This may be kind of a jumbled post; I’ve been thinking about writing about some of this stuff for several months now, off and on, but I’ve just never quite felt motivated to get to it. (I don’t really enjoy writing “serious” posts, see, and there’s always been something more interesting to distract myself with.)
I’ve seen some really interesting writing this past year or more about authoritarianism and hierarchy and leadership, some of it coming from polytheists, and some of it not, and since I think this is a really vitally important topic, I want to encourage people to read it.
From the polytheist section:
A Conversation on Power and Authority in Polytheism starts with this:
We (meaning western polytheists, and still I resist the idea that there is a big We – we are too small and too diverse) have an opportunity. If we really do want to bring polytheism back (the Gods never left), and grow the polytheist community, (which I take to actually mean grow the religious movement of polytheism in the West), we have the opportunity to do that from the roots.
Now is our chance to do our best to root out totalitarianism, Authority and power over, and oppression. To really examine what it is we want, who we want to be, and how we want to build the community.
and expands on that, touching on topics like structure and community-building.
I’ve seen multiple posts on Magick from Scratch over the past couple years that talk about the importance of consent in human-divine relationships (as an alternative to the “but you must not tell a deity ‘no’!” notion that some people promote). Here is one of them.
On the not-polytheistic side, The rise of American authoritarianism is something I consider a must-read, as the general topic of “authoritarianism” is something that is not limited to the United States or to the impact on partisan politics (the article talks a lot about “why do so many people find Donald Trump appealing” but it’s a much, much bigger thing than just this current presidential election).
Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.
I also strongly encourage reading Bob Altemeyer’s work on authoritarianism; it’s a good complement to the Vox piece. It was written during the Bush years; he’s also got some later writing discussing the Tea Party. Altemeyer discusses the differences between “authoritarian followers” and “authoritarian leaders,” which the Vox piece does not talk about; the Vox piece, however, talks about people can go from a “latent authoritarian” (someone who doesn’t seem to have an authoritarian stance) to actively being one, which I don’t recall Altemeyer discussing (but it’s been several years since I read Altemeyer’s work, and I might simply be forgetting). It’s really interesting and an engaging read and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s free! It’s online!! (I may reread it at work myself . . . I’ll likely have ample downtime to fit it in.)
Authoritarian tendencies, or oppressive tendencies by any other name, that rely on having power over others are tendencies I am really not a fan of. It’s not, however, that I am fundamentally opposed to hierarchies – people who are in subordinate positions are not necessarily going to be abused, any more then people in groups with “no hierarchy” are going to be free from being abused by others in the group (see: “The Tyranny of Structurelessness“).
I was once an officer in the Air Force. I was treated much more respectfully and collegially by my senior officers than I have been treated in volunteer-run organizations where supposedly there wasn’t much hierarchy at all (ditto my post-military work; I’ve had more jerkass “I’m senior therefore” bullshit to deal with in civilian jobs than I did in the military). I know other people have had horrible experiences in the military, so I know mine isn’t, unfortunately, a universal experience, because some people will take an “official” position as license to mistreat other people.
One of the few things I remember from some of the leadership training I got, however, was being told that one of your duties as a leader is to take care of your people. As an officer, you’d have access to things your subordinates might not (rank, even very junior officer rank, has its privileges), and you’d be responsible for writing up annual performance assessments that affect things like promotions, and so it’s important to make sure they get what they need to do their jobs well and be happy and thus the whole unit does well. You have responsibilities to the people who report to you, in part because – in the military – you very literally have power over them. So I have little patience for leaders who don’t even have that fucking basic down.
I also think that authoritarian/power-over dynamics are the fundamental problem we need to address to create a healthier world. Capitalism is terrible, sure, but it’s just one expression of those dynamics. Civilizations have fucked themselves over ecologically well before capitalism gave us another nifty justification for overusing water/land/trees/whathaveyou, and people have found reasons to justify oppressing “other” people, and getting wealthy off of it, before this free market bullshit came around. (Is it inaccurate to conflate capitalism and the free market? I’ve lost track, and at this point in this post I don’t care.) Capitalism is really effective at rolling all that up greed and oppression into one mess and calling it progress, but the basic problematic concepts predate the economic system. So, you know, I’m a fan of replacing capitalism with more horizontally-structured ways of doing business, kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Replace with what?? Well, like finding more and more ways to recreate various commons. If you want more on commons, hit up the search bar on resilience.org. LOTS of readings about commons and cooperatives and so on and so forth. Also here’s a podcast.
(Another thing I have little patience for: “But whatever will we do without capitalism? What is the alternative? What will this great capitalism-free future look like??” I don’t know, buddy, the future’s really unclear, we’ve never been exactly here before what with the global environmental catastrophes and all, but let’s look at other ways we do things that are NOT capitalistic and also maybe, just maybe, consider the principles we want to recreate, like non-coercive, non-abusive, non-exploitative ways of doing things, and see what happens when we put that into action – and check in and see if what’s being created really does match those values! – instead of sitting around hand-wringing about the supposed lack of “alternatives.”)