Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ayn Rand and Asatru

Available in German, translation by Erin Banks

As an American Asatruar I have met a lot of Heathens whose philosophy is strongly influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand. Rand, the founder of the Objectivist movement, railed against traditional morality and altruism arguing these ideas hold back human potential. The Heathens who cite Rand and Objectivism as influences argue the romanticizing of the rugged individual is a solid understanding of how the ancient Germanics saw the individual. They cite the sagas of heroes as proof. I think that is all based on a very narrow and selective reading of the lore. A more comprehensive understanding of the facts shows how thoroughly incompatible Rand's ideas are with the lore.

The best example of conflict comes from comparing the apocalyptic struggles in both works. In Rand's Atlas Shrugged we have Galt's Strike. Led by John Galt the strikers organize against being forced by law or guilt to give up any of the fruits of their labors. Strikers deliberately sabotage their businesses and sneak off with their most fabulous inventions. They work menial jobs to further deny “the looters” the fruits of their efforts and recruit others for the strike. When the strike collapses society they escape to the fantastic Galt's Gulch to ride out the end of the world in luxury free of the demands of “the looters.”

In stark contrast is the Norse Ragnarok. To prepare for the Final Battle Odin does everything He possibly can resorting to whatever means necessary to stave off the end. Thor regularly does battle with giants to keep them in check and out of Midgard. Valkyries prowl the battlefields of the world plucking up the most worthy to join the Einherjar and fight in Ragnarok. When battle comes the Gods lead the charge against the legions of Surtr in spite of certain and unquestionable doom.

The actions of the Gods and Galt's strikers are fundamentally in conflict with the other. Odin works to delay Ragnarok as much as possible while His son Thor risks life and limb keeping rampaging giants in check. Tyr, instead of cheating Fenris, upheld His oath knowing it would cost His hand. These deeds do not show the naked selfishness of Galt's Strike. If the Gods only cared for Their own skins They would seek a way to escape Their demise even if it meant the other worlds must burn. They would not seek risky battles that offer little gain. Instead the Gods fight to delay not just their end by the end of all the Nine Worlds. They march into battle against enemies of Asgard and Midgard rather than run and hide in an impregnable fortress while all the other worlds burn.

Galt's role in the crash widens the intellectual chasm. John Galt doesn't just build a life boat for the rich and talented, he actively works to bring society down. The strike was his idea and the aftermath the end goal. Instead of working to subvert or replace the corrupt system of the “looters” he chooses to burn it all down regardless of the consequences. The most he does to “help” the people condemned to die in the collapse is lecture the entire world by radio broadcast for three hours telling them why they deserve their fate.

The root of the conflict lies in the differing solutions to the question of suffering and its cause. Rand argues that suffering is caused by the unproductive members of society leeching off of the producers. She says the best solution is to break the bond and let the “looters” get what's coming to them. Suffering, in Rand's view, is bested by disengaging from its source and leaving it alone.

In the Germanic view such inaction is unacceptable. There is not a single example of a God or a hero defeating an adversary or besting a threat to their people by leaving it alone, ignoring it, or walking away from it. When facing danger the lesson of the sagas is clear: find the cause and fix the problem. Historical sources like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Jordanes, Saxo Grammaticus, and Sturluson affirm this attitude with a plethora of examples. Kings and warriors who beat their foes are praised while avoidance and denial are roundly denounced as cowardly.

Rand's ideas on individuality at first blush may look in tune with the Germanic perception of the individual. On closer examination this conflation encourages excessive emphasis on the self at the expense of others. Objectivist thought which argues self-interest rules all encourages one to disengage from threats to self or community. This is in direct conflict with the consistent theme in Germanic lore of confronting danger directly and decisively. The two are actively dissonant and argue for responses that are inherently opposed in reasoning and execution.

Ayn Rand und Asatrú

übersetzt von Erin Banks

Als amerikanischer Asatrur habe ich viele germanische Heiden kennengelernt, deren Philosophie stark von den Schriften Ayn Rands beeinflußt ist. Rand, die Gründerin der Objektivismus-Bewegung, wetterte gegen die traditionelle Moral und Altruismus, und argumentierte, daß diese Ideale das menschliche Potential einschränkten. Die Heiden, die Rand und den Objektivismus als Einflüsse anführen, sind der Auffassung, daß die Romantisierung des rauhen Individuums ein solides Verständnis davon bietet, wie die Germanen den Menschen sahen. Sie zitieren die Sagen Heldenepen als Beweis hierfür. Ich denke, daß all dies auf einer sehr engen und selektiven Sicht der überlieferten Weisheiten beruht. Ein weiteres Verständnis der Fakten zeigt wie grundsätzlich inkompatibel Rands Ideen mit genannten Überlieferungen sind. 
 
Das beste Beispiel für diese Diskrepanz findet sich, wenn man die apokalyptischen Kämpfe beider Werke vergleicht. In Rand’s „Atlas wirft die Welt ab“ (auch bekannt als „Wer ist John Galt?“, bzw. auf Englisch „Atlas Shrugged“) haben wir Galts Streich, bzw. Streik. Geführt von John Galt organisieren sich die Protestierenden dagegen, von Gesetz und Schuld dazu gezwungen zu werden, die Früchte ihrer Arbeit aufzugeben. Die Protestierenden sabotieren wohlweislich ihre Unternehmen und stehlen sich mit ihren gepriesensten Erfindungen davon. Sie gehen niederen Tätigkeiten nach, um noch weiter den „Plünderern“ die Früchte ihrer Mühen zu verleugnen und rekrutieren auch andere für ihren Streich. Als letzterer die Gesellschaft zum Einsturz bringt, flüchten sie zur fantastischen Galts-Schlucht, um das Ende der Welt in ihre Luxus zu verbringen, frei von den Ansprüchen der „Plünderer“.
Im herben Kontrast hierzu steht das Nordische Ragnarök. Um sich für die Finale Schlacht Odins vorzubereiten, tut Er alles, was ihm nur möglich ist, um das Ende abzuwenden. Thor bekämpft regelmäßig die Riesen, um sie in Schach und fern von Midgard zu halten. Die Walküren wandern auf den Schlachtfeldern umher, um die Tüchtigen und Ehrhaften zu Einherjarn zu machen, daß sie in Ragnarök kämpfen mögen. Als der Tag der Schlacht der Götter gekommen ist, führen die Götter ihre Kriegerschar gegen die Legionen Surts an, trotz des, bzw. ihres, unzweifelhaft bevorstehenden Untergangs. 
 
Das Handeln der Götter steht im grundsätzlichem Gegensatz zu dem von Galts Protestierenden. Odin versucht, Ragnarök so weit es geht hinauszuzögern, während sein Sohn Thor sein Leben risikiert, um den Riesen Einhalt zu gebieten. Týr hält seinen Eid zu Frenrir, anstatt ihn zu betrügen, was Ihn seine Hand kostet. Diese Taten zeigen die bloße Selbstsüchtigkeit von Galts Streich. Wenn die Götter nur um Ihre eigene Haut fürchteten, würden sie einen Weg suchen, Ihrem Untergang zu entfliehen, auch wenn dies bedeuten würde, daß die anderen Welten brennen würden. Sie würden sich nicht riskanten Schlachten stellen, die kaum Aussichten auf Erfolg bieten. Stattdessen kämpfen die Götter nicht nur dafür, Ihr eigenes Ende hinauszuzögern, sondern auch das aller Neun Welten. Der Marsch der Götter in den Endkampf und Galts Protestierende stehen im absoluten Konflikt zueinander. Odin bekämpft die Feinde Asgards und Midgards anstatt fortzulaufen und sich in einer undurchdringlichen Festung zu verstecken, während die Welten brennen.
Galts Rolle im Zusammenbruch der Gesellschaft vergrößert die intellektuelle Kluft. John Galt baut nicht nur ein Rettungsboot für die Reichen und Talentierten, er arbeitet aktiv daran, die Gesellschaft zu zerstören. Der Streich war seine Idee und Das Resultat hieraus sein letztendliches Ziel. Anstatt das korrupte System zu untergraben oder das der „Plünderer“ zu ersetzen, entscheidet er sich dafür, alles trotz der Konsequenzen niederzubrennen. Das meiste, das er tut, um den Menschen zu „helfen“, die er dazu verurteilt hat, im Kollaps zu sterben, ist, die gesamte Welt per Radioübertragung für drei Stunden darüber zu unterrichten, warum sie ihr Schicksal verdienen. 
 
Die Wurzel des Konflikts liegt in den unterschiedlichen Lösungsansätzen der Frage des Leidens und seiner Konsequenz. Rand argumentiert, daß Leid verursacht wird von uproduktiven Mitgliedern der Gesellschaft, die die Erzeuger/Produzenten/Erschaffer schröpfen. Sie meint, daß die beste Lösung dieses Band zu brechen darin besteht, den „Plünderern“ zu geben, was ihnen zusteht. (Den Untergang.) Nach Rands Sicht wird das Leid dadurch besiegt, indem man sich von seiner Quelle löst und sich davon nachhaltig zurückzieht. 
 
In der germanischen Weltsicht ist eine derartige Tatenlosigkeit inakzeptabel. Es gibt kein einziges Beispiel für einen Gott oder einen Helden, der einen Widersacher besiegt oder eine Gefahr für sein Volk abwendet, indem er diese/n ignoriert, oder davor wegläuft. Wenn Gefahr im Verzug ist, ist die Botschaft der Sagen deutlich: Finde die Ursache und löse das Problem. Historische Quellen, wie die angelsächsischen Chroniken, Jordanes, Saxo Grammaticus und Sturlason, bestätigen diese Eisntellung mit einer Plethora an Beispielen. Könige und Krieger, welche ihre Feinde schlagen, werden besungen, während Vermeidungstaktiken und Leugnung dagegen als rundherum feig verunglimpft werden.
Rands Auffassung von Individualität steht auf den ersten Blick im Einklang mit der germanischen Perspektive des Einzelnen. Eine nähere Untersuchung jedoch ergibt als Schlußfolgerung die Ermutigung für Selbstsüchtigkeit auf Kosten anderer. Der objektivistische Gedanke, für den das eigene Interesse über allem steht, ermutigt den einzelnen dazu, sich von den Bedrohungen für einen selbst sowie der Gemeinschaft abzugrenzen. Dies steht im direkten Gegensatz zum beständigen Thema in den germanischen Weisheitsüberlieferungen, sich Gefahren direkt und entschlossen zu stellen. Beide weichen voneinander ab und verlangen nach Antworten, die von Natur aus gegensätzlich zueinander stehen in Verständnis und Ausführung.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hi everybody!

So first off apologies for my somewhat sporadic posting pretty much everywhere lately. I'm kind of terrible about making myself stay to a particular schedule for this blog and life hasn't been helping. That said this blog is far from dead. I've got a few things planned that will be coming out soon (hopefully I can make myself do something every week)

Speaking of stuff planned a few months ago I said I would be ripping Atlas Shrugged apart one chapter at a time. At the time I thought I would be able to plow through the book in a decent amount of time then turn around and do my chapter by chapter breakdown. I thought this was perfectly reasonable; I've been able to chew through doorstoppers as big and bigger than Rand's yellow brick in a couple of weeks without a problem.

My mistake was grossly underestimating how head-splittingly bad this book is. Four months later I'm barely 200 pages in. Before anyone says, "Keep an open mind" or something like that I'm not even talking about the ideas Rand expresses or how she presents them. From a literary perspective this book is terrible. It reads like it was a first draft that was never reviewed. The characters are at best two-dimensional, the descriptions are ripped out of 30s pulp fiction, and there is probably not a single thing I feel any interest in.

Leaving all that aside what makes this book so hard to slog through is the righteously spiteful tone oozing from the pages. Regardless of whatever else was motivating Rand to write this book she was writing it from a place of some serious hate. Sometimes it gets downright painful to hack through the bile. Once I finish the thing (I'm hoping for some time in September. Maybe) I'll get started on the series.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Big Lie

There is a big split in the Heathen community, one that most Heathens become aware of shortly after they first come into contact with Germanic lore. While there are many specifics and nuances to the competing ideologies the heart of the matter lies in the importance of ancestors and heroes in modern practice. No Heathen in the world would deny the importance of heritage and reverence for our ancestors. It is as much a part of our folkway as blot, sagas, and honor. To remove the veneration of our forebears from practice would be like asking a fish to live on dry land. Sadly this beautiful, integral practice has been twisted by modern, ahistorial ideas about race to fit prejudices that did not exist in pre-Christian Europe.


In modern Heathenry there are many groups that require their members have direct descent from the Germanic world. They argue the importance of ancestors and tradition as their justification. They claim all indigenous traditions are founded intimately in family and ethnicity. They claim this is in line with the historical record, tradition, and practices found in other indigenous religions. In documents such as Tacitus' Germania, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the Heimskringla we see there was heavy emphasis on ancestral worship. Great heroes in one's lineage were honored. This extended into naming conventions with it being very common for families to name newly-born children after recently deceased family members or great ancestors. This is indisputable and commonly cited by proponents of blood lineage.


From this evidence those obsessed with blood and soil claim ethnicity must be important if lineage was so vital. This is a logical leap that has nothing to stand on. In every case of the tracing of descent there is no mention made of the national origin of the ancestor. The importance given in sagas was not if an ancestor was a Roman or a Dane or a Pole but specifically who they were and what they did. This practice was not unique to pre-Christian times or Western Europe. In Ibn Fadlan's account of the Rus the only mention he makes of the ethnicity of the Rus is in describing their appearance. He spends much more time discussing their religious practices, cleanliness, and social customs than he does their ethnicity. He always refers to them as Rus, not by their ethnicity. This emphasis on culture, class, and religion remained the main forms of identification up to the settlement of the Americas.


This lack of concern for ethnic descent is shown most dramatically in the treatment of slaves in Iceland and Norway. Slaves came either from raids or as punishment for a crime. In spite of this status it was possible for slaves to accumulate property and eventually buy their freedom. Any who did, while socially not quite equal to other freemen, were in the eyes of the law the same as other free people. In Iceland the children of free slaves were considered legally and socially equal to other members of society while in Norway the taint of association took four generations to wash away. Religiously speaking these freed slaves practiced along with other free members of society as equals. No consideration was given for the ethnic or national origin of the former slave anywhere in the laws of the Old North. To many this may come as a surprise. According to the blood and soil argument ethnicity and race are ancient universally held ideas. This argument sweeps aside the facts in the historical record that show the flaws in their reasoning. In truth our society's ideas on race are very modern in origin.


The tying of culture to ethnicity in Western thought began not in the distant past but in the 17th century. In the Americas much of the labor on sugar and tobacco plantations was done by slaves and indentured servants. To ensure poor whites and slaves would never unite against the power of the great plantation owners as they did during Bacon's Rebellion laws were passed stripping the African slaves of rights and protections affirming their status as the permanent underclass in the American South. The ideas of racial supremacy that started with these laws would be reinforced as a means to divide the lower classes. Prior to the passage of these laws it was not unusual for black slaves and white indentured servants to work, live, and runaway together. This fear of a united front was very real; the only thing that stopped Bacon's Rebellion was the death of its leader. Another uprising could have easily swept away the great landowners of Virginia who depended on cheap and slave labor for their wealth. The Virginia slave codes would be the first in Western history to establish legal supremacy based solely on ethnicity.


At this point the most common rebuttal by blood and soilers is to cite Jewish and Native American practices regarding ethnic descent. They argue these examples prove the centrality of ethnicity to culture and indigenous religion. These arguments are similarly flawed and use a highly selective examination of the facts. In the case of Judaism the most commonly cited fact is the importance of matrilineal descent in Jewish society. This ignores the long-standing practice of accepting converts by all denominations of Judaism who prove themselves worthy. The Native American argument is similarly fallacious. For centuries prior to the American subjugation many of the tribes intermarried freely. It was not unusual for runaway slaves fleeing their masters to seek membership in the tribes. One of the most prominent examples was the Seminole Nation who formed from a conglomeration of Creeks, Choctaw, Yuchi, Yamassee, and runaway African slaves. The blood quotient requirement was imposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 19th century based on older laws passed in Virginia in the 18th century as part of the aftermath of Bacon's Rebellion. Claiming culture and ethnicity are one in the same, as the blood and soil Heathens do, can only work if you ignore the facts and make things up to fit your personal conception of reality.


At the end of the day the claims of cultural and historical justification for requiring blood descent to practice any form of Heathen spirituality are built on a twisted, deceptive interpretation of the facts. This rotted foundation has no higher justification or purpose. It only exists to justify prejudice and disguise racism as “spiritual purity.” The blood Heathens accuse those who do not meet their arbitrary and indefensible standards of being cultural vandals and thieves. It is they who are the thieves and vandals. They loot from a body of lore that embraces pragmatic wisdom, honor, courage, and fairness to justify their insecurities and fears. They vandalize a beautiful folkway to fit their cowardly obsession with race. Their claims of protecting the spiritual legacy of the Old North are nothing more than a smokescreen meant to hide their true feelings.


You may wonder, “Why worry about an ideology based on fictions? Won't the truth bring them down?” There have been many cases in history of ideas built on deception gaining far more credibility and influence than they had any right to because it sounded good. There are others where the radical actions of a few tainted the honor of the many leaving them stuck fighting ghosts. We as a community stand at a vital crossroads. If we do nothing and hope the problem goes away the problem will overwhelm us one way or the other. Our ancestors were not ones to shy away from struggle when it was justified. We must stand and with a strong voice refuse to have anything to do with the blood and soil Heathens whose obsession with ethnicity belongs in the dustbin of history with the institution that spawned their prejudices. If we cannot cut loose this deadweight of the past then we will be doomed in the future to see it drag us down. In the old days our Folkway died once under the onslaught of the flame and steel of missionaries and invaders. It would be a terrible shame on the Folk if we fell in the modern age not to mighty foes but thanks to our unwillingness to act decisively and expunge an idea with no ethical, spiritual, or factual foundation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The End of Jihad

Bin Laden's death at the hands of SEAL Team Six on Sunday has sent shockwaves around the world. The mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks who stayed out of reach of American forces for nearly a decade, given up as missing before President Bush was out of office, was found and slain in his plush Pakistani compound by America's finest. In life bin Laden was a constant reminder of the limitations of American power, his survival daily proof that the Great Satan could be humbled and best. His death, and when it came, may be the last stand of the violent movement he personified. His defeat is not only vindication for an American public hungry for some kind of justice for the World Trade Center but one of the final nails in the coffin of the ideology of violent struggle he championed throughout his life.

The most obvious impact of bin Laden's death is on the future of Al Qaeda. While global in nature the beating heart of the organization was bin Laden himself. He was the big money behind the group with a multi-million dollar fortune and fundraising operations the world over Known for being highly charismatic bin Laden was crucial for keeping the factions in Al Qaeda working together. It is very telling that new recruits to the organization did not swear their allegiance to the cause but to the man himself. Following the success of the September 11th attacks his star power, and by extension his organization's, skyrocketed. Bin Laden was able to cultivate the mystique of a holy warrior striking righteous blows against the mighty Americans and living to tell the tale. His continued survival built up the myth of bin Laden with each day he remained alive and free a constant reminder of his victories over the Americans. His star power certainly didn't hurt his ability to draw recruits to the organization. Killing bin Laden didn't just destroy the man, it destroyed the myth he had built up. Just as Robert E. Lee's image of invincibility in the North was wrecked following his defeat at Gettysburg bin Laden's death destroys the idea that any terrorist can remain beyond the reach of the United States.

His death could also spell doom for Al Qaeda. Over the past decade American forces under Presidents Bush and Obama have tracked down Al Qaeda leaders and key commanders capturing the ones they could take alive and killing those they couldn't. The constant attrition on the mid and upper levels of the organization, while having no obvious impact, could not have been healthy for the terrorists. Any organization, regardless of purpose, needs more than just its brilliant founders to lead the way. They need to build a deep bench of talent who can step up when the first generation falls or steps aside. The constant whittling away at this second string has left bin Laden's followers with a much smaller reserve of talent. Following his death the most likely candidate to take control is his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri who is certainly no bin Laden. With no clear successor Al Qaeda will be scrambling to piece together some kind of working leadership at a time when it can least afford it. The seizure of hard drives and other vital pieces of intelligence during the raid on his compound puts the security of information for Al Qaeda up in the air. As likely as it is that Al Qaeda operatives are preparing for retaliatory strikes against the US it would not be far-fetched to assume at least a few are sleeping with one eye open wondering if and when the US will come for them.

On a grander scale bin Laden's death couldn't have come at a better time. Jihadi terrorism gained much of its allure from the repressive nature of the governments of the Arab World. The long-term survival of stability of these governments, along with the naked brutality used against peaceful resistance, sent a message to would-be reformers that change can only come through violent action. Leaders took advantage of this impression channeling the rage of their restive people against Israel and the West further encouraging angry radicals to join the jihad abroad instead of causing problems at home. Tahrir Square loudly and soundly refuted this status quo. With the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt non-violent political opposition had gained its first real successes in Arab history. As long as violence was perceived as the only option for bringing about real political reforms peaceful resistance would always be seen as a pipe dream. Victory in Cairo legitimized the methods of the Egyptian activists inspiring similar revolts in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain with even autocratic Saudi Arabia and theocratic Iran feeling the rumblings of discontent. When compared to the relatively dismal track record of jihadi groups which to date have yet to overthrow a single government, drive the US out of any Middle Eastern country, destroy Israel, or bring about any meaningful change the runaway successes in Tunisia and Egypt are likely much more appealing thanks to having worked as advertised. Every government brought down by the mostly peaceful Arab Spring is another nail in the coffin of jihadi terrorism.

Bin Laden's death is, like the man himself, much bigger than the elimination of one notorious terrorist. Without him Al Qaeda has lost a valuable source of funding, recruitment, and the invincible reputation that came with his continued survival. His death coming during the height of the Arab Spring is a powerful contrast to the wave of peaceful democratic revolution sweeping across the Middle East showing the people of the Middle East there is another, better option than taking up the cause of holy war. This is not to say a bright future is certain. The revolts are still being fought out in the streets of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya. Al Qaeda may be on its way out but they could always find new leadership and recover. The Taliban, in spite of losing a useful ally in bin Laden, continues to fight on in Afghanistan.

Events shaping the world offer the United States a golden opportunity to bring about an effective and lasting end to the threat of jihadi terrorism. The operation to take out bin Laden showed us the United States has highly effective, precise tools for fighting terrorism. Osama bin Laden was not brought down by an armored column but by a team of elite Navy SEALs. Unlike bloody insurgency operations in Iraq or drone strikes in Pakistan the SEAL team was able to accomplish their mission without inflicting any civilian casualties. Occupation of territory has similarly proven less than effective. Attempting to suppress terrorist havens in Afghanistan mostly succeeded in pushing bin Laden into Pakistan and tying down large numbers of American soldiers. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, far from successfully winning hearts and minds, have led to substantial civilian and military casualties, massive debt, and mostly succeeded in upsetting the Arab world more.

Change abroad should go hand in hand with change at home. In the past ten years we have seen steady encroachments on our civil liberties all in the name of security and the War on Terror. Yet for all that effort what consistently brought down terrorist plots and high value targets was not earned through the groping hands of the TSA or warrantless wiretapping but through conventional intelligence methods. Bin Laden's demise is an excellent moment to show the world that we can do the right thing and our current flirtation with authoritarian mechanisms is a temporary aberration. Most of all we must do this for the sake of our rights. It is our duty to future generations that they do not inherit diminished rights because of a moment's panic.


Also published at PAGAN+Politics

Friday, April 22, 2011

New McCarthyism

Yesterday Congressman Cliff Stearns' (R-Fl) amendment to the 9/11 first responders aid bill went into effect. What is this amendment you ask? One that has the gall to question the patriotism of the heroes of that terrible day:

"(5) DISQUALIFICATION OF INDIVIDUALS ON TERRORIST WATCH LIST.-No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as an eligible WTC responder. Before enrolling any individual as a WTC responder in the WTC Program under paragraph (3), the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such a list."

It is exactly what it says it is. To add insult to injury the amendment was added to the bill without dissent with this odious provision going into effect yesterday. There are no words that can truly describe the depth of the disrespect shown by both parties in Congress.

With fears of Muslim takeover fanned by the Cordoba House controversy and Peter King's radicalization circus Congress has, in the name of "pragmatic politics" acquiesced to the worst in us. Saying any group of people, including the greatest heroes of the past decade, can be investigated as terrorists by Congressional fiat attacks the foundations of our criminal justice system. Ever since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1789 one of the bedrock principals of our legal system is probable cause. Searches, arrests, and indictments cannot be obtained for any charge without first proving there is a very solid, justifiable reason to be poking around in the private lives of American citizens. With a simple voice vote Congress has swept aside any need for probable cause declaring everyone who worked at Ground Zero in the days and weeks following 9/11 is now a suspect for terrorism. As far as our elected representatives are concerned "pragmatic" politics trumps the rights of American heroes.

What is worse are the chilling implications of this act. When the best among us, the heroes who rose to the call, can be declared terror suspects then any one can be put under the same microscope for no better reason than "national security" or "practical politics." If the Ground Zero workers can be thrown on the pyre of a new witch hunt on Congressional whim then what is stopping legislators from tossing others into the flames in a fit of political hysteria?

CORRECTION: The provision was included in the bill passed last year. The amendment's effects as per the Huffington Post went into effect yesterday which they learned through an unnamed source..

Also published at PAGAN+Politics

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rocks and Shoals

In the fall of 2010 the Tea Party was swept into power on a wave of voter discontent promising to turn the country around by reigning in out of control government spending. They were riding high on populist anger pushing a hard ideological line as the solution to our nation's problems. Five months later the Tea Party's approval ratings have plummeted, Republican governors riding the wave have seen their support evaporate, and the oncoming government shutdown has put the ascendant Republicans in a serious bind. Regardless of the cause of the Tea Party and GOP's woes can be summed up in one word.

Overreach.

No one can deny the Tea Party-fueled gains of the Congressional Republicans in the 2010 elections. They trumpeted their victory as a mandate by the voters to pursue a ultraconservative antigovernment agenda. Yet for all the claims of strong support what the mandate they received was less clear. A large part of their victory in 2010 was thanks to highly depressed voter turnout especially among groups that Obama depended on for his 2008 victory. With only 41% of voters bothering to come to the polls as opposed to the low 70s that we saw in 2008 probably the clearest thing the voters did say was they had enough with government as usual. With the certainty of victory the hard-right Tea Party candidates in Congress and state government moved forward to make the perceived mandate a reality. Ironically enough it was putting their agenda into action that has led to a serious case of buyer's remorse across the board.


In Congress the Tea Party, ignoring polls showing Americans' first priority was job creation as opposed to cutting the deficit, went all ahead full with their agenda starting with the infamous forcible rape bill. They followed up with attacks on NPR and Planned Parenthood threatening to cut off the flow of government assistance for both. While the Culture Warriors fought personal battles at the expense of the American public the House leadership continued to thunder on high of the dangers of the growing deficit. They demanded immediate cuts across the board regardless of their economic impact. When questioned on the economic impact of mass federal layoffs Speaker John Boehner responded to these concerns with a blunt "So be it". When the Democratic-held Senate refused to play ball and roll over to the House Boehner and the House GOP doubled down on their stance of cuts, cuts, and more cuts leading to a string of stopgap continuing resolutions to keep the lights on. In spite of following their agenda to the letter the Tea Party, far from seeing their political stock rise, has recently taken hard blows to their support. From previous highs of 50% support the Tea Party has fallen to a new low of 32% and Americans now seeing the Tea Party as being as much a part of the problem as the Democrats and Republicans. The hard-line calls by the Tea Party for government shutdown, a course Boehner himself fears will benefit the Democrats, coupled with the refusal by ultraconservative Republicans to compromise with the Senate have largely run afoul of American popular opinion. With strong majorities holding out for a compromise and tiny slivers supporting the white-knuckle showdown that now seems all but inevitable the Tea Party has charted a truly dangerous course for the GOP.

The recent disasters for the Tea Party are hardly confined to the Beltway. A recent string of anti-union measures and rhetoric pushed in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Maine have far from rallying public opinion have sparked ferocious backlash. In Florida Governor Rick Scott's unilateral actions and disregard for the state legislature have turned his own party against him. In Wisconsin where the labor fight has most strongly come to a head the expected easy re-election of incumbent Republican David Prosser to the state Supreme Court has come down to a narrow margin with the challenger, virtual unknown Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg, just barely ahead flipping 19 counties that went for Scott Walker in 2010. With a storm of recalls gathering the troubles for the Wisconsin GOP, riding high on the Tea Party's wave, have only just begun with labor increasingly agitated and energized into action across the Rust Belt.

Each of these skirmishes have helped build up what will be a game-changing showdown in Washington. Both sides in Washington are spoiling for a political fight with each citing dearly-held principles. Yet in spite diffuse opinion forming on impending shutdown the Tea Party is taking very serious risks. In every one of their previous attempts to advance their cause they have been met with popular backlash and buyer's remorse. Their insistence during the 2010 campaign that government shutdown should not only be an option but actively sought by lawmakers has left the recentprotests to the contrary hollow and has enraged Tea Party activists calling for a firm stand in a fight where the stakes couldn't be higher. Far from being an effective cure for our woes some economists fear a prolonged shutdown spiraling back into a deep recession. Beyond the economic impact is the direct effects of shutting down our federal government. In the event of a shutdown over 800,000 federal workers would be furlough and stop receiving a paycheck, 30% of all tax refunds will remain unsent, states would face serious cuts in funding for programs like unemployment pay, and soldiers fighting overseas would continue their dangerous work without pay just to name a few. If a last-minute budget deal cannot be reached then the Tea Party, thanks to their sound and fury, run the risk of being stuck with the blame. They may soon discover that ideological purity doesn't matter when the public doesn't like what your ideology does to them.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. The United States cannot afford courting economic disaster because the most radical faction of one political party cannot put aside ideology for the sake of the public good.

Also posted at PAGAN+Politics

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Series on Atlas Shrugged

Ok this one is for real, I swear!

With the upcoming release of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's magnum opus, to the silver screen and the increasing popularity of Rand's ideas in the political right the novel has taken on new importance and relevance for modern Americans. While I personally reject most of Rand's philosophy I have to admit that I have not actually read any of her books. To fix both the problem of being something of a hypocrite for criticizing something I'm going to read Atlas Shrugged.

Now this might sound like total wankery to post on a blog, "Hey guess what I'm reading a doorstopper!" To be fair it is pretty arrogant to boast about reading some huge book. What I'm going to be doing is not just reading Atlas Shrugged but reviewing the book, one chapter at a time, on this blog like Slacktivist's excellent piece by piece reviews of the Left Behind series. I will have one chapter done each week, hopefully on Mondays. Since this isn't exactly the most gripping prose ever written for the sake of my sanity I'll be tossing in some humor and opinions of Rand's philosophy from a Heathen perspective.

So strap on in, grab some popcorn, and enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2011

State of Fiscal Emergency

To say the states of the Union are facing fiscal problems would be an understatement. With nearly every state in the country facing serious budget deficits as the recession takes its toll and stimulus funds drying up states are doing whatever they can to stay above water. Whether through steep cuts in spending in Texas, structural reforms in California, or weakening public unions in the Midwest all are united in their search for an answer. Nowhere is a more radical effort being waged than in the state of Michigan.


The Republican-controlled Michigan State Senate recently passed a highly controversial bill to address the fiscal crises facing state. In the name of fiscal responsibility a group of state officials appointed by the governor known as emergency financial maangers would gain virtually unchecked power over all aspects of the local government in their charge. Some argue these powers are necessary to address the multitude of fiscal problems in Michigan by giving the emergency managers the extra leverage needed to get the job done. As they see it emergency managers are necessary to clean up the state's problems and they have been used successfully in Michigan previously. This does not answer the question of if the new powers, or the changes to process, go too far.


The first line crossed is in the process of declaring a state of fiscal emergency. The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act grants a considerable amount of unchecked power to the governor's office. In the new bill the governor would have the final say on if a local government is in a state of fiscal emergencyi. The governor have the sole power to appoint the emergency manager with no outside review or confirmationii. The new manager, once appointed, could only be removed by the governor or impeachmentiii. The law goes further by giving emergency managers full immunity from any legal liabilityiv.


So why would the emergency managers need protection from legal sanction? The Fiscal Accountability Act gives the emergency managers unprecedented authority over their municipalities. The list of powers given to the managers is staggering in its breadth and scope. Once in place there is little the emergency managers cannot do. From the outset they completely control the process being given the sole responsibility of developing the financial plan for the municipalityv. The plan does not need any outside approval of any kind; the public has no opportunity to vote on the issue. The state fiscal emergency remains until the emergency manager declares the crisis has been resolvedvi.


During this time the manager is charged to issue “all orders necessary” to make the plan happenvii. This is backed up by substantial authority explicitly spelled out in the bill. The manager is given the power to create the budgetviii, sell or transfer local government assetsix, and remove non-elected local officialsx at their sole discretion. They handle all contract negotiations and, at their discretion, can unilaterally terminate themxi. If a manager is put in charge of a school district they are given the power to set their educational planxii. Any municipal official deemed by the emergency manager to have “not reasonably” carried out an order can be barred from access to municipal facilities, mail, and internal informationxiii. In spite of being in a state of fiscal emergency the municipality is required to foot the bill for the emergency manager's pay, expenses, and staff for the durationxiv.


These powers, while staggering in their totality, are not the most potent they receive. With the approval of the state treasurer they can waive any need for competitive bidding on any contract over $50,000xv. Based on their sole discretion and judgment they can recommend the municipality be declared a debtor and placed under their complete controlxvi or worse yet be legally dissolvedxvii. The governor alone makes the final call. Most astonishingly the law makes legal appeal of any of these actions impossible. The only chance given to the local government is during the investigation process which requires the municipality to request appeal with a 2/3rds majority votexviii. Once an emergency manager is appointed the locals have no legal recourse between the manager's legal immunity and the law's restrictions.


What is happening in Michigan could be waved away as unique, radical measure born of an economically devastated and desperate state. It could be argued given Michigan's genuinely terrible situation extreme action might be justified. This all assumes that what happens in one state will remain in one state. Currently 44 of the 50 states of the Union are facing serious fiscal problems. While Michigan's situation is especially grim they are not the only state with local governments facing serious deficits. We have already seen how Scott Walker's union-busting bill in Wisconsin has been copied in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, and is being seriously considered in Maine. Public outcry proved, in the short term, to be in vain in Wisconsin and other governors press ahead in spite of the lack of popular support. If Michigan puts this law into effect what would stop other states from considering their own version of the Michigan solution?


Also published at PAGAN+Politics

iSenate copy of Michigan HB 4214, Sec. 15(1)

iiIbid Sec. 15(4)

iiiIbid Sec. 15(5d)

ivIbid Sec. 25(1)

vIbid Sec. 18(1)

viIbid Sec. 24

viiIbid Sec. 17(1)

viiiIbid Sec. 19(1b)

ixIbid Sec. 19(1r)

xIbid Sec. 19(1n)

xiIbid Sec. 18(1c)

xiiIbid Sec. 17(1)

xiiiIbid Sec. 17(2)

xivIbid Sec. 15(5e)

xvIbid Sec. 19(3)

xviIbid Sec. 23(1)

xviiIbid Sec. 19(1cc)

xviiiIbid Sec. 15(3)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Leben, Leiden und Asatrú

Link zum Artikel
übersetzt von Erin Banks

Unabhängig von Glaubenssystemen ist Leiden ein Problem, mit dem wir tagtäglich konfrontiert sind. Ob es nun persönlich ist oder das Leiden anderer, die Frage des „Warums“ ist eine universelle. Jedes System hat seine eigene Art, die Ursachen menschlichen Leidens zu erklären. In der vedischen Kosmologie ist das Karma, die Resultate des eigenen Handelns in diesem oder früheren Leben, der Grund hierfür. In den abrahamischen Religionen wird alles Leiden auf die ein oder andere Weise dem Willen Gottes zugeschrieben. Sogar die Präsenz einer widersacherischen Figur in diesen Systemen ist letztendlich Gottes Wille. Asatrú hat seine eigene Auffassung von menschlichem Leiden und den Herausforderungen des Lebens, die genauso einzigartig sind, wie jede andere. 
 
Um die Natur des Leidens im Asatrú zu verstehen, muß man zuerst die Fundamente germanisch-heidnischen Glaubens verstehen. In den germanischen Weisheitsüberlieferungen der Götter, haben diese – im Gegensatz zu den abrahamischen Traditionen – keine absolute Macht über das Universum. Die Asen und die Vanen sind nur zwei der mächtigen Stämme, die in den Gefilden des Weltenbaums leben. Die am mächtigsten, und den Göttern nächsten, sind die Riesen, im Altnordischen auch bekannt als Jötnar oder Jöten. Die Jöten sind die uralten Gegner der Götter. Ihre Rivalität und Konflikte mit den Göttern gehen auf den Mord Ymirs durch Odin, Vili and Ve zurück, wie es in der Völuspa geschrieben steht. Im Ragnarök werden sie die Hauptgegener der götter sein, welche durch Surt, den Feuerriesen, geführt werden. Trotz dieser langlebigen Rivalität der Götter und Riesen, respektieren sie die Heiligkeit der Gastfreundschaft und viele der Götter haben RiesInnen geheiratet und mir ihren riesischen EhegatInnen Kinder gezeugt. Spirituell gesehen sind sie verantwortlich für die schlimmsten Tragödien, welche die Menschheit befallen, wie bespielsweise Erdbeben, Hurrikanes, Hungersnöte und andere Naturkatastrophen. 
 
Am Fuße des Weltenbaums verweilen die mysteriösen Nornen. Die Nornen sind die einzigen im Universum, die alle Geheimnisse der Vergangenheit, der Gegenwart und der Zukunft kennen. Während sie selbst Jöten sind, sind sie doch auch eine unabhängige Gruppe für sich. So wie die Drei Schicksalsgöttinnen in den hellenistischen Weisheitsüberlieferungen haben die Nornen das letzte Wort bezüglich des Schicksals jedes einzelnen. Sie bewässern oder „gießen“ den Weltenbaum und kümmern sich um den Brunnen des Wyrd. Sie halten Distanz zu allen und allem und ihr die Gründe für ihr Einmischen in die Geschicke anderer kennen sie allein. 
 
Es gibt noch andere/s im Universum als die großen Mächte. Asatrú ist recht animistisch in seinem Verständnis der natürlichen Welt. Eine Vielzahl an Elfen, Naturgeistern, Zwergen und Geschöpfen sind heimisch in Midgard. In führeren Tagen waren diese Land- oder Naturgeister die Hauptempfänger von Gaben vorchristlicher geramnischer Stämme. Diese Geister haben weniger Macht, jedoch mehr Auswirkungen im alltäglichen Leben. Ähnlich dieser Geister sind die Thursen besser bekannt als die Trolle. Diese sind auf Menschen bezogen bösartige Geister. Wie andere animistische Geister sind die Vaetten (Natur- und Landgeister) und Thursen den Naturgewalten zugehörig und bewohnen Midgard.
Zusammen mit dem Wyrd und dem persönlichen Orlog ist die germanische Kosmologie recht bewegt. Die Götter sind die mächtigsten Wesen sofern es die Menschheit betrifft, doch die Vaetten und Thursen dürfen nicht unterschätzt werden. Die Kosmologie des Asatrú ist eine mit sehr aktiven Kräften, große und kleine beeinflussen das tägliche Leben. Wie sie auf das Leben jedes einzelnen Einfluß nehmen, kommt darauf an, wer sich wie verhält. Es stellt auch nicht die Menschheit von ihrem Handeln frei. In keiner der überlieferten Weisheiten werden Individuen oder Gruppen von ihrem Handeln freigestellt. Jeder einzelne ist seine Taten. Menschliches Handeln treibt das Handeln der Gruppe in vieler der späteren Heldenepen mit ihren Streitereien, Kämpfen bezüglich Erbschaften und Landfragen in Krieg und Schlachten. Wenn man eine Welt hat, die so geschäftig und komplex ist wie diese, ist es nicht schwierig zu erkennen, warum es Leiden in der Welt gibt. Mit derartig vielen Mächten und Persönlichkeiten, die von göttlichen oder riesischen Taten zum Handeln anderer Menschen reichen, kann eine ganze Anzahl von Dingen passieren, gute und schlechte. 
 
Dies soll nicht bedeuten, daß das Universum ein kalter, gleichgültiger Ort ist, an dem die Menschheit von der Gnade größerer Mächte abhängig ist. Die Götter, Thor im besonderen, bekämpfen die Riesen, um sie aus Midgard fernzuhalten. Es gibt vielfältige Möglichkeiten, auf welche Art und Weise Menschen kämpfen können, die Mächte Midgards sogar verzaubern oder bestechen können, so wie Eisen oder einen Thorshammer zu benutzen, um Thursen fernzuhalten. Im germanisch-heidnischen Verständnis des Lebens gibt es viele Arten, wie das Schicksal zuschlagen kann. Ironischerweise für eine Welt mit derartig viel Kuddelmuddel ist die Antwort auf die Frage nach Leiden wunderbar in seiner Einfachheit: Stelle Dich dem Problem und löse es. Unabhängig davon, ob es Arbeitslosigkeit, ein Hurrikane oder Ungerechtigkeit ist, zeigt die überlieferte Weisheit stetig wie sich Helden und Götter den Ursachen ihrer Probleme stellen. Thor kämpft regelmäßig mit den Riesen, um sie aus Asgard und Midgard fernzuhalten. Beowulf flüchtete nicht vor den Monstern, die ihn plagten und sogar im hohen Alter noch zögerte er nicht, den Drachen zu besiegen, der Götland heimsuchte. Die Taten unserer Vorfahren sind sich alle gleich. In der Kühnheit Hermann des Cheruskers (auch bekannt als Arminius), der die drei großen römischen Legionen besiegt, Leif Eriksons Entdeckungsfahrt nach Neufundland und den Kriegen gegen das römische Reich in der vorchristlichen Zeit, wichen die Germanen niemals vor Schwierigkeiten davon. Dies taten sie allerdings nicht immer durch kämpferische Kraft. Genauso wie Sigurd den Witz besaß, Fafnir eine Falle zu stellen und Odin sich seinen Weg zum Dichtermet zauberte, liegt ein direkter Ansatz zur Problemlösung nicht immer im körperlichen Kampf, Angriff oder dadurch, das offensichtliche zu tun. Götter, Helden und Menschen vermeiden den Kampf nicht und halten die andere Wange hin; sie stellen sich allem direkt und pragmatisch, egal, worum es sich handelt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Life, Suffering, and Asatru

Available in German, translated by Erin Banks
 
Regardless of belief system suffering is an issue we all face every day. Whether it is personal or the suffering of other people the question of why is a universal one. Every system has its own way of explaining the cause of human suffering. In the Vedic cosmology karma, the results of deeds in this or a previous life, are the cause of human suffering. In the Abrahamic religions all suffering is attributed in one way or another to the Will of God. Even the presence of an adversarial figure in these systems is ultimately God's Will. Asatru has its own take on human suffering and life's challenges as unique as any other.

To understand the nature of suffering in Asatru one must first understand the basics of Heathen cosmology. In Germanic lore the Gods, unlike the Abrahamic traditions, do not hold absolute power over the universe. The Aesir and the Vanir are only two of the tribes of mighty beings that live on the realms of the World Tree. The most powerful and nearest to the Gods in stature are the Giants, known in Old Norse as the Jotuun. The Jotuun are the age-old adversaries of the Gods. Their rivalry and conflicts go as far back as the slaying of Ymir by Odin, Vili, and Ve as described in the Voluspo. At Ragnarok they will be the principal opponents of the Gods with the Fire-Giant Surtr leading the charge. In spite of the long-standing rivalry the Gods and Giants mutually respect the sanctity of hospitality and many of the Gods have married and had children with their Giant spouses. Spiritually they are responsible for the worst tragedies to befall humans such as earthquakes, hurricanes, famine, and other natural disasters .

Dwelling at the roots of Yggdrasil are the mysterious Norns. The Norns are the only ones in the universe who know all the secrets of the past, present, and future. While They are Jotuun themselves the Norns are a group apart. Like the Three Fates in Hellenic lore the Norns are the final say on anything's doom. They water the World Tree and tend to the Well of the Wyrd. They remain distant only involving Themselves in the affairs of others for reasons known only to Them.

There are more in the universe than just the mighty powers. Asatru is very animistic in its understanding of the natural world. A myriad of alfar, landsvaettir, dwarves, wights, and other powers walk in Midgard. In the old days these land spirits were the most common recipients of offerings by the pre-Christian Germanic tribes. These spirits have less might but more immediate impact in day to day life. Similar to these spirits are the thurses more commonly known as trolls. These are malevolent spirits as far as humans are concerned. Like other animistic spirits the vaettir the thurses are usually associated with nature and make their homes in Midgard.

Along with the Wyrd and one's personal Orlog you have a lot going on in Germanic cosmology. The Gods are the most powerful as far as humanity are concerned but the vaettir and thurses are nothing to sneer at. Asatru's cosmology is one that is very active with the powers great and small influencing daily life. How they influence daily life depends on who is doing what. This does not exempt humanity's actions as a cause. In none of the lore are individuals or groups ever absolved of responsibility for their actions. One's deeds are one's own. Human action drives the action of many of the later heroic sagas with feuds, struggle over inheritance, and land disputes leading to war and strife. When you have a world as busy and complex as this it's not hard to see why there is hardship in the world. With so many forces and personalities ranging from Godly or Gigantic action to the deeds of other people any number of things can happen for good or ill.

This is not to say the universe is a cold, uncaring place where humanity is at the mercy of greater powers. The Gods, particularly Thor, fight the Giants to keep them out of Midgard. There are many ways humans can fight, charm, or bribe the powers of Midgard such as using iron or a Thor's hammer to repel thurses. In the Heathen understanding of life there are many ways tragedy can strike. Ironically enough for a world with so much going on the Heathen answer to the question of struggle is beautiful in its simplicity: confront and solve the problem. Regardless of whether it is unemployment, a hurricane, or injustice the lore consistently shows heroes and Gods confronting the sources of their problems. Thor regularly does battle with Giants to keep them away from Asgard and Midgard. Beowulf did not shy away from the monsters he faced, even in old age he does not hesitate to face the dragon rampaging in Geatland. The actions of our ancestors are very much the same. In the boldness of Hermann of the Chercusci destroying three Roman legions, Leif Erikson's expedition to Newfoundland, and the wars with the Roman Empire the pre-Christian Germanics did not shy away from struggle. That said they did not always do so by force. Just as Sigurd had the good sense to ambush Fafnir from a trench and Odin charmed His way to the mead of poetry a direct approach does not always mean using force or doing the obvious. Gods, heroes and humans do not avoid struggle or turn the other cheek; they face it directly and pragmatically no matter what the cause.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tacking into the Wind

The clash over Governor Scott Walker's effort to strip Wisconsin's public unions of the right to collectively bargain has reached a new level of intensity. This morning Governor Walker gave his ultimatum to the absent Senate Democrats: return to Madison or state workers will receive layoff notices. In the latest of a string of escalations Walker's stubborn refusal to compromise or negotiate has inflamed passions on all sides of the debate. The governor insists that his actions are backed by the people of Wisconsin riding the political wave that swept him into office. In spite of this his claims of popular mandate as justification are running aground of growing grassroots opposition to his radical agenda.


Scott Walker has advanced his union-busting bill under the cover of his recent election as vindication of his platform. Walker has insisted from the beginning his plan is in line with his platform of fiscal responsibility. Walker's unsupported spending aside it is highly unlikely that most voters think of rolling back labor rights as necessary for fiscal responsibility. The elimination of the right of public employee unions to collectively bargain was something Walker never argued for while on the campaign trail. Far from being a major element of his message Scott Walker never discussed the possibility of breaking the backs of the public unions of Wisconsin. It would make sense for him to cite the public's backing for an issue he actually discussed unless being successfully elected to state office allows the officeholder to campaign retroactively.


All of this assumes Walker has the public at his back. If anything Walker's plan is running headlong into strong political winds. Before being sworn in the governor only enjoyed a 41% approval rating. His hardball tactics, far from inspiring the public with his resolve, have largely succeeded in solidifying public support for the unions. The growing opposition is not limited to college students, unions, and Democratic activists. The President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce recently released a statement declaring that while they support pushing for a balanced budget, “That support ends at the adversarial way elected officials are approaching it.” She goes on to say that with Wisconsin's long history of collective bargaining, “policy changes of this magnitude should be thoroughly debated for an adequate period of time, in good faith by both sides, with all potential consequences considered.”


Scott Walker's most recent escalation, the threat of layoff notices, has exposed how weak his hand is. By Walker's own statement no layoffs will happen yet. In Wisconsin public employees receive early notices of being laid off as prior warning. A layoff notice does not put anyone in the unemployment line. The actual layoffs are scheduled for July. This is not to say the threat of people losing their jobs over the budget fight is not serious but the details take a lot of the wind out of it. If anything it comes across as more of a desperate bluff than a genuine threat. That Walker's ploy sounds more like hostage taking than negotiation undermines the credibility of his claims of seeking a fiscally responsible budget.


Scott Walker's union busting campaign has been disguised as fixing a fiscal emergency. His claims of enjoying the public's mandate to act so radically are adrift. For all his bravado in public Walker is sitting on a ticking time bomb. In Wisconsin any public official can be recalled if they have been in office for a year. With the budget bill only needing three votes to be defeated eight of the Republicans who supported it are in danger of facing a recall. One of the most popular chants is to recall Walker himself. While he will not be vulnerable until 2012 his allies in the state legislature are not so lucky. As the public's anger rises Scott Walker and his party will reap the whirlwind sown by their ruthless campaign against a century of workers' rights.


Also published at Pagans+Politics

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guided by the Gods - Human Nature and Asatru

Human nature is one of the foundation stones of ethical philosophy. Every philosophy the world over, from Rousseau’s theories on the General Will to Lord Shang's stark Legalism, are based on fundamental axioms of what defines humanity. These assumptions regarding human nature determine how one should treat other people, view the world, and live your life. In the West the most dominant theories of human nature can be summed up in one of two schools of thought.


One school of thought holds that humans are inherently flawed by nature. Whether the cause is Original Sin or our barbarous natural state the assumption remains the same. Humans are imperfect. Society must therefore assume that people will, given the choice, give in to their base natures putting their self-interest ahead of all other concerns. If one assumes that people are innately flawed and prone to acting in a potentially destructive fashion to fulfill their base desires then all responses are going to assume that people must be restrained for their own good.


This is not the only understanding of humanity that has sprung up in the West. The other holds a much more positive view. This view, first summed up by John Locke in his Two Treatises on Government, argues that humans far from being creatures driven by impulses we must struggle against are blank slates when we come into the world. We are neither good nor evil by nature but instead boundless potential shaped by our experiences in life. We are not given to destruction as a result of being human but as a consequence of one's experiences and circumstances. In this understanding humans do not need to be held back from danger but given the best tools to guide ourselves to the best possible outcome in pursuing our desires.


The genesis of the assumption of flawed humanity can be found in the creation myth of Christianity. While later philosophers like Thomas Hobbes have built on the foundation Genesis provides it is from the first book of the Bible that this assumption is born. In Genesis Yahweh creates the first two human beings, Adam from dust and Eve from his rib, and places them in charge of the paradisaical Garden of Eden. In the Garden He places two trees, one the Tree of Life which gives life everlasting and the forbidden Tree of Knowledge which gives understanding of the world. It is in this idyllic setting created for humans shaped in the image of God that the Original Sin, the first act of willful disobedience, took place. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge Adam and Eve disregarded the restraints imposed by Yahweh leading to their exile from Eden and the end of Paradise on Earth. In this narrative we see the classic hallmarks of the understanding of humanity as flawed. Humans must be restrained for their own good, which we may or may not understand, and we are given to trespass by our nature in spite of these necessary restraints. This assumption casts humans as being torn between free will and their destructive base urges forever locked in a battle to do what is right.


The more positive, blank slate idea is one that for the modern world was born with Locke and the Enlightenment. Yet this is not the first time this idea took root in Western thought. It is from the Voluspo, the whirlwind tour of Norse cosmology, where we find this idea rooted deeply in pre-Christian Germanic thought. This saga describes the creation of Midgard, the Earth, and the ordering of the universe by the Gods. Part of this, quite predictably, includes the creation of humans by the Gods. In the Voluspo three Gods; Odin, Honir, and Lodur, are walking along a beach in Midgard having shaped the world and set its boundaries. On their walk they come across two pieces of driftwood. They decide to take up the dead logs and give them life, making the first two humans. As it says in the Voluspo:

Soul they had not, sense they had not

Heat nor motion, nor goodly hue

Soul gave Odin, sense gave Honir

Heat gave Lothur and goodly huei

After creating the first humans the Gods let them go on their way. There is no special charge or rules handed down after They finish their work. Ask and Embla are given shape, life, and sense before going out into the world to live their lives.


Aside from the obvious differences there is a profoundly different assumption about human nature in these two creation stories. In Genesis humans are created from nothing in a perfect world under the firm hand and guidance of Yahweh to serve as His stewards for creation. When they fail to follow the rules He arbitrarily laid down humanity is marked with Original Sin for all time and cast out into the wilderness. The Voluspo couldn't be any further from Genesis in intent if it was deliberately trying. Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur do not lay down any special tasks, prohibitions, or directives to Their new creations. They do not admonish them to obey unexplained rules. All They do is give form, life, and sense then let the first humans go on their way. Humans are not made in the image of a perfect God and marked with an original, underlying flaw that will perpetuate their imperfect nature as an act of punishment. Humans in Germanic lore are divinely created with the Gods letting them live their lives.


This distinction is a fundamental one when it comes to the question of human nature. In Judeo-Christian tradition the flawed, sinful nature of humanity is the justification for needing repentance and redemption. The problems with humanity are ones that are inescapable partially because they are imposed from on high as a punishment for disobedience. This simultaneous tug of war between perfection and damnation drives human motivation in the Abrahamic tradition. Humanity, because of this fall from grace, must redeem itself in the eyes of Heaven. Consistently humans are portrayed in the Bible as sinful, given to their base desires, and easily tempted. This is escalated in Christianity and Islam with the inclusion of adversarial figures; Satan and Iblis respectively, who war with God to bring down humanity. Caught between mighty forces and their own drives humans must strive to do what they have been told is right trusting in the ineffable wisdom of God.


In the Heathen tradition humanity is not trapped in such a conundrum nor is it cast in such a negative light. Humans were shaped by the Gods then left to go out into Midgard. We are not given stewardship over the world sculpted from Ymir's flesh but neither are we punished with any equivalent of Original Sin. This implies a strong sense of trust the Gods have in us. They did not put us in a special, controlled paradise to be watched over with unexplained rules handed down. They created humans and let us go on our way, secure in Their knowledge that the gifts of life, sense, and form we received from Them would be enough. Instead of coddling and sheltering humans from the world then thrusting them out as punishment They put us in Midgard and trusted that Their gifts were all they needed to give us. This tremendous level of trust by the Gods implies that humanity was not viewed as some innately flawed creation that had to be set on a specific path to avoid falling into self-destruction. It says humans are perfectly capable of living our lives with the gifts the Gods gave us as a compass to guide help guide us. This is not to say there are no expectations of what is right and wrong but rather that the Gods trust us to do what is right without divine proclamations setting the boundaries.


The Heathen view is an optimistic understanding of human nature. We are not imperfect creatures given to falling in to destruction without a firm hand to guide us but beings divinely shaped and gifted with the freedom to stumble and learn from our mistakes. Quite contrary to the Abrahamic view which holds a somewhat pessimistic view of humanity the Heathen understanding is one where humans have no such inherent flaws. Having never been punished with the burden of the constant danger of temptation and sin we are free to shape our lives through our deeds with the gifts of Odin, Honir, and Lodur as the tools to do it.


iVoluspo 18, Poetic Edda translated by Henry Adams Bellows

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Wisconsin Deficit “Crisis”, the Madison “Riots”, and Other Myths

The political situation in Wisconsin has come to a head following the proposal of a budget bill by newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker which would for all intents and purposes strip public employees with the exception of police, firefighters, and state troopers of the right to collectively bargain. Governor Walker has claimed this radical measure is necessary to avert a deficit crisis for the state of Wisconsin. The situation has rapidly escalated with Walker threatening to call out the National Guard shortly after introducing the bill. Demonstrations broke out almost immediately with Wisconsin State Senate Democrats leaving the state to prevent a vote on the bill. The conservative media has advanced in full force unconditionally supporting the Governor's union-busting measure claiming the state is on the edge of total chaos. Glenn Beck has taken to the airwaves claiming the city of Madison is rioting as has the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Voices like Rush Limbaugh and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan have repeated this assertion of chaos in the street. Above all they have consistently advanced the argument that gutting the rights of workers is necessary to balance Wisconsin's budget.


All of these arguments and claims by the conservative movement are bald-faced lies.


This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. These claims of civil disorder in the streets and a deficit crisis are completely at odds with the facts. Contrary to the fear-mongering claims of Glenn Beck the demonstrators in Madison have remained orderly and peaceful. The Madison Police Department released a statement today saying they are proud of the way the protestors have conducted themselves. The only advisory from the Madison Police to the public is a notice to motorists of greater congestion in the vicinity of the Capitol. If you don't believe the police there are the photos submitted by people in Madison showing large, energetic, and perfectly peaceful crowds. Hardly what one could seriously call a riot.


The next falsehood being circulated is the claims of a deficit crisis. The line of reasoning goes that it is only possible to balance the budget by completely destroying the right of public workers to collectively bargain. It skips straight past negotiations, furloughs, and other austerity measures to one of the most extreme solutions possible. 44 states are currently facing serious budget problems and yet the only other state considering such a radical tactic is Ohio. With such an extraordinary measure being advanced and the National Guard being readied in case of strikes it sounds like the deficit in Wisconsin must be insurmountable. This again is wrong. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau issued a report on January 31st asserting the bulk of the budget shortfall of $202 million was caused by a series bills supported by Governor Walker. Quite contrary to his claims of union benefits and salaries being the cause it was his own deficit spending that created the alleged crisis.


Governor Scott Walker has created a crisis and rapidly escalated it in a bid to crush the public employee unions of the state of Wisconsin. There wouldn't be a budget crisis of Walker genuinely practiced what he preached on the campaign trail. There are no facts supporting any of the claims of civil disorder or a deficit crisis. Walker's attempt to ramrod a rollback of the rights of workers by a century has nothing to do with fiscal conservatism and everything to do with political opportunism. His readying of the National Guard over budget negotiations is extraordinary overkill. If Governor Walker was genuinely interested in serving the people and balancing the state budget he should sit down with the state workers and negotiate not threaten them with an unnecessary and malicious attack on their most basic rights.


Also published at Pagans+Politics