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.

Embracing Joy in Dark Days

Where I live, we are right at the fractal edge of spring: winter is stuttering, and between rains come bright, fresh days in the 70s, rich with the scent of flowering trees and lush grass. There is no doubt: the Wheel has turned. Winter has run its course.

It’s days like these when the urge to be outside is almost irresistible: to breathe that scent, stretch out my limbs and welcome the warmth of the long-gone sun. To walk in shirtsleeves and feel that sensuous, liquid air flowing around me.

It’s heady stuff, and it conjures forth optimism and energy. Things are looking up!

Then I see a headline. And the pit of my stomach sinks. Until I catch myself, and let myself enjoy again.

I have spent a long time in the political world, and have experienced personally how it can eat your brain. Tracking what is going on in the news and responding to it both emotionally and politically can become an obsession. And for those whose path demands of them not only reverence, but activism, it is easy to feel it is our duty to remain ever-focused on the harm that is being done in our society, to be unswerving in our attention, effort and comprehension of that harm.

Well, let me go on the record here to say that is nonsense.

Living in times when terrible things are happening is not the occasion for wearing a hair shirt. We need not feel guilty for enjoying the sensual pleasures that are in our lives. In fact, they are what will help to sustain us as we fight the fight we must fight. There is no reason to feel badly about having a wonderful day, despite the latest abominations of the Trumpenfuhrer. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. It doesn’t mean you’re just riding along in your privilege and being a “good German”.

It means you’re living your life. Even as you apply your caring and effort to changing the direction our society is going.

Both are necessary. Both are valid.

I don’t in any way advocate losing sight of the plight of those who are exposed to harm by this reckless and ignorant administration of dunces. Including our beloved planet itself.

But I have seen what happens to activists when all they can think about is the ain’t-it-awfulism of the daily news. They lose sight of the point of living a human life, which is not only to be of integrity and service, but to be happy. They become bitter and greyfaced, and seem to draw a grim satisfaction from terrible developments in the news, as if they feel personally validated by tragedy instead of motivated by their opposition to it.

Don’t be one of those. Throw your arms wide and welcome the pleasures of the world. And then do the work we all must to make it a better place.

It’s spring, fer cryin’ out loud!

 

The Wheel Turns

The days are a bit longer now.

The area where I live has been beset by storm after  blessed storm, so-called “atmospheric rivers” pouring onshore to deluge the parched land of California. We smile beneath our rain hoods and grumble cheerfully about knotted traffic. And despite the dark, pendulous clouds, it is palpable: the days grow longer. It isn’t December any more.

Meanwhile, of course, the greater Darkness we knew was coming after November 8 is now manifesting itself. The petulant toddler we have elected is swinging a wrecking ball in every direction, cheerfully making a mess of all that is decent. This will continue.

The wheels are turning: astronomical forces beyond our control swinging the Northern Hemisphere slowly back into warmth and light, into fecundity and bursting birth and life and death again; the human cycle of history, currently grinding underfoot what is decent and kind and life-affirming.

How do we countenance such paradox? How bear such juxtaposition?

On the one hand, we must, of course, resist. As millions who marched this past weekend have, we must stand up and say that the ugliness of Trumpism is not ours, nor our vision for our world. We must inventory our strengths, take up our available weapons, and fight. This is not a time for mediation and understanding and conciliation, for what confronts us is nihilism and brutality: it has no human heart. It is the time for those of us who can to be heroes: to take up our swords and ride.

On the other, it is a time to survive. The winter is growing old, and if nothing else, the simple fact of lengthening days means that we are succeeding in meeting the challenge of Winter’s yearly Death.

It is a particularly cold and hostile one, and it will last at least four years. We must gather our loved ones close, draw about us the resources we cannot do without. We must hide if we are targeted and do not have what it takes to stand tall. We must make common cause so we cannot be easily disappeared. We must be heroes if we can, but more importantly, we must survive, for it is we who will tell the story of how we defeated fascism when it came to America. It is we who will be The Resistance.

It is we who will see the Spring come again. As Pagans, we must believe, despite what is before our eyes, that the bloom of life and love and kindness will come again, however dark the winter may get.

Some of us will not make it. Some will be martyrs. Some will be victims. As it has always been with winter, some simply will not hold out until Spring. Those of us who do not have privilege will be more at risk than those of us who do, and it is therefore even more our obligation to fight for our comrades who do not enjoy it.

But we are Atheopagans. We are clear-eyed in looking at the world. We do not kid ourselves. This is going to be hard, and there will be suffering.

But we will survive. Our values will survive.

Spring is coming. The cross-quarter Sabbath of the beginning of February, which I celebrate as Riverain, the Festival of Water, but many others call Imbolc or Brighid, is nearly upon us.

It is time to nurture the flame. To ready our tools. To plan our strategies. To envision what will grow in the coming season.

To take oaths of service to what we love.

Each of us will do so in their own way. And ours is not to judge how another chooses to proceed.

But each of us can swear to fight as we can. Each of us can commit to something that contributes to the return of Spring.

If you are coming to Pantheacon, I invite you to join us for the Earth Devotional ritual on Saturday night. It will provide you an opportunity to swear an oath to the Earth—to solemnly, formally join The Resistance with love, determination and Will.

If not, perhaps this can be a part of your Sabbath rites this Imbolc.

Because we need you.

Planet Earth itself, and so many of her vulnerable humans, needs you now.

Photo credit: Susan Seasons