Continuing our talk of Halstead‘s anti-capitalist take (which does relate to Paganism here). And carrying on from that last Quote:
As Naomi Cline writes in her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,
“[O]ur economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”
“Because, underneath all of this is the real truth we have been avoiding: climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.”
“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.”
I talked about the first paragraph here at the end of the last post. I’m not really going to address the second because there’s nothing really substantive there, except perhaps in response to Halstead’s asking “why should I protect the home of a river spirit when it’s not there” and my response was “well, smitings.”
Because I look at whatever is “climate change” and instead see the workings of Gods who are once again being active in the world, more than I see any effect of man driving too many cars or wanting too many rooms in his house.
Rather, it’s that third paragraph that interests me. “But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” Cline says.
We can’t teach people to use less anymore. We’re just going to have to make people fewer.
I think this is my major problem with Environmentalists. It’s different words, but it amounts to the same collectivist, authoritarian, and all to often racist language of groups like Communists, Nazis, and Eugenics. “There are too many people who are a drain on society/the world and we must remove them!” And it’s always been cloaked in what at the time was pretty language, well meaning languages too. For the good of society, the Jews have to go, the Blacks have to go, the Asians, the Indians, the Irish, the Scottis, the Bavarians, etc, etc, etc. I mean, sure, this time it’s just “humans” but you know it’s about the lower classes and the “intellectually ignorant”
One way or another, capitalism — at least a capitalism built on a model of infinite growth — will no longer be. My hope, is that we humans are around to see that day, and that the demise of this particular economic system does not correspond with the demise of our species. What we need is the courage to imagine a different future — the courage to imagine both a future where we have committed collective suicide through our desecration of the environment and a future where we have escaped that fate by creating a new kind of society.
“A model based on infinite growth – will no longer be…a future where we have escaped that fate by creating a new kind of society.”
I have studied history enough to know where that kind of language leads too. I have studied enough history to know that no economic systems collapse will destroy the entire species that uses it. But I have seen enough history to know an excuse for radical, violent, genocidal action when I see it. And you know what, I’m gonna give Halstead the benefit of the doubt. I suspect he honestly believes there is a global threat to the world because of capitalism, and he does not intend genocide.
Just as I believe most Germans who joined the Nazi party did not intend genocide when they sough to “save their nation.” But eventually, you just have to get rid of those people who stand in the way of salvation.
Paganism: A Religion of the Imagination
Where does Paganism come in? Well, if our problem is really a failure of imagination, then I think Paganism is uniquely suited to help. Religion scholars, Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin, have located imagination at the core of the Pagan paradigm:
“The unifying theme among the diverse [Neo-Pagan] traditions […] is the ecology of one’s relation to nature and to the various parts of one’s self. As Neo-Pagans understand it, the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches that the human intellectual will is to have dominion over the world, and over the unruly lesser parts of the human psyche, as it, in turn, is to be subordinate to the One God and his will. The Neo-Pagans hold that, on the contrary, we must […] cooperate with nature and its deep forces on a basis of reverence and exchange. Of the parts of man, the imagination should be first among equals, for man’s true glory is not in what he commands, but in what he sees. What wonders he sees of nature and of himself he leaves untouched, save to glorify and celebrate them.
“What Neo-Pagans seek is a new cosmic religion oriented to the tides not of history but of nature — the four directions, the seasons, the path of the sun — and of the timeless configurations of the psyche. They seek not that morality which comes from imposing the will on reluctant flesh, nor the mystical trance which is the fruit of asceticism, but the expansiveness of spirit which comes from allowing nature and rite to lower the gates confining the civilized imagination. For them, this is the spirit called up by the names ‘pagan’ and ‘polytheism.’
“[Neo-Pagans] seek to restore a proper balance between masculine and feminine symbolization of the sacred. They seek to recover a sense of wonder and respect as religious feelings toward nature in all its moods and toward the human body and psyche. Thus they want to find a new totality, perhaps in reaction to a schizophrenic culture. They look for it in a new cosmic religion that vehemently rejects the religious value of history, while it radically affirms the religious value of raising the level of consciousness through stimulation of the imagination by ritually creating a suggestive and sacred milieu.” (Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America)
There’s not much to say to this, except that his religious scholars are not apparently taking into account Polytheistic Paganism, which does look to history and the divine as well as the world. But then, I’m not surprised that Halstead skipped that as he beings to try and cloak his environmentalist “anti-capitalism” in the sacred robes of Paganism.
We Pagans are uniquely capable of imagining things being different than they are. After all, we are Pagans in (a predominately) Christian America! More than any other religious group in the West, perhaps, Pagans can remember a time when Christianity was not the dominant mode of religious discourse. And we can imagine a future which is not only post-Christian, but post-monotheistic. And to the extent that our pathological relationship with the environment is bound up with a monotheistic paradigm, we are uniquely situated to help imagine a society which has a radically different relationship with the environment. Indeed, much of Pagan ritual and practice is designed to help us realize just that possibility. Starhawk calls this “Radical imagination: refusing to accept the dominators’ picture of the world. Thinking outside the lines. Daring to dream what has never been before, to think the unthinkable, and then to create it.”
Now, I will agree that we probably do need to rethink how we look at the environment and our relationship with it. Not because our present way is “evil” or “capitalist” or however you want to put it. We do need to see the world as an extension of our Gods’ powers and understand how that effects us, as well as how we in our devotion treat it. To poison the fields is to spit in the face of Sylvanus and Freyr and their natural reactions will of course harm us in tern. This is but one example. But that doesn’t mean we cant’ take from the earth what we need, only that we acknowledge and give praise and thanks to the Gods whose power creates that which we then use. Dominion over the world is the place of the Gods, not of man.
But acknowledging such a place in no way harms capitalism or our ability to grow and advance.
“Many years ago the poet Diane di Prima wrote a line that comes back to me now: ‘The only war that counts is the war against the imagination.’ I often wondered what she meant by it, but now I think I understand. All war is first waged in the imagination, first conducted to limit our dreams and visions, to make us accept within ourselves its terms, to believe that our only choices are those it lays before us. If we let the terms of force describe the terrain of our battle, we will lose. But if we hold to the power of our visions, our heartbeats, our imagination, we can fight on our own turf, which is the landscape of consciousness. There, the enemy cannot help but transform.” (The Fifth Sacred Thing)
I suppose I can tell here that Halstead has never had to interact with war, or even deal with it’s Gods. War is all about imagination, and there are many wars which have mattered far beyond a “war against the imagination.” It is interesting though, that a Collectivist like Halstead is seeing to “protect” the imagination. The imagination is what separates us as individuals. No two people imagine the same thing.
Imagination gets a bad rap in our contemporary scientistic culture which fetishizes rationality and objectivity. But imagination has been behind every major revolution in human history, whether technological, social, or religious. If the environmental crisis is a result of a failure of imagination — a failure to imagine the disastrous consequences of our current economic system and a failure to imagine that our economic system could be different — if what we need is the courage to imagine things can be different, well then, I think we we are playing on Paganism’s home turf now.
I’ve never seen imagination get a bad rap in our “scientific culture.” If anything, imagination s promoted. Technology doesn’t get created from failing to imagine something new. Now, does science promote rationality and objectivity? Yes.
Because those things are good. If I can rationally and objectively look at all the environmentalist models that said by this time the oceans would be boiling, there would be no polar ice caps, and see they are wrong, then I know what they’re saying is bullshit. If I can rationally and objectively look at what Halstead and Cline say and see where their train of thought is leading, that is Good.
Rationality and Objectivity are Pagan ideals as well. They started with the great philosophers of Greece and Egypt, Pagan men who valued the mind over the emotional. If Halstead wants to claim that the land of imagination is the land on which Pagans fight best, he better imagine that Rationality is also the Pagan battle cry as well. At least with Polytheist Pagans like myself.