Mar 22, 2008

Deconstructing Pagan Authoritarianism, Part 2

Apologies for the gap in time between the previous article and this. I've been busy attending to personal issues and have only recently had the time to put the finishing touches on this section. With that out of the way, we shall continue with the critical evaluation of the How to Keep Your Coven from Being Destroyed.

The second part of that essay starts with a restatement of the original principles and conclusions of the previous entry, namely that conspiratorial thinking about the cause of conflicts are good things, that negotiation is letting the terrorists, I mean trolls, win, and that despite all of this being a natural process, it should somehow be confronted and dealt with, presumably because many Pagans are only in favour of nature when its inoffensive.

However, the purpose of this section of the essay is to identify the difference between a (supposed) troll and a (supposedly) normal coven member. Eran likens the troll to a “tarantula or scorpion”, while an ordinary coven member is apparently more akin to a “pet hamster.”

I find the imagery here very interesting. Troll, scorpion, tarantula. The former is a creature from Northern European that many are familiar with, from stories involving goats and bridges to Tolkein's myths, often used as the scary elements within a child's tale. The latter are creatures to which we have a natural aversion, thanks to evolutionary biology gifting us with more common sense than, say, the writer of this essay. In short, he is using the text to evoke these feelings of discomfort and buried, irrational childhood concerns, and then presenting the 'troll' as the perfect outlet for such feelings. It is a technique that works well, especially on people who think in mostly visual terms, but is hardly the mainstay of a serious debate (of course, neither is my mockery, but I have to be me, and I do try to keep it to the sidelines).

On the other hand, we have the normal coven member, or the hamster. They're small. They're fluffy. They're kind of cute, in an inoffensive way. They're utterly defenceless and rely on you entirely for their protection and needs. Here, in contrast, we are invoking the feelings of benevolent paternalism. The coven leaders are defending you against the big, bad trolls, because you're too nice and naïve to understand the brutal realities of the world. I don't know about you, but I grew out of the need to have a parent try and second-guess my every decision quite a while ago, and have found doing my thinking on my own to be no great burden. Of course, some people have not, but we have institutions for such people, like the Southern Baptist Church, or the Conservative Party.

Anyway, the use of the discomforting analogies is a lead-up to the solution provided in the previous section, which is of course ejection without a moment's delay. You see how this works, now, I assume, so I shall not labour the point. Create revulsion and discomfort, link to a phrase, offer solution that immediately remedies the feelings. Naturally, this should be done without recourse to anything like public debate, formal hearings etc because they may contradict the leader. Did I say contradict the leader? I meant, just give the troll what they want. Of course. Yes.

Eran sounds what would seem a sensible note of caution about his own list, which makes me further question his suitability for writing such an essay. If he is only able to clarify, in broad terms, what constitutes trollish behaviour, and overlays it with so many warnings about how some people can have off days, but on the other hand no troll will show even most of the signs he has listed, then I have to question the use of his list at all. All this does is hand over a check-list for any aspiring coven autocrat to use as they see fit.

Furthermore, concentration on the behaviour, over the causes, ignores the legitimacy that any of the listed actions may in fact have. By removing the cause of behaviour from observation, all we ever end up doing is reaffirming the boundaries of the currently existing power structure, regardless of how good or bad that structure may be.

Anyway, lets turn to these supposed traits, and see what they actually consist of.

Amazingly Likeable. Trolls often have the ability to be liked almost immediately. They can be very ingratiating, and seem incredibly open and friendly. It isn't necessary to be suspicious of someone who gives a very positive first impression. Some wonderful people also have a great deal of personal charisma. Instant, karmic connections can happen (and, in Paganism often do); but coupled with other warning signs, this could indicate an attempt at manipulation. Trolls tend to be likeable - it's what keeps them from being immediately recognized. It probably kept them from being beheaded at a young age.

Hmm. Just a little different from his earlier description, that of someone who has, and I quote “very low self-esteem, little regard for those around them, often a rather loose grip on consensual reality, and frequently possess a fair measure of paranoia.”

As far as I have found, those who tend to be likeable individuals usually have incredible self-esteem, which is part of their charm. The motto of such people is often “I'm OK, you're OK”, which breeds mutual respect. Likeable personalities often take a genuine interest in those they engage with, and deal with them in a positive and constructive way. Doesn't sound very paranoid or lacking a grip on reality to me.

Of course, I did mention the psychopathic personality type in the previous entry, but not only are such people genuinely rare, they contradict his own previous assertions about the nature of these trolls. Of course, I agree that trolls I know do in fact fit the above description provided by Eran, but I am not trying to convince everyone that trolls are mentally ill. It also smacks just ever so slightly of jealousy – that a person can come along and be well liked without having to rely on some sort of rank or authority to get such respect.

Gushing Praise. This is related to being Amazingly Likeable. Does the person seem to be trying to butter you up, to identify your insecurities (everybody has some) and to play on them to give you strokes and lull you into acceptance? Does the person give gifts out of proportion to your level of intimacy and acquaintance?

I think my jealousy angle may be in fact correct. This just reeks of it. If someone is likeable, chances are they will praise good work by people involved. That's part of their likeability, that they are not overly critical or dismissive of efforts done by the people involved. As for gifts – some people are naturally generous, or have better incomes and means than others. I would expect someone adept within social situations to generally be capable within the workplace and possibly involved either with management of people, human resources, public relations or other areas where one could expect relatively decent pay.

Gotcha. Does the person seem to find joy in pointing out other people's errors or slips, mistakes and goofs, faults and bad habits? Does the person seem to imply these mean he or she is smarter or better suited to be a leader than is the one who goofed? Does the person sometimes ask questions he or she already knows the answers to, just to see if you know?

Somewhat of a contrast to the entry above. However, if we study the context of the language more closely, some details come out. The problem here is critical evaluation of the coven leadership. “Other people” in this entry does not mean the people to whom the supposed troll is praising and being friendly with”, but the troll's “betters”. Because god forbid something could be wrong with the leadership. If a leader is making mistakes, and is lacking in knowledge, then they probably shouldn't be a leader. It's that simple. Eran obviously disagrees with this, because rank is in and of itself more important than anything else, especially spiritual growth and learning, which could be accelerated by a leader who doesn't consistently screw up, or doesn't know their stuff as well as they should.

Coven Hopper. Does this person have a history of moving from Coven to Coven, usually (or always) leaving on bad terms? Does he or she have nothing but negative things to say about the leader(s) of previous groups? Does the person exhibit a dislike of Pagan Leaders in general?

On one hand, this could be a valid criticism, but on the other hand...have you actually met many Pagan leaders? I can only go by the ones I have encountered online, but many seem little more than petty bullies interested in lording it over the serfs – that is, the rest of their coven, and demonstrating their authority at every chance they get.

And chances are, if someone does leave several groups, then they are going to say bad things about some leaders. That many moves suggests a problem of some sort. However, it doesn't tell us if the problem is with the individual (as Eran obviously believes) or the system (which is more towards my beliefs). Its a purposeful fallacy, the use of this description, because it picks a sample group where resentment and anger against other Pagan leaders is likely to be high, regardless or not if it is justified.

Name Droppers/Initiation Collectors. Does the person expect you to be impressed by the people he or she has met, or the number of groups or Traditions he or she has worked with? Is there frequent reference to his or her marvelous and unmatchable experiences, skills, and knowledge? (Real sages can let their light shine without constant boasting).

Sounds like the green-eyed monster again. Usually, the people most guilty of this are in fact coven leaders, who cant help but boast about their seemingly extraordinary past and contacts within the Pagan community. I suspect the problem here is being shown up for being a fraud, or feeling threatened by someone who actually does have some ability beyond pretending to be all quiet and sage like.

'Sage' is a cover term for timid, normally, which suggests a lack of confidence in ones abilities. To be sure, you don't need to show off at every turn, but equally you don't have to squirrel away your sage-like knowledge and and skills so no-one ever sees them. Unless you don't actually have them, of course.

Excessive Rulehating. Many Pagans are very independent people. However, if someone is going to work within an established group, they need to be willing to follow whatever guidelines that group has, however loose or restrictive those guidelines might be. Trolls hate such restrictions. Healthy people who dislike a given group's rules are willing to admit that particular group may not be right for them, and to look elsewhere without animosity. Trolls will be angry at you personally for running a group which does not suit them.

Damn, I've been caught out! I'm a rule-hating troll!

Now, lets examine this in some detail. Apparently, Pagans are very independent people. But they are only allowed to express that independence in the right way, which means never questioning the rules. Where is the independence in submission? See, this is what happens when you allow Rush Limbaugh type dittoheads to dominate the national discourse for more than a few years. Word meanings go all Orwellian. Independence means never questioning things. Individuality means conforming. War is Peace. And we have always been at war with troll-kind.

Urgh. Secondly, remember who said this:

Once a Coven Leader realizes there's a troll in the midst of the coven, all that needs to be done to get rid of the troll is to tell him or her to go away. There doesn't need to be any red tape or formal hearings or anything of that sort. Trolls love red tape, and can usually tie up a whole organization in such a proceeding for months, or even years. Trolls need conflict the way healthy people need food, and a formal hearing - even one whose purpose is an attempt to eject the troll - is exactly the arena in which they thrive.

Yeah, Eran not only says trolls love red tape (in direct contradiction to this) but also...wait for it...hates red tape himself! Of course, there is a difference when it comes to ignoring and reducing rules when you are the coven leader, and rules for the “little people.” Little people, i.e.; everyone else in the Coven, is held to a different standard to the leader.

And of course, if someone who is 'healthy' disagrees, they should leave anyway, since the group is not right for them. So in Eran's world, you're allowed to be an individual, but only with some other coven. Also note how this ties in with the description of those who travel from group to group or are outspoken against Pagan leaders. If this is the standard of most Pagan leaders, no wonder there are a segment of bitter, disenchanted and independently minded people out there. He's helping to perpetuate the very problem he says he is trying to cure.

Echoes and Re-runs. Is this person frequently involved in arguments and destructive conflicts? Do conflicts seem always to occur and re-occur when this person is around? Does the person accept responsibility for his or her role in previous disagreements, or are these problems always blamed on someone else?

Useless without context. If the structure is the problem, then the same conflicts will reoccur until either the structure is changed, the individual is crushed and made to conform, or is run out. Eran's lack of ability to distinguish between collective, systemic problems and individual ones is his main, great failings.

Unnamed "Others". Are "others" always to blame for this person's problems? Do "others" always agree with this person's concern? Does the person carry tales told to him or her by "others"? Is this person always vague about just exactly who these "others" are?

Given the way Eran seems to think a coven should be run, as a personal fiefdom with him as the Theocrat in Chief, I'd want to keep my criticisms of the leadership as anonymous as possible too. I'd also likely go to the person I trust and like a lot, and the person who has already shown some level of criticism with my concerns as well. Eran's lack of understanding of the processes here are incredible.

Living One's Religion. Does this person exhibit unethical or dishonest and destructive behavior in other areas of his or her life? A destructive person won't stop being destructive in Circle, and trolls object to having you look at other areas of their lives. Someone who is destructive or dishonest in their personal lives will be equally destructive and dishonest in their Craft lives.

What if one's religion rewards those smart enough to get away with dishonesty for the greater good? What if destructive behaviour is only directed at those unethical institutions, groups or individuals who deserved their fate? I have partaken in deception before, to infiltrate groups or deflect suspicions from myself, and have undertaken acts which could be classed as destructive (I prefer disruptive, but since Eran's not too fussy with his terminology, I suspect this would be included). What if one's religion involves having a good time and giving hell to any idiot stupid enough to try and deny you that?

Eran would have you believe every Pagan (at least, every True Pagan) is some goodie two-shoes type, meek and mild-mannered. You'd think for someone who not so subtly gives the impression that he is used to the harsh realities that lesser coven members are not, he'd understand sometimes having an effect on the world around you involves reference to a different moral code than one of quiet contemplation and spiritual growth. The monk and the knight were both Christian, but their actions could not be further apart. And there is even greater disparity within the many strands of Pagan belief than there are of expressions of religiosity in Catholicism.

The fear here is of someone with power, outside of the official power structure, and someone who is capable of planning ahead (as dishonesty and deception, by necessity, involve thinking ahead to the consequences of ones actions). Such people are generally dangerous to those who derive their power from their station or authority and little else.

Liar. Is the person often caught in outright lies? Are there excuses and slick explanations always at the ready? Excuses can get pretty imaginative. A common technique is to frequently claim to have misunderstood or misremembered the conversations in question. One troll even invented the condition of "aural dyslexia" to "explain" his frequent false statements.

A liar is a liar, but the reasons behind their lies can be many and often non-offensive. And again, I've seen far more Pagan leaders who are liars than followers, especially when it comes to questioning their authority, where they can get positively revisionary about past conversations, rules and statements. And clarity of rules should be of paramount importance. If a leader leaves the rules vague and undefined, then it is their fault when people take advantage of that.

As an aside, auditory processing disorder is in fact an underlying condition of dyslexia, and may affect up to 60% of dyslexia sufferers. Again proving Eran has no grounds for his use of psychological terms and language. If Eran knew anything about psychology or biology, he'd know dyslexia was a neurological problem, and such problems can have effects on other sensory processes. Instead, he labels someone a lying troll and (presumably) expels them. Nice.

Note Takers and Journal Keepers. Trolls like to write things down - slanting the record, of course, to make themselves look good, and to make everyone else look bad. They'll pull out their journals from time to time to "prove" how mean someone else was, or to back up their own incredible claims. Of course, even healthy Pagans often keep magical workbooks and notebooks, so simply keeping a journal - even a highly subjective journal - doesn't make one a troll. But does the person sometimes use these subjective personal accounts to back up a claim? Are these accounts filled with extreme adjectives and intimations of others' imagined states of mind? Does the person seem unable to realize that their journal is subjective testimony, and not an objective and accurate, proven account?

Of course, no Pagan leader would ever slant the record with their own subjective judgements either. And if I had to deal with a duplicitous leadership, you can bet I'd be recording what was said and when as well.

Also, every account is going to be, to a degree, subjective. You're a human, not God (sorry Satanists, I'm sure you'll get over it, one day), you are bound by your perceptions, senses, models of human behaviour, past experiences, social status and a bunch of other factors. You can try to minimize these, but if someone is quoting back your exact words to you, that's about as objective as you can ever hope to get.

Excessive Sarcasm. A ready wit is a good thing. A consistently sarcastic and caustic wit, which constantly belittles others, is not. Does the person seem unable to comprehend the painful and destructive effects of his or her own sarcastic statements?

Of course, someone who has been thrown out of several covens for not accepting their (likely ludicrous) rules and repression, upon seeing it again, would never engage in sarcasm at all, would they?

Some people have naturally caustic wits. Some people can't help but point out hypocritical or pathetic behaviour on the part of some leaders. Sometimes, these people get beheaded and have their hands cut off, like Cicero. Other times, they get called trolls and expelled from covens. Also, I very much doubt someone who was so hurtfully sarcastic to the entire coven would be very likeable. So again, I suspect Eran means sarcasm directed at the actions of the leadership.

Pests. Is the person constantly calling with questions, suggestions, personal problems? Does he or she expect you to be willing to drop everything to deal with any and all concerns? Is he or she offended and angry if you can't?

Sounds more like someone who joined a coven for personal reasons relating to support. I can't see much of this being very trollish, even given the contradictory definitions given so far. Of course, labelling them a troll then allows the leader to get rid of them without feeling much in the way of guilt, and yet also proves this isn't about trolls at all, but about inconveniencing the all mighty coven leaders, and dealing with those problems in any way possible.

Causes. A social conscience is a Good Thing, and many Pagans are very active politically. But great social causes can also be a mask for selfish demands, or for a desire for personal power. Does the person heap scorn on those who don't have an equal zeal for the same causes? Does the person use these causes as excuses to start fights - even when it's time to settle down to other work?

Funny how these causes can be a mask for selfish demands and personal power, but a coven is not, of course. And if I felt strongly about a cause, then yes, I would heap scorn on those who only pay lip benefit to it. Why? Because I feel strongly about it.

The problem here is not the cause, or personal power seeking. The problem is that the sort of person attracted to causes often has a highly developed value system, including some abstract absolutes. And than means if the Coven leader, who may or may not be a power hungry jerk, transgresses these, obedience to them will not mean as much as righting the wrong that was committed. Again, its the problem with personality types who fight back and wont accept certain actions.

Bad Losers/Bad Winners. In arguments or disagreements - or in games and leisure activities - does the person react well to resolutions? What kind of impression does the person give about past conflicts? Is there excessive gloating when the person wins, or harping and whining when he or she loses? Are personal disagreements often depicted in terms of winning and losing, rather than as attempts to resolve differences? Does a loss provoke retaliation? Does the person use various forms of intimidation, or passive-aggressive techniques, to get what he or she wants?

In short, does this person follow the implicit advice of Eran, who has shown absolutely no interest in conflict resolution whatsoever?

Excessive Privacy or Secrecy. Information management is one of the most powerful tools of a troll. Be wary of anyone who tells you too many things "in confidence," or who warns you away from talking to people he or she knew formerly, or people involved in his or her tales. Of course, this does not apply to legitimate Oaths taken in a religious context. Many paths require Oaths of secrecy, and respect for the privacy of others

If you've got nothing to hide....then you should be very worried about people who have an excessive interest in your personal life. Information is a tool of power, and any relatively sane, independent individual who recognizes this will of course attempt to place limits on what a coven leader knows. My personal life is just that. If I want interfering busybodies snooping on me, I'll go join Opus Dei. Last time I checked, Paganism wasn't a cult, and that means respecting peoples privacy. Only despots and autocrats believe that privacy is a bad thing.

Oathbreakers/Braggarts. Is the person only too happy to tell you all the secrets of some other group or tradition? He or she will also treat your privacy with just as much contempt. Is the person inordinately proud of knowing Secrets which other people are not privy to?

Breaking oaths and telling secrets is probably bad form...but lets be honest, if I can find your group's secrets with half an hour's research on Google, chances are so can anyone else. Its not really a secret when you can turn up 50+ pages on the topic. And besides, secrecy within religious groups is a tool of power and coercion. Individuals have the right to privacy, but when groups engage in it, it becomes very sinister. Sharing knowledge can only lessen abuses and potentially open up fruitful discussion on a variety of topics.

Projection and Inconsistency. "When you complain about something, it's malicious gossip; but when I do, it's just sharing feelings, or warning someone about something." "When I call you nasty names, it's just an accurate description; when you talk about me behind my back, it's slander." Trolls are unable or unwilling to apply the same standards to themselves which they apply to other people. They will violently criticize others for actions they engage in themselves. Does the person seem to have an inability or unwillingness to consider other viewpoints?

But they're so likeable! How do they manage it, being so likeable yet totally incapable of understanding someone else's points of view? And of course, if there is an inconsistent standard being applied from above, by those with power in the coven, then of course there will be inconsistency in actions undertaken by those without power. That you, the leaders, set the rules of the game when it comes to such things, demands an element of inconsistency, if articulation of the problem is impossible.

Change Your Focus. If a new person joins your group, does he or she insist on having a better way to do things? Does the person always want to bend the rules of your group, or do away with them? Remember: Paganism is big, and you have no responsibility to provide for the needs of everyone who comes to you. If your group isn't to the liking of a potential member or a new member, there's nothing in the least wrong with insisting that person seek fulfillment elsewhere.

Change is bad! The old ways are best! Now let us eat our raw meat and retire to the trees for the night!

Um, yeah. Perhaps if someone has a way that is supposedly better, you should give it a try and see if it works? I mean, assuming you want to be fair about this and aren't simply clinging to relics of tradition because it is the source of your authority. I also like the restatement of accept the rules as they are, or be expelled. Great attitude there, the “never question me” gambit.

Inappropriate Application of Pagan principles, such as the value of love and trust, or the Rede, subjective realities and creating your own realities, "going with my feelings," following one's own sense of ethics, 12-step "recovery," and so on. Does the person use Pagan ideals and Newage jargon as excuses and covers for unethical behavior?

Only Coven leaders are able to decide what the appropriate applications of Pagan principles are. Its kind of like the old Catholic priesthood, only the meaningless jargon is in English, and you don't get a sip of wine (which is a shame, because some churches actually have some rather fine wines). Why do Pagans put up with this crap? Have you considered the example of Martin Luther, at all? The breaking away from the established and corrupt orthodoxy bit, not the virulent anti-Semitism part. If your so-called leader doesn't know their shit as well as they should, relies on power games and appeals to authority for their decisions, and is basically incapable of arguing their point within the confines of your select religion, why the hell should they be allowed to dictate the correct and incorrect application of Pagan principles? They should be ridiculed, then tarred and feathered. Literally or figuratively, I'm not fussy.

Anyway, Eran promises to show in the next part how trolls (who hate rules, don't you know) will, um, use rules and red tape to tie up formal organization. Because apparently following your own rules is bad or something...

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