoping the wolf does well enough that it has more straw huts to build.
Consider: the non-profit agency I work for shelters and houses homeless people. This is a very, very good thing to do, but the one thing it actually wants to do (end homelessness) it cannot do. It gets its funding from governments which tax Capitalists and from individual donors who do well by Capitalism and want to “give a little back.”
It can never attack the Capitalist logic which creates homelessness without endangering its own funding. It can argue for a kinder, more humane Capitalism, just as some environmentalists have been pushing to “green” the American wars by minimizing military carbon emissions, or have praised the military installation at Guantanamo Bay for using solar and wind power.
I suspect this is why Capitalism was the one thing no-one talked about in the presentations of the Pagan Activist Conference this weekend. The whole thing was being funded by a Foundation that requires the continuance of Capitalism (and expressly states that the “coin” trumps the sword of insurrection or the cup of ‘Dionysian’ rebellion). I do not assert there was a pre-determined plan to avoid it, nor am I suggesting Pantheon asked anyone not to talk about Capitalism. But in the minds of most of the panelists, who are bright, caring, passionate and deep-thinking folks, I suspect they sensed this same denkverbot.
But why talk about Capitalism, really? There are more immediate problems, right? There’s all these blown-down houses–we should repair them.
Yes. But we can’t keep running from the wolf and whomever else has decided to dance with it.
You cannot address each individual societal problem without also attacking the machinery behind it. Activists who care about animal rights, the environment, immigration, prison justice, anti-war, homelessness, gender and sexual equality, poverty, or other ills and don’t address Capitalism are ignoring the one thing which unites all our struggles:
- The commodification of animals in industrialized slaughterhouses is created to maximize profit.
- The damage to the environment from fracking, clearcutting, and pollutant dumping makes money for CEO’s and shareholders alike.
- The manufacture of racial tension of poor peoples against each other maintains a distracted, divided and powerless work force unable to organize against exploitative employers and governments.
- The imprisonment of whole populations of people and the illegalization of immigrants cloisters away threats to private property and culls the labor-pool.
- Foreign military interventions profit arms manufacturers while brutalizing young men and women looking for a way to afford college.
- Homelessness inculcates fear into the minds of the housed worker, who won’t risk missing a debt payment or going on strike lest they, too, suffer as the homeless do.
- Cities and towns which build roads instead of public transit ensure petrol and automobile industries have a steady consumer base.
- Patriarchal structures within Capitalism ensure half of society never makes as much as the other half, pitting the genders against each other (and villifying any who attempt to transgress those divisions), while extracting free domestic labor from people who just happen to have a second X chromosome.
- Even illness profits people. Every HIV+ person, every cancer diagnosis is a new source of income for pharmaceutical and medical corporations. Cures don’t make money, treatment does.
Until people cannot make money from human and non-human misery and suffering, activists can only be combat medics, doing a quick patch-up while the bullets continue to fly. Until the wolf is killed, we’re always going to be running to the next house and praying that, even though it was built with money from the wolf, the owner might not have been dancing around that tree, too.
55 thoughts on “Running From The Wolf”
I’ve been saying for years that the real source of much evil in our society is not sex, which gets blamed for it, but greed, which exploits sex along with everything else. I think I’ve been pointing at the problem of capitalism all along, in my uninformed, unsophisticated way.
Alongside your critique of capitalism, I can only lay my smaller-scale critique of pagans who want to recreate the Protestant religious subculture they walked away from and slap the names of new gods on it. If you’d known as my incompetent clergy as I have, you might not be so eager to build seminaries for pagans.
I’ve always appreciated your anti-capitalist sensibilities. Also, you’re so much less brash than I am. 🙂
I’m indifferent about Pagan institutions, but I’m terrified if they’re just Pagan-brand versions of what’s already out there, in the same way I’d be appalled if you could buy “Wiccan”-brand toilet paper or “Order of the Golden Dawn” dishsoap. Anti-clerical sentiment existed because of the collusion of the Clergy with the Wealthy and Rulers, people who were supposed to help you suddenly turning against you. We should resurrect that analysis.
I’m interested. Let’s say I grant your premise: The wolf needs to be killed. What replaces the wolf?
Take the medium we’re writing across: the internet. It is maintained and made available by large corporations and government institutions for their own good, to make commerce (purchasing, advertising, getting paid) and governing easier. They have a self interest in maintaining it.
Without those institutions, the internet quickly falls apart. It needs expensive physical infrastructure to be emplaced or maintained. Even independent outfits need the servers made by big corporations in order to keep the internet going.
Food: There are currently 300 million+ people in the United States alone. There are 885,000 square miles of arable (farmable) land in the US, or about 2.02 acres per person. Arable does not necessarily mean that it’s currently farmable, simply that it’s able to be farmed. It’s possible to raise enough food on 2 acres for one person, but the amount and quality of that food will vary based on location and time of year. Also, it’s a full time job to raise and preserve food, so that’s all everyone would be doing. (N.B.: I live on a 50 acre farm, and we don’t raise all of our food. Most of our farmland is poor and suited only for pasture. We could raise more, but my employment with a largeish corporation pays for many things).
Medical Care: Huge business, and many people don’t realize how far our mortality rate has gone down because of it. With out the treatments, many more people would die of various things, both ‘natural’ and things we’ve exacerbated by our lifestyle.
So: Capitalism dies. How do we meet the needs of the people of the world without a medium of exchange and a degree of cooperation between various workers?
Every point you make is entirely correct.
The ‘Wolf’ an an overlay over all that, though. Is Capitalism responsible for medical advances, or are people subject to a Capitalist system responsible for this? Similarly with technological advances: David Graeber makes a very convincing point that Capitalism actually stifles technological advancements (his essay, Jet Packs and the Declining Rate of Profit) is really worth a read.
Capitalism is a way of organizing human activities which derives profit from them, not the source of those activities. It (I’m personifying it for ease) makes claims to be the reason for our advancements (I’ve even heard people argue that civil, gay, and women’s rights come from Capitalism, the [neo]Liberal political position), but humans have always invented and tinkered and improved for the thousands of years before Capitalism’s birth.
The one thing it does (and I include Communism in this, which functions essentially as ‘state-managed capitalism’) is organize society in a way that any alternative is impossible while destroying resources that would allow people to live outside of it (fish-stocks in the ocean, forests, polluted land, etc.). When we think of what can replace the wolf, we should wander if we really need a wolf at all, and figure out what we’ve been relying on the wolf for. We may have gone too far to keep some things (I’m not confident the internet can survive oil/coal scarcity), but we’ve known how to exchange and co-operate for millennia. It’d be pompous of me to decide what we should do instead, but I would think that, with enough people thinking on it and trying stuff, we might come up with some workable systems. Just unlikely one that will fit every society in every part of the world. Which is more democratic anyway, yeah?
I agree that capitalism stifles advancements – technological, scientific, etc. We can say it is responsible, but that ignores the way in which it only favors those developments that perpetuate itself… I’m reminded a bit of the backlash against Ursula Le Guin’s speech, where people were snarking that she shouldn’t criticize capitalism because she uses the system. There’s this just strange, convoluted thinking that I see a lot in some circles where you’re not allowed to criticize capitalism because you’re living in it. (Of course, if you do buck the system, your words aren’t considered worthy listening to.)
Some of what you’ve written reminds me of, interestingly enough, an anime I was watching in which the society is set up in such a way that everyone assumes it is best run as it currently is, because the alternatives are just too risky, and there would be struggle if the system were to be overthrown. Of course it’s more complex than that – but the way in which capitalism is branded as an ‘inevitable’ thing reminds me very much of both that fictional dystopia and many others.
Every one of us is subject to Capitalism, even the thief or the vagabond. But of course, she’s never actually been a Capitalist, since for that she’d have to own a business and employ people. Most of us aren’t Capitalists, but are subject to it.
I like that idea (and I’ve noticed that many anime writers are pretty well-versed in critical theory and philosophy!). Every system declares itself to have been “inevitable,” or the end-point of history or the pinnacle of evolution or “the final solution,” and every system thus far has been 100% wrong. 🙂
Economic systems existed before capitalism, which is not the same thing as trade. So did money.
The thing is, capitalism is fine for the stuff it’s good at, which is finding ways to turn new knowledge or resources into something people can and will actually use. Innovation. Our technological advancements of the last 150+ years owe something to capitalism. Feel free to consider that a mixed blessing.
But capitalism has a Borg-like tendency to take over EVERYTHING, and there is a very long list of things that it is no good for at all. Those include governance, education, health care, philosophy and ethics…pretty much anything that is not “I have x resource, what can I do with it?”
Is exploitation inherent to the project, or can we come up with something that does the useful things that capitalism does do only without voraciously consuming everything in its path? Because if there’s a way to quell the beast, it’s there.
To continue the metaphor; domesticate the wolf.
We took the wolf and turned it into man’s best friend, who worked for us and with us to mutual benefit. Move from corporatism to smaller scale capitalism.
Small business operates in a capitalist way but because it is local, smaller and more connected to it’s community and workers they are more likely to behave in an ethical fashion I reckon. I would much prefer the system where the current line of shops in my part of London (we have a row of butcher, baker, fishmonger, grocer, chemist, florist and deli) than the run of the mill Gap et al.
Small businesses/crafters are essential, yes, and they’ve always been around before Capitalism turned them into something different. I think it’s the moment the small business tries to be a big business that they start dancing with the wolf.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If you kill a predator, another predator comes in, and it may be worse than the one you killed. Witness humanity vs. the wolves. 🙂
I suppose we should define that which we are talking about. Capitalism can be defined thus: “Capitalism is a social system based on the principle of individual rights. Politically, it is the system of laissez-faire (freedom). Legally it is a system of objective laws (rule of law as opposed to rule of man). Economically, when such freedom is applied to the sphere of production its result is the free-market.”
None of those things, in and of themselves, are bad. Of course, the ideas behind Communism are not bad either. The problem comes in the implementation. Individual rights are important, but must be balanced against the community to a degree. Laissez-faire is fine as long as greed is kept in check via the objective laws. However, the objective laws are corrupted by greedy humans as well. The free-market is fine, until it gets so distorted by corrupted laws that it does not allow for the exercise of freedom, nor the protection of such resources which make the free market work. Etc.
I might suggest that it’s not capitalism per se that is the issue, but rather the corruption that the system has become. However, such a suggestion would ignore history, as it has always been corrupt, from the days of the Romans, to the Traders of Renaissance Italy, to the Robber Barons of the industrial age to the present day. The problem is not the system.
The problem is the people in the system.
We have no cure for people. Only treatments. 😉
For every group that cooperates to build something, there’s 5 groups that want to find away to sell what is built to someone else for more money (and share in the profits), and 5 groups that simply want to take and smash what was built, or steal it for themselves.
As for enough people thinking about it or working on stuff, I’m a historian. People have been thinking about this and working on it for as long as we’ve had writing. It comes down to this: no system is perfect. Any system can be abused if the abuser is trying hard enough. There will always be those who want to help, those who are out for themselves, and those who destroy for the simple joy of watching it burn. And individual people move through those phases time and again.
None of this is to say that I don’t think you’re right in your observations, or your call to action. I think the wolf should be fought, the corruption excised, the wrong-doers punished, the resources protected, those willing to learn educated in building rather than destroying, the commons promoted while protecting the dignity of the individual.
But know that life is not a state, but a flow. Even if you weren’t running from house to house because of the capitalist reason, you’d be running from house to house for another reason: war, disease, famine, tsunami, ecological disaster, global warming, climate change, communism, fascism, fundamentalism, invasion, overpopulation. Activists can only be combat medics, because the situation is never stable, and there’s always something to fix, something to struggle against, something to work on.
And if there’s not, humanity is so structured that it will find something.
There’s a quote from a book called ‘Mother of Demons’ that I love. It says:
“…if there is one thing that historians know, it’s that nothing great was ever achieved except by those who were filled with passion. Their passion may have been illogical, even bizarre to modern people. Their understanding of the world and what they were doing may have been false. It usually was. But they were not afraid to act, guided by whatever ideas they had in their possession. Do not sneer at such people. You would not be here without them.”
Fight the wolf. Kill it if you can. It seems bizarre to me, but I admire your passion and wish you luck. I’d be interested to live in a post-wolf world. 🙂
That Randian definition of Capitalism is not a very good one. It tries to assimilate the mechanisms of other socioeconomic organizing systems that sound emotionally appealing in defense of the rule of Capital, but without actually noting the rule of Capital. A more neutral, less propagandistic definition should be preferable, such as, perhaps, “An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” From there, we can have an actual discussion that can go places, rather than just trying to show the significant errors in that Randian definition.
I was about to say…Capitalism is NOT a legal system, and I’d argue that it’s not a political one either. It’s an economic system. The political consequences are the result of the way that detaching the ownership of a business from personal involvement in production tends to concentrate power in a few hands, and the way those people then exert that power to further their own interests. That is not a problem exclusive to capitalism, however.
And it’s not true that the legal environment created by capitalism is laissez-faire. Without opposition, it favors governmental control, actually…but in favor of corporate interests. The word for that is fascism.
Interestingly, there is a famous economic study that shows that family farms are more economically viable than agribusiness if you take into consideration the overall economic health of the community. But instead of favoring what is best for our communities, the laws mostly favor agribusiness…which is profitable for a few. That is to say, our laws tend toward fascism. It’s easiest to see this in agriculture (check out sugar subsidies some time) but is equally true in the petroleum industry and elsewhere.
I was about to say…Capitalism is NOT a legal system, and I’d argue that it’s not a political one either. It’s an economic system.
This is so often missed! Also, economic systems are social arrangements–how we socially negotiate exchange of goods and services.
Hello! I have been quietly reading your blog for a few months now. I always learn something new from your posts, be it about service to the gods or about capitalism. It will be nice to read your books one day. Thanks for writing your critiques.
Thanks! And thanks for reading! 🙂
I wondered if there was not some “invisible hand” (not of the market, though!) behind why my computer started to poop out in its connection during that infrastructure panel. I was sorry to have missed Alley’s bit, but I couldn’t sustain a sound connection. I hope to listen to that (and other bits) in the days to come…
That having been said, I was a bit annoyed at the dismissiveness toward questions as well (your own and some others, too), and to be honest, I’m not surprised that some people you mentioned didn’t properly address them, or that they weren’t fielded at all in certain cases. Even ignoring the capitalism issue (which we shouldn’t!), there were other major elephants in the room that didn’t get addressed.
I might write a bit more on some of my misgivings about all of this in the days to come…but, thank you for keeping up the good fight!
[Though I appreciate your metaphor, unfortunately wolves have been so vilified by metaphors that they’re struggling to not become extinct…and they’re such wonderful creatures! Can we call capitalism something else that is noxious to all and sundry without any redeeming qualities? Say, a Nixon? 😉 ]
I love wolves dearly, but I needed to bring up that song because of it being the oldest song-for-which-we-also-have-music that I know of that speaks to the strange alliance between Lord/Priest/Enforcer. Also, I’ll tell/show you another reason privately in person someday. 🙂
Fair enough! I look forward to it! 😉
I happened to read this today after learning of the grand jury decision in regards to Darren Wilson. There is an interconnectedness to the issues we face that ought to be obvious. The suffering of minority communities inside the U.S. seems to be tied into the same system that makes foreign countries suffer our particular brand of economics. If paganism needs to buy into the Capitalist system to have an appreciable influence, then paganism is going to shut itself away from realizing its core goals. This just confirms for me the worry that modern paganism and perhaps even polytheism in the West is going to lose itself when the system it depends upon begins to fall apart in the face of climate change and peak oil.
We do need to keep critiquing capitalism- but in the mean time people need to be able to make a living. I tend to be a proponent of small-Pagan run businesses, http://paganleft.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/support-these-awesome-artists-this-black-friday/ Please add if you have any suggestions!
I think we need to develop more independence, and part of that is also being able to geographically move together to be in the same neighborhoods & cities. I get very sick of the Coven/Grove/Kindred of Urban/suburban/rural Sprawl problem. Even as I’m set to be getting my driver’s license this December, I still encourage people to try to group together- to have “pagan parishes” as it were. I am thankful to the Northern Dawn CoG for providing bus-accessible rituals for all these years.
Personally I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to save the world with political activism (along with several unpaid nonprofit internships) and not enough figuring out how to take care of myself. Disability rights tends to be my focus (partly because no one seems to talk about it) We disabled people are very much the Marxist definition of “surplus labor”. The rate of employment for disabled people actually didn’t change much during the recession- we’re always “in a recession”! I see so many people with a naive faith in the ADA to protect them from discrimination or too busy focused on distant cures than actually helping people that will live their whole lives with a condition, even if a “cure” comes, they might not be able to afford it.
That recession issue is fascinating, since the poor in general never notice except when austerity measures become triggered by neo-liberal governments (lower benefits, cuts in services).
An interesting thing to note about recessions, though–there also the only times that carbon pollution goes down. Less economic activity means less climate change.
I’d love if we all lived closer to each other, and for some people (particularly those with disabilities), proximity is essential for survival. And I’m aware that I, abled, require the city to survive because I refuse to ever drive.
I love small crafters. I think they’re essential to any sort of transition, since we can be making the stuff we rely on industrialization to provide. The difficulty comes when a small crafter becomes an “employer,”….that’s when the logic of capitalism starts to trigger, paying workers less than the value of their production.
Thank you so much for voicing your trenchant concerns about the ways capitalism pervades and co-opts even out countercultural and activist movements. As I imagine you gathered from my commentary on the PACO gender panel, it’s a concern I share, and I only wish I’d gotten to say more on the matter. (Maybe next year, we can put together a panel on economics and really shake things up!) I missed out on the other panels you’re citing–I was traveling, and I’ve been looking forward to viewing the recordings–but I will say, since it looks like you didn’t get to see it, that you might be pleased with the content of our discussion on the panel on race issues when you get a chance to watch it.
I hope, moving forward, that together we can come up with a new way of living that isn’t so destructive to everything around us. The moral poison of this system of exploitation is, as David Suzuki has so eloquently said, a system human beings have built, and that means it’s something we can dismantle and replace with something new and more full of mercy. With commitment and labor, I think we can get there.
Strength in struggle,
Hey Elena! Thanks for stopping by!
I’m looking forward to the video of the race-issues panel. I was quite grumpy at myself for missing that one!
Do you have any suggestions on how we can re-introduce a critique of Capitalism into these conversations? It definitely seemed like others wanted to talk more about it, too, and that was clearest in the gender panel. I worry significantly that, if we lose that narrative, we’ll go the way major activists groups have gone, like the HRC’s utter abandonment of trans* and queer issues in favor of white-gay-male assimilation into Capitalist society, or the major environmental NGO’s and their strange alliance with oil, coal, and gas companies. I’d love to hear your ideas, and think it something we should all be talking about!
Thanks for your work, and be well!
Rhyd, I find myself so stimulated by how you analyze capitalism and what makes it go and how we all drive its engines, and thought I’d finally tell you so.
Capitalism. It’s about the dirtiest word I know, along with an even dirtier one, with reference to the past, “if.” I don’t have anything to add to what has already been written here except that I have been wondering lately if people who defend capitalism & enthusiastically replicate its models, like the panelists you mention, are suffering from some kind of Stockholm syndrome caught from being held hostage by this economic bullshit for, oh, life. Maybe it’s just because the more you have to lose, the more you’re forced to defend it. I wish I knew.
I’m particularly interested in your ideas about how we end homelessness, given the problems you discuss of having to serve the capitalist monster that provides funding to nonprofits whose hands are so tied but are still doing good work. You are currently working for such an organization? I don’t know how many of your readers have actually been homeless. I have and I have a unique perspective, I think, as a result. And now that I’m actually starting to better trust the way my feet meet the earth and know that for the near future I will not have to go live in a modern Hooverville in the forest that gets raided regularly by city cops and Forest Service cops, I’m trying to understand how to approach the problem. I’m interested in whatever thoughts you wish to share about how we go about housing those in need of a home.
It’s ridiculous here … so many people wandering around with massive addiction problems, co-morbid with other mental health problems, and they cannot receive housing until they’re clean and sober. WTF? It’s around this time of year people start freezing to death, and while Catholic Charities does good work trying to reach those exposed to the elements, people die all the time due in large part to the addiction issue.
I’ve asked some deities about this large issue of homelessness and how to tend it, and Someone, with an apparently vibrant sense of humor, suggested I ride a camel across the U.S., ostensibly to raise awareness of the issue, along with cash, in some kind of crowdfunding way. Now that’s just Crazy Talk, and I ain’t yet crazy, just traumatized. But letting some mirth in sure did help me loosen up enough to realize this is a problem that requires bold creative moves.
If you go the camel route, I suggest making great public show of attempting to ride it through the eyes of needles. 🙂
Brighid has seemed particularly interested in the homeless and other social justice issues. There’s quite a bit of precedence for this–Christopher Scott Thompson wrote a piece on Brighid for the Occupy movement, particularly “Brighid of the Cowless” (that is, the poor).
I’m fortunate to work for an agency that makes harm reduction a priority. They’re the progenitors of “Housing First,” the idea that you can’t treat addiction or any other ailment unless the person has a stable, housed life. Again, they’re unable to attack Capitalism directly–unfortunately, their public justifications for their work hinge on “saving money” for emergency services.
I’m personally a fan of squatting. There is always plenty of housing for everyone, but profit motive demands that only those who can afford the price the landlord demands may be housed. A radical re-organization of property laws, as well as rent control and public housing would go a long way. But until we help people see the relationship between Capitalism and homelessness, we’ll all sound like tyrants.
I, by the way, was briefly homeless when I was younger. I think more who’ve been homeless should tell their stories–it will go a long way to helping everyone understand, I suspect.
Thanks for reading!
Small clarification, Rhyd: C. S. Thompson didn’t quite get the full valence of Bríg Ambue right. Ambue, which literally means “cowless,” doesn’t mean “poor” in Old Irish legal terminology; it means someone who is an outlaw, who has no legal rights within a tribe (and hence cannot own property on their own), and who is often a fénnid-warrior, whom Bríg Ambue seems to be a patron/matron figure for. While the ultimate thrust of this is pretty similar to how the homeless and poor are treated today, it’s still not quite the same thing (though given how many homeless and poor people are veterans, or have ended up being involved in “criminal” activities due to their state, there’s all of that involved as well).
So, in other words, Brighid of the Excluded?
This fits some of my own UPG experiences during the Trans-Rite of Ancestral Remembrance. I couldn’t figure out quite why She’s been so interested in certain things not traditionally associated with her in my practice, but this could be why….
For modern purposes, that could work.
(Understanding, though, that there are at least 6 separate Bríg/its, and likely 2-3 more even if we only include the saint Brigit of Kildare…we are polytheists, after all!)
I’m curious (probably a much longer discussion)–are we certain the separate Brighids are not titles, similar though not identical to how Dionysos seems to work (Eleutherios, Dendrites, etc.)? How many of them have you met? ‘Cause I’m not sure which one(s) I’m worshiping, and she/they haven’t made an issue of it yet. 🙂
The people saying that all the Bríg/its are the same tend to fall into one of several categories:
1) Uninformed pseudo-Celts who haven’t read the original sources;
3) Christian scholars who can’t imagine such a thing as polytheism “really working”
4) Often an adjunct to #3, linguists (without education in religion, theology, or anything of that nature) who see linguistic similarities in roots indicating a universalizing theological unity.
There is nothing in any Irish source to indicate that any of the Brigits are “the same,” and in fact a great deal to indicate they’re different for those who are actually willing to suspend their theories and their assumptions and read what they actually say.
Having three sisters named Brigit who are daughters of the Dagda isn’t really a problem, except for those folks who want to assume that this unified über-Brigit underlies St. Brigit of Kildare, which is rather impossible except on structuralist/archetypalist lines of argumentation (which usually reduce her to the “power of fire” in various ways).
I was having the damnedest time trying to get anything Brigit-like “on the line” at all until I started worshipping Bríg Ambue, who I got very clearly; then, when I figured out this applies to the rest of the Brigits as well, I started worshipping Brigit the Poet, and I got her on the line as well. I have not had as much call for Brigit the Smith or Brigit the Leech; nor have I done too much with Bríg Brethach nor Bríg the Hosteler. But, I experience them as very separate at this point.
If people want to attribute a “oneness” to these goddesses and heroines, then it might be a modern process theological monism that has been highly influenced by both scholarship (done by monotheists), linguistics (also usually done by passive monotheists, at very least), and general monotheistic bleed-over assumptions and influences.
It is a very LARGE topic, needless to say, but I think it should be taken very seriously as an important discussion, especially by polytheists (whether recon or not, it doesn’t matter).
Remind me to tell you my theory about symbols and syncretism–short version: just as each word can have multiple distinct (and sometimes opposite) meanings hidden within the sound, I think the Presences behind the names do the same. Insisting that the word -only- means one thing is what leads to fundamentalism; insisting that because all the meanings are contained within the one word they’re therefore identical leads to a different problem all together. Semiotics rocks. 🙂
Also, I didn’t know about the Hosteler until you brought her up. That makes a lot of what I thought was UPG suddenly become not UPG–thanks endlessly!!!!
We have so many things to talk about the next time I see you…I might have to start making a list to remember all of it! 😉
C.S.T.’s recent piece does talk about Bríg the Hosteler, she’s the grandmother of Bríg Ambue, and he used her Irish epithet (which I can’t recall how to spell at the moment…!?!). His article is very good, and points out how badly (if at all) Celticists have understood these three heroines…
Hi Rhyd! You bring up some interesting points. I’ll be honest, I’m hesitant to post because, though I share some of your sentiments about Capitalism, I don’t feel I’m educated enough in the areas of economic theory to really discuss it at some of the levels you can go into.
I can (and have) spoken to my issues with Paganism and Capitalism from an on-the-ground and infrastructure perspective, and I’d love to talk to you about it more some time because it’s an issue that I think is important.
Specifically, I’m very much in support of Pagan infrastructure and organizations that support and help Pagans. That being said, I feel that a Capitalistic system is part of the problem with those organizations and efforts. Right now I feel that there’s a lot of tail chasing, in some ways.
And, at the moment, you’re right on the money–in order for some of these infrastructures to work, we need people to bring in money via the Capitalistic system.
I’ve written before about the challenge of fundraising in the Pagan community. I can send you some of those links, and I’ll be posting a blog about it probably on Monday specifically about Pagan festivals and entitlement with a dash of how a Capitalistic system causes the problem.
In a nutshell, here’s where I’m coming from I’d love to be financially supported via selling my artwork, my published books, and traveling and teaching. That would be great. I highly value offering leadership and community building and facilitation training because it’s something that the Pagan community lacks and causes a lot of our problems. And I’ve offered this training over the past years, often at my own expense. In recent years I’ve been paid for my time…sometimes. But the expenses of traveling to those events never balances out and I always end up in the hole, so I’ve had to cut down how much of that training I offer until I can find a way to do it in a more sustainable way.
I’ve tried to use sliding scale/no one turned away for lack of funds as a pricing model as a “bridge” between Capitalism and something else. And back when the economy was better, it worked. A sliding scale of $25-$100 for the weekend, with an opportunity to donate $50 in for scholarship, I always had a few people donating on the upper end, and that balanced out all the folks paying on the lower end. These days, I don’t get people paying on the upper end at all.
I’ve written at length about my frustration with watching Pagans buy trinkets at stores or dropping $25 for lunch and then grudgingly paying me $10 or $20 for an entire weekend long class.
My article on monday is largely going to be about how people gripe about the price increases for events like Pagan festivals, and they ask for price breaks, but in some cases, like Pagan Spirit Gathering, the festival is the fundraiser that brings in all the operational money for Circle Sanctuary.
I’ve argued in the past for more of a tithing system vs. “people with money get to attend the fancy workshops” but people are resistant to that. They seem married to the idea that they will pay for a thing. Grudgingly for a service or an event. But most Pagans do not have a culture of giving, a culture of just donating so that an organization can offer useful services to them and to others. Pagans seem stuck in thing-itis.
In the past decade I’ve worked to live more simply. Partly out of my environmental values, and partly out of being broke and trying to live my dream of making a living off of my art/writing/teaching. But what I’ve still found, after all this, is that I can’t make a living as an artist, or teacher, without people’s ability to pay me, which means they have to be making money from this broken, oppressive system. And that’s massively frustrating.
This past year I’ve considered what it would take for me to bring in a viable income so that I can afford to live, and it all involves varying levels of selling out. But that’s another conversation entirely. Anyhoo, it’s stuff I think about, and yet I don’t know any great answers for it.
I find myself in a very similar position, Shauna. I’ve been told by people who RSVP’d for a $15 afternoon workshop that I had to travel to put on, moments before it was supposed to begin, “We really can’t afford this now,” which then meant no one came as a paying customer, and it had to be cancelled; then, they said, “Well now that your afternoon is free, want to go to lunch?” and they each spent $25 on food and drinks. WTF?!?
The “I don’t want to pay a teacher, and fuck you if you want donations-only paid clergy, but I’ll drop $450 on a robe I wear twice a year” mentality is pretty rampant in some sectors, too…
But then again, I find this is not such a different attitude to collegiate teaching either on the part of college administrators…
I’m in a very similar position regarding money/art. Writing requires lots of free time and doesn’t pay well, so I have to work full-time in order to have the ability to write while receiving donations from people who are doing the same. We’re all subject to Capitalism, regardless of how much we try to get out of it. I don’t own a car, own only three outfits of clothing, and can fit everything I own except an altar inside my rucksack–I’m as close to austere as possible, and yet I still cannot actually escape the system. And even though I work for a non-profit, I’ve no illusions I’ve escaped.
One thing we should be very clear on, though. Buying and Selling are not Capitalism. Capitalism is an extra overlay upon human exchange–the owner/seller who hires others without access to make money on hir behalf, as well as the buyer who has no access to the means to provide those same things for hirself.
Festivals and Conventions, likewise. I’m one of the organizers of Many Gods West (the polytheist conference in Olympia, Washington late July), and we’ve been looking for ways to mitigate class inequality for the event. Sliding scale, optional scholarship donation, and particularly looking for alternatives for housing during the event (that is, cheaper hotels/camping/potential homestays for those who cannot afford the hotel’s rates).
Teaching, of course, is another issue, similar. Teaching is ancient and non-Capitalist, but there are also Pagan teachers who charge exorbitant rates for their knowledge so that only those who have done well in Capitalism have access to their knowledge. Where’s the balance? Specifically in the pay-as-you-can model, I think, or “charitable pricing.”
One of the most important things for me about all this, though, is that the problems we face as writers, teachers, artists, or organizers within the Pagan subculture are tied to the very problems others have outside of it. Seeing the difficulties we face and making those links between ourselves and other communities is how we can expand Pagan activism into an analysis of the system which is even worse for others.
One way of narrating this? Take Pantheacon or any other big event. It’s costly to travel there (and environmentally destructive!) because America does not have a reliable, cheap, national rail system. Also, costly to stay there because hotels are profit-taking entities. And because certain voices cannot afford to speak because of poverty, many of them minority voices. Thus, seeing these issues, we can either blame the event organizers (Which isn’t fair, unless they’re punitively pricing, like say Hexfest or another glossy event), or develop a narrative which links our desire to stop climate change and create racially- and economically-just societies to the Capitalist system which makes it much, much harder for us to do so.
That’s the sort of thing I’m hoping we can begin to do, and the main reason I was disappointed that Capitalism got so little mention in an otherwise wonderful conference. Building that narrative will take some effort, but it will benefit everyone (except those who want to get rich…). 🙂
In my opinion (which ought in no way be taken as authoritative), the best way to counter the evils inherent in the System which we are all compelled to support (through lack of having alternatives), is to claim every scrap of SELF-empowerment you can find. To me self-empowerment is the ability to think for oneself and to feed and clothe and shelter oneself independent of the System.
Doing this is hard. And the posters here have already done the hardest one — the thinking part. As for the other ones, I do as much of them as I have figured out how to do for myself. Most people today do not know how to cook for themselves from whole ingredients — ones that still look like apples and chickens and the like. All of our pagan ancestors knew this. Not only cook for yourself — cook the way they did as much as you can manage. Learn your local wild edibles — especially the invasive ones like kudzu. Learn to garden without anything coming from a store. Any step of the process you can take back from THEM increases the POWER you have over your own life.
In learning how to knit dresses which I design for myself, I have taken back the power to clothe myself the way I see fit. It is not the whole enchilada, but it is a step that can be built upon in time. I know that I need to learn things organically — in my own way as I am ready to learn them. I can’t decide to wake up tomorrow and know everything I need to do this.
Actions of these types are all something we all have the possibility of engaging in directly as we ourselves see fit (versus the activism route where we try to talk other people into doing what we want them to). And if we all do this in a thousand different ways, it will be tough for the System to come up with one magic bullet to stop everyone of us.
I may not be entirely right about this, but this is my approach.
Much of what you’re speaking of is called “Reproduction” in Anarchist/Marxist terminology–cooking for oneself, particularly, is an important essence of producing one’s own needs which one otherwise has to get from the Market.
So taking those things back liberates space for us to exist the market/capitalist logic. Unfortunately, time is a particular problem, but I think, of course, turning off televisions and computers for a few hours a day liberates a lot more time for Reproduction/life activities.
Something I’ve noticed–my own ‘cost of living’ goes up and down according to how much I work. It actually costs me significantly more to work full-time and overtime than part time, because I can’t do as much for myself when all my time is being sold to others.
And yes, doing all of these things in thousands of different ways makes us unmanageable. The more varied our experiences and the more myriad our resistances, the stronger we are, just as monocultured fields are always more fragile than poly-cultured fields.
YES. YES. THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. This is the core difference between liberal activism and radical activism, and because of it the tactics for the two could really not be more different.
I’m sorry you had such a disappointing experience. It sounds awful.
Capitalism can’t fix the problems caused by capitalism. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, and all.
Have you read “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded”? It’s a radical critique of the nonprofit-industrial complex. I found it too dense to be terribly useful for me, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts if you’re familiar.
I’ve heard it quoted a few times, and it’s the basis for some of the analysis in Crimethinc’s damn useful book, Work.
Also, I’m reviewing Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything on Sunday for The Wild Hunt, and damn, if you wanna feel betrayed by every NGO ever, read that book. 🙂
Oh thank goodness somebody quoted Audre Lorde. I was beginning to think she’d been utterly forgotten.
She’s a Sancta of the Ekklesía Antínoou, MT–we’re not allowed to forget her. 😉
Not by the folks of color, she ain’t! Haha.
Rhyd, that sounds like a hell of a book. Cromethinc is a deeply mixed thing for me, but I have a whole lot of respect for Klein. I’ll check that out, and your review!
The first version of the song you have in Occitan, Ai Vist Lo Lop, I first heard in college in (Northern) French, sung by a group called Les Menestriers. Someone was kind enough to post that track on YouTube–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZYknlKrnY
Completely different melody, and rather danceable, a bransle, perhaps. Not quite the same sentiment, but there are two versions of the song. Never having heard Dies Irae, I could not tell you which one of these is supposed to parody it.
I took a class in Old French Literature in college, and can pick up a bit of Occitan because of it. Modern Spanish helped more with translating OF than did Latin, but having both, and modern French, helped tremendously. A gift for language didn’t hurt, either. My classmates were abysmally slow by my lights.
And yet another version, this time by a guy described by a lover of mine as “a recorder-playing animatronic punk-bear-monk.” He was a damn fine lover. 🙂
Husband can’t stand those Skidoo cased hurry-gurdies. I think it’s the drone.
The recorder player seems to be the best of those musicians.
Awww. Thanks. 🙂
Duh. That’s you on recorder?