Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Brief Note on Sociopathology in American Politics

From the Oxford Dictionary of English, definition of "sociopath" : 

"A person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior."

This seems to me to describe U.S. President Donald Trump quite well, considering his recent immigration policy of dividing children from parents, his indifference to the destruction of the environment, and his tendency to heap praise on homicidal dictators. However, I do not know what word to apply to designate a population that willingly votes to make a sociopath the leader of their government. Maybe "sociopathophilic?" Or "sociopathological?" Feel free to add your own suggestion.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Holding Steady in the Storm

Like many of you, I am sure, I am finding it very hard going to be a thinking, feeling, conscious person in this era of the Trump Dynasty. Just watching the news each day is exhausting. So much much much stupidity and short-sightedness.... so much pettiness,  spitefulness, vindictiveness...Many qualified, experienced people quitting government service while unqualified flunkies devoted to the Donald flood the ranks of government, some soon having to leave because they are so obviously ethically compromised... And at the top of this parody of government, what do we find?... A spoiled child-emperor, a would-be caudillo dictator thrashing around incoherently, stuffing himself with cheeseburgers and yelling abuse through Twitter... An intellectually stunted bully unable to think more sophisticated thoughts than the angry, simplistic, hate-stirring, people-slurring slogans of his reality TV-styled presidential campaign: "Build the wall!" (even though immigration from Mexico and Latin America is down, not up, and far from our biggest problem); "Bring back coal!" (even though most of the carbon-fuel companies now prefer fracked gas and are also investing in renewable energy technologies for the day when they have to switch over); "End immigration!" (even though our country is built on immigration, and his own hotels and casinos rely on low-cost immigrant labor); and all manner of threat, insult and insinuation against minorities from Muslims to Mexicans to Salvadorans to Haitians...and now this idiotic announcement of trade war against half the world, with the reassuring statement, "Trade wars are good and easy to win!" Sure, that's what made the 1930s such a jolly old time. It was indeed a good period for Fascism, so maybe that is what our leader is going for:  maximum ethnic nationalism and militarism, minimum internationalism, diversity and compassion.

I really wish the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the election would hurry up and bring this thing to a head, as the president is clearly flipping out under the pressure of having whatever ties or obligations he has to Russia exposed. My guess is that Trump has received a lot of Russian financing over the years, since his business empire has always required outside financing to keep from going under, considering how many times he has had to resort to bankruptcy, and that this web of murky financial relations is what keeps him subservient to Putin and his oligarchs. It is also exactly in accord with how Putin has built up his power since the 1990s, through corrupt (and corrupting) business deals underwritten with the threat of violence and the occasional assassination of this or that politician or journalist. See Masha Gessen's book The Man Without a Face for an analysis of Putin's gangster path to power, and then try to stay calm when you realize that Donald Trump may be just another greedy businessman ensnared in a KGB style "kompromat" scheme.

Worse of all is stopping to consider the reality that the American people voluntarily elected Emperor Cheeseburger. I think it is very likely that Russian propaganda and misinformation fed into social media helped seal the deal, but the whole thing cannot be put down to Russian plotting or the electoral college system. Russian methods may have helped tip the scale, and the electoral college certainly helped Trump by giving greater representation to rural areas, but the fact is, a lot of our countrymen and women were really and truly very happy to vote for this uneducated, unqualified, uncouth and uncaring idiot. Worse still, the simple fact that well-educated, well-informed, intellectual types like the author of this blog hated Donald and all he stood for may be more than half the reason why they love him. "If those over-educated liberals support Hillary and reject Trump, then Trump must be our guy." When you have a population that doesn't like to read or think, a skilled manipulator of rage and resentment like Trump has a distinct advantage over a more cerebral politician like Clinton, especially since many of those who voted for Trump had been trained to respond with rage against liberals, immigrants, feminists, activists and intellectuals by media outlets like FOX News and right-wing talk radio. Sadly, this divide-and-conquer, burn-it-all-down style of politics is catching on in other regions too, and the USA can no longer serve as a counterweight to authoritarian trends in other countries, because the U.S. president is now the world's foremost supporter of authoritarianism and autocracy.

How can we fight back against this? Should we just throw in the towel and consider ourselves in the position of Jews or liberals in the Third Reich circa 1934, unable to oppose the coming storm and just hoping to somehow weather it by keeping a low profile? I can see a certain logic to that position, but I do not want to live my life cowering in the corner and trying to survive by escaping notice. I think we do have to fight back, and fortunately, we are seeing signs of more and more people willing to stand up and do just that.  The  #MeToo movement and the gun control advocacy efforts of the students who survived the Parkland, Florida shooting are signs that the human desire for a better, fairer, and more humane society, not a more brutal and fear-driven one,  has not been totally vanquished just yet.

Of course, to successfully wage a battle, you have to know what you are fighting for, and who and what you are fighting against. In this age of divide-and-conquer social media disinformation campaigns, this is not easy, because the media landscape we live in now is designed for ultimate distraction and division. Google, Facebook and other such digital leviathans get more hits and thus earn more millions through hate and anger, and falsehood than by sharing accurate information and thoughtful analysis or long-term solutions. It's all about the quick emotional reaction. A lot of the anti-Hillary media was irrational and demented, but it was all carefully designed to make people keep clicking and chuckling, and continual exposure to such garbage gradually colors how a person feels, and finally, how s/he thinks, and how s/he votes, including not voting at all, which redounds to the benefit of whichever candidate has a more energized following, not who has the better-informed followers. Advantage, Trump.

So we have to stand up, hold steady, and be ready for a shit storm of abuse and irrational anger to come down on us for speaking out against the Emperor of Anger and his thuggish, resentful followers, who feel that no one cares about them except their reality-TV messiah. We have to be beacons of rationality and positive purpose for those who will tire of King Chaos and start to yearn for something different. Against those who sneer and jeer at the Other, whose voices are growing hoarse from yelling "Build the Wall!" and "Lock Her Up!", we have to tell them that there is a more humane vision that will work out much better for all of us, including them, in the long run. We have to promote good ideas for expanded public services paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy, even when the first reaction of the Trump-believers is to think that government is evil except for the military and the police. We have to keep hammering on that income gap issue, because they know it is real even if they have temporarily signed up for the sad illusion that beating up on the poor and cozying up to the rich will make them rich too. Keep reminding people that other countries have lower cost education and health care, less violence and poverty, and that this can be done here too, and that this need not mean Soviet Communism, but maybe just Swedish or German-style Social Democracy. They may not know what that is, so you will have to explain it.  When they talk about not wanting to see their tax dollars wasted, remind them how much it costs to incarcerate non-violent offenders and to keep undocumented immigrant workers in detention facilities. Remind them of how much we have spent on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and how little benefit we have received, least of all any greater sense of safety. Instead of numbly thanking veterans for their service, start a conversation about how much good those soldiers could have done inside the USA if we had put them to work building bridges, road and schools here instead of raining down destruction on other countries. Ask them if they really and truly want to live in a more polluted environment and see more people sicken and die from respiratory ailments and cancer. Find out the pollution hot spots in your local area, and ask them if they want more of this or less. Ask them if  they know anyone suffering from asthma or other respiratory or cardiopulmonary ailments. Show compassion and then tell them that to reduce such illnesses we have to reduce pollution. I think very few people can not agree with that to at least some extent.

Above all, point out to your conservative friends and neighbors how Trump is not keeping his promises, but instead putting in place policies that are creating further problems. Did he really "drain the swamp" and stop government corruption, or just bring in a whole new group of cronies to fatten themselves at the public trough while seeking to slash budgets for programs that help the poor and middle class? Did he really stop the wars that he claimed were stupid, or did he send more troops and expand our involvement in military quagmires?  Can his Korea policy, bringing us closer and closer to nuclear war, really be counted as a success?  And for those who like the modest tax cuts they have received, point out that the wealthy are getting much bigger cuts, that the tax cuts that they have received are temporary, and that the effect of the cuts is to greatly increase our national debt and to greatly reduce the ability of the government to provide services or maintain infrastructure. For those who are gun enthusiasts, and there are many in the rural areas, ask them if they really need an assault rifle to go hunting or target shooting, and ask them if they wouldn't sleep better knowing that fewer people had access to such highly dangerous weapons. Tell them you are all in favor of responsible gun use, just not turning the whole country into an unregulated shooting range with mass shootings on a regular basis.

This is hard work and many people are not comfortable speaking out on these issues. But if you do not rise to the occasion and speak out, you only have yourself to blame for the continuation of Trumpism. Trump is supported by an empire of words, a fog of angry, hateful, misdirecting words that cause people to hate government, hate immigrants, hate other races, and to see a mean-spirited, white supremacist charlatan as their messiah if not their fuhrer.  You have to fight back with words that express an alternate vision. So please, please, PLEASE start talking and don't stop. Speak out every time and every place you can. If you cannot convince some hard-core Trumpians, at least let them know that right in their neighborhood, there are people who  think otherwise. Don't let them believe that only Trumpians have a voice or a presence or the courage to advocate their views. Remember, many people today live in a FOX news cocoon, and  they may literally not realize how many people do not.  Let them know there is opposition and resistance, but do this with kindness if you can, offering positive alternatives whenever possible. Suggest the advantages of green energy jobs over  coal mining or fracking jobs, for example.  If they get this message often enough, they might start considering other ideas. This is what we must hope for. This really is a war of words and ideas. Silence and keeping quiet will NOT work.

Stand up, stand tall, speak up, speak out! That is the way forward.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A New Dawn for Ásatrú: New Clarity Against Racism

As someone who has for many years been sounding the alarm about the dangers of right-wing, white supremacist and racist elements in Paganism, particularly American versions of Norse Paganism, and who has continually called on Pagans to completely reject any and all expressions of racism and white supremacy, I am happy to devote this first blog post of the New Year to praising the major American Ásatrú (aka Heathen or Norse Pagan) organization, the Troth, for its increasingly brave stance in these matters. The Troth has always been the most open and tolerant, and to that extent, left-wing Norse Pagan organization  in America, but in its intention to serve as an umbrella for as broad a range of American Heathens as possible, it has not always taken the racism issue head-on, not wanting to alienate more right-wing and ethnically-oriented Norse Pagans. However, as the anti-immigrant and white supremacist views of prominent right-wing American Norse Pagans like Stephen McNallen have become increasingly evident, the Troth has been more firmly and directly rejecting and denouncing racist sentiment and white supremacist identity construction, and declaring that racism has no place in the Troth. If one goes to the main Troth web page to see its mission statement, this is what they will find:

"...We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, gender or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry." (updated as of February 1, 2016).

Note, too, that the Troth  also takes a firm stand of inclusiveness toward the LBGT population and gender diversity.

In many way, in many places, the Troth has taken steps to stamp out the lingering, smoldering embers of white supremacy and racism that are an unfortunate legacy of the past history of Norse Paganism, with  respect to the continuing efforts by Nazis, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists and racists to appropriate Norse Pagan heritage and symbols for their own use. Events like the "Unite the Right"  march Charlottesville in August of 2017 have demonstrated that there continue to be disturbing links between white supremacy and a certain segment of the American Heathen population. Therefore, while I salute the Troth for more and more openly and firmly denouncing racism and white supremacy, the battle is not yet won and perhaps can never be, considering how deeply rooted racism and white supremacy are in American society and history. Indeed, when the right-wingers at Charlottesville declared that they simply wanted to preserve American heritage by protecting statues of Confederate soldiers, they had a point: racism, racial segregation and white supremacy are indeed American traditions of very long standing. Of course, so was slavery, and just because something had a long duration, that does not mean it deserved to exist for the time that it did or that it should continue now. Applying this to Norse Paganism, we might also say that just because it existed in the past, that does not mean that it should exist or be revived now, unless it has something positive to contribute to the world today. If all it has to contribute is a Viking justification for racism, than it does not deserve any respect or support, and we should seeks its demise and disappearance as quickly as possible. The many very spiritual, profound and creative non-racist Norse Pagans I know in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the USA have reassured me again and again that Norse Paganism can be a worthwhile experiment in blending ancient and modern cultural and religious elements, and I am happy to be in their company, while I reserve the right to walk away from racists and white supremacists.

The thorny issue around which all these discussions revolve is the complex status of modern Norse Paganism, whether we call it Heatheny, Ásatrú, Forn Sið/Sed or by some other term, as a religion rooted in the past history of one particular place and people, that is, the ancient Norse and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe and Iceland, that has now been revived in a world of constantly mixing identities and cultural diversity. It is rather like the English language: it developed among Anglo-Saxons in England but has not become a language spoken worldwide. If tomorrow, the queen of England were to declare that only those residing in England or possessing Angl-Saxon genes wlll henceforth be permitted to speak English, the world would laugh.  The gods, myths, texts and traditions of Norse Paganism are no longer exclusively Scandinavian (or Icelandic, or German, or Northern European, etc.) possessions.They have become the common property of mankind across the globe. There may always be those who will take the view that the whole point of Norse Paganism is to block out the diversity and complexity of modern life and take refuge in an imagined "pure" white, Northern European identity. For the rest of us, Norse Paganism is an interesting and inspiring religious and cultural tradition that was, yes, born in the North but now faces in all directions, much like Yggdrasil, the WORLD tree that is so central in Norse mythology.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

#MeToo and #EarthToo: Stop Raping the Earth!

It has been a long time since I have come to put word to keyboard here, due to a busy fall semester and sheer exhaustion from trying to keep up with the endless barrage of dishonest statements, disheartening actions, and destructive policies coming out of the Trump White House. The new "tax reform" bill that will greatly enrich the already greatly rich and over time, bankrupt the government in order to destroy social programs that help the non-rich and the non-white  is only the last in a long list of insults and atrocities. I am losing hope that much can be done anytime soon to block the triumphal march of idiocy and hatefulness that Trump is leading, with the docile support of a supine Republican majority, many of whose members may also revile The Donald but are willing to go along with him for the sake of right-wing treats like tax cuts and the weakening of regulations on banks, telecom companies and other powerful corporate interests. I take heart that opposition is rising, and that the election of the Democrat Doug Jones over the disgusting Bible-thumper, child humper Roy Moore in Alabama, coming after the trouncing of pro-Trump candidates.

The defeat of the Roy Moore candidacy had much to do with a highly energized African-American electorate in Alabama, with black women turning out in astounding numbers bespeaking iron determination. There was a definite Civil Rights angle to this situation. Roy Moore had made a shocking statement during the campaign suggesting that he saw the slavery period as one that was better for American families than the current day. Doug Jones, in contrast, had, as U.S Attorney for the northern district of Alabama in the late 1990s, successfully prosecuted two KKK members who had been involved in the racially-motivated terrorist bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham on September, 15, 1963 that caused the deaths of four young African-American girls. This was remembered and was one of the reasons Jones got such strong African-American support.  It is heartening that Jones had the courage to carry out these prosecutions, which resulted in the conviction of Thomas Edwin Blanton in 2001 and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002 It is equally impressive and inspiring that African-Americans, especially black women, had not forgotten this important history and were eager to elevate a Civil Rights champion over a Civil War apologist in the election.

Of course, another major factor in Moore's defeat were the revelations of his past pursuit of teenaged girls when he was a district attorney in his thirties, in the early 1980s. The women who came forward to speak of their painful experiences being pressured by Moore to go on dates with them and to then, in some cases, endure various degrees of  molestation, were denounced by Moore and his most prominent supporter, President Trump, but a large enough segment of the Alabama electorate believed the women's stories, and this lessened white support for Moore, particularly among white women, enough so that the combination of lukewarm white support for Moore and red-hot black opposition made the difference. This came in the context of the flood of revelations of male sexual abuse of women in Hollywood, politics, and elsewhere that has ended the careers of powerful men from Bill O'Reilly to Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer to Al Franken. Social media played an important role, with many women using Twitter and the #MeToo hashtag to publicize their personal stories of abuse and pain.

Here, I want to suggest,from a more specifically Pagan angle, that the hashtag of #MeToo could be given an environmental equivalent, an #EarthToo campaign, that could be used to "out" egregious polluters and destroyers of the environment, past and present and to mobilize public sentiment against the devastation and desecration of our natural environment. When we think about the violation of women by men, we who are Pagans might take this a step further to confront the ugly practice of multinational corporations raping the earth for reasons of greed and lust for profit. I recall reading that in Lithuanian folklore, there was once a tradition of farmers asking the earth for forgiveness for causing it pain prior to forcibly opening the soil for tilling and sowing.

May this become a battle cry heard far and wide , so that corporate predators of Mother Earth will be treated to scorn and shame in 2018 as were sexual predators in 2017...#Earth Too!  Stop Raping the Earth!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Wolf is Loose and Howling: Racism on Parade in Charlottesville

In Norse mythology, one of the first calamities that presages the total destruction of the world in the cataclysm of Ragnarok is the breaking free of the monstrous dog Garm, who is, I suspect, most likely an alternate form of the destructive wolf Fenrir. Well, I would not want to suggest that we are now on the edge of the total ruin of the world, but I think what we just saw in Charlottesville, represents the breaking loose of our own beast of destruction, namely, the racism, neo-Nazism and White Supremacy that were proudly on parade in an American city on August 11 and 12, marching in military formation, bearing semiautomatic rifles, and chanting Nazi slogans like "Blood and Soil!" We have seen insult added to injury with the spectacle of the American president being either unable or unwilling to issue a clear, consistent condemnation of racism and neo-Nazism, even when the Charlottesville situation turned tragically violent. Heather Heyer, a young woman who came to express opposition to racism and Fascism, was slain by a young white male Nazi enthusiast who ran her down with a car, putting 19 other people in the hospital as well.

We have seen Donald Trump making disconcerting expressions of equivocation, first condemning "hatred and bigotry," as per the prepared statement that he was reading from  on Saturday the 12th, rather robotically, but then veering off and adding, in a much more animated voice, "on many sides... on MANY sides." He made a second attempt at a condemnation on Monday, reading prepared remarks that were indeed fairly clear and straightforward in denouncing hatred and bigotry. However, in a press conference on Tuesday, he again either went off-track or let his mask drop to show his true feelings, saying that "there's blame on both sides." Trump appeared to be drawing a moral equivalency between the racists and neo-Nazis  and those who had turned out to protest against them,  the bulk of them peaceful, some of them willing to use force, the second group being members and supporters of the "Antifa," anti-Fascist movement.

The President was correct that there was violence on both sides, but he conveniently overlooks a number of important facts:  (a) most of the counter-protesters were peaceful, unarmed and unthreatening; (b)  many of the right-wing forces were dressed in military-style clothing and were bearing semi-automatic rifles and other military-style weapons, which were extremely threatening; (c) the Antifa were equipped with only the most simple of weapons, sticks and stones and cans of mace, some with bottles that they hurled; (d) a cursory examination of American history reveals that we went to war to oppose Nazism and Fascism in WW II, which means that the counter-protesters were on the side generally understood as standing for good, whereas those who came out supporting neo-Nazism and White Supremacy were on the side generally condemned as morally reprehensible by most people--but not Trump. He seemed to be suggesting that those who were marching to  promote Fascism, neo-Nazism, White Supremacy and racism, and those who came out to oppose them, were equally to blame for unhappy times in Charlottesville. If the racists and neo-Nazis had been allowed to march in peace, everything would have been fine.

Would it really? No problem to have hate-chanting, weapon-wielding, torch-bearing Nazis marching in our streets,intimidating and terrorizing other Americans?

The presence of the racists and Nazis in Charlottesville was bad enough, and the president's response a further assault on decency, but there is a specifically Pagan angle to this that I am very sorry to have to report. Some of the White Supremacists in Charlottesville were bearing Pagan symbols, associating themselves with Norse-Germanic Paganism. This is the very kind of thing that led me to create this blog in the first place, and here it is again, an ugly distortion of Paganism to serve far-right, fascist ends, twisted into the service of racism and White Supremacy. This is a call to battle for all of us who believe in a liberal, tolerant Paganism. We must stand up for diversity and tolerance and against those who wish to define  Paganism in racial and militaristic terms, the combination of which produces such toxic brews as Nazism and White Supremacy. This is deadly serious business. Stand up, speak out, as peacefully and firmly as you can, avoiding conflict when you can, but engaging when you must.

May the Gods give us strength.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

President Loki

Any rich religious tradition supplies us with many mirrors and windows through which to gaze at both our world and ourselves, the outer and the inner. Certainly the Norse Pagan tradition, which was already old before the Vikings ever set sail upon the ocean, is such a prism of imaginative possibilities. Today, as my outer eye was reading the New York Times and reflecting on the latest tweets and tantrums of President Trump, my other eye was looking into the mirror of Norse mythology and seeing the god Loki, and it occurred to me that there is a lot of Loki in our president. Both are born troublemakers who are good at stirring up strife and slinging insults and who seem to glory in creating chaos and discord. Trump clawed his way to the top of the Republican pack while slamming his competitors with pejorative nick-names like "Little Marco," "Lyin' Ted" and "Low-Energy Jeb." Then when he had the nomination in his pocket he turned his attention to the Democratic candidate on whom he bestowed the belittling title of "Crooked Hillary." How much this childish name-calling succeeded in damaging his opponents is unclear, but it may well have helped sour voters on these other possibilities as well as subconsciously charmed wavering voters to incline towards Trump as an entertaining rascal whose mockery and aggressiveness they found endearing. There are, after all, many people who do not follow politics closely, and may have voted for entirely superficial reasons or simply wanted to express displeasure with the status quo, for which purpose Trump, with his hateful, insulting rhetoric and disregard for any norms or decorum, was ideally suited.

This is much like how Loki unloads buckets of scorn and gossip on the other gods in the banquet described in the Eddic poem Lokasenna. Loki eventually gets so caught up in the joy of mockery that he cannot resist confessing that he was involved in the murder of Odin's son, Baldur. The gods' patience runs out when they hear this, and they seize Loki and bind and imprison him for the duration of history, until the apocalypse of Ragnarok when he breaks free to become the champion of the giants, the demons and the dead, who he commands in the final battle that destroys the world. One could imagine Trump's career taking a somewhat similar course. If the other Republicans in Congress get worn out by Trump's endless drama, bottomless vindictiveness and unceasing ad hominem attacks on anyone who displeases or opposes him, and if Trump's capacity for careless talk leads him to confess to serious crimes beyond the questionable actions he has already acknowledged in his diarrhea-like Twitter feed, the Republicans may decide to team up with their sworn enemies, the Democrats, in impeaching this reckless ogre and getting him out of office, and if not into prison, at least out of the political system. However, Trump's "forgotten man" supporters, who see him as their standard-bearer and messiah and seem impervious to any criticism of their savior, may well rally to him when he leaves office and give him new power to shape public opinion, promote conspiracy theories, and stir up angry trouble from a position as the head of a media outlet like Breitbart or FOX News.

Loki is also the father of some rather unpleasant and troublesome children, and the conflict-of-interest controversies swirling around Trump's daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr., not to mention Ivanka's husband Jared Kushner provide interesting parallels. Trump's affection for authoritarian, dictatorial leaders like Putin of Russia, Duterte of the Phillpines, and El-Sisi of Egypt, not to mention his love of fossil fuel products and companies regardless of the damage they cause to the environment, also brings to mind Loki's warm relations with monsters who are bent on the destruction of the world as we know it. In my previous posting, I spoke of the Midgard Serpent as an analogy for fossil fuel structures like pipelines that encircle our planet and weave in and out of the earth. Well, in Norse tradition, the Serpent is the son of none other than Loki. If Trump is Loki or like Loki, it stands to reason he would have great affection for a monstrous entity that has the entire planet in its grip and no love for humanity.

So, readers, what do you think? Is Trump America's Loki? Is he a destructive force than can be restrained, but not eliminated from our world? Who will be our Thor to rid us of this menace?  Or will we never be rid of him, because many find his poisonous words and chaotic, maddening maneuvering clever and entertaining, and in sync with their own wishes for aggression, revenge  and destruction?


Addendum:  Since writing this entry, I have discovered that I am not the only person to perceive a similarity between Loki and Trump. See   and

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