Anger and Self- Definition

What is the role of anger is human psychology and society? Self-definition. Throughout our lives, we have both an inner definition of ourselves and the definitions others put on us. We run into thousands of people during the course of our lives. It is inevitable that, at some points, whether intentionally or not, with malice or with simple stupidity, we will be misdefined by others.

It is at this point that our perspective comes into conflict with the perspective of another. There are two versions of us, the version of our own self-definition and the version of another’s definition of us. Many times, this difference of perspective is harmless- everyone views everything from their own perspective all the time. It is when these version of reality are in conflict that we require anger, assertion, aggression, and even hate to maintain our own self-definition.

However, what about when the definition of another is harmful? When others see us as weak, helpless, evil, dishonest, cruel, stupid, etc? Do these wrongful definitions not cause anger? And is this anger not justified in many cases? Is a rape victim not justified in feeling anger at the rapist’s definition of her as not worthy of regard, as helpless, as victim? Is a black person not justified in their anger at being assumed to be less capable? Few things in life make a person angrier faster than a false accusation against them. I would argue that this shows that anger is deeply linked to our views of ourselves and how we think others percieve us.

We know the damage that can be done when someone is forced to accept a defintion of themselves which is harmful. The battered woman whose self-definition has been snuffed out through abuse struggles to define herself as a capable human being. The black person struggles to overcome the expectations of society and prove to themselves that they are as capable as any.

And the force behind all these actions is anger. Anger is the aggressive assertion of one’s own self-definition. This doesn’t have to mean physical aggression, or even verbal aggression. It can be a positive force as much as a negative force. Anger can be calm and quiet just as it can be loud and violent. Anger is the assertation of ourselves, and our push to force the world to accept us as we are.

Our modern culture denigrates anger. One is supposed to turn the other cheek, to forgive. Society has become terrified of anger, and associates it solely with those who would force their definition on others. But without anger, we have no defense. Before a fight for freedom, for liberation, before a fight for self-respect, there must come the voice that challenges the another’s claim to define us.

Wars of physcial violence or wars of the will alone, all of us will at some point face a conflict. And we cannot keep our feet in any conflict if we can be forced to see from the perspective of those who would abuse us. A battle joined means that the war of propaganda has lost, for the propaganda which prevents the war is a thousand times more powerful than the greatest military force on Earth. This is why the abusive husband must teach his wife that she is worthless, why the rulers must teach the ruled that they deserve to starve and suffer, why war-mongerers must teach the populace that they must go fight and die for the profit of some corporation.

Propaganda is defining things in a way which favors the creator of the propaganda. And the only defence against becoming enslaved in our minds, unable to even think of the idea of liberation is to have a strong self-definition and the anger to defend it. This applies personally as much as it applies to nations. A child brought up under strict parents must someday create their own definition of themselves and fight for it. This fight might be calm and quiet, but it is still a fight of self-definition.

I know my readers are surprised now. How can anger be calm and quiet? Yet look at the old saying “revenge is a dish best served cold”. Anger might be the calm statement of a purpose, and if that is respected, it goes no further. But anger is a thing of the will protecting the self. When the self is abused and the anger is not destroyed by forcing the self to accept definition by others, the anger escalates, willing protection for the self and translating that will into action, whether violence, plotting, cold cunning, or seeking aid from others.

The propaganda against anger attempts to disarm us before the world, to leave us helpless when others take away our honor (or the belief within ourselves and amongst our nearest associates that we are worthy of honor). This benefits those who would use us and abuse us, but is not good for us. I am a woman. I see how society attempts to deny me my anger. If I speak my mind, I am a bitch. If I raise my voice, I am angry and hysterical. If I show any emotion at all, my reasoned arguments are not taken seriously, for I am only an angry woman. It is all an excuse to keep my pay lower than a man’s, to keep me in impractical clothing, to keep me in conformity with the ritualized submission we call femininity.

I see how women, who are denied our just anger more than any other group, are handicapped by the lack of it. I see women who advocate for “Yes means yes” legislation, because they are too afraid of their own anger even to use it to simply say “NO”. I see women who get angry at pro-Planned Parenthood protestors, because the voices raised in their defence are frightening to them.

It is easy to roll our eyes at the delicate flowers who can’t handle any confrontation, but they are the end result of the cultural compaign against anger, assertiveness, and aggression. It is anger which started the labour movement, which has backed every revolution in history. It is anger that won women the right to vote, that won the gains of the Civil Rights movement, that won us the weekend, the eight-hour-day, overtime, laws against sexual harassment… pretty much everything we ever won, ever, at any time, has been won through anger.

This doesn’t mean that we should strive for rage, or let anger get outside its bounds. We should definitely consider that validity of our anger before we act upon it. For example, it is foolish to react with anger to constructive criticism. Our self-definitions can be flawed, and to defend them without thought and reflection is foolishness. Anger should only be allowed to defend our self-definition once we have considered the matter and are reasonably certain that our version of reality is valid and that the version another is trying to push is harmful to us.

There is much truth to the idea that anger can be pointless, destructive, and is best avoided. To learn to control one’s anger is definitely a good thing, and something we should all strive for. Anger should always be used in tandem with careful reflection, to ensure that we do not overstep the bounds of self-defence and become tyrants who insist that our view is the only view. However, this also means we should reflect carefully on how our actions affect others. There is a saying “what is a joke to a cat is death to a mouse” and it is sometimes easy to cause a lot of trouble for someone with a small action of our part.

Can we really justify much anger at those who react with anger to our ruining their lives? Can we say that it is okay that someone’s child is dead because the murder was caused by carelessness or prejudice? Can we say that someone else has a responsibility to forgive us when we hurt them, whether it is through malice or carelessness? This is one problem I see with the cult of forgiveness and positivity I see here in America- that forgiveness stops being a gift given by those who were hurt to the community or to the aggressor in hopes of a return to peace and a better life for all. Forgiveness becomes as expectation, and further harm is continually justified. When forgiveness need no longer be sought from the wronged, and now can be sought from a higher power or a god it removes all responsibility to act well.

We should all strive to act well and to not spread suffering and misery to all. Anger, rage, and even hate, are the consequences of bad action. Sometimes anger is justified, sometimes not. Sometimes it can be very hard to know the difference. But in the end, we need anger, for it is the only way in which people can hold each other responsible and create a world in which sociopaths don’t hold sway over all. And as such, the sociopaths in charge love to propagandize against anger. Don’t let them rule your mind. Make your own decisions about your anger on a case-by-case basis. Strive to recognize when it is getting out of hand and to rein it in, and strive to recognize when you need your whole will to be focused on the defence of your own self-worth.

 

 

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Metal heathens and ecstatic religion

Since the earliest recorded history (and probably before), some people have found a connection to the divine through dance and song. There are records of thse participating in the Dionysian mysteries engaging in what the modern world calls “head-banging” under the influence of music and alcohol or other entheogens. “The trance induction central to the cult involved not only chemognosis,[4] but an “invocation of spirit” with the bullroarer and communal dancing to drum and pipe. The trances are described in familiar anthropological terms, with characteristic movements (such as the backward head flick found in all trance-inducing cults) found today in Afro-American Vodou and its counterparts. As in Vodou rites, certain rhythms were associated with the trance.” [Emphasis mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysian_Mysteries%5D According to my textbook “Survey of Western Music”, injuries in the temple of Dionysus during such rituals were common.

Within Viking culture, the Viking Answer Lady provides an account of Norse music which uphold my hypothesis that there was a strong tradition of ecstatic music within Norse culture. In fact, the words of the Christians describing Viking music sound almost exactly like modern-day descriptions of heavy metal by non-metalheads. A few highlights:

“For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm. It is not so much an articulate sound, as a general cry of valor. They aim chiefly at a harsh note and a confused roar, putting their shields to their mouth, so that, by reverberation, it may swell into a fuller and deeper sound.”

“In truth the barbarians shrieked out songs of praise of their forefathers with disorderly shouts.”

“Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig (in Denmark). The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed.”

And a Viking king, who was possessed by the madness inspired by music:

“First he [the muscian] performed various pieces so that everyone was filled with grief and numbness. And afterwards the sound of the lyre forced them to an impudent and lively state of mind, then jesting tunes which made them eager to move their bodies and they commenced to exchange anguish for applause. Finally it enraged them to madness and rashness, so that they were seized by madness and in utter fury gave great cries. Thus the state of their minds was changed variously. Therefore when the music in the hall came to an end, they saw that the king was driven to madness and rage, so that they were unable to restrain him. Thus they were seized by excessive madness and powerfully overthrown by fury; according to their natures the men’s madness increased. And so overcome by the strength of the struggle, he broke their hold and darted forward, wrenched open the door and seized a sword and killed four of his warriors, and none could come near enough to restrain him. At the end his courtiers took cushions and from every side approached, throwing them over him until at great risk they all were able to seize him. When he regained his wits, he paid the just weregild for the warriors’ injuries.”

The article is here: http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/music.shtml

Ancient Germanic culture had some sort of ecstatic musical tradition that was strongly linked to warfare, ecstasy, and drinking. It was probably similar to the rites of Dionysus, given that both cultures shared a common Indo-European background. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, ritual madness, religious ecstacy, and a figure who has similarities to Odin.

Therefore, I think the natural patron god for the ecstatic music tradition is Odin. As the Master of Ecstasy and the patron of fury, inspiration, and drunkeness, and as the patron of poets and musicians, he seems the natural choice. Odin’s Valhalla is the destination of the best poets and musicians as well as some of the fiercest warriors. His Einharjar fight with each other all day, then feast and drink together all night. Given the anecdote above of the king who killed his retainers in a fit of music- and alcohol-induced insanity, I think it is fair to say that Valhalla can be imagined as the moshpit of the afterlife.

Furthermore, Odin is the patron god of knowledge and scientific inquiry. I have yet to find a non-metal band which writes songs about evolution, biology, mathematics, and physics. Few other genres’ lyrics regularly include quotes from and references to Yeats, Emerson, Shakespeare, Nietsche, or any of the other great philosophers and poets regularly referenced by heavy metal artists. Odin as the god of poetry could hardly be displeased by the work of the greatest poets of recent generations- poetry which is set to the music of Woods of Ypres, Soulfallen, Shylmagognar, Agathodaimon, and other bands.

Odin is also the god who seeks to forestall Ragnarok. In this, he would have common ground with the entire section of metal that is obsessed with the death of this world. There are many stages of grief, and for those working through grief over the end of the world as we know it, denial is no longer enough and elements of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance start to appear. Many metal bands and fans are concerned with the environment- metal bands often donate to environmental causes, and many metalheads deeply consider and struggle with the ethics of things like eating meat. Metalheads (particluarly black metal fans) often identify with the Einharjar.

I follow Odin as the patron of ecstatic music and the berserkergang. I follow Frigga as the patroness of the other side of a balanced life- harmony and peace and love towards family, landwights, and allies. Frigga already knows all ends and has chosen to wage her battle for a future past Ragnarok through what I emulate through homesteading (to the extent possible for me right now). This is my heathenry. All of heathenry right now is a reconstruction of an ancient and long-dead religion. This is the path I choose to be a part of reconstructing.

 

 

 

 

 

On Respecting Others: A Thought Experiment

I like Game of Thrones. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but one of the main characters of the first season is a very honorable man. He is a high-ranking noble who refuses to hire an executioner. He exceutes criminals himself, as he believes “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”. I think this statement has a lot of meaning in our modern life. We live in a world where few to none of us do violence personally, yet on a large scale, we live in a very violent society that incarcerates a higher percentage of our population than any other country. We also use deadly military force around the world, all of it funded by the citizens of our democracy, most of whom deplore violence.

I want to propose a thought experiement, to give you a glimpse into my nutcase head. This post is a rambling one, please bear with me, as I’m trying to put into words my feeling of the deep injustice done by those who claim to respect the beliefs of others, but then push for legislation that would restrict those people’s right to live in accordance with their beliefs.

I hear a lot about “respecting other’s opinions”. I want to use this thought experiment to examine what that really means. Usually, respecting other’s opinions comes up in the context of a political argument that has flared up a little too hot. No one wants to be “that asshole”- the one who tramples all over the ideas of others.

However, I’ve always been confused by the attitude behind this phrase. What is usually implied is that one should keep one’s opinion to oneself, or only share it with those who mostly agree with it, and refrain from challenging the opinions of others too harshly. The idea is that when voting day comes around, everyone will be able to cast their ballot, registering their opinion with the government, and the majority opinion will be enforced. The idea of not getting too heated in discussing ideas one-on-one seems to go hand-in-hand with the ideas of sorting out our differences at the polls.

I want to go on record as saying that, to me, nothing on earth could be more disrespectful than this attitude. By voting for a set of principles (or a candidate who promises whose principles), you are authorizing a group of armed men (the police- and the military if things get too wild) to enforce your opinion on those who disagree.

If you vote to outlaw abortion, you are voting to have men with guns take away doctors who perform abortions, put them in cages, and deny them their livelihoods that they have worked years to build. If you vote to force bakers to bake gay wedding cakes, you are voting to force them to lend support to something that is against their religion. If you vote to ban gay marriage, you are voting to keep a person from having their medical decisions made by their lover, best friend, and closest ally- their partner.These are real choices, with real and heart- and life-breaking consequences for those involved. Do you really believe that those choices should be made by people who have never met the parties involved and are unaware of and uncaring about their existence?

If you are going to vote for things, and advocate for the state to do violence against those of us who disagree, is it not your solemn responsibility to argue with us about it first? To hear every point we can muster to support our cause? How on earth can it be respectful to advocate state violence against your opponents while hidden in a private voting booth, but refuse to give them the chance to change your mind on the street, at the dinner table, or anywhere else?

I’ll say this- I argue too long and too hard. I am aware of my faults, and this is one of them. But one thing you will notice about all my arguments is that they are based on the rights of people to be left alone. I rarely, if ever, argue that the state should force someone else to do or not do anything. I advocate for a greater legal respect for those defending themselves from others (and no, I don’t see that as a gun control issue so much as a legal issue, so everyone please keep your pants on). I advocate for the abolition or lessening of restrictions on issues such as drug and alcohol use, abortion, queer people, religion, and self-defense because I can’t stomach the idea of sending the cops after my friends who disagree with me to force them into my beliefs.I might argue that the state should offer a service, such as a road system or healthcare, but never that anyone should be forced to take advantage of that offer.

The problem is that we live in a society where personal violence is deplorable, but state-sanctioned violence is acceptable. Therefore, people who would never in a million years try to force another to follow their religion or beliefs feel that it is okay to pay and instruct the government to deal out that repression for them. I know many good, friendly, well-meaning people who are upset if they offend me, yet will happily vote to have the state do violence against me.

I’ll admit I don’t understand this mindset. It’s a part of the reason I don’t vote. I can see the desirability of a few basic laws, but I feel that politics right now is not about running a free society, but about whose cultural vision will prevail. And I don’t really want anyone’s cultural vision to prevail, even my own. I want to live in a diverse country, where Muslims and Christians and pagans and Jews and Hindus can all get drunk and argue politics and maybe have a good donnybrook to two, but no one can call upon the cops or the IRS or the military to enforce their worldview on the others.

This is mainly a pipe dream. I freely admit that. It is likely that so long as humans believe things strongly (which they should), the temptation to push those beliefs with coercion will prove irresistable to many. However, I titled this piece as a thought experiment, and that is how I intended it. I want to challenge you, me, and everyone else to think about what it means to vote for your cultural vision, and what it means to refuse to accept challenges to that vision and defend it in a free market of ideas. Perhaps this will explain to some of my friends why I go a little too far, or why I say I’m glad when you offend me, and congratulate you on your willingness to stand up and speak your mind. I don’t fear my hurt pride when you turn out to be right, what I fear is that you will take away my rights in a voting booth, behind my back, without even giving me the chance to explain my views, or to fight back at all.

 

 

 

The Eternal Battle

We know that Valhalla is the sight of the eternal battle, where the warriors leave the hall in the morning to fight eachother all day before coming back inside the hall in the evening to feast and drink. What does that mean? How do those who were willing to kill eachother outside sit reconciled inside, having a grand party? How are those whose only interests seem to be war and partying supposed to combat the wolf?

I would like to offer an interpretation of Valhalla. It is definietly UPG territory, and so I’m going to emphasize the offer part. My theory is this: that the eternal battle is a metaphor for life, while Valhalla is the corner of the afterlife provided for those sworn to the eternal battle between lifetimes.

Every day, when the Einharjar (those sworn to fight in the last battle and loyal to Odin), wake, they leave the hall. In this, I see a metaphor for being born. The souls of the warriors leave the hall and are born into physical form. In physical form, they don’t know what they are and they dont recognize their fellow warriors. Following their nature as lovers of frenzy, drunkeness, and inspiration, they become involved in the world. Being of a passionate nature, they have a tendency to fight for what they believe in, and for those they love. They are killed, likely by others who passionately believe in something.

Upon death, the Einharjar are picked over by the ravens. On their return to Valhalla, they are once more aware of their nature, and are able to feast and drink with others who share the same nature. It is not in the nature of the Eiharjar to give peace to their enemies or to refrain from conflict in the world, but within Valhalla there is a place of rest and companionship for those for whom life is a battle.

To me, this explains the sagas that have the same people being reborn over and over. Sometimes they even fall in love with someone else who they were involved with in a past life. If a person is reborn over and over with a similar personality, as these myths seem to imply, doesn’t it makes sense that those given to conflict and strife in pursuit of what they percieve as the greater good end up loving and/or killing eachother over and over again?

I think that this also makes sense of Odin’s role as a god whose motives for taking sides are not necessarily what most people would call moral. Odin’s favor is more likely to be won by cunning, competence, and battle-frenzy than by the moral rightness or the cause. And I think this has profound implications for the political sphere.

One thing that has always concerned me about Valhalla is that the “price of admission”is bravery, not the rightness of your cause. The valkyries pick over the dead on both sides of a battlefield, choosing the slain. Now, as modern people with a bit of distance, it seems easy to see how the retainers of Ugfart the Third and Ethelbum the Fat might put aside their differences over who was the rightful king of whatever tiny province they fought over. But let’s look at this is in a modern context.

If the valkyries pick over the battlefields, choosing the bravest, then it stands to reason that Valhalla probably has American soldiers, Nazis, Shaka Zulu’s warriors, John Brown, anarchists from the Spanish Civil War, Confederates, Haitian revolutionaries, and many more. No wonder they are fighting eternally!

I think that what brings people to Valhalla is a deep commitment to fighting for what they believe in, regardless of the odds. That trait belongs to a layer of the soul that is reborn over and over again, because it is a fundamental part of that soul’s nature. Within Valhalla, such people are stripped of their life experiences and all of the cultural brainwashing that made they believe what they believed. The dead Nazi loses his racism and sees only common ground with the Jewish resistance fighter who killed him in defense of his people.

I think that this is why, of all the gods, Odin is the patron god of female warriors. Odin is not concerned with the externals- race, gender, blah, blah. Odin is concerned with whether or not a person has the heart to face the wolf. Many will fight for something, for a cause they think they can win. The Einharjar fight for the thrill of the struggle, and for the love of something greater than themselves, rightly or wrongly.

Odin seeks those who will in essence help him cheat in fighting the wolf. The Einharjars’ role is to fight the wolf alongside Odin, in hopes of preserving what can be preserved of the world they love. Therefore, the traits that define the Einharjar are a refuseal to surrender in the presence of doom, stubborness, cunning, and a willingness to use any ends, including cheating, to preserve their world.

In every cultural and in every time, there are such people. And they often end up killing each other. My belief in Odin is that, in the end, all of these fighters are feeding energy into something, whether you consider it a god or an archetype, that represents the will to life and the ecstasy of enjoying it in and enjoying the defense of it from within the battle-frenzy.

 

 

The Quest for Knowledge and a Challenge to Fear

The quest for knowledge is central to the practice of heathenism. Odin, the chief of the gods, continually travels the nine worlds seeking knowledge. The ancient heathens were traders and raiders, seeking information about other cultures and preserving their knowledge of history and other lands in the epic poetry which we still look to for information in the present day. The pursuit of knowledge is important both for spiritual and personal reasons.

In the spiritual realm, much of the magic mentioned in the lore consists of deception magic. The strongest, most powerful fighter could not stand against his opponent if that opponent could fool him into fighting the impossible or inevitable. Just think of Thor’s journey to Utgard-Loki, where he blindly attacks mountains and attempts to wrestle old age.

The fact that Odin gave an eye and was hanged for knowledge, and that the lore mentions humans braving both physical and spiritual dangers to gain knowledge and skills from the dead speaks to the value which was placed on knowledge. When Brynhild meets Sigurd, one of the first things she does is share her rune knowledge with him. It seems that her knowledge and intelligence was at least as important a factor as her beauty in their romance. Their subsequent history underlines the point of the trouble that deception magic causes….

Spiritual knowledge is generally represented by the runes, which were won by the sacrifice of Odin. These are small signs which contain meditations on all aspects of life. The process of gaining knowledge and wisdom is a worth-while process, and one which every person must undertake for themselves. Although Frigga knows all ends, she doesn’t attempt to teach Odin all that he longs to know. Instead, she supports him in his journeys, even when she fears for his safety.

Odin continually travels to other lands to gain knowledge. He goes to the homes of giants who mean him harm, and has wagered his head for knowledge. This underscores the importance of gaining knowledge, but also brings up an often-overlooked point. Knowledge cannot be gained at home, safe within the circle of our companions. Knowledge is the hard-won product of exposing oneself to the worlds of other peoples, both our allies and our enemies.

And this is the point I’m making today. In this day and age, I don’t think it is necessary to walk into a radical Islamist training camp and wager one’s head to gain knowledge. However, to sit home and condemn all Muslims (including the ones who protested ISIS in London last week) from the couch is ignorant. To grow in knowledge, we need to understand the world in a way we can’t without a bit of dedicated study and experience of different cultures.

For example, when I was a scared kid, still somewhat traumatized by the 9/11 attacks, I took some time to read up on Islam, Middle Eastern history, and to meet some Muslims. I learned a lot, and my point here isn’t to tell you what I found and my conclusions. It’s to say that I did learn a lot. I met some really great people and some raging assholes. I changed a lot of my opinions based on what I learned.

My point in telling this story is to encourage people to step outside their comfort zone. I recently read a blog post by a heathen who claimed that because someone had a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, they were “obviously” sympathetic to Muslims and couldn’t be trusted. This struck me as very stupid. What sort of person makes a virtue of ignorance and refuses to trust the knowledge of an expert on a subject for no better reason than that person’s expertise?

So I felt the need to speak out against this sort of idiocy. The Havamal has some pretty sharp things to say about those who think they are smart yet never venture out into the world. The best way to learn about various people and cultures is to spend time among them, but with the caveat that not every sub community within a community represents the whole. For example, going and spending time among Orthodox Jews won’t necessarily help you understand the atheistic commie Jews I know. (I shouldn’t have to say that, but given how many people honestly think every woman in a hijab supports ISIS, it is apparently necessary.)

Not all of us can travel the world, but most places are a lot more cosmopolitan than you would think, if you take the time to seek out diversity. It’s worth a bit of a drive to visit a mosque and meet some real Muslims and hear what they have to say about the world, considering that Islam, Islamic radicalism, and immigration from Muslim countries are issues that we should probably be paying attention to right now. There are also many resources available to anyone with an internet connection (which, if you’re reading this, I assume you do). edX.org offers courses for free from top-rated universities. Coursera is less good in my opinion, and taking a course for free takes more work, but they also have an impressive selection of courses.

There are many different communities of people acting on the world stage right now. To make informed decisions and chart the best course for our country and our families, we need at least a basic understanding of the other people who inhabit the world. It our only source of information is the news on TV and Facebook, we are very vulnerable to manipulation of our information. Manipulation of our information leads to manipulation of our opinions, often in ways which spread hatred, fear, and malice.

We can never learn what we need to know if we are constantly surrounded by those who agree with us, or if we insist that those who disagree keep quiet in our spaces. We have to go and seek out the opinions of others, and face the challenges of new ideas. This will undoubtedly be a difficult process, and if undertaken honestly, will cause permanent changes in a person’s values and personality. Giving up faith and looking at the world with reason and seeking knowledge is a painful process. Seeing the world as it is, without the protection of our collective delusions, is horrible. There’s a reason Odin drinks so much…

So this post is not meant to be an end. This post is meant as a challenge. Learn another language, speak to those who you don’t know, particularly those you hate and fear. Bring back the knowledge you win to your community and use it for the benefit of your people. Remember that it takes courage to fight people, but it takes infinitely more courage to understand them.

“If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a thousand battles.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Maybe your enemies are not those who you fear, but those who taught you to fear… and that is as political as I’m getting today. This is my challenge to fear- that I will face what I fear, I will learn from it, and I will use what I learn to benefit my community. My challenge to you is to stand with me in this.

 

Prophets of Fear

The tragedy which just occurred in Orlando has brought to the fore tensions inherent in our culture. It is time to admit that we live in a culture of fear.

The man who massacred innocent men in Orlando was likely driven by fear- fear of homosexuals and possibly fear of his own identity as a homosexual. His crime is being billed as “radical Islamic terrorism”, to the point where one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was American. Omar Mateen was American, however, a part of our culture in which evangelicals have spent the past few months painting pictures of women being molested in the bathroom by homosexual or transsexual perverts.

It would be more comfortable for us Americans to pretend that our culture had no impact upon Mateen, and that his crime was solely the product of radical Islam imported from the Middle East. Many people will take that route, blaming Islam for Mateen’s crime. But Omar Mateen didn’t exist in a bubble. He had a job, he must have commuted, seen billboards, watched TV, and used the Internet.

Clearly this man was no brain-washed groupie, trained in Afghanistan or Algeria to see Americans as nameless, faceless embodiments of evil. He trained himself, to a large extent, using the internet to access information on ISIS. He reportedly used gay dating sites, personally knew gay men, and was a product of American culture at least as much as Islamic culture.

So perhaps when we seek to lay blame for his actions, we should look at the interweaving of these two cultures. I said earlier that we live in a culture of fear, and we do. We also live in a culture of denying responsibility. Should we be so blind as to miss that Omar Mateen, divorced twice over, might latch onto the idea, propagated not just from mosques but from mainstream churches in America, that homosexuals are a threat to traditional marriage? How much easier is it for a man to blame the “other” for his failures than to admit his own mistakes?

This is not an attitude we need to travel to the Middle East to find. Every day here in America, pastors and pundits blame the gays, the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, etc, etc, on and on, for the failures that we ourselves have cooked up. No one has the courage to say: “We cooked up the crisis in the Middle East. We created a culture in which family doesn’t matter. We let corporations move the work to sweatshops in third-world countries. We have failed to defend Mother Earth.” Instead, we pay a crowd of bull-shitters to tell us what we want to hear- pretty girls on Fox News peddling the smooth pill that our problems are someone else’s fault- lazy blacks, job-stealing Mexicans, hateful Muslims, perverted homosexuals- any story to keep us from having to face reality and responsibility.

Is it shocking that someone who was a failure, and likely afraid, would fall prey to our culture of fear? This culture of fear is not Muslim, it is not Christian, it is not constrained to one religion, race, or culture. It is everywhere. It can be seen every time an imam tells his congregation to fear Americans, every time a pastor tells his congregation to fear homosexuals, and in every news broadcast that sells itself by selling fear- fear of guns, fear of Muslims, fear of gays, fear of floods, fear of poverty, fear of death, fear, fear, fear…

We live in fear, we breathe fear, and fear seeps into our minds. 18% of the population suffers from an anxiety “disorder”. Yet these disorders are not abnormal- they are the reasonable result of a culture that continually pumps us full of fear. Fear makes us controllable, it directs our attention away from questions about how we want to live our lives and what sort of society we want into an endless defense against the things we fear. Don’t want Trump as President- vote Hillary. Don’t pay attention to her politics, don’t think about whether you really believe in a two-party system, just give in to fear and follow the herd. Don’t think about whether you want to work, just worry that you’ll be unemployed. Don’t think about where our food will be grown once California’s aquifers run dry- just buy “organic” lettuce.

We Americans are now living in fear of a thousand things. We try to shut out the fear- we make it impolite to talk politics, we pop pills, we go to church, we pay pundits to simplify the world for us, we pay self-help gurus to tell us we could make it better if we could just stop “defeating ourselves”. But deep down, we all know that it’s a lie.

Fear is now our god. The god the majority of Christians turn to is no more than their cobbled-together notion of “traditional morality”, the return of which would free them from the fear of a changing world. The god of the radical Islamists is the fear of the US drone strike. The god of the atheists is the fear that humanity will continue to act irrationally. The god of the racists is the fear of other races and cultures. “God Money” is nothing more than our own fear of failure- of being without, of failing our families and ourselves.

We worship our fear, make a virtue of our cowardice. Greed is “work ethic”, cowardice in the face of new cultures is “traditional values”, and fear of standing up for those who are different is “politeness”. It is time for this to end. It is time for us to stop fearing our failures and instead take responsibility. Let’s stop worshipping our fear and start believing in something. I can’t tell you what to believe in, but I can tell you that if what you believe in is an absence- an absence of gays, Muslims, immigrants, guns, drugs, divorce, whatever- you are worshipping fear. Right now we live in a world saturated with fear- have the courage to believe in something real. Have the courage to build something. The courage we need right now is not the courage to fight our enemies, but the courage to understand them.