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.

 

 

 

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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.