Visions of the Future

As I’ve written before, Atheopaganism is inherently political. It isn’t possible to revere the Earth as Sacred, to hope for a world where love and kindness and justice are far more widespread without having a political agenda to match.

Many Pagans are political, in varying ways. While most lean to the left, some do not. And a significant number identify as anarchists, viewing the root cause of human suffering and strife as being institutions such as governments.

I am not one of them.

I simply do not see examples of anarchism having worked successfully in groups larger than a hundred or two. With the world’s population well over seven billion now, I do not see how basic functions such as provision of health care, food distribution, environmental, health and safety protections could possibly be achieved on the basis of collaborative voluntary agreements.

Anarchism operates on the assumption that humans are fundamentally of good will and intention. Many are; it’s true.

But some are not. Some are psychopaths, some are deeply damaged by poor upbringing or experience of discrimination and injustice. No magical invocation of universal equality can prevent such people from acting out their issues: be they in the form of greed, violence, or lust for power.

And let’s not forget: this world is completely awash in guns. Mostly in the hands of those who would use them to conquer and oppress, not to defend.

Most people are primarily focused on making do for themselves and their families. They go along to get along. Such folk are the natural prey of predatorial people. And once you have predator and prey, you need something to rebalance the scales: an intermediary.

The liberal democracy is that intermediary, in its ideal form.

Now, do I support the Empire?

No, I don’t. Among other things, I think human affairs work better when political units are small, so that their governance can be accountable to their members. I certainly do not endorse the militarized, world-spanning resource-grab and labor-exploitation that constitutes today’s neoliberal global capitalism.

The problem is that capitalism (greed) and population pressures, driving excessive consumption and exploitation of the Earth,  are killing us. Not the Earth—she’ll be fine in any case. Us. In the end, there are only three things that will save us: consuming considerably less, reproducing considerably less, and shifting to carbon-minimal energy production.

Is the regulatory state a perfect solution to the issues I have mentioned? No, it is not. And there is a legitimate argument to be made that current systems are too slow and too compromised to be able to save us.

But I’m willing to venture that there are no perfect solutions. There is no utopia when it comes to human beings. We are born selfish, and though this (usually) moderates, it doesn’t disappear. While government is also not a perfect solution, it has a higher likelihood of leading to desirable outcomes than does its elimination.

I have chosen not to have children due to these very issues. I didn’t drive until my mid-20s and didn’t own a car until I was 31, at the point when I needed one in order to work. I do what I can (as an American, which is challenging) to keep my footprint small.

Just because government is broken now doesn’t mean it always was, nor that it must be. What advances we have seen in civil liberties and rights for people of color, for women, for LGBTQ people, for workers have been achieved through the intercession of state institutions in the social contract following political organizing efforts. Likewise what advances we have seen in environmental protection. The results have been far from perfect, but they have been much closer to perfect than were conditions prior to implementation of those laws and jurisprudential rulings. Where the state imposes on individual liberty for stupid and senseless reasons (as in the “Drug War”), it is in the wrong, and must be fought. But that doesn’t mean that government itself is wrong.

Without institutions to stand between the selfish man with a gun (and it will, generally, be a man) and the person who has none, humanity descends rather quickly into the chaos of places like Somalia and South Sudan. Kindness and generosity do not bloom in such places. War, enslavement and cruelty do.

Yes, humanity has a better nature, but it is not our only nature. Not by a far sight. A collectively, democratically chosen interlocutor in the form of a liberal democracy is the best system yet devised for refereeing the conflicts that inevitably arise between self-interested humans.

So I believe.

Your mileage may vary, and to some degree it probably does. That’s fine. So long as we are acting to bring about our visions of a better world, the details of the ideal matter far less than that the fact that we are working towards greater ecological responsibility, greater equality, greater kindness.

We have so far to go that arguing about the ideal outcome is rather pointless, in my opinion. We have certain tools at our disposal—our voices, our votes, our strategic sense—and we can apply them as we see best. We don’t all have to be in lockstep, nor do we have to agree on “perfect” political systems that are highly unlikely ever to develop. Debate over such utopian visions is often more rooted in how people want to view themselves than it is in actual movement forward, and I’m a pragmatist: when it comes to politics, all I care about is outcomes.

Nothing humanity does is perfect. All we can do is seek improvement, and we have seen that improvement is possible.

Perhaps there isn’t enough time to avoid a crash. That’s very possible.

But we can try. And while we are trying, we can create a culture of science-rooted, Earth-revering spirituality as a new value frame for the future, to inspire and sustain us as we advocate for a better world.

Let’s focus on that.

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10 thoughts on “Visions of the Future

  1. Thanks for the post… it reminded me of Roberto Unger talking about “democratic perfectionism” in his very dense but fascinating “The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound.” (One of my all time favorite books btw). Democratic perfectionism is the notion that it is possible to set up a representational government so perfectly that it can’t fail to respond to its citizens. Without the possibility that the system itself could be at fault, all failures get blamed on the individuals. You know– “you had opportunities so it’s your fault if you don’t have enough money.”

    Whereas the truth is, as you say, that there is no perfect system. Every system from anarchy to democratic socialism (and anarchy is still quite organized, just from the bottom up) requires close and constant involvement of individuals– major course adjustments, minor tinkering, etc. There’s no set it and forget it button.

    I went through a period of several years where I thought if we just set things up better, it would all work out. I don’t believe that anymore, and I care less and less about the structure itself the older I get and more about the importance of the intentions of those within the structure. Any structure might work if applied with good will and compassion. And no structure will work to the good without those intentions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m just now learning about anarchism. I think you may be misunderstanding something. There is no assumption that people are inherently good in anarchy, at least not as I understand it. The assumption is that people can work together cooperatively to find solutions to their problems without surrendering their power.

    To give you a real life example, there has been a call by Black Lives Matters activists in Chicago (near where I live) to abolish the police. Now, my first reaction to this was one of terror, so socialized am I to think of the state as necessary for my safety. But for many people of color, the state represents the opposite of safety. And so abolishing the police makes sense. It would be replaced with a form of community policing. I don’t know whether you would consider that an “institution”, but it would not be an arm of the state.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Okay…but that sounds like armed vigilantes accountable to no one.

      When your screwdriver is bent, you don’t decide against using screws any more–you get a new one that is appropriate to the purpose. If your police department is rotten, you clean house and reform it, you don’t stop having a police department.

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      • >”Okay…but that sounds like armed vigilantes accountable to no one.”

        That’s how people of color would describe the Chicago police (and the police in many cities).

        They would be accountable — to the community. That’s the point. They’re not accountable now.

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      • If they were accountable to the community, they would be…a police department. And subject to the very same corruption and bigotry that police departments are subject to right now.

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    • I think that an assumption that people “can work together cooperatively” falls under the general rubric of “being good”. The Donald Trump’s of the world can’t do it, and won’t even try. They are dangerous and predatory, and we need systems in place to keep such persons in check.

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  3. Sorry for coming to the party so late… just wanted to mention that I write about the connection between anarchism and Paganism in my book (Spinning in Place) in the chapter on May Day — though of course there is apparently at least one whole book on the subject. Anyhow, I find it useful to think of anarchism as a tendency, an orientation, rather than a fixed goal. If you like to question authority, and I think you do, then you’ve got a bit of an anarchic streak yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

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