Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Path to Paganism: Part 14: Smaller and Simpler

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

A few days ago, as I was in the midst of working my way through this 50,000-word series, I came across a compelling article from Bari Weiss. If you're unfamiliar, Weiss was a writer for The New York Times who made a splash when she made public her resignation letter from the newspaper. In it, she cited the growing groupthink within the newsroom and what she said amounted to bullying of people like her who did what a journalist was actually supposed to do -- push back against narratives and question everything. That this most basic job of a journalist is now frowned upon in one of the biggest newspapers in the world would be a frightening development, were it not for the fact that it's par for the course these days in America -- and really, in the Western world overall. 

Weiss' recent article, which she wrote for her Substack newsletter service called, appropriately, The Free Press, detailed how she was writing about this emerging ideology back when she was in college 20 years ago. She saw the dangers posed by its rigidity and its hostility toward rational thought and free expression, but others assured her that colleges are always incubators for radical ideas and that the things she saw weren't likely to move off campus and into the real world.

I'm 13 years Weiss' senior, and I witnessed the very early stages of what she observed back when I was in college in the 1990s. Back then, people called it "political correctness." It mostly took the form of campus speech codes, along with reminders to "watch what you say." Some people laughed it off and insisted it was innocuous, but I didn't. I was the kid who read 1984 and Brave New World and Animal Farm when I was in high school. I knew where this kind of thinking led. 

Here in the 2020s, we're all living with the results of what people suggested that Weiss and I ignore. It metastasized and crept off campus and wormed its way into every major institution. Quoting Weiss:

What I saw was a worldview that replaced basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric: the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad). It replaced lots of things. Color blindness with race obsession. Ideas with identity. Debate with denunciation. Persuasion with public shaming. The rule of law with the fury of the mob.  

People were to be given authority in this new order not in recognition of their gifts, hard work, accomplishments, or contributions to society, but in inverse proportion to the disadvantages their group had suffered, as defined by radical ideologues. 


Over the past two decades I saw this inverted worldview swallow all of the crucial sense-making institutions of American life. It started with the universities. Then it moved on to cultural institutions — including some I knew well, like The New York Times — as well as every major museumphilanthropy, and media company. Then on to our medical schools and our law schools. It’s taken root at nearly every major corporation. It’s inside our high schools and even our elementary schools. The takeover is so comprehensive that it’s now almost hard to notice it — because it is everywhere. 

Many of us call it wokeness, which is kind of a goofy term, but I stick with it in part because it seems to deeply irritate the very people it's aimed at, which tells you a lot about them and their motivations. Call them "woke," and they'll immediately do one of two things: They'll insist that "woke" just means standing up for the oppressed, or they'll say you can't even define what "wokeness" is. Both responses are gaslighting tools meant to get you to stop seeing right through their charade. They hide behind seemingly innocent slogans like "Be Kind" and use minority groups for cover, such that any criticism of what they try to push on society -- and you -- must surely be the uninformed rantings of a privileged right-wing heteronormative white supremacist.

So, you know, if you see people dividing humanity up by immutable characteristics and giving certain groups advantages based on those characteristics, hurtling us right back to the pre-Civil Rights days of racial discrimination, only now flipped on its head so that straight white males need to sit at the back of the bus, and you dare to call out what a bad idea this is, that the way to address past wrongs is not to repeat them in reverse, you're the one who's called a regressive knuckle-dragging bigot.

And perish the thought if you point out that people can't change their sex, that "woman" is not a costume, that pronouns are not a fashion statement, and that we shouldn't be letting men colonize women's spaces and winning their awards -- not to mention that it's downright criminal to encourage children to undergo life-alterting surgeries and treatments when they're far too young to understand the ramifications of their choices. If we believe that kids are too young to drive, vote, smoke, drink, or enter into legally binding contracts, then what on God's green earth would make anyone think they have the maturity of mind to permanently change their bodies? 

Weiss' objection to wokeness comes from her perspective as a Jewish woman. Now, I'm no fan of the Israeli government and never have been, but anti-Zionist doesn't automatically mean anti-Jewish, and given how the denunciations of Israel's leaders are spilling over into hostility toward the Jewish people themselves, I can appreciate her concern. As Weiss has discovered, just being a member of a minority group doesn't automatically give you Woke Points. Ask any Asian American, a group that's discriminated against almost as much as white people are because of their consistent academic and professional success. The woke high priests turn to them and implicitly ask, as Weiss puts it, "Who did you steal that success from?" As if one group's success had to come at the expense of another in some kind of zero-sum game. And the solution wokeness offers to the problem is not to try to lift everyone up so that more can succeed, but to dumb everyone down so that no one has to even try to do better. In Weiss' words, wokeness "claims to promote 'equity,' but its answer to the challenge of teaching math or reading to disadvantaged children is to eliminate math and reading tests. It demonizes hard work, merit, family, and the dignity of the individual."

She's not wrong. That's exactly what's happening. 

And you can't even raise an objection to all of this, because if you want to advance in your career, at some point you're probably going to be required to kneel to the dogma of "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion," which is essentially just a cover for divisive, irrational, institutionalized discrimination that silences anyone who disagrees with the agenda a little too loudly. I prefer to call it DIE over DEI, because it's no exaggeration to say that this kind of thinking could very well kill off Western civilization, and the actual pluralistic values it's built on.

It's impossible not to see that wokeness is essentially a religion, one that's filling the vacuum left behind by the decline in traditional religion. It gives people in-groups and out-groups, It sees the world in simplistic black and white caricatures of saints and devils. It appeals to irrationalism and emotionalism. It has its sacred slogans ("black lives matter"; "transwomen are women") and its holy symbols (the pride flag). It even has its own original sin, which is being born white. Whites are born racists, every single one, but it's impossible for minority groups to be racist against whites. That's the dogma, and it can't be questioned. As Weiss puts it, this is "an ideological movement bent on recategorizing every American not as an individual, but as an avatar of an identity group, his or her behavior prejudged accordingly."
Western civilization simply can't survive if this kind of ideology is allowed to control the conversation and set the terms. And right now, wokeness holds all the cards. 

For a long time, I was of the mind that one way to fight back against the madness would be to ally with religious traditionalists -- in my case, traditionalist Catholics -- who understood the core values of our civilization, inasmuch as the history of Christianity and the history of Western civilization go hand in hand. 

But I'm not so sure anymore, in large part because I can't help seeing that wokeness and Christianity are just two pernicious mind viruses fighting against each other. The impulse that gave rise to one gave rise to the other. And it has to be said that part of the reason wokeness exists in the first place is that Christian society has failed so many times throughout history to live up to its own challenge to love our neighbors, turn the other cheek, and do unto others. Maybe human nature made those failures inevitable. After all, there's a reason so many evangelicals say that Jesus never meant what he said in the Sermon on the Mount. According to them, he knew he was asking too much of fallible human beings, so the whole point of the Sermon was that we needed him to save us because we couldn't possibly live up to its impossible standards on our own. Seems like a massive copout, but history suggests that maybe the evangelicals were right, at least to the extent that we as a species seem incapable of rising above our primitive tribal instincts and hating each other. 

Now, with that said, I am all for the Catholic philosophy of distributism, which argues in favor of small, locally based communities and strong antitrust legislation, as opposed to large nation-states dictating policy from the top down across massive swaths of geography, where the only thing really uniting people is often a flag and a shared mythology. People in rural Idaho have nothing in common with politicians in a federal district that lies more than 2,000 miles away. Why shouldn't the people on the ground take care of things at a more local level? They know better than some distant politicians what people need in so-called flyover country. And of course, all of this applies just as much to massive multinational corporations that control our lives and often carry out policy on behalf of that distant, remote government. 

Globalism won't fix what ails us, because globalism, like wokeism, sees us as all the same, with the same needs and the same problems. But the same can be said for large nation-states. Maybe it's just time for the way we do things to come to an end. Maybe Western civilization isn't worth saving. Maybe it's OK to just let it burn down, so we can start over and try something new. Wokeness has so deeply infiltrated every institution of power that I'm not so sure we could even fix things if we tried. After all, even Western civilization has its Wyrd. All things must pass. Perhaps this is simply its time.

And by "trying something new," I suggest we look to our past. A distant past, where families, friends, neighborhoods, and local and regional communities rallied around each other, looked after each other, made sure everyone's needs were met. Maybe we need the localism that the distributists envision for us. 

But it doesn't need to be done in an explicitly Catholic way. If a distributist society can be built that way, then fine. The end result is what matters. But perhaps it wouldn't hurt us to look back into our distant past, before Rome institutionalized Christianity and turned it into a dominating, crusading, controlling tool of power. A time before the kind of nationalism we know today, where people who often have little in common and thrown together and given a name based on some artificial political border. 

A time, perhaps, like the age of the pagan tribes. 

If Germanic paganism teaches us anything, it's the power of living by values that uphold families and towns and all things local -- living in a way that teaches people that things like honor, bravery, hospitality, and perseverance are worth shaping your life around, with all that entails for looking after your local community and promoting what's best for them and for your own family. 

But what's the significance of the pagan part? Well, one thing Christianity has done is detached us from an intimate connection to the world we live in. Its God is distant, aloof, not here with his own creation, and the most important thing to so many believers is to go off and live with him in some distant heavenly realm -- ignoring the needs of this world in the process. In contrast, the pagan ways -- at least the reconstructionist paths in general, and the Germanic ones in particular -- don't spend so much time speculating on what may or may not lie beyond this existence. Our ancestors had to tend to their immediate needs to survive. They were a pragmatic people. And that shows in the way they thought of their gods. The deities were here, living on Earth with us, and as such people looked to them as intimate partners and fellow travelers who understood what it was like to live in this world, with all its daily trials and tribulations. With the help of the gods who understood, our ancestors would grit their teeth. push thought their challenges, and get things done. 

Just think about our pressing environmental concerns as one example. If you're so focused on going to heaven and you think everything's going to end in Armageddon anyway, why would you care about the fate of the planet? Likewise, how are global solutions ever going to fix problems at a local or regional level? You can't fix every problem with the same tool, especially if your tool is the heavy hand of external control. But if you create communities where people rely on the good health of the local air, water, and soil to feed their families and see their friends and neighbors thrive, you can create positive change from the bottom up -- all the more so if these local communities believe that to care for the earth is to care for the gods, including Mother Earth herself. 

There's a reason the hippies encouraged us all to think globally act locally. It all starts at the local level. That's the solution, not globalist control over everyone's lives, with 15-minute cities and all the rest. Those are ideas that come from people more interested in power over your life than they are with saving the planet. They'll demand we give up our way of life but most assuredly won't do the same. 

No. The solution is local, with all that entails -- including the ability to see divinity in the ground under our feet. If we're destined to be a tribal species, then we might as well do something practical and useful with that impulse. What better way than to lift up local neighborhoods and communities, with your gods and goddesses by your side, honoring our Mother Earth by honoring those who gave it to us and want us to protect it?

Bring back nature. Bring back family and community and sustainable values. 

Bring back the pagans.  

Next time, my final thoughts.

[WC: 2,577 / TWC: 49,261]

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