The puns in the title? Every one of them was intended.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, before I go any further; I have no tolerance for racist agendas. My grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II and my grandmother and great-grandmother both kept households free of racially motivated hatred or, indeed, hatred of any kind. Considering that they came from coal miner country and survived their during the great depression, that is a bit of an achievement. My father didn’t have the luck of being born into as tolerant of a house hold as my mother, but his perceptions on such issues ended up much the same due to the twists and turns his own life took.
The summary of this is that tolerance is, for me, a family tradition. It is one that I follow with pride, and that is not going to change. Anyone worried I was about to dabble in apologetics for racism can stand down.
The thing is that everyone has a motivation. As much as I dislike the extreme ideology and conspiracy theories that have formed within the minds of our bigoted splinter sects, I can’t pretend that they formed like this without a catalyst. No one is a Captain Planet villain in real life, with people having reasons for their virtues and vices. We can’t fix what we don’t understand, and I’m certain that just hatred towards bigots isn’t going to solve anything . The search was difficult, and took some time…but I think I found a piece of the answer.
I did not grow up with a cultural or religious identity. I knew I had strong amounts of European German and Amish background, and it was made clear that there was a goodly amount of Polish, Irish, and English as well. That information, simply put, had little to no relevance in my day to day life. My family was not greatly connected to their heritage, and didn’t seem to make a big deal out of it. My parents seemed to want to allow me to make my own choices when it came to religion, in spite of (or perhaps because of) having been both raised Catholic. As such, most of feelings on culture and faith are the ones that grew more or less naturally. In these matters, I was about as close to tablua rasa as one could hope for.
My fringe position gave me a pretty unique perspective, one that I still cherish. While I did feel a sort of void for the lack of having any sort of cultural connection, my parents never strongly stressed it so it wasn’t much of a conscious worry. When gamer/geek/internet culture started to take shape, I was in the perfect position to absorb in the amorphous mass that were on-line forums, YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook. I found my sense of identity there. I also grew up never really wanting for my basic needs, my parents were almost always employed, and they raised me stressing an appreciation for differences as opposed obsessing over the uncanny details.
What if any of those things had been missing, I wonder. What if I had grown up in a rougher sort of town, where cultural simularties were stressed as being one of the most important part of making friends? What if I was a second generation immigrant, or a child of a visually obvious inter-racial marriage? What if I hadn’t been on the fringe, capable of seeing how every culture had different ways of being absolute assholes? To be plain about it, what if I hadn’t been lucky enough to make it into a minority where those deficiencies I had never made a notable impact upon my life?
Growing up, I couldn’t understand what sort of wounds those things would cause because I was never exposed to them. What if I had been, and what would I have done to solve any of those problems, filled in any of those holes, or to repair the damage that was caused? More importantly, who would I end up blaming for those problems, holes, and damage? I suspect that I would blame those around me who were blessed with a strong sense of ethnic identity. I have this idea that the first target of my anger and pain would be the people born into the very thing I would have been denied; a strong, cultural, identity.
Strange as it may sound, I was blessed in how I came to Heathenry. By the time I found it, I had found a sub-culture that embraced many of my ideals and philosophies. When it came to exploring my ancestors and heritage, I was able to do so with a balanced approach. I was not desperately looking to fill a void within myself; I came searching for knowledge, faith, and understanding for their own sakes. When I read the Havamal or any other piece of the lore, I read them for what they are and nothing more. I did not and do not have a need to make them into anything that serves some greater purpose; why would I need to?
Before, I though of people who needed to insert their own agenda in very hateful and angry terms. I’m still hideously offended, but my offense is now tempered with pity and remorse. What sort of level do you need to sink to where this becomes your modus operandi? I can’t even conceive of how much inner shame and self loathing one would need to be fueled by in order for the wholesale destruction for an opposing culture to become desirable. Hell, how do you even view another culture as “opposing” in the first damned place?!
Imagine you were an artist, and your inadequacy and self-hatred were so great that you would destroy the work of another to mitigate you own shame. Imagine you were a soldier to whom the thought of peace was so frightening, that you created enemies in order to preserve your own relevance. This is the sickness that pervades what many have called the worst of us.
I’ve come to realize that their population is writing the saddest and sorriest saga that I am capable of imagining. I used to hate them. I don’t have the stomach for that anymore, because hating a person is a fool’s game. I can hate their ideology and their message, but hating them is only further their message and stifling mine.