Divisive Twaddle

The folks over at Gods and Radicals have made the accusation that certain members of the Pagan community are fascists because their religious practices do not conform to G and R’s Marxist/anarchist/feminist/Post-colonial standards. I’m not going to deconstruct – or link to – an article for which the actual author will not even stand up and claim ownership. Having spent a not inconsiderable amount of time arguing with these folks before they started this site, I know what a waste of time it is to do so. I’ve said all I’m going to say in refutation here.

I will say that there are no links or specific citations in this article, with all its accusations and insinuations, it would never pass academic muster. The assessment is not a thoughtful and reasoned attempt to promote dialogue about an actual problem, but utterly biased and rigid attempt to frame a political ideology as a religious matter. All while tossing around just enough nastiness to rile up good people and gain some attention.

It is certain that there are some racists and fascists that practice Pagan religion – whether in the US or elsewhere in the world. But I doubt those people read G and R, or care about their opinions. But I’ve met plenty of Druids, Re-constructionists, Devotional Polytheists, and Dianics and not one of them advocated for the mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state.

The word “troll” comes to mind.

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A Response to the Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer

Early in 2015, Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth published The Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer. This downloadable PDF is my response.

Primer Response

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Work and Play

My step-daughter was exceptionally intractable. There are numerous skills that are needed in order to be a functioning adult, few of which are learned by playing video games and sleeping. I would ask her (yes it was a polite command) to do something and her response would be, “I HATE doing [my request]!” My answer would be “And you are free to hate it. You still have to do it.” Some things aren’t optional. Well, they are, but the consequences for not doing them aren’t pretty. There are plenty of TV shows about people who have neglected – for whatever the reason – to do something they were uncomfortable with, and now they have a professional come in and clean up the mess they made. Hoarding and the failure to attend to either one’s financial state, or the cleanliness of one’s home are some examples. These shows are not only about families, but about businesses. She may have hated doing it, but I wasn’t about to let her free-ride, and she needed the skills.

A friend of mine recently called my attention to this essay. He seemed to find it a wondrous idea, full of hope and optimism. The author states that all work is perfectly horrid, tedious and soul killing, and that we should do away with it utterly. Tribal hunter/gatherer’s have far more free time and their “work” looks an awful lot like what we call play. Mr Black doesn’t take the time to tell us how to actually achieve his desired “ludic life,” he’s too busy talking about how horrible it is to do something you don’t want to do. He says, “Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced.” [emphasis his]

(I will try not to be sarcastic, but some of my thought process about this will creep through.)

Leaving aside the whole ‘how to get there’ piece – for which I can imagine a very ugly scenario – let me begin by offering some examples of things which are uncomfortable that we might, just might, encounter because we are embodied and human.

  • Interacting with people who disagree with us
  • Cleaning the home
  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes
  • [list your favorite natural disaster here]
  • The death of a loved one
  • The loss of a home

Need I continue?

Mr Black is free to hate his work. But he gives no explanation as to why he has not embarked upon his ludic life for himself. Nor does he offer an explanation for those that do, in fact, enjoy working. When my step-daughter went off to an engineering college, she entered with the attitude that she was quite competent in math and had nothing at all to worry about. She proceeded to fail her placement test in math and had to take a remedial course. Fortunately she buckled down and worked and was presently tutoring other students, which she did for the rest of her college career, both for money and informally. She described how her self-esteem rose along with her mastery, and she wondered how she could have wasted all that time as a teen playing video games.

Play is indeed a wonderful thing, but the hard and fast line between work and play that drives Mr Black simply doesn’t exist. Except in one’s head. Anything can be work and anything can be play. Mr Black’s attempt to define work as something that is by definition abhorrent, is ridiculous. Not only because each person is different, but because he entirely neglects the reasons why we do things that we find unpleasant. Most often, those reasons include taking care of those we love most.

I clean my home because it makes for a calm and happy environment when my husband comes home.* I do the bookkeeping because I’m the person who has the patience to do it, and I hate seeing him struggle. I go out and earn money so that he doesn’t worry so much and so he doesn’t have to work so hard. I do these things that really do feel like work out of love. And he does the same and for the same reasons. But it would not be enough if we both loathed what we did. Then there would be anger and resentment. And when I got saddled with the aforementioned step-daughter, I assure you, I was resentful. Very. But I did the work.

And I learned how to make at least some of it easier and even fun.

If what we are doing is loathsome, there are two choices. 1) Change our attitude. This is most easily done by looking at the big picture and understanding why we are doing something. If we can’t find a satisfactory answer, then move on to 2) Move on. Do something else. Do it quickly or ease into it. Just do it. Go hunting, find a tribe to live with, gather herbs, garden, ski, or get another job!

That’s not the sum of my critique by any means, but it’s enough for now.

*Yes we have a fairly traditional division of labor. It works for us. Yes, I do work outside the home but not nearly as much as he does.

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Arhat or Asshat?

buddaI found this painfully self-absorbed article on my FB page this morning. The author clearly lives in southern California among what may be called the “pretty people,” [my term not his] which is perhaps giving him a bit of a guilt complex, thus stimulating a need for self-justification and moral superiority.

Is spirituality is only for the poor? Gods I hope not! That presupposition suggests that the expression of spirit is somehow limited, an idea that is theologically absurd. And is it not appropriate to express gratitude for the blessings we have received? The author seems to think that gratitude expressed for some blessings is more genuine than for others. And how would he know genuine from real in the land of glam and plastic? Let alone knowing which of the yoga moms he is critiquing actually has the level of wealth to which he objects. Nor does he have any idea which of those yoga moms might have been poor a few years ago. If one of his actor friends did well and made a lot of money, would he think more of them if they took their blessings for granted? Would that be more moral than gratitude? And would that rich friend then be forced to join the Republican party as so many actors have? (oh wait…)

And then there is the matter of belief. Like any good fundamentalist, Mr. Van Valkenburgh assumes his own belief to be the moral high ground. American optimism is stupid and base. He feels it is foolish and wrong-headed to think “that underserved groups can get ahead not by standing up to power, but by focusing on love and positivity.”

Love and positivity. How very dreadful. Putting aside for a moment the fact that positive attitudes are not only correlated, but proven to be causative for both mental and physical well being, exactly how is focusing on anger at those in power, rather than love, an improvement on culture? The adage “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” is a moral stance designed to make you search for things to be angry about. It won’t necessarily lead one to a happy life. You’re boss may be a jerk, but getting angry is – at best – useful as energy to get out and find some place better to work.

The author accuses rich capitalists of hijacking Buddhism and then proceeds to do the same thing.

“It’s true, for example, that the Buddha taught that money was a blessing, and that one effect of an ethical way of life would be material prosperity. But it is hard for me to believe the Buddha would say that wealth inequality is solely the result of karmic patterns, and that we should ignore its hidden histories of slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.”

Hmmm. Buddha said the first part, but he must have forgotten to say that other part. I’m no Buddhist and wouldn’t presume to attempt to figure out the meaning of their sacred literature, but just because you find something hard to believe doesn’t mean you get to just assume the master would have agreed with your viewpoint. It is also possible that Buddha, if he approved of money, might just also have approved of charitable giving. (Perhaps someone knowledgeable on Buddhism could enlighten me)

The author writes:

“When we cultivate gratitude for our material wealth and ignore compassion for those less fortunate, comments like those of Nadella are a natural consequence.”

Clearly Van Valkenburgh has no knowledge of who is actually giving charitably in the US. The households with the total wealth of on million dollars in the US are responsible for half of all charitable giving, and conservative households give 30 percent more than liberal households. Instead of advocating “cultivating compassion,” ( of which he appears to have very little) the author might have advisded more concrete actions to help the poor and downtrodden, such as giving money and volunteering. I suspect the Buddha might just approve.

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The Price of Embodiment

One of my friends finds the idea of things having prices to be downright offensive. College, for example should be free, because you can’t put a price on something that has such a powerful effect on one’s life. Many of my friends believe the healthcare should be completely free because you can’t put a value on human life. To even attempt to do so is morally wrong. But lets unpack this concept.

To say that all life has infinite value is the same thing as saying it has no value. In the realm of the non-embodied, there may (I wouldn’t know) be no need to pick and choose between one thing or another, or how one spends one’s time (whatever that might mean in such a context). But we live on Earth. If all things are equally valuable, how can we decide how to designate the limited amount of time and energy we have to use? If both Mary and Eva want to spend time with us, how do we decide? One might say “Both!” But it is a fact that spending a bunch of time with Mary and Eva together is not equivalent to spending less time with each of them individually. A judgment must be made. We are limited by our physicality.

Placing a value on the people in our lives, the things on which we spend our time, and the objects we collect, is how we are able make decisions and function in our embodied world. What would you do for someone you love? Would you work hard to see that they had everything they needed or even wanted? How about someone you like? Would you work just as hard for them? Would you be willing to do the same things that you do for someone you love? Or would you expect that they might take care of some, or most, things themselves? How about someone you’ve never met? Would you work hard to see that they had everything they needed or even wanted? Probably not. Not necessarily from a lack of care, but because our time is limited. We may desire to save everyone, but we don’t have the time for that. And if we did have that infinite time, is it possible that after many years of taking care of a whole bunch of people we don’t know personally, that we might eventually think that these people could do some things for themselves? Only gods don’t suffer burnout, and even they expect us to work.

Placing different values on the people in our lives acknowledges that we have limitations. It also gives a gift to those we love best. If the members of our immediate family are valued no more than the people in the wider community, then they never get to feel special, or cherished for their unique qualities.

One might argue that “value” is not the same as “price,” and yet they serve the same purpose. Price is simply a more precise and refined expression of value. Perhaps we don’t like the idea of putting a price on the time we spend with people because it reveals the ugly realities of what we value. Or perhaps we simply want to get something without having to work for it, another ugly reality.

And there is another possibility. If you think the game is rigged so that work will not get you what you think you deserve for it, prices start to look unfair, and like something that can – and should – be changed to balance the books. But this is a mistake. Of the choice between changing pricing and correcting the rigged game, the latter is the only choice that has a chance of working, even though it appears to be impossible, and price fixing is relatively easy by comparison.

Prices serve a critical purpose in our communities. They signal value. If something is expensive, that tells us that there is a need that must be fulfilled. Plumbers get well paid because we value our flush toilets and showers, and the cleanliness they bring to our households. Chances are, we value these things over long-term savings. People who stuff money in cans (or banks) instead of fixing their plumbing are viewed as mentally ill. Without prices, people might not have an incentive to do what amounts to a wet and messy job. Need I discuss a world where no one wants to be a plumber?

And how about a world where there are few doctors? Great Britain had that problem in the 70s. the British Health Service does not pay doctors well at all, and their services are free to everyone. The BHS ended up with a critical shortage of doctors, and had to recruit from other countries that were poorer than Britain, and that did not have British medical training. Why take a job where the burnout rate is high and the pay is low? Prices signal value, and British doctors were not being valued for the hard work of medical school, or the level of care they provided their patients.

Changing the prices of anything from a central location – be it labor, commodities, or time – sends a message rippling through the community, and because we are limited beings, raising or lowering one price means that the whole web is affected. Like a tensegrity structure, moving one part moves all others. And if the feedback mechanism of price is not respected, eventually the structure will collapse or explode.

Prices don’t respond to central planning the way we expect because central planning doesn’t work. Prices are too complex for any one person, or even a group of people to understand. As complex as Nature herself, prices draw a map of what we value as individuals and as communities. No one person or group of people can map such complexities, and they have no moral right to try.

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Land Management: Criticism From the Right

In The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About–Because They Helped Cause Them by Iain Murray, one of the author’s arguments is that government land management has been a massive failure. In many ways, he is quite correct. The massive wild fires in the mid-west are largely the result of a failure to thin and correctly manage forest lands. The native Americans burned the forests regularly. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, the author cites journal entries that describe how the settlers on the New England coast watched the Indians gleefully dancing to the light of the burning trees, and whooping when pine sap exploded in a shower of sparks. They also describe the Eastern forests as park-like, with so much space between the trees that one could drive a carriage between them. The Americas before Columbus were highly managed lands, not untouched wilderness as we have been lead to believe.

Murray also cites Communism’s horrendous record in regard to environmental concerns, with the Aral Sea being justifiably held up as the worst example of mismanagement in the history of the species.

Another failure of government management, written about by Dan Daggett, former Earth First activist, has been exclusion zones. These are areas that have been set aside to recover from over-grazing. Of course over-grazing damages the landscape, but under-grazing is just as bad if not worse as these pictures of the Drake Exclosure demonstrate. Both exclusion zones, and forest management practices that lead to millions of acres of burned lands are fair arguments against governments dictating how land should – or in this case, should not – be used.

Murray blames government mismanagement on the “tragedy of the commons” and claims both that collective ownership is the reason for such failures, and that private ownership is the very best answer to land management. In general, it is fair to say that if someone owns land, that they will be motivated to treat it with respect and care so that it – or its inherent value – can be passed to future generations.

But Murray’s argument falls apart in the case of tribal lands. Where native American tribes have retained control of lands, and sufficient cultural cohesiveness to organize, they have collectively managed their tribal reservations to the benefit of both themselves and the environment. It is reasonable to speculate that collective management has worked for some native tribes because of the cultural cohesiveness mentioned earlier. These are also much smaller groups, that can focus their concerns in a way that provides the greatest return on their investment of time. An investment that generally means food for tribal members, which is critical in communities that are some of the poorest in the nation.

Murray does not cop to corporate environmental disasters, since the point of his book is to address the failures of the Liberal environmental movement. But such corporate mismanagement is actually a good argument for the tragedy of the commons. Corporations do not have respect and care for land as part of their primary mission. Their mission is to make money in the most efficient way possible. This often means using up resources and moving on. The owners of corporation are the stock holders, and they do not live on whatever land is held by the corporation. This gives them no investment in keeping that land productive and healthy.

I think it is fair to say that when it comes to good land management, private ownership is a good bet, as is collective management by small groups, probably not larger than a few thousand people. Individuals and small, local groups have more intimate knowledge of land needs, and the ability to act in creative and productive ways.

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Single-Payer Health Care: Insurance or Care?

I don’t want single payer health insurance. Then the government gets to decide what kind of health care I get to have. At least at non-catestrophic levels, my insurance company does NOT decide that for me because I have an HSA. If the government did not prevent insurance competition, I would have more choices about who did my insuring. I could compare performance and how well they keep their agreements. Health care providers spend an absurd amount of time with billing because they cannot set their own rates. The insurance industry is utterly wound up with the government, and what we think of as health insurance is not even insurance! Insurance is supposed to be for emergencies, not provide regular care.

Let’s start by making a distinction between health care and health insurance. Health care is what you do to take care of your health (note the pronoun) with the doctor helping as needed. The better you care for yourself, the less you need from the doctor. The doctor is not some magical being that can wave a wand, and fix whatever long term damage you’ve done to yourself. Really good self-care should be obvious and should be rewarded. Let’s give an example. Sugar is everywhere. Lots of people eat sugar. It’s addictive. It’s also inflammatory. It screws up your digestion, reduces your immune function, stresses your adrenal glands, does bad things to your brain chemistry, and plays hell with your blood sugar. It causes type II diabetes. Eat it and you pay with your health. This is a handy example, but not the only one. One of my friends had fibromyalgia – a chronic pain condition. She was broke and spent a great deal of time talking about her pain levels. And she smoked. She ate reasonably well, but how is a smoking habit good healthcare? Especially when you’re broke? We’re not friends anymore, at least partly because I wanted to bang my head against a wall every time she commented on the subject. If a person raises their kids with minimal sugar and lots of fats and vitamins from pastured animals, the kids are healthy. They don’t have asthma, diabetes, emotional problems, weak immune systems or allergies. They don’t have to buy inhalers, psych meds, insulin, or allergy medicine, and they don’t get cavities. And if the mother was careful about her health while pregnant, the kids won’t even need braces.*

Insurance is, by definition, for emergencies. How much you pay is based on actuarial tables which is based on the statistical likelihood that a particular event will occur. It’s an gamble. Let me say that again. It’s a gamble. When you purchase auto insurance the company gives you rates based on your previous behavior. Why are health insurance companies vilified for doing what is the essential definition of the industry? How many “pre-existing conditions” are the result of behavior? Yes, stuff happens. Stuff has happened to me. But WHY should people who are treating their children with the level of care mentioned above be forced to pay for people who voluntarily eat lots of things that harm their bodies? In fact, some of them don’t. Voluntarily. Yes, Virginia, there are people who don’t participate in health insurance because they don’t WANT to. They work at their health, and SAVE money for emergencies. And if that doesn’t cover it, medical providers must allow you to pay off your bill at your own pace without fees or interest. What is the difference between paying up front (health insurance or single payer system) and paying on the back end? Because that is a gamble an individual can win.

What is ridiculous and amazing is that I can’t buy insurance based on my meticulous level of self-care. I settle for a high deductible plan with an HSA. (Which is now being taxed. Thanks Democrats. Thanks a bunch.) WHY should I be forced to participate in a health plan where I can’t even make that less appealing choice? What EXACTLY is fair about that? What is wrong with doctors getting paid what they are worth rather than having the government dictate what they can charge? And why the hell is making a profit EVIL? For crying out loud, this is my health and well-being we’re talking about here. I value it highly. We pay more for our food because we value the product. I don’t see how I should trust anyone else with the valuation (except my husband), especially the government which has a crappy record of serving those it claims to. In traditional societies the medicine person was valued, they got really good stuff and lots of status for the skills they offered. Medical school is expensive. If we don’t pay doctors what they are worth, hello, no one will want to go into the profession. In CT, we have HUSKY which is the low income health plan. It doesn’t pay doctors enough to cover their expenses. Guess how many doctors actually want to participate. Gods help you if you want an appointment. THAT is healthcare rationing.

*This is from eating a diet of traditional foods aka. Weston Price.

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