I love this quote so much. I think it exemplifies qualities that as polytheists (of all stripes) we are called to develop. I know that I return to this again and again, when I think about the type of person I want to be, in relation to my Gods, my family, my world. What touchstones do you, my readers have as you do this ongoing work of devotional living?
So, the topic of cancel culture came up in an early morning conversation with a reader. For those who may not know what this is, it’s a type of group think where those who support a particular ideology (usually leftist) respond to those who question said ideologies in any way, by attempting to “cancel” them, i.e. block venues for their work, get them fired from jobs, harass anyone who works with them, burn their books (oh wait, we haven’t gotten there yet? Give it time). It’s a form of politically based bullying, against anyone who doesn’t follow the new secular religion of social ‘justice’. I already have a religion thank you, and I think it offers better answers to the inequities plaguing our world than anything new.
Mind you, the people in our communities promoting this will “cancel” polytheists, even random laity who exhibit any capacity whatsoever for independent thought, but don’t give a damn about pedophiles and perverts and those they harm (I remember well the Kenny Klein fiasco and the way Pagans rushed to both defend him and demonize his victims). It’s moral authoritarianism, a means of shutting down any conversation, and it’s an attempt to transform our religious communities into hotbeds of (usually) Marxist thought. It’s disgusting. But it also just isn’t that important.
Why do I say that? Well, firstly, look at who is doing the cancelling. They lie. They are not interested in reality and truth but in promoting their own ideological agenda. That being said, when someone criticizes me, I listen to that criticism, weigh it out, consider it. If someone impugns my character, even if it comes from a nasty, biased source, I’ll consider the criticism because even a shit stain can have a moment of clarity. There have been times where I’ve thought, “well, I don’t much like so-and-so but they are correct here” and then have done the internal work to correct myself. So, definitely take stock when you’re exposed to criticism. Don’t, however base your personality, your ethics, your conscience, your decisions on what other people think. Public morality today isn’t very moral. Moreover, people who engage in cancel culture will purposely and incorrectly reframe your words and arguments. They cannot be reasoned with because they are not moving from a position of rational thought and reason. They are a raving mob in mentality if not in numbers.
I realize, not having grown up in a culture defined by social media, that this may actually be something that many of you haven’t considered. You don’t owe these people anything. Their attempts to cancel you don’t matter. Consider the following things:
A). Who are you doing your work for? Is it for your own aggrandizement or is it for your Gods? Now as a polytheist and theologian, my answer to that is my Gods. When They cancel me, then I’ll worry. If you are being “cancelled” at your job, get a good lawyer because the likelihood is that if your employer is bowing down to this external pressure, they’re probably breaking a few HR laws. Go to town.
B). The small group of yapping fools that pull this, are just that: a small percentage of the people in the world with whom you may interact. If you have friends who are trying to bully you into any ideological position, against your conscience, and who attempt to violently shut down discourse and discussion, find better friends.
C). You will survive. I’ve often said sarcastically that one just has to outlive the bastards but it’s true. I’ve been Heathen for thirty years. This isn’t my first time at this rodeo. I’ve seen various ideological purity tests come and go and it doesn’t matter. Even if they don’t go, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do your work with integrity for your Gods according to your own conscience. This is, tangentially, why developing virtue (in the classical sense) and character is so very important. Give it a go.
It may be deeply unpleasant when cancel culture comes for you. It may hurt. It may make you angry. It may feel like your whole world is tumbling down. There may be a cost to keeping true to your conscience but that has always been the case. What do you value more: integrity and clean service to your Gods or the opinions of the yapping few?
It takes courage to stand up against this when it defines your entire social world. That’s why C.S. Lewis defined courage as the most important moral virtue: precisely for reasons and times like this.
Finally, if this is happening to you, reach out to your real friends and know that you are not alone. Most importantly of all, you are not as you have been defined by others.
Today my household cancelled its Netflix subscription. They are promoting a French film “Cuties,” apparently, a movie about the dangers of oversexualizing children. The movie isn’t the problem. Netflix, however, chose to promote it in ways that grossly oversexualize children (and by children, I’m talking eleven year olds). When called on this by customers on twitter, email, and elsewhere, they doubled down, refusing to condemn pedophilia, refusing to condemn the hyper-sexualization of children, and saying only that they “respect all religions and cultures.” Bullshit, Netflix. Bullshit. Child abuse isn’t culture.
In addition to the over-sexualization of children, they also advertised this movie as one in which the heroic child “defies her family’s traditions” (not something I find admirable. In this case, it’s clear that Netflix meant defying religious protocols and morality). Maybe they meant the tradition of not prostituting their kids. The movie itself is condemning exactly this type of thing. It’s the story of a young Senegalese girl age eleven who finds something she likes (hip hop) and then sinks further and further into inappropriate, sexualized behavior when she starts getting online attention for this, and pimping herself out on social media. It’s intended to expose the societal dangers inherent in such over-sexualization of kids and inherent in unsupervised social media access. Thanks to Netflix’s marketing strategy the movie is now under fire, and there are calls for boycotts. Don’t boycott the movie. Boycott Netflix.
This type of thing matters. The media we expose ourselves to matters. It conditions our behavior. It slowly shifts our moral center. It influences what we consider appropriate and acceptable even when we don’t realize it. It inures us to things that should be considered, at best, inappropriate.
A friend told me today that in “Pagan” circles, he was routinely called “reactionary” for insisting that where sex was concerned, “consenting” and “adult” were non-negotiable. He recounted an incident on facebook wherein someone posted a meme, showing a disgusted kid staring at a naked guy in a cowboy hat. The overwhelming response from “Pagans?” They didn’t understand why a child shouldn’t be exposed to nudity. “It’s non-sexual after all,” was repeated again and again. What they were really saying, as my friend so eloquently articulated was this: “Why should a ten-year-old be disgusted when I give him an uninvited view of my dick?” Well, right thinking people consider this borderline sexual abuse of a child. THIS right here is precisely the type of degeneracy – there is no other word that I can find that is quite so appropriate as this—that fills so much of the “Pagan” community, and it’s precisely the reason so many Polytheists eschew them.
It’s a really, really low bar, people: don’t fuck children. Apparently, it’s a bit too high for some.
I’ve been seeing a lot of push back lately on the nine noble virtues including dismissals that they are Nazi-ish, racist, homophobic, etc. etc (insert buzzword of the year). I remain confused by the pushback. (There are blogs both pro and con here). It’s as though having any ethical guidelines at all offends some people. Note, they’re not trying to replace them with a different set of values, but rather to negate any values that might in any way constrain or shape their character.(1)
For my readers who aren’t familiar with them, here is the list of the commonly accepted NNV:
Shocking, aren’t they?
These are very Protestant virtues, but examples of them can easily be found in the Havamal and Sagas too. I think they are fitting exemplars for a society in which existence was a constant struggle. If you think that isn’t applicable today, try living below the poverty line. These guidelines are meant to develop a strong character. None of these virtues are objectionable to a reasonable person. Do you really want to be the kind of person without honor? Without courage? Who is incapable of hospitality or personal discipline? The kind of person who lacks fidelity in relationships, or who is incapable of telling the truth or holding to his or her word? The NNV may be simplistic, but they are meant as touchstones to aid in the development of character. Note that they do not tell you how to be courageous, or how to be truthful but one is encouraged to be introspective in discovering this for oneself. I rather like that. It’s not the end of the conversation, but the very beginning. What is truth? What does it mean to me as a devotee of Deity X? How can I cultivate that in my life? Yet, those throwing out these virtues without consideration or without providing an alternative don’t want to have that conversation. To hell with the Socratic method. We don’t need no stinkin’ philosophy here. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Everybody needs philosophy).
Of course, given how pervasive the NNV are within Heathen traditions, it is inevitable that someone holding alt right views will subscribe to them. So do many people holding the opposite. To say that they are racist, is to say that there is something inherently racist about the concept, the abstract ideal of truth or fidelity or hospitality, etc. It also implies that people who are not white, are incapable of upholding these ideals, which is utter nonsense.
Yes, they were created by (depending on your source) the AFA or Odinic Rite. So what? We have space travel because of the work of Nazi scientists. I remember when I found out as a seventh grader, that the US imported Nazi scientists to work on its Manhattan project and later the space program and I was ashamed, horrified, and appalled. I still wrestle with the ethics involved in such a thing. Can good come from evil? Is necessity motivation and justification enough? And that opens up a whole other ethical can of worms. We still use Volkswagens though, and they were made by Nazis too. Same with Hugo Boss and Ford, who was a rampant anti-Semite. By the standards of some of these people, we should be eschewing birth control too because Margaret Sanger was pro eugenics. Strange how the same logic that allows for the dismissal of fairly common virtues doesn’t apply to our technologies. Yet I’ll bet more blood was spilled with the latter.(2) Hell, the internet was made by the US military. Are you cool with the hundreds of thousands of people who have died because of the military industrial complex? If this is a problem, why are you online? Oh wait, I guess one only objects when such things are inconvenient. Convenience allows for a great deal of overlooking I suppose.
I’ve also often seen the NNV condemned as ablest. As someone with physical disability, let me tell you, you need a metric fuck-ton of courage to get through life. Those disabled in some way can fulfill every one of these virtues, otherwise what the detractors of the NNV are actually saying is that disabled people are disabled not only in body but in mind, heart, and character. That’s pretty foul. It’s infantilizing and really quite disrespectful to the struggle of differently abled people in our communities.
We should be encouraged to define the NNV for ourselves in our own lives, with respect to our own relationships with the powers. Or we should be encouraged to come up with our own system and values sustainably within and coherent with our traditions. Either way, character matters and it’s often difficult for people coming from monotheisms where they’re told what to believe and how to act, to encounter a system of ethics that encourages self-reflection and independence. I’d love to see discussions of other philosophies and ethical guidelines but it’s a whole lot easier to criticize and condemn than to create something positive. The NNV are situational guidelines and principles. I would love to see discussions on what it means to have courage in the modern world, what it means with respect to each person’s individual circumstances, what it means to have hospitality, to show hospitality, especially when one is impoverished or in the midst of scarcity. How does the hospitality shown to one’s Gods differ from what one shows to one’s friends or to strangers? Where are those philosophical conversations? Maybe we should all go back to Plato.(3)
- What amuses me the most is the people protesting the NNV often do so on the grounds (in part) that’s not ancient and yet, these are often pop culture pagans. So either antiquity is a valid criterion across the board, or this particular objection is bullshit.
- Not that I expect logical coherence from the pop culture crowd.
- Ironically, I’ve never been a fan of the NNV, because they are simplistic. One has to start somewhere though and it was only after reading The Six Questions of Socrates, that I began to look at them as more than formulaic.