It has been a busy summer thus far. In addition to my day job at RealTraps, which keeps me quite busy by helping people make their realities sound better, I have been writing quite a bit, and also doing some mixing & recording.
Most of the writing has been over at Gods & Radicals, where I’ve written 3 articles since the last update here:
Valdres Roots: Enclosure, Ancestral Displacement, & Domestication This one is probably my favorite of the 3. It contains a lot of person reflection on the ancestors (much of which is on my ancestry page here), woven with some theory about capitalism, enclosure, ancestral displacement, and domestication. I don’t often love my own writing, but I loved this piece from the moment I started writing it.
Also, I published here my first ever published article, written way back in 2000 when I was a student at USM. It’s a piece called A Barnraising In Cyberspace: Linux & The Free Software Movement, and is an analysis of my early days using Linux back in 1999, as well as some of my thoughts about the broader potentials of the Free software movement as a commons (though I didn’t really have that language of the commons back then). I think the piece holds up really well, if I do say so myself.
In addition to the writing, much of my free time has been spent working on Morgan Lindenschmidt‘s next EP, which is coming along beautifully. Not that I’m biased, but it’s great fun watching this young artist continue to grow in every possible way as an artist. I can’t wait for the world to hear this stuff.
I’ve also been trying to spend more time outside, given that it’s summer and I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. So, yeah. Busy time of year. Not too conducive to lots of writing online. Let the lamentations begin.
Since the last update, Summer has arrived. It was kicked off by Beltane On The Beach, where a bunch of Maine Pagans celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer. In my own neck of the woods there is much more green; the trees have finally sprung their leaves and temperatures are higher. Wonderful.
Once again I haven’t done a great job at keeping this blog updated. My apologies. There’s been a lot going on. Since the last update, Summer has arrived. It was kicked off by Beltane On The Beach, where a bunch of Maine Pagans celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer. In my own neck of the woods there is much more green; the trees have finally sprung their leaves and temperatures are higher. Wonderful. A lot of people around me are complaining about their allergies from the pollen in the air; I have to say I don’t miss my allergies at all. I struggled with them for more than 40 years. I credit my cleaner diet and my regimen of medicinal mushrooms for the fact that they don’t bother me anymore.
Morgan has a new video up, from our recording session recently at Halo Studios. This time we set up a camera, and took a video of it. I love how talented she is, that pretty much all of her music thus far has been live in one take with no overdubs. Anyway, enjoy Thigh-High Apprehension:
Also, I have been crazy busy mixing some really cool stuff that I can’t really talk specifically about yet. More on that front as it develops.
Writing, Politics, & Paganism
I’ve been writing a lot lately, taking it much more seriously for the past half-year or so.
Most of us, of course, don’t really have enough money, at least not to live the way we wish to live. Most of us will use our limited “survival tickets” to buy food and shelter, meeting our most basic needs for survival, while in the meantime the spectre of unpaid debt keeps growing in the back of our minds, gnawing at us, creating fear that eventually men with guns will come and take away our limited survival tickets and our home. This fear keeps us willing to engage the capitalist system, so that we can struggle for more survival tickets, showing how powerful this story of debt is in our culture.
Capitalism’s ability to concretize abstractions in our minds is pure sorcery at the highest levels, such that billions of people behave as if these purely abstract and arbitrary rules of capitalist engagement are quite real and concrete, beyond question at the most fundamental level. They take the place of the gods and spirits, turning our experience of the world upside-down, seeing every aspect of the ecosystem in terms of its own rules rather than in terms of the actual physical things in the world and the labor of its people.
I also talk about whether or not Paganism can be politicized:
any Pagan with a Sense Of Place, encountering the land beneath their feet, will undoubtedly be able to discern how their Paganism is politicized, and has been for the better part of 500 years. I am lucky, I live in the Maine woods where I can walk right outside my door and be surrounded by nature without leaving “my” 2 acres of forest. These woods where I live have a spirit to them, a kind of consciousness, and my own spirit is bettered when I deepen my relationship with these woods. This is my Paganism. But I am also acutely aware that no tree on “my” property is more than a century old — pretty much the entire state of Maine has been clearcut several times in the past 300 years. When I speak to the trees of capitalism they get quiet, and their sadness is discernible to me. This, too, is my Paganism.
I feel like writing is still a struggle for me (another factor behind the radio silence on this channel). I committed myself to being more disciplined about writing starting last December, and I do feel like I’m making some progress. But it still seems like I struggle, almost agonize, over every word. I’m still waiting for the day when I can just tune in, turn on, and just have awesome writing come out on its own. Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but when I read the amazing work of Rhyd Wildermuth, Sean Donahue, Alley Valkyrie, and others, who manage to produce writing that hits hard on the mind level as well as the heart and spirit levels, I see just how far I have to go.
My meadmaking has slowed down the past year or two. This is for a variety of reasons (storage space for mead bottles, the high cost of honey, creative energy going to different places). But as I mentioned above, the spruce tips are poking their neon green nutritional goodness out, and soon it will be time to make another batch of Chaga Spruce Mead, one of the favorites that I do. Also, soon I will bottle last year’s Harvest Berry Meads. And soon I’ll be able to taste my very first bochet that I did a few months ago, can’t wait for that one.
I have been quite busy lately, all with good projects. But it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes, to the point where I’m feeling like I might benefit from reprioritizing a bit. It’s difficult, because I love everything in my life at the moment. But there are only so many hours in the day.
I am convinced that our history reveals a very strong characterization of our tribe & our subcultural identity in the 21st Century. We Pagans are a conquered people, and we have largely become so within the past 500 years.
The Pagan ways-of-being were much more intuitive and apparent to people living 500 years ago, before the Scientific Revolution, the birth of Capitalism, and the beginnings of European Colonialism. Modernity itself rose from the ashes of the Pagan ethos as it was systematically and globally incinerated from popular consciousness on thousands of pyres and stakes of the victims of the witch hunts.
Indeed, even today the smell of smoke from The Burning Times lingers. This period in history remains the paradox of our age.
In other words, I see paganism and modern politics as being irrevocably intertwined, as things stand in the world today. For me this is no more than historical fact, and my article explains where I am coming from in this area.
Here’s the thing. For me, paganism is more an ethos — a way of being — than anything else, including theology, metaphysics, dogma, religion, or ritual. Other pagans are fiercely protective of their conceptions of paganism, particularly in the polytheist community, where I saw two articles published today questioning whether politics should be part of religion in general, or polytheism in particular. One of these articles found it “repugnant” to “politicize polytheism.”
But paganism is not polytheism. I am not a polytheist and would not presume to say what should or should not be a part of polytheism. But when we conceive of paganism, which for me is a broader term that includes polytheist pagans, atheist pagans, and all pagans in between, as an ethos, there is room at the table for all of us. Whether your pagan ethos centers around devotional relationship with the gods, or getting lost in the forest bonding with your ecosystem, urban activist work with the homeless, permaculture design, quiet solitary ritual…. it doesn’t matter. There is room for all of us.
Because for all pagans, unity and solidarity is important. Respecting and mutually supporting one another is the only way forward. It need not be either/or.
My Pagans are a Conquered People article has been live for less than a day, and already I have had several comments from friends about it being “depressing” or “pessimistic.” I agree, on the surface, the history of paganism over the past 500 years is distressing. But it is our history, and we cannot pretend it isn’t. I appreciate positive thinking, but I also know that ignoring the unpleasant facticities of our history will do far more harm than good. The sooner we accept what has happened to us, the sooner we can unify, decolonize ourselves, and create a better world.
Periodically, it seems, I get into a headspace where not much comes out of me. My writing slows, I’m doing any music, not really hanging out with many people. It seems as if the energies of my consciousness are spinning in circles. They haven’t stopped moving, it’s not an input/output issue, but the trajectory of consciousness is not directed toward producing anything tangible.
It often happens after I get my head cracked open when a new concept lands on it, or a conversation sparks me to see things in a different way, ways I hadn’t seen before. I kind of wrote about this, definitely in a somewhat cryptic way, recently on Patheos, in my column called Footprints in the Muck, Blind Spots, & Seeing Past the Light.
Such is the nature of consciousness: while we have some measure of control over what it does and where it goes, attention has a will and an eye of its own. Usually, the untethered consciousness is on the lookout for Awen, that strange Druidic word-concept that means so many things. Inspiration, the Druid will say, is the best way to think about Awen, but it goes deeper than that. Every creative person will have their own relationship with Awen and its flow; the really skilled bards and artists will have mastered it. For Awen is always there all around us, if we can only learn to see. Sometimes, Awen is timid and shuts down under direct observation. We have to engage it, seduce it, often with play. The best artists know how to play.
Playing with indirect viewing can help us transcend the blind spots we don’t even know we have. Concepts are like light; when we perceive them, it tends to influence what we don’t see. They are useful and illuminating, but they create blind spots. In terms of perception, this is called masking, where two stimuli of similar type (such as frequency range for sound), the stronger stimuli will tend to render the weaker one invisible.
In addition, there has been some dialogue over at Gods & Radicals and other places on the internet that has me questioning the most efficient application of my own energy toward projects that are fulfilling for me, and helpful for the wider world. I think it is useful and valuable to write and to share my opinions and some of the training I have toward the end of creating a better world. Anti-capitalist activism — indeed activism of any kind — is fraught with the potential for burnout. In particular, I seem to find myself engaged with people who not only aren’t aware there is a problem with capitalism, but also think that capitalism is something to be defended. Having discussions like this is exhausting for me, and I have purposefully stopped engaging in these debates. This is a difficult step for me because I pride myself on being patient, and helping people see things in a different way is something I am occasionally good at. But it takes its toll on me.
And I am far from alone on this: Crystal Blanton writes over at The Wild Hunt:
The emotionally, physically, and spiritually demanding effects of social activism often mean an increased toll on the body and the spirit. I have personally experienced this work as emotionally draining, and know this to be true of most who are present in the consistency of the struggle. The interconnectedness of our experiences puts stress on the delicate balance of holding space for social change, fulfilling our commitments to our deities, spiritual practice, personal growth and allowing one to take care of the self simultaneously.
Her article also contains a survey of how some other people feel balancing their activist work and burnout.
In addition, Rhyd Wildermuth has been rocking some of these issues, in addition to managing the Gods & Radicals site. When asked what his biggest challenge was in terms of being compassionate, he responded:
“Holding the hands of middle-class people, coddling them, softening my words and critiques in order to ease them oh-so-gently into an understanding that the homeless person screaming profanities at them is suffering from the same system that makes them middle-class.”
I think maybe I can relate to this middle-class outlook, as well as the mostly-subconscious resistance to the idea that the very power structures that sustain their privilege also create enormous suffering. This is my world. I was raised in it, and it’s where I come from. My ancestors are a few dozen generations of Norwegian land tenants, workers who were too poor to own land and had to sell their labor for their subsistence.
It is precisely this re-examination of my own blanket of privilege that I have been circling around lately. The circles of thought in my consciousness aren’t spinning without traction, they are ever-searching for new ways of seeing and new understandings.
I don’t know why the stories of capitalism never resonated with me, despite the fact that I was programmed with them from an early age. Many of my classmates from high school, who were in the same privileged classes as me, have made a lot of money exploiting the system and whatever privilege they were blessed with. When I was younger, say 14 or so, I thought I’d be one of them. I remember thinking about how I’d become an engineer (like a mechanical, electrical, or computer engineer, not an audio engineer), make a lot of money, and retire by age 40. Well, it never happened. I’m 45 now, and won’t be retiring anytime soon.
But I have devoted most of my adult life toward understanding capitalism, and the political reality we humans have created for ourselves. I’ve learned a lot of things, not the least of which is that choosing to not engage the system any more than necessary for subsistence was a good choice for me. Had I chosen to play the game by the rules and make as much money as possible, this is about the time in my life where I’d have hit the wall of the mid-life crisis, where that deep-seated, gnawing feeling that your entire life’s existence is little more than an empty lie would have become too much to bear. Instead, my burden is imaginary numbers in someone’s computer (ie, debt), and I have endured with my spirit mostly intact and better-trained than many, with a wonderful near-adult daughter I raised, with people I love and who love me nearby.
The circle of resistance continues. I will still get frustrated at the in-fighting, how the dominant power structures are so adept at getting various factions of the victims of capitalism to fight and nitpick over every last scrap of privilege rather than band together and maximize resitance to the power structures. As Rhyd recently wrote, from within the state of scarcity that capitalism systematically creates for the vast majority of folk,
Privilege is the hierarchy of the poor. The more privilege you wield, the more scraps that fall from the tables of the rich you get to eat. Sure–the high-wage able-bodied white heterosexual cis-male tech worker gets to eat more, doesn’t have to worry about getting shot or raped or driven to suicide or becoming homeless. He wields his privilege over the others crawling across the floor with him, but as nauseating as it is for those of us making a fifth of his income or less to remember, he’s not sitting at the table either. He’s just at the top of the hierarchy of the exploited, most likely to be compliant and thus least likely to revolt.
But we must remember: the rich don’t have privilege–they’re the source of privilege, and they dole it out to the rest of us, favoring those who’ve volunteered to be most compliant, buying them off with higher wages and more access to justice.
The true way to end the deadlock is overturning the table so none of us have to fight over scraps.
Unity should not be a problem for most of us. When the system systematically favors so few, among a population with so many, you’d think it’d be easy. But the circles of resistance creates small tidepools and eddies, little ecosystems-within-ecosystems that have their own food chain, their own territorial settlements, and their own border skirmishes. It is easy to forget that another world is not only possible, but necessary; What Comes After is where the excitement is, where the life is, and where the human legacy — if there is to be one — will endure.
The truth, of course, is that most people simply do not care about us, our struggles, or what we think. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but there it is. I slowly realized that all of our work to be sensible, safe-seeming, and sharp-looking has barely dented our (alternately silly and scary) image with the general public. Have we made some small in-roads in some small areas? Of course, and those are to be welcomed, but you don’t overturn centuries of oppression, propaganda, weaponized folklore, and moral panic, with a nice tie and a winning tag-line.
I agree with him, and I find the notion of respectability politics framed in this way to be self-contradictory. For me, authenticity is a big part of respectability, and by becoming less authentic (by adopting appearances and behavior patterns of the dominant culture at the expense of one’s identity), one in fact loses respectability.
A great start to this site, and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the coming months. I’m still working on my first article for the site, I will certainly be updating you dear readers regularly as things progress.