Tag Archives: society

Shifting the boundaries

I was never terribly good at boundaries, growing up. Being a parent taught me a great deal about boundary setting. It’s no good declining to give a child boundaries, because that can leave them feeling unsafe and unable to navigate. Boundaries that are too limiting and rigid create resentment and restrict a child’s growth. The boundaries have to shift as the young person develops and changes. Those boundary shifts have to be talked about, so that they can happen in the right way, and be understood.

It took me a long time to realise that all the same things apply to adults. We need to have some sense of where the permissible edges are. We need the right to hold boundaries, but also the freedom to change them at need. Where we draw our lines in one instance cannot be taken as the rule for where our lines are. If I say yes to something once, I have not said yes to it forever.

Developing trust between people can mean a process of changing where the boundaries are. The process of interacting with each other can change how we feel and think, what we need and expect, and what risks we’re willing to take.

In some ways I’ve become a lot more guarded with my boundaries in recent years. I am far less tolerant of people who try to cross my lines uninvited. That’s about emotional lines as much as it is about physical contact. In some ways I’ve become softer in my boundaries because there are people I trust to honour what I say, and to still honour what I say if I need to change things.

We like clear and simple rules because they seem easiest to work with. But for every rule – religious or secular – it’s easy to think of times when breaking the rule would be the better choice. Lying isn’t good, but if Anne Frank is in the attic and Hitler is at the door, of course you lie. I’m not in favour of killing people, but sometimes this is necessary to save lives. If a shooter walks into a school, there should be no question about trained police taking them out in any way they can. And of course because people are difficult, this kind of argument can then be used to try and justify arming anyone who wants to be armed. Give people clear and simple rules for all situations and a subset of those people will always try and bend the rules for their own gain.

When it comes to dealing with people, simple rules tend not to work very well. What we have are massively complex social structures full of privileges and power imbalances. Our dealings with large numbers of people are shaped by rules, habits, social norms. These are not easy things to think about, which is why I think it pays to focus on the most immediate and specific interactions where we have the most scope to make change.

How do we recognise and honour other people’s boundaries?

Do we have any habits of thought that might means we’re not listening? Do we assume our own rights or entitlements trump someone else’s? Do we think a certain kind of person just makes a fuss?

What do we do when our boundaries aren’t respected? Do we have choices?

How we deal with each other’s boundaries is a fundamental building block for our societies as a whole. What we normalise, or ignore. What we undertake to change. What we refuse to back down over. What we demand other people take seriously.

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Matters of inequality

We aren’t equal, as people, nor can we be. Differences of physical ability, and temperament means that in the most equitable situations imaginable, we would not all be equals. Of course in an ideal world, inequality would only be about skill, creativity, desire for achievement and inclinations around what we prioritise. At the moment we like, as a society, to tell ourselves that it is brains and talent that gets you places, but this isn’t true – it’s the money and resources in your family. The best shot you have at becoming a millionaire, is to be born into a family of millionaires.

Affluence buys opportunities. It buys more time with good teachers. It buys physical resources to help achieve, it buys access to facilities. The best instruments, and opportunities to hear the best musicians playing. The best sports gear. Granted, money cannot make you clever, or a good problem solver, or creative, but what it will give you are the opportunities to develop.

This is where the myth of talent comes in. Natural ability is only ever a small part of what makes for success. Willingness to work, and the resources you have access to are also factors. It’s easier to get through the first few years of doing illustration for little or nothing while you get a foot in the industry door, if someone else can pay your bills. It’s easier to have a sporting career as a young person if someone else has the time and money to take you to events around the country, or around the world. The more we focus on the myth of talent in all fields, the less attention we pay to the power of privilege.

There are of course people who come out of no-where and by dint of sheer ability and determination, make it. They are the exceptions – luck often plays a big part. There are many people who become high achievers, not because they have any great inner resources, but because money has smoothed a path for them. Most of us are capable of far more than we are ever getting opportunity to do. How many great pieces of music will never be written, how many scientific breakthroughs won’t happen, how many brilliant bits of technology won’t be made, how many books not written, art not crafted simply because the person who could have done it was never given the opportunity to develop?

Now imagine what would happen if we had equality of opportunity. If we used technology to do away with tedious jobs, and created a culture in which anyone could seek to excel in any field. Jobs are on the way out as it is, and we don’t seem to have a good vision of the future. We could, if we innovate rather than being led by the preferences of the people with the money, come up with a whole new way of being communities of humans.


Objects, experiences and cultures

We have a society intent on replacing experiences with objects. We are under constant pressure to buy more stuff, to sit in ever bigger houses on ever bigger piles of things we mostly do not use. The average car is used for about thirty minutes a day, I gather, but we should all aspire to own one so that for the other 23 hours and thirty minutes it can sit there, taking up space and expressing our identity. Adverts tell us that objects are shortcuts to the things we want – the right object brings friendship, respect, love, sex, a happy home and a well behaved family. With the right object, we can do anything. Have you bought in to that?

So we cut back on experiences. We don’t go out as much. We rely on computers for both entertainment and social contact. Sedentary lifestyles make us bodily ill, but that’s ok because we can buy things to help us with that. Slimming products. Flattering clothes. A bigger sofa.  I take online surveys, and I notice that I am frequently asked which products I’ve been discussing with friends and family in recent days. This is also an aspect of objects replacing experiences. We are now expected to talk about brands, because what else is there in your life?

When a society is experiential, you can have a rich culture that reflects on those experiences. A culture coming from experience helps us make sense of our experiences, gives them context, and offers us ways of sharing them. Experience is richer for being explored culturally. Books, music, art, film, dance, even television reflecting on life lived and the possibilities surrounding us, helps us get more out of life and is a source of experience in its own right.

What happens when you have a society that is all about objects, not experiences? How do you make culture out of a discussion around the latest app, the make of your car, the exact shape of your mobile phone contract? You can’t make anything rich and rewarding out of such thin and empty material. Culture based on a life of objects is going to be no culture at all. Plot free movies full of CGI effects, explosions, pathetic dialogue and 2d characters. Endless ‘reality’ TV shows full of freak show takes on life because so many people don’t have much of a real life anymore and thus find this interesting. Endless talent shows that give you the illusion of being important by letting you vote for the winner. News outlets that feel no obligation to report truthfully, and ignore half of what’s going on. Books commissioned by the marketing department.

Look around.

This is what we get when objects replace experience.

It is absolutely essential that we stop being this ever-hungry, always consuming zombie apocalypse, and start living our own lives again.


What is government for?

I’ve been reading John Keane’s ‘The Life and Death of Democracy’ – slowly, because it contains a lot of history otherwise unfamiliar to me, and is a book about the same size and weight as a house-brick! Yesterday I ran into a thought form that stopped me in my tracks. To paraphrase Mr Keane: Should government reflect society or counterbalance it?

Democracy is mostly based on the idea of majority rule, but this can lead to two obvious problems. One is that the majority are given the power to oppress the minority, or minorities. Secondly is that those who accumulate wealth, fame and power can easily use that to try and get their own way. If democracy reflects the social and economic dynamics in a country, can it be fair? We tend to assume that the democratic systems we have are pretty much the best thing available, so this questioning of core tenets really interested me.

What happens if the basic job of government is to counterbalance society? Government would then exist, to a fair degree, to right wrongs, protect minorities, ensure fairness, prevent money from controlling all advantages and generally try and keep the playing field as level as possible. It would be a system that prioritised the needs of the weakest, least able and most vulnerable on the grounds that those who are wealthy and successful can reasonably be assumed to be capable of taking care of themselves. And you wouldn’t turn them into some kind of minority to pick on here, no French revolution style execution of aristocrats (I refer you to majority rule). Would counterbalance government be viable? I like it as an idea, but I don’t know if it would work and I’m pretty certain a lot of people would hate it.

The current system encourages us to think about our needs, to vote from a place of selfishness, and perhaps with some eye to enlightened self-interest. It can be a bit short term. I have noticed repeatedly that people who are successful tend to ascribe that to their brains, efforts and other things that make that both deserved, and likely to continue. It isn’t entirely true. Anyone can fall. Illness, misfortune, accident, assault… anyone can end up a victim of crime, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then your life falls apart. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how clever you are, you can’t think your way out of debilitating illness, buy off a terminal disease or be talented enough not to get hit in a random motorway accident you didn’t see coming.

What keeps many of us (not me!) from wanting to invest in a safety net for other people, is that ‘we’ think ‘they’ don’t deserve it, and we refuse to believe we could end up in just as much trouble. That could use a rethink. There but for the grace of (insert random element here) go any of us. People who have wealth, money and power fear that other people are going to take that away from them. We are, culturally speaking, so terribly afraid of each other. It reduces our collective scope for co-operation. What would happen if we set up government to counter balance, rather than to reflect? I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth thinking about.

In case you were wondering, it’s not an entirely hypothetical idea. Uruguay was exploring it in the early twentieth century. I knew almost nothing about South American political history before this week. It is fascinating seeing how fiction authors I’ve read; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende, Louis de Berniers, fit into that context. There is always more to learn.


Gratitude and fortune

I am lucky. When my life fell apart I had enough inherited cash that I did not have to seek social housing. I can earn some money, even though I’ve been ill, and thanks to self-employment have been able to stay out of sickness related benefits. I do get some help from the government – you can get support alongside quite decent incomes, if you have children. But on the whole, I’m not as dependent on the system as many people are, and that’s pure, blind luck.

It was sheer luck that the bad choices in my history did not leave me in a mental health hospital, or out on the streets. It was pure chance that set me up in life with a decent genetic intelligence and some good teachers. Not everyone gets that. I’ve been able to roll with changes and challenges, survive setbacks and find ways round problems because I am fortunate enough to be passably bright and pretty well educated. Not everyone gets those breaks.

It’s all too easy to look at the successes in our lives, and put those down to how good we are. We deserve our winnings, our paychecks, our comfy homes, good health. Of course we want to believe that because it gives us an illusion of control. If we made it and earned it, then we ought to be able to keep it. This is just an illusion. Bad luck, an accident, a folding company, ill health, a run on your bank, a tree root undermining your house. The lucky amongst us are seldom more than a couple of missing payments away from total disaster. Should that happen, much depends on how lucky we are in our friends and family, and how much support we get.

Blaming those who get into trouble is a way of reassuring ourselves that it won’t happen to us. We’re too smart. We work too hard. We’re too together to have a mental health problem. We jog, so we aren’t going to get sick. No matter how hard you try, one mistake with a car can take all of that way from you in a space of minutes. We want the people at the bottom to be lazy scroungers, so that we don’t have to be afraid of that happening to us. Well, we should be afraid, and we should see our illusions of security for what they really are. Bad luck strikes randomly, and does not pay much attention to how clever, hard working or health conscious you are. There’s only so much you can ward off by doing the right things, and only so far a clever mind will carry you. I’ve seen it happen to plenty of people. There are lots of folk on narrowboats who got here because they were too smart to entirely go under. Businesses ruined by supermarkets. Lives ruined by violence and abuse. People plagued by ill health, or who lost everything in a messy divorce. But people who had enough left and enough imagination to take up boating, and survive. Not everyone has the inner strength to keep getting up when they’ve been knocked down more times than they can count.

Some of what pushes people to the bottom of the pile is not pure bad luck. It’s deliberate abuse by others. Unlucky to get a dose of that, but not wholly accidental. Robbed, raped, beaten, bullied, intimidated, forced out, mistreated, conned… there but for the grace of… go any of us. These things destroy mental health, destroy financial success, demolish lives. If we’ve avoided one of those disasters, it may not be because we’re too smart, it may just be we were lucky. Sometimes people fall because they are ignorant, or naïve, or gullible, or too willing to forgive, or not mean enough to take advantage of others. Are these things we really think others should be punished for?

If we recognise that luck, it’s a lot easier to stop assuming the poor are at the bottom of the heap because they can’t be bothered to arrange anything better. It’s easier to find some compassion, and not to judge everyone without knowing any of their details. As the job market dwindles, more and more people are pushed, wholly against their will, into poverty and dependence. People who want to work if they could, who would gladly take on anything. Why burden them further by stigmatising them for things beyond their control? So that we can hang on to the belief that we deserve what we have and it won’t be taken away. And because it suits the government as they take yet more money out of the welfare system.

When it is taken away, when you find life spiralling out of control, and you desperately need help and someone to pick up the pieces, there’s much to be said for finding yourself in a kind and compassionate system. Because the alternative is to believe that you deserved the fall as well, that it represents a failure to work hard enough or be good enough. You are a failure, then. Or the alternative is no safety net, and destitution, and no second chances.

Picture yourself (if you’ve not been here) suddenly out of a job, and unable to pay the bills, with the mortgage company threatening to take the house, and your relationship falling apart under the strain, and the anxiety making you feel so sick you can’t get out of bed in the morning, and crying for no reason sometimes and wanting to die. Picture yourself there, and then ask how helpful you’d find it to have the government treating you like a lazy scrounger who is destroying the economy.

We’re long overdue a culture shift on this one.


Sex, politics and religion

Sexual activity is about as private and personal as it gets. Yet, when you think about it, this is also the area of our lives religions are most keen to interfere with. The rhetoric of no sex outside marriage, no gay sex, no contraception, no sex for fun only for procreation, lust as sin, and so forth has a huge impact on countless lives around the world. The same monotheistically derived ideas underpin a lot of ostensibly secular laws as well. Who you can marry, whether you can access contraception and abortions, what happens if you have a child out of wedlock, whether rape can be legally deemed to occur inside marriage. If you live in a country where rape victims are punished as adulterous… you don’t have much ownership of your own body.

Underpinning this is a fear. You can hear its echoes in every right wing rant about ‘family values’ and the pretty irrational belief that somehow it is family units that make a state viable. The fear is that if we could all have sex with whoever we pleased, we’d run amok. Women especially. We’d be doing it in the streets, for Heaven’s sake. Anything short of a clampdown, is an invitation to licentiousness, orgy and depravity, according to some people. And they say it as though they think depravity is a bad thing. Which is ironic when you consider how often such vocal figures are caught out by their own hypocrisy, practicing what they preach against.

Sex is natural. It underpins nature, in fact. Very little would happen without reproduction. Yet as a species we’ve evolved in some interesting ways. We have far higher sexual drives than we have reproductive capacity, which suggests we’ve evolved a sexuality that is all about pair bonding, not reproduction. It could be argued our sexuality exist for social bonding. It takes a long time to raise a human child, and the pair bonding aspect of sex is an important contributor to that process.
Out there in the rest of nature, many models for sexual behaviour exist, and most of them find human parallels. The harem is much like the herd. Swans are monogamous, robins are adulterous, some creatures mate with whoever happens to be convenient at the time. Some males impregnate and depart, some stick around and help. Nature has no one right answer to sex and relationship. Human nature is the same.

Why are we so afraid that sexual freedom would equate to the breakdown of civilised society? Well, it undermines patriarchy, for a start. The ownership of women, control of fertility and thus traceability of male lines of descent is all very key here. Back before DNA testing, controlling your women was the only way to be sure whose offspring you were rearing. Listen to the right wing folk and you’ll think they imagine that, if our young people were allowed to find out about gay sex, they’d be so delighted by the wonders of it that they’d give up on being heterosexuals and the species would come to an end. I have to wonder what goes on inside some people’s heads.

Does all moral behaviour depend on carefully restricted and socially controlled sexual behaviour? I don’t think that for a moment. How many people you have sex with is far less a measure of your moral character than is how you have treated those people. How enthusiastic you are about sex is not a measure of depravity, just an aspect of your nature. Some of us are innately more enthusiastic than others, and none of the differences deserve to be stigmatised.

As a Druid it makes me really sad, listening to the new archbishop of Canterbury saying its ok to be gay so long as you don’t act on it. We need to get the politics out of sex, for a start. Anything that happens between consenting adults, is no one else’s business. Only when consent is compromised or harm done does the rest of society have a duty to intercede. We need to let go of these ideas about harming your soul, and sin. Fine if you want to apply it to yourself, that’s your own, private business. It is not an unassailable truth you have a right to force upon others.

Religions are as obsessed with controlling and regulating sexual behaviour as governments seem to be. And yet, none of these manifestations of power has managed to stamp out rape, or child abuse, or prostitution, or sexually transmitted diseases, or any of the other genuine ills that go alongside irresponsible and criminal sexual behaviour. Oh no. Internationally, religion seems more interested in stopping willing gay people from shagging each other than it is in stopping adults from abusing children, or women from being forced into sexual subservience. That’s so wrong.

There’s a power aspect to sex. Who has the right to do what, to whom, is a political issue and a power issue. Of course there’s religion muddled up in it. The whole thing needs a radical rethink, with the crimes that cause harm being taken a lot more seriously, and the ‘sins’ that arguably harm no one getting a lot less time and attention.


The Good Guys

Helen Wood left some powerful words in the comments yesterday, so I wanted to follow on and reflect more on this idea. ‘Good guys’ is of course rather general vague shorthand, but blogging does not really lend itself to picking over every term in every post. That’s just the nature of the beast and I often find I’ve skimmed over one idea for the sake of another and need to come back to it. I am always grateful to those people who flag up where I’ve missed a thing.

Good Guys.

I’m no kind of feminist man basher. I feel very strongly that if your ‘feminism’ is about bashing and blaming men, you’re doing it wrong. Cultures are made up of both genders, and cultures that oppress women are usually able to do so because enough women are wholly complicit in the process. My son is a bloke. My husband is a bloke. A lot of my friends are blokes. I like blokes. I also like women, as broad generalizations, and there are plenty of people of both genders who test my patience and empathy rather a lot.

Then there are the other ones. The people who actively delight in inflicting pain, suffering and humiliation upon others. That’s not specifically a gender issue, it’s just that a lot of cultures are set up such that men have more economic power to back up often being physically stronger and less pregnant/impregnatable in a way that skews things.

Actually few things drive me more mad than the women who wilfully uphold the myth that women are irrational, unknowable creatures full of whim and unruly emotion that a man can never hope to understand. Sure, some of us may be that way, but it’s not universal. People who surrender to the stereotypes generally do not help. The men who are so busy being sure that women are incomprehensible and irrational, and who therefore never stop to listen, are just as much an issue.

When we draw lines, and say ‘us’ over here ‘them’ over there it can so often be harmful. Lines drawn to hold, enable, define and support can be really good things. I once ran an all female singing group, that was a good thing. When we draw lines to exclude and alienate… everyone loses. When we assume there are only two sides, we reduce and limit. Another comment mentioned hermaphrodites, and of course many people are not at all defined by their biological gender. Those people are also more vulnerable to violence, more likely to be picked on.

So, dropping the gender language… there are people who seek to dominate and control other people for their own gain and amusement. There are people who take that so far that they kill. I’m out of date on exact figures, between every 3-5 days, in the UK and the USA, a woman dies at the hands of a violent partner. About one in three women gets raped. There are men who are killed by female partners, it’s a much smaller figure and sometimes connects to domestic abuse, and a victim snapping and retaliating. Now, I think that all needs talking about. I also don’t think a person needs to self identify as a feminist to find rape and murder stats troubling. This is not the world I want to live in. This is not the attitude between genders that I want. And of course it is not simply a men versus women issue. There are men for whom such acts would be unthinkable, and there are women who encourage their sons to denigrate their wives. I’ve heard too many stories.

We are all in this together. We will not fix attitudes and societies without first admitting there are problems to tackle. Some men are fab. Some men are bastards. Some women are extremely dangerous to the freedom of the women around them. Every day I thank the powers that be for the people who are here to do what work they can, for the ones who want to make better, make right, challenge the shoddy thinking and the places cruelty thrives.

I live in hope that one day we won’t need to make special time to raise awareness of oppression, because there won’t be any left to talk about, but until that day comes, I shall keep banging on about it, and praising the people who make positive change. The good guys. Regardless of gender.


Why death is good for you

It’s generally claimed that awareness of our mortality is what sets humans apart from other animals. I’m wholly convinced elephants have some pretty good ideas about death, and I’ve no reason to think any species of mammal entirely oblivious. I find it harder to make any kind of guess about what creatures other than mammals are thinking, there’s so much less to go on.

Thinking about people though, most of us, most of the time clearly do not live with a consciousness of our own mortality. As the saying goes, no one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office. Come the end of your innings, all the material wealth is of little account. I do not believe the culture I live in is particularly aware of death. We see it as something to delay and avoid (although we won’t drive slower to avoid it for ourselves or others). I think mostly we assume death is for later, or for someone else, and we act accordingly.

I gather (New Scientist article last year) people who are conscious of their mortality tend to move away from rampant materialism and towards a more spiritual way of life. Thinking about death, properly, will make you more willing to enjoy each precious moment you have, not squandering it on worthless things. Death makes you care for your loved ones more. The death consciousness can bring life into focus, making us work out what matters and what does not.

Looking at the consumerist culture I live in, where politicians preach long work hours and adverts sell materialism at every turn, I do not see an intrinsic awareness of our own mortality. Quite the opposite. I see a lot of distractions designed to help us forget that we were all born to die. We’d be so much better off if we gave a bit of thought to how we might feel in that death bed scenario. What might we regret? What will we look back on joyfully? That’s one of the best guides to living you could find. If anything, the animal kingdom is more death conscious than we are. They don’t go around repeating actions that are likely to kill them, whilst convincing themselves that it will be fine. (Binge drinking, drug taking, driving too fast, too tired, to drunk, never getting any exercise, courting heart attacks and diabetes etc).

If you feel the overwhelming need to raise your awareness of death, or someone else’s, I’d like to try and sell you a thing. (Yes, I know what I said before about materialism, and that there may be some irony here, but we all need to eat and I promise, this is a good thing!) It’s the tale of a girl who murders her family for money. This does not go well for her. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1412864360/clemency-slaughter-and-the-legacy-of-death

Clemency Slaughter and the Legacy of D’Eath: A Grim Gothic Tale without a Happy Ending, written by Steampunk author Jonathan Green and illustrated by gothic artist Tom Brown. (Tom being my other half). Having read it and seen the art in progress, I can vouch for this being both lovely, and full of dead people.


Too Liberal for my liking

In the last week we’ve heard a lot in the news about a senior Liberal in the UK inappropriately behaving towards women junior to him. I don’t know the ins and outs. What I want to respond to is remarks made by the deputy leader of the party Simon Hughes on the BBC yesterday. He felt that as many of the women affected were robust and capable individuals they would have easily seen off any inappropriate behaviour and that it should not be made too much fuss over, consequently. This made me utterly furious. Other liberals have made much better noises about listening to evidence (http://www.libdemvoice.org/allegations-regarding-the-conduct-of-lord-rennard-and-the-partys-response-33364.html#utm_source=libdemvoice.org&utm_medium=redirect&utm_campaign=url) , but this attitude of Simon’s is made of wrong and needs dismantling. His assumptions about what is ok, what is an issue and what is an affront, I found downright offensive.

First up, a person holding a position of authority has a moral duty not to abuse their power by using it for any personal gain. This includes not using your status to give you sexual access to other people (neither gender nor orientation matter). M Hughes was not talking about one romantic proposition gone awry, we’re talking lots of complaints from lots of different women. This did not seem to strike him as being much of a problem. Not okay. Not professional, not responsible, not what anyone should consider reasonable. As a workplace attitude, those in power making advances to those of inferior status should not be acceptable. It creates a culture, where power equates to sexual power, and that’s not healthy.

Unwanted sexual advances can be threatening, especially if you start to feel your job or career may be going to depend on your willingness to put out. Even if you are robust enough to fend off the advance, it is still an insult. Inappropriate sexual advances are rude. Again, there is nothing of gender or orientation in this issue. To make sexual advances in inappropriate situations, to people who have shown no interest, is not polite. Again I raise the issue of the kind of culture you create if you tolerate such behaviour. It is not okay to be repeatedly insulting to those who work for you, and this kind of behaviour is, at the very least, insulting.

About the only people who can be let off the hook for not knowing how to conduct themselves in matters of amorous relationship, are teenagers. They are still learning, some slack must be cut, but not too much! Someone who wishes to be considered an adult of sound mind, must be able to control their sexual behaviour in public. Also, come to that, in private. I demand that this be considered necessary adult behaviour, not an optional extra, not a thing that doesn’t matter, but essential. Anyone who cannot control their sexual behaviour evidently cannot control themselves and most certainly should not be allowed to hold a position of power or authority.

The ability of a victim to defend themselves does not, in any situation, make the crime somehow acceptable. Ever. If I fend off a mugger, I have still experienced an attempted mugging and I can still go to the police. If I escape from someone who is attempting to rape me, I have still had someone attempt to rape me. If I am insulted in my workplace, or sexually harassed, it doesn’t matter how well I cope with it, from a legal perspective IT STILL HAPPENED.

Cultures are made up of the people in them. If we let people go round imagining that it’s ok to make inappropriate passes if the recipient seems robust enough to take it, we’re on a slippery slope. We have to hold high expectations of each other or we are going to get this kind of behaviour, and we’re going to accept it. I don’t want to be part of a society that thinks a little groping at work is probably harmless, or that people in power can be allowed to treat female employees as sex objects. We have some pretty clear laws on these issues in fact, we just don’t seem willing to uphold them or take them seriously. This stuff matters, it underpins human interactions, and if we get one aspect badly wrong, I don’t rate the likelihood of getting much else fabulously right.


If Druidry ruled the world

While the likelihood of us ever again having a culture that is governed by Druid principles is small, I think it’s still worth considering what that would look like. Would it even be viable to have a culture where Druid ideas underpin government, law and so forth? I think one of the measures of any idea’s usefulness is whether it would work to have everyone adopt it, or what the consequences of universal uptake would be. Foolish things which cause no problem in the hands of a few lone idiots can turn into nightmares if they get a widespread hold. We could compare atheism and fascism on this score, the first has contributed to improving the human condition, the second becomes murderous once it has power. What would Druidry become, if universal?

The next question is, whose Druidry are we talking about here? My brand of liberal, inclusive, non-dogmatic Druidry, or something more controlling? Something more about titles and people who want to feel important? I think as soon as Druidry becomes dictatorial and authoritative, it’s no different from any other kind of self serving tyranny. If Druidry was universal, it would acquire all of the self serving tyrants, and I am not confident that all of them would become liberal, benevolent Druids. What this mostly suggests to me is that it probably isn’t in our interests, or the interests of Druidry, to have Druidry be universal. I can’t help but feel the anti-materialist, liberal healer and pacifist from the desert wouldn’t be at all happy about the wars and oppression rich men have undertaken in his name. I have no desire to see that happen to us.

One of the things Druidry has in common with other faiths, is the aspect that, if everyone took it up and practiced it with integrity, we wouldn’t need much in terms of systems and mediations. The reality tends to be, in any religious climate, that most people do not go deeply into spiritual practice. There are plenty of people in the UK who call themselves Christian but only turn up for rites of passage and show no discernible Christian influences in their daily life. Plenty of people who call themselves pagan are no different, wanting to learn a bit of magic, acquire a bit of glamour, turn up in their best cloaks for the odd ritual, but not really change their lives. So far, history suggests that this is what the majority do with all religions – surface, recreation, power base, ego boost, social engagement; the non-spiritual aspects of religion tend to dominate, while the majority resent being expected to put any ideas into practice.

It is, for example, one of my most certain beliefs that a person following a spiritual path should begin by putting aside their television. TVs take too much time and energy from us, and feed us wrong ideas, wrong beliefs, wrong desires. Every time I say this there are squeals of protest from people who have so many reasons why their television is good, helpful, contributing and needed. They like it, they want it, need it, consider that it benefits them. I can call it spiritual poison until I’m blue in the face, it will make no odds. Except with those who have come to the same conclusions for the same reasons and made the jump already.

A society run on superficially druid principles would, I anticipate, be hardly any different from what we’ve got. We’d change the language a bit, we’d drape beards and robes over a few things, dangle some conceptual mistletoe and get back to business as usual. Superficial religion only has the power to change surfaces. Again, look at the kind of right wing ‘Christian’ business in America, and what you’ll see is the demand and aggression of greed, trying to use God for its own ends, wearing a mask of belief behind which behaviours utterly at odds with the essence of the faith, continue unchecked. At least being a minority faith, we don’t have to watch Druidry being perverted in the same way.

If everyone followed a spiritual path deeply, the differences in what we practice would not be that important. The heart of every major faith involves peace and harmony. The essence of every deeply observed spiritual path, is spirituality. Along with that, are versions of virtue. While understandings of virtue vary between faiths, acting with responsibility and compassion are frequent themes. In a world in which everybody made it their job, in all their waking hours, to undertake everything they did with care and respect, with compassion and honour, we wouldn’t need any systems. We would not need the police, judges, courts of law. We might need people to help facilitate mediation and figure out best solutions, but that would be it. Government would only exist as a way of facilitating bigger projects and things we couldn’t manage at a more local and personal level. We would not need much in the way of laws, we would tackle each situation as it came, seeking the best for everyone and able to trust that everyone else was also committed to finding the best for everyone. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? But the reason we don’t have that, is because most of us, as individuals, have chosen not to do it. And when you stop to think about it, that’s pretty shocking.