Hello, beautiful creatures, and welcome back. I don’t know about you all, but it’s been a hell of a month and a half in my own little world, to say nothing of the ongoing situation in the land of my birth. I’ve cried more tears, snarled more profanities, and done more impromptu, anger-and-sorrow-driven magic in the past six weeks than in the six months prior… and I’m not reticent about tears, cussing, or spellwork. It’s been a rough couple of years, to be sure; in our household, 2016 is referred to as “the year we don’t talk about.” Things do seem to be accelerating, though, ramping up and getting more intense, and to be perfectly honest with you, I’m tired. I’m tired of waking up every day to the fresh horrors on my fresh horrors device. I’m tired of being embarrassed by the latest sociopolitical gaffe or fumbling dumbfuckery perpetrated by the present American administration. I’m tired of worrying about the safety of my family and friends in the face of ever-encroaching fascism. I’m tired of a lot of things, but you wanna know the thing that’s most chafing my patience at this exact moment? You do? Awesome! Buckle up, then, while I take a few minutes of your time to talk about my agenda… sorry, I mean my Nefarious Agenda™.
There’s this idea, quite popular in some areas of discourse, that certain fields of human endeavour are uniquely sacrosanct and should be compartmentalized—hermetically sealed, if you will—to keep them free from the “outside contamination” of any other concerns of life. One manifestation of this idea is the notion that spirituality and religion should never intersect with politics. I’ve written about this before, and suggested that this idea is both ahistorical and unrealistic. Nevertheless, I keep seeing complaints all around the Pagan/polytheist/occult blogosphere that various writers are advancing an “agenda.” When pressed to explain—or, more commonly, when allowed the slightest bit of airtime to expound their views—the complainants in question make it clear that what they object to is writers advertising and expounding political and social agendas in the name of Paganism, polytheism, or some related spiritual or religious path.
Now, there’s an extent to which I can sympathize with this objection. After all, I object to white supremacists wrapping their racism in Heathenry, TERFs cloaking their hatred of trans people with a mantle of Goddess worship, and alt-right douchebags putting their Nazism in a pseudo-polytheist mask. I’m vehemently opposed to our community allowing them any platform whatsoever for their ideologies. Ultimately, aren’t I demonstrating the same kind of intolerance I’m decrying here?
Well, no, I’m really not.
No, seriously. Here, I’ll explain.
Karl Popper and the Paradox of Tolerance
I’m sure we’ve talked about this before, but it’s been a while, so let’s take a moment to talk about one of the preëminent thinkers of the Twentieth Century, the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994). In his book The Open Society and Its Enemies, written during World War II and published in 1945, Popper writes in defense of liberal democracy and the open society, which he conceived as being founded on a core principle of tolerance. This tolerance is expressed as an acceptance of multiple points of view, allowing for the freedom to maintain both individual and collective identities within a shared cultural framework. This tolerance, however, is not without its limits. Popper describes this as the paradox of tolerance:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
White supremacists, TERFs, alt-right MRA douchebags, and other bigots preach ideologies which, if tolerated, lead by direct steps to violence against the targets of their bigotry1. Who are these targets? People of color. Trans people. Queer people. Women. Children. Refugees. Immigrants. Always, always, it’s people with less power and privilege, people who are at constant risk of disenfranchisement, disempowerment, dehumanization. People whose very existence is used as a boogeyman and a scapegoat, a tool of control.
So, do I have an agenda? Of course I do.
In Which My Nefarious Agenda ™ Is Laid Bare
My agenda is that tolerance is a core value, but also that even tolerance has its limits, and one of those hard limits is intolerance.
My agenda is that we should be able to discuss political issues, even disagree on them, without condoning attacks on other folks’ basic human rights and dignity.
My agenda is that racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and fascism all suck, and that they have no place in any community of which I am a part.
My agenda is that none of us is free until all of us are free, and that our freedom will not be achieved by polite tolerance of bigotry and hatred.
There’s my agenda, clear as day, and my response to anyone complaining about me advancing that agenda—in my writing, my magical practice, or any other facet of my life—is disbelief that any person of good faith would find it objectionable.
In other words, when someone complains about my agenda, I start looking askance at their agenda… because, dear reader, we all have agendas. You, me, that one obnoxious person in the comments section, everyone. We all have agendas, because we all have worlds in which we want to live, and we all exert what power we have to bring those worlds into being.
I’ve told you my agenda, the world I want to bring into being. How you respond is, of course, entirely up to you.
Then again, some folks just don’t like seeing any sort of agenda in their Pagan/polytheist/practitioner punditry, to which my only response is that not all things are for all people. I’ve never been shy about my agenda, and if reading it causes someone distress, I encourage them to go read something else.
Here are a few suggestions:
- A brief read: James Baldwin’s “A Letter to My Nephew”
- A slightly longer read: Cristan Williams’ interview with Judith Butler in The TransAdvocate
- Get comfy, and maybe pack an overnight bag: Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, volumes one and two
Until next time, dear ones, keep each other safe. ♥
- Of course, they also claim to be the victims of intolerance and violence themselves. These claims fall apart under the most cursory scrutiny, though, and I’m not wasting time rebutting them.