Reclaiming Ourselves – Food & Medicine: Part 3

I also know what it’s like to struggle to live day to day, and so I’m a believer in making the most of what you have. Exotic plants and ingredients are certainly alluring, but what’s the point of learning to use them if you can’t get hold of them, for whatever reason? It just makes sense to use what you already have or is readily available.

From Emma Kathryn

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Economic Egregores: How Belief Drives the Power of Money and What We Can Do About It

“[S]ince it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?”

From Sable Aradia

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Dollar Bills by Dawn Hudson. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

A thoughtform is a semi-autonomous manifestation created when someone — or several someones — will it, or believe it, into being. As of that point, it is no longer entirely subject to the will of its creator(s), but in essence, acts and reacts in its own way. It has no physical reality as we understand it, but it has a virtual reality; it might as well be real because we engage with it as if it is. Which, in a sense, makes it real.

An egregore is a thoughtform that has been created by a group, and it influences the thoughts and actions of the group that engages with it. But it is also influenced by the thoughts and actions of these same people.

This is not a unique concept to the occult: William Gibson wrote about what he called “semiotic ghosts” in popular culture. To me, it was evident he was talking about egregores. I wrote an article about this recently at Between the Shadows.

The examples of a corporation and a meme are probably excellent ones for a modern reader. A corporation exists independently of its creators. The Board of Directors, the shareholders, and the employees who work for it, can change completely — leave, die, or be replaced — and yet the corporation continues.

In our modern age, money is also an egregore, and this is why it has no physical value (after all, money is no longer backed by a gold standard.) Its perceived value governs its real value on the world market. The two are effectively one and the same.

It’s extremely difficult for one person to significantly alter the nature of an egregore. A person who wants to will such a change would have to convince a majority of the other people who engage with the egregore that its nature has already changed. For example, these major brands either started their lives as Nazi corroborators, or developed significantly as corporations while doing so, but of course we no longer make these associations with them.

There was an excellent object lesson in the transformation of an egregore in the 1990s in Brazil. Plagued by runaway inflation, Brazil embraced a daring plan; they created a new currency to restore people’s faith in money. They called it the Unit of Real Value (Unidade real de valor)(1). And it was entirely fake. No bills or coins were ever printed. It was intended to absorb the effects of hyperinflation and was set at a fixed value of parity to the U.S. dollar.

Instead, people developed more confidence in the URV than in the cruzeiro real, which was the legal-tender Brazilian currency, and it replaced Brazil’s legal currency. Officially it was “extinguished” and replaced with a legal-tender currency called the real on July 1, 1994.

A semi-virtual currency exists in Canada in the form of Canadian Tire money. This is effectively Monopoly money that is given out by Canadian Tire as a reward for shopping at their stores. It’s a fraction of the value of what you bought; a very early loyalty program.

But many places in Canada began accepting Canadian Tire money as well as real money, because why not? Canadian Tire doesn’t really care where it came from, because at one point or another it came from their store, and you can still exchange it there for real goods.

Unfortunately Canadian Tire is now trying to force their clientele to go to a card system instead, citing a risk of criminal enterprises making use of their alternate currency as an excuse. I’m sure that’s a real threat: criminal enterprises profit enormously from the existence of shadow economies that don’t depend upon the whim of the World Bank. But then again, so would we.

One might also consider the bitcoin bubble. Bitcoin is an entirely virtual currency that has a certain perceived value; and it has that value because of that perception.

That’s not a new concept either. Stock values are also entirely influenced by perceived values. One of the flaws in our current economic system that is coming to a point of reckoning is that stock values can plummet, not because a company has lost money, but because it has not gained as much as people thought it would. Twitter and Facebook both recently bore a significant loss of stock value because their growth, falsely projected on false identities and bot accounts which political pressure has forced them to limit, was not as great as those false projections had assumed it would be.

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Insecurity Dollar Symbol by John Hain. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

What this tells us is that any free market theory is fatally flawed. It is assumed in the study of free market economics that stock value changes based on information. Traders become aware of trends, new technology, expansions, etc. which will increase the income-making potential of a corporation.

But since it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?

The question then becomes for the magician: how can we best utilize egregores? Can we make significant changes to the harmful effects of existing egregores, such as the value of currency and how it is determined?

Marx said that in order to address income inequality, workers must control the means of production. But he failed to visualize the development of technology and the value of virtual goods. How do you control the means of production when all the production is virtual?

I think the answer is that the common people must direct the egregores instead. Right now, we have been absorbed by the semiotic ghosts of futility, apathy, and the inequalities of capitalism. And Money has become a god in and of itself. To combat this, we must embrace new egregores, and helpful, older egregores, like the Enlightened Rebel and the Will of the People.

To change the perceived value of money, and who has it, we need to re-think what we’re basing that value on. Right now, the world thinks of money in terms of national currencies, so the perceived economic well-being of nations is what drives the world economy. This creates haves and have-nots by nature. It’s dependent on the idea that some nations have more economic value than others.

It’s also, in part, determined by corporations. The more big corporations a country is perceived to have, and the bigger their stock values, the more valuable their currency is perceived to be.

Canadian Tire money erodes that economy just a little bit, because it takes a small fraction of the value of currency out of the hands of governments and stock traders, and puts it into the hands of consumers. Still not great; still capitalism, but a more decentralized capitalism.

Bitcoin is an early attempt to rethink the way we value currency. It has established a currency value on information. Bits of data are what form the essential unit of a bitcoin. But the flaw of this approach is that those who control information can control the value of a bitcoin, which is why it has already achieved a speculation bubble that makes it completely unattainable for regular people.

Perhaps we should come back to Marx. Perhaps we should be basing the value of currency on labour-units. One hour of labour might equal one credit, which could buy one full meal. Think of how wealthy artists would be! Of course I can’t think of a way to track that which wouldn’t risk intense violations of privacy. No change of this nature would be quick or easy, and each would have its own drawbacks and unintended consequences that we would have to consider, and deal with.

The question for us is: what do we consider to be of real value? And what would we like the economy of the future to look like? Which egregores should we give power to?


  1. I think it’s worth noting just how difficult this reference was to find. I remembered hearing something on a YouTube video about this and I went searching for a reference to write this article. I typed “South American country that created an alternate currency” into Google. This yielded an article called “How Fake Money Saved Brazil,” which originally came from the NPR website. It’s referenced by a plethora of other blogs and articles, but you can’t get access to that article anymore; just a couple of forums where people sneer at the idea, despite the fact that it demonstrably worked. I finally found the name of the currency — “Unit of Real Value” — in a snippet from a site that might be an archive of the Wayback Machine from a site called Neatorama.com. I searched this on Google and finally found the Wikipedia entry, listed only under its Portuguese name. Now why was this so hard to find? The most benign answer I can come up with is racism. I suspect it’s a lot more complex.

Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I owned a dog, whom I still miss very much, and am still owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Projections of the Powerful

Oppressing White People: No. But the Right sure likes oppressing non-white people.

From Sable Aradia

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I am beginning to see a pattern in the ways of the New Right. I am sure I’m not alone. They level some wild accusation towards the Left. “They want to put all men in concentration camps.” “They want to oppress white people.” “They want to limit free speech.” “They’re operating a child sex ring out of a pizza parlour.”

The Left snorts at the ridiculousness of the accusation. What preposterous ideas! Obviously nobody wants to do that …

… and then it comes out that whatever the Left has recently been accused of, the Right is actively doing.

Let me break down some examples.

“I Know You Are, but What Am I?”

Putting All Men in Concentration Camps: Well, no. But the Trump administration has been putting immigrants and Latinos in concentration camps, haven’t they? The border scandal is an international disgrace.

Oppressing White People: No. But the Right sure likes oppressing non-white people. Police have been shooting people driving, walking, shoppingin public parks, in their grandmothers’ backyards, and in their own homes for the crime of being black. And not one of these cops has been brought to justice.

Limiting Free Speech: Apparently they object when white supremacists are asked not to speak at universities that disagree with their “ideas.” But gods forbid you should want to make queer kids’ books accessible in your public library.

Creating a Totalitarian State: A totalitarian state is when one person has the power to do whatever they want. And they’re sure trying to push the idea that an elected President is above the rule of law, aren’t they?

Forcing People to Use Pronouns They Don’t Approve Of: Um … aren’t the Right the ones who are fighting to deny people access to changing their pronouns, or opting for something non-binary? Jordan Peterson has made his career on that. Who’s forcing whom to do what again?

Forcing People to Believe What They Believe: The American Right Wing consistently has taken a stand that they are a “Christian nation” and everyone should adhere to Christian values, so ….

Manipulating the Vote: Some Republican senators have gerrymandered so many voting districts that they were actually ordered to fix one of the more flagrant examples by the U.S. Supreme Court. Twice. The GOP have continuously used gerrymandering, deliberately restrictive voter ID laws that are punitive against groups that traditionally oppose them, and dark campaign finance money, continue to manipulate voting conditions in their favour, as this exposé from Rolling Stone demonstrates.

Bringing Down the Government: Libertarians and those influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy are the ones currently looking to derail government agencies. Prime Minister Harper appointed a bunch of his cronies to the board of the CBC right before he lost the last Canadian election — and you can tell. The repair job is going to take years. The Trump administration appointed a person who bases her business on pushing private education as the head of the public education ministry, and a person who actively fights environmental regulations as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. This looks a lot like deliberate sabotage to me.

Operating a Child Sex Ring: I thought for sure this had to be Alex Jones tabloid material. But apparently, a dozen immigrant children were placed with traffickers in the absence of background checks on their sponsors, and with anywhere from 1500 to 6000 children still missing, one wonders how much more of this will come out?

Makes you wonder if some New Right group is trading in baby parts somewhere …

Projection

Projection is a term used in clinical psychology to describe how people tend to visualize that their own biggest sins, and deepest fears, are being engaged in by other people, especially people they don’t feel comfortable around. They “deny their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.” Examples include victim blaming, projection of guilt, and bullying.

It seems to me that the New Right is motivated by this phenomenon, which is a method of ego-protection. Because they are feeling threatened, they see bogeymen in every dark, female, or non-binary face, and hear threats in the reasoning of any progressive intellectual. It’s pathological, unjust, and dangerous.

And it’s nothing new. People in any unbalanced power dynamic — parent/child, boss/employee, ruler/ruled — have been doing it as long as civilization has existed. The Babylonian Talmud (500 BCE) notes the human tendency toward projection and warns against it: “Do not taunt your neighbour with the blemish you yourself have.” Or as the Christian Bible said, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Projection as Propaganda

It’s also right out of the fascist political playbook. A 2001 paper examines the use of projection as a tactic of Nazi political manipulation, and points out that it is not strictly used by Nazis. And it often is somewhat successful. It certainly muddies the waters.

Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf about the Big Lie theory. He believed that if you lied as preposterously as possible, and kept repeating it, eventually people would believe it, on the grounds that no one could make up something that crazy. He also counseled that one should never admit to wrongdoing, blame one’s enemy for everything that goes wrong, and never turn down an opportunity to create “a political whirlwind.” And he justified his use of this technique with his opinion that it was used by Jews to blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, who was a prominent nationalist and antisemitic political leader in the Weimar Republic.

Projection at its most classic. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What to Do About it

I don’t really have any clear answers here. I find that direct and aggressive confrontation of people spouting the propaganda lies, with links that disprove their claims, is effective in dealing with particular situations. But it’s nerve-wracking and it’s something not everyone is equipped to do. Some of us are not in a position of health or safety to allow us to do that. Of course you should protect yourself first.

I find that just saying, “No, that’s not how it is,” is not effective because it’s almost impossible to prove a negative. But I do find that as soon as one of these preposterous claims appears, it’s worth my time to ask myself, “What is the New Right trying to deflect attention from now?”

History usually reveals the truth, but that may not help people caught in the situation right now. History has come down hard in favour of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, but that didn’t save six million of them.

So my counsel is to support one another. Stand up in protest whenever you see one of these ridiculous claims peddled. If possible, mock the accusers mercilessly until they realize you are not an easy mark. Do not allow them to manipulate you through your ego: let their judgments of your intelligence and your open-mindedness slide off you like water off a duck’s back. That can be really hard to do, but another page in their playbook advises them to do this in order to get you to back down through real or perceived social pressure. Don’t do it. And if the confrontation occurs in social media, report and block whenever you have the option of doing so.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I owned a dog, whom I still miss very much, and am still owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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How to Buy a Religion

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What’s wrong with Sephora’s witch kit?

Is it crass to reduce a religious practice to $40 of mass-manufactured perfumes and Tarot cards? Probably, but haven’t Pagans been debating “pay-to-pray” back and forth for years? Sure, an independent Etsy artisan needs to make a living. But doesn’t Sephora also have to tap new markets to survive? The scale’s different, but what about the essence?

Is the mall any worse than the metaphysical shop?


Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

Karl Marx

Capitalism alienates.

It takes parts of you and makes commodities out of them. Your time, your physical activity, and your mental energy all get sold on the labor market like Tarot decks and perfume. Your body contains more than itself – it carries your community, the work and care of your loved ones, everything they do to keep you physically and psychologically functional. Without all that, how would you make it out of your door every morning with enough resiliency to work? After all, capital is hungry. A business needs to grow, or else other companies out-compete it in the market and force it into bankruptcy. The ones that can grow, survive. The ones that find more ways and things to eat, grow. They need your ability to work, to produce goods and services they can sell. All of the ingredients that go into your work, they consume.

Capital imposes its needs onto the dispossessed, the ones who don’t own businesses or rental properties and so have nothing to live on but their ability to work. The whole community depends on the money its wage-workers earn, so it has to organize its collective life in whatever way maximizes their employability. Wage-workers are exploited, and they incarnate entire communities of labor, exploited alongside and through them.

Religion is one way the dispossessed survive. Capitalism cuts you off from your basic nature: your capacity to flourish, to form relationships as a free being. It demoralizes in both the current and the older sense: the mindlessness and futility of wage-work, housewifery, and unemployment teach despair and induce depression, but when capital reduces you to an instrument, it de-moralizes you in a larger sense. The more of you that goes to satisfy capital’s hunger, the less of you is left for self-cultivation, creativity, and relationship-building. You are alienated from yourself.


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Pop-culture resurgence: Internet tabloid Vice offers dozens of witchcraft-themed articles. Source

Sephora sells to women.

The social base of religion (Pagan and otherwise) is not only the dispossessed in general, but specifically the specially-oppressed along racial, national, and gender lines. Even when the ministers and bishops are men, it’s women who cook meals for sick parishioners, clean up after services, teach Sunday school, and fill most of the pews. Capitalism, by definition, only pays for waged work. But, the health and functionality of wage-workers is costly; it takes a vast expenditure of unpaid work in the home and the community to feed and support wage-workers, take care of their kids and elders, and ease the emotional strain of their alienation. So, there’s a division of labor between paid and unpaid work, and it falls along the lines of gender. Culture, ideology, and discrimination harmonize with the pervasive reality of anti-woman and anti-LGBT violence, forming an elegantly self-reinforcing feedback loop; gender roles both flow from and reinforce the overall social system. Those who don’t fall in line get hurt.

Religion sits at a key point in the cycle. It allows the racially and nationally oppressed to rely on each other for support, fellowship, and existential meaning without their oppressors in the room for a few hours each week (is it a coincidence that in the US, Black people report being “absolutely certain” of God’s existence at a higher rate than self-identified Christians do?). Religion takes the edge off of alienation, offering a relationship with something bigger than you, your job, and your daily life – a bedrock of connections and values deeper and older than capitalism. At the same time, it transmits gender roles and racial social segregation from generation to generation, helps the dispossessed stay psychologically healthy enough to work, and gives bourgeois clergy a medium to preach patience and forbearance towards oppression rather than revolution and collective action. From time to time, though, it takes on an opposite role, providing mass movements with a moral language and the institutional infrastructure they need. Religion is politically contradictory. It keeps the dispossessed in line – except when it’s helping them liberate themselves.

Paganism has an even sharper gender skew than most religions. After all, it actively encourages women to take on sacerdotal and leadership roles (not to mention its historical ties to lesbian feminism and LGBT culture). Sephora sells to women, so selling women’s religion is an intuitive next step, especially given that pop culture is currently more infatuated with witchcraft than it has been since the 90s. When Sephora sells Paganism, it’s offering more than a deck of cards and some quartz.  Sephora is no less responsible for capitalism’s crushing alienation than any other business. It helped create the ailment. Now, it’s promising a $40 cure.


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Metaphysical shopfront. Source

Unlike most religions, modern Paganism’s basic institutional anchor isn’t the congregation. Rather, it’s the metaphysical shop. Jonathan Wooley explains:

The authors, makers and the shops that stock their wares could operate without moots and open rituals; but moots and open rituals – in their current form – could not exist without the “Pagan Business”.

The point here is not that those who make their living through Paganism are being greedy or venial. On the contrary, writing words, speaking spells, crafting holy things, and making ceremonies that heal, enlighten, and empower is important work, and those working in these ways cannot survive on mere air and good wishes. The problem arises from how we are currently supporting the work that they do, and the centrality of this (commercial) arrangement in our community. Before all else, you have to pay. By relying upon the Market to directly transmit our lore, to fund our gatherings, to supply our goods, we become complicit in it. It means the fortunes of our traditions turn not with the wheel of the year, but with the shifting fashions and stock prices of the global publishing and wellness industries. Our community is directed less by the will of the gods, and more by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The heartbeat at the core of our living traditions becomes the ring of a cash register.

This dominance of the logic of the Market within Paganism is not surprising, even if it is disquieting. Paganism is one of the few religions to have arisen within the Modern Age, when Capitalism was in its ascendency. This has very real consequences for us all. Let us not forget the prototypical “gateway experience” for a seeker – traditionally – was buying a book from an occult book shop. The fact that the internet and Amazon have replaced the knowledgeable local bookseller is to be lamented; but it is not so meteoric shift as we might suppose. Whether your spirituality is expressed through buying knowledge from a kooky shop on Glastonbury High Street, or from Amazon, your spirituality is still being expressed through shopping. Equally, this shift demonstrates the extent to which our infrastructure is dependent upon the vagaries of the market to survive: the rise of the internet has caused many Pagan bookshops to close; depriving local communities of an invaluable opportunity to meet, learn, and socialise. Indeed, it is precisely because we have relied on the Market that this transition – from a friendly, in-community, low-profit enterprise, to a distant, global, high profit one – has taken place. The very means by which our lore is spread has been transformed for the worse by the dictat of the Market.

In other words, Sephora and a PantheaCon vendor don’t differ in essence – only in scale.


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The nitrogen cycle. Source

When Paganism is commercial, it’s filling religion’s conservative role, reconciling the dispossessed to their oppression. After all, if shopping is the way out of alienation, then capitalism, if not benevolent, is at least neutral. Collective action isn’t even on the radar.

But that’s not the only Paganism.

We’re all of us embedded in a living relational web – humans, the biosphere, the land and sea and sky, the gods and the dead. The nitrogen cycle and the water cycle have a sacredness. It’s holy when through death, an organism becomes food, transmuting into new life. The Sun is slowly spending itself. It feeds plants and algae with its energy, and that energy sustains the same animals who then nourish plants when they die and decompose. Gods are at once embodied in and emergent from each nexus of the process, standing at the fulcrums where nature moves humans and is itself moved. Paganism is what the mutually-conditioning cycles of ecology and evolution teach you when you pay attention to them, learn their rhythms, find where you are inside them. Prayer, devotion, myth, and ritual all orient you towards that ground of your being and make a sacrament of your participation in it. Reciprocity is cosmic, both an imperative and a fact. Do ut des, I give so that you may give, is at the heart of both polytheist sacrificial theology and the Mystery that governs the process of life.

You were born with a capacity for eudaimonia: balanced, all-sided human flourishing, the Greatest Good of ethics and philosophy. You can develop eudaimonia if you cultivate virtues: self-knowledge, self-control, justice, and right relationship. Capitalism is a social process that alienates you from that capacity, but it doesn’t destroy it. It does, however, determine the form that it needs to take.

Self-development, ritual and political practice, and reverence for the Gods, the dead, and the natural world are the foundation stones of revolutionary virtue. Paganism holds a radical seed: given the reality of capitalism and empire, the communist organizer, the Stoic sage, and the nature-mystic devotionalist must all become the same person. Each component of revolutionary virtue is incomplete by itself. They need each other, just like plants, decomposers, and nitrifying bacteria.

And it’s all unbuyable. The people trying to sell you Paganism are promising to cure your alienation with more alienation, only in disguise. They can sell you a Scott Cunningham book, a handmade pewter pendant, or a $40 “starter” box, but do those contain the Mystery? At best, they’re dispensable props. At worst, they’ll actively mislead you; like any religion, Paganism can teach you to accept your oppression or it can teach you to fight it.

If you really want to buy something, get Marcus Aurelius or an ecology textbook. Read myths. Go out and see how mosses and lichens grow on trees and how trees that die feed mushrooms and bacteria, fertilizing the soil. The relational web spreads out from there. It reaches to the sun, the atmosphere, the microorganisms, and the gods who take their embodiment in that dynamic interplay. Find your nature, your inborn potential for virtue, eudaimonia, and right relationship. You are in the web. Root yourself. Capitalism uproots you and disrupts your nature. It’s throwing the whole world’s processes so off-kilter that if it isn’t stopped, the ecosphere will endure – but it will be so changed that humans won’t be able to live in it.

Paganism lives in that knowledge. It’s a method – you learn the context of human life and you choose to act accordingly. Sephora can’t sell it to you, but neither can the vendors at Pagan Pride.

You can’t simply opt out of the alienation capitalism imposes. But, you can choose what to do about it; you are existentially free. Paganism can be a path to knowledge and revolutionary virtue, or it can be an “opiate of the masses.”

Sephora wants to sell you one of those. But you’re free to choose the other.


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


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Why Do You Care About Alex Jones?

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Should Alex Jones be on Facebook?

Last week, the company announced that it’s taking down his pages. The reading public will have to go elsewhere to learn about the perils of routine vaccinations and the undoubtedly-many uses of a “latent iodine survival shield.” Now, given his conspiracy theories, homophobia, and more-or-less explicit white nationalism, Jones does not cut a sympathetic figure. But should the Left support his free speech rights anyway, because the same mechanisms that removed Alex Jones are also turned against leftists? Or should anti-fascists rejoice that a hard-right demagogue has lost a platform?

Leftist and social-justice social media’s been arguing the case all week. But, while the debate’s touched on free speech, no-platforming, and the power of tech companies, one question’s been lost in the shuffle:

Why does it matter?

Should we support Facebook’s action? What does “support” even mean? Will commenting on Facebook about the company’s decision change its policies, towards Alex Jones or anyone else? Facebook does as it pleases. The Left can’t change that any more than it can convince Alex Jones that floods aren’t caused by the Air Force.

So, is the issue important? The question’s empty. There are no stakes. There’s no political practice involved other than the discourse itself. It’s isolated from any kind of social power. Does it feel meaningful? Sure, but the feeling is fake – simulated politics. It’s catharsis without the trouble of leaving your front door.


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Ideas are not political.

Politics is power. It’s about deciding the shape of collective life. Talking about how things should be isn’t political if it’s outside the context of organizing for power. So, neither side of the Jones debate has a political position. After all, is there anything at stake besides whether to type “this is good” or “this is bad” into a comments thread?

Social media platforms seek to maximize their own economic good as individual businesses (by engaging more people for longer, they increase the number of eyes on each ad they sell). Every post you make about whether Facebook should have deleted Alex Jones increases Facebook’s user engagement and, therefore, its profitability. But as they compete for ad revenue, social media companies also maximize the political good of the entire capitalist class: if you scratch your political itch by liking and sharing, you’re that much less likely to feel the need to stir up real-life trouble.

But why should it be either/or? Why not do politics both in person and on social media – can’t you walk and chew gum at the same time?

Well, social media “politics” isn’t zero-impact. The cost goes deeper than emotional exhaustion and wasted time – social media rewards certain styles of interaction. Controversy and hostility lead to more attention and engagement (not to mention favorable treatment from the algorithm!). It’s easy to form endlessly-specific insider cliques, and drama within them just pushes user engagement even higher. So, companies deliberately design their platforms to encourage all that.

In the field, though, that sort of behavior wrecks a fledgling project faster than you can realize it’s happening. I know a self-defense instructor who won’t let trainees directly hand each other the fake gun prop after they practice disarming a shooter – if you do it in practice, you’ll find yourself doing it in real life. The same goes for how you approach other people and form relationships. If you keep handing the algorithm the inflammatory statements and flame wars it loves, you’ll find yourself acting that way when you organize in real life. Social media takes your organizing skills and makes them worse.

You don’t have to take part. You’ll be a better organizer if you don’t.

Talk to your co-workers, your fellow-renters, your co-religionists, and your neighbors. What communities of interest are you part of? Anyone can organize their community but if you don’t do it, how will it happen? Reach out. Find your common interests. Get organized. Take collective action. Serve the people.

And then, when you’re doing real politics, it won’t matter what Facebook thinks.

 


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


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On Plastic Straws and the Coming Collapse

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

An editorial, from Rhyd Wildermuth

Recently, the city of Seattle in the United States became the first US city to fully ban single-use plastic straws, utensils, and cocktail picks in restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. The ban was heralded as an environmentalist victory by marine conservationist groups and fiercely fought by restaurant associations, plastics manufacturers, and some activists for the disabled.

You may have encountered news about the ban specifically because of the opposition of some activists for the disabled. Though the Seattle ban allows restaurants to provide flexible single-use plastic straws for people who medically need them, restaurants, bars, and cafes aren’t required to keep such straws on hand. Thus, a disabled person who cannot drink without a straw might find themselves needing to provide their own in order to consume a beverage they’ve purchased. Activists for disabled people point out that this situation creates an accessibility barrier for a minority of people who already face countless other such barriers.

The debates around the plastic straw ban unfortunately obscured several much larger issues around environmental destruction, Climate Change, and disability. More unfortunately, the way the plastic straw ban was debated across social media reduced the question to a false polarity: save the turtles and oceans, or keep disabled people from aspirating their liquids and dying of pneumonia.

The problem with all these debates was that there were deeper topics which were never up for debate. For instance, can laws designed by technocrats to change consumer behavior actually stop environmental destruction? Can capitalist nations fix the problems they’ve caused by replacing one product with another? And what about the vulnerable people who rely on capitalist-created products that destroy the environment?

One can detect in the ban on plastic straws by Seattle (a city in which I lived for 16 years) a smug and fully unmerited sense of humanitarian “progress.” Much of it is hypocrisy: Seattle is longtime home to some of the most environmentally-destructive corporations in the world, such as Boeing and Amazon (which will sell you 100 plastic single-use straws for $5.99, straw ban be damned). Seattle relies heavily on those corporations and their workers for its tax revenue. Also, Seattle’s carbon output, while low compared to many cities of its size, is only so low because of its geographical proximity to hydro-electric power plants, not from efforts to conserve energy.

Like many “progressive” European nations and other cities, Seattle obscures its own contributions to the destruction of the environment while implementing laws and policies which only alter the aesthetics of its damage. This same hypocritical stance can be seen in Seattle’s treatment of homeless people. The Seattle King County metropolitan area has the fourth largest homeless population in the United States (12,500, the same size as South Korea’s homeless population), yet prides itself on its Liberal/progressive policies and is also the first large US city to have elected a Socialist to city council.

Seattle is the perfect example of the self-congratulatory, hypocritical Liberal Democratic (that is, capitalist) order, but it is hardly alone. This same duplicity can be found throughout the Western world. For a case in point, we need only look at Germany, usually touted as a paragon of green policies even under a conservative government. Angela Merkel announced the closure of all nuclear power plants by 2022; but Germany purchases and will continue to purchase and transport nuclear energy from its neighbors, particularly France. In addition, half of its timber production is burned to create electricity.

Almost all of the shifts that Liberal Democratic (capitalist) nations in the world have made towards reducing the destruction of the climate follow a similar pattern. Reductions in one destructive behavior are replaced by increases in another, and each switch is mere aesthetic. This pattern is nothing new: consider how most of the policies of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act in the United States focused entirely on aesthetic changes. Reductions of emissions into the air from factories and coal-fired power plants, as well as from automobiles, never significantly reduced CO2 in the atmosphere; instead, they reduced particulates which were causing asthma, smog, and “acid rain.”

The problem here should be obvious. While no one wants to choke on automobile exhaust and industrial pollutants, and reducing these particulates absolutely decreased cancer rates and helped asthmatics, these policies only made the larger problem invisible. C02, the primary agent of Climate Change, doesn’t leave a stain on the sky or cause immediate health problems. Instead, it increases the temperature of the entire earth by trapping heat, thereby melting glaciers, shifting ocean currents, and initiating wide-scale droughts, floods, crop failures, extinction events, and eventually societal collapse.

See No Evil

With this in mind we can return for a moment to the plastic straw ban. 9 million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year; of that pollution 2000 tons are single-use plastic straws: 0.025% of the total (though 4% by volume). Beyond pointing out the unnoticeable change in the oceans even the eradication of all plastic straws in the world would affect, we also need to remember that consumer bans like this are not actually targeting CO2 emissions.

Single-use plastic straws are visible waste. We can point to the images of sea turtles and marine birds choked to death on a piece of plastic and say, “look–we did this.” Larger-scale pollution such as trash dumping or oil spills likewise provide visible signs of the damage our modern way of life causes to the environment. Gulls and seals covered in petroleum or whales and dolphins killed by plastics make us feel bad. Our immediate response is guilt and some anger: we didn’t want to kill those things, and we want whomever did to take responsibility immediately, clean up the mess, and hopefully pay some sort of fine.

This is a deeply Liberal/capitalist sense of guilt, one that feels quite sorry for things and hopes everything can go back to normal once all the apologies are repeated and the perpetrator has learned their lesson. This guilt wants its feelings smoothed over and the ugliness taken away, along with re-assurances that all is forgiven. And most of all, this guilt just wants the crisis to be over so capitalism can continue.

The real crisis, however, is only just beginning. The destruction industrialized capitalist society has caused to the entire biosphere has been mostly invisible for the last two centuries; it has now made itself visible and becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But unlike an oil spill or a sea-turtle suffocated by a plastic straw, the visible manifestations cannot be traced directly to individual actors, and creates a crisis for the model of Liberal guilt and responsibility.

Who is most responsible for the C02 emissions of automobiles? Is it the manufacturers who made the cars, the millions of people who bought and drove them, the governments which built the roads and defunded public transit, or the petroleum companies who delivered the gasoline to the consumers? Is it the people who profited off of all this most, or the people whose demand and consumption enabled that profit? And even if we decide that it is the corporations and politicians who are most responsible, the billions of people in the world such as myself who have never owned nor driven a car could just as easily say that those who do–even if they needed it because they are disabled–are also guilty and responsible.

The Coming Collapse

Extinction Symbol

The problem remains that guilt doesn’t actually change anything, and these questions–just like the debates around the straw ban–obscure the much more terrifying issues.

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

Consider the automobile question posed above. Ending automobile use and manufacturing of automobiles would drastically reduce the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere, as well as the destruction of land and habitat caused by roads and petroleum extraction. Also, it would re-green a lot of space quickly: think all of those parking lots and highways no longer used. But if you have a car right now you’re probably thinking about how put out you’d be, especially if you live in a rural or suburban area. That goes doubly for someone in that situation who is disabled.

This problem repeats itself in every possible scenario. Jet travel, international shipping, personal energy consumption: vastly curtailing or even ending any of these things would actually make a difference and possibly stop climate collapse, but in each case most humans would lose something they count as a freedom, while a few would also lose their ability to survive.

Unfortunately, this is the future for industrial civilization whether we want it or not. Doing absolutely nothing will still kill the most vulnerable, while a small minority will get to keep all the technological splendor of late-capitalism. The biosphere will wither, civilization will self-destruct, and the rest of the human and non-human populations of the earth will suffer a slow, agonizing genocide.

A scenario already playing itself out in many places helps to explain the really awful crisis we are in. Increased temperatures increase demand for air-conditioning and other CO2-producing cooling technologies. Brownouts (when power-plants cannot provide enough electricity to meet demand) already occur and will increase as the earth warms. Such events will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (the elderly) who may die during heat waves. So even all our efforts to transition to renewable and less-destructive energy sources will not fix the problem: the extra energy creation will merely go into mitigating these disasters.

There is currently no political or social mechanism to decide how to distribute energy to protect vulnerable people while reducing energy consumption by those who need it less. The best the technocrats in whom we are told to put our faith have come up with are aesthetic changes which feel good but change nothing. More so, even these toothless policy changes rarely ever take effect.

No government has banned personal automobile use, nor petroleum extraction, nor the vast networks of server farms or industrial manufacturing and distribution upon which our modern existence relies. Nor can we ever expect to see governments do this without revolutionary pressure.

So the current state of affairs–in which humanity continues to produce and consume its way to its eventual demise–will continue unabated. People living in wealthy capitalist nations will continue to debate aesthetic changes to their way of life and argue endlessly about who precisely is most to blame. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable beings–human and especially other-than-humans–will continue to suffer more and more from industrial civilization as the glaciers melt, the forests burn, the deserts spread, and the oceans rise.

Until our debates about environmental damage and Climate Change take this reality as their starting point, we will all suffer this collective fate, whether we ever use a straw or not.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is the co-founder and a co-editor of Gods&Radicals. His latest book, Witches in a Crumbling Empire, is now available at our online bookstore in print or digital.


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Why Liberals Care About Russia

 

“On liberalism’s crisis and its nationalist solution.”

From Sophia Burns

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Neera Tanden, former policy director for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and president of the Center for American Progress

Trump and Putin gave a joint press conference last month. The #resistance is up in arms.

Supposedly, Trump’s conciliatory language makes him a traitor, “simpering and submissive” before Putin. Doesn’t he care that Putin hacked the election – an “act of war” comparable to Pearl Harbor and 9/11?

Now, Russian bots didn’t put Trump in office. Rather, Hillary Clinton focused her get-out-the-vote efforts on Republicans, misguidedly expecting them to vote for her (whom they’ve hated for decades) rather than their own candidate. That miscalculation narrowed her majority enough to make her vulnerable to a fluke of Electoral College math.

Even so, since the election anti-Trump progressives have become more and more bellicose, with a growing homophobic and anti-communist edge. Where is that coming from? Aren’t liberals supposed to oppose war and support gay rights?

What changed?

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Protest art: the Wall Street bull covered in rainbow dildos, straddled by “Putin.” Source

Liberalism is in crisis.

It started under Obama. Despite opening his administration with broad popularity and the only congressional super-majority in recent memory, Obama’s tenure saw the emergence of mass movements to the Democratic Party’s left, most prominently Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Combined with the lingering echo of the 2008 financial meltdown, that laid the conditions for a Democratic crisis of legitimacy. In 2016, it crystallized through Bernie Sanders challenging Clinton and Trump winning the presidency. The unthinkable had happened. Progressives couldn’t deliver what they promised. So, their credibility vanished.

How did they respond? There’s a logic to the accusations of treason, the saber-rattling, and the conspiracy theories. If you’ve lost your legitimacy, how better to get it back than to set yourself up as the defender of the homeland against a looming foreign menace?

That’s why liberals are also going after the Left. Supposedly, Russian hackers are behind not only right-wing fake news, but also oil pipeline protests and the Jill Stein campaign. Democrats are throwing accusations of disloyalty and collusion at all of their opponents, left as well as right.

So, it’s no surprise to see the kind of outright homophobia that they mostly avoided under Obama. Homophobia is a powerful weapon in the nationalist arsenal. Insinuations of “deviant” sexuality bring a visceral punch to the image of sinister, un-American outsiders, strengthening nationalists’ appeal. Joe McCarthy persecuted gays as well as Communists in the 50s, and Democrats are exploiting those same attitudes today. Will they officially recant their pro-gay rights platform? They don’t need to. They’re feeding an embryonic anti-LGBT backlash in spite of it.

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Source

Liberals are fighting a war on two fronts.

On one side, they’re trying to beat down and discredit the Left. On the other, they’re competing against the Right on its own nationalistic turf.

Working in coalition with liberals is common sense for most leftists. But, the Democrats’ hard-nationalist turn means they’re starting to view radicals as enemies on par with Trump supporters. Government socialists and other activist leftists will doubtless keep trying to form progressive coalitions anyway. They’re donating volunteer hours to the political forces that will destroy them.

Progressives tolerate radicals when they can afford to. Right now, their crisis means they can’t. Working with Democrats, within their subculture, is no longer viable. So, without an infrastructure of independent revolutionary institutions, how will the Left survive? Revolutionaries can drop conventional activism and embrace the institution-building dual power strategy, or they can find themselves helpless as the liberal allies they depend on turn against them. The crisis of liberalism won’t be ending soon. Unless revolutionaries adapt, how can they withstand it?


Sophia Burns

is a Communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


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Folk Magic and Freedom

“Folk magic belongs to the poor and dispossessed wherever that may be. It doesn’t belong to any one people, isn’t black magic or white magic. It’s magic for the everyday. It’s the magic of the people.”

From Emma Kathryn

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Folk magic is as old as time. Sometimes I wonder if magic is the right term, for the practises may not seem magical in themselves alone, and I suppose it depends on your own definition of what magic is. For example, is knowing where to find plants and their practical applications magic? I would say so, but you may not. But whether you believe in magic or not, these practises have their uses in everyday life.

Folk magic was often used by those who could not afford otherwise. When doctors were too expensive or too far away, it was the local wise woman who would be called upon for medicines made from local herbs, treating illness, unwanted pregnancy and what ever ailed the local community. People turned to folk magic when there was no one or nothing else that could help them.

Occultishly speaking, some might say that folk magic is simple, that it is low magic, and perhaps it is, but that does not take away its effectiveness.

Folk magic belongs to the poor and dispossessed wherever that may be. It doesn’t belong to any one people, isn’t black magic or white magic. It’s magic for the everyday. It’s the magic of the people.

I practise witchcraft and my particular flavour, as I’ve no doubt mentioned before, is a mixture of Traditional British witchcraft (non-Wiccan), Obeah and Vodou. A right mixture, I know, but as far apart as they may seem from one another, what makes them so compatible is that many of the practises from each tradition can be described as folk magic.

Each one of those practises, individually makes use of plant knowledge and lore, of connection to the land, of singing and chanting and the power of words, of actions and of nature.

Did you ever read American Gods by Neil Gaiman? Bloody great book, and the series was okay too, but I always thought, and think now, that the message might have been lost (or perhaps I read into it too deeply, or perhaps I just saw the truth in it, because the best stories are true, if only to themselves).

Throughout the book, the protagonist discovers the reality of the old Gods and comes to be involved with their struggle with the new, modern Gods. The one the protagonist doesn’t really get or understand is the buffalo that appears to him. Turns out the buffalo is The Land, or at least a physical representation of the land.

What I took from that novel, the truth I saw within it, is that the land is always there. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in many Gods, one God, none, or maybe you’re unsure, it doesn’t matter because the land is there. It is connection to the land at the very core of folk magic. It is changing with the seasons. It is knowing what plant is used for what. It’s about cooking from scratch with real food. It is about getting back to basics. And it doesn’t matter where in the world you are or where you are from, if the land is where your ancestors hail from or not, wherever you are, you can connect to the land beneath your feet.

I believe that we can incorporate and use folk magic practises in our everyday lives, and in doing so loosen the grip Capitalism has on us. Don’t think this is an outright attack, a fight to the end. Instead see it as becoming less reliant on the State. Think of it as chipping away. If it were a fight, then folk magic would be the equivalent of footwork and body movement rather than the knock out blow, but the footwork and the body movement put the fighter in the right place at the right moment to land that power punch.

Also, it’s important to realise that this doesn’t mean you must refrain from all aspects of modern life, but in learning these things, and learning them in a way that is relevant for today, it gives us those tools, the knowledge and skill set if you should ever need it in the future.

And maybe you might just find that you actually enjoy doing it.

So what is folk magic? What I’m going to share from here on out are all things that I myself do. Everything is from my own experiences and I offer them here to you, fellow seekers.

I love nothing more than to be out in nature and foraging is an excellent way to do just that. Working with plants is probably the core of my folk practise, and that’s solely because plants can be used for so many things.

But before working with plants, you need to be able to identify them properly. A good identification guide is a must, one that shows detailed pictures of the whole flower, the petal and the leaf. And then you’ll need to get out and about where you live. Look at what grows there. Identify it. Research its uses. Harvest it. Dry it. It is quite easy and extremely enjoyable when you get going, but you do have to make an effort to get out.

A couple of words on foraging responsibly: Firstly, never decimate an area, after all, it will be in your interest to make sure there will be a plentiful supply next year; also remember we don’t inhabit the land alone, so leave more than enough for the creatures that rely on it for food and shelter.

I’ve already hinted that plants can be used for medicine. Whenever I write about this, sometimes people think I’m saying very ill people should stop taking their medication – I’m not. But that said, for many common illnesses there are natural remedies. When you take cough medicine, or cold medicine, or headache tablets, these types of medication don’t actually make you better, but rather soothe the symptoms of whatever ails you. Big pharma is big business, and you can save your hard-earned cash by not buying these kinds of product, or relying on them less often.

The first thing is to learn of the medical applications of the trees and plants where you live, for example white willow is the precursor to aspirin and grows along rivers.

When it comes to a lot of plants, they are both medicine and food. Teas are a good way to hydrate and will have different properties depending on the plant used. Use dry or fresh flower heads or leaves and steep for a few minutes in hot water before straining and drinking.

Then there’s decoctions, which are made by adding plant matter to water, then boiling until only half of the liquid remains. Tinctures are made by steeping plant matter in alcohol such as vodka, rum, or my own particular favourite, brandy. Some of the plant oils are not water-soluble, however alcohol extracts them and so the plant’s goodness is drawn into the alcohol. Both tinctures and decoctions can be taken as medicines to ease symptoms including sore throats, coughs and colds. They can also be taken , a spoonful a day, as a health tonic.

Poultices can be used for a variety of minor ailments, including spots, aches and pains, eczema and so on. A poultice can contain so many things depending on what is needed, can be warm or cold, and are typical held against the skin , bandaged in placed and changed regularly.

Witchcraft and Paganism continue to become ever more commercialised, and in the process, causes harm to people, animals and the environment, like commercialisation of anything generally does.

Returning to folk magic means that we can resist, if only in some small part, that which goes against what we believe.

Right now where I live, so many of the plants I use in my own practise are ready to pick. Mugwort and wormwood are just beginning to bloom, and the Datura is flowering. I love datura. It is a night-blooming plant, and has large creamy trumpet-shaped flowers that smell better than roses. When the flowers die back, large spikey seed pods grow big and round, finally rupturing and spilling their seeds onto the ground below.

I make ointments with all of those plants and use them in meditation, to induce lucid dreaming and other such practises. But, used carefully and always with respect, these ointments can be used to ease muscular pain as well as arthritis and other conditions. When using such plants, you must always take into account your own health and any medical conditions you may have.

And it’s not just those exotic, almost stereotypical witches plants that can be used either. Flowers including honeysuckle, roses, marigolds, lavender, and so many other common plants can be used in many witchcraft and / or folk practices. Think about making your own incense blends instead of buying. Leave offerings of flowers and seeds instead of tying ribbons to trees or leaving resin statues and the like.

But folk magic is more than medicine and food, though these issues are very important. Folk magic is about connecting to and working with the land and the spirits that abide there. I am an animist and I see everything in the natural world as having a soul, a spirit. Connecting with that spirit is an important part of my practise, and all of the things described above, going out foraging and working with plants, adds to and builds upon that connection.

Folk magic is also about taking our cues from nature. Today we are so disconnected from the natural cycles and rhythms. We go to work all year round in climate controlled shops, offices and factories. We can eat whatever we like, no matter the season. We’ve lost touch with nature and folk magic is about getting that back.

So go out and connect with where you live. Whether you practise magic or not, whether you believe or not is irrelevant, for the benefits getting back to the land offer will be for all who make the effort. Rediscovering folk magic will give you another tool in your arsenal to use in your fight against the Capitalist State.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.

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The Purpose of a Movement Is What It Does

Sophia Burns argues that opportunism comes not from bad ideas, but from practical and contextual needs.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Three weeks ago, DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary against a high-ranking Democratic congressman, earning her widespread popularity among leftists around the country.

Last week, many of those same leftists were horrified to see her walk back her previous criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. During an interview, a PBS journalist brought up the killing of dozens of protesters by Israeli soldiers in May, which Ocasio-Cortez had called “a massacre” with “no justification.” When the interviewer claimed thatof course the dynamic there in terms of geopolitics and the Middle East is very different from people expressing their First Amendment right to protest,” Ocasio-Cortez answered, “Well, yes,” and promised to “learn and evolve” on the issue.

Why did Ocasio-Cortez’s unequivocal stance soften, bringing it in line with the standard Democratic position? After all, her district is so overwhelmingly Democratic that whoever wins the primary, wins the office – she has no need to moderate for the general election. So, why the shift in her position?

Where do opportunistic ideas come from?


According to the cybernetician, the purpose of a system is what it does. This is a basic dictum. It stands for bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intention, prejudices about expectations, moral judgment, or sheer ignorance of circumstances.

Stafford Beer

Bernie Sanders made his name winning against a series of Democrats in Burlington, VT in the 80s. So why did he become a Democrat in all but name, supported by the Vermont Democratic Party and supporting it in return, starting in 1990?

SYRIZA, the Greek socialist party, came to power in 2015 on an anti-austerity platform. Why did it go on to implement those same austerity policies once in office?

The purpose of a system is what it does. A political organization is a complex system. To understand it, you can’t take its stated goals at face value. Its choices don’t simply follow from its ideas.

Instead, its internal dynamics interact with the demands of its external circumstances to create its strategic attitude – the general stance it takes towards other political actors, the framework within which it makes decisions. That doesn’t exist at the level of conscious ideology. Instead, it forms the taken-for-granted assumptions about what doing politics entails. Whatever ideology it follows in words matters less than the guiding assumptions embodied in a strategic attitude. By and large, a party’s official philosophy is just the particular language it uses to justify its choices post hoc – ideas are not the basis on which organizations make decisions. The internal and external pressures and feedback loops that do form that basis all operate regardless of its claimed ideology. Blue Dog Democrats and Green Party members might wave different protest signs, but politics means voting and going to rallies for them both.

So, why did Sanders become a Democrat?

His “movement” was centered around his career as an individual politician. During the 80s, being an independent allowed him to defeat city-level Democratic competitors. But then, when he ran first for governor and then for Congress in ’86 and ’88, the experience of losing taught him that he needed the Party’s support to advance beyond local office. So, he formed a “special working relationship” with the Vermont Democrats because he needed to. However, he never recanted his third-partyist ideas. Rather, he used them to justify his choices by continuing to nominally self-identify as an independent.

SYRIZA, on the other hand, arose in the midst of a years-long recession, during which the European Union forced Greece to implement harsh cuts to social services in exchange for needed cash bailouts. But, that provoked a massive protest response – young Greeks, with heavy anarchist and Marxist participation, took to the public squares of Athens, camping out and fighting the police. SYRIZA successfully channeled their anger into electoral politics, but that tied them to the viability of the Greek state and its institutions. After all, what other mechanism did they have for exercising social power? SYRIZA didn’t have the option of sacrificing the Greek state’s well-being, even at the cost of its core principles.

When a pro-Palestine democratic socialist finds herself bound for Congress, she must accommodate herself to the program of the Democratic Party. Otherwise, without the Party’s support, where would she find the allies she’ll need to effectively push for her list of reforms? So, unable to deliver on her voters’ priorities, she’d risk being punished by them, just like her predecessor.

Opportunistic ideas come from practice.


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Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Where does that leave revolutionaries?

Understanding why you shouldn’t be an opportunist isn’t enough. Bernie Sanders understands the bankruptcy of the two-party system – he’s built an entire personal brand around opposing it. That hasn’t kept him from taking part. Politics is made of something deeper than beliefs.

When opportunism is a viable option in terms of an organization’s internal dynamics and a useful option in terms of its external situation, then revolutionary ideas won’t fend it off. Opportunism is born from practice. Ideas play catch-up.

So, you can’t fight it just with ideas. If you don’t practice the alternative before you argue for it, then winning the debate just means you get to choose how opportunism will be justified. To win, a revolutionary orientation has to show itself, on the ground, to be at least as useful as an opportunistic one.

Ideology matters, but it lives in what you do, not in the words you say. So, you can’t win opportunists over by educating them. You have to develop a revolutionary practice. You have to show that building institutions outside of the state and against it offers a more effective road to social power than protests and elections.

Otherwise, the opportunists will have proven you wrong, instead.


Sophia Burns

is a Communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


Support our work here.