EDIT (March 17th, 2016): A comment on Facebook pointed out that I didn’t link to John Beckett’s statement, so allow me to do so now for purposes of clarity and convenience. Within Beckett’s work one can find links to Smith’s commentary on the Freikorp debacle, as well as Abell’s retort concerning it. All three posts are on Patheos, and one could probably find more responses and reactions there. For those who are super interested in all aspects of this, here is a link to the dude (Josh White) who first raised the objection over the Freikorp issue. Between his articles (as well as my own reaction to the problem), one should be able to put together a timeline for the entire issue and form an opinion upon it as they see fit.
When The Lettuce Man from “Of Axe and Plough”* put forth a response post to John Beckett’s declaration that Steven Abell didn’t need a voice on Patheos, I was pretty happy about it. Not because I agreed with Mr. Lettuce (?) completely or because I have some grudge against Beckett; truth is that I don’t have any strong opinions about Beckett and there was just as much for me to disagree with as there for me to agree with.
That was still great in my book, because even where I disagree with him I felt that he was honest, reasonable, and kept the discourse fairly open. Nothing was blatantly misrepresented to serve a pet philosophy or opinion. What was there felt like his opinion as it stood, without a bunch of rhetorical palisades constructed to offer a defense from the arrows of criticism. It wasn’t always nice, but it had integrity and that’s the king of discourse I really want to see more of.
In my opinion, Heathen perspectives have become dangerously linear in some of the worst ways. What I feel we need is to develop discussions, arguments, and perspective…not line them up on the Olympian stand and choose which ones walk away with the Bronze, Silver, and Gold. I think plenty of you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about, and the sort of poison they can concoct.
Originally, I was going to respond to the entire piece as a whole, but I realized that most of the things I wanted to say were pretty minor; quibbles that were little more then minor differences of opinion really. I was, however, left with one dangling issue that was not minor.
Let me quote his post, for the purpose of clarity and expedience.
Characterizing wide swaths of Heathens as racist or as racist-enablers is doing one thing: driving the moderate ones away from your viewpoint. Nobody is going to change the mind of people like Stephen McNallen or Ryan Smith. They are zealots to their belief systems. The minds which need to be reached are the people in between the two camps. There are non-racist Folkish Heathens who feel personally attacked when people claim Folkish Heathenry is nothing but a smoke screen for racism. There are members of the Troth who want a middle-ground and a moderate way of doing things, but will dig in when unwarranted views and accusations are levied against their entire organization. These people will square their shoulders, lower their heads, and they will not move from their belief.
There will be no progress. It is easier to be an ideological demagogue than it is to be a moderate mediator. It is easier to remain an outsider and pass judgment on a group embroiled in a fight that has defined much of the foundation of modern Heathenry. But it does not do anyone any good.
I’ve heard concerns about the “moderate” and the “undecided” raised for quite some time. Truth be told, I used to be one who raised those concerns myself; I used to think and speak to a perspective that said there had to be some moderation in tone, or you’re throwing these people out.
Let me tell you, I’ve found myself to be wrong. There are practically no moderates out there, and the ones that exist are almost exclusively sheltered newbies. For the most part, those we call “the undecided” have made a choice; they don’t want to choose, and you can’t make them.
They want to be oblivious to racism, even when it occurs within their own social circles. They want to be free of the social obligations that would come with facing the problem head on, because they do not want to deal with the problem. It’s not that they live in a world where they have no perspective with how race intersects; when faced with that knowledge, they turn away…because that is what they want to do. It doesn’t effect them, so they choose to abstain from having a more meaningful opinion.
That’s not moderation, and it’s not a state of being unable to choose; it’s not wanting to choose, and the difference is profound..
It’s not like there aren’t example of this everywhere. I mean, we’ve all seen this in the broader strokes of popular culture; Black men and women have been harassed, attacked, and/or killed without provocation by law enforcement professionals. As soon as the accusation is rendered, a police story comes forth that paints it as self-defense or somehow justified. Within a few days, however, objective evidence throws the police version of the story out the window to such a degree that suspecting an outright lie is not unwarranted. A very reasonable and logical objection can be made…and even then there are people who just won’t talk about it honestly or openly. They’ll avoid doing so at all cost, because they don’t have any curiosity about what lies in the metaphorical Pandora’s Box. They want a predictable, unchallenged, undemanding status quo.
Now, Heathens might have a different reason for adopting such an apathetic stance; the one I see come up most often is some appeal to respecting people’s privacy and not meddling. I don’t buy that; we have Gods who demand courage and justice far more than we have powers that demand stagnation or ignorance.
While I am critical of this perspective, I’m also not going to demonize these people because I will say that doing so is counter-productive; on that, Mr. Lettuce, we agree. I know some Heathens like this and they are, otherwise, good people. People who have been some of my most loyal, stalwart, and helpful friends. Some of the people for whom this description is apt have had their own traumas, circumstances, and situations which have led them to this perspective and why they are unwilling to leave their perspective.
However, while I’m not going to paint them as willful and hateful co-conspirators to the various racist nonsense that goes unhindered in many Heathen circles, I’m also not going to pretend that they’re just unwittingly ignorant either. Anyone who wants to call those people out for passively enabling racist perspectives via their own apathy has perfectly solid, logical ground to render that accusation from. This doesn’t paint them as some Nazi Monster or a KKK-thug…but it makes them akin to the thousands of people who watched Nazis or Klansmen run through their towns without being held accountable for their crimes. Not a crime in of itself, but it’s a huge problem…and one that’s pretty disgusting on a lot of parallels.
Yeah, you don’t have to be racist to be Folkish…but how many groups of Folkists do you think are out there that put up with racists because, well, “we don’t want to cause problems, and he doesn’t threaten us with violence”? How many groups of non-racists Folkists are out there who are going to be more willing to be respectful of controversial racist perspectives then they will be of controversial non-racist perspectives? These are troubling questions, and they’re one that have been long overdue.
There hasn’t been a sensible excuse to be Heathen and ignorant of the racism which surrounds us for a good, long while. The worst statements of McNallen are easily found, with many Google searches turning up articles that not only list the statements he made but provide you the source where they got it from. There are people with current and active connections within the AFA and with pro-Racism Heathen organizations**. There are no shortage of bigoted authors spouting blood and soil rhetoric that depends on bad, debunked scholarship when it depends on scholarship at all. That’s not even going into the groups like Odinic Rite, The Wolves of Vinland, or the Irminfolk…who outright put their racists stances on their sleeves.
It is not reasonable to be in the dark, in this day and age, unless you have been without an internet connection for the last ten years. We have Heathens who celebrate the integrity, resilience, and forthrightness of Thor and Tyr, but hide behind socially acceptable accuses to not confront an obvious problem.
I do not think Mr. Lettuce is entirely wrong, mind you; it is, indeed, easier to be a demagogue then it is to be a moderator. The thing is, sometimes a moderator isn’t what you need. You can’t moderate a discussion between two groups of people when one of those groups is unwilling to consider the matter. You can, of course, bring the moderator to the confrontation…but what that person is going to be able to do when one “side” isn’t willing to actually discuss anything is minimal at absolute best.
Sometimes you need a moderator, and sometimes you need someone to be willing to get up on a soapbox and flyte some people. Sometimes you need to call nonsense out for what it is.
At one point he says “by shutting down and blatantly mischaracterizing, or misrepresenting either position, we’re disenfranchising the people who need to be reached in order to make progress”, and I can see why someone would feel that way; I mean, why WOULD you want to misrepresent someone’s position? Yet, I feel we need to ask the opposite question of “when have we given too many benefits of too many doubts?”. When has their been enough stuff in recent memory to admit and acknowledge that their is a problem that something needs to be done about? When is it okay to tell these faux-moderates “stop making excuses and do something!”.
That’s just when we consider these faux-moderates by themselves, too. What happens when take their purposeful isolation and compare it to the issues suffered by Persons of Color, those who are neurologically different, and/or GLBTQ+ persons within Heathen spaces. There are people who get harassed, insulted, bullied, mistreated, and outright threatened by certain entities and philosophies in our faith. I don’t feel it’s fair to take these maligned people and tell them “Hey, we’re sorry about what these people are doing to you…but we need to really be considerate about how we approach this topic, because they’re some people over here who don’t think it happened and we don’t want to make them feel unwelcome or maligned…you know…like you just did. And still do.”
I don’t give a damn about the moderates, faux or otherwise. At least in so far as their perspective is concerned. If they’re going to get up off their ass, and get with it? Great! However, I’m not wasting time of trying to explain to them that which is bloody obvious. I’ll engage them if they ask. I’ll explain and defend my own viewpoint as needed, and I’ll listen to theirs in turn if offered it. However, I’m not going to dumb down the problem so they don’t feel bad. I’m not going to pat them on the head and say “yeah, racism is complicated” and just pretend it’s okay that there willing to let people within our faith get terrorized because it would demand difficult things from them to acknowledge it.
Racism in Heathenry is a thing, and it’s a big thing. It is a thing that’s so big that I honestly don’t believe someone if they tell me they don’t know what I’m talking about…because if they’re not lying to me, than they are lying to themselves. I’m not going to go out of my way to come down on them, but I’m also not going out of my way to excuse them either. I’m not going to pretend that people sitting around, not doing anything because they don’t want to cause a problem or get involved over this nonsense is just something done out of ignorance. It’s a choice, and it’s a bad one, and it’s one that no one forced them to make. It’s also one they can choose to change at any time.
And if they don’t choose to change it? That’s still a choice.
With all that being said, I need to quote Mr. Lettuce again because he put something into words that resonates quite strongly with me….and could most likely apply to just about every opinion I’ve expressed over the last few years.
Is this an unpopular opinion? Yes, it is. It isn’t a quick fix for today’s instant-gratification seekers. It necessitates hard work, and blood, sweat, and tears. It’s not a fix that can be made in a month, a year, or even a decade. It may not even be one which can be made in a generation. But it’s the realistic position. Heathenry is a religion based around right action, not right belief. So we all need to go and do in order to see the Heathenry that we wish to realize come to pass.
While I would have quibbles that right actions cannot occur with right belief, that’s a pedantic philosophical question for another time…and the rest of it is perfectly on point, and it’s the core of why I appreciated the post so much. It was an admission that things are not what they should be and that to make them what they should be is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.
I don’t know if you agree with my perspective, Mr. Lettuce. You probably don’t, and that’s alright. It’s alright because we’re both in it for the long haul…and that is, at the end of the day, what counts the most.
*Note to self: ask him where he got that name. Probably an interesting story
**A few people have been going around saying that a few sentences about racists not being welcome in the AFA (on their website) means the AFA isn’t racist. Many chapters of the KKK say the same stuff. HUAR, as it stands today, says it stands for inclusion but it kicked out almost all of the GLBTQ+ members of it’s admins. Deeds count more then words.