Refractions: Pagan & academic ideas interacting
Using multiple lenses to shed additional light
Forging Futures: Progressive Pagan Politics
Let me introduce myself by explaining that title from back to front.
Politics is the art of power: who has it, why, and what they do with it. If you don’t like the word politics, you can try to mentally substitute “social commentary,” since I’m mostly describing and analyzing what I see going on in the world around me, but make no mistake, you cannot remain “above” politics. Power is always in play when people interact.
This isn’t all about government; I think and write about power dynamics involved in experiences of privilege and everyday social situations just as much as about the kind of power that comes from formal governing institutions. Those are situations of power as well. On the other hand, I am going to talk about government and policy and such; I won’t pretend that it is an untouchable topic in reasonable discourse, and I certainly won’t value a veneer of universal agreeability over the honest discussion of challenging situations. These things matter: the old slogan is right, the personal is political, and both parts of that matter.
Pagan: Personally, I’m Wiccan. My religion teaches me that we are all connected; what happens to you affects me, and vice versa. This idea isn’t restricted to Wicca or Paganism, of course - John Donne wrote that “No man is an island” a long time ago -but the way my religion emphasizes it gives it special weight and ethical importance to me. If we are all connected, then harming you is cutting off my nose to spite my face. For me, those connections have spiritual importance, so that kind of action isn’t just a bad idea, it’s wrong.
This informs my politics. So does my position as a religious minority, which gives me a very different perspective on the art of power. Like all of us, I live with a complex mix of more privilege in some areas and less in others. Being Pagan is probably the area where I am most lacking privilege, and I try to use that experience to help me understand power and its uses. Looking at the complexities of how different parts of my situation intersect also teaches me about how tremendously diverse others’ experiences must be.
I value that diversity; I’m not trying to make everyone else like me. I think that there can be more than one good answer in many situations, and I think that if there is a functioning basic social contract, people who disagree can live together peacefully, maybe even respectfully. With that said, perhaps the best way to describe my personal approach to politics is “progressive.”
Progressive: This is a term that came into use in the late 1800s and early 1900s to describe a movement that wanted society and government to evolve to cope with the impacts of industrialization and to remedy the worst of the excesses of the Gilded Age. This isn’t as simple as left vs right, but since progressives generally want to encourage positive changes to cope with developing social conditions, they usually end up disagreeing with conservatives who want to keep things the same.
I’m also a staunch supporter of individual and personal rights. No, corporations are not people; in fact, historically progressivism has focused on defending individuals by limiting the power of corporations. Once upon a time, corporations had the “right” to sell poison and call it food or medicine; giving people the freedom to buy life’s necessities without fear of killing themselves and their children was one of the original progressive victories.
As I’ve written for sites like Hail Columbia, the history of the US has been in some ways a story of expansion of more and more rights for more and more people - people of color, women, the poor, and so on. I tend to look at these through smaller situations and more personal experiences. Quite frequently, this makes me angry: when people advocate for restricting my rights as a woman to determine what happens in my own body - or even to live! - I get angry, and I think that’s a reasonable response. I don’t want to just get high from taking offense too often, though. I try to harness that anger.
Here I want to use that energy as fuel for a forge, a place of transformation, where I can craft responses and hone my words as tools. When I encounter injustice and inequality, I don’t just want to burn with anger, I want to follow the example of Brigid to use that fire to shape things, to change consciousness, and to forge futures: futures of justice, futures of opportunity, futures of magic.
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