Note: A lot of what I’m about to say was said better by one Robert “Movie Bob” Chipman back in November of 2014. You can find his video, “Don’t Censor Me!” over at YouTube. I highly recommend it, even though the content was created with gamer/geek culture in mind rather than the Pagan and Polytheistic spectrum. Watch it or ignore it at your own leisure, but it is worth noting that he makes some points that aren’t relevant here, but are certainly part of a larger discussion.
The dialogues being had within certain Pagan and Heathen circles* have been charged lately (which is to say more charged than normal) and a good chunk of the critical dialogue has surrounded concerns of censorship. While this is always an undercurrent to any conversation that contains criticism of any sort, it seemed to get a lot more leverage then usual after a bit of a debacle on Patheos.
The quick recap versions is that, in the fallout after McNallen’s infamous Freikorp statement, Steven Abell posted a reaction to the outrage entitled “Yes, Enough“. He called out one of McNallen’s detractors in particular, (one with the title “Enough is Enough“) calling that personal an irrational extremest. By contrast, he claimed McNallen was a reasonable man who was constructive and able to work towards a common cause in spite of disagreements. Now, considering that McNallen had just asked for a freelance Nazi role call, the idea that he was “reasonable” in any capacity was outright rejected by many. A goodly number of these people called for Patheos to drop Abell and refuse to host his work in any capacity. Others bristled at the idea of this, and called it as “censorship”. Ever since this point, it feels, the conversation has been more charged and concerns of censorship are more frequently expressed.
Maybe I have a flawed perceptions or a timeline crafted in error, but that is certainly what things feel like at present.
In either case, the problem is that what we’re talking about is not censorship. Not meaningfully anyway. It will meet the technical, word for word definition of censorship…but so does a mother telling their 7 year old child that they can’t watch hardcore pornography. Censorship, as we talk about it today, usually constitutes government agencies attempting to strip someone’s free speech protections due to personal disagreements. Alternatively, it can talk about a person or group of people attempting to systematically remove a person’s means of expressions along every conceivable vector, such as how political parties in the US sometimes go to great lengths to discredit and disenfranchise their critics. Even then, though, the “end game” is taking a philosophy of suppression and crafting it into the law of the land.
So when a vocal group of Patheos’ readership advocated that the website drop Abell because it was suggested that Patheos shouldn’t be broadcasting someone’s half-cocked defense for some racist drivel? That’s not censorship in any practical or meaningful way. As a matter of fact, trying to restrict someone’s ability to advocate for a third party to drop someone they find disagreeable is a form of censorship in of itself; it’s telling someone where and how they can protest that which they find objectionable. Disallowing Patheos to “censor” Abell would be demanding that whomever owns Patheos not do what they want with their own website and servers.
In short, Abell didn’t face censorship; he faced consequence. He faced the reactions of others regarding his words, and to suggest that he shouldn’t have to is ridiculous. He faced criticism for trying to redirect hostility and outrage away from a man who has crafted much of the platform that racists and bigots within Heathenry use to codify and defend their stances**. This is what you risk by putting up an opinion, any opinion, in a public forum and asking people to listen to it. That’s how things work, and if you want the free speech to express your opinion, then you need to allow others the free speech to tell you exactly how bloody stupid they think you are.
If Abell responds to this blog post, or any blog post I write, and says that I am an asshole whom no one should listen to and WordPress.com should stop carrying such drivel? That’s not censorship; oh, it’d annoy me and I’d respond…but I wouldn’t call his suggestion censorship because that’s not what it is. In the same way, if Patheos chose to ignore those who called for banning Abell? That also wouldn’t be censorship; that would be Patheos making a choice. Their choice.
Longtime readers will know that I used to do work with Ryan Smith, a controversial social justice advocate within Heathen circles. Particularly astute longtime readers will know that I do not work with Ryan Smith anymore, will never work with him again, and regard him as nothing more then a hyperbolic demagogue with a martyr complex who just happens to often be pointed at people whom I dislike more than I dislike him. Suppose that, prior to our falling out, Smith and I had collaborated on a written project that I had published on this blog. Suppose also that, after our falling out, I took that content down. Or that I removed his comments, or links to his content.
Would that be censorship? Of course not! It’s my blog, and I don’t owe Smith a damn thing. The opposite is also true. If a radical Christian supremacist comes here and comments that I deserve to burn in Hell, me deleting that comment isn’t censorship either. It’s my blog, and I’ll post upon it what I’d like. I’ll take down what I like. It’s my space, and anyone who insists they get to call the shots in regards to my own, original content is gravely mistaken.
Now, can people request I do otherwise? Of course. Do they have to be polite when they do so? Nope! The final arbiter of what happens in regard to that content, however, is me. That’s how free speech works.
Likewise, whomever Patheos does or does not give a soapbox to is their call.
Recently, a WordPress blog was created with a name of “Polytheist Uncucked”. For those not in the know, “cuck” has become a term used by bigots and those with fascist-leaning viewpoints to describe people who don’t actively oppose their viewpoints. The owner of the website in question has stepped forth to say that the name wasn’t intended to express solidarity with any of the aforementioned assholes, but rather to shock people into looking at Polytheism in a manner unburdened by lots of the baggage it gets from monotheistic ideals, politically correctness, and the superficial spirituality of many new age movement. Do I think this manner of expressing that idea is bloody fucking stupid***? Yup. Am I going to suggest that the website be taken down by WordPress because I think it’s a bloody stupid way to go about things? Nope.
If someone does suggest this, however, is it censorship? No…because EVERYONE gets to say what they want and gets to suggest what they want, and the people who actually own the platform get to decide what to do one war or the other. If they appealed to the government to make it a law that such content not be allowed to exist, okay…that’s censorship (or at least an attempt at it). If a group of people get together to oppose PU, but do so by spreading deliberate disinformation and misrepresentation about what it does or does not stand for, that’s a form of censorship. An honest reaction to their material as it stands, however? A group of people attempting to reject that narrative as a whole? That’s not censorship.
Paganism in general, and Heathenry in particular, has plenty of legitimate problems. Inter-community Censorship, however, isn’t one of them. We each get to embrace and reject what we choose, and we also get to embrace or rejects persons and organizations based on those choices.
Of course, you might disagree with that. If you do, that’s your call. If you disagree with it strongly enough, maybe you might feel the need to petition WordPress to remove my blog. I would rather you didn’t, of course….but if you did? And if you succeeded? You didn’t censor me, because no one owed me a platform.
Just like no one owes you one.
*By the way, representing Pagan and Heathen as wildly separate and incompatible terms is semantic nonsense…but that’s a completely different topic.
**Let’s not forget that time really did dignify Abell’s critics here; the true colors of the AFA have never been more apparent then they’ve been under Flavel. He has made it quite clear that the line about “racial not racist” is about as poignant and meaningful as Donald Trump’s assertions that he love Mexicans because he totally held a fork near a taco salad.
***To clarify, I think using blatantly problematic language for the sake of shock value alone is stupid, and I think the relentless complaining some people do over what social justice warriors do is pretty misguided. I think that this tactic is also going to mislead people, and one’s actual message is going to get lost in the hyperbolic nature of that tactic. By contrast, the idea that anything should be saddled with monotheistic perspective imprinted and shoehorned in by inquisitions and missionaries is pretty disgusting to me, and I can get behind anyone who wants to piss in that particular bowl of fruit loops.The title doesn’t feel like something that irreverently breaks down and eliminates preconceived notions in order to make us question the world, however; it feels like a title chosen to irritate and shock people, like a 12-year old who just discovered the word, “fuck”.