Thanks for reading Gods&Radicals!
On Tuesday, we’ll be publishing the award-winning piece by poet and Awenydd Lorna Smithers, “Proud of Preston.” And on Friday, Asa West’s first piece on this site will appear, a compelling essay about The Morrigan and Anti-Capitalism. And in case you missed it, Jason Thomas Pitzl’s essay on Respectability Politics continues to have quite a presence.
This week, we’re also introducing a new feature: The Gods&Radicals Glossary. Each week we’ll include a new term and short discussion of its relationship to Radical and Pagan thought and practice. We’ll start today with “Essentialism,” inspired by an unfortunate discussion which arose in the comments this weekend.
A modern Western belief that there exists something inherent within the being of person which corresponds to their culturally-identified traits. Essentialism is one of the defining characteristics of Western Capitalist thought, possibly derived from the shift towards Materialist and Mechanistic worldviews.
Gender Essentialism is the belief that there is something ‘inherently’ gendered in a human previous to cultural constructions of identity; that is, the possession of a penis or a Y-Chromosome marks a human as Essentially male, while the presence of a vagina or a double X chromosome ‘creates’ a Female.
Racial Essentialism, too, posits something similar; there is something biologically different in a Black person or a white person. Examples of this are manifold within Capitalist modernity; books such as The Bell Curve, as well as many Social Darwinist projects, asserted there was something different (and usually inferior) in the Black human which made them Black.
Sexual Essentialism: Variants of this ideology show up, unfortunately, in Western Gay Rights political strategy–the notion that a human is ‘born that way’ was a legal strategy to combat institutionalized homophobia; it has now come to mean there is something inherently homosexual in the “gay body.” This has led to biological deterministic strategies of isolating ‘the gay gene.’
Popular particularly with Christian Fundamentalists, New Right thinkers such as Jack Donovan, some Dianic Witchcraft leaders, Volkisch strands of Heathenism and prevalent, unfortunately, in some Celtic Reconstructionist groups, Essentialism fails by starting with a culturally-constructed notion (Racial, Gender, Sexual identification), selecting data which confirms that notion, and then asserting that these correlations prove the self-evident nature of their position without acknowledging the inherited nature of their certainty (see also Re-inscription).
Essentialism requires the denial and sometimes violent eradication of counter-examples in order to enforce clear lines between peoples; the mixed-race person, the trans*person, the bisexual, the androgyne, the queer and the intersex person each challenge the pure categories required for the Essentialist thinker, and such people often endure intense violence for their existence as counter-example.
Some formerly radical groups (Deep Green Resistance, in particular) have abandoned critiques of Capitalism in order to use variants of Essentialist-thinking, too, resulting in a deeply reactionary stance and horrible harrassment of trans* and queer folks. A good antidote for such thinking is Sylvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, or just not being an arrogant arse.
Fun things to read:
Sable Aradia discusses protests in Canada against legislation granting the government new spy-powers, with the following insightful introduction:
I don’t think there’s any doubt, for any witch who’s been to one, that a public protest is a magickal act. A group of people get together and use symbolism to focus the collective will towards a specific goal. If the magick is successful, consciousness changes, with results that are reflected in the outer world.
The Wild Hunt has an in-depth look at this bill and Pagan protests of it. Also related, First Nations groups, including Idle No More, have been discovering the government’s already illegally spying upon them.
Speaking of First Nations resistance, here’s an article on what happens when a people’s ancestral traditions conflict with Capitalist disasters: When Global Warming Kills Your God
And speaking of warming and Capitalism, Asa West discusses the (human-made) “desert” of Los Angeles.
Had enough depressing news about the state of the world? Gods&Radical’s editor Rhyd Wildermuth’s Equinox meditation, “Maybe, Another Vein” might dull the pain a bit?
Need a little inspiration instead? Some humans temporarily took over one of the world’s largest coal-extraction machines in Germany to save a forest and a meadow. And in a slightly colder (for now) climate, elves are reported to have reached an agreement with the Icelandic government over road-construction plans.
And two quotes this week!
Racism, in the first place, is a weapon used by the wealthy to increase the profits they bring in by paying Black workers less for their work.–Angela Davis
You can’t have capitalism without racism.–Malcolm X
Be well and resist beautifully!