After a month's hiatus, I'm back with the next installment of The Vegan Pagan series. If you haven't read the previous installments, you can find them here:
The Vegan Pagan: Introduction
The Vegan Pagan: Interstice the First
The Vegan Pagan: Interstice the Second
The Vegan Pagan: Your Health
The Vegan Pagan: The Case Against Animal Sacrifice
Glad Yule to you all, and Happy New Year!
I think it important to begin this discussion with a note about the tone of the conversation we're having around this topic. In the Facebook comments on the last installment, a vegan commenter was invited to commit suicide by a non-vegan commenter who disagreed with her perspective. I want to make it clear that I condemn that behavior in the strongest language possible. Yes, this is a controversial issue for many, but I believe in my community of faith, and I expect better from its members. Please, let's all remain civil in this conversation.
In an effort to limit the number of posts in this series, I'm glossing two related topics this month; the relationship between animal agriculture and climate change, and the relationship between animal agriculture and food equity. That said, it should be explicitly noted that I will not be discussing the impacts of animal agriculture on groundwater pollution, deforestation, wildlife habitat encroachment, ocean ecosystem depletion and the eradication of unique animal and plant species as a result of these factors. I am only addressing the singular problems of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as they relate to animal agriculture, and animal agriculture as it relates to global food access. I invite the reader to investigate these other matters independently; some are covered in the linked research, and the rest are easily accessed through Internet scholarship searches like these: animal agriculture + groundwater pollution | animal agriculture + deforestation.
The link between climate change and animal agriculture is well-documented in international, peer-reviewed sources. A 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow" places the amount of GHGs attributable to animal agriculture at 18%, higher than emissions from planes and cars combined. By itself, this is an extraordinary number, but a 2009 report commissioned by the Worldwatch Institute entitled "Livestock and Climate Change" challenges it by including uncounted, overlooked and misallocated livestock-related GHG emissions in its estimate. Authors Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang report that at least 51% of all GHG emissions are directly attributable to livestock respiration, methane, production of animal products and other relatable sources. More recently, the FAO revised its 18% number down to 14.5% based on the most current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report but also called for a voluntary 30% reduction in emissions from the animal agriculture industry to help combat the global population's growing demand for animal products. So these new FAO numbers by no means represent a decreased concern about the problem of animal agriculture as it relates to climate change. They still place the problem on par with that of GHGs from planes and cars, and they still don't account for the factors Goodland and Anhang address in the Worldwatch Institute report.
These organizations and many others are unequivocal in their position that animal agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change, placing the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs at least on par with fossil fuel use. At worst, their assessments indicate this consumption is the most damaging thing humanity does to the climate, so damaging that "Livestock and Climate Change" advocates the creation and marketing of meat and dairy analogs (e.g. nut and grain meats, cheeses and milks) to consumers as a means of reducing that damage. How much can a vegan diet mitigate climate change? In a recent study entitled "Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK" the journal Climatic Change reported that meat-eaters have three times the impact on GHG emissions than do vegans, with vegetarians scoring squarely in the middle (a summary of the report can be found here). Perhaps this is why the UN weighed in on the matter in a 2010 report that urged a global shift toward a vegan diet (commentary from The Guardian here).
These are not cherry-picked sources1. They are the best scientific minds of our generation, and they all believe that meat, dairy and egg consumption is driving climate change. They all advocate a global shift toward a vegan diet in order to mitigate the impact of animal agriculture on GHG emissions. They are the equivalent in climate science of the World Health Organization's warning that we will lose the benefit of antibiotics in this century if we don't stop feeding them to livestock animals in sub-therapeutic doses. Simply put, animal agriculture is a threat to both planetary and human well-being on many fronts, but perhaps most threatened are those people who have no food at all because of the global demand for meat, dairy and eggs.
The United Nations World Food Programme estimates that:
This is the problem of world hunger as it is right now, but these numbers are not static. As previously mentioned, the population of the world is increasing and with it the demand for meat, dairy and eggs. This is why the 2010 UN report mentioned above also cites world hunger as a primary reason for its support of the vegan diet:
"Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."
And yet in 2013, for every 1 lb of sweet corn grown in the United States for human consumption, 260 lbs of field corn were grown for animal feed. Using the NPR chart I've previously referenced in this series, the 6.7 lbs of feed needed to produce 1 lb of ground beef equals 39 lbs of meat produced with the resources that might have been used to grow 260 lbs of vegetables for human consumption2. Simply put, if Americans adopted a plant-based diet, they could provide food security to the 14.5% of American households in need of it with vegetables to spare.
In all, roughly 40% of the world's arable land is used for food production, while only a quarter of that food is for human consumption. The rest, a staggering 30% of the world's arable land, is used to produce animal feed and commands a third of the world's fresh water. Worse, the meat resulting from this industrialized animal agriculture is not divided evenly. For instance, Americans eat 270 lbs of meat a year on average, while Bangladeshis eat 4 lbs. If the entire world were to eat as much meat as Americans do, the global land required would be 75% more than is already used, a number so high the Earth would have to be quite a bit larger to support it. Meanwhile, much of the world gets no food at all or raises livestock feed for export to countries with a high demand for meat, creating an unequal burden of production versus consumption between the poorest and richest people on the planet.
This is why even conservative researchers are calling for a global decrease in the consumption of meat, while most are calling for the widespread adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet in order to create and sustain food security for the world's growing population. Widespread adoption of a plant-based diet would leave the Earth's arable land and fresh water for use in the production of food crops for people and not feed crops for livestock. And as we've already seen, it would dramatically reduce the impacts of animal agriculture on climate change.
A vegan diet does more to reduce GHG emissions than never flying and never driving a car. It is a responsible choice that reflects current scientific understanding about the impacts of animal agriculture upon the climate. It is the only diet seven billion people (and counting) can eat that protects the planet from runaway global warming and provides food security for everyone. As Pagans, people who profess at least a reverence for the Earth and the life it supports, can we understand that what we eat has a profound impact upon the Earth we hold sacred? Can we find it in ourselves to reconcile our food choices with our spirituality? Can we choose to eat in a way that helps to ensure other people are able to eat? Can we adopt an active, practical and progressive expression of our faith that aligns our diet with our values?
Many of you have heard the argument that you cannot be Pagan if you are not also vegan, and it's an unsettling statement, to be sure. The answer, of course, is that we can be what we want and eat what we want. However, if we call upon the natural world as an ally, we must ask ourselves whether or not we can expect a positive reply if we refuse to address and mitigate the impacts of our life choices upon the Earth. We are not obligate carnivores; we can live and thrive on a plant-based diet. So why not choose to do so, when that choice would have such a powerful, positive impact? These are the questions so many vegan Pagans have asked themselves at the crossroads, and they are the questions I place gently before you now as a friend and fellow Pagan.
Thank you for reading. I wish you every good and sacred thing, and I'll be back in February with the next installment of the series.
Mirrored to: http://csmaccath.com/content/vegan-pagan-climate-change-and-food-equity
Niven tells us that not all Pagans feel such ministry is worth the effort. But it is worth noting that the US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Since the 80s, incarceration in federal prisons has soared 800%. A great many of those who are confined were committing nothing that Pagans would view as an ethical violation: they were taking some form of illegal drug. And such policies are inherently racist. People of color are locked up in far greater numbers than those with fair skin.
Last week, California reversed this trend by voting to de-criminalize drug offenses committed by individuals in private. This could lead to many who are incarcerated to petition for release. Other states have legalized marijuana and are now reaping tax revenues. But as Pagans, we must ask ourselves, were these people criminals in the first place, or did the law just make them so? Making more laws, made more criminals.
I have not yet met a Pagan who believed that drug use – assuming no one got hurt - was a violation of religious ethics. Indeed, I personally know Pagans who value the use of drugs as a path to connection with the sacred (entheogens). I believe the Harm None ethic demands that we stand against such laws. Both for our fellow practitioners and for the greater culture.
*Disclaimer: I work for Cherry Hill Seminary and wrote all but one of the rituals. CHS owns the copyright and makes no money off it. The fee covers the cost of printing and shipping.
The piece was about the decline of nudity at Pagan events and the reasons for it. But much of the discussion shifted to the related but different issue of why many women felt uneasy or defensive when sky clad at such events. Despite all the energy and more than a little venom that accompanied that discussion, one important issue remained unaddressed.
What do we do about sexual predation at Pagan events?
Those talking the most about it were long in criticism and short on suggestions. It certainly exists. Too many women report bad experiences for those of us men who have never seen it to doubt it happens. And I know it has happened in other Pagan contexts, but they are contexts where the community is powerless to influence it except indirectly. As when a teacher demands sexual access to a student- probably a problem as old as history.
Sexual misbehavior has existed in all societies and all communities. But it is worse in some places than in others. How can we as Pagans reduce its incidence among us? To find an answer I think there are several dimensions to keep in mind.
1. America’s cultural ethos. Not good on these issues but certainly better than India, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.
2. NeoPagan cultural ethos as compared to American culture. (By comparison NeoPagans are sex friendly, woman honoring, and affirm feminine values.)
3. Individual personality characteristics. Some people avoid conflict, some seek it out, and some do not back down when confronted. These orientations influence how we act when we see something of which we disapprove. These qualities are to some degree independent of culture but they can be influenced by it.
4. Organizational contexts. Most people cut people in their their organization more slack than they do people in different organization’s. When discussing how organizations ‘went bad’ I often asked my class how many played team sports. Most did. I then asked how many saw a teammate cheat in a game. Most of those had. Then I asked how many reported the infraction to an umpire. Hardly anyone ever raised their hands.
We all have some in-group loyalty where we would give the benefit of the doubt to those in our group that we would not to those outside it. What is abstractly wrong, and which we would condemn if done by someone within a different group, might seem to have extenuating circumstances in our own group. We vary in how much we look the other way, and the extreme case is tribalism, but I think we all have it to some degree.
If individual Pagans fall to actively discourage a predator, or fail to report the action, or even belittle a woman's discomfort, that does not necessarily mean the community is flawed. It might. But it could also be organizational dynamics and it could be individual failings. There are three possibilities. And they interpenetrate.
Our community is not oriented towards approving or tolerating sexual predation or aggression. It's dominant values are in the opposite direction. The challenge is to strengthen those values in our interactions within our own community, including within the organizations within it of which we are a part. Given that these factors interpenetrate, how do we strengthen cultural values and limit organizational solidarity in violation of those values and how do we strengthen the likelihood individuals will intervene effectively when they see these values violated?
My basic point is that the more public the disapproval of an action the easier it is for some one else to act who otherwise might not when they see a similar action repeated. Public attention is central.
This point has been repeatedly demonstrated in psych experiments, for both doing more good actions and for stopping or condemning more bad ones. We are social critters as well as individuals. We shape and are shaped by our networks. So we can shape the networks that in turn shape us.
The more often sexual misbehavior is exposed, the easier it becomes for others to do the same in the future regarding other misbehavior - and so the riskier that misbehavior becomes. Community norms get stronger when more members take them more seriously- and the best way for that to happen is to see them taken seriously by others and to see bad behavior exposed and condemned. That is why I liked Jason Pitzi-Water’s article about Marion Zimmer Bradley's involvement with child abuse. Some of us defended her book "Mists of Avalon," (I did) but no one defended what she did. Just as importantly, many people praised Jason for making the issue public.
This widespread approval of Jason's actions makes it easier for others in the future to do the same when this kind of thing happens. And it will.
It also makes it riskier for others to misbehave. Some of those who might go either way will behave. In doing so they improve their own inclinations as well as strengthen the power of our culture.
Never fully solved
The problem will never be fully solved, as it has never been fully solved in any human community. Sexuality is too powerful an energy for everyone to handle wisely, and probably for anyone to handle wisely all the time. I certainly haven't. But there is a big gap between always being wise on these issues and being or tolerating a predator, however the term is defined.
To make the issue more complex, often sexual situations are ambiguous. When does appreciation become staring? People differ, and they may well differ depending on who is doing the looking. Disagreement, honest disagreement, is inevitable.
Back to festivals
But certainly continued efforts to get physically close to someone or unauthorized touching when told not to or coming on verbally when asked to stop are unambiguous, and deserving of expulsion from large gathering. This behavior is hardly illegal, but we are not talking law, we are talking strengthening our basic community values.
Festivals can do what Pantheacon does (and possibly many others do as well) and have people appointed to hear complaints of misbehavior. Seeing or hearing about one or two people ejected from a gathering and not allowed back will have a salutary impact on might-be would-be predators and the women they might otherwise target. But for this to work requires both a festival willing to kick such people out and attendees willing to report them. The more people know it happened in the past, the more likely they will be to report it if they see it in the future. Publicity again.
The issue is not what some suggested in the Wild Hunt discussion: that voluntary nudity even among adults be eliminated at events that are currently clothing optional. Plenty of predation takes place when people are wearing clothes. Rather it is learning how to strengthen community cultural values when they conflict with the biases involved within an organization or the weaknesses of human character.
Addendum the next day
I prefer using the term "misbehavior" over "predator," the term that dominated the Wild Hunt discussion. Not because there is no sexual predation; the Marion Zimmer Bradley and Kenny Klein cases demonstrate it does. But the unpleasant experiences reported by the loudest complainers fell very far from those examples. Never defined, the term extended from serious crimes to persistent unwanted attention, or perhaps simply unwanted attention. Those folks avoided concrete details.
I think "misbehavior" is a better all encompassing term. All genuine predation is certainly misbehavior. Other people blatantly looking at you too much when you are sky clad is misbehavior but seems to me very far from predation. Predation implies violence and as such is justifiably illegal. Misbehavior falling short of that may or may not be illegal, while still not being violent except perhaps metaphorically.
I have always rejected the idea that TV, movies, video games and other forms of entertainment media cause us to become more violent. I believe that we can face imaginary scenarios without attaching ourselves to them and examine hypothetical situations in ways that encourage us to think.
But I have been reading a book called On Killing by a soldier-psychologist who taught at West Point, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. This book was written in the 90s, after the Gulf War but long before 9-11.
In this book he postulates that much of PTSD suffered by our war veterans - not all, but much of it - is sparked by overcoming the natural human resistance to killing; which is considerable, I am pleased to say. He points out that only about 20% of American WWII soldiers actually killed somebody, and he points out that this ratio is probably typical of every previous war in history. For instance, American Civil War sites repeatedly reveal weapons that were loaded up to a dozen times. Which means that the soldiers loaded the weapons, aimed, but did not actually fire, up to a dozen times.
However in Vietnam, about 90% of the veterans killed someone. The reason that he cites for this is a change in training techniques that involve desensitization and conditioning, to make the training environment as realistic as possible. Soldiers are trained to distance themselves emotionally from their enemy, to become comfortable with the idea of violence, and then to kill without thinking. These techniques make them very effective in combat, but without support to ease them back into the world, and support from their loved ones, they are horribly traumatized. Even those who did not actually pull a trigger share the "diffusion of guilt" and may suffer as if they had.
These training techniques have a filter, however. Soldiers are taught only to shoot whoever have been deemed "the bad guys," and only whom their leaders tell them to shoot.
He then points out that violent movies are desensitizing us to violence in the way that CIA assassins are (or were) trained, and that video games, particularly first-person shooters, condition us to shoot at people in the same way that modern military training techniques train soldiers to shoot at people. He says that one of the problems of Vietnam was that the soldiers were teenagers, led by more teenagers. Unlike other wars, they lacked older, more mature role models to guide them. And statistically, most of us are now raised in single-parent families, usually by single mothers. Our children now mostly grow up without any kind of meaningful interaction from male role models, aside from what they see in the media. And unlike in the military, we are given neither direction nor leadership. We are taught in the media that it's perfectly okay to kill people for revenge, even for minor humiliations.
I don't know for sure that this is true. But I wonder. You see, I don't watch much TV. I especially don't watch the news - though I do read it! And I don't play many video games, especially not first-person shooters. And neither do most of the "metaphysical" types I know. Is it that we sense, subconsciously, that we are being conditioned to become killers, and we reject this conditioning?
I posted a video a few days ago to my Facebook page. A two-year-old girl named Wang Yue was run over by not one, but two vehicles on October 13, 2011; and there can be no doubt that both of the drivers were aware that they had at least hit something. As she lay bleeding on the road for more than seven minutes, at least 18 passers-by skirted around her body, ignoring her. She was eventually taken off the road but she died of her injuries. I'm including the video, but TRIGGER WARNINGS all over the place. I thought it had to be a hoax - but it's not. It's really not. I cried. I hope you do too.
Original footage HERE (more awful than the window below).
A few days ago was the first time I had seen this video. I was horrified. And I asked in all seriousness, "What the hell is the matter with us as a species?" Is this societal conditioning and desensitization the answer?
Lt. Col. Grossman writes that the entertainment industry swears up and down that it cannot influence our behaviour in this way - but marketers pay crazy amounts of money to advertise with these media, with the intention of doing just that. Makes you think, doesn't it?
If so, how do we fix this? Maybe we just need to do it in a more responsible way. Studies indicate that roleplaying gamers tend to react more effectively in real crisis situations. Why? Because we have already visualized such situations in our minds and imagined what we would do. We have seen ourselves doing these things. I saw it in action myself at least once; my household plays tabletop RPGs as our major social activity, and when a car went off the road through the neighbour's front yard onto its roof, it was all of about three minutes before one of us was on the phone to 911, one of us was flagging traffic, and two of us were pulling people out of the car and making sure they were uninjured. This before our neighbours, whose yard this was in, had done more than gone out the front door.
Or perhaps it involves a complete change of attitude. Lt. Col. Grossman believes that "dehumanizing" the enemy is one of the major ways in which military training overcomes human resistance to killing. So the answer might be to "sensitize" us instead by teaching ourselves to be more empathetic to our fellow and sister human beings. The internet may be quite beneficial in this, if we don't fall victim to the "siloizing" that social media encourages (namely, gearing the internet to connect you only to people who already share your views and interests) and make liberal use of Google Translator. Also, I believe we must fight any widespread prejudicial view that allows us to polarize humanity; from racism, to sexism (vs. women, men, the transgendered or gender-queer) to homophobia; up to and including the left/right political divide. In other words, love really might be the answer.
I invite you to consider what I've said. And I ask you to support your war veterans, no matter what your view on war is. We ask them to bear the burden of humanity's darkness. It is not fair that we also make them the scapegoats for a guilt that we all share.
Since the affair de Kenny hit the Pagan blogosphere I have been sickened by the number of Pagans and Wiccans who have come out publicly excusing these behaviors and moreover attempting to silence his victims. Just check out the wildhunt.com coverage for a sickening sample.
That's why today when I saw this piece by a respected Pagan elder here at Witches and Pagans http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Culture-Blogs/ok-everybody-breathe.html it was just too much.
I realize the author may have been speaking ironically and for effect however to this reader the effect was one of a community elder worrying more about people's feelings and sexual liberties at public gatherings than the issue at hand. I've seen this over and over again. People, there's no grey area here.
Any response save complete condemnation of this act is simply inappropriate. Klein confessed. His victims have been coming forward since and what does Paganism do? Exactly what they did the first time people complained: dog pile on the victim, make excuses, worry that maybe somewhere some Pagan will now be expected to have some sense of sexual morality. Someone might suddenly have to have standards. oh the horrors.
Even if this one author were being ironic, even if she were saying these things to make a point, it's just not appropriate. This should not be a moral stretch to say that sexual molestation and anything that furthers it is WRONG and personally, I do not wish to be part of a forum, dedicated to a community that seems to find that difficult.
The real horror is in a community that struggles to comprehend something at its core very simple: sexual abuse in any form is wrong and yes it is a community issue. Anyone who seriously worries about the limits this may put on one's ability to stomp around naked and have sex indiscriminately and in public at gatherings, in my opinion, needs to seriously rethink their priorities. What makes this completely insane is that in the sex and the kink communities, they long ago came out with standards and guidelines for engaging in these activities safely and responsibly. Why is the Pagan and Wiccan community so resistant to doing the same?
In light of all of this, I simply do not feel that I can continue writing for Witches and Pagans. I deeply respect Anne Niven and the work that she has done and continues to do and I want to make it clear that my decision here in no way in no way compromises that, in fact, I greatly support her decision as editor to remove Klein's column. That being said, however, in light of what I have seen across the Wiccan and Pagan communities recently with this issue, I want no part of a forum that to my communities has now become infested with the worst kind of spiritual pollution.
There's a Heathen saying: "we are our deeds." I very firmly believe that. We have a responsibility to take action when something is wrong. I"m therefore resigning my column effective today.
This past week I have had to hold my tongue. Sometimes it felt like I was holding my tongue so hard all I could taste was blood.
A few people have told me that I should have spoken up, said my piece right there and then, never holding back. However, what I have learned in my own life experience and in my Druid path is that there is time to speak up, and a time to hold your tongue. It all relates to one word - peace.
It has often been said that the Druids were not only the political advisors and religious authority to the Celts, but that they were also the peacemakers within society. They had the power to walk between the battle lines without being harmed, such was their honouring of the notion of peace and their own personal authority and control. As a student of Zen Buddhism as well as Druidry, I have come to know the concept of peace from another worldview that blends in beautifully with what I hold to be true in my path.
Peace is when there is no need. Peace is when we are able to step outside of our ego and relate to the world with loving kindness. Peace is when we are able to find compassion, both for ourselves and for others.
Peace and truth are inexorably entwined within the Druid tradition. Only when we have discovered the nature of truth are we able to find peace. Truth is our natural place in the world, in its cycles and rhythms, the flow of life itself. It is in the riding of the currents of awen that we come to know truth in all its forms. When we know truth, we find peace.
The Druids were also famed for their ability with words. They chose their words carefully, knowing that words have power. It is with this in mind that sometimes I hold my tongue, for I could easily lash out and then have to face the repercussions of my actions. In the Celtic worldview, personal responsibility was very high on the agenda, and the notion of having to make something right when you have wronged another was essential. I simply try to not get into that situation in the first place.
Our society however does not live with that Celtic worldview any longer. All I can do is have total responsibility for my own actions. It is within my power to live with honour - I cannot, however, force others into that way of thinking. So it is that sometimes, when people upset me, I take a step back and gather my emotions to myself, exploring their source carefully before considering a response. Often I will find that when people upset me, they are merely triggering deeper issues. Other times, people are just crap.
By holding my tongue, I can preserve peace at that particular moment instead of exploding in a torrent of emotions that could have very negative effects both on myself and the other party involved. I could easily slice someone to ribbons with my tongue, but I have chosen not to in order to maintain peace, both within myself and the world beyond.
Some would argue that by restraining myself I am having a negative effect on my own self. Instead of harming another, by keeping it bottled inside I am doing myself an injury or injustice. However, it is not kept bottled inside; it is simply held for a moment while I take a detached step back in order to examine it fully before coming to a foregone conclusion. This is not harming myself in any way - in fact it is helping me to understand myself better, the reasons why I do the things I do, think the way I think and behave the way I do.
This is not to say that when it is required to speak out that I still hold my tongue; far from it. In Buddhism there is what is known as 'engaged Buddhism', a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is having personal responsibility for oneself, and also the ability to act in the world in a positive way. If we see people being harmed, we work to stop it. If we ourselves are being harmed, we work to stop that cycle and set ourselves on a new path towards enlightenment. We have the ability to respond - responsibility. We use it accordingly.
Not all situations call for such engagement. For the sake of peace sometimes we take a step back. When hurt or abuse is relevant, we engage. We pick our battles wisely. If there is one thing I have learned these last few years, it is that we don't have to attend every argument we are invited to.
So it is that sometimes I hold my tongue when all I want to do is lash out; to do unto others what has been done to me. It can result in moments of seeing red - but then those moments fade as I am able to explore the deeper issues. Having emotions is so very important to the human being; being in touch with our emotions ensures that we are in the driver's seat however, instead of being taken for a ride by the very same emotions. In very few situations when I see red it is appropriate to react then and there - if lives are at stake or people are being hurt. However, in the majority of situations in my life it is not. I will only make things worse for myself and others if I do not keep the peace, if I do not hold my tongue.
Taking a moment to step back when confronted by difficult situations is invaluable to me. I take a deep breathe, and think of the word 'peace'. This helps me to understand the situation better, in order to respond to it better. I feel it fits rightly in my worldview as a Druid, though others may disagree. All I can do is to live with peace, honour and truth as my guides.
More deeply than most religions, NeoPagans legitimize and honor the goodness of this world, the sacred immanence that shines through all things. Consequently, from a Pagan perspective living well in our world requires observing appropriate ethical and moral relationships. This insight cannot help but lead us to criticize attitudes treating this world as noting but a means for human ends.
Our society’s institutional and legal core views the world as without value beyond its use to us. A mountain or forest has no more intrinsic value than a crumpled wad of paper. Our economic system in particular is only able to relate to the world on these terms. Its signature institution, the joint stock corporation, is created so treat everything it encounters as either a resource for attaining its goal of making money, a threat to that goal, or irrelevant. By understanding what is defective about a corporation we can better appreciate what Pagan insights add to our world.
A corporation selects its leaders through voting based on how many shares an owner owns. The more money a person invests, the more votes they control, guaranteeing as much as any human institution can that values inhibiting making money will be ignored. If a CEO sacrifices share value to anything else, he or she will likely be ousted. Consequently, CEOs who care only for making money will have a competitive edge over men and women with a wider and deeper sense of what it is to be a decent human being. Corporations select for sociopathic leadership, and often they succeed.
The problem gets worse. Most share holders are normal human beings with a normal range of values. Doing well is one of them, but other values also matter. Many are too busy to spend a great deal of their lives pouring over comparative performance and forecast reports to determine what shares to buy or sell. So they hire others to do it for them. These “others” are usually mutual funds. Most investors will not even know what corporations they “own” a part of. They own shares in the funds.
Fund managers are legally required to seek the maximum income for their clients. Unless they are “green funds” mutual funds remove human values one additional step from influencing economic decision-making.
As decisions about investments are increasingly removed from the complex values motivating human beings to the one dimensional world of seeking money over everything else a strange transformation takes place. In my terms it is the transition from a market economy based on private ownership to capitalism and the abolition of what we usually describe as private ownership of the means of production.
The end of ownership
To own something is to control it and to be responsible for it. But most shareholders do not control the corporation of which they ‘own’ a part. Nor are they responsible for its actions. If a corporation commits a crime, shareholders are not responsible. But the problem is deeper than that.
Suppose I discover a corporation in which I have invested is doing something morally objectionable. I protest. They respond their policies are “good business.” I sell my shares in protest. They are then bought by someone who is either not aware of why I sold, or does not care.
What happened? The shares are now owned by someone without my moral objections. If bad actions increase the corporation’s profits, they benefit. If I break off my involvement with wrong behavior, those who approve it will benefit. Whatever this is, it is not ownership. It has no resemblance to the small business created and owned by an entrepreneur and reflecting his or her values.
In reality capitalism ‘owns’ the companies and share ‘owners’ receive a dividend depending on how well they invest their resources to serve capitalism in making as much money as it can. Share ‘owners’ are only rewarded when they serve capitalist values. When they do not serve capitalism’s values their shares dwindle in value or are sold, and they are excluded from influence. In a sense they are laid off.
Share holders work for capitalism rather than capitalism working for them. If they are good at it they do well, but it is a mistake to think of them as anything but subordinates. At this level they are akin to state socialism where the state owns the industries and pays managers to run them, giving bonuses to those who run them well. Capitalism is more efficient than state socialism, but the role of human values and freedom in both cases is subordinated to power.
There is a great irony in conservatives worrying about government taking over private property but having no objection to corporate capitalism. To the extent it is corporate the business world has already expropriated private property. It happened not through laws taking rights away but by capitalism fundamentally changing the context in which those rights exist, so that the most important of them disappeared from practical economic impact. ‘Owners’ remain, but they receive income depending on how well they serve capitalism. If they object and leave, their oversight in service to capitalism is transferred to someone more willing to do the job.
A personal example
A concrete example might help nail down an abstract argument. For many years I made my living as an artist, and the stationery and cards I designed and sold paid for my Ph.D. and sometimes supported me for years afterwards. I wholesaled over much of the US and met a pay roll. Ultimately email began reducing demand, and I closed it down. (How many letters do you write every year?)
Suppose that had not happened and my business grew and grew. At some point I might have chosen what many business people do when they are successful, and tried to take it public, becoming a joint stock corporation in order to raise capital and grow more. Had I done so control would have shifted from me to shareholders. I would have become an employee, a hired manager. If I had made decisions that negatively affected total money profit the shareholders would have been justified in firing me and hiring someone more money driven. And as I explained, share holding tends to go towards those motivated only by money in these decisions.
When I ran my business I made many decisions that limited my profits over what they otherwise would have been, such as using recycled paper even though it cost more, providing “Pagan discounts,” and giving products away for charitable purposes even though I received no recognition (and so free advertising) for doing so. I often over paid employees compared to what I likely would have needed to if only money mattered.
None of these practices would have been justified under the new regime unless they resulted in greater profits.
Capitalism and Nature
The deathly logic of capitalism extends to living beings.
Bernard Rollins described the following event in his ethics column in the Canadian Veterinary Journal: (reported in The Land report, no. 74, summer, 2004.)
You [as a veterinarian] are called to a 500-sow farrow-to-finish swine operation . . . As you examine several sows in the crated gestation unit, you notice one with a hind leg at an unusual angle and inquire about her status. You are told “She broke her leg yesterday and she’s due to farrow next week. We’ll let her farrow in here, and then we’ll shoot her and foster off her pigs.” Is it ethically correct to leave the sow with a broken leg for a week while you await her farrowing?
When the visiting vet offered to splint the sow’s leg for free, he was told profit margins were so tight they could not afford the time to care for her.
This was not a unique event. When one of Rollins’ colleagues’ son-in-law was working in an industrial hog “farm” he noticed some of the pigs were sick and, being familiar with the disease, offered to treat it. “’We don’t treat sick animals’ he was told, ‘We kill them by knocking them over the head with a crowbar.’” The man treated them anyway and was fired for his efforts, until he told management he had done so with his own money. He was re-hired “with a reprimand and warning.”
A Pagan connection
For years the family-held Pacific Lumber Company had logged profitably in Northern California while being popular with environmentalists due to their wise practices. They decided to go public to raise more money. When they did corporate raiders from Texas decided their shares were “under valued” because if they were more ruthless in their logging they would be able to make more money. They took it over using borrowed cash, or junk bonds, greatly increased the rate of cutting, inflicted untold environmental damage on land they owned as well as land and people living downstream from the landslides they caused, and triggered the timber wars that tore apart Northern California’s social fabric for years. Essentially Wall Street was waging war against the people, land, and waters of northern California’s redwood forests. No clearer example of the conflict between capitalism and human values could be described (although there are many others as clear).
People protested this destruction. The protests were dramatically and firmly supported by Reclaiming, one of the largest Pagan organizations in the country. Witches helped raise money and offered other support for Earth First! in its efforts to defeat the capitalists. Ultimately they succeeded, as California adopted regulations requiring wiser logging practices, and when they became law the Texas vandals could not make money and the company went bankrupt.
The issue here was not people making use of the land. The issue was people using the land as if it had no value other than its service to some, and as that logic worked itself out, no value other than its service to capitalism. Kiowa writer Scott Momaday’s observation captures a Pagan point of view: “You say I use the land, and I reply, yes it is true; but it is not the first truth. The first truth is that I love the land; I see that it is beautiful. I delight in it; I am alive in it.”
From a Pagan perspective what is happening is a moral failing in many ways as complete and catastrophic as the millennial old acceptance of slavery. Despite its horrors slavery was accepted by Pagans, Christians and others alike. It only became vulnerable to abolition when some people developed sufficient moral awareness to see its wrongness while recognizing alternatives to it on a more ‘practical’ level.
Do we have practical alternatives available that can free us from capitalism and enable people to be able to act in a morally and ethically deeper way towards the rest of the world?
The answer is yes. My next post will describe the most inspiring alternative about which I know.