Haven’t had my coffee yet. That said, I am writing this (probably in an ill-advised state of cognition, but anyway, that’s what the edit button is for, as well as the humility to recognize I may not be perfect in the delivery of what follows), because I just read an article about a father’s response to his five year old daughter’s situation involving a sundress and a school that made her change her clothes. In this story a TARDIS-shirt wearing father sends his daughter to school in an appropriate-to-the-season-and-age-and-setting dress, and she is forced to change it for sexist and arbitrary reasons. He teaches her to ask “why?”, and that it is OK to ask “why?”. I am in total favor of this. He goes on to say that “many rules are later determined to be wrong.”, and notes that this is sort of the history of how society works. Pretty fundamentally.
But I’m not writing about sexism or sundresses or five-year-olds or TARDIS-shirt-wearing dads. I’m writing about rules, and revolutions. (So, please, let’s not get hung up on that original lead-in story. It was just the proverbial road-flare that set the pine forest of thoughts ablaze; it burns at a different temperature and with an entirely different thermodynamic than the ensuing arson, which has things like wind-currents and backdraft and birds to account for.)
The idea of rules is an important one right now. So let’s make with shifting from a discussion of sexism in school dress codes, and to greater societal and certainly meta considerations.
Polytheist religion, and the Polytheist Movement, are composed of what constitutes a set of radical and contemporarily revolutionary ideas, which call for extreme paradigm shifts and changes in how information, thoughts, and relationships (to gods, to the universe, to the world, to each other) are structured and considered. What follows is related most specifically to these: the radical and essential needs and discussions of change which are inherent in embracing Polytheist religions in the 21st Century West, a society with a terrible trail of atrocities behind it, which we must in some way reconcile in our movement forward as religions and communities.
Yesterday I wrote about piety, purity, impiety, impurity, and purification rites. I did so because this topic comes up a lot in conversations about religion, generally from people who’ve had an (understandably) bad time with mainstream religions (you know, those ones which are in some way connected to centuries of genocides and cultural erasures and slavery and murdermachine colonialisms) and have a bad relationship to the idea of “religious rules”, which invariably on some level are taken to mean “rule of religion” in their interpretation, or something close to it. I wrote it because I’m interested in assembling and probably authoring a “101” series of foundational texts which are mean to help with some basic concepts, upon which more specific structures and practices can be built to precision state.
One of the things that I sought to restore meaning to in my “101” writing topic yesterday was the idea that rules and “lines” are not meant to be “NEVER BROKEN”, but rather, they are mean to communicate to a person WHERE THEY ARE with regard to those lines, so that they can have fully consented to any transgressions (willful anything is way hotter than ignorant blundering, protip) and bring a little intentionality to their daily disobedience. Transgression is essential to any transformation, which I think everyone can agree is a pretty fucking basic part of nature, energy, physics, and… well, you know, religion. And stuff. Butterflies and initiations and physical development and puberty and artistic process and so forth are all full of examples of this.
Being in favor of transgressing rules, structures, or lines is not the same as being AGAINST the idea of rules and lines, or even against those rules. For example, an artist who transgresses conventional contemporary art ethos actually requires the structure of that ethos in order to provide the counter “weight” to the catapulting of their own work and vision, for their ideas certainly do not live in isolation from that which they are sizing up for revolt. Transgression REQUIRES lines or there is nothing to cross. In attempting to go about erasing all the lines, one does not provide freedom (despite their probable stated interest in this), they instead provide a prison absent any meaningful guides to map and articulate where anyone is standing… a sea of ignorance, and literally the absence of freedom. Freedom which cannot be defined is not freedom, but the worst kind of prison of all, for it holds no meaning and provides no mobility in any direction.
Freedom is not a thing without walls or doors or boundaries, it is the right to write on those walls or occasionally put a righteous fist through them or just shimmy up the drain pipe and drop down on the other side for some hot midnight fucking under the moon in the old castle ruins beyond the hillside.
Freedom is not about burning all the walls down, it is about burning down the specific walls that prohibit specific expressions of freedom. Even if the specific walls chosen are many and huge and giant, there is literally no way to “burn it all down” and so trying to promote this is just silly: you can’t burn down gravity or emotion or neurochemistry or the necessity of oxytocin or the heartache of loss or the process of grief or the structures of hope, or even the hunger of greed. Walls, boundaries, lines, rules: these things are a part of the cosmos and a part of any system or any dynamic. Systems and dynamics do not just exist in formal capacity (e.g. “Organization X” with its “Manual of Operations and Terms of Compliance”) but also in literally EVERY informal exchange relating to two or more beings: the most common norms and guidelines and rules never get written down or spoken after childhood (refer to my piece yesterday, re: going into a library while dripping wet from an exploded sprinkler and covered in mud). It would actually be anti-freedom (for others..) by NOT having the norms (like those discussed in yesterday’s piece) that prevent a mud-covered dripping person from going on into the library (as they would then be imposing a certain thing on others, such as people who might slip in the mud or the janitorial staff that must then bend knee to scrub it up).
Rules are not about controlling and coercing, they are about allowing for permission and consent. Some rules that were once useful might need to be changed or brought down. Some rules were never useful and were inherently crafted in some wicked, evil, insecure or harmful fashion. Those are not good rules. But being against the idea of all rules because some rules were evil is like being against the idea of all sex, because some sex is lousy or coercive or unsatisfying. It is way easier to be AGAINST something, I know, but wouldn’t it be better to be FOR something usefully, than AGAINST something wastefully? Being against the idea of rules is just meaningless, because the universe is rules. So are, you know, the gods.
I would love to see conversations around rules and guidelines move past a 5-year old’s level of black-and-white “comply” v. “deny”: we NEED to have named and navigated rule structures, not because we need to always abide them (whoever told you that was their purpose was wrong) but because they are there anyway. I would much rather have intentional rules (or at least those that come from gods and serve divine purpose) than unintentional rules that are going to happen anyway but develop in ignorance and blindness of some mob in the mud.
Transgression is wonderful and essential. Revolution is the currency of the buying into the future. Revolt against rules that, as the dad in this story points out, “will be proven wrong, later” is essential to any society, to any system.
But the immature idea that we don’t have rules and that we shouldn’t have rules and that rules are bad is just silly and unsexy and it makes me sad for the human species, and for our VERY necessary social changes, and for our essential religious systems. (P.S. I consider being pro-religion to be a human-rights stance, and I consider positions of anti-religious intent and statement to be in violation of human rights. Violating human rights is unsexy. This doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the corrupt organizations which have committed atrocities in the name of religion. It means that I’m not throwing out all religion, and in fact will fiercely defend it, because of the actions of some wicked ones who weren’t even really acting “as religions” so much as “disease spreading economic superpowers” wearing the disguises of religion. In the same way that I am not going to be anti-sex just because some sex is awful; I’m also wickedly pro-sex. Ask around. I talk about it an awful lot.)
So, this “anti-rules” thing. Yes, this is happening. And no, I’m not commenting on any specific movement or process when I say this. I’m talking about the fact that as soon as “rules” or — here’s another one from this week — “responsibilities” come up, somebody provides some kind of testimony about how those are wrong or bad or not-real or unnecessary, and in ways that I’m sure sound really earnest and clever to them at the time, try to convince me that we’d all be better off without those (or that somehow I’m operating at a loss for acknowledging them).
Uhm. Right. I’m “operating at a loss” for being aware of the dynamics that naturally and invisibly transpire between two or more beings. That’s like saying that a bird is “operating at a loss” when it start to figure out how gravity and wind-currents work in those fledgling days of taking leaps from nest, feeling that air in the primaries and — hopefully — not tumbling down to the ground. In the really-real world, gravity and wind and trees and big fucking predators exist alongside other things like disease and doubt and cantankerous calamity, and clinging to some flag or banner of ignorance to these ideas is NOT a sound survival strategy, and while it may work great for you at a personal philosophy level, it is NOT a decent architectural blueprint for building something involving other people or systems or inter-dependent social structures.
It would be great if we could get our manic discussions of rules and guidelines (which are the subject we’re talking circles around when discussing “change” and “revolution” and “reform” and “reconstitution”, which are all words that Polytheist religionists are calling for every day by merely existing in the radical state of affirming the differentiated identity of our many, many gods in the 21st century’s hostility to any real -theism of any kind*) to the point where we could talk intelligently and meaningfully about transgression, ignorance, and renovating the walls (whether through burning them down on purpose because these ones have got to go, or because somebody accidentally drove a horse-and-buggy through them because they got drunk at the farm) for a collaboratively constructed and collectively celebrated tomorrow.
I am exhausted by all of this well-intentioned zeal and youthful enthusiasm, which is dressed up in the costumery of philosophical foundation, but without the critical footing to not fall to face the second an opposing idea or counter-point is brought up. I am all for debate and collision of counter ideas; this is the place that truth is found. But it is useful when the “counter ideas” are actually critically thought out and factored to some level of precision, rather than just flung around like fortune-cookie platitudes and self-righteous emotionally derived scarcity-driven playground-set heel-dragging complaint. Those aren’t counter-arguments, those are emotions, which may or may not be valid, but probably aren’t necessarily related to a critical understanding of the idea that is meant to be countered. It is weakly held rhetoric that falls to circular mud-wrestling the second it is questioned. And, further, in the discussions of rules and of distinctions and of these structural systems, it would be awesome to see people RESPONDING instead of REACTING.
Sometimes reactions save lives: in the field, when bullets or tear-gas-cannisters or riot-bags are flying, reactions can mean the difference between life and loss of limb or worse. But the time for reactions is THERE, not here on platforms of dialog and of discussion and of occasional “stately” debate, for the purposes of pointing out and hashing out the actual structures that we’re all living within whether we want to name them or not. Reflection is way hotter than reaction, which is why hanging mirrors near beds and billiards tables adds so much fucking ambiance to the sexy-times that follow. Intentionality and purpose are pretty cool ideas, whereas random barbaric wild haymakers whose ultimate justification is, “well, because!”, against the very basic idea of rules or distinctions and lines, is just juvenile. And it really shouldn’t fall on a barbarian to point this out.
In conclusion, it would be super cool if people deciding to join adult progressive dialogs or leading social reformations and revolutions (of society or mind or spirits!) or build religious structures, were operating with at least as much a mind for the physics and realities of things — you know, rules and guidelines, at least at a hypothetical algebraic variable level until more information is gained to assign solved values to those — as fucking fledgling birds, flinging themselves out of nests and branches in the hopes that they get the hang of it before their clutch-mates literally push them off the edge in their own eagerness for a shot at the heights and glories of flight. Somewhere in there is an Icarus metaphor, except, fratricidal avian lunacy that STILL has a better mind for critical process than at least some Pagan and Polytheist conversations about the nature of change, transformation, transgression in the structural reality of our… well… reality.
Endnotes and such:
* – in the above I mention hostility against “any real -theism of any kind”, and I want to footnote this with clarification: I have previously stated that I basically do not believe, critically, that most of the terms for discussing religion are adequate. I challenge them. (Revolution! Revolt! But not burning down the rules and walls altogether; just challenging some that are wrong!)
Nearly everyone who identifies as a “Monotheist” is either 1) an atheist who doesn’t really affirm the literal existence of any god or gods; 2) a confused henotheist, or 3) an other-than-theist such as a pleromist gnostic or a “pantheist” or an absolute-monist, in other words not a “theist” at all. I am not interested in participating in the erasure of the religious identities of Monotheists, I am debating the linguistic soundness of a word and its relationship to both meaning and practice.
(The fun and complex part about identity is that one’s claimed identity does not need to actually align with their practical values, ethics, or affirmed stances: case in point, a lot of people with left-leaning socially progressive views and values identify as being right-leaning because that is who they feel more confident voting for or being led by, even when their actual personal views aren’t being honored by that person’s platforms. This is the difference between a political identity being informed by how one votes in the political process of their world versus how one actually feels or views their world. This is true of all kinds of things. So, I’m not in any way insinuating or suggesting that people with a given chosen-identity should change that, nor invalidating their right to that self-identification in the first place, but rather discussing the very terms and systems by which we identify. Similarly I could challenge the right-vs-left language of global politics, and talk about the inefficient and false-affirmations within it, all without challenging a person’s right to identify as one or the other. I’m not erasing anyone’s rights to identity, I’m discussing the nature of the very words we use to define those identities.)
Words that refer to things that do not involve gods — differentiated beings (deities) of divine and supernatural force, which are in some way bigger than spirits and can be understood as part of a larger system of beings including lesser-deities, deified heroes, ancestors and a whole unfathomably large system of beings without any central relation to humans at all — should not have the suffix “-theism” in them, except to exclude -theism from consideration. For example, “pantheism” is NOT theistic, so why the fuck does it have “theism” in the name? This is silly. It does not actually mean “all gods”, it means “no gods, but all of everything else”. The equation between “theism” and “transcendent source of meaning or matter” is fucking post-Christian bullshit and has NO RELATIONSHIP to classical pre-Christian religion, theology, or anything of that sort. These terms make sense for secular academics or monotheists to distinguish between philosophies and ideas, but not for anyone whose religious identity affirms literal gods and forces outside of human reckoning.
So I challenge this shit. I do NOT challenge people’s right to identify their religious identities under certain terms, but I do challenge words, which were unfortunately and poorly conceived by people whose world-views did not include any of the nuances needed to accurately and evenly discuss these considerations.
“Pantheism” and “Panentheism” are important concepts in what they MEAN, but they are NOT theistic metrics, and therefore the “-theism” should not be present in the language or naming conventions related to them. “Monotheism” basically isn’t real either, for the same reasons: the thing being called a -theos in Monotheist religions either isn’t a god (it’s something else, such as an impersonal monistic substance or source) or is part of a plethora of deific considerations (including pantheons of angels, demons, and OTHER GODS, which monotheist scriptures are full of) which make them by definition Polytheist or Henotheisms (e.g. the worship of a single being within a sea of many, based on individually negotiated covenant or the like).
The above is an example of challenging rules, lines and conventions that don’t make sense and are basically wrong, without condemning all rules and structures like some cranky five year old that wants cake with spaghetti straps on it right now, because because because.
P.S. – If you think I am talking to you specifically here:
I am not. The above is not about you. I promise. Seriously and genuinely. However, if you found yourself feeling like maybe I am, perhaps some of what I am saying applies to your displayed approach to “flying” in these “waters” of change-and-structures. But I am not writing to, about, or even for you, or any other specific person.