Tag Archives: ethics

Loyalty, community, ethics

I worked out as a teen that friendship was going to be key to my ethics and that I would start from an assumption of loyalty to my friends. It’s still the place I start from when dealing with conflict or difficulty and it’s become a more pertinent issue with social media.

If someone is upsetting a true friend of mine, I will ditch them in a heartbeat. 

Of course there are all kinds of issues around this. I think the majority of people probably act from this basis but not necessarily having considered it. We defend our friends, but at what point is a line crossed? When do we admit that we may have misjudged them? How much do we need to hear to admit that the friend we’ve been loyal to is a bully, an abuser, a rapist?

It doesn’t reflect well on us if our friends turn out to be terrible people. It means either we might be terrible too, or we might be foolish, easily hoodwinked, or poor judges of character. There’s a loss of self inherent in admitting that someone you were invested in is actually a bit shit. From experience, it’s easier to do this when you aren’t the only one. A community ejecting a person can be a lot stronger and more confident than a lone individual doing it.

But then we have to ask questions about scapegoating. We have to check very carefully that the person being pushed out is the person who should leave. Bullies can be really good at playing the victim, and this kind of conflict can turn out to be a popularity contest. The confident attractive, powerful, socially able person is likely to win if they go up against a nervous, fragile, awkward person. Bullies can be charming for the benefit of their supporters, and they know how to pick a good victim.

Staying out of a conflict is always supportive of the abuser, if there is one. Assuming it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other always supports the bully, if there is one. Assuming that our friends are good people can make us wilfully oblivious to the harm they do. If we don’t police our communities, we give opportunities to bullies, abusers and predators. If we do police our communities, we run the risk of supporting the charismatic psychopaths at the expense of victims who have been chosen because they weren’t socially attractive in the first place.

There are no simple answers here. Blind faith in each other is dangerous. Being too quick to believe the worst of someone destroys relationships. There will always be haters. Who are you going to trust? Whose behaviour is going to be part of your reputation? Where do you draw lines? At what point do you decide that a friend is in fact a problem?

Work ethics

“The Devil makes work for idle hands.” There is an assumption, and it is a very old assumption, that working hard is a virtue. It is never explicitly expressed in wisdom statements of the last few hundred years, but hard work is specifically a virtue for the poor, and not something the wealthy need to trouble themselves with. Members of the leisured classes never seem to have worried themselves much about what the Devil may do with their un-busy hands. However, it has always been the case (still is today) that the poor are assumed to be feckless and foolish. If you don’t keep them gainfully employed, they will waste their time and health smoking, gambling and drinking. When the wealthy drink, smoke and gamble, that’s not a problem.

It doesn’t matter if what you do is in and of itself useful, a ‘work ethic’ will encourage you to be busy. It results in the creation of ‘make-work’ which has no other function than to look like you’re doing something. It creates cultures of overtime and overwork where people feel obliged to stay on and look busy because that’s important. Never mind what the job is, you can’t be the one person seen to leave at the end of the working day.

The underlying assumption is that work is good for you, if you are working class. In some ways this is true. Meaningful work can do a lot to establish dignity, a sense of purpose and social position. Work can confer identity, and it can get the necessities of life done. However, a traditional work ethic isn’t much interested in this, only in the sense that if you aren’t busy busy busy, you could be dangerous. If you aren’t worked to exhaustion, you might have time to stop and think. You might question the usefulness and point of your productivity. You might notice that other people make more money from you productivity than you do. That could lead you to some serious doubts about the whole project of capitalism.

Truly ethical work would be about doing the things that need to be done so that everyone has the necessities and at the same time the balance of the planet and its eco-systems is maintained. Truly ethical work would not suck up a person’s whole life but would give them time and space to be a person. Truly ethical work would be fairly paid, not this curious system where those who do the basic essentials are barely valued at all, whereas those who take long lunches and make decisions (regardless of how those decisions play out) are deemed to be worth a lot more. If work was about ethics, we’d spend less time berating the poor, and more time complaining about the lazy leisured class and its consumptive habits.

There is nothing remotely ethical about the existing notion of a work ethic. It would be a good deal more ethical to do less, consume less, live more modestly, prioritise taking care of needs rather than profits, and getting shot of the idea that simply being rich is a valid contribution to your community.

Druidry and service

The call to service is an important part of modern Druidry. This is not an especially unique feature as most, probably all religions try to instil in followers a duty to do something their people or deity would find useful. We don’t have any clearly laid down ways of giving service as a Druid. You have to find something that fits with your ethical position and your personal philosophy, and do that.

As a community we often do a very poor job of recognising each other’s service. The work put in by volunteers who create and hold together Druid organisations is often overlooked at best. Druid volunteers are often met with demands as though they are paid employees, or as though their gift of service makes it ok to use them. Accusations of only being there in service to your own ego and self importance are also depressingly common and demoralising. So we call people to serve, and when they do so within our own community, we give them a hard time over it, and we stand by in silence while other people give volunteers a hard time. That really ought to change. If you have no other service, consider standing up for those who serve as a good contribution to make. Look after your grove leaders, order organisers, event runners and ritual celebrants. Trust me, most of them need the help and will be grateful and more able for your doing this.

The picture is not so very different when a Druid goes out to serve in the wider community. It doesn’t help that every last organisation dependent on volunteers does not have the funding or the human resources to do the job. A willing volunteer will often find the gentle refrains of ‘can you just…’ and ‘we really need…’ slowly takes over their life. How do you say no to the good cause, the much needed intervention? How do you say ‘enough’ in the matter of service? It’s very hard to say ‘no’ when you’re acutely aware of all the things that are going wrong. When you step up as a volunteer in any capacity, you will expose yourself to more stories of all that is awful, and you will suffer, and need to do more. Volunteer burnout is of course one of the reasons that charities and the like are so often short of volunteers.

Serving in a sustainable way sounds like the logical answer, but emotionally it isn’t. Yes, if you want to keep giving you have to stay well. The decision to put you first rather than homeless children, the hungry disabled, the creature threatened with extinction… that’s not an easy choice to make and the more aware you are, the harder it gets. But make that choice you must, because more broken people means more that needs doing, more care that needs pouring into the mixing bowl, and fewer people who can give. Being part of the solution requires us to survive.

Just a bit of fun

Warning: I found this one deeply uncomfortable while I was writing it. Even by my usual standards I think this is a challenging post.

One of the repeated defences of NaNoWriMo after my blog post criticising it, has been that it is just a bit of fun. This came in response to me suggesting it has a problematic impact on the book industry and on perceptions of books, far beyond the minority who participate. In turn, this led me to thinking about the logic of defending something as ‘just a bit of fun.’

Now, in cases where something is attacked purely on the basis of worth – comic books would be a case in point, the ‘fun’ defence seems passably valid to me. Comics are fun, they don’t hurt anyone normally, and they can be a tool for improving literacy, especially in boys who are not attracted to books (and we’ve moved beyond fun now). It is often the case that popular culture is criticised on issues of merit and worth, and defends itself with the ‘fun’ line. The worth attack, fun defence is perfectly reasonable not least because ‘worth’ is so subjective in the first place, and the first line of attack for people who resent ‘fun’.

However, ‘just a bit of fun’ also defends the torture porn movies and sexual pornography as well. It is a line for silencing debate about the social and emotional impact of subjecting ourselves to this kind of content. What if it isn’t just harmless fun? What if it’s addictive? What if it changes us in ways we are not even aware of? Shouldn’t we know about that, and shouldn’t we care?

All blood sports have at some point been viewed as ‘just a bit of fun’ by the people who enjoyed them. The badger baiting and cock fighting, the dog fights, fox hunting and so forth. Shooting wildlife you do not mean to eat is no doubt ‘just a bit of fun’ for the people who participate. Less so for the wildlife, at a guess. When historical armies have raped their way through conquered peoples, you can be sure someone was ‘just having fun’. It is the first line of defence for abusers – nothing bad is happening to you, this is just a bit of fun. This is the classic defence of all bullies too – especially at school. Normal rough and tumble play. Just fun. No harm real harm done…

What troubles me about the ‘just a bit of fun’ defence is that it seeks to minimise and dismiss the questions that are being raised. While there is a huge difference between a writing program and physical assault, the line of defence being taken is equally invalid and itself needs challenging. I did not question whether NaNo was fun. I’m sure it is for a lot of people. I also know fox hunting is fun for a lot of people who do it (no, I am not implying any similarity between NaNo and fox hunting).‘Fun’ is not an ethical assessment of a thing. Why should the pleasure we take in something be given priority over its wider impact? ‘Just a bit of fun’ is often a refusal to consider the alternatives.

Of course no one wants to consider that the things they were innocently, thoughtlessly enjoying might be problematic and not that cool. We don’t want to be that wrong, any of us. We don’t want to have to feel guilty about things we like, or change our behaviour because of the ethical impact. So we keep buying the fun shoes made by slave labour and the chocolate harvested by children, and we close our eyes and ears to what’s going on. Pagans with our dubiously sourced crystals, taking pilgrimage by aeroplane to international sacred sites. We are all guilty of this, to some degree. I know I could do more to avoid wilful ignorance. Do we choose to keep shutting our eyes and putting our fingers in our ears “la la la, can’t hear you, it’s just a bit of fun, it’s all fine” or are we willing to look the problems in the face when someone brings them to our attention?

And on the flip side, if you want to defend anything, ‘just a bit of fun’ is a really flimsy approach. Not least because the people for whom it isn’t fun probably couldn’t care less how you feel about it. If you love something, argue for it with more considered replies, with more reasoning and better justifications. Many people did defend NaNo on those better terms with talk of community and literacy programs – a powerful counter to my critique, and a valuable addition to the wider discussion. Thank you, those of you who dropped in to do that. That is an important counter argument, well worth sharing, and a definite consideration when thinking about the wider impact of NaNo.

If it’s truly just a bit of fun, why on earth are we willing to ignore the possibility we are hurting someone or something else?

(And feel free to place bets over how many people misread this and go on to get angry with me for comparing NaNoWriMo to rape, because if this week is anything to go by, someone will. Not something one of you lovely regulars would do, I feel confident. You all seem sane and tend to reply to what I’ve written, not what you’ve inferred after reading every third word… )

Of Depression and Druidry

I know a startling number of Druids who suffer from depression. Actually, I also know a just as alarming number of non-Druids with the same problems. It’s increasingly common. In fact, at this rate it’s going to become normal to be emotionally ill. One of the implications is that the nature of depression will need far more understanding. What non-sufferers imagine depression to be all about is painfully wide of the mark. But, if you’re not enduing it, the odds are increasingly that someone close to you, will, or that you will. Understanding how it goes makes it easier to deal with. Both for yourself and other people.

I think many of us assume that depression is a form of melancholy. People who feel sad may describe themselves (often inaccurately) as ‘a bit depressed’. There’s often a sense that what depressed people need to do is pull themselves together, stop being whinging emos, and get on with it. I probably don’t just speak for myself when I say, I find myself wishing it was that easy. Faced with someone who is pale, wilting, claiming they can’t do things, it can be easy to assume you’re seeing a freeloader, someone playing up, being melodramatic, attention seeking. Now, anyone who tells you they are depressed and then starts telling you what you have to do as a consequence of this is, frankly, a bit suspect. Controlling behaviour, regardless of the excuse, is not a thing to support or facilitate. Most of the depression sufferers I know find it very hard to ask for help. Telling people that they have to do things, is hard to imagine. Depression is not something we seek or enjoy, it’s life sapping and a bloody nuisance. Some days I feel like the whole time I’m walking round in lead boots wrestling with an octopus wrapped around me, that no one else can see. Normal things take ridiculous amounts of effort.

Depression is not ‘feeling a bit blue’ or ‘being a bit down’ or ‘needing to pull yourself together’. Depression is a defence mechanism. It’s a way of coping with things that the individual cannot otherwise handle. From the outside it may look like melancholy, from the inside it’s a process of shutting down, climbing into a shell, putting up the walls to keep out whatever it is that the body can no longer endure feeling. Stress, anxiety, and physical pain can all contribute to this process. The person who is weeping over something can often be in a better sort of place than the person who is still and silent because they’ve gone numb. Depression can be all about watching the colours drain out of your world. All the hope, all the reasons to keep going, fade away, and it feels like dying on the inside. Which sometimes results in people thinking that actually dying might not be such a terrible thing.

Why are so many of us falling soul-sick in this way? I think the more interesting question is, why everyone else has not done so yet. We have unprecedented access to the horrors of an entire planet. Every really attention grabbing murder and act of abuse makes it to the media. There’s a daily diet of war crime, tragedy, political idiocy. Every day we see the triumphs of money and power over common sense and decency. We’re driving species to extinction. When did you last see an image of a sick or dying child? Recently, at a guess. When was the last time a news item made you despair for humanity? Probably in the last week, at a guess.

In making a dedication to the land, in relinquishing ignorance and trying to live ethically, Druids take a course that eradicates any real hope of burying the head in the sand, and ignoring what’s out there. And of course we aren’t alone. People of heart and integrity are bound to feel what is constantly presented to them. Of course the violence, cruelty and tragedy are nothing new. It’s just that most of our ancestors only had to deal with what happened directly in their own lives, without simultaneously being burdened with the griefs of the world. One of the big problems with the griefs of the world is that most of the time, individually, there’s nothing we can do. A sense of powerlessness will eat away at your capacity for hope like nothing else. And that, in time, will put you on your knees.

As a Druid I have to stay open and aware. I cannot look away, ignore my responsibilities and pretend that all is well in the world. As some ambling ape-descended biology, I can’t always sustain that and keep moving. I have good days, and bad days. My body has a finite capacity for coping with distress. I try and generate hope. I do not always manage this.

I saw a facebook thing the other day, the gist went like this. The media tells you what to think and what to do. You run round on the treadmill making money for someone else, to buy stuff you don’t need that is killing the planet. Your air, food and water are being poisoned. And still you shuffle along. You are the zombie apocalypse. Wake the hell up.

I think there’s an argument for saying that a lot of depressed people are that way because they are awake. Perhaps if everyone woke up, we wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore. None of us. We could just fix things. And we really could just fix things, if enough of us wanted to and we could agree on how to do it. Let’s not go there. Hold the positive thought.

Sweet little lies

My son has a tremendous interest in ethical questions. He’s particularly fascinated by the ethics of lying, such that this has been a significant topic of conversation lately. Now, the simple answer here is that lying is unethical. But of course there’s the line ‘If Hitler is at the front door and Anne Frank in the attic’. There are times when the only honourable thing to do is to lie. There are many people who lived and escaped persecution only because someone hid them and lied for them. Everyone who helped a Jewish person flee the Nazis. Any movement that resists oppression and tyranny depends on subterfuge to some degree. The underground railroad. When the state itself becomes evil, following the law is not the most honourable choice.

Most of us will not find ourselves in a Hitler/Anne Frank scenario. I hope. But every day presents us with opportunities to be more or less honest. Lies by omission are common. The things we let slide, don’t mention. The little injustices we allow to pass unchallenged. The little mistakes we cover up. Most of the time, these don’t make a lot of odds in the grand scheme of things, but when they do, situations can suddenly run out of control and either you have to fess up, or their follows a process of having to tell more lies to hide the first one. Not a good place to be, not an honourable solution, and frequently, not something that allows for a fix. The person who can admit to a mistake has the space to learn, repair, improve. The person who denies ballsing things up cannot redeem themselves, and cannot learn. Appearing to be right, at the expense of actually being right, will cost you dearly in the long run, more often than not.

Then there are the lies we tell to spare someone’s feelings. The theory being that a lie to avoid pain is kinder. That is true sometimes, but at others, it sets people up for a fall. The person whose failings are not pointed out to them can have a seriously inflated self opinion, and sooner or later will run into a bit of reality, and find they aren’t the best novelist who ever lived, after all. I gather current TV shows frequently make ‘entertainment’ by laughing at people who think they’re far better than they really are. The kinder thing to do would have been to point it out sooner. Thinking you are something, and finding you are not, can be far more traumatic than dealing with the truth early on. And again, there’s scope to change. If someone points out where you are failing, you can learn, improve, become what you want to be. The person who wrongly believes they know it already is being denied all kinds of opportunities to really achieve.

There are the lies of convenience. Most people, when they ask how you are, want a short, reassuring answer. It can be tempting to give that. I spent years lying to everyone around me, by saying  ‘a bit tired’ ‘just a bit under the weather’ when I visibly wasn’t ok, rather than saying what was going on. I did it to spare the people around me, and I did it to protect the person who was depriving me of sleep, undermining my self-esteem and abusing my body. Crazy. But like a lot of women in my situation, I didn’t want to face up to the implications of what was happening to me. Easier to blame myself, than the father of my child. Had I spoken the truth, someone could have pointed out to me that things were not ok. I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone thinking ill of my ex back then. And I also wondered if people would just agree with him, that it was my fault for being too demanding, too emotional, too… whatever it was that week.

When I started being honest about what had happened, I found warmth and support. I found versions of me that weren’t deemed useless, ridiculous, over reacting and unreasonable. I was told that the things I felt, wanted, needed, were the least a human should have. I wish I had dared to trust sooner.

One of the things I learned from this, is that if you consider yourself to be an honourable person and do not feel safe in being honest, it is time to question the situation you are in. It may not be Hitler at the door, but something external is quite probably awry. If you have a mindset that leans towards taking on responsibility, then it can be easy to internalise blame, to carry things that are not yours, and so forth. When honesty feels dangerous, there is serious work to do, somewhere.

The decision to lie should never been taken lightly. If it’s to avoid inconvenience, or for some other short term gain, it’s worth weighing up what the bigger picture looks like and what the ultimate cost might be. Difficult truth can be handled with tact and care. Mistakes need to be owned. And if it’s not safe to be honest, start thinking about an exit strategy.

For myself, I’d rather tell the truth as far as is humanly possible, come what may. But I do not currently have an attic, much less any Jewish girls depending on me for their lives. In that scenario, you can bet I’d be lying my ass off.

Enemies of the druids

Roman imperialisms pushed historical Druidry underground a few thousand years ago, and changed it at the very least, perhaps destroyed it. I’m no historian. Modern druids do not find themselves battling the armed forced of an expansionist state. We belong to no specific country, and can find ourselves on both sides, and none, in all manner of political arguments. It doesn’t look like anyone will be marching on us any time soon. When enmity is that clear cut, working out how to respond may be easier. Fight or acquiesce. You also know who to fight, and to whom you might surrender. These days we’re not in the same fights and there is much less clarity.

Modern Druids do not tend to fight such battles. Our enmity may be private. We may have taken up pens, rather than swords, to fight human rights abuses, animal cruelty, environmental vandalism or any one of the many issues besetting modern culture. When we do this, in practice what it means is that we are fighting a lot of the people around us. I talk about television dependence, battery raised children, car impact, consumerism. I’m not talking about a distant foe, I’m talking about the people in my village. These are not people I want to start a fight with. They are often people I like.

And then other times I’m talking about banks, politicians, corporations, government bodies, laws, habits of culture and systems. Trying to fight that is not unlike trying to fight fog. It’s there, I can see it, but it offers me very few actual targets I can hit. And again, all these things are made up of people, and many of them are going to be basically decent people who are only doing their job, or who have a different value system to me, or who have just never considered the consequences.

Now and then there’s a genuine nasty, some individual whose behaviour, actions, words make it clear they aren’t basically a nice person with whom I might not see eye to eye. Those who use and abuse, those who are deliberately cruel for their own amusement or gain and who do not care who they trample on during their struggle for success.

Even if I could go out with a sword and twat them, I wouldn’t, because that’s a response that reinforces the idea that might is right, and that’s not the culture I want to live in. I find myself banging my head against unfair systems, closed minded officials, and the general apathy of people who don’t want to know, on quite a regular basis. Truth be told, I anticipate this will be the way of it for the rest of my life, because it’s something I’m choosing to do.

There are times when offering a different example, responding with compassion and patience, or just working it through logically will shift something that had been a problem into something that can be worked with. It’s great when that happens, and if there’s just the faintest suggestion it can, then I don’t mind putting in the time. But there are plenty of people and structures that refuse to listen, much less see. There are places where the ‘norm’ is unassailable, to deviate is to be wrong, and there is no room for discussion. There are minds where only one explanation can exist, and there is no room to consider others. This is where the biggest, and the most interesting challenges lie. The measure of our Druidry is not what we do on the good days when all is happy and straightforward. The true measure of our ethics, our values, or characters even, is what we do when we’re up to the eyeballs in crap, with nowhere to go, no one who will listen, no obvious way to fight… then you see what a person is made of.

I’ve met some immovable objects in my time. Some instances that sounded a lot like ‘you can’t get there from here.’ I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is totally refuse to accept this. There is always another way, so long as you’re breathing. Always another button to push, ear to bend, letter to write. Always a way to protest and raise awareness. And it is possible to go after the wrong without trying to destroy the people involved in it. That’s a tricky one, and there are going to be exceptions (I think I’ve found one, but, who knows?) It’s not what we achieve that defines us as Druids, it’s how we go about it. Doing the right things, for the right reasons. Not the expedient things. Not the things that serve us, but the things that need doing. All of us, in our lives, will find battles we can’t win, enemies we cannot talk round. But merely the trying can create change, and the more people are out there living their druidry, and trying, the more difference it’s going to make.

Godless Pagan Ethics

Pretty much everyone who criticises pagans, if they stop doing the ‘it’s just silly’ routine go onto ‘but you have no proper ethics’. This has everything to do with the assumptions that ‘proper’ religions come with a rule book, and not having a rule book obviously means that we don’t have any rules. I could get distracted here down a side track about the precise usefulness of rules that are 2000 years and more out of date. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s decking, his BMW or his mobile phone contract…. You have to do some wriggling to make those old rule books fit. There’s a basic assumption here, that the rule books of ‘proper’ religions were all dictated by God. Never mind that some of them aren’t compatible and it wouldn’t be PC to discuss that. All of them, written by God, therefore, ethically sound.

Now, whether or not you think God was there at the beginning, the rules were written down by people. Translated into new languages, by people. Interpreted, and applied, by people. That, by my reckoning, puts a great many people in the mix. My suspicion is, that people came up with the rules and wrote them down in the first place.

What happens if we accept the idea that all of the great religious books were written by people (maybe inspired by god)? People are flawed and make mistakes. Also, times change, and religious ideas can become less relevant. But if people wrote the rules, then people are individually and collectively responsible for what those rules do. Including killing people for ‘moral’ crimes, starting war, spreading hatred etc etc.

The age of a thing s not even proof that we, as modern humans, reliably think it’s a good idea. The UK traditionally went in for hanging, and now it doesn’t. Laws can change. Understandings of crime, compassion and the value of human life can change, and should. What makes sense in one context can be pure madness in another.

So yes, I’m a pagan, and I don’t have a rule book. I feel personally responsible for all the choices I make and all the things I do, and feel entirely unable to blame any of my actions on supernatural beings. The gods have NEVER made me do anything. I also don’t have a rule book that I can quote to feel morally justified about killing people, depriving them of their land, their dignity, their human rights. I don’t feel the kind of moral superiority that makes me inclined to be hugely judgemental of people I don’t know, but who have apparently messed up. Compassion matters to me more than rules. And when I think about it, all those neighbour loving, shirt giving recommendations in the Bible seem to get overlooked in certain quarters.

To be pagan is not to be without ethics, it is to know that you, and only you are responsible for the ethical choices you make. No hiding behind a book. No waving your bloodstained hands in feigned innocence, saying ‘it is god’s will, we have to’. No neatly doging the requirement to think about what I do, and who I judge, and no assuming that any law is morally, unassailably right and leaving it alone. I care about what is good, what is needful, what makes the world a better place, and  do not think the ‘ethics’ of the market place or the ‘values’ of consumerism serve us very well at all by that measure.

I don’t even think it matters where ideas come from, how old they are, or who came up with them. What matters is what an idea does, what is achieves in the world, who it helps, who it harms. “By their fruit shall ye know them,” yes? Ask what good it is, and if the answer is ‘no good at all’ then consider that it might be derived from human fear and human failing, and not any kind of deity at all. What is human, can be changed by humans, and we owe it to ourselves to really consider the implications of that.

The hardworking people

Apparently David Cameron was on Radio 4 this morning telling the UK how much he cares about ‘the hardworking people’. At first glance, that seems fine, but it stands a poke. First, as soon as you say something like this, you are probably also saying (especially if you’re a Tory), by implication that there are people who are not hardworking and you aren’t in favour of them. You are also saying that hardworking is the only measure of a person. Let’s take that further.

A hardworking person is putting in long hours, pretty much by definition. They probably live to work, rather than working to live. But there’s no call to quality here, only to look busy. A hardworking person may have meticulously re-ordered the stationary cupboard today. They might spend hours diligently folding socks in the best possible way. They might spend several extra hours in the office every day, appearing to be very busy, afraid they will lose their job if they don’t appear to be working long hours, and working hard, but not actually doing anything useful. What they will be doing is reducing their own quality of life, having a terrible work-life balance, and neglecting other aspects of being human.

Hard work and long hours happily contributes to a process of making things we neither need nor can afford and then convincing each other to pay for them anyway. This is one of the things that underpins the inherent instability and unsustainability of our culture. Working long, hard hours contributes to the rising epidemic of stress, anxiety and depression related illness, which in turn costs a lot of working hours every year and a lot of time spent on doctors and drugs. That is not a win in any sense. Long, hard hours at work undermine family life, means parents have less chance to be involved in bringing up their own children, and puts an obscene amount of pressure on our planet. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently the pattern our Prime Minister is cheering about. Never mind that most of his overpaid, over-privileged, under-worked friends have probably never done the kinds of things we’re talking about here.

As a Druid, I care about nature. I see human beings as part of nature, and I see what is natural continually being overruled by this pressure to be good little producers, forever busy selling and consuming. Why are we so obsessed with creating and wasting far more than any of us need? Because idiots stand up in public and suggest there is a moral high ground to working yourself to death for the sake of ten more sales of a thing that is destined to sit in a garage and gather dust, or go into the bin barely used. Of course the more caught up we are in frantically working longer and harder to be good little citizens, the less time we have to think about moral and ethical issues, the less energy we have for questioning governments. What a strange coincidence!

Let’s not cheer over people working twelve hour days, and six and seven day weeks. Let’s gently encourage them to live, and facilitate their doing so. Let’s not demand the quickest, cheapest, least humane option at every turn.

I could work really hard today. I could write thousands and thousands of words until my hands are in agony and my mind is in meltdown. I might even be able to sell it to someone. And then I would have contributed to the great pile of ill-conceived, throw away reading material in the world. Whoopee. Forgive me if I don’t think that’s clever. Or I can move slowly, take the time to think. Which project is most important and relevant? Which topic most needs airing? Where can I say something profound, or something that will improve peoples’ days by making them smile?

From a purely economic perspective, ten thousand words of any pap I can think of, will not make me the next Neil Gaiman, or the next JK Rowling. Quality matters. Better to work lightly and get things right than expend a lot of energy flapping, flailing and messing things up. You can work very hard and end up with total rubbish. You can also work smart, at the right speed, with care and integrity. Maybe it doesn’t look as though quite as much is getting done, but getting it right the first time should mean going home early, not three hours of overtime. We’re too collectively focused on the idea that time is money, and that working – any work, no matter what it achieves or ruins – is morally superior to no work. Remember the guys checking train lines for dangerous faults, overpressured, with not enough time to do the job? Someone died as a consequence of people being asked to work too hard, and being unable to do the job as a consequence. This is not the right way to do things.

In nature, most things do only what is needful. The rest of the time, they rest, play, sunbathe, groom, sing, socialise. Humans are not very natural. I’m not advocating an ethic of total laziness here, I work, and I work most days, but I do not believe in work for the sake of it, and I do not think anyone should be martyring themselves for the cult of overtime and the gods of GDP.

Druidry and money

This week Cat wrote about the relationship between druidry and money in a practical and personal sense over at http://druidcat.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/faith-and-funding/ It’s a good and thought provoking blog about how we value things, time, energy and skill, what we give for free in service, and the necessity of being able to eat.

I’ve been fermenting an idea this week which seems relevant. Cat talks about money as being a way of exchanging energy – a productive notion, I think, that enables us to consider money in a spiritual context. What I want to explore today is the relationship between money, and fear.

Based on experiences to date, there are no problems that are not reliably exacerbated by poverty, while many problems can to some degree be alleviated by throwing money at them. Even if you can’t fix the underlying issue, being in comfort while you deal with it is a hell of a lot easier than if you don’t have a roof over your head. What can you not buy, with enough cash? The news is full of the kinds of breaks and advantages enjoyed by the super rich. Who wouldn’t look at those lifestyles, and the freedom great heaving loads of cash bestow, and want a piece of it? Who wouldn’t imagine that kind of life as being far preferable? Life is full of uncertainty, while money seems like the great insulator.

Of course the money itself doesn’t do anything, it’s the way in which you deploy it that gets results, which is where the money-as-energy concept comes in. Then there’s that interesting question of ethics, so important in druidry. With enough money, a person can buy an advantage over those who have less. Be that the better lawyer, the goodwill of a government, someone to walk in front of you with a big stick… or anything else. Somewhere out there is a line, a shift between what is fair and reasonable, and what is downright corrupt. How far can we fairly use money as energy and a means of getting things done to our advantage, and at what point does that become oppression, corruption and abuse? I don’t have an answer to that, but I think it needs asking, all the same.

What my druidry encourages me to think about money is this – that there is such a thing as sufficiency. Not an idea of wealth that can smooth every bump and grease every wheel, but enough. Beyond that, I feel a degree of duty to act in ways that are not just about me. Or at least, I envisage that with suitable degrees of security and resources, I would then start using what was left with an eye to others more than myself. Of course the measure of ‘enough’ will be mine, and will undoubtedly represent far more than many people in this world enjoy, but also far, far less than might constitute riches by a lot of standards. The trick will be, holding that notion in face of changing circumstances. Power, after all, corrupts, and what is money, if not power? Although I could also argue that poverty corrupts too, and desperation is just as likely to make us feel like relinquishing a belief or a moral stance, as excessive ease is.  You can’t eat the moral high ground, and it won’t keep you warm at night.

I suspect that there is no amount of money that cannot be taken from a person, and nothing that will reliably protect us from fear.

I’ve suggested to reality that it really ought to test me on this, and see if I can hold my good intentions in face of gratuitous success and wealth. That’s not going to happen this week, at a guess.