Tag Archives: authority

Eternal Student

Is there a point where we can rest on our laurels and feel that we know it all? Obviously not, because there’s far more to learn than any one person can know. Is there a point when we know enough that we can consider ourselves an authority and not study further? Then it gets interesting.

Of course the most obvious risk if you stop studying is that what you know becomes out of date. Other younger, sharper, hungrier creatures will outlearn you and pass you by. You’ll become irrelevant. The applications for this in any aspect of work are pretty obvious, but it’s easy to think that in spiritual matters, the person who has it figured out doesn’t need to keep on sitting in the student seats.

The person who knows it all, who is wise and enlightened and really spiritual, doesn’t need to keep studying. Or so it may seem. There’s a point of achievement imaginable that says now you are the authority, the guru, others should learn from you now. For me, that’s a bit of a warning sign. I don’t think any of us humans ever get to be so clever and wise that we have nothing more to learn. I do think there’s something distinctly off when people aren’t excited enough to want to learn.

To learn is to admit that you didn’t already know. Or that you weren’t the best you could be. It requires a healthy ego, able to aspire, rather than fragile and unable to admit there’s more to do. To my mind, being human means there’s always more scope. There’s something very healthy about taking off the authority, the teaching role, the status, and rocking up somewhere as a student. It’s releasing. It allows us all to be imperfect works in progress. Also, learning new stuff is great fun.

I read other authors to learn from them. I’m going to some writing workshops this summer because I know I’ll learn things by doing that. I’m doing a free online course in eco-linguistics. I like picking up new craft skills when I can. I like the challenge of learning a new job.

I also really like what happens when, within a community, people pass the ‘teacher’ hat round and take it in turns to hold temporary authority. I like it when everyone is able to sit down and listen to someone else’s teaching. I like how it reduces feelings of hierarchy, superiority and power over, and increases feelings of mutual respect and recognition.

Parenting without (much) authority

I’ve never liked arbitrary authority, and so I came to parenting determined that ‘because I said so’ wasn’t going to be part of my repertoire. Also, I had a theory that the more arbitrary authority there is in childhood, the less able parent and child are to adapt to the teenage years, or to relate to each other well beyond that point. I wanted to raise an autonomous human capable of thinking for themselves, and that doesn’t go with being their authority figure either.

I remember the point at which I finally realised that my parents didn’t know everything. It came as a shock, rocking my little world to its core. My trust in their authority had been founded in no small part on a belief in their infinite knowledge and insight. So as a parent I made sure my child was aware of my limits from early on. As a small chap interested in dinosaurs, he knew that he could pass me in dinosaur knowledge if he put in the time, and that it was fine to do so. As I’m not interested in power-over I’ve never felt any need to try and keep him smaller than me.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always explained my position and reasoning so that he could see why I thought a course of action was preferable. I’ve aimed to persuade rather than force. We have an understanding that if I do issue an order, it is to be followed without question or hesitation because I’ll only do that in an emergency. We can talk about it afterwards. Driving me round the bend does count as an emergency!

Alongside this, he’s always had the option that if he could make a case for something, I’d take him seriously. We talk about the implications, the responsibilities, the possible consequences. Now he’s a teen, we carry that on to talk about relationship dynamics, consent culture, the implications of drugs and porn and all the other things out there he might run into and need to deal with. I think we have a pattern that means he’s always going to feel able to ask for my advice, but never obliged to act on it.

This all makes my life easier. I have room to say ‘yeah, I cocked that up,’ and to be honest about getting things wrong, making bad calls – because I have no authority to undermine. As yet, there’s been no sign of teenage rebellion – occasional non-cooperation, but that’s fine. He doesn’t have to fight off my authority in order to establish himself as a person in his own right because he’s always been respected as a person in his own right.

For me, authoritarian models within the family are an aspect of patriarchal society that we can do without. Children who are taught to obey are taught that power is what gets things done. You can’t have consent culture and obedience. You can’t have equality if you raise people inside models based on hierarchy, power-over and authority. There is a power balance necessary and inherent in raising a child, but so long as the child has the right to express opinions, and be taken seriously, that power balance can gently fall away over the years, allowing them to stand in their own power in the context of the family.

(And yes, I did ask him if it was ok to write about this.)

Ritual without authority

For some years now I’ve been uneasy about working in an authoritarian sort of way. I’ve been the benevolent dictator for a number of groups in the past, but it’s really hard work and takes a lot of energy and attention. For some time now I’ve been questioning the idea of hierarchy within spiritual practice. Power structures can leave us (me) wanting to be powerful and important, losing sight of what’s spiritual, getting mired in our own ego fragility. I know from experience that full democracy doesn’t work – generally speaking wholly democratic Druid groups get very little done. I’ve been part of one of those.

If there’s going to be a ritual, someone has to be responsible for naming the date and place. This can be done with discussion, but it has to be done. Someone has to call the shot, but it need not be the same person every time. Someone has to let people know. This doesn’t set anyone up to be a future archdruid, it’s just admin, if treated as such.

What happens if we get into ritual space with no plan? Sometimes we may default to familiar ritual forms. We may end up doing something that isn’t much like a ritual. What I’ve found where I’ve been experimenting over the last year, is that people are most likely to push for the bit of ritual they like, and let the rest go. Circles I’ve been in have tended to feature some act of recognition of spirits of place, chanting the awen, something bardic, and a passing of a drink.

For Imbolc, I’ve called a date and time that I already know will suit a lot of people. I’ve named a place we’ve used before and that won’t be too cold and windy. I’ve stated an intention to roll up and make a labyrinth, because that’s what I want to do. If anyone wants to do more conventional bits of Druid ritual around it, that’s welcome. We’ll go to the pub for any bard stuff so that we don’t freeze!

A ritual with no one in charge is an ongoing act of negotiation. Rather than it just rolling out smoothly, we have to keep checking in with each other. Is this ok? Do you want this? Do you want something else? It becomes collaborative, improvised, uncertain. The first few times, there was an assumption that I was running the ritual and would therefore provide lead and direction, and some odd moments as I declined to do that, but we came through something there, and I like what happened. I don’t want to have to do all the planning. I want room to be surprised, too, and inspired, and to be part of something collaborative.

As things stand, I think ritual is going to be a regular feature for me again, after a break of some years. I think it’s going to be far more improvised, with shared ownership, and no one really in charge. I like this prospect a lot.

The right to challenge

In Taliesin’s myth, his step-father brags about him and he ends up in front of an irate king, having to prove he is as good as his step-father suggested, in order to save the man from being punished. Taliesin then goes on to trounce the king’s bards, proving his superiority over them. It’s not a lone case, there are comparisons to make with the Irish story in which, to substantiate bragging, Macha ends up running against the king’s horses. Then there’s the tale of the boy wizard Merlin calling out and humiliating another king’s Druids, because Merlin knows what they do not.

Myths that come to us from the mediaeval period should not, of course, be taken as clear proof that the Celts did anything in particular, but they do provide inspiration and possibility. I believe in following the inspiration.

What these stories suggest to me is firstly that authority cannot be absolute. Those who take visible roles are not beyond challenge, and if they cannot recognise when the new kid in town outclasses them, they are in trouble. The more arrogant the king’s Druids are, the greater their fall will be. Secondly, everyone has the right to challenge, no matter who they are, but thirdly, they have to back it up. If Taliesin had not known his stuff, the outcome for him and his step-father would have been entirely different. The right to challenge comes with the obligation to prove your worth.

It is good to question everything. Asking questions is the basis of all philosophy. Thinking deeply about things is probably more important than whether that takes you towards the same conclusion as the next person. Deep consideration will be richer and more involved than passing interest.

It is good to question each other, because in doing so we can all learn. I’m blessed with people who spot holes in my logic and arguments I haven’t developed properly, and who flag this, which gives me the opportunity to push further, and to think more deeply. I really value that. Often, I wander into a topic, and someone will turn out to know far more than me, and, generous with their knowledge will share that, so that I can learn. Sometimes I post things that affirm other people’s ideas, and sometimes I come up with things that were less familiar.

Asking questions should be an act of interest. We can do it respectfully – we do, here, and on many other blogs I’m connected with. When you view people as equals, as a starting point, it is easy to approach with respect and ask why someone thinks a certain thing, what they are drawing on, how they came to the conclusion. We might not agree, and that’s fine too. There’s very little in Druidry that can be ‘proved’ in a substantial way. We can respect the diversity of ideas and interpretations, and grow from those, collaboratively. It is one of the many strengths of our community.

It is good to question. It is good to question authority. It is important to show respect, because if you don’t, ye gods had you better be good, or the kings and their now-irate Druids will get a very different ending to the story.

Druid authority and ownership

On facebook a couple of days back, a chap remarked that a group we were in was not moderated and it was down to individuals using it. This made me realise that some awareness raising might be in order. Pretty much every space you encounter as a Pagan or Druid, online and in the real world, is owned by someone. Often there are layers of ownership with various different degrees of authority and responsibility associated with them.

Take this blog. I have the power to remove comments, and I can probably block people from making comments too. However, wordpress owns the site, not me, and they have the right to boot me if I do something that breaks their terms and conditions, or I do anything more generally illegal. Then wordpress are buying their website space from someone to whom they will be answerable, and that could impact on me in ways I have no power over.

Every facebook group has admins, and that’s true of any other space online. Someone has set it up, has control of it and can, at least in theory, moderate, ban, report and otherwise wield authority. Choosing not to use the power you have does not make it cease to exist. Every online space is managed by someone, and owned by a company who have authority over the space-manager, and probably owned again by the website host.

Offline you’ll find much the same thing. Every group, moot, grove, event, is run by someone. Not knowing who they are doesn’t mean they aren’t there. That person probably won’t own the space, so again there’s that second layer of authority – the pub landlord for the moot, the local council for the public land you do your rituals on and so forth.
There is nowhere Pagans get together that is not owned and in theory, managed. Some facilitators choose to be more active than others, some are better at it than others. In the best space, you don’t notice the manifestations of authority because they are good enough to be smoothly invisible.

Now, most of the time, the people who look after Pagan spaces – hold those facebook groups and blogs, run the moots and the rituals, are not paid. They put in their own time, money and energy, for the pleasure of making a thing go. I think this is worth bearing in mind. Any time you get into a public Pagan space, you are stepping into something that someone has made, put their energy into, and cares about. Think of it as walking into their garden, or their living room, if it helps. None of us would walk into someone’s house and deliberately crap on the floor, I assume, but we do it all the time in virtual spaces and I’ve seen a fair bit of it in actual ones (not literally, I hasten to add!).

We take the organisers for granted. We assume we have a right to demand things of them and that we are entitled to the service they provide, and so if we don’t think it’s up to scratch we hassle them. Remember these are unpaid volunteers, usually, and doing it for love. It is a different scenario when you are paying and someone is profiting, but it’s very easy to tell if you are paying and what you are paying for. Mostly you are paying for the venue hire. When we go into someone else’s space (and unless you are the one with the responsibility, it will be someone else’s space) and we are rude, inconsiderate, aggressive and so forth, we are not being fair to the person whose space it is. Now, maybe someone else was already being rude and aggressive, but, I go back to the pooing on the floor metaphor. The answer to someone taking a dump is not to take a retaliatory dump yourself. It just doesn’t work.

Every space, potentially, is sacred to someone. Every space, potentially, represents an act of love, service and devotion. That deserves respect, always. Not every space works. Not every space is free from problems. The question is, do we choose to trek in more muck, or do we offer to bring a bucket and mop and get our hands dirty actually putting things right again?

If you don’t support the people who run things, eventually they burn out, becoming so depressed and demoralised that they quit, and the space usually vanishes at that point. A little care of the people who are working on your behalf goes a long way, and makes more good things possible. What you do as a visiting individual really does matter.

How to offend a fundamentalist

Every tradition, every human endeavour has a little cluster of fundamentalists. Some more vocal and obvious than others, but all of them having, in my experience, a fairly similar outlook. It goes like this: Standards must be maintained. There should be rules (determined by them) to exclude the unsuitable (people not like them). There must be no dabbling, no half hearted, partial involvement. Everyone must be very serious, hardcore, totally dedicated and involved. Wisdom, longstanding involvement and knowing how it all works are the keys to authority, and it is the fundamentalists, who, in their own eyes, are always the people best qualified to lead, inform, dictate and define.

My experience of running things has also taught me this. There are people who come in to all activities with little experience and a lot of enthusiasm. They bring energy, new visions, they don’t always respect the established form because they can see how to do it better. They are often young, opinionated idealists. If you set the fundamentalists on them, they just go away again, but the vibrant newbie and the conservative fundamentalist never combine to good effect.

I grew up in the folk tradition. I understand and value tradition. If you do not sing the old songs, there is no real folk. If all you do is new innovation, you do not have the trad that has to be the essence of folk. What you have instead is a bunch of singer songwriters with acoustic instruments. At the same time, if all you have is the tradition, and all you are allowed to do is the things that have been done, in the way in which they have always been done, the results are boring and sterile. You get a museum piece, not a living tradition. Ultimately, it dies. Given a choice, I’ll take the vibrant new thing over the stale old thing every time, because even though I love tradition, sterility is death and innovation is life.

I’ll take the dabblers, because people who dabble, learn and most people won’t make a deep commitment without having time to see how it all works first. You only need a small percentage of your dabblers to become serious for that to really pay off. It also gives you time to see if they fit, and what you might do with them. Dabblers and people from outside bring ideas and challenges, they do not always recognise, much less respect your status quo. They keep you real and alive. I’d rather, for example, that people came to druidry and learned something that enriched their lives, than that they stayed away because they couldn’t make a total dedication.

I don’t like authority. Fundamentalists are always interested in authority, in who has the right to dictate (them, or people they approve of) and who is in control. To be a fundamentalist is to want things done your way, and to be much less open to alternatives. Now, I know that I have yet to discover the one true way. I’m not all knowing, I’m not wholly at ease with the breadth of my wisdom. I’m a work in progress. I learn from other people, and the people I have learned most from have not, for the greater part, been self important rule makers. They’ve been experimentalists, testing the edges and sending back reports. They’ve been people who made mistakes, too. We learn from each other, none of us assuming that we have it all pegged. That’s the kind of Druid community I want to be part of. It doesn’t denigrate expertise and experience, nor does it denigrate the questioning mind and new ideas of someone who has just turned up.

In any tradition or endeavour, you need balance. You need the voices of experience if you’re lucky enough to have them, if they aren’t in your circle its worth seeking them out. Experience spares you from reinventing the wheel. You also need responsive, creative energy. A tradition that replicates the past will just stagnate. A deep understanding of a tradition makes it possible to recognise where the essence of it lies, what is surface and can be safely tinkered with, what is absolutely vital and must be left alone. You can put a modern drum kit under and ancient folk song and it’s still folk. You can play a reel on a saxophone and it’s still folk, there’s a lot of room to manoeuvre. You can write folk songs about modern life, and it’s still folk. Ask me to define what makes it so, and I’d struggle, but I know it in my bones, and so do plenty of other people. I feel much the same way about Druidry.

I’ve been doing this for long enough not to really count as one of those bright young things anymore. I’m blowed if I’m going to turn into a fundy. I’m trying to walk the balance between the old and the new, respect for the past and the energy of innovation. I seek out those whose wisdom, knowledge and experience exceeds mine, so that I can learn from them, and I also seek out the bright young visionaries who want to shake things up. The one set of people I don’t tend to look for, are the ones who want to hold on to their own, precise and regulated way of doing things. I keep an ear out because it’s always useful to know things, but there’s no point even trying to talk to someone who knows it all, and knows they are right, and knows you are wrong. On the whole, you’re better off talking to rocks and trees, they tend to be more flexible.

It’s endlessly difficult trying to work out how to include people who do not want to include others – it’s as true for folk as for Druidry. I think the best thing to do is let them go their own way, and try not to take them personally. Treat them politely, listen to them because they are often well read and know things, but do not let their desire for authority result in actual authority unless you are indeed happy to do everything their way.

You can’t get there from here

Usually, it’s offered as a joke, often with a strange local person uttering the words. Logically, it shouldn’t hold up. However, nothing fills me with fear like the kind of scenario that announces itself in these sorts of terms. The form which you can’t fill in without having the right code, which you can only get by filling in the form. (We had one of those this morning). More often than not, there is a way round it, although significant resources of patience, lateral thinking and perseverance are often called for.

Life has thrown me a few seemingly impossible things to try and field in recent years. The necessity of moving when there was nowhere affordable to rent or buy in viable striking distance was one such. It led to us being on a boat – not a challenge free arrangement, but one that gives us what we need. I’ve seen plenty of systems that seem to have impossibility built into them. Things where winning is just not possible. Others hold all the power, deal the cards, name the game and decide how to interpret the rules. Every run-in with one of these makes me that bit more cynical, and also that bit more determined not to let it grind me down.

There are plenty of systems you can get round by paying them to leave you alone. In essence this is corrupt, but it’s widespread. If you have enough money to hire the best lawyers you can write letters to intimidate others into giving up. If you can pay, you can force a less affluent opponent to quit just by upping the stakes enough. The rules of the poker table seem to apply all kind of places I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t.

Part of the trouble is that we have a longstanding culture in which money buys privilege. In English history, peerages, and parliamentary seats have been discernibly for sale. Politicians today will vie to buy your vote and to court the media. The company with the biggest budget can advertise the smaller competitors out of the market or undercut them to death. Money doesn’t just talk, it carries a big stick.

You can’t get there from here. You can’t easily change country without a lot of money to wave about. If you can show the funds, you can buy your way in. Criminal courts may be free to the victim, but many kinds of justice (restraining orders, child residency orders, small claims for repayment etc) require the civil courts, and you pay for that. Justice has a price tag, all too often. I notice down here on the canal that the bigger and more expensive looking your boat is, the more you can get away with – mooring alongside the no mooring signs is a popular one. Manifestly less affluent boaters would be moved on at once, but even those with legal authority hesitate to challenge the exceedingly rich.

The more obscure, convoluted and challenging a system is, the more unfair it is. The harder you make things, the faster you exclude anyone who isn’t so well educated. The more nasty your legal language, the sooner you intimidate folk who can’t afford legal advice or can’t buy themselves out. The more aggressive you are, the easier it is it shove out people who already feel vulnerable. There is no excuse for this. All official systems should by default, be as simple, clear and transparent as is technically possible. Ideally we ought to test them on eight year old kids. If the kids can’t navigate it, the system isn’t good enough. I’m thinking here about benefits systems, tax systems, medical systems, all the facets of society we may need to appeal to for help in times of difficulty. Any system which at any point has the capacity to exclude or intimidate, needs work.

Although that wouldn’t serve the interests of anyone who can currently buy their way to advantages, and who doesn’t want to share the privilege. Or anyone who fantasises about making it to the degree they think they too will one day grease the wheels and that therefore it should stay as it is.  While any of us buy into the make believe that we’ll win the lottery, land the movie deal and get to cross over to the place of power, we’re stopping ourselves from fixing all that is sick and stupid.

We can get there from here. It might take some doing, but we can.

Your superior druid, shrink wrapped

Yesterday there were debates on facebook, a question that perhaps it was not wise to ask in a public place, and a backlash. The details don’t really matter for the purposes of this post. It got me thinking, however, about those oft-recurring issues around authority in druidry. Every time our community, or some bit of it hits a crisis, someone will comment that it would be nice if there was a proper governing body to sort it all out.

This can mean one of two things. Firstly it can mean wanting someone else to shoulder the responsibility and come up with a magic fix. That’s a very simple, human response to difficulty. Sometimes we all want to be children again and to find a parent who will make it all better for us. The more troubling motivation is based on the desire to control the beliefs and behaviour of others.

I’ll freely admit I had a moment yesterday of wanting to be the one who could lay down the law and tell everyone what they ought to think, and do, and believe. I get these bouts of hypothetical megalomania, and if facebook is indicative, so does everyone else. We all know we’ve got it all figured out, we have the right way, the perfect solution, if only everyone else would listen. Except they don’t, and most of the time we’re wrong, and the ’perfect’ solution would not work for everyone.
One of the dangers on any kind of spiritual path is that you start feeling important. You know more than those around you, and this makes you a better sort of person. Being better, wiser and whatnot, you are then, in your own eyes entitled to lead. It’s not a big leap from leading to dictating. I will also admit that when I first came to druidry, many years ago, that desire to be important, special, ahead of the pack, was part of what motivated me. I wanted to matter. Again, I suspect I was pretty normal in those feelings and aspirations. I sought responsibility because I wanted opportunities to shine and impress.

The idea of being, or becoming ‘better’ is inherent in a lot of spiritual traditions. The idea of the chosen few, the special ones, the ones god will save and give the cushy afterlife to. The whole point of some forms of spirituality seems to be betterness. In being better than we were, we are surely becoming better than some of those around us. We can look at their actions for evidence of our own superior wisdom. We have the moral high ground now. It’s not a long walk from there to words like ‘master race’. Spirituality that feeds arrogance and self importance, is not really that spiritual at all, when you stop to think about it.

So I get angry and self important, like everyone else. I am thankful today that I did not say anything yesterday that I have cause to regret. The more I think about it, now that the initial frustration has passed, the clearer I am that I don’t want the responsibility of telling other people how to live their lives. I have no desire to be the person who says who can, and cannot call themselves a druid, or what druidry means, or how to teach it. I’d quite like to be part of the process that is a living and evolving tradition, but nothing more than that.

Does that make me a better sort of person than I was when I came to druidry? Can I now hold this up as proof of my improved state? Ah ha! Betterness is not about getting out front with self important titles. Betterness is all false modesty and sitting back, not getting my hands dirty and being smug at a distance. There are other daft ideas to run around, other ways to feel bigger whilst doing nothing of any great significance. Other ways of deluding the self.

Who measures the betterness? Me? A deity who might or might not exist? The druid community or its leaders, should we appoint them? And what does that betterness achieve? What happens when we make qualitative judgements about the worth of one life compared to another?
If everything has spirit, how can one manifestation of that be better or worse than any other? How can any existence be more or less valuable than another?

And yet, weigh against that the notion of excellence in all things. It is impossible to seek excellence without having some awareness of how what you do compares with what everyone else is doing. We find our goals by looking at each other. We measure ourselves by contrast. So much depends on what we want that excellence for. Do we seek it for the good of our community and the enhancement of the world, or to raise ourselves up above everyone else? That, I think, is the critical difference.

Intellectual fraud

I’ve run into this issue in a number of places – in books, and when dealing with professional people who should know better. There is a form of intellectual fraud called circular logic. It occurs to me that one of the reasons it happens is that people using it do not realise it is inherently fraudulent as a way of thinking. It is a fraud because it so readily supports wrong answers, and if you employ it, you can run off down the wrong track without even knowing your are committing a fraud against yourself. My other thought is that if I share the method, it may help other people recognise books and authorities that are trying to manipulate them with circular logic, and thus defend against it.

As soon as we move from observation to asking what it means, we shift from fact to speculation. There are always multiple interpretations available for anything. Some may be more right than others, some may depend on circumstance or the observer. Good thinking holds the possibility for lots of interpretations. If more evidence comes in, it may be possible to see patterns or trends, or a balance of probability. There may even come a time when it is sensible to assert an interpretation as proven, or as fact. However, if you start with a theory, and interpret all of the information in the light of that theory, all you can ever get is ‘proof’ that supports the initial theory. You cannot be proved wrong, and you cannot perceive other interpretations. This is intellectual fraud and it is very dangerous.

For example, we dig up a body from the Celtic era where there is evidence of violent death. We assume sacrifice. We then look for reasons as to why that person would have made a good sacrifice, and whatever is a feature of them becomes a reason. We look at why their location was relevant for sacrifice, and we see some kind of feature and latch onto it as being relevant. We look at the manner of death and interpret it as being sacrificial, and then find something to associate it with that makes sense. We then take all the results of our work and present them a proof that the chap was sacrificed. There is no reason why he couldn’t have been murdered or executed, but we never looked at that.

I wish I was making this up, but I’ve just read the Ross/Robins ‘Life and Death of a Druid Prince’ and it’s like this all the way. When it comes to unpicking history and getting a realistic view of the past, this is bad enough.

It also happens in our day to day lives. We assume that someone is getting at us, so we interpret everything they do and say in this light, and thus we always feel threatened and offended by everything they do and say. We cannot hear the possibility that we’ve got something wrong. We assume we know a person’s motives, interpret accordingly, and never move from our initial assessment to true understanding. If we start out by thinking we know, and making the facts fit, it is impossible to learn. There is no way of seeing something we hadn’t thought of, of making real discovery or of having proper relationship.

What is most frightening, is when someone in a position of power and authority settles on a theory and will not let it go no matter what the evidence. When you watch everything being twisted to fit the other person’s story and are powerless to stop it. I have no idea how you fight that, but it looks like I am going to have to learn. I’m reminded of something I heard on the radio, years ago. A woman who had been diagnosed with severe mental health problems, and sectioned. When she told her doctor that she thought she was making progress and might be able to recover, this was written down as further proof of her being delusional. For people dealing with mental health issues, fighting this kind of intellectual fraud in the circular logic of authority figures, is terrifying and really hard.

I would imagine that if the medical profession, police, or social services, or any other such body make an assessment and then will only interpret new information in the light of it, your life rapidly becomes a nightmare. I’ve been lucky on that score, doctors, police and social services have been open minded, receptive and supportive in my life. But some years ago I dealt with teachers who had decided that bullying was not happening, and made themselves blind to all evidence. Some years on one boy is in a special school, one has an autism diagnosis and one needs a lot of help to rebuild self esteem and social skills. A willingness to look at the evidence objectively would have spared three families a lot of grief.

Sometimes the cruellest and most destructive thing we can do is cling to the idea that everything is fine and normal. By bending all evidence to fit that belief, we distort lives, keep victims powerless, support mistreatment, remove the scope for change, healing or progress and fail to uphold our own honour.

Justice, the follow up

I’ve been pondering Red’s comments on Contemplating Justice, again and felt it needed more response than a note back. I’ve also had input from Tom, whose take on the justice issue I want to share.


Red commented about the primacy of relationship in her understanding of things, and a dislike of the authority inherent in the language of justice, and its incompatibility with anarchic principles.


My first feeling is that anarchy, like communism and many other beautiful ideas only work when all the people involved are working consciously and ethically in the same way. Wonderful aspirations, but not consistent with how many people are. It only takes one user or abuser to make such an approach fail. My second feeling is that relationship is not always quite such a straightforward option. In the Stone age village in my head, the whole community exists in relationship, but I’ve never lived in that situation. I’ve probably not known the people who stole from me. Often my only ‘relationship’ in threatening circumstances comes from being on the receiving end of something I don’t want. For the kidnapped child, the raped woman, the guy stabbed by a stranger, there has been no relationship with the attacker, no chance to avoid harm, and personally I see no reason for someone who wounds or kills a stranger to get away with that unchallenged. I recognise this means that I want there to be a degree of authority and power able to respond in some way to those who are not able to manage their own behaviour well for the rest of the tribe.


All life causes harm, but my thoughts around making justice an inherent part of relationship, had everything to do with my own desire to reduce the harm I cause. Red spoke of beetles accidentally squashed.  I mostly walk and cycle. I stop for beetles. No doubt I squish a few, but it’s not a bad example, the intent and effort to avoid causing harm is, for me at least, a recognition of the injustice that would be inherent in my killing something by not paying attention. No matter how hard we try, we will cause harm, but the more attention we pay, the less accidental, needless, pointless, careless harm-causing there should be. I think it’s got to be worth a shot.


But where there is no relationship outside of the harm-causing event, I do think community action, authoritative intervention is called for. Every three days a woman is killed by her abusive partner. Every ten days a child is killed by an abusive parent – and that doesn’t count death by neglect, that’s just murder figures. Relationships they could manage? I doubt the children had much say in it. Numbers for child murders by postnatally depressed women have been radically reduced by support and medication. I feel I have a duty to support a system that in any way tries to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the first place. That kind of justice – preventative justice – is increasingly part of how I understand my druid path. That’s not about individual relationship, but about whole community relationship and how we support each other. With so many people involved, we have no hope of doing that without some degree of structure. I believe we should hold a degree of responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. And yes, this is justice by humans and for humans. That which is human is also natural and we are not the only creatures able to reward or punish each other.


Tom pointed out to me that culturally we tend to view things in terms of success and failure, and that this impacts on our understanding of justice too. I am a clever person, I know this because I have lots of money and have never been a victim of crime. Victims are too naïve to protect themselves, bring it upon themselves, or are stupid. Take 2: I am successful because I have earned  lots of money off the backs of other people’s work. I am cleverer than them and therefore entitled. Take 3: I am successful, I have a lot of money because I have miss-sold a lot of products and gambled with other people’s savings, and thank you, yes I will take that bonus this year as well. Take: 4 I am successful because last night I broke into your house and stole all your valuable electrical goods, and I am too smart to be caught by the police.


We are so quick to blame the victims for not doing enough to protect themselves from crime. We are willing to see it as predators and prey, as it being natural to predate. The weak are fair game, because they are weak. Success is all about the bank balance, not about being a good human being. And until we’ve tackled that, as a whole culture, it’s going to remain very hard to think about justice at all.