A poem for George H.W. Bush.
From T. Thorn Coyle
“Acknowledging and strengthening your supportive web of equals is Right Action. Not putting value on large status symbols is Right Thinking. Be quietly comfortable; if you are well ahead you should not aspire to enter the ranks of the wealthy but be sharing more.”
From Judith O’Grady
I was presenting recently about the divination system I use, Ogham.
No, this essay isn’t about Ogham but in my introduction about them/me I touched on the way that my Druidry differs from many other modern Druids:
In Olden Days, Druids studied for 20-25 years to become literate in several languages, to memorize laws and teaching stories and then recite them, to play an instrument and sing, to make extemporaneous poetry, and other things. ‘Druidry’ was not a religion; ‘Druid’ was a title.
Some modern-day Druids consider that achieving a Masters degree gives them approximately 20 years of education, or that being head of a Grove or well-informed about the old mythos and lore gives them the title. Or they just consider themselves as such because of their inherent status and importance.
Then they make assumptions about how things were in the Older Days and say,
“The Druid informed the people when the Holidays came, decided what the law stated, passed on the lore……”
I have no clear idea how Druids acted, believed, and worshipped in the Olden Days; not much instructional lore exists because Druids had a gease
(like a taboo but which was something that they might have to do as well as being forbidden to do and also varied from person to person)
against writing down their religion, dogma, beliefs, rituals, etc.
But I have read about history.
Before Modern Times common people mostly stayed where they were born all of their lives. Even as late as Pre-Industrial Age most non-noble, ordinary people travelled 15 miles or less from their home-place in all their lives. Travel was difficult and news disbursal was slow; so only what happened in your neighbourhood was well known. Then Market day would permit news from the surrounding area and near villages and towns to be traded along with speciality goods. Big fairs once or twice a year brought further news, imported goods, and professional performers.
More classes of people went to big fairs so the news would be different in scope. On market day you would talk over your own tradespeople, farmers, and miscreants but at a Fair the news would include kings, far-away wars, clan fights, all that constitutes history. Before Common Era you might see a Druid or hear what the Druidic opinion was about the history.
But it wasn’t that you existed in a sort of formless void between the occasional, accidental, fleeting contacts with the Big People. Common people had a rich and meaningful life that had its own complete history; just one that has never made it into the books. It needed no Druid to tell you what to think or do, you could decide on your own. You might consider your family or community history; if you felt you needed advice, counsel, or Magic you need not search out a titled person. In your real, small world there were Fairy Doctors, Wisewomen, Cunning People, and storytellers (seanchaí). Although people might travel quite a distance (in their estimation, not ours) to consult a Healer or Soothsayer those people continued to be viewed as people much like the applicant but with a skill…. something like making good cheese or excellent beer. A skill with a little mysterious to it— people in touch with the Other World or wise in healing were like blacksmiths, dealing in Magic but a common-sense kind, not too dangerous.
The stories the Seanchaí told (or, failing that, the stories that came from your neighbours in gatherings) were about the high people and had larger Magics and bigger events in them and (imo) were considered to be a little inflated for the grandeur of it. But the story about your neighbour being dropped in a bog by a Will O’the Wisp was taken as told if not connected with having a drop taken.
So having a skill, even being very very good at it, didn’t change your status. You still lived down the road and traded elixir for shoes or foretellings for a chicken. Maybe if word of mouth spread enough a lady might come for a Magic Potion and give a little bit of jewellery in exchange but you were still a small person, rooted in your own countryside, associated with your own people, secure in your own identity.
In the Pagan community there is a status than many aspire to— being a Big Name Pagan (BNP) which would (presumably) make you larger than life. You might be able to live, possibly live large, on your Pagan earnings! You could be fortune-teller to the stars! But no, if suddenly my readings of Ogham went viral or people flocked to hear me give out about Irish lore or Socialist Druidry (none of these is really viable even as a daydream) I would not become a BNP, I would still live the same small life as now and just share more.
Because I want to live a small life as a goal. I don’t say to myself that perhaps I’ll win the lottery or get a fabulous job or be elected as Empress of the World and this small life is just for now. ‘Where I Am’ (the fifth direction) actually defines me and not ‘where I wish I was’. I want to be in the web of common people and connected to my many equals; this is the Right Place. I am a skilly-person; my skill is Magic and God-Speaking but I am not a religious leader, I am just religious. People can ask me about what the Gods are saying, what is Right Action and Balance in a given situation, herbal preparations and Magic, divinatory advice…… but I will ask for help in their skill in return.
So what about the coming End Times when all Small People should rise up?
In more recent Irish history there were the Troubles; that part of the island not included in the Irish Republic was at war. From my admittedly biased point of view the Freedom Fighters/Soldiers of the Republican Army/terrorists (small people) were engaged in an unequal war with a Great and Domineering Empire. Many other small people saw those soldiers as part of their community, equals and compatriots. Even if circumstances kept them from playing an active, fighting part the people actively fighting were still neighbours. Soldiers who were retreating from a losing battle could run through any unlocked door and have it locked behind them and, if necessary, answered afterward by homeowners who had seen nothing.
When the armoured cars drove into a supportive community the small people living there (part of the Great and Domineering Empire‘s battle plan was unequal hiring and pejorative housing allotments to ensure that their enemies stayed small) would stand outside their homes and clang the trash can lids on the pavement as the cars rolled by thus locating the enemy for the soldiers. If ordered to stop they could readily stop and leave the clanging to the person on the other side of the street.
There is no stigma in being small, quite the opposite. Small, taking up less room, is the Right Place. Acknowledging and strengthening your supportive web of equals is Right Action. Not putting value on large status symbols is Right Thinking. Be quietly comfortable; if you are well ahead you should not aspire to enter the ranks of the wealthy but be sharing more.
If you can fight, fight. If illness or age or family or fear keep you from fighting, stand in solidarity and bang your trash can lid.
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).
“I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really.”
If you’ve cared enough to pay attention to details, then you already know that I’m a Discordian. What many don’t know is that many Discordians are former United States Marines.
I served in the marines from June of 1997 to June of 2001. It was a period in which I can honestly say everyone thought that the world had settled out; the Cold War was over, everyone seemed to be falling into line about making money of the poor, everyone was convinced the world was pacified, finally. Which is why in a sense 9/11 was a punch line. Even the people running the military thought this. I used to get briefings which in a sense seemed to have the purpose of informing me, “That the marine corpse definitely still had a reason to exist and that reason is blah blah blah”. Like any of that hokey shit matters now.
These are my memories of that period, a period in which people felt, wrongly, like they were at the end of history. I’ll try to keep this short. But it is an American tradition that you have to listen to a veteran recount his boring stupid tired stories, so now it’s your turn. This is going to be a mix of stories about my interactions with the U.S. government, and also what I saw as I traveled the world pretending to be useful. I have no idea how to do one of these things. Should I tell it linearly or write an alinear history? I’m going to start at the beginning, but don’t be fooled, this is definitely an alinear story. Also, you should know that 60% of all human memories are filler your brain makes up. But believe me when I say that I believe it was real.
I suck at being an infantryman. I knew it from the first week in the School of Infantry. Yeah, that’s literally what they call it. They’re infantryman, not MCU writers. So anyway, yeah, you’d have to figure that most people suck at it when they start. The problem is I didn’t seem to stop sucking. I imagine I’m better at it than some random person rotting in an office somewhere, so I have that going for me. But generally was not good at it. When I went through the School of Infantry, I was experimented on! It was an experimental fast track program, see usually the thing lasts, um, well I don’t know, I didn’t go through how it usually happens. I went through a month long program, complete with starvation training. Ever been so hungry you’d eat food out of a dumpster? Me too! Of course it is possible they lied, and that everyone that goes through the School of Infantry goes through all that.
Like I said, I only went once. It was around September, that this all happened, in California. That last part was the nice part, I had been living in Texas for all of high school. I was just happy to be home. Anyway, I mention the month basically to say that it was fall. This one guy, who will remain a nameless little wishnik troll person, complained that California was so brown, just desert, he thought, and that he missed home in Michigan where it was green forest. A spring later and he was amazed at how green it was. I could only say one thing, “Well, yeah, it’s spring.” So the take away from this part of the story is that I may have been experimentally starved and wishniks from Michigan don’t understand how seasons work.
It was the year 2000, December, when I walked off the plane onto Egyptian soil. I was ushered into a large tent made of carpets to a little bizarre, where I waited with the rest of the idiots to go to the base that had been built by the U.S. for Bright Star, 2000. A joint military training operation for the Mediterranean, hosted on the sands of Egypt’s Western reaches. Right in Libya’s fucking face. That’s how pathetic the U.S. had gotten, we were bullying dictators that we set up. Like paying someone to let you rough them up and take their lunch money. It’s fucking ridiculous! But this is how shit was and is. Anyway, as we rolled through town, I could see the bombed out buildings full of families scraping by. Building, after building, after building, after building, after building. These buildings, or what was left of them, were about four or five stories tall, often did not have a roof or all four sides, sometimes missing both, and had shit tons of people living in them. Fortunately they were reinforced concrete, or at least I hope they were, and so weren’t going to collapse any time soon. So we did a whole bunch of driving around, me being a reconnaissance scout for an armored unit, means I sat around in a hot metal box for hours a day.
So, reconnaissance, lets get some stuff straight. There are guys who are reconnaissance, and that is their special thing, and they are good at what they do. Very good. There are not many who can do this work as well as they. There are a lot of reconnaissance jobs all over the military and also the marine corpse. My job, as a reconnaissance scout in a light armored unit, was quite frankly, a waste of their time and the money spent to train them. So I wound up doing it. It was pretty boring. I played a lot of Pokemon on a Gameboy. Anyway, after the training, which mostly consisted of driving around, so the vehicle crews could practice being vehicle crews, and making hornless unicorns out of C4, because activities enrich your infantryman’s daily life, we had all bitched enough that they let us take a trip to the Pyramids at Giza.
But I’m not going to talk about my experiences inside. Instead, my memories of the palpable disgust on the face of the tour guide/information attendant at the pyramid site. You could see it on her face, if you were perceptive enough. The corners of her mouth, and the corners of her eyes, and the resting placement of her jaw told the story the rest of her face couldn’t. She would rather we not be on the same planet. I couldn’t blame her, I didn’t want to be on the planet either. I mean, why would she be glad to see us. Egypt’s then leader was a guy we were working with. Or maybe it was old fashioned bigotry. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. About halfway through the tear jerking boredom of “training” (to be honest C4 isn’t that great, in my opinion, for sculpting), they asked for volunteers. Now, if you’re smart, you know that this is an excellent chance to gamble. You could be doing something interesting, or tedious; you get a good lunch, or get a shit lunch, or get no lunch. At that point in operation bright stain I was ready to roll those dice. So I spent a week at a tank range radio tower and range control guarding it. Forces, alleged to be Bedouin, had already attacked once, and were repelled.
We were handed live ammo and left with the radio crew. And… nothing happened. Whomever attacked got the message the first time. I spent the week playing poker, reading, running down my batteries for my Gameboy, and doing the occasional react drill for boredom abatement and because practicing increases the chances of not dying. The last week I was there was fairly interesting, a friend of mine who was an Irish guy from West Covina, who could ululate like no one’s business, spent a night spooking our staff sergeant, which was hilarious, because this was a staff sergeant who couldn’t pass a physical fitness test without the entire command staff lying for him, and yet had the gonads to bust down my friend from corporal to lance corporal because he got a second class score on his test. So, we did our best to make an ass of him whenever we could.
The French Foreign legion got attacked the last night I was there. Presumably by the same “Bedouins”. It kind of makes one wonder if the Bedouins are blamed for much lawlessness that they statistically couldn’t possibly be behind. But that’s what they get for living on such lucrative coastal lands. So I guess the takeaway here is that the probability of her look of disgust not coming from a bigoted place is roughly a function of the probability that she was Bedouin. We were tourists after all.
I have the thirst. Not JFK levels of it, my wife keeps me plenty happy. But as a single guy, I had no reason not to indulge myself. Or at least I thought. I think it was my second time in Okinawa that a friend of mine, that I had met elsewhere in the marines, was stationed at the same base as I was. As I was reconnecting with him, shooting the shit with him as it were, it happened to come up that we was getting scuba trained. “Isn’t that expensive as fuck for a lowly serviceman such as yourself?” I asked him. “Yeah, but I got a friend paying for it.” What a lucky asshole, he just has a friend getting him scuba training. “Paying for the gear too?” He nodded his head. Unreal. “Who would do that for you around here?” Thus began his recounting of being a gigolo for old Japanese women. He was the favorite of a particular woman, thus the scuba gear and training. See, what it is, is that serviceman can’t be paid in cash, that’s prostitution. But a woman can give her man nice shit. That’s just being nice.
Now, my predilections being what they are, the mention of sex for pay with mature women did prick my ears up. Unfortunately for story telling purposes, I didn’t start whoring myself out. Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly because the people in my unit are hella chismoso, always sticking their noses in other peoples business. So I thought the better of it, and to this day, don’t know if I made the right decision or not. But I doubt my then current daddy Uncle Sam was looking to share. I mean, Uncle Sam didn’t give me any gold chains, but he did fuck me regular and buy me dinner. I can’t imagine he would have been cool with it. And we were so well kept in those days. So the moral of the story is that servicemen are sometimes exploited for sex. Though if you’ve ever been even at the edge of “Sex exploitation”, re: prostitution, you know the reality is more complex than some limousine liberal’s junior year liberal arts thesis can account for.
My friend didn’t need to learn scuba to live. He wasn’t getting beat down by his john, and there was no pimp. My experience with this is about as lightweight as you can get but the more I hear of the law coming down on sex workers the more it seems like the age old exploitation line that law men and “progressives” use, along with the immorality line the priests use, sounds increasingly like hokey bullshit. Really want to help sex workers? Legalize it and get rid of pimps and other middle men. Middle persons. Whatever, you know what I mean.
Remember the riots in Indonesia? Yeah, that’s ok. Not many people do. I was off the coast for the most of it. Why you might ask? Well, the U.S. Navy patrols the worlds oceans and keeps them clear of pirates and generally tries to make things “safe”. Sometimes they’ll have marines with them. That’s why I was there. I was on a pretty boat called an LSD, which I assume means landing ship deployer or something. I never asked. It had these fancy high powered fan boats that it poops out the back. We load our vehicles on, it deposits us on the beach, and we drive around and be effective as long as we don’t leave the beach and go into the Thai jungle. American supremacy at its finest. So as we sat off the coast of Indonesia, the government of the CIA backed Suharto collapsed. We didn’t lift a finger to help him, or the people rioting overthrow him. It wasn’t until much later that it seemed many of the Indonesian special forces were inciting riots and ethnic violence, particularly rape, against the Mandarin Chinese minority communities.
Why they were fomenting unrest I have no clue. But the result is that a U.S. backed anti-communist dictator’s government collapsed. But you are probably still wondering, amid all of this, why was I even there? Well, you see, Nike and McDonald’s corporations had some executives in the country that could have possibly needed help getting the fuck out. They didn’t, ultimately, because having your own private jets helps one to very effectively get the fuck out. But that was the reason. Then our staff sergeant came through and yelled at us that we were not there because of Nike and McDonald’s like they had just accidentally announced on the ships audio-visual system. I don’t know what is more pathetic, that they let the cat out of the bag like that, or that they then tried to gas light us about it.
Ok, that’s it. You’re off the hook. It’s over. I learned how to do a lot of violence, I saw many different kinds of exploitation, often time so comprehensive it took me two more decades to understand, and put it all together, and generally helped the U.S. government to spread its vision around the world. A vision that shattered on 9/11. I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really. The world was never simple, or kind, or peaceful. These unfortunate people don’t realize that the times weren’t simpler, kinder, and more peaceful, they were.
A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.
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On the delusions of American exceptionalism.
From William Hawes
My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.
-Guster, “Center of Attention”
So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.
Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.
Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.
The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.
This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.
The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven and a half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.
There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.
Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.
While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.
There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.
Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect
I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.
The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.
As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).
There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.
Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.
Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle ou￼t of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.
Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.
I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming. Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.
Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.
What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.
What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bioregional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.
What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.
Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of communal farming, permaculture, and agroforestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.
Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bioregional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.
The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.
Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how some have tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.
Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.
Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.
Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has very clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.
Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.
This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.
More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.
Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.
The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.
is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. His articles have appeared online at CounterPunch, Global Research, Countercurrents(.org), Gods & Radicals, Dissident Voice, The Ecologist, and many more outlets. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website williamhawes.wordpress.com.
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‘Where we are now is a state of ruin. Ruins typify the geography of the world. And ruin is the apparent destination of History, God’s story for “Man”, as “Man” plunges into the Future’s abyss.”
From Julian Langer
“And I saw the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the one seated on the horse and against his army. And the wild beast was caught, and along with it the false prophet that performed in front of it the signs with which he misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who worship its image. While still alive, they both were hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur.”
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
–Two quotes from The Book of Revelations
What greater symbol of manhood, manliness, “Man’s” strength, “Man’s” relevance, “Man’s” status in the world, “Man’s” authority, “Man’s” dominance, the awesome might of “Man’s” mighty cosmic cock, has there even been, than that of God? “Man” was made in God’s image and God signifies all power, all morality; God is the great, cosmic determiner. All is under God’s will and, as “Man” is made in God’s image, “Man’s” determination of how the world ought to be is within God’s image of what “Man” ought to construct, build, etc.
But as we stand in the aftermath of The Enlightenment, in the continuing Scientific and Industrial-Technological Revolutions, and the nihilism that has been found within the spaces between the great icons of the Leviathan, it feels reasonable to embrace the famed Nietzschean adage of “God is dead”.
With God being dead, we also find that “Man” has been slain in the process, with his mighty cosmic phallus decaying over the past couple centuries. The monarchies, churches and most other institutions that upheld “Man’s” image in God’s eyes have largely succumbed to ruin. In their place, “Man” has built great houses of Republicanism, laboratories and expanded the dominion over the earth promised to “Man” by God, through expansion of its roads, cities and national boundaries; through erecting great architectural monuments in the form of skyscrapers, in an apparent attempt to build a Neo-Tower of Babel to re-join God in heaven (or will that be through the great space elevator?); and through territorialising the entirety of the body of the earth under the singular locality of Production and Markets. This has all been done within the narrative of the myth of “Man’s” manifest destiny, as an attempt to regain “Man’s” Godliness.
What this has led us to is ruin and Death. Where we are now is a state of ruin. Ruins typify the geography of the world. And ruin is the apparent destination of History, God’s story for “Man”, as “Man” plunges into the Future’s abyss.
Can we honestly deny this? The weather over the past few years is an obvious sign of the ruin “Man” has created, as it makes ruins of the Reality “Man” has constructed. The evident collapsing of this culture is apparent within the escalating warfare between differing nations, in a dance whose choreography seems to originate through events in Europe and the world-made-European within the 15th century.
This dance, in the early days of the Scientific Revolution, as God’s face started looking old and tired to “Man”, followed from event the Dark/Middle Age of European History (in a Derridean sense, this is a sequence of différance that will likely never become whole, but … whatever). It manifested the colonialism we are abundantly aware of, as we find ourselves caged within History, through the centuries and into the early 20th century. Following the mighty cosmic cockiness of “Man”, manifested through the Technological-Industrial Revolution, the ruination of “Man’s” manifest destiny started tipping into the abyss of the Future we see as the manifest-geography “Man” has created. And out of this two World Wars, the Cold War and wars between the Euro-American “world” and the Communist and Islamist “worlds”, as this singular locality of “Man” made God through the Leviathan consumes itself, in an act of self-cannibalisation.
And we arrive at ruin. The ruin of the environment. The ruin of the Leviathan and the Reality “Man” has constructed, its buildings and markets, its roads and politics. Will God return reborn, like the bible preaches, to wipe away Man’s tears? I doubt it!
“There I saw a woman riding upon a scarlet animal, covered with blasphemous titles and having seven heads and ten horns. The woman herself was dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold, jewels and pearls. In her hand she held a golden cup full of the earth’s filthiness and her own foul impurity. On her forehead is written a name with a secret meaning—BABYLON THE GREAT, MOTHER OF ALL HARLOTS AND OF THE EARTH’S ABOMINATIONS.”
–Another quote from the Book of Revelations
Within this narrative of the death of God and “Man” as an image of God, we’ve seen, in many ways, the image of Woman rise up, liberated, taking the mighty cosmic cock of “Man” and flinging it to the floor. And, while this might have been made part of the myths of History, the Leviathan, with Woman’s liberation being-made politicised and many technological phallus being made to replace “Man’s” fleshier one (some vibrating, others not), this has, in many ways, left Man’s image in ruins. (This is not to deny the manifestation of patriarchy in our present situation, but to simply acknowledge the effects of the forms of liberation that have been attained, in whatever ways they may be.)
But Woman’s liberation, in all the senses that entails, has not just led to the obvious resurgences of “Man’s” grasping for his mighty cosmic Godly wang, as the alt-right, populism and Trump-style politics attempts to masturbate all over the world (even through artificial virtual cocks, like Twitter and 4chan – cocks which don’t vibrate). No, there exists far more subtle ways of “Man” trying to retain his wang, as History nose-dives into ruin. They might often do it under the guise of being allies to Woman’s liberation and enemies of God, in the name of Secularism and Humanism. They virtually always retain their (virtual) allegiance (subservience) to History(/God/the Leviathan/the mighty cosmic cock of “Man” that was revealed, within the myths of civilisation, at the dawn of agriculture).
In the ruin that “Man” has constructed, through “Man” constructing the Reality of the Leviathan, “Man” has subsequently hidden himself away from the world through virtuality, alienating himself further from the immediacy of his flesh and the Living Real, in technological inauthenticity. And within this virtuality, this artificial cosmic wang for man to masturbate with (which does not vibrate), “Man” has attempted to erect himself as the image of History’s salvation, through the revolutionary icon of the Left.
Through this icon of Leftism, “Man” erects, “Man” attempts to save the world from ruin. We see this every day, through endless hashtags, callouts and social media campaigns. “Man” (predominantly white “Man”, the great writers of History, within colonialism’s racist narrative) will save Woman from his own fist (as he saves the world from the racists who uphold his image). These men of the Leftist image of “Man” claim this constructed Reality History has made as their own, their capital for them to have dominion over, for them to police and to condemn those who defy their image of how History ought to be.
No names will be stated here – this is no call out. These men of “Man” know who they are. We see them try to erect themselves as icons of the Leviathan and we know who they are. They are no-one. They are no-thing. They are constructions of the machine, symbolic phalluses. So their names shan’t be stated here.
These men find themselves alone, alienated from their flesh and the Real, caged by the Reality constructed by History, the Reality of a mass grave.
“God is engaged in three kinds of activity: creation, preservation and destruction. Death is inevitable. All will be destroyed at the time of dissolution. Nothing will remain. At that time the Divine Mother will gather up the seeds for the future creation, even as the elderly mistress of the house keeps in her hotchpotch-pot little bags of cucumber seeds, ‘sea-foam’, blue pills, and other miscellaneous things. The Divine Mother will take her seeds out again at the time of the new creation.”
“She was a normal wild beast, whose power is dangerous, whose anger can kill, they had said. Be more careful of her, they advised. Allow her less excitement. Perhaps let her exercise more. She understood none of this. She understood only the look of fear in her keeper’s eyes. And now she paces. Paces as if she were angry, as if she were on the edge of frenzy. The spectators imagine she is going through the movements of the hunt, or that she is readying her body for survival. But she knows no life outside the garden. She has no notion of anger over what she could have been, or might be. No idea of rebellion.It is only her body that knows of these things, moving her, daily, hourly, back and forth, back and forth, before the bars of her cage.”
In the eyes of God, though many of God’s worshippers of a more liberal disposition will seek to deny this, Woman signifies unrepressed wild animality. Eve takes the apple from the tree, ignoring the will of God, the will of the machine, the will of the Leviathan. Delilah cuts the hair of God’s servant Samson, in an act of betrayal towards the will of God. Jezebel doesn’t worship God who burns the body of bulls to prove his might, consuming the sacrifice instantly, but worships Baal, a god who, myths appear to reveal, didn’t want to consume the bodies of living beings in reverence of their own image (for authenticity’s sake I feel to acknowledge here that I am non-theistic in my belief systems (sympathetic to panpsychist/hylozoic metaphysics) so don’t actually believe in the existence of any gods).
Woman represents, in this way, the creative-destructive Mother Earthly energies of wild-Being.
And here we arrive at the crux of what I have intended to convey here. I suggest that we do not follow these men who uphold the image of “Man” and History, sacrificing Woman upon its alter, in their pursuit of the dominion over the earth granted to them by God. I suggest that we embrace the wild-feminine, rather than the sacred-feminine. This embrace of wild-feminine is the embrace of our bare naked flesh; our honest, impulsive, unrepressed, authentic desires; the animal creative-nothing of wild-Being.
I am not intending within the term wild-feminine to signify something inherently engendered or sexualised. Rather, as the Reality of civilisation the Leviathan of Man has attempted to construct is manifested through the phallus of “Mans” mighty cosmic phallus, I am intending to signify that which this Reality attempts to dominate, repress and domesticate.
Let us leave “Man” alone with his followers in their mass grave of ruins. We will embrace the Living world of creative-destruction, the wild-feminine that gives Life birth.
Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild Beings. Musician and activist.
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‘Once again I see Brân’s head, unlit, decaying, mouthing silent words at me.’
From Lorna Smithers
‘Although the road was long they came to London and buried the head on the White Hill.’
The Second Branch
I’m trapped in traffic on Tower Hill. A busy day done. A long drive home. I unbutton my collar and loosen my tie because I’m stifling in the heat of the midsummer sun.
Crowds of people are filing from Tower Gateway into the Underground. Like me they’re going down, only they’ll come back up far from the capital, far from the underworld, and turn on televisions able to bear ads without being plagued by huge black ravens of guilt.
My neck is cramped and sticky-wet. I think of all the people beheaded on Tower Hill, the blood-stained axe cutting through bone and sinew, blood dripping from necks, terrified I’ll be next. Arthur has reinstalled the chopping block. The heads of traitors are impaled on stakes on London Bridge with ravens circling above them.
Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table moved into the White Tower six months ago. He wants it rebranding, all traces of Brân, its ancient guardian, removed. When he came to my agency with a price that could not be refused our Creative Director leapt at the chance.
That night on my way home I saw Brân’s head. It was a rush-hour dusk, late winter, the capital lighting up. At first I thought it was part of a light show, levitating over the Tower of London with a stony ridge for a nose, lake-like eyes reflecting a million headlights, raven-black hair and beard, pale wax-like flesh lit from within.
Yet the people on the Double Decker buses showed no sign of surprise or awe as the tour guide spoke through a megaphone about the Tower, its guardian, his ravens. The processions continued regardless. The drivers did not lift their sight from the next set of traffic lights, the streams of number plates and brake lights.
It was not on the evening news. I’d worked in advertising long enough to know such an expensive display would have received mass media coverage. The apparition was seen only by me. As my company formed strategies to erase Brân, I made it a priority to learn his story:
Brân was one of the god-kings of Prydain. He owned a cauldron, gifted to him by a giant and giantess from the depths of Annwn, which brought the dead back to life at the cost of being unable to speak.
Brân gave the cauldron to Matholwch, King of Ireland, who married his sister, Branwen. Matholwch’s mistreatment of Branwen led to a war in which Matholwch used the cauldron to resurrect his dead warriors.
Brân’s army triumphed narrowly. Fatally wounded, Brân ordered the survivors to cut off his head and bear it back across the sea. After feasting with it in Harlech and on the island of Gwales they bore it to London and buried it beneath the White Hill (Tower Hill) to protect Prydain from oppression. Arthur dug it up and these lands have been besieged by conflict since.
Brân’s story troubled me because when my partner, Heilyn, returned from Afghanistan he was tongue-tied. Refusing to speak, he ate little and rarely moved from our bedroom where he watched talk shows, soaps, old war films. I feared he’d become one of the speechless dead.
When eventually he began talking, he found it easier to tell me about how his squadron were attacked on patrol, their capture, the beheading of their commander, and their dramatic helicopter rescue, than what happened on the island where they convalesced.
“We were half-drunk, admittedly, but all of us saw it: in the centre of the room, our commander’s head. It grew to gigantic proportions, then blood started pouring from its eyes and nose, from its ears and mouth, filling the room. I feared we were drowning in his blood, the blood of our comrades, of the enemy, of the civilians, the dead of all the world.”
Heilyn couldn’t return to the army. Because they’ve cut his benefits I have to bring in a wage. If my agency wins the bid to Arthur that would more than cover the mortgage. I could cut down my hours.
But I can’t go through with it… Brân’s head… the heads on London Bridge… I don’t want to be responsible for erasing Brân and supporting Arthur’s recruitment drive for his new crusades.
Every night I dream about processions of young men marching into the Underground and being taken by tube to fortresses surrounded by barbed wire where their heads are shaved, they’re stripped, deprived of their names, then thrown by uniformed men into enormous cauldrons.
Within the cauldrons are endless levels of gruelling tasks: slippery mud-slick obstacle courses, lines of targets without end, cardboard cut-outs of infidels, inflatable giants with beards and turbans floating like bosses at the end of a video game laughing maniacally.
They have to master shooting them down with guns then with hawk-like drones whilst watching the devastation on a flat screen. The final test is showing a willingness to drop the Mother of all Bombs.
Those who complete every level (many die in the cauldrons, which are lined with skulls staring from the bottom as a reminder of the price of failure) emerge reborn with a knightly name, fully armed, aboard a metal-clad warhorse, yet unable to speak.
This is why I daren’t use the Underground.
I know the source of these dreams. Two years ago I visited an exhibition of Celtic art at Prydain’s Museum. Not my kind of thing, but copy writers have to keep their fingers on the pulse-beat of culture.
To my surprise I was mesmerised by an antlered deity on the Gundestrup Cauldron holding a serpent in one hand and a torque in the other, surrounded by wild creatures: a hound, a deer, a bull, a man riding on a salmon, others less identifiable but all strangely alive.
He appeared again (somehow I knew it was him) on another plate with a hound beside him presiding over a cauldron. Before my eyes the scene came to life! Dead warriors, battered, war-torn, carrying dented shields, leaning on their spears, limped toward him. He picked them up and plunged them headfirst into the cauldron to be reborn. They rode free on otherworldly horses with horns and feathers and statuettes of wild things on their heads led by a serpent.
That’s how it’s supposed to work! I found out in Gaul the deity is known as Cernunnos, and here in Prydain as Gwyn ap Nudd. He is the Head of Annwn, the keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth, to which he takes the souls of the dead to be reborn.
Arthur stole the cauldron and, like Matholwch, is misusing it in this world. Only he’s throwing in living men to be rebirthed as soulless crusaders. That’s why he wants Brân and Gwyn’s stories erased.
I can’t follow through on the bid. I’d prefer to lose my head than lose my soul. The radio is muttering about an accident and build-up of traffic on the M25. The dials on my dashboard shuddering on red indicate my engine is overheating and I’m running out of fuel. The scent of artificial pine is failing to drown my sweat.
The pine tree swinging to and fro on a string beneath my rear view window reminds me of backpacking with Heilyn in Celyddon; its pine bowers and birdsong, our tent and boyish smiles. A distant dreamtime before we settled down, got a mortgage, civil partnership, and full-time jobs.
A raven lands scratchy-clawed on my bonnet, taps on my windscreen with its wise black beak, then flies toward the Tower. Once again I see Brân’s head, unlit, decaying, mouthing silent words at me.
Whatever happens I’m going down. I stop the engine, switch on the hazard lights, abandon my car on Tower Hill, and join the procession to the Underground. Once I’m below I do not seek out a train. I’ve seen a door. Beside it stands Heilyn in his combat gear. My armour has always been this shirt, trousers with ironed-in creases, shiny shoes, and my polished smile (which I exchange for a real smile for him).
Like the weary warriors on that panel we bear our burdens: a broken rifle and shabby briefcase containing the copy Arthur will never receive, down the dark tunnel, beyond where Brân’s head was buried to where the cauldron of the Head of Annwn still lies outside time to be reborn with antlers on our heads and stars in our hair, galloping free after the fiery serpent to turn Arthur’s reign upside down.
Lorna Smithers is an awenydd, Brythonic polytheist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd recovering lost stories from the land and myths of forgotten gods and dreaming new ones. She is the author of Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and has edited and co-edited A Beautiful Resistance. She performs poetry and gives talks and workshops in her home county of Lancashire and occasionally further far afield. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist.
Digital versions of Lorna’s two books (Enchanting The Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron) are available in our online bookstore. And until 1 March, all digital works are 20% off!
“The only way for humanity to make itself immune to violence is to allow the creation of a vast authoritarian system that protects individuals from personal violence through the endless impersonal violence of the state.”
This essay, by Ramon Elani, originally appeared in Black Seed 5, along with an essay by Rhyd Wildermuth. Black Seed 5 can be ordered at this link.
“I hate the word peace, as I hate hell.” ~William Shakespeare
“I shall try to make plain the bloodiness of killing. Too often this has been slurred over by those who defend hawks. Flesheating man is in no way superior. It is so easy to love the dead. The word ‘predator’ is baggy with misuse. All birds eat living flesh at some time in their lives. Consider the cold-eyed thrush, that springy carnivore of lawns, worm stabber, basher to death of snails. We should not sentimentalise his song, and forget the killing that sustains it.” ~J.A. Baker
As green anarchists and anarcho-primitivists, we have utterly idealized indigenous or so-called primitive people. In doing so we have failed to understand precisely the reason we should follow their path. Most discourse around primitive life is drawn from western anthropology, though from the conclusions most anarcho-primitivists and green anarchists have drawn, it is clear that very few of them have actually bothered to read the texts they are referring to. Even given the Eurocentric bias of most anthropologists, those texts paint a much richer, more complex, and more conflicted view of primitive life than one finds in the vast majority of anti-civilization writing and discussion.
The most egregious assumption is that primitive life is supposed to be happy and easy. This is, of course, drawn from notions of primitive abundance and leisure. The fact, however, that individuals in primitive communities only worked for a very small amount of time per day does not mean that there were not other difficulties and hardships to be faced. Anarcho-primitivist and green anarchist writers suggest that modern humanity’s neurosis and pathology is entirely a product of the alienating forces of techno-industrial society. Indigenous communities now and in the past had their own ways of understanding and addressing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course, it is likely that they experienced these conditions differently than we do or to a lesser degree but clearly they still exist regardless. To avoid essentializing primitive or indigenous lifeways, we must understand that they experienced as broad a range of emotional states as we do.
In other words, the old assessment that ancient hunter gatherers were happier than we are is irrelevant and likely untrue. It is important here to acknowledge the distinction between the terms anarcho-primitivism and green anarchy. While green anarchy presents a wide range of conceptual apparatus for confronting techno-industrial society, Anarcho-primitivism dogmatically insists on a prescriptive vision of non-civilized life. For anarcho-primitivists, the only communities that count are ones in which no power structures or symbolic culture exist at all. In this vision, since there is no oppression of any kind or rupture with the non-human world, there are no social or existential problems. It is, of course, unlikely that such a community has ever existed.
Primitive life certainly involved hardship and suffering. Contrary to much received wisdom, violence was universal among primitive communities and remains so in those that persist to this day. Primitive life was also not a leftist utopia of perfect egalitarianism. Of course, the fact that pain, suffering, trauma, and tragedy was always present does not mean that joy, happiness, and pleasure were not also always present. Perhaps it is so, as I believe, that the very presence of ubiquitous violence and struggle intensified the feelings of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction that ancient people experienced. But in the end, this is neither here nor there. The point is that primitive life is superior to our own because its impact on the biosphere was minimal and people lived in close contact with the non-human world; that is the only reason and that is sufficient.
People who do not know what it means to fight cannot understand violence. They fear it because they have never experienced it. Aside from posturing and play acting, most anarchists and activists have never experienced violence. This is not to say, of course, that many of them have not been brutalized by the police, etc. Fighting with an enemy is not the same thing as being ruthlessly beaten by an anonymous employee whom you cannot strike back against, or harassing racists and idiots in the streets.
The violence of the mob, of the masses, is a different beast entirely. It is more akin to being crushed by a blind stampede of herd animals than anything else. Traditional people understood the need for ritual combat, for battle enacted under the strictest and most sacred terms: tt make a square within staves of hazel, to tie your strap to a spear plunged into the dirt.
Among the ancient people of Scandinavia the power of the state was weak and in the absence of a police or military to enforce the law, individuals resorted to ritual combat to resolve conflicts without disrupting the community as a whole. This practice, known as holmgang, involved the voluntary participation of both combatants and stipulated that the source of the conflict must end with the conclusion of the duel. In other words, the rules of holmgang were designed to ensure that other family members did not get caught up in the feud. Moreover, holmgang did not require one of the two combatants to die. In many cases the drawing of first blood was considered sufficient to determine a victor. Unsurprisingly, the practice of holmgang was outlawed in the early 11th century as Christian law stamped out pagan ways of life and hegemonic power grew in the region.
Even in such classic works of anthropology as Stanley Diamond’s In Search of the Primitive, we find a picture of traditional life that fully embraces violence. Diamond writes, “the point is that the wars and rituals of primitive society (and the former usually had the style of the latter), are quantitatively and qualitatively distinct from the mechanized wars of civilization.” This is to say, the type of violence, the experience of the violence, makes an enormous difference. As critics of civilization and techno-industrial society we have inadequately accounted for this. Violence and war are not to be feared or condemned. It is the nature of the violence that must be interrogated and reconsidered.
The custom of counting coup, practiced by the tribes of the American Plains, is an important historical example to cite here. To count coup means to demonstrate one’s bravery and courage by achieving a number of increasingly difficult feats on the battlefield. As George Bird Grinnell observed among the Cheyenne and Crow, “the bravest act that could be performed was to count coup on—to touch or strike—a living unhurt man and to leave him alive.” Joe Medicine Crow, the last war chief of the Crow Nation, achieved this feat a number of times as a soldier during World War II. Among his many achievements include disarming and fighting an enemy officer in hand-to-hand combat, as well as stealing 50 horses from a German battalion and riding off while singing Crow war songs. According to his obituary, Medicine Crow felt war to be “the finest sport in the world.”
As ancient people understood well through their war cults and warrior societies, there is tremendous wisdom and meaning to be gained through violence. In the first case you learn that pain is just another sensation in the body, it does not need to be feared. In the second case, to stand proudly against another, an equal, is to test yourself in a way that we have little ability to replicate. It is a form of physical relationship with another that is unique. You learn that you are strong, that you are skilled. You also learn that there is strength in the other. That sometimes your strength and your skill are insufficient and you strive to make yourself stronger. You learn about the world, about the nature of life, grounded in the body. Modern humanity is utterly separated from this. To return to Diamond: “war is a kind of play. No matter what the occasion for hostility, it is particularized, personalized, ritualized. Conversely, civilization represses hostility in the particular, fails to use or structure it, even denies it.”
The violence that we experience, as modern, civilized humans, that we perceive around us in countless ways, brings nothing but trauma. It is utterly, radically distinct from the violence of the primitive societies. It is depersonalized, sterile, and more destructive on a previously unimaginable scale of magnitude. In techno-industrial society we experience the violence of the police, the violence of men against women, the desperate random violence of humans driven to madness and hopelessness, violence against minorities, violence against the poor, and most importantly, no matter where we are, all around us, every single hour of every day we experience unspeakable degrees of violence against the earth.
Moreover, the soldier is not the warrior. The warrior longs for meaning, for connection with the cosmos and himself. The soldier is an automated, anonymous employee. It searches for nothing. It kills because it has been programmed to kill. It has no joy, no sorrow, no thought of what it does. When such emotions do occur they are shoved deep into hidden places in the soul and when they break out they cause insanity and horror. The violence of the soldier is the violence of the machine. It is a bloodless kind of violence, a violence that erodes the soul, no matter what it does to the body. Those pitiful beings that serve as the instruments of the brutality of the machine understand nothing, they are numb and insensate. They are appendages of the thing that annihilates. They have never felt the challenge of facing a foe who is trained and prepared for them, to be joined in valor. They execute. They bomb. They murder. Existentially, they count for nothing. Their lives are nothing.
Peace is understood as little as battle. Peace is not synonymous with joy, nor with righteousness, nor with abundance. Peace has only ever been achieved through history’s greatest atrocities. Peace has only ever meant power to the victor and misery and degradation to the vanquished. We, in the heart of technoindustrial society, are experiencing what peace means. A life devoid of joy. A sterile life. A non-life. And worse still, it is a life maintained perpetually by the slaughter of those on the fringes of our world. As the world-machine continues to expand outward, more and more will be pacified and brought within our life of shopping malls, endless highways, obesity, sickness, despair. And peace will reign. Peace, peace, peace.
What do we long for? A life of joy and passion. A life that is alive, throbbing with blood. A world that pulses with vitality. Do we want the icy porcelain bodies of mechanized gods? Or do we want living animal bodies that break and heal and decay and die? The latter is the body that is shaped by violence, by suffering, by hardship. Just as it is shaped by joy, pleasure, and robust health. Ancient people did not live a life without pain. They suffered acutely and they experienced joy acutely. We experience neither truly. What would you choose? Who would not trade this world of atomic bombs, environmental annihilation, and mechanized dehumanization for a world of primal war?
But let us be clear: the world we have is the world that exists. And wishing will not make it otherwise. Moreover, the skill, courage, and strength of the warrior will never defeat the impersonal mechanized destroyer.
In our greatest manifestations and noblest moments, we are beasts. The myth of human exceptionalism has poisoned us to the core. There is nothing wrong with being animals, in fact it is a far greater thing than the fantasies that humans tell themselves about their supposed superiority. Anything good that has come from human action or thought has come from our animals nature. The evil and vileness we do, contrary to received wisdom, comes the part of us that no other animal shares. To understand this means to understand that the world of beasts involves its own kind of brutality. When lions slaughter hyena babies, it is not because they are hungry. We dislike this because of our human moralizing. We easily perceive that “nature, red in tooth and claw” is not the whole story. But it is an inescapable part of the story.
The only way for humanity to make itself immune to violence is to allow the creation of a vast authoritarian system that protects individuals from personal violence through the endless impersonal violence of the state. If you can’t protect yourself, you will rely on someone else to protect you, whether you realize it or not, regardless of the cost. Humanity is capable of radically limiting pain and suffering. We can live longer and longer. We can cure diseases. We can create enlightened societies with relatively low rates of violence. All of these things come at the cost of the earth, the things of the earth, and our connection to the earth.
Posing a vision of humanity without hardship or suffering denies the reality of the wild world and it distracts us from what is truly important: not the avoidance of pain but our unity with the myriad things and spirits of the world. The strength and the future of the human race lies only in its ability to show proper reverence to the gods of the earth.
Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father. Until recently he was a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England
More of his writing can be found here.
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“You hear that?”
It was a warm evening, our leather-shod feet treading slowly over ancient cobble. Strasbourg, last summer, a few days visiting a friend before my companion headed to Germany and then returned to the US.
“Yes.” She said. The worry on her face probably reflected mine. “It’s like They’re shouting, war.”
I nodded. That was exactly what I heard, too.
A few days later, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, abandoning Liberal Democracy’s greatest experiment, one touted as a way not just to bring economic prosperity to an entire continent and nearby islands, but also to make a group of nations so inter-connected that their leaders would never again call for war against each other.
While much of the liberal-left who’d opposed that vote (as well as even those on the right who’d supported it) expressed wild shock that Brexit had been successful, neither my companion nor I were surprised.
It was no different with the election of Donald Trump as the next leader of the American Empire. While every major newspaper and ‘scientific’ prediction site assured us that Hillary Clinton would win handily, the voices I’d heard made clear that’s not how the future would be.
That same companion heard them too.
We called each other after the election results were announced. She was eerily calm. So was I. “I almost convinced myself otherwise,” she said.
“I know. I tried, too.”
We both sighed, perpetually reluctant Cassandras in a tragedy that is only just beginning.
The Drums of War
I HAVE NO special powers of prediction. I also do not need them to see what is happening, nor do you. To follow the threads of actions now to consequences and likely re-actions later, one need only disengage a bit from the narratives with which our governments, political parties, and the capitalists who fund them assure us that their actions are just. One need also disengage from the stories we tell ourselves, the pretty lies by which we live in willful ignorance of the damage we do to the world.
Stand outside those, for just a little while, and the inevitability of war becomes frightfully apparent. From outside those narratives, we start to see things we conveniently ignore, counter-narratives, ‘natural’ forces and societal limits which threaten our ‘peace’ and ‘security’ much more than any foreign power or terrorist act could dare dream to do.
Climate Change (the Anthropocene)
Since the start of the industrial (counter-)revolution and the birth of capitalism, the inherent resilience of forests, oceans, the atmosphere, and all other bio-regions has been damaged beyond the point of healing. So much carbon has been shit into the air that ancient ice is melting, weather patterns are changing, and ocean currents which make densely-populated lands livable are shifting, threatening the wealth those nations accumulated through militant and economic conquest.
The damage done to bio-systems particularly affects those in what is often called the Global South. South America, Africa, and many small Pacific Island nations face massive flooding and die-offs of ecosystems on which the people who live there rely for subsistence.
Industrial Capitalism (and its Chinese cognate, Industrial Authoritarian Communism) relies on relentless extraction of resources in order to fuel the engines of economic control of its citizenry. Petroleum feeds everything, from the automobiles and lorries which move products and people between businesses and homes, to the products being constructed, sold, consumed, and discarded at the altars of ‘economic growth,’ to all the infrastructure in between: even the roads connecting cities and people are made of petroleum (asphalt).
Petroleum, Coal, and the other primary resources which feed the furnaces of capitalism are finite resources, swiftly depleting. Even the ‘renewable’ resources are dwindling, unable to replace themselves swiftly enough to meet our rapacious demand. The oceans are over-fished, forests cannot grow back as fast as they are cut down, and the natural systems which sustain them have been so severely damaged that they are close to (if not already at) collapse. Many systems are on life-support: soil stripped long ago of its nutrients only ‘produces’ food now on account of industrial fertilizers and pesticides, often themselves a product of petroleum.
Depleted resources and climate destruction are not mere esoteric problems to be debated with sad faces in coffeeshops and classrooms. They directly affect the ability of billions of humans to survive, and humans do not generally let themselves die without a fight. The Middle-East, where the largest remaining reserves of oil exist, is increasingly swept by mass uprisings and civil strife violently subdued by totalitarian governments propped up by one or more foreign powers. Syria, Iraq, Afganistan, Egypt, Turkey, and others have all becomes sites of international political struggles resulting in slaughter, while quasi-religious ideologies such as Wahabism embolden the disaffected to claim new power through terrifyingly violent frameworks.
That same unrest has awakened in the nation-states which gain most from the strife elsewhere. Europe, particularly, is witnessing a virulently fascist backlash against the refugees and immigrants fleeing foreign conflict and resource depletion, while simultaneously seeing a new resurgence of anti-capitalist organizing that threatens the political structures even more than the fascist threat. Politicians and capitalists there, as in the United States (which boasts the largest, most-funded military in the world), have chosen to ally with the racists and nationalists against that leftist threat, promising a ‘return’ to economic prosperity and stability.
While the nationalist, racist, and fascist currents in Liberal Democracies (as well as the totalitarian religious ideologies seen primarily in the Middle-East) offer a coherent and pristine (but terrifying) political narrative to lead people through the current crises, ideologies generally associated with ‘the left’ are in utter disarray. This is particularly true in the United States, where the centrist/capitalist party (Democrats) have long co-opted organized opposition, the name ‘Marx’ or the word ‘insurrection’ evoke embarrassed gasps from even those who dedicate their lives towards activism.
Instead of organized opposition to state structures, ‘leftists’ have been happy to justify the recent U.S. military actions in Syria as justified, while embracing a constructed conspiracy narrative that Donald Trump is a puppet of a foreign power, rather than an inevitable symptom of America’s inherent imperialism.
There currently exists no significant internal opposition to the United States’ drumbeat of war. Decades of attempting to appear sympathetic to the employees of the military and defend against right-wing charges of ‘anti-Americanism’ has created a Liberal Nationalism which only argues over how wars are conducted, not whether they should be conducted at all. This was seen most clearly in the campaign of Hillary Clinton, who threatened even harsher foreign action than Donald Trump has currently enacted, while cynically using “Feminism” to distract women and minorities from her nationalist platform.
War is Already Here, And Is Coming
THIS IS WHERE we find ourselves now, and also how we got here. All this has led us to this point where war is inevitable, where the entire world sits upon a powder keg while a few reckless leaders drunkenly play with matches. However, the coming war is not the only war we must worry over.
Those of us in Liberal Democracies often forget that the economic and military dominance of the nations to which we are subject comes through war. War is never just soldier against soldier, gun against gun, nation against nation. War is what has been waged against the forests and the oceans since the birth of capitalism. It is what was declared against the peasantry during the Enclosure Acts, what was fought against witches and heretics and rebels who dared fight back.
War is what was waged against the indigenous peoples of the Americas in order to found the United States, an undeclared war against the land and its human and non-human inhabitants still being fought to this day. War is what kills the unarmed Blacks in the streets of cities, what drags them to misery in prison complexes. It is what has been declared upon the poor of all races, not ‘collateral damage’ but direct casualties. The homeless are refugees in their own lands, the jails filled with those dragged there by uniformed occupiers, hospitals filled with victims of systematic destruction.
War is coming, but it has already been here.
Sadly, we surrendered, laid down our own arms, chose obedience and misery rather than insurrection. Worse, many of us not only do not fight, but tacitly and often willfully support the enemy. Opportunists content to profit within regimes of exploitation, obedient servants to Empire and Capital, corporations, politicians, and individuals occasionally muttering words about ‘social justice’ yet eagerly collaborating with conquest and slaughter as long as the profits still roll in, as long as capitalism keeps them better fed than the rest of the world.
War is already here, and it is also coming.
Unspeakable weapons now used casually, military maneuvers, call-ups of reserve soldiers and media campaigns tell us what we do not need gods to hear. As the numbers of the poor and disaffected in Liberal Democracy crush upon the system, the leaders have decided they need gainful employment. Young men told they are inherently dangerous and violent by Liberals and encouraged to be so by Conservatives will soon be trained and armed to do what society demands of them. They will now be joined by women, a victory of Liberal Democratic equality that will no doubt prove to their bleeding, dismembered victims that America is truly a land of the free.
European nations struggling under the weight of their own contradictions and threatened by their peoples’ demands for more freedom may join these wars, though if real resistance arises against this new militarism, is it much more likely on the continent than in the United States. In France, a Communist candidate has almost as much of a chance to win the next election as the Fascist candidate; Germany seems safe for now, and anti-statist movements are flourishing in countries ruined by Liberal capitalist policies (like Greece, Italy, and Spain). The people on the continent from which I write may be resilient enough to stand against the calls to slaughter. They may also not be.
WAR IS ALREADY HERE, and war is coming, but it can be stopped. Even the gods cannot predict the future when the weavers of fate and destiny intervene.
Those weavers are us.
How might we stop the coming slaughter? By taking up our own arms, enjoining the war that is already here. Not against other nations, not against the poor or the hired soldiers of other lands, but rising up against our occupiers, our imperialist masters and their collaborators.
Those squeamish about violence and insurrection are right to be so, but they cannot ignore that war has already been enjoined. In some cases, this may mean taking up literal weapons. In some cases, it may not. In all cases it will involve intentional resistance, actively engaging in struggle against those who would lead us to the destruction of the earth and world-wide imperialist war.
I am amongst those who do not intend to take up weapons, so I offer here a strategy of war based on attrition and sabotage rather than armed conflict. Others more ready, skilled, and trained to offer force to fight Empire no doubt can outline their insurrectionist strategies better. I will not oppose them, and suspect these strategies will complement theirs.
The Path of Desertion
States rely heavily on obedience, submission, and passive participation in the political and economic systems which sustain them. Capitalists need workers to show up, to produce, to spend their incomes on products and services. Politicians need their subjects to give away their own power and invest it in government and political parties instead.
The Path of Desertion is an act of war against this.
We must stop ‘showing up’ to work, stop relying on the capitalists for the means of our survival and existence, and stop giving away our power to those who demand it from us. But desertion is not just a cessation; neither the soldier who leaves his post nor the worker who quits her job are engaging merely in passive resistance: they are affirming and embracing their own power, their own will, and their own desire.
We must do this, too.
Deserting is not just walking away, but it is also walking away. It means abandoning our posts and quitting our jobs while also posting and employing ourselves elsewhere: our families, our networks, our friendships, our chosen (not ‘enforced’) communities. It means producing our own goods, growing and cooking and consuming our own food. It means making our own art, telling our own stories, creating our own narratives completely outside the narratives of power-over.
Deserting means no longer doing our ‘duty’ to report crimes to the government and their hired thugs. It means no longer paying our taxes, no longer paying our rents and mortgages. It means no longer serving in their wars, literally deserting their armies.
It means admitting that the nationalist nightmare of The United States–or any other construct–is over, and then acting as on that acknowledgment. Liberal politicians in the US are hoping those who oppose Trump will still cling to the American political system long enough for them to have a chance to take the reigns again. In effect, they are demanding we keep ‘showing up’ to the American project, even as it slaughters. We must desert them, too.
The Path of Sabotage
If the Nation is an imperial occupation upon the land and the people, those who would follow the path of sabotage seek to weaken the occupation. Guerrilla warfare is not just fought with guns; its strongest weapons are disruption, infiltration, and sabotage.
Centuries ago, textile workers who wished to retaliate against their bosses threw their wooden shoes into the machines, irrevocably destroying them. These shoes were called sabots, and those who used this tactic were saboteurs.
Like the path of desertion, the path of sabotage is an active choice to take up arms, to enjoin war against those who make war against us. Unlike the path of desertion, it involves direct antagonism, direct action, in support of both the deserters and the insurrectionists.
There are relentless ways to throw our shoes into the machines, damaging the ability of the rich, the police, and the military to enact their war against the earth and all that live within it. Port blockades, strikes, work slow-downs. Theft from businesses, squatting of private and government-owned land. Destruction of oil pipelines, transport networks, mass take-overs of government buildings and capitalist businesses.
Sabotage can be loud, and it can also be subtle. Those who unmask the motives of politicians (liberal and conservative alike), unearth the exploitative histories of business figures, or create counter-narratives to the dominant propaganda machine are as engaged as those who do more visible acts.
Sabotage is often done best when it is done by those without names and faces, so that our enemy cannot know which of we ‘obedient’ house-servants left the front door unlocked for the field-servants to kill the master. When it is public, it is done best to inspire others to do the same.
Notes on The Path of Armed Struggle
It is up to others to define the Path of Armed Struggle. The beginnings of it have already awakened in the streets of large American cities; many trans, disabled, queer, and Black folks have begun training in weapons-use. Many soldiers in the US army–as with other nations–may desert. Some have already joined anti-capitalist and anti-imperial struggle elsewhere, and perhaps they will offer their training to those wishing to follow their path. Armed resistance has long been the path of those in the Global South fighting off capitalist (particularly US) imperialism. They have much to teach as well.
For many, this will be the path of least fame and least support. I am sorry for this. Even now, no doubt some readers are appalled it would even be considered. To them I can say only, ‘if it is not your path, find your own,’ as I am doing.
Some of us will take up direct arms against Empire. Some will desert. Some will sabotage. Many will engage in all three. It is time. But it has always been time. War is coming, but war has already been here.
We have a world to win.
Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch, and shirtless selfies occasionally seen on his FB. and also his Instagram
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The following essay was written by the late Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010), the founder of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). The original version of this essay was published in The Druid’s Progress #5 in 1989, and is reposted here with permission from Phaedra Bonewits and Arthur Lipp-Bonewits.
IT’S WELL PAST time to deal with some polytheological issues that most Neopagan groups have been ignoring—specifically those of violence, self-defense, and the ethics of being a cop or a soldier in modern times. Insofar as Neopaganism is going to develop doctrines (note that I did not say “dogmas”) about these issues, ones that Neopagans can take into a court of law, this essay is an attempt at articulating the arguments that seem relevant to me.
Like many members of the Neopagan community, I grew up as part of the 60’s counterculture. Our primary interactions with law enforcement officers and soldiers were generally of the negative sort. We saw them as the upholders of a corrupt status quo, mouthing platitudes about freedom and democracy while they beat in our heads or napalmed little children. Yet, most of us grew up thrilling to the adventures of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and other noble, idealistic warriors. In later years, some of us studied the martial arts, and watched television shows such as “Kung Fu,” where the emphasis was on the lone warrior who is a master of him/herself first, and of others only incidentally.
All of these experiences gave us conflicting ideas about the nature and role of violence in our lives. Those of our generation who suffered in Vietnam or in the ghettos are much less idealistic than those of us who have only been on the dojo floor or the medievalist tournament field. Yet our common “Nam era mentality” of cynicism towards governments and generals is perfectly appropriate as a base from which to begin articulating spiritual opinions.
As we create religions for the future, we must have a coherent body of polytheological opinions about violence. These opinions must reflect our ideals, while being fully informed about historical realities, if we hope to change the world enough so that future history will not simply be a bloody repetition of the past.
THE AWARENESS of this essential conflict between practical survival needs and ethical ideals is not new. The Paleopagan Indo-Europeans (like most other peoples of the past) spent a lot of time thinking about it, and preserved their wisdom in their myths, sagas, and folktales. So before I begin to express my own conclusions about the various issues involved, I’d like to quote from Jaan Puhvel’s excellent book on Indo-European myth and epic, Comparative Mythology (John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987). After repeated tellings of the standard Indo-European warrior myth as it appears in the different cultures, he has this to say (in the chapter on “God and Warrior”) about it:
Basic to that [standard Indo-European warrior] myth is a profound anomic [lawlessness, social alienation] of the human and societal condition, rooted in the use and abuse of power. Order, security, peace—positive conditions all—tend to depend for their preservation on the readiness of something that is inherently destructive, such as “security forces” or a military machine with the attendant mentality. If boosters of law enforcement like to describe their favorite agents of public order as a thin phalanx protecting civilization from anarchy, there is an even thinner line separating champion from berserk, police action from police riot. Those trained as agents of aggression and repression may experience difficulty functioning as normal human beings under great stress, or conversely when the pressure is off. Such abnormality also induces clannishness vis-a-vis the general society, “fraternal orders,” “Protective” associations, gangs, juntas, and other forms of structured apartness.
This kind of perennial tension is reflected in the ancient myths. Warlike exaltation, martial ecstasy where fury gets out of hand, is displayed by the Third Horatius, by Cuchulainn, by the berserkir. The Maruts, sodalas, fiana, or einherjar constituted bands with their own inner structure and interactional dynamics, with a collective svadha or “ethos” (the two cognates meaning etymologically “self-law, autonomy”) that was only capriciously at the call of a commanding figure such as Indra, Publicola, Finn or Odin. The warlord himself could be an equally self-willed individualist and from inspired and inspiring leader shade over into a lone-wolf kind of martial toiler (Indra led the Maruts, and yet he was also eka- “one, alone, unique,” acted yathavasam “as he chose” and had a svadah of his own). The warrior thus had an ambivalent role as a single champion or part of a self-centered corps or coterie, both a society’s external defender and its potential internal menace.
After discussing the myths about warrior kings and warrior gods, Puhvel devotes the rest of the chapter to the stories about mythic heroes, of the sort that many Neopagans who perceive themselves to be warriors pattern themselves after. Here’s what he has to say (with my comments in the square brackets):
A third type was the warrior who was not divine but a saga hero manipulated by deity, not a king but merely in royal service. This is the kind most marked by a tense relationship to the environment where he operated, to his divine and human patrons and his social constituency at large. He had no agglomeration of transfunctional attributes to lose [as the warrior kings and warrior gods did], but he nevertheless managed to offend (or was perceived as offending) all segments of the social order by a structured set of misdeeds. With his flawed willfulness (or perhaps his “programmed,” predestined, predictable nature) he compromised his career by nadir episodes that involved impious/unjust/sacrilegious, cowardly/under-handed/unwarriorlike, and covetous/venal/adulterous acts respectively [the “three sins” against the three Indo-European social functions of legal and spiritual rulership, courageous defense of the community, and prosperity and fertility]. The varieties described are found in epic, saga and folklore, from the fells of Scandinavia to the jungles of India, from the Bay of Bengalk via the Gulf of Argos and the Tiber to Galaway Bay. These kinds are not extinct — they were spotted not long ago on both the Mekong and the Potomac [and in Central America, Afghanistan, Africa, Moscow, Iraq, etc.].
All of the points he makes are directly applicable to a discussion of Neopagans in the military. As I have said many times, “one of the primary tasks of the clergy has always been to ride herd on the warriors… Since the primary threat to life on this planet now comes from out-of-control warriors, it’s time we started taking that duty seriously again.” In this particular time and place, that riding herd process requires confronting some unpleasant and unpopular truths. We can no longer ignore the issues involved. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts:
I perceive important distinctions between “warriors” and “soldiers,” with the former word having positive meanings for me and the later negative ones. In order to define my terms clearly, I will now oversimplify:
A “warrior” is a person who has been trained to use violence both effectively and selectively, but who refrains from doing so except when she/he perceives a genuine danger to her/himself or to others in the community whom she/he deems worthy of protection. She or he strives to use exactly the minimum amount of violence (if any) of whatever sort is necessary to defeat the danger, and is willing to risk her/his life in the process. A warrior prefers to see the face of his/her enemy, and takes personal responsibility for the ethics of his/her behavior. While she/he may enjoy her/his occupation and may experience and appreciate the thrill of battle, she/he does not enjoy or disregard the emotional and moral effects of killing. Warriors will compete with each other, not just to hone their combat skills, but to emphasize their individual identities. Courage, honor, integrity, and self-awareness are the ideals I associate with this image of the warrior.
A “soldier,” on the other hand, I perceive as a hired killer, whose primary task is not the defense of his/her community, although that claim is usually made, but rather the defense of that community’s political, social, religious, and economic rulers. A soldier enjoys being violent, especially when she/he has superior odds, and often becomes addicted to the battle frenzy (berserkirgang) experience—many to the point of receiving sexual satisfaction from the destruction they cause. He or she will kill any man, woman, or child that he/she is ordered to kill, simply because he/she was told to do so (as with the Russian airmen who shot down K.A.L. flight 007, or the American seamen who blew up that Iranian airliner). A soldier is perfectly willing to kill at a distance, without ever seeing the faces of his/her victims, and even when she/he sees them up close does not consider them to be “real” human beings (but “Huns,” or “Japs,” or “Gooks,” or “Micks,” etc.). A soldier considers rape and plunder to be a natural right in time of war, even if the war is against citizens of his/her own country. Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this essay, a soldier takes no responsibility for the ethics of his/her actions, since she/he is “only following orders.”
To transform a person from a civilian into a soldier, it’s generally necessary to extinguish her/his individuality and integrity, and to replace them as much as possible with group identity and unthinking, machinelike obedience. (Robert Anton Wilson has an excellent, and somewhat terrifying analysis of military basic training as a classic “brainwashing” process in Prometheus Rising.) This obedience to authority, obsession with “winning,” and emotional insensitivity to the impact of his/her behavior on the lives of others, are the ideals of the soldier. Of course, most generals and admirals will tell the general public (and their soldiers whenever the public happens to be listening) that the warrior ideals are the ones that soldiers do and should have, but this publicly presentable official message is easily drowned out by the other messages delivered during basic training, and quickly vanishes in any real war zone.
These opinions come from growing up reading about Nazi war criminals, seeing films of soldiers dropping napalm on small children, studying the history of the European, American, and Russian Empires, going to high school near a major military base, reading reports of the Gulf War from foreign newspapers, etc. and comparing the data gained from these sources to the idealistic legends mentioned earlier.
BUT IN ORDER to avoid monotheistic dualism here, lets create a value spectrum with the above defined “warrior” on one end, and the “soldier” on the other. Most modern police officers, security guards, and members of the armed forces will fit somewhere along the line between the two extremes. About the only ones who will come close to being real warriors will be those individuals who have dedicated their lives to the Martial arts, and a few political, ecological, and social activists.
(Since some people like to play games with the phrase “martial arts,” saying that anything having to do with the Roman god Mars should be counted, including soldiering and C.I.A. assassinations, let me emphasize that when I say “martial arts,” I’m referring to Tai Chi, Akido, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. as well as similar practices from non-oriental sources, when followed as a philosophy and a way of life.)
Perhaps we need two more axes of polarity here, a vertical one for degree of sanity or insanity, and another going off at right angles to the first two, for ethicality and unethicality of character. Warriors going berserk or cops rioting against a group of [Editor’s note: The noun here was missing from the original essay; I believe it would have been “civilians.”] would go near the insane end of the sanity-insanity scale, while a C.I.A. hitman or the members of a S.W.A.T. team trying to eliminate a sniper might belong near the sane end. Of course, that hitman would probably belong on the Wrong side of the ethical-unethical spectrum (depending on his/her target?), as would a Mafia hitman, Nazi Storm trooper, or a Russian airman dropping napalm on children in Afghanistan. As American Neopagans, we might decide that the soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War were ethical to do so (English Neopagans might disagree) or those in the U.S. Cavalry during the “Indian Wars” (unless you’re part or all Native American, or have studied the history carefully, in which case those same soldiers become grossly unethical), etc.
Many of these judgments are difficult to make, especially if you belong to a multivalued, pluralistic religion such as Neopaganism. But it should be clear that, despite the conflicting ideals discussed earlier, not all warriors are ethical and sane, and not all soldiers are unethical and insane. Nonetheless, I will make the argument, for the rest of this essay, that in our time it is far more difficult for a soldier to remain both ethical and sane from a Neopagan point of view than it is for a warrior to do so (law enforcement officers wind up in the middle — as usual).
Let’s get down to some ethical/spiritual nitty-gritty:
- It is wrong, under any and all circumstances, to drop napalm on kids, or to machine-gun women with babies, or to launch a missile towards a building full of elderly people.
- It is wrong to kill a total stranger, simply because his/her politicians disagree with yours as to the best way the two of you should be swindled.
- It is wrong to kill, maim, and torture people in order to maintain the wealth and power of multinational corporations, or of a dictator, or of the leader(s) of one’s religion.
- It is wrong to defoliate thousands of acres of forests or jungles, or to poison rivers and wells, or to bury millions of land mines in areas where civilians will die from them for decades to come, or to disseminate new diseases.
- It is wrong to teach dictators how to more effectively torture, rape, and enslave their own citizens (or those of neighboring countries), no matter what benefits our own political and economic masters might gain.
- It is wrong, for any reason that a human is capable of inventing, to create, maintain, or use weapons that can kill every man, woman, child, plant, and animal on Earth, raping our Mother to death with nuclear fire. Our planet can survive a hundred or even a thousand years of domination by any “evil empire.” It won’t survive World War III. To assist in any way, shape or form in killing the entire biosphere (at this point the only one we know exists) is the ultimate blasphemy which a worshiper of Mother Earth could commit.
I could not live with myself if I did not know, on a gut-level basis, that these things are Wrong. All the metaphysical and theological and political excuses in the world cannot change these crimes into acts of virtue or heroism.
Yet each of them is an action that any member of most modern army, navy, or air forces (especially those of a “superpower”—what they used to call an “empire”) can expect to be ordered to commit, sooner or later. The excuses will be grandiose, the justifications noble, and the instructions quite clear: “Do as you’re told—that’s an order!”
EACH AND EVERY ONE of these actions is one that I expect a Neopagan (or a sane, ethical warrior of any other faith) to refuse to perform, even at the risk of court-martial and execution (that’s easy for me to say — all I have to worry about is execution, legally or illegally, for the “treason” of voicing these opinions). Thus, I believe that Neopagans, whether Wiccans, Druids, or members of any other variety of Neopaganism, have no place in a modern superpower’s military.
The Coast Guard or a state militia might be an exception to this basic principle, except when they are performing functions unconnected to actually defending the lives of the populace, but one would have to evaluate each such organization and situation individually. I know that the National Guard in California, for example, actually spends most of its time fighting forest fires, but I remember when it was used against antiwar demonstrators back in the 60’s. The kids who shot the kids at Kent State were members of the Ohio National Guard. And lately the Coast Guard has been spending most of its time busting drug smugglers (which gets us into the topic of Neopagans and law enforcement, to be discussed later in this essay).
As for those Neopagans who are currently in the military, and who are sensibly unwilling to risk death by firing squad (or by “accident”), I believe that you should attempt to get out, by any comparatively ethical means necessary, as soon as you can. If escaping really is impossible (and not just bloody inconvenient), you should try to get transferred to units where your activities will be only remotely connected (they can never be completely unconnected) to those of others actually committing the crimes of the sort mentioned.
The question of whether or not we should have Druid or other Neopagan chaplains for Neopagans who choose to join or remain in the military is a messy one. If, as I believe, you’re not supposed to be there in the first place, what role does a chaplain have other than to betray his/her faith by telling you it’s OK? Would the military allow a chaplain who went around persuading folks to quit? The suggestion that Neopagans, whether chaplains or laity, should be in the military in order to enlighten the armed forces from within is absurd — as soon as you got close to actually changing people’s minds, you’d be arrested for “subversion.” Offering more enlightened alternatives to a superior officer is as likely to get one branded a “bleeding-heart liberal” and ignored, as it is to change anyone’s opinions—not to mention destroying your military career. A discussion of Neopagan chaplains is quite moot, however. The U.S. military in 1987 commissioned its first non-Judeo-Christian chaplain (a Buddhist of all faiths!) and is in no rush to have chaplains from any other minority faiths. Besides, military chaplains are expected to have been ordained after a period of college level training in an accredited institution that would have prepared them for full-time, professional clergy work — and we don’t have any accredited Neopagan seminaries yet and are unlikely to for several years.
As for young people facing the draft, I say you should refuse to register, or emigrate elsewhere as soon as your government actually starts taking kids. If you do register, do it as a Conscientious Objector (and be prepared for a long, messy fight). If you don’t register because of your religious beliefs, expect to be discriminated against when applying for school loans, etc.
I CAN STILL HEAR THE screams from when I first published these thoughts, from Neopagans in the military: “How dare you tell us what to do!” “How can you make our ethical decisions for us!” “You commie-hippie-weirdo-freak!” “Your subversive and ‘unpatriotic’ stance is what undermines the strength and character of a country.” “Who made you the spokesperson for all Pagandom?!”
Well, nobody did. Nonetheless I have the same rights as anyone, polytheologian or not, to express my religious opinions. And as a “spiritual leader,” I have an obligation to be truthful about my beliefs. Every other major religion in the world has doctrines about these issues. It’s about time we started working ours out.
As for the Norse warrior types in our community, I can only say that the better (sane and ethical) old Norse heroes would have had nothing but contempt for modern military procedures (although I suppose some of the Vikings might have approved of the raping, looting, and pillaging parts).
“But what about national defense?” I hear some of you asking. Well, if the Chinese come swimming across the Pacific Ocean with atom bombs clenched between their teeth, or the Mexicans come charging over the border with their third-rate weaponry (we’ve never let them have more than they needed to keep their own people properly tyrannized), attacking San Diego and El Paso, I suppose even I might concede to a necessity for some sort of National Defense. But my response (“If I were King of the Forest!”) would not be to whip out weapons that can kill thousands or millions of innocent bystanders, but rather (if physical violence really were necessary) to unleash professional assassins against the individuals in the invading country’s government who are responsible. Of course, this sort of measured response, aimed directly at the genuinely guilty parties, is simply “not done.”
I’ve had several acquaintances, who used to be in military intelligence organizations, independently tell me that U.S. spies advised our government back in 1938 to assassinate Adolph Hitler before he got too dangerous. This plan was vetoed on the grounds that fighting a war by assassination was likely to get our politicians assassinated in retaliation. So to save the lives of a handful of politicians in the US and Europe, millions upon millions of men, women, and children died. A direct result of that war was the invention and use of the very weapons that threaten our planet’s survival today. Frankly, I would rather have lost twenty or thirty politicians.
None of this deals with the ethics of assassination, of course (which would require a full discussion of situational ethics). And so far, American government assassins have proven much more effective at eliminating democratically elected (but economically threatening) leaders (both foreign and domestic) than at killing genuine threats to world peace. Also, it’s been pointed out that making assassination the primary means of international conflict would lead to the creation of ever more fascist police states in order to protect the politicians. Nonetheless, I would far rather live in a world where wars were fought personally by the people who benefited most from them (the generals, the politicians, the dictators/kings, the billionaires, the commissars, etc.) than in what we have now: those folks pulling puppet strings to make the rest of us dance, and die, to their tunes.
But that’s a fantasy. We are stuck with what we have. The CIA and all their other alphabet comrades take their orders from the powers-that-be in each nation/corporation, not from ordinary citizens like us, despite the supposed oversight exercised by governmental committees composed of people we may elect. This may not change in our lifetime. So even if you could convince yourself that murder is sometimes ethically justifiable (a tricky proposition at best), a career in these agencies is going to be no more ethical than one in their associated armed forces.
BUT WHAT ABOUT the theory of the “just war”? That always comes up in these discussions. I say, it’s a just war if you defend yourself when the KKK attacks your farmhouse and tries to shoot your husband and kids, burn down your barn, and rape your cow. At that point you’re ethically, morally and even legally (outside of New York City) entitled to defend yourself and your family from “a clear and present danger.” But when the Front for the Liberation of XYZ attacks its country’s Gestapo in an effort to free prisoners who are being tortured for trying to organize labor unions, and the Russians or the Americans (or the British, the Israelis, the French, the Chinese, etc.) send in tanks, bombers, napalm, and experts to train the Gestapo in better torturing techniques—no, that’s not a “just war” for the invaders—no matter what impact the results might have on the President’s or the Chairman’s Swiss bank accounts, no matter what noninterference might do to the next quarter’s profit margin or the current five year plan, and no matter that the XYZ Liberation Front may be just as unethical as the folks they’re fighting.
The overwhelming majority of wars that have been fought in America’s brief history, like those of other nations, have had little to do with “preserving human freedom.” Our Revolution and the War of 1812 were fought so that a bunch of wealthy, slave-owning men (George Washington and friends) wouldn’t have to pay taxes to England, at least as much as they were for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of (male, land-owning) happiness.” The Civil War was an economically based battle between the Second Wave industrial North and the First Wave agricultural South, with the freeing of slaves an afterthought done more for its devastating economic impact than for any concern for human rights. The genocide campaigns against the Native Americans, the multiple invasions of Central America, the Spanish-American War, etc. were all done for the purpose of gaining physical territory and/or exclusive trading “rights” (“Hi, give us all your natural resources at dirt cheap prices or we’ll kill you!”). The First World War was for the benefit of the banks and the munitions manufacturers (who also had a hand in setting up W.W.II).
Even I have to admit that Hitler’s Germany needed stopping, although I’ve already indicated one way it could have been prevented—by all the Gods, it could have been prevented by the W.W.I victors simply not having been so nasty afterwards! While the Japanese in China and Korea were just as horrible as the Germans in Europe, the war in the Pacific was the direct result of the Japanese and American Empires disputing territory thousands of miles from either’s home turf (neither of them really had any “rights” to the Kingdom of Hawaii). The wars in Korea and Vietnam were also territorial grabs. We wanted to make sure that prime agricultural land (before defoliation, the Mekong Delta used to be called “the Bread Basket of Southeast Asia”), rubber plantations, tungsten mines, offshore oil deposits, etc., remained under our control (or that of our “friends”), rather than let the rival Chinese or Russian Empires have them. Not to mention the wonderful locations for air, land and naval bases close to our rivals (no “Monroe Doctrine” for our competitors, no-sir-ree, just for us).
The Persian Gulf War was fought for the benefit of multi-billionaire Kuwaiti royalty, the boys in the Pentagon who wanted to try out all their new toys (especially the desert warfare machines), and a President who wanted to prove that he wasn’t a wimp. A quarter of a million men, women, and children died—the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians—as a direct or indirect result of American and other Western European military actions. This was as many as died in the Burning Times (the Renaissance witch hunts) we Neopagans talk so much about as an archetypal atrocity. Yet the man we supposedly fought the war to dethrone is still running his country and only a fraction of his military personnel were killed.
None of this should be surprising, except for those who believe their high school history books, the stories in the mass media, or their old drill sergeants. Every Empire in history has acted this way: The Russian Empires (both Czarist and Communist), the Chinese ones, the British, etc., going all the way back to Mesopotamia, have all grabbed as much loot as they could and have made up whatever excuses, if any, their soldiers needed to hear. In most of the modern empires, however, it has become necessary to claim that one’s invading armies are not conquering turf, but are liberating toiling masses instead. China doesn’t commit genocide in Tibet, it “educates people away from their superstitions.” The American Empire doesn’t prop up sleazy dictators who are killing their own citizens, we just “help friendly governments to maintain a strong defense against communism/terrorism/international drug cartels.” The Russian Empire didn’t invade Afghanistan to gain access to the Middle East and create another buffer state around its former national borders, it was “helping a friendly government to maintain a strong defense against capitalism.”
The bottom line of all this political discussion is that governments—all governments—habitually lie to their citizens and the rest of the world, especially when planning and executing wars. The only thing that makes ours any better is that the U.S. was founded by a bunch of agnostic, skeptical Freemasons who didn’t trust governments very much—including the one they were founding—and who tried to see to it that intelligent people could keep the corruption and tyranny down to a dull roar. But that’s impossible if citizens naively believe whatever their government tells them is true, routinely obey whatever orders they are told have come down from on high, and object to essays like this one being published. I’m not the first to point out these unpleasant and “treasonous” truths—Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, and other famous/infamous people repeatedly remarked on the gullibility of the general public when faced with official versions of reality.
PEOPLE NOT ONLY tend to believe what they’re told when governments are leading young men off to slaughter, they tend to actively disbelieve any evidence to the contrary. Historians now know that the Lusitania, supposedly an innocent cruise liner whose sinking by the German navy was one of the primary incidents that led the U.S. into entering W.W.I, was indeed carrying ammunition to the British, just as the Germans claimed. Evidence has accumulated that the U.S. Battleship Maine was blown up by American spies in order to create an incident to goad a reluctant public into the Spanish-American War. John F. Kennedy, who was beginning to de-escalate the Vietnam War, was “coincidentally” assassinated, then replaced with someone who was quite willing to keep the war going as long as it was profitable. All this has been published over and over again, in scholarly journals, in the back pages of newspapers, in obscure political magazines. The mass slaughter of civilians during the Persian Gulf War was broadcast live by CNN! But very few people read or view these unpopular facts, and most of those who do, don’t believe them, since they contradict the history books, the government, the press, and the military. Those who do believe them are so cynical that they don’t think it really matters—after all, what’s done is done.
In one sense they’re right. We can’t change the past. All we can try to do is to remember as many of its lessons as possible. Among those many lessons are (a) governments seldom are willing to pass up any opportunity to gain greater power, (b) governments always become more powerful in wartime, and therefore (c) there is a built-in incentive for governments to be in a constant state of war. So we not only have to watch the scoundrels in our own government, but those in all the others as well.
How does all this political skepticism tie into Neopagan ethical approaches to military service? Very simply. When our government tells us, or anybody else’s government tells its citizens, that a war is necessary for “national defense,” the odds are a thousand to one that the government is lying. For the individual member of the armed forces, murder, rape, and pillage, whether direct or by remote control, become even harder to excuse when you haven’t even a shred of hard evidence that the crimes you are being ordered to commit are actually going to protect your loved ones at home from whatever theoretical threat is being waved in your face. What you can be sure your crimes will do—up to the point where someone starts W.W.III—is to fatten several national leaders’ Swiss bank accounts, generate enormous profits for the arms industry in all the countries involved (the same companies in Europe sold weapons to all sides in both World Wars, and are still doing it today), get rid of a lot of surplus teenage males (always a threat to the inner stability of any culture), totally wreck whatever environment your war takes place in, and thoroughly mix the gene pools of the survivors.
None of these results, except the last, is one of which Neopagan polytheology can approve and there are plenty of other ethical (and much more pleasant) ways to mix genes.
A few folks have mentioned that military personnel have the “right” to disobey “unlawful” orders. While true, this ignores the fact that many unethical things are perfectly legal, under civilian or military law, and that refusing to obey a direct order based on this right is far more likely to get one court-martialed and/or shot than it is to prevent a crime being committed. Your superior officer will merely order your replacement to perform in your stead. As for an obligation for American military men and women to serve as “world peacekeepers,” (1) I don’t recall them being elected to or asked to fill that role by the rest of the world, and (2) the U.S. government has been extremely selective about where and when and how it fulfills that “duty.” By some odd coincidence, it always seems to depend on American political polls and corporate profits.
So I’m forced to repeat my earlier conclusions. Despite all the traditional arguments about “just wars” and “national defense” and making the world safe for democracy/capitalism/communism, etc., a soldier, sailor, marine, or air fighter in a modern superpower armed forces organization is holding down a job where he/she has agreed, by the very act of signing up or letting him/herself be drafted, to commit or support acts of a grossly unethical and immoral nature whenever he/she is ordered to commit or support them, for reasons that will usually be equally unethical and immoral. That makes superpower military service (and that in many smaller nations) a “wrong livelihood” for a Neopagan. Period.
What about other forms of “serving your country”? If the government decides that all citizens must spend a year or two working as firefighters, or conservation corps members, or hospital workers, or street pavers, etc., then such service may be perfectly ethical and moral. An argument can even be made that such community service is a genuine moral obligation (nobody, except absolute Libertarians, likes parasites very much). However, if such service becomes “alternative service,” meaning that you are filling a job position so that someone else can go commit crimes in your place, then you haven’t escaped the ethical and moral issues, however worthy the service you are performing might be.
I’d like to emphasize that I am not saying that Neopagans in the military are “bad people” or “lousy excuses for Pagans.” Many very good people join the military for reasons that have little to do with wanting to kill. They join because of various psychological goals they think the military will help them accomplish (though military service often makes personalities more dysfunctional, not less), to get specific job training (though they usually get cheated in this area), to earn tuition to pay for college later, to travel around the world (…”visit exotic places, meet fascinating people, and kill them”), or because they genuinely believe that they will be helping to “defend their country” or be “world peacekeepers” by becoming part of the military machine. If you grow up believing everything that the government and the mass media tell you, this sort of innocence is understandable. Neopagans, however, are usually far too intelligent and well-read to be that naive.
What I am saying is that Neopagans now in the military, or contemplating being there, should think long and hard about all the issues and arguments, official and unofficial, overt and covert, genuine and fraudulent, before they decide to stay or join — not just swallow whatever propaganda they’ve been fed by career military people or right-wing politicians.
NOW, ABOUT THOSE PAGAN COPS: As I see it, the major polytheological point in evaluating the morality and ethicality of law enforcement has to do with the nature of the laws that are being enforced. This requires a discussion of two terms from the field of criminology, “crimes with victims” and “crimes without victims.” The former are the obvious ones: murder, rape, arson, theft, fraud, most traffic laws, etc. and some subtler ones such as bribery, graft, etc. The latter are activities in which there either is no victim at all or in which the primary “victim” is the criminal: the vast majority of sex, drug, and gambling crimes fall under this classification. In essence, Judeo-Christian preachers who have been unable to convince their congregations to stop “sinning” have used their political power to get the civil governments to declare various sins to be “crimes.”
It seems clear to me that no culture can survive for long if it allows crimes with victims to take place without efforts to prevent the crimes and/or punish the criminals. It seems equally clear that the legal creation of “crimes without victims” is a complete violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but such is not unusual. A Neopagan cop who is devoting his/her career to working on a homicide squad, or investigating arson, or solving rapes, etc., is behaving in a perfectly appropriate fashion for a Neopagan. Contrariwise, if she or he is arresting prostitutes, or busting gay couples for sodomy, or destroying pot fields, then she/he is not acting in keeping with Neopagan beliefs, but is instead using the force of the civil government to impose Judeo-Christian (and corporate) values on the general populace. That’s not only immoral and unethical, it’s unconstitutional as well. Unfortunately, in order to get promoted to a position where you can concentrate on crimes-with-victims, you usually have to spend several years enforcing victimless crimes.
The other major sorts of crimes without victims are the political ones. In these “crimes,” generally useful laws are reinterpreted to forbid what are supposed to be constitutionally protected protest activities. And this is where we get into gray areas of interpretation. If a hundred thousand people are marching down a street protesting a government policy (i.e., exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of their grievances), it’s immoral and unethical to attack them with billy clubs and police dogs, even if you think their opinions stupid, ignorant, or “subversive.”
These distinctions can be fairly clear. But if someone from an ecological action group has decided to destroy bulldozers, or sink whaling ships, or dump bags of red paint on members of a government commission who are neglecting their duties to protect endangered species — then we have a problem. Their activities are clearly illegal, and are indeed crimes that have victims (the developers, the whalers, the bureaucrats), yet they are being done to prevent even greater crimes, ones that many Neopagans would also oppose. Personally I cheered when I heard about the “eco-guerrillas” who sank the (empty) whaling vessel in Iceland, wrecked the whalers’ mainframe computer, and destroyed their freezing units. By committing crimes against property, they saved the lives of scores of whales who would have been slaughtered by that machinery. But approving of people “taking the law into their own hands” for “a greater good” gets us, as I was swiftly reminded when this essay first saw print, into yet another moral quagmire—one that opens the door to all sorts of abuse by special interest groups, such as “pro-lifers” murdering doctors, or right-wing Christians persecuting Neopagans, or anti-pornography feminists forcing bookstores out of business.
Unfortunately, when one becomes a law enforcement officer one swears an oath to uphold the law as written. One isn’t (officially) allowed to pick and choose which laws she/he will enforce and which she/he will ignore. Of course, every cop I’ve ever known did, in fact, pick and choose on a daily basis, simply as a matter of necessity in big cities (where there’s too much crime going on for the police to stop all of it), and of tradition in small towns (where the local cop or sheriff is often judge, jury, and punisher as well). However, as a law enforcement officer, one is supposed to enforce every law as it currently exists, no matter how unjust, stupid, immoral, or ecocidal it might be. If a Neopagan takes that oath, she or he is going to be in spiritual trouble sooner or later.
Yet, unlike the average member of a superpower military force, a cop routinely acts in a genuinely heroic way. The highway patrol keeps the drunks and crazies from killing the rest of us on the roads. Homicide detectives try to find murderers and stop them. SWAT teams capture or kill insane people who are shooting passersby. Cops pull people from burning cars and buildings, rescue drowning children, give mouth-to-mouth and CPR to collapsed victims of heart attacks, and risk their lives every day they go out onto big city streets.
If we had a legal system that was sane, rational, and upheld the separation of church and state, and a political system that was not terrified of its own citizens, then the career of law enforcement might be a completely honorable one, all the time, for a Neopagan. As it is, Neopagan cops must constantly be making complex ethical and moral decisions about their own behavior as cops. If one can find a section of his/her law enforcement agency where he/she can be exclusively involved in solving and/or preventing genuine crimes with victims, then one could have a long and honorable career. But if one is a general duty officer, then sooner or later he/she is going to be ordered to arrest people he/she thinks are harmless, simply because they’ve violated some Judeo-Christian taboo. Thus, being a cop can be a right livelihood for a Neopagan, but its a hard road to walk.
Nonetheless, there are advantages to the Neopagan community as a whole, in having cops around who know that Neopagans aren’t baby-killing monsters. Certainly the fundamentalist cops are working really hard to convince the rest of their colleges that Neopagans are no different from the “sincere sociopath” Satanists who do commit atrocities. Having some knowledgeable members of our community be also part of the law enforcement community can only improve communications between all of us.
HAVING SAID ALL THESE negative things about soldiers and cops, just what sorts if warriors do I approve of? Well it should be obvious from my earlier remarks that I believe that martial artists are worthy of admiration, as are spiritual warriors in the Native American style (though that phrase, like “shaman,” has been badly abused by New Agers and Neopagans alike). I also approve of Earth Warriors or “eco-guerrillas,” such as the members of Earth First! and the Sea Shepherd Society, who are willing to risk their own lives to protect our Mother, as long as they remain careful not to kill people in the process of their monkey-wrenching. I think that private citizens who fight for freedom and our constitutional rights, through such groups as Common Cause, People for the America Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, etc. are heroes (if not necessarily warriors) worthy of our admiration.
What all these warriors and heroes have in common, and what I think is fully in keeping with the warrior ideals of our Paleopagan ancestors, is a belief that process is as important as results. To a martial artist a dishonorable victory is not a victory. Eco-guerrillas try very hard to avoid endangering human and animal life while they are destroying ecocidal machinery. The legal action groups mentioned use constitutional means to defend the constitution, even though they know that their enemies will not.
And let us not forget the heroism of many people who do not think of themselves as warriors. The woman who pulls a plow because her children are hungry and the horse died, is a hero. The man who stays awake night after night nursing a sick child, is a hero. The nonviolent activist who lays her body down in front of a bulldozer or a truck carrying toxic waste, is a hero. The antinuclear protester who is willing to go to jail for his or her beliefs, such as Starhawk, is a hero. Many of these people are, in their own ways, warriors of whom we can be proud, albeit their opponents may be either abstracts (such as hunger or death) or specific corporate or governmental individuals.
A genuine warrior confronts her or his enemy as another human being, not as a faceless stranger or a nonhuman “thing.” A genuine warrior is willing to risk his or her own life, job, reputation, family relationships, and more, to fight for what he or she believes is morally and ethically right. A genuine warrior does not push a button to kill hundreds of civilians ten miles away, just because some bloody politician told him/her to—because that is terrorism (violence being used against someone who can’t fight back, showing a wanton disregard for human life), not heroism. A genuine warrior knows that her or his greatest challenge is internal, rather than external.
If any of us wish to call ourselves “Warriors for the Gods” or “Defenders of Our Mother,” then we must be willing to pledge “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the causes we claim to believe in. Anything less may be good on its own merits, but is not true warriorship.
Thor, Indra, Athena, and Kali are not impressed by fancy costumes, expensive weapons, or self-serving excuses. They are the ones who will judge whether someone is really a Neopagan warrior or a blowhard—not me, not the Druids, and not the Neopagan Community. So if we are going to have Neopagan warrior cults, their organizers are going to have to have their acts together. Each of them should select a cause with which most Neopagans can agree, then train themselves to fight for it effectively (not just romantically—but that’s another whole essay), and begin the process of fighting. Just sitting around drinking beer and swapping war stories/myths is not going to be enough to gain them any respect or support from the rest of us. Putting their bodies on the line for Our Mother will.
Isaac Bonewits was one of North America’s leading experts on Druidism, Witchcraft, and the Earth Religions movement. A practicing Neopagan priest, scholar, teacher, bard and polytheologian for forty years, he coined much of the vocabulary and articulated many of the issues that have shaped the Neopagan community in the United States and Canada. He is the author of the classic Real Magic (1971, 1989), as well as Authentic Thaumaturgy (1979, 1989), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca (2006), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism (2006), The Pagan Man (2005), Real Energy (co-authored with Phaedra Bonewits) (2007), and Neopagan Rites (2007). He is survived by his wife, Phaedra Bonewits, and his son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. His collected writings are archived at Neopagan.net.
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