The Illogic of Straight Lines and asking hard questions

After a lot of consideration and discussion with Anne Newkirk Niven, who edits Witches & Pagans magazine and oversees the Pagan Square collection of blogs, I’ve decided to refocus my blog there to be more of a Pagan Studies endeavor. The first post from my newly renamed Refractions is about the illogic of straight lines, where I start with the observation that the programming of my GPS is stubbornly committed to the idea that a straight street, with lots of traffic lights, will be faster than a meandering parkway with no obstructions. Taking this as a spark of illumination for refraction through the academic lens of closed vs. green worlds, I argue:

One of the great gifts Paganism has to offer the world is the restoring the value, in our own minds and hearts, of green space. Not just physical green space, but this kind of metaphysical green space, a green world, which we desperately need. Taken to extremes, many forms of rationality will turn inwards on themselves until they become self-defeating and even self-destructive, threatening the very safety of the creators ensconced inside the structures they thought would protect them from uncertainty. Sealing ourselves away intellectually is inherently dangerous; we have to live with some openings, and we have to go back to the boundaries to refresh ourselves with the green world.

I wrote this post as a totally apolitical statement. In fact, my move to Pagan Studies was motivated in part to get away from mixing politics and Paganism in certain ways. But rereading this, and especially reading Hecate about how the truth will out, (go do that – I’ll wait), it sounds political. In the wake of Tuesday’s election we’re being reminded that wishful thinking is not reality, flapping your arms does not make you fly, and math is the best way to count things. We’re seeing that being sealed inside an intellectual bubble away from those realities is unhealthy, futile, and dangerous.

I want to repeat Hecate’s call for Pagans and Pagan organizations to take this to heart, and not just in the sense of criticizing others. I was recently at a gathering where the ritual role of Dragons in the Reclaiming tradition was brought up, and one of the things that was discussed was the way Dragon work can be about asking the hard questions: do we have the people, do we have the resources, and are we using them in the best possible ways? Sometimes just asking those questions is enough to make one unpopular, and answering them with a firm “no” can be enough to get one ostracized.

Of course, this can be a lot less of a problem for Pagan organizations where perhaps the worst possible outcome is that an endeavor fails, than it is for the Republican party who are threatened by their own looming irrelevance, or than it would have been for us as a country if we had swallowed Republican falsehoods and cleared the way for rape-excusing, gay-hating politicians to make more oppressive laws. But it’s still a problem. And in this season of introspection between Samhain and Yule, I suggest that we put this twist on our usual examination of what we need to release. Ask the hard questions; try to be objective; get an outside opinion. What truly isn’t working, and what are you being unrealistic about?

Change over time

One of the things I’ve struggled with is how much I’ve changed over time.

In our political conversations, one of the most obvious examples of how our discourse in this country is biased towards the conservative is the ridicule and scorn a politician will encounter for changing her mind. Now, there are some good reasons for this; voters want a person to be predictable, so they can tell what it is they’re voting for ahead of time. But our discourse tends to carry this to extremes and have a fetish for consistency. We imply or simply state that someone who has taken a complex, nuanced, or context-dependent stance is unreliable, or “doesn’t really believe in anything.”

On the other hand, politicians sometimes have to “walk back” an incendiary comment rather than “doubling down” – notice that we have specialized language for this! When they do a walk back, it can be seen by more ideological members of their base as weak, but on the whole, I’m glad that we have some limits to our discourse. It shouldn’t be okay to say hateful things, especially for people making public policy. Obviously, in some situations, change is necessary.

My inner skeptic – in this case, acting as my inner annoyance – loves to suggest that I’m just a stereotype, I’m “just” rebelling against the way I was raised, or whatever. Most annoying is when it suggests to me that because I’ve gone through major changes in my life, including a change of religion and tremendous ideological shifts away from the way I was raised, I can’t be authentically anything. If I’ve changed once, maybe I’ll change again; maybe in twenty years I’ll be the stereotype of a Fox-watching red-blooded Amurkan who wants to shoot all those crazy librul types like who I am right now.

Okay, so that’s theoretically a possibility. I’m not willing to cut myself off from that because being unable to change means being unable to grow, to learn from one’s experiences and evolve in response to them. (Fred Clark at Slacktivist has described this closing-off of possibilities and the resultant personal atrophy quite well, but I can’t find a link at the moment. Anyone know where that went?)

And there are good reasons that people in their teens and twenties can go through major personal revolutions – they’re in the process of becoming independent adults. For some of us who came to Paganism during this part of our lives, myself included, that journey was a long one and included leaving a toxic religious environment. Dealing with that necessitates a lot of change.

Finally I looked back at the things that happened in my life before, during, and after some of these major changes. I realized that anyone who had been through what I’d been through and hadn’t changed as a result would probably have something wrong with her. Faced with the challenges I’ve been through, it’s been the right and natural response for me to learn, change, and grow.

So I’ve made peace with how I’ve changed over time. How do you understand your own changes?