Remember the offender

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be part of some team reporting, which gives me a taste of what it must have been like back when newspapers had big budgets. After Cara Schulz detailed the challenges faced in one Wiccan community when complaints of sexual misconduct were brought forth, I followed up with some best practices for handling sex-abuse cases in Pagan groups.

Team reporting makes me better at this job, but it can become frantic.  I regret leaving out a point which probably is as controversial as it is important: abandoning abusers isn’t a solution.  When we banish, ostracize, or push out offenders, we hand the problem off to strangers and miss the opportunity to fix things.

While the high recidivism rate for sex offenders is a common topic of conversation, I learned through my interviews that treatment actually works.  While pushing someone out of one’s group might solve the immediate problem, without the tools to deal with the problem it’s pretty likely that there will be other victims at some point.  Is kicking the can down the road an ethical response?

Some sex offenders are ready to admit they have a problem, I now understand.  Among them, there’s a fear of reprisal and consequence for coming clean; being able to accept that fact is part of treatment.  Are there ways to continue to include a known offender without putting people at risk?  Of course, but it’s going to take work, and it’s going to take compassion for someone who may well have done some terrible things.  There’s also the question of potential offenders, who would prefer not to harm anyone but are afraid to admit they have a problem due to rejection.  Isolation does not help that work, which is all but impossible to do without help.

In Pagan and polytheist communities, we are moving toward a better understanding of how to support victims.  That includes believing them, and encouraging them to talk to the police.  We are not there yet, and it’s been a painful process to get even this far.  Finding ways to support offenders as well as victims is going to be a lot more painful, but I think it’s work we need to do if we are actually interested in healing.

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Socks

Spending with intent is, I wholeheartedly believe, a good start. It does not entail always spending for the right reasons, but it does bring the expectation of spending for reasons.

Case in point: Mx Socks.

Mx Socks (a pseudonym) grew up in an affluent household, but found eirself on the outs with eir family by the time e reached adulthood. E knew what it was like to have a boat in the driveway for the winter, a vast entertainment system in the living room, and the expectation that e’d be given a new car when e was old enough to drive. Eir life, however, was one of 60-hour work weeks necessary to pay the rent; a decided disconnect from eir younger days.

One of the ways that e coped with a life e found difficult was with eir socks. E put on a new pair every day, and then threw them in the trash after that once use. The feeling of new socks, in eir view, was a luxury which e deserved and could afford. A clean sock is not as nice as a new sock, and there’s always room in the garbage for a few more pairs of socks.

What this acquaintance of mine apparently didn’t realize is that eir behavior mirrored that of the villain in “Superman III,” who boasts at one point that e’s never worn a pair of socks twice. In the fictional case, they were apparently laundered and sent to poor children, which arguably makes this exercise in excess less villainous than simply dumping them in the trash each night.

As I understand it, Mx Socks’ first inkling that this sock-uation might be viewed as anything but a well-deserved reward for hard work came when e mentioned it to a coworker, who found the practice offensive, and told em so. Mx Socks was surprised and annoyed to be put on the defensive. From eir perspective, as an exploited worker in a capitalist system, e deserves those few luxuries e can eke out. From the perspective of just about everyone I have mentioned it to, eir behavior is right up there with wearing a monocle while having one’s cigar lit with a hundred-dollar bill by a bondsman.

Many of the pleasures the average exploited worker has are guilty ones. A classic example, in my mind, is the quest for smooth legs that many women pursue in the United States. Let us consider the case of a hypothetical Mx Shower-Shaver, who has bought in — literally — to the notions that 1) hairless legs are more desirable and 2) pink, disposable razors are the best tool for achieving that result. Having opted to pursue that goal, it’s not at all surprising that Mx Shower-Shaver derives pleasure and satisfaction from a well-shaved leg; e prefers not to consider the impact of disposable products on the environment, nor the patronizing marketing decision that led eir razors to be not only pink, but more expensive than the men’s version.

What’s more, e most likely shaves those legs in the shower, thereby extending the time spent under running water. E could turn the water off, but that hot stream is another of those small moments of pleasure, which are rare for someone who works 50 or more hours a week to bring home the bacon. How much water? With an older shower head, 20 gallons or more if the shave adds five minutes. That adds up quickly.

This isn’t to say that people who are not struggling economically don’t do these and other wasteful things; they most assuredly do. My underlying point is that within a modern capitalist system, being asked to adopt more sustainable life practices is, for most people therein, being asked to give up some of the few moments of joy in an otherwise oppressive day. Solutions that require more short-term sacrifice will thus be resisted, even by some people who recognize the long-term benefits. Until the conversations about reformation and revolution take that into account, the traction of such ideas among the wider population may well be limited by those forces which the revolutionaries desire to overturn. That’s because many of the people who would most benefit from radical change are engaging in intentional spending and thoughtful action which reinforce the system under which they are oppressed.

Is anyone engaging with these workers on an environmental level? Are they considered a population to work with when it comes to human rights, but the enemy when we’re looking at how to stop harming the world with wastefulness? Where should our sympathies lie?

Recently I bumped into Mx Socks again. I stopped by eir apartment building, and e met me in the parking lot. Eir feet were covered only by a pair of black socks, and I told em I was worried that they were getting ruined.

“It’s okay,” e said. “They’re new.”

Monodeism and polydeism

Deism presumes that the clockwork of the universe was set in motion by a demiurge, who at some point later vacated the premises. Apparently, polydeism is a thing, which is pretty amazing. The notion that a succession of gods have come along, messed around with what passed for the natural order at the time, and then wandered off makes more sense to me than monodeism does, but I still find it kinda depressing. In fact, it depresses me more to think that the universe has been a passing fancy to multiple gods than if it had been just that one time. Is it that boring here?

Accepting the possibility of polydeism also opens new doors. Could it be that some gods just stop by, but others choose to stick around? That’s not an option under monodeism, because it presumes just one deity. There’s nothing in polytheist belief that suggests that all the many gods have much in common with one another, and it stands to reason that some might move in for the long haul once they are born here or happen upon the place. What I’m not sure about is if that would still count as polydeism at all. I think of my ninth-grade social studies teacher’s definition of [mono]deism: “God made the universe, then split.” If it was actually multiple gods, and they split on whether or not to split, does that dilute the -deism part of the word? It certainly doesn’t satisfy people who use deism simply as a way to pay lip service to divine powers while still completely ignoring them, which may have something to do with why it’s not super fashionable to be a polydeist.

There’s a deranged part of my mind that thinks about what this concept means to theological debates within the Pagan and polytheist spheres: were they separate and distinct gods who abandoned the universe, or facets of a single being? On the other hand, maybe these former resident gods were archetypes. Could the universe now be devoid of archetypes? Did those gods all hang out together and bolt when the party was over, or was it a revolving door of holy powers? Revisiting the monist “all gods are one” mindset, could there be a succession of different faces to the same god[s] passing through, giving the polydeist the mistaken impression that there’s been a bunch when it was only a few, or one, deadbeat deity?

Moreover, what if deism is just one more idea which isn’t entirely correct or incorrect? Could it be that some gods have left for parts unknown, but others remain? Perhaps deistic abandonment is inevitable, but still unfolding. How do I know if my gods are going to leave, or when? The very thought could drive some devotees into a bitter form of agnosticism, I’d venture. If we can’t have faith in gods, does the word have any meaning?

If nothing else, a cycle of deism helps me imagine that non-believers such as atheists aren’t precisely wrong, but (like many of the rest of us) simply drawing conclusions based upon only that very small portion of the evidence which is known to human beings. I remain confident that not everything is even knowable to we jelly-brained types, and try mightily not to assume I have a better handle on the big picture than anybody else. I fail in that, regularly, but that’s the fun of being human in the first place. We are a self-centered, arrogant bunch of primates, after all. If some or all of the gods have moved on to better things, I certainly can’t blame them from tiring of our antics.

For me, there is something reassuring about knowing that there’s a lot we don’t know.