Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thoughts from a "Right Wing Nihilist"


Recently, my fellow PaganSquare blogger Gus DiZerga made some rather pointed remarks about the intersection of politics and spirituality that I feel require some rebuttal. Mr. DiZerga is coming from an admittedly liberal/progressive/left-wing perspective, while I happily admit a conservative/libertarian/right-wing perspective.

Aside from the material differences in our world-views (which are considerable), perhaps the chief thing that differentiates me from Mr. DiZerga is his willingness to declare that someone cannot be a Pagan (coherently) because of their political views. I don’t pretend to any such powers of defining thought-crimes for which the penalty is excommunication.

Mr. DiZerga renders his argument thus:

  1. All Pagans are polytheists
  2. The many Gods to whom Pagans ascribe existence are "in the world"
  3. Because the Gods are "in the world", "the world is more than a storehouse of resources for human use"
  4. Anyone who does not agree with point 3 is not a Pagan, by definition, because "the earth is a direct expression of the sacred in some sense and the sacred is not simply stuff for our use"

And, it should be added that if someone "believes a pro-corporate policy towards our "natural resources" is the best for us, he or she cannot rationally argue that this is simply one view among many in the big Pagan tent…"

This also explicitly prevents any Pagan from supporting the Republican party because "no rational Pagan can support the environmental policies of the Republican Party". (Well, I suppose in theory that would not apply to those who join the Republican party but don’t support it’s environmental policies, but that loophole gets taken care of further down in Mr. DiZerga’s post.)

I take issue with the validity of Mr. DiZerga’s premises. I believe that the immediacy of the Gods does not, in any way, establish that the planet and its resources are somehow inviolate. If, as he argues, that point of view is one that is central to Pagan religious philosophy, then it is something that should appear again and again, prominently and unambiguously, in the historical record of pre-Christian religious systems.

Yet, remarkably, the vast majority of pre-Christian Pagan and Heathen societies don’t seem to share Mr. DiZerga’s position on resource allocation. The mere fact that private and public land ownership was something recognized and practiced by Pagan civilizations since the dawn of time should be enough to give the lie to his claim. If the resources in the world are not just intended for human use, then what are we to make of the digging of mines and canals? What of the clear-cutting of forests for agriculture? What of the domestication of animals and the destruction of species deemed dangerous or nuisances to mankind and his domesticated livestock?

A civilization that so felt that the Earth was in and of itself sacred and not intended as a “storehouse of resources for human use” would not hunt mammoths, lions, wolves, etc. to extinction. It would not change the course of rivers for the convenience of human agriculture. It would not create cities, concentrating resources in small geographical areas for human use.

And yet Pagan and Heathen civilizations did all those things and many more throughout history. Thence crumbles the rest of his argument.

Jumping from the ancient world to the modern, Mr. DiZerga also redefines conservatism in a fairly idiosyncratic (one might, if one were less charitable, call it a self-serving) fashion:
"…conservatives say we should be cautious about making changes in social life because important linkages we do not see might be destroyed, linkages more important than the reforms we seek".
This is only a half-truth, deployed to create a false dichotomy between conservatives and the contemporary Republican party, which he sees as dominated by "right wing nihilism". Certainly few, if any, self-described conservatives would define their beliefs thus.

Before getting into his definition of what that might be, it is worth bringing up a more honest description of modern conservatism. It is not simply the atavistic rejection of change that Mr. DiZerga claims, but is rather a complex and nuanced collection of various political, economic, and social movements that at times converge and at times diverge. Economic and social conservatives can agree on policies that promote smaller government as an ideological goal, while national security hawks promote policies that have the effect of growing government spending. Social conservatives can promote policies that require more government intervention in domestic affairs while economic conservatives and national security hawks find common ground in promoting U.S. corporate interests abroad. And so on.

This is not any sort of self-contradiction, but rather an expression of the reality of modern political life when faced with practical decisions. It should be stressed that such heterogeneous factions constantly rising and falling in influence within the broader “conservative” moniker is not unique to conservatism. Modern liberalism has its own mirror image of the process, as civil libertarians, big government liberals, foreign policy doves, and interventionist do-gooders all go through a similar dance on the left side of the political divide.

As far as Mr. DiZerga’s boogeyman of "right wing nihilism", created, it seems, to satisfy his need on the one hand to vilify the Republican party while at the same time claiming to be inclusive towards conservatives (albeit a sort of straw-man conservatism that wouldn’t include anyone who actually identifies themselves as conservative), it is here that his hypocrisy comes to the fore, as I would argue it is a definition that covers not merely Republicans but the Democrats with equal effectiveness:
"Such people attack the value of basic social institutions such as public education, Social Security, and science."
Republicans don’t attack public education per se. They attack a very specific form that it has taken over the last fifty years; one that is dominated by unionized teachers concerned more for their own aggrandizement than actually educating children, which is used to indoctrinate children into accepting the claims of a very specific political ideology (guess which one!) as objective fact, and which is increasingly controlled by centralized Federal authority, the Constitutional basis for which is dubious at best. The vast majority of Republicans would happily support public education if these flaws were addressed; charter schools, increased access to alternative schools (“school choice”), and a return to local control of school curricula. That’s not “attacking the value” of public education. It’s advocating for a change in the way pubic education is done. (Which in and of itself doesn’t square with Mr. DiZerga’s assertion that conservatives only want to prevent change; in many cases they advocate change, sometimes quite large changes.)

As for science? It is certainly true that the Republican party resists acknowledgement of certain scientific principles. However, the Democrat party is no less guilty of this vice when it exaggerates (or outright invents) dangers associated with various new technologies which they see as harmful to the interests of the members of their political coalition. To say the Republicans have a monopoly on unscientific thinking is disingenuous at best.
"They treat other institutions simply as means to win power at whatever cost to other people or to these institution [sic] themselves, as with the filibuster and now the electoral college."
The intricacies of the Senate filibuster rules aside, it should be remembered that each party sings the same song when it is in or out of power, and merely hands the sheet music to the other when the balance of power changes. Eight years ago the Republicans were talking about removing the filibuster (the so-called "nuclear option") and the Democrats were caterwauling about how essential it is to the integrity of the Senatorial process. Today, the caterwauling comes from the Republicans and it is the Democrats who are talking about removing it. Neither side will do so, because both realize that eventually they’ll be in the minority, and need it. Ditto the electoral college. The side that loses the most recent election invariably goes into soul-searching about the utility of the institution. The song is the same, even though the singers change with the political winds. This is not unique to the Republicans, either.
"They admire war and force whenever given the opportunity, so long as they have the upper hand, which is why when they complain about deficits they want to increase a military budget already dwarfing that of the rest of the world."
Once more, the hypocrisy of claiming that this is uniquely a Republican vice is staggering. Lest we forget our own history, it was the Democrat party that gave us Viet Nam, Serbia, Libya, and now a gradually increased involvement in the Syrian civil war. It is the Obama administration that has used unmanned aerial drones 304 times in Pakistan alone (compared to 46 strikes during the entire Bush administration), killing as many as 3,000 people. Mr. diZerga may claim that the Democrats don’t "admire war and force", but they sure do a good job of using them to solve problems.

This all comes down to a very simple proposition; Mr. diZerga doesn’t like Republicans. He’s very up-front about his prejudice, and even revels in it at times. His entire argument is crafted specifically to try to exclude the possibility of Pagan Republicans, despite the fact that there are, undeniably, people who self-identify as Pagans who are also Republicans. His attempt to de-legitimize the political and/or religious choices of such people is both transparent and despicable, and is falsity is demonstrated by the fact that his tortured definition cannot even be applied to pre-Christian Pagan civilizations. That might not be a factor when the question is applied to Wicca, but Mr. diZerga must needs be reminded, it seems, that Wicca and Paganism are not always interchangeable terms, and that the Wiccan Rede would cover assassination by unmanned drones as well as drilling for oil and raising cattle for food.

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