This was the title of one of my favorite essays by Lenin. The title itself is a powerful comment on the human condition. I can imagine early humans taking two steps forward as they left the canopy of the never-ending forest to see the clear blue sky overhead. Then they took one step back because the unfamiliar is frightening. Then they took two more steps forward. Then another step backwards. Eventually the bolder amongst them took three steps forward and one step back. Then four steps forward as the more timid fell behind. Soon the tribe broke up as the bolder went on to explore the savanna and the rest returned to the familiar gloom of the forests.
The more things change the more they stay the same. To this day we still have the explorers and the chickens. The explorers go forward into uncharted territory while the chickens huddle in the familiar as they are determined to fight change at any cost. The problem is that change is the only guarantee in life. The more the chickens fight change and huddle together for warmth and security, the more change happens. Back in the old days, the tribe that stayed in the forest was forced backwards as the forest receded to changing climate. The tribe that went forward founded the modern civilizations. The tribes who stayed in the forests tried to keep civilizations from happening.
Of course this is an oversimplification. Dynamics are rarely black and white. Absolutes do not occur in nature, but two steps forward and one step back describes life as we know it. Take Christianity for instance. I know Christians who are very progressive, yet Christianity as a whole is regressive institution. While Dr. King was leading the civil rights movement, Christianity as an institution was doing everything it could to hold him back. White preachers condemned him outright, or begged him to hold off until society was “ready” to accept African Americans as equals. There were many African American preachers who condemned him as a dangerous radical.
Today there are Christians who welcome gays into their congregations. There are Christians who will support a “separate but equal” condition for gays (“why do they have to call it marriage?”), and Christians who actively discriminate against gays. There are even Christians who will murder gays. Yet there are Christians who deny that there is any correlation between gay rights and Dr. King’s civil rights movement. Oh, how I remember the Southern Crackers who trotted out the Bible to tell us why civil rights were a sin! Gays are facing the same religious resistance today.
The few exceptions do not justify the whole. The fact that there are a few progressive Christians does not justify Christians resenting being classed together with other Christians. Very few progressive Christians do anything to protect their good names from being lumped together with Fred Phelps. Most progressive Christians are not doing anything to stop discrimination in the name of Christ. There are no Christians suing Pat Robertson for hate speech. At the very least I will say that progressive Christians are not active abusers. A very few are making a token attempt to improve their own ranks. The remainder are enablers who are allowing abuse to happen by trusting God to stop it rather than changing their lifestyles and stopping it itself.
Just so Christians don’t feel as if I am picking on them exclusively, I can toss in other religions as well. Walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown and you will see Buddhist Temples as ridiculous and bigoted as anything Pat Robertson could think up. The Islamic countries are famous for their discrimination against people outside of the tribe. Over the last twenty five years I have watched the Pagan movement become more and more like the Christians to the point where the Goddess looks like Jesus in drag (except in one notable instance where she was Joseph Smith in drag, but that’s another story.) My attempts to talk CAW into acknowledging the rapes and sexual assaults that happened amongst them have fallen on deaf ears. That’s the thing about religions, they think they can get away with anything because some make-believe higher power loves them.
I think that Starhawk made a huge mistake when she tried to graft anarchism onto religion. What she created was the social equivalent of a nuclear reactor. What is a nuke plant but a giant steam engine powered by the most unstable energy source on Earth? Religion is as reactionary as a steam engine, and anarchism is certainly a very unstable political system. The two have been in the middle of a meltdown where many branches of Paganism are taking on the most unsavory aspects of mainline religion: arrogance, intolerance, and the Protestant Work Ethic. Any religious movement, no matter how well meaning, eventually becomes a social anchor, and limits the believers to events that happened in the past rather than that which is to come. Be it Paganism or Christianity, religion is the force that makes us take one step backwards for every step forward.
Belief in the occult is neither fascist nor Libertarian. My purpose here is to not place disbelief on anybody’s religious or spiritual beliefs, but to bring into question many of the political beliefs expressed by some occult groups. Quite often belief in the occult goes hand in hand with oppression. The Treaty of Versailles triggered a renewed nationalism in the German people. German Rosicrucians reexamined the ancient German myths and ancient runic alphabets to create a revived Teutonic religion that celebrated German history and culture. Many Nazis came out of these alternative religions, but the religions themselves were not fascist.
The Sixties gave rise to a pagan renaissance in the United States, now called Neo-Paganism. The mainline and Pentecostal churches’ open support for the Vietnam war and the Nixon Administration gave rise to a matriarchal paganism that was imported from England. Neo-Paganism became a direct challenge to established religion when a psychotherapist calling herself Starhawk published a book called The Spiral Dance. Starhawk introduced a consensus-driven religion without dogma or hierarchy. This idea proved so popular copycat books were picked up by mainstream publishers. Starhawk’s Wicca took the country by storm.
Without structure or form, Wicca became another victim of the American religion. As independent Wiccan covens popped up across the country, people imposed the familiar structures of the American Religion upon it. Not able to understand the lack of hierarchy, “High Priestesses” become absolute dictators. Not being able to understand a religion without sin or enforced morality, both concepts are replaced with “The Three Fold Law.” The High Priestess is the absolute judge as to what is and what is not a violation of the “Three Fold Law.” Starhawk’s Wicca has as great a potential of being a tool of oppression as it does of being a means of liberation.
It only makes sense that Libertarianism would find suitable mates amongst the Neo-Pagans. Libertarians claim to be about Liberty, but actually protect and defend corporate oppression. Many Neo-Pagan groups claim to be about liberation actually reinforce the American Religion. These Libertarian Neo-Pagan groups include rigid conformity and morality, the absolute belief in a mythic history, and a rigid hierarchy. They pretty much reduce their mother goddess to Jesus Christ in drag.
One such Neo-Pagan group which I have had a chance to observe first hand is Church of all Worlds. CAW predates Starhawk by a good ten years. It began around the time that Buckland and Sanders were introducing the idea of Paganism. It was based on the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. Starting out as just another sex, drugs, and rock and roll cult of the Sixties, CAW jumped on the Neo-Pagan band wagon after The Spiral Dance. In the late Seventies they joined in with Karl Hess’s New Left, and now call themselves a “Libertarian Pagan Church”.
Rather than adopt the anarchist consensus-based structure proposed by Starhawk, CAW has a very rigid Freemason-like hierarchy. They have a rigid morality based on polyamory and group sex. Unfortunately, it is a morality based on patriarchal male dominance. Bisexuality is encouraged amongst the female members, but not the males. Women having sex together is a turn on for many men. Women also do not have the same rights to turn down sex as men do. I know several women, some underage, who had been sexually assaulted at CAW events, and it was the CAW women who were most active in protecting the perpetrators. That is certainly rigid conformity in morality. CAW insist on the literal truth of their matriarchal mythical history, and apply the Three Fold Law as another incarnation of the Protestant Work Ethic. In other words if something bad happens to you, it was because you disobeyed the High Priestess or did something to piss off the group.
What I find the most interesting about CAW is their insistence that the rest of the world hates them. They treat the rest of the world as Evangelical Christianoids simply because we are not interested in their version of the true faith. The fact of the matter is that most of us don’t give a fiddler’s damn who they pray to or who they screw. Rather than to stand up for their legal rights, CAW members prefer to consider society “evil” and the government the “black empire” and drop out of society.
This dovetails nicely with Libertarian thought, which also sees the government as evil. Neither Libertarians or CAW members feel any responsibility towards their fellow citizens or the government that is supposed to be representing them. They see any sort of structure as a threat to their freedoms. It never occurs to them that they can work to change these structures. We will go into this in more detail as we examine the protection of corporate power in the next post.