New Course: Circling The Star with Anthony Rella

(go directly to the enrollment link here)
Circling the Star: Esoteric Psychology and the Iron Pentacle

What is the relationship between cosmology and psychology? What is a Pagan approach to the tensions and conflicts of the Self? What arises when we embrace our “base” instincts and make them the material of our “divine” work?

Designed and instructed by Anthony Rella, participants of Circling the Star will learn through videos, texts, and online conversations:

  • How braiding Sex, Spirit, and Love brings dignity and depth to our relationships.
  • The relationship between stories about ourselves and the creative Self that is beyond language.
  • Practical methods for bringing more joy, depth, and passion into your life and work.
  • How our experiences of conflict, longing, desire, and disappointment may become keys to our divine work.

This course is designed to be accessible to those with minimal exposure to the Iron and Pearl Pentacles or any tradition that comes out of the work of Victor and Cora Anderson. Nevertheless, those with deep experience in these subjects are welcome to participate.

General Information

Instructor: Anthony Rella

Course Length and Schedule: The course will last for six weeks, from 2 September, 2018 until 13 October, 2018

Time Commitment: Participants will be expected to devote a minimum of four hours each week (24 hours total) to the course. This expectation includes time devoted to reading course texts, viewing video lectures, and engaging in conversation with other participants.

Cost: $60 US per person (with provided digital text). $70 US for participants who would like a print copy of the course text (Circling The Star, by Anthony Rella). NOTE: Print option must be ordered by 15 August to ensure delivery.

Subsidies are available for low-income participants.

Maximum participants: 35

Course Requirements: Physical requirements include internet access, a computer or smartphone capable of accessing course materials and viewing videos, and each participant will need to create a login (free of cost) for Discord.

Course Materials: Each participant will be provided a digital copy of Circling the Star, by Anthony Rella. Participants who prefer a print edition of Circling The Star in addition to the provided digital option have the option of purchasing a copy at a greatly reduced price. In addition, participants will be given access to six video lectures grafted by Anthony Rella specifically for this course.

Venue: Weekly course conversations will occur on a dedicated Discord server, where participants will engage in discussion with each other and the instructor, as well as be able to communicate directly with the instructor.

Cancellation/Refund policy: Full refunds of payment are possible up until the end of the first day of the course. After that, the course is 50% refundable until 8 September. No refunds can be given after this date.

Other policies: In the very unlikely event that a participant creates a hostile environment for other participants or the instructor, and if attempts to address the behavior do not correct the problem, the instructor reserves the right to end a participant’s participation. The above cancellation/refund policy will apply in such cases.

Enrollment process: To enroll, remit payment by purchasing the course access at this link by 30 August, 2018 (15 August for if the print text is selected).

By 1 September, 2018 you will receive links to course material and the private Discord server. Links to video lectures will be provided weekly during the course.

Subsidized enrollment: If you would like to request one of the 6 reserved slots for subsidized enrollment, please send us an email at Distro@ABeautifulResistance.com. You do not need to explain your income situation to us, only let us know how much you will be able to pay instead. (Please note: these slots are on a first-come, first-served basis).

About Académie Hérétique

Académie Hérétique (Heretic Academy) is a series of online course offerings from Gods&Radicals Press. Académie Hérétique‘s focus is on political theory, philosophy, esoteric and occult studies, history, and tactical skills for people with little to no academic background or previous knowledge of the subjects taught. Instructors are committed to accommodating varied learning backgrounds, styles, and abilities as much as possible.

Académie Hérétique courses are priced at the lowest rate possible that still enables us to fairly compensate our instructors for their labor, and subsidies are available for those who cannot afford them.

To stay updated on upcoming course options, please subscribe to the Gods&Radicals Press mailing list.

No Individual Solutions

privilege
Source: University of San Francisco

When my partner and I walk down the sidewalk, we know people will sometimes shout that we’re “fuckin’ dykes.” When a straight couple goes out in public, they know they won’t get called “fuckin’ breeders” – they have that privilege.

Mainline social justice acknowledges that. It doesn’t pretend that straight and lesbian couples get treated equally, and it condemns the position of privilege enjoyed by heterosexuals relative to LGBT people. However, recognizing the need to end something is only half of a political position – you also need a way to make that change happen.

Social justice promises just that. Its strategy against not just straight privilege, but privilege in general has two prongs: anti-discrimination legislation on the one hand, and individuals changing their conduct on the other. People need to own up to their privilege; then, they must relinquish it.

But how, specifically, do you do that? Although social justice proponents are often light on the concrete details, one widely-shared article has an answer: if privilege is letting you do something, don’t do it.


 

If you have access to something and you recognize that you have it partly because of privilege, opt out of it.

Mia McKenzie

Now, that implies more than it says. This analysis begins with the experiences of individuals: this couple faces street harassment, that one doesn’t. Then, it generalizes those experiences to larger social groups (Black people, men, bisexuals, and so on). However, it never lets go of its initial individualistic assumptions – the experiences of a group are the experiences believed to be shared by its members.

From there, “opting out” follows logically. Is oppression about individuals being treated unequally because of their demographic position? If so, anti-oppression means working towards equal treatment. Is privilege is the sum of many individual acts of oppression (stacked, like the hierarchy of needs, from microaggressions all the way up to genocide)? Then ending those acts ends privilege. Some can be outlawed (hate violence, for instance). For others, though, you have to convince people to change their behavior. You couldn’t feasibly have a law against not taking women’s opinions seriously, for instance.

So, those with privilege must give it up. Not making use of it seems a reasonable starting point. The article quoted above, for instance, gives as an example not attending a conference that refuses to accommodate wheelchair users. You “opt out” of the benefits, and privilege weakens. To stop privilege, stop participating in it.

In practice, though, that doesn’t work.


 

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Source: GVSU Feminist Voices

But doesn’t fewer people taking advantage of privilege mean fewer people reinforcing it? Even if “opting out” isn’t sufficient by itself, isn’t it a necessary tool?

 

On the ground, “opting out” fails for two reasons:

  • “Opting out” is undesirable. When anti-oppression types say “privilege,” what concrete things are they talking about? Sometimes, they mean getting away with things no one should do – committing sexual assault with impunity, for instance. At least as often, though, they mean less-privileged people not getting to do neutral or positive things that the privileged take for granted – not acts of violence, but things that everyone should be able to do. My partner and I risk homophobic harassment when we go outside. Straight couples don’t. Should they “opt out” of leaving the house? After all, they can do so without being bothered by homophobes – that’s privilege. “Opting out” would mean never stepping out of their front door.
  • “Opting out” is impossible. My partner and I don’t choose to be harassed. Straight people don’t choose not to be. When some people get treated better than others, is it because they somehow control how strangers behave towards them? Should a straight couple say to everyone who walks by, “I know we’re heterosexual, but please treat us no differently than you’d treat lesbians”? If they did, would a homophobe answer, “Oh, happy to oblige! You damn dykes”? If individuals could just will these structures out of their lives (as “opting out” implies), this whole system would have died a long time ago. But that’s not how it works. The social order precedes and transcends the individuals within it.

 

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Source: Feminist Hulk via Comics Alliance

But if “opting out” is impossible, why does the idea persist?

Well, social justice’s individualism allows for no other conclusion. If privilege boils down to individual actions and individual experiences, then individual choices must be both the problem and the answer. Sure, social justice pays lip service to “structural issues” and “systemic oppression.” But the nitty-gritty of what it means by that always falls back on individual complicity. How “systemic” can a critique be when it doesn’t acknowledge that social organization is more than the sum of the individuals inside it? If “structural” oppression just means that every member of a better-off group is individually complicit in their privilege, doesn’t that reduce oppression to “bad apples?” The bad apples may number in the tens or hundreds of millions, but the essence is still there – the problem is rotten people making rotten choices. It’s still about each person’s individual moral failure. However, there is no mechanism by which you can stop being complicit. So, for social justice, there is no solution. There’s only condemnation without end.

 

Luckily, though, this framework doesn’t line up with reality. Oppression isn’t the sum of millions of immoral decisions. Liberation is possible. But, it takes something that social justice hates even more than privilege.


 

Only when men see our work as work-our love as work-and most important our determination to refuse both, will they change their attitude towards us. When hundreds and thousands of women are in the streets saying that endless cleaning, being always emotionally available, fucking at command for fear of losing our jobs is hard, hated work which wastes our lives, then they will be scared and feel undermined as men.

But this is the best thing that can happen from their own point of view, because by exposing the way capital has kept us divided (capital has disciplined them through us and us through them-each other, against each other), we – their crutches, their slaves, their chains – open the process of their liberation.

Silvia Federici

Privilege leads to unequal treatment, but that’s not where it comes from.

Capitalism involves more than fast-food chains and stock exchanges. It’s an all-encompassing division of labor. Every single task through which humanity continues to exist gets parceled out to one group or another. That’s the material basis of social categories that, at first glance, look either natural or merely cultural.

The “common sense” belief that race and gender are bio-cultural phenomena just masks what they really are: ways of assigning different work to different people, carried out under different conditions. Those divisions are then enforced by institutional discrimination, “common sense” ideas (promoted through media, education, and religion), and – should those fail – physical violence. “Woman” as a cultural category both emerges from and reinforces the way that certain people are expected to do care work and housework (mostly unpaid). The category “white,” similarly, both comes from and continually recreates the fact that some workers tend to have better conditions, jobs, and pay, a cultural sense of superiority, and de facto segregation from other workers. Through gender, capitalism gets a lot of necessary work done for free. Through race, it prevents certain workers from uniting with the rest of their class against the system by giving them relative advantages within it. So, privileged workers benefit in the short term. But in the long term, their privilege just prolongs their own exploitation.

Social justice will never realize that. Why should it? The activist subculture is mostly middle-class, not working-class. So, it reflects middle-class ideas and middle-class interests.

Do middle-class and ruling-class men and whites have a long-term stake in abolishing their own privilege? No – it gives them an unambiguous competitive advantage in the professions, management, and business. Why else do middle-class people from less-privileged demographics frame their politics in terms of unjust disparities and ethical imperatives? Without a shared material stake in ending privilege, moral self-sacrifice is all that’s left.

Middle-class and ruling-class reformers, though, find themselves in a contradictory position. On the one hand, lacking privilege makes their lives tangibly worse. But on the other, their class position depends on the continued existence of privilege, because the capitalist division of labor depends on it and they depend on capitalism.

So, they end up with equally-contradictory politics. Social justice has no way out.


 

On more than one occasion, Black workers have forced the employer to open a new job area to them, only to run up against the rigid opposition of white workers.

White revolutionaries must understand, and help the masses of white workers to understand, that the interests of the entire working class can only be served by standing firmly with the Black workers in such cases.

Noel Ignatiev

Does that mean that privilege will never go away? If social justice can’t overcome oppression, what can?

Class struggle.

Internal divisions notwithstanding, the working class as a whole carries out all of the tasks of human existence. Without workers, there is nothing. But, the working class doesn’t decide the way in which it does that labor. The ruling class of capitalists does – the investors, executives, and business owners who control the physical and social infrastructure through which all work happens (the “means of production“).

Capitalists dictate the social order and exploit the working class, accumulating wealth at workers’ expense. The working class has the ability to overthrow capitalism (since capitalists need workers, but workers don’t need capitalists). It also has an interest in doing so – replacing it with a system in which workers (paid and unpaid) control everything. Obviously, capitalists have good reason to oppose that. So, whenever workers try to collectively pursue their interests, the ruling class opposes them however it can. That ranges from shaping “common sense” to relying on state violence.

The division of labor within the working class both creates and relies on privilege. In doing so, it makes it harder for the working class to effectively struggle against its oppressors. Privileged workers are less likely to side with the rest of their class because, due to privilege, they’re comparatively better off. But, that’s only a short-term interest. In the long term, their interests are the same as other workers’.

So, there’s a material basis for workers to come together and organize against the ruling class – and when they do so, specifically fighting against privilege is ultimately good for them all, even if some are benefitting from privilege at the moment. But, to make that happen, working-class politics has to focus on the long-term goal of ending capitalism and exploitation. It needs the analysis that your privilege here and now is the enemy of your liberation in the future. In other words, if it sticks to “achievable” short-term reforms, it can’t effectively do that because it’s dropped the long-term aim. After all, you can’t focus on long-term interests if you don’t acknowledge them. Moderate socialism isn’t any more useful against privilege than social justice.

What can end privilege?

Communism.


 

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Communism can end privilege. Liberal social justice can’t. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Individuals can’t “opt out” of privilege because privilege isn’t individual. It’s built into the class system itself. To get rid of it, get rid of class.

But social justice is scared of that conclusion. Its social base is upper-class and middle-class – they’re either at the top of the pyramid or close enough to imagine themselves getting there. They need the class system, but the class system needs privilege.

Fortunately, abolishing privilege doesn’t depend on them. The working class can do it. No one else can. So, if you really want to see the end of privilege, don’t listen to social justice. Build institutions of working-class power.

Back in the 70s, radical feminists had a saying:

There are no individual solutions to social problems.

Privilege is a social problem. You can’t “opt out” of it. So, stop looking for individual solutions.

Fight for a collective one instead.


 

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

Class and Identity: Against Both/And

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Image credit: Lotta Femminista, via Viewpoint Magazine

I’m sitting in a punk bar in April with an out-of-town socialist. He gets passionate, telling me how disappointing he finds May Day rallies back home – how the local AFL-CIO plays it safe by stumping for Democrats, while other activists demonstrate about immigration, feminism, and “anything besides class.”

“Why can’t this one day be for workers?” he sighs.


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A Jill Stein supporter protests Hillary Clinton during the DNC. Via Wikimedia Commons.

After Hillary Clinton’s failure in November, erstwhile Bernie supporters blamed Clinton’s “identity liberalism” for “abandoning the white working class.” In return, centrist Democrats repeated the accusations they’d made against Sanders during the primaries: supposedly, denouncing Wall Street is only another flavor of the white male reaction that uplifted Trump, and class-based politics means throwing away feminism and anti-racism for the sake of unity with “hillbillies.”

However, the revival of social democracy that Bernie helped catalyze didn’t slow. Often (though not exclusively) through the organizational vehicle of the Democratic Socialists of America and anchored by the audiences of Chapo Trap House and Jacobin, social democracy seems to be edging out “anarcho-liberalism” as the US protest scene’s default ideology.

As it’s grown, its proponents have rebutted the claim that class doesn’t mix with anti-racism and feminism. While criticizing the excesses of the Clintonite politics of representation and “identitarianism” in general, they’ve maintained that they actually oppose racism and sexism more effectively than centrists. After all, their case goes, “universal public goods” and “redistributive social-democratic programs” disproportionately benefit oppressed identity groups because their oppression leaves them poor, unemployed, and uninsured far more often than white straight men. Therefore, the best way to support women and people of color is to avoid divisive, class-effacing privilege analysis. Prioritizing economics doesn’t mean dropping anti-discrimination and anti-bigotry commitments. It’s simply a more effective strategy to pursue them. They agree with the centrists that those are non-negotiable moral imperatives, while disagreeing about how they best can be accomplished.

Overall, they both claim that US progressivism must pick one of their two competing orientations: liberal centrism or social democracy. Identity politics or universalism – which way forward?

Should workers have a holiday to themselves?

But there’s a flaw underlying the clashing-visions narrative. Both worldviews fundamentally misunderstand the nature of race, gender, class, and capitalism – and they do so in precisely the same way.


But in pre-capitalist society the work of each member of the community of serfs was seen to be directed to a purpose: either to the prosperity of the feudal lord or to our survival. To this extent the whole community of serfs was compelled to be co-operative in a unity of unfreedom that involved to the same degree women, children and men, which capitalism had to break. In this sense the unfree individual, the democracy of unfreedom entered into a crisis. The passage from serfdom to free labor power separated the male from the female proletarian and both of them from their children. The unfree patriarch was transformed into the “free” wage earner, and upon the contradictory experience of the sexes and the generations was built a more profound estrangement and therefore a more subversive relation.

Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James

Liberals say that opposing identity oppression means letting class politics go. Social democrats respond that they can walk and chew gum – class-based organizing can and should coexist with a strong anti-discrimination program.

But does either stance square with what race, gender, and privilege materially are?

Under capitalism, most people take part in the work that keeps society running and produces all goods and services. Sometimes that work is paid; sometimes it isn’t. In either case, though, it isn’t controlled by the people who do it. Rather, economic activity is governed by a ruling class of investors and business owners, called capitalists. They accumulate wealth by exploiting the paid and unpaid work carried out by everyone else: the working class, broadly defined. The capitalist class holds power by owning capital (productive property, the objects that workers use to produce goods and services).

The capitalist economy is enormously complex. It requires an elaborate, worldwide division of labor. The ruling class dictates the terms on which that happens. Further, the capitalists know that they don’t actually contribute to the work. Their role boils down to accumulating capital and keeping themselves in charge.

So, when dividing up labor, they hit two targets at once.

There’s nothing in human biology that makes people do extra housework and emotional labor when they’re perceived as women. There’s no law of botany that assigns farm work mostly to immigrants.

But the ruling class has figured out that it can associate different social categories with the expectation and/or requirement that their members will engage in certain types of work. When they do that, the working class itself begins to organically adapt to the capitalist division of labor. The gender role of womanhood, for instance, has unpaid gendered labor built into it. The capitalist class doesn’t send a memo to every individual woman each morning that reads, “Today we need you to clean the kitchen and comfort you boyfriend when he’s upset.” But on the ground, women, not men, are almost always the ones who do that type of work. How does that happen? Well, men have learned a social role that includes having that done for them, and women have learned one that includes doing it. Every time they re-enact those roles, they re-create them; the repeated experience of behaving the way others expect based on gender causes people to internalize those expectations, which then leads them to project them back onto others. The division of labor happens through identity categories, and it plays out in a way that keeps reinforcing them.

Of course, capitalists don’t rely on the working class to keep doing that entirely on its own. They actively intervene in daily life to keep the categories strong. While that does involve the mass media, religious doctrine, and the education system promoting stereotypes and unequal expectations, propaganda is only part of the story. Rather, the ruling class sustains and reinforces identity groups by treating some of them much worse than others. By punishing (legally or socially) those who cross category lines, it keeps the distinctions clear. Racial profiling by police helps keep certain neighborhoods white. When a church excommunicates gays, it ensures that its parishioners’ households are headed by men and produce lots of children.

Additionally, by granting cultural, legal, and material benefits to some identity groups but not others, the ruling class shores up its power. After all, when part of the working class does comparatively better as a result of the division of labor, it’s less likely to unite with the rest of the class to challenge the system overall. That’s how privilege works: it simultaneously emerges from and contributes to the capitalist division of labor, and does so in a way that pits privileged workers against the rest of their class.

That’s not incidental to capitalism, either. When it first emerged, the capital-owning class didn’t want self-sufficient peasant villages. As long as peasants had their land and worked it, they were unwilling to hire themselves out to other people’s businesses. But capitalists need people who own nothing, because such people have no choice but to work for them. So, in the early modern era, the emerging capitalist class created the current working class by enslaving Africans, committing genocide against Indigenous nations to steal their land’s raw materials, and privatizing the land that had once been the European peasant Commons. The categories of gender, race, and nation imposed by that process are the ancestors of today’s identity divisions. Unequal treatment both sustains them and makes them useful to the system.

Privilege is built into class.


Activists must understand the ways that the particular historical experiences of the United States wove race and class together that makes fighting white supremacy central to any revolutionary project. In other words, those who wish to fight against all forms of authoritarianism must understand one crucial fact of American politics—in America authority is colored white.

Roy San Filippo

Race and gender don’t hover out there in the aether, independent of economic reality. If something exists, it exists in the material world. Nothing within the class system is outside the class system. Economics is more than dollars and class is more than tax brackets. Patriarchy, white supremacy, and empire aren’t extraneous features of capitalism. They’re as fundamental to it as selling products on the market. They exist because every day, people make goods and services, keeping society alive according to the division of labor embodied by identity divisions. Combined with unequal treatment, that makes sure the division of labor will still be up and running the next day. Without such a division of labor and disparity of benefits, the working class would not be as productive as the ruling class needs it to be. Without privilege to undermine the basis for class unity, the capitalists would have a revolution on their hands.

My acquaintance in the punk bar, however, didn’t view gender and race as indispensable ingredients of the class system. He wasn’t a bigot, and he supported anti-racism and feminism on moral grounds. Even so, his understanding didn’t root them in the everyday, material life of capitalism. He knew that women workers and immigrant workers are workers, no less than their white male counterparts. But, he still operated with the implicit assumption that capitalism, in general, tries to make workers as interchangeable as possible.

After all, the logic goes, doesn’t capitalism tend to de-skill specialized trades over time in order to drive down those jobs’ wages? In a parallel manner, liberal centrists argue that the market punishes racism and sexism – isn’t it in a company’s self-interest to always hire and promote the most qualified candidate, whatever their identity?

Apart from the skilled trades, the only jobs in which individual qualifications make a substantial difference are professional and white-collar work. Now, it’s true in principle that a less-diverse and less-qualified administrative workforce operates less effectively than one that rewards talent, rather than whiteness and maleness. But a big-box retailer doesn’t need a stocker to have an unusual talent for stacking boxes. The nature of the work is such that most any worker can do it as well as another. For most jobs, unique individual qualifications don’t really make much difference.

As more and more jobs get de-skilled, employers lose the incentive to hire based on applicants’ distinctive qualifications. Over time, specialist knowledge declines as a factor in assigning work. Patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism don’t. Maintaining those divisions of labor allows companies to exploit non-white, non-Western, and non-male workers at extra-high rates. That then creates downward pressure on privileged workers’ pay. De-skilling doesn’t make the working class less differentiated. It makes it more so.

And every corporation knows that whatever it loses by discriminating against qualified administrators, it makes up a thousandfold by keeping the overall division of labor intact.

Capitalism is a totalizing social system. It’s not just fiscal. Race, nation, and gender are among its components. Without them, it could not function. Had it not imposed them, it would not have been able to come into being. But social democrats and liberals don’t quite grasp that. Instead, they view gender, class, and race as more-or-less independent “vectors of oppression” that might inflect each other when they intersect, but still don’t reduce to any shared underlying cause.

And so, liberals and social democrats end up holding in common the view that class, in principle, is ultimately raceless and genderless. They agree that capitalism and privilege exist, but that opposing one doesn’t require opposing the other. They differ on only one point: social democrats say “both/and” to identity and class, while liberals say “either/or.”

Neither view is adequate. Their shared assumption isn’t true.


White supremacy is a system that grants those defined as “white” special privileges in American society, such as preferred access to the best schools, neighborhoods, jobs, and health care; greater advantages in accumulating wealth; a lesser likelihood of imprisonment; and better treatment by the police and the criminal justice system. In exchange for these privileges, whites agree to police the rest of the population through such means as slavery and segregation in the past and through formally “colorblind” policies and practices today that still serve to maintain white advantage. White supremacy, then, unites one section of the working class with the ruling class against the rest of the working class. This cross-class alliance represents the principle obstacle, strategically speaking, to revolution in the United States. Given the United States’ imperial power, this alliance has global implications.

The central task of a new organization should be to break up this unholy alliance between the ruling class and the white working class by attacking the system of white privilege and the subordination of people of color.

Ruckus Collective

But what difference does this make on the ground? Doesn’t good socialist practice still mean pro-worker economics plus anti-racist, feminist social politics? Whether or not it’s all a unitary system, what is concretely at stake?

If race, gender, and empire are inherent to capitalism, the meaning of “good socialist practice” starts to shift.

If a socialist revolution is to happen, the working class must unite. If the class is to unite, revolutionaries must challenge the material and cultural basis of its disunity. So, every political project the Left undertakes needs to specifically challenge privilege within the working class, not sweep it under the rug to avoid “divisiveness.” If your organizing doesn’t meet that standard, you’re not building class unity. You’re tearing it down. There is no raceless and genderless class politics because there is no raceless and genderless class. So, trying to compartmentalize anti-privilege and anti-capitalist work is implicitly chauvinistic (except when it’s explicitly so!). The Left must reject all politics that doesn’t break down intra-class privilege, even when it comes from “our side.”

The social-democratic revival waxes nostalgic for the postwar welfare state, calling for “universal social goods” with anti-discrimination laws tacked on. Its proponents posit a revival of Scandinavian-style social programs as a bulwark against the populist Right and a viable “long game” anti-capitalist strategy. But welfare nostalgia doesn’t naturally lead towards revolutionary socialism. Due to its backwards-looking frame of reference, it fits more intuitively with welfare chauvinism: the tactic used by far-right leaders, from Marine Le Pen to Richard Spencer, of promising to restore not only the social-democratic redistribution, but also the much harsher identity hierarchies of the pre-70s years. And in practice, even avowedly left-wing social democrats are not immune to welfare-chauvinist temptations. Jeremy Corbyn and Sahra Wagenknecht‘s stated anti-racism hasn’t kept them from demanding immigration restrictions.  Angela Nagle‘s claimed feminism doesn’t stop her from scapegoating trans people for the sins of online call-out culture.

The social-democratic “both/and” doesn’t work. Why should it? It attempts to sidestep the question of privilege within the class, not attack it. Opposing privilege as a matter of class-neutral morality rather than working-class strategy leans, over time, towards chauvinism.


For the consequences of the ending of white supremacy, which can only be ended by mobilizing and raising the consciousness of the entire working class, would extend far beyond the point of spreading out the misery more equitably. The result of such a struggle would be a working class that was class conscious, highly organized, experienced and militant – in short, united – and ready to confront the ruling class as a solid block. The ending of white supremacy does not pose the slightest peril to the real interests of the white workers; it definitely poses a peril to their fancied interests, their counterfeit interest, their white-skin privileges.

Ted Allen and Noel Ignatin (Noel Ignatiev)

Does this mean radicals should take a two-stage approach: anti-discrimination now, socialism later?

Both privileged and specially-oppressed parts of the working class have two sets of interests: long-term and short-term. For non-privileged workers, there’s a long-term interest in abolishing capitalism and a short-term interest in eliminating privilege. Privilege is part of capitalism and specially-oppressed workers stand to benefit straightforwardly from getting rid of the system and all of its parts. Privileged workers, though, are in a bind. They share other workers’ long-term interest in ending capitalism. But in the short term, privilege makes their lives better. So, their long-term and short-term interests contradict each other; they share the former with their entire class, but the latter keeps them from recognizing it. Strategically, the trick is to organize privileged workers around their long-term interests – even though that means opposing their own short-term interests.

Liberal anti-discrimination, however, doesn’t do that. It doesn’t want to. There’s a reason it focuses on academia, middle-class professions, and the coverage of media stars with oppressed backgrounds. That flows naturally from its class basis. It aims to remove the barriers that keep middle-class and upper-class members of oppressed identity groups from enjoying full middle/upper-class success. However, that success consists of exploiting working-class people, including those who share their identities.

Privilege and class aren’t separate. The Left’s work against them can’t afford to be, either.

If May Day is about immigrants and feminism, doesn’t that mean it’s about workers?


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Image Credit: Q-Patrol of Seattle

So how should the Left proceed?

If the unitary view of class and privilege rejects liberal anti-discrimination, it also leads away from standard welfare-statist anti-austerity. Should leftists oppose austerity? They shouldn’t support it, since its implementation (like the welfare state’s before it) is done in a way that strengthens capitalist rule (including by shoring up privilege). But the Left’s goal can’t be a return to the postwar “golden years.” Revolutionaries can’t afford nostalgia.

Rather, directly tackling the basis of class rule (including privilege) can best happen outside the framework of state services and legislation. You can conceptualize it through an anarchist, Marxist, municipalist, or whatever other lens, but in the end, only the dual power strategy‘s institution-building approach allows radicals to confront the capitalist class while challenging the division of labor it imposes.

What does that look like in practice?

Q-Patrol in Seattle, WA claims that gentrification in the gay district is behind the past several years’ sharply-rising hate violence. The influx of wealthy software engineers drives up rent and displaces LGBTQ people (replacing them with sometimes-homophobic tech yuppies). Consequently, the neighborhood’s ability to function as a safe haven declines. Losing that “critical mass” of LGBTQ people makes the area more attractive to straight college students looking for nightlife. So, with more drunk, conservative straight people in the district, increased hate violence isn’t exactly a surprise.

Gay business owners, though, have called for more police in the area to quell attacks. But a greater police presence actually accelerates the process. The people most targeted by homophobic and transphobic assaults are often people of color, unhoused people, and/or sex workers. The police themselves harass and sometimes attack members of those groups. Meanwhile, their ambient presence emboldens the same well-off bigots who are behind the violence in the first place.

Q-Patrol’s solution is a community safety patrol, preventing and intervening in attacks while monitoring the police, Copwatch-style. Q-Patrol therefore resists gentrification (which threatens all working-class people in the area, LGBTQ or straight) by displacing an ostensible function of the police (protecting the community). The institution-building strategy hinges on this kind of function displacement. Capitalist institutions organize different aspects of life in ways that reinforce privilege and the division of labor. If leftists build counter-institutions, people can use them organize those same parts of life in ways that don’t do that.

Because its basic work is preventing hate violence and its roots are directly in the LGBTQ community, Q-Patrol directly challenges straight privilege. However, it does so in a way that simultaneously furthers the interests of the neighborhood’s entire working class, straights included. There’s no “both/and”-ism – it doesn’t artificially pin anti-discrimination onto supposedly raceless and gender-free “class issues.” Instead, its work intrinsically and organically does both at once.

That’s the approach the Left needs. The conflict between social democracy and “identity politics” is a red herring. They share a worldview in which privilege and class exist independently of each other. Because of that, both end up supporting capitalism and privilege, since materially, they are the same system. Neither liberals nor social democrats, though, are interested in attacking that system as the coherent, integrated whole that it actually is. Revolutionaries can’t afford that limited perspective. If May Day isn’t about women and immigrants, then it’s not about class.

The Left must confront the class system itself, challenging the ruling class and its division of labor. Radicals shouldn’t fight one limb of the system in a way that strengthens another. Autonomous working-class politics, based on the dual power strategy of institution-building, has a chance of breaking out of that trap.

Welfare nostalgia doesn’t.


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


The Pre-Sale for A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing has begun!

 

Solidarity Forever Poster

For Low and Middle Class Unity

Guest post by Martin Christensen

For years since the economic boom of the late 40’s, early 50’s and on up to the one in the 90’s both low and middle class have been used as pawns either against each other or together to further the capitalist agenda. The methods used range from media stereotype manipulation to war, a successful attempt at dividing and conquering the people. Once the people are divided up into classes, it becomes much easier to manipulate and control people. With this ease of control comes also the ease of exploiting people for either labor power and/ or profit. With us divided and supposedly conquered, the upper class believe they have achieved class conquest, but it’s not limited to class conquest it also means the conquest of the political arena as well. It’s painfully obvious that the voice heard within the hallowed halls of D.C. by Democrats and Republicans isn’t the voice of the people, but the voice of corporations. The proof is shown each day with every new bill passed not by the consent of the people, but by corporate backed politicians.

To ever achieve a true democracy, the low and middle class need to unite once and for all and throw away the shackles of indifference that each class imposes on each other. They must realize that their disunity is detrimental to the survival of the ideals of democracy and social justice. Also realize that the petty squabbles between the low and middle class contributes nothing, but satisfaction to the upper class. Class-consciousness and unity is the only true path to a direct democracy, a democracy where the people’s voices are heard clearly. Not only will this unity lead to a people’s democracy, but it’ll also enrich the arts, the sciences and even the spirituality of people. Allowing them to control all aspects of society from technology to religion to economy and not the upper class controlling all. With a peoples democracy they will also guard against totalitarianism.

Hurdling these obstacles will not be a cakewalk; it will indeed be a tough struggle. The upper class will not want to lose their stranglehold of power over the people. It will take the strength of the peoples unity and the fierce volume of their collective battle cry, “We will not take your abuse anymore!” to loosen the grip and dispose of the upper class, forever.

In a bit I will point out the different variables that align both low and middle class together that break all class borders. We will cover a broad range of issues that affect both classes like the military and even the phenomenon of lottery tickets. Also, you will definitely realize that us communists and socialists are indeed a threat to the old order. We believe in smashing all class borders and offering an egalitarian alternative to today’s capitalist and divided society.

The Military

The military has always been an escape for those who had no prospects in life or those who fell for the promise of learning a trade skill and receiving cash for college. So it shouldn’t be surprising that most people who enlist into the military are mainly from either low or middle class backgrounds.

Lets take the Vietnam War for example; about 76% of the men in the military came from a middle or working class background. Even though today our military is diverse with the inclusion of women and minorities, the low and middle classes still constitute the majority of our present military. It shouldn’t be of any surprise that mainly low and middle class citizens populate the military. After all, the wealthy elite doesn’t want to risk their future heirs to their corporations, but instead allow the sons and daughters of ordinary folk to die in place of the upper class youth. Lets not forget the profits reaped from the deaths of our brave men and women in uniform. With each death comes the demand for new uniforms and battle gear for the new recruit and for each missile, bullet, tank, plane and so on comes the demand for replacement battle vehicles and ammunition.

Let not the glory of military service get to ones head nor accept the promise of tuition and government housing bribe one into fighting the capitalists’ war. Always remember how Bush has rewarded our brave veterans, by cutting their veteran benefits. The low and middle class, to the ruling class, are expendable for their war and only deserve minor commitment of their attention.

The Elderly and American Healthcare

*Please note that these stats may no longer be accurate since the inception of the cop out alternative to universal healthcare aka ObamaCare.

One basic human right that every group along the entire political spectrum seem to agree on is the right to adequate healthcare, but that line is drawn to how much and how often one receives healthcare and access to medication. Prior to ObamaCare, a majority of low and middle class had limited access to healthcare and medication. The people who had it worse, though, were the elderly. According to gathered statistics in 1998, 99% of elderly Americans have Medicare, but in January of 2001 1 million elderly were dropped from Medicare coverage. Obviously, 1998, a Clinton year, was an excellent year for elderly healthcare, but once George Bush entered Office elderly healthcare woes began. One million of our senior citizens without Medicare coverage are just too many aging parents, grandparents and veterans without medical coverage. At that age, they are more susceptible to disease and abuse at retirement homes. Medication for age related diseases have sky-rocketed, allowing 27 out of the 50 major medications for senior citizens to rise above three times the inflation rate. This is an absolute outrage! Whoever does not see this as an outrage is without a heart. All healthcare and medicine should be available for all age groups at affordable prices.

For people under the age of 65, 75 million are or have gone without any health coverage. That means about 1 in 3 people below the age of 65 have gone or still don’t have health coverage in any form. Factor in the fact that 13% or more of the population are below the poverty line, which is about 35 million or more people, you begin to realize how ineffective our healthcare system is. And to even further understand the issue of those below the poverty line we must break it down into age groups. With the total being 35 million or more, about 14 million are children, 18 million are working age adults and 3 million are 65 and older. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize this is a big problem, which is not being addressed by our government.

It becomes obvious that the ruling class believe it’s important to line their pockets with cash instead of spending it on important issues such as health, education, environment and jobs. The question is how many more people have to die because of lack of adequate health coverage and medicinal access for people to open their eyes to the crisis at hand? Hopefully, the answer is zero, but in our capitalist reality it would have to take a few media covered millions. Only one answer comes to mind, class unity. If we are to ever fix this problem then the low and middle class need to unite and take control of their medical and health resources out of the hands of the ruling class.

With ObamaCare’s inception there have been some improvements in healthcare.  Take for example that more people in the US have access to some form of health insurance, but this has also led to problems with employer based health insurance.  More people today are paying more into their employer supplied health insurance than ever before.  The cost is being placed on workers which means less money for people to pay their bills and mortgage/rent.  And recently one of Minnesota biggest and cheapest health insurance companies, Preferred One Health Insurance, is dropping out of the marketplace because its costs are unsustainable.  This seems to be the common gripe about the plan.  Is it be expected otherwise though?  Health insurance companies are capitalist institutions that profit off the suffering of others and the less money they are able to hoard the more problematic health insurance companies will become.

ObamaCare is an amalgamation of what the Right and Left wanted in DC, the people were handed this cop out.  How is it beneficial to penalize people who may not want health insurance?  Simply put, universal healthcare should be the way forward instead of hanging on to this flawed plan that Hillary Clinton and the rest of the elitists in DC want.

The Workplace and Stress

With unions and other such organizations being a staple in our society, it makes one wonder why workplace problems still exist. Granted, safety conditions, wages and other worker rights have improved since the Industrial Revolution for most companies, but the newest problematic issue that is plaguing many American workers is high stress levels.

One reason that seems to be on top of every ones list are the massive layoffs that have been happening recently. With fewer workers, but more workloads, workers are doing the work that is normally done by three workers instead of one. As a result, workers are more stressed out much faster than usual. With stress also comes the lowering of the immune system that leads to illness, but about 60% of absences are due to psychological problems. Psychological problems cost annually about $57 billion. Those who do report high stress levels at work also tend to have a 50% higher health cost. Those who are physically ill still come into work out of fear of calling out sick, which in turn hinders any productivity and puts the worker at risk of becoming even more sick.

Aside from physical and psychological effects, workers’ social lives are affected as well. The longer and harder a person works allows for less time for family, friends, leisure and even sleep! Now how outrageous is that, not to have any time for anything. Where exactly will the ruling class stop in their endeavor to cut corners on workers rights to life? Most likely it’ll never stop until class unity is achieved.

The Lottery: Exploitation of Desperation

Ever since the inception of state lotteries in the 70’s and 80’s, millions of people have flocked to their local convenience stores and have bought lottery tickets in quantity. If the tickets themselves held any monetary value, millions of people would already be millionaires today. The lottery industry has made such a lofty profit from exploiting peoples desperation for quick money since it all began. Lets take Minnesota for example; their lottery began in 1990. On March 2002, profits from lottery ticket sales reached $20 million. That means a ticket that costs about $1 had to be sold every 20 seconds for the profits to reach $20 million. Another example would be California who, since 1985, has profited at $31.5 billion in ticket sales. It’s amazing how people would willingly throw away money on a game of chance just hoping money will fall in their lap. What’s disgusting, though, is how the industry profits from this.

More than likely this trend will continue especially for the currently 6.1% unemployed in America today. Their need of money outweighs the need of money by the employed, so the unemployed will no doubt spend what they have left on lottery tickets. As long as the classes allow themselves to be exploited by the upper class this vicious circle of exploitation will continue to go on. Something must be done to stop it before it leads to more methods of exploitation. Only class unity will be the blockade against all present and future forms of exploitation.

Conclusion

One may say that I write this in vain, but I’d like to differ. In times of unrest and crisis such as the 60’s Civil Rights struggle and after 9/11, low and middle class have come together for a better and safer society. Sadly, it lasted only for a brief amount of time before the old animosities egged on by the ruling class came back into our collective consciousness. It shows also that people can come together and fight for social justice in any conditions presented to them.

People today are becoming increasingly weary of capitalism and the ruling class. Many see that both Democrats and Republicans are bought with corporate money. Hardly, if ever, do they listen to the voice of the people. They listen more to the crinkle of money that is filling their pockets.

As stated in our Declaration of Independence, “That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new government.” People have to be responsible for securing their rights and to make sure that those in power do not abuse them in any way. The only path to making sure that tyranny never reigns is for them unite and take control of the means of governing, economy with 100% employment, production, adequate education and healthcare and out of the hands of the ruling class. This is the only way to a system of the people, for the people and by the people.

Low and middle class, unite not just for yourselves, but also for your children’s future! Let not the boot heel of the ruling class crush your lives anymore! No more exploitation.

The Gods Don’t Give Us Meaning

 

 

What makes a god a weapon?

In front of Planned Parenthood across the street, they’re displaying neon yellow posters with Photoshopped fetuses. Standing in a semicircle, they read from their Bible, and they pray. Sometimes, they walk across the intersection to our side — glaring at our signs saying “Tacoma is a Pro-Choice Town” and “Pro-Health Pro-Choice,” blaring YouTube sermons from portable speakers, or asking us to talk. It’s like talking to cops, my Clinic Defense friends tell me; they want to get under your skin, get you upset, rile you up. Give them your story and you give them power.

I nod. I know the type: “prayer warriors,” living for the struggle. In their hands, the biblical “sword of the spirit” gets as close to literal violence as the law permits (and sometimes goes even further, as a string of assassinated doctors testifies). But today, they stick to their corner and we stick to ours. Eventually, they get bored, say one final prayer together, and pack up their signs and leave. As we start to do the same, I recite the Orphic Hymn to the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods, Kybele), and the bearded man on my right says “blessed be.”

Every time the anti-choicers protest, they pray. Paraphrasing Carl von Clausewitz, “war is politics by other means” — and in their spiritual war, Jesus serves as both casus belli and favorite weapon. The sense of purpose driving their mix of legislative lobbying and personal intimidation may strike a secular progressive as nothing but patriarchy in motion, but for them? It’s transcendental. They don’t do politics (or, for that matter, patriarchy) for the sake of reforms or social classes, or for the game itself. The intoxication of divine mission overwhelms everything — including the specific imperatives that such a mission contains.

I spend a lot of time at protests and at each one, I pray to the Meter Theon. I feel deep, exhilarating joy at seeing polytheist anticapitalism become a proper movement, not just a rare and private preoccupation. But the fact that we’re here at all begs the question:

Do our gods agree with our politics? Are we, like the militants in front of the clinic, applying a feeling of divine energy to a social cause?

Now, I could observe that just as gods are diverse and individual, so too are their social demands. I could speculate that housing Syrian refugees enacts piety toward Zeus, defender of guests, or that Artemis Eileithyia, helper in childbirth, surely demands that prenatal healthcare be accessible. However, that strikes me as somehow disingenuous — shouldn’t politics and ethics fundamentally attend to the people whose needs they address, rather than to gods whom we couldn’t endanger even if we tried?

So, while my worship of the Theoi may not cleanly untangle from left-wing organizing, at the root, I don’t look to them to provide me with a social agenda. Movements aren’t made of gods. The sidewalk by Planned Parenthood isn’t the Trojan plain; we aren’t armed with Olympian gifts. Our causes matter because they matter to mortals. But across the street, they don’t agree. Ask them why they’re out there shouting at strangers; they’ll tell you it’s because they believe that the imperative to do so comes as a package deal with the sense of meaning that, they claim, only Jesus can provide.

But why should finding meaning for mortals be a god’s job?


 

 

 

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning.”

– Rev. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church

Whether we polytheists like it or not, the societies in which most of us live remain ideologically Christian. This hegemonic worldview seeps out of religious participation and trickles down into every part of our sense of the world. Christian theology dictates common sense, “normal” emotional response, and the pre-conscious attitudes and assumptions that structure every Western culture and nearly every psyche living within them.

However, dominant Christianity is itself dominated. The capitalist system — economic and political control by the business class — exercises even more power over Christianity than Christianity does over everything else. If Jesus serves a political agenda, an economist will find it faster than a theologian. So, what does a religious basis for meaning in life mean in practice?

According to the seminal sociologist Max Weber, the “Protestant work ethic” means valorizing exertion, discipline, and frugality as inherently good things themselves, rather than just as the means to an end; it’s the theology of putting in extra overtime and thinking, “I should be saving more money.” Further, he claims that this attitude could never have become widespread without the emergence of capitalism from the collapse of the medieval system.

As Weber writes,

“Calvinist believers were psychologically isolated. Their distance from God could only be precariously bridged, and their inner tensions only partially relieved, by unstinting, purposeful labor.”

Getting religion meant getting a job. From this angle, it’s no coincidence that a career path became a “vocation” — from the Latin “vocatio,” a calling. Just as a clergyperson is called to receive ordination, so is a truck driver divinely called to deliver on time, or a factory worker to stand at the assembly line, or a grocery clerk to take inventory (even to the point of using the same word!). Existential meaning, Christ, and work all melt into one.

Who, I wonder, might want to promote such an attitude?


 

 

“There is nothing in this world that can compare with the Christian fellowship; nothing that can satisfy but Christ.”

– John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil Company

As in all social matters, we should first ask: who benefits? When a worker believes that all meaning comes from Christ, and Christ says “go to work,” the boss isn’t complaining. Since the business class is currently the most powerful class, their philosophy is the most powerful philosophy, and their religion the most powerful religion. Collapsing deity, work, and purpose all together provides them with one of the weapons they use to keep things that way. And, like every ruling class, they gladly affirm Alexander Pope’s dictum (from an explicitly theological poem, no less), hoping you’ll believe it, too:

“Whatever is, is right.”

So, what makes a god a weapon? The political strength of a social class.


 

 

“On the other hand, that man is a weakling and a degenerate who struggles and maligns the order of the universe and would rather reform the gods than reform himself.”

– Seneca the Younger, Stoic philosopher

The gods with whom I relate are just as real as any human I’ve met. However, the shared characteristic of existing does not render deities and mortals interchangeable! As Seneca reminds us, while the gods may run the universe at large, human affairs stay a human concern. And what’s more human than to need to make meaning out of a finite life? In politics, as in our everyday lives, we mortals bear the first responsibility for how we conduct ourselves — the ways in which we look for purpose included. Could anything be more hubristic than demanding that the gods handle that for us? When I protest, I pray, but I don’t expect Kybele to dial in for a conference call, goals and strategy in hand. (I don’t have that sort of “godphone.”) Healthy polytheism synthesizes piety to the deities with an ethical embrace of human responsibility and freedom.

As the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre declares, “I am condemned to be free.” To weaponize a god, to invoke a divine political mandate, is to deny that. So when we do politics, let’s organize for, as well as with, each other — honoring the gods is no excuse to act as if our lives, and all the meaningfulness therein, aren’t still ours.

[Image: “The Industrious ‘Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle one brought before him & Impeach’d by his Accomplice,” plate 10 of “Industry and Idleness,” engraving by William Hogarth]


 

IMAG0432

Sophia Burns

Sophia Burns is a galla, vowed to serve Attis and Kybele, and a Greco-Phrygian polytheist. After coming out in the small-town South, she moved to Seattle, where she is active in the trans lesbian community. Other than polytheism, Sophia’s activities include political organizing, writing for Gods&Radicals, nursing school, and spending time with her partners, friends, and chosen family.

Honor: “I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means”

johannnes-flintoe-egill-skallagrc3admsson-engaging-in-holmgang-with-berg-c3b6nundr
Johannnes Flintoe – Egill Skallagrímsson engaging in holmgang with Berg-Önundr

 

 

By Christopher Scott Thompson

The topic of “honor” is of interest to some heathens and pagans, especially those who see themselves as being on a “warrior path.” According to the “Heathen Handbook” () of the Wodens Folk Kindred:

Honor is the foundation of heathen society. Honor is a person’s measure of their virtue and worth… A person’s honor comes from within…

This reminds me of a scene from the movie Rob Roy, in which the title character (a Highland warrior of the 18th century) tells his boys that honor is “a gift you give yourself,” and that no one can take it away from you.

Unfortunately, this is not a historically accurate understanding of honor, either in the Gaelic society portrayed in the movie or in ancient Norse society. However, it’s no accident that the Wodens Folk Kindred and the screenwriter of Rob Roy misinterpreted honor in exactly the same way, because modern American society no longer values honor as much as it once did and has largely forgotten what it originally meant.

In American society not so long ago, honor had nothing to do with your internal measure of your own worth, it definitely didn’t come from within and other people could easily take it away from you. According to the Missouri state government archives article on Southern dueling culture:

The duel usually developed out of the desire of a gentleman to rectify a perceived insult to his honor. It was thought better to die respectably in a duel over an insult than to live on without honor… Only gentlemen were thought to have honor, and therefore eligible to duel. To maintain status and social standing a gentleman had to be willing to take his chances on the field of honor. On the other hand, the Code Duello frowned upon men of unequal social class settling their differences by dueling. If a gentleman was insulted by a person of lower class he would not duel him, but might proceed with a caning or cowhiding to humiliate his opponent. 

In other words, honor in the United States was not defined by what you thought of yourself, but solely by what other people thought of you. Honor was the same thing as social status, reputation, perceived power in the community… in a word, privilege.

If you didn’t have enough privilege relative to the person you were in conflict with, you didn’t have any honor to lose so you weren’t allowed to take offense at anything he said or did. On the other hand, if he got irritated by anything you said or did, he could beat you publicly with a stick or a whip.

If the two of you were roughly equal in status, you would resolve the issue through lethal combat. That hasn’t really changed – during the dueling era, the primary killers of aristocrats were other aristocrats and the primary killers of lower class people were other lower class people. In the modern United States, assaults and homicides usually occur among peers and very often over issues of respect and disrespect.

This has a lot of relevance to recent events – if you want to claim self-defense after a shooting, it helps to have higher social status than the person you shot. If you have lower social status or privilege, your actions probably won’t be interpreted as self-defense by police, prosecutors or juries. Every person has the same right to defend themselves from violent assault in the law as written, but not in the law as actually enforced. Just as in the dueling culture of the 19th century, violence is expected to be used on the same social level or downward – but never upward.

According to the Wodens Folk Kindred:

In the modern world, many laugh at honor as an outdated and unrealistic concept.

This may be true, but if honor is actually just a measure of how much privilege the community grants you – including the privilege to violently dominate those of lower status – then perhaps we shouldn’t be idealizing it in the first place. But is this what honor meant to our pagan and polytheist ancestors?

According to the late Alexei Kondratiev, all of the ancient Celtic words for honor refer to your reputation and perceived power, not your inner integrity:

The traditional Irish word that is usually translated as “honor” is ‘oineach’ … which originally means “face”… Thus the idea of honor is primarily related to one’s “face” which must be saved in the eyes of the community. A closely related concept, often mentioned in the same contexts, is that of ‘clú’ (“reputation” or “fame”), which comes from an Indo-European root meaning “to hear” and thus refers to what is being said about someone. To be honorable, then, is to maintain one’s “face” before the community and to be “heard of” in a good way. Dishonor comes from losing “face” and being “heard of” in a bad way. The term ‘enech’ also expresses the idea of personal power, since as long as one has “face” in the community one is able to influence others: thus people or things that are your responsibility or otherwise under your protection are described as being “on” or “under” your “face”. When you lose “face”, of course, you’re no longer able to extend the protection… What emerges from this is a sense of honor and dishonor being very much defined by the community, rather than the individually chosen codes of honor that are more characteristic of our modern way of thinking.

According to the book Honor by Frank Henderson Stewart, the ancient Norse concept of honor was originally defined by the mikilmenni or “Big Man” – a man with good ancestors, social influence, a dominant personality and wealth. In other words, privilege and the respect of the community, just as in other cultures. However, the Norse later developed a concept they called drengskappir which was based more on individual courage and integrity and less on community opinion or political power. Drengskappir was available not only to “Big Men” but to free people of all classes.

However, even though drengskappir was probably a lot closer to modern ideas of honor as a kind of inner integrity, it was still largely determined by community opinion. According to Hurstwic (a Viking historical research organization):

A man’s fame and honor in life, and his good name after death, were so important that a man was hypersensitive to the opinion of the community. He might not otherwise fear anything nor flinch at death, but the respect of the community was of paramount importance. Any offence in word or deed, or anything that might blot one’s honor had to be dealt with firmly in order to maintain that respect. So a Norseman was constantly on the alert for wrongs against his person or his name. Those wrongs were proclaimed openly, and then avenged. ψ

So, drengskappir was available to people from more than one social class, but it was still very much dependent on community opinion and the willingness of the person who claimed to have drengskappir to defend that claim by violent force. It is essentially a less classist equivalent of the later Code Duello, and just like the Code Duello it requires extreme sensitivity to insult as a precondition of any claim to honor.

This is where the whole issue of honor in a heathen or pagan context becomes ironic. The Conservative Pagan, Heathen and Traditionalist Webring, now defunct, described itself as placing “a high value on reason, honor and piety, and none on political correctness.”

Google defines political correctness as “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

So, in effect the “Conservative Heathens” were saying that they had no intention of granting honor (the right to take offense) to those who were of lower social status (the “socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”) Just like the Code Duello, honor is only in effect between those of equal privilege – a person of lower status cannot take offense because they are perceived as having no honor to lose.

Conservatives often complain that people have become too sensitive to perceived insults. This may be true, but historically a “man of honor” was by definition a person who was hypersensitive to insult. Saying “he would not resent an insult” was a grave accusation of cowardice and would have resulted in a duel – in the Old South or in old Iceland.

Thus, for marginalized people to take offense at insults can be understood as an assertion that they too have honor or status, and to dismiss that as “political correctness” can be understood as an attempt to keep them “in their place.”

As modern heathens, pagans and polytheists, does this mean we should get rid of the concept of honor completely? I don’t think we can. If honor is simply your reputation and status in the community, then honor will always be with us in some form. There are aspects of the old honor codes that many pagans would still admire, such as the emphasis on being morally courageous and true to your word as a precondition for being honored by the community. But we create our own community, so we get to decide for ourselves what we want to honor and what we don’t.

The ancient Norse honored those who avenged insults with violence, but we don’t have to. We can choose to honor those who speak up when they are insulted even under the threat of violence from those with higher status and power. We can choose to honor those who honor everyone instead of only the members of their own privileged class.

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.