Column: Musings on Propaganda in the Age of Authoritarianism

Alley Valkyrie —  December 2, 2016 — 56 Comments

Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance or obscurantist beliefs.

– Guy Debord

*   *   *

One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in France last summer is that battles were being waged on multiple fronts.

There was the most obvious battle, the one that the media was covering, a nationwide uproar over a set of controversial labor reforms that were widely viewed as a betrayal of the working class on the part of a supposedly left-wing government.

There was a secondary battle that was playing out alongside that uproar, a guerrilla battle against capitalism and international finance that was being waged by leftists and anarchists in the form of smashed bank windows and repeated violent confrontations with police.

And then there was the battle for the imagination, the battle of dueling narratives that leftists and fascists alike were waging on every blank surface imaginable, from street poles to mailboxes to the walls of boarded-up buildings. As opposed to the aforementioned battles, the battle for the imagination was one that the leftists were obviously and solidly winning.

The words and imagery that adorned pretty much every conceivable surface passionately and effectively reflected the world that could be, the world that they were trying to build. With stickers and graffiti and street art, those who believed that ‘another world is possible’ were successfully appealing to the hearts and minds of the populace.

img_1827

That success was reflected in not only in the physical presence of a leftist culture, but in the widespread public acceptance of many of their ideas and visions and how those ideas manifested in the physical world. Actions that would be almost universally condemned in the United States, such as the repeated destruction of ATMs, were met with an attitude that ranged from indifference to gleeful acceptance.

Even those who disapproved often expressed their sympathies with the sentiments behind such actions, despite criticizing the actions themselves. They understood why the battle was being waged, and their understanding was in part closely connected to the consistent anti-capitalist messaging that they were exposed to on a daily basis.

*   *   *

The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. Distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to avoid such tasks, art will tackle the most difficult and most important ones where it is able to mobilize the masses.

– Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’

In the above-quoted essay, arguably his most well-known and influential work, Walter Benjamin characterized a primary component of fascism as the politicization of the aesthetic and argued in favor of the revolutionary potential of art. Written in 1936, and grounded in his observations of the role of aesthetics as employed in Hitler’s rise to power, Benjamin detailed the transformation of art as a medium through the technologies of reproduction.

He explained how such modernization had created the potential for the utilization of art as a means in which to influence the masses, but also pointed out how that potential could and would be used for repressive and totalitarian purposes if and when the means of reproduction was concentrated in the hands of the few.

He stressed that if and when the means of reproduction were democratized, art potentially holds the same power as a tool of resistance that it held in Germany as a tool of manipulation which normalized and reinforced oppression.

While his point had always resonated with me, the truth of his statements became plainly evident after my interactions with the countless propaganda-covered street poles that I constantly encountered throughout France.

*   *   *

More than anything, Hillary [Clinton] forgot that Obama owed his first victory to an image, to an idea.

I heard the comment as I walked past an art student, talking on the phone as he was waiting for the bus outside of PNCA in northwest Portland. I knew immediately what he was referring to: Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘HOPE’ poster, which was a near-ubiquitous image during the 2008 presidential campaign.

barack_obama_hope_poster

While his actual campaign promises and proposed policies were undoubtedly a factor in his success, one cannot underestimate the degree to which his victory was on account of his winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of a disillusioned populace through the ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘change.’ The strength of Fairey’s image and the resonance of the message inspired voters to hit the polls in record numbers.

It was many of those same voters, especially those from rural areas, living in poverty and once inspired by the ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ who switched parties and voted for Trump eight years later.

They flipped in large part because the changes that they had hoped for and expected did not materialize for them, and their hearts and minds were then subsequently captured by a very different but equally captivating message.

But this time, instead of abstract concepts like ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ this message provided not only concrete promises but definitive scapegoats.

*   *   *

The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.

– Walter Benjamin

Among other factors, fascism gains its traction on account of a compelling narrative.

Fascism takes advantage of crumbling social conditions, evokes a false nostalgia for the ‘good old days,’ and frames the current material conditions as a ‘fall’ from that greatness. It then scapegoats specific parties as the cause of the fall, and promises a restoration to greatness if and only if the people place their trust in an authoritarian leader and give that leader free rein to rid us of the scapegoats that are responsible for the ‘problems.’

To its credit, liberal democracy also presents a compelling narrative. The promise of ‘freedom’ and ‘prosperity’ and ‘rights,’ especially as it is contextualized within the idea of the ‘American dream,’ has captured hearts and minds for generations now. While it is a narrative that realistically has only ever applied to certain segments of the population (mostly able-bodied white people), over the past few decades the promises of that narrative have repeatedly failed even those who had previously been granted that dream .

The ideology of fascism was birthed out of the ashes of World War I, birthed of the anger of a generation in which working-class people throughout Europe were brutally slaughtered in a war that was mainly fought in the interests of the ruling classes and in the name of democracy. It was the betrayal and/or failure of the narrative and the promises of liberal democracy in Europe that caused large segments of the population to embrace the narrative of fascism.

Although its been mostly forgotten in the mainstream retelling of history, the present turn of events in the United States is not the first time that the narrative of fascism has captured the interest of the American public. Fascism first rose in America in the years after the Great Depression, the last time that the narrative and promises of liberal democracy were proven to fail en masse throughout the North American continent.

While there were multiple factors that in combination were able to overpower the pull of fascism in America that first time around (such as the effects of the New Deal), it was ironically the economic boost that came from the war against fascism in Europe that acted as the nails in the coffin for the power of the fascist narrative in America.

Out of that war came the resurgence of liberal democracy in even greater forms, from the recognition of the United States as a global superpower to institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union.

It is the crumbling and decline of those powers in the present day which in large part has ushered in the current wave of fascist tendencies. History demonstrates very clearly that when the contradictions of liberal democracy, both the obvious and hidden, start to weigh heavily enough to crack the foundations of that system, those who have benefited and profited from that system and its contradictions will inevitably embrace fascism in order to secure their wealth and their safety.

In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also inevitably embrace fascism and history will be left to repeat itself.

*   *   *

Il est interdit d’interdire (It is forbidden to forbid)

– Situationist slogan, May 1968

In the summer of 1968, revolutions and revolutionary tendencies echoed throughout the Western world, with varying degrees of success and lasting power. Among the most well-known uprisings of the time was the series of events in May of 1968 in France, which at its peak brought the entire French economy to a standstill and nearly toppled the national government. While history generally characterizes the French uprisings as being fueled by violence and physical resistance, the underlying current which sustained the uprisings was based in artistic expression, most notably the tactics and aesthetics of the Situationist International.

The SI was formed a decade earlier, a fusion of libertarian Marxist ideas and the ideologies and aesthetic expressions of the surrealist and dada art movements. Arguably the strongest idea to come forth from the situationists was the concept of the ‘spectacle,’ which Guy Debord described and defined as “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

The concept of the spectacle was in itself a deep critique of capitalism, specifically the ways in which commodity fetishism had shifted society away from social relations based on direct experience and instead created an arena where individual expression was primarily exercised through the consumption of commodities. The aim of the SI was to reverse that trend, to prioritize and emphasize direct experience and to replace the manufactured desires of capitalism with actual and authentic desires.

This philosophy was central to the artistic and symbolic expressions that fueled the uprisings of May ’68. The emotional appeals of the SI, which stressed personal freedom, social authenticity, and political liberation, created a climate in which many believed that a new world was truly possible. Despite the eventual failure of the uprisings to foment an actual social revolution, the ideas and tactics of the SI left its mark on an entire generation of French youths, who continued with and passed on those ideas into the modern day.

Situationist graffiti in France. Public domain.

Situationist graffiti in France. Public domain.

The propaganda and messaging that is currently seen throughout every major urban area in France, as well as the understandings and philosophies behind it, is a direct and often obvious descendant of the imagery and emotion that characterized the SI and the events of May ’68.

*   *   *

When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany;” it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”

– Halford E. Luccock, as quoted in the New York Times, 1938.

Many tend to position liberal democracy and its inherent values as either the prophylactic against or the antidote to fascist tendencies, just as they consider the same system to be inherently opposed and in contradiction to the narrative and the promises of fascism. The values expressed in fascism are framed as the antithesis of democracy, and it is stressed that it is the failure to uphold the values of democracy that inevitably will lead to fascism.

But in reality, they are two sides of the same coin, pun intended.

Liberal democracy is the clothing we put on to hide the obscene nature of the body exposed, so to speak. When the actualized brutality and obscenity that is necessary to uphold liberal democracy is revealed, such as the violence recently witnessed at Standing Rock, it is demonstrated for all to see that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

In that moment, liberal democracy is then maintained and upheld by the portion of the populace that continues to praise the emperor on the beauty of his garments, despite the obvious nature of the body exposed.

“The system is broken,” they say, when the actual truth is that the system is being exposed in and for its true and brutal nature, momentarily stripped of all its trappings and distractions.

It is in those moments that fascism and anti-capitalist leftism are actually in agreement, united in contradiction to the liberal democratic narrative, that in fact the system is working exactly as intended. The fascist praises and encourages the mechanics as a justified means to an end, while the leftist argues that the means do not justify the ends and that the only ethical response is to abolish the system altogether.

When the lies of liberal democracy are exposed for what they are, when the child comes forth and finally points out to the crowd that the emperor is naked, it is the narrative of either/both the fascist and/or the leftist that hold the potential power to define what is accepted as reality.

Which side actually gains power in that moment is dependent on many factors, but among the strongest factors is the ability of their respective narratives to capture the imagination.

Logical arguments do not hold much sway in those moments. Instead it is a matter of which side wins the hearts and minds of the masses.

*   *   *

Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances.

– Charles Baudelaire

Writers such as Baudelaire or Benjamin are far from the only ones who recognize the power inherent in imagery.

Witches, Pagans, occultists, magicians, and related folk have long understood the potential power that art and symbols have to affect reality and material circumstances.

A powerful reminder of that knowledge popped up in my inbox while I was in the process of outlining this very article.

“Have you seen this?” a friend asked, and sent me a link.

The link was to a website called Curse DAPL, complete with specific instructions and an accompanying sigil intended to curse those building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The neverending argument around the ethics of cursing notwithstanding, the use of symbolism in the form of sigils as a method of fighting oppression and resisting is a time-tested method that spans countless cultures and societies.

On a personal level, seeing that folks in our communities are using sigil magic in order to disrupt capitalist forces filled me with pride and hope, especially considering that so many are unable to participate in the on-the-ground fight against the DAPL.

As the material circumstances that characterize our world as we know it continue to shift and disintegrate, I can only hope that such methods become more and more utilized and widespread.

*   *   *

The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified. 6. The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society.

— Guy Debord, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’

While most corporations and retailers used Black Friday as a way to convince people to buy tangible items at rock-bottom prices, the folks at Cards Against Humanity had a different idea.

They decided to dig a literal hole in the ground for three days straight, with an appeal to the public to pay for the digging by the minute. They had a live video feed of the hole, and a running tally that looked no different from any other crowdfunding campaign.

Despite its absurdity, the stunt resonated with people on several levels, not only as a commentary on consumerism and the existential bleakness of the modern day, but as a painful and arguably hilarious example of what people were willing to actually spend money on. Excerpted from the website’s FAQ:

What do I get for contributing money to the hole?

A deeper hole. What else are you going to buy, an iPod?

Why aren’t you giving all this money to charity?

Why aren’t YOU giving all this money to charity? It’s your money.

What if you dig so deep you hit hot magma?

At least then we’d feel something.

In the same country where thousands are dying on the streets without aid and thousands more are suffering from lack of medical care, after three days, the ‘holiday hole’ brought in over $100,000. As has been shown countless times before this one, the plight of the suffering has nothing on the draw and the temptation of the spectacle.

Aside from the obvious resonance in terms of the current sociopolitical climate, my first thought was of Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies showering Wall Street with dollar bills and then laughing while the hapless traders on the floor abandoned their tasks in order to scramble for every dollar, disrupting the machine of capitalism with the very substance that fuels it.

While such tactics and stunts owe an certain debt to the situationists and the idea of the spectacle, its important to recognize that the theatrical tactics of the American ‘New Left’ were arguably responsible for replacing and displacing the last vestiges of actualized radical struggle in the United States. Once political theater became mainstream in terms of both public acceptance as well as expectation, militant tactics were for the most part abandoned by the mostly white, college-educated left in the United States. This eventually led to a massive loss of political power and social capital, which contributed to the rise of neoliberalism and the post-civil rights era conservative movements that now dominate the political landscape and control much of its discourse.

Moreover, the movements and organizations that did not abandon militant radicalism, such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement, were left standing alone and subsequently targeted and destroyed from both within and without by the likes of COINTELPRO.

While the humor of such political theater doesn’t lead to direct and actualized change, the potential effect that such humorous spectacles can have on the masses should not be understated. Cards Against Humanity just proved that to the tune of $100,000, and while part of me winces at that reality, another part of me wonders if and how that tendency can be manipulated in favor of a spectacle that creates an actual means to an end.

*   *   *

Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.

– Walter Benjamin

The ‘culture jamming’ movement, which came to prominence in the political climate of the mid-1980s, was deeply influenced by the work of Guy Debord and the Situationist International, most notably their concept of détournement.

Adbusters corporate flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

Adbusters corporate flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

But of course, in accordance with the tendencies of capitalism, it did not take long for culture jamming itself to go from a simple method and strategy of expression to a marketed product with the emergence of publications such as Adbusters. It only took a few years for Adbusters to reposition themselves from critics of consumer culture to willing participants in commodity fetishism under the guise of ‘ethical capitalism.’

I personally think that the spirit of Guy Debord is simultaneously horrified and amused by such circumstances, as it equally acts as an insult to his legacy as well as a solid confirmation of his theories around the nature of the spectacle. But the success that Adbusters found in marketing dissent is also important lesson in terms of its reach and effectiveness and should not discourage us from carrying on the traditions of politicizing art that were pioneered by either the situationists or the culture jammers.

*   *   *

“Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.”

– Jean Anouilh

We tend to interpret the word ‘propaganda’ as information that is inherently untrustworthy. We refer to “Soviet propaganda” or “anarchist propaganda” with the understanding that those folks likely aren’t telling the ‘truth.’

Historically, propaganda was generally regarded as a neutral force, holding true to its Latin roots. ‘Propaganda’ derives from propagare, meaning ‘to propagate,’ and propaganda was recognized as a powerful weapon that could be wielded in the name of countless agendas. It was only with the rise the phenomenon that Benjamin observed, of authoritarian governments that disseminated mass propaganda through the means of mechanical reproduction in order to manipulate the public in favor of repressive tendencies, that the word took on a permanently negative connotation.

While our tendency is to distrust anything that we consider to be propaganda, we place a rather impressive amount of trust in the great corporate propaganda machine known as advertising. The assumption is that the unsanctioned graffiti or flyer or poster is trying to pull one over on us, but we tend to accept that four out of five dentists recommend Crest without much thought or criticism. We generally grant the benefit of the doubt to the claims made by advertising, despite widespread knowledge of the degree to which that medium is manipulating us.

And yet, just as the only true difference between ‘militarism’ and ‘terrorism’ is legitimatization on the part of the state, the only difference between what we consider to be ‘advertising’ and what is disparaged as ‘propaganda’ or ‘graffiti’ is legitimatization on the part of society and our acquiescence to the various ways in which the state and capital control the commons. Our trust in one over the other is rooted not in fact or substance but in our cultural programming, in our tendency to trust authority.

Those who condemn political graffiti generally do not reserve the same criticism for corporate and/or political advertising, and in that inconsistency they further strengthen the power that capital has over the commons and by extension over our thoughts and our minds.

Graffiti by Banksy, Brighton, England. Photo by ShoZu

Graffiti by Banksy, Brighton, England. Photo by ShoZu

The ubiquity of advertising in modern society and the tight control of access to that medium and the spaces it inhabits act as a current reflection and confirmation of Benjamin’s observations concerning the effects of the means of reproduction when concentrated in the hands of the few.

While the idea of ‘reclaiming the commons’ is usually centered on occupying public space and ‘commoning’ activities such as community gardens, reclaiming and rewriting the messages that currently define the modern commons is an overlooked and necessary component of creating a narrative that has the potential to challenge that of the status quo.

If fascism relies on the aestheticization of politics, fascism needs to be fought by politicizing the aesthetic.

*   *   *

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.

Banksy

*     *     *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

*     *     *
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Alley Valkyrie

Posts

Alley Valkyrie is a social activist, writer, artist, and spirit-worker living in the Pacific Northwest. She currently divides her time between Portland and Eugene. Alley has spent the past several years working with homeless and impoverished populations in Oregon. She is also a freelance visual artist and photographer, and produces a clothing line called Practical Rabbit.
  • DverWinter

    I’m struggling to find the “pagan” connection in this long commentary on politics appearing on a pagan news site. Other than this brief bit:

    “Witches, Pagans, occultists, magicians, and related folk have long understood the potential power that art and symbols have to affect reality and material circumstances.”

    Whether or not one agrees with the position here, there are a million other places to read such ideas. Would love to see The Wild Hunt remain on topic as a source of pagan-specific news.

    • I find myself in complete agreement with you!

      There’s nothing in this post about wands or crystals anywhere! No prosperity magic, and no last-minute gift-giving ideas for the busy witch…

      The struggle is real, comrade.

      • And which struggle would that be?

        Politics is politics and is still about control. Right or left, up or down, it’s still a dirty business.

        And corrupting.

        • Says the guy who runs a right-wing libertarian Pagan site called “Pagan Vigil.”

          You’re so adorably transparent, mate. 🙂

          • Actually it’s libertarian, not right wing libertarian.

            As in a smaller government than absolutely necessary.

            You might want to check out my commenting history. You’d see that while I marginally prefer conservatives, I also regularly call them out on topics like homosexuality, religion, and human rights.

          • While I marginally prefer homosexuals, I also regularly call out right-libertarians who shroud their anti-leftist sentiment with demands for apolitical safe-spaces.

          • History shows that politics corrupts faith. It’s not the Divine who stirs up politics, it’s the priests and priestesses seeking power.

            Government can not be allowed the moral justification of religion, and religion cannot be allowed the coercive power of government.

          • peterdybing

            Your version of history, tell that to the family of MLK Jr. What a crock of bull, everyone’s faith or non faith informs and manifests their political views

          • Pardon, do you wish to live under the religious laws of another faith? Should faith be politically enforced? Would you sacrifice your beliefs for something mandated by the state?

          • peterdybing

            That’s bs, the discussion is about belief being inherently tied to political activity and activism. No one is suggesting tearing down the wall between church and state. Everyone’s beliefs affect their politics, which history teaches us has lead to great advancements in social, economic and environmental justice. The idea that political discussions you don’t like don’t belong on a Pagan site is just you wanting to suppress ideas you don’t agree with.

          • Of course everyone’s beliefs affect their lives, not just their politics. I’m making a distinction between individual choice/faith and a religion mandated by the state and backed by the force of law.

            Politics is about controlling others. Faith should not be.

            Does that mean that we shouldn’t stand for justice? Of course we should. But are we serving justice or seeking control?

            Do I want to suppress ideas? Nope. If anything I’d like to see more ideas, especially the ones that people don’t like and that make us uncomfortable. I believe that the best way to make ideas better is to have them tested by those we respect but don’t agree with. If our ideas can’t stand criticism and dissent, those ideas probably aren’t worth much.

            Should paganism and politics go hand in hand? As Chas. Clifton pointed out, religion shouldn’t be about morality. We know from centuries of watching that mixing politics and Christianity brings out the worst elements of both. There’s no reason to think paganism would be exempt.

          • Perhaps you can request that the editor add trigger warnings to Alley’s essays?

            “TW: Anti-Capitalism; quotes from dead Jewish mystics.”

          • Why in the World would a libertarian need safe spaces and trigger warnings?

          • That’s what I’ve been asking myself! But I won’t delve too far into whatever deep emotions or early trauma is being triggered by an article not coddling your specific political ideology. It’s obviously got you quite upset.

            As I told poor Dver above, “the struggle is real.”

            I hope you’re able to pick up the pieces and carry on. :/

          • Pardon, it’s not “the” struggle.

      • DverWinter

        FFS Rhyd are you seriously going to act like we’ve never met and I’m some anonymous poster you can just repel with hyperbole? You know very well that I am not interested in wands, crystals, pop magic or consumerism, but rather news and discussion relating to my religion. You can disagree and say this is indeed relevant, or opine that relevant or not, it’s important to discuss here, but it would be nice to have a more thoughtful reply.

        Then again, I’m talking to someone who can’t actually respond to anyone with a different opinion without labeling them “right wing,” “fascist,” or whatever other boogeyman words replace actual thinking and nuanced discussion in political circles these days.

        • It’s precisely because we know each other that I’m able to bypass the formality of nodding to your faux-outrage.

          This same critique you level here hasn’t been leveled against other equally political pieces on this site.

          Likewise, I know elsewhere (the Eugene Weekly) you defended Jimmy Marr, a man who sports swastikas on his vehicles and advocates for white nationalism, and attacked Alley’s stand against him.

          You don’t like her, it’s cool. And a white nationalist with swastikas totally needs defending from her, I’m sure!

          But let’s not pretend there isn’t another occluded narrative here.

          • DverWinter

            *sigh* There really is no point in engaging with you, is there? There’s no critical thinking anymore, just Us Versus Them, and I’ve become the Them to you.

            There have been other political pieces on this site, true, but usually I can see a connection to paganism (for instance, in the coverage of the Standing Rock protest) whereas here it was tenuous at best, and yes that is often how I feel about Alley’s pieces here. I’ve actually enjoyed some of her writing quite a bit, and often agree with her political views (though not always obviously), I just think that what’s been posted here lately from her has had less and less to do with paganism. Nor was it “outrage”, faux or not – it was a pretty calm observation and suggestion/request.

            As for the piece in Eugene Weekly, I was expressing the increasingly-unpopular opinion that free speech is of utmost importance in keeping this a free country, EVEN IF that speech is abhorrent – to you, me or anyone else. Just as I want to be able to say something that the likes of Jimmy Marr vehemently disagrees with, I have to let the reverse occur too. Otherwise it’s not free speech anymore. Marr was shut down because he was using a loudspeaker, which is exactly what should have happened, no matter the content of his speech. But Alley was advocating for him being shut down on the basis of that content, and I’m sorry, but that’s censorship, and it’s no better when the left does it than when the right does. I can’t believe I’m having to explain this to supposed “leftists” but here it is.

          • Your remarkable commitment to free speech seems not to extend to material written from an explicitly leftist-Pagan perspective by an explicitly leftist Pagan writer on The Wild Hunt.

            Even you believe some speech is inappropriate.

            You just have unacknowledged preferences on which sort you prefer.

          • DverWinter

            See my response to Northern_Light27 below. There is a world of difference between questioning whether something is appropriate to include on a site for which I am part of the direct audience, and proposing to ban the public expression of a particular thought. I would not, for instance, object at all to Alley reading this post out loud in a public square – in fact, I think that would be a far more appropriate venue. It has nothing to do with personal preferences- unlike many people these days I am able to hold values that transcend personal preferences. I am repulsed by every single thing I’ve ever seen Jimmy Marr say, and I actually agree with a large portion of what I’ve seen Alley say. That has nothing to do with the issue. Come on, I think you actually know better than that. Trying to root out some secret ideological agenda behind those who disagree with you rather than engaging with what they are actually saying is a pretty weak tactic.

          • Ah!

            As long as you don’t have to be exposed to the idea, and others in a large venue aren’t exposed either, then Alley can say whatever she wants!

            That’s called “no platforming.”

            We’ll make a leftist out of you yet. 🙂

          • thehouseofvines.com

            Oh, that missionary zeal. Meanwhile we “fascists” are content to do our own thing and let others do theirs. No wonder you’re having so much trouble with your fundraiser.

          • thehouseofvines.com

            Huh. That was a while back, and in a pretty obscure publication. Nice to know you’re keeping tags on folks.

          • thehouseofvines.com

            Tabs. Though there are probably tags involved too.

    • I agree.

    • femmeinexile

      Seriously? You’re struggling to find the pagan connection here? The entire article is about the power of stories and symbols. Its hard to get more pagan than that.

      Based on your posting history, it seems pretty clear to me that your issue is not with the lack of paganism in this article, but with the author personally as well as the mixing of paganism and politics. It must be nice to be able to keep your spirituality and your politics separate, but those of us who have a boot on our necks do not have that luxury.

      • DverWinter

        If you’re going to get that broad, you could make a pagan connection with *anything* and there’s no point to having a pagan-centered news blog at all. The fact is that clearly pagans are expected to be both interested in this sort of political discussion and largely in agreement with it. You’re right that I’m not fond of mixing religion and politics, but I feel that if it is to be done, it should evidence a more clearly spiritual perspective, rather than being indistinguishable from the ideology espoused in places with no religious dimension at all.

        I don’t know how you define having a “boot on your neck” but I have plenty of liberties at risk from the current political “right”, being a religious minority, a woman, bisexual, etc. Unfortunately, I also have some at risk from the current “left”, most importantly freedom of speech (lest it trigger someone). I find it funny that those who most ardently argue for things like “safe spaces” completely ignore those of us who do not feel comfortable constantly having political ideology rammed down our throats in what are supposed to be spaces devoted to spiritual discussion. Maybe I’m not oppressed enough for my opinions to count.

        • Northern_Light_27

          You’re definitely not oppressed enough to scroll, apparently. I also think it’s funny you’re complaining about the risk to freeze peach from the left– when you started these comments challenging why this essay was even published.

          • DverWinter

            See, now this is why we can’t have an intelligent conversation about anything these days (I mean our whole society, it seems). No one can think critically anymore, they just react. Challenging the editorial decisions of a blog that is, ostensibly, directed to a group including myself is simply an internal discussion about what does or does not belong in that particular forum. I wasn’t saying that Alley, for instance, should not be able to say what she said, or post it on the internet, or even post it on a pagan-oriented site (such as one made for such things, like G&R). So that isn’t about free speech at all, just like it wouldn’t be oppressing my free speech if G&R, for instance, refused to run a piece I wrote about something they considered off-topic for their audience. I am, however, seeing an increasingly call from the so-called “left” these days to limit actual freedom of speech, like the freedom to say something publicly at all, if it makes them feel unsafe or contradicts their fundamental values. Whereas I feel that free speech can only work if it works across the board, no matter how repugnant or upsetting it is.

    • Heather Greene

      Generally speaking, The Wild Hunt provides Pagan news Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, we welcome our columnists and guests, who come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of viewpoints. They offer a beautiful spectrum of perspectives on various relevant topics from politics to mythology, from pop culture to spirituality.

      • DverWinter

        Thanks for the clarification. That at least makes some sense. I might quibble with the statement that a spectrum of perspectives is offered, as it seems quite clear that there are certain political stances favored over others, but that is your prerogative. (I’m actually in general agreement with the political stances favored here, for the record.)

        • Northern_Light_27

          Then sponsor a columnist yourself. Aren’t all of the columnists’ columns there because of particular donors? I know Alley’s are, as it says quite clearly above.

          • Galina Krasskova

            Heather, How much does it cost then to sponsor a columnist?

          • Sophonisba

            It seems with its paid editorial policy, the Wild Hunt has successfully confused editorial with advertising.

          • Heather Greene

            We do not have and never have had a “paid editorial policy.” As we have made clear to all of those who support TWH, “a donor may not direct the content of The Wild Hunt.” Only the editorial team selects the columnists and directs content. Please refer to our policy documents: http://wildhunt.org/faq.

          • Heather Greene

            Sponsorship was only available as perk of the fall fund raiser at the $1500 level.

          • Galina Krasskova

            thanks, Heather. I’ll keep that in mind for next year. 🙂

          • thehouseofvines.com

            How much of an article does $39 get?

          • thehouseofvines.com

            Wait. $42.57. I just raided the swear jar.

          • Heather Greene

            The columnists are not all sponsored. Only two were sponsored this past year.

      • Sophonisba

        Your “variety of backgrounds” isn’t much of a variety. It consists primarily of anarchism, intersectional identity politics, and feminist polemic. Not a critical thought in sight, really.

        • Heather Greene

          We welcome guest submissions all year round. Please consider submitting or pitching an idea, if you feel a perspective is not being covered. Thanks for reading.

  • Tony Rella

    I’m thankful that the Wild Hunt is hosting critical perspectives from contemporary Pagans on current events.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Gleefully ignores that the Left is being crushed all over the place.

    • femmeinexile

      No, they’re not, actually.

  • kenofken

    While the Pagan connection in the material may be tenuous, I think any writing informed by a Pagan perspective is fair game for consideration.

    My criticism is that the piece, as with much of the politically oriented stuff here, is that it does not seem to lead anyplace. It presents plenty of history and theory, which are informative and helpful, but stops short of engaging with the “so what of it”? Where do we go from here? It leaves us with a vision of aesthetics in a non-fascist state, but right now, that lies across a very wide and foreboding chasm. It would be nice to flesh out some theory and strategies for bridging that sucker. What sorts of things in propaganda, aesthetics, visual or performing arts might lead us to somplace better than the ruins of 20th-Century liberal democracy and the authoritarianism which is rapidly seeping in to overgrow it?

    More fundamentally, what does that someplace better look like to you? Your analysis of the problem seems to be shaped by some sort of quasi-Marxist/anarchist sensibility. That’s fine as far as it goes. I think we can have a productive political philosophy discussion from almost any starting point, if we understand what that starting point is and the assumptions which guide the arguments. What would the ideal, no even a viable, reasonably just society look like to you? Clearly it looks different than Standing Rock and much of what else we see around us, but what else? This is where the radical/non-establishment Left is collectively falling on our asses. The fascists know exactly what their model America looks like, and clearly the game plan to implement it. The rest of us are scrambling around either trying to flog a few more miles out of the old liberalism or else articulating our vision as “definitely NOT” A, B, or C.

    I’m struggling with the apparent consensus on both the Right and Left that liberal democracy is a hopelessly failed experiment. I don’t deny the possibility, but I’m not satisfied it’s true either. There’s no denying that systemic injustice is used to shore up the veneer of justice and prosperity. But does the system’s propensity to produce injustice mean it is inherently incapable of acheiving justice? I’m not convinced that’s so. We have produced much better approximations of justice than almost all other real-world systems, and the system has clearly shown the capacity for improvement over the past century plus. Is rapacious corporate capitalism utterly inseparable from the vision of Western democracy? The possibility that it might be so scares the hell out of me, because all of the alternatives in the world today and historically are essentially one form or another of fascism.

    I truly hope our species can come up with some original thinking and potential alternatives to these two broad forms of oppression. Before we can engineer our way to a better world, we need to prove our new model. Before that, we need to run the experiment, but before any of that, we need a lucid and reasonably complete theory on the white board. THAT is what I’m not seeing in the political discussion here at the Wild Hunt nor anywhere else in the progressive world. That’s what chaps my hide about the political columns, not the fact that you have the guts to take on the subject or to declare it a Pagan subject. So far we just seem to keep making repeated and incomplete forays into the background of the situation and framing of the problem.

    • I’d like to see this as a starting point.

      We need to be FOR something instead of AGAINST everything not on the approved topic list.

      We need solutions that don’t exile people politically. That’s something that both major parties have been way too guilty of. It shouldn’t be Winner Take All so the Wise Officials can hand out the Official Benefits for being on the correct side.

      Personally I could probably give you one hundred and thirteen reasons why progressive thought is a dead end. Give me another five minutes, and I can give you another hundred and thirteen reasons why conservatism is a dead end. But like kenofken said, none of that shows the way out of this mess.

      Whether progressives like to admit it or not, the last eight years have been about forcing a certain viewpoint down American throats. Whether conservatives like to admit it or not, the previous eight years were about forcing a certain viewpoint down American throats.

      I believe that the goal should be liberty. I admit I am biased. I do not think government can be trusted to do things for the common good. I remember how excited environmentalists were during the Carter years when government power was expanded. And then Reagan was elected and James Watt was appointed Secretary of the Interior. All that power was going to be used against the environmental goals.

      Maybe the answer shouldn’t be who gets to call the shots. Maybe the answer should be restraining government so it can’t be a threat to the things you consider important.

      I’ve suggested that here before. I know it’s not popular. But if one President expands power, there’s no guarantee that the next one will use that power wisely.

      Maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to hand our power over to someone we elect.

    • Northern_Light_27

      “Before we can engineer our way to a better world, we need to prove our
      new model. Before that, we need to run the experiment, but before any of
      that, we need a lucid and reasonably complete theory on the white
      board.”

      I could have written a lot of your comment. Two things. Experiments *are* being run, all the time, but we’re not hearing enough about them. Both on a more macro level, as with Rojava, but I also consider any small group trying out more progressive leadership and organizing methods to be a micro experiment in a better world, ditto with cooperatives and the like. Whether the workable ones will scale is always a question, but first I think it would be good if we just knew more about them.

      Second, I too would like to hear more theory on what we can build. But as far as “a model”, I’d think a) there would have to be several models and many societies, not one big agglomerated one; and b) a lot of “what will happen after global capitalism fails” (and I agree with the people who say that’s inevitable, it’s just a question of how soon and how messy) can’t be answered by anyone because there’s really no precedent for that, and it’s way too complex to truly model. That said, there’s nothing stopping us from talking more about those possibilities, and we should.

  • Sophonisba

    Even as a politically-active leftist pagan, I find this column to be worthless drivel. I think it’s probably time to start a news site less beholden to those who would like to set the world on fire.

    • Oh, Delores! Where are the recipes on this site?
      My grandchildren are coming over next weekend for Yule, and I was looking for a recipe for gluten-free Gavin Frosted Sugar Yule cookies. The AFA site only has the gluten versions with flour, and I just don’t know what to do!

      • Hahaha!

      • thehouseofvines.com

        White flour, too. None of that multigrain crap.

    • femmeinexile

      Politically active leftist pagan, eh? Since when is defending (and offering prayers for) accused pedophiles while parroting MRA talking points a “politically active leftist” stance?

      PS: keeping your posting history private on Disqus is completely ineffective in the age of Google. You may want to cover your tracks better in the future.

      • Sophonisba

        lol. I’m not particularly concerned with keeping my post history secret, feel free to poke around as much as you want.

        It is telling, however, that you conveniently equate “accused” with “convicted” and gender equality with anti-feminism. You went straight from zero to slander in the space of two posts. Instead of personal insults, perhaps an actual discussion of the issues I raised would better serve all on this thread.

        • Franklin_Evans

          I’m an uninterested (in the various personal conflicts shared here) observer, and the answer to your “actual discussion” point starts with your expressing your opinion of the article as “worthless drivel”. I can readily accept that as a personal opinion, and respect your having and expressing it, but as an entry to discussion it is aggressively hostile towards a rational response.

          I follow Alley’s writing rather closely. I’m a sixty-year-old (perspective of elapsed time) Pagan social activist. I find myself agreeing with Alley about half the time, and finding many accessible points of discussion with the other half.

          Walk your talk. Pony up with rational talking points. This comment section is about to close, so name your spot and I’ll show up.

  • “Big Ern” McCracken

    Oh no the cognitive dissonance over Trump. I guess some people haven’t move on to Kubler Ross model of Acceptance.