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Getting Started Again

This is very like starting a new blog. I am coming back to this changed and changing, with a much clearer sense of my personal, communal, and political commitments. Looking back over these archives, I notice my too-great intellectual proximity to discourse communities marked by their active self-isolation from the vibrant global cultural diversity that characterizes this and almost every moment in recent centuries. I have regularly mistaken these communities’ love of exoticism for genuine cultural interest and modulated myself to be in dialogue with them. Push comes to shove, though, what most of these communities seem to value most is a capacity to interact with other cultures as a free consumer, a relationship that doesn’t make them more than superficially responsible for the shape their interactions with other peoples and their cultures take.

I see it most clearly around my interactions with neopaganism broadly construed, so let me look at it as an exemplary case of my failing. For a while, I kind of thought there might be some sort of place for me under that umbrella. Or, at the very least, a shelter that I could take there. I was very wrong in that hope. Whether I fall into responding to its stodgy margins, like John Michael Greer’s collapse crowd, its juicy California cosmology core, or its alternately reactionary and revolutionary frontiers of polytheists, grimoire aficionados, diabolists, Catholic witches and magicians, and new wave technoccultists (the broad Runesoup to Scarlet Imprint crowd), I find myself entangled, again and again, with the same dangerously narrow and white horizons.

I know plenty of these communities go to great pains to distinguish themselves from neopaganism, but, really? At the end of the day, it’s all bound up with a longing for an era (that never was) when you could keep everyone nice and separate, every person and race in its place, and while much of the discourse supports the idea of a multicultural buffet table, it’s always arranged so that nothing has to touch anything else or where the wrong people are making the calls about what should touch and what shouldn’t.

I should be clear: some individuals in these communities are savvy and aware, politically and communally active working outside the bounds of whiteness and empire in ways that I respect and outpace anything I am capable of. If you are one of those people and these neopagan worlds are where you need to be for one reason or another? Without irony, you do you; you’re probably more awesome than me anyway. If you just think I’m wrong? That’s cool, but I don’t actually care to talk about it. I’m kind of over it, you know? You do you; I’m not coming over there to take anything away from you, so don’t worry. I think a lot of you are delightful and decent and worthy people, and I still want to have you in my life if you’ll have me; & you don’t have to have me & I don’t have to have you (consent and mutualism, see?).

I just don’t find the *discourses* that neopagan communities generate at all helpful or useful at this point in my life. Where they shows up, they tend to impede rather support the great project of human well-being as I understand it; they definitely impede my well-being and flourishing. Some people seem to be better at engaging in communities without getting entangled in some of the discourses that circulate within them; I am not one of those people. It most definitely has not helped me, who honestly can’t take a deep and refreshing breath if there isn’t a hefty dose of Afrodiasporic thought in the mix (& I mean in the mix, not just at a side table for a little spice, & I mean thought, not jammed into a religious straitjacket).

All these folks waxing nostalgic about a time when that diasporic influence was concealed and reviled? I don’t want to be mean, folks, but it makes me sick to my heart, especially where that expresses itself in soft-focus, vaselined lens platitudes about different ancestry and bloodlines, about how not engaging with African things is really respecting them. Trying to adjust myself to those discussions fundamentally warps my sense of an absolutely vital dimension of human experience; it is a mistake I am tired of repeating and participating in.

What even? The United States is built on the exploitation of black people as physical, creative, and intellectual beings. And yet, when I want to talk about my debts to the Bantu or the Ashanti or Yoruba or etc., etc., I get nonsense like “but those aren’t my people”? Damn right they aren’t, but “your people” (and many of *my* people) have been living off them like they were for a long, long time. I am also tired of encountering people for whom the concept of owing other peoples anything is so alien that the only way they can conceive of cultural connection is in terms of entitlement, racing straightaway to spin a debt toward other peoples into an especial entitlement to their lifeways.

(And it isn’t just Afrodiasporic thought, okay? That is just the point where I have hit my wall. The way in which Chinese and Indian and all manner of indigeneity &&& are subject to this nonsense is not lost on me.)

If you’re white and want to sidestep that by saying you’re European or what have you? Sure, Europeans have no connection to white empire. Yup, sorry, my bad. Carry on in your perfected little world over there. When folks start talking about heading for the hills to prepare themselves and their communities either to waste away or to be the saviors of our coming post-apocalyptic wasteland, the careful smart ones who preserve the essence of Western whatever-the-fuck-it-is in order to finally be the great men they have always read about in books? Sure, great, the rest of us will just be struggling along until you get bored waiting for our inevitable misery and death. Thanks, your concern is noted.

From here on out, my goal is just to roll my eyes as hard as I can and make for the door whenever these conversations come up. Life is too short. I want to stop imposing too-narrow intellectual horizons on myself by thinking that what I care most about is “religion” and “spirituality” when both of those things have too often shrunk and stunted me. My day-to-day life is inseparable from practices that many folks would call religious and spiritual, even magical, but I’m not sure I want to lay claim to any of those terms anymore. Whoever wants those terms can have them, but I may be leaving those behind with my thoughts and prayers.

I’m not even sure what to do with philosophy at this point, because I love what I take to be the heart of philosophical discourse (the earnest seeking after principles and concepts that can further human flourishing) but despair at its narrowness as an academic discipline and its shallowness as a popular term. If we can’t easily believe that it is absolutely necessary for (European) philosophy to dialogue with the principled thought of non-Europeans the world over, what is the point of even bothering? How can we pretend that philosophy is anything more than European self-interest raised up and clarified, turned into knives to keep the other peoples out? There was this moment in the crucible of structuralism, modernism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism when it seemed that this would change, that the gates would open and meaningful exchange transpire, but that drowned under a wave of what-is-philosophy-even navel gazing and reactionary we-are-heirs-of-Plato nonsense. Athens was not, in fact, born fully formed from the brow of the Almighty, folks, despite the propaganda.

(And don’t get me started on the all-truth-is-the-same-truth crowd. I’ll grant that to people who aren’t trying to dive deeply, because there is a truth to that at that level, but if you want to call yourself a philosopher, a lover of wisdom? Not good enough.)

The next big thing I want to talk about here is the structure of whiteness and androcentrism, its roots and modern expressions as best I can make sense of them. I want to talk about that in order to make clear how constructed, how regulated it is, and how so many of our ideas about all that which falls outside it are still being manipulated by it. I don’t know if I will say anything new, but I want to say it for myself at least, because it provides me with some orientation and clarity.

That isn’t all I want to talk about, though, okay? I want to talk a little about transitioning, about my gender identity, about the kind of gender nonconforming futures I dream about. I want to talk about art and pop culture, heck maybe even comics and gaming again. I want to do some silly and whimsical things, too. But I want to do them all while working to get on the other side of whiteness, I want to commit everything that I am doing to a world that isn’t so shitty with whiteness and man-ism. I say “commit” here in the sense of commit to posterity sense, in the sense that I want to entrust what I do that other world, not necessarily in some activist sense (no criticism of activism intended). I don’t think I have a particularly great role to play in the undoing of this mess, but I don’t want to be holding it up; I want what I do to hold up something else up.

(I get I’ll have to compromise to live, I’m good at that part, okay? What I need to do, though, is firm up my spine so I know the places where I can no longer compromise.)


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