Posts filed under ‘Ethics’
A couple weeks ago I returned from Minicon, a local science fiction/fantasy convention to find yet another online Pagan/polytheist tempest brewing. Concerns of fascist infiltration and accusations were flying about. Interestingly, there is a similar issue going on with WorldCon and the Hugo Awards, with a particular faction pushing a political and ego-based agenda. People were a bit concerned, they were annoyed by these particular factions. But they were also laughing about it. Several long-time fans commented that not long into the future, this would become part of the history of fandom, and be just as ridiculous as the arguments between L. Ron Hubbard and Isaac Asimov. There’s a bunch going on, but at the root of it, are some people who are afraid of change in the overlapping fandom communities. Surely, the quality of science fiction must be going down if it’s not all stories starring straight white men who rescue alien princesses. Or something. And there’s other folks working for inclusion, but we don’t always agree how that inclusion or equity should work. Some people want more protection and safer space from opinions and people who they find threatening, while others worry about freedom of speech and behavior.
We have a lot of the same debates in Pagan and polytheist communities. And frankly, a lot of this is going on between a small percentage of people who participate in online discussions/flamewars and attend public events- both in regard to fans and Pagans. What is actually happening in your local community? If you don’t have much of a local fannish or Pagan community, well you have some other sort of community, pay attention to that, and even if you do have smaller specialized communities, pay attention to the broader community as well. You’re a part of that, too.
If we give into fear, whatever we feel threatened by wins. We become more isolated, we give up hope. What we’ve worked for falls apart.
What are you passionate about? What drives you to practice your religion, or your fandom? What do you value? Who around you shares those values, locally, regionally or from afar? How can you collaborate with them to make your project a reality? Whether it’s an anthology, a series of public shrines, a panel or workshop at a convention, or maybe you’re not an idea person, but someone else inspires you, how can you help them? Who is also passionate, but isn’t included as much in your community? Older, younger, disabled, rural, no/limited internet access & transportation. Who are we missing and how can we bring them in? Seriously, with all that on our plate, we don’t have time to worry about fascists!
1 Criticize from within– criticize the other on the basis of something you have in common- the safety of your neighborhood, the education of your city or district’s children
2 Look for goods in conflict (Good Thing 1 vs. Good Thing 2 rather than Good vs. Evil)
3 Count higher than two
I remember a keynote at by John Michael Greer, the ArchDruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, in which he mentioned a great contribution of Druidic and Celtic thinking is seeing things in threes- triads. Both the medieval Welsh and Irish had many triads that poets and scholars used as mnemonic devices for proverbs, virtues and other associations. Greer suggested this as a sort of antidote to the destructive binary thinking in Western cultures.
4 Doubt– “the concern that my views may not be entirely correct—is the true friend of wisdom and (along with empathy, to which it’s related) the greatest enemy of polarization.”
7 Keep the conversation going
I noticed one search phrase used to find my blog was
“what is Hellenismos rede?” referring to the Wiccan Rede, “An harm it none, do what thou wilt”. (There’s also lots of debate among Wiccans and Witches about how that should be interpreted, whether it should be emphasized as a form of ethics, yada yada other Not My Religion, Not My Problem Issues. Just an FYI though, in case you go onto a forum thinking the Rede and/or the Law of Three are universally agreed upon things even among Wiccans let along greater Pagan-dom.
Anyhow, Hellenic religion & philosophy historically existed in many diverse forms, and does in its revival as well. There is no one source of ethics- the Delphic Maxims, a group of sayings traditionally attributed to the Oracle of Delphi which exist in various numbers, translations and interpretations are commonly cited as a source of ethics. The two most famous are “Nothing in Excess” (or moderation in all things) and “Know Thyself”. Be careful, as there a lot of watered down pop culture and New Age-ified forms of these. Your best bet is to be aware of different ethical philosophies and virtues that existed at various times in ancient Greece and the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking/influenced) world- what was considered more “mainstream” in a particular context, and what was more radical? Then how is this relevant in a modern context? Look at opinions held by different Hellenic polytheists, but think for yourself, and consider their different influences, focus on particular cultus, philosophies, time periods, city-states etc.
Of Thespiae- Maxims of Delphi– Ruadhan J. McElroy is focuses on the Boetian region, is a devotee of Eros, and a Hedonist (a Greek philosophy not in the modern sense of the word)
There are certain things that I think of as Standard Internet Social Protocol, but as more people have joined in (especially with the increased access that mobile devices provide) I suspect some of these norms have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle.
FAQs- Frequently Asked Questions– Read them. Especially important in any field of specialized knowledge- if someone asks questions that are in the FAQ, politely direct them toward it. If they keep ignoring this, moderate. If you don’t have a FAQ for a social media nexus, create one. You can also include questions that aren’t actually frequently asked, but you wish they were. Links to other communities that people commonly mix you up with are also often appreciated, and will save everyone headaches.
Common Internet Abbreviations & Group-specific terminology should be listed.
Rules of Behavior– They should exist! Consequences for violating said behavior- they should also exist and be enforced! Like real life- because yes, the internet is an extension of real life- there are consequences. Social norms that seem pretty obvious to you should still be in there, it needs to be written in the clearest language. Keep in mind cultural differences, as people can be posting from any part of the world. What ages does this forum include, and even if it is adults only, what behavior is included? Plagiarism, over-quoting, derailing topics, (including nitpicking over punctuation, spelling, grammar) Bashing people rather than ideas- sometimes even people who aren’t present. All Bad Things. You can also suggest Good Ways of moving along conversations, solving conflicts before they happen and other fun stuff.
Banning People– Moderators- You can do it! It does not make you evil. Reduce worldsuck by not tolerating trolls, predators and bigots. You are not banishing someone from the entire geek/GLBT/Pagan or whatever community. There are other places they can interact both online and in person. (See Geek Social Fallacies) Know them and resist them!
Constructive Criticism is a Thing– figure it out. If your idea or project is being criticized, that does not mean *you* are being attacked. (If ad hominems are happening- report them!) If you just want to share your idea or project for warm fuzzies, make that clear in a thread title.
Why Am I Joining this Online Community/Forum?
Am I truly interested in this subject? If this community focuses on a population that I don’t belong to, is it welcome and appropriate for me to join? How should my role and behavior differ from other members? Is there a different way to learn about this group outside of their space? Such as Allies/Friends etc. of Group X. Do I share the values of this group? What are your assumptions and preconceived notions of this group?
If you are a journalist, researcher, or other professional are there rules governing your behavior? If not, please reveal your status and ask how to proceed. If you are an academic entering a discussion with non-academics interested in your area of study, please keep in mind differences in what information you have access to. If you are an professional who studies a group that you do not belong to, please keep differences of power and privilege in mind.
I try to use respectful language for various groups of people- though even better is just calling them Bob and Susan, Mr. Jones, etc. The problem is what’s considered respectful for which group varies depending on where you are, who you are, and who you are talking to! Even being able to access the knowledge of this ever changing language can depend on your education, life experience and who you happen to have met! For example, I only learned that in the United States, the term little people is preferred rather than midget for people of very short stature, because I saw a stage production of The Hobbit as a teenager. Most people, I suspect have more recently learned this from the (sur) reality TV show Little People, Big World. And I’m sure various individuals prefer different terms- dwarf, person of short stature, my name is Bob, and yes I’m short, get over it and stop staring at me!
I was raised by two college-educated parents with left-leaning politics who had degrees in English and journalism, so you can bet that I had the Presidents’ English drilled into me, including various types of non-sexist and non-racist language. And I learned even more when I went to college in a multicultural city with a large GLBT population and programs for people with both learning and physical disabilities. As I interact with others, both in person and online and encounter folks who use terms that may be considered offensive, I try to take into account their background and life experiences- of course this works far better in person!
All this stuff I am talking about is often called “political correctness” usually with an angry accusation behind it. I’ve heard umpteen different uses of this word over the years. I recommend that we all stop using this term, because when each little faction uses it differently, it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s also mostly an American thing, and our friends in other countries may be even more confused by it! Another even more fun one is “cultural Marxism”. I had to look that one up! I sometimes see people say “instead of political correctness, let’s call it respect” I don’t think that’s a solution either.
Various individuals also seem to have different ideas of at what point “all this” has “gone too far”. Often, a member of one group will take for granted that *of course* you’d better use their pet terminology, but they get mad if you call them on another type of language. Then we get into this giant contest of whose oppression is the worst (Oppression Olympics) who has read the most books or taken the most classes on Women’s/GLBT/Black/Asian etc. studies or whatever. Anyone who doesn’t have the “right” knowledge or experiences, but is curious and interested to learn more about a particular issue and wants to oppose bigotry in their communities or support their friend/relative, is driven out of these online and sometimes in-person social justice groups and what they learn is- “Wow, those people are jerks!”.
This is a lot of why I ended up leaving Heathens United Against Racism (well the Facebook group not necessarily the org), just to give one example. There are many good people in that group, don’t get me wrong, and I support the idea of it, but in practice the people who have real or virtual Ph.D’s in Anti-Racist/Every Kind of Oppression Theory and Awesome Badass Activist Experiences! live in multicultural cities, and so forth don’t know how to talk to Heathens from other backgrounds (esp. rural and working-class) who agree that yes, racism is a Bad Thing, but Holy Social Theory, Odin slow down, I’m confused! You can oppose racism without being into things like Critical Race Theory and whiteness studies, or supporting certain policies like affirmative action, slavery reparations and totally open the gates to Mexico-style immigration policy.
(Note this was written a while ago- Heathens United Against Racism has undergone some…changes but that’s in another post)
A lot of what Mark Green shares here also applies to polytheistic/animistic forms of Paganism. The Gods are not our cosmic babysitters. Sh*t will happen, in spite of all our best efforts to avoid it. (Frankly I think the My Little Jesus forms of Christianity misinterpret their theology as well!) The virtues of Heathenry & Druidry are social and relational in nature- rather than “Do This to Please God(s)”, it’s Do The Right Thing so you can help yourself, help take care of your friends/neighbors/family and keep human society from falling apart- and human society is viewed to some degree as a microcosm of the larger Universe, Maintaining the social order and one’s place in it is part of upholding the laws of the Universe- whether we refer to this as wyrd, orlog, Ma’at (Egyptian) etc. One can *loosely* identify those spiritual concepts with the laws of physics, nature and such- laws that the Gods and Spirits are subject to us just as much as humans are. That is a key difference with monotheism- in that scenario typically God is believed to be in control of everything, which creates a lot of theological, ethical and philosophical problems!
Recently, I have experienced some severe life challenges. A period of disability followed by a one of unemployment drained my savings away. I finally landed a good job with a great organization…only to be told, one paycheck in, by my landlord of 18 years that my beautiful home has been sold and I must move by Sept. 1.
Without any money. And 18 years’ worth of accumulated possessions.
I believe I will get through this, as people do. I have community and fundraising skills and ideas, and I am earning a salary now. Nemea and I will find another home, and survive.
But it occurs to me that members of other religions tend, in times like these, to speak of their religions as “a comfort to them”. In moments of grief, sorrow, adversity they can look to their beliefs for reassuring platitudes: God has a plan. Everything happens as it should…
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I reblogged Pagan Church Lady’s Why I am Not a Heathen essay But of course, being me I have to add my own commentary. I am not sure whether I’d identify with the label Heathen or not- I generally call myself a polytheist- the details vary as I figure out my path. I tag my posts about Germanic/Norse religion with heathen, heathenry and asatru partly just to add another voice for inclusive, non-asshole Heathenry.
Rejection of NeoPaganism
I have generally found more friendly attitudes from Heathens who interact with broader Neo-Pagandom. Their friendship and cooperation does not necessarily mean being “fluffy” or “eclectic” just as when I go to an interfaith gathering, that doesn’t mean I suddenly decide I’m going to start observing Buddhist or Muslim traditions.
I most definitely respect the choice of Heathens and Heathen groups to choose to engage and work with other Pagans or not. I think there are various good reasons for doing so. I can also understand why many Heathens feel they don’t have much in common with non-Heathen Pagans or even simply feel excluded by Pagan festivals, Pagan Prides and other entities that are very Wicca-centric. Many other polytheists and followers of other indigenous/folk/tribal religions feel similarly.
It would be enough to simply state- “As a Heathen, I don’t consider myself/identify as part of the broader Neo-Pagan communit(ies), here are some reasons why…” and list some relatively neutral reasons of differences in values, focus etc. I do see those sorts of explanations from some folks. But even more often, I see a list of generalizations with undertone of “Eeew- we’re not like Those People!” A caricature of promiscuous, nudist, hippies is then painted- while on the other side, a caricature of gun-toting redneck Heathens is painted by some Pagans. Rather ironic- considering both Pagan and Heathen mean “redneck/hick/hillbilly” in other languages. In any case, obviously these generalizations are very harmful to all our communities, so I ask that we try to get to know & judge each other as individuals. I admit that I can be very judgmental myself and make assumptions about other people’s character, beliefs and behavior based on their appearance, the bumperstickers on their car and so forth. So this is a learning process for everyone, I am no exception!
Dismissal of UPG/Spiritual Experience–
I most definitely consider the Eddas, Sagas and so forth to be useful sources of information about Germanic and Norse mythology and religion. But they are not The Lore- Holy Writ from On High as Handed to us by the Gods! The Eddas, in particular are Norse myth skaldic Christian fan fiction. Actual folklore, by definition is information (lore) handed down orally by the folk, the common people, not attributed to any one person. Just as we’ve gotten literary interpretations of legends of King Arthur and his knights from Malory’s Le Morte de Arthur and secondary or tertiary historical sources from Geoffrey of Monmouth, we have literary interpretations of Norse mythology and history written from particular viewpoints by authors of Sagas and Roman dudes like Tacitus. Is Snorri Sturluson a better source for the original myths than say, Wilhelm Wagner? Yes, definitely. But that doesn’t make the Eddas holy writ. To develop any revived polytheism into a living religion we need to come up with our own folklore- we are the folk- the common people. We can use texts as guides and templates, and hold them up against our own insights and experiences. But ultimately, we need to create lore ourselves- for our time, for our lands, for our people. Likewise, Heathens in Europe tend to draw more heavily from the folklore and customs of their respective nations, even if those customs don’t go back to preChristian times. We can too. But we live in different climates, different terrains, with different cultures. So we need to adapt accordingly.
My additions- Black & White Thinking– Whenever I attempt to join an online Heathen group, before posting I have to learn not just the rules of moderation, but all the unwritten rules of this particular cadre of Heathens which I learn by lurking and carefully poking thru archives before I dare make a post. Which authors are good, which are “fluffy”. Whether patrons or fulltrui, let alone godspouses are a Real Thing ™ Whether using runes, magic and seidhr is a legit part of Asatru/Heathenry or assumed to be a fluffy Wiccan influence. Whether certain beings/deities/spirits are off-limits or not. Whether exhibiting any sense of compassion and mercy is hospitality or “Too weak and Christian”. Granted, Pagans across the board are quite capable of black & white thinking, and engage it quite avidly, but I don’t typically see the same level of uniform judgment about *every single spiritual belief & practice* My Lords and Ladies!
A Stupid, Crazy Level of Ableism Pagans, not being any exception to our broader cultural influences are once again quite capable of every sort of ism- racism typically manifests as clueless, well-meaning “we’re all human/I don’t see color” platitudes and micro-aggressions, sexism typically as gender essentialism and Truly Liberated Women will, of course sleep with me! Homophobia and biphobia are typically not tolerated, but transphobia definitely rears its head especially in the name of “safe spaces/rituals for women”. Ableism is most definitely present in various forms. But damn, among Heathen groups online anyway- I found the ableist insults and assumptions to be so constant as to be intolerable. Other isms, while present, I could learn to dodge, but I found ableist crap in pretty much every Facebook heathen group I have joined and left, notable exceptions are the Urglaawe/Braucherei groups, ADF Heathens, and a couple of local Heathen groups. Lokeans, while they vary broadly are also generally more inclusive of most categories of excluded people- I consider them a slightly different category however, since not all them identify as Heathen. People act worse online in general, but I notice particular sets of obnoxious traits among online Heathen groups, atheist/skeptic/humanist groups, Men’s Rights Activists (MRA’s) and right-wing libertarians- rampant ableism (under the guise of intellectual snobbery/superiority- anyone who disagrees is stupid/retarded/crazy) machismo, and dominance by white male heterosexuals who raise a hissy fit if anyone ever mentions the concept of privilege, and loudly claim how oppressed they are by Social Justice Warriors. I agree that some nonsense that goes on in the name of “social justice” online is pretty ridiculous, but they can’t distinguish between that and everything else. (Yes the irony of that subtitle was intentional)
The Racial stuff– well, that you already know my opinion, and I have been informed by certain Heathens that I’m apparently “obsessed” with race, motivated by white guilt, “cultural Marxism” and other interesting accusations. It seems I’ve violated some social norms of their communities by not minding my own business. Well if speaking out against racism violates the norms of your community, I definitely don’t want to be a part of it. Clearly I share values with some Heathens and not others, but once again that is the same with every other community I participate in.