Thursday, August 25, 2016

Deities and Demagogues: for Rhyd Wildemuth

For those who missed it: soon after the Polytheist Revival began it was rocked by controversy. The latest tiff pits Gods & Radicals, an anti-Capitalist collective of Pagans and polytheists, against a loose conglomeration of "devotional Polytheists." The battle began with a piece written by G&R leader Rhyd Wildemuth entitled "Confronting the New Right." In that essay Wildemuth warned of a sinister "crypto-fascist" philosophy worming its way into American Neopaganism and Polytheism. By appealing to dangerous ideas like "Our Sacred Traditions" and whipping up fear of "Our Great Threat," these Nazis in Heathen garb were trying to take over OUR drum circles and spread their hateful racist ideology under the guise of spirituality.  

(The fact that Rhyd's "New Right" infiltrators looked uncommonly like those Radical Moozlim Terrorists bigots see lurking in every mosque was lost on him: so too was the fact that he himself was pushing an ideology under guise of spirituality.  This is a recurring theme, as we will see in a few paragraphs).

Among the groups targeted for scrutiny was Druidry. Rhyd worried about the way "Traditionalist and tribalist" ideas were promoted by smaller groups like the ADF and AODA. He was especially concerned with the fact that "the ideas of Oswald Spengler (a favorite amongst many New Right theorists) have gained popularity through some 'Long Descent' druids."  John Michael Greer, head of the American Order of Druids in America and a noted peak oil expert who has talked at length about our civilization's upcoming "long descent," responded to Wildemuth's concerns in a post entitled "A Wind That Tastes of Ashes."

Greer's response is lengthy, pointed and well worth a read. It is telling that in his response Rhyd quoted a few lines from the post but did not provide a link thereto.  Perhaps he was uncomfortable responding to analyses like these:
Beyond the amusement value, though, there’s much to be learned from Wildermuth’s tirade. It really is a fine piece of demagogy. Note how he wields the classic tropes of threat by subversion, painting the New Right as a malevolent influence worming its way into the heart of Paganism rather than, say, noticing that Pagans embrace as many different political options as they do spiritual ones, and leaving it at that. Pagan traditions, he claims, can be infected with New Right ideas even without knowing it—a claim that makes it easy for him to find those ideas anywhere he chooses, and just as easy to dismiss out of hand any disagreement with his accusations. Note also the way that he glides smoothly from “New Right ideas” to “New Right aligned Pagans,” who are “hiding their political goals behind claims that they’re ‘apolitical’.” It’s the logic of Stalin’s show trials and the witch burnings: deny that you’re influenced by the New Right and that just proves that you must be hiding your real agenda.
Rhyd acknowledges that he is "of course, a Marxist. And an Anarchist, a Feminist, a Pagan, and a Polytheist." He acknowledges suggesting we challenge the traditional roles of Pagan elders and leaders. But then he explains his true motivation.  He's just here because of racist Facebook postings from dangerous bigots like the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Apparently the Asatru Folk Assembly does not recognize transwomen and transmen and is gender essentialist.  While this may be offensive to modern sensibilities their position has some historical precedent: ergi ("unmanly") was a grievous insult in Norse culture and violation of gender roles was strongly frowned upon.  They honor the Gods and Goddesses of Northern Europe -- and the people who honored those Deities would today be classified as "White." And I have no problem with honoring beautiful White children, seeing as how I'm the father of a beautiful White preschooler.  (Given that almost every Black American has some Northern European ancestry, I must admit I am curious as to how the AFA feels about the "one drop" rule).

Nowhere in this post does Matt Flavel call out for violence against transgender people or "mud races." He simply states his opinion as current head gothi in charge at the AFA and uses the word "white" to describe the AFA's membership.  For Rhyd that is all we need: their tainted ideology is enough to condemn them.  Given that G&R members like Alley Valkyrie have advocated violence against those who use "violent rhetoric," we can see just how far G&R is willing to go to protect us from those who would celebrate gender essentialism and "beautiful white children."  And how can we blame them? After all, Flavel is claiming to speak for the Gods and, as Rhyd reminds us, "If the gods declared it, then any person faithful to the gods must accept this, lest they go against their will."

Except that Matt Flavel didn't say "the Gods declare it."  Flavel said "The AFA... [believes]."  If you disagree with his ideas you're free to choose from many other Heathen organizations.  Once again we see that sleight-of-hand John Michael Greer pointed out.  We started out with a picture of a smiling White family and within a few sentences we've got brainwashed Heathen Nazis ready to fire up the ovens for Odin.  And of course the only cure is to question the Gods and challenge authority.

Except that pretty much every devotional Polytheist I know does just that. Rhyd warns and warns about the dangers of cultist Polytheist leaders using the Gods to exploit their congregation, yet somehow he can never find an example of leaders doing that.  Like a Republican congressman who wants to fight "voter fraud" by disenfranchising minorities Rhyd is long on "could happen" and short on "is happening." Tradition gets a vote, not a veto: veneration of the Gods need not lead to brainwashing.  (Rhyd may want to look up the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle sometime).

The Asatru Folk Assembly is a private organization. I would not join for many reasons, not least of which their refusal to blot Loki. I disagree with gender essentialism, although I also disagree with the ideas that gender is entirely up to the individual and that "TERFs" (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists) should be greeted with threats of rape and violence.  And insofar as they present White Americans as somehow superior to others rather than as one of the cultural groups making up contemporary America, or advocate violence against non-Whites, I reject their ideology.   (I should note that I have to date seen precisely zero evidence that the AFA is violent or that they advocate White supremacy).  But I also acknowledge their right to run their own organization on their own dime and to set whatever membership standards they see fit.

Polytheism by its very definition will never be a monolithic and unified theology.  When you have many Gods, you have many ways of serving the Gods. There is also room for disagreement, even for heated argument.  If you dislike the AFA's theology you avoid their rituals, or you write an essay explaining your issues and justifying your approach.  The idea that they must somehow be brought over to a particular way of thinking or shunned as dangerous enemies is a Monotheist one -- particularly when we start shunning for thought crimes.  And Marxism (one of the two dueling theoeconomic systems ruling our world today) is an utterly Monotheistic and Manichean tradition which places History in the role once held by God and which envisions an inevitable Triumph of the Proletariat and eradication of the evil Capitalism.

Rhyd notes "There has been no great ‘witch-hunt’ against fascist and authoritarian Polytheists by leftist neopagans. No leaders were strung up by the readers of Gods & Radicals, violently purged and shoved into ghettos or camps." It's a deflection which elides the Soviet Gulag, the Khmer Rouge killing fields, Maoist re-education camps, etc.  It's also a clever redefinition of the term "witch hunt." G&R is not advocating violence against ideological foes -- at least not yet -- but they are recommending those foes be purged from Paganism's "big tent" and shunned for their failures to adhere to G&R's leftist/Marxist/anti-Capitalist standards of conduct.

On his personal blog Rhyd goes on to further expose the rot within our community.  He specifically calls out Dorothy Morrison for a quote about "welfare queens" which he does not substantiate and notes that Luisa Teish's gender essentialism is identical to that practiced by the Asatru Folk Assembly.  (Because there's nothing offensive about linking an African-American elder to a purportedly White Supremacist organization).  We see all the threats of subversion John Michael Greer pointed out, combined with the tender assurances that this isn't about me, this is about protecting our community.  Marxists are rarely good at irony or at self-analysis, and that trend isn't broken here.