Apr 2, 2008

Deconstructing Pagan Authoritarianism, Part 3

Urgh, it seems my fate is to always fall behind in producing a new part on this essay. I have so many projects on my plate, not to mention readings I want to do, that finding the time to sit down and clear my head of any other distractions for an hour or so to be more difficult.

But there I am, at last, getting on with it. In this section of the essay, I want to respond to Eran's proposed rebuttals of 'trollish' arguments. Eran's arguments is that trolls “misuse” Pagan principles in order to get their own way. However, I want to talk a little about the format of his argument before we deal with what he actually says.

Eran uses a structure known to advertising types as the “but” sales pitch. I like this, mainly because it allows me to say “butt” in polite company and have a reason for doing so. But more importantly, it takes advantage of how people process arguments. By placing the supposed detractions to an argument first, then responding, what sticks most in the mind is the rebuttal, not the original claim. It also means he can frame the argument in terms he prefers, he can create “strawmen” and proceed to tear down these logical fallacies, misrepresenting very real arguments. It is quite an underhanded method, in fact, and is done precisely to mislead and persuade you via irrational means to accept his worldview. Just keep this attempt at manipulation in mind.

I'm going to structure my response along good old Hegelian Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis lines because of this. I will contrast both his claims as to what a trollish argument is and his reply, and critically assess both. As far as I know, this method only has a place within philosophy, and not advertising, and so will counteract the previous structure. Assuming there are any common truthes to be found at all.

Eran gives his usual spiel and recap of the last chapters – his tedious “understanding” of a troll and his even more laughable 'trollspotting guide' and then reminds people how trolls love to abuse Pagan principles in order to cover their actions. To which I reply, “o rly?” Eran admits they can be very convincing to large amounts of people, which makes me suspicious. If they are convincing to “other members of the local Pagan community, and to other members of larger Pagan umbrella organizations. They can even sound convincing to you, as their target.” then perhaps, just maybe, there is merit to what is being said?

But no Eran suggests ignore anything like rational thought and instead steam ahead, before letting doubt set in. After all, if you're going to be dead wrong, at least you can say you were certain in your convictions. Which, as we know, makes everything alright.

Anyway, this predictably brings us to the actual arguments themselves, so here they are, presented next to each other for easier comparison.

“Catch a troll in a lie, and the troll will go on about subjective realities, and how things "felt" a certain way to the troll, and you have no right to impose your personal perceptions of reality upon those of the troll. Don't Pagans value the subjective perceptions of all people? You'll also be told not to impose your ethics upon the troll. Don't trolls have as much right as you do to create their own sense of ethics? Don't Pagans value the idea of encouraging individuals to construct their own ethical guidelines, their own means of contact with Divinity? “

“If the troll claims privileges based on subjective realities or personal ethics, or any of the other Pagan principles which rely on the sanctity of the individual, always keep in mind: those principles apply to you as well. The perceptions of the individual matter, and are valued, and each person must act in ways consistent with that person's sense of ethics and of contact with the Gods. Which means you, too, have the right to act upon your perceptions and ethics. If you perceive someone as dishonest and untrustworthy and destructive, then act in ways appropriate to those perceptions, and to the ethical principles you value. Do not let the troll dictate perceptions or ethics to you. “

OK then. Assumption one is that the troll is in fact lying. The simple fact is how we perceive and give meaning to events is subjective, insofar as we are limited by personal, sociological, economic, historical and biological factors, as well as access to information. This is a simple fact. Ask any lawyer who has cross-examined a few eye-witnesses to a crime and you'll soon see how perceptions of events can widely vary.

However, this does not mean that all perceptions or views have equal value, or are equally valid. Only the most insipidly cretinous New Age moron would argue such thing. If someone misperceived a comment or situation, then it is your duty, in order to resolve the conflict, to try and explain what exactly was happening. Understanding people have a different point of view does not mean agreeing with them, however it is the first step in defusing problems.

Also, you don't have the right to impose your perceptions of reality on other people. Unless that person is actively trying to harm someone, maybe. In such a case, restraining them may be in the interest of everyone, but otherwise...well, lets put it this way. From reading the original trollish statement, it seems to say that “I feel this way or that way about [x]”. However, from that, Eran infers the right to act on such beliefs, which is not supported by the original statements at all.

To me, it looks like Eran is reducing the situation to a point where just about any position can be valid. In other word, the truth becomes meaningless, and all that matters is the power one wields, which effects the extent to which one can impose their worldview on the other. And since this is about Coven leaders versus lowly members, uh, trolls, it gives them all the advantages. All views are equal, so all that remains to solve the dispute is the quanta of power held by the respective parties.

Eran's final statements show exactly how much he values conflict resolution. He is actively going out of his way to cause conflict and clearly has no real desire to 'solve' it, except by exercising his powers over the individual in question. Conflict resolution relies on a certain amount of synthesis of opposing viewpoints, whereas this subscribes to the “separate but equal” principle.

“If you're reluctant to accept the word of a troll who's lied to you in the past, you'll be accused of not approaching that troll with the level of love and trust you really should have. Don't these ideals mean you must accept what the troll tells you? Don't they mean you must forgive and forget? “

“The love and trust we're "supposed" to feel toward each other is not supposed to be blind. It needs to be appropriate, and precisely in keeping with the nature of whatever you're dealing with. You may have perfect love and trust for a rabid mongoose. That doesn't mean you'll treat it as you would treat a housecat. It means you'll treat it as a perfectly rabid mongoose, and take the steps which are perfectly appropriate in dealing with it. You'll trust it to act like a mongoose. If someone lies to you repeatedly, you are being cruel - to yourself, to your Coveners, to your Gods, and, ultimately, to the person - if you refuse to treat that person as a habitual liar. “

Again with pseudospeciation. He really does love to paint people he doesn't like as some sort of crazy animal (and conversely, people he does like as meek housepets). And he seems to advocate treating people according to some sort of double standard. One rule for people who are meek and controllable, another for people who are not...

Interesting. See, I've run sites with much tougher crowds than any Pagan covens (imagine thirty people like me, all in one place) and I've found the best way to lead is by example and fairly. The rules apply equally to everyone, or they are not rules, only a system of control. And to be honest, if you need more than a few rules, you have some serious control freak issues, or are unable to deal with deviations from your idea of how a coven should be. Love doesn't come into the equation at all. Its as simple as this: am I applying the same standard to this person as to everyone else? Love may not be blind, but justice is, and I'd rather be just and fair in my dealings than go down Eran's route.

“Consider ejecting a troll from your Coven, and you'll run afoul of the Rede's admonition to "harm none." How dare you do such a dreadful thing to a poor troll? Aren't you causing harm, and interfering with the will of another person?”

“The Rede says to "harm none" - and that includes you. By allowing the lies and manipulations of a troll to damage you, you're actively participating in the harm being done to you, to your Coveners, to your Tradition, and to anyone else being affected by the troll. If you refuse to eject a troll from your Coven, you are responsible for the harm done to your Coven from then on. “

We're stretching the definition of harm here somewhat, are we not? I wasn't aware that bruised egos were covered by the Rede, I must have missed that meeting. Both ways, that is. Surely though, if we want to take a broad look at the concept of harm, surely the least harmful solution would be to resolve the conflict to the satisfaction of every party? You know, so no-one is harmed, instead of only some people, or one person instead of the majority.

“Some trolls are well versed in the language (but not the meaning) of 12-step programs. Tell a troll to desist in destructive behavior, and you'll be told not to "interfere" in the troll's "recovery program." Aren't Pagans tolerant of all paths? “

“By allowing the troll to continue harmful actions without consequences, you're engaged in what 12-step programs call "enabling". Sometimes, someone addicted to drugs or alcohol is protected by friends and family members - they might make excuses for the person at work, or bail the addict out of jail, or, through a sense of love and loyalty, they might try to protect the addict from the harmful effects of his or her own actions. But this only encourages self- (and other-) destructive behavior to continue. And that does more harm. Yet you don't really want to impose your will on others else by attempting to control their actions. The solution is straightforward: "You can act however you want - but not around me." If a troll tries to spring 12-step jargon on you, just invoke "tough love" and tell the troll to take his or her recovery program elsewhere. “

I probably shouldn't say what I think of 12-steppers here. If you really want to know, I suggest checking out some of Ivan Stang's rants, it's pretty much along those lines.

Furthermore, I've never come across this excuse, not even once. To me, it looks like Eran doesn't want covens to be the focial points of mutual support groups – that allowing an addict in would cause more headaches for him than it would solve, and that they should be ejected because he doesn't want to deal with them. Its like in the last chapter, the person who needs support. He doesn't want to have to deal with that. Equally, he doesn't want to help them and cares nothing for their self destructive behaviour, so he tells them to get lost.

“Do as ye will and harm none?” More like “don't die where I might have to clear up your mess, and shove off”. Harm through inaction is a very real thing, but apparently is not worth mentioning.

“Tell a troll that certain destructive behaviors are simply not tolerated in your Coven, and you'll suddenly become authoritarian and inflexible and overcontrolling. Pagans are opposed to authoritarianism, aren't they? “

“Is this authoritarian? Certainly not. No one is required to stay in your Coven. People who are there, are there by choice. Consenting adults and all that. As a Coven Leader, you have every right to run your Coven however you feel is proper, and other people have the right to participate or not, as they feel is proper. Authoritarianism can only happen where there is some means of compulsion. There can be no authoritarianism where there is assent, and no one stays in your Coven unless they personally choose to do so. You don't have the right (or the power!) to control others. But as a Coven Leader, you do have the right (and the responsibility!) to set the ground rules for your Coven. On the other hand, a troll has no right to force you to allow the troll to remain in contact with you, or with your Coveners. A troll has no right to dictate what behavior is acceptable in your Coven, and what behavior is not. Those are rights which you hold. “

Pagans are against authoritarianism? This is news to me. Is this like the way the Bush administration is in favour of freedom? Also, Eran is inflexible and authoritarian. The entire reason for this essay to legitimize the use of power by the Coven leader to get rid of people they don't like. Eran nowhere shows he believes in compromise or resolution of conflicts, he believes in the ejecting of people who are too annoying, to his worldview, to deal with. That's pretty much the definition, Eran baby.

But lets deal with some of Eran's claims in detail, because they interest me, in a perverse way. He believes that because you chose to join the Coven, of your own free will, you are consenting to his leadership. However, this doesn't deal with misrepresentation, miscommunication and changes in leadership or rules over time. If you have no control over those contract changes, or are unaware of them through no fault of your own, then are you really responsible for them?

Eran believes there is only authoritarianism where there is compulsion. This might be news to all those psychologists who have been studying the Authoritarian Personality, where it can appear without the person in question having any form of power at all. Furthermore, Eran clearly does have power. He can expel people from a coven against their will, which is compelling them to leave.

Moreover, authoritarianism does involve a certain amount of consent. As a social phenomenon, it is divided between those who lead and those who follow. Those who refuse to do either form a third party, those who refuse to have an assigned role in this dominant-submissive relationship. Furthermore, the problem may not be with the coven, but only the leader. I myself have been in such a situation more than a few times. I liked the people I was there with, but the person in charge was a raging asshole. Kind of like Eran. In such a situation, agitating against the leadership while staying a member is the most likely, obvious and right course to take. Unless you think you should sell out your friends to ass-kiss a leader.

Through threats and promises, the classic carrot and stick approach, coven leaders obviously do have power over others in the coven, and can use a number of tricks to control their members. He could threaten to expel people, give promises of certain positions or coveted duties to others...an imaginative leader certainly has ways to maintain their authority within a group. Power purely means the ability to get others to accept your interests, and by that standards, there are many ways to maintain control over a group of people, even if legal recourse to methods of control do not exist.

Also notice a troll has no rights to force people to stay in contact with them, but Eran does have the right to dictate what behaviour is or is not acceptable. An interesting double standard. If its a right, but not one that everyone has, then it's not really a right, is it? I believe we have a word for such rights, and they are privileges. Because Eran is the leader, he can set rules of conduct and who you can or cannot deal with. It all just sounds a tad cultish, not to mention obviously betraying a belief in rank and control.

“If you express an opinion the troll doesn't care for, you'll be labeled a One-True-Wayist and possibly even compared to an Inquisitor or Pope or some such. Pagans are opposed to enforced dogma; how dare you push your ways onto others?”

“Are you a One-True-Wayist simply because you express an opinion? Of course not! Charges of authoritarianism or One-True-Wayism are simply absurd in any Pagan context. We have no way of enforcing belief, nor of compelling practice. Any Pagan who doesn't like the beliefs of practice of someone else is always free to go elsewhere, or to stop associating with the person with whom they disagree. A person who makes public accusations of authoritarianism or One-True-Wayism is, beyond doubt, a troll who is simply trying to stir anger toward a target. Ignore such tactics when directed at others, and when they're directed at you, don't give them a thought. Charges of One-True-Wayism are made simply in an attempt to embarrass you and get you to shut up. Indeed, they are examples of the troll trying to force his or her opinions onto others. The troll is trying to silence a point of view with which he or she disagrees! Who is the actual One-True-Wayist here?”

Needless to say, there is absolutely no way you could compare this to Eran calling people he doesn't like trolls, just to discredit them.

As for enforcing belief or compelling practice....well, I think I dealt with that in the previous section. However, I'd like to add a little something here. Historically, expulsion was the punishment for political offences against the Polis, or city-state. It dated back to the times when humans were hunter-gatherers, where a single person would quite likely succumb to the elements once they had been cut off from the tribe, or less enlightened times, when foreigners would often not be welcome in their new society. And while out attitudes and ability to survive without a tribe have leapt far ahead, our hard-wiring and basic instincts have not. The fear of exile, of expulsion, is one that is very hard for many people to overcome, and still instils a level of fear at a pre-rational level.

And how is describing the underlying theme of an argument or a viewpoint equal to attempting to censor someone? I, and indeed countless others, are merely pointing out that this is authoritarian. If you are fine with authoritarianism, then great, that's your problem and not mine. However, it has to be said, lots of people do have issues with authoritarianism, so its likely they would want to be told if you could detect this sort of thinking via statements etc. After all, you're not trying to force your value judgement, or any sort of action, merely by pointing out how things are now. And if you do propose an action, from a position of no authority, how do you enforce it?

That's all of Eran's points and counterpoints, however, there is a further section to this essay you will have to suffer before we conclude this section. This is the section on (please don't laugh) 'Healthy Self-doubt'.

“It is healthy and it is important to question yourself. A Coven Leader who never doubts his or her own actions and decisions is a dangerous person whom it would be wise to stay away from. But a Coven Leader who allows self-doubt to prevent effective and necessary action is equally dangerous. Yes, re-examine your understanding of ethical issues, frequently and deeply. Don't assume you're always right, lest you cast yourself into the role of an infallible Pope willing to burn others for mere disagreement. (In fact, a refusal to question oneself is one of the hallmarks of a troll!) But equally, don't refuse to make decisions, just because others might disagree with them.”

Is that so? But I thought the purpose of a troll was to “cause you to hesitate or to be unsure of yourself at a time when what you need is self-confidence.” So should you question yourself, or not? I am getting mixed signals here.

As for a lack of introspection or questioning...hmm, sounds more like a leader than a troll to me. A troll who constantly questions their external world isn't likely to delineate between their external and internal curiosity, are they? You'd also hope someone who questioned their own actions might question why they continually put forward incoherent and contradictory arguments to support their position.

“Coven Leaders have the responsibility to take what steps are necessary to protect their Covens. That's one of their primary jobs. Coveners rely on them, and expect them, to do this. It is not a power seized unjustly or arbitrarily; it is a power granted by the Coveners, by virtue of them asking to join - and to remain in - the Coven. If you let a troll manipulate you by playing on your self-doubts, you're falling down on your responsibilities to people who have trusted you with their spiritual growth. Indeed, this inappropriate manipulation of healthy self-questioning is yet another example of trollish misapplication of important Pagan principles! “

I don't expect a leader to do anything except perhaps concentrate more on the group dynamic than the average person and try to look to overall goals and aims, instead of purely personal ones. And even then that only depends on the sort of group I have joined. I may only expect them to buy some decent coffee for the next meeting, depending on who they are.

Your job is not to protect anyone. You are not the person to decide who is a threat, who is not and how to deal with them. If your group is strong and open, it will, on its own, regulate against real threats and and not require your leadership or support in dealing with them.

But of course, Eran wants to play the paternalistic role against the evil outsiders. No-one else in the Coven is capable, which allows for him to use his powers to expel individuals as he sees fit.

And how exactly does Eran know that all coven leadership is granted by the Coven? Sure, leadership is a social fiction, that relies on a certain level of acceptance of the roles given. But if it is not explicit, if the leader is not elected, and there are difficult (or no) methods for their removal, then it is illegitimate. Furthermore, if power is exercised in an unjust way, then the leadership is just as illegitimate as if it had been put in power without consent. Consent of the majority for leadership does not give you carte blanche to treat a minority or individual as you please. You should really consider reading some John Stuart Mill at some point, hopefully then you'd realize how much of an idiot you sound when you don't think these things through.

“What you need here is to be clear on these principles in your own mind. Give careful thought to these issues, and do your best to understand them thoroughly. But the time to engage in such introspection is not during a period of crisis. Solve these questions in your own mind before they become issues argued by a troll. "Solving" does not mean you never come back to them. It's useful and productive to come back to these issues again and again, and to let your view of them expand and grow as time goes on. But when there's someone actively tearing your Coven apart, it's time for direct action, action based on preparations and understandings you've already achieved. Afterwards, there'll be time to reassess and improve your understandings further. People grow by making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. Don't be afraid to let yourself make some mistakes. Take the actions you feel are right, and then learn from them.”

Being certain is better than being right. Feelings are better guides than actual knowledge. Oh please. You may as well just say “think with your gut!” and get it over with. Because we know, acting on principles that may have little or no relation to reality can never go wrong, can it? And how would Eran know if he's made a mistake, if he expels someone for no reason (like we established in the previous section). He never gets feedback on the effect of his actions, so he can never KNOW if he has done the right thing or not.

“Have frequent discussions within your Coven about matters such as this, so your Coveners understand the issues as thoroughly as you do. If a troll begins to present misapplied principles as excuses for unethical behavior, you want your Coveners to see through those tactics as well. Again, don't argue these points with the troll. In a Coven situation, that only prolongs the pain. Get rid of the critter, and then afterward you'll have all the time you need to de-brief with your Coveners. “

“Chuck the troll, use this guide as a check-list of reasons as to why it had to be done. Don't forget to teach them the principles in this guide, so they will agree when they see some uppity git we need to get rid of.”

Or, I don't know, you could let them see all the information for themselves and let them draw their own conclusion? But then again, I don't feel the need to act like a parent towards anyone in the groups I belong to. I treat them like equals, who can make up their minds, without having the ground adequately prepared beforehand to get the result I want.

“In larger settings - formal churches and umbrella groups - things get a little more complicated, because you usually have to present a case to some council or governing board in order to get rid of a troll. There, it's possible for the troll to bollix up the works by raising these issues, and insisting they get argued out before an expulsion vote is taken. Handling his situation is a topic for anther time; for now, just keep in mind that any Pagan organization should 1) discuss these issues long before a crisis takes place so they're already thoroughly understood, and 2) have rules of procedure in order to stay on topic during discussions about possible disciplinary actions. “

Indoctrination is an ugly word, isn't it? This isn't quite it, but its an attempt to create a consensus around the driving ideas behind this essay, even before a problem arises. By managing the perceptions of the problem, it becomes so much easier to frame it in terms like this essay does, and advocate the same stupid, pointless punishments this essay does.

Oh joy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You touch on a common problem for any organization of occultism. By its very anarchic nature it is meant to reject the dogmatism to be found in organized religion. Yet as soon as you have a formation of a coven then these issues can’t help but arise. Within a small group differences are normally able to be resolved or worked through. No one has an obligation to follow any self-proclaimed leader. If they do want to follow a leader and obey to whatever dogma they enforce then so be it, they won’t further themselves.

Within modern paganism there is a growing tendency to form associations and form councils. The benefits are that this helps the community gain recognition legally and socially, the downside is the formation of the Wicca religion, which in my view is one of the most serious threats to occultism and the independent study of knowledge. These are the type of morons who indulge in self-delusion, post-modernism and other anti-intellectual posits that make them feel better.