He who pays the piper calls the tune. But what happens when no one pays the piper? This is an issue across creative industries, where people are often expected to work for free, or for ‘exposure’. It’s also an issue in Pagan circles, where authors, teachers and celebrants come under pressure to do it all for free, because that’s more ‘spiritual’.
So, what happens when we don’t pay? Well, the short answer, is that we only get to hear from people who can afford to do it for free. What this means, is people who have enough resources not to need to be paid. The independently wealthy. Those who are supported by a working partner. People who already own their home. People with pensions. People who can work full or part time to support themselves and still have the time and energy to do creative or spiritual work. That sort of thing.
This is a logic that excludes people. It means certain voices are far less likely to be heard. If you’re well enough to work, but not well enough to both support yourself and work extra in your free time, you can’t do it for free. If you are in abject poverty and already working several low paid jobs, or lots of overtime, if you have dependants, you can’t afford to work for free. If you are raising children or caring for the ill, then your time and resources are limited, and if you have to earn alongside that, the odds are not in favour of your also being able to work for free.
Of course people do it, and give more than they can afford, and this can add to both physical and mental illness. One of the price tags on having people work for nothing, is increasing the risk of them getting ill or burned out.
If we ask that things be given to us for nothing, we’re basically agreeing that we’re happy just to hear from the independently wealthy and privileged, and that we’re happy to see creative and Pagan jobs only carried out by people who are massively advantaged, and that we don’t need to hear from people from more diverse backgrounds. Or that we’re happy to have people hurt themselves to try and give us this stuff.
Of course not all of us can pay. Many people are facing all kinds of difficulties themselves, and don’t have the luxury of choice. It’s important that creativity and teaching be available to people who can’t afford it.
How do we get a balance here? If those who can pay, do. If those who can afford to pay the piper see it as part of their social duty. Pay when you can. Pay what you can afford. Even if what that means is that once a year you buy a book – that helps. We have an economic system that makes financial exchange all about the cost of what’s sold, but as Pagans we don’t have to buy into that narrow idea. What if we paid based on what we can afford?
This post was prompted by a piece on Gods and Radicals, which you can read here – https://godsandradicals.org/2016/11/04/help-us-pay-our-writers/