Tag Archives: justice

Druidry and quiet justice

Going in guns blazing to right wrongs can feel exciting. I’ve seen people doing this when it was obvious that they were getting a real thrill out of it, and quite an ego boost. There can also be a strong sense of involvement, group belonging and team affiliation that comes from going on a crusade against the ‘bad guy’. This can all be easily harnessed to enable bullying. 

Abusers don’t just work on their victims. Most abusers will groom all of the people around them, because this facilitates the abuse. It’s the half a dozen people you’ve been really nice to who are most likely to help you deal with the awful person in your life, after all. However nasty it gets, no one wants to believe they were duped into assisting a bully, so there are incentives to keep blaming the victim and keep asserting that everything is ok.

Justice often requires a quieter, more thoughtful approach. The invitation to go in and righteously smite someone is always worth questioning. I advocate for taking the time to look carefully at the power dynamics in a situation. Bullying depends on power imbalances. I don’t have much sympathy for people who write articles in national newspapers to complain about how they’ve been cancelled.

Perhaps the hardest thing to square up to, is how to act when you start to think you’ve been on the wrong side of something. This is a consideration around political allegiances, social movements, and personal relationships. If you’re interested in honour, then owning the mistake is an essential first move.

I think it’s incredibly important to give people the chance to do better at the point when they know better. If someone admits a mistake, there has to be room for them to move forwards. There has to be a willingness to fix things, and the focus here should be on restorative justice. 

If someone has been harmed, then it should not be on the harmed person to facilitate whatever is restorative. Forgiveness is a blessing, not a right and no one should feel under pressure to forgive someone who has harmed them. Sometimes, rehabilitation requires more of a community approach. There are times when justice means holding space and including someone who has previously messed up so that they have the scope to do better.

Anger shows us where the problems are – or it can. Anger can help us hold boundaries and to protect ourselves. It’s also an emotion that is easily manipulated, especially when you are to be angry as part of a group and affirm your group membership through the expression of anger. This can all too easily lead to bullying and violence. If being angry is making you feel good, it’s worth treating that with some suspicion.

If your interest is in justice, rather than self protection, then it’s often better handled quietly and over time. Restorative justice isn’t usually achieved by quick fixes. I’m not even slightly convinced that punishment is a form of justice – except perhaps around poetic justice where people bring it upon themselves through their own actions. Punishment is all about power imbalance, and tends to entrench power imbalances, and it is more often the case that those imbalances are actually unjust of themselves.


Justice on the Druid path

It is important to think about what we do in the name of justice and not to assume that the desire for justice of itself guarentees anything about our actions or the impact they have.

There’s nothing like righteous indignation for making a person feel powerful and important as they lash out. That can be alluring and addictive. It’s important to be sure at the very least that you’re lashing out at the right person – someone who has the scope to fix a problem. All too often the person who gets lashed out at is the one who happens to be nearest and easiest to hit. Shouting at a low paid employee over decisions other people have made regarding the company they work for, is not a just action.

The internet gives us a steady supply of opportunities to lash out at other people in the name of justice. Online it’s easy to hit people who are vulnerable. It’s also easy to pick on people who are actually doing good work and care about getting things right but do not meet your standards in every imaginable way. By this means we can end up knocking down the people who were genuinely trying to fix and improve things while ignoring the people who are causing the actual problems.

If you’re in a fight and enjoying it, there’s a lot to be said for pausing to look at that. Are you really helping anything or anyone, or are you just enjoying your own feelings of power? Might you be playing at being a white knight? Are you making yourself feel good and important at someone else’s expense? Who are you talking over? Is there anything important you might have overlooked? What’s the real power balance between you and the person you’re fighting? 

People are seldom persuaded by aggression. There are times when a show of force gets things done and there are times when that may well be the right choice, but it shouldn’t be our first port of call. People are depressingly averse to reasoned arguments and evidence when that goes against beliefs they have invested in. Getting angry with them doesn’t turn them into better people, usually. 

If you can’t fix a problem, or challenge someone who can then often the best choice is example, not engagement. Put your truth into the world. Show your values through your actions. Do something restorative, because that’s often the best form justice can take anyway. If you can’t fix a problem, draw attention to it, try to offset it in some way. Anger is not a direct path to justice. We have to take our anger and turn it into something useful that helps people, otherwise we’re just being self indulgent.


When not to educate people

Teaching is definitely appropriate work for a Druid, but it’s certainly not all about teaching Druidry. What humanity most needs right now are people willing and able to educate others about climate chaos, politics, compassion, diversity and justice. We need to be talking about how to make things better than they are. It makes sense to focus on whatever you best understand and wherever you have the most insight to share, and no one can do everything. So, pick your fights and don’t feel like it’s your job to make everyone better informed about everything because that will burn you out.

It’s fine not to step up to educate people if you are already exhausted and/or it’s going to cost you too much to do it. Stepping away and refusing to engage are also meaningful choices and sometimes engaging just amplifies hatred.

Not everyone who has questions and says they want you to educate them is genuine. Some do it deliberately to exhaust and debilitate activists. Some of them are bots. Some are just attention hungry people. Actively putting out good information can be a better choice than tackling individuals.

It can be better not to wade in if you don’t understand what’s going on. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, and if you aren’t informed it is painfully easy to get things wrong. Sometimes it’s better to step back and focus on listening and learning. Increasing your own understanding of a situation is a good choice. If in doubt, amplify compassion and discourage abuse – but be alert to how tone policing can impact a situation. The distress of a victim can be weaponised all too easily by an abuser.

Be wary of people who act like it’s your job to explain or defend something to them. No one is automatically entitled to your time and energy. There are a great many things you should never feel obliged to explain – why you are saying no is at the top of that list. You don’t owe random strangers explanations about why you need something or why you can’t do a thing. Anyone unprepared to take that at face value is unlikely to be persuaded by anything you say, either.

There will be people who want to learn and understand, and who consequently act with respect and appreciation. Those people are worth your time, if you have it. They are also likely to be willing to wait, or to accept pointers towards existing resources. 


Female Safety

CW rape and violence

The judge in the sentencing hearing for Wayne Couzens described his victim Sarah Everard as “wholly blameless”. There’s a subtext here, that a victim of rape and murder could, in some instances, be considered not wholly blameless, and this is both appaling and unsurpriing. Here in the UK we have a long tradition of blaming the victims of violence – especially women.

My whole life, I’ve been hearing what women should do to stay safe – don’t drink, don’t go out on your own, don’t go out after dark, use your keys to defend yourself, don’t dress provocatively, stay in areas with plenty of other people around. Sabina Nessa should (by that useless theory) have been safe on those terms, but she was murdered recently. 

Now the Metropolitan police are telling women what to do to stay safe if approached by a police officer. Because we can no longer safely assume that a police officer won’t assault, rape or murder a woman, in the aftermath of what Wayne Couzens did to Sarah Everard. He was shielded and enabled by his status as a police officer. The Met, let me repeat, are now telling women what to do for their own safety if approached by a police officer.

I don’t have words for how angry I am. These are the people whose job it is to uphold the law and keep people safe. If the institutional response to police brutality is to make the victims responsible for their own safety from police abuse, the police cannot be said to exist to uphold the law or keep people safe. As Talis Kimberly pointed out on Twitter, if this is the case, no-one should be charged with resisting arrest – especially not anyone whose apparent race or gender identity might put them at risk of being killed by the police. 

In theory we are supposed to be policed by consent. No one consents to police brutality, to rape or to murder. Either we need an urgent and radical overhaul of how policing works and how problematic policepersons are dealt with, or we are, of necessity, going to all have to treat the police as dangerous and suspicious – and clearly that’s not going to go well for anyone.

Radical change is long overdue. Police brutality towards black people is a known and longstanding issue. Police attitudes to protestors are highly problematic and tend to defend the convenience and property of the powerful at the expense of the freedom and wellbeing of ordinary people. Violence against women seldom leads to justice, with rape prosecution an area of absolute shame in this regard. Innocent, blameless women die all the time in the UK – a further 80 since Sarah Everard was murdered. It’s relentless. If you haven’t willingly participated in a violent situation, you are blameless and innocent.

The police are supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We have to demand change.


Learning and Punishment

When young children get things wrong, it is because they don’t know better. The younger the child, the more obvious this should be. They may not grasp the cause and effect issues. They may have been curious, or bored – both of which are innocent conditions. If a small child messes up, they need educating, not punishing. 

At some point, a person becomes capable of malice and deliberate cruelty. But what if we saw this primarily as an education problem, not a reason for punishment? I have no qualms about the idea of using short, sharp interventions to reduce the amount of harm or danger in a situation, (better you do something unpleasant than they tease the dog until it bites them, for example) but on the whole, what is punishing a child really about?

Are we punishing them for not having understood why something was important? Should it be their responsibility if they haven’t grasped why something matters?

Punishment has more to do with asserting authority and teaching obedience than it has to do with helping a person learn, grow and do better. Children will tend to respond to arbitrary authority either by increasing their resistance to it, or by hiding better. Punishment leads to fear and/or resentment. A child who has ‘learned’ to behave through punishment is likely to have learned about what to hide to survive, but they won’t necessarily think there’s any other value in what they’ve learned.

I think much the same is true of adults. Punishment does not discourage people from committing crime. Education and opportunity are far more effective on this score. If people don’t understand their rights and responsibilities, locking them up won’t fix that. Punishment doesn’t restore anything to the victim, either. It doesn’t actually achieve much for anyone and it has a high financial and social cost. What punishment does allow, be that at home or in a society, is for some people to have power over other people. Punishment has much more to do with the assertion of power and the reinforcing of hierarchies than it does with solving problems or fixing behaviour.

Punishment teaches that the person with the most power in a situation can dish out punishment on their own terms. The person with the least power is the person it will be easiest to punish. The rich and powerful are often very good at avoiding punishment, while any crime punishable by a fine was only ever intended to hurt poor people. What punishment leads to is the understanding that having power is more important than being right, or good. This does nothing to tackle crimes motivated by desperation. It also fuels the kind of crime that is driven by the desire to have power over others.


Invisible Prejudice

Often what makes prejudice invisible is that people who are not affected by it don’t want to see it. Truly, it is impressive what can be invisible for people who don’t want to look. If you’re ever tempted to tell someone you don’t think their problem is real because you’ve never seen any evidence of it, consider how little that really proves. People who refuse to see what is inconvenient to them are part of the problem.

As a Druid, working for justice means that you have to be able to recognise injustice. To recognise it, you have to listen to people whose experiences differ from your own. This may make you uncomfortable. It is ok to be uncomfortable and it is often key to how we learn to do better. That we cannot see something is not proof that it does not exist. When we don’t recognise a problem it is all too easy to become complicit in continuing it.

If you find you are getting things wrong, it is vitally important not to double down. Recognise the mistake, own it, apologise and do better. Never try to justify or excuse your prejudice when it has been exposed. Never try to minimise the impact of what you’ve got wrong and don’t suggest anyone is overreacting if you’ve upset someone in this way. Take any distress you cause seriously. Don’t blame the people you have made uncomfortable. Don’t prioritise defending yourself. Sometimes such situations can turn out to be complex or more nuanced for all sorts of reasons, but the above still holds – whatever else you may need to do, never double down on the things you were wrong about.

Your discomfort at getting things wrong does not make you a victim. Being called out for prejudice, and asked to do better, does not make you a victim. Being called to account does not constitute a witch hunt. 

We all make mistakes. We’re all informed by the cultures we grew up in. We all need to learn and we all have more work to do educating ourselves about the challenges other people face and the way in which prejudice has been normalised and made invisible to us. No one is going to get everything perfectly right all of the time. The important thing is to do better, to try, to listen, to read, to care. Doubling down on mistakes and poor judgements only increases the misery it causes, and makes the person doing it look like an insensitive ass. 

There have been some serious issues with the UK publishing industry recently. Publishing house Picador has been slow to recognise its mistakes. The doubling down in some quarters has been hideous to behold, and the racist abuse this has caused has been inexcusable.


Druidry and Privilege

Back when I was first exploring ideas of privilege, there was a person who used to show up on my blog to argue with me. I’ve since deleted most of her stuff.  If I talked about body size, she’d be in to tell me how hard things can be for thin people. I talked about the social issues around being found unattractive, and she responded by telling me how hard things can be when you grow up pretty. I remember her writing about her home, and big garden, and driving to get to the farmer’s market, and me raising the issue of privilege and being told that she wasn’t privileged.

We were all fairly new to the privilege conversations at this point. I did not then know how normal this type of conversation would become – that people who have considerable amounts of privilege are often incredibly resistant to seeing it, or to imagining what life would be like without those things. I know at this point how normal it is for people with massive privilege to dismiss the challenges faced by others, to treat the inconvenience they experience as being comparable, and to minimise the suffering of those who have significantly less.

These days I would have both the confidence and the insight to call out someone for this kind of crappy thinking. At this point I know that I am right about this stuff, and was right at the time. I never owed anything to the poor little rich girl who wanted to feel sorry for herself over how her attractiveness made other people jealous. One of the things massive privilege likes to do is whinge when it looks like the focus of attention is moving somewhere else. Immense privilege is used to being centre stage, and feels entitled, and resents the suggestion that something else matters more, so dammit, if the way to compete is to prove that really you are the disadvantaged one, then that’s what you do to stay firmly centre stage and most important.

For me, justice is an important part of Druidry. The work of seeking justice begins in yourself. If means being anti-racist and starting by looking hard at your own prejudices and assumptions, for example. It means looking at your privilege and the differences between what you have, and what others do not have. Justice requires a willingness to be uncomfortable. This includes a willingness not to be centre stage, and to recognise that other people may have bigger problems. Yes, thin can bring issues and criticism, but it will not usually mean a doctor automatically ignores your symptoms and attributes them to your body shape. 

For there to be justice, we have to listen to each other. One of the easiest ways to derail a bid for justice is to insist that something else is more important. When men insist on foregrounding violence experienced by men in response to someone trying to talk about violence inflicted on women by men, for example. At the same time, if someone is talking about issues with no reference to the privilege involved, that actually needs derailing. No, we can’t all drive to the farmer’s market to buy local organic veg. Not all of us can drive, or afford that kind of food, and it isn’t that we aren’t trying hard enough.

And today, justice is allowing myself the space to feel angry on my own account that I had to deal with all of that. Angry that someone persistently worked to undermine me, to derail me, to minimise genuine issues and to put themselves centre stage in this space that is mine. I’m allowed to be angry, but it’s taken me a lot of years to be able to hold that for myself.


What if we re-thought the Police?

In the UK and America alike, we’re seeing a lot of reasons to re-think policing. What could we do that would change how policing works?

The big one for me is to re-prioritise around crime. Currently the police seem far too focused on the small scale crimes of poor people, while there seems to be no way to even challenge the crimes of the rich – and the crimes of those in government and other positions of power. Those with most power should be held to most account.

Justice should not simply be about punishing people after a crime has been committed. Justice means fairness and equality of opportunity.

If we legalised all drugs, provided them safely through pharmacists and treated addiction as a medical issue, we could do a lot of good. I gather it’s worked out well in Portugal.

If we invested properly in mental health support, we wouldn’t have people in crisis becoming a police issue.

If we invested in quality of life for everyone – especially including easy access to green space – we’d reduce crime where it relates to poverty. Interventions like Universal Basic Income would wipe out the crime that only exists because of desperation.  Investing in communities would wipe out the crime that comes from boredom, frustration, lack of opportunities and feelings of alienation.

In a fairer and more just society, most of us would feel more motivated to support said society. Inequality and injustice encourage crime. When the crimes of the rich go unpunished – as is currently happening – a sense of obligation to each other is bound to be undermined.

What if policing included more community support and mediation? What if policing was more focused on abuses of power? What if ecocide was a matter for the police? What would happen to how we police ourselves if prison stopped being the default answer to crime?


Tone Policing and Justice

Tone policing is the unpleasant habit of making the way the message is delivered more important than the content. It tends to be undertaken by the person with the most privilege in a situation as a way to ignore, diminish, take down or silence someone who is distressed. It also tends to go with treating someone who is distressed as invalid – too emotional, unreasonable, childish, out of control – so as to feel like there’s no need to take them seriously.

If the hurt feelings of the person with power and privilege are the most important thing, then of course nothing is going to change. And yes, it can be really uncomfortable looking at the ways in which you benefit from a system that hurts other people. It can be disturbing and upsetting to be told you’re perpetrating harm when you thought you were ok. These are hard lessons to learn, and tone policing is not the answer, not in this context.

There are however, times for tone policing. We should be policing ourselves, especially in situations where we have power and advantage. Are we speaking kindly and respectfully? Are we talking over other people? Are we increasing the anger in a situation? Are we punching down? Are we shouting someone else down? If you’re the person with the emotional control in a situation, are you using the fact that it isn’t hurting you to run power over someone who is being hurt?

Consider policing the tone of people who share your privileges. Call them out – gently and politely – when you catch them putting their own hurt feelings ahead of the actual oppression of other people. Call out the people who use anger and aggression to dominate spaces. Call out the micro-aggressions and be prepared to explain – calmly – why this kind of thing isn’t ok.

One of the biggest indicators of who has power can be seen around who is allowed to be upset. People with power and privilege are allowed to be upset when children’s cartoons aren’t made for them. People without power and privilege are not allowed to be upset when people in their community are murdered. If we want justice, then this is an area of human interaction that really needs some work. It is complicated territory and tends not to bring out the best in people, but small acts around checking your own tone, policing the people closest to you if they mess up, and defending the right of people to be upset by actual oppression will add up.


Druidry and Justice

“And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it” is one of the lines from the Gorsedd prayer. Justice is very much a consideration for modern Druids. Unfortunately, righteous indignation and attention seeking along with other ego-orientated activities are all very tempting and can make performing as a giver of justice addictive. Real justice – restorative justice that actually makes things better – takes time and work. Using your power to attack someone else is easy, satisfying and unhelpful.

Justice is often complicated and requires taking the time to understand what’s happening. It’s easy to tell people off for appropriation, it takes a bit more time and effort to find out whether you are talking to people engaged in a living tradition that is part of their own culture. It’s all too easy to centre yourself and end up speaking over the people you are supposedly speaking for. This can result in misrepresentation, in hiding what the real problems are, and in creating bad feeling. People who feel we have to ban Christmas things so as not to offend minorities largely contribute to the prejudice against minorities, for example.

I recall one justice-preaching Druid a few years back who was blithely explaining that accessibility is all about building design, it’s not about problems in the bodies of disabled people. Except, if pain and fatigue are your main issues, you won’t make it to the building, or the late starting meeting. For some disabled people, what happens in their bodies is limiting and no amount of refitting a building will change that. Speaking over disabled people with an inaccurate story is really unhelpful.

There’s nothing like righteous anger to make a person feel powerful and important, and I’ve seen Druids doing their justice on these terms and it isn’t pretty. Standing up to someone, calling them out, telling them off – it can feel really powerful doing this. But, did you have more power than them all along? Did you come in on the right side? One of the most popular tricks abusers and bullies pull is to play the victim and enlist people to help them attack the person they have been mistreating. There is no justice if you are misled into helping a bully torment their victim.

Justice requires us to take the time, to listen and to understand. Start by policing your own behaviour. Look at your own words and deeds first. If you’re going to call people out, make sure you know what’s going on – don’t call out indigenous people for following their own paths. Don’t assume you can tell who someone is by looking – mixed race people exist and you won’t know who they are from a casual glance at a profile picture.

If something makes you angry, don’t act in the heat of that anger on a ‘justice’ crusade because the odds of getting it wrong are high. Take the time to reflect. Look at the situation properly. Think about what would be most helpful. So yes, call out your racist family members – you know what their background is. But be careful calling out people you don’t know when you also don’t know what’s going on. It is better to amplify the voices of people who are disempowered – it is a good and useful thing to do, and won’t mean you perpetuate misunderstandings. Listen, lift people, make space for them, encourage other people to listen. And if someone invites you to join a crusade against a person, look carefully at the evidence and the existing balances of power. Tread carefully.

If you care about justice, it has to come second to any desires you might have to feel powerful, or important or to put yourself centre stage.