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Earth Pages

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Article Specs

Article ID: 9169

VoxAcct: 257091

Section: earth

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 3,287

Times Read: 6,036

Act Up

Author: Cerridwen
Posted: April 24th. 2005
Times Viewed: 6,036

An it harm none, do as ye will. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Wiccan or not, most of us subscribe to some form of this ideal. Just live your life in a way that does not willfully inflict harm upon another and you’re good. Unfortunately, though, it is often not as easy as it sounds. When my convictions suddenly stand in conflict with the status quo, I am faced with a dilemma: To act in a way that may infringe upon someone else’s way of life, or to abandon the conviction. This is the dilemma that lies at the heart of many debates about political activism. Should the Pagan community, individually or collectively, be more involved in activist movements? I have heard many who feel that to become politically or socially active as a group is to go against the Rede, because activism necessarily implies an attempt to push some set of values over another, often more popular one. As questions such as this one quickly demonstrate, striving to avoid inflicting harm on another can often obscure, rather than clear up what ‘ye should do.’

The difficulties arise, at least in part, from the ambiguity of the term ‘harm.’ Am I causing harm by supporting regulations that require members of my community to recycle? Whether they want to or not? How about if I fight to maintain logging restrictions in national forests? Even if maintaining these restrictions could potentially cost people their livelihood? In the end, it often comes down to some kind of utilitarian evaluation of the degree of harm that one action or another might cause. And as Pagans - members of a group whose rights are often stepped on, whose philosophies are regularly challenged, whose people are still being persecuted some 300 years after the Burning Times - we tend to run screaming from anything that even resembles restriction, oppression or proselytism.

However, when it comes to combating the forces of environmental destruction we should not run, but stand and fight. Because it is a fight. A fight for the preservation of Mother Earth as she is now, and of every living (and non-living) being she supports. Because the harm that will result from our inaction will far exceed any perceived harm that we fear might come from our activism.

As much as we, as a community, might shudder at the thought of imposing our ideas on others where they are not wanted, in this case we must. This is much more than simply questioning whether or not I have the right to stomp around demanding that everyone ride their bicycles from their solar-powered, rammed-earth homes to the nearest locally-owned health food store to buy organically grown tofu. This kind of hippie-fascist behavior is certainly not in keeping with the spirit of the Rede…and is not very effective besides. I agree that we must not let our enthusiasm for the cause infringe upon the basic belief we all generally share in the sanctity of a freedom to live one’s life however one chooses. But we must also not let our reverence for this freedom paralyze us when our actions are ethically necessary. As Wendell Berry said, “It is indeed possible for a human economy to be wrong - not relatively wrong in the sense of being ‘out of adjustment, ’ or unfair according to some human definition of fairness, or weak according to the definition of its own purpose - but wrong absolutely and according to practical measures.” Our resource wasting, environment polluting, shortsighted and selfish human economy is wrong, and we must join those who are fighting to right it.

As Pagans, we have a special responsibility towards the growing environmental movement in this country. We, along with precious few others, understand the inexorable connection between our own existence and the rest of Gaia’s inhabitants. The so-called choices that many might make with regard to environmentally unsound activities arise out of what William Thompson describes as “…the preferential perception of objects over processes, of fragments over constitutive relationships, of technology and control over epistemology and understanding.” As a society, we have been conditioned to view the earth as a repository of material goods waiting to be extracted and used for the fulfillment of human needs and desires. Patriarchal religions have ordained this reification of Gaia and provided the moral justification for it. The industrial revolution supported this view and provided the technical ability to act upon it fully. And now, after centuries of all this social conditioning and technological advancement, we can clear-cut a forest just as easily as we can pull weeds from the garden. If we need oil, we can simply drill. If we need water, we can simply dam. There are no longer any physical or ethical impediments to such activities, we simply choose to do them if we wish.

However, freedom of choice has never been extended to any and all choices we might theoretically make. Certain socially self-destructive behaviors have always had morally or rationally determined prohibitions placed on them. I do not, for example, have the right to choose between ‘murder’ and ‘not murder.’ A society that would allow its members to arbitrarily choose whether another might live or die would be a very short-lived one indeed. The plundering of earth for her non-renewable fossil fuels is, in the end, just as mortally harmful. Asking - even demanding - that we find alternative sources of fuel is not an imposition of my personal energy choices upon another. Nor is it an attempt to insinuate my spiritual beliefs into a society that does not share them. It is an ethical imperative based on the understanding that not to do so causes irreparable and mortal harm.

The environmental record of this country is one of the worst in the world, and our polluting and wasteful ways have far-reaching implications, affecting people outside our borders and beyond our time. Any utilitarian evaluation of ‘harm’ dictates that we must do something about it. But more than that, a rational evaluation of our social responsibility dictates that we must do something about it. Despite our growing numbers, the Pagan community has belligerently remained a uniformly silent section of the polis. But political activism is the obligation of every member of a democratic society, and we, no less than any other group, must stand up, speak up, act up…




Footnotes:
Wendell Berry; Two Economies; 1983

William Irwin Thompson; Gaia: A Way of Knowing; 1987



ABOUT...

Cerridwen


Location: Chicago, Illinois

Bio: Ariadne is an autodidactic, solitary eclectic (figuring it out as she goes) , who has been studying and practicing for 15 years. She is also an armchair philosopher and physics buff, who would love someday to present a Grand Unified Theory of Wiccan ontology and quantum mechanics. Perhaps after a quick nap…




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